Randy Greenwald

Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

Author: Randy Page 1 of 139

Of Cephalopods and Publishers and Very Special Long-Awaited Announcements

Ann Lamott in her wonderful book on writing, Bird by Bird, likens knowing when a book is done to putting an octopus to bed (pages 93, 94). Now that I have had to attempt such a thing, I find her analogy to be apt.

She points out that after you “get a bunch of the octopus’s arms neatly tucked under the covers” you are likely to find that “two more arms are flailing around.” I finished my first “final” draft on December 30. All the arms appeared to be tucked away. Two weeks later when I checked in there were arms sticking out all over. So, I spent the next weeks rewriting confusing sentences and then rewriting them again, removing allusions that only made sense to me, and, in some cases, re-framing whole sections.

Just when I was beginning to think all was snugly blanketed, an arm broke free. Then another. Punctuation marks were all in the wrong places. And where did this Harry Potter reference come from, anyway?

Ms. Lamott finishes the picture as only she can:

“Then, even though all the sucking disks on that one tentacle are puckering open and closed, and the slit-shaped pupils of the octopus are looking derisively at you, as if it might suck you to death just because it’s bored, and even though you know that your manuscript is not perfect and you’d hoped for so much more . . . it’s the very best you can do for now.”

That pretty well describes where I am. Though I hoped for more, this is the best I can manage for now. I can only hope that no one notices the arms that never did get fully secured under the covers.

Because, you see, others soon will be able to notice.

On Tuesday, January 14, I read, in an email, one of the most beautiful sentences ever written in the English language.

“We recently reviewed your manuscript Something Worth Living For: Conversations on Life and Theology in the Westminster Shorter Catechism at our editorial meeting, and I am pleased to inform you that we enjoyed it and would like to take it forward to publication.”

Apparently there are people, people I assume to be sane and honorable, who want to put their money into my project so that it might reach a wider audience. Christian Focus Publications is a publisher based in Scotland who, unless Scotland within the next year or so slides into the North Sea (the Eeyore in my soul assures me that this is an entirely realistic possibility), are currently planning a December, 2020, release.

I’ve tried to be real cool about this. I come home and say, “Hi, Barb, I’m home. I stopped on the way and picked up those oranges you wanted. Oh, also, my book is going to be published.”

In truth, however, I’ve had to restrain myself so that I did not run up and down the street knocking on doors announcing to startled homeowners, “You don’t know me, but my book is going to be published!” I tend to be unable to shut up about it to anyone unlucky enough to cross my shadow over the past few weeks.

I am humbled to know, as a friend familiar with publishing reminded me last week, that few who are as little known as I am who set out on this path are given the opportunity to cross this threshold. I have been blessed to be granted the opportunity to write. And now I am blessed in being published.

I am still in a state of shock.

Celebrate with me!

Those Sanctified

[Note: the following is from the introduction to my as of yet unpublished book, Something Worth Living For. Feel free to spread this link far and wide, as you see fit. If you want to use the content in some other form, ask me. Thanks!]

Q. 35. What is sanctification?
A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

The early Christians whose lives are reflected in the pages of the New Testament were a worthy bunch in many ways. Their passion and sacrifice are a model for us as they faced adversity and yet persevered. But the Bible also makes clear that they were people, imperfect and flawed like us. They argued and stretched the truth. They sometimes showed favoritism too freely and tolerated error too quickly. Much of their behavior we would not describe as saintly, and yet God was please to call them (and us) saints. Though broken and sinful, they were united with Christ and set apart by God. As those so set apart, they were “sanctified.” In a settled and definitive way God pronounced them “holy.”

Table of Contents, Book One

The problem is that they, and we who are God’s holy ones, don’t act like it. The work of God which is sanctification is a process by which Christians are enabled by God to more and more act as who they are, as God’s holy people. And as Jesus is the model of holiness, sanctification is God through his Holy Spirit making his people more like Jesus. This work, this process, can be painful, and it can be slow, but it is always good.

