Reading Good Books and Learning About the World

“A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.”

—C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

This editorial is being written in a rather sparse hotel room in Nebaj, Guatemala, where I have been working for most of the month of February. Nebaj is a small city in the northwest part of the country, and is in the centre of the area that was most severely affected by the thirty-year civil war that finally ended in 1996. This civil war left behind a legacy of suspicion, poverty, and social tension, that are only now beginning, in very small ways, to subside. I have been working here with a group of friends for five years, alongside of people who seek to provide health care and spiritual care to this impoverished community. I have come to love and admire the people here for their faith, their resilience, and their determination to make life better for themselves and for their children in the face of great odds.

There are many good reasons to travel and work in unfamiliar places, but for me, chief among them is the perspective raised by C. S Lewis in the quote above. Meeting and living with people whose lives are profoundly different from your own has the tendency to shake our assumptions of what we believe to be important, what is necessary to live well, and how we can relate to our fellow human beings. It can provide a measuring device by which we can evaluate what our familiar surroundings teach us. Most of the world’s population lives in conditions that would shock us as we move in our society of safety and plenty. The relentless machine of the media tells us constantly that we need more and more stuff, so we accumulate things that we do not need and that others in the world would love to have (but cannot imagine ever possessing). We get the message that we should fear those whose appearance, beliefs, and way of life are different from our own, but when we take the time to interact with them, we discover that they are not so different after all. They are motivated by a desire for love and a need to belong, just as we are. They strive to provide for their children and their neighbors, just as we do. They want to be free of hunger and disease, just as we do.

So, what does that have to do with a discussion about books that all Christian educators should read? Not all of us have the opportunity to travel the world and live and work among people who live like the people of Nebaj, Guatemala. But if we are truly to bring the light of Jesus Christ to the world, we first need to know what the world is really like for people who do not live in the world of privilege and power that we do. There are several ways of doing this. One is to interact with people in our own neighborhoods who live in challenging circumstances. As we all know, not all the world’s poor live in faraway places. Some live in our own communities, perhaps only several streets over from where we live. They are the recent arrivals, the addicts, the imprisoned, the unemployed, the abandoned. Do we know who they are? Do we know how they came to live in the circumstances in which they find themselves? Do we know how we can live among them in a way that honors and supports their search for a better life?

The other way to become more broadly aware of our world is to read. There are many books and accounts of people who live in other places and in cultures very different from our own. Can we seek out those accounts as a way to empower ourselves and our students to live and work more redemptively in this world?

If we, as Christian educators, are serious about encouraging our students to become an effective healing presence in this world, we need to do what we can to introduce them to the world and the world’s people. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, if we are well informed and sensitive to our world, we will be more critically resistant to the outright lies and the half-truths that we are so often fed by our national leaders and our advertisers. Then we can say to each other, to ourselves, and to our leaders, “Say what you want for your own ends. We are not deceived and we know a better way to live and serve.”

A final note: This issue is the final one that I will edit. It has been a joy and an honor for me to serve in this capacity for the past six years. I have very much enjoyed the many interactions with our readers, our writers, and the board of directors. The Christian Educators Journal will continue under the very capable leadership of Mark Brink and Bill Boerman-Cornell who will begin their service as editors with the October 2016 issue.

Blessings and strength to all of you!