The Free-for-All Bookshelf here at work is a little bit tighter now, stuffed with my newest donations. I just emptied a big white crate filled with some of my most precious possessions as a Christian: books. I’ve had this collection sitting in my car trunk for over a year. It went with me on vacations, to-and-from work, and I just tried to ignore it when I packed my groceries or stuffed my suitcases into my little Mazda.
What was I waiting for? I’d already purged a large percentage of my Christian books in 2008 when I discovered (or, more accurately, admitted) my atheism. Everything from Bible studies and self-help to fiction and humor was either tossed in the recycling for good or donated to Goodwill for people to pick through if they gave a damn.
But this crate–this generic white crate that always pinched my fingers when I carried it–was the spiritual and emotional luggage from my religious past all in one place. Some of my most beloved titles were in there:
- The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together by Deitrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was always able to touch the part of my dreams that desired depth, thoughtfulness, community, and courage.
- A Simple Path by Mother Teresa. I always loved her writings and even considered converting to Catholicism after reading what she and Therese of Lisieux had to say about love and its purity of devotion. I was attracted to the sweetness and passion I saw in their words.
- The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. I’m almost embarrassed to leave this book in the hands of a stranger. I scrawled notes and highlighted so many passages of this book that it’s practically a public confessional of my most formative years as a Christian (which happened to be some of my last years, so it turns out). I dove into this book with such emotional transparency that it makes me blush just to read it again.
- Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald Sider. I challenge all believers to get this book and take it to heart.
- Restoration and King of the Jews by D. Thomas Lancaster. I went through a long, passionate phase as a Messianic believer in what might be called the torah-observant movement when these books about the unity between “old” and “new” portions of the Christian Bible meant a great deal to me. It truly changed the kind of Christian I was.
And these are just a sampling of the types of books that influenced me in my multi-faceted religious life. I admit, I still have an emotional connection to them. Like many people who seek comfort and guidance during rough times, these types of books were a help for me when I was grieving, curious, and alone. But like many former Christians I know, I’m now able to look back on those tools and texts and see them for another perspective, with the “veil” of faith and myth pulled away from my eyes.
It was difficult placing them on the shelf today, but I am glad and relieved to have already left those old beliefs and delusions behind. Not everything that makes us feel good or helps us through a tough time is true or correct. I’m sure if I had been non-religious during those years that I would have come out just fine all the same. I’m glad I had a searching and curious mind that was fascinated by those volumes but also able to see more to life than belief in a non-existent god.
What items have been hard for you to part with over the years? Items from past relationships? Books? Habits?