Friday, September 7, 2018

The Spiritual Discipline of Reading: Thank you Malcolm Mitchell

September 6 is National Read a Book Day. You might wonder why we need a singular day to promote an activity that serves as a window and a bridge, that costs very little but gives so much. The truth of the matter is reading needs and ought to be promoted locally, nationally and yes, globally. September is also National Literacy Month. During this month you will find libraries, foundations and literacy organizations doing what they can to encourage Americans of all ages to read. 
As written in "Summer Reading: Bringing Spirituality to Sports. Thank you, Greg Boyle, SJ," I read one book this summer (insert super sad face). I shudder when I realize all that I have and am missing out on. Yes, I started ten other books, yes, I'm in the middle of many of them but reaching that final page and closing the cover of a book is a fine accomplishment. The feeling that comes with completing a book bears repeating. No?! Furthermore, a book takes its reader down a different type of path. One resides with the author's perspective and voice, experiences and insights for far longer than they do with any article or blog posting.  

Teachers, parents, ministers, and coaches ought to work together to promote reading, throughout the month of September and beyond. The proverbial question, however, is howFortunately, the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation has a few tips and insights on how we might—as their mission proclaims— "improve the quality of lives through the power of literacy."
The first recommendation to promote reading is choice, in particular among children. Let young people pursue their interests and natural inclinations. Among teens, I find a balance between required reading and choice is valuable. I can think of a significant number of books I never would have chosen on my own. The curriculum/my teacher made that choice for me. I'm so grateful they did.

Another tip is making books accessible and available. A good society and a strong school will get books into the hands of children. And still, I know teens and adults are never immune from judging a book by its cover. Who hasn't picked up a book from an airport bookstore, a Little Free Library or common space at work just because it's there— it catches your eye and piques your curiosity. That's a good thing! So I think sharing books, putting them in public places and promoting them in any way possible helps everyone.

For many adults, a Book Club is the ticket toward reading and completing a book. Accountability and the sense of a shared task have propelled me in the past to keep reading.  Odds are that many of the people in your book club won't be unlike you. My guess is you join a Book Club comprised of your friends or neighbors. Perhaps you are associated with one another through your work or your church. That being said, I don't know a book club that isn't unique, be it in membership, in purpose or in their approach to reading.

Such is the case with the book club that (former) Patriots' wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell decided to join while he was in college at the University of Geogia and shared on CBS Sunday morning. Their website states: When Steve Hartman first met Malcolm Mitchell three years ago, the wide receiver - then playing for the University of Georgia - had been invited to join a book club. He was the only man in the club, and by far the youngest. But he was proud to be called a nerd. Today, Mitchell is playing for the New England Patriots, and he's taken his love of reading to a new level: writing a children's book, "The Magician's Hat."

Mitchell's personal story is one of my favorites. I've always believed that if being in shape were easy, all of America would be fit. It's no secret that maintaining physical fitness is both important and yet demanding. And yet, no one in our country will deny that exercise maintains good physical and mental health. We ought to do all we can to encourage one another to get fit and stay fit. Is reading any different? As Steve Hartman opines, what if we put as much effort into our reading game as our football—or rather our fitness game? Can we think of reading in this way? Is that a negative for you? With choice, better access, and a group, might you read more often? Do you think you would also reap the benefits of this discipline—dare I say a spiritual one—as we see with Malcolm Mitchell?

Pick up a book. See if it's something you can finish this month. Share it with others. If someone calls you a nerd for wanting to do that, remember that for some people—that might be a compliment.

More in the next posting...

Photo Credits
Barbara Bush

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