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Letter from the Editor

You may have noticed that Jennifer McGuire, our art director, has redesigned the logo of Books & Culture and also has given the mag a new typeface: Chronicle Text. Let us know what you think.

Most of you reading this will have heard that Brett Foster (1973-2015) and Roger Lundin (1949-2015), both of whom were members of Wheaton College's English Department, died within the same week in November. Like many who were thankful for the friendship of these two men, I'm far from coming to terms with the loss, but I want to say something in these pages about their work for B&C—about Roger's in this issue, and Brett's in the following issue.

I first met Roger (whose essays in the Reformed Journal I had admired) in the summer of 1994, shortly after I had been hired to start B&C. I had only been in Wheaton for a couple of weeks (Wendy and the kids were still in Pasadena, California, to follow later in the summer) when Roger phoned and invited me to lunch. A friend of his who taught at Calvin College, Ed Ericson, had told Roger that we should meet. (Ed had been a professor at Westmont College when I transferred there as a student to begin my junior year in 1968, and we became lifelong friends.) And Roger knew about B&C from his friend and colleague Mark Noll.

If Roger were here, he might well be able to tell you what we had for lunch that day. His memory was extraordinary—not just for texts (I'll never forget the Liberty Fund conversation during which he quoted chunks of Emerson's prose from memory, without the slightest sense of strain) but also for events and their context, the daily stuff of life. Losing his presence means, among other things, losing a living archive—losing part of myself. His family and his close friends must feel this intensely.

Roger soon became a valued contributor to B&C. His first piece, "When the Fire Goes Out," an essay-review occasioned by Robert Richardson's Emerson: The Mind on Fire, appeared in March/April 1996 (just the fourth issue of the magazine, which launched with September/October 1995). Here is the conclusion:

However unwittingly, Richardson's vivid study of Emerson's mind and life raises questions of central concern to the Christian faith. Emerson's isolation and obsession with consciousness may challenge those who claim the name of Christ to acknowledge that our comfort lies not in the fact that we know but that we are known, not in our ability to hold all within ourselves but in our willingness to be held by a love greater than our own. That is, it is not our consciousness that saves us but God's consciousness of us. "What is your only comfort, in life and in death?" asks the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism. "That I belong—body and soul, in life and in death—not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil."
There is fuel for a fire that will never go out at the core of the world.

The July/August 1996 issue featured a special section, "Biography as Battleground," to which Roger contributed a piece based on his experience writing a biography of Emily Dickinson. Here is it how it begins:

When I was young, and my father got the blues, he would often try to buck himself up by telling me what a good president he would have been. To this bricklayer who was the son of Swedish immigrants, the job of leading the Free World looked like a snap when compared to battling the caprices of nature or contending with the vagaries of the human heart. Whenever a cold wave had driven my father and his crew off the job for a week, or Lefty, his lead bricklayer, had gone on one of his periodic drinking binges, I could expect to hear, "I'd do a better job than that rich guy Kennedy. He doesn't know what pressure is," or "What does Johnson know about life? A man with common sense needs to be president." Having assured himself that only a poor career choice had kept him, and all of America, from fulfillment, my father was then free to resume his labors with good cheer.
In choosing teaching over bricklaying, I left my father's trade behind but carried his trait with me. As my father did, so do I occasionally try to shake myself out of discouragement by imagining what I might have done.

Roger's own "fantasy," he confesses, was to imagine that he "would have done a better job of writing a particular book or dispatching a complex subject in a 20-page essay" (not necessarily a fantasy in his case). The temptation was particularly strong, he tells us, "in the case of biographies … . And, admittedly, I have come away from more than one biography convinced that its subject would have fared better in my hands."

But the story doesn't end there:

Then, several years ago, when I agreed to write a biography of Emily Dickinson, everything changed. Convinced that it was a relatively straightforward job, I anticipated finishing the work in a year or two and moving on to other things. But now, four years later, what at first looked like a simple task has turned out to be the most exacting assignment I have ever undertaken. When I finish my revisions of the biography in the next several months, I will return to my other labors having been duly chastened by the experience. My appreciation for biographers will have been deepened and my fantasies forever dispelled.

Roger goes to elaborate some of what he learned about the challenges of writing biography and what he learned about Dickinson. The result is one of the finest essays on biography I have seen in decades of reading about the subject.

Roger's excellent biography, Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief, was published by Eerdmans in 1998, and a second edition appeared in 2004. He wrote a series of books over the next decade—not formally a "series" but clearly carrying on a sustained study of recurring preoccupations—culminating in 2014 with Beginning with the Word: Modern Literature and the Question of Belief, published by Baker. And he had more books in mind.

Along the way, he continued to write for B&C—see for example his September/October 2005 piece "Orphan in the Storm" (on Melville and the crisis of moral authority) and his November/December 2008 "Flying Solo" (on William James, Alfred Kazin, and the fate of post-Christian Protestantism)—though in the last several years, work on his own books and manifold other responsibilities did not allow him much time for reviewing. He planned to write pieces on Edith Wharton and Willa Cather for B&C, and how I wish we had them. Moral intensity, commanding intelligence, sweet generosity, deep humor, and passionate faith combined in Roger to make a man who will never be forgotten by anyone who knew him.

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