I have a friend who likes to read manuals. I mean by this the instruction manual that might come with your television, your hair dryer, or even you dog shampoo. Though I feel that this is a very strange habit, lest he should be reading this and be even marginally insulted—and lest you, dear reader, should share this same penchant (for perhaps there are more who have this predilection than I am aware)—let me say that I am not here to condemn the enterprise, however strange I may find it to be.
I confess that I myself am of the opposite camp. I am one of those people who, when on the rare occasion that they might buy something that includes a manual, reads it not one whit. I rush to judgment about how this piece obviously goes here, that piece there. The result: I must often take the item apart after I’ve constructed it because I put it together all wrong. And thus, I am always later forced to concede (normally to my wife), that reading the manual first would have been a good idea, however boring it might have seemed at the time.
Indeed, there is great value in reading “boring stuff.” Some might call I Chronicles boring. In case you’ve not read it lately, the opening chapters consist of lengthy genealogies, names of human beings who lived and loved and laughed long ago. They had families, saw their children take their first steps, celebrated birthdays, enjoyed religious festivals, ravenously devoured a good meal, opened the door for the elderly, and taught their children life lessons. They danced, read aloud to their families (probably every evening), sang songs, and prayed fervently. They had lives. We have but their names, names in a list. And those names are the only ones we have, for their were many, many more than those, both alluded to in I Chronicles or mentioned as being part of a larger group—not by name, but merely as one in a thousand. And they have the same kind of lives that I just expounded upon above.
But what has this to do with reading boring stuff, you might ask? Well, I will put it simply: it’s one thing to read any document piecemeal, whether the best parts of the Bible or The Brothers Karamazov or the Oedipus Rex or even a modern novel, of which we all know it’s not cool to read the ending first. Dante only makes sense if you know Paradiso comes after Purgatorio, and Purgatorio after Inferno. The amendments to the Constitution only make sense if we have some idea of what the Constitution says. The boring stuff in life—the job we are not too fond of because it is “no fun,” the season of our marriage that is difficult, the décor of our living area that really, really needs to be replaced sometime soon—provide a necessary function in our lives, for these things give us, albeit obliquely and paradoxically, hope, something to look forward to. We hope, even have faith that the rough patch will pass and our relationship will get better; we appreciate time with our family more in part perhaps because our job environment is less than felicitous; we look forward to the day when we can haul that couch out the front door an put a “FREE” sign on it—and then, fifteen minutes later we, incredulous, see someone pull up with their truck and haul it away.
While reading I Chronicles is not precisely analogous to that, it is perhaps just a little bit so, and that’s why I like to read it. In fact, I like to read the whole Bible straight on through in the KJV; I am not sure precisely why I like that version, save that I enjoy, even in the vast tracts of prosaic narrative, its prosody. I realize that my saying that I read through it directly may sound strange. Yet I actually like knowing what the whole document has to say, and there is no better way to discern that than to read through it directly. And, yes, that takes a while.
So, when you hit a boring patch, you keep reading. And you try to imagine what that boring patch really means. It means people lived then, they really did live, and they had the same fears for the future—actually, likely a much higher order of fear—than we do now. They saw a change in leadership often coming only after spilled blood, not a democratic election. They worried because someone named David had been anointed as the new king of Israel. King Saul had fallen on Mount Gilboa. They had no idea if their government would stand, what the future held.
So, I encourage those who like to read boring stuff, to keep right on doing so. Generally speaking, at least when it comes to manuals, I am not of that ilk. Nevertheless, I encourage those of us who do not like to read boring stuff to consider indulging, at least for a season, in something like I Chronicles, for in its apparently boring narrative, we can find things that will encourage and inspire us to laugh, love and live courageously in an uncertain age. Boring stuff doesn’t just belong in a case or sitting on a library shelf. It belongs to our hearts and in our minds. Here’s to “boring.”