It took me a few months to actually read the Worship Directory I had plucked from the paper. For many weeks it sat on my desk, growing crispy from the sun. One morning I realized that the newsprint would soon be too faint to decipher, and only then did I sit with it for over an hour, carefully going over the names of the various denominations. It occurred to me some options were missing—one just down the street from my house wasn’t listed—so I consulted the phonebook to fill in the gaps. The religious landscape was even more confusing than I had imagined.
I tried to decide which option to select. Go to the one closest to my house? The one whose representatives come to my door? Should I attend with my church-going friend I met volunteering at the local animal shelter? How about the biggest, modern one that sits on top of a hill and looks poised to stab passersby with its giant cross? Or should I pick an older, more traditional-looking building with a picturesque steeple? But how would I know which was the absolute best fit unless I had experienced the entire spectrum?
My husband plunked his beloved volume, History of the World, into my lap. “Read,” he said, pointing to the open page. “The Protestant Reformation,” the text was labeled. Over several paragraphs, I learn the condensed version of the story: the devoted monk in medieval Germany whose dissatisfaction with the prevalent Catholic leaders of his day led him to challenge their interpretation of Christianity. His bold gesture of posting an outline of complaints to his local cathedral door is credited with starting a wave of religious rebellion throughout Europe. I suppose I had been taught the broad strokes of these events in high school, but presented in too dry a manner to stick with me.
So, I turned to history for guidance. From our colonial origins, the United States has been largely a Protestant nation. Even today, of the 76 percent of Americans who identify as Christian, over half belong to a Protestant denomination. So what better place to start than with Martin Luther, the “father” of the Protestant Reformation?
I went online to order a book about him. The one I selected was called Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World. I picked it because of the title, it sounded so authoritative. I thought: this is just the thing to start me on the scholarly path of religious knowledge. I eagerly awaited the arrival of my tome.
Two weeks later, I came home from walking the dogs to find a big, square package. Too wide to fit in the mailbox, our mail carrier had propped it against the garage. What’s this? I wondered, ripping into it.
My book! Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World.
The cover, realistically rendered in gloomy colors, showed an unsmiling young monk holding an old scroll against a wood door.
But, wait, my tome was no thicker than a magazine.
Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World is a picture book for children.
At first, I’m annoyed. Now I have to repackage the thing, send it back, hassle with customer service. Then I stop that line of thought. This whole project is about learning to see things differently.
I’ve heard people say that the funny little blips in life, the quirky twists of fate, are the quiet whispers of God. If this is one of those, I thought, God is hilarious. I was being put in my place, but gently. “Not so fast, kid.” I imagined the words blown by the wind. “You have a lot of growing up to do.”
Something clicks, some spark of recognition, and I promise to take note of all the goofy things that happen along this journey—even if they are ridiculous or seem to take me backward instead of forward. I’m likely to learn as much about God from these as I am from sermons or the Bible.
I decide to keep my picture book, and set it where I can see it every day.
I also decide to use the local college library from here on out.