“I read every day, and all my friends and family members do too. Are we not America? Or are you just weakly grasping for stories?”
“Just because people aren’t opting to read a dusty copy of War and Peace doesn’t mean we’re having a hard time comprehending things.”
“NPR, wipe those nervous beads of sweat from your brow, sit back, or read & conduct research at a library for another NPR story. There are plenty of bookworms, you just have to look for them.”
If you clicked the article to “hear” NPR’s argument and the evidence behind their statement, you were instead greeted by, “Congratulations, genuine readers…” NPR then explained: “We sometimes get the sense that some people are commenting on NPR stories that they haven’t actually read.” Each comment proved their suspicion. Each comment revealed the reality of why James penned his words in James 1:19. As fallen creatures, we are slow to hear and quick to speak.
You must read this article about an actor who memorized and then performed all of Paradise Lost (over 60,000 words). I say you must because I want to convince you to take up the long-term practice of slowly memorizing short books of the Bible (see two of my past attempts to convince you here and here), and I think the description of how this practice changed his experience and knowledge of the text is both accurate and compelling.
[John] Basinger didn’t just remember the words; it would be a mistake, says Seamon, to interpret Basinger’s performance as “simply a remarkable demonstration of brute force, rote memorisation.”
In order to memorize the epic poem, he spent a lot of time repeatedly analyzing its meaning and structure. Acting researchers emphasize this strategy, Seamon notes: “Deep encoding requires actors to attend to the exact wording of lines, and it is the focus on exact wording to gain an understanding of the characters that yields verbatim memory, instead of merely the retention of gist.” …
Actors like Basinger use deep encoding to give “honest, spontaneous performances, ones that focus on communicating the meanings underlying the literal words,” according to psychologists Helga and Tony Noice…. Basinger, Seamon says, “really got into the story, what Milton was trying to convey.” Noice and Noice suggest that this would aid his recall: “Bodily action and emotional response, in addition to semantic analysis, can enhance human memory.”
Memorizing in order to perform the words from the perspective of the author forced him to work on truly understanding the meaning of what he was reading. From the big picture to the smallest word, it all had to make sense to him.
He beautifully describes what this kind of memorization does to you:
“During the incessant repetition of Milton’s words, I really began to listen to them,”says Basinger, “and every now and then as the whole poem began to take shape in my mind, an insight would come, an understanding, a delicious possibility.” …
For his part, Basinger says his years of effort have let him explore Paradise Lost as if it were a physical space. “As a cathedral I carry around in my mind,” he says, “a place that I can enter and walk around at will.”
I can’t believe how well he captured the experience with that image. Imagine knowing books of the Bible this way. And you really can do this. There was nothing at all special about the man’s memory:
Nothing in Basinger’s tests suggested that his memory was otherwise irregular or exceptional. “His memory for everyday tasks appears entirely normal for someone his age,” Seamon says. “He still forgets where he puts his keys.” For those of us who struggle to remember to-do lists, it’s encouraging to know: “Our findings are in agreement with other research on world-class memory performers,” Seamon says, “which indicates that exceptional memorizers are made, not born.”
Pick a book of the Bible, and start today with two verses. Add two verses a day. Speak them out loud as if you’re reading a letter (the Epistles) or telling a story (the Gospels). If you don’t understand what you’re memorizing, struggle with it until you do. When that book—from start to finish—becomes “a cathedral you carry around in your mind,” move on to the next book and start again. You may not perfectly remember every word of a particular book a year after you’ve moved on, but the intimate knowledge you will carry of that “cathedral”—its architecture and floor plan, the images on its stained glass windows, its unique sounds and smells—will remain with you. You will forever know it as one who has thoroughly explored all its corners, not merely as one who peeked in its windows.
In a New York Times op-ed titled “Stop Saying ‘I Feel Like,’” Molly Worthen says we need to pay attention to a recent evolution in language. In the last decade, people have begun to preface their claims with “I feel like.” And, she says, “[M]ake no mistake: ‘I feel like’ is not a harmless tic.” She argues that our shift towards couching our claims as subjective opinions reflects, and will increase, our inability to engage in “civilized conflict.”
