Why I Read [actual] Books

I didn’t grow up a reader. Surfer magazine was the only written word worth while (I promise, it wasn’t just the pictures…). I didn’t pick up a book for fun until I was nineteen. You’d think I’d be thrilled to be alive in a time where most people communicate with encrypted text messages, emoticons, 140 character tweets and youtube clips.

In many ways I love the tools at our finger tips. Other times I find myself wishing I lived during grandma and grandpa’s day when you needed pen and paper to record your thoughts and a bookstore to get a book.

No one ever walks into an Apple Store, picks up an iPad and says, “I love the way this thing smells.” And you don’t sit in front of your computer screen thinking, “It just feels so great in my hands.” I don’t have the best sense of smell, but I love the smell of old books. And my posture would be much better if I didn’t sit in front of a computer most of the day.

Contrary to what many in my parent’s generation think, the developed world isn’t digressing into an illiterate age. Instead, the definition of literate has changed. My good friend Jondou suggests that proper English has changed as well…Language evolves, but that’s a post for another day, possibly a discussion for our new blog). To quote Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message. We can’t ignore today’s media or the way in which it has changed our language.

But books, those things made out of paper and comprised of complete sentences, bring us back to the basics of language. If we never learn the basics, today’s valuable tools will lead us down a path of frustration into a world of dull dreams and incomplete thought.

The last year I’ve read a lot of what Michael Hyatt has been writing. I’d recommend his stuff to anyone. As a the former CEO of Thomas Nelson, he get’s the whole book thing. He writes,

Contrary to what is often reported in the mainstream media, books are not dead. They are still valuable today. But we must contend for their existence against all other forms of media. Books do for people what movies, television, magazines, newspapers, blogs, and social media will never do—fundamentally alter their worldview and inspire them to greatness.

We need to allow books to inspire us and alter our worldview. Sometimes I read for an escape. Others,  I read to be challenged. Simply put, I can’t afford to stop. None of us can. But too many of us have. This year I’ve been doing something I haven’t done since high school; I’m keeping a reading log/journal.

Why do you read? And what are you reading?

You Don’t Want to Hear This

I’ve been told I can be very critical. I have always enjoyed contemplating issues I have no business assessing and attempting to solve problems way beyond my limited intellect. I can’t help it; it’s just the way I’m wired. I had a professor in college who coined the phrase, “hopeful cynicism.” I hated it—did he not see the blatant contradiction? But truth be told, he was giving a name to my type. Yes, my name is David Rohde and I am a recovering hopeful cynic.

I spent a long time seeking a call in the U.S. before realizing that God wanted to teach me a few things in Africa. During my search, a very wise woman said, “Dave, it doesn’t surprise me that you haven’t found a call yet—I’m not too sure I see you in a traditional pastoral role.” What! The words stung. And she continued, “Think about it, you have always been one to challenge the status quo, to question what is going on and why it is happening, and until you find the church that is willing to be pushed in that way your search will continue.” My brain’s cynical cog immediately began to spin but screeched to a halt as I realized my dear friend was quite right. I am very critical of the Church and the people that it is composed of. But it’s only because I care deeply for the body of Christ and the message we are supposed to be sending to the world.

One of the many blessings of being in Africa has been escaping the everyday use of unneeded technology. Before we left Hailey and I relished the idea of nights with books instead of television, writing instead of wiing (google became a verb, can’t wii be one as well?) and hearing silence instead of a stereo. Don’t get me wrong, I literally cried over not having Internet (and surprise surprise—now that we have it, I find myself wasting plenty of time with drivel of little importance). During our first few weeks my best friends were Henri Nouwen, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Malcolm Gladwell. Their books told of great tales, encouraged me and even fed my hopeful cynicism. Now I found myself pushed and pulled by the great minds of Dale Bruner and Francis Chan.

