Learning to Read from Uncle Tom

This past summer I wanted to do some reading of some classic literature. One of those books was Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I have never read this book before (nor have I met many who have) though everyone seems to know of the book. I thought I knew what to expect when I picked it up and I was partly right but I was also deeply surprised by the book. I was surprised by how much I loved it. It jerked me around on different levels and gave me a different perspective on some things facing our culture. I was also surprised by how much I connected with some of the characters. Even more so I was surprised by how much I loved Uncle Tom.

There is much that can be said about Uncle Tom. Indeed his name is often thrown around negatively by many. But lost in the discussion is Uncle Tom’s deep and abiding faith. In all that he does Uncle Tom acts in a way that puts his “Christian” masters to shame. You can’t help but love him when you read about him.

What supports Tom’s faith and gives it such vitality is Tom’s careful reading of the sacred text. Listen to how he reads:

Is it strange, then, that some tears fall on the pages of his Bible, as he lays it on the cotton-bale, and, with patient finger, threading his slow way from word to word, traces out its promises? Having learned late in life, Tom was but a slow reader, and passed on laboriously from verse to verse. Fortunate for him was it that the book he was intent on was one which slow reading cannot injure,–nay, one whose words, like ingots of gold, seem often to need to be weighed separately, that the mind may take in their priceless value.

Now I know and practice different approaches to reading books and the Bible (see How to Read a Book and Lit!). But often when I hear Christians speak of reading God’s word we do so, maybe unintentionally, as if it is a chore – something to be finished as soon as possible, a box to be checked when completed. And I understand this because there are times when reading the Bible can feel this way (due to deficiencies in myself and not in the Word of God). But I also wonder if our rushing through our three/four chapters a day program is less than ideal for many believers. I fear that we have lost the ability to read slowly and to ponder over words and phrases and contexts and truth. We rush through the reading so that we can check off the box because if we are really honest with ourselves we really don’t understand or “get” much from the text. But perhaps the reason we don’t understand or don’t find the word of God breaking in on our lives as much as it we would like is because we are too busy rushing through the text to begin with. It’s like running through an art gallery at a dead sprint. Is it the art’s fault you weren’t moved? Or even the Artist’s?

My hope in this is not that you stop working your way through your reading program. I love my reading program which calls for big chunks of scripture at a time. My desire is that we will work to inculcate times of slow and laborious reading over the words which are “like ingots of gold” needing “to be weighed separately, that the mind may take in their priceless value.”

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2 comments

  1. Kendall, Great post!
    I’ve read & have purchased that book a long time ago. People can definatly learn a lot from it. It was also on what was known as “The banned book list” for many years and banned from many schools for the ideals it holds. I am very happy to hear that you have read it & enjoyed it. I hope you pass it on to you children as well. You might be surprised how many classic books like that have a great message to them. I hope you find more & enjoy more classics to come.

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