This was my view in the late afternoons in my spot in Turpin Library at Dallas Seminary. I’ve probably put it in a blog post before, but definitely not as many times as I looked up from reading and saw the gist of this picture. I’m a natural lighting kind of guy, so library carrels are a no-go. So are the upper floors of the library which generally come complete with soul sucking fluorescent lights. This is why I spent my time in this back corner with floor to ceiling windows and plenty of sunshine for an inside spot.
As a side note, you can also, from this spot, watch Dwight Pentecost walk to his 2nd period class. Actually, he might not still be walking, I think I saw he broke a leg. I doubt that will stop him. When you’re in your 90’s and still teaching, a broken leg is just a nuisance.
I should be clear up front, it was not Dallas Seminary per se that (almost) ruined my reading habits. The story is more in how my personality interfaced with the nature of a seminary reading schedule and how that affected my reading.
Let me explain.
You see, believe it or not I used to hate reading. Actually, before that I read a lot. I had read through the Bible several times before middle school, and most abridged versions of the classics as well. Then, I became a teenager, and so naturally I hated reading. Maybe it was because I was too busy making rock and roll, but I only read the bare minimum for school and that was it.
Then, I went away to Bible college, and lo and behold, started to enjoy reading again. Actually, I got really interested in studying the Bible and God, and so started reading more and more and more.
Then, I came home from Bible college and got a job at Starbucks. Then, I discovered espresso (coffee would take a few years). Then I combined the two and a habit was born.
Days off then became day long stints on the Starbucks patio with an iced caramel macchiato and several theology books.
Let this scenario develop for about 18 months, and then (then!), I went to seminary. Seminary immediately catered to habit. No. Seminary encouraged my habit.
But, there was one important difference.
Now, rather than reading whatever I fancied and taking however long I wanted, there were deadlines to meet and (some) boring authors to read. Instead of reading at my own leisurely pace, which let’s be honest is really speed walking compared to most people, I had to read slightly more than I had been used to in a more compressed time.
In short, my reading habit and discipline now had a significant other named “reading report” and the dates where scheduled with no room for grace.
And so I adapted.
And that is where the blog title comes into play.
You see, I still read a boat-load (which is a semi-measurable hyperbole, as opposed to a butt-load, which is not). I even read far over and above what was assigned. But over time, I began to treat reading as something to get done rather than something to enjoy. And if there’s something I like as much as reading, it’s getting things done.
I like to clear off to-do items and finish obligations. And once reading began to be filed under obligation rather than leisure activity or better worship, the goal became more to get books read rather than to enjoy the reading.
Now, this isn’t the seminary’s fault. It’s just how my personality and disposition reacted to the seminary workload. Instead of developing a reading habit to accommodate, my existing habit was modified to fit the syllabus schedule. And once I got out, I started getting books to review which perpetuated the mentally. Free book are great, but when you start looking at them as obligations to clear off your schedule, you don’t enjoy reading them. But you do it because you are super disciplined, and well, you’d really like to get more books (that you ironically will look at as more obligations).
Over the last year or so I’ve realized that while I have good reading discipline, I’ve lost something in my reading habits. This plays out in two ways: 1) prioritizing new books and 2) not reading devotionally.
When you’re reading to get done, you’re not reading to grow or to know God better. You don’t stop and linger over thoughts, you press on and finish the journey in the fastest time possible. You read to absorb and assimilate like some kind of Borg seminary nerd. And that’s not something to brag about (but you do, don’t you?).
So here I am, realizing over the last year that I read more than most seminary students, but it’s been over a year since I graduated. I’m not really reflecting on my reading (for very long anyway) and I’m not really growing Christlike because of it (which was what I was looking for in my reading way back in those Bible college day). In short, I’ve lost the art of reading devotionally, and replaced with the art of reading voraciously.
When I mention that I want to read differently in my 13 resolutions for 2013, this is what I mean. I want to read less this year rather than more. Or, at the very least, I want to get more out of my reading this year, however much it turns out to be.
I also want to read more out of my own library. I probably have more un-read books than are in the average person’s library. I think I’m in the 150+ range of books marked to-read in Goodreads, and most, if not all of those, I already own.
That, in short, is how seminary (almost) ruined my reading habits. But, by the grace of God, I came to realize that I had a problem, and well, we all know that’s the first step right?