Last week I had the opportunity to preach six sermons, one right after the other. Being that I had little time to prep, I chose to preach on Jesus’ parables. Six parables, one a day. Seems easy enough right? Bruner and Chan showed me otherwise. I’ve been stuck on Jesus’ words at the end of the Parable of the Sower, “Let anyone with ears, listen!” Pastors and Christian speakers spend countless hours trying to figure out how to make their next message accessible and more appealing to anyone and everyone. We take classes, go to workshops and read books about ‘Performing the Word’ (seriously, I had a book in seminary with that title). We choose our words carefully and try to think of engaging and relevant illustrations in an attempt to make the most attractive story ever told even more attractive—as if it is even possible. Yet Jesus tells us that the people who are really going to pay attention—to allow the Gospel to completely change and shape their lives—already have the ears to listen. It’s humbling really, and equally terrifying.

It’s terrifying because too many Christians (including pastors) have not heard the message that, for many of us, has been preached our entire lives. It’s time that we ask, “how does the power of God’s Word transform how we act and live every second of every hour of every day?” We follow Jesus up to a point—only until His Word confronts our lifestyle, politic, relationships or expectations. We want a safe and balanced life that we can control. Too bad that surrendering to Scripture guarantees none of those things and promises quite the opposite. It’s tough to swallow because it contradicts the glamorous life that we are often fed from the pulpits of pop-theology (when was the last time you heard a good sermon on Philippians 3:10?). Please don’t misunderstand me—we are promised that a life lived under the authority of Jesus is indeed one of abundance. But it’s an abundance that we do not deserve, cannot earn and costs us our very lives. When will we start listening?

Unemployment: The Forced Sabbatical

Books I'm Reading
"Sabbatical" Books

I graduated from Fuller Seminary nine months ago.  Prior to finishing my degree I completed my requirements for ordination in the PCUSA denomination and submitted all of the documents to the hiring database. I had been working at La Jolla Presbyterian Church as a Pastoral Intern assisting in a bit of a bunch of things but my hands weren’t and hadn’t really been dirty in the inner-workings of the church for some time. I was ready, ready to jump on board at a church and be involved in the vision planning, the energizing of a community and  the equipping and mobilization of people to serve the world for Christ. I was ready for the meat of church leadership. And then…nothing happened. Nothing.

LJPC was gracious in extending my part-time job through the end of 2009, waving the requirement of being a seminary student. I browsed the job database frequently, emailed multiple churches and even interviewed with some.  And still…nothing. Before I knew it the end of 2009 was just around the corner and now 2010 is in its second month. I’ve talked with some more churches and am excited about a couple of prospects, but the truth is this time away from ministry as a paid job has been just what I have needed.

Yes, Hailey and I are having to figure out what it looks like to live on one salary. And yes, my pride has taken a bit of a hit as I cook, clean, and attempt to be the homemaker in our condo (I made pizza from scratch the other night…the kitchen was covered in dough!). But in an odd and refreshing way, I am more at peace with who I am and where God has called me now than I have been in a very very long time.

There is something to be said for having balance in one’s life. I thought I’d be bored, feel down or be overwhelmed with the fact that I’m not contributing financially to my family’s well being. Nope. I thought I’d be antsy and eager to compromise in my search for the right church. Didn’t happen. And I thought, by not working in ministry, I would find it hard to wake up every morning seeking to serve Christ in the world in which I find myself. Not a chance. The truth is, during the last month, I have been more excited about taking care of my wife than ever before and am fine with her being the sole wage earner in our relationship. I know now more so than even a month ago the type of church/call that I feel God is leading me to (and am shockingly okay with it taking as long as it needs to for it to happen). And, probably because I have much more time to spend reading and in prayer, I feel more equipped to love those who I find myself around on a daily basis as I have been loved by Christ.

My somewhat forced ‘time off’ has gotten me more inline with who God has called me to be. I am a loved husband and son. I am a student, writer and cyclist. I am a chef! And I am a beloved child of God, called to serve and live among the sick, unsettled and afraid. Unemployment does not define who I am, it is a gift that has brought me to where I am.