The Wild Turkey Trot

And it came to pass, that when Jehudi had read three or four leaves, he cut it with the penknife, and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the roll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth. 
~ Jeremiah 36:23

Reading is not safe … but it is good.

Campbells Creek is a near twenty-mile long tributary of the Kanawha River, running from above Putney to empty into the river near Port Amherst, east of Charleston, West Virginia. Campbells Creek is also the name of the hard road that runs along the creek through the holler for most of the water’s course. Holler is the proper colloquial pronunciation of the term, hollow, which is a narrow valley between the mountains having a head and a mouth. This is common geography throughout West Virginia.

The Creek has many different communities and adjoining hollers, such as Putney, Blount, Cinco, Fivemile, Tad, Point Lick, Coal Fork, and Springfork. It has a rich history with coal mining going back to the early part of the 1800s and was the site of one of the last known Jesse James style train robberies east of the Mississippi, which happened in the first half of the twentieth century. I’ve often told people it is the home of many notable characters.

I grew up at the head of Springfork Holler, was married at the mouth of Big Bottom Holler in Tad, and went to school from kindergarten to twelfth grade at Point Lick. Fair Haven Christian School at Point Lick was founded in the early 70s as a result of the textbook protest by the visionary leadership of Dave Kilburn. It was a small school with somewhere around one hundred students from K4 to 12th grade during my time there.

If you went to a Christian school, you are familiar with weekly chapel services at such places. We had them, and I have to say they were often interesting. One day we filed in as expected, boys to the right and girls to the left. The preacher was already there, sitting quietly in one of the deacon’s chairs in the pulpit. He was reading a magazine. It was something like Field and Stream, I think. We had no forewarning of the monodrama we would witness that day. He appeared to be reading articles and turning pages slowly.

He neither looked up when we came in, nor acknowledged our presence in any way. We sat down, confused, and glanced at one another. Suddenly, he howled, ripped a page out of the magazine, crumpled it up, and threw it on the floor muttering something about wild turkeys messing up his magazine. He went back to silent reading. Suddenly, he shrieked and jumped up. He ripped another page out, threw it on the floor, and stomped it. This time it was the Marlboro Man that marred his magazine and incited his rage. He sat down and went back to reading. He repeated his action a couple more times before finally throwing the whole magazine down and stomping it. He went on to preach his sermon, the point of which he had just illustrated in dramatic fashion.

Some would say his illustrative sermon was powerful because I still remember it 20+ years later. I reply that I don’t remember the substance of the sermon at all, only the antics. I think that was the sermon where he instructed us impressionable youths to go home that afternoon, take our television sets out into the yard, and shoot them up with a 12 gauge. He wasn’t specific whether he preferred pump action or polk stock. I guess that was up to our individual tastes and teenage discretion. Those were different times.

The Problem is Not With the Footwork

Many people read the way of that preacher’s exaggerated theatrics. They may not shriek and stomp on their reading material, but as soon as they encounter anything the least bit objectionable to them, they can’t think of anything else. It ruins the whole book and the entire experience for them. Granted there are some books we should not read, whether that is because they are a complete waste of time or reading them is equivalent to pumping raw sewage into our living room. Certain books are helpful, others are not helpful, and still others are harmful. Books can fit in those categories cleanly sometimes, while at other times they are more like the sweet spot of a Venn diagram.

When we commence to stompin’ on our books like we just discovered we’re standing on a fire ant hill, we think we’ve done something. A cold sweat formed on our forehead and we were out of breath. We feel as though we strenuously refuted whatever error it was that started our fit to begin with. In short, we think this is discernment. It isn’t discernment. A monkey could be taught to Wild Turkey Trot every time it saw the Marlboro Man. Lest anyone think this a sign of discerning wisdom in the primate, the monkey’s flinging of feces directly after should disabuse you of the thought.

The problem for us here is not with the footwork. We are not trying to work out whether it should be a jump stomp, standing stomp, or a stomp and a kick. We need to develop real discernment and to grow in our understanding. We know we need resistance and challenge if we are to grow in a skill or physical strength. If you can play the piano with any proficiency, you have had to practice. You did not play proficiently the first time you pounded the keys. Our minds are similar and need challenge to grow and sharpen.

Beam me up, Folly

I’ve written before about different areas of reading for preachers to consider. With this post, I’m adding another category: Reading what you don’t agree with. Some books are garbage and aren’t worth reading even if some hidden morsel floats with banana peels in the dumpster juice. Proverbs says that fools gobble up folly with no thought (Proverbs 15:14), so I’m not advocating that kind of reading. Reading wisely means reading thoughtfully and considering the end of what you read (Proverbs 4:26; 14:8; 22:3).

Humans are fallible and the books we write are fallible. God has created us with creative and imaginative capacities we don’t fully understand. Humans are capable of simultaneously holding thoughts of truth and error, real and impossible. Do you remember the old television show, Star Trek? I can remember seeing reruns when I was a kid. I was never a big fan. Do you remember how they used to teleport members of the crew from the ship to various planets? I think they had the phrase, “Beam me up.” Is teleporting a human being from a spaceship to a planet a reality? Does that exist as a possibility? No it does not, but we have no trouble imagining it. Human beings can have a good grasp of one subject while being ignorant or completely wrong about another at the same time. A book can be the same way: simultaneously edifying and wrong.

Growing in discernment means distinguishing between what is good and what is not. Solomon warned his son to give no consent to sinful enticement, but rather to give heed to the instruction of wisdom (Proverbs 1:10; 2:1-5). Reading books is one way of seeking a multitude of counselors (Proverbs 11:14), and walking with wise companions (Proverbs 13:20).

Some men boast they do not read or listen to men. I suppose this sounds noble to some, but such a man is saying he listens only to himself. It reminds you of the old saying about the lawyer who has a fool for a client. Proverbs teaches us that fools will neither seek nor receive counsel from others (Proverbs 1:7; 10:8; 12:15; 15:5). Such a man is not living by bread alone, but rather by his own mental regurgitations (Proverbs 26:11).

About Jeff Short