18 Jul 2007

Why Do We Read? Part 2

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bobby's World, Books, Culture, Discipleship, Ministry, Prayer, Reading, Spiritual Disciplines

Read Why We Read? Part One Here

In modern America many would rather watch reality TV that sit in a nook with a book. But there are many positive reasons to take up and read. In this blog I want to share just a few thoughts along these lines.

Reading is what has been called a “cool medium” that invites us to step back and ponder critically what we have encountered. We can stop at any time and compare what we have read with what we previously have known from other sources. We can build bridges between the text and our own experience through a “fusion of horizons.” Good reading trains us to think issues and perspectives through for ourselves.

TV on the other hand is a “hot medium.” It comes prepackaged and speaks directly to emotions. It often passes on an agenda through the use of camera angles, editing, graphic images and even outright fabrication. TV is food for the mind that is is meant to be swallowed without being chewed. It is sort of like the strained bananas we used to give our children.

Thomas Merton writes clearly on the matter. He said “the life of a television-watcher is a kind of caricature of contemplation. Passivity, uncritical absorption, receptivity, inertia. Not only that but a gradual yielding to the mystic attraction until one is spellbound in a state of complete union … [it] is the nadir of intellectual and emotional slavery” (“Inner Experience: Problems of the Contemplative Life (VII),” Cistercian Studies Quarterly 19 [1984], 269-270.

This blog is not about the evils of TV. I enjoy some TV every once in a while (especially during football season). Rather I am lamenting the loss, or the diminishing value, of reading in our culture … both “secular” and religious. This is true even among preachers folks who live and die by “words.”

Yet there is something beautiful about the sight of a person absorbed in reading. The body is stilled and the mind is quieted. There is a concentration of mental energy and a gentle, and healing, withdrawal from the ups and downs of life.

Reading is in the service of the spiritual life. Not only does it broaden the mind by extending the range of interests, but it also brings about a certain refinement that is the opposite of coarseness or vulgarity. There are of course different kinds of reading. The kind I am promoting is not mere speed reading to see how many books one can simply pass through.

No, I echo the words of Michael Casey who opined that a good book, like fine wine, cannot be savored in a hurry!

But reading is not simply to be enjoyed. Our reading is designed to take us somewhere. A good book should never leave us as we where when we picked it up. A good book is an invitation to grow beyond what we are at present, to view issues from a different perspective, to add fresh elements to our synthesis of reality as we encounter it. Thus good reading is dialogical. We are not asked to sell out our understanding or convictions merely because they have been challenged. Rather we are invited to a conversation that will enable us to nuance our convictions and the reasons for holding them in response to implied or explicit criticism.

Understanding a point of view that is strange to us often serves as a means of bringing to the surface deeply held convictions that hitherto we have not closely examined.

My final thought for this blog on reading is trite at first glance but much more significant than we might first think. Good reading is a source of enjoyment and refreshment that can and does help us recuperate from the stress of our vocations.

Tolle lege,
Bobby Valentine

8 Responses to “Why Do We Read? Part 2”

  1. hamiam Says:


    Love this series…I am an avid reader (though less right now for my “personal” interests than for academic purposes) and have long believed what you say about challenging beliefs not being the same as selling them out.

  2. Falantedios Says:

    What else remains to be said? You make it really hard to comment.

    I’m remembering something about the clean sea breeze of old books blowing rottenness out of our minds.

    Books are beautiful! The printing press is one SWEET invention.


  3. Frank Bellizzi Says:

    A very fine post, Bobby.

    But you know, of course, that this is the epitome of preaching to the choir. I hope you’re planning to take some of this and present it at church. You know, to all of those TV addicts in your congregation. A Sunday or Wednesday evening might be appropriate.

    My friend Joel Solliday used to emphasize in his ministry (probably still does) TV Turn-off Week. I got the idea from him and did some of that myself.

    As you know, guilt won’t take them very far for very long. But if your people can be moved to replace some rotten habits with better ones, that can only be good.

    Thanks for your blog.

  4. ben overby Says:


    I think the problem isn’t so much the medium but how we approach it. If we are active readers, then our experience will be positive and like what you’ve described. If we’re passive then we’ll be jerked this way and that, never really interacting with the book or being stretched as a result. The same is true of TV or movies. If we watch actively, then we might be able to pull much from Lord of the Rings or The Green Mile or Harry Potter or Spiderman or The Notebook or The Office or My Name Is Earl or Survivor.

    But in both books and the world of TV much is sensationalized in order to appeal to sensualists. I guess the general warning applies: We need to be awake, sober-minded, and active in the reception of stories, commercials, words, images, etc. We need more of the transcendentals (as Aristotle refered to them) of truth, the good, and the beautiful. Whether we get that on a walk, in a book, listening to a symphony, or plopped in front of the TV seems to me to make little difference. There’s no more truth, good, or beauty in books than TV. It all has to do with what we read and what we watch and even more to do with “how.”

    Not disagreeing, just twisting the emphasis a bit, for what it’s worth.


  5. preacherman Says:

    Great post.
    I love reading but with a 6year old, 4 year old and 18 month old it is hard to find the time reading other books. I love reading Gary Hollaway’s books, recently bought Lynn Anderson’s “They Smell Like Sheep Part 2.” and can’t wait to read your new book.
    Thanks for this second post Bobby. You always do such a great job.

  6. Niki Says:

    More great thoughts on a great subject! I am so grateful for the many types of books available. I love to think and be challenged by authors, but sometimes I love reading a little “fluff” as well – purely for entertainment.

    My hubby doesn’t enjoy reading as much as I do, but we are trying our darndest to raise 3 readers. The 7 and 4 year olds have their own library cards and the 3 year old will get one soon.

    You are so right. Reading takes you places and leaves you changed. Sometimes mine takes me to the bathroom where I can lock the door for 15 minutes and read uninterrupted for 7 of those 15 minutes! 😉 I put a comfy ottoman in there for such occasions.

    I absolutely loved your description of the body when absorbed in reading! Excellent word picture Bobby!!

  7. Anonymous Says:

    I’m an avid reader and also love the books you recommend. However, I also work with men who can not read. My own husband struggles simply with spelling and I have an uncle that can not even write out a check. Now I know it’s possible to overcome any handicap through the power of God. I’ve seen one of my brother’s dive into the scriptures with zeal and he has only a 3rd grade education.

    With that said I still remember one of my elders asking me a question. I had left the coc for the Lutheran Church because I felt called and also because of my husband. This elder who I respect
    deeply asked if my husband had started reading the bible. Proof that maybe I was wrong in the path I took. Feeling a little deflated I realized a couple weeks later that my husband was reading the bible. He was reading me!

    So, while I agree with you in many ways, I think you would also agree that example and oral communcation are just as powerful. Some people learn better that way than from a book. And some who read books need to get their heads out of the books to truley experience God.

    It’s definelty a narrow path. Again I’m an avid reader, I love to read what other’s have pondered. I love to read about the Lepers that Jesus healed. But how many non-readers are willing to touch those Lepers and how many just like to read about them?

    Hey, by the way I just got a new nic name. TURBO! Think it fits?

    Peace be with you, Yoda!
    Penney Winiarski

  8. Jim Says:


    Very, very good. I’m glad you wrote this post!

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