Books are big in our house, as you can imagine with a bookseller and an English teacher in residence. An ongoing debate we have is about what we read. A passion for literature, a love for Christian books, a delight in beautiful writing and an interest in non-fiction are all in the mix, and we dance in and out of the debate according to mood and what’s on my reading pile.
Recently, my thoughts have been nudged towards the question of how we choose what we read, and to what extent we need to engage with the literature – or indeed the culture – of our time. This same question could be asked of what we watch and what we listen to, especially in our world of netflix, boxsets and podcasts.
I’ve always read voraciously, and widely, and I believe there is huge value in the ‘myriad eyes’ (as C.S. Lewis says) we gain through seeing the world through different peoples’ writing and perspectives. Exploration through the vehicle of a book.
But, as a writer is transporting us into a different world and inhabiting it with various characters and scenarios, they are also shifting our perspective so that we view things through their eyes or through those of a particular character. Whichever way it works, we are seeing the world with their subjective sympathies, antagonisms and beliefs. We are, in many ways, vulnerable and malleable in the hands of the author.
My question, I think, is whether we are really able to put down that perspective when we put down the book. It’s more likely, I think, that some residual element of that world view will come with me as I leave the book behind. It might be a positive element, in that it is helping me to empathise with other people more, but it might also be a negative influence that might just begin to erode my own values and world view.
My Christian faith shapes my world view, and determines my values to a large degree. And I want that to remain the case. I want the Bible, God’s word, to be the book that influences me more than any other. More than influence, these are life-giving words.
In the middle of the Bible is a collection of poems called the Psalms, and the opening psalm speaks of the person who ‘delights’ in the word of God being the one who is ‘like a tree, planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither’. It’s a picture of life that comes through dwelling on the words of God more than any others.
A friend and I were talking about this yesterday. She works in television, and so, as a Christian in that world, the question is a live one for her every day as she helps to create that which we watch and consume. We were both persuaded that it’s not about disengaging and withdrawing from the creative world around us, but it is about being anchored as we engage. Anchored in a Psalm 1 way. Anchored in God’s word through spending time in it, dwelling on it, delighting in it. Anchored to the extent that we would be wise about what we read, know our temptations to let our gospel values slip and be on our guard as we read. Reading with enjoyment and appreciation and engagement, but, by God’s grace, guarding our hearts and minds in the gospel.
(Of course, the underlying assumption in all of this is that there’s time for reading! Let me assure you that any such reading, or even mulling such things as this, is happening in our house while boys are sleeping…which doesn’t leave much time if you factor in my own need to shut my eyes!)