“I live in a vacuum that is as lonely as a radio tube when the batteries are dead and there is no current to plug into.” I remember Billy Graham speaking these words during his sermon on the first evening of a 1979 crusade in Tampa, Florida. The confession was not his own, of course. He was quoting the words of another to illustrate the desperation and alienation of twentieth-century man. He was quoting the late Ernest Hemingway.
Knowing details of Hemingway’s life story, I have since that evening wanted to flesh out the bones of Graham’s carefully chosen illustration. Evangelicals or literary critics would wince at the idea of holding Hemingway up to illustrate any practical truth of interest to Christians. Most people, after all, know Hemingway as the animal-killing, bullfighting tough boy; the boozing man of the world, married four times, who trotted the globe and made it his personal oyster, without conscience, without a moral code. They know him as the manic-depressed outpatient from the Mayo Clinic who, on a sunny Sunday morning in Idaho, disintegrated his head with a shotgun blast. There is, however, another Hemingway.
My interest in the writer began regionally. As a boy I spent my summers camping and fishing in the blue-green lake country of northern Michigan. My father and I trolled in the same waters that Hemingway had so exactingly written about in the 1920s. I did not know about Hemingway as a boy, but as a teenager I discovered his Michigan stories and found that through the simple arrangement of short words and lean, terse sentences, I could go back to “the far blue hills that marked the Lake Superior height of land” or gaze down into “the clear, brown water, colored from the pebbly bottom, and watch the trout ...1
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