With so many others, I once thought that e-books were the future. Imagine owning something that moth and worm cannot touch, and thieves cannot steal! But a decade or so on, and I find myself reaching for the real thing.

Hardcover. Softcover. I’ll take either.

Ornate. Cheap. I love them both.

Brand New. Used. Well, it’s here that I’m less agreeable. Simply put, I’ve come to love used books.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’ve got an Amazon problem, just like the next guy. I, too, like a crisp new book—inexpensive and fast.

But! But, I’ve found that I have much greater enjoyment laying my hands on a used book. There’s the hunt for it. There’s the fun of getting a copy for pennies on the new-book-dollar. There’s the mystery as to when it will arrive (hint: not in two days). There’s the patina of the book. There’s the unique smell of an older book. And then there’s this: the occasional artifact left behind by others who first read this book. I’m opened to the reality that I’m not the only one who has enjoyed it. There is a community—a wider world of people—who have interacted with it.

Edward Lear sketch vintage

I’ve found the following items in used books among other things:

In a copy of Walker Percy’s “Love in the Ruins” there is an RSVP card for “Ms. Boxser & Dena” in regards to the May 18, 1986 wedding of “Marie and Art.” Who failed to send in the RSVP? Having failed to send it in, did Ms. Boxser & Dena make it to the wedding or not? And how are Marie and Art doing?

In a copy of Edward Abbey’s “Good News” there is an early 80’s court summons for a “Mr. M. C. Williamson” of Huntington Beach, calling him to appear before the “Superior Municipal Court of the State of California.” What was the case? What was the outcome? What was Mr. Williamson’s involvement in the case?

And in a hiking guide to Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains there is a handwritten note from a father to his daughter, written inside the front cover, and dated “7/22/1998.” “Dear Anne, This past [weekend’s adventure into the mountains] will be a time that I will forever remember. To me it marks the real beginning of our adult relationship… [You] made me proud to be your father and excited to be your friend… I hope this book will always remind you of our first great adventure. I love you very much. Love Dad.” Have Anne and her father had more adventures together? How and why did Anne ever give up this book? Does her father know she gave it up?

Through these items, I come to a deep awareness that I am not the only one to have read these books. There is a community that has enjoyed them. Their lives have somehow been caught up in the pages of these books I now read, and I am richer for being a witness to it.

books old open library worn

As a pastor—or simply as a Christian—I am very tempted to do strange things to Jesus’ church. As if His blood that has wiped away every spot were not sufficient (Revelation 7:9-14), and as if His declaration that He is making all things new was too little (Rev. 21:1-5), I set out to fashion a church that feels new in all respects—no maimed edges, no broken spines, no wear and tear. Yet my vision of ‘the church’ just doesn’t hold up. It doesn’t hold up to God’s vision in Christ.

For in His vision there is ample room for the the maimed, the broken and the worn. Take for instance old Elmer and dear Susan.

Elmer made it to 91. Sometime back in the late 40’s or 50’s in an industrial accident Elmer lost four fingers, and half his thumb on one hand. And so he had one good hand and one maimed hand. It was never lost on me that he would always put forward the disfigured hand in order to receive the body of the Lord, at the Lord’s Table. Elmer now rests in the Lord. Elmer’s life was, and still is, hidden by God in Christ—tucked away in God’s enduring and eternally given Word—Jesus!

Susan died at 51. It was a miracle that she saw so many years. Susan suffered quite severely from Cerebral Palsy and a host of other maladies; Her spine was severely twisted; Her limbs were unnaturally thin. On the first Sunday of each month Susan would bring the church’s collected offerings forward to the altar on the seat of her rolling-walker. The aisle never looked so long as when Susan staggered beautifully forward. Susan’s life was, and still is, hidden by God in Christ—tucked away in God’s enduring and eternally given Word—Jesus!

And your life, weary and broken as it is, is hidden by God in Christ—tucked away in God’s enduring and eternally given Word—Jesus! It’s hidden by this God-given-Word—Jesus—and by His death and resurrection, “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4).

And so when we turn to the Word of God, we do not come to a clean personal copy of it, any more than we come to our “own personal Jesus.” Rather, we come with a deep awareness that we are not the only ones reading this book made by His hand and touched by so many more. There is a whole community that has been read into its pages by God in Christ—tucked away securely in this life, and in the resurrection to come! Jesus calls this community His church, and He has made you a member of it (Romans 12:5).