VDS Feature: “Do You Understand What You are Reading?”
The Academy of Young Preachers is a trans-denominational organization that seeks to identify, support, and inspire young preachers and their calls to preaching. Founded by Dwight Moody in 2010, the academy holds nationwide conferences when young preachers are invited to preach sermons on the theme of conference. This year, young preachers from around the nation gathered in Indianapolis, Indiana, to preach on the theme “Questions of the Soul.” The following sermon was delivered by James Wesley Dennis III, Academy of Young Preachers Class of 2011.
“Do You Understand What You are Reading?”
Acts 8:30, NRSV
In the name of the Lord, the most gracious, the most merciful; Creator of the Seen and the Unseen. It is in the Lord that we put our trust. Isn’t it wonderful that the fire has not burnt us and the waters have not drowned us? For we are still in the land of the dying on our way to the land of the living.
Friends, history has taught us that one of the greatest tools toward the liberation of marginalized and oppressed people is the ability to read. This is because reading takes from the marginalized and the oppressed the bliss of ignorance. Reading creates a state of perpetual discontentment as it exposes the readers to the truth about their existential reality. Reading allows the otherwise disenfranchised readers to connect themselves and their struggles to the freedoms, ideas, thoughts, and beliefs of the privileged majority, and it causes their minds to be liberated from the mental chains of slavery. For you see, freeing the mind is the perquisite to freeing the self. If you free the self before you free the mind, you would have created only people who look free but who are still controlled by the power, privilege and propaganda of the ruling majority. This is why W.E.B. Du Bois said of the African slaves living in this country that “The slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back into slavery.” Why? Although their bodies were free from the torture of slavery, their minds were still wrapped around the fingers of slave masters who would rather see those black men and women dead before they were free.
The ability to read is powerful because it liberates the mind, in other words, it makes people think for themselves. This is evident in the autobiography of Frederick Douglass. His owner disapproved of his learning how to read because he knew that learning to read would create discontentment for Douglass and make him want freedom. Once you acquire knowledge, you can’t return to the slave dungeons of ignorance anymore. Douglass writes:
“As I read and contemplated the subject, behold the very discontentment which Master Hugh had predicted would follow my learning to read had already come, to torment and sting my soul to unutterable anguish… I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing…. I envied my fellow-slaves for their stupidity… The sliver trump of freedom had roused my soul to eternal wakefulness.”
All this happened because he learned how to read. Reading, literally, freed his mind into thinking without having to accept the way other folks were trying to make him think. He learned how to think for himself. He did not have to wait for anyone to tell him how to think because he had the power of words.
“When the power of words put a vision in you, you can no longer be content with the same old same old. Reading has the power to change your life.
Click here to read the entire sermon.