There are sinful ways of living and reacting and behaving that come easily to us. Though we are Christians, though we are in union with Christ and so justified, adopted, and set apart as saints, these well-practiced behaviors persist. We are pulled by the world to speak falsely, to neglect compassion, or to celebrate pride. We have an instinctual recourse to erupt with rage, to seek revenge, or to hoard money. We have traumatic histories or inexplicable inner urges that tempt us to sexual expressions that fall outside the biblical norm. To die to these impulses and to embrace a new way of life is incredibly hard and will never be complete before we die. And yet God is working in our lives to shape us and to conform us to the image of Christ. When we see change, we are seeing the evidence of the work of God.

The path on which God leads us as he conforms us to Christ’s character looks different for all of us. Some Christians may by personality or background or fortuitous cultural influence be closer to a Christ-like demeanor than those who have suffered a lifetime of abuse and trauma. The goal of sanctification in each is the same—to be like Jesus—but reaching that goal will follow different paths over different durations of time, and each person will come to different plateaus. For all of us sanctification will be a roller coaster ride with strides forward and strides backwards. But in it all we can never ever forget that ultimately it is not we who sanctify ourselves, but God who works in us to make us like Jesus. He began a good work in us, Paul says in Philippians, and he will see that it is completed. It is his work to change us and he is doing so.

The “mechanics” of sanctification will occupy our consideration soon in these studies. At this point be heartened knowing that God is the one who is changing you. Don’t despair if the progress seems slow and don’t quit because it is hard. A verse of the Christmas hymn “It Came upon a Midnight Clear” uses the language of John Milton to acknowledge that the walk of the Christian is never easy.

“And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow….”

The steps of sanctification are often wandering, painful, and slow. But they are guided by a wise and good God, our heavenly Father, who is willing even now to call you, as he did those early, irascible Christians, holy.

Living for God’s Glory

[Note: the following is from the introduction to my as of yet unpublished book, Something Worth Living For. Feel free to spread this link far and wide, as you see fit. If you want to use the content in some other form, ask me. Thanks!]

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

“Hey! Hello in there. Hey! What’s so important? What you got here that’s worth living for?”

So shouts Miracle Max at the mostly dead (but slightly alive) Westley in Rob Reiner’s classic movie, The Princess Bride. Though this is a wonderfully fun and playful movie, the question about what one finds worth living for is a terribly serious one. It is pondered by philosophers and lovers, by visionaries and artists, and, at some level, by everyone. What makes life worthwhile? Or, as the Catechism puts it, what is the chief end, the ultimate purpose, of life? What do we have that’s worth living for?

We all have an answer, conscious or not, of some sort. The college student may live to graduate, perhaps to find a spouse or pursue a lifelong career ambition. The homeless family may live only to find the next meal. The salesman may live for the next deal and the addict the next hit. Some live to find the approval their fathers never gave them. Others live to achieve a renown so far deprived them. Some live to get as much pleasure as they can before they die, others as much power. Few articulate what drives them. They just “know” at some level that the happiness they seek resides somewhere beyond their reach, and they pursue it. This thing pursued is our end, our purpose, and our goal.

In a sense, this end is in fact our god.

In the early days of my parenting what mattered to me, I am ashamed to say, was my reputation as a pastor. I parented my children concerned not by what was best for them or even what was Scripturally sound but by what served best my reputation as a ‘good pastor.’ My chief end, one might say, was to bring glory to my name and enjoy my reputation forever. This was never expressed and was never conscious. Yet this was the goal which drove me. It was the inadequate and unworthy god whom I served.

That thing for which we live is our god, and if we cherish the wrong god, an inadequate and false one, then serving that god will enslave us and lead us to disappointment. Only when we serve and cherish the true and living God will we find the joy and purpose for which we were created. Our chief and ultimate purpose, the only one that will not disappoint, is to live for the glory of God, and, in the end, to find our ultimate and complete enjoyment in him.

