All the World's a Classroom
Among my few metanarratives for 2011, one of them is attributed to books. In the beginning of last year I set a target for the number of books I wanted to read (80% of the books I own but haven’t read). That number came out to be 53. I ended up reading only 34 books in 2011, a number I can live with. Most of these books were read on the shuttle, train rides, and airport travels, and a small portion of stealing time here and there during meals and whatnot.
These printed friends of mine have been the most loyal companions in 2011, most gentle teachers, and most exciting travel buddies. In the absence of human companions, I’ve found many a friend in the authors of these books. In the last four months of the year, when grad school bulldozed over my life and basic necessities such as food and sleep were barely met, I clung on even more tightly to my books as an effort to keep at least one thing pleasant in my life. Somehow, I ended the year with an even more voracious appetite for reading than usual, reading 5 or 6 books in the week preceding GYC 2011.
I suppose it’s silly to express gratitude to inanimate objects, but in this case, a tribute to books is in order. What would my life be without them? They were my escapades from rough realities, they took me to places that I would probably never visit, and introduced me to people I would never meet. They expanded my horizon beyond the perimeters of my own world, and I owe a great deal to anything or anyone who has that function in my life.
In 2011, I traveled by foot across Afghanistan with Rory Stewart. I sat at the feet of Solomon and marveled at his wisdom through Ecclesiastes and its commentaries. I savored the brilliance of Ellen White’s Education beneath the shadows of Honduran hills and mountains. Amy Carmichael introduced me to the dear children she took care of in South India a century ago. With Condoleezza Rice, I went into negotiation rooms around the world and saw a glimpse of how history was made. I rode the thrill of Obama’s presidential campaign in the last election cycle with David Plouffe, and learned more about my home country from reading about the life of Stanley Ann Dunham, Obama’s mother.
Some authors can, as it were, cast a spell on me with their writing styles. I laughed with the best author in present-day Adventism (Clifford Goldstein) in his Mules that Angels Ride. Pramoedya Ananta Toer, effectively transported me to early 20th century rural Indonesia and told me stories of the children of the revolution. C. S. Lewis’ English beautified a common, yet profound topic in the human experience, the Four Loves. And finally, I was spellbound by Heschel’s ingenuity. “To become aware of the ineffable is to part company with words. The essence, the tangent to the curve of human experience, lies beyond the limits of language.” (Man is Not Alone, p. 16) Upon reading these words, my jaw dropped and I had to pause and regain composure from disbelief that someone actually penned such a beautiful sentence. Heschel was a genius.
When I was little I used to watch a Japanese anime called Doraemon, which was the name of a robotic cat from the future that had a magical pocket from which it could pull out cool, impossible gadgets. One of its staple gadgets was called the “Anywhere Door” that could open up and transport anyone to anywhere the person wished to go. To me, books are my “Anywhere Door.”
All the world’s a classroom.
I’m a bit of a musical junkie. Ok, not a bit… a lot. I think the most enchantingly talented individuals are the musical theatre people. The sound that comes out of these human beings is just marvelous. When they’re on stage, it’s like the human anatomy become an instrument, with sound waves traveling through the biological cavities, all working together for a single purpose: to make music. They sing with all their being and the artistic creation that comes out of this process is simply amazing.
The thing that’s interesting is, say an actor or actress performs some of the songs in a concert, in a setting that isn’t within a storyline, but it’s the same song, same tune, and same lyrics. Somehow, the performance isn’t as powerful as when they’re in character and in the story (source: casual observations from a bunch of YouTube videos). It was quite a curious case.
So perhaps to say the obvious, I think the difference is exactly that – the storyline. When they sing at some function, they’re not as much in character and the song becomes just a nice song, a mixture between lyrics and notes. But when they’re in character, all the expression and emotion blend in, adding another dimension to the music, and giving it a certain transcendence that can create goose bumps to those who witness the performance. The words come from the heart and from the experience of the character, and the music communicates both to the conscious and the subconscious.
