Don't burn your books

Andy Rau

Modern culture offers us so many convenient ways to destroy books that we don't like. We can throw them in the trash. We can tear them up and run them through the shredder. We can put them out on our driveway and run over them with our cars.

Given all these options for getting rid of unwanted books and media, why is the First Assemblies of God youth group in Minot, North Dakota burning them in a bonfire? [Link goes to a blog post about the story; here's the actual story in PDF format.]

A youth group at First Assembly of God church held a burning Wednesday night by burning anything they wanted to get out of their lives that they feel is hindering their relationship with the Lord.

Some of the items burned included CDs, DVDs, magazines, books and anything else they could think of. But unlike the negative connotations burnings are generally associated with, this burning was intended to be a positive event for everyone involved.

I'm absolutely fine with getting rid of stuff that hinders one's spiritual life, but book burnings? Burning stuff is probably cathartic, and there's Biblical precedent for it. And obviously this is completely innocent and well-intentioned. But to an outside observer... I mean, the Nazi comparisons pretty much write themselves.

Having disposed of numerous books and possessions that were hindering my spiritual growth at different points in my life, I offer this much easier Guide to Getting Rid of Spiritually Harmful Stuff (no open flames involved!):

  1. Pick up the Spiritually Harmful Object.
  2. Go outside to the nearest dumpster. (Or the appropriate recycle bin, if you're feeling eco-conscious.)
  3. Throw the Object into the dumpster and go back home. (Throwing it in the trash can at home is even easier, but ditching it in a public dumpster makes it much harder to renege on your pledge later that day and retrieve the object from the trash.)

I hope it's clear that I'm being somewhat facetious here. I really have no problem with the Minot youth group burning their own books and CDs. But why are Christians drawn to these melodramatic displays? Everybody's spiritual journey is unique and personal, and what is fine with one person is a spiritual stumbling block for another. So if that Coldplay CD is getting between you and God, just get rid of it--quietly, quickly, and privately. Yes, the sorcerers in Acts 19 burned their scrolls as a public statement. But Jesus also preached the virtue of praying in private to avoid any hint of a "holier than thou" attitude. If you really must subject that book to the cleansing flame, go ahead and do so--but in the future, for the sake of the people who will read about you the next day in the news, can we at least steer clear of the "crowd tossing books onto a bonfire" imagery?

Topics: Music, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Books, Theology & The Church, The Church