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Whole Brain Reading
There was a time, not too long ago, when I got annoyed with books that started each chapter with a story. I would skip to the “meat” of the chapter because that is where the “real” information was. The stories were just inspirational fluff that authors needed to include so that their books sold. Very cynical, I know.
I think that cynical annoyance is a sign of my tendency towards left-brain dominance. I’m getting better at appreciating how story and narrative communicate truth, but it’s still a temptation to prefer direct, black and white instruction. Not that we should have to choose, of course. As Iain McGilchrist claims, and as I’ve written about in this newsletter (e.g. Right, Left, Right, Part to Whole, Your Story Matters, A Novel Idea), the hemispheres have a proper order of priority and sequence of operation: right, left, then right again.
Case studies in psychological and counseling literature demonstrate that priority. We turn to theoretical instruction books and analytical guides for pragmatic, left-brain knowledge and tools for immediate application. But going straight from instruction to application neglects (I often have, at least) the reality that such knowledge and know-how was first derived from the author’s right-brain experience. The right hemisphere prioritizes the present, lived encounter with others, and it is from that lived data that we are able to engage the left brain for analytical depth and explanation.
It is good to remember that case studies are not just “illustrations” of abstract truths (even if they are that in part); they were also the real life laboratory of learning how to help others. As readers we can engage them as a kind of virtual laboratory, entering into the story, imagining the characters, the scenario, and how we might both make sense of and seek to help those in need. Such right-left-right reading better prepares for applying what we read to real life. That is whole brain reading.
Quote from Eugene Peterson
Unfortunately, we live in an age in which story has been pushed from its biblical frontline prominence to a bench on the sidelines and then condescended to as "illustration" or "testimony" or "inspiration." Our contemporary unbiblical preference, both inside and outside the church, is for information over story. We typically gather impersonal (pretentiously called "scientific" or "theological") information, whether doctrinal or philosophical or historical, in order to take things into our own hands and take charge of how we will live our lives…But we don't live our lives by information; we live them in relationships in the context of a personal God who cannot be reduced to formula or definition, who has designs on us for justice and salvation. And we live them in an extensive community of men and women, each person an intricate bundle of experience and motive and desire. Picking a text for living that is characterized by information-gathering and consultation with experts leaves out nearly everything that is uniquely us - our personal histories and relationships, our sins and guilt, our moral character and believing obedience to God. Telling and listening to a story is the primary verbal way of accounting for life the way we live it in actual day-by-day reality. There are no (or few) abstractions in a story. A story is immediate, concrete, plotted, relational, personal. And so when we lose touch with our lives, with our souls - our moral, spiritual, embodied God-personal lives - story is the best verbal way of getting us back in touch again. And that is why God's word is given for the most part in the form of story, this vast, overarching, all-encompassing story, this meta-story.”
Eat This Book, by Eugene Peterson
The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, by Iain McGilchrist
What is your attitude toward case studies and stories in expository books? How do you do whole brain reading with other kinds of literature?
Praying for and laboring with you,