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Pastor Jim’s Blog January 27


I’ve always been a reader.  My whole family of origin are readers still; both of my parents were educators.  Imagine my frustration when I came to understand that compared to most people I read more slowly.  I believe my brother learned to read by what was then called the Whole Language Method – where one does not sound the words in one’s head; it’s more reading by sight.  I was “hooked on phonics.”  At the time I took this as a failure.  I have since learned to peruse – reading the first line of paragraphs and looking for key words.  Even so, my natural instinct is to read slowly.  Given what I read about how young people read today I’m starting to feel proud of it.

In Mark Taylor’s book, Speed Limits he mentions that his students these days (he teaches at Columbia University) are not as willing as students in the past to read demanding authors where one must read slowly.  Then he says that the problem isn’t that they just don’t want to, it is with how they read and the crucial variable is speed:  “All too often reading online resembles rapid information processing rather than slow, careful, deliberate reflection.  Long, complicated works give way to brief texts that can be comprehended quickly or grasped at a glance.  When speed is essential, the shorter, the better; complexity gives way to simplicity, and depth of meaning dissipated in a play of surfaces over which fickle eyes surf.  Obscurity, ambiguity, and uncertainty, which are the lifeblood of art, literature, and philosophy, become coding problems to be resolved by reductive either-or or digital logic… speed reading fosters impatience, which leads readers to skip over anything that is not immediately obvious or relevant.”  Multitasking compounds the problem.  An inner energy moves people from one thing to the next leaving no time to concentrate or reflect on what is read.  Taylor calls this a fragmented consciousness.  In an article for the Atlantic, Nicolas Carr says a similar thing:  “Technology is even changing the way people think.  The culture of technology values efficiency and immediacy, which also leads to a dumbing down of information intake… people become ‘decoders’ of information, dimming to pull bytes rather than piecing together a deeper understanding.”  The implications of this are enormous.  Are we in such a hurry in life that we tend to go over the surface of everything?  If our thoughts are being altered to compute more and reflect less, what will happen to our relationships?  Will we lose the ability to know another person deeply?  Is the “Facebook Age” coming where we have many acquaintances but few, if any, relationships of gravity?  Will literature give way to graphic novels?

Once at a workshop led by Marcus Borg he challenged us to read the Bible slowly.  Read a passage paying attention to every word, and pause between sentences.  The pause was not so that we could think about it, precisely the opposite it was to create silent space between sentences.  For those of us who have always been challenged to read faster it felt like a comfort.  I distinctly remember reading the 43rd chapter of Isaiah… slowly, including:  “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you…”  And in the pause after that sentence I could sense the water of a flood and lifted my head as one would do to reach the surface of water for air.

I have mentioned the farmer, writer, poet Wendell Berry before, particularly his novel Jayber Crow, about the barber in the small town of Port William, Kentucky.  There is little action or suspense in this novel.  By modern standards he lives a boring life – it is a slow novel that I’m sure will never be read by those who read as described above.  But if read slowly….  Please read the quotes below slowly.   P.Jim

And I knew that the Spirit that had gone forth to shape the world and make it live was still alive in it.  I just had no doubt.  I could see that I lived in the created world, and it was still being created.  I would be part of it forever.  There was no escape.  The Spirit that made it was in it, shaping it and reshaping it, sometimes lying at rest, sometimes standing up and shaking itself, like a muddy horse, letting the pieces fly.

What I had come to know (by feeling only) was that the place’s true being, its presence you might say, was a sort of current, like an underground flow of water, except that the flowing was in all directions and yet did not flow away.  When it rose into your heart and throat, you felt joy and sorrow at the same time, and the joining of times and lives.  To come into the presence of the place was to know life and death, and to be near in all your thoughts to laughter and to tears.  This would come over you and then pass away, as fragile as a moment of light.

But love, sooner or later, forces us out of time.  It does not accept that limit.  Of all that we feel and do, all the virtues and all the sins, love alone crowds us at last over the edge of the world.  For love is always more than a little strange here.  It is not explainable or even justifiable. It is itself the justifier.  We do not make it.  If it did not happen to us, we could not imagine it.  It includes the world and time as a pregnant woman includes her child whose wrongs she will suffer and forgive.  It is in the world but is not altogether of it.  It is of eternity.  It takes us there when it most holds us here.


Pastor Jim CCx








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