I recently read an excellent reflection by Phillip Yancey called “Reading Wars” in which he reflects on how easy it is to train ourselves only to read short, blog-like entries and fail to dive into deep and difficult books. Now, please don’t stop reading my short, blog-like entries, but do take care that we also cultivate the difficult skill of analytical reading. My point in this short musing is not to discuss analytical reading techniques. For that I would refer you to Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book, James Sire’s How to Read Slowly, and Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Educated Mind. All three books are excellent resources for that aspect of the “reading wars.”
Rather, this morning I briefly want to consider one of the many reasons that most give for why they do not read deeply: TIME. But I don’t think time is really the culprit. Sure, many of us have busy schedules and it seems as though time is the reason we don’t sit down and mine for knowledge in the Great Books. But I think two other factors are closer to the truth. First, we fall into the tyranny of the urgent (read Charles Hummel’s 30-page “book” of this title). When we fill our schedules to capacity, we find ourselves living moment by moment for what seems most urgent at the time. We begin quickly to develop habits of urgency and then turn those habits into lifelong practices in which we move from one urgent thing to the next. This practice, however, becomes tyrannical and enslaves us. I suggest this is why as Americans we put so much emphasis on New Year’s Resolutions, for it is the only time of the year when most Americans sit down and take inventory of their lives and engage in thoughtful introspection. And yet, so often these resolutions fail because we don’t make plans for executing them, and they are pushed out by more urgent matters. I can’t work out this morning because I need sleep. I need sleep because I stayed up late writing/grading that paper…and so on and so on.
Related to the tyranny of the urgent is the well-known “ordering of affections” motto. When it comes down to it, the reason we don’t do the “better things” in life, such as reading the Bible, exploring the Great Books, or building meaningful relationships, is because we don’t truly value them as much as we claim to. Instead, we crave attention, success, and material possessions that leave us instead with the urgent need for work and shallow communication. We are prone to love ourselves first, and everything else follows. But if we could be convinced that the practice of deep, thoughtful, analytical reading is a worthwhile endeavor, we could begin to reorient our affections and, having done so, begin scheduling time for these things. In a culture dominated by the urgent, we as Christians must not get swept away in its tyranny. Instead, we must prioritize our time on the basis of our affections, rightly ordered to God’s affections, and I think we will find that in the end, it turns out better for us anyway.