DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Freedom and a Plan

Written by: on October 10, 2018

When I was a child, I was fascinated by the book, Jimmy and the White Lie, by Bartholomew.[1] The book is centered around Jimmy, who broke the neighbors window by sending a baseball through it. Instead of telling the truth, Jimmy decided to hide the truth, which turned into a white blob that got bigger and bigger as Jimmy kept his secret longer and longer. Jimmy tried to hide the blob in different areas of his house, but the white lie was finally too big to contain and he ended up telling his parents. When they all return from confessing to the neighbor what happened, Jimmy couldn’t find the white blob anywhere, for which he expressed his thanks to God.

 

As an adult, I think about this book often. So much about life feels like I am carrying around these things that just get bigger and bigger and I don’t know what to do with these blobs that just keep growing. Reading happens to be like that for me. I feel pressure to read the newest or latest best-selling book or self-help book or leadership book or beach read or just one more biography. The amount of books I haven’t read on my bookshelves is pretty close to the amount that I have. While I really enjoy reading, I feel this burden to hide my ever-growing stack of books that I haven’t read. In fact, I have actually moved them from rooms in my house to my office and back because I am overwhelmed with the pressure of those unread pages. Bartholomew was clearly on to something.

 

Last week, Adler taught me much about active reading. He reminded me, “We have shown that activity is the essence of good reading, and that the more active reading is, the better it is.”[2] But coming into Bayard, I was apprehensive. If I can’t retain information well while skimming already, and I need practice doing active reading, how on God’s green earth can I talk about a book I haven’t read? What I found in Adler’s book, however, was freedom…and a plan.

 

“Musil’s librarian thus keeps himself from entering into the books under his care, but he is far from indifferent or hostile toward them, as one might suppose. On the contrary, it is his love of books – of all books – that incites him to remain prudently on their periphery, for fear that too pronounced an interest in one of them might cause him to neglect the others.” [3] I found freedom in Bayard’s notions that in order to by cultured readers, we actually have to aim for breadth of books read, rather than depth[4] and when we can successfully do that, we can see how books relate to each other.[5] In fact, he posits that, “Culture is above all a matter of orientation. Being cultivated is a matter not of having read any book in particular, but of being able to find your bearings within books a s a system, which requires you to know that they form a system and to be able to locate each element in relation to the others.”[6] The notion that all the unread books on my shelves need to be viewed in context of the ones that I have, gives me freedom from the burden of having to read all the books in one subject area to feel like I understand it. I don’t have to read every published item on how to be a leader before I can claim any knowledge on leadership theory or practice. In later chapters, Bayard takes that freedom one step further. “To liberate ourselves from the idea that the Other knows whether we’re lying – the Other being just as much ourselves – is thus one of the primary conditions for being able to talk about books with grace, whether we’ve read them or not.”[7] He goes on to say, “As we see, the obligation to talk about unread books should not be experienced as something negative, a source of anxiety or remorse. To the person who knows how to experience it as positive, who manages to lift the burden of his guilt and pay attention to the potential of the concrete situation in which he finds himself, talking about unread books invites us into a realm of authentic creativity.”[8]

 

Furthermore, between Bayard and Adler, I plan use my active skimming as a way to breeze through the unread books on my shelves. “Skimming books without actually reading them does not in any way prevent you from commenting on them. It’s even possible that this is the most efficient way to absorb books, respecting their inherent depth and richness without getting lost in the details.”[9] The last few weeks have been leading me to recognize the freedom I have to let go. I have to let go of my ideas that every book needs to be read from cover to cover and with the utmost intention of hanging on every word. As Jimmy was freed from his white lie by openly admitting his mistake, I have been freed over the last two weeks from my need to meticulously read every single word in every book, to which I say, “Thanks be to God!”

[1] Bartholomew. Jimmy and the White Lie. St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1976.

[2] Adler, Mortimer Jerome, and Charles Lincoln Van Doren. How to Read a Book. Touchstone hardcover edition. ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014) 328.

[3] Pierre Bayard, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, 1st U.S. ed. (New York, NY: Bloomsbury USA : Distributed to the trade by Holtzbrinck Publishers, 2007). 7.

[4] Ibid, 8

[5] Ibid, 9.

[6] Ibid, 10.

[7] Ibid, 156.

[8] Ibid, 166.

[9] Ibid, 15.

About the Author

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Karen Rouggly

Karen Rouggly is the Director for Mobilization in the Center for Student Action at Azusa Pacific University. She develops transformational experiences for students serving locally, nationally, and internationally. She completed an MA in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and is passionate about community development, transformational service and helping students understand vocation and service. Karen is also an active member at the Vineyard Church Glendora where she is a small group leader and serves on the teaching team. She is also a mom to two sweet boys, wife to an amazing guy, and loves being a friend to many.

