Goodbye to all that: 1. Books

22 Oct

Parting is not such sweet sorrow: actually it is very difficult. As I approach the end of my time at Whitley College, where I have worked for 26 years, there are a lot of endings. So here I want to reflect a little on some of these aspects. Goodbye to—well, first of all I have set about reducing my professional library. I’ve never actually counted, but I think this time a year ago I probably had between five and six thousand books. In this year of finishing, I have set about parting with more than a third of them.

I have always collected books, and love them. When I was a very young undergraduate, I had to sell a few of my books because I was just so desperate for money. Within a very short time I missed those books so much I have basically found it impossible to part with books ever since. Now is the time.

Several years ago I learned about a very small college in another country which faced a catch-22 situation. A quite repressive government has rules that limit the operation of colleges: until they have a library of 5000 books, they can’t be registered as an institution of higher learning. But they are not allowed to import books because they are not a registered institution of higher learning! We’ve been posting books in small parcels to them for several years now.They’ve reached the target.

In my office now there are some 25 small boxes of books which will go to the library of a Bible School in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burmese border. I’ve visited and taught there several times. It’s an amazing place, and the people are so keen to learn. I am glad to give them books as an expression of my support and love for them, with the hope that one day soon they will be free.

Some of my books I have chosen to give to former students who are now themselves teaching. That too is a great privilege, to see them go on contributing something to the whole educational enterprise to which I’ve given my life.

All of this is good for me: it’s therapeutic to pack up these books, clear some shelves (though there’s still a lot more to pack up and bring home!)—and to mark the end of this stage of my career. It’s a physical coming to terms with the emotional and psychological shift that is also taking place.

I read recently of someone who was doing the classic ‘down-sizing’, but who found that as he worked on this he had to read everything, every paper he was meant to be throwing out, etc., etc. Well, I’ve done some of that too, but I found that having a friend work with me, someone who is not so emotionally involved, meant that she could challenge my reluctance and press me to just let things go! Thank you, Stefanie.

Still, sometimes you make wonderful discoveries. You find things you had forgotten—or you find something that you now see in a different light.

One such discovery this week was a little book called In the Minister’s Workshop. It’s written by someone who rejoiced in the name Halford E Luccock. I don’t remember doing so, but I must have bought it second hand. It has another person’s name in it, ‘ex libris’. It was published in 1954, and really is a bit ‘twee’. It’s an old fashioned book about  preaching and how preaching can be helpful, and what things a preacher-minister might draw upon in order to say something meaningful.

As I flicked through this book, thinking I would perhaps throw it away, I recognised that there are many gems of wisdom in it, even if the way they are explained is very out of fashion and no longer relevant. Still, there are some basic pieces of wisdom here.

These are just a few of the things, expressed in my words, and very briefly, that I found here:

  1. It is important to address real life situations. A preacher needs to speak to people where they are at and deal with the real world.
  2. People, then, are a source for sermons: if you live with and share life with your people, they will provide stories, situations and wisdom to share. It’s a two-way process.
  3. That can, of course, be tricky and you need to be careful, with confidences, and especially careful not to be judgmental about situations where often you don’t know the whole story!
  4. There are other valuable sources: ideas, which you might help people to explore, think about (not tell them what to think!), —and then, too, there’s the value of art, imagery, and imagination. Story! and the Bible, read this way.
  5. The book has helpful stuff of structure, outline, and the value of planning. I don’t reckon we can ever stress this enough. If you expect people to listen to you, prepare!
  6. There’s something about how words can reach people—but also there’s something about not needing to say it all. Trust the value of the hearing, and the hearers’ own minds and imaginations.
  7. There’s also some useful stuff in this book about the use of history, the social history of one’s country and its cultural figures, as grist for the mill also.

This is just a brief list of what I saw as of value in one little book, which I might yet give away. Finding it, as part of my culling project, is a wonderful reminder of all the good things I’ve read and somehow taken into my own life and practice. In a sense I’ve forgotten the books or sources, though in another sense they have become so much part of me that I can recognise the value in them, immediately I see the book. But in another sense I can now part from it—the book— and just take the gems of wisdom and truth with me.

So it is only good bye to some of that. The rest stays with me.

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