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Entries in Reading (45)


Performing Experiments on Ourselves

I read a little booklet about Facebook and social media.  I will be reviewing it next week.  In it, the author suggested that an article online that exceeds 400 words may be passed over.  I don't know about the accuracy of that statistic, but I can make a couple of observations.

When I began blogging, a popular blogger suggested that keeping a post to 1,000 words was a good idea.  That was almost ten years ago.   I think 1,000 words is pushing it today.  I think the author who suggested 400 words may be closer to being correct.  I wrot a post for Out of the Ordinary, and my first draft was over 1,200 words.  There was no way I could post it at that length, but I was faced with a difficulty:  could I do the topic justice in less than that?

I did my best, but there were things I wished I could have said.  I could have done a "series" but the nature of our blog rather excludes that.  "Series" on blogs are very popular.  It seems as if we are reverting back to the time of Dickens, who first presented his writing in such a way.  I think he would have laughed a great deal at the notion of one of his entries being only 400 words. 

Another thing I have noticed is the fading attention spans of teens.  Apparently, 20 minutes is about all they can manage.  For now.  What will it be like five years from now?  Ten minutes?  How much understanding can one get in ten minutes?

The reality is that some issues and topics are complex, and need more than 20 minutes or 400 words.  How much understanding can we get with such brief attention?  I even find myself falling to this attention deficit thing.  I'm reading Kevin Vanhoozer's Is There a Meaning in This Text, and it is a complex read.  I find myself being able to spend only about 40 minutes at a time before feeling like my mind is wandering.  When I was a student in my first year of university, I could read for hours.

The inner rebel in me wants to shout and complain about this, and say, "Stop!"  "Wait" and "Hold on!"  Surely we can work to stave off this kind of thing?  I'd like to think so, but I am probably either too idealistic, or more likely, utterly deluded.

I think I am going to try to increase my attention span by setting the time on my phone and reading until it goes off.  I'll increase the time by five minutes at regular intervals and see how it goes.  Nothing like performing experiments on oneself.


A random observation about writing styles and reading

On the weekend, we had friends over for dinner.  They are a young couple, same age as my oldest child, and they have two delightful children.  Oh, was so nice to have little people climbing up on my lap and snuggling! But that's not what this is about.

The father is a lover of reading and theology.  After I came back from T4G last spring, I had the opportunity to give him a couple of books because we had two of each freebie that was given.  One of the books I gave him was Matt Chandler's The Explicit Gospel.  I have not read it yet, but I have seen the reviews, and people whose opinions I respect have said good things about it.  I just haven't got around to it yet.

I asked my young friend how he was liking it so far.  He was very positive about it, but he did mention that he finds the style not entirely his favourite kind.  What he meant by that is that he finds it more "conversational" than perhaps what he might read in the Puritans.  He likes the Puritans.  It's not always common to find someone under the age of 25 who is willing to slog through Charnock's Existence and Attributes of God, but he reads widely.  He has been encouraging me to read Atlas Shrugged, which I have yet to do. 

I thought about his comment after he left, and I remembered something my pastor told me once.  He said that the love of stories is important for preaching.  He told me that he can be exegeting a passage of Scripture and he sees eyes looking down and people zoning out, but when he tells a story, people will look up and start listening.  I think that's probably true.  Stories are an excellent way of communicating.

It is true that the language of older generations is not the language of today.  Literature changes, and people don't use such formal language anymore.  I'm thankful for people who can communicate difficult truths in terms that are easy to understand.  I'm even more thankful for people who can do it without compromising meaning, or watering things down.

I know a lot of women who consider my reading list "dry."  In fact, someone I know in real life actually made a comment that was said in a friendly spirit, but contained critique:  what I read is often "not practical."  I wonder if what we often perceive as dry and boring and lacking practicality is simply a stylistic thing.  Because the book is less "conversational," we zone out and maybe feel like it's too dry.  Rebecca, at our group blog, made a comment about such an issue in the comments of a post she wrote recommending books for women.

