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Clutter Not, That Ye Be Not Cluttered

By Steven Bishop


This past week, I went a little Marie Kondo on the bookshelves in my office. If you don’t know who Marie Kondo is, she is the star of a Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo and the author of the best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, now published in 30 countries. Her secret for tidying up is to be guided by the principle of keeping what “sparks” joy for you. Rather than focusing on what you don’t want, focus on what makes you joy-filled. Her advice goes so far to suggest that one should keep only 30 books! She later clarified that if this causes you something less than joy, then the advice is not for you.

Many who read this blog probably exceed Kondo’s suggestion by factors of 10, 20, or even 30! Generally, I think it is not the books themselves that spark joy but what is in them. But there are some books we keep for sentimental or historical value and not because of their content. I own several books I have not read because I collect first editions of a particular author. I started collecting because I love the author’s work, but then the collecting itself sparked joy. So I own a few books that I will not read because doing so would weaken the binding and decrease their value as rare books.

The books from my bookshelf that found their way to Half Price Books this past week filled two large boxes. They included a large commentary set I have had for 30 years and a number of original language reference works. I was less motivated by the lack of joy these books gave and more by the realities of technology. The books I sent to a new home are all on my laptop in digital form. The Bible software I use has digitized, hyperlinked, and made searchable a growing number of resources an Old Testament scholar needs. Within seconds, I can find all the references to an obscure grammatical construction that would have taken an hour in my old 10-volume commentary. That sparks joy in me! I have all the content without the clutter!

Marie Kondo’s advice is enlightening when it comes to discovering what sparks joy in us. A possible outcome from contemplating her advice might be a re-evaluation of our relationship to material things. It might also result in an intentional examination of what surrounds us and what fills our life. Can I identify, easily, what inspires joy in my life? Or have the distinctions in life begun to run together so there is no texture in my life? When I apply the idea of clutter to the non-material aspects of my life, I think of busyness. What is in my mental landscape that causes everything to appear disordered and confused? What worry or fear is cluttering my emotional vision so that I cannot reach for that thing that can spark joy within?


What sparks joy in you?

How can you attend to your joy today?

Dr. Steven Bishop, associate professor of Old Testament, came to the Seminary of the Southwest in 2004 from the Boston area, where he earned three graduate degrees and taught at several universities. Formerly an ordained minister of the Church of Christ, he served churches in Texas and Massachusetts before beginning graduate studies in the early 1990s. Dr. Bishop’s academic interests include the poetry of the Hebrew Bible and literary translations of it into English, and the influence of Hellenistic thought on Hebrew wisdom literature. In addition to writing book reviews and presenting scholarly papers, Dr. Bishop assisted the well-known Old Testament scholar Bernhard Anderson in editing and revising two books: Out of the Depths: The Psalms Speak for Us Today and Contours of Old Testament Theology. Dr. Bishop worked again with Anderson as an editor and contributor for the fifth edition of Understanding the Old Testament, published in spring 2006. In 2015, Dr. Bishop was elected to the steering committee of the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars.


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