Saturday, June 12, 2010

Of Slumps and Theological Reading

Over at my creativity blog, I wrote a post about my teenage reading self and my attempts to catch up with the reading that I thought other high schoolers were doing in their much better high schools. I felt real panic at the thought of arriving at college unprepared. In hind sight, of course, I see that I was much better prepared than most students. I had good reading habits, and I knew how to write an essay. Those skills have taken me far. I'm organized and efficient--those skills may have taken me even further.

As I was writing, I thought about not just my teenage reading self, but my theological reading self. Until 1999, I read very little theology. I started reading theology for a piece of literary criticism about Octavia Butler that I was writing. From that section of the library, I wandered over to Henri Nouwen and Kathleen Norris. I was part of a church that left me hungry for more intellectual depth, and I read more and more to get that nourishment that was lacking--much the way that I devoured classic literature in high school.

The danger of education is that you may find you've educated yourself out of certain circles. I've been dismayed to realize that I've read more theology than many people with a seminary education. Of course, I haven't had the benefit of a teacher to guide me, to talk to me, to listen to the ideas that my reading has inspired and to help me see where the reading is true and where the reading may be heading off towards heresy. Luckily, my liberal arts education has left me fairly well equipped to read critically, and my knowledge of church history has also helped me to understand where writers may be headed off to brave, new territory. I'm part of a church tradition that doesn't damn people for reading heretical ideas, so no worries there.

Lately, I'm not reading as much theology as I once did. To be fair, I'm not reading as much of anything as I once did. When I was teaching, I had more time for reading. Now that my job is an administrative job that requires me to be in the office for at least 40 hours a week, I'm reading fewer books, more online materials. Sure, I could bring a book to the office, but I've noticed that if I'm reading a computer screen, people assume I'm hard at work. Bring books to the office, and I quickly get a reputation for being a slacker.

I wonder too if I'm reading less theology because I'm going to a church that offers more spiritual nourishment. My current pastor's sermons have depth and heft. He's only 10 years out of seminary, unlike most of the other pastors in my orbit, and in the intervening years, he got a D.Min. degree. It's a nice change.

I'm also probably suffering from having read so widely in the last 10 years. I've gotten to the point where I pick up a new book, and it feels familiar. I'm underlining less. I'm surprised less and less. These experiences make me less likely to feel that old joy in reading.

Or maybe I'm just in some kind of slump. I go through these periodically, when it's hard to pray and hard to make myself go to church and hard to read the Bible. Maybe my theological reading slump is a manifestation of that.

Likely, I just need a break. My teenage reading self knew that: for every 2 trashy books, one book with heft, that was my rule. Perhaps my mid-life reading self could learn from her.

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