“Do you understand what you are reading?” – A Reading Lesson from the book of Acts

Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and…
From Acts chapter 8 (Acts 8:30-31)


Chris RockThe above passage from the book of Acts jumped into mind the other day when I was reading a portion of Rise of the Robots that I had to work really hard to understand.

I remember when I started my graduate program in Rhetoric. Early on, I was assigned journal articles to read. My previous training had been in theology, and these articles felt like a foreign language and foreign discipline to me.

I had a wise professor who told me to simply keep reading, and as I exposed myself to more and more of the discipline, it would begin to click. And, I did. And, it did – click.

I have read business books my entire professional life, and for the last 18 years (ok; 17 years, 11 months) I have read business books and prepared synopsis handouts and presentations of these books. So, much of the “business book discipline” now feels familiar to me. I can read most selections pretty quickly, knowing the jargon, knowing the key concepts. I can “understand quickly.”

But, there are books, or portions of books, when I have to slow things down, look up some words, ponder context. It is more work to read some books than others.

So, I come back to the question:

Do you understand what you are reading?

Because, it is not always easy to understand what you are reading.

Here are a series of questions that may help you think about this in your own reading:

Do I know the definition of the words I read?
Can I place this book into a larger context? (Do I understand how this book builds upon that book, and how that book built upon that other book; do I understand how this book adds to an ongoing discovery conversation?)
Do I grasp the point the author is making?
Do I know my areas of agreement and disagreement with the author? Do I understand why I agree, or disagree?
Can I think of next questions that I wish I could find the answer to?

And, maybe most important of all,

Can I figure out how to put into practice what I am reading in this book?

Sometimes, reading is easy. Sometimes, reading is hard work.

But, always, I have to know: “do I understand what I am reading?”

And, sometimes, I have to invite someone to sit with me in my chariot and ask him or her to explain it to me; to help me understand what I am reading.

(By the way, do you know who to call to ask for such help?)


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