I have a shelf in my closet that I’ve unofficially named “the TBR shelf” – TBR of course meaning ‘To Be Read.’ These are the books that I’ve collected that I know I want to read and that I intend to crack open in time. Some of them come from second-hand bookstores, or have been loaned by friends, or even the (rare) brand-new volume. They cover a variety of topics – there’s narrative fiction, classics, sci-fi, theology, mystery, environmental concerns, philosophy, humour, prayer, theology, politics, chick lit, kids’ lit, theology…
Okay, so I read theology for fun. I’m a priest and a geek – it happens.
Aside from the theological and ecclesiological works, the other books on the shelf also indicate who I am and what I focus on. I read a lot; what I read says a lot about me. It says what I value and what I enjoy, it indicates where my interests are and in which areas I am trying to remain current and involved.
I find too that where I read things indicates their importance too. I tend to read my non-fiction in my living room; I have a book corner of the couch where the pillows are squished in just the right way, and the throw rug covers the tea stain on the arm when I’m not using it. There’s good light and I find I can give my complete attention to the matter at hand. My fictional reading, however, tends to take place in bed – it’s my escape from reality at the end of the day, my time to turn off the cerebral concerns by delving into some Holmesian or Quixotic adventure.
Whatever it is that I’m reading, though, speaks to me. It challenges me, it gets me thinking. It does not just serve to pass the time or to provide facts, it serves to get me thinking about the world around me. I’m challenged to see the truths in the fictitious stories that I devour nightly; I’m encouraged to deeply contemplate the ideas proposed in the philosophy and theology. I certainly don’t have to agree with it all, I don’t have to like it all, but I read it all. I read it because I can, because it makes me think, because it gives me a chance to apply my Christianity to the ideas and the ideas to my Christianity.
I have read some beautiful tales of people loving one another despite all odds, and acting out of that love. I have read unique and exciting ideas of how people can live in community. I have read of people inspired to make a difference in their lives to better the lives of others. I have read stories of those who gave everything to share with someone who had nothing. I have read stories of hurts and healing, of despair and of joy, of death and of life. I have read of soul-searching and celebration, of fear and bravery, of giving and receiving.
I have read stories of life. I have read stories of hope. I have read stories of inspiration.
And that to me is what a good book is all about – an opportunity not to hide from the world but to see the world reflected through a new lens. Books can offer us a way to explore our way of thinking (from the safety of the couch) and then use that thinking to expand how we will live out our mission and ministry in the world. They offer me ways to explore the so-called ‘secular’ and recognise the glimpses of the gospel that are peeking through. If we can read this good news hidden among the words of a book, imagine what good news we can find shining through the ‘secular’ world right outside our doors. There are countless stories out there waiting to be told, waiting to be heard, waiting to be shared. There are stories just waiting to be read… so I’ll always have a TBR shelf – a symbol of the promise for new joys that the good news can bring.
Where do you find your good news stories? What books have spoken to you so strongly that you re-read them? What’s waiting on your TBR shelf?