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Don’t waste your time on bones

I once suggested the necessity of reading a variety of authors and backgrounds to keep from becoming overly biased and ignorant. Then I wrote that this requires chewing on the meat and spitting out the bones since no author is perfect. Now I'm writing that some books, sermons, podcasts, etc., are simply not worth wasting your time on at all. Here's what I mean, to further my last analogy…

I was once at a bar-b-que where the main course was chicken. I grabbed a couple of wings and threw them on my plate next to a generous helping of mashed potatoes (my mouth is watering as I write this), sat down, already famished, and began devouring a wing. To my dismay, there wasn't anything there to begin with—the only bit of existing meat lie deep between stacks of chicken bones—I felt like I was trying to chew slivers of string cheese stapled to toothpicks. I took two small bites before throwing the remains back on my plate, and grabbed the other wing hoping for a better catch. No luck. Those emaciated chicken wings were so boney that it wasn't even worth eating them at all. I should have stuck with my hunch and filled my whole plate with mashed potatoes! The moral of the story is:

Chicken wings don't have enough meat on them to be worth your time—especially when there are thighs on the other serving table.

Authors, preachers, and speakers are basically the same. There are times when you feel like you are chewing on a chicken wing—sure, there's a pocket of teriyaki sauce that globs up and whets your appetite when you bite it, but there's not enough meat to make navigating those bones worthwhile—kind of like the preacher or author who constantly drops clever one-liners but without any substance. The earth is full of these! Do yourself a favor: find something else that will satisfy your hunger and don't waste time on finger-food anymore.

It's probably clear that no one out there will ever offer a perfect meal of words except for Jesus. But that's why we read widely, chew on the meat, and spit out the bones—otherwise we wouldn't learn anything. Just stick to those preachers and writers that actually have substance, or you'll wake up with a mouth full of bone marrow, disgruntled because you can't seem to figure out why there's no spiritual growth in your life.

Perhaps because you're not really eating?

Chew the meat spit out the bones

Not everything you read is good. Not everything you read is bad. But nothing you read is perfect. This leaves you with a lot of potentially great books, yet none that are ever above scrutiny. That’s ok.

You don’t always have to agree with someone to learn from them.

Actually, it’s rare to agree with someone about everything. My wife Brianna is my best friend but we still don’t agree on what house “clutter” is; I say everything is worth keeping, while she says everything I’m keeping is worthless! Notwithstanding the exaggeration, the point remains that we still learn from and challenge each other everyday. Similarly, it is quite limiting to stick with the same tribe of authors because reading widely helps to avoid tunnel vision by providing differing viewpoints. So if you only read a single publisher, a certain author, or a particular movement, you’ll inhibit your ability to think critically. Now, you should read much within your particular tribe, if you have one, to strengthen your convictions. But being surrounded only by your favorite authors can cause you to become ethnocentric, concerned only with reinforcing your preexisting beliefs, and perhaps unable to question your own fallibility.

Now what’s the fun in that??

One of the more invigorating reading practices of mine was to broaden my scope to include more authors within the realm of Christian orthodoxy—I tend to read theology—suspecting that some of those whom I disagree with may still offer a valid and even helpful perspective. But how does one do this? My friend once told me to “chew the meat and spit out the bones” when I came across anything questionable in a book. By this he meant that I was to learn from anything valuable whilst disregarding everything else. I suppose this is a less tired variation of saying “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Leave behind the bad and keep in mind the good.

You’re probably doing this with my blog post. You’ve found a few helpful points, perhaps a clever sentence or two, yet are disregarding everything that is disagreeable or rubs you the wrong way. Perhaps you loved the thought of reading widely, but hated the implication that reading narrowly leads to tribalism. Perhaps you disagree with the entire premise of the post and read it with great reluctance. Perhaps you hate the cute stock image of a dog chewing on a bone. Since we are being completely honest with each other, you should admit that you skim most of my blog posts anyway. And that’s quite alright. In fact, you should hone this as a skill and use it on all authors that endeavors to persuade you. Because the reality is that everything you read is attempting to convince you of a truth claim in one form or another. Whether a classic novelist weaving together a grand narrative of suffering and God’s existence, as in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s the Brother’s Karamazov, the doctrinal claims of the latest theologian, or this blog post, you must discern the truth claim being made and whether it is worthy of an audience. But what to do when an author is tantalizing and at other times distasteful? Must you ignore brilliant authors because they don’t acclimate to every opinion you have? Of course not. After all…it could be you that’s wrong half the time (or more). Just chew the meat and spit out the bones. Happy reading! And watch out for those indigestibles.

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