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Life-Renewing Reading

January 23, 2018

I have never heard the term “binge reading.” It is the best way I know to describe what I did between Christmas and New Year’s. During that week, I devoured a series of books, including Charles Marsh, The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice from the Civil Rights Movement to Today; Geoffrey Parker, The Grand Strategy of Philip II; George Weigel, The Cube and the Cathedral; Jim Collins, Great By Choice; Evelyne Reisacher, Joyful Witness in the Muslim World; Malcolm Muggeridge, Conversion: The Spiritual Pilgrimage of a 20th-Century Pilgrim; and started Ian Johnson’s The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao.

The choices were mostly based on what had piled up on my pile of “books to read when I have time,” mixed with more recent recommendations occasioned by specific conversations.

At the end of the week, I felt spiritually and intellectually enriched, re-energized for complex conversations, humbled by the realization that most people do not have the luxury of taking a week to read, and puzzled about how to integrate elective but life-renewing reading into the normal rhythm of daily life. (After all, binging of any kind is not as healthy and sustainable as “all things in moderation.”)

I also know I am not alone in puzzling about how to build elective but life-expanding reading into our busy lives. It is one thing to affirm our commitment as Houghton graduates to lifelong learning. It is quite another thing to realize this aspiration in the context of daily living.

Thus, at a time when our culture and the church needs more than ever the voices of those who are trained in critical thinking and communication – those able to speak knowledgeably, wisely, constructive, and, hopefully, about the issues of our time by putting them in a larger historical, theological, and visionary perspective – we find ourselves ill prepared to be those voices. There is just not time to add that responsibility to our weekly to-do list!

I have no easy solutions to offer. What I do propose is that during this year, I will build my monthly reflections on one book or reading that I believe is worthy of our reflection as Houghton graduates who want to be lifelong learners and helpful voices in our circles of connection. I will choose these readings from a range of political and theological perspectives, and invite recommendations from you.

My hope is to inspire or provoke a stronger reading community among Houghton alumni, to invite us to share our discoveries and recommendations with each other. May we – together – become more effective as the particular kind of seasoning and illumination (I.e. salt and light) that God has called us to be in entrusting us with the gift of a Christian liberal arts education.

Wishing you new discoveries and invigorating adventures in 2018,

Shirley A. Mullen, Class of 1976
President