Like Losing an Old Friend

Yesterday, I made a pastoral care visit in Nashville and because gas is so high and my visits to Nashville so rare these days I try to make the most of my trips. This usually means a visit to the local Cokesbury store on 8th Avenue. Because of the construction of the new Music City Convention Center (which is huge by the way) the street in front of the store was blocked, but after a couple of minutes and a couple of tries I finally found the parking lot. I always love going into Cokesbury. I really wish I lived closer and could go more often. I always find something new there, maybe a new book by a favorite author or a new resource from the United Methodist Church. Sometimes I bump into colleagues from around the annual conference that I usually only see in June and then there are the friendly faces of the people who work at the store that I come to know. There are cushy chairs so you can peruse through a new book and there is something about the smell of a bookstore that I love.

So I stopped by, picked up a CEB Bible for a parishioner and of course a new book for myself and went on my way. It was only when I returned home and looked at Facebook that I read that the all of the Cokesbury stores will be closing by April 2013. Cokesbury will  transition to an Amazon-like online and phone catalog service. First, let me say that I understand why. It takes a lot of capital to keep a brick and mortar store open. There is rent or mortgage, utilities, salaries, benefits, and other costs involved. We are seeing the death of the bookstore. Davis and Kidd in Nashville is gone and so is Borders. The only major bookstores I know of that are still in business are Barnes and Noble and Books-a-Million and I am willing to bet their days are numbered. Amazon has changed the game and don’t get me wrong I love Amazon. I really, really, REALLY love Amazon. I have a Kindle and it changes how I read. I can carry a library full of books in a thin, lightweight format. (I still made an effort to support Cokesbury.) Amazon is revolutionizing how people buy, not just books, but everything else. I don’t even step outside my house to go Christmas shopping and everything comes straight to my door. It’s an introvert’s dream. Amazon is a big reason why the Cokesbury stores are closing.

However, there are some things that you cannot get from an online shopping experience. There is something about being able to pick up a book and flip through the pages. There is something about browsing up and down aisles, meeting old friends and new ones, asking for recommendations from the staff, and of course, the wonderful smells. So, I am sad. I am sad first and foremost for the people who have been working at Cokesbury for years and now will be out of a job and benefits. I am sad for new clergy persons who will not get their first robe and stoles at a Cokesbury store. I am sad because there was something liturgical about Cokesbury. The stores changed with the Christian year with all the color and symbols it includes. I am sad because there will be one less place that progressive theologians will have to sell their books and spread their ideas. I am sad because I really don’t want to shop at Lifeway. Lifeway is all fine and well, but you would never see Brian McClaren, Miraslov Volf, Jurgen Moltmann, Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, or countless others on the shelves at Lifeway. You won’t see up and coming voices like Rachel Held Evans at Lifeway. You won’t find challenging progressive Bible studies at Lifeway. I mean where the heck are you going to find a United Methodist Hymnal or Book of Worship? I know you can order it online, but there was something about being able to drop in a pick up what you need.

Cokesbury closing is like losing an old friend. I will mourn the loss. I always thought it would be there and perhaps I should not have taken it for granted. There is a lesson there that goes beyond bookstores.

Check out what others have written about the closing of Cokesbury.

Jay Voorhees

A satirical look by Jim Parsons


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