“Thank you for calling. My name is Olivia. How can I brighten your day?”
I blinked, momentarily stunned.
“Well, I think you just did,” I said.
Olivia laughed. I laughed. We continued the phone call, taking care of business — reservations.
The plan is to attend a Christian writers conference this October. Since I do not relish the thought of sleeping in my car, I need a bed, and a nice shower during the conference. Perhaps a good cup of coffee at 5 a.m. Those kind of reservations. I was a little rusty with making the call. It’s been four years since I’ve attended an in-person conference. Four long years.
So much life has passed through my doorway of time in four years. So many moments. Family estrangements. Family reunions. Children learning, growing, fledging. Spinal surgery. Learning how best to avoid mountain bike crashes. Church home changes. Two books self-published. A global pandemic. The death of my dad.
And now, this new moment.
I’ve been to this particular conference before. Four years in a row in person and two virtually. But in this year, and in this time, I better understand the GRAVITAS of word stewardship.
Scripture tells us a lot about words.
- God created everything by words. (Hebrews 11:3)
- Jesus is The Word (John 1)
- Our words carry the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21)
- We are either justified or condemned by the words we use (Matthew 12:37)
A lot of weight there in our words. Best use them well. Thus, the conference. Thus, the phone call . Thus, Olivia’s simple question.
“How can I brighten your day?”
A tiny part of me wanted to know the history behind those six words. Did she come to the job with this cheeriness? Did her parents teach her the value of a good word spoken in due season? Did everyone at this particular hotel greet folks that way? But another part of me didn’t want to spoil the moment either. I wanted to think Olivia meant those words just for me, just for that specific phone call, for that specific reservation mission. I wanted to believe she genuinely wanted my day to be bright. In that moment I needed a flesh-and-bones, walking, breathing, fellow sojourner to care that the darkness was threatening to swallow me alive.
Most recently that darkness came from one of the places I used to call a place of refuge: the library.
A few months back our hometown newspaper published letters to the editor from concerned citizens regarding some materials in the children’s and young adult sections of the library. One such item is a graphic novel. And, yes, it’s graphic. Pornographic.
The initial letters to the editor contained valid concerns. The letters quoted ver batim from the text in question. When the newspaper printed the letter, it redacted the language because the language was so inappropriate it could not be printed in the newspaper.
Let that sink in for a moment.
From those first letters the battlelines were drawn.
Signs popped up in yards and in the windows of downtown businesses. They read: “Libraries are an available source of knowledge. The freedom to choose is a fundamental right. Libraries put the unity in community. Religious bias needs to be left at the door.”
I heard murmurs regarding “those people” – meaning conservatives – in public spaces around town.
Because I’m a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ, I am one of “those people”.
I honestly did not know there were so many people in my home town who passionately supported and affirmed the LGBTQIA+ ideology and agenda, and who were also so vehemently – and loudly – opposed to people who believe like I do – that all sin is cosmic treason against my holy God; further, that sexual sin manifested according to the LGBTQIA+ lifestyle is not just a sin, it’s an abomination to my holy God.
Opposing letters ensued with a fury. Accusations of homophobia, religious bias, small mindedness, and intolerance spewed onto the pages of the paper. That lasted for several weeks, and then the paper took a break from anything editorial, choosing instead to publish one entire page with only two words: Be Kind. Then, the newspaper apparently declined letters from Christians, but published a pro-LGBTQ letter.
Eventually, the library decided they needed to address the issue. They called a meeting.
In between the calling of the meeting and the actual meeting, the young one and I went into the library. It was a strange time. We were greeted by the staff in a way we had never been greeted before. One staff member went so far as to say how glad she was that we had come into the library. They had never been so over-the-top kind to me or to my daughter.
I left there that day thinking to myself: “That’s the best experience I’ve ever had at the library. I can’t wait to go back. I love my library.”
Then the meeting happened. The left attended en masse. The newspaper published a packed house “in support of” photo with a lengthy cutline detailing how people wanted to ban books, but the show of support for our library was overwhelming.
I didn’t go to the meeting.
I stayed home with my family. We ate dinner together. We read scripture together. We prayed together. These activities are our normal, family evening activities. We did not do those things because we are so holy and righteous. We fellowshipped, and read scripture, and prayed because we aren’t holy and righteous, but we need to be because God says to be.
Be ye holy for I am holy.
