Friday, September 9, 2016


While I am not quite a Luddite, I am often slow to adapt to technological changes. It took me a long time to buy my first cell phone and then a long time to move from a flip phone to a smart phone, as one example. We have been later than most of our friends to HD/flat screen televisions. Eventually we get there - and mostly I appreciate what technology offers us. But I still don't have a Kindle.

Truth is, I might find it convenient. But there is something for me about the feel of a book in my hands and the smell of the paper. I've had a love affair with books that goes back at least as far as Watty Piper's The Little Engine That Could. I love books, and almost every book in my library has left a mark on me. I admit that there are a few books (but not many) that I've been given as gifts that have not yet been opened, and maybe one or two that I bought myself but have not yet gotten to. But the vast majority of the books I own have been read at least once - and some of them so many times that the binding is ruined.

On occasion there is something on Facebook that says, "quick - name the ten books that have been most important to your life, or at least left a mark." I find that so challenging! A bit easier for me  might be to speak of writers who have left a mark - many of whom have written many books that I've devoured: Walter Brueggemann. Barbara Brown Taylor. Paul Tillich. Miraslov Volf. Flannery O'Connor. David McCullough. John Irving. William Faulkner. Charles Dickens. Mary Oliver. 

These people have become my friends, even if they don't know my name. I feel like I know them, or something at least about them. I suppose that might be conveyed through a tablet but holding their books in my hand - seeing what I underlined when I last read the book, what struck me - well, I know myself better through their insights about the world.

I have been pondering these things a bit (ruminating on them, as it were) since my stepfather's recent death, and in the aftermath spending some time with my mother in his library. He was a better reader and scholar than I, and when I close my eyes and try to see him it is usually with a pipe in one hand and a book in the other. It's hard to say goodbye to books, which I think is why Marty just never did. And unlike many clergy I know who are forced to deal with their libraries when they retire, Marty served the same parish for thirty-one years and didn't live in the parsonage. So upon retirement he only had to find room in his library at home for the books that had accumulated in his church office.

He found the space. The thing is you can almost always find room for one more book even if it's side wise on the bookcase and stacked up on top. Going through those books I felt connected to him - to his love of F. D. Maurice, which I knew about and to his love of Mary (and a Protestant appreciation for her) that I didn't know as much about. (That interest is hinted at in this paper.)

I've spent the past week distributing some of Marty's books to people whom I knew would give them a good home, including the series pictured above on American Spirituality. I trust that in so doing, the smiles on the faces of those receiving these gifts would make Marty very happy, and in some real mystical sense does make him happy.

Marty used to defend his book purchasing to my mother by saying that these books would be "worth some thing some day." I suspect he knew that wasn't true, at least financially. But in a deeper sense, what I've experienced this week has been priceless.

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