DMINLGP

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

Let’s Talk About Reading…or Not

Written by: on October 12, 2017

I did not read “How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read,” at least not in its entirety. As I began to use Albert Adler’s basic principle of the second level of reading to examine Bayard’s book I felt I could not do the text much justice if I did not immediately get at the object of the book. I must not read it, I thought. If I read this, I will talk about it in such a way as to recount the content and hand over all creativity to facts with less opinion and personal insight and more obligation to report on the breadth of the book. Instead, I choose to flip to the section that interested me most and peruse the rest of the book, mining for nuggets here are there. My chapter of choice was the first in section three, “Ways of Behaving” and is titled “Not Being Ashamed”.

I chose the chapter on shame for three reasons. First, as I read the preface I realized the section on behavior was the primary purpose behind Bayard’s writing and was obviously a passion area for him as a literature professor and psychoanalyst. As he notes early on, “This advice is intended to help anyone who encounters one of these social dilemmas to resolve it as well as possible, and even to benefit from the situation, while also permitting him or her to reflect deeply on the act of reading.”[1] Talking about a subject such as reading is much different than actually practicing the subject at hand. I was interested in his approach especially with regard to reading and shame.

Second, I was interested in the pragmatic level of applying Bayard’s analysis. The section and chapter titles led me to believe Bayard would offer a way of leaving shame behind when talking about books one hasn’t read. However, Bayard gives no guide for arriving to a place of no shame. Rather, he discusses the experience of shame around books we haven’t read by telling stories of how shame effects characters in other literary works and explaining how our public image has become so interwoven with our identity that the reader is drawn to reflect on the truth of Bayard’s statements for his or herself. By the end of the chapter, not having a road map for rooting out shame was less a disappointment because of the depth with which he drew me into the text and my own understanding of cultural shame as a reader.

To close the chapter Bayard states, “Truth destined for others is less important than truthfulness to ourselves, something attainable only by those who free themselves from the obligation to seem cultivated, which tyrannizes us from within and prevents us from being ourselves.”[2] Being honest with ourselves to be our self is especially difficult when we know there are gaps between who we are and how we would like to be perceived by others. Taking the time to call out the reader behind the text creates a macro-conversation that rarely happens and caused me to pause and reflect on my own gaps and the ways I fill them and observe others doing the same.

Finally, I chose the chapter because of my own intersection with shame around being intelligent. “Our degree of cultural knowledge—which is to say, most often, our lack of cultural knowledge—is something we guard closely, and so, too, are the lies we resort to in order to conceal our foibles.”[3] Cultural intelligence and literary intelligence is on a throne in the academy and on a pulpit in the church. With the titles of pastor or professor come expectations of wisdom and insight on many subjects not least of which is the Bible and theology.

I encounter this sense of shame, this gap between what I know and what I don’t every time I go to write or speak to a group of people. Of course I encounter this gap in conversations all the time but the knowledge gap creeps up on me when I have to speak authoritatively or persuasively to an audience. Even as recent as last Tuesday, my message titled ‘When the Struggle gets Real, Remember’ exhorted students to reconnect to Christ and the body of believers, recognizing Christ knows their suffering. The sermon referenced 1 Peter 2:11-25 and recent stories from my South Africa trip about the pastor, “All People Must Be Happy” (as his name is translated), who shared his story of persecution, forgiveness and healing on a bus in the midst of Khayelitsha along with Golden the Flower Man who found hope through making flowers out of trash. As I studied and wrote, I recognized my lack of knowledge, the incomplete thoughts and understanding I have of both the biblical text and of the people and culture I met while abroad.

My own fear of fabricating the truth and the personal, if not cultural, expectation that I must know all of the knowledge on a subject keeps me from the creativity Bayard speaks of in knowing my own mind and offering opinions from my perspective. This is where humility must come into play as Bayard references with his illustration of the Humiliation game.[4] There is no way we can know everything. In recognizing our inability and being uninhibited by it, we are able to be open to learn and engage people more freely.

Overall Bayard’s work is a humorous and well-crafted reflection on the lightness with which we must hold texts and the humans who wrote them. Speaking about books and reading is really less the subject at hand than the readers and writers of the text and how we engage one another with words as a means, whether written or spoken.

