As I shuffle through the stacks pushing my cart of books along, awkwardly favoring one side so as not to sever a loose wheel, I make note of the classifications within the Library of Congress system. Literature is in the P’s. DVD’s that have something to do with Shakespeare are in the Audiovisual PR’s. Photography: TR. The Assertive Librarian, a staff favorite for (mostly) ironic reasons: Z’s.
One I deem significant: Books about the Bible…BS. (Oh, the irreverence and exactitude!) I turn the corner to shelve some of this BS, only to discover a book lying on the ground:
Christianity Without God by Daniel C. Maguire.
This kind of discovery that feels like a response to my inner dialogue is the kind of moment I used to call a spiritual moment, a God moment, or a God thing. Trained to fix my spiritual antennae on the potential of everyday life to provide a correlation to my Bible, I have yet to laugh these moments off as simply coincidental, or only a testament to the cosmic absurdity of things.
If you hadn’t pieced this together, I’ve recently lost my Christian faith.
After growing up in Texas, situated firmly in the 90’s evangelical movement with a pastor father and various family members devoting their lives in sundry ways to ministry, I attended a small Christian college in Nashville.
There I embarked on mission trips to Latin America and came back with more questions than answers. I went on mission trips to Europe and came back with even more questions than answers. I lived in an intentional community organized by campus ministries that was devoted to monastically sharing possessions and service projects.
In every effort to deepen and engage with my faith, I began to find it challenged in ways I hadn’t expected. It didn’t look like an atheist scoffing at me for reading my Bible in a coffee shop and launching me into an apologetic debate like my high school Bible teacher had suggested it might. Rather it looked like traveling, going to libraries, learning about the world, and people, and believe it or not, other Christians!
Christians who had “coexist” stickers on their Jeeps and dropped the F-bomb and didn’t believe in hell. Christian professors who encouraged me to read Thomas Merton’s writings on Zen Buddhism. Pastors who suggested all faiths might feed into the same collective path of truth.
These Christians looked a lot like Normal People, operating in secular society without any kind of cognitive dissonance, or so it seemed. So I slowly began to befriend Normal People, too.
Church ceased to be my singular community, and Christians weren’t my only friends. Music, art, and literature were still my favorite things about life—but they lost their whitewashed filter of “Christian.”
As a result, communication with my family and my understanding of myself became stilted. While I’m getting better at loving things, movements, and people without my old filter, I’m increasingly challenged by how to share my life authentically with people I love who are still devoted to operating within a Biblical literalist lens.
Back to Mr. Maguire…. After placing his book on the shelf, mind racing with self-analysis and heart hoping some kind of Dear Reader letter didn’t fall out into my hands, I Googled the title.
Reviews popped up on websites like humanist.org, and I immediately heard my mother’s potential review of such a website in my head. I could also hear my new librarian-coworker’s kind voice urging me to click on it, to sign up for her friend’s Justice & Peace E-blast, to attend a conference she was attending put on by the Nashville Nones (an impressive, nonreligious network of activists in our area).
I didn’t agree with either voice completely. I didn’t feel compelled to read Mr. Maguire’s book. I also didn’t feel that it was an entirely stupid idea to have written it.
I’m learning that I don’t necessarily want to stop calling these moments spiritual moments. I don’t want them to be only coincidental. I’m delighted by the mysterious Big Fat Otherness of who God might be, and what all of that might have to do with me—and my cart of books.
But I’m also learning that not everything significant has to connote symbolism on behalf of my entire life trajectory. Losing a certain pair of glasses with which to view the world doesn’t mean I see timelessly, objectively and without any glasses now.
I’ve accepted that my subjectivity can be a beautiful part of living in a categorized world, with endless iterations. I’m hoping instead that shedding one of these pairs of glasses might lead to the deconstruction and/or questioning of others: privilege, prejudice, etc.
I gain a lot of clarity when I shelve—solitarily seeking out the unique place for each bound bundle of ideas and thoughts as I ponder my own.
Sometimes I imagine a library for human identity, some ephemeral place where we each have a little space carved out for ourselves, where all of our particular interpretations can coexist and breathe together.
“We cannot live in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a hope. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening. To use our own voice. To see our own light,” wrote Benedictine mystic, composer and philosopher Hildegard of Bingen in one of these beloved books of BS.
The Library of Congress system may have become my new systematic theology. I’m learning how to shift the significance I’ve placed on the institution of the church and reorganizing my worldview as best I can as I classify by subject instead of author.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Written by: Lauren Turner
Lauren Turner is a writer, musician, & DJ living in Nashville, TN and currently working in a library.