Training in Righteousness
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Saturday
Jan282017

Where can a gal find an objective book review?

I know that the reality of complete objectivity is a myth. We all bring presuppositions to matters. However, there are times when we bring more or less. I have thought about this as I've watched my social media feed over a number of months presenting book review of numerous new books that came out over the past few months. 

I was approached by a publishing company recently to review a book. I had reviewed for them before, so I was among their contact list. This idea of hand-picking people to review new books is definitely the result of social media. I'm sure this practice is a very effective way of getting the news out about a good book. But are the people being asked the ones publishing companies know will give a positive review? When one receives a review copy, how much pressure does she feel to avoid saying anything negative?

In the past when whenever I have reviewed a book I have been requested to put the review on Amazon as are all the other people who received a review copy. Amazon is frequently filled with book reviews which are 90% five star reviews. Perhaps this reveals my glass half empty view of the world, but I want to hear what some of the downsides are. I'm aware that many people who received review copies are already pre-disposed to like everything the writer does, so will that reviewer be willing to share something negative?

Quite a while ago, I saw repeated rave reviews of a book and I resisted buying it because I didn't really have time to read it, and I didn't want to buy another book which would sit on the shelf unread. As it happens my friend had it, so I borrowed it. Ultimately, I was disappointed, and frankly, I could not see what all the fuss was about. Yes, it was good. But it had some problems, too. I looked at some reviews to because I thought "Why am I not seeing what everyone else is seeing?" I thought there was something very crucial missing in the book, but every review spoke about it as if it was the most perfect book ever written. Perhaps the problem is in how we review books. 

I have participated in review initiatives when the majority of the participants are already supportive of the author in general. It is a good way to promote a book, but I do feel a concern about there being a hesitancy to give a negative review. We follow these authors on social media; we read their blogs; we feel like they are our friends. How willing are we to point out something negative?

It's something I continue to think about when pondering books. I am finding more and more that the best place to hear about good books is a good book itself. I love books with notes and recommended resources. I've been very fortunate in gettng great recommendations from seminary profs. My theology prof will even recommend we read dissenting views. I have benefitted from Amazon reviews, but it's not always a place to find the best ones. I have also been more convinced that I'd much rather buy the book myself, read it at my own pace without a deadline, and enjoy it.

Monday
Dec052016

Twitter and the loss of careful reading

I have noticed over the past few months that some people on Twitter, in an effort to get around the character limit will simply Tweet in a string of related tweets. I have done that when I want to share something funny. I have had friends share funny stories in that way. But in some cases, there are users that want to provide some pretty complex theological discussion in a string of tweets. If one of the people I follow does that a lot, I may mute them for a while, because I don't want those things cluttering my feed. Personally, I don't read well with successive bytes on my screen. I want to read in the context of paragraphs, where the content is focused and well-laid out. 

I think we all know that people don't read as well as they used to. My daughter has taught undergraduate English students for the past four years. I hear the stories of how badly first year students read. I know my own reading ability has deteriorated. I find myself impatient with blogs that go beyond 1,000 words, and that isn't good, because when it comes to attending seminary, dense reading material is part of the workload. That has been the single biggest challenge at school: giving up the feeling that once the author has gone beyond 1,000 words, I should tune out. I've been actively working at increasing my reading block times so that I can get more done. It's pretty sad that in my undergraduate years, I could focus for hours at a time, but now my mind wanders after about 45 minutes, and then after a bit of a break, it may be hard to re-connect.

I don't see the practice of trying to blog in tweet bytes helpful for promoting good reading skills. I realize that people have shorter attention spans, and maybe someone sharing those things on Twitter hope to appeal to those who would not normally read a longer article. The other possibilty is that those trying to teach deep theological truths on Twitter are actually using Twitter more as a means to point out where they think their opponents err. 

I'm no one famous. I'm not a writer of published books, nor am I a scholar. But I am someone who thinks being able to read well is important. I am a good reader. I have learned how to read carefully and in context. I want to see others read carefully and well. I find Twitter so helpful for news links, for links to posts I want to read, and when I want to know what the score of the hockey game is. But if it's doctrinal teaching, I like reading something a little longer. And if it's a paper book, even better.

Tuesday
Oct112016

Don't pick the scab

Did your mother ever warn you about picking at a scab? Mine did. And she was generally right about why I shouldn't: it will slow down the healing process; it will bleed again; it could leave a scar. But we did it as kids, anyway. Scabs itch sometimes, and it was irritating.

Something has been bothering me the past couple of weeks. And, no, it has nothing to do with American Politics (although that's downright scary) or Trinity debates. It's watching people online pick at things.

When I first began blogging and reading blogs, I got really annoyed with people who seemed to reject discernment and theological thinking (not realizing, of course, that I was ignorant myself, and had much to learn) and I would read their content. I would churn. I would rant about it to my husband, and more often than I ought to have, online. He would say to me, "Why do you read her/him?" I would decide that I wouldn't do that anymore, but I would find myself being drawn to the drama like the proverbial moth to the flame. Sometimes, there's a little rush when we get indignant and then let fly with criticism. 

Why do we follow online those we ultimately cannot abide? Is there not enough negative content that we can't control without making a point of following it somewhere else? Is there an energy that comes with taking our morning coffee and going in search of something with which we disagree so we can refute it? Yes, I'm probably exaggerating that description, but how close do we come to doing that? There is a big difference between engaging with someone's teaching and just looking for things to criticize. Yes, by all means, address the error, but making someone's questionable teaching the main staple of our reading diet just feeds our desire to complain. I've done it. Now, please don't understand me: I am not saying we should not address error. But surely while error is being pointed out, some building up could be going on.

