Book Purging

IMG_1917I’m thinking about ditching some of my books. It’s a surprisingly painful idea.

You see, I love books. I’ve always loved books. When I was growing up and things got crowded in our little house, I would take some snacks, a drink and a book and escape to the car where I would sit in blessed silence and read for hours. It is a fond memory for me.

My mother was a reader. She subscribed to the Reader’s Digest condensed book series and every month, a new book would arrive. (Let it be known now—I am not a fan of condensed books.) She also subscribed to a monthly classic books series for us kids. So I grew up on Charles Dickens and Louisa May Alcott and Charlotte Bronte. I also checked out lots of books from the school library and begged my mom to order from the Scholastic Book Club when we were give order forms. I remember the day when the box of books would arrive at school and the excited anticipation I felt at getting new books to take home—and the sadness I felt when we had not been afford to order books that time.

As a general rule, pastors are bibliophiles. We collect books like other people collect stamps or coins or antique cars. At every conference, assembly, or continuing education event where there are pastors present, there are book displays and we buy and buy and buy.

IMG_1918I actually have fewer books than many pastors. I’m told Pastor Fred’s library filled every shelf in my (his) office and sometimes they overflowed. The shelves in my office are only about half filled with books. As I was perusing the shelves for books on Lutheran heritage, I realized that many of these books were more than 20 years old and that it was unlikely I would ever read them again. Some of them I’ve had for years and have never even opened. Others are from continuing education activities that are long finished. Some are textbooks from seminary that I am quite unlikely to need. I cannot remember the last time I have used An Introduction of Grammar for New Testament Greek (Kaufman, 1982) which I bought used. Nowadays if I need to do some Greek work in preparation for a sermon, I simply use the many fine free Greek resources on the internet. Likewise the internet has become an excellent resource for professional commentaries on the scripture, Bible studies, and articles on any ministry topic you can imagine. Such resources are mostly free and easy to find. My physical books are increasingly irrelevant to the way I do ministry.

Plus, many books can be downloaded electronically either though the library or a bookseller. E-books are cheaper, do not require the use of trees, and stay on your “shelf” forever without gathering a speck of dust. I have recently purchased several e-books on ministry and find the reading to be little different from a paper copy. I also do almost all my recreational reading on my tablet.

I’ve heard the argument: “But I like the FEEL of a book.” I do too. But even as a lifelong bibliophile who has—until recently—only used “real” books, I must admit that e-books contain the same information, are more easily searchable, and one still “holds” the book. Plus I can change the font, make the print any size, and make the page as bright or as dim as I like. I have become a convert to e-books. I do still love to wander though a bookstore and look at the books. However, now I am more likely to take a photo of a book cover that interests me and then see if I can download it from the library than I am to purchase it.

Still, as I think about doing a purge on my library, I am feeling the emotional impact of giving or throwing away these lovely books. Pastors who retire have faced this for years and most church libraries are replete with books donated by their former pastors who simply could not bear to throw away a perfectly good book. Someone might need it someday, they think. Mostly that turns out not to be true. Church libraries are the least used resource that most churches have. But it made the pastors feel good to imagine someone using their treasures.

So I have decided that, if I am to downsize my library, I will have to view it as a spiritual exercise:  a removing of that which is no longer useful and which is unlikely to be used again. I will try to see it as sending my  books to that eternal bookshelf in the sky where there is no dust, no crowded shelves and where readers avidly consume the wisdom contained therein. I do believer that my books will be much happier there than sitting ignored on my shelves.

Savannah-Part 3

Savannah’s head bump

This is the last of my three-part series on “Things I Learn From My Dog.”

As I mentioned a couple of entries ago, Savannah is a mutt. When I got her, she had what we thought was a little scar on the top of her head. The folks at the Humane Society thought that it was from a puppy scuffle. It was sort of cute, as it made the fur on the top of her head stand up in a miniature mohawk.

But in the months since then, the “scar” has grown into a large bumpy area. It is devoid of any fur, so that her gray skin shows and quite frankly, it’s not very attractive. And because it was growing, I got worried, thinking it was a tumor. When I asked the vet about it last year, he said that it was a deformity that she probably was born with, that it seemed healthy, and that it shouldn’t cause any problems for her. Whew! He said he’d had another patient with the same birth defect and that it never affected that dog’s functioning. That was good to know. He said he could surgically remove it, but there would still be scar and that he didn’t think it was necessary. I agreed. He also said that I should think of it as an identifying mark should Savannah ever get lost. Good point. She’s unique, he said. She is, at that.

Savannah’s bump continued to expand for several more months but now seems to have stopped growing. The bump doesn’t appear to hurt her, although when it was still growing, she sometimes rubbed it on the carpet until it bled a little. And then of course the scab that formed also itched until it fell off. That has not happened in a while, so I think that both Savannah and the bump may be done with their growing. Still, she likes to have me scratch the bump. It might still itch a little.

