The first few days of this Lenten season have been eye opening, frustrating and telling. Some of the things I’ve observed and wrestled with have surprised me and I think this will continue to be the case over the course of the next several weeks.

Turns out, it’s quite difficult to ‘not’ read when it’s a skill that is inherent to your very being. In some of the moments I’ve caught myself reading things like a street sign or a billboard, I’ve had to stop and be thankful for the fact that reading truly is second nature and be mindful that this is not the case for many in this country and around the world.

On a more personal level I’ve realized just how independent I am and how difficult it is for me to be reliant upon others as a result. I had a hard time thid past week asking friends to help me read things such as menus and subtitles; I didn’t want to inconvenience them nor did I want to come across as needy (never mind that a lot of these friends were already well aware of the journey I’ve decided to embark upon for these next several weeks). Because of this pride I’ve yet to ask a stranger to help me read. In fact, as I’d think about various places I needed to go or things I needed to do this week I would decide to put those activities off until Sunday when I could read again. On a small level this is what it’s like to navigate the world as an adult learner; there are things you must put off until you have someone to help you. I know this because the students I tutor will bring bills, instruction manuals, homework and the like to our sessions that they’ve been stockpiling for some time. That being said, there are many adult learners that are too ashamed of their struggle to ask another for help. And, many that are willing to make the admission simply don’t have access to tutoring programs such as the one I’m involved in.

My experience at church this past Ash Wednesday was an interesting one. I hadn’t really intended to embark on this journey until after the service but my church had run out of bulletins so I had to engage in the time of worship without words on a page to guide me. The church tradition I’m a part of is a liturgical one so words abound in our services. The good new is that several parts of the liturgy are rote so if you are an adult learner you could memorize some of the portions of the service and engage verbally. The bad news is that if you are an adult learner and new to the liturgical tradition, attempts to read and engage with the  liturgy would be completely overwhelming. My guess is that the liturgy used by my church and many others would be at about an 9th grade reading level, which is well beyond the reading level many posess. Given that many other denominations are centered around the written form of songs and readings, the challenges would be similar in their services. I’m not here to admonish churches for being so reader focused but my experience has brought to mind the following questions:

  • How could churches accommodate adult learners so that they too could engage with the service and Scripture?
  • Does the church (and do I) think that God can move and speak in the life of someone that can’t read? What does this look like? And, do I sometimes miss the move of God because I’m too busy dissecting the words of Scripture?
  • I wonder if the reason that Jesus’ words tended towards parables instead of grandiose theological platitudes was so that the marginalized (those who can’t read, prisoners, those with disabilities, children etc.) could engage with him along with the academics and theologians? That is, it’s far easier to recount a story than it is to remember the 3 key bullet points from a sermon or the 5 points of Calvinism.

I’ll stop now as I think this is my lengthiest post to date! Part of that is probably stems from being wordless for several days but also from the fact that its been a long week(end) and I tend to ramble when I’m tired. Thank you all for giving voice to this issue and for wrestling with these questions along with me. It means so much to me and the people I’ve grown to care about.

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