Basically the point is there’s a difference between a song that is sung and a song that is experienced; the quality of the music is noticeably distinct.
There’s a verse in Revelation that I always think kind of cool. “And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder, and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps. And they sing as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders, and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.” Revelation 14:2-3.
There’s also a hymn that says the following:
Holy, holy, is what the angels sing
And I expect to help them make the courts of heaven ring
But when I sing redemption’s story, they will fold their wings
For angels never felt the joys that our salvation brings
(Hymn title: Holy, Holy, is What the Angels Sing. All the lyrics are relevant to this thought)
Could it be that in heaven, singing something that one hasn’t experienced is not allowed? Could it be that singing something without meaning it is akin to lying?
The song we sing is and should be closely related to our experiences. Our songs of praise are distinct from one another’s. When David said that “He hath put a new song in my mouth” (Ps 40:3), it meant that He has given him a new experience with Him.
Which brings me to a source of bewilderment when I’m in a church with a congregation that is so timid during singing time. Have we not experienced the goodness of God?
The most beautiful songs are the ones sung with the heart and with the whole being. I’m sure those are the songs God likes to hear as well.
A few weeks ago, on one of those Saturday night excursions to Barnes & Nobles, I purchased a 50% off Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas, a recently well reviewed biography by my nonexistent/unofficial book club comprising of several close, book-worm friends. It’s a 608-paged book.
When the Amazon’s Kindle got added to my gadget collections this past weekend, my plan was to return the book, which was only $9.99 to begin with, and purchase the Kindle version, priced at $7.99. The plan was intact during this week, since I didn’t have much time to think about it again, due to the terribleness of the past six days. Until tonight…
Tonight was the scheduled time to return to B&N to execute the plan. Then something happened. Doubts started to arise in my heart whether to actually return the book or not. I even wondered if I should bother going to B&N at all. But I still decided to take the book and the receipt with me, just in case I still wanted to return the book after I completed other errands.
I did end up going to B&N, still undecided. I called my good friend, Amy Sheppard, recent attorney, for counsel: should I return it or not? At the end of that conversation, I was leaning towards not returning the book.
Then I browsed around the store. Then I decided to get some Starbucks’ soy steamer and sit at the café reading from my Kindle, which has been my life companion ever since it came into my possession. I’m currently reading (among other books) Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dillemma, borrowed from the eBook collection of Princeton’s Public Library (hence, the title of this blog post). During this hour or so, I was reminded of the joy and convenience of reading from this new toy. At some point, I decided, yea I’ll return the book. I’ll look over the pictures and photographs attached to the print version, return it, and buy the Kindle version.
Then I pulled out the book, looked over the pictures, and read the introduction. It looks like such a great book to own! From this point on, I was pretty much changing my mind every minute. Do I want to haul this big book around? Not really, but at the same time, I still don’t mind hauling Condi’s even thicker book around right now. The eBook is definitely the practical choice, but owning the print feeds to my vanity as well. To display a good quality, thick book on the shelf, and saying that I’ve read that one – I mean that just feels good. But it’s not just vanity; the book itself looks really nice, with a layout that is friendly to the eyes. Will the Kindle version reflect the niceness of it all? What if I want to go back to certain quotes a lot?
And so I went on debating my own self, back and forth, back and forth.
The verdict: I went home with the print version in my hand. Hah! And you know what? In a few days or weeks I might even succumb to buying the Kindle version as well! Indulgent? Yea, maybe. But hey, I’m a book lover and I just haven’t figured out this print vs. eBook thing quite yet.
The reason that I didn’t return the book was not because I think print wins over eBook necessarily – it’s just that the act of returning a book is too hard to go through! The book was already bought. It was already mine, and it’s irreversible. I just couldn’t let it go.
Hi, my name is Josephine and I’m an obsessive bookworm.