I love books.
I am one of those people who can’t do the digital readers because I haven’t figure out how to write notes in the margins or fold pages digitally. I am the old fashioned book guy. I fold pages, highlight sections and write notes in the margins of books.
I moved most of my library recently. My office was on the front of our office building on Amulet Street. Since I arrived six years ago, Amulet has become much busier. The traffic seems to have picked up markedly. People are making very good use of the park across the street from the church office building. I was becoming distracted by all of the distractions on Amulet. After a couple months of pondering it, I decided to move my office to the back of the office building.
Tommy Covington was my partner in crime. He built the original books shelves and he graciously built shelves for my office move. I finished moving all the books last Friday. I estimate that I moved 3,800 books. That number does not include the books at home or the books at the church building proper. I love reading. I am surrounded by books. My small office is filled with them and the walls of the Conference Room are lined with them. Moving books is a solitary task. I know there is a Dewey Decimal system, but preachers have our own ways of ordering our books on the shelves
My books fall into two broad categories. The two categories are the pre 1981 books and the post 1981 books.
In 1981 I took a class at the seminary entitled The Parables of Jesus. One afternoon the professor was lecturing on the guy with all the barns. He had lots of barns. Then he had a great crop and he decided to pull down his copious barns and build more and bigger barns. The only problem was that death doesn’t pay any attention to our plans. The man died that night. What became of his barns and his crops?
The professor suggested the point of the parable was not about greed but about ownership. He then said something radical. He said, “Nothing in this life is yours.” To drive it home he continued, “You don’t own your books.”
You don’t tell seminary students their books don’t belong to them. We spent tons of money buying those books. We knew all the publishing houses that would give discounts to seminary students. This was New Orleans, on the weekends we haunted the used book stores in the French Quarter hoping some priest or minister had bit the dust and his widow or the bishop had taken his books to the used book stores. We all dreamed of landing the mother lode of used books from another minister.
Besides, my mom gave me a stamp that said, “From the library of Doug de Graffenried.” For my college graduation I receive an embossing stamp that said, “Personal property of Doug de Graffenried.” I wrote my name in my books. Then I double stamped my books to make sure that no sticky figured preacher type would borrow my books and not return them. Preachers are the only types who read preacher books. Would you read, Polarities of Man’s Existence in Biblical Perspective? Case closed!
My books were well stamped and protected. This seminary professor was full of exegetical bull. Those were my books! I had made all of those shelves out of cinder blocks and boards for my books.
That night, after my fuming subsided, I sat down to work on a paper for another class. One of the sources I cited was a commentary on the book of Romans published in 1811. It was one of my books. I had written my name in it. It was double stamped!
I looked at the page in the front of the book where I had placed my stamp. I am the fifth preacher to “own” this particular commentary on the book of Romans. The Bible speaks of a generation lasting for 40 years. It appears that preachers “own” their books for about a generation. The book on Romans obviously isn’t mine. I am using it while I pass through this journey called life.
Since that night in 1981 I have not written my name in any book I have purchased. These books I love. These books I have moved several times. These books are on loan to me. I am surrounded by reminders that I will take nothing with me. I came into the world with nothing but the love of God and I will leave this world with nothing but the love of God.
Funny thing about people who are controlled by their money and their things, those things controlling them don’t belong to them. Ben Franklin suggested that people who try to fill a vacuum with money and things often end up creating a vacuum that sucks them in. What happens when your things own you?
Isn’t that a strange way to go through life?