The Church should be like a library

My husband always give me books as presents. He’s good that way. Although I talk with him frequently about my reading interests and maintain an up-to-date GoodReads list, he still might present me with something under the Christmas tree that is completely off my radar. He is good that way, too. This year he surprised me with a book I had never even heard of previously.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean not only details the circumstances surrounding the April 1986 fire which devastated the Los Angeles Central Library, but also chronicles the history of the California library. Orlean has completed painstaking research following Harry Peak, the accused, his life and the years after the fire, while providing juicy tidbits on the early head librarians from the late 1800s onwards, most of whom were women. Her book jumps from a detective whodunnit, to a work of archival history, to an homage on the nobility and malleable nature of the library’s role in society and its identity. The last section gives credit to library and library-inspired innovations like OverDrive, book mobiles, the Biblioburro in Columbia, Little Free Libraries across the world, and more.

However, toward the end of the book something caught my attention. A description of the library as a safe, public place, welcoming to all reminded me of something even more beautiful than a library. When speaking to the issue of homelessness most city libraries face, Orlean writes,

“The library’s commitment to being open to all is an overwhelming challenge. For many people, the library may be the only place they have to be in close quarters with disturbed or profoundly dirty people, and that can be uncomfortable. But a library can’t be the institution we hope for it to be unless it is open to everyone.”

p. 245

As much as I love libraries and all they do for communities, what if this section were instead speaking of the church? Certainly, church buildings can be important places to meet, organize charitable events and gathering places for community outreach. Church buildings have hosted AA meetings. They have held marriage seminars, opened their doors with food pantries, and threw neighborhood block parties. But I am thinking of something more than the building. I read the above quote with a specific eye on the church as the PEOPLE.

What would our communities be like if we, as a church, were open, welcoming? What if we accepted all unconditionally? The public library may be nearly viewed as a sacred space for the very reason that it enfolds the prosaic and unwanted, the lonely, the unemployed, the retired and the graduate student. Even though we all deal with problems in our lives, the church cannot be the people Christ expects for us to be unless we are loving and open to everyone.

Of course, I need to begin with myself.

Books with Bridges

Mysterious and inviting they call to us.  Monet painted them.  San Franciscans and New Yorkers venerate them.  The Midwest covers them.  They connect us to land, carry us over shallow and deep waters.  They tie land from one side of the gorge to the other, unite towns and communities.  They erase the distance between people’s hearts.

Bridges fasinate us.  G particularly loves them.  We have walked out of our way to cross them, thrown rocks and sticks from off their edges, used them to set out on adventures into new worlds, and  traversed them simply to see what lie on the other side.  Bridges hold both a charm and an excitement.  Below is a carefully thought out list, some of our favorite books and stories honoring that most common of man-made tools, the bridge.

BOOKS FOR CHILDREN

    

A Full Hand by Thomas F. Yezerski – When nine-year-old Asa helps his captain boat father drive the mules along the canal, he makes his first “full hand.”  Traveling through Pennsylvania and New Jersey during the fall, Asa learns not only about mules, inclined planes, aquaducts, bridges and locks, but also about the courage of his father.  He, then, is able to imagine his own future, alongside bowls of beef stew.


Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel – Although some find this classic to be culturally insensitive, I am not sure I agree.  Lyrical and repetitive, this tale is meant to be read aloud.  Children are encouraged to memorize the oldest brother’s long, ridiculous name, as well as the route across the bridge to the “old man with the ladder” who ultimately rescues both mischievous brothers from the well.

The Story about Ping by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wise- G and I just finished a fun week and a half with activities we created based on this classic.  From counting Ping’s cousins, to creating a construction paper duck with moveable wings, we loved this stubborn little waterfowl.  Living on the beautiful Yangtze River, Ping decides he does not want a spank on the back for being last up the little bridge to his home on the wise-eyed boat, so he hides.  Was it a good decision?  Will Ping ever find his family and the wise-eyed boat again?

Bridges to Cross by Philomen Sturges – My only non-fiction book on this list, this is a wonderful way to introduce preschool and early elementary-aged children to the amazing world of engineering.  Featuring famous bridges from throughout the  world, the illustrations are created surprisingly with layers of torn paper – a built in art project idea to accomplish on your own!

 

Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne- Read the heart-warming classic and then go play Pooh-sticks off a bridge.

The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson – A chapter book written for tweens, this is a beautiful story of friendship and family, the joy and freedom of imagination, and the importance of nature in growing up.  It is definitely a story for older children as death plays a role in its pages.

BOOKS FOR ADULTS

Alexander’s Bridge by Willa Cather- Published in 1912, this first novella by Cather describes the conflicted Bartley Alexander, who as an middle-aged engineer begins repairs on a bridge in Canada.  His conscience plays havoc with him as he is tossed between loyalty to his wife Winifred and his former lover Hilda Burgoyne.  Cather presents to us  America as she emerges as a powerful, creative, industrial force, and the American psyche, sure of who he is neither morally nor innately.

 

The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric- The most celebrated novel in the Serbo-Croatian language, it spans three centuries.  From the bridge’s construction in Bosnia’s Visegrad at the height  of the Ottoman empire to a period of a swiftly changing Europe during WWI, the bridge is the central figure of the novel.  Ivo Andric, Bosnian writer and distinguished Yugoslav diplomat won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961 for this masterful epic.  Death, loss, and revenge all occur on the bridge itself or near its gates.

“Thus in all this fresh storm which had burst over the town, overturning and tearing up by the roots its ancient customs, sweeping away living man and inanimate things, the bridge remained white, solid and invulnerable as it had always been.”