Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Paradise Fragment: My dad's bookshelf

I stand at my dad’s bookshelf, looking at his books, which are mostly Christian books.

I’m here on a Sunday night, house-sitting for my parents because my aunt Becky died three days ago, on Thanksgiving, of cancer. She was 56 years old.

It’s like 1:30 am and I’m not tired, so I’m looking for a book on my dad’s shelf. Certain books carry with them the weight of memories.

Near the top are books by Chuck Swindoll, the megachurch pastor whose radio ministry my dad took a job with in 1986, which is why we left Wisconsin. Chuck Swindoll is the reason I ended up in California.

There’s a book called The Prophecy of Isaiah that I remember my dad reading at the same time I took a college course on Isaiah and textual criticism, which caused me to question the Bible as a reliable source of truth.

There’s another book called The Myth of Certainty, written by an English professor at a Christian college, that my dad gave to me when I left school and came back home and was in a deep and dark depression and I had lost my faith.

I stand at my dad’s bookshelf looking at these books that, in a way, tell the story of my life and my dad’s life and I think about the person I used to be and the person I am now and the sorrows my family has known and I wonder what my dad thinks of me, really, in his heart, and I wonder if my dad knows what I think of him, and I think about how our lives have not turned out like we thought they would, but I guess that’s okay. I think about these things, alone at 1:30 am in a house in Brea, CA, and I cry a little.

I pick up a copy of St. Augustine’s Confessions, read a few lines which are translated from the Latin into a flowery King James-style English, and I wonder if the original language is as flowery as this translation. I doubt it. So I put it back and pick up a copy of The Story of Christianity, by Justo Gonzalez, which I’ve read before and actually liked. So that is the book I will read as I fall asleep.

In his introduction, Gonzales writes:

“If we are to break free from an undue weight of tradition, we must begin by understanding what that tradition is, how we came to be where we are, and how particular events in our past color our view of the present. It is then that we are free to choose which elements in the past—and in the present—we wish to reject, and which we will affirm.”

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