Christian Bookstores: On Product and Promise

Christian Bookstore: A store that sells Christian products meant to enhance the spiritual life of its patrons.

If you’re 13 and “totally into Jesus,” and if the summer stretches infinitely before you, you might find yourself at the local Christian Bookstore. A lot.

It is called Earthen Vessels, and you can bike there easily from your best friend’s house on Tanglewood. It is a veritable Jesus Superstore. Depending on how bored you are and how heavily humid the July weather is, you can spend hours here, wandering. Touching. Picking up and putting down.

You are a little intoxicated by all of these products. You start with a Jesus fish necklace, work your way up to the t-shirts. You buy your first Christian CD, the Newsboys Shine, which becomes your own kind of anthem.

For 25 cents apiece, you can buy little wallet-sized cards featuring graphically-enhanced Bible verses, and you buy them by the handful, hot glue them to notebooks along with generous amounts of glitter.

Book by pastel-covered book, you collect the entirety of a Christian teen romance series featuring a heroine named Christy Miller and her Jesus-loving, surfer boyfriend, Todd. You finger the delicate silver orbs of purity rings; you page through Christian bridal magazines. You begin to develop a picture of Christian dating and marriage that looks like the ending of a Hallmark movie.

Week after week, you plunk your babysitting money on the counter, and the white-haired woman rings you up. You feed that small flame in your heart with one Christian product after another, and you find that it works. That God-fire grows big and hot and wild in your heart, and then you are consumed by it.

*

Admittedly, I was not in the best place last night when I went to the Christian Bookstore.

The kids have been rising early, not napping, yammering from their bedrooms well past bedtime. And in between all that not sleeping, there is the whining, the tantrums, the hitting and pushing, the potty-training angst.

At Aldi, I thought I recognized a man from our church, but it turned out that I actually recognized him from Northgate Liquors…the emergency place I go when I’m out of Trader Joe’s Three-Buck Chuck. This is the kind of week it’s been.

I almost never go to the Christian Bookstore these days, but I needed to pick up something for our small group, and it could not be avoided.

So I went in, and it all felt so much like it did in Junior High that I almost burst into tears right on the spot. It’s got that Soft Lighting, the kind that says, “Hey sister-friend. Blessings to you.”

The worship music is somehow loud and quiet all at once, and I found myself tracing the old paths around the shelves.

It was simultaneously nostalgic and infuriating. I saw books that have been on my list to read; I saw books titles that made me want to scream in frustration.

I came across the most recent album by Jaci Velasquez, who I haven’t thought about in years, but whose song “On My Knees” I used to sing dramatically in the shower. She looks older, a little tired. A little different.  A little the same.

I stood for a long time in front of the massive display of Beth Moore Bible Studies, all these beautiful workbooks assuring an encounter with God. Promises. Products.

And the whole place pulses with it: the haunting implication that the answer is here, that God is here. That if you read this book or this book or this book, if you listen to this CD, buy this fancy new Bible with the pretty cover, you will find Him.

But somewhere along the way, the products stopped working for me. I have known the silence of God, weighty and dark and inexplicable. And though the Depression has lifted, I find myself now at the razor sharp edge of motherhood, where all of life cuts deep. The love. The frustration. The beauty. The anger.

I am tired. Exhausted. And there is no product for that. There is only a God who will not be packaged. A God wants my heart not my credit card. Who wants my quiet and my loud and my good and my bad. My sparse, distracted prayers. My sparse, distracted self.

Maybe he will speak to me through a “Christian” book. Or maybe he will speak through a novel or a magazine heading or a song I’ve never heard. That red-winged blackbird who comes back day after day to the same tree.  A brand new word from the lips of my 1 year old.

Maybe he won’t speak at all, but I will know he is there because of the way the sun rises over our pond.

The light comes, muted at first, and then the sun breaks through, stark and beautiful.

It is not the artificial light of the Christian bookstore, the kind that lulls me, sedates me. It is bigger. Brighter. Changing and unchanging. It is calling to me, and I am not “sister-friend.” I am “Beloved.”

The Light comes, free and mysterious and simple. It is all around me, and I find that it is enough.