Natasha Pangarkar, a senior at Williams College, hears “I feel like” “in the classroom on a daily basis,” she said. “When you use the phrase ‘I feel like,’ it gives you an out. You’re not stating a fact so much as giving an opinion,” she told me. “It’s an effort to make our ideas more palatable to the other person.” …
This linguistic hedging is particularly common at universities, where calls for trigger warnings and safe spaces may have eroded students’ inclination to assert or argue. It is safer to merely “feel.” …
Yet here is the paradox: “I feel like” masquerades as a humble conversational offering, an invitation to share your feelings, too — but the phrase is an absolutist trump card. It halts argument in its tracks.
When people cite feelings or personal experience, “you can’t really refute them with logic, because that would imply they didn’t have that experience, or their experience is less valid,” Ms. Chai told me.
“It’s a way of deflecting, avoiding full engagement with another person or group,” Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, a historian at Syracuse University, said, “because it puts a shield up immediately. You cannot disagree.”
Democracy is premised on civilized conflict. The greatest advance of the modern age has been our ability to argue about society’s most pressing questions without resorting to physical violence (most of the time). Yet the growing tyranny of feelings in the way Americans talk — about everything from how to fund public education to which presidential candidate to support — exerts a subtler kind of coercion on the public sphere….
We should not “feel like.” We should argue rationally, feel deeply and take full responsibility for our interaction with the world.
Our August 6–13 cruise is rapidly approaching. If you’ve never heard John Stonestreet and J. Warner Wallace speak before, you’re missing out; I always find them absolutely riveting. The topics we've planned the cruise were chosen to reflect Stand to Reason’s mission statement: “Confidence for every Christian, clear thinking for every challenge, courage and grace for every encounter.” You can read more about the topic descriptions here.
Take a minute to watch Greg’s invitation below, and then sign up! We all look forward to meeting you there.
In this month’s Solid Ground, “A Practical Plan to Equip the Next Generation,” Brett builds his plan on an ancient educational model:
As our oldest daughter approached the junior-high years, my wife and I began to rethink our views on educating and discipling our kids. We were dissatisfied with things we were seeing in her life, not only academically, but also spiritually and morally. In that process of reevaluation, we discovered an ancient approach to education called “classical education,” stretching back to the Classical Greeks and Romans and formalized in the Middle Ages. Educator Susan Wise Bauer offers a concise description of this approach:
Classical education depends on a three-part process of training the mind. The early years of school are spent in absorbing facts, systematically laying the foundations for advanced study [Grammar Stage]. In the middle grades, students learn to think through arguments [Logic Stage]. In the high school years, they learn to express themselves [Rhetoric Stage].
While not an exhaustive definition, it gets us started and highlights the three-stage pattern of classical education called the trivium….
The medievals believed this trivium pattern corresponded to the universal human experience of learning. It accurately captures the manner in which young minds are best trained. Thus, we should take this ancient approach to education and breathe into it new life for our modern context. Indeed, the trivium provides us with a three-stage approach to discipling the next generation.
Brett goes on to apply the trivium approach to apologetics instruction, outlining a plan for you to use this strategy to train your children in the truth.
The article was originally published as a chapter in A New Kind of Apologist, a collection of essays addressing current apologetics topics and strategies for reaching our culture (Alan also has a chapter); so after you finish reading the article, make sure you check out the rest of the book.
These words by Matt Perman apply as much to non-physical resources (like your theological and apologetic knowledge) as they do to any other kind of resource:
It makes no sense for us to live in a society of abundance while half the world lives in great need, and not be diligent and creative and eager to figure out ways to use our abundance to help meet those needs.
When we look around and see our comfort, privilege, and affluence, we shouldn’t fall into the trap of asking “how can I get more of this?” As Kingdom-minded Christians, our first thought should be: “how can I use this technology/money/time to serve—especially those in greatest need?”
I was reading John 13 this morning and thinking about how central being a servant is to Christianity. This utterly amazes me every time I read it:
Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end…. Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.
Knowing that all things were His, and that He had come from God and was going back to God—that is, knowing His infinitely high position above all those around Him—Jesus washed His disciples’ feet. Let that sink in for a moment. The text actually intimately connects these two facts about Jesus—His high position (and its corresponding abundance) and His humble act of service. His service is, in fact, the way in which He loved them.
From the incarnation to the cross, this was Jesus’ life; He humbled Himself to serve others. He defined love for us as service. To love is to serve. To be great is to be a servant. It’s good to seek to increase your knowledge, but consider Matt Perman’s words: How can you use the abundance you already have to serve those who are in need of it?