Pick up the actual book

I’m just one of those people who love a book. I love to read, and reading has played a significant part in my spiritual growth and learning. Now, of course, we benefit from ebooks etc on our computers and smartphones. I personally enjoy my kindle and my phone for reading material – except for my Bible habits which I strongly advocate remain in book form. Hear me out!

For Christians, the ‘search-ability’ of the Bible on a phone app is a great tool, as well as the ready availability and accessibility of literature online (although one has to be discerning on that front!). I recognise, too, that many aren’t much into books for lots of reasons, including learning or visual limitations. I recognise that we’re increasingly a non-book culture, but I believe as Christians we have to challenge that slightly within the Christian community.

I have a basic concern. It’s a concern I’ve always had, but it is an increasingly growing concern. Many of you may not see it as an issue, but as a pastor I see it.

Whilst technology is great for having a searchable element and is good for a quick read, I want to strongly encourage Christians to see that as a supplement to using an actual physical, hold-in-your-hand book-form Bible as your main reader. Why? A few reasons.

I get concerned when I sense that people just seem to dip into bits here and there, with no real concept of the whole trajectory of a gospel/letter/history/etc. This is especially true for the OT to avoid weird ‘Prayer of Jabez’ crazes! I think apps reduce the bible to the few sentences on the screen and so we don’t always have a wider sense of what we’re dealing with. Now, that’s not important for your holiday John Grisham novel, but I think it’s crucial for biblical material. I’m not sure this limited visual is good for a deepening understanding of what people are reading.

For me, and I know everyone is different, a physical book adds a tactility to the learning experience. In fact, I learn the text by copying out biblical text by hand. This year I’ve written out Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1&2 Thessalonians. This allows me to become aware of the patterns, themes, messages of these books and increases my familiarity with them. I also, at times, listen to the bible being read as I follow on in my book or phone – that adds other ways to reflect on the text. It’s amazing the amount of times I’ve thought, ‘what? Eh? Jesus, what? Paul? Say again?!’

I also have a hunch that, in spite of having hundreds of versions of the bible on our phone, it doesn’t make biblical literacy any better. I recognise, though, that having phone access to a bible may mean some people read the bible more than they may otherwise, which is better than nothing. But what I’m advocating is adding the book and bigging up your bible habit.

What I’m suggesting here is not a reduction to just a paper Bible. I’m suggesting significantly increased involvement with the book alongside all the other great ways to engage.

Not too long ago, in some city somewhere, I sat and watched a church elder look for 1 Timothy in the beginning of the Old Testament. That raises lots of questions, and I hope it’s an extreme example, but it at least illustrates something of what I’m saying.

I’d love to see a significant return to bibles being books that people get to know intimately and thoroughly. I’ve always felt the handicap of never having been a child who went to Sunday School. But, I just can’t imagine how anyone sustains the Christian life without a serious commitment to picking up the book.

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Simplicity

simplicityWe live in a fast-paced complex world that would, and often does, tie you up in knots. Our fast ‘Google culture’ makes everything instant.  I love the practicality of my smartphone, but it means that I’m ‘on’ a significant amount of the time.

And then there’s the ‘stuff’ and the money that the ‘stuff’ costs.  And then there’s all the stuff that we already have, and have had for years because there’s some sort of weird reason why we can’t get rid of it.  Some attachement of some sort, or that it was Aunty Mary that sent it, or …. you know the story.

And then there is communication, and the way commucation does or doesn’t work in communities.  We end up creating some complicated webs of knowledge, and then that knowledge becomes power because of who does or doesn’t have that knowledge.  Or, there are things that I should know about someone just in case I haven’t got good judgement of my own to work people out.  You know the story.

The second monastic value that is close to me, after silence, is simplicity.  Simplicity because life is complicated enough.  Simplicity because it is very close to transparency and openness.  Simplicity because misunderstandings are avoided.  Simplicity because we’re not geared up to be dealing with millions of data firing at us all the time.

There’s an interenet meme going around that says ‘My head is like an internet browser:  there are 30 windows open and I have no idea where the music is coming from.’

Enough.  When will we all learn to say ‘enough’?  When will we stop stuffing our diaries (and our children’s diaries) with constant activity and busyness like that is the proof of a fulfilled and productive life?

And when will we stop over-consuming everything? Need I say more?

They say we live in a fast-paced society.  That may well be true.  But we can resist.  If our ‘busyness’ becomes more important than the quality of our lives and relationships, then its value is lost.  If all our working hours are to maintain a standard of living that, if we thought about it, we’d be much happier without, then stop.  Take the pay cut, lose the hours and gain your soul!

Thing is, the pressures of society are unlikely to become fewer.

I recently was on an online forum where someone was asking how to deal with pages and pages of ‘to-do’ lists.  Many people had some interesting ideas to organise her busyness better.  My response was ‘perhaps its time to evaluate some lifestyle choices?’

I direct the same challenge to myself.  There’s loads of things that I could throw overboard that would lead to a greater sense of sanity and peace, that would lead to more effective productivity where it mattered….and that might just mean I didn’t have to tidy up quite so often…!

Simplicity.  It’s simply underrated.