Monday, October 15, 2012

Good Books & the Great Commission: What I Meant to Say, Part Three

I recently offered a presentation titled "Good Books & the Great Commission." My goal was to demonstrate the role of book publishing in the church's disciple-making mission. I was planning to talk about the decline of reading in contemporary culture and the need for intentionality in creating cultures of reading in contemporary churches. I was fielding questions about getting yourself published before I finished my intro.

I don't begrudge people their desire to see themselves publish. Honestly I don't. I still stand by my conviction, however, that reading can be missional, that the church can and should be a reading culture. So I'm reposting what I meant to say here, and you're just going to have to deal with it. :)

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Guess how many books are being published in America this year. 300,000. That’s a ton of books—actually it’s more like 150 tons. Here are opening lines to some of them.

"Your eyes are like deep blue pools that I would like to drown in,” he had told Kimberly when she had asked him what he was thinking; but what he was actually thinking was that sometimes when he recharges his phone he forgets to put the little plug back in but he wasn’t going to tell her that.
Here’s another one.

As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, wondering, as she noted the infestation of eyelash mites, the tiny deodicids burrowing into his follicles to eat the greasy sebum therein, each female laying up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, causing inflammation, whether the eyes are truly the windows of the soul; and, if so, his soul needed regrouting.
And finally this one.

He got down from his horse, which seemed strange to him as he had always believed that you got down from a duck or a goose.
OK, these aren’t from actual books. These are winning entries from the 2012 Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest, where people attempt to come up with the worst sentences to see print.

This contest only works if people come to it with an understanding: some writing is truly awful. That’s not the only understanding, of course: some writing, we all recognize, is truly good. The trick is recognizing the difference. In this case, the finalists in the Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest are, counterintuitively, good writing: so bad that they’re good, they fulfill their promise to their readers by creatively crafting the worst possible sentences. In these awful sentences, the writer and reader come together and celebrate the result.

Put two strangers in a room together—people from two distinct cultures, without a common language—and before too long they’ll figure out ways of communicating. Their communication may never extend beyond nonverbal signs, but it may go far beyond that, from constructing new pidgin languages out of their two native tongues, to learning to speak and understand each other’s languages.

It’s hard work, but it can be done, and we do it because we want to: “It’s not good for the man to be alone,” God tells us in the book of Genesis. We also communicate because that’s what beings made in the image of God would do: God communicates from the beginning, speaking the universe into existence, commissioning the man and the woman in the garden, inviting the man to name all the animals in existence—teaching him, in effect, the art of communication before he has anyone to communicate with.

It’s not a long leap from spoken language to written language, and we have evidence of writing as ancient as 3200 BC. Anything that happened before written language, as a matter of fact, is by definition prehistoric—it predates the history we have available to us because it couldn’t be written down and preserved. Ancient writing had a clear audience in mind, and in every case it served a clear purpose—the ordering of society, the explanation of human origins, the assimilation of new people (whether children or conquered peoples) into the culture of the author. It’s no wonder that the first five books of our Bible tell us of our origins, tell us how the best life is to be lived, and demonstrate how a people came to be chosen by God and what are the implications of that chosenness: these are the functions of writing at their most basic, most primal.

Writing is covenantal; at its best it’s not merely consumed or tossed out but creates a sense of intimacy between the two parties and in some small or large way binds together their destinies.

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