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John Wilson, Editor
Stranger in a Strange Land
This issue of BOOKS & CULTURE is dedicated to the memory of
I met Lionel Basney in the spring of 1996 at Calvin College's Faith & Writing Festival, where we discovered that we shared a passion for poetry and classical music. That, and our faith—my pietism didn't embarrass Lionel—was just about all we had in common, but it was more than enough to build a friendship on. His first essay for B&C, "Questioning 'Progress': The Resurrection of Ned Ludd," appeared in the September/October 1998 issue. A piece on Wendell Berry and an essay on the fate of classical music are forthcoming.
Lionel's letters always began with a notation of the weather: "clear day growing (2:00 p.m.) cloudy," he typed at the top of a letter in April. When I called him at home to talk about a piece he was working on, he invariably had to be fetched from somewhere outdoors.
"Lionel," as his Calvin English department colleagues John Netland and Susan Felch recall, "was a man of many gifts, central among which was the gift of living life deliberately, choosing his words and his actions with care. He was committed to God's creation, to the natural rhythms of life—and so he chose to live in a rural community, to tend his own garden, to patronize small, family shops, to use—or refuse to use—technology judiciously."
Yes, and when he fixed you with his level gaze and spoke in that rich, beautifully modulated voice, you might begin to brush invisible crumbs from your sweater. Just by being himself, he could make you feel suddenly careless, heedless. Not a humorless man—the opposite, in fact—but serious, in a way that goes against the grain of our time.
A week or two after we met, I received in the mail an offprint of his wonderful long poem, "The Snow Plough Man" (first published in the Winter 1995 issue of the journal Christianity and Literature). "There was an accident," it began.
There was an accident this summer, when ...