Person of the Book

BY: KJ Lewis

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When I was eleven, my parents handed me an abomination entitled, The “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Girls. They informed me that it was to live in my room until further notice—on the bookshelf, no less, not buried under a clothing heap or shoved under the bed. There was no obligation for me to actually read it, they said. Just to keep it in sight. And so it sat, eyeing me from across the room for over a week until I couldn’t take it anymore. I snatched it from the shelf and hurled it into the wall, where it made a satisfying whap before thudding to the ground. Then I picked it up, closed the door, and turned to chapter one.

I tell you this because Laura regularly hands out abominations.

So far, we have received The Life of the Beloved, Finding Our Way Home, Toxic Charity, Daily Prayers for All Seasons, The New Oxford Annotated Bible, and All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses For Our Time. I try hard to look bored when Laura passes around the stack; I don’t want my fellow Fellows thinking I’m some sort of Jesus freak. Whatever composure I manage to pull off, though, masks an ambivalence that would be hilarious if it weren’t mine. The Road can at times feel like a spiritual version of The Talk. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious, but I’ll be damned if I ever make it look that way.

As you may have guessed, I have a complicated relationship with Christianity. My mother banned my teenaged self from her Sunday school class out of the justified concern that I’d de-convert her congregants. I recently suggested that we pray to Baal on occasion, just to add some variety. I giggle at communion, or else skip it altogether.

Still, if I had wanted intentional living sans religion, there were plenty of opportunities to find it. Atlanta boasts a number of radical enclaves where I could have made my home; friends live in places with names like The Homostead, The Teardown, and Honeycomb Haven. At any one of those houses, I could have shared organizing tips over vegan meals and hosted bell hooks book clubs that bled into dance parties as the night progressed. My community is too wise about patriarchy to fall for sky gods and sacred torture, but somehow I can’t manage to give up prayer for Lent. I suppose that’s why I ended up at The Road. I may not be convinced about the Father and the Son, but I do believe in Grace.

Grace is not big on I love yous. Instead, she says things like, I dare you and try me and wanna bet? and very, very rarely, Baby, come here. She’s baffling, with a wicked sense of humor and no sense of propriety. Above all, Grace is persistent: since I’ve taken to ignoring her, she now comes to me in books.

Books are lovely and dangerous for many of the same reasons. The words on the page will stay straight in their rows, regardless of who reads them, and when, and why. They don’t squirm or apologize for what they say. You can draw monsters in their margins. You can crack their spines. You can love them. You can need them. You can rip them up or you can tell them the truth. No matter what, the text won’t flinch.

Books never change. And they don’t tease you when you do.

We do a lot of talking on The Road. We’re ten strong-minded and strange individuals who are crammed into each other’s lives, and rarely do we not have something to say about it. But sometimes you don’t feel like defending your position in a debate; sometimes you don’t even have a position worth defending, so much as a buzzing in your stomach that you can’t pray away. That’s the point at which I crawl onto my bed and start reading, sometimes several times a day.

I used to be surprised when I met yet another preacher who’d been an English major in college. Given how textual this religion is, though, it just makes sense. Christians are literally called People of the Book. The Bible is a library filled with stories about people telling stories, and every Sunday, preachers stand up and tell stories about those stories’ stories’ meanings. Christianity’s preoccupation with metaphor and interpretation has at times felt vexing. It can seem anticlimactic that the one time Grace allegedly tried out human life, she spent it as a traveling storyteller. But right now, stories are the only way I can halfway tolerate the thought of something holy.

Like it or not, I think I’ll always be a Person of the Book. And who knows? Maybe stories will be what saves me after all.