I’ll never forget the road-trip that my wife took along Cheaper by the Dozen and read it aloud to me as we rode. Admittedly a random choice for a book, but here’s the neat thing about that trip. In retrospect, I can see that the experience of sharing that book aloud together changed our lives. Overstatement? Perhaps. For us, though, it was a starting point- a place where we committed together to doing something differently. You see, we had tried reading books aloud before, but it was always a mental strain for me to listen to a book being read. Yet we worked at it. Years later, we are road-trip reading warriors. In fact, it’s not uncommon for us to sneak a book into the car for our twenty minute commute to church.
We’ve since incorporated the practice of reading aloud into the lives of our children. What do we stand to gain by beginning a life-long quest of reading aloud together, whether in the car or at home, with kids or without? How will this practice change the life of the family?
- Reading aloud together gives the family cultural points of reference. What happens when the cultural participation of the parents and the children is so disparate that they can no longer understand one another? We begin talking past one another. There is a great story that I wish I could find the source for, that wonderfully illustrates this. It begins with an older fish addressing two younger fish: “Good morning! How’s the water?” As the two younger fish continue along, one says to the other: “Okay, what on earth is water?” It’s easy for us to assume that culture is understood when it needs to be taught. Possessing common points of reference from the great books of history is a starting point to interacting with rapidly changing culture. Cultural symbols can’t be properly translated when there is no understood baseline. Don’t understand your child’s world? Help them create one you can share for a lifetime.
- Reading aloud together brings discipled focus to the essential cultural roots of humanity. I know there is a certain irony to a young guy pontificating about the spirit of the age. However, can’t we all tell by direct introspection that the families of our social situation are fragmented in their relationships, distracted in their focus? Reading together can instill the heart habits of a communal unity of attention, the forgotten experience of saying with another: “Look at this! Isn’t it great?” What will we, as a couple, as a family, attend to together in the years to come? Through reading aloud to one another, we have the privilege to nurture and train ourselves. Whether we’re reading John’s gospel or The Lord of the Rings, we can choose timeless material that has truly culture-altering narratives, narratives which embody God’s character and purpose in our world.
The underlying ethics of attention are of the utmost importance. As Matthew Crawford has argued, “Our distractibility seems to indicate that we are agnostic on the question of what is worth paying attention to- that is, what to value.” Let us choose this day what will hold our attention. In doing so, we are creating culture by choosing what will structure the minds and hearts of our families. Better to do this than to be squeezed into the arbitrary mold of the cultural moment.
Walk before you run
Cheaper by the Dozen may seem like an unusual place for us to begin, but we probably would never have gotten things off the ground without reading something that we were interested in and that was easy on the ear. What experiences have you had reading aloud with family? What additional motivations would you suggest? Comments are welcome. Encouraged!