Friday, February 13, 2009

Learning vs. Doing?

Several weeks ago, Luke posted a link to an article describing now ex-President Bush’s reading habits over the last few years. As it turns out, Bush has read what most of us would view as a rather astonishing amount. I say that not just because of the widespread perception (deserved or not) that he is not terribly intellectual, but also because of the rather glaring fact that he had what might be the most demanding job in the world.

And so it’s probably to be expected that some readers of the Wall St. Journal (where the article originally appeared) expressed less than favorable reactions to the president’s reading achievements. Two examples:
Karl Rove's Dec. 26 op-ed "Bush Is a Book Lover" raises several questions and does little credit to either the president or Mr. Rove. How did President George W. Bush find so much time to read? Many of us with jobs far less consequential than his struggle to read five or 10 books in a year, much less 95.
………
We now have Karl Rove to thank for finally revealing why the country has slipped to such a level: two disastrous wars, a depression not seen since 1932 and possible loss of world dominance. It is because President Bush was reading books and not paying attention to what was going on.
What is implied in the first response and stated outright in the second is that taking a significant amount of time to read a wide variety of books is not something we need our president to be doing. Rather, his responsibilities are far too great to waste time in that manner.

Really?

Now, realize that my point here is not at all to defend President Bush’s individual job performance. If it helps you, imagine President Obama or anyone else hypothetically committing to reading a great deal while in office. My question is this: is that something that we really want to discourage? Would we rather the “leader of the free world” to take very little time expanding his knowledge of history and culture and the like? Should we really think it so foolish for someone in a position of such influence and leadership to make a serious investment in trying to grow in his or her understanding of the world and the people who live in it?

Yes, I suppose it’s possible for someone like the president to read too much. I would suggest, however, that reaching that point might a far higher bar than we might otherwise think—unless of course we prefer our presidents to be historically myopic, culturally illiterate, and sadly limited in their understanding of current global realities.

Now aside from giving me the opportunity for a mini-rant, why bring all this up? Simply because I think it parallels the way that many of us approach growing in our faith. After all, we have so many important things to do: earn a living and grow vocationally, invest in our marriages, raise children, build and maintain friendships, manage our homes and finances, contribute to our communities, etc., etc. And that doesn’t even include some much-needed relaxation from time to time.

As preoccupied as we are with these very legitimate, very important activities, we struggle to find time to do things like read our Bibles even a short amount of time each day. It’s similarly difficult for us to read a book that helps us grow in our understanding of biblical truth and its application to our lives.

But this failure to invest in greater biblical understanding has its share of ramifications. We become far less likely to grasp/remember what the purpose of our lives is in the first place. Significant but secondary things become our highest priorities. We redefine the realities of stewardship, calling, and gracious gifts into ownership, paychecks, and achievements. And ultimately we end up doing a poorer job of carrying out all those responsibilities that we believe leave us little time to read and thoughtfully consider the ramifications of God’s word.

Conversely, consider the promise of Psalm 1: “Blessed is the man…[whose] delight is in the law* of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.** He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does he prospers” (vv. 1-3).

Perhaps it’s not coincidental that as I finish this blog entry, I’m already looking ahead to what seems like the thousand other things I need to do today. And no, I haven’t yet spent any time in the Bible. Time for the physician to go heal himself.



* “Law” here probably carries the larger meaning of “instruction,” giving us warrant to understand it as the whole of God’s revelation to us in the Scriptures.

** “Meditates day and night” has to do with bringing God’s word to bear in all aspects of one’s life.

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