To develop the implications of this is the aim of the remaining questions and answers of the Catechism.

One shaped by a pursuit of God’s glory will bend every part of his life to that end. Johann Sebastian Bach inscribed at the bottom of many of his great musical manuscripts the initials “SDG,” a Latin symbol meaning, “to the glory of God alone.” That should be inscribed on every burger we grill and every email we send.

Living for God’s glory is the posture out of which people will find their greatest happiness. It is also the posture against which the deepest part of us tends to rebel. We prefer to think of ourselves as the masters of our own universe, which leads us to reject the claim of God over us, even if that claim comes as kindness.

It is the beauty of the biblical story outlined for us in the Catechism that God does not leave such rebels to their own chosen misery. He shows mercy to us in our rebellion, a mercy culminating in our being made “perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity.”

It is the knowledge of this mercy alone that can soften our cold, hard, rebellious hearts and replace them with hearts eager to see the glory of God alone as the one thing worth living for.

Something Worth Living For: An Introduction

[Note: the following is from the introduction to my as of yet unpublished book, Something Worth Living For. Feel free to spread this link far and wide, as you see fit. If you want to use the content in some other form, ask me. Thanks!]

In writing this book, I’m assuming that you are curious. Maybe you are in a church that has some relationship with the Westminster Shorter Catechism and you want to know more about what your church believes. Perhaps you have seen the Catechism mentioned somewhere and wonder what it is about. I write to satisfy those curiosities, of course.

This page, as it currently exists.

But there are deeper curiosities. It’s possible that you are curious about the beliefs of Christianity itself. The Catechism, as it is a summary of basic historic Christian doctrine is a good place to begin. My hope is that this book will stimulate you to dig even more deeply into what you discover here.

Some of you may have been shaken by life, or by simply growing up, to question a Christian faith you once held. Perhaps your understanding of Christianity has been challenged by Christians behaving badly or by Christianity being handled poorly in the public sphere. You, perhaps, are reading because you are trying to recapture the faith you once held. I welcome you. I’ve been where you are.

Mostly I hope you are curious about God. If this book can help readers know God better, then the effort of writing and reading will have been worth it.

Structurally, this book is a collection of “conversations” centered on the 107 questions and answers of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. I picture us sitting on a porch or at a coffee shop discussing the issues the Catechism raises in the order it raises them. Though intending to be theologically accurate this is not intended to be academic. The goal of my comments is to encourage your thoughtful and devotional engagement with the Christian faith as it is expressed in the Catechism. I want you to not just know what the Catechism says about God. I want to encourage you to reflect on its meaning and implications.

To this end, it is important to let the logic of the Catechism lead us. It’s important to begin at the beginning and to move thoughtfully to the end. There is no rush. It is okay to read one section per day, or less frequently, if that is most comfortable for you. Each is short enough to be read quickly, but substantive enough to encourage reflection. There is no rush.

The pastors and scholars who created this Catechism were motivated by a deep passion for God and for his people. They, like those who before them translated the Bible into English, took great risks so that they might remove “. . . the barrier between learned and unlearned by making Christianity fully intelligible in the common languages.” (Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things, pages 19, 20) This book does not reach the level of what they accomplished, and the only risk I run is that readers won’t like it. And yet I, too, want to make “Christianity fully intelligible in [today’s] common languages.” I want to bring the riches of this catechism before you in a way that both satisfies and further whets your curiosity. I will judge this successful if, when finished, readers love God just a bit more and are moved more deeply to glorify and enjoy him.

The Fool’s Wisdom

In my recent post announcing the “birth” of Something Worth Living For I gave readers the opportunity to suggest sample entries they would like to see.

The results have been many and diverse. Since I do hope to publish this someday (that is, I will want people to buy it!) I plan to limit the samples I’ll make public to two or three. Nevertheless, I am gratified to see such interest.

