Thursday, October 22, 2009

The odd hardcover book

I grabbed my copy of William Barclay's commentary on Romans this morning to examine his thoughts on Romans 14. My Christian Doctrine professor, Mr. Fisher, frequently warned us against using Barclay as he denied the miracles of Jesus. Or at least that is what I recall him saying. Still, good ol' Bill has helped me understand the Jewish-ness of the New Testament, and I find that he adds to my understanding of scripture more often than he takes away from it.

The book is part of a complete set of Barclay's Daily Bible Study Commentary. My associate, Wally, has his commentaries scattered in scriptural order. All the Luke commentaries, followed by those from John, then Acts and so on. I prefer to keep them in sets. There is something about having similar bindings together that gives me a feeling of orderliness. My College Press commentaries have faux marble dust jackets and sit on the second-to-top shelf. Keil and Delitzsch, with their gold lettering on brown cloth reside on the Old Testament section just above James Smith's five volume Old Testament set. I know where they all are and they, staring at my back while I work, seem to know where I am, too.

The sets look uniform. All of them, but the Barclay, that is.

Bill's books are nearly all paperbacks. Most are blue; a couple are green; and two are even hot pink. And one - Romans - is the lone hardcover, a cloth-bound island in a sea of paperbacks.

The hardcover - the only one in the series that I ever paid for - I purchased from Claudia McGilvery, the proprietress of The Christian Bible House in Kokomo, Indiana. Claudia and her husband, Bill, were members of the first church I served full-time, the Kokomo Church of Christ. Her cramped little bookstore on Lincoln Avenue was longer than it was wide, and it was packed from floor to ceiling with books, curriculum and all manner of teaching aids long before WWJD bracelets and "Bud-wise-up" t-shirts began littering the Christian landscape.

I don't remember why I bought the book. I was a youth and music minister back then and preached maybe three, four times a year. One of those must have been a sermon from Romans.

Normally, a multi-colored, odd-book-out set would offend my sense of order. (The more cynical reader might say, my obsessive compulsive disorder.) To the contrary, the motley assortment of colors and coverings is a reminder of how I came to own them. They were gifts from Violette.

Claudia was amazing, so when I moved to Butler, Indiana to become the preacher at the Butler Church of Christ, I was surprised to find another, equally godly Christian bookseller - Violette Patee.

Violette was a pioneer in Christian retailing. I could write a whole column about her alone - how she went sixty years without missing a Sunday; how she broke her leg on the way into church, taught Sunday school, and then went to the hospital to have it set. But the lasting impact that Violette had on my life is in my library.

One October - it was pastor appreciation month - Violette sent our church secretary on a clandestine mission to find out what commentaries I had, or rather didn't have. When she learned that my "set" of William Barclay consisted of my lonely Romans volume, she gave me a couple more to keep him company. The next year she did the same. Occasionally one would show up at Christmas. Before too many years, the set was assembled, as Johnny Cash sang, "one piece at a time, and it didn't cost me a dime."

Violette passed away one August a few years back, and I was privileged to preside at her funeral. And yet, years after her death and over a decade since she gave me the first of many, many books, I can't pick up one of Violette's books without feeling the imprint that she left on my life.

My Violette books are emblematic of my life, really. I am who I am because, like my library, people have contributed to me bit by bit, patiently adding worth here and there, refining, carving, and polishing. There is very little that I have achieved on my own. (Is there anything at all?)

And for that, I am grateful.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Awesome Frank. And Violet was a special lady. I recall thinking at her funeral what a joyous occasion it was, and though a different thought than I'd had at any other funeral; it felt right.

Scott - Butler, IN