“Readers are leaders.” My dad has said this to me and my siblings since I was a kid, over and over and over, until it’s something I now say on a regular basis. It’s tacky. It’s repetitive. And most importantly, it’s true.
When I was young, my parents would come into my room at 3am and take books away from me, because I couldn’t stop after one more page. I couldn’t be sent to my room to “think about what I did” because that would have just given me peace and quiet to read. Christmases, birthdays, and random shopping trips were filled with books and learning. My shelves and desk were full of stories I wanted to explore.
However, the art of reading has somehow gotten lost in the busyness of my life. I let the busyness take over. I fill my time with other things. I’ve perfected the skill of skimming. I fool myself into thinking I’m being productive, but in reality, I’m just filling my head with bits of knowledge and not putting much into practice. A lot of us do this, and according to C. Christopher Smith, this may be hindering our flourishing.
In Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish, Smith explores the role—the necessity—of reading for the betterment of our individual lives, our churches, our neighborhoods, and ultimately the world. We are designed for community and fellowship and work, and reading betters these experiences. In a world pushing us to go go go, in a world trying to force us to pick a side, in a world working toward further divisions between people, Smith invites us to slow down—to slow down and read.
Reading shapes people, and Smith explores how reading shapes individuals as well as communities. Specifically, he shares how reading has shaped his life, his church and his neighborhood— reading not only within Scripture, but also fiction, poetry, and even a “how-to” on gardening. Smith pushes for the Church to embrace being a learning organization—seeking knowledge and action, hand in hand. He shares how reading pulls us deeper into true flourishing and care for our neighbors.
As a college student who sometimes feels lost and confused, I know that Smith’s prodding to dig deeper could not have come at a better time in my life. He provides substantial evidence of the benefits of incorporating reading and diversifying experiences to become a better servant of Christ and human being. Reading for the Common Good encourages the reader to pursue Truth and Beauty outside of what is traditionally considered as the Christian realm. It invites us to pursue those virtues everywhere, to develop and cultivate deeper understandings of the world we live in. It calls us to be informed, thoughtful, and engaged with those around us, to push for flourishing and the common good.
In closing, almost like a parting gift, Smith provides two reading lists in the back of the book, as well as several titles spread throughout the book, all of which are building points for those of us pushing toward better loving and serving others in the spaces in which we find ourselves.
Brecken Mumford is a senior professional writing student at Taylor University. She is a columnist for the on-campus paper The Echo, contributes to local papers, and attempts to read as much as she can during the few lulls in her schedule. When she's not working or in class, Brecken can be found chatting around campus, spending time with friends, or sitting in her apartment with a cup of tea.
Psst, check out On Having a Baby in the Age of Climate Change
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At the moment, the assumption to question is that we humans have a right to be on earth and that it will indefinitely support us. When the very ground is taken from beneath our feet, where can we stand? What is left to us, when the familiar forms of our physical existence are taken away? Nothing, perhaps—yet I wonder.
I would charge that tree at sixty miles per hour, the following curve rated for thirty-five. Headed home after school, in the after-practice gloam, in the dark after work—to turn, or not to turn? That was the question. It was an option. Something to consider. I suspect most of us don’t think of this as a decision, per se, but it is. Every day, we decide, even if for most of us the answer has become reflex.