In considering this I am reminded how insecure I am. It’s one thing to put forward one’s creation, one’s art, to a publisher where it is seen by nameless people. But to post it here subjects it to the scrutiny of friends. I’m reminded of the comments of Patrick O’Brian in his novel The Far Side of the World when his naval surgeon Stephen Maturin is asked to read and make suggestions on a love letter a friend was composing.

“He had shown his letter to Maturin partly as a mark of confidence and esteem, being sincerely attached to him, and partly so that Maturin might praise it, possibly adding a few well-turned phrases; for like most normally constituted writers Martin had no use for any candid opinion that was not wholly favourable.”

In this regard, at least, I am a normally constituted writer.

Throughout this project there has been a voice in my head saying, “You are a fool for thinking anyone will care about this.” You may come to agree with that voice. But I’ve also realized that I’m okay with being the fool. Having just finished reading Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing I am again reminded that often it is the fool who sees things most clearly. I’m willing to be the fool with the hope that my fool’s clarity might be of help to someone, somewhere.

Watch this space, then, over the next several Saturdays. First, I will post a portion of the introduction so that you might sense the goal of the whole. Then, having randomly selected three sample entries from the suggested twenty-one (literally, I drew numbers out of a bowl), I will post one each week. I’d love to hear what you think. Though, as a normally constituted writer, I may have “no use for any candid opinion that [is] not wholly favourable,” I have found that all input, wanted or not, has value.

Something That Did Not Exist Before

Something Worth Living For is done.

Part One of Two

For the past several months, the most contented hours for me have the been the first hour or two of most every morning. Fueled by two cups of coffee, and encouraged by an ever patient and supportive wife and church, I have been at this desk with pen in hand or computer on lap and have revised and edited and re-revised and re-edited my book on the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

And it is done. Not necessarily well done or, in everyone’s opinion done well, but it is done.

My writing space and companions.

There have been happier moments over these months, certainly, from the mundane – laughter with friends and guests around our kitchen table – to the profound – my daughter receiving her doctorate. But these regular and repeated hours of writing have been times when everything else ceases to exist. It’s been work, but happy work. I have been moved to set aside these hours by an internal passion to put on paper what is in my heart. I read recently a line from a poet who noted the obvious fact that to create means to bring into existence something that did not exist before. I have been possessed by this crazy obsession to bring into existence something that did not exist before.

And now it does.

Audaciously positioned next to N. T. Wright and Mary Oliver.

Its 51,000 words and 200+ pages represent a couple years of my life. And during that time I’ve had time to redefine what success in this looks like. There is an audience who would find this introduction to historic Christianity helpful and even a bit entertaining. I believe that. But to the gatekeepers to that audience, that is, to publishers, I lack the credentials to write a book of theology and I lack the platform, that host of fans lined up and ready to purchase whatever might spill from my keyboard. Publishers depend on an author’s platform to make the financial risk of publishing viable. So I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that without a substantial platform or the energy or personal charisma to build one, there is a high likelihood that this will never find a publisher. And so success for me in this is that what once did not exist now exists and I am for the most part happy with it. That is enough.

Write, rewrite, and rewrite again.

One poet once remarked that a poem is never finished, just abandoned. This work, though finished in one way, is not in another. It is, we might say, medium done, not well done. I have put it on a shelf. In a month or two I’ll bring it back out and read it with fresh eyes making such adjustments as seem necessary. In the meantime I will continue to shop it to publishers (I’m 0-4 so far) and perhaps agents hoping to find someone willing to take a risk with it. Where it goes from here, if anywhere, is yet to be seen.

Many who read this blog, this silent, empty, nearly non-existent blog, have encouraged me in this. You have said you value my writing and my voice. But you have been rewarded for such encouragement by my on-line silence. That has not been fair to you, and I lament that fact. But I have found I cannot write a book AND at the same time maintain an active on-line. Your patience and your encouragement have been invaluable. I may post more frequently now, but I make no promises. I’ve done that before, only to break them when it becomes untenable.

