Early in life, I learned to care too much what other people think. I think this was one of Dad’s faults, passed on to me. I’m generally private about my business, and I’m usually hyper-aware of talking so loudly that the neighbors might hear. Will someone notice me in jeans on Sunday and think I’m not going “to church”? Will someone notice me in a sport coat and think I’m some haughty Christian who thinks he’s better than everyone else while going “to church”?
My mom, on the other hand, cares far less about others’ perceptions, and this ends up being one of her faults. I suppose I got some of this one, too. Sometimes I’m just going to do the thing I have in mind or heart, no matter what someone might think. This trait, I think, can manifest strength of character. It can also betray stupidity.
It’s with these inherited traits in mind that I mention (and discuss a little) a few book titles that I’m embarrassed about. In other words, I’m afraid these books—and I—will be judged by their covers. I’ve never gone out in public with some of them . . . or I hide them . . . or I at least think twice. For the embarrassment, the caring-too-much-what-people-think, I owe Dad. For the willingness to make it public in this blogpost, not caring too much what naysayers might think, I owe Mom! (Writing was/is a strength for both of them.)
These titles will come in two supra-categories: the negative (those I judge to be not for public view) and the positive.
Not for public view
The Politics of Jesus (John Howard Yoder)
I’ve had this book for a couple years but have barely cracked its cover. It’s written by a now-deceased Anabaptist theologian whose mind has been highly influential but whose character and actions have been seriously (legally) judged. I’m pretty sure this book is going to challenge me with a deeper view of “politics,” dealing with Jesus’ views and ways and means in the areas of social intercourse and ethics. That is a much higher road than the pathway that leads to the polarizing party system and the mixing of authentic Christianity with today’s political “right.”
I’m afraid that when people see this cover, they’ll think I actually align myself with the religious right. Not at all. I’m interested in pretty much anything that deals soberly with Jesus, but I have no time for those who think Jesus wants to change the government of a contemporary country—or that He was at all concerned with affecting the Roman empire in any political sense. My Jesus isn’t in the business of geopolitics or national politics, although He cares about all the business of people’s lives.
Standing with Israel (David Brog)
A real academic is not embarrassed about having books on his shelves that take contrary views. He, in fact, has been intellectually stimulated in dealing with such opposing views, and has incorporated some of their aspects into his own thinking. I, however, am not this kind of academic. Not all the time, anyway. Also, it is not other academic-types who’re likely to see my shelves . . . so I even hide the spine of this book in my own home. The friends who might see it in my living room would not understand why it’s there, or wouldn’t know to ask, or would likely assume something about my thinking that I’d be horrified about. I wouldn’t take Standing With Israel out in public.
I have one book in this camp that’s even worse. I note that it was published by a Time Warner imprint (not a religious publisher such as Zondervan or Eerdmans), and the TW entertainment conglomerate might have been onto something. I consider this title merely entertainment: The American Prophecies: Ancient Scriptures Reveal Our Nation’s Future. One doesn’t have to go beyond the cover to realize this is balderdash. Baseless fiction. Nation Under God is another one I wouldn’t want public, although its content could head in multiple directions. The Great Church-State Fraud is provocative, and I might carry that one around eventually.
I’m proud now to own Three Views of Israel and the Church, a thoughtful debate book that presents representatives of three distinct views and includes scholarly challenge to each view. I’d be cautious about this one—again, because of presumptions about the religious right—but I plan soon to post notes based on gleanings from this book.
Holy Bible (NRSV)
I wish the covers of some Bibles were different. Believe it or not, I’m actually embarrassed at the words “Holy Bible.” For the nonbeliever or disinterested party, I fear the “holy” part sounds presumptuous. And for all of us, I feel a kind of mesmerizing effect that puts us to thoughtless sleep instead of thoughtful introspection. In other words, we can be lulled by having a “Holy Bible” in our hands rather than pondering and dealing responsibly with the varied contents of this library we call “Bible.”
Yes, I’d let these be seen by almost anyone
On the other hand, some book titles I’ve been proud to carry around, hoping someone might ask me about them:
- This Beautiful Mess (Rick McKinley)
- Mere Discipleship (Lee Camp)
- The King Jesus Gospel (Scot McKnight)
- The Kingdom of God in the Teachings of Jesus (Norman Perrin)
- Salvation by Allegiance Alone (Matthew Bates)
Will someone be interested, judging these titles worthy of note? Will we be able to dialogue about the nature of God’s kingdom—and humans as loyal subjects and disciples? Will they ponder the words and work of Jesus just a little more? Do I care too much about what people think? I’m not a very good ambassador in most ways. Far too often, I don’t represent my Lord very well, and maybe, just maybe, someone could see my intent in a book, overlooking my personal failings.
What if I carried around a little book titled The Gospel of Christian Atheism without hiding its cover? Would that start some discussions, or what? I can hardly wait to get into that one. According to a cover blurb, this is no atheist author. Rather, he seeks to promote primitive Christianity; “gospel” and “atheism” are used advisedly, provocatively, in order to attract readers who might not otherwise pick up a “Christian” book. But what is “Christian”? I suspect that this author will use a working definition closer to my own than to, say, most journalists’ or evangelicals’ definitions.
For those who aren’t interested in topics of scripture or Christianity: I’m never ashamed of Grisham novel titles; I recently finished Camino Island and have read a dozen others. Most of my baseball books are displayed proudly. Poetry? Short stories? Sure. And I’d be proud to carry The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (Nicholas Carr). And yes, I just searched the WWW to make sure I have its author’s name correct!