I cleaned out our church library this week. Stuff that had been accumulated through the years that nobody could bring themselves to throw out. Old Sunday school material that will never be used again, hymnals that will never be used again, advice from the 50s for teenagers about sex that, please God, will never be used again. It amounted to a massive pile of stuff on the conference room table. And it all had to go. So, I hired some facebook friends to transport it to the dumpster around back.
I warned them, when they started, not to look. Because once they began browsing they would start deciding what they couldn’t possibly throw away, and we would be there all day. (I was paying them by the hour!) Of course, they didn’t listen to me. What is the aversion people have to throwing away books? I confess that I have it, too, especially when it comes to weeding out my own personal library. Is it because books are repositories of knowledge and that makes them sacred to us? I dunno. But it’s hard to dispose of a book. It feels like killing something that is meant to bring life to another. Once you dispose of it, you know that it will never bring life again.My dumping crew got a chuckle out of some of the things they discovered. There was a book about silky terriers that was in the running for the most random book to be found in a church library. But then they came across the winner. It was a large book entitled, How to Draw Spaceships. Really, every church library should have one, right? One of my dumpers decided to hang onto it and give it to his nephew. Oy. And then there were the “antique” books. Another of my dumpers left with a box of them.
But the real problem books were the Bibles. What do you do with old Bibles? Are you supposed to bury them, or burn them, like the American flag? The fact is, we have old Bibles coming out the wazoo. Many of them are the King James Version, which nobody in my church uses any more. Certainly, we could hang onto a couple of them for historical reasons, but not 30. And then, there were the Big Bibles. These were the old family Bibles, and we had quite an assortment of them. How did they all end up here? Well, I can just see a family going through Aunt Gladys’s things after she’s gone and figuring out what to do with all the stuff she left behind. They come across this huge family Bible with its ornate, gold-leaf cover and they can’t possibly throw it away. But then, nobody in the family wants it either. What to do? Then one of them comes up with a bright idea. “Let’s take it to the church!” So, the story goes, again and again. And we end up with a shelf full of humongous Bibles that people dumped on us because they didn’t want them, but they couldn’t possibly bring themselves to throw them away. And we will never use them. Can you imagine having an adult class, asking everyone to grab a Bible and someone goes to the shelf in the library and pulls down one of these big ol’ family Bibles in the King James Version? It’s never going to happen!Well, my dumping crew couldn’t do it. They couldn’t throw these Bibles away. So I had to do it myself. A few church members were standing by the dumpster watching me and I could see the horrified looks on their faces. As I tossed each one into the dumpster, I repeated, “This is not God, this is a book. This is not God, this is a book.” I don’t know if anyone went back and fished them out of the dumpster after I left because I walked away after the deed was done.
When I said, “This is not God, this is a book” one of my spectators said, “Yes, but it’s the Word of God.” Of course, he’s right. But the word of God is not ink and paper. It’s something more than that. The ink and paper is just ink and paper. It’s not to be worshiped. It is not an idol. By this logic, when we print our weekly Bible readings in the Sunday bulletin do we need to keep those bulletins for all time? Isn’t a Bible just a collection of such writings?This whole exercise has reminded me of our strange relationship with this book we call the Bible. We want to idolize it and give it magical powers. When will we start reading it and allowing its words to change our lives? That’s something I would never throw in a dumpster. Nor could I.