The written word has been my friend, a comfort and solace, a refuge, my education. This is true for anyone who has ever read a book. Everything we read becomes a part of the fiber of our being for better or for worse. We are changed by what we read, at least incrementally, sometimes profoundly. Words are amazing in their power. Simple lines formed into letters become words, which become sentences, then paragraphs, and ideas. These we accept or reject, but in small and large ways they become a part of who we are, and can determine who we become. Words, whether written or spoken, have a long half life in us.
Over the past few years I have joined three book clubs, and recently decided to bow out of all of them. Book clubs exist to discuss books. The members recommend books to the group, they are read, and then talked about at the group meetings. Most of the books being recommended in the clubs were not books I would ordinarily have read. This is part of the draw of a book club. It can be broadening. For me it became a problem. It became a lowering of standards that I wasn’t absolutely aware that I had established for myself.
Nearly every recommended book had some sex or references to sex, not as an inference to being a beautiful part of a committed relationship, but as a hook. It was used to manipulate the reader using those urges common to all. Nearly every recommended book also contained coarse language or just plain filthy language, which seems to go hand in hand with bad writing. Over and over again I found myself thirty or forty pages into a new book disappointed or disgusted. I would plow onward for the sake of “having read the book,” or for the sake of “broadening myself.” But I found that most of the books were not broadening me, they were diminishing me. They were not affecting me in ways that were essentially good, and that I realized was, for me, the bottom line.
There was a lot at work here. There was my need to want to be thought of as a good member of the group, to be accepted and well thought of, and to be seen as open-minded. There was the desire, at times, to be reading for the sake of something to do. Not reading for the sake of learning or getting lost in an excellent story, but reading because I was bored. In this I became willing to pick up and read books that I would not ordinarily have read. There was a lowering of standards, a slow slide downward leading I know not where.
What stopped the skid was the changing of the seasons. Spring and summer were turning to fall, and I picked up the study guide I would be using to lead a Bible study throughout the fall and winter. I began to read the book of Genesis.
In some way that we can’t begin to comprehend God spoke the world into being. He said it was so, and it was so. Anything He did not speak into being, does not exist. Reading Genesis, the power of words was brought home to me anew. The slow slide into diminishing standards and thinking had to stop. The lower things were becoming normalized in my mind. The higher things, the best things, the things of God and His great love for us expressed by His words, made the lower words I had been reading seem even more tawdry and wrong.
I wanted and needed some help and direction in choosing future books to read, and came across a book by Sarah Clarkson entitled, “Book Girl.” As a guide to choosing books, she suggests the reader ask herself, “What is it I hope to become?” I think we all hope to become better than we perceive ourselves to be at any given moment, but hoping is not enough. For my part, I needed to make some deliberate changes in my reading materials. Sarah’s book is a book of reading lists consisting of books that are life-giving rather than life-diminishing. I have found it to be so helpful, and can highly recommend it.
My next guidelines came out of scripture. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, instructs them to think on “whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy.” What we read forms and conforms our minds to certain ways of thinking. My thinking was being tainted and changed by words and ideas that were untrue, dishonorable, impure, unjust, unlovely, questionable, far from excellent, and unworthy. In his letter to the Romans, Paul tells the reader to “not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewal of the mind in order to know what the will of God is, that which is good, acceptable, perfect.” I am interested in having a transformed mind that can know the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. I am interested in knowing what is good, and doing what is good. My reading materials had become compromising to the integrity of my mind and faith. Poor reading choices were, for me, bringing what is good into question.
We all need a “true north” in our lives, something we can look to for absolute direction.
When I am wandering, the compass needle always points me back to God’s word.
It resonates in me in ways that are true and good. It has never shown or done me anything but good. This has proven true again in this present season of re-evaluation.
The only conclusion I have for this essay is that, at present, I have no conclusion.
Time will tell. Being human, I expect I will be inconsistent in this from time to time. But I have taken some time to acknowledge what is good and right to do in this regard, and that is a good and right start.