Monday, March 24, 2014

So a post-evangelical walks into a Christian bookstore...

We left our Bibles at church one day, each thinking the other had grabbed them.  Our hands were full of the regular things (coats, a diaper bag, and a toddler clutching his coloring sheet) so we didn't realize we'd forgotten them at first.  Later, when we tried to retrieve them, they were nowhere to be found (this is one of the downfalls of church meeting in a middle school).

That bible had been special to me, a gift given by a sweet friend in college.  I didn't want to replace it because I wasn't ready to admit that it was actually gone.  But after a month or so, I gave in and told my husband with a sigh that I was ready to buy a new one.

"We'll need to find a Christian book store."  I was not enthusiastic.

"Look on Amazon." He suggested.

Caleb knows that I prefer to shop online for most things, so I know he was trying to be kind.  But you simply can't buy a Bible online.  At least, I can't.  I have to hold it in my hands and feel its weight.  I need to be sure there is enough room to underline and write in the margin.  I want to turn the tissue-papery pages and feel the leather cover.  (Of course, it is a luxury to be this choosy about a new Bible, but since I was paying money for one, I wanted it to be the right one)

As much as I dreaded it, I had to go to a Christian bookstore.

There was a time when I loved Christian bookstores.  It used to be my place.  After all, I love books and I love Jesus.  Surely this was the perfect combination.  But my faith has changed over the past few years.  I have fought with (and against) Christianity.  I have struggled to find a place in the Church and struggled even more at finding my voice within the Church.

Part of me wanted Christian bookstores to still be my place.  To go back to a time when Christianity was easy and comfortable.  When I didn't have so many questions.  Or (more accurately) when I just didn't ask those many questions.

But I went anyway, begrudgingly, but knowing that it would probably be good for me.

As I pushed open the doors I remembered what I disliked about these stores: it was Christianity commercialized.  Kitschy plates and figurines.  Bible verses snatched from their contexts to be embroidered on bags and t-shirts.  "Christian romance" books.  Little bits of Jesus packaged up into bland communion wafers.  Books and movies were tidily arranged, but I couldn't help but think of the Christian publishing world and how it isn't always so Christ-like.

I located the Bible section, and soon was opening up the boxes to find the right one.  A few aisles up, I noticed that they had a section for Catholic Bibles, unusual for these types of bookstores.  I nodded with silent approval.

Tired of my search for the right Bible, my toddler son raced down the aisles, his internal GPS lead him straight to the very thing I had tried so hard to avoid: the singing vegetables.

"Come on, kiddo!  Mama needs your help to pick one!" I said, scooping him into my arms.

As I carried him back, I kept an eye on the shelves we passed.  This bookstore surprised me.  All the kitsch was there (of course).  But so too were Bibles containing the Apocrypha.  And cards for the saints.  And toys that weren't outwardly religious.  The line between sacred and secular was just a little thinner here.  The lines separating denominations were less noticeable as well.  I liked that.

I said before that I struggled to find a place in the Church.  But that statement wasn't completely correct.  I am struggling to find a place in the Church.  Present tense.

I know when I'm not welcome somewhere and it feels easier to slink out the backdoor, unnoticed, than try to fit in.  I don't want to make a scene, so when I disagree with someone at Church, my natural tendency is to brood silently and then leave to find a place where I am accepted.  I haven't actually done that yet, but I have thought about it more than once.

That bookstore brought me a bit of hope, in a strange way.  Walking in, I was sure that the store was going to fit a narrow demographic of Christians.  A demographic that didn't include me.

Deep down, I think I'm waiting for someone to tell me that I'm not a Christian if I hold to certain beliefs.  Or at least not the right kind of Christian.  That seems like a silly, irrational fear, but, truthfully, many Churches and Christians would classify me that way.

The bookstore gave me hope because it was a small sign that evangelicalism might be changing.  That there might be room for ecumenism.  That there might be room for me.


  1. I hear you Callie! I heard Ann Voskamp say this: "The gospel became a message in Jerusalem. It moved to Greece and became a philosophy. It moved to Rome and became an institution. It moved to North America and the gospel became an enterprise." I've been mulling that over for weeks!

  2. That is a great quote, Beth - I hadn't heard/read that before! It is very unsettling to see Christianity turned into a business.


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