Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Preacher in a Clown Suit

I've never liked doing returns. There's a part of me that says, if we have to return a book, it means I haven't done enough to sell it. Like I've said before, bookselling is one of the few careers where it's entirely possible to fall in love with your product. For those reading who aren't familiar with the idea of returns, they happen quite frequently in retail. With grocery stores, there is usually a "sell by" date in which, if the can of green beans hasn't sold, they are scanned out of the system and sent back (probably just the scan itself or the wrapper maybe) and credit is given because the item hasn't sold. For books, it's a little harder. Books don't have sell by dates. They don't go bad (well, unless it's a travel book or a calendar...etc), so there has to be a conscious decision to return something.

So I was going down the lists of books to return, and I reached the Bibles going back to one of the vendors. Pulling them and placing them on my v-cart that I purchased from Borders when it closed (best thing I ever bought from the bookstore), I realized that every single Bible I put there was ugly. Orange, a putrid caramel brown, one printed in Giraffe skin print, ones that looked like a Vera Bradley bag. I was very glad to return them, for I knew they would never sell.

Let's try something: I come up to you with a Bible and say, "What an Ugly Bible!!!"

Yes, you're right. The response that probably leapt to your mind was the same I got when I actually said that. Except... let's look at it further.

The Bible is the Word of God. We know that, and traditional Bibles, the ones your parents probably took to church, were made of a bonded or genuine leather, black or navy or burgundy. They were elegant, conservative in style. I have this one Bible made of a premium high grain leather, soft and regal.  Now, take a Bible that has been, for whatever reason, covered in a pink plastic with a candy-like peppermint thing on the top (yes, it actually exists).  It's the same Bible, isn't it? With the same words?  It should be treated with the same respect as the high-quality leather Bible.  And besides, you can't judge a book by its cover.... or can you?

The Bibles we pulled were probably made in an attempt to attract modern-day Christians who want a break from the image of Christianity that our parents and grandparents had.  I can understand this, as I can still remember the preacher from Agnew Pentecostal standing up before the congregation every January 1st and saying "The Lord has blessed us with another year" and at the end of the service, leading us in the Doxology. The dark, sombre hallways, the stained glass that let little light in.  My mom often talked about how, in her Sunday School class, they spent most of the time trying to untangle Christianity from the rules and regulations of the church.  My grandfather, long before I was born, thought it sinful to play with cards, or go to the movies. The lengthy conversations my mom would have talking about how, after she and my dad had gotten married, they were so stressed out on Sundays because they "had" to go to church each week, or else the "friends" my grandmother (dad's mom) had in that church would report that they had not seen my parents there.  And woe to the person who answered the phone at 12:05pm to make sure that we had gone to church.  When church, and the Bible, becomes a chore, a prohibitive force blocking every joy of life without cause or reason (except those were the rules of the church), it negates the simple, positive guidelines of Christianity, sung most elegantly by Guy Penrod from the Gaither Vocal Band:

So, as a break from the sombre tones of yesteryear, Bible publishers have changed some of the covers to make them more appealing to those who are unchurched or more modern.  And there's a certain logic to this.  Take the Skateboard Bible we have in the Kid's section. It's often on sale, and very well made, as the devotionals and images around the Bible text are designed for boys who like sports, the outdoors, skateboarding (obviously), and are very active.  It is usually right next to the Adventure Bible, which is designed as a safari, with African animals, compasses, as if the boys or girls were off on a grand adventure (which, of course, they are.) Similarly, the pink Bibles with sparkles and mentions of Princesses are geared toward girls who love that sort of thing.   All very popular Bibles, that sell very well. In this way the children are drawn toward the Bible and can read it for themselves. The text is the same as the more conservative Bibles, and so, yes, no matter what it looks like, the Bible is still the Word of God.

Now, the flip side, let's say you meet and fall in love with someone who is virtuous, successful, caring, but covered from head to toe in tattoos.  (This, example, of course, reveals my bias against tattooing, because I think it's ugly and stupid) He or She is a Christian and is the love of your life, so why the nervousness when taking them to meet your parents?  Partially because of the reasons given above about the rules of the church, but also, we all do judge a book by its cover.  Would it then be the same as covering the Word of God with pink plastic and candies? Doesn't the way in which you present a Bible effect the perception that the words contained are taken? The person with tattoos might be wonderful, but there will be trepidation felt by strangers who don't know the inside of that person. Would you listen to a preacher who gave the sermon clothed in a clown suit? It is the same words inspired by God. The message is the same, but the cover is different.  That's why preachers don't wear clown suits but rather a suit and tie or a robe of some kind.  It's the perception of the outside image that effects the persuasiveness of the message itself.

So, a balance needs to be struck, between the traditional image with all the respect and regal tones of what a Bible, for an adult, should be, and the modernizing of that image to help draw in those who might not otherwise read the words within.  The twist here, and why these different covered Bibles are made, is that adults, even my age, aren't always grown up yet, and having a Bible that looks like a Vera Bradley purse or made in Tennessee Orange might attract those who haven't read the Bible yet. I can understand this, but it doesn't make it easier when I see a Bible covered in a hideous design. It's a complex issue, one that comes down to personal choice.  For me, let the Bible be covered in the finest of material, but for those who haven't read the Bible or don't know of the meanings inside, that they get the Bible, in whatever form or fashion, is enough.

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