Parlor Walls and Their Contents

We live in a neighborhood of townhouses, so we all have the same basic floor plan. The front room is a living room, and with several windows in that room, we can easily see how big our neighbors’ televisions are on our evening walks. Even when the blinds are closed, there is always a tell-tale blue glow coming from each house.

Since our floor plan only has one wall upon which these giant televisions will fit, they tend to be in the same spot in every townhouse in our neighborhood. As we walked back to our house a few nights ago, the kids had the lights on and the blinds were still up so we could see inside very clearly. It struck me that we have two big bookshelves in place of the giant television.

I already knew that of course, but I saw it freshly that night. Instead of a giant glowing parlor wall, we have books. I had the momentary thought that I needed to hurry inside to close the blinds before the firemen saw them.

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Just because we have a wall of books, doesn’t mean we are better than our television-imbibing neighbors. If we placed a cross-section of the average Barnes & Noble in our house, we’d be subject to the same influences. Most best-sellers are just as base as any prime-time television program.

My wife is working on systematically reading through a section of our books and some of them are being culled from the collection as she does. I appreciate her efforts to separate the wheat from the chaff. Until 1948, the Catholic Church maintained a list of prohibited books, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. It was officially abolished in 1966. We generally recoil at the idea of censorship today, but self-regulation is a mark of maturity.

Instead of focusing on what not to read, we should focus on the good, on finding things worth reading. The list of books I recommend and endorse for reading is much shorter than the ones I don’t. As I have written before, I tend to judge people by their bookshelves (or lack thereof). Though it’s not our reason for choosing books, allowing my neighbors to see books on our wall instead of a television does make a statement, if anyone notices.

Everything we do or don’t do makes a statement about who we are and what we value. I want our bookshelves to be excuse-free. Someone should be able to look at our books and get a pretty accurate reflection of who we are and what we value. I don’t have to agree 100% with every statement on every page, though. I will retain the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology as reference works, even though I have significant issues with parts of both.

What we value enough to give predominant placement in our homes is not something we should take lightly. Not only because others will judge us by what they see (or don’t), but because the environment we shape for ourselves will in turn shape us.

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