One of the saddest things I have ever heard in my life came from a minister who had been preaching for nearly forty years. That this minister was being held up as a model for young ministers to follow made it doubly tragic. What was the sad statement? He said, “I have not changed my mind on a religious topic in nearly forty years.” I suppose if Jesus had made that statement it would not have troubled me. In a Q & A session with a small group of students, this question was put to this brother by a person to remain unnamed: “Can you recommend three or four books or authors that you think are superior?” The ministers’ reply was “I don’t really like to read.” Suddenly it dawned on the unnamed student why he had not changed his mind in forty years!
I cannot imagine what it would be like to try to go through life without the blessing of books. Books in reality are nothing but the story of humanity and by reading I am simply learning more about myself and those who share the third rock from the Sun with me. Books delight the soul and help lift the mind from baser themes.
For example one of my favorites from childhood has been A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh. My soft spot for Pooh was discovered by some folks recently as they found me reading John Tyerman Williams Pooh and the Philosophers. What delightful book in which we learn that Pooh indeed is the greatest philosopher of them all! In fact all philosophy is simply a preamble to Winnie-the-Pooh. The bear that can help us with purity of heart and humility, I thrilled to learn, was also outdoing Plato, Locke, and Camus. Through a book we are taken back to that place of safety, that place of innocence, that place we so often forget: the hundred acre wood where we can find friendship, we find joy, we find that life really is about just a few basic things. As an adult when I read Pooh I scratch my head and ask, “who is Milne talking too? children or adult readers?”
I am not even forty years old (much less have preached that long) yet but I cannot imagine living those forty years without the help and insight of my favorite philosopher: Winnie-the-Pooh. I have changed my mind on religious topics and “secular” topics on a whole host of things. Books have opened up new horizons for me, books that have forced me to think from a different perspective, books that have exposed my near sightedness have been responsible for much my rethinking. Books have helped deliver me from what Mortimer J. Adler calls a “foolish and wasteful form of snobbishness and provinciality.” Was this growth? or was it decline? Over the next few days we will be exploring several reasons that we should be readers … good readers.