68 thoughts on “Christian Bookstores: On Product and Promise

  1. I can really relate to this! Oh, the time I spent in the music section at our Christian book store in my teens! Ha!

    I’m always grateful for all of the great books I found at our local Christian book store, but if you’re not ready for the “experience,” it can be jarring!

  2. Oy! I got all nervous and sweaty just reading this. Those places make me really uncomfortable, they always have, even when I was that earnest youth. I have trouble with the sheer volume of words about The Word. It all seems so commercial and glaring. I also always feel this kind of, “you don’t belong here,” thing because the titles and the t shirts make me roll my eyes so hard I think they’ll get stuck. And here is the truth. The razor edge of motherhood? It never dulls. But thankfully, you don’t need another book. You need the kind of truth that can glow from a novel crafted even without Truth in mind. Ok. I’m done now.

    1. Sorry this made you nervous and sweaty, Jen! I think that Christian bookstores have they’re place, but you’re right. They’re definitely not for everybody.

      God often speaks to me through Christian books, the kind that would grace the shelves of these types of bookstores. But he also speaks to me through novels, such as the kind you talk about–that get at Truth without being being overt about it. I think both have their place and their time. But I also think it’s important to remember that just because a book is about Jesus, that doesn’t mean it is going to move me. Or that it should. I want to give myself grace to hear from him however he speaks, to see him wherever he shows up.

  3. Ohmigosh. Christy Miller. Jaci Velasquez. Hours spent under those lights… I feel like I just visited my junior high/high school years. This is so good, Addie. I struggle with Christian bookstores for many of the reasons why I loved them so much growing up – the promise.
    Thankful now for the silence – even when it’s difficult. I loved this :: “Maybe he won’t speak at all, but I will know he is there because of the way the sun rises over our pond.”

    1. Love finding people with the same Christian youth memories as me. 🙂 It makes me feel a little less crazy. And yes, I loved those promises growing up too. And maybe I needed them at the time to grow my faith. I don’t know. But I do feel like it created in me a false expectation of what Christian books (and products) should do. All products come with an inherent promise. But the only one who doesn’t break promises is God himself.

  4. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this. Looking back, it’s all a tad horrifying, and yet my memories…in some ways those were such special times. Christy and Todd – how can you ever forget those screaming silver-blue eyes, haha!! For a few months in 8th grade, I even wrote letters to my future husband..omg. And got mercilessly made fun of in school for it. And the Sierra Jensen spin-off? All of RJG’s books, even her adult ones, gave me such a love for the PNW, which I still have, even though I’ve never been there. And music….cheesy CCM was the bomb! I still have all my Audio Adrenaline concert shirts. Bloom was my first CD I ever bought – and I bought it before I even owned a cd player, LOL.

    Feelings and promises…oh yes. I know the emptiness of those quite well…but they do leave behind great memories.

    1. Yes, they were special times for me too. Though I wonder think that books like Christy Miller gave me a rather simplistic, fairy-tale version of God, I still feel a little happy and nostalgic when I think of all their shenanigans. Doug! Aunt Marti! Slick Rick. Oh my.

      1. I’m so torn about giving them to my tween daughter to read…she’s always looking for new series to read…and they’re so cheesy and safe…..but yeah, the fairy-tale God, I don’t know if it’s worth it.

        1. Honestly, I think it was more her spinoff “Glenbrooke Series” that created a “fairy tale” for me. Did you ever read those? It was this idea of this perfect little small town where all of your closest friends live. Where all of the Christians get along. Where all the discord is resolved once you get right with God. It set up unrealistic expectations for me that have been hard to get past.

          1. I will always have a fond place in my heart for RJG but the Glenbrooke series did foster this false idea of Christian perspective. And as I grew up, the more I realized the characters I so admired didn’t look anything like me or my friends. It was a bit disconcerting to realize Glenbrooke promoted more of an ideal than a reality.

          2. oh yes, I owned the whole series. I finally gave them away after reading For Women Only and being convicted that I was holding my husband (and life, now that I think about it) up to an impossible Prince Charming standard.

