Thinking Out Loud

March 24, 2021

The Value Added to Your Life in Reading About Others’ Lives

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:16 am

You’ve already met Jeff Snow several times on this blog. He wrote about being a campus minister, did a book review for us, and twice we ran his 3-part series on the impact of divorce. Jeff is a voracious consumer of books in general, but especially biographies, the ones which focus on sports history, Canadian history, and key people in Christian history. What’s the attraction to biography? I asked him if he would share that with us.

guest post by Jeff Snow

I’ve never been much of a fiction reader. Most fiction I’ve read are books I was made to read in high school. I wasn’t actually much of a reader when I was young, but the genre I did gravitate to then, and even more now as I’ve become more of a reader, is the genre of biography.

A well-written biography can be a number of things. It can be interesting. A well-written biography about fascinating person can be as riveting as any fictional book.

A biography can be inspirational. As you read about a person’s character, their story can serve as inspiration for our own lives. One of my professors in seminary made us read biographies of a number of people from church history. His goal, he said, was to help us find “dead mentors”. Biographies can introduce us to people who can inspire us in our Christian walk and in other areas of our lives.

A well-written biography can teach about history. A good biography sets the main character in the context of their times, teaching us not only about the person but also about the historical era he or she lived in.

A biography of someone from the past can educate us about our decisions in the present. Reading about both the triumphs and the mistakes of great people in the past informs us as we make decisions and draw conclusions about our present day lives. As revisionist history and “cancel culture” take root in our society more and more, it is important to sink our teeth into reputable biographies from the past so that we can make sound judgments in the present.

My tastes in biographies tend to be a bit narrow, but allow me still to share five fascinating and interesting people that I think you would benefit from knowing through biographies.

1) Billy Graham. Those of us who are Baby Boomers and Gen Xers may not realize that there is quickly coming a generation who may never have heard of Billy Graham or understood his impact on evangelism, the worldwide church, and even on American politics. An important “dead mentor” for all pastors and evangelists, and for all Christians.

2) Jackie Robinson. Here I betray one of my narrow interests – baseball. But the story of Jackie Robinson transcends sports. In 1947, Robinson broke the “colour barrier” that existed in baseball and became the first African-American to play in the major leagues. A man of Christian faith, Robinson’s battle against prejudice and racism went beyond the baseball diamond and into business, politics, and activism. An important civil rights pioneer whose philosophy is summed up in the quote on his tombstone: “A life is not important except in the impact if has on other lives.”

3) Abraham Lincoln. You will not have a hard time finding biographies of Lincoln. He is probably the most written about person from the 19th century. His is a story of how great leadership evolves. He went from a young lawyer who refused to take out membership in a church to a president whose 2nd inaugural address reads like a sermon. From having a grade 2 education to being the most powerful man in the USA. Even his attitudes toward slaves and African-Americans evolved. As a self-assured president, he gathered together most of the men he ran against and put them in his cabinet. His was a life we can learn from in many ways.

4) Sir John A. MacDonald. MacDonald more than anyone else had a vision of what Canada could become as an independent country that stretched from sea to sea to sea. He was a complex man. He had his faults, as the subjects of all important biographies do. They should not be glossed over, nor should they serve to overshadow one’s positive contributions. His treatment of natives was in some ways deplorable, yet in other ways he was far ahead of his time, as in his desire to give them the vote. As MacDonald increasingly becomes a victim of today’s cancel culture, it is even more essential for us to understand the full extent of his unparalleled contribution to the Canada we know today.

5) Alexandra Deford. You probably never head of Alex, but you need to get to know her. Her father, Frank Deford, was one of the top sports writers in America in the late 20th century. Alex was born with Cystic Fibrosis, and her father chronicled her life in a book called “Alex, Life of a Child.” It’s the only book written about her life, and it may be hard to find, but if I had to choose only one biography for you to read, this is the one. A heartbreaking story, yet one of incredible courage and grace. Have tissues handy.

There are dozens of others I could recommend, but part of the fun is the discovery. So consider your interests, find a person that connects with them and start reading about their life. Between the covers you will find interesting stories, inspirational mentors, historical guides, and people who will impact the way you look at the world today.

July 24, 2020

Children, the Pandemic, and Why I Can’t Read Anymore

Filed under: Christianity, education, parenting — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:24 am

Can a child lose their ability to read?

I did.

Imagine it’s the first week of regular school and the teacher calls you in for a brief meeting.

“I’m afraid that the extended time period without a formal education program has resulted in a giant step backwards in reading and math skills.”

Would you be surprised?

Actually it happens every summer. It’s called “Summer reading loss” or “Summer learning loss.” Copy both phrases into your search engine of choice.

Now Yale University and CNBC are among the news outlets reporting studies on the effects of longer school shutdowns due to coronavirus that parallel summer vacation studies previously reported by the Washington Post and Harvard University.

If some studies seem inconclusive, I think it’s because much depends on the student. While we speak of a “learning curve” that’s hopefully rising upward to the right, without practice, some people can take a step backwards.

So what’s my story?

I basically took a giant step away from formal piano lessons and lost of much of the ability to read music that I had. Instead, I learned how to read chord charts (basically guitar music) and with each passing day, although I sounded better and more confident, those little black dots connected to the five horizontal lines started to lose their meaning.

It could be argued that I wasn’t that good to begin with. That I hadn’t achieved the 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell says is necessary for the mastery of an instrument. But today, my reading is not what it was, or more importantly, what it could have been. I was considered musically gifted, and could have easily become the next Yo Yo Ma, if it wasn’t for the fact that he plays the cello.

For a lot of kids today, information input comes through YouTube. It is, in many respects, the equivalent of my shifting from reading staff notation to reading guitar notation. We gone from literacy to orality, just as other parts of the world are advancing in the opposite direction.

Information output and sharing happens through pictorial platforms such as Instagram and through texting. (“Did U gt my txt?”) Cursive writing has disappeared and the need for correct spelling has been replaced by spell-check. (“Witch works quiet we’ll no matter wear your form.”)

I enjoy playing at church with worship teams and can easily help others. I’ve learned the guitarists’ language well enough to tell a novice, “You’re playing an A-major-7th instead of a regular A-seventh.”

But at the front of the auditorium is a giant pipe organ. Because my wife is the music director, I know where the keys are kept, so to speak, and I can crank out “A Mighty Fortress is our God” with enough passion that the images in the stained glass windows lift their hands and sing along.

However, I’m not reading it note-for-note out of the hymnbook. I wish I could render it as the book does. My sight-reading took a giant hit.

The store I work at sells supplemental workbooks for kids. I did a rough count today and we have about 175 in stock; each one is appropriate for a particular grade. I know the schools have been providing things online and those things are free, but some kids need some extra help in grammar, spelling, arithmetic, fractions and decimals, science, etc.

Since the lockdown that ‘department’ of the store has made two sales. Two. I’m not saying people don’t see the value in those products, I’m saying I don’t think parents see the potential of what their kids are losing by not, as my piano teacher would say, practicing daily.

What you don’t use you lose.

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