For most of my life, whenever I've wanted to get to know someone - get inside their head, see what makes them tick, what inspires and motivates who they are as a person - I've always asked what books they read and what music they listen to. I've always felt that these 2 things would give me a core understanding of what influences a person to be the kind of person they are, what is affecting and shaping their thoughts and emotions, books and music being the two things (in my world anyway) that have the most direct and intimate / personal influence on thoughts and emotions.
But there is a key question that I have neglected to ask people, one that affects who they are more than any books or music could, and that is: What decisions and actions have you taken in your life? I believe a person can best be understood and known by understanding what they have done in their lives, and how and why they have made those decisions and taken those actions.
Two people can read the exact same book and come away from the reading experience with two completely different effects upon their lives, even if both take actions influenced by the reading of that book. This tells me that it is the reader, the person, bringing something to the reading, and not simply the book itself, that is the greatest factor in what that person takes from a book, how that book influences their life. The bible is probably the greatest example of this. Millions of people have read the bible, continue to read the bible (even looking at any one given translation of the bible), and still there are vast differences in how that affects their seperate lives, to the point that they even fight amongst one another over the meaning and application of the bible's words.
And then there are many who take no real action at all based on what they've read, and simply continue to read and read, study even, as an end in itself. Reading is and can be a pleasurable experience, in and of itself, absolutely. Books bring an inner pleasure like few other things can. The cultivation of an interior life is, I believe, essential to a truly happy and fulfilled life. Few things can make it into our inner being the way the words of a good book can. Music reaches past all our defenses and resonates with our very emotions. Our inner experience is made exponentially richer by engaging ourselves in the art of a good book or piece of music. But it is, basically and perhaps essentially, a self-centered activity. Eating food is a self-centered activity as well, so I'm not saying that in the completely negative sense of that phrase. It is necessary. But our outer-life is just as necessary. We need to live the life we are inwardly cultivating.
There is a pernicious belief, not just among Christians, but people in general (readers in particular) that reading is an action unto itself, that if I have read something, I have accomplished something. And to a certain degree, this is true, but in another sense, this is nothing more than the fostering of an illusion. We can come to believe that we are living a certain kind of life, when in reality we are simply reading about that kind of life. Christians especially can fall prey to the belief that reading the bible is a way to live out their faith.
This is similar and related to the notion of salvation that many Christians have in modern times - that salvation comes by giving mental assent to certain propositional truths put forth in the bible, especially those having to do with Jesus...claiming to "believe" in Christ, believing the proposition that he is the son of God, died for our sins, rose from the grave, etc. "Believe" meaning, not its biblical connotation of literally "trust in, cling to, rely on", but the more modern notion of thinking it to be true. Like believing George Washington was our first president. Not like believing a chair will support our weight as we proceed to sit in it (put our trust in it to hold us up, rely on it to work, through the action of sitting on it). We generally don't give much thought at all to whether a chair will support us or not, we just sit down. Many Christians seem to do the opposite with regards to their "belief" in Christ - thinking and talking a lot about it, but not "doing" it. Theoretically, a person could "get saved" in the modern sense of the term, and not do much else than change their mind about certain "spiritual" concepts. But biblical salvation is a changed life, not just a mental change of opinion, and it doesn't make sense apart from repentance and following a new way of living. Action is required. (there's a whole tricky discussion about salvation through works vs. faith here that I'm not going to get into right now. suffice it to say that I believe salvation is a gift of God and not something we can earn on our own, and yet to do nothing is to reject that gift).
Paul says, in that famous chapter on Love in 1Corinthians13, (and I paraphrase): Even if I read all the best books in the world and listen to the finest music, but have not love, I have gained nothing.
The Imitation of Christ says: "Certainly, when Judgement Day comes we shall not be asked what books we have read, but what deeds we have done; we shall not be asked how well we have debated, but how devoutly we have lived"
Life is action taken, not just thoughts thunk. Thoughts do absolutely affect our actions, but they have to become action, they have to make it out to our real lives, otherwise it is like a bodybuilder who sits and does nothing but eat the best foods and the highest quality protien shakes but doesn't actually work out. That person, like us, will get fat and bloated if what he is taking in isn't put to use in what he does with it. Yea I say unto you, it is even likened unto a car sitting at a gas pump, always being filled with gas and never being started or driven... (sorry) :-)
so... what decisions have you made and what actions have you taken that have made you the person you are today?
I have spent the greater part of my life collecting the best books and music that I have been exposed to and could find, and have amassed a drool-worthy library, but as I sit here and look around at all these wonderful books and CDs that I have spent the vast majority of my life reading, listening to, and collecting, I can't help but think that maybe I've missed something - like the point of it all...