Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

For APRIL 24, 2005


Forget the wheel -- imagine the world without paper!


            Once again I am thinking about piles. Like death and taxes, piles will not go away. So I have been pondering my piles. Why are they there? What do they mean? What can I learn from my piles?

            Aside from a few piles of clothes, what I observe in my home and my office are piles of paper. Indeed, most of my piles are piles of paper.

            Why piles of paper? The obvious answer is that I have difficulty throwing paper away. Daily stuff comes in the mail that I think I may need later so I save it. Not all junk mail is junk to me. I open practically every piece of mail.

            There may be a gardening tip, a quotation, or a story that might be used as a sermon illustration, so I save the papers. Why? Saving stuff is a family tradition so I keep it going. My parents saved everything – from rubber bands to paper clips. Even a short piece of string is worth bending over and picking up; you never know when you may need a piece of string.

            Now and then I go through my piles of papers and actually throw some pieces away, but not the whole pile. I will save some and add to it, as new papers come to my attention.

            I have file drawers full of papers – newspaper clippings 50 years old that I have hauled around just in case I may need one of them for a story or a sermon. Over the years I have pulled these piles out, intending to discard them. Then, as I begin looking through them, I decide I cannot part with them. Why I really cannot say.

            I have a file full of sermon notes, some written, some scribbled on sheets of paper and old envelopes. Some of them date back to the beginning of my ministry when I began preaching in 1951. Are these notes valuable? Not to anyone but me, I suppose. Why keep them? Because I cannot throw them away.

            Years ago I read a book about how to get organized and save time. The author offered several good ideas. I was impressed. One idea I remember well – try to handle a piece of paper only once! What a challenge that has been for me. I know I would have fewer piles if I could do that but I read a piece of paper and then put it in a pile so I can read it again later, and again, and again.

            There is no telling how much I could have accomplished in my lifetime had I learned now to handle a piece of paper only once. Now, at my age, I guess it is a bit late to start the habit so I plan to stick with my plan – handle a piece of paper as many times as I want to.

            Glancing at one of my piles, I notice a letter from “Citizens Against Government Waste.” The writer describes how my ten dollars has helped save American taxpayers over $758 billion. My children know I have wasted a lot of money, so I am saving this letter so one day they will know how I helped fight government waste. Without this piece of paper they will never know.

            In the same pile is a copy of “Imprimis,” the speech digest of Hillsdale College in Michigan. The April issue provides a fine speech by historian David McCullough. How can I throw that away? I may want to read it again or quote from it in an article of my own about “Knowing History.” So my pile of paper grows higher.

            Paper, of course, is important not only to me but to the entire world.  We learn news from our newspapers. We paste pretty paper on our walls. Our Bibles, magazines, and books are printed on paper. Our food is wrapped in and protected by paper. The calendars we use constantly are printed on paper. Neither business nor government could function without paper.

            We use scores of paper products daily in a hundred different ways. While plastic has made inroads into the paper business, it will never serve us as many ways as paper does. A birthday card sent by email is nice but not nearly as treasured as one printed on paper that arrives in the mail!

            For writing and drawing, nothing is more widely used than paper around the world. Everyone knows that paper derives its name from papyrus, used first 5,000 years ago by the Egyptians, then later by the Greeks and the Romans. The papyrus plant was abundantly available along the Nile River. The Egyptians made papyrus, or paper, by slicing sections of the flower stem of the reedy plant, pressing them together, and then drying them. The result was a mat upon which information could be recorded in writing.

            Paper as we know it, however, was not invented until the beginning of the second century AD. It seems fitting, since everything seems to be “made in China,” that paper was first made in China by a man named T’sai Lun from Lei-yang. He is known as the father of true paper or the patron saint of papermaking.  

            Gradually the secret art of papermaking spread to other countries though it was not introduced in Europe until the 12th century. Three centuries later Johann Gutenburg printed the first Bible using movable type and the rest, as they say, is history.

            I mention all this because of the enormous debt we owe to the discovery of paper. Some say the greatest invention of all was the wheel. Perhaps so, but imagine what the world would be like without paper! Think how polluted the air would be if everyone had to communicate by smoke signals.

            So what is the meaning of my piles of paper? They tell me that I am still here, and I am still thinking. That is reason enough for me to keep them out of the incinerator a while longer. Do what you must with your own. + + + +