Friday, October 19, 2012

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

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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I remember when I met Brian Mahan, the author of Forgetting Ourselves on Purpose. I sort of stalked him, and then I played my “I’m an editor for a venerable Christian publishing house” card to get him to go to lunch with me. I got there late and found myself short on cash in a restaurant that didn’t take credit cards; he and his wife (who had come with him) bought me lunch and drove me back to my hotel, sending me home with a hug and a copy of his wife’s new book.

We’ve since interacted intermittently; I’ve given him publishing advice (his more recent writing doesn’t fit our publishing program well, and he has bigger aspirations than us anyway), and he’s felt comfortable enough with me to poke in helpful ways at my theology and my discipleship. Now, when I think about issues related to vocation, or ambition, or virtue in general, my thinking is informed by his thinking.

I’ve loaned his book to some of my friends. Some of them get it; some of them don’t. I’ve found that younger readers are more receptive to him—largely, I think, because he’s a college professor, and he pictures college-aged readers (or thereabouts) as he writes. Older folks have ceased thinking and feeling like college students, and so some of his stuff to them seems silly or over-the-top. That’s my guess, anyway; it works for me mainly because I refuse to grow up. In any case, Brian picked his audience as he wrote Forgetting Ourselves on Purpose, and he has enjoyed the fruits of that even as he’s come to live with the side effects of it.

Picking an audience is part of the cost of the covenant when you write to be read.

  • You have to turn yourself away from some people and toward some others.
  • You have to reach beyond your own intuitive logic to write clearly, comprehensively and methodically so that a stranger, without direct access to your brain or your nonverbals, can comprehend what you’re suggesting and interact meaningfully with it.
  • You have to cut material that is personally important but, to the reader, irrelevant.
  • You have to include material that seems to you superfluous but will help the reader warm to you and enter more fully into your content.
  • You have to subject yourself to the scrutiny of often harsh critics.
  • It can feel like a great sacrifice, writing to be read.

    But the reader makes a sacrifice too.

  • At the most basic, a reader sacrifices time and money, to acquire and read what you’ve written.
  • Beyond that, a reader often stretches beyond comfort or current capacity to learn something new or be confronted with something different.
  • Or a reader endures bad prose to get to a good point.
  • Or a reader endures the mockery or even scorn of other readers who have rejected the credibility of the author they’ve chosen to read.
  • In these ways and more, reading can feel like a great sacrifice.

    Every covenant involves sacrifice, though, so why should the author-reader covenant be any different? Not all writing or reading achieves this covenantal status, but we do well to expect it and aspire to it when we choose what we read or what we write.

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