I hope you share with me some of the joy at the book reaching this level of “doneness” as you have been hidden encouragers of it. That you have found my writing profitable and have said so has been an invaluable reminder to me to keep at it.

One thing I do want to do, overlapping the book and the blog, is this: I would like to post a few sample sections of the book to give readers a taste. But what sections? I leave that for you to choose.

There are 107 questions and answers in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. If you are unfamiliar you can find them online here among other places. Something Worth Living For gives brief (ordinarily 500-600 word) explanations (more meditative and reflective than technical) for each of those questions, either individually or grouped.

Here is what I want you to do: In the comments section tell me three of those Q/As for which you would like to read what I have written. If you want to simply write three random numbers between 1 and 107, that’ll work! The least I can do to make up for my months of silence is to post a few samples of what I’ve been up to.

I should add that this “game” is open to all readers. Not all of you are Christians and not all of you are Presbyterians like me. But I’ve not written this for an audience like me. I’ve written it for the curious, and all of you fit into that category. My goal has been to present historic Christianity in a form that captures the interest and engages the heart and mind of the curious.

So it is up to you where we go from here.

The Fruit of Freedom

Poor or destructive relationships persevere by one partner or the other closing their eyes to the other’s faults. In this case, I cannot any longer close my eyes to what I have seen. So I count the cost of separation and move on.

The cost cannot be overlooked. Since I’ve begun this process of separation, I’ve heard concerns about Amazon’s intrusion into the publishing side of the book business and fears that Amazon would disrupt the distribution of certain Christian books. Both concerns should lead us to rethink our addiction to that “Buy Now” button. The latter post says that we should “be willing to pay a small premium” to buy from independent booksellers. I agree in principle, but disagree that the premium is small. It is in reality over 40%, to which my ever practical wife says, “This means we can’t buy as many books for our grandkids.” So, yes. The cost of freedom is, in reality, hefty.

In return I can reasonably guarantee that the books I buy and give are the genuine article. I can be certain that the authors who work long lonely hours pursuing their dream get financial credit for that pursuit. I may re-learn something about the discipline of self-control and the joy of delayed as opposed to instantaneous gratification. And I can take joy in shaking a lonely, rebellious fist in the face of this enticing Goliath. And this is not nothing. My grandchildren may get fewer books but perhaps I can leave them, as well, a small legacy of resistance to the relentless commodification of life.

But it’s the personal gain that is the sweetest.

One Saturday afternoon I invited my wife on a journey. We made the 30 minute drive to WritersBlock bookstore. We browsed the nooks and crannies of its tight book-packed space. We chatted with the clerk who smilingly welcomed us, and we bumped up against, literally, other book lovers. I spoke to one person about poetry. I discovered in the children’s section that Kate DiCamillo had released a new book. I picked up a David Brooks book I’d wanted to read and Barb grabbed a thriller autographed by the authors, James Patterson and Bill Clinton. We pointed things out to each other, and felt in the end like we were a small part of a non-digital human community. For $60, it was a good date, and one that Amazon could never supply.

Years ago Charlie Mora, a good friend and mentor, passed away. When he died I made a visit to Demetrios, the Bradenton, Florida pizza house that he frequented. I knew they would want to know that they would not be seeing Charlie any more. I knew they would care, not about lost business but about a lost relationship. They were glad I had come by. They would miss him.

We may or may not ever develop that kind of relationship with local bookshops. But I wonder if there might not be great joy in the effort. Amazon will never care if any of us dies. But maybe we can again begin to live so that those around us in our neighborhoods and communities will know that we exist, will be encouraged by our presence, and miss us when we are gone. Some fear it “may be too late.” I say that does not matter.

The Courtship

It is great in theory to say that one will leave Amazon for other bookselling relationships, but there is a cost to be counted. I was unaware how deeply the grip of Amazon’s price and convenience had on me. To give these things up requires a determination that I’m not sure many of us will be able to muster. How attractive, I wondered, would the alternatives be?