  5. As someone who works in a Christian bookstore and has for many years, I have to say that it is true that many people do come seeking products as the answer to deeper spiritual needs. I have been in Christian bookstores that seem to have a heavy fog of hypocrisy engulfing it. Yet, I have also seen and been a part of God’s actual work within the walls of the bookstore. It has been a privilege to be a part of being a voice of encouragement to a broken soul or one who can spur someone on to finding THE TRUTH. It can even be a place of generating ministry ideas. If the point of a Christian bookstore is about financial profit, then yes, it will be hard to avoid “product-focus,” but if the heart behind the Christian bookstore is ministry, “addicted to the service of the saints,” as it were, then the Spirit is present, needs are met, and lives are ACTUALLY changed. I hear what you are saying because I have seen it, but I think there should be more to the story. We don’t want to be guilty of limiting our understanding of what the Holy Spirit can accomplish because our perspectives of where He can and cannot work merely because He has often been quenched in a “product-focused” Christian bookstore. Maybe it is time for bookstores to change their focus to being more ministry-centric. Maybe it is time for us to open up to the thought that it is still people–God’s vessels—who make and sell these products. Yes, some are incredibly cheesy and elicit an eye roll or two from this employee. But maybe it will bless someone somehow. Who am I to know what the Spirit chooses to use to impact lives for His glory? Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom, and there is abundant life. And I want to be wherever the Spirit is working.

    1. Brittany, thanks so much for this thoughtful response. I sincerely hope that I didn’t offend you or diminish your work here. I know that Christian bookstores meet an important need and that God does speak to people through those books and the products. What I find difficult or kitschy, someone else might find life-giving. I recognize that we are all at different places, and I’m glad that these stores make it easier for people to find what they need.

      All I meant to do here is highlight my own tension. As a young believer, my faith was SO fueled by these sorts of books and music and products that it was so jarring when I found that they no longer “worked.” Here I was, reading all the same kinds of things, listening to the same kind of music, and God was not there.

      What I mean to say is that although God may speak through a Christian book, he doesn’t always. That while these books some do change your life, sometimes they just don’t. What I mean to say is that God is not a product, that he is not limited to the Christian bookstore, that he is working all the time, everywhere, if only I will open my eyes.

      1. Oh no, not offended, just wanted to offer another perspective from someone who has been involved with these types of thoughts for YEARS. And yes, I completely agree, God is not a product…if that were true, we could put Him in a box. 😉

  6. This was just right, I am right beside you in the hellish week and the need for a drink to transition from day to evening.

    Those stores make me feel nervous too, they offer a God who doesn’t really relate to my needs, the pre packaged guaranteed God. The “drink the kool aid” God that they want to sell us.

    I love being part of this blog community that assures me I’m not alone in my need for a real, bird on the windowsill, beautiful sunrise God.

    1. Almost Friday, girlie. We can do it!

      It’s such a mix for me. Being there, I was aware of the complexity. CDs like Gungor, a band that really speaks to my heart; and CDs that just really don’t. Books that explore God in a really complex beautiful ways, and others that feel to me reductive.

      Like I said to Brittany above, I recognize that people are at different places. What might be hard for me speaks to someone else. So glad that God is big enough to speak to us all in the ways we most need him.

  7. I rarely walk into Christian Books stores anymore. Maybe it is because of my finances, demographic, or the fact that I don’t have a car since moving to the big city. I get what you are saying completely. We all have tried to find Jesus in a box or a book or even in a beautifully covered bible. Prayerfully this leads to truly finding him within us and all around us no matter where we are at any given time. But, I do however remember really needing those isles to sit in and books to thumb through. A place to hear and see and touch something I had not touched before. A time in life when life was no longer as I knew it. A time in life when people walked out on me because I could not accompany them to the dark places anymore. That store did carry purpose for me and my family when we didn’t know where else to go, but we did know where not to go. I hear your heart Addie and find it incredibly beautiful and transparent as always. I am thankful I have grown, my family has grown and we no longer seek Jesus in places. But I once was that girl who did…we all were and some of us still are.

    1. Beautiful, Jennifer, thank you. Love this line: “I once was that girl who did…we all were and some of us still are.”

      I do honor the process and the places we find ourselves in it. This is not my case against Christian bookstores, it is my attempt to grapple with the tension I feel as I stand in those aisles, wanting to much to hear the voice of God, but knowing that it does not always come like I expect it or want it.

      1. I totally got your heart. I felt nervous after hitting the reply button praying my comment came across in love as it was intended to. I don’t know how I ever made it through seasons of my life not having women like to to help encourage and reveal my own tensions through their own.

