NOT ONLY SOLITARY
One of the best chapters in Lit! is the one where Reinke discusses the benefits of reading together, with other Christians. Once we shelve (pun intended) the notion that reading is only a solitary exercise, we open ourselves up to a world of opportunities – to learn and to teach, to bless and to be blessed.
Reinke’s own love for reading was sparked by a pastor who took the time to walk him through his library of books. “All Christian readers,” Reinke adds, “have an opportunity to encourage other readers in the same way.
We fail to see God’s plan for books if we view reading as nothing more than a discipline done in isolation and for nothing more than personal edification. (p. 159)
Reading together is especially beneficial in the case of theology. Christians are, after all, people of the Book, and we should value opportunities to mine the treasures of theology with other Christians. “Theology,” says Reinke, “is especially suited for reading within the community of faith, because the community shares a personal stake in its promises.”
Marilynn Robinson puts it this way:
Good theology is always a kind of giant and intricate poetry, like epic or saga. It is written for those who know the tale already, the urgent messages and the dying words, and who attend to its retelling with a special alertness, because the story has a claim on them and they on it.
Reading theology together with Christian friends, as Reinke explains, “provides us with a place for collective discernment, and a place for spiritual illumination. And those are sweet moments!”
FAMILY AND FRIENDS
All this talk of “reading together” reminds me of family worship in my own house – we read, we pray, and we discuss. These are glorious truths we are studying here… so why would we not talk about them? How could we not?
I’m also reminded of worship in the Pliego household – which (as I quickly discovered during my vacation there) proceeds in almost identical fashion. Reading was done, and discussion began almost immediately afterwards. And it wasn’t a thin, forced, dispassionate kind of discussion either – it was full, it was genuine, and it was alive.
Sweet moments, indeed.
FEEL FREE TO DISAGREE
Reading together often requires us to agree to disagree: not just with each other, but with the author as well. Reinke says,
Disagreements can become rich and rewarding discussions in themselves, because it suggests that the group is engaged, thinking, and discerning… The amount of unified disagreement with an author has often caught me off guard. But I have come to cherish these opportunities. Reading groups have helped shape my discernment in ways few other contexts can provide. And no other setting has more convinced me that Scripture is the only book that is perfect, sufficient, eternal, and transcendent. (p. 161)
I got to experience some of that first-hand at the Pliegos, where collective disagreement with a particular author surfaced more than once. The reader would close the book, and for about ten seconds, pregnant silence would reign. Glances were exchanged around the table, and occasionally, one of us would cough – the kind of cough you cough when deciding how to voice your disagreement in the most coherent way possible.
Then someone spoke.
And then everyone spoke.
Viola. Rich and rewarding is right.
I love how Reinke likens literacy and good books to nails. Disciplined reading helps us to set those nails. And reading together with our brothers and sisters in Christ helps us sink some of those nails into our hearts and minds.
If you’re like me, you know only a few select ideas will be sunk deeply into your long-term memory. That’s the reality of reading books. Most nails are set, but never sunk. A good reading group will determine which of the nails to drive tight and which nails to leave hanging. But choose carefully. It’s the ideas and passages from books that are discussed most carefully with friends that are sunk the furthest into the mind, and those sunk the furthest are the ones you will carry the longest. Those are the truths that remain on the tongue when you trade with other needy sinners in your life.
While reading is mostly a solitary task – and a very important one – comprehension is a community project. I am convinced that we forget so much of what we read not because we are poor readers, rather, I believe we forget so much of what we read because we are selfish readers. And we all suffer because of it. (p. 163)