With the increasing technological advancement of our day, it is becoming progressively harder for parents to motivate their children to read and write. As I see children with their heads buried in their tablet or cell phone, I become saddened by the prospect of reading and writing becoming lost arts. In fact, just a few months ago as I was waiting for an emergency dental procedure at my dentist’s office, she remarked that she was so impressed that I had brought a book to read while I waiting for her. She said I was one of the very few patients under the age of 30 that is not completely stuck on Facebook or texting the entire time.
Now, of course, I’m not saying that tablets and cell phones have no place. I often use the latest gizmos myself and with the advent of programs like Kindle, I completely get that many people are still reading but in a more convenient way that takes up less space on the plane. Nevertheless, I continue to be amazed by the number of peers my own age who show no interest in reading books some of whom cannot remember reading a single book since elementary school other than one which was assigned for a class. This troubles me because I truly believe that in order to gain wisdom and insight we not only need to have deep discussions with others, but we also need to be wide-read and know how to express ourselves well through our words. In fact, I have heard time and time again that in order to be a good writer (one of the most necessary skills in any discipline, but especially in the academy) we must first learn how to be good readers. So, below, I’d like to share with you a few suggestions for how we can motivate ourselves and encourage our own children and grandchildren to gain an appreciation for reading and writing and to acquire the skills they need that will last them a life-time.
1) Read Everything You Can Get Your Hands On. I don’t care whether it’s a cookbook, a dictionary, a Bible, or a Qur’an, if it’s there, read it. In order to grow in global awareness and become knowledgeable on a variety of subjects, it is important to read a variety of works. As a budding theologian, I tend to gravitate towards the deep theological works of Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli, but I have also learned that in order to better appreciate some of the newer classics by C.S. Lewis, John Mac Arthur, and Max Lucado, I also need an awareness of literary classics in general. Time and again I am surprised at how many newer books reference Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, or J.R.R. Tolkien, so as a result, I now try to invest my time into finishing at least two or three classics a year. Additionally, as a seminary student I have learned the necessity of reading other works I may not entirely agree with or even be comfortable with in order to broaden my understanding of why I believe what I do. This means that aside from having friends from other denominational or even religious backgrounds, I try to not only confine myself to Anabaptist thinkers, but also to bring Catholic, Presbyterian, and even Charismatic voices to the table. In my library, I not only have copies of a variety of English versions of the Bible, but also the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Talmud. By becoming acquainted with these holy books, I gain a deeper appreciation for world religions and at the same time get a deeper understanding of how to better defend my own faith.
2) Journal. My journal is my greatest literary tool ever. When I journal I don’t have to worry about whether the sentences make sense to anyone other than myself. Typos and incomplete thoughts are welcomed, and I am able to spend as long or as little as I want ruminating on one topic. My journal is the place where I can make rough drafts of poems, where I can write out raw prayers to God, and where I can develop my theology. There are many times when I am able to use portions of my journal to develop longer blogs or article pieces, but at other times I feel the Lord simply telling me that regardless of how profound I might have experienced a revelation to be that it is simply between Him and I. I try to journal every day, leaving it right by my bed in case I wake up in the middle of the night with a thought or with a revelation I know to be from God. Years later as I pour through some of the journals I wrote much earlier in my life or when I was newer to my faith, I am reminded of God’s faithfulness and compassion towards me. Many times the questions I once thought would never be answered, have developed into wonderful expressions of God’s delight towards me.
3) Read for 15 Minutes a Day. I get it. We all have busy lives and it can be strenuous to try to make time for even one more activity in our day to day life. Yet, consider this: 15 minutes is probably less than half the amount of time the majority of us spend on a daily basis texting, Facebook stalking, or Tweeting to the world about inconsequential matters. I once had an undergraduate student come into the writing centre and after relating his difficult in formulating sentences, he asked me how he could become a better writer. My response? Through reading! How can I read, if I have difficulty even reading my Bible? He wanted to know. My answer: Try 15 minutes a day. 15 minutes a day may seem trivial, but you would be surprised at how many books you can go through in a few months time if that is the only time you will devote to reading in a day. In fact, I was able to complete the entire Bible in about 8 months time just by reading 15 minutes a day. Having a short time period will make it much easier to approach reading and will give you a sense of accomplishment.
4) Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help. In an individualistic culture, many of us may find it difficult to approach a more knowledgeable person and ask for their assistance, however, I have learned that by asking for help you can really hone and develop your skills of reading and writing more efficiently. Whenever students come into the writing centre, one of the very first pieces of advice I give them is this: “I don’t care how good of a writer you are. I really don’t. It’s always a good idea to have someone else look over your work.” I’ve made so many mistakes as a writer myself. Simply having someone edit my work has saved me from making costly mistakes. In fact, one time having a PhD candidate edit my New Testament essay saved me from potentially getting kicked out of Tyndale based on accidentally writing a heretical statement when I in fact meant to write something completely different than what I had put down on the paper.
5) Lastly, Remember That You Have a Voice. One thing that my editor constantly likes to say to me is this, “you have a voice, just like everyone else and what you share is not any less important than what any other theologian is writing about.” Through finding my theological passion and through writing about topics I truly care about and yet find are largely silent within the mainstream church, I know I am giving a voice to others who might not be able to articulate their thoughts in the same way. I am giving a voice to people with disabilities, to single mothers, and to women who have been abused. I am giving a voice to the minority, often through first spending significant time with them and hearing their own concerns before I formulate it for them on paper. In this way, it doesn’t matter whether you have a seminary education or not or even whether you think you are a skilled writer or not, God can still use you by sharing your own story and the story of others. You gotta write when the Spirit says write!
I hope these tips provide you with a life time of good writing and I look forward to reading all that you have to say :).
P.S.Although I mentioned it in a previous blog (seen here: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2014/12/23/literary-thanksgiving/), I just want to take a moment once again to thank those individuals who have inspired me to read and write throughout my life. Their generosity and encouragement over the years has truly inspired me and fostered in me a joy and delight of literary pursuits!