Over the years, The Ones We Love has offered a space to contemplate the many different people we as young clergy women love. We’ve read (and written!) about dogs and cats, parents and spouses, colleagues and neighbors. This month, this column won’t be about a person but about a thing—or, rather, things. I really like good books.
Christians believe that the Word of God came and pitched a tent among humanity in the person of Jesus. The words of the Bible are one of the key ways we graft ourselves into that story and all the other stories of how a particular people have experienced the divine presence (or lack thereof) for generations. With this long history of importance around words, most people aren’t surprised to hear that I like to read. Reading seems like a natural fit for a clergy person, a safe vice, a way to keep out of trouble. And, yes, there has been more than one Friday night where you could find me reading something like Donald Miller’s ubiquitous-but-still-good Blue Like Jazz or Sensual Orthodoxy, a thought-provoking sermon collection from Debbie Blue.
However, not only do I obviously read things besides the Bible, I even read things that are not explicitly theological (yes, I’ve explained that multiple times to multiple people). I try to read widely, but I fail pretty miserably at that. Over the past two years,I have tended to read a smattering of parenting and childcare books, fiction, and popular historical works. I also read daily to my daughter Claire; we love snuggling up with Sandra Boynton or Eric Carle.
When I was a parish priest, I often mined what I was reading for sermons. I used H.W. Brands’ Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times, Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road, and Philip Norman’s John Lennon: A Life. The very educated parish that I served loved it, and I liked the challenge of tying together seemingly disparate stories. Books are great sermon fodder.
They’re more than that, though. Books are the ultimate easy companion. Being the inanimate objects that they are, books don’t care that I’m clergy. The book doesn’t project on me its previous experience with Christianity, nervously talking about the last time it went to church. I don’t have to dread getting a new book, because who knows if the book will giggle nervously when a four letter word accidentally slips out. My husband and I don’t have to find and pay a babysitter for me to read. Books don’t even care if I don’t pick them up for a few weeks if I’m too busy to read or don’t feel like reading.
Of course, like so many things, this all has a slightly dark side. Sometimes I find myself looking increasingly to books, as opposed to people, for intellectual engagement and camaraderie. However, we’re social beings who need community, and books cannot provide that in the same way people do. Even so, without them, I’m not sure that I could deal with some of the day-to-day loneliness that comes with being a statistical aberration in my generation and in this profession.
Thanks be to God for books.