May 5, 2010

A few weeks ago I spent the good part of a day in the library of a seminary. It’s been a few years since I’ve been able to do that. Seminary libraries have changed in many ways. We didn’t have the anti-theft gates in our seminary library—the ones that buzz and flash when someone tries to make off with one of the books without checking it out. If we would have had those when I was a student maybe the latest copy of The Wittenburg Door magazine wouldn’t have gotten ripped off each month. (For the younger folk, Wittenburg Door was the best periodical of all time! It’s what helped us as seminary students keep our humor in the midst of Barth, Moltmann, and Kung.)
While I was browsing through the seminary library I came upon a book that I had read in recent years. It had allowed me to gain a current (at that time) analysis of the state of the church, and provided some hints as to how to move the people of God forward.
Then I noticed on the next shelf below two other books that have been a part of my completed reading list. Stepping over one book case there were a couple of other motivational guides, and turning around I had staring me in the face another essential book that I had read because it was vital to ministry in the local church.
In fact, I discovered that there were close to 50 books along that row of book shelves that were a part of my library, and that I have used to help shape the form of my pastoring.
But then I went over a row, curious as to what books I would find there that I could identify as being on my “completed” list. There was one that dealt with social justice that I had gotten halfway through . . . but no others.
Next row . . . nil!
Next . . . same thing!
In my strolling I came across only a handful of books that I had read, or even attempted to read, that weren’t in that first row that I was so proud about.
Slow as I am, I still had an “A-ha” moment. The vast majority of my ministry thinking, and dare I saw walk with the Lord, has been determined by a very limited view. I’ve taken a row of books and made it the whole library!
It’s similar to when I went back to a town in West Virginia that I spent part of my childhood. I swear that someone had reduced the width of the streets in the 40 years I had been gone. In my memory that were a lot wider when I was 8! That was back in the days when I thought Frisch’s Big Boy was the only restaurant that existed . . . anywhere!
Sometimes it’s amazing, and humbling, to discover the vastness of our limited perspective. When we realize there’s another view, or another part of the journey that we hadn’t even realized existed, the reaction can go one of two ways—free us to discover how God speaks and is revealed in different ways, or close up our mind to what is familiar.
For instance, recently a couple of friends of mine have discovered “centering prayer.” It’s not that it’s like the iPad and has just been introduced to the public, but rather it’s been there and they just hadn’t discovered it yet. It’s as if it was simply in the next row. They just needed to realize and be introduced to “the books on the other side of the shelf.”
The library experience also made me realize how much, even at this late stage of life, I still have room to grow. I see things most of the time with the eyes of an American Baptist pastor of a small congregation. What about my Presbyterian pastor friend down the street? Could it be that my experience allows him to see things a little different—sometimes better, sometimes not as clear—than I do? Could it be that the “richness” of the kingdom of God for us will be more deeply experienced when we allow our eyes to roam to the next bookshelves over?
Dangerous thoughts! If I give myself permission to do that I may find out that I haven’t been as right as I’ve always thought I was. It may affect how impressive I have been in my own eyes!
And why would I want to do that?
Pastor Bill

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  1. Laura Patterson Says:

    Okay so what is centering prayer?

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