I confess there are times when I think about getting the bump removed. Savannah is a beautiful dog and the bump mars her cuteness. But I see no reason to put her through the pain of surgery just to satisfy my shallow perception of beauty. Plus she would have a scar from the surgery anyhow. And with any surgery comes health risks and it’s not worth that. So I scratch her itchy head bump and am grateful to have such a smart, affectionate, gentle dog.

So here are the human lessons from this particular dog scenario:

  1. Perfection is not all that important.
  2. Beauty takes many different forms and I need to work on my sense of the beautiful.
  3. Uniqueness should be embraced, provided that it causes no harm to self or others.
  4. Be grateful for what you have.

Are we not all grateful that God understands all this already?

Savannah-Part 2

IMG_1663 (1)
Savannah is not happy with her reindeer antlers.

Okay, so here’s one of Savannah’s less endearing traits.

As a scent hound, Savannah’s instinct it to hunt prey. Her instincts tell her to follow a scent to its source so that her human (the hunter) can find/bag/kill it.

Sometimes as we are walking Savannah on the trail in the woods near our home, we let her off the lead to run around and smell to her heart’s content. She runs ahead, chases birds, and explores the edges of the trail. She never wanders too far away—although she does wander much farther than does Dakota, our German shepherd, whose instinct is to keep us all together.

On several occasions, Savannah will find an intoxicating odor and promptly roll around in it. It is almost inevitably urine or scat. Even though we yell at her for doing this, she is usually most pleased with herself and trots back to us, stinking like an outhouse. The only way to remove the smell is to give her bath when we get home—and sometimes the bath is not completely effective.

I did some research as to why Savannah does this. The Internet—repository of all wisdom—had numerous articles that all said the same thing. Scent dogs often roll in the scat or urine of their prey in order to smell like the prey instead of like themselves. In this way, the prey is less likely to smell the dog as it approaches because the scent of the prey’s own kind covers the dog’s scent.

Understanding why Savannah engages in this disgusting behavior does not in any way mitigate its nastiness.  We now watch her very carefully when she is off lead in the woods and are ready to correct any sniffing behavior that looks like it may descend into a roll in excrement. We are not always successful: Savannah can be very fast.

So here are the human life parallels that I have drawn from this particular dog scenario:

  1. I cannot always control what others do, no matter how much I try and no matter how much I want to do so. (This is a lesson I keep learning over and over and over.)
  2. People do disgusting things, often with good reason, or so they may think.
  3. Sometimes the “stink” of those disgusting things, clings to them—and sometimes to us—for a long time.
  4. Sometimes deception is very effective even though I might wish it otherwise.
  5. Things can sometimes happen too quickly for me to respond well.

Once again, it is choose-your-own-lesson. Or maybe you “hear” something else here. If so, feel free to add it in the comments.


Savannah-Part 1

Savannah, my present dog

I have not written about my dog in some time, so I thought maybe I should tell you what new things I have learned from her.

For my newer readers, I have discovered great wisdom in the behavior, care and owning of a dog. My former dog, Layla, was beautiful and smart, but she was a handful. Layla taught me often about patience, intensity, prejudice, and distractedness.

My present dog, Savannah, is a fish of a different kettle—or rather, a dog of a different breed. Savannah is a mutt. I got her from the Huron County Humane Society 20 months ago when she was about four months old. She’s a hound mix with some beagle, German short-haired pointer, and German Shepherd, along with a mish-mash of unrecognizable DNA, according to the test I gave her.

Layla, my former dog

Previously we have had Labrador retrievers and German shepherds. We’ve never had a hound. Hounds are different. While very alert (like a shepherd) and very affectionate (like a Lab), she is a scent hound. I will be throwing the ball for her and on her way out to get the ball or to return it to me, she will suddenly stop and start sniffing the ground. That hound nose caught a scent and she’s off to explore it.

In these situations, it can be very difficult to get Savannah to finish her task of getting or returning the ball. We have worked with her on obeying our commands, so eventually she will come back to me. But there have been a few times when the scent was so alluring or unusual that I must physically go out to Savannah to recapture her attention. Then if I’m smart, I will throw the ball in another direction.

Sometimes I let Savannah follow her nose, even though she is ignoring my command to “come.” That’s not good dog training, but I do think that, as a scent hound, she ought to be encouraged to use her nose so that she does not lose her skills. As long as she doesn’t wander too far away, I do, from time to time, indulge her “nosiness.”

I have drawn two human life parallels from this particular dog scenario.

On the one hand, Savannah is a good example of how I, too, can get distracted by things that are not all that important although they may seem so at the time. All too often, I spend time thinking about, worrying about or preparing for something that ultimately makes no difference in the world and I lose focus on what really is important.

On the other hand, I could say that Savannah is a good example of how I get into a rut of doing the same thing over and over (like chasing the ball) until something truly important catches my attention. It is only then that I am able to stop my running and appreciate the important thing.

So the lesson for today: Keep your eye on the prize and/or Don’t get in a rut. You choose what works for you.





Beggars Are We

2145846-close-up-shot-of-open-palms-of-old-woman-shallow-dof.jpgOne of the greatest privileges I have as a pastor is to preside at the communion table. But my favorite part of the communion liturgy is distributing the bread—the body of Christ. To look into the eyes of the believers, to see their hopes and sorrows and faith can be a deeply moving experience.