7 responses to “Freedom and a Plan”

  1. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Hello Karen, lovely to hear your voice in print. I found Bayard to be a breath of sensible fresh air. Partly because it set me free from guilt at not reading everything I have on my shelf or throughout my years of study. His honesty was refreshing. As I have mentioned in My own post and on Andrea’s, Bayard does require an inner bibrary to begin with. And that librry can’t be skim learned. You know Kimmie and the White Lie inside out, and it has been added to your library. So it leaves me wondering, how many fully learned texts do we need to create an inner library that enables us to skim and categorise in our more mature state? I also wonder if Bayard assumed that the early library must be significant to make sense of the kind of books we may later talk about but never read? What do you think about the Bible? Can we assume its contents if all we’ve read about it are commentaries? Interesting thought.

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      Thanks for your kind words!

      His honesty was refreshing, I agree. In terms of an inner library, that’s a great question. I wonder if it’s a little different based on everyone’s own capacity and interest level. In your post, you mentioned some good classical pieces of literature. Maybe that’s right in someone’s wheelhouse and they can read it in-depthly and enjoy the heck out of it while it puts the rest of us to sleep. But on the contrary, there are many books I enjoy that I know put my husband to sleep faster than shutting off a light. I do think though, as I try and read a wide-variety of books to my boys, I am trying to work more on instilling in them a love of reading as a whole, rather than just completing a book.

      The Bible is another topic. I think people proof-text from the Bible ALL THE TIME without having read the entirety of it. Sometimes, that proof texting is contextually correct and some times it’s not. But I agree with you in that you won’t get much from the Bible if you merely look at a table of context, and the endless supply of maps in the back.

  2. mm Mary Mims says:

    Karen, I am amazed at all of the guilt we carry about what we haven’t read or accomplished. I appreciate the freedom to skim a book. I also have a shelf of unread books, and sometimes punish myself by saying you can’t buy anything new until you have read what you have. I have to laugh at that now. I will always be a reader, but I will take myself off punishment, and I hope others will too with our new found freedom.

  3. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Karen,
    I found your insights challenging and refreshing. Challenging in that I found Bayard hard because I am concerned that I may have missed his point. Refreshing in that I can connect with your pain and pressure of the unread books that sit on your shelves (I am embarrassed to admit that I used to purchase books for my shelves because I wanted others to think that I had read them and be impressed. Oh what a broken little man I am!) Thank you for sharing how Bayard brought you a sense of freedom in not needing to measure the percentage of unread to read books in your collective library. Like you, I think there is a practical combination to be gained from utilizing Bayard and Adlere in combination. Interestingly enough, I see orthodox applications in both doctoral research and Scripture reading. Blessings and see you on Monday, H

  4. Hi Karen, thanks for your thoughtful post about actual libraries. This reminded me of a time not too long ago when I was managing the Biola Bookstore. It was a significant part of my life as I worked there for over 17 years. Just like in many areas of life prone to doubt, I wasn’t sure if that was God’s long lasting calling for me. In all those years I never doubted his sovereignty over things, but little did I know that those years would shape me in my quest for knowledge.

    My theological and philosophical leanings matched the university’s and so I approached book ordering as if I was building my own library. I began to develop good relationships with authors, professors and publishers. I became aware of future publications in the fields of theology, philosophy and other related print material.

    I remember, during the whole Emergent Church controversies in the early 2000’s how a flurry of new books got published in a very short time, in support of or in opposition to Brian McLaren’s “generous Christianity.” Pros and cons, I ordered all those books, even to the disapproval of my superiors. I was in a unique position to have been able skim all of those books and had enough to engage in fruitful conversation. Since then I’ve developed the habit and discipline of collecting books — many of which sat on the shelf unread. It was enough for me to simply know the title, author, table of contents and what the book was about.

    Unlike Bayard though, I preface my statements by saying, “I haven’t read the book, but this X author just wrote a book claiming….. he/she opposes because…., it’s premised on…., so on and so forth.” Starting with “I haven’t read the book…” helps me avoid losing credibility. That tells me and my listeners that if more information is needed, I at least know there is a book about it.

  5. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Karen, I smiled when I read your post. I just unpacked my library at the office this week and thought, “This amount of unread books is ridiculous!” Then I caught the vision of Bayard and felt free. I did find myself reading the titles, sorting them by subject and thinking how one book related to the others on the same subject and how what I know about the author, or not, even informed my thoughts about the subject matter. It was an interesting exercise that is teaching me how to grow in talking about books I haven’t read!

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