Thursday, September 6, 2007

Books are Dangerous

I have been reading.

In the last few months, I have been trying to expand my literary horizons by reading books that fall in a very different genre than my usual IVP non-fiction. Yes, I have been reading ACTUAL fiction that goes beyond the standard Harry Potter adventure. And you know what? It's great. I started with "The Kite Runner.", a wonderful book by Khaled Hosseni. A few months after that, I read his next book, "A Thousand Splendid Suns." And just yesterday, I finished maybe one of the most interesting and unusual books I have ever read. It was called, "Life of Pi." To finish my brief list, I began an older fantasy trilogy called "The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever." It came highly recommended by a close friend.

I don't really want to go into reviews about all of those books so much as I want to say what reading good fiction is doing for me. It is reminding me of what it is to be human. Good fiction can take a few aspects of humanity that you always knew were there but couldn't quite put your finger on and make them so accessible. Good fiction can hold up a mirror to the reader and allow them to see themselves more clearly than they could before, a potentially humbling event. Good fiction can show us that even though we live a world away from someone, deep down we are basically the same. We share the same struggles, hopes, dreams, fears and desires. They just manifest themselves in different ways due to our location and culture.

Mix all this in with my eye-opening experience in Cairo this last summer, and you will begin to see a somewhat new worldview shaping in me. It is fun and a bit scary all at the same time. I am beginning to see the world as a much greyer (I am choosing the Bristish spelling here because it feels more poetic) place than it was before. I don't mean grey as in color, but in terms of who is right and who is wrong, who is good and who is evil, who is on to something and who is way the heck out there.

Cairo was an interesting place. One thing that struck me the most was how all the different types of people felt about everyone else. We spent time with roughly five different communities, if you can call them that: Sudanese refugees, Egyptian Muslims, Egyptian Christians, American missionaries who live a culturally Muslim lifestyle to reach Muslims, and our team of American College students. Each group had something to say about the other, and it wasn't always nice, nor was it always right, and nor was it always wrong. "You shouldn't trust this person, he is a ______," or, "When you get home, you should speak out against _________," were common things to be heard. I didn't really know what to do with them. What made it weirder was that I was the outsider looking in and have a tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt. I just couldn't understand why people felt the way that they did. What I mean by that is, and this is from a Christian perspective, why people couldn't have grace for each other, and why I couldn't have grace for them not having grace. I think that makes sense. Right?

So what does this all have to do with books? Why are they dangerous? They challenge our preconceived ideas. They make you deal with the bigger world. Then it all gets confirmed when you go out into the bigger world.

It gets me thinking about God. It gets me thinking that the ways that I have experienced spirituality, religion, and even God are totally shaped by my cultural upbringing. The things that American Evangelical Christians tend to be concerned about are molded and manipulated by American Culture. So how do we get down to what God is really about? How can we hope to see beyond our cultural conditioning? I think a good place to start is to befriend people who aren't like you and read lots of books. Then ask God where he is in the midst of all that. Then we will start to see the God who loves the whole world. The God who can speak to us through the story of Amir and Hassan, Mariam and Laila, and Pi and Richard Parker.

As an afterthought, I agree with Pi. God is the better story.


  1. you know i have to report this to big brother. i don't think kaleel whatsisface is on the acceptable reading list here in the year of Our Ford.

    i've been reading like a madman since july or august so when i see some headline like "books are dangerous" i would actually just say yes, they are, if you're trying to have a nice, laid-back summer.

  2. Ben,

    Nice entry. Reading has always been a challenge for me. Your thoughts are an encouragement to keep trying. No dyslexia to blame it on, just too much TV and computer reading--like your blogs.

    Thanks for your thought provoking writing and lifestyle!

  3. Looking forward to reading your next post.