Tuesday, May 21, 2013

On Receiving a Free Book in the Mail

I think I might have mentioned this a time or twenty, but I love books. I love them! Even books I don't love, I wouldn't want to see destroyed. There is power in story-telling. There is power in the written word. This is one of the tenets of my beliefs: Language matters.

After going to lunch with my family a few days ago, I arrived home to a familiar sight--a yellow shipping envelope with Amazon's recognizable typeset on it. I had a book. Like I said, this is a familiar sight. I order a lot of books through Amazon. Hell, I order a lot of books period, but I couldn't think of any that I had order recently. My last few purchases have been for my e-reader. I ripped open the package and found The Irresistible Revolution: living as an ordinary radical. I'm used to receiving books that are new to me, but I had never seen or heard of this book or its author--Shane Claiborne. I looked for a shipping receipt, but couldn't find one. On Amazon, for the three people in the world who don't know, you can leave a note and send a gift receipt with anything you are gifting, so this surprised me. It means I don't know who sent me this present.

Putting that aside for the moment, I flipped the book over and read the description where I learned that "Claiborne stirs up questions about the church and the world, challenging you to live out an authentic Christian faith." Here's the rub: I'm not interested in living as an "authentic Christian" because I'm not a Christian. I try hard to live and let live, but I'm an atheist and a humanist. Neither of which I hide. Whoever sent this book to me is connected to me--he/she has my home address--and either he sent this to me because he doesn't know anything about me or because she knows things about me and wants to tell me I'm wrong.

I don't mind having a discussion about religion or politics or any topic. One of my closest family members, D, and I have discussions about faith and religion and our worldviews regularly. And our worldviews are not the same. If she sent me a book about Christianity, fiscal conservatism, or anything else, I would read it because she respects and values my opinion, and I feel the same about her. But, and this is a big but, she would tell me she was sending it. She would ask before she sent it. She would follow up with questions on what I would recommend she read, so that our discussion can be a real discussion.

As it turned out, a different cousin sent it to me. He and I haven't spoken in a long time. Somewhere along the lines of three or four years. We, on occasion, comment on the same Facebook statuses, but we don't have that much to do with one another. We live states a part and always have, plus he's a few years older than me. A few months ago, he asked me for my address, and now I have received this book. I sent my cousin an email expressing my unease and unhappiness with this "gift." It came out of the blue, with no note, no explanation. It is a book that has nothing to do with the way I have chosen to live my life. Apparently, my cousin's feelings were hurt by my email stating these things. He thinks I overreacted and misconstrued his intentions. He said he sent the book because he thought I would enjoy the message and because he knows how much I like to read. He asked if I would recommend a book on secular humanism, and he would read it.

We have exchanged a few emails now about this, and I hope we are on a better footing, but it has made me aware of a few things: 1) I don't like being given unsolicited religious books. 2) I don't really like the proselytizing or teaching aspect of explaining my beliefs to someone that I'm pretty sure won't like them and only view them as a reason for further witnessing to me. 3) I will read anything if someone asks me to. 4) I really should get over that. 5) I hate confrontation, even if it is amiable. 6) I love keeping in contact with my family, but if the only reason you want to talk to me is to discuss religious beliefs and points of view, I'm not sure this counts as keeping in touch. 7) How do you tell someone you have no problem becoming re-acquainted, but the current conversation isn't how you want to accomplish this feat?

After emailing back and forth more, I don't think my cousin was trying to hurt my feelings or be disrespectful. However, I don't think his motivation was as "pure" as he thinks it was. I'm curious about the motivation to witness, and I'm curious as to why I'm the object of this witnessing. The only thing I can think of is that I'm the youngest of the cousins. Most of our family likes to read, but I'm the only one to receive this book. Why? Why not send it to my cousin D? She is a Christian and very interested in discussing different aspects and manifestations of Christianity. Why not send it to my sister or D's sister? They are both avid readers; they are also humanists, liberal, and share many of my beliefs. The biggest thing I have learned about myself in this exchange is that these issues fascinate me, but I don't really enjoy the process of discussion and confrontation.

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