I still struggle to fight the temptation to churn over things I've read online. I long to be an encouraging person, a gentle person, and a person who thinks before she speaks. For those writers who do spend time thinking before speaking, I am grateful. I admire that. I enjoy so much the good teaching of men and women whom I read. I am sharpened by it, and edified by it. But it's disheartening to see men and women throw unconstructive rhetoric at one another through cyberspace. Surely we are better than that.

The blogger I admire the most is a lot like my husband: little is said on a regular basis, but when it is said, it is sound, and worth listening to. There is patience, and thought before speaking up. I've longed to be like that blogger, and I long to be as restrained as my husband. Learning when to speak and not to speak is something I continue to strive toward.

Perhaps some would react to this post with disgust and lump me in with the capitulators and those who are apathetic about theology and orthodoxy. I can't stop people from thinking that about me, but those who know me well know that isn't true. I know how I react to someone who never seems to have anything but a combative word to say, and I don't want to be that person.

Friday
Sep162016

I you can't stand the heat, and all those clichés

This is a rather quick post. I have three chapters of Millard Erickson I want to have read by Monday, and I want to get well into Confessions today, in addition to replenishing my rather empty pantry and fighting off the puppy mania that is running rampant around here this week.

I have three older brothers, and as a young girl, I was a mouthy little thing. I was also too easily offended (why is it that some of the most sarcastic, nasty people are also easily offended?). My mother would warn me that if I wasn't prepared to do the battle, I shouldn't get into the fight. Mama was right about that one. I was the one who ended up in tears.

I have noticed a similar situation online. People who are out there in the public, using their voice balk at criticism and are eager to point the "you offended me" finger. Explanatory posts fly through the internet as each side is sure that his or her post will be the one that changes everyone's mind. And when those posts don't, and another appears to challenge them, things get heated. And yet again, someone objects to having been treated badly.

I have learned through being married for 29 years that very often, just because my husband doesn't agree with me, it doesn't mean he "doesn't understand." He may very well understand; he just doesn't agree. It is only my ego which contributes to the notion that in order for him to have perfect understanding, he must come around to my way of thinking. That has been a valuable lessons for me.

There's been a lot of debate online over the summer. In between school and other responsibilities, I have paid attention a little here and a little there, and each time I give a little attention to it, I see it again: participants getting offended and crying foul. And sometimes, the online diaglogue is not befitting what Christians ought to involve themselves in. Yes, speak truth, but seriously, some of the writers I have seen over the past few months know less about courtesy than my children did as teenagers.

We had a bit of a discussion about a passage in Romans yesterday in class. The prof was talking about differing views of Romans 2:12-14 and how it contributes to biblical evidence for general revelation. One of my classmates spoke up and asked for clarification of the view my prof presented. The discussion which ensued was civil and well done. Perhaps my prof having been teaching for 40 years contributes to the knowledge of doing debate well. Plus, we were all face to face. There is simply no way the dialogue would resemble some of the ranting I've seen online.

My husband has reminded me frequently over the 11 years I have been blogging: if I don't want negative feedback, don't write. If I am too sensitive, be quiet. I think we can all learn something from that. There are some who cannot take as good as they give. Frankly, the energy expended continuing a battle day in and day out can be draining. Everyone needs a break now and then. Look at pictures of kittens, puppies, or bunnies. Spend some time with our family. Read a good novel. Watch a British crime drama. Sometimes, we just need to get out of the kitchen for a while.

Thursday
Apr282016

The value of face to face

Yesterday, I filled out the course evaluation for my hermeneutics class. I checked the "strongly agree" box for almost every question. Yes, it was that good. It sharpened me. My classmates encouraged me, and I learned a lot from them. I love attending classes weekly. There is great convenience in being able to complete a course mostly online; I did that in the fall semester. But I loved being in class weekly. In September, I'll be there twice weekly to take Hebrew. My other class, on Augustine, and taught by Michael Haykin, will meet for eight hours four times over the semester. Eight hours in a classroom may sound like a drudge to some, but the time passes very quickly, and I'm looking forward to it.

I don't know my hermeneutics prof as I know other people, but I know him more than I did when I began. Lord willing, I will be able to take another course with him. Next week, I start my course "The Old Testament in the New Testament," and we will meet every day, from 9:00 - 4:00 for the entire week. The prof is the one I had for Biblical Introduction, and I'm looking forward to hearing more from him, too. I'm looking forward to hearing other students share their insights. I'm sure there will be a couple of familiar faces.

Face to face is just better than online. Don't get me wrong; I love my internet friends. There are a handful with which I've been friends for ten years now. But the ones whom I have met face to face have a special place. To see their faces, to hear their voices, to hear the sound of their laughter, to embrace, or even to shake hands just adds something to the relationship. 

Being in school every week has reminded me that there is a limit to our online connections. Sure, we can text, skype, email, or do battle together on Twitter against a host of our detractors. But there is something far better about an hour over coffee, or sharing a meal. There are many times when I wish I could do exactly that with a few of the women I have met online. Over ten years ago, I met a fellow homeschooler online, and we only live an hour apart. Last summer, we met weekly. This summer, we are going to do it again. Blogs are great, but face to face is much sweeter.

I am thankful for things like Facebook to keep in touch with those I don't see regularly, but there is always the understanding that if we had our way, we would be face to face.