Friday, June 18, 2010

Reading in the Company of Others

By David Horn, ThD
Director, The Ockenga Institute

What are you reading? Look down there on your nightstand, or is it the little table next to your desk in the office? Or, perhaps I should ask, ‘are you reading…anything?’
I confess, in the midst of some of the frantic moments of my day-to-day life, these questions conjure up huge mountains of guilt for me. There are times when all I want to do is crawl into a small dark corner, sit on a soft barker lounge, and escape into the drama of a flat screen television. You know the scene: the diet coke and chips are on my right side, the clicker is on my left side and then… clear as day, I hear those aggravating, sniffling words from my dear old friend, Charles Spurgeon,
The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all of people. YOU need to read. (#542 Spurgeon Sermon “Paul-His Cloak and His Books” in the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit 9 (1863): 668-669).
Sometimes I just hate Spurgeon.
Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes a date with a barker lounge chair, a diet coke, and a clicker is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, put the three together and they can become a habit, and habits sometimes become preoccupations, and preoccupations sometimes become lifestyles.
So, how do I get out from this corner of guilt that I have painted myself into? Recently, I have begun to approach reading in a new way, new way for me, that is. Actually, my guess is that this approach has been around for a long time and I have just been looking the other way.
For years, I have viewed reading strictly as a solitary enterprise. That is, take the television and clicker away and you would have seen me on that same barker lounge, with the same diet coke, only this time reading alone. What I chose to read was a private affair. How I engaged with the ideas in the book was a private affair. How I used what I learned was a private affair. Everything was private.
All this has changed recently. I am beginning to view reading more communally, that is, as an act of community. For the past two years I have found myself in a monthly reading group and have found the experience liberating for a variety of reasons. First, do you see the rut that follows me wherever I go? Left to my own inclinations, I tend to read the same types of things over and over again. What is it for you? For me it is biographies and historical novels and survival literature. Being a card-carrying member of the group has changed all of this. What we read is a group decision. I have been forced to read things I otherwise would not have read. Go figure, I just read two great books on worship that would have, otherwise, been on the bottom of my reading list.
Further, the book group has allowed me the opportunity to think through what I have read in the company of others. Imagine this; my first reading of a book is not always right! Sometimes in mildly annoying ways, these men have forced me to think differently and creatively. Our reading together has challenged me in ways that would not have been the case if I were reading in solitude. Typically we have walked away from our times together intentionally asking ourselves how the residue of what we have read will stick with us for the long haul. How might the book we just read change us even in small but concrete ways?
Maybe it has something to do with the air in the room that us common readers of books share. Once ideas are floating out there, outside of our individual heads, they somehow become more objective and concrete. We find that none of us are in sole possession of them; they exist separate from us. Like a good tennis match, watching these ideas being batted around from one side of the room to the other has made reading an entirely new sport. I like that.

No comments:

Post a Comment