It was the first day of term for students of the Southern Area Baptist Open College. I had been asked to give a lecture on the “Practice of Reading”. Now that may sound a perfectly acceptable subject for a minister whose majority background has had to be years and years of reading and studying. As I was preparing the lecture my imagination was suddenly presented with an unusually vivid picture. It was so real. It was the clear picture of a twenty one year old soldier walking across a military area with a thick book tucked under his arm. He passed a number of his fellow soldiers, singly or in groups, and each brief encounter brought out a caustic comment “What’s the likes of you doing with a book?”-”Whose book is that you’re carrying?”. (How could a private soldier, whose only interests were football, jazz and girls, be carrying, of all things, a book? – why it was like the world heavyweight boxing champion carrying a handbag!) “Learning to read at last mate?” one asked. Another said “There are no pictures in that book!” It was indeed ludicrous that this particular soldier should be carrying a big book -who was he trying to impress? Perhaps he was carrying it for someone. Perhaps he was even going to try to read it.
That was the picture which flooded my mind as I prepared the lecture on the practice of reading. That soldier never got past page one of that book.He never had got past page one of any book. He came from a non-reading environment. He was street wise, quick to learn, but book-illiterate. He never did get past page one of any book until he was twenty three years old, and that book was a battered, ancient and dry book of basic English grammar.It was very boring, but he devoured it all, and even did the exercises set at the back.
That soldier had no idea that in future his life would be sustained by books, and even books written in other languages, like Greek and even Hebrew. If anyone had suggested such a thing to that man he would have laughed in unbelief.He was twenty three before he read any book, and it took him for ever because he had to look up in the dictionary almost every other word. It was a plodding slog of a task.
In fact over half our population who can read, do not. They are not one scrap less intelligent than those who do read. They just think and get their information in other and different ways. If you are wondering why I should get such a picture of a young soldier when preparing to speak on reading, well, you’ve guessed:it was a memory. I was the soldier.
Your statutes are wonderful; therefore I obey them. The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. Psalm 119: 129, 130.
No wonder Jesus taught the non-readers in parables.
Thank you Lord for writers, for books, and for the ability to read.
Now read II Kings, 22:1 to 23:3