Rankin File

Ruminations, fulminations, and cogitations on the spiritual life

Why I Love Books (the real paper variety)

I just got my most recent copy of Christian Century and opened it to find the interview with Warren Farha.  Warren owns and operates Eighth Day Books in Wichita, Kansas.  With waves of nostalgia wafting over me, I read the interview.  Asked the question, “What do you think about the future of print?” Warren replied, “The book is a discrete object that changes your life.  [  ]  My first copy of Mere Christianity is 40 years old now.  I can see the marked-up pages, the squiggly blue ink, the now falling-apart copy, and I remember the experience of reading that book.  These books are bethels–stones of revelation.  They are sacramental objects.”

I could not agree more!  In fact, I feel his comments so strongly, I actually got a little choked up reading them.  I had to resist the temptation to go to my bookshelf and pull down one of those marked-up, worked-over, falling-apart copies.  It made me think of similar experiences I had with reading Lewis’ books and lots of others.  It made me think of the books I inherited from my preacher father, with his handwritten marginal notes.  It made me smell that familiar smell that theological libraries all seem to have.

Warren’s thoughts come not from mere nostalgia.  He refers to the neurology of reading e-books: “It is missing the parts of your brain that access deep attention and long-term memory.”  (I don’t know if Warren is right about this, but it makes me think of the physical act of writing, rather than keying thoughts into a computer.  Students listen up!  The physical act of writing notes in a class is more effective at memory and re-call that using your laptop!)  There is simply nothing like holding an actual book in your hands, feeling the paper, arguing with the author, engaging the mind.

Thank you, Warren.  May Eighth Day Books prosper and continue to bear fruit.  (And maybe you could think about a branch in Dallas…)


May 3, 2011 Posted by | Books/Publishing, Religion | , , , , | 2 Comments

Barnes & Noble Reality Check

The Sunday after Christmas, I was browsing the religion section at a Barnes & Noble in Oklahoma City. The “Christian Inspiration” shelves were a hodgepodge of darn near anything, going light years beyond what I think of as inspirational. Some good books, I found there, several I’d like to read (e.g. Scot McKnight’s Blue Parakeet). Some other books that I’ve read (e.g Tony Jones’ The New Christians). And then, of course, a spray of all sorts of books, from smarmy sentimentalist glop to apocalyptic rants (e.g. John Hagee) to the enlightened conspiracy theories of various Dan Brown knock-offs.

Then I ran across this book, with a cover that seemed to fit, entitled Dirty Word: The Vulgar, Offensive Languages of the Kingdom of God, by Jim Walker. I scanned the back cover. “He’s the pastor of Hot Metal Bridge,” I thought to myself with some excitement. I had heard of Hot Metal Bridge, a cutting-edge United Methodist ministry in Pittsburgh, PA. Then I looked at the publisher: Discipleship Resources. “Wow!” I thought. “How unusual it is to find a Discipleship Resources book in Barnes & Noble.”

(Just in case you don’t know, Discipleship Resources is the imprint of the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship. They publish all manner of books on various – you guessed it – topics related to practical Christian discipleship.)

And then I caught myself listening to myself: “How odd to find a Discipleship Resources book in a Barnes & Noble.” How odd. How sad.

How do I say this? My little “moment” reminded me of just how out of it we United Methodists are when it comes to impact outside our denomination. I don’t know how many titles from Discipleship Resources that you have found at a Barnes & Noble. My very superficial quick-search turned up exactly zero additional ones. If anybody can show me otherwise, I’d be happy to have you change my mind.

Many United Methodists talk as if our legacy of influence (the 19th century up to the middle 20th century, mostly) were a reflection of the way we are now. But outside of United Methodists, who listens to United Methodists? Who is reading our authors? Our scholars? We have some outstanding scholars and some great church leaders who are also authors. But really, who is reading them outside the denomination? By comparison to other, national-level Christian authors, we are vastly under-represented.

We’d better wake up. We have to quit just talking to ourselves. I’m not at all worrying about denominational prominence or even survival. Frankly, I don’t care much about either. But we do have something very important to share – and to share it broadly. We have stuff to say that people need to hear. But we have to find a way to say it that connects.

January 2, 2009 Posted by | Books/Publishing | 2 Comments


American Christianity needs a wake-up call and some new books are giving it. For example, find a copy of David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons’ book, UnChristian: What a new Generation Thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters (and settle in for an old-fashioned trip to the ecclesial woodshed). It comes from research done among 16-29 year olds by the Barna Group, for which Kinnaman is the president. Each chapter but the last deals with a particular criticism leveled against the church. Here’s a sample: “judgmental” (no surprise), “antihomosexual,” “hypocritical,” and “too political.” Maybe the most damning of the chapters is, “Get Saved!” (yes, the exclamation point is actually in the chapter title). It shows how we have reduced the Christian faith to a momentary and often fleeting decision associated with an evangelistic invitation. It gives young people the feeling that they’re just notches on our spiritual gunbelts; not really friends or even people, just projects.

Possibly the most important factor in this book is the make-up of those who responded to the questions. They are not the “never trieds” who have had no contact with the church. On the contrary, they have been in our youth groups and our worship services. They know us firsthand. They have actually experienced the judgmentalism and hypocrisy that they name. They really gave Christianity a serious trial-run…and we failed them. The trend among young people, according to this book, is to become more suspicious and distant from organized Christianity.

Since I work on a college campus, I spend a lot of time with young people. Even among the committed Christians, there is a level of frustration with organized Christianity that I don’t think I’ve seen since maybe I was a college student. We Boomers thought we were changing the world, but instead we became part of the system. We therefore have some work to do. For starters, we need to humble ourselves and listen – even if (especially if) what we hear from young people is harsh and strident. Second, we must move over and let young people grab the controls. I don’t mean completely. I’m not calling for absolution of responsiblity. Rather, we need to stand beside and work with young people as we share leadership with them. I’m talking about real change and all change is difficult, even when it is desired.

Truthfully, we need not worry about young people leading the church. Many of the great historic movements of the Spirit have come through the leadership of young people. For you United- and other Methodists, Francis Asbury was 26 years old when he came to America as a missionary and was 39 (maybe 40) when he became a bishop! Modern Protestant missions can be attributed to the leadership of young people. Have you ever heard of the Haystack Prayer Meeting of 1810? What eventually became the World Council of Churches grew out of several movements that can be traced back to Dwight Moody’s gathering university students at his Mt. Hermon center in 1887.

I work in a so-called mainline denomination. I’m 53 years old and still considered one of the young ones in the ministry. It’s spooky. Half of our clergy will reach retirement age within the next ten years. We can change the way we relate to young people. We must change. They’re going to lead somewhere and we don’t want to miss it.

December 12, 2007 Posted by | Books/Publishing, Christian Spirituality | 5 Comments