Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Old Books, II

Recently I had an occasion to sort through a lot of old books. It was the lifetime collection of a minister, ranging from simple tracts to preaching handbooks, to mass market inspirational works. And lots and lots of penny wisdom--daily devotionals, quote books, gift books, going back for years. I always check for inscriptions, and these had dozens of different names, so he must have picked up many of these from used book sales. The highest brow thing I saw was a copy of William James' Varieties of Religious Experience.

Whenever I'm occupied with this particular activity, my mind slips into an empathetic mode, wherein I imagine--and "imagine" is probably the key word--that I can feel the original owner's personality. I've rummaged through pastors' collections before, but this one was vaguely disappointing. So much of it was just treacle to me--moreso because of the cumulative effective of examining so much of it at once. Obviously many of these books had been bought, flipped through, and shelved, never to be opened again. Others had been attentively highlighted and underlined. But nothing much in the collection really grabbed me, not even the century old tomes, which usually draw me most.

But, I reminded myself, this was a working, real life pastor. He wasn't reading these books for entertainment, but to minister to his congregation. A common touch was what was required.

Going through several decades of books, you could fleetingly discern the changing times and the unchanging message. Most notable was the increasing presence of psychology, with self-help books coming into full bloom by the Seventies. Most everything before mid-century was starchy old-time-religion. There were a smattering of late 1960s social gospel books, as dated as a nehru jacket with their harping on "relevance" and their dedication to The Church Of What Is Happening Now.

The Seventies were the golden age of helmet-haired evangelists. The author photos on the flap copies of books from that time showed smiling, beefy-faced men with coifs that had only recently been abandoned by hip secular youth, and sideburns that would have done a Civil War general proud.

And by the Eighties we start getting into the full tie-in packages: Book, workbook, study group guide, maybe an audiotape, etc. There wasn't much beyond that period of time. He must have retired around then. And if he's gone now, may God rest his soul, and may He bless all the lives he undoubtedly touched.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.

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