I don't think everyone will be willing to unravel Charnock.  That's okay.  But I also don't think it's wrong for those who have the time and the means to challenge themselves if they so desire.  I don't think what I read is necessarily lacking in practicality because it is not conversational.  Having a varied diet of books is always a good idea. 

Whatever our reading goals are, I think we all need to read more.  I have been online less over the holidays and reading more.  It's a good thing to do now and then; just unplug and open a book.  Take a pencil, too, and underline.  And if you hate the thought of that, get a notebook.  Even better?   Do both.  


When reading becomes an issue of discontent

Recently, I signed up with Goodreads.  It's a great way to keep track of what books I would like to read.  It's a social networking site, too, so I imagine it's a fun way to interact with other readers.  I am afraid I don't use it to its full potential.  I'm just not in the habit of sigining in.  I do get updates to what my friends read and am able to see their reviews.  I also have very few friends on Goodreads, simply because I can't juggle that many friends lists.  

One thing I see is what my friends read.  I'm always a little amazed at how fast others read and how much the volume that they read.  I am not a fast reader, and I don't finish nearly as many books as others do.  I've noticed lately that when I see how fast others read, I think, "Why can't I read that fast?" I wonder what I'm doing wrong.  I simply have not finished a lot of books lately.  I do read every day, though.

It continues to amaze and discourage me how easily I begin to compare myself.  I know in my head it's wrong, and daily, I pray for God to give me contentment, but yet that comparison monster shows up.  It's so annoying.  I will be so glad one day when I shed this mortality and can stop thinking like that.  It really is astounding how every little thing can become a point of comparison if we let it.

So, I'm not a speedreader.  I don't need to make excuses for my slow progress.  Sometimes, we have this idea that we have to perform even when in our heads, we know we don't.  The internet has lots of great value, but it's one way to foster doubt, comparison, and discontent.   I need to remember that my life is about living before an audience of One.  God cares that I know His Word, and I'm sure He is pleased when I learn more about Him through other books.  But I'm pretty sure He doesn't care if I only finish one or two books over the summer.  I need to be less worried about what others are doing and more concerned about living in simple obedience.

It's been a while since I read the Envy of Eve, which talks so much about comparison.  Clearly, I need to go back to my reading journal and re-visit the salient points.


The Self Centered Life

That is the theme for this month's issue of TableTalk magazine.  There are some good articles in it.  I read through quite a few of them last night during the commercials while I watched the Montreal Canadiens stomp on the Minnesota Wild.

One of the first articles is by Harry L. Reeder, and it is called "Cultural Narcissism and a Titanic Lesson."  He begins the article by discussing the contradiction in presentation between James Cameron's movie Titanic and what really happened.  You remember that scene where the poor people from steerage were kept from getting to the life boats?  Never happened.  From what Reeder's article said, the survivors of Titanic were a large cross-section of many socioeconomic backgrounds.  The life boats contained mostly women and children from all backgrounds.  The men on that ship put the women and children first. Reeder says that the rationale for the actions of those who allowed others to get off the boat first was a manifestation of the Christian virtue of self-sacrifice.  Titanic sunk in 1912, an time vastly different from ours.  While there has always been self-centeredness in the world, there was a day when it was a virtue to be self-sacrificing.

Reeder extends this to a discussion of how different the culture is today and how that affects the church:

The contemporary culture flounders in a sea of narcissism, yet the contemporary church is likewise floundering the the exaltation of self and the supremacy of personal idolatry.  Many churches (and, therefore, their members) long ago abaondoned the gospel call "not [to] be conformed to this world but [to] be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Rom. 12:1-2).  The church no longer shapes the world because it is being shaped by the world.  Today's church cannot suppress, much less transform, the disastrous effects of narcissism in the culture because narcissism in the culture is unsuppressed and flourishing within its own ministerial borders.  The evidences of self-absorption within the church are undeniable and on the verge of going viral.

