transcribed by Marc Hays
The following quote is taken from the lecture, “Shelf Life: Reading, Thinking and Resisting the Tyranny of the Urgent,” by Dr. George Grant, who granted permission for such a lengthy quote:
This afternoon, my talk is going to be, essentially, an exposition of a passage. I’ll read the passage first, and then, we’ll launch into the exposition therein.
“Why?” said Pooh.
“Because, he’ll be a humble Tigger; because he’ll be a sad Tigger; a melancholy Tigger; a small and sorry Tigger; and an ‘oh, Rabbit, I’m so glad to see you’ Tigger. That’s why.”
It’s a wonderful scene, isn’t it? Pooh and Rabbit talking about Tigger, who is always so… …pompous. Always so full of ideas.
You know, Pooh doesn’t have a brain, as he constantly reminds himself and everyone else. And Rabbit, well, he’s a bright one, but he’s small and he knows he’s small and he can’t dominate the world. Tigger, he’s even more pompous than Rabbit, because he knows so much. He’s so clever. He’s like an academic. So, Rabbit and Pooh come together to imagine a way to make Tigger more bearable. And they hatch this scheme that will somehow bring Tigger to a place of repentance.
J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “The essence of education is repentance. It is recognizing that we don’t know what we ought to know. We don’t do what we aspire to do. We make up a thousand excuses as to why it is that we’re not all that we were called to be.”
…And we could become overwhelmed with all that we’ve got to know and all that we’ve got to do, or we could be like that wonderful community just around the corner where Pooh lives where we provoke one another on toward repentance.
We all kind of need a Pooh and a Rabbit in our lives to take us on a long explore. Where we can then get lost, and then found again. So that we wake up the next day a much more humble Tigger; a much more receptive Tigger; a much more ‘oh, I’m so glad to see you Rabbit,’ Tigger.
That’s what reading does for us. We look at all of the tasks that we’ve got and we realize immediately that we are going to need to rearrange our lives. Because we have been robbed culturally; because we have been robbed spiritually; because we have been deficient ourselves, and we have contributed to own intellectual and spiritual indolence; we know that the great call of God on us is not just to stack the books up and to have all sorts of good intentions. It really is to repent. And there is nothing greater in all the world to provoke us to repent than to read books. Books that stretch us; books that change us; books that open to us new horizons; books that change the way we look at the world; books that change the way we talk; books that change the way we set the table; books that change the way we have relationships.
Emily Dickinson, the great American folk poet said,
“There is no Frigate like a Book To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot That bears a Human soul.”
Mark Twain, reinforcing that notion, said, “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”
I’m convinced that to a large degree, what many of you are wrestling with as you think through your already crowded day-timers; as you think through all of your past, bashed, best intentions, is that God is beckoning you to join with me in repenting.
In this session, what I’d like to do is to suggest a practical way for us to undertake this humble task of repenting: changing our lives, realizing that we need to be hungry to learn. That we need to find teachers to speak into our lives, who may not live in our neighborhoods, but who can be brought to our school, into our communities, into our homes by way of that marvel called a book.
Long before the bane of television invaded our every waking moment, C. S. Lewis commented that while most people in modern industrial cultures are at least marginally able to read, they just don’t. In his wise and wonderful book, An Experiment in Criticism, he wrote,
“The majority, though they are sometimes frequent readers, do not set much store by reading. They turn to it as a last resource. They abandon it with alacrity as soon as any alternative pastime turns up. It is kept for railway journeys, illnesses, odd moments of enforced solitude, or for the process called ‘reading oneself to sleep.’ They sometimes combine it with desultory conversation; often, while listening to the radio. But literary people are always looking for leisure and silence in which to read and do so with their whole attention. When they are denied such attentive and undisturbed reading for a few days they feel impoverished.”
He goes further, admitting that there is a profound puzzlement on the part of the mass of the citizenry over the taste and habits of the literate. He says, “It is pretty clear that the majority, if they spoke without passion, and were fully articulate, would not accuse us of liking the wrong books, but about making such a fuss about any books at all.
We treat, as a main ingredient in our well-being, something which to them is marginal. Hence to say, simply, that they like one thing and we another is to leave out nearly the whole of the facts. He goes on to argue that all of this is not to imply any hint of moral turpitude on the part of modern Bohemianism; rather, it is to recognize the simple reality of the gaping chasm that exists between those who read and those who don’t; between the popular “many” and the peculiar “few.” It is to recognize that education requires the latter while maintaining steadfast incompatibility with the former.
He concludes the whole affair by saying, “true readers may never carry their knowledge with “hubris.” You know what ‘hubris’” is. It’s like pride, on sterroids. The truly well-read will never carry their education with hubris, because every time you turn a page, you discover something that you did not know. Thus, he says, it brings you back to that theme of education as repentance.
The preceding quote is taken from the lecture, “Shelf Life: Reading, Thinking and Resisting the Tyranny of the Urgent,” by Dr. George Grant. You can buy an mp3 download of the lecture here.