Don stopped me in the hall at church one Sunday morning, and after we greeted each other, he asked me, “So what are you reading these days?” I’ve known him for some time, but I doubt he knows of my great love for reading. I told him I was reading Dr. Richard Clossman’s book, I Will Stand and Sing. Dr. Crossman was a history professor at Judson University until his retirement some years ago. He was a former pastor, campus ministry leader and forty year member of the church Don and I attend. The book I refer to here is about his response to changes in the church. His love for more traditional worship, with hymns, organ, and worshipers dressed in coats and ties, left him unsettled. The newer, more contemporary style of worship and its church context have made him feel like a stranger in a familiar place. I was inspired, however, quite moved really, as he wrote about his response to his struggle of wanting to be there but feeling uncomfortable. His reaction was, “but I will stand and sing.” He wasn’t going to stay home, grumble and block any hope of worshiping, because he had a bad attitude. He chose to join in, out of love for Jesus Christ and the church. That attitude is worthy of imitation. I’ve thought of his response a lot since reading it. It impacted my own frame of mind, even though I don’t’ share that same struggle.
Recently, my reading has been catching up on magazines I subscribe to, reading Augustine’s Confessions and now a new book by Richard Plass and James Cofield, The Relational Soul, a book that will surely affect me in good ways. Reading gets me thinking, challenges me, alters or strengthens my perspective. It refreshes me. I often put a book down with a “hmmm, I have to think about that.” That’s why Don’s question was so good.
To ask, “what are you reading these days?” is to inquire who or what is influencing you right now? Who has your ear? Sometimes the influence shows up in results. Your attitude sours, you get crabby, and your spouse asks, “what burr did you step on?” It happens easily.
Heartening influence has to be sought. Determination is necessary. Voices and ideas that encourage us and build hope are not usually the loudest or most prominent. Good things happen quietly everyday – in caring neighborhoods, schools, community organizations and churches – but only rarely are those things reported on attention-getting platforms. Seek those out. Otherwise you may develop a lopsided mood.
If you are a news-buff like I am, your disposition can go south quickly. The Junior-High playground style political campaign we’re in right now, the dark, unnerving tragedies, mass-murders, wars and rumors of wars are provocations to the strongest bastion of hope. These media impressions can quickly cause us to develop attitudinal influenza. If I did not believe that Jesus Christ is mysteriously, but certainly, still the one ultimately over our convoluted world, I would be buried in hopeless discouragement. But I am not.
Nearly everyday, I need to ask myself, “what am I reading these days? What is influencing me?” Who are the people I’m hanging around? These viewpoints will likely affect me and those you are hanging with will likely affect you, either positively or negatively.
We are inevitably being influenced. People we don’t even know, Facebook, Twitter, email, zealous politicians, television, books, friends, all feed into how we see the world around us. It can be quite subtle. What we might have missed, is who or what it is that is influencing us. And that matters most. Check it regularly. Be careful. Choose your influence wisely.
So, what are you reading these days?