Prairie View

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Literature Selection--The Bur Under My Saddle

The bur under my saddle is extremely annoying tonight, and I'm here to see if a bit of hard writing (riding) flattens out the prickles enough to make it tolerable again.

I'm frustrated with the challenge of pleasing people with a variety of tastes and distastes when it comes to choosing worthy literature. Especially, I am frustrated when I encounter uncertainty about whether any kind of reading material has merit beyond that which is written by Christians for Christians.

"If people read only the first half of the Bible, and then put it aside, they could logically assert that it has many offensive elements," I told my co-teacher today. Yet it is the inspired Word of God.

We went on to talk about the fact that the Bible has scatalogical references, scenes of brutal violence, lust, promiscuity, sexual perversion, and witchcraft. In many of these cases, very little commentary accompanies the accounts, condemnation is not pronounced immediately, and punishment is delayed.

Taken as a whole, the Bible reveals that these things are all clearly outside the will of God as a focus for our thoughts and lives. But it takes reading all the way into the second half of the Book to understand how these things really fit into the human experience and God's plan for man. We'd miss learning that if we clapped the Book shut in disgust halfway through reading it, and battened down the hatches of our mind before we got to the good part.

By continuing into the New Testament we learn that not everyone whose story is told is intended to be a model for our conduct. We learn that God has an inviolable moral code intended as a guide for all people till the end of time; sin has consequences and punishment must follow. Furthermore, human beings are wholly unable to save themselves from condemnation except for the provision made through Christ's substitutionary punishment by death.

Transformation is possible by means of the New Birth when we receive Christ as Savior and Lord. Even then, however, our being human is a permanent condition as long as we live on the earth. This situation inconveniences us enormously. Final deliverance comes only in the next life, when we go to "forever be with the Lord" in heaven.

Our life story can't be snapped shut in the middle at the first encounter with evil. With God's help, we learn to recognize evil and face it long enough to reject it, and then we go on living so that we can finally reach the good part at the end of the story--not with any promise that we will never have to face evil again, but secure in the knowledge that God will be there whenever we encounter the attacks of the Evil One.

At the very end, we can be Christ's pure and holy bride--not because we have passed through the world without touching it, but because we have encountered it with the mind of Christ, and He has given us the courage to face reality squarely (even the reality of evil) rather than to run to a safe place and hide when unpleasantness threatens.

How do reading Scripture and marching toward heaven relate to the choice of literature?

In reading as in life we don't need a guarantee, before we undertake to read something, that nothing in the text will be offensive. We need to lean hard on the One who gives us courage to face the offensive parts with the mind of Christ, rejecting sinfulness as a model for our lives. We can't assume that we understand the overall message of a book if we read only half of it.

Trying to engage a needy world without ever having to look at its messiness is like trying to walk through life without touching the ground. Not only is there little contact, there is little productive activity. Forward motion depends, after all, on solid contact and the resulting friction between the surfaces of two objects.

For those in my care, I want vigorous and engaging literature reading experiences. The God-stamped creative nature of the author will shine brightly in the word pictures drawn and the ideas expressed in the reading I encourage. I don't want offensive elements to be present in titillating detail. However, I will know for sure that the author is being dishonest about life, if all I see in his or her stories is sweetness and light.

In the books I recommend, I don't want the author to tell everyone what to think. That is an unqualified privilege belonging only to God, and I am annoyed when anyone else assumes the role. I have great admiration for the author who tells a story so provocatively that the reader is forced to think deeply. Even if it's hard work, and people tend to avoid it otherwise, a well-written story will serve as an irresistable goad that forces people into doing what they ought to do willingly, but often lack the discipline to do voluntarily.

While reading may be a solitary activity, I want young people especially to be able to talk to people more experienced and mature than themselves about what they read. For this reason, I think the reading repertoire of students should be broad and varied. What better time and place to encounter challenging material than in a context where there is help available for understanding and evaluating it?

It's time to put away my riding horse for the day. When I remove the saddle, I think I'll be able to flick aside, without emotion, any smashed burs I encounter. That's what I like about a hard ride. It doesn't make the burs go away by themselves, but it pummels them into submission and thus renders them powerless to inflict pain.