Follow by Email

Monday, August 9, 2010

Confessions of a Chronological Snob


Be honest, would you buy this book (see Right)? If I set out 10 books on the topic of prayer & included this one among choices of books that were all written within the last decade, would you honestly go with this one? Most of us who see a hard cover or jacket cover from something that predates our birth would consider buying it but only to look smart or as decorative "filler" for our homes. If (like this one) it looks likes it's from the 1970s, we typically avoid it like the bubonic plague. Why is that? Why do we overlook these books when we're making the crucial choice as to what we're going to dedicate the following week(s) or month(s) of leisure time? I'm going to seek to explain why this is the case for me, but first...

Did you watch the movie National Treasure? It starred polarizing actor Nicolas Cage (I know 10 people who love him & 10 people who'd like to subject him to water boarding). There's a moment in the movie when Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) is examining the Declaration of Independence. He then turns to his archeological partner, Abigail (you'll forget her real name even if I mention it), and he says to her upon audibly reading a portion of the 18th century document, "People don't talk like that anymore."

It's meant to be a serious moment, but ironically it only lets you dwell on the moment for 2 1/2 seconds before you're wisked away to the next action scene. I say, "ironically" because the many modern obstacles to "dwelling" on anything have made it close to impossible to "talk like that anymore." I don't subscribe to the theory that older books or writings were written by smarter people (although some were), by people with more conservative values (although some had), or by a generation that wrote more effectively (although some did).

One thing we have inevitably & increasingly lost is the time to to dwell & think. Every generation since the Industrial Revolution has felt the pressure of less & less time in increasing measure. Certainly, you know this in your own life. Consider: A person of the 19th century (when the above book was written) looking to communicate with a friend about his life. He thinks, "I'll send him a letter." So he sends it and he waits. He walks home that night or perhaps takes a buggy, all the time thinking, thinking, pondering a decision. Typically, it would take well over a week for such a letter to both arrive at a destination 300 miles away & incite a response that is received in turn. A week -- to think, to consider, to ponder. Now, you drive home at night and you talk on the phone (or, if you're a textaholic, you shoot a couple texts -- of course, only at red lights...of course); you wait in line, you text a friend; you're listening to someone, you check the score of a game or comment on a posted picture to your friend's Facebook page. None of these are inherently evil; heck, I'd miss them all were they gone.

But understand: Also gone is the time to think & ponder. The great 20th century poet, T.S. Eliot wrote in Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, "Where shall the word be found / Where shall the word resound / Not here / There is not enough silence." So much noise, and not just audible. It takes a remarkably disciplined & painstaking approach to make thoughtfulness & its cousin, depth, a reality. Even if you're well-read & listen, do you give yourself time like men and women of old to consider & think on thoughts, chew on new ideas, & ponder beliefs?

Not really. And so I find it difficult to relate to people who do such things. And it's not just the "Thee's" & "Thou's" older authors employ, it's the complexity of sentence, the connecting of things that our minds can no longer see unless their organized into neat
  • Bullet
  • Points
(I'm wondering if your eyes skipped ahead to the Bullet points...mine would too).

And so, perhaps a child of my age, I'm what C.S. Lewis called, "A Chronological Snob."
My understanding of "chronological snobbery" is dismissing the usefulness & validity of an idea, a book, a product (see technology) because it is old and no longer commonly adhered to/read/used/accepted by society-at-large.

C.S. Lewis, in his autobiographical account of his salvation Surprised by Joy, gives us some warning about practicing "chronological snobbery":

[Chronological snobbery contains] the assumption that whatever has gone out of date has, on that account, been discredited. You must find out why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, it tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also "a period," and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack them or feels it necessary to defend them.
If you consider that one hundred years from now, most people will likely look at books from our "period" and pass them over as irrelevant in communicating truth, beauty, & relevant feeling, then doesn't or shouldn't it give us pause to consider why exactly we're adhering to only writing &, thus, ideas of our own era.

If we both want to rid of our chronological snobbery & locate a starting place to grow in depth, perhaps we ought to start with a book from a century other than the 20th or 21st. I'm trying this right now with a couple books now. And what stands out is not even the content so much, but, again, the way in which some of these authors write. It forces one to ponder, grapple and 'look' for connections that are foreign to newer companions on my bookshelf. If I don't stop and think, the consequence is I don't really understand it, I lose access to the meaning. So, in a sense, this 'dusty jacket' reading is forcing me to take time that I otherwise wouldn't to do some pondering. In fact, I'm reading the book pictured above and God has used it to grow me. Why don't you join me. I'll have five copies of With Christ in the School of Prayer (written by 19th century South African Pastor/Missionary, Andrew Murray) on the Book table at Sunday Worship this weekend.

Consider the Apostle Paul, who having plenty of time to think while in prison, desired not only the Bible as his companion but good ole books...parchments. He writes to his young friend Timothy, "When you come, bring the cloak that I left in with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments" (II Timothy 4:13).



No comments:

Post a Comment