I admit it. I love books. I love practically everything about them. I love the thoughts and ideas, stories and personalities to be discovered. I actually have about two dozen books about books and reading. Nerdy, I know. And I like to read books about authors. Some people think this is quirky about me, while others understand my passion. At least I married a girl who also loves to read. We get each other. I also love what books symbolize, their ability to shape us, their ability to define what it is we are feeling, and trying to become. To me, books are symbolic of the large human conversation we participate in. I had supper with a friend recently, an incredibly brilliant man. I had probably just mentioned something I had learned from a book when he commented that he learned best through conversation. We mused on that for a bit, he with a stack of books beside his favorite chair, me sitting there in conversation with him for several hours.
I think we were saying the same thing. Conversation is indeed how we learn, for we need the perspective of others to see what is hard to see alone. But reading is the practice of broadening the conversation, the inclusion of voices and opinions from beyond our present small company. When we read something from another time or place, or from the mind and heart of a great soul, we inject something good into our local chatter.
Reading is actually an essential practice of our Christian faith, but not because of any nerdy love for books. It is a practice based on the need to listen to God, to train our ability to hear his voice in the voices of others, and to nourish our souls through the power of truthful and life-giving words. Scripture is the basis for this, and the Scriptures are primary to our reading life. But as the wise men and women of our faith have always recognized, the practice of reading is itself a great gift.
In this, our second of six practices, I want to simply point out how important reading is to a grounded spirituality, and as a consequence, how important reading is to healthy community. The healthiest communities do not limit the conversation to their own members only; the healthiest communities have a way to listen to wise and true voices from beyond. Reading is a primary way we keep our local chatter from becoming stale, or distorted, or ingrown and silly. Reading keeps a freshness flowing in.
I am providing two readings on Christian community to help us in our present twin series: iCulture and redefineOne. The first is a selection from Donald Miller’s wonderfully amusing and readable take on Christian life, Blue Like Jazz (Thomas Nelson, 2003). This is a contemporary favorite, and Miller writes a chapter on community (click here) that I know you will fully enjoy. More than that, you may find that as Miller writes about his experience with Christian community, you are better able to reflect on your own experience. That is often what happens as we read. We see our own life in and through the life of another. If you want to read Miller’s book, you can order it through a local bookstore or click here.
The second reading is called Shaping Communities (click here) by Larry Rasmussen, and it can be found in a book called Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People (Dorothy Bass, ed., 2nd ed., Jossey-Bass, 2009). The book is a collection of some of the most definitive ways we shape ourselves in Christian life, including the practices of hospitality, sabbath-keeping, faithful stewardship of finances, learning how to say yes and no, and forgiving, among others. Through long experience, the Christian community has learned that such practices carry the power to shape spiritual character, and the deep lesson is that our becoming is inherently connected to what we do. This is a vision of Christian faith that is active and participatory and holistic, and may I say, a far-better version than merely “going to church”. This reading is a little more thoughtful but it is worthwhile. If you like it you can order the book by clicking here.
See you Sunday at 9:29 or 11:11 am.
For further reflection:
- So, what are you most influenced by: what you read or the conversations you have?
- How do you connect with reading (love it, hate it, something else)? How do you best learn (through conversation, through hands on experience, through reading, something else)?
- What book or books have most shaped your life? What conversation or conversations have most shaped your life? Why? What were the circumstances in your life that made it particularly significant?
- What book would you most recommend? Why?
- When you walk into a bookstore, what section do you gravitate towards?