  8. This is my story as well. I rarely step foot in Christian bookstores anymore, but when I do, there’s that simultaneous warm at-home peaceful feeling, and a just-under-the-surface distaste for the commercialism and the empty promises and the ‘faith’ culture that allows us to determine our Jesus-following by products rather than action. Thank you for this – it was beautiful.

    1. Thanks Suzanne. I’m glad you get the both-at-once kind of feeling. It’s such a weird thing. I almost sobbed at least twice while standing there in the aisles (but like I said, I was not in the best place to begin with…)

  9. Wow. You captured the atmosphere of Christian bookstores so well. I love what you said about it having all the answers. I used to read all those fancy teen devotionals and think I was taking in so much “knowledge” about God. However, when I was 15 they started to disgust me, then I didn’t know why. But, reflecting back on it, I think my teenage mind started to realize that God can’t be packaged, like you said. These devotional books were too neat for my teenage angst. It wasn’t until I went through college that I realized God’s whole creation is his “devotion” to us- in an even greater connotation of the word. Thanks Addie!

    1. Oh my word, I had so many teen devotionals. And teen devotional Bibles, with little stories in the margins. Excellent.

  10. I so get this! I was a teen who spent a lot of time in Christian bookstores (although I think I’m older than you are). Now, the nearest one is 75 miles away, and I don’t miss it. Like you, I hear God in different places. Maybe even in a rap song my teen plays while I teach him to drive.

    1. Definitely. I think some of my greatest spiritual epiphanies have come from songs that were decidedly not “Christian.”

  11. Dangit, I wish I could get your posts the day they’re published instead of a day late, cause I subscribe to comments after they’re all posted..

    Anyway, too much I would like to say here. Bittersweet situation. The ache of finding true faith. And then wondering what the hell it even is.

    1. It’s my fault. If I get the post up by midnight, it’s in people’s inboxes by morning. If I don’t, it doesn’t come until the next day. (Stupid Feedburner.) Lately life has been so crazy that I’ve been getting up at 4am to write.

      Regardless, the posts are always up by 8ish on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, so feel free to check in then.

      1. Usually I catch them on Twitter, but when I’m busy I don’t get on there as much and thus only see them on email the next day. 🙂 Not fussing at you, just wishing 🙂

  12. I THINK there are a lot of people who forget the fact that we are now turning to Christian blogs for the same stuff we used to go to the Christian bookstores.

    There was no Internet. No coffee shops with free WiFi where we could browse for hours seeing what other people said.

    Books and CDs were it.

    Aren’t we still the same people, desperately hungry for content written by other people who think like we do?

    Has anything really changed? Isn’t all this really just some computerized version of what Hallmark or Bible Bookstore used to be?

    1. This is a really good point. What’s also nice about blogs and the internet is that there’s no censoring necessary. One of my big frustrations with Christian bookstores is all that has to be edited out, what has to be “sanitized” to make it past the gatekeepers.

      Sometimes I think this idea that everything has been cleaned up gets people into trouble in Christian bookstores because it tricks you into thinking you can turn off your brain. In reality, we have to be thinking about everything, filtering and working through it.

      But, yes, I am very thankful that there are so many brilliant bloggers out there whose voices I resonate with. We all need the voices of others speaking into our faith — as you put it so beautifully: “Aren’t we still the same people, desperately hungry for content written by other people who think like we do?”

  13. Oh, Addie. This is marvelous. I have so much I could say, per usual. I have a complex relationship with Christian bookstores because I worked at one for several years. It was very much a life-defining job- I grew up so much and came to recognize many of my strengths. However, I also grew more cynical about Christian culture and faith in general- though not all due to the store, to be clear. Working at the store helped me become a more thoughtful consumer amidst what we derisively described as Jesus Junk. The Christian bookstore connected me with books that changed my life, which isn’t overstating it at all. Those books were harder to find amidst the bestsellers, yet they were there, and they helped restore my faith. They showed there were others like me, that it was possible to be a Christian with an outside the box type of faith.

