Odd

The waitress for our table was extolling a shrimp dish they offered. “O, no thanks,” I said, looking like I didn’t want to be poisoned. “You can’t eat shrimp?”  Her expression indicated she thought I was very odd. “Too bad. I’m so sorry!” Although I assured her I had lived many happy and satisfying years without shrimp, she walked away shaking her head, unconvinced.

In the same way, when I say that I have not turned on the TV in months, I am looked at as being really odd. I don’t fit the norm. How can I live or enjoy life without chillin’ in front of the tube? Odd, indeed. I know there are those who have the set on almost 24/7, who eat, sleep, baby sit the children and make love by its flickering light. But five minutes of its noise, its subliminal message, is all it takes to jangle my nerves and put me on edge.

Being outside the norm in today’s society immediately makes me suspect. And a bit scary.  We all like to sort people into known groups, things we can understand. Anyone who falls outside our classification system is therefore an unknown, and the unknown makes us nervous.

Since the advent of the television era, we have been captivated by watching stories or drama, whether fictional or news events, unfold before our eyes. Over time it became possible to tell stories with fewer and fewer words, creating and resolving an issue in a 30 second commercial. Gradually, our community attention span has dropped down from reasoned essays to short sound bites. Now if a video clip is longer than five minutes, we tend to skim right by. Too much trouble. Reading fell by the wayside as TV has consumed more of our time. “Read through three paragraphs describing the Norwegian countryside? Don’t have time. Just show me a picture.”

Much more is lost by the fall-off in reading than simply less library usage. Being acclimated to the picture story, we don’t have to think; the thinking has been done for us by those who filmed and directed the camera or drawing board. As an author paints a scene with his word brush, readers engage his or her mind with their own imaginations, developing their own ideas along the way. When I read about a fish breaking the pond surface in pursuit of a fly, I bring my own experiences and history to bear, seeing in mind’s eye something that may be a blend of two different locales, something I have co-created with the writer. But when we watch it on TV we don’t have to think; the pond is there before us. In effect, having a steady flow of pictorial input removes all need to exercise the mind or process ideas. 

Spoon fed pictures and input lead in short time to a habit of no thinking. There is no exercising of process needed. We become accustomed to the lazy mind, taking in without realizing it the thoughts and beliefs of those who prepare the input. In no time “they” have become the controllers, and we, the unwashed, conditioned public, are the controlled. A society so conditioned is then easily led like lemmings to the nearest cliff.

I would rather be odd, thank you.

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Reading

The whole concept of reading, which most of us do daily without pausing to consider the marvel of it, embodies a complexity akin to quantum physics. One human life has a thought – that is remarkable and discuss-able in itself – and then tries to change those thoughts into the building blocks we call words. That is only a first step. To have those words expressed in a permanent form, man has chipped rocks, drawn with sticks in the sand, carved on trees, pressed in clay, daubed paint on walls.

It is when a second person sees those carvings, drawings or scribbled paint and understands what is in the mind of the first that a miraculous exchange has taken place. To read words written (or caved, chipped, daubed) in a previous time is to get inside the mind of another, to capture a thought formed and held perhaps centuries earlier. Talk about time travel! Like art and music, the written word leaves a record of a human mind and spirit, a footprint of existence.

Some of it is mundane, practical (pick up the dry cleaning). Some is instructive (Microsoft XP for Dummies). But when the heart and soul of the writer reaches across space and time to touch the soul of another, it is a life changing event.

I read an essay last evening which was really an address given at Hillsdale College by Mark Steyn. His topic was the Canadian economy and I laughed ’til I cried. Comfortably propped on my bed pillows, I transformed the patterned ink to the words of humor and wisdom which had been conceived, delivered and written weeks earlier. The “simple” act of reading has introduced me to another human, and a witty one at that.

This morning I reread a portion of one of the most outstanding books I have ever read. When I finished it the first time, I ordered 6 copies so I can give it away to others. My words are not adequate to express the joy, the delight, the mind-transforming that it brings. Written by William P. Young, The Shack conveys theology better than any seminary and a lifetime of Christian living could. To get so much understanding inside the covers of one small book, and to do it with a story so gracefully told, is a huge achievement and a gift to human kind. Answering questions that have been raised by man for eons, and doing it in a page-turning style, is no small feat. It would almost seem that he had a (Holy) Ghost writer.

He is, after all, the Word. And that is, I suspect, where this whole topic began.