A Reading Life (pt 6): Second-Hand Books

My 1969 Broadman Commentary with the 1973 RSV Annotated Oxford Study Bible in the background, both second-hand books that I treasure more than most!

By Joe LaGuardia

A Reading Life is a blog series focused on the literature that has shaped my life and call to ministry. Find the introduction here.

Any pastor will tell you that a part of being a minister is receiving books or book recommendations from parishioners.  Most people can attest that they have second-hand books on their shelves, but none more so than clergy.  This is for two reasons: One, we are obliged to take books people give us; and, two, we are too broke to get new books, so we scour unwanted books, church rummage sales, and used book stores whenever we come across them.

So, I have two pieces of advice for freshman pastors:  The first is to avoid telling your church what kind of things you like to read unless you want books pertaining to that subject or genre.  The second is  to befriend pastors nearing retirement because they are likely to give you books they no longer need.

The first piece of advice came in handy when I first arrived in Florida to pastor my current church. I wanted to read Florida history because when I was in Georgia, I read The Archaeology and History of the Native Georgia Tribes by Max White, and it enriched my ministry for years to come.

I mentioned this to fellow naturalists at my church, and the recommendations and books started to flow.  The first recommendation (or affirmation, as it were) was Marjorie Stoneman Douglas’ The Everglades: River of Grass.  Since I am a graduate of Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, (yes, that Douglas high school), I always wanted to read Douglas’ work, so I purchased it within the first six months of arriving to Florida.  Another recommendation was Marjorie Rawlings The Yearling, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  After that, however, I was finished reading about Florida but books and recommendations kept coming.

“Here, Pastor Joe, I think you’ll like this,” is commonplace in ministry.  Since I am a book snob to begin with, I have found polite ways of rejecting those books or perusing enough of a book to make light conversation.  In other cases, people will send self-published books that are political or have some crazy agenda.  Those things go right to the “donate” pile.

If you take my second piece of advice, then your library will be full of second-hand books that become gems.  I recently received a long-awaited 1973 Revised Standard Version Annotated Oxford Study Bible from our Associate Pastor who is retiring at year’s end.  It inspired this article, in fact!  What a treasure!

Then there was the white whale for which I longed–that peculiar, sought-after item that one only obtains by prayer, patience, and persistence.  Mine was the original 1969 Broadman Bible Commentary with the Genesis volume by G. Henton Davies.  This volume, along with then-Midwestern Theological Seminary professor Ralph Elliot’s book, The Message of Genesis, launched a near forty-year battle and eventual split between conservatives and moderates in the Southern Baptist Convention (known either as the “Conservative Resurgence” or the “Conservative Takeover,” depending on your point of view) regarding historical-critical approaches to scripture and, more recently, the place of women in ministry.

The Davies “Genesis” commentary set is rare because the Southern Baptist Convention recalled the set shortly after publication and replaced it with a set that replaced the Davies commentary with one by Clyde Francisco.  That made the original “Davies” set hard to come by.

Thankfully, a retired Home Mission Board administrator who was a co-minister at my last church had not one, but two original sets.  Praise God for the Reverend Michael R., who blessed me with one of his First Edition (you read that right!) “Davies sets”–with his marginal notes–when I became pastor of the church in 2010.

Moving forward, I am on to my next prey.  It is a Nelson, cowhide leather Revised Standard Version Bible, circa early 1960s.  There are many RSV Nelson editions circulating out there with vinyl (gag!) or hard covers (many served as pew Bibles), but the leather-bound edition seems near impossible to find.  I got one from a retiring pastor years ago, but (after many funerals and a month-long mission trip to West Africa) it is falling apart, and I would like a replacement.

I think we can all agree that whether a second-hand book is either beloved or loathed, it adds a rich tapestry to any home or office library.  Each book has a story to tell or reflects the character of its original owner, and for that we should be grateful.  Each book speaks to the generosity that defines readers worldwide.  But, take it from me, pastors get the brunt of them, and that’s not always fun!

What are some second-hand books that you either treasure or loathe?  Comment below!


Master Gardeners Contribute to Creation Care

gardenWhen God commanded people to have dominion over the earth in the very first chapters of Genesis, he meant for us to take this very seriously.

Our ability to be stewards over all creation, to care for all God’s earth, is but a testimony of our love for God and neighbor.  Psalm 24 puts it well: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it; the world, and those who live in it” (v. 1).

We here at Trinity Baptist are honored to have folks who care for God’s earth by way of farming, gardening, and even the creative arts.  We recently installed a prayer garden that we hope to finish within the next few years, and ours has always been a family-friendly campus for all to enjoy.

This care for creation is not specific to our church; in fact, our county is privileged to have many stewards of God’s creation volunteering, working, and laboring for the beautification and health of our community.

The Master Gardeners of Rockdale County is one such group that is committed to providing a vibrant environment for all of us to enjoy.

Whether it is the prayer garden at Lighthouse Village (off of Sigman Road) or the one in Old Towne and the public spaces in between, the Master Gardeners have given thousands of hours to be stewards over God’s creation.  We should be thankful and continue to pray for their efforts.

Yet, what the Master Gardeners provide in our little neck of God’s woods is more than mere beautification and a partnership with our world.  It is just one avenue by which God’s justice is realized in our midst.

It was theologian Patrick McCormick who argued in his book, God’s Beauty, that creating public spaces for all to enjoy brings about God’s vision for a healthy, collaborative world.

Consider the price of beauty in most venues: One must pay to see beautiful works of art at a museum or to purchase a ticket to the aquarium or zoo.  Entrepreneurs and corporations make a large profit by monopolizing those very things–from music to masterpieces–that others find valuable and enriching.

There is nothing wrong with this business model, and it provides many jobs.  However, not everyone has the ability to afford ticket or concert prices.  It has always been a part of city and urban planning to incorporate free, public spaces for all to enjoy without an entrance fee.

McCormick argues that this access is important for improving both community and inhabitants.  It improves people’s lives and it allows families–children in particular–gain access to something that encourages them to see the world as a positive, beautiful place to reside.  It promotes ownership of our planet and connects us with something beyond ourselves.

That’s the Bible’s view of creation in a nutshell: A beautiful, well-tended earth is the stage whereby we worship God.  Creation bears witness to God’s power and encourages us to look heavenward to he who created all things.

The Bible says, “Lift up your heads, O gates…that the King of glory may come in” (Psalm 24:7, 9).  I am grateful to our Master Gardeners and so many others committed to creation care who help all of us experience God in unique and profound ways!

As a final note, I want to invite you to an event happening at the arboretum at the Horse Park this Friday at 11:30 AM.  The Master Gardeners are honoring late Barbara McCarthy by dedicating a tree in her memory.  It will be a reminder to us all of Barbara’s commitment to bettering our county, the Gardener’s work on our behalf, and our continued commitment to nurturing all of God’s creation.