    While working at the store, ministry occurred and it was beautiful when it happened. Connecting people to the products they needed often made a very real difference in their life and that of their family. We had our share of horrid customers, people more externally broken than you or I. What saddened me the most was how many customers showed no discernment about the products they purchased- any maybe the store was at fault for selling it or the publisher for publishing it. Slap the Christian label on it and it will sell. And so it continues to sell. I tried to do my part in telling people about the lesser known titles, the more theologically balanced books, the worshipful CDs. The Christian bookstore had so many sides to it, good, bad, and ugly. But these days I try to focus on the good. Though, interestingly, I rarely shop at Christian bookstores since the one I used to work for closed a few years ago. It had such a variety of product, making it easier to find the Good Stuff, that I haven’t encountered since.

    1. I love that. I think it’s great that you interacted with the products in an intelligent and honest way and helped people to find what they might actually need.

      The discernment thing gets me too. It seems like there’s this “safe for the whole family” mantra around Christian radio and bookstores, like everything in there is going to be GOOD and EDIFYING and RIGHT ON SISTER. But in reality, there are some really damaging ideas that sound quite “Christian,” that get published by Christian publishers, that find their way into Christian bookstores. There are knots in my past that were tied up in all sorts of books and ideas and theologies that I’m still trying to untie today.

  14. My brother who is a pretty brilliant guy with a PhD in Islamic Studies said one time “Where are the CS Lewis’s and Dostoevsky’s who don’t write Christian fluff but write great literature with themes of forgiveness, grace, betrayal and sacrifice” It’s probably been 8 years since I went to a Christian book store – not purposely but because there are none in my area. But what I really love about your post is that you do what you are gifted at doing – you lovingly deconstruct the ideas we have that God is found in our constructed packages, no matter what they be. This meant more to me than I can express. I too am tired. My 5th child graduated yesterday from an inner city school and as I sat with teen moms and broken families and kids that took 6 and 8 years to graduate from high school and heard 5 minute speeches from kids who have gone through such adversity to arrive on stage with their cheap black graduation caps and gowns, I realized that I have tried so hard to find God in places and spaces that seem more “God” like (whatever that means but I think you get it) and sitting there I felt surrounded by the love of God for broken humanity. There was no soft music or lights or Christian anything, but there was the presence of God. Thank you more than you know.

    1. Yeah, I agree with this comment. We want a fluffy God, a suburban God, a God who doesn’t get too close, a God who lets us do what we want and a God who is neatly packaged and sold for a few bucks. There is space for honesty in Christianity, and I believe that if we are merely honest about our faith and honest about who God is and what He really wants for us, which I think is a real living 24/7 relationship with Him everyday, we might begin to see some truth, instead of a sterilised germ-free one-size-fits-all God! I hope you get my drift?!

      A lot of what passes for Christianity is irrelevant, traditional and is just not reaching to ordinary, worn-down, broken people, someone like myself who is very much a Christian but who finds traditional organised Christianity tedious and rather boring. It also seems to be aimed at nice, white, middle class people who live in wonderful suburbs who’ve got it all together surrounded by other wonderful people who’ve also got it all together. Jesus came for broken people, people like you and me. When we package God up, and tie Him together with a lacy bow, we misrepresent Him, and we turn Him into something He is not. God is big and tough enough to deal with the real people we are, with real problems; we are all hurting someway, so we should stop hiding behind platitudes, however cosy they may be.

      1. Marilyn and Tim, I couldn’t agree more. I think that God is most evident when we’re honest about our brokenness. I love what you said Tim, about those bookstores feeling like they are for “middle class people who live in wonderful suburbs who have it all together…” It seems that way to me too.

        I’m sure that there are people who go into these stores thirsty and find truth that speaks to them. And I know that there is a certain packaging and marketing to ANY book in any store. But as I was walking around, looking at those titles, it struck me that life is hard. And yes, we might find some wisdom in some of these books. Something that helps us. Something that feeds us. But life is ALWAYS going to be hard because it’s earth and it’s broken and we all hurt one another. There’s no perfect solution or Bible study or translation that can make that go away.

        1. Hi Addie,

          I just found your blog, linked off of Full Clutch. (I find this ironic, as I try to keep my materialistic, fashion-loving side bracketed away from my ‘Christian’ side [as if that were possible]).
          Anyways, I really am touched by all of your postings and insights. Thanks for being so open and honest – I will definitely continue to read.

