This past weekend, I had the privilege of taking students to our local youth conference (YC Alberta). Its the same conference that I attended as a teenager and it made such an impact in my life that I feel it important to share with my students. I always pray that somehow the Lord will use that event to either introduce himself to them in a deeper way or for them to grow closer to God. Its truly a blessing to have such an event close by! My friend Ron Powell wrote a great piece here where he talks about the benefits of a large gathering, which you should read.
As selfishly as it may sound, this post is not about how the conference impacted my students, but really how it impacted me. Its amazing that after 20 years of attending this conference, I still get something out of it! During a break out session presented by Brett Ullman, He said something that caught my attention and really got me thinking. His session dealt mainly with media, faith and culture, and during his talk, he brought up books.
Now if you've read my blog or know anything about me, I'm a book Junkie. I spend way too much time reading and buying books, so much so, that i've had to force myself not to buy anymore because i've ran out of room on my shelves. Plus, I'm trying to go digital. It saves trees. But I digress.
When he brought up books, he challenged us to not only read books by everyone's favourite Christian authors. That we should try and read books from authors we didn't like so that perhaps we would have our minds jogged and stretched into writing more original and deeper messages. He said "If I hear another "Crazy Love" sermon, I'm going to lose it!" Not because he dislikes Francis Chan or his books, but because so many people have been reading the same book and basically preaching the same thing.
This got me thinking "When was the last time I read a book from someone I disagreed with or simply didn't like for whatever reason?" all the books I own are from authors I enjoy reading, but predominately, I agree with what they are saying on a certain topic. Its why I bought their books. Reading my favourite authors has yielded great results in the way I follow through in ministry and I always read them expecting to find some nugget of practical truth that I may share with the people under my care.
I've always thought that reading a book from an author I didn't like or agree with was a waste of time. I had enough or reading books I didn't like back in my college days. When a particular book was assigned reading and I didn't like either the way the author wrote or the position he or she were taking on a topic, I just read enough to get through the assignment and then never read the book again. In fact, I believe they were "donated" to the recycling bin. It seems my young mind missed a key lesson! my professors were trying to teach me that: reading good books is good, but combining a book you agree with with one of the opposite view will sharpen your understanding.
Even the mere effort that it takes to read a writing style we don't like or a point of view that vehemently contradicts ours, can have a positive effect. It forces us to use our brains for something other than information sponges. It challenges our views and if they are not solid this will really put them to the test. The biggest benefit is that it forces us to listen to someones opinion. It is way easier to listen to someone we like or agree with than it is to hear the words of someone that rubs us the wrong way or holds an opposite view. Perhaps we've missed a priceless diamond because we decided not to search through the mound of coal, simply because we didn't like who did the digging?
Perhaps it is merely a kind of fear that keeps us from engaging the uncomfortable. A fear that the opinion of an author with a different point of view may prove that ours was flawed, and thus forcing us to reexamine our belief system for more imperfections and thus opening up the proverbial "Pandora's box" where all sorts of errors come out? Or it could simply be that we've gotten so comfortable in what we read that trying out a new writer or engaging in the writings of a different point of view or belief system will force us to vacate our cliche 'comfort zone'? thats really something each of us need to give some serious thought to, be it one or both or even more than these reasons.
What to do with this newly learned lesson? Well, I won't presume to tell you what you should do. That's for you to decide. Personally, I need to bite the bullet and get beyond not buying a book because I don't like the author and even pick up a few that disagree with my point of view. There are many writers that I don't know and perhaps I should start giving them a chance. Lack of notoriety should not determine what book is read. Thats unfair to the authors or many works and really limits the rate by which new knowledge is absorbed to the time my favourite writers release a new book. After all, it could take years between books and there is a limit of how many times you can read a book over before it loses its 'flavour,' Like chewing on a piece of gum for too long, eventually it stops producing flavour and its only benefit is giving jaw muscles a work out, and the last thing we need is pastors with stronger jaw muscles! we'll just keep talking for hours! (haha, preaching humour)
In music, some of the most beautiful pieces written need a little tension caused by some disharmony within the notes or instruments to flavour and colour a piece. Tension helps in taking the music from simple melody and evolves it into a grand symphony! Its all about a good distribution of tension and release, harmony and disharmony, smooth and rough. Perhaps adding a little disharmony to our reading may push our ideas and sermons into a whole new level! A little tension in our learning, now and again, is a healthy thing.
As always I welcome your thoughts.