I'm sure we can all see evidences of this.  One area I notice is in worship music, especially the kind that young people like.  For three years in our youth group, I supervised the youth worship leaders as they slected the music and got ready for each week's meeting.  This involved using The Sacred Power Point.  I saw a lot of the lyrics, and yes, the pronoun "I" was very evident.  Of course, that pronoun is featured in the Psalms, so it's not like there is no precedent for singing in that manner.  The big difference of course, is that the Psalms always lead back to God, whereas many of the worship songs do not.

There is a felt need among younger generations to have worship music that speaks to their generation.  People want worship done according to something that speaks to their generation (and that goes for many generations, not just people under 25 years of age).  Years ago, Oldsmobile ran a campagin under the principle that Oldsmobile was making a car that was "not your father's Oldsmobile." This was directed to younger people.  I get the feeling that young people purposely seek a faith that is not their "father's faith."  It's about what appeals to them instead of what is sound biblical practice.  They're not alone, either.  There are some 30-somethings out there with similar thinking.

I see this in women's ministry.  We want to have ministry done to suit exactly how we are as women, totally forgetting that before God there is no male or female.  Of course there is nothing wrong with having women's ministry done with things that are just enjoyable to women, but there is a tendency to approach everything with the thought "How does this affect me as a woman?"  I can't help but think that is evidence of narcissim coming through.  We really can't avoid it.  We are by nature narcissists.  The task before us as Christians is to draw upon the Holy Spirit and fight it.  Reeder ends his article with this:

The narcissism of the world can be suppressed and even transformed, but it must first be confronted in us as we, who are saved by grace, say no to the world's deceitful call ot self-worship and yes to Christ's liberating call of self-denial.  This is a liberation that will allow us to make muc of Christ, who did much to save us.


One benefit of a Kindle

I've been reading (on my Kindle) Alan Jacobs' book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction.  He mentions the use of the Kindle.  I'm sorry that I didn't buy the book in paper.  It really is inconvenient to look for underlined passages with a Kindle; there are too many little buttons to push to get there.  I don't think a senior citizen would like this device; an iPad with a Kindle app would probably work better for eyes that are aging.  Anyway.

Jacobs mentions something that I arrived at myself, and that is where lies the strength of the Kindle.  And, no, it's not the ability to "connect" with other readers; at least that's not the the strength I see.  Jacobs tells a story about how he found his concentration for reading waning.  He was at a bookstore with many heavy, expensive volumes, and he thought he might try an e-reader instead.  He found that as he used one, he was less prone to skipping around the book (because it's too inconvenient) or to the end (also inconvenient).  The inability to do that caused him to focus on the text before him.  His conclusion was this:

"When I got an e-reader I immediately read the kind of book it's best suited for, that is, narrative driven fiction.  Had I started reading David Hume's Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding I might never have persisted with the device."

This was my experience as well.  When I originally got my Kindle, I got it because there were two volumes I wanted right away, and one of them was never going to be available in print.  I read both, and they were shorter works.  However, when I started reading Tim Challies' The Next Story, I found it much more difficult.  Flipping back and forth, annotating and all that fun stuff just is not the same without a pen and paper.  I have yet to finish the book.  However, one afternoon after watching the tail end of a sappy movie, I looked to see if the sappy movie may have come from a (better) book.  It did, and I read the book from beginning to end in a day and a half.  It really is less distracting when you can't move around in a work of fiction.  Because I am sleep deprived this past few weeks, I find reading heavier works very hard, and I wanted some mind candy.  I had a free chapter from John Grisham's latest novel The Confession, so I read it and then bought the whole thing.  I'm really enjoying it.  When I read Jacobs' comment the other day about his observation regarding e-readers, I was nodding my head.

It occurred to me this morning that this could actually be good for reading long passages of Scripture, especially the narrative portions in the Old Testament.  No, I don't think a Kindle would be good for studying the Bible -- unless, of course, that's all you have, and then you make the best of it.  Bible study requires too much flipping back and forth to use a Kindle.  But, it you're just reading the bible to read it as one would read any other work of literature, a Kindle can keep one focused.  In the meantime, though, a non-fiction book where you want to interact with various locations at one time is still better read the good old fashioned way.

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