          Also, Amen to your description of the Christian bookstores! As a voracious reader, I worked my way through the young adult section of the local Christian bookstore until one day in my late teens I started to notice that none of the novel covers depicted anyone but Anglo-Saxon girls, more often blonde than not, with long flowing hair (bonus points for a prairie/Amish style dress, double bonus points for a bonnet). Then I started reading Stephen King.
          Again, thanks for your writing.

          1. I love that you found me through Full Clutch. (Makes my mustache confessions worth it!) Thanks for reading and for the comment — yes, those Christian romance novels do tend to focus on a certain “type.” I had forgotten about that…(though who could forget about all the bonnets). 🙂

  15. What was binging then is an o.d. now. Bernard was right. And as a heart longing to express and be heard, I am almost embarrassed to imagine I might have something transformational to say…for you to read. And now that I clearly know that connections and packaging are required, I guess I’d rather wait on the miracle of God. What I’ve heard here, Addie, is your consistent call to real relationship and faithfulness to the least of these. Ou market-driven way of life is IN us. May it be driven from us…

    1. “I saw books that have been on my list to read; I saw books titles that made me want to scream in frustration.”

      It’ll mean there’s one more book in the list to read category. : )

  16. Just another voice chiming in with memories of Christy Miller and Jaci Velasquez (I hadn’t thought about her in ages!!). Honestly, I loved those Christy Miller books, read them voraciously and many times over. I don’t know if I could read them now without rolling my eyes because it was all made so simple and, really, unrealistic. But I did love Todd and Christy…I seem to remember getting teary-eyed when they finally got married. 😉 (anyone remember ‘red light’?)

    Thanks for this post. The Christian bookstore can be a bit of a minefield, but it was a happy place for me too when I was a teenager, and I think I can be thankful for that. 🙂

    1. True confession: I still have all my Christy Millers. And my Sierra Jensons. I just can’t bear to get rid of them.

      1. CHRISTY MILLER!

        (Pause. I just came back from two weeks without internet, so now I feel like I’m gorging on your blog like a little kid gorging on Halloween candy. But I like it.)

        Anyway. I still have all mine, too.

        Someone actually donated a set to my classroom library this year, so I spent Christmas vacation re-reading them, trying to decide whether or not I wanted to put them on the shelf. It was such a strange turmoil: all this nostalgia overtook me, and I remembered writing letters to my future husband (letters which, by the way, always got shredded afterward), and I felt all the sickly-gooey warmth of adolescence rubbing itself all over me, and it was really nice but smelled a little like wet dog. Because, seriously, did I not notice how godly Toddly spent four years stringing Christy’s heart along?! (Oh, how I remember “red light.”)

  17. Ah Christian bookstores… seem to me to be more American than anything else. But, I digress, there is a ‘Pauline Media Books & Media’ store in the city where I live. I’ve bought stuff there, mostly different versions of the Bible. You are right Addie, we are trying to get a quick-fix of God through buying something, which is too neatly packaged for its own good. I think God speaks to us in so many different ways and we don’t necessarily have to be buying books or Christian cd’s (perish the thought!) or anything like that to be a Christian and get closer to God. BUT, it does prove to a certain extent that many people are hungry for Him, even though sometimes they may be looking in the wrong place after all.

    We want a pre-packaged God, with all the mystery and even danger taken out, so we can safely keep Him at a distance, not get too close, and where we all know where we stand; and God just isn’t like that! A relationship with God is unlike anything we really experience and something that can’t be fully quantified, explained or understood. We diminish God by trying to make HIm in our image, when in reality He made us in His image! He isn’t an American God, or a British God, He isn’t a Jewish or an Arab God, ‘He’ isn’t really a ‘He’ or a ‘She’, God is beyond definition and above anything we can really understand; and yet, He wants an intimate relationship with His followers.

    We can’t put a value on God because He is beyond price, and though I think Christian stores and bookstores have their place, we need to understand that God is bigger than all of these things, and even when we suffer or feel that God is being ‘silent’, His silence can still speak volumes; we need to get back to the Bible and we need regular heartfelt prayer; He will answer in His time.

  18. “I saw books that have been on my list to read; I saw books titles that made me want to scream in frustration.”

    I appreciated this balanced acknowledgement. : )

    I came from a small town, so for many years, we didn’t have a bookstore. We had a library, so what more did I need? Then we got a Waldenbooks, and it was a tiny paradise packed with so many new books the library didn’t have.

