Shelved

From Kim Williams
Director of Facilities, Technology, & Communication

Pastor Ara and I were talking about bookshelves. It all started with a conversation about the shelf full of little binders with every order of worship from 1995–2007-ish in my office. I stare at this shelf all day long. They were in a cabinet behind me, and every time I tried to open it, they’d slip and slide out. So I put them on the shelves to make myself look at until I can figure out what to do with the hundreds of liturgy and sermon titles and announcements contained within the plastic un-throw-away-able three-ringed fortresses. But if we take them out, then the question becomes, what do we do with those empty shelves?

Ara then mentioned how bookshelves are so seldom used for books these days. I remember when this room WAS the church library, so it’s especially stark in contrast that the only books we have in here now are binders of meeting minutes, orders of worship, and eight books I keep close at hand on nonprofit marketing, design, Google Adwords, and grammar. There’s a vase. Two of them, even! And I have a votive candle surrounded by some of my favorite crystals and minerals for my Morning Prayer ritual to center myself before jumping into work.

But not many books.

“Isn’t it weird when you visit a home of well-read people, and you can’t find a bookcase? You walk around, but all you find are shelves of knick-knacks and coffee table books.”

Pastor Ara isn’t wrong. There’s something that’s off-putting about not being able to see someone’s book collection—we can probably thank Kindle for that one.

I’ll admit that my home bookshelf isn’t organized for the books, but for show. While the books on the shelves are the books Chris and I are reading, or are books we’ve read and loved, I have them organized according to the incredibly less-than-functional ROYGBIV. It’s so pretty, but I dare you to find “The Alchemist” in under five minutes.

What made this conversation stand out is that this phenomenon of no-book shelves is (disappointingly) similar to how I display my relationship with God. I am so uncomfortable with talking about my faith. Even at church, even WORKING at the church, sometimes I’ll choose my words so that the divine delivers less of a punch. You know, just in case you’re as uncomfortable as I am with *gulp* Jesus.

That’s not to say I don’t love Jesus, or that I don’t feel God working out these amazing plot lines in my life, but when I sit down and say “Alright, let’s go! Time to check my email!” I don’t know how to pluck out the way God is there in that moment. And sometimes it’s because I don’t know how you’ll react if I use the “J” word. We may be here in a church but how deep into Jesus are you? Will it make you squirm if I say it? And am I in deep enough? Will my talking about Jesus sound legitimate enough? Will I sound hesitant?

Will you know I’ve wrestled in my adulthood with impossible questions that require faith, and have grown frustrated that there may never be a concrete answer in my lifetime?

If I put my books out on the shelf (and organize them alphabetically or by genre instead of ridiculously by rainbow) you might see the titles like “Two Years on the Stage at Karaoke Night Singing Queen Songs on Saturday Nights and Skipped Church the Next Day” or “Believes Without Question in the Healing Properties of Crystals but Questions Christ” or, my favorite, “Hates Feeling Ignorant When Talking to Atheists, Plays Along”. That last one is a bestseller.

You might see me as the flawed person I am if you can see all the bindings. It’s the equivalent of putting the Twilight series books out next to Anna Karenina on my shelf. It doesn’t fit the narrative I’m trying to sell, and yet I have a hard time forming my mouth around the words “Jesus”, “Lord”, and “God”. I won’t fully be the Christ-follower I want to be unless I can become comfortable with my spiritual book case, Twilight Saga and all. And we’re a community of faith, I should trust that you’ll take my “Genuine Love of New Moon” over my “Space-Filling Vase” any day.

Comments(4)

  1. Christopher says

    I think this article highlights a lot of the difficulties that happen when it comes to sharing the “word”. I work with people whom I know have faith and yet I would never be comfortable enough to discuss my own faith with those I see more often than my own family members. I think that it has less to do with my own trust in God, but rather the lack of confidence I have in myself at being his emissary.
    One particular point that is made in this article seemed to speak directly to me: “Hates feeling ignorant when talking to Atheists, Plays Along”. With no actual concrete proof of an Omnipotent being one often feels naïve or childlike in their faith and would rather remain quiet than have our own meager faith-based argument that God exists in everything ridiculed. Fantastic article!

  2. Patsy Finster says

    On the subject of book shelves, I worked in a book store for many years so my books are stored by author and date of publication so I will know when I read them! If you want to see our Bibles and talk about Jesus they are in Dave’s office not in the family room with the books and TV.

  3. Faye Saxton says

    I think the problem most of us have is terminology, not faith or beliefs. We don’t want to offend others , so we hedge. In the alternate community, we use more words like Spirit and Source and Jesus would be a Master, like other Masters. Sometimes we just have to “own up” – we are Christians, we believe in certain things, whatever others want to call them. The classes which Faith Development is set to offer us this Fall may be just what some of us need to explore our terminology and how we can be more knowlegable about where we stand on things.

  4. Victoria Thomas says

    Yep. I totally have my books on the top three shelves (fun reads) in rainbow order. The rest of it looks a big mess, but in a logical order and I can find what I’m looking for. 23 books on breastfeeding, a million books on early childhood. A deep section on religions. It IS a reflection of what’s going on in my brain. That’s why it’s locked in the guest bedroom where no one sees it.

    I feel if I keep what’s on my spiritual shelf private, I won’t be forced to take out my sword and slice a friendship away.

    Was it just a few weeks ago? “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

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