Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

No More Books, Please!

I am asking for your understanding. Perhaps I am speaking a prophetic voice for Seminarians in and beyond our Liberal Faith. I am writing to all so I can ask for this favor, this boon.

Please stop giving me books you think I just have to read… please!

I know you have the best of intentions. I know the books are amazing, and probably transformative. I know you would love to have a conversation about this book that has meant so much to you. I know you do not mean to give me a book that will sit on the shelf next to my desk, along with the dozens of books that I have to read for classes, taunting me, mocking me in my inability to read three books every day.

For some, it is understandable. Not being in seminary you probably don’t know that I read between 3-5 books per week just to be able to sound intelligent in my classes. You might not know that there is a list of dozens of books beyond what I read for classes that the Ministerial Fellowship Committee requires of anyone who wants to be fellowshipped as a UU Minister. Perhaps you don’t realize that on top of all my other reading, I try to read something from a sacred scripture everyday, from the Bible to the Sutras to the Koran. And I have found if I want to sleep I need to read a few pages of senseless science fiction so my brain can slow down.

However, what is understandable in an enthusiastic lay-person is inexcusable in a minister. Ministers should remember… the only thing I can figure is that ministers remember others doing this to them, and so they continue the guilt-creating chain of books.

I’ve tried to tell people this when they, with great excitement tell me “Oh David, you just have to read this book, it has meant so much to me! I would love to talk about it with you!” I have tried to tell them that I just can’t. When books have appeared in my mailbox or on my desk, or worse when someone hands me a book after I preach, asking if they can come in to talk about it the following Wednesday, I feel like I want to pull my hair out.

However, I dutifully place the book on the shelf next to my desk with all the other books I have to read. When reading time comes, I pick up the next book I have to have read for class… and the book someone gave me sits there, mocking me, creating unjust feelings of inadequacy. I then find myself trying to avoid the person who gave me the book, because I don’t want to admit that passing my classes is more important to me than the book they feel so strongly about.

I want the book recommendations, I really do… but understand that it will be years before I get to reading any of them. I keep a list of all the books I want to read, and when classes are over I will treasure that list. I will even try to email the person who recommended the book to me when I finally get to it.

However, this morning I am declaring myself free of the guilt and feelings of inadequacy that these books instill. I am going to directly say to you, when you hand me a book I just have to read, “I just can’t, not for a few years.” I will not be swayed by the wounded looks, or the hangdog eyes, or the assurances that it will not take all that long and that it will really help me in becoming a minister. I’m sure all of this is true, and it does not change anything. I may even try to give the book back to you.

If there is a book you want me to read, wonderful. Email me the details. It will go on the list. I’m certain there will be times when I am begging for books to read… when the Ministerial Fellowship Committee is behind me, when I have my degree from Meadville Lombard, and when I am searching for ideas to preach another sermon on something I have preached about every Sunday for ten years. But that time is not now… so please, please…

Have mercy!

Yours in Faith,


5 Thoughts on “No More Books, Please!


    Told just yesterday about a book that’s “really difficult to read, and written in an archaic way, but really, you should read it!”

  2. Oh, but David dear, haven’t you read. . . . . .

  3. Amen, brother. And, may I add a plea for a moratorium on “there’s this workshop you should take… this speaker you should hear… this video you need to watch… this research you need to be aware of…”? There are only so many hours in the day – I still need to write sermons & attend committee meetings, and participate in clergy meetings – and at the end of the day, I kind of like to spend with my spouse. (what a concept!)

  4. The Eclectic Cleric on Monday February 16, 2009 at 14:42 +0000 said:

    Clearly, you are not far enough along in your seminary education to have learned of the doctrine of “Salvation by Bibliography.” By all means take these books (with the caveat that once it gets in among yours it is not likely to EVER find its way home again), and let them pile up at your bedside, in your bookshelves, in stacks of books on the floor near your bookshelves…just like the rest of us do. It’s an occupational hazard, and I don’t think we will ever be free of it either, although google is making these vast libraries of books less and less necessary in a minister’s life. And by all means read them in your own good time, or keep them on a list of good books you should but will probably never read in this lifetime. My experience is that once I made it clear that if they lent me the book they were never going to see it again, the number of “must read” books I had thrust upon me diminished considerably…those who were willing to part with their copies I typically read willingly; the bibliographic cites went on to the “in the fullness of time” list quite comfortably right alongside all of the things I have added to that list myself.

  5. Eclectic Cleric…

    Good advice… but there is another consideration…

    I live in on the top floor of a three story walk up in Chicago….

    What books go up, must someday come down… And books are bloody heavy.


    Yours in Faith,


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