For some reason, I’ve been thinking about books a lot lately. They’ve been central to my life, certainly—as a reader from an early age, an English major as an undergraduate, with a library science degree and now a divinity degree, books are indispensable to my work.
I remember distinctly being taught by one of my elder sisters to read. It was “Are You My Mother?,” about a baby bird that falls out of its nest and looks for its mother in a variety of creatures—a cow, a dog, a steam shovel (for years, I called steam shovels “Snort” after the one in the book). The Snort puts the baby bird back in its nest, where it finds its mother waiting.
After that, there was no holding me back. Luckily, we had a large bookcase of children’s books, besides all those that my parents had, and my parents believed in weekly trips to the local library. I do remember at one point in my horse-crazy childhood, I was forbidden to get more than one horse book from the library each week.
I don’t remember my first “chapter book.” But I do remember that at one point I was reading almost a book a day—after school, I would curl up and read until dinner time.
Then when I was about 10, I became very ill. An auto-immune disorder (although they didn’t know it at the time, later research has figured that out) caused my spleen to destroy healthy platelets, which meant that I bled very easily and for a long time. As a result, I did not go outside for recess, I did not participate in gym class, and I spent long periods in the hospital. So, of course, I read. Lots. I stayed in the library while my class went to the gym or outside; I felt fine in the hospital, so again I did a lot of reading there.
This was when I read all those children’s classics (which I still like to reread from time to time): “The Good Master,” the Edward Eager books (“Magic by the
I majored in English as an undergraduate for two reasons—first, when I first went to university, I planned on going to law school and English seemed like it would useful in the practice of law; and second, I figured I’d get to do a lot of reading! I even took French so that, I thought, I could read L’Morte D’Arthur in the original (thinking that, having learned modern French, medieval French couldn’t be too difficult).
And of course, the library science degree was a natural progression. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the computer side of things. This was in the mid-1980s, when you still had to insert the program disk, then the data disk, and they were both five and a half inches across. Modems used acoustic couplers—foam cups that held a telephone receiver. The fax machine was the up-and-coming communication device, but it used thermal paper. (Geez, I feel old now. Anyone else remember those days, or am I the only one doddering in my rocking chair on the porch?). By the time I finished that Master of Library Science, though, I was much more comfortable with computers. My concern at the time was that books were still important and some library schools (and library professors and librarians) seemed so enamoured of computers that they had lost sight of the books! The irony is that I rarely worked with books as a major part of any information work I did—yes, I had libraries I administered, but I ordered, catalogued, and circulated the books in them—not much more. My days mostly consisted of online searches of various databases (which was much more cumbersome in those days, requiring special languages and training), and then obtaining the articles and documents found in those searches (what’s called “document delivery”). At the end of my information science career, I was maintaining a current awareness service for writers (surfing the internet as a job requirement—sweet!).
And then there was seminary. I got lots of reading in seminary…not always what I wanted to read, mind you (Moltmann, anyone? Barth?), but reading it was. And I did some student work in the seminary library as well. Books, books, books.
Theology is still carried out in print, for the most part, unlike some other disciplines that have wholeheartedly taken to computerization. It’s true that theologians’ work is often found online—but it’s generally an electronic version of a print article.
I really think that the way theology will become a presence on the internet is through groups like RevGalBlogPals—groups that discuss it, argue it, and work through it, without ever necessarily meeting in person. With the internet, individuals who might never have heard of each other’s ideas can have a spirited exchange and influence each other. Now, that’s not a new idea. But I think it’s accurate.
Books. I was talking about books. I was in a pastor’s study once, and someone said, “You can tell he’s a Methodist—look at all the books!” But the fact is that I don’t know of a pastor—of any denomination—that isn’t a reader, doesn’t have shelves and shelves of books, and doesn’t have three or four (if not more) books that she or he is reading at any one time.
I remember a lunch time in the seminary refectory, when a group of us was discussing some fine point of theology. Suddenly one of us stopped and said, “Listen to us! We’re talking about the meaning of an obscure Hebrew word over lunch! We are geeks!” To which someone else responded, “Of course we’re geeks, we’re in seminary.”
Pastors. We’re not just the God Squad, we’re the Geek Squad as well.
So read those books, people—it’s part of the job description.