Leviticus 11:45; 19:2; 20:26; First Peter 1:16 KJV
Years ago, I interviewed our library director for an article about the library’s 100th anniversary. My hometown library is a Carnegie Library. Long gone is the grand staircase characteristic of so many Carnegie Libraries. Gone, too, is the classic library look and feel. Our library expanded and modernized. We now have a more concrete and steel kind of look complete with contemporary furniture and artwork.
In that long ago 100th anniversary article the library director said he didn’t censor or restrict materials. We went to the same church at the time. The sexual revolution had arrived here, but it remained below the surface in many ways. On the whole, it seemed people still loved children and cared about protecting them to a greater degree than now. In fact, the library’s own policy on Internet usage includes a stated agreement that the user will not access sexually explicit material on library computers and that if they do access other types of offensive material online, they will practice common courtesy toward others who might be walking past and be inadvertently exposed to such offensive materials.
I know this because I did my research. I went back to policies. I looked up and read everything I could regarding library and patron rights and responsibilities.
While we do have rights to choose from a multitude of offerings, we also have a right to protection from what society has generally considered to be harmful materials, and a responsibility to shield and protect others from our choices which might be harmful to them. These are not new policies regarding rights and responsibilities.
One must beg this question: If we have safeguards in one place, why not in another place especially when that other place is where young people tend to hang out? Have we forgotten to be kind to one of the most vulnerable among us?
Yes, yes we have. Even in my small town.
Somehow, the argument from those who want so much for obviously pornographic material to remain in our young adult’s section has become this: Conservative religious people want to ban books because they hate gays.
But you see, I don’t want to ban books. I also don’t hate gays. I just don’t think it is appropriate to have any kind of pornographic or sexually explicit material in library sections specifically tailored for minors. Minors like my fourth grade, nine-year-old daughter who is reading at a seventh-grade level.
The conclusion then, is that there is no place for conservative religious people in our library.
There is no place for people like me.
But I want to like my library. You see, I value books. I’m a writer. I appreciate the convenience and the breadth of information on the World Wide Web accessed through search engines, but there is just something about doing the work of hands-on research that is pleasing to me. What better place to do that work than the library? Our taxes go to support the place. The bookish smell is hard to beat. And, well — there are books there.
So, we went back to the library. The young one wanted to learn about fish and fishing and lures and such. Not open sea fishing, just down home, Kentucky kind of fishing. I figured the library had to have something suitable. If not in the children’s section, then for sure upstairs in the adult nonfiction stacks.
I was hopeful. Happy. Mother and daughter going to the library. That wonderful place of books.
When we crossed the threshold, my heart froze. Every single staff member – save one – sported a rainbow lanyard.
To me this was a show of solidarity, of fraternity, of a clear social and moral compass rose.
Now, I don’t go into the library with the expectation that every book will be a Christian book. I don’t go into the library with the expectation that every staff member will be wearing a What Would Jesus Do? bracelet, or T-shirts adorned with scripture. But to go into the public library and see every staff member but one adorn themselves with the symbol of an entire ideological movement is too much.
The mission statement of my library reads as follows “The Paris Bourbon County Library strives to be the best possible public library by being deeply empathetic of the needs of people we serve and supportive of each other’s endeavours.”
Rainbow lanyards are indeed supportive, but not to me.
The mourning began that day. Sincere grief filled me. I mourned a loss so deep that I carried the burden of it for several days. I tried to write it out. I tried to pray it out. I tried to process the how and the why of these mysterious effects on my heart. I tried to process alienation, fear, anger, disbelief, rationalization, sadness.
Then, another moment happened and I had a paradigm shift.
A few days after the rainbow lanyard day, I sat at my kitchen table and talked out my emotional response with my husband. I was truly grieving. It was a grief that hung from me. I felt the weight of it like trees feel kudzu. My husband leaned his back against the kitchen sink. He crossed his arms. He listened. He nodded. Then, he spoke.
“Maybe they are wearing the rainbow lanyards for different reasons. Maybe they aren’t showing as united a front as you think they are,” he said. “Maybe one person wears it because she’s got a family member who’s gay and she wants to show her support for her family member. Maybe this man over here wears it because he completely buys into the ideology and wants to trans all the kids. Maybe this other person over here wears it because she’s afraid what will happen if she doesn’t. Still, there’s another person over here who doesn’t even know why they wear it.”
