Throughout the years a different but reoccurring dream has haunted me: I discover myself at once in the midst of an eternal row of corn in which I am pulling the tassels from various stalks; I enter the dream in a grocery store, helping a never-ending line of customers bag their daily bread; I work a cash register at a bookstore, pushing product on customers that I know they do not need; I find myself in a factory, a row much longer than that of the corn, one filled with construction parts that I tare, weigh, box and send down the conveyor belt; I am driving a truck, delivering those boxed goods to other factories; I am back at the bookstore, receiving hoards of unnecessary goods into the store; A break takes place, and I am suddenly thrust in the middle of a secondary classroom full of little tyrants who either won’t be quiet, aren’t listening, are trying to murder me, or some combination of the three. And when I wake from this dream, I “sigh no more” as I realize that I am actually not at work, for these dreams are all representative of past jobs. Of course, my one job in life I’ve enjoyed as a sports writer for a struggling newspaper in a small town, writing mundane and irrelevant stories on various sports news that no one would actually read, has not once to my memory entered my dreams. Thus, these dreams could be very well termed nightmares, and it just so happens that one of these nightmares has recently become a reality, and I discover myself at this job once again, putting books on shelves, taking one of these books to break with me, one Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton. I notice the price and decide that with my modest discount, it is just as cheap to get it now, and I find myself at work for the second time, reading this book for the second time.
I read G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy about one year ago and wrote my opinion on it at the time. I am actually only three chapters into the book this second time through, but as I was reading, I began thinking of something which naturally led to a blog post. The first time I read the book, I read with my Kindle. Whether you use a Kindle or Nook or another tablet of some sort does not matter to me, but I have noticed a significant difference in my reading habits with a physical book, and I would like to share them with you. I have argued in the past about the negative aspects of the Kindle which I meant to apply to any reading device, though I have only experienced the one.
The main difference I am noticing (and I think I notice this better since it is the same book) is reading with my pen in hand this second time through. The first time I read Orthodoxy I stated in my post that I really didn’t disagree with much, however, the second time through I am noticing quite a bit more, and I believe the reason for this is because I have my pen in hand. Reading with the pen allows for us to “converse” with the writer. When Chesterton says stupid things against Protestantism or for Catholicism, I can write my own thoughts on the matter much easier than on the Kindle. Underlining is significantly easier in a real book than on the e-books. For all that, I don’t want this post to be merely about e-books.
I instead want to stress the need for reading with pen in hand, specifically when reading non-fiction books. As I’ve stated, I don’t agree with everything Chesterton says. This leads me to first argue that we should read books we do not agree with. If we are going to travel through this world only ingesting things we agree with, we will be very close-minded. If we are going to spend any amount of time disagreeing with something, it is best we know what we are disagreeing with. Better, when we read something we disagree with, we are given the ability to see where they are coming from without adopting what they believe. It further helps us to enhance our abilities to “love our enemies.” We can read Richard Dawkin’s God Delusion and see where he’s coming from, disagree with it, and pray for him. This keeps us from spitefully attacking the other side. While Dawkins may come across as a bitter brute towards Christianity (so I’ve heard, I’ve never read him), we can respond with love. We can see what the ugly side of an argument looks like, and we can argue positively, with love.
Naturally, the fear that comes in reading something you disagree with comes in the vulnerability one might feel in accidentally agreeing with what you thought you disagreed with. First off, if we hold to this, we have no argument for telling an atheist to read the Bible. Secondly, it shows an extreme lack of faith in our own security of what we believe. This, though, leads me back to the pen. The pen allows for us to “attack” these pieces of literature with a guard. If you blindly go into any book without your armor, you do increase the risk of letting something seep in which should not be there. The pen is our shield in a sense.
Thus, a pen should be used when reading any bit of non-fiction. Write in the book. It will someday burn, either by way of Farenheit 451 or by God’s judgment on the world. I do this because in nearly every book I’ve ever read I’ve come across something I disagree with. We are not called to agree with everything in every book, except for one, and that one poses even its own difficulties. The Bible is full of events and statements that are hard to grasp, but that does not mean we suspend our ability to think. It means we pick up our pen and flesh it out. In some sense, though not absolutely, I find myself agreeing with Mark Twain when he stated that “It is not the things of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me but the things I do understand” (my paraphrase). By faith we accept the Bible as it is. By our God-given ability to think and reason, we strive as best we can to understand the troublesome passages.*
With these scattered thoughts I end this post in hopes to getting back to Chesterton soon. I am finding that Chesterton is a thinker’s writer. He seems to write his thoughts as they come which means that much of what he says could be taken out, yet everything he says is essential to arriving at the conclusion. Nothing can be left out. I feel editing such a writer would be an interesting strain on one’s intellect. In any case, the book is proving one that is almost more refreshing the second time through, and if I decide to throw up another post on it, I hope it too is equally as refreshing.
*I must confess here that I don’t actually write in my Bible. I reserve that Book as the only one I don’t write in because I feel each verse has its own significant weight. I don’t want to “raise” some above others. This is my own unique theory, I don’t advise or discredit writing in the Bible. Better to do it if it helps.