 

[1] Pierre Bayard, How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, (Bloomsbury: New York), Kindle Locations 144-146.

[2] Bayard, 1680-1682.

[3] Ibid, 1557-1559.

[4] Ibid, 1587.

About the Author

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Trisha Welstad

Trisha is passionate about investing in leaders to see them become all God has created them to be. As an ordained Free Methodist elder, Trisha has served with churches in LA and Oregon, leading as a pastor of youth and spiritual formation, a church planter, and as a co-pastor of a church restart. Trisha currently serves as leadership development pastor at Northside Community Church in Newberg, OR. Over the last five years Trisha has directed the Leadership Center, partnering with George Fox and the Free Methodist and Wesleyan Holiness churches. The Leadership Center is a network facilitating the development of new and current Wesleyan leaders, churches and disciples through internships, equipping, mentoring and scholarship. In collaboration with the Leadership Center, Trisha serves as the director of the Institute for Pastoral Thriving at Portland Seminary and with Theologia: George Fox Summer Theology Institute. She is also adjunct faculty at George Fox University. Trisha enjoys throwing parties, growing food, listening to the latest musical creations by Troy Welstad and laughing with her two children.

14 responses to “Let’s Talk About Reading…or Not”

  1. mm M Webb says:

    Trish,

    “There is no way we can know everything.” Amen to that preacher! That seems to be the way God wants us, in a state of humility and dependence upon Him. We have just enough book knowledge and Bible theology, the smart ones, to recognize where truth and power resides; in Christ.

    I too was touched by the prisoner-pastor who humbly shared his incarnational story to a bus full of strangers. Thanks for helping me reflect on those moments. JoAnne really connected too, and spent all the Rand we had on those hand-made Protea cynaroides flowers. She found live ones in an Idaho flower shop and bought them all for our family. She is now painting them in water color too.

    For me, Bayard helps me break-free from the traditional bonds of acquiring knowledge. I thank Dr. J and GFU for exposing our Elite 8 to Adler and Bayard.

    Stand firm,

    M. Webb

  2. mm Jennifer Williamson says:

    Well said, Trisha. I especially love your concluding statement: “Speaking about books and reading is really less the subject at hand than the readers and writers of the text and how we engage one another with words as a means, whether written or spoken.” I really liked how Bayard helped me to make this connection. The book is a means, not an end in and of itself. And this means can help to connect us to ourselves, to others, and even to the virtual library that connects us to humanity as a whole. When you consider that, as a Pastor, does that encourage you or discourage you in respect to your sermons, for example? How do you feel about a sermon being a means of connection rather than simply a source of enlightement or information?

  3. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Love it! That was very ambitious of you to attempt not reading this book. I went the opposite route and thought I better read this book as carefully as possible, so here on out, I can shave time as much as possible. It looks like we might be leaving this book with the same level of understanding though! I too thought the game he recommended was brilliant and I think we should play in Hong Kong! Or maybe just start here, I have never read A Purpose Driven Life!

    • I have never read anything by John Maxwell. 😉

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Kyle, I don’t know if I am down to do that game. I get all competitive and then feel bad later. But, that said, I did read a portion of Bayard’s book. It’s not my one to not read. I just chose a part I could own and focused in on it and skimmed the rest. I’ve never read A Purpose Drive Life or Purpose Driven Church but I did read 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by Maxwell about 15 years ago so there’s that for Mark. I could probably place that in the forgotten book category. Also, Kyle I think you would lose because you have read so much. 🙂

  4. Hey Trisha, I loved the quote you highlighted…“Truth destined for others is less important than truthfulness to ourselves, something attainable only by those who free themselves from the obligation to seem cultivated, which tyrannizes us from within and prevents us from being ourselves.” I think speaking the truth to ourselves is the most important thing to remember. I also loved how you used Adler’s principles on this book and picked the part that interested you the most. This section was of interest to me as well since I deal with the topic of shame and guilt quite often in my practice. Great post lgp8 gangsta!

