Sorry I haven’t written for a while. Between some travels to speaking engagements and countless medical visits as my hand continues to recover I have not been able to quite keep up.
But when you wrote that you had a guilty conscience I had to write back. If you were confessing an actual sin I could assure you of God’s grace and pardon. But I don’t really think you are dealing with sin. You are, instead, dealing with summer vacation.
You say you feel guilty for not reading all those serious theological books you picked up in during the semester.
I know what that’s like:
- Your professor quotes something that sounds intriguing and you think, “I can’t wait till I have time to dive into that! Maybe this summer…”
- Or you see those titles on the “recommended reading” list in your syllabus, and you think “I guess I’d better make a note of that one. Maybe this summer…”
- And there was that great lecturer on campus: “Have to read some of her books. Maybe this summer…”
- Plus the big name theologians, the shakers and movers that your fellow students throw around with ease. “Gotta improve my background or I’ll be left out of the conversation. Maybe this summer…”
I say give it a rest. You have been working hard for nine months. Now that you can have a bit of a break, take a bit of a break.
Yes, if you have the discipline (or if you need to develop a bit of discipline) think about reading something serious this summer. By all means, fill in a gap. Continue with a passion.
But here’s the thing: read something fun too.
Read something that exercises the other parts of you mind.
It doesn’t matter what, really. Give yourself an escape. Summer’s a great time for it.
Me? I’m usually reading something truly escapist.
- I’ll swallow a multi-volume series of post-apocalyptic YA fiction every chance I get.
- I’ve stuck with certain hardboiled detectives through their authors’ whole careers.
- There are certain Science Fiction authors whom I will happily follow to another planet whenever I get the chance.
It can also be something more artful and serious.
- I regularly reread the novels of Chaim Potok as he explores the faith and family relationships of all kinds of American Jews.
- And when I was writing Kneeling with Giants I reread the entire 20+ volumes of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels of the British Navy in the early 1800s. (And I’m well into my third trip through those voyages right now.)
Shouldn’t I be reading Calvin and other great 16th century theologians? Shouldn’t I be continuing to dive into the writings of the era of the great Ecumenical Councils? Yes. Of course I should. But I also need a life that has balance.
Stretch one way — then relax. Exercise hard — then do something to restore.
So please, rather than confessing your exhaustion at the end of the academic year as “sin,” do something to restore yourself.
Go read a good book. And let me know what book you picked.
P.S. Don’t give in to the insidious temptation of thinking you are doing this for your ministry — collecting sermon illustrations or being in touch with the culture. Let go of the utilitarian thing and just enjoy the book. It is vacation!
P.P.S. There is good in this reading beyond the above utilitarian temptation. It helps you remember what it means to be human. It pushes you to feel and understand the experience of life. That is, it increases the likelihood of compassion. And that’s nothing to scoff at.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments. What’s your favorite NON-theological reading? What will you take to the beach this summer?