I’m reading a book right now called With by Skye Jethani. It has to do with how we live our lives in relation to God. I really like it and think he is mostly dead-on. But I got to wondering how little I know about the guy who is writing these things. So, I got on his website and read his bio. Ok. But I don’t really know him. How does he actually live his life in relation to what he is writing? Does it work in his life? How does he eat breakfast, treat his family, counsel people in hardship? Can I see it rather than read what he tells me?
Reading an author isn’t enough for me anymore. Alot of times I want to ask him or her a question about what I”m reading. I want to live with the author, follow him around, and see how he lives his life, if he practices what he preaches.
In Academia, we know the rule that you always interact with the person’s ideas, not attack the person. To say, “well, Professor A’s idea, X, is bad because Professor A is a jerk and treats his students unkindly” is the logical fallacy Ad Hominem, against the man. You keep the private life separate from the ideas your discussing.
But while this is the academic rule that must be followed in any discourse, we cannot totally divorce the whole person from his ideas. Our lives run on ideas. If we behave badly, there is some bad thinking in their somewhere. And when an author is telling you in his book how to live your life, the question of how he lives his own life becomes all the more important. There are too many manipulators and predators out just to make a buck. I’m skeptical. I’m looking for authentic books written by authentic people.
After I read Michael Eaton’s book No Condemnation, which is now among the best books I’ve read, I began really thinking of how I could get to Kenya and help in his church. What a thought! Being the assistant of a such an authentic thinker/pastor/theologian and following him around. Yeah, I’m crazy, but don’t tell me you don’t have crazy wishes too!
That said, I admit you can learn quite a bit about a person from reading their books, especially books on life. From reading Skye’s book, I think he really believes, lives, and thinks about what he is advocating. That said, I do wish I could hang out with him for a while. If, by some chain of unlikely events, I become an author, I would want to do just that – have interns, assistants, or whatever and incorporate them into my life. People to help me at work, live in my home, eat my dinner, and be mentored. But like I said, I’m just another guy with crazy wishes.
Not even half of Americans read books/literature anymore, according to a study done by the National Endowment of the Arts. Reading books has been on the decrease –we’d rather have our minds numbed with CGI movies like Avatar, our X-Box 360, and sit-coms than delve into the riches of Plato’s Republic or C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces or Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
As an American citizen, I find this a very disturbing and embarrassing trend. The United States is a nation built on the high intellectual rigor of Western civilization and our high value on education. Literacy is an indispensible part of this foundation. No one can be called “educated” in the furthest sense who is not an avid reader. All of the wisdom of the ages (and the lessons from the folly) are contained in the written word. When we stop reading we lose something.
I say this despite a major paradigm shift I’ve had recently on the importance of the spoken word. Through training with “Simply The Story,” I learned about storytelling and how powerful this is. My beloved Bible is mostly narrative, written for the benefit ancient oral (and mostly illiterate) cultures. It was memorized, told, and retold regularly, rather than read silently. Fast-forwarding to today, the vast majority of people in the world are either functionally illiterate or do not learn by primarily written methods. This does not make them inferior human beings. We must simply use oral and pictorial methods if we are to be complete communicators who reach everyone.
That said, reading is still important. In an ideal world, everyone should be able to read. This is because while oral communication is a good and valid form of communication, reading/writing is equally as valid and fills in what oral communication misses. This is the mark of an educated person.
My point, if not clear so far, is: We need to read! Read old books and new books, fiction and non-fiction, secular and spiritual, books everyone is reading and books no one is reading,** books you agree with and books you disagree with, taking the time to reflect on what you’re reading. If you know how to read you are an incredibly privileged person already. Don’t waste it. Don’t miss the immense value of interacting with the written word. You won’t regret it.
**Reading what I call “wayside books” is a really excellent idea. As history moves along and culture changes there are some very, very good books fall that by the wayside – along with their wisdom. The book I’m reading that fits into this category is the 19th century book by A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve. I wish more Christians would read this book. It is an excellent insight into the mind of Christ. In my opinion, it’s more powerfully written than Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ, the more popular classic on Jesus and discipleship. Dear Reader, read old books!