One repeated recommended bookseller was Hearts & Minds Books in Dallastown, Pennsylvania. Tish Harrison Warren in her initial online comments about the counterfeiting of her book recommended this store. It met all my criteria but the local one. We also considered two local independent stores. One was Brightlight Books (which specializes in used books, and whose new selection tends toward the Christian/theological side of the book world) and the other was Writer’s Block Bookstore (specializing in the more general publishing side of things). All three assured me that protocols were in place to offer secure books.

Hearts & Minds lived up to its positive hype. I visited their site, browsed a bit, and signed up for their promotional mailings. Very soon I saw advertised a book that I had wanted to read listed at 20% off, so I ordered it. Their ordering process seems primitive in an Amazonian age. I emailed them the name of the book I wanted. They gave me the choice of paying for it in a variety of ways including their sending the book with an invoice. (What? They would trust me? Inconceivable!) For a non-local seller the process was oddly personal. There were a series of email exchanges and in 4 days from placing the order I had the book. Of course, having advertised the book, I knew they had it in stock. I have not tested their speed when the book is one they have to order. Nevertheless, their turnaround was quite impressive and the feel very personal.

Brightlight has been for years my used book source in Orlando. Having a storefront two miles from my house also makes it terribly convenient. For this test I only bought a new book that they had in stock – so the convenience and turnaround was solid. The owner tells me that if I want to order any new book I can do so by sending him a personal email. I’ve not had a chance to test that process, so I’m not sure how quickly I would get a book by that method, but it would be personal and close.

To shop at Writers Block Bookstore requires more of an effort on my part. Though it is a lovely and quaint physical space with, I am finding, delightful and helpful personnel, it is a thirty minute drive from my home and only indirectly on my way to anywhere. It has the charm that I associate with a local bookstore that makes me want to go, hang out, wander around. Unlike browsing on a web site, I can pick up books, feel them, flip through their pages. And, unlike an online store, I bump into other customers. Literally. There is a human engagement that feels right.

However, my tastes are rarely going to be found on the shelves of such a store. I ordered three books using their web site ordering system, two books I knew they did not have in stock and one that I knew they did. The process was not very efficient. The book in stock was available for pick up two days after the order was placed, though it was five more before I could get to the store to get it. The other two took about two weeks before they were ready for pick up.

So, same-day delivery is not going to happen. But rarely do I need a book immediately. I’ll give that up. But what premium was I willing to pay? What would it cost me in dollars? Quite a bit, it seems. The eight books I have purchased in this test run cost me 43% more than what I would have paid had I purchased them from Amazon. And that is where Amazon has its tightest grip on someone like me. My $500 worth of yearly new book purchases leaps to $715 if I abandon the Amazon ship. And for most of us, that matters.

Amazon is a cheaper and sexier date, by far. Still, I would rather pay the premium for someone whom I can trust, and who will carry on a conversation over dinner.

How to Leave Your Lover

Paul Simon tells us there must be fifty ways to leave our lovers. It’s a pretty cold prospect. In my case, I was not worried about hurting Amazon. “She” would get over it. My departure would cause no emotional upheaval. I doubted she would even miss me. Which, in a sense, is part of the problem that our increasing online existence creates. The need for any human interaction disappears. The world becomes one large, impersonal vending machine accessed by my laptop or tablet or phone. I have no need of speaking with any real person. This cannot be good for us.

And so I needed to leave. But how?

In searching for a new book-buying relationship, I had four criteria.

1. Secure – I wanted a source that had a clear chain of possession that would guarantee that authors would get their money. Amazon sold counterfeits. Did others? I wanted to make sure, as much as possible, that they did not.

