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The Vacuum Issue 3 spacer Issue 3
Christian Bookshop Review
by Leonta Flynn
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Though the original idea was for a qualitative assessment of the various goods sold in Belfast's religious shops - mostly listed under "booksellers" in the yellow pages - there are just so many of these places that it ended up as a comparative look at two on Queen street, between which, really, it turned out there was no comparison at all.
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There is an advertisement in the window of The Faith Mission Bookshop for "!Worship: The Next Dimension in Worship Resources", where the "i" of "worship" is an upside down exclamation-mark. "!Worship", it says, "combines music with stunning visual images on DVD to create a new dimension in church, home group or personal worship". With this indication of the level of organisation and technological sophistication at work here, The Faith Mission still surprises both in its size and in the degree to which it is able to provide a vision of all aspects of life through a religious lens. The children's section carries titles like "Jesus' Picnic", "Wrong way Jonah!" and "Little Hamster and The Great Flood" - which comes with a small stuffed hamster in a plastic bubble attached to the cardboard book. There is even a substantial medical section, though the Christian dimension is hard to discern in at least one particular paperback about yeast infections. Still among the books, for those who like their evangelism with irony there is the hefty Jesus Freaks: The stories of Religious Revolutionaries Who Changed the World. My particular favourite is Anointed or Annoying?, which seeks to tackle head on the issue of whether obedience to God's Will might render you obnoxious to your friends. Though The Faith Mission is technically a bookshop it also sells a wide range of CDs. (Michael Crawford: "On Eagles' wings"; "Live Worship from Canada") and toys. "Prayer Friends" are small bears or rabbits which, when their stomachs are pressed, play a recording of an American infant reciting "Now I lay me down to sleep". There is a basket of ordinary looking beanie bears in different colours, but at a closer inspection, each one is embroidered with Michael, Joseph or - suggesting an impressive degree of rehabilitation - Eve. While the bic pens and correction fluid sold at the till had no discernible religious dimension, it is possible to purchase posit notes expressing a love for Jesus and chopping boards engraved with extracts from the psalms.
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Compared with this level of coordination and penetration into every aspect of life and household necessity, The Holy Shop down the road perhaps cannot be expected to compete. At any rate, the focus here feels a bit skewed - and not simply by the necessary cultural identifications (Leprechauns holding scented candles, porcelain Irish dolls). For one thing, the shop sells secular greeting cards. For another, its sells similar beanie bears to The Faith Mission, though this time each is mysteriously embroidered across the foot sole with "March" or "April". The importance of church calendar doesn't quite explain it - or the "little sounds from heaven" figurines, described as "porcelain angel bells of the month". Whatever the only-vaguely-religious preoccupation with months might signify, angels in the shop have arguably eclipsed the more traditional holographic images and shiny icons. There are angel bookends, guardian angel lapel pins and ceramic candle-holder angels. These are all great - and the shop does still sell painted statuettes and a number of Padre Pios - but purists might miss the older, more dramatic paraphenalia. As a further argument towards the dubious religiosity of some of this stuff, on the way to the door, I noticed it sells children's binoculars.
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Nevertheless, while undoubtedly The Faith Mission is the more impressive contender between these two retailers (There are twelve, I think, in Ireland), both have the edge over the only other shops visited. The Church of Ireland Centre Bookshop on Donegal Street sells the selfsame Eve and Michael bears, and some nice toy animals holding tiny children's versions of bits of Genesis. On the whole though, it is a sensible, cerebral place, containing books like: Harry Potter and the Meaning of life; Knowing Me, Knowing God, and a biography of Cliff Richard. The Covenanter bookshop on the way home, however, made no sense at all. There were an unusually high number of books on women in the church, and one called "Ape-Men" which speculates that Neanderthal man was merely ordinary man with rickets and syphilis. Moreover, the only music sold in the whole place is Scottish Metrical psalms.
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Christian Bookshop Review
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