I have a twitch in my right hand index finger and a slight numbing in my wrist. This is not because I’ve been faithfully slaving away on my novel(s) or short stories or even this blog. No, it is from the hours I have spent scrolling through the endless memes, outfits for every day and every occasion, and the scary yet funny geek pins. There are so many things and thingies that must be viewed and pinned.
I was showing my mom how Pinterest works and I took her to look at my boards. ”Mom, you can organize thingies by categories. Here are a few.”
I gulped. A few?
“You have 35 boards!”
“Thanks mom for pointing that out. But look, they are organized! Unlike my room or anything else in my life.”
Suddenly I have OCD. I want to organize everything or rather every pin. I don’t want to mix my like for the Avengers with my love for Doctor Who or my need to feed people breakfast ideas with my visions of crafting things. They need homes; they need their own boards for me to collect all the thingies that are associated with those thingies.
My imagination lights up as I look at beautiful fan art for Studio Ghibli, some of it is really good – some of it is disturbing. I have re-imagined the possibilities of what I could do with my wardrobe. How I can make Disney themed outfits with what I already own. I have a board dedicated to the most beautiful colors in the world blues and greens and all the shades in between. I have a collection of picturesque scenes of winter, a montage of sheep and sheep related thingies, and an assemblage of homages to my love for books and words.
I have a pinning problem.
Not only is Pinterest the prefect place to store links to all those DIY projects and 30 meals on the go for $5 or less, it is where inspiration is born and eventually dies.
Yes, my friends, inspiration dies….all those beautiful ideas, DIYs, places to see, books to read, dresses to wear, food to bake, cook and eat…what happens to them? What?
They sit there in their neatly pinned, slightly organized boards full of hope and good intentions, like the clean laundry in the laundry basket, waiting to be used or remembered. I am always surprised by the concepts and solutions I find but I never do anything with them. Or I do, do something with them…have you seen the Pinterest Fails?
I think that sums that up clearly.
But you don’t have to be one of those people…
What do all the great writers, DIYers, movie makers, bakers, and crafty people all have in common? They DO! They don’t let the inspiration die. They create the boards and pin the things but then they act upon them. They don’t let apathy, over-pinning, or distractions get in their way of actually completing the task. So don’t let the inspiration in your Pinterest boards die on your Pinterest boards!
Happy Pinning! Happy Doing! Happy Inspiration!
Reading, really reading, is becoming a lost art. That statement is ironic and perhaps may seem a little hypocritical of me, since of course I’m writing this with the expectation that you’ll read it. But I don’t mean the translation of scribbles on a page into coherent thoughts in our heads (though increasingly that is coming into question too, if what I see when some students try to reverse the process is indicative of anything). Instead, I’m talking about the art of intentionally and broadly engaging other minds through text. Most of us–myself included–have lost sight of what it means to read and in doing so we have contributed to our own intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy. If my two previous posts this month on writing the “little books” and “preaching to the choir” are going to really mean anything to a renaissance of Christian culture, they must be predicated on a renaissance in reading.
There is much more to reading–and to books in particular–than many of us understand, surrounded as we are by an age of constant media-vomit. When you sit down to read you are transcending the boundaries of time and space. You are having a conversation with someone separated from you by possibly thousands of miles and maybe hundreds of years. When your mind engages their narrative, you have the opportunity to meet anyone, from the greatest (and most terrible) that humanity has ever had to offer on down. You can learn from, or perhaps in spite of, their experiences and ideas. You can sit at the feet of the world’s greatest story tellers and feel your soul refreshed. Your eyes are opened to new worlds and new imaginations. Most importantly, you can bring all of this back home and apply it. History helps us avoid the same mistakes of the past–personally and nationally. Science opens our eyes to the world around us and how we can interact with it in ways we never dreamed possible. Accounts of bravery and compassion may, in their turn, help us to be brave and compassionate as we live our own story. The possibilities are endless.
