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From time to time, librarians cull the stacks. They make decisions about what books to keep and which ones to pitch, donate, or move elsewhere. I am always curious about how they decide which of the old books are classics and deserve to stay on the shelf and which ones do not.

A friend of mine recently spent some time sorting through the children’s section of her small-town local library. One of the titles she decided to remove was the ominously titled, Billy Finds Out by Edna Trickey. In case you are wondering (as I did), apparently Billy found out that if the church building burns down, the church still exists, because the church is the people, not just a building. Not exactly the direction I imagined for a book of that title, but I’m glad it turned out okay for Billy.

Another children’s book, culled from the collection by my friend was You and The United Nations, by Lois Fisher, published in 1947. Fisher begins by explaining that “if you move back far enough, you get perspective” and that the world in action is mostly fighting. “Once upon a time there were many different peoples, separated by little fences. These fences were made up of mountains, rivers, oceans, jungles, and deserts. The fences were nailed together with prejudice, ignorance, and fear. Each nation thought IT was the most important.” However, as technology advanced quickly in just one century to include airplanes, radios, and jets, all of these nations became close neighbors. Then, according to Fisher, people began to think about how they could live together as world citizens, which is how the United Nations began. Initially, it was just an idea, but then people “put their thoughts into action.” She explains the formation of the organization to promote peace and cooperation around the world and explains the various parts of the U.N. in a way that is accessible to elementary aged children.

Fisher also makes this commentary on wars and fighting: “Of all living things, men and ants are the only ones who go in for organized destruction of their own kind. Ants will continue to practice the art of war. But men have the power of reason. Men should know enough to fight their real enemies-ignorance, hunger, disease. It is plain silly to fight each other.”

After many conversations about our own country and the current escalations of violence this week, I had another conversation about the fighting within the denomination of the Reformed Church in America. There certainly is a great deal of fighting going on. But when Fisher published this little children’s book in 1947, there was a great deal of fighting as well. It does seem silly to fight each other, in many respects. So often I hear people talk about how much smarter and more intelligent we are in the 21st century, usually encapsulated in a phrase that sounds something like, “but NOW we know…”

Do we? Or are ignorance, hunger and disease (or a virus) still the “real enemies” and it is “plain silly to fight each other?”

Lois Fisher, You and the United Nations, Chicago, IL: Children’s Press, 1947.

Rebecca Koerselman

Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in Orange City, IA.

7 Comments

  • mstair says:

    Dunno if I am grateful for your sad reminder today…

    Last thought from your closing – some see it as plain silly, but most of us (human species) see it as the first-choice-solution … praying “not this week.”

  • Daniel J Meeter says:

    It’s deep in us. Even in such language as “fighting this virus,” or “fighting poverty,” or “fighting racism.” I just heard it again from the “progressive” politicians I generally support. As I read the Psalms daily, I am reminded continually of “my enemies.” In Psalm after Psalm. What is this knack for antagonism in us? I think it’s not merely sin. Is it maybe (and I’m not being silly here) that we are omnivores? That, for the most part, while we can be peaceful herbivores, occasionally we are carnivores, and that means aggression and killing and some violence of some kind, even if it’s just against a chicken or a fish. It’s why I like church buildings–they tend to be sanctuaries of peace, which is why I’m glad that it’s essentially true that the church is not a building, it’s experientially true that it is.

    • Rodney Haveman says:

      As a vegan (and I will not get high and mighty and judmental), I think violence to animals is a profound problem for us, animals (really us), and creation. It is worth a conversation for Christians whether we move to veganism or stick with carnism.
      A good book for the discussion in churches about our treatment of animals would be, “Why do we love dogs, eat pigs, and wear cows?”

  • RLG says:

    Thanks, Rebecca, for a very simple and reasonable explanation for the United Nations and for a reasonable approach to solving problems whether on the personal or international level. I think we tend to fight because our own security and comfort is threatened. Think such an approach could work toward solving racism, or some of the problems the RCA and CRC faces? The United Nation approach, that you explain, doesn’t seem to be the approach of our denominations. Maybe it’s time to get reasonable. Thanks, again, for your insight.

  • Pam Adams says:

    Rebecca, As someone who taught Children’s Literature for a number of years I would have liked the books that were culled. Were they culled because of wrong thinking or for some other reason? The first one about the church is so very true and the second one as well. It is strange that they were selected for culling because they show the universal thought of people about important issues. Thanks for sharing.

    • Rebecca Koerselman says:

      As far as I know, they were culled because the library is tiny – one room – and those books had not been checked out in 20+ years 🙂 Thanks for your comment, Pam

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