Music,Mayhem and Bookselling
These shoes have seen some strange streets… Bruce Cockburn sang years ago, in an alliteration that always makes me smile. It’s how I feel half the time as we lug boxes of books here and there. Maybe a third of
our business comes from hauling books places and usually we are grateful to set up in classy digs like hotels or conference centers, which are more interesting than church basements or campus classrooms. We’ve set up outdoors and in little motel rooms; don’t even get me started of the strange streets we’ve seen. One of the more exotic locations for graying literary types like us is our annual foray into the annual Purple Door Arts & Music Festival.
Some of you may know of the largest Christian music fest, Creation, or the more edgy and thoughtful Cornerstone Festival (or the famous Greenbelt event in the UK.) Purple Door is the central Pennsylvania version of something between Creation and Cornerstone. There is hard, hard music, which attracts over 5000 serious fans---pierced punkers, neo-hippie nomads, hm head-bangers and angst-laden artistes. And, of course, tons of fairly normal kids, painted up for the day. There is what seems like miles of aisles of “merch” (band paraphernalia, rock souvenirs, indie albums and all manner of alternative Jesus junk) and a few significant ministry tents. Co-sponsors include Messiah College, Compassion International, Walden Media, WJTL…We get to meet other folks who are engaged in ministry within the subculture----reaching out to skateboarders, cutters, those with eating disorders, the homeless, runaways, radical pro-lifers…there are good folks doing good work at this fun place. And, of course, the rock artists, or at least many of them, are serious about their music and intent on advancing in artistic ways the Kingdom of Christ.
We take our usual array of books, setting up ‘til the wee hours, praying for strength to endure the mayhem of heat, dirt, crowds and hours of blaring music---35 bands on 4 stages! The pictures above don't even come close to communicating the energy of this gig; the bookstore shots seem pretty peaceful, but were taken before the crowds arrived. (And of course, most of the crowds were outdoors; dress it up optimistically as I might, this isn't our most productive event. Jubilee, it ain't.) It is, though, the wildest place in which we try to engage in ministry and commerce.
Can such a crazy time and space ever allow for meaningful conversations? Can a kid sweating lime green (hair dye, you know) over her Celtic cross tattoos, plugged into an iPod, seriously entertain the thought that she needs to study and learn, to buy books, especially demanding ones about theology, worldview, cultural engagement, justice, spirituality, gender?
It can and she does. Some festival goers are young, so we take some pretty basic Christian growth stuff, teen novels, books for youth about modesty and chastity, getting along with parents or school. It is great to see 14 year olds wanting to dig deeper into faith.
A few of the intellectual types tease us good naturedly (well, mostly) for having lite-weight devotionals and books on dating and self-esteem next to Hans Rookmaaker, Francis Schaeffer, John Piper, Brian McLaren, Jamie Smith, James Sire, Miroslov Volf. And a few of those youth workers looking for simplistic reviews of pop culture---“isn’t there a book that tells us what’s safe and what isn’t?” ---were struck by our display of resources such as Romonowski’s Finding God in Popular Culture, the bunches of books we had on film studies, our Christian books on U2 or the exiting new Steve Turner, The Gospel According to the Beatles.
Mostly folks seem pleased to see our unique mix of titles. One guy from Portland who worked for Tooth & Nail Records ended the last late night by blessing us with conversations about great indie bookstores that he visits in his travels. A real reader! Who loves hard rock! And obviously a heart for the hurting, wanting to reach out thoughtfully and effectively. To be called “rad” by one such young leader was, uh, neat.
We hear---at professional Christian educators events, theological conferences, and, yes, at rad outdoor festivals---that not too many Christian booksellers promote Wendell Berry and Ron Sider, books on postmodernism and body image, racism and Reformed theology, or showoff the latest Sojourners (with their article on Anathello, who was playing outside our little room.) So thanks to all who visited us at PD, and thanks for those who noticed what we were trying to do, raising the bar a bit on the quality and depth of Christian reflection at events like this. Will you join us in praying for our work, for the books sold at this place and for seeds sown at Purple Door?
We thank the good folks who allowed us our bookish ministry (like Kurt W. of Sovereign Grace, who cheered us early on as we talked about the Puritan prayers in Valley of Vision and questions about N.T. Wright).
Tomorrow I will tell just a bit about setting up near the art gallery, hosted by our friends at Burnt Toast Vinyl, and the workshop I was asked to do about the arts. And a surprising, must-read book that brings it all together.