Last week I spent much of the flight from Amsterdam to Los Angeles reading about expeditions to the South Pole. I hadn’t anticipated that, but I’m glad it happened. And it happened because I was able to buy a copy of Francis Spufford’s True Stories & Other Essays just before leaving Edinburgh. I’ve been a fan of Spufford since Unapologetic. His Child That Books Built almost convinced me to read the Little House on the Prairie novels (which never quite happened). The first two sets of essays in the book are beyond the norm for me: essays about polar expeditions and mid-century Soviet thought. Section three, though, is about his religious writings, which I’m excited about getting into. Even the short introduction to the section packed a punch. An excerpt:
Experience is the common ground; experience is the language that opens other languages; experience is the source for the only verification of an idea that is likely to be accepted, in a time when there is deep suspicion of (and misremembering of) the conceptual vocabulary of faith. To write towards a reader who has no reason to trust you or to be interested, and in whom the cultural inheritance of Christianity has mostly either decayed into the unrecongisable or been anonymised into the self-evident, requires you to make contact with what self-understanding you can muster, the stories you tell of your own, and then to try to join both to the central story, told so it can be heard again, by which the immensely narrative religion of Christianity hopes to interpret all others.
I like the quote because I feel the sense of context that Spufford is writing from. Part of that is because of the classroom. Part of it is because of the temporary vocational stretch that I’m experiencing this year. And then, at the same time, Spufford’s suggestion echoes things said by people like Buechner and Mullins, Peterson and early Miller.
(image from amazon.com)