Maybe heaven looks like a well-stocked library

Among the many wonderful things that have happened at St. James during this glorious Eastertide, this one could have passed virtually unnoticed. It’s a little thing, really, but big oaks start as little acorns, so I think this is a story worth sharing, and we’ll see what sprouts down the road. 

Those of you who were here on Easter Sunday know there were a lot of people here that day. We had almost 50 visitors that morning. Indeed, the visitors outnumbered the regulars – a pretty common Easter Sunday phenomenon. There were so many new faces it was hard to get around to greet everyone personally, and to remember names and stories about why folks chose to come to St. James on that day. 

In the midst of the commotion, one young man I had not met before came up to me and handed me a visitor’s card filled out with nothing but his name and his phone number. “I probably won’t ever be back, and I don’t want to be on the mailing list,” he told me. “But call me. I want to talk to you about something.”

I feared that we had somehow offended him, though for the life of me I couldn’t think how. What was not to love about our Easter Sunday? What’s not to love about US? Still, you just never know what might get under some people’s skin. So a couple of days later, bracing myself for some onslaught of criticism at a perceived lack of hospitality on our part, I called him.

He could not have been warmer. He greatly enjoyed Easter Sunday at St. James, and felt very welcomed. We did nothing wrong. It’s just, well, organized religion doesn’t fit him very well these days. And that’s too bad, because at one point he had invested pretty heavily in it. 

It seems the young man has a theological library he’s no longer using. (I know the feeling! I have thousands of dollars worth of seminary textbooks I keep around on the off chance I might one day need some obscure nugget of theological wisdom contained in one of them. Can I interest anyone in an 1,100-page tome of commentary on Leviticus Chapters 1-16 that I paid $60 for, and have not even cracked open the biblical Book of Leviticus – let alone the commentary – ever since? I have another priest friend who swears he has a 1,000-page textbook of commentary on the book of Obadiah, while the actualbook of Obadiah is exactly 1 page long. At 21 verses, it’s the shortest book in the Hebrew Bible.)

Anyway, this young man had also invested in a theological library, but his life trajectory has led him on a path far different from what he earlier imagined it might be. He no longer needs these books, but he wanted to find a good home for them. Some place worthy of them. 

On Easter Sunday, he found us. And he decided he would like his library to go to us if we wanted it. 

I told him we’d take it. I don’t know exactly what’s in his library, but it doesn’t sound as if there’s anything there that is incompatible with Anglican theology. (Note: I once found a copy of one of the “Left Behind” series of books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins – the epitome of bad theology!!! – in the library of an Episcopal Church that shall remain nameless. The rector had no idea it was there, donated, no doubt, by a well-meaning parishioner. That taught me the value of library-related vigilance.)

Our new friend will be bringing the library over sometime in the next few weeks. He expects it will fill a couple of bookcase shelves. For now, we can store it in the bookcases in the parish hall. But eventually, I hope we have a nice library/reading room/Heritage Room downstairs. We’re working on that vision. Vestrywoman Cathy Loomis has taken it on as her project this year. It will happen.

I know that libraries are a luxury, and printed books are disappearing as we move into a digital culture. But still, there’s something marvelous about curling up with a good book. Having a nice cozy reading room downstairs can surely be a blessing to us. And this gift may lead to others.

As I say, it’s just a small thing. A few books. An affirmation of our hospitality. A little dream we can make happen this year. Yet small step by small step, we are building up the Kingdom of God. Maybe to some folks, heaven looks just like a well-stocked library. If so, come check out ours.