Because life is a series of edits

Naming Our Idols (Reading)

In Books on December 29, 2011 at 11:04 am

As has been my (Craig's) tradition for the past five or so years, I recently posted my year-end booklist at Second Drafts. I'll save you the rehash here, but suffice it to say, it was not a good year. A couple things came to mind after the fact that I thought might play well here at Docendo Discimus, so here we go.

First, I need to remember Solomon's words: "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1). This year was not a particularly good season for reading for a lot of legitimate reasons, but rather than feeling sorry for myself and nursing my wounded pride (more on that in a minute), I need to let it go. Spending the first half of February interviewing for a new role that, between March and June, would then require our family to pack, move, unpack, and begin to figure out our new lives in Oklahoma took a toll (especially on top of teaching and coaching along the way). It wasn't sin; it was just a season that I didn't read a lot of books.

But let's talk about sin. Reading can be an idol for me. Walk into my study and you'll see my trophy cases; check out any end table in our house and you'll see my Asherah poles of books to read. Sure, I post my annual reading list to help others who might be looking for a book, but as I've never had a pure motive in my life, I confess I want people to see not only what I read, but also that I read. I'm not saying I'm proud of that; I'm just saying my motives are mixed (as they are with just about everything I think, say, or do – welcome to my humanity).

Emotionally speaking, and as much as it has therapeutic properties, reading can be a drug – one sold over the counter (or the Internet) and peddled by a variety of dealers (family, friends, teachers, librarians, etc.). Sometimes I need a little literary hit and can get worked up and seriously grumpy if I don't get it. These reading "shakes" may seem as foreign to a non-reader as craving alcohol is to a non-alcoholic, but I swear it's real (my wife and daughters do, too). My name is Craig, and I have a reading problem.

What else complicates all this? Since I seem to have less and less time for picking up a good book, picking up a good book becomes all the more important. The problem? Reading can be like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates: you never know what you're gonna get. Another reality is that, in the name of reading ever-broadly, my wants can overwhelm my needs. Do I want to read the popular biography of a modern visionary whose time partially overlapped my own (Steve Jobs) or a 2000+ year-old set of histories of foreign lands and peoples of which I've rarely heard (Herodotus' Histories)? I can choose the candy as quickly as anyone…and this year it seems I did.

A friend of mine once told me in a discussion on reading that, physically speaking, one can live a long time on junk food, but eventually the body needs a change of diet to a more balanced meal to run optimally. The same is true literarily, and why I feel the way I do about the lack of meat, potatoes, and veggies in my reading diet this past year.

Why lament any of this? Because by offering to God what I feel to be a failure in need of redemption, there's a lesson for others, I think. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, I had lunch with one of our Veritas dads. As often happens in these parental conversations about education, I picked up on his insecurity in talking with me by way of questions and comments like, "I haven't read/studied like you" and "I'm no scholar like you," etc.

These words, of course, played to my pride, but letting them do so only evoked a hollow feeling of fraud in my heart. Yes, I've read, but there's so much to read that I haven't. Yes, I've studied, but what of my studies have I already forgotten? Yes, I want to be a scholar (and want to be thought of as a scholar), but I'm not. I'm a guy in a role with a title that can lead parents, teachers, and students to think (or hope) I am or might be.

All these mental gymnastics were going on in my head during our conversation and I immediately tried to explain some of it to my friend. I'm not sure he fully understood or believed me, but the important thing was my attempt to disbelieve what I knew to be a lie. I wish I could convince all our parents, staff, and students of how much I still have to read, study, and learn as their classical Christian Head of School. Too many of them may think too highly of me in this area, so perhaps this year's posted reading list will pull back the curtain and reveal more of who's really trying to run Oz.

In the meantime, there are good books to be read with more redeemed motives. Maybe I won't post a booklist next year; maybe I won't even keep track of what I read at all. As silly as I feel for making an idol out of something so seemingly benign as reading, taking what God created as good and using it otherwise has always been my problem.

For the record, I read that in the best Book…or rather, it read that in the worst of me.

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  1. “My name is Craig, and I have a reading problem…
    Hello Craig… ;)
    I loved this. You put your finger on many of the internal motivations (RE: reading as an idol) that I flattered myself into thinking were only mine. I was unable to decide for what I purpose I was making my own reading list public so I decided to abandon it for 2011.
    Working for a newspaper, I get a similar sort of disclaimer from folks. “Well, I’m not a writer so I don’t have to read as much as you do.” But it’s frustrating for me to communicate that I try to read and study a lot *not* because I think so highly of my own intellect but because I know all too well how meager it yet remains.
    So I suppose my voluminous reading, in this regard, could be viewed as something of an overcompensation.

  2. Thanks for the comment here, Matthew. Loved this line: “You put your finger on many of the internal motivations that I flattered myself into thinking were only mine.” We are brothers from different mothers, methinks. Appreciated your thoughts.

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