Titles by Kij Johnson are available for purchase online

The Lutheran Handbook, from Augsburg Fortress, 2005.

I was raised Lutheran, next to a Lutheran Church, with a Lutheran minister for a father. I can still recite chunks of Luther’s Catechism, which we had to memorize during confirmation classes (which took two years). Dad’s office was in the church, so my brother and I went over and played there sometimes, crawling under the pews, or looking into the dusty recesses that made up the back side of the Catholic-style high altar, where we found gigantic brass vases for flowers, and a vacuum cleaner. I snuck up the tiny stairs into the pulpit (the lavalier mic, a red-backed hymnal, and coughdrops), opened all the cupboards in the kitchen (more pans than I had ever seen, even in a store, and sometimes racks and racks of tiny communion glasses, no bigger than my thumb, drying for the next time), the vestry (dad’s albs and stoles and the hangings for the church, and why did we just use boring old green for half the year, when we had white and purple and red and even pink and black, which we never used?), and his office (the mimeograph machine, waist-high stacks of bibles and hymnals, Dad’s old sermons on little yellow cards, a white cabinet full of old bulletins, enamelled pins for service in their boxes, emergency safety pins for brides).

I am no longer a Lutheran, nor even a Christian. I saw this book somewhere a few years ago, and picked it up, mostly because it made me think of my dad (and I always like that); but also because Lutheranism — my dad’s Lutheranism; the low-church, inclusive sort — was once a part of who I was…and that means who I am. The book is an often-humorous, idiosyncratic introduction to Lutheranism. What’s the family tree of Christianity? What should you do with your church program after you’re done with it? How do you banish the devil from your presence? What is the liturgical year and why? How do you work for peace and justice for people who are poor and oppressed? It also has my dear old friend, the Catechism, at the end, and I am reminded again, not to murder or covet my neighbor’s house, and that I cannot by my own reason and understanding be saved.

Does this book stay as one of the 1000? No. It’s charming, with rounded corners and cute art, and it reminds me of one way faith can look, but still, no. If I want to remember my dad as a minister, I have a copy of the old red hymnal, the one with the liturgy I still sing in the car, the one I paged through during services, reading the verses for all the hymns we never sang. If I want to think more about what it means to have been Lutheran in the 1960s, I’ll write about it. If I am thinking again about belief, this won’t be the path for me.

Next book is also something that connects to my past a few years later, Sex Tips for Girls, by Cynthia Heimel. Ah, the sweet, crazy 80s.