Don’t show me no picture show or give me no book to read,
It don’t satisfy the hurt inside nor the habit that it feeds.
I need a shot of love, I need a shot of love.
Bob Dylan, “Shot of Love” *
Dylan was onto something went he wrote these lyrics. I like receiving books as gifts, but depending on the occasion I can also be a bit leery of it. I look at my bookshelf now and recognize a number of books I received from friends and acquaintances who, by their gift, were trying to get a message to me without having to say it themselves. When someone has listened to you preach only a few short weeks and then hands you a copy of Reaching Out without Dumbing Down for you “to keep”, well, it doesn’t take much brain to get the hint. I remember once, just after starting my ordination training, someone forwarding to me a newspaper article about how the quality of Church of England ordinands was in serious decline. With friends like these……
I’m guilty too. There have been times when I just knew that if my friend would read the book that I found such a help, they too would be helped. And indeed, I’ve had some success with my strategic book-giving. But where does judicious help cross the line into manipulation? Dallas Willard, in The Divine Conspiracy, suggests that manipulation occurs when we presume for ourselves a position of authority to judge the motivation and actions of another, and we indirectly try to influence those actions to seek an outcome which gratifies ourselves. We consider another inferior in some way and we pull a few strings to effect a change that will make us feel better. Manipulation is ultimately selfish in nature.
“I need a shot of love” says Dylan. Love, of course, requires us to be motivated not by our own interests, but by the interests of others. Giving a book may be the right thing to do, but only if it is not ourselves whom we are really trying to satisfy by our action.
Please don’t stop giving me books as gifts! But first give me your love. And if what you really want is for me to change for your sake, just ask. I may do so, or I may not. Either way, you’ve saved yourself the cost of a book.
* (Artistically, Bob Dylan’s albums from his so-called “Christian years” are generally considered not to match his true genius. Having said that, I hope my children remember to play “Every Grain of Sand” at my memorial service, when the time comes. I read somewhere that U2’s Bono considers it to be one of the best songs ever. I know it brings me to tears almost every time I hear it.)