Monday, February 9, 2015

Harper Lee, Lent and the Dying Art of Reading

I was elated at the news last week, that octogenarian Harper Lee is going to publish a sequel to her Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird.  I read that book for the first time, as most of you probably did, in freshman English class.  My teacher was Mrs. Bloomberg and the assignment was to find a life lesson in the book and write about it.  Mine came from a piece of advice that Atticus Finch gave his daughter, Scout:
“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” 
 That simple lesson changed me profoundly as a young teenager, and continues to shape my worldview these many decades later.  It seemed almost serendipitous then, that Harper Lee’s announcement hit the news as I was writing the second chapter of my next book, titled: Does Anybody Really Read Anymore?  Here are a few snippets:

  • People are reading less than ever before, according to government surveys about how we spend our time.  While Americans over the age of 75 read slightly more than an hour on any given Saturday or Sunday, teenagers from fifteen to nineteen consume an average of only four minutes. Compare that to the fact that this age group interacts with digital media a minimum of ten hours per day, with more than half of all eighteen to twenty-four year olds reporting that they never pick up a book to read just for pleasure.

  • Our brains handle reading online vastly different from when we read a book in print.  In essence, when we look to a screen for our reading content, our brain assumes we want to get the job done as
    quickly as possible, so we skim 
    the surface and jump from one paragraph to another.  This is true even when we read a good book on our Kindle.  We seem to read only 20 percent of the content on any kind of digital screen. 

  • While the brain treats reading print media differently—allowing thoughtful reflection and a slower pace—because most of us spend the majority of our time looking at a screen, we are losing our capacity for deep reading, and as a result, deep thinking and learning (remember that the brain operates on a use-it-or-lose it basis.)

It’s pretty frightening to think what this could mean to those of us who follow Christ, particularly digital natives who have never experienced a life untethered to technology.  Without thinking deeply about God’s character or attributes or ways, we develop a shallow, vapid view of him, with our relationship revolving around our needs and desires rather than his infinite, transcendent glory.  

This is just one hidden danger related to our reading habits, but it does make me want to plead for a return to old-fashioned reading—the kind where you hold a book in your hands, smell the paper, fold down the corners, write in the margins and highlight key words.  I am not alone.  There is a Slow Reading movement that spans continents, calling for this very thing.  

As we approach the Lenten season, I hope you’ll consider using the time to read a good print book, one that will take you into the deep waters of Christ’s passion on Calvary.   A few that have been meaningful to me are: The Cross of Christ by John R. W. Stott, The Day Christ Died by Jim Bishop, and Reliving the Passion by Walt Wangerin.  If you’d like to know more about my book, Contemplating the Cross: a Forty Day Pilgrimage of Prayer, you can find reviews and a sample chapter here.  You can also purchase it here

Lent is a great time to pull back from being in perpetual motion through digital engagement with our computers, smartphones, televisions and tablets.  If you’d like some ideas on how to do this, click here.

Have a very blessed Lenten season, and may you read, think and learn more deeply of the glory of a God who gives his life on Golgotha’s hill than ever before.