tree in woods with READ sign

How to Grow a Thinking Culture

“Developing a thinking culture”—that’s what the sign outside the school said, a couple of years ago when we were house-hunting in the port city where we now live. Wow, that’s kind of a novelty, I reflected. A definite novelty in a culture that frequently doesn’t read beyond the local newspapers—and even that’s rare now, replaced by newsfeeds and WhatsApp emoticons.

To me, thinking is reading. It’s difficult for a novel thought to challenge your mind without exposure to the world of books. When YouTube videos, phone games, and reality TV replace reading almost exclusively in a country, that culture wallows in a poverty of its own making and its own choice.

For The Love of Libraries and Learning

As National Library Week kicks off, I’m reminded of the vast literary riches I luxuriated in as a child and teen growing up in rural Maine. Nearly every small town had its flourishing lending library—and nearly always well-stocked and well-funded. What a cultural inheritance!

Frankly, among Chile’s worst tragedies is the lack of reading resources for the average person. The unborrowable “library” books, the carelessness toward printed materials, the over-priced bookstores. And saddest of all, the absence of desire. It’s enough to make a passionate reader and writer sob.

The power of learning, thinking, and applying the written word has transformed soldiers and scholars, preachers and teachers, housewives and handymen, over the centuries. A sort of mental alchemy erupts when we stir up the brain cells and excite neural pathways with a new idea.

  • Addison in The Tatler calls reading exercise for the mind.
  • The historian Gibbon in his Memoirs compares his love of reading with “the treasures of India.”
  • English poet laureate Lord Byron calls the power of thought, “the magic of the Mind” (Corsair).
  • J.G. Holland declares that “the mind grows by what it feeds on.”

Don’t you love those metaphors? Reading and thinking are compared to exercise, treasure, magic, and food. Only with a solid diet of good reading can a thinking culture truly flourish.

And beyond our culture, what about our own minds? Our personal worldview and thinking processes?

Lest we become intellectual couch potatoes, let’s work on a workout for the mind. The Book of Common Prayer makes the following suggestion: “Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.”

Read…and Mark

What the prayer book describes as “marking,” I assume means to pay attention, notice, or be aware. You can mark in a practical sense by underlining or highlighting the important points you read. Write down your observations, what I call “noodlings and doodlings.” This will help you focus and recall it later.

Read…and Learn

I have a hard time remembering what I read unless I take notes, make lists, and even re-read. This is the way that most of us study and learn. Make it a point to go over certain books or materials periodically. Challenge yourself to learn something new every year. Read up on a subject that interests you, take a class. In fact, read up on a subject you don’t enjoy or that’s difficult for you. Accept the dare.

Read…and Digest

You’ll have to go back over it, it’s just a fact of life. That means reviewing inwardly, meditating, chewing. As well as outwardly through communication, discussion, and even debate. That’s how you digest—by incorporating what you read into your own thoughts and making it part of yourself.

On a spiritual plane, even some Christians can barely tell Genesis from Revelation. I’d say we have a serious need to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest,” to nurture and exercise our minds. That’s why the Apostle Paul urges us to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).

A thinking culture at school, at church, at home… That’s my aim as I work with and write for the next generation, both here in Chile and at home. Let’s discover new ideas together and make a dent in changing the culture by joining forces with the Word Warriors, the Mind Magicians, and the Thought Alchemists in our midst. They’re probably hanging out at the local library, a book in each hand.


  1. I love this. Oh how I wish we had lending libraries here in Chile!! I have to be careful not to fall into the trap of newsfeeds or getting roped into reading an empty article after a snappy title lured me down a bunny trail. I agree with your premise and am again falling in love with reading.

    1. So much of how we think and reason depends on how we are taught and what we read. I hope that school reached its goal, but I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a discipline in a world of visual and digital over-stimulation. Read on!

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