Decluttering Shelves: Decluttering Mind

 In Jason Bunger, Preaching & Teaching

Decluttering Shelves : Decluttering Mind

Being socially distanced and isolated over the past year has forced me to take an inventory of nearly everything in my life:  time, finances, relationships and even books. It occurred to me that, perhaps clearing my bookcases of items that I will never reference again would not only clear my shelves, but perhaps free up some space in my mind.  

“Letting Go” of some books enabled me to see some patterns. 

As I placed the books to be given away in stacks on my floor, a couple patterns began to emerge that I had not noticed until I isolated my newly discarded books from the rest.   

The books that were written about “relevance” are the most irrelevant books that I own.  

All of my books on the “missional church,” “organic church,” or “immerging church” etc. are completely out-of-date, yet are probably some the most recently printed books I own. The future that these brilliant minds predicted, never turned out to be what they claimed was imminent.  In fact, many of these experts are not even in ministry today.  Books that were written to try to keep up with the culture, got left behind by the culture.  As someone once noted, the fastest way to irrelevancy is to define yourself by your generation. (paraphrase mine) I call these books the “fast fashion” of theology. They may look exciting now, but they will fall apart and be out of date in the next season.  

Most of the books written about the cultural moral decline were written by leaders that have since had a personal moral decline.  

This one hurt.  I am not a “cancel-culture” or a “stone-throwing” kind of guy.  But I do find it strange that nearly every book I gave away about the decay of society was written by someone who was involved in a scandalous moment themselves.  I feel deeply for these guys and the people they hurt.  I also realize that it could be me who failed as they did.  I am convinced that I am no better than they were.  Their failures saddened me, because many of these writers deeply impacted my life and formed my ministry.  

I want to be clear; I did not delight in their failures.  Yet, to be honest, part of me felt a sense of relief when I witnessed their failings.  Each of them was promoting a work harder, try harder, live more moral, empower more people, pray more, etc. life that I could not get to work for me like it did for them.  As hard as I tried, I just could not do it as they wrote.  In some way, it was relief to see that it did not work for them either.  I knew that they were telling me to do what not possible for me.  Perhaps, it was some relief to see it was impossible for them as well.  

Many of the books written by the intellectual elites have proven to be some of the most disproved books today.  

I believe in scholarship and the ongoing process of scientific discovery.    Yet, science is built on hypothesis, and testing.  What we are once certain of in one day, may prove to be disproved on the next day.  There is a humility in genuine science that recognizes that we know more today than we have every known, and that we will know more tomorrow than we know today.  We were wrong about the past, and there are some things about the present that generations will someday look back at with ridicule.  We just do not know what these things are now, even if we confidently affirm that we do. 

Just as science is constantly being revised, so is history.  Some of the “historical” books I found I was ashamed to have owned.   It seems to me that that many (not all) scholars throughout every generation classified people into “good” or “bad” tribes.  In my mind, the only thing that has changed in following generations is which group is determined to be “good” and which is determined to be “bad.”  As historians continue to revise history, the only thing that seems to change from one generation to the next is what group is labeled as “virtuous” and who then are labeled the “savages.”  Though I may be wrong, I don’t see any time that history is written that was not written to prove that some group was better than another.  There is an African proverb that states: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”  Everyone’s story needs to be told with understanding and accuracy.  History is a complicated series of events, involving complicated people, who all being made in the image of God, are deeply flawed.  Any historical account that defines any one particular group as always good or always bad is not being historically honest. (Note:  This is one reason why the scriptures can be trusted.  Scripture reveals the failures of mankind and God’s people, far more than our successes.)  

Likewise, “Holding On” to other books allowed me to see patters as well 

It occurred to me that what I found myself holding onto were my Bibles, scholarly works that explained the Bibles and (usually) works written by older authors.  These authors understood:

  • the difference between the temporary and eternal, 
  • moral repentance is of greater value than a public moral image 
  • science and history have proven in every generation how deeply flawed we as humans can be 

Shelved books can often take us back to simpler times, unrefined thoughts, and a level of certainty on some things that we no longer possess as we grow older.  Books remind us that even the most brilliant forecasters don’t know the future, the most moral of people are not above scandal, the most brilliant of hypotheses can be disproved and those who revise history will likewise be revised. 


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