I chewed on that for several hours. It’s good to hear different perspectives on a matter. It’s good to think, to weigh my heart and mind in God’s balance. Still, my husband’s gentle answer to my grief left me with a type of dilemma.
I could go on thinking that the entire library staff – save one – had climbed on the LGBTQIA+ bandwagon. I could continue to presume they all believed, and supported, and pushed the very worst, left-leaning, radical, subversive ideology that captures global headlines. I could think all these things without hating them. Or, I could do the hard work that I was resisting the most.
It’s easier to assume someone is an enemy than to do the work of proving that assumption true or false.
Now, a digression here because of words. An assumption is a belief about a person or a situation that has no backup. A presumption is a belief about a person or a situation that has a probability based on present proof or past performance.
For example, it is safe to presume that the foaming at the mouth animal currently charging at me with deep throated snarls and bared fangs is intent on my harm and eventual demise. It is an unfair assumption to believe that every adorable puppy will turn into foaming at the mouth animals who charge at people with deep throated snarls and bared fangs.
What is the difference between this safe presumption and this unfair assumption?
Time. A series of moments to observe, assess, and act. These things take patience. These things take care and compassion instead of dismissal and disdain.
These things take work.
We revisited this topic at the dinner table that night. The Lord had pricked my spirit with the truth in my husband’s words. I had a responsibility to find the best, godly way to respond. Not just for me, but also for our daughter.
My friend Rachel has four children. She home educates. She’s a pastor’s wife. She has several degrees. She’s in God’s word daily and you can tell by the way she acts and speaks that her primary allegiance is to God. She says one of her goals is to avoid raising little pharisees.
It’s a worthy goal. It’s a hard goal. I don’t want to be a pharisee, let alone raise one.
I want to be someone who loves like Jesus. I also want to be someone who maintains the ancient boundaries. Because I am human, sinful, and imperfect, there is often a tension between these two wants.
Jesus got close.
I sometimes have trouble getting close. I like the orderliness and protection of boundaries. I actually like following the rules. If I, as an old person, struggle, how must our nine-year-old struggle?
Deep wisdom is required to navigate this journey well. Deep wisdom is not often found in total isolation. Thus, the dinner table conversation. We re-hashed the library visit happenings. My husband repeated to our daughter what he had said to me. Then I asked the question: “How would we know the reason behind someone wearing the rainbow lanyard?”
Silence filled the air. It is good to think before speaking. I saw our young one processing the question and possible answers.
“We’d have to ask.”
From that point, we ran scenarios. This, too, is a good thing.
We started with potential questions we could get close enough to ask: “Why do you wear the rainbow lanyard?” and “What does the rainbow lanyard mean to you?” Then we sifted through potential answers:
“Because my brother is gay.”
“Because I want to trans all the kids on the planet.”
“Because I don’t want to lose my job.”
“Because love is love.”
“Because rainbows are pretty.”
“Because I hate religious homophobes.”
“Because it reminds me of God’s promise to Noah.”
Then, we ran through God’s answers to each of these statements found in the Bible. The conversation took time. Moments well spent in a necessary heart and mind training session. We don’t want to freak out our daughter, but we do want her to be prepared. We do want her to see the world and her place in the world through a Christian worldview. That is kindness in parenting.
But why? Why go to all the trouble of working it out?
Because I want to love God well. I want to love others. And, I want to go to the library and take my daughter with me.
Because I love stories.
Because I’m a writer.
One week after the rainbow lanyard day, we returned to the library. There were still staff members wearing rainbow lanyards. There was still a sorrow in my heart.
I didn’t gather my courage and ask the hard questions we had gone over at the dinner table. It was neither the time, nor the place. But I did look at the rainbow lanyard wearing staff and see them differently. I still believe there is no place for pornographic material (gay or straight) in a library department designed specifically for young people. I still believe everything about the LGBTQIA+ agenda is rebellion against God and His created order. I also still believe there are some very good things in libraries.
Maybe even still room for good things to come. That is, if Christian writers don’t give in or give up.
For now, in this moment, I look at the hotel confirmation number and I think of my conference registration and I smile a little. I think about the scripture, and the truth, in Proverbs 15:23.
A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth and a word spoken in due season, how good is it!
Christian worldview-based conferences help writers to know how best to form the answers of our mouths, and how to identify good moments in due seasons to use them.
In a world full of various and sundry words, I am not alone. The way, in this moment, is brighter indeed.