One of the aspects of my congregation that I love the most is that we are constantly exchange things: food, coupons, clothes, and books. There’s nothing better for a reader like me to walk into church and be handed a new book with a great recommendation.
Which is how I ended up with One Child. It’s the story of a special education teacher who reads about a child in the newspaper and that very child ends up in her classroom. As she struggles to create a relationship with this child with special needs, I have been transported back to my classroom and back to my students, especially the most difficult ones.
I have been reminded of the days that I came home from school exhausted, worn out, and helpless. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how patient or creative I was, there were just some parts of my students’ lives that I didn’t have the power or the control to change. This became particularly real as I read about the home visit that Torey, the teacher in the book, took to Sheila’s house.
As a minister, I needed to read this book. I needed to be reminded of my students and the myriad of students that live in fear and poverty every day. I needed to be reminded that being a church doesn’t mean just gathering together, but going out together into the community and into the messy lives of the people who live near us and whom we encounter in parking lots and on highway exits ramps. People who are living in desperation and need a little hope in the form of someone paying attention to their needs and seeing them as human beings.
I needed to be reminded about my students. I needed to be reminded that there is intense need in this world for hope and love. I needed to be reminded that I, as a minister, and our church can transform the world by seeing differently.
I’ve always viewed reading as a chance to learn something new, explore new places, and time to discover the unknown. It’s a way for me to escape the reality of the world that surrounds me, so when I encounter myself in the pages of a book, it really throws me off.
I don’t want to see myself and follow myself through the pages. I don’t want to see my character flaws splashed for all to read. It’s unnerving, uncomfortable, and embarrassing.
Then, I realize that other people don’t see it as me. They read the character as the character.
But, I still can’t help reading myself in the mirror. I can’t help but be fascinated with tracing that steps I could take, trying on a different hat, pretending to be a better version of myself…or a worse version. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s also thrilling to imagine what could be if I took that step, made that decision like the character in the book.
It hasn’t happened often that I see myself so clearly in the pages of a book, but when I do I think there’s no telling what this life could hold.
Now, as all of you will have had reason aplenty to discover for yourselves, there are new gods growing in America, clinging to growing knots of belief: gods fo credit card and freeways, of Internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon. Proud gods, fat and foolish creatures, puffed up with their own newness and importance. American Gods
Seems like Neil Gaiman knew what was coming in 2001 and yet here we are in 2013 still trying to figure this very thing out.
Sometimes, like today, I just need to immerse myself in a book.
I need to escape from my reality, from my conflicts, from my tensions and walk around in someone else’s for awhile. As I walk with these characters and I help them figure out their conflicts, challenges and problems by reading on, I feel like there is hope.
I know that life isn’t meant to be comfortable and easy and honestly, I don’t want to live a life that is void of the tensions that help me grow and remember that I don’t have this life thing figured out. I want to know that I can’t give up and I still have to stick with it. I want to know that I have to work to make each day a day that makes me able to put my head on my pillow and sleep soundly. I want to know that I can’t control the world around me.
And escaping to another world, another life, another journey for a bit where I can see the resolutions helps me to see more clearly where I am headed.
So reader, read this part of my journey and know this is just the middle of the book, not the end because I will read on and carry on.
I know this isn’t normal, but when I draw near to the last chapter of a book, I get a kind of panic in my stomach. I know that there are more books to read than I could ever possibly read, but what if I end up not having another book to start once I finish this book that I hold in my hands?!
It’s been a problem since childhood when I would lug a 20 lb. bag around with me to our family vacations containing 4-5 other books than the book I was currently reading, just in case. I never finished them all and almost never even finished the one that I was currently in the middle of when we left for vacation, but I was always prepared.
It proved cumbersome when I spent a year in Germany and had more books packed than I did clothes, but I couldn’t pass them up (even if it meant paying extra for how heavy they were) because I was so excited about being finished with graduate school and being able to read what I wanted to read again.
It’s a problem, but not right now because I have three books waiting on my bedside table!
In reading Madeline L’engle’s Walking on Water, I was impressed by her honesty:
One of the things that I learned on the road back is that I do not have to be right. I have to try to do what is right, but when it turns out, as happens with all of us to be wrong, to say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and to try, if possible, to make reparation. But I have to accept the fact that I am often unwise; that I am not always loving; that I make mistakes; that I am, in fact, human.
In my classroom, I always encouraged my students to try their hardest. I didn’t expect them to be right, but I did expect them to try their hardest and to preserve even when they were wrong. As their teacher, I saw this as a way of creating a safe environment for them to learn to fail, but also a way to challenge their developing confidence and to recognize the importance of community.
But I never took these ideas or words to heart. I was their teacher. I needed to be right and to do right for their sakes.
Maybe I was wrong after all.
Maybe it’s the things we struggle through the hardest, that shape and form us.
Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and tak ea deal of telling anyway. THey stayed long in that good house, fourteen days at least, and they found it hard to leave. Bilbo would gladly have stopped there for ever and ever- even supposing a wish would have taken him right back to his hobbit-hole without trouble. Yet there is little to tell about their stay.
The hardest part of the journey of seminary for me has been and will continue to be unearthing beliefs and challenge myself to ask why I believe what I believe. On top of that is asking myself how I read the Bible. Do I read with answers and ideas already in mind? Do I try to make the text say what I believe? Do I open myself up to the possibility that what I thought the Bible said, isn’t actually what it says?
This is not a faux tension that I am creating years in the future to make for a better story about my experiences as a freshman in college. This was a real problem for me. What I had to figure out was how to read the New Testament. Sure, I knew how to read it devotionally and how to read it in search of proof texts for beliefs I held, but to this point I did not know how to simply read the text before me and allow it to speak for itself.
Or do I read it like Pregeant suggests in his book Reading the Bible for All the Wrong Reasons to gain a better understanding of how individuals fit in and a play a role in the creative process started in Genesis?
With a couple of days left in the summer, I find myself anxiously awaiting for the long class hours and the deep discussions, which will inevitably cause me to think and rethink and rethink what faith means to me individually and as a part of a community.
Although I don’t know for certain where the journey will lead me, I do know for certain that my studies will lead me to an expanded and deeper view of myself and my Creator.