  5. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Trisha,
    I appreciate your vulnerability in sharing your insecurities and shame when it comes to speaking and/or preaching. Your humility is exactly what makes you an amazing presenter. I think I’ve learned through the years that I can’t be an expert about everything, but when I’m honest and vulnerable when I present (about what I truly know and what I will need to go back and learn more about) I gain respect and buy-in from the audience. Are you familiar with Brene Brown? She’s a PhD in Social Work who does significant research on vulnerability and shame. You can find her work on Ted Talks and You Tube. I highly recommend you check her out. She would be a great resource as you continue your work with students.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Jean, I have read and listened to Brene Brown. I really love her work and just referred a social worker to her TED talk the other day! I have read Daring Greatly and I hear her newest book is pretty good! We just don’t talk about shame and the way it affects us as a society enough and I am glad she is doing so as a researcher in particular.

  6. Shawn Hart says:

    Great job Tricia. I believe your honesty regarding your reading is the exact reason I seem to be critical of the approach taken by Bayard. Though I actually enjoyed reading many of the antidotes by Bayard, I have more respect for you through your honesty than I found for his writing encouraging me to, at least as I perceived it, master lying for public approval.

    I share your fear of “fabricating the truth”, because as a minister, I believe maintaining the truth is one the strongest gifts we have going for us. To be “honest”, I really have no desire to learn an approach that contradicts that. I often tell my congregation that I study for my lessons, but that does not mean that I never make mistakes. In fact, I give them 100% permission to hold me accountable should something I say be incorrect. I am more concerned with presenting false or inaccurate information than I am not knowing about something; after all, life should be about learning anyway.

    I’m too planning a sermon on flowers from garbage…I mean that stuff preaches! Your post made me realize that there is a certain privilege that came to those of us who were able to go to South Africa and see what we were blessed to see. Imagine if we wanted to do our best to pass that wisdom and imagery on to others so that they could glean just a little out of the trip that we had been able to glean, but then rather than listen to our story, someone decided that they did not need to read about it, or listen to it, but that even though they did not share in the events that we shared in, they were still qualified to tell others about it. For me, I believe the hearer would have been jilted. Furthermore, I believe the teller would have deprived themselves of a great story. Bayard talked about the reader is the story; but I believe the reader can become part of the story, if they will only allow themselves to be.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Shawn, I so appreciate your response. I think we resonate in several areas. It is so important to me to be honest and a continual learner, even if we are incorrect at times. I like that you encourage your congregation to be thinkers and studiers of the Word for themselves. That is great discipleship too.
      Great point about people missing out on the stories we tell as well. The opportunity truly would be missed to share in a moment and engage in the story in a new way. As I have been retelling my stories of our trip to others it is impacting them and me in still deeper ways. I hope your sermon on the garbage flowers goes well. Don’t forget the link to Golden’s page on our Advance Schedule page. It gives the whole story.

  7. Thanks for reminding me of the flowers from garbage we encountered in South Africa. This simple, redemptive act is a work of art, a way for beauty to enter the world in a place of pain.

    I just finished leading a retreat for a generous Vancouver family – the couple were bringing the next generation into an opportunity to lead their foundation.

    On the Friday evening of these retreats, I typically begin with a softer opening – a film. We watch Waste Land, an Oscar-nominated documentary about Brazilian Vik Muniz, an award-winning artist. (See the trailer at http://www.wastelandmovie.com/). He took garbage from Rio’s dump, and together with the poor who live and work in the dump, they created works of art that eventually hung in galleries around the world and were sold for a substantial amount. It was not just this transaction of money that impacted the recylers. It was their collaborating together with Vik to create an image of themselves – discovering, often for the first time, their own dignity as God’s children.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Mark, I would love to sit through one of your presentations. I bet it’s amazing! I am going to try to watch the movie you mentioned as well. I am so glad your retreat went well.

      You still have so much time to read Maxwell. I dare you to put it in your annotated bibliography for Cliff!

  8. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Trisha,
    You spoke of your shame in not the instances when you feel a gap between what you know and what you don’t know and yet as I read your post, your intelligence and depth in your post speak of a great depth in thought and insight. I agree that humility must cover everything we do as pastors and teachers, never think more of ourselves than we should. It makes us better able to seek to lead in our positions.

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