In part one we looked at the five basic literary groups, according to the government food pyramid, and imagined which components would comprise each group in the book realm. If you haven't read that post, you can catch up here. Today, we're going to look at twelve principles for a healthy reading diet.
You see, the government food pyramid has affected what Americans think they can eat, and how much. Different body types and dietary needs try to conform to the 'ideal' measurements and portions dictated by the government, Hollywood, and fad diets. Those who don't are divided into two groups: the obese, and the hippies.
Such dangerous ideas have drifted into the literary realm as well. Books, often called the food of the mind, are consigned to a pyramid of elements with pre-determined levels of healthiness, and pre-determined portion sizes. Book lovers, therefore, are divided into three groups as well: the conformists (who get a dutiful sort of pleasure out of following reading guidelines from an anonymous source) the obese (who glut themselves on trash) and the hippies (who refuse to conform to popular standards).
There is, of course, the fourth group.
Christian bibliophiles, whose aim in reading is to glorify God and enjoy Him, who give careful thought to their reading, but refuse to follow one-size-fits-all standards, are often lumped in with the hippie non-conformists. We're quite different, really, and in the twelve standards following you'll see why.
You know the rules: half a plate of nonfiction, go light on the adventure, (if you must have it) and for fiction, get those grains in. Keep it normal, folks. And don't cheat on sweets; romance is wicked.
It's time to take back healthy reading for the glory of God. His standards of health are quite different than the American government's, and much more enjoyable and individual.
So here are twelve standards for a healthy reading diet.
1. Everybody has individual literary needs.
The same is true with literature. Some people can take in 10 technical tomes in one gulp while others struggle through a 200 page treatise. Some people can read 80 books a year, while others are doing well to read 3. Different cultures have different styles of humor, different themes of adventure, and different spiritual history. Older people need different mental food then younger people, and some people read for a living while others read merely for leisure. God has created us with different jobs, capacities, needs, and enjoyments, and we should take delight in these differences.
One caution: while we are supposed to celebrate differences, there is only one standard of truth found in God's Word, no matter what the culture or age. This truth should not be violated in our reading.
2. Some people have allergies.
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?
-- 1 Corinthians 10: 23-30
Because of my sin nature, I have to flee different temptations then the rest of you do. Likewise, there are certain things that I can read without raising questions in my conscience that you might not be able to. All of this is subject to the standards of God's Word, but within those standards we all have crutches that we're leaning on. If you're sensitive to a certain topic, then avoid books with that topic. If someone else is sensitive to a topic you enjoy reading about, then don't quit reading about it ("For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience?") but find a different person to enjoy it with.
3. Read when you're hungry.
There are many things to do in life, and some times reading is not the best activity to choose for the moment. Bibliophiles need to experience a wide range of activities so that they will be well-rounded in their ability to judge what is true, and holy, and God-glorifying. After all, why do we read? So that we are equipped to advance the kingdom of God in our daily living.
4. Control fleshly appetites.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Bad appetites should always be curbed, and even good things are bad when gorged upon to excess.
5. Avoid poorly-processed literary themes.
Six servings of this isn't going to get you far in the good grains category:
Sometimes it's not the theme that's wrong. It's a good theme coupled with bad ingredients and lots of chemicals. Bread in itself isn't bad, but we can choose between healthy bread and the filler kind.
6. Read whole foods.
In the physical food realm, most ingredients are stripped and sprayed and processed before we ever get to the dish itself. While fresh-ground wheat berries are out of budget for some of us, in literature we have no excuse. The best of books are readily available online, through libraries, or at rummage sales. You like adventure? Then read the most excellent and God-glorifying and thrilling adventure that you can lay your hands on. Don't settle for second-best. Read as close to God-made as possible.
7. Read variety.
Well rounded bibliophiles know that we should read in all good and biblical genres. If you want to write good historical fiction, you're going to have to be grounded in geography, medicine, science, and culture to have all the components you need. And even theology and church history are vital genres for developing the theology of your heroes and villains. After all, their morals will dictate their actions.
8. Read good cooking.
We placed this in the dairy category, but make sure the books you read pay attention to technical excellence. Give grace where grace is due, but don't excuse bad grammar, poor vocabulary, and poor attention to the rules of good writing.
Anna Pavlova, the famous ballerina, described her training at the Russian Imperial School, famous for producing the world’s best ballet dancers:
“From the very hour of my ninth year that my mother gave me into the keeping of the Imperial School to the time I began my world wanderings I never saw a badly painted, cheap...picture; I never read an ill written, tawdry or trashy book: I never saw acting that was not of the finest; I never attended an ill-made play or a badly sung opera; I never ate a badly cooked or ill-chosen meal...”
(Reclaiming Beauty Study Guide, Session 5, pg. 30, by Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin)
9. Dull doesn't mean healthy.
10. God has given us every holy theme for our good mental health. No one is less clean than any other.
On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.
All themes that God deems good and holy are for us to read and enjoy. This includes marriage, poetry, history, science, wisdom, dominion, friendship, and all things beautiful, just and true.
11. Don't despise good cravings.
(Sometimes you need to eat the chocolate cake.)
12. Read to the glory of God.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. --1 Corinthians 1:31