    The big town nearby got a Christian rock radio station in junior high, and it was located in a Christian bookstore. That store was far more spacious and tastefully decorated than the tiny Waldenbooks. It always felt . . . emptier. I don’t know how much of that was due to the spaciousness and how much of it was the perceived lack of books in that space. (I mean, if you have more space, shouldn’t you have more books? My personal preferences are clear as someone who lives in a sub-700 square foot apartment with 17 full-sized bookshelves . . .)

    The Christian bookstore just had far, far fewer books. It had more of a specific kind of books, but overall, it just didn’t have enough books for my taste. The library was cheaper and had more variety. There were safe and unsafe books there, and I had to learn to use discernment to read them. After college, when I worked at a huge bookstore, I felt the same way. So many books there, so many voices, so many places to listen for God . . .

    1. “So many books, so many voices, so many places to listen for God…” LOVE that.

  19. Wow, Addie. I think you hold the record for the longest comments in blogdom. Great discussion. When I moved here 15 years ago there was no Christian bookstore. And I came here to take a pastoral position. And you know what? Except for a local place to get confirmation Bibles embossed, I have not missed that AT ALL. I found rich resources in regular bookstores (2 of which are now gone – and we’re down to one) or online. And aside from good biblical commentaries for preaching, my richest resources have often been a.) well-written fiction (without the label “Christian” but often more deeply so than a whole lot of the stuff that does carry the label) and b.) well-written blogs. The schlock that is too often front and center I do not miss.at.all. Thanks for this thoughtful reflection.

    1. It’s pretty amazing. I think I struck a nerve! 🙂

      I’ve been encouraged lately by blogs too. They have become an indispensable spiritual resource for me. But wait…you don’t miss the Jesus-fish keychain display???

  20. Thank you for making yourself available to readers.
    twttter: ranetomlinson@world_repent

  21. God loves all of His children and we are all special to Him. Sometimes we go through things that may be difficult and it may even seem like the burden will never lift but eventually, light shines if we don’t become weary. I used to think that only some Christians were blessed but now I know that God is not a respecter of people; He wants all of His children blessed. It is so important that we keep our hearts open and our eyes on Him. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy ways.” Proverbs 3:5-6

  22. My Christian bookstore stage was actually after college, but focused on seminary bookstores instead. While I can get lost in the seminary bookstores (and a few privately owned ones too), the bright colors and cheap kitsch turn me away. I do wonder about where the line is – between reading the Bible for ourselves and searching out a variety of good guidance, or falling for someone else’s interpretation of what being a “good Christian” is without any true discernment on our part. Just as we can be drawn in by a charismatic preacher preaching/selling the “real” story, the flash and sparkle of a great line of products can leave us empty in the end. Our teenage theology often falls flat when we really open our eyes to the craziness of a life of responsibility to God.

    1. Excellen question, one I’ve asked many times, especially recently. I think it’s too easy to just accept the title “Christian” as meaning Biblically correct.

  23. I am in the middle of that week right now. Well, at the end of it really, but it doesn’t feel that way. Two sick kiddos (one is sick and teething, which is just not fair) and two very tired parents. “My sparse, distracted self. My sparse, distracted prayers.” Yes. Exactly. Thank you.

    1. Ohhh I know that week well. Hope that the weekend was restful and healing for all of you.

  24. A long time ago I applied for a job at a local Christian bookstore. The application process included a spelling test: Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, etc, etc. I did not get the job, probably because I was laughing through the whole test!

  25. I could get lost in a Christian bookstore for hours; it always made me feel so peaceful. But yah, many of the books and products make me mad or sad.

  26. Yes. Great truth. You nailed it–the setting, frustration, glossiness of it. The worst part is there is probably someone at some publisher somewhere trying to figure out how to package this post and some of your others into a book to sell on those very shelves.

  27. Just discovered you today. But maybe you are the one. The one to write “I Kissed ‘I Kissed Dating Good-Bye’ Good-Bye”? I’ve been waiting for so long. Think about it.

  28. Thanks. I loved this post. It so resonated with me. I’m a pastor who’s been around long enough to love and hate the Christian bookstore; who’s burnt out and on my way back to life. Bless you dear Addie.

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