Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. — Romans 12:2a (RSV)
Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. — Ecclesiastes 12:12b (RSV)
Education, like youth, is wasted on the young. You slept through high school. You made it through college by doing the least amount of work possible to get the grade you wanted. Any graduate school you might have had was complicated by starting a family and juggling work responsibilities. Now, you realize that you are missing something in all your busy-ness surrounding your business. You are the church worker who never reads a real book, the volunteer who collapses at the end of the day, the homemaker who, like my wife, has a post-grad degree and is frustrated that your mental challenges these days mainly include memorizing Dr. Seuss rhymes. You are caught up in your daily tasks and don’t feel like you are learning anything new. You want to expand your intellectual horizons but don’t see how to do it. For what it’s worth, here’s some advice:
The main factor in your mental malaise is, no doubt, a dearth of time. I’ll tell you how to perform surgery on your schedule and make time for intellectual pursuits in a moment, but first a word of warning. Intellectual growth should not be the top item on your list. Your relationship with God and your family must come first. Let me ask you three questions. Do you have a daily time to pray and read the Word? Do you eat with your family at least once a day? Do you go to bed at the same time as your spouse (and, needless to say, in the same bed) and have at least 15 minutes to talk? If you are single and hope to marry one day, do you socialize with Christian friends of your own age group? If you are single and plan, like
St. Paul, to remain single to better serve the Lord, do you have close friends with whom you communicate regularly? If you answered no to any of these questions your life is disordered and will be unhappy and unblessed. Fix these things first.
Now, for the surgery. In your day, there are up to three areas where you can gain time: commute, sleep, and TV. If you have a lengthy commute, turn off the radio and listen to tapes or CD’s from The Teaching Company (www.teach12.com). These are college-level lecture courses taught by top professors at top universities and they are reasonably priced. Second, if you are the rare individual who is currently getting enough sleep (7-8 hours), get up 15-30 minutes early and read a book (suggestions below). But if you don’t have a commute and you’re living on five hours sleep these methods won’t work for you. However, I’m 90% sure this will: throw away your wretched TV.
Your mom was right you know, the bube-tube will rot your brain or worse yet steal your brain cells and time. For example, do you know what I’m talking about when I say: the Seinfeld about Bubbleboy, the Simpsons where Mrs. Flanders dies, and the Friends with the lesbian wedding? I’m sorry that I do…the remnants of a wasted youth. My wife and I began giving up TV for Lent a few years ago and that has slowly progressed to the point where that black box now resides in the storage closet. Give up as much as you can. Cut out just a half-hour a day and you’ll have plenty of time to expand your mind instead of contracting it.
Now for some specific advice on what to read. I start with C.S. Lewis’ helpful maxim to read five old books for every one new one. You already know what today’s culture is like, expand your horizons. The following list provides you with a few good starts to building a good personal library:
Mind Expanding Devotional Books:
Pensées by Blaise Pascal. A good edition is titled Mind on Fire and is edited by James Houston.
Imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempis.
On Christian Doctrine by St. Augustine
Mind Expanding Literature:
John Donne’s poems
Anything by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis, or G.K. Chesterton
Check out Repristination Press for good tough theological reads from the Reformation and Orthodoxy periods (http://www.scholia.net/repristination_press.htm). They also have books on tape.
Heath R. Curtis is the husband of Rebekah Gilbert Curtis, the father of Anastasia and Silas, an assistant pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Burr Ridge, IL, and a PhD student in the New Testament and Early Christian Literature department at the University of Chicago.