Further, a book is not a useless, antiquated object that has been surpassed by technology–though you might make that argument about paper. No documentary, TV show, movie, website, blog post, or other snippet of media can contain the depth of thought that a book can. In a book, you can receive the wisdom of an entire lifetime boiled down into an hourglass! A stack of books that you can finish in several weeks’ time may have taken literally hundreds of years to write between their various authors. Books are just as important now as they’ve ever been, even if the medium through which we receive them has changed.
And it is all often completely lost in today’s storm-tossed sea of information and visual stimulation. We are no more stupid than the people who lived before us, but we are overwhelmed. We have so many “facts” available, so many truth claims clamoring for attention, and, in the West, we are so insulated from reality that while we have the sea before us, many of us never do more than get our feet wet. We bounce from site to site, show to show, commercial to commercial, demanding instant and total gratification. If something is even the least bit tiresome or difficult, we switch on to fulfill our whims and, thanks to the internet, we are almost always able to get what we want. The end result is a lifestyle of perpetual craving; a vague desire for novelty for novelty’s sake that is never fully satisfied. Our lives may yield snappy soundbites aplenty but rarely much that matters in an eternal sense, leaving us desperate for something real.
The problem is compounded for those of us who tend to be doers instead of thinkers. For people like that, it can be hard to sit still long enough to really engage in reading. I tend to be an odd mixture of both–which can be frustrating as I find I want to do all of it at the same time! Just as thinkers need to be reminded that the world is a very different place from the drawing board, doers need to be reminded that doing is much more effective when we’ve taken the time to understand how it has been done by other people…and maybe even take a crack at that drawing board too!
If the Church in the West truly hopes to spark a new reformation, it must learn how to read again. Without that important step, what will we have offer the world around us? The Truth of God? That involves reading the Bible. New insights in science or brilliant imaginative works that might open the discussion? That level of education entails reading too. How will we be able to engage and minister to people whom we don’t even understand because we’ve failed to read what they have to say? I’m afraid that the answer is that all we will be able to give is a cold cut of a faith that we ourselves don’t understand, a scoop of warmed over secularism from five years ago, and perhaps a side of money-grubbing health and wealth. Would it be any surprise to see our continued decline?
How do we address it? If you’ve made it this far, then you probably already appreciate reading in general, but here are some specific starting points for how to do it better…which I need to apply myself. Give them a try, and consider encouraging others to do so as well:
- Be intentional: Set aside time to read, and learn to say “no” in order to defend that time. Don’t just pick up what comes to hand. Have a plan and seek out new authors and subjects that will strengthen your weak points. Importantly, while I agree with C. S. Lewis that you don’t have to read every word of a book, I also agree with one of our commentators from last week–finish what you start!
- Let reading be your Tardis: Many readers make the mistake of either reading only old or only new books. Don’t fall into that trap! Look at literature as a stream of ideas and personalities that spreads across time itself and try to sample as much as you can! Seek out the old (or new) books that take you into a completely different culture and context from the one you know.
- Seek out both contrary and supportive points of view: Don’t let your reading become an exercise in intellectual backscratching–find someone who will challenge you and ask you the hard questions. Then, seek out the answers; don’t neglect to deepen your own worldview by studying the best that Christianity has to offer.
- Don’t limit yourself to one genre: Specialization is fine, but when you overspecialize, you lose perspective. If you love fiction, read some non-fiction. If you love European history, try some American. Like the humanities? Read some science.
- Most importantly, make it fun! While there will be times that you’ll need to just knuckle down and read through a boring part, look for ways to make reading as enjoyable as possible. Start a reading group with your friends to discuss your books. Set aside a “reading date” with your significant other where you have nice music and a special dinner before relaxing with your books in front of the fire. Take your book to the top of a mountain. Blog about your reading and watch what others say. There are many ways to do it.
And so, with a post about reading that is now so long I doubt most people have made it this far, you and I are standing on the banks of the timestream that is literature, in all its various forms. Make a plan, find a book, and dive in! There are literally worlds waiting to be discovered–our own not least among them.
In this slot next week you can expect a break from me–I believe Rachel will be pitching in for March. I’ll “see” you in April if not before!