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Thursday, September 15, 2016

"Reading For the Common Good" (C. Christopher Smith)

TITLE: Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish
AUTHOR: C. Christopher Smith
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2016, (179 pages).

What has reading got to do with community? A lot! So says the author and editor of The Englewood Review of Books, Christopher Smith. This co-author of Slow Church continues on the tread of learning to pace ourselves in our reading and our connecting. While his previous bestselling book was on things Church and community, this book is about the general practice of reading and books and how they can cultivate neighbourliness. Smith uses the Church as a "learning organization" as a way to enter the discussion. From reading about DIY manuals to instructions about things essential for daily living, reading can be opportunities to build bridges and to share knowledge of things that matter to our community. For reading is both learning and action. Both must be held together. Learning without action is mere knowledge that does not relate to everyday life. Action without learning will have their superficiality eventually found out. Smith lists the other reasons on how reading can be used for the common good:
  • It forms us into a compassionate and faithful people who build bridges;
  • It calls us to know God in His Word;
  • It guides us to understand the brokenness of the world and how we can be a positive force for good;
  •  It helps us discern and develop our gifts and talents.

Just like learning and action, reading and discernment goes hand in hand. As Christians receive the Witness of the Spirit, they too are to be witnesses for God everywhere they go. It is also a call to be counter-cultural. While the "Slow Food" movement is a reaction against "Fast Food" and Smith's "Slow Church" against the "Fast-paced Church," we are encouraged to take time for "Slow Reading" so as to appreciate the real meaning of what we read. This sets the pace for shaping our own imagination about the social contexts we live in. We learn to read language, time, our education infrastructures, our economy, our built environment, and how these give us a sense of the kind of world we live in. Reading influences and transforms our social imagination. In non-fiction, we learn of narrative, theory, and instructive books that tell us directly the way how our reading can impact our living. In fiction, we learn to see possibilities and parallels to how we live.  Poetry helps us experience life in new and fresh ways. All three genres can lead us to endless conversations of things past, present, and future. Reading includes our congregational identity. Like letting Scripture lead us and live in us. Reading helps us discern our calling and how the Church can help us in the process. Smith points out how churches can partner with others to start businesses that spur creativity, employment, and working out of our calling. Put in another way. In reading as vocation, we essentially trust the Church to read us and help us to know our vocation. From mentoring to various forms of spiritual discernment, there are many book resources to choose from.

Gradually, we move outward to what reading means for our neighbours, for our involvement in the neighbourhood, and the way we can connect to society at large. From there we can branch further out to creation and many other aspects of the world such as economics and politics. That is not all. Smith goes beyond reading as an activity toward reading as becoming a community. From book recommendations to book clubs, this aspect of life can be enhanced with regular reviews and updates by community members committed to read.

So What?

Recently, someone posted: "Who says I don't read books? I read Facebook?" While it is humourous and witty, it also describes how social media and the electronic medium have influenced the way we read, how frequent we read, and whether we read actual books at all in the first place. Since the advent of the printing press, books have become common place in many societies. With the widespread availability of the Internet, books are increasingly being placed on the electronic media. This changes our normal 'slow reading' into 'speed reading.'

For those of us who hardly read, this book is a wake-up call to pick up a book and start reading. There is so much to learn and to be fascinated with. For those of us who read only e-magazines, remember that there are a lot more good printed material to gather our information from. Beware of the F-Shaped browsing syndrome that researches have found with regard to the way people read electronic media. For those of us who have been reading, maybe it's high time to raise the bar to read better books; to read other genres; and to read with community in mind. This latter point is exactly where Smith is coming from. For an activity that seems to be individually centered, I am heartened to know about this book that attempts to bridge the individual with the community through reading. The last chapter on resources is a great way to begin growing deeper in the discipline of reading. Perhaps, the more we read, the less it becomes some kind of an exercise or workout. It becomes a joy in reading.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of IVP Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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