Sermons in Stones and Good in Everything

I could hardly take it all in. For one who has spent much of my life reading, visiting the largest library in the world was just like I imagine heaven might be like. It was almost as amazing as huddling with my ipad in my sleeping bag in a stone hut at 17,000 feet in Nepal last summer, reading astronaut Scott Parazinsky’s memoir The Sky Below; A True Story of Summits, Space, and Speed. Marveling at Parazinsky’s summit of Mount Everest filled me with pure joy, wonder, and gratitude, even as we were trekking around Mount Manaslu, the eighth highest mountain in the world (26,781 feet) in the same Himalayan range.

I love books! It’s just that there are too many wonderful books to read and too little time. When I was growing up, my mother was our church’s librarian. This was during the years when our church library was the only public library in our small town. I read every children’s book we had, plus all the Hardy Boys books, which were much more exciting than the Nancy Drew series. Beginning in childhood, I kept a list of all the books I read, a practice that I unfortunately let lapse over the years when pastoral ministry became more intense.

I still wonder, however. What would my life be without books? And what would our world be without books? In December, Gary and I had the opportunity to take a tour of the Library of Congress (LOC) in Washington D.C. The statistics are mind boggling. The LOC contains more than 167 million items in 470 languages. This includes 40 million books and other print materials, 3.6 million recordings, 14 million photographs, 6 million maps, 8.1 million pieces of sheet music, and 70 million manuscripts.

The Library of Congress, which is the oldest cultural institution in the US, is not a lending library. Rather, it is located on Capitol Hill primarily to serve Congress. The Library of Congress was established in 1800 when President John Adams signed a bill declaring that Washington was the seat of the US government. Included in the legislation was the establishment of a library “of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress.”

The first collection included 740 books and three maps and was housed in the new Capitol building until invading British troops burned the building and destroyed the library in 1814. President Thomas Jefferson, who was then retired, offered his 6,487-book library to replace the original collection and was paid $23,950 by Congress. After another fire in 1851 destroyed much of the collection, Congress approved a new building for the library, which opened in 1897. It was the first public building in Washington to have electricity.

Our tour of the LOC was fascinating. Other than archiving millions of books and precious objects and serving as a global leader in preservation, the Library allows does allow public research in the Main Reading Room. It is also a venue for concerts, performances, and exhibits.

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is there, and the Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation has a comprehensive number of motion pictures. Almost the entire LOC collection can be found on their website, and every day, thousands of virtual visitors view the digital collection. In fact, you never know what is around the corner at the Library of Congress, including an Iowa map from 1856 on display.

I love these fun facts! Check out the LOC website for more!

  • The Library spends $100,000 dollars on light bulbs every single year.
  • The Library buys 15,000 books a day and adds 11,000 of them to the permanent collection.
  • Everything is stored on 883 miles of bookshelves.
  • Almost half the books are written in languages other than English.
  • Congress members drafting legislation don’t need to do the nitty-gritty research themselves: There’s a whole team of lawyers, librarians, economists, and scientists employed through the Library of Congress to do it for them.
  • The Congressional Research Service is staffed with 600 analysts and supplies reports briefings, and presentations.
  • The Current Librarian of Congress (they have not always been librarians by profession) is Carla Hayden, the first woman and the first African American to hold this title. She is the 14th Librarian of Congress.
  • In 2010, Twitter agreed to donate every public tweet to the LOC’s archive, which amounts to several hundred million tweets a day!
  • The LOC contains the world’s largest collection of comic books, with more than 100,000 issues within its walls. The oldest comic book is from 1936.
  • The LOC has the largest collection of telephone directories in the entire world. Although few people in the US use an old-fashioned telephone directory anymore, the LOC adds more than 8,000 directories to its collection every year.
  • The Reading Room is highlighted by marble columns and numerous statues of many famous thinkers and cultural icons throughout history.

Even though books are the focus of the LOC, the building itself is an architectural wonder. The Great Hall features numerous themes and images and is one of the most stunning pieces of cultural architecture in Washington, D.C. The Reading Room is highlighted by marble columns and statues of famous thinkers and cultural icons throughout history.

Of course, no library is complete without a Bible collection, and the LOC does not disappoint! I was fascinated by an exhibition that explores the significance of two particular Bibles, the Giant Bible of Mainz and the Gutenberg Bible. Both Bibles were produced in Mainz, Germany at around the same time, but they represent different eras. The Giant Bible of Mainz signifies the end of manuscript writing by hand, whereas the Gutenberg Bible signals the beginning of the printed book and the explosion of knowledge that the development of moveable would allow. Click here for a brief video about Bibles in the LOC.

Despite the proliferation of e-books, my bookshelves are overflowing. I love books! Even when I can only read on planes and trains and in stone huts at high altitudes. God has made you and me with a thirst for knowledge that helps us be more compassionate and informed, better equipped to become who God created us to be, and, most of all, to become sermons in stones, modeling good in everything.

“Give instruction unto those who cannot procure it for themselves.”