This past weekend, I was particularly moved when one of our oldest members came forward. She moved slowly, as befitted one of her years, and she put out cupped hands in supplication, ready to receive the gift of Christ. I looked at her gnarled, wrinkled hands and imagined all the things those hands had done in nearly 90 years of life. Those knobby, arthritic hands had held her babies and grandbabies, prepared food for those she loved, worked the soil of her garden, made quilts for people in faraway lands, touched with love those who were close to her, placed her offerings into the plate, helped little children in Sunday school class, and performed only God knows how many other tasks of loving service. All this flashed through my mind in an instant as I placed into her open hands the body of Christ.

And then I looked into her eyes and saw the trust she had that the words I was speaking—This is the body of Christ given for you—were real. I saw in her eyes nearly 90 years of faithfulness and patient waiting on the Lord. I saw in eyes a depth of faith that I can only hope to attain in my lifetime.

And then she moved on to hear from another believer equally powerful words: This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.

Sometimes serving at the communion table is rote and my mind is not as focused as it should be. But oh those times when I am truly present! I am overwhelmed by the honor of hosting Christ’s table and feeding his people with the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation.

It is rumored that Martin Luther’s final words were “We are all beggars,” and it is true. In receiving Holy Communion, we enact this profound theological belief by shaping our hands into those of beggars, open to receive the astonishing gift of God’s very self into our being, to be fed and nourished on the very essence of Christ our Lord.

Not So Hip

Fitz & the Tantrums

Sometimes I forget how old I am. But then something will happen to remind me. Like this morning.

This morning, the Today Show announced their lineup for the summer concert series. I knew almost no one except the country singers and Bruno Mars—and I only know him from his previous appearances on the Today Show. All the anchors were talking about how excited that were that this person was coming or that person. I was bamboozled. I didn’t know the singers or the songs or even what sort of music they played. I felt very, very old and more than a little out of touch.

I remember as a woman in my 20’s swearing to myself that I would always keep up-to-date on current music. My parents were so “square” and I was NOT going to be like them. Yet here I am.

So many times I promised myself that I’d be different from my parents and but I am more like them than I could have imagined. Mind you, my parents were great folks in many ways. But they were definitely not musically hip. They like big band music and Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. None of that rock-and-roll stuff for them!

Honestly, I have made lots of promises to myself that I have failed to keep. To exercise more. To eat better. To be more patient. To not judge. To keep in touch with my family more. To be a better Christian. In some of these areas, I have made some progress, but all too often my enthusiasm wanes, other priorities take precedent or it’s just too hard. Or I forget.

Aren’t I fortunate to have a Creator who keeps promises, whose enthusiasm and love for me never wanes, who never forgets yet always forgives, and for whom “too hard” is a non-sequitur. It’s lovely to wake up each morning and know that God will walk through that day with me, just as Christ promised: “I will be with you always.”

I still don’t know who DNCE,  Lo RIder, or Fitz and the Tantrums are, but I suppose in the scheme of life, being hip is not as important as I once thought it was. I can survive just fine on the Beatles, the Eagles and Queen.



Little Joys

shopping-cart-1275483_960_720The most awesome thing happened to me last week at Walmart. I was there on a major grocery shopping trip in preparation for a weekend of kids and grand-kids. I entered the store, selected a cart, began my journey into the aisles, and that’s when I discovered the awesome thing. I had chosen a nearly-perfect cart.

I know it sounds silly, but let’s be honest: some of those carts at Walmart are awful. When you get one with a wonky wheel and have to walk around the store for 45 minutes with it, you get frustrated and annoyed. A few weeks ago, I got a cart that had a terrible squeak and I felt like everyone was staring at me as I walked through the store to the tune of squeak, squeak squeak. Sometimes a cart is just hard to push or has a flat edge on one of the wheels or rattles in an aggravating fashion. And even though in the scheme of things these are trifling issues, nevertheless getting the unexpected gift of a nearly perfect cart put me in a really good mood. I smiled at everyone I saw in the store.

As I unloaded my bags into the car, and was preparing to put my nearly-perfect cart in the cart corral, I looked around to see if someone was nearby to whom I could pass along the nearly-perfect cart. After all, we are called to do to others as we want them to do to us. But alas! There was no one nearby with whom to share my bounty.

By now you are probably thinking that 1) I am really easy to please; or 2) I need to get a real life. Perhaps both are true. I do find, however, that simple things can bring great satisfaction and even joy. A good cart, an unexpected gift, kindness shown by a stranger, or other simple actions taken or received can be a source of joy. It may be a joy that is brief or shallow, but joy is joy and I will take it wherever I can find it.

God provides all sorts of simple joys for us every day. A cheerful flower, a starry night, a warm breeze, the love of a pet, a hug from a friend, a song to lift the heart, the smile of a baby. Small things, bits of fluff, yet sources of joy that should not be overlooked or taken for granted.

May God bless you this day with an appropriate version of the nearly-perfect cart.