On my bookshelf there are three kinds of books. First, are “the ones before I lost God.” Then, those that came after that. Finally, there are my wife’s books. She never lost God.
One of the “before” books about faith-healing reminds me of Gary. We’d talk for hours about Jesus, Marxism, sex, and our fathers. Gary had gone to seminary and earned a doctorate for which he’d never found a job. I dropped out of college three times, and plan to go to a crazy left-wing seminary someday and get that job Gary never found. That book on faith-healing took us some strange places, including one long session where I wept for hours while I was healed, but not exactly by Jesus. Although my father was a preacher, Gary was the only person I ever called my pastor.
My father had stacks and stacks of books, just like I do today. One of them was the first book on philosophy I’d ever read and when I read it, philosophy conquered my mind forever. My father ridiculed the way I came to love philosophy, the very day after I read that book of his. It was his book, but he thought I was silly for taking it so seriously. When I went to college shortly after that, I spent hours in the library reading millions of words from its shelves, but the ridicule didn’t go away. Reading was no substitute for healing and friendship.
My mother often bragged about the fact that I started reading before kindergarten started. The stacks of books everywhere probably made it inevitable. She was a reading teacher and so it was probably all her doing, but I cannot remember ever not reading. My mother was less likely to ridicule my obsession with books but never really grasped just how much I treated books like the friends I couldn’t seem to make or keep.
My bookshelf actually doesn’t have a proper Bible on it, that book that launched a million bookshelves. My wife keeps her Bible in her purse. I gave the dozen or so I had away, when I lost God. There are a couple of heretical translations of parts of the Bible on my bookshelf, since losing God has pretty much made me fit to read nothing but heresy. Heresy and philosophy are after all pretty much the same thing. My mother doesn’t brag about my reading quite so much these days.
When I lost God, I had to make new friends, which is always hard. My closest friend today, named Terry, also lost God, or rather, pushed God out the door. Terry’s read lots of books about God, too, and his wife probably keeps her Bible in her purse, too. The books Terry reads about God makes him feel like faith was all just a waste of time. When I read those same books I miss my father, who died without a Bible in his hands while his brother, also a preacher, prayed that God would take my Dad home and end his pain. It would be great if that is what happened. My dad was always in a lot of pain and the Bible was his best friend. He proudly loved that Bible more than me.
Terry and I talk about the absence of God over whiskey sours at least once a month. We cover the topic of sex and I usually bring up Marxism, too. We haven’t talked about our fathers yet, but sooner rather than later, it will have to come up. Those nights, we both stagger home to our wives after hugging each other warmly after getting good and drunk. I don’t want to find God again, or even find that one great book that has all the answers I never found in the Bible. I want my father to have cared about me more than any old damn book.