In the middle of your very poignant piece about the grace and power of the Lord as shown through water, another thought captured my attention. When surveying your flooded office — but thankfully dry bookshelves — you “reflected on the truth that had the ruptured pipe ruined them all, the only volumes that would have survived would have been the ones I’ve given away over the years.” Wow. I had to stop and let that sink in for a minute.
It’s such a clear statement about the nature of stewardship, of community, and of faith. Because I’m also such a bibliophile, I find myself constantly in the middle of two extremes: hoarding books and giving them away. I collect books like my preschooler collects shiny things: with indiscriminate delight and no concern for the space requirements. Yet I have also been known to give away copies of Ruth Haley Barton’s An Invitation to Solitude and Silence like they’re candy. In my office are two shelves — one for my growing collection and one for those meant to be given away.
I share your shudder at the thought of all my books being ruined. Yet I realize that in some ways, it is not the tangible book itself (though I love the heft of a good book) but rather the ideas, experiences, and knowledge that the book represents and contains. It is indeed the rampant highlighting in grad school textbooks (my husband sardonically suggests just highlighting the entire page) and the various notes and symbols scribbled in the margins. It is the warm thought of the friend who first recommended or gave the book to me. It is the connection I feel with the authors, both in our similarities and in our differences. And it is the (sometimes) invisible community built around that particular book, a community of readers that I have the privilege to help expand.
I have let some precious volumes go to new homes because I felt that book was just right for that person in their current experiences. I once accidentally gave away a copy of a treasured book with very personal notes in the margins, only to discover a friendship strengthened by my unwitting vulnerability. I also loan out books with the faith that they will either be returned eventually or be better loved by someone else. Your article has helped me to realize how the principle of stewardship plays out through my library: I collect books to be able to give them away, so as to further community and to advance ideas and the Kingdom of God.
Given my career in campus ministry, the majority of my office books are specifically addressing Christian faith and practice. Yet it is not merely the theological concepts in those books that inspire me; it is the lives lived as shown in their pages. It is Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Mike Schutt’s heart for Redeeming Law, and Tom Lin’s journey of Losing Face and Finding Grace. It is that Invitation to Solitude and Silence of Ruth Haley Barton’s, and the Unshakable Foundations upon which Norman Geisler and Pete Bocchino stand. It is learning to share the joy of Sundee Tucker Frazier and boldly Check All That Apply.
And, as your article has helped me to see, it is those books that are no longer upon my shelf — those which I have been willing to let go — that perhaps bless me the most. In my bookshelves, I see a microcosm of the community with which God has blessed me over the years. No matter what powerful provision of water may come to my bookshelves, the legacy and power of those books (and those friends) lives on. And despite the fact that friends move away, or pass on, or just borrow books never to be returned, that community continues. Praise be to God for that.