Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Slow reading

I sometimes used to say that my work with university students (with UCCF) involved teaching them to read. I was only partly joking. It came under the moniker of Bible study, but so much of that was actually slowing students down to read what was there. In the common three-part summary, observation, interpretation, application, we naturally jump straight to interpretation (if not application). I want to use the text for meaning in my life. I do not want to live in the text for its meaning. 

So we had techniques and encouragement to help us to see what was there rather than what we assumed was there. To see what was there to appreciate the style and language of the delivery (the medium certainly shaping the message, if not having one-to-one correspondence). To see what was there and the shape of its structure. To see what was there in the choice of its words. To see what was there so to live in it, breathe its air, feel its distinctiveness. To see what was there so as to sit under - even in - the text; not to master it, to sit over it and analyse it. 

I did not want the students merely to spot pegs on which to hang a reader's own ideas, or trampolines from which to bounce to the group's application. I worked to help them to learn to slow down and truly read a passage as if the author had something of definite worth from which to learn, truly wanted to communicate and actually found that words, phrases, paragraphs, books, genre, et al., were adequate tools to use to do so.

I have been concerned as I've noticed that my reading of pieces on the internet has corrupted my reading ability and style. My eyes now slip into skimming text, not merely jumping words, but sometimes paragraphs. I must consciously control my eyes, hold them back, force them to notice the words on the page. So I read with a pencil in hand - my notes and underlinings are frequently not of significance, but marking them has kept my reading slow, intent on listening to the author. We consider one vain and arrogant who, rather than listening to a friend speak, is busy thinking of his next witty/powerful/intelligent contribution.

Admittedly, I have fewer problems reading slowly when the author is a wordsmith. With one who enjoys words, one can easily spend a while, savouring a delicious turn of phrase, or breathing the air of words well chosen. Then it is a joy to read aloud. And reading aloud slows us down to hear the author. 

I've just today discovered a lovely piece by Lancelot R. Fletcher (what a name!) on Slow Reading - the affirmation of authorial intent - introduced by an article on the topic in the Guardian. Fletcher's piece draws out some of the cultural and logical connections: he tells his students to treat the text as if written by God. He's not actually speaking of the Bible - but makes fascinating connections. He does start by quoting Nietzsche, who possibly came closest as an author to thinking that he was to act as a god, but that aside - read the article. Slowly.

Friday, 9 July 2010

The weather

I doubt you'll ever get a more British post topic than this one. How do you tell if it's great weather in the UK? Because you'll hear a deafening silence on the topic.
This morning I cycled past a dog-walker who hailed another lady, in a broad Brummie accent: 'Innit a crackin summer?' My initial thought was slight shock: How un-British!

Not that she spoke to a relative stranger - somehow, dog-walkers are one of the rare groups of people who get away with that, and a local Brummie would be more likely to speak to a neighbour. Nor did I disagree with her assessment of the weather: I have been praising God each morning as I cycle in to the office, through beautiful weather - temperatures just right even when cloudy, and a lovely warm breeze.

My surprise was that this lady had made an appreciative comment about the weather! As a good English lady, she should have complained. Ignoring the fact that God has given us one of the most temperate climates in the world, she should have complained that it was too hot, or the wind too strong, or that the sky wasn't clear of clouds. She should have said that it would never last and was bound to rain later, just when she would have her washing out. English social convention dictates it!
1) Never speak to a stranger;
2) If you break rule 1, you must make a general complaint with which the person addressed may agree. Traditionally, you will find the weather a useful topic. Failing this, see rule 1.

I swung my bike into the park with a grin, and in my frequent un-English way, broke into song, praising God. I was thankful that there is still some thankfulness left in England, enough to burst out of convention. For a while now, I have made it something of a personal campaign to undermine the social acceptability of the national spirit of thanklessness. I consider it the joyful duty of the Christian, since we have had our eyes opened to see that the universe is playing out in divine comedy - despite the very reality of sin and death distorting and maiming God's good world, we are living between two resurrections - Christ's, and therefore ours.

Therefore we wage war on this attitude, in the ways in which it appears in each of our cultures and worldviews:
For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
[Rom 1] And if I'm honest, part of the reason I wage war on the attitude outside me, is that I need to constantly remind my own heart that I don't believe that all is futile and dark. If you train yourself in thankfulness, you will find trust a lot more natural through the dark times. 

PS Thankfulness in mind and all, since I mention the weather, if you're in the UK, please do pray that God would have mercy by sending rain for our farming community. If they don't have rain soon, they'll have no hay for the animals over the winter.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Babel's burning

  • Genesis 1 - "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it." 
  • Babel - Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. ... Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth." ...its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
  • Pentecost - "Stay in the city until you're clothed with power from on high, and you will be my witnesses... to the ends of the earth." 
    • When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.
Communication into many languages is key in the evangelization of the world. So I'm rather excited that the Lausanne Global Conversation website, designed to facilitate evangelicals globally in discussing topics related to evangelisation... now has multilingual features. Read someone's post in Spanish, find a comment in Norwegian, another in Kiswahili... and translate all into English if it's your preferred reading language. Take part in a truly global conversation! 

100 Days until Third Lausanne Congress

Cape Town 2010: The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, is now only 100 days away. Marking this milestone is the launch of The Lausanne Global Conversation in eight languages. This enables evangelicals from all continents to prepare for the Congress, which will be streamed online. The Congress will be held 16-25 October in Cape Town, South Africa, with 4,000 selected participants. Advance papers are already available at www.lausanne.org/conversation.

Lindsay Brown, International Director of The Lausanne Movement, said, ‘We will gather in Cape Town from 200 nations, a truly global Congress to strengthen the cause of the gospel worldwide. Please add your voice to the Lausanne Global Conversation. Let it be iron sharpening iron, as we share the insights Christ has given us, and listen to those he has given to his Church around the world.’

Naomi Frizzell, Director of Digital Media for Cape Town 2010, commented, ‘Multi-lingual features enable the whole church to dialogue on a common platform. We look forward to evangelicals world-wide bringing their unique experiences, insights and perspectives.’

During the Congress, evangelicals may also gather at official GlobaLink sites, across 68 nations, to watch broadcasts of key addresses and share their reflections with others around the world. To host a site, go to www.lausanne.org/globalink

Cape Town 2010 is the third major Lausanne Congress and the first since 1989. It is to be held in collaboration with the World Evangelical Alliance. Dr Geoff Tunnicliffe, the WEA’s International Director, said, ‘As the 100-day countdown to the Congress approaches, I sense there is growing excitement and anticipation around the world. This Congress has the potential for shaping and impacting a whole new generation of leaders.’

Lindsay Brown urged churches around the world: ‘Please help us by your prayers. Our goal in every aspect of the Congress is to strengthen the Church in fulfilling Christ’s final command on earth, which has never been rescinded - to proclaim the gospel and make disciples of all nations.’