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Leaders are Readers – Part 1

In my house, I often quoted Harry Truman’s well-known reference, “Leaders are Readers!”*

Or if I were in a more sarcastic mood when asked a question by my kids that I thought they should know, I would tilt my head and say, “Read a book lately?”  

Growing up, both my parents were bibliophiles. I know this a fancy word we don’t get to throw around a lot, but if you are a reader, you can’t wait. It is a proud title for those people who love to read. Bibliophile means a love (phile) of books (biblio).  

Fun blog by Lara Rutherford-Morrison, “10 Signs You’re a Bibliophile.”

However, if you dig more deeply into the precise meaning of a bibliophile, it is much more than reading. A book’s feel, smell, look, and age compound their love for them. Now if you could create an app for that experience, I would be first in line to purchase.

My parents were such bibliophiles that my mother converted a space in our home just for books. And I would spend hours in that room reading old and new books. And remember the days when encyclopedias were not found on Google? I probably just dated myself. I loved discovering what something meant and where a particular country was located or short versions of history lessons. And because we were a bi-racial home, we had many diverse authors that were provocative and challenging. Try reading Soul on Ice by Elderidge Cleaver when you are a teenager.  

It was a formative time in our little home library that I have carried on into my adult life. When transitioning from being a local church pastor, I had amassed many books over thirty years. Several years ago, I leaped over to Kindle, not because it’s environmentally better but because I ran out of bookshelves.  

When it was time to pack up my stuff from my office, it caused unexpected anxiety to figure out what to do with all these books. 

Thank God for my spiritual director (counselor, Pastor), that helped me through this crisis. Yes, crisis, not because I am a hoarder, but because so many of these books had become dear friends that the ancient and contemporary authors had spoken wisdom into my life. How could I toss them away?  Anyways I was instructed to do the following:

(Warning for those of you who are not book lovers or who are good with reading a book once and moving on, this list is not for you. I am both envious of you and a little sad).

1. Go through all your books and separate them into three piles.

           a. Must keep!

           b. Not sure?

           c.Time to say bye!

2. Pack up the ‘Time to say bye’ pile immediately and sell or give them away. Sometimes when you break up, you must cut all ties (Smile).

3. Let the must-keep and not-sure pile sit for a few weeks, then repeat the process. I was surprised that some from each pile got moved around. 

And to be honest, the most challenging part was not moving all the ‘not sure’ pile to the ‘must keep’ pile. 

4. Again, pack up the ‘time to say bye’ and sell or give away. And now, pack the not-sure books in boxes to see how often you would go back to them. 

5. In six months and a year, do the same thing. I am just past the year mark, and I look sadly at my shelves now that still seem full, but I realize they are emptier than ever in the last thirty years. I am sorry to acknowledge that they, too, must go. However, the ‘must keep’ or ‘not sure’ piles are more valuable to me and probably more valuable in replacing. Nevertheless, it’s time to say goodbye to some and for others to put on my Kindle. 

And I had to reconcile that it is also okay to keep the ones I desire to keep using. 

However, I do realize that the books remaining on my shelf could have much more value in blessing others than sitting on my shelf.

We have too many things on our physical and spiritual shelves that need to be given away to benefit others, don’t you think? 

I am looking at some books that were gifts from some of the most remarkable women and men I deeply admire. They were worn, tear-stained, marked up, and well-loved and read. 

And they knew that the blessing they had received from that specific author would encourage me to think more deeply and broadly and be challenged.  

In almost every mentoring and coaching relationship that I have been in, the coach or mentor has asked the following questions:

1. What are you reading right now? 

2. How is the book impacting your life, thinking, and relationships?

3. What have you learned that you are passing on? (An essential gift of reading that moves us from self-absorption and builds more excellent retention of what we have learned).

4. What book would you recommend to others?

5. What book can we read together?

Stop for a moment and reflect on those questions. I know for some of my readers, bibliophile means BIBLE lover. I am good with that; really, I am. It’s first on my list every day. And I will happily add some thoughts on why bible reading is perfect for you in another post. Yet, I think God is okay with you reading another book.  

Reading opens you up to other narratives of the Imago Dei that seek to be heard but have chosen the written form rather than speech. Reading has helped me see the beauty, the pain, the horror, the joy, the drama, and the action of life in fiction and non-fiction, present and historical.  

Reading allows us to become empathetic to the story of others and trains our minds to think, imagine, dream, and reflect.

Yes, leaders are readers, but not all readers are leaders, is the full quote by Truman. Nevertheless, reading invites us to another’s perspective, which is good advice for anyone.

Yes, we should be cautious when reading, but we should never be fearful. 

I think reading is best done in the community, as was the early church’s practice.  That thought, too, deserves a separate post.

I will end with this story. Several years ago, a friend asked for prayer, and I could tell she was a little embarrassed by her request. She said, “Pastor, I hate reading! I have hated it since I was a child; I think I’m dyslexic, and so, as you can imagine reading God’s word seems more painful than joyful. Can you ask God to help me?” What an honest request. And how true that is for so many of us. What may be a love of reading or what we find easy to do may not necessarily be true for the person sitting beside you or the child you are raising. 

My prayer was simple, “Lord, you have created our minds, and so we trust you can do anything. Would you help my dear friend not only fall in love with reading because she loves you and wants to read your love letter to her without pain but joy? Would you raise her comprehension? Would you allow the times of frustration to be times of peaceful surrender, for her to recognize you are not looking for perfection but for a relationship? Would you surprise her with new ease as she picks up your Word!” And because I was feeling a little presumptuous, I added, “Lord, would you not only cause her to love to read but to do so powerfully out loud in public!” You know those times when you might have crossed the line in prayer? Well, this might have been one of those as she opened her eyes and gave me a I don’t think so look. 

Well, the epilogue of that story is that this brave daughter of the King not only began to devour her bible with new joy, but she stood up in front of our congregation six months later and not only read it aloud but preached one of the best messages I have ever heard on how Big our God is!  

Leaders are readers; not all are leaders, but all are loved!

Soon coming Leaders are Readers Part 2 – Why Reading Must Be Part of Your Leadership Development

* I struggled and wrestled using Harry Truman’s quote as I know historically his attributed with white supremacist roots. Yet, simultaneously, I had to reconcile that this man who grew up in Missouri, where his grandparents were slave owners and his parent’s deep revulsion to abolitionism, had also signed Executive Order 9981 in 1948 as President of the United States calling for the desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces. I wonder if his love for reading along with national/cultural tension led him to make statements like this, “It is my deep conviction that we have reached a turning point in the long history of our country’s efforts to guarantee freedom and equality to all of our citizens.” (1947 NAACP speech at the Lincoln Memorial). Obviously, we (he and all of us) had/have a long way to go, but as I always remind myself, “Never judge a person by the chapter you walk in on.” Still reading.

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