2. Independent – I could simply shift my business from Amazon to Barnes and Noble. There is one nearby. And yet, all large chains, from booksellers to hair-cutters to coffee sellers, encourage a homogenization that strips personality, and the personal, from the experience. In some cases this can encourage comfort – miles from home I can be certain of what I’ll find in a Starbucks. But a chain cannot imprint its own personality upon a business in ways that an independent vendor can. If you have seen You’ve Got Mail, you know that Fox Books can work, but not in the way The Shop Around the Corner does.

3. Local – Independent booksellers locally operated not only meet the first two goals, but in order to survive have to know their communities. They are parts of their community and that is reflected in the character of the store. If they do it well, we who frequent their stores understand that we are supporting those we know and in a small but not insignificant way sustaining our local economy more than that of Seattle or New York City.

4. Complete – I am looking for a source that can pretty much take care of all my diverse reading habits, from theology to kid’s books, from history to science fiction. I am willing to consider two sources if need be – one specializing in Christian publishers and one in the more general publishing world. However, I’d prefer a single source.

Twitter friends at this point generated several recommendations that met the first two requirements. Of these, I eliminated seminary bookstores as being too specialized. Some recommended ordering from publishers – but my interests span so many different publishers that I eliminated this as being too unwieldy to be a solution. Christian Book Distributors (Now Christianbook.com) was suggested, but this source has the impersonal feel that I attribute to the large chains (and I have a history of resenting their unsolicited mailings).

There may be fifty ways to leave, but I only had time to court a few new booksellers. Three seemed attractive enough to pursue. And so the courtship began.

The Habits of Dependence

Amazon, how have I loved you? Let me count the ways.

Coming home after a day away, one might look forward to a spouse’s kiss or a child’s embrace or a dog’s leap. For some coming home has meant the joy and anticipation of seeing a package from Amazon on the front stoop. That thing we wanted and had to have which we might at this point have forgotten even though we just ordered it yesterday is there sitting, waiting, greeting us with a quick fix of acquisition. How did it get there?

There was a time when the thing I wanted, whatever it was, required that I find a store, climb in my car, trundle off to that store, pick the item, pay for it, and trundle back home. If I were truly efficient, I would bundle several such items together stopping at several stores and call it “running errands.” It was so truly labor intensive that one only did it when the objects required were really needed. Like toilet paper or the newest release from your favorite musician. Things not truly needed would evaporate from my mind and never be given a second thought, and never missed.

Books were a particular challenge. In college I could buy textbooks at one of the local college bookstores. For books that would feed my growing Christian curiosity, I browsed the Logos Bookstore in East Lansing, a small but richly stocked place for good books and engaging conversation. Back then Christian bookstores made their money from selling books not what Os Guinness later came to call “Jesus Junk”—plaques and posters and pens and the like. When living in Bradenton, Florida, books still required a trip to a bookstore – Walden Books in the mall or eventually the then intoxicating Books-a-Million – with occasional forays to Haslams the palatial used book store in St. Petersburg. For my Christian books I depended on the Cumberland Valley Bible Book Service in Pennsylvania. I phoned in an order which would be mailed to me, and I’d pay by check. All quite quaint.

Amazon changed all of that and I embraced it wholly. No more trips to bookstores. No more phone calls. No more real people. Amazon trumped all that with price, convenience, and speed. Even if Amazon’s prices were not ridiculously low, we would shop there for the convenience and speed alone. Now, within 60 seconds of deciding to buy a book I can order it and pay for it and before nightfall (or within a day or two at most) have it in my hands. If my taste is for Kindle, I can have it immediately.

Occasionally such speed has met a real practical need. But not normally. The fact is that such immediacy is intoxicating more than it is needed. Children demand immediate satisfaction of their wants. It is a part of growing up that we learn the wisdom of delayed gratification. Amazon removes that need to grow up. We can have what we want when we want it as soon as we decide we want it. Amazon has positioned itself to tap into our baser instincts and we have happily played along. We have grown so dependent upon this relationship that going back seems impossible.

But perhaps it is possible after all.

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