Friday, February 26, 2021

'The Advantages of a Culture in Collapse'

Most afternoons I take a walk, with the church at the corner of Ella Boulevard and Bethlehem Street as my turn-around point for heading home. Our neighborhood lives up to its name -- Oak Forest. Some parts are so heavily wooded with oak trees the houses seem like intrusions in an otherwise dense forest. The church has seen better days. Paint is fading and flaking, shingles on the roof are missing and the lawn is only sporadically mown. In the fall a few years ago, someone put a memorable message on the announcement board in front of the sanctuary: “Autumn leaves. Jesus doesn’t.” 

On a recent afternoon, a long portable trash bin parked behind the church was almost overflowing with sheetrock, carpeting, office furniture and scrap lumber. Some heavy renovation work seemed to be underway. On the side lawn near the curb were four cardboard boxes filled with books. Most were Bibles, along with a few hymnals, popular evangelical titles and religious books for children. In all there were at least fifty Bibles.


A pickup truck was leaving the parking lot and I asked the driver, a bearded young man, if he was the pastor. He was, and I asked if the church was giving away the books. “Help yourself,” he said, and drove away. I already own three Bibles, including one I was given in 1961, so I selected three of the sturdiest, most attractive editions and took them home. My motive was not book-greed, I swear. Taking the Bibles felt like a salvage operation. I didn’t have the nerve to ask the pastor why he couldn’t save the Bibles and give them away as needed. Two days later it rained, and the books, still on the curb, were soaked. One can get discouraged and even outraged about people who throw away perfectly readable books. In "The Knowing and Doing of Freedom," the writer Anthony Esolen has another way of looking at it:


“Our home is filled with books—9,000 of them—very few of which we have bought straight from the publisher or from a retail store. Call it one of the advantages of a culture in collapse. I have complete hardcover sets of the works of Washington Irving, George Eliot, and Somerset Maugham, about 50 books in all, which I saved for nothing from our town ‘transfer station’—that is, our town dump.”

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