“Tongues in Trees, Books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.”

“Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.”

(As You Like It– Act 2 – William Shakespeare)

Made Like Him, Like Him We Rise

It’s at the heart of who we are as human beings. “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” perhaps Charles Wesley’s most famous hymn, was sung yesterday by millions of Christians around the world. But this is this phrase of the hymn that got to me on Easter, “Made Like Him, Like Him We Rise.”

It was a week ago, the Monday of Holy Week, when we first heard the news that stopped us in our tracks. I was at the Iowa Conference Center when someone said, “Notre Dame Cathedral is on fire!” I wept when I saw the live footage of the fire online. “No, no! Not Notre Dame! Not during Holy Week! Please, God, protect the people, and spare the cathedral.”

Notre Dame “Our Lady” Cathedral is much more than a church. It is the heartbeat of Paris as well as of the Catholic Church and Christians worldwide. Just outside the cathedral is Point Zero, where a small plaque marks the exact geographic center of Paris. The construction of Notre Dame on a small island in the Seine River began in 1163 a.d. and was completed in 1345 a.d., almost two hundred years later. It is the epitome of Gothic architecture. 30,000 people visit Notre Dame Cathedral every single day, which adds up to 13 million visitors every year.

I have a deep spiritual connection with Notre Dame because I stayed in Paris for a week in November 2001 as part of a renewal leave. It was a tender time in my life and ministry, and because my hotel was very close to the cathedral, I was in the sanctuary every day praying. I also had the opportunity to attend a worship service and a Sunday afternoon recital on the magnificent organ, which has 8,000 pipes and, thanks be to God, was not destroyed and can be restored.     

My heart joined the hearts of thousands of people who gathered around the cathedral to watch, wait, pray, and sing hymns. France is considered to be a secular society, yet the traditions of the church run deep in the hearts of French citizens. As I followed the progress of the fire and kept hearing people say, “We will rebuild,” I couldn’t help but sing to myself, “Made like him, like him we rise.” The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus has inspired countless people through the centuries to practice resurrection in their own lives, including ensuring that Notre Dame will rise again. The pictures and stories have left indelible marks on all of us. 

  • Four hundred firefighters battled the blaze for nine hours, with no deaths and only one serious injury.
  • Most of the cathedral is stone, which is imperviousness to fire, but the roof and spire that was added in the 19th century were made of wood and burned quickly.
  • In the battle to save priceless relics, including the Crown of Thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus on the cross, members of the church and other volunteers formed a human chain. The person at the front of the line, who was most at risk, was Father Jean-Marc Fournier, Chaplain of the Paris Fire Department.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron vowed that Notre Dame Cathedral will be rebuilt in five years, and as of the time of this posting, over a billion dollars has been pledged toward the reconstruction. Despite backlash that the money raised might be better used to help the poor and homeless in France, there is also sentiment that the cathedral is a symbol of hope not only in France but around the world and should be rebuilt. 
  • The scene in Paris reminded me and I am sure, many others, of September 11, 2001. Last week, both One World Trade Center and the spire of the Empire State Building in New York City were lit up in blue, white, and red, in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in France. 

Notre Dame Cathedral will rise again. Made like Him, like Him we rise. Out of sorrow will come hope, out of death resurrection.

But something else happened a week ago that brought the same words to my lips. On Sunday, April 14, Tiger Woods won the Masters Golf Tournament, one of four “major” golf tournaments during the course of the year. This was the fifth time Woods won the winner’s “green jacket” at the Masters, but it had been eleven years since he had last won a major.

In November 2009, Tiger Woods’ life imploded. After Tiger had been injured in a car accident near his Florida home, it was reported that he had been having serial affairs with many women. Woods eventually released a statement that he had not been true to his values and let his family down. He lost his sponsors, announced he was taking an “indefinite break” from golf, entered inpatient therapy, and was divorced from his wife. In 2017 Woods had his fourth back surgery and was also arrested for reckless driving and DUI. Toxicology reports showed five different drugs in his system. 

After almost ten years of turmoil, Tiger’s determination not to give up on golf and work diligently on his personal and professional life culminated when he persevered in a tight battle and won the Masters. What a beautiful sight to see Tiger hugging his mother and his two children. When most people would have given up and retreated into obscurity, but Tiger kept working, practicing, and learning. 

After Woods’ 2019 debut at the Farmers Insurance Open in January, he said this about tying for 20th place, “It’s really hard to have mind, body, and soul come together at the same time.” It finally happened on April 14, when Tiger experienced resurrection. He never gave up or lost faith in himself, despite many dangers, toils, and snares. Made like Him, like Him we rise. 

What does it take to rebuild a cathedral, a life, a reputation, a relationship, or a denomination? What does it take to rebuild trust, hope, or love? I am convinced that we human beings were created to rise: to rise from the ashes of disappointment, disillusionment, and despair. Our hope is in the One who loved us so much that he took upon himself the sins of the world, died on a cross, was buried, and on the third day rose from the dead.

Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia! 

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.