Saturday, December 12, 2009

CATLA Fall 2009: Moody Bible Institute, Library, and Archives

The Beauty of Moody

It's not every day that you have the opportunity to begin a piece with the death mask of an important American evangelist. In fact, I'm not sure many of us have the opportunity to start our days with any sort of death mask, especially if we haven't been sufficiently caffeinated first! But let me introduce you to this remarkable (and perhaps gruesome, for some readers) image of the very late Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899), founder of the famed Moody Church and Moody Bible Institute, here in Chicago. Now that our attentions are focused on this rather curious object, let us visit the Institute and its bibliographic treasures. This past Fall I had yet another opportunity for bibliotourism, when the Chicago Area Theological Library Association (CATLA) had its Fall meeting at Moody Bible Institute.

It was a crisp autumn morning, sunny with a slight chance of rain, which came later in the day. I drove up to Moody, which is located centrally in downtown Chicago (or uptown, whichever way you're coming from!) I'd never been to Moody, but had driven by it many times. It seems to own a sizable portion of real estate, and is spread over several blocks, just near Chicago Avenue.
I drove up to the CATLA conference and found my way to registration, where they gave me directions on where to park and where to meet up for refreshments and early morning discussions. After parking a block away in a Moody parking lot, I walked back observing the various Moody buildings and signs, such as this one above: the Sweeting Center for World Evangelization. It turns out that the Sweeting Center is the main classroom building, and where students spend a great deal of time throughout the school day. It's also where we had some of our meetings that day.

Inside again, we theological librarians began to mass around the conference registration table, slowly making our ways to the fine offerings of our Moody hosts: coffee, juices, bagels, bananas, and danishes abounded for our grazing pleasure. The morning started off quite well; colleagues from various libraries getting a chance to greet one another after many months of not seeing one another, or meeting new faces in the theological library realm. It's always a good time to re-connect and get the scoop on news and events at our regional seminary and theological school libraries. Our first sessions, as is usual, dealt with housekeeping and other items of CATLA interest, including next year's ATLA conference, which will be held in Chicago. The specific schedule (which I've borrowed from the CATLA blog-site) can be seen here.

9:00-9:30 Registration & Refreshments
9:30-10:00 Business meeting & ATLA report
10:00-10:15 Introduction & overview of roundtables
10:30-11:45 Roundtable #1 (choose from Copyright or Current issues with Yana)
11:45-1:30 Lunch (your choice...recommendations forthcoming...)
1:30-2:45 Roundtable #2 (choose from Google books or E-resources)
2:45-3:00 Closure & Recap
3:15 Optional tour @ Moody

Roundtable topics:
Kate Ganski: Copyright guidelines & e-reserves
Amy Koehler: Issues related to managing e-resources
Lugene Schemper: Creative use of Google books for religion & theology
Yana Serdyuk: Distance learning, library & IT relationships, & financial hardships

This image is of one of the early sessions. Kate Ganski, current President of CATLA, is speaking at the front of the room.

During lunch and breaks, conference attendees had time to visit the small museum near the commons, located about a minute's walk from our main conference room. Below is a life time-line of Dwight L. Moody.

In the museum itself, one could find a vast array of biblio-splendrous materials: from the hand written notes of the American evangelist Cyrus Scofield (1843-1921) of Scofield Bible fame; to hymn book inking plates; a continuous role of paper signed by followers of Moody; Moody's birth entry; to life-size mannequins portraying characters like Moody.

After the conference, we were given a tour of the library. Below you may see signs for the "Book Sale" and "Free Shelves" (though, presumably, the shelves are not for the taking, instead, the books on those shelves!)

More useful "signage" above and below.

And now to the Archives!

One of the highlights, at least for me, was the visit to the Moody Archives. Like many archival collections in theological or religious institutions, there is not much money provided for constant care or full time archivist. But the Moody archival collection is quite impressive. Pictured below is my CATLA colleague, Amy Koehler, the Public Services Librarian at Moody Bible Institute, who does some work with the archives. Amy gave a wonderfully informative tour of the library and archives. In this photo she is displaying some of the manuscript documents from the Moody archival collection. The following photographs are images from the archival processing office and the archival room, adjacent to the office.

Above is one of the Bible collections in the archives. Below we find the main display case, with images from the mid-20th century...and a miner's hat!

Outside of the library, there was a very interesting sculpture: a globe with an open book sculpture below it. Matthew 24:35 is represented on the right page; and the ever-present John 3:16 is on the left page. One of the interesting facts I learned from a former student of Moody on this trip, is that students who choose to come here are for the most part entirely funded. Imagine a college education such as this--what a deal! I'm sure many Americans who've come out into the world, and who are now in their thirties are wondering: "do I want to be paying off college still when I'm 50!?" Well, if you're inclined to Moody theology and philosophy, then this may be your choice. Otherwise, get out your pocketbook!

And then there was this little sign, which I noticed on my way out, at the end of the I was heading home: "Are you man enough to be Mr. (or Ms.?) Moody?" Hmmmm..., well, I don't want to get into any politics here. But one message may be equally sufficient for this visit: "Are you bold be a Moody visitor?" It's a pretty interesting place...library, archives, museum, death masks, and of course, the friendly people. I highly recommend it. Don't worry, I'm pretty sure Mr., Mrs., or Ms. Moody don't bite.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Theosophical Society and Library

More Books about Religions and the World

Wherever we find someone with a passion, a belief, or just a simple curiosity in the world, we are most likely to find some books not too far behind. As it is in the human condition to seek and wonder and question, so too one could say that it is in the human condition to write and preserve the ruminations of these searches, wonderings, and questions in textual format. And so, once again we find ourselves among the disciplined ranks of fellow thinkers, philosophers, writers, and practitioners of the spiritually curious. The discovery of the Theosophical Society headquarters in Wheaton, IL came as both a pleasant surprise and somewhat of a shock to me, when a colleague mentioned it not too long ago. I'd likely guess that many of you readers might be puzzled about the location of the Theosophical Society in Wheaton too, and that perhaps comes from my similar association of Wheaton township with the college. Though, as we have found in recent postings and discussions of the college, its libraries, archives, and museums, Wheaton is more complex than perhaps many of us non-Wheatonians expect.

I was at a lecture-panel of Lutheran ministers and bishops this past week, which took place at my workplace--the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago--where one of the panelists conveyed her dismay about being assigned to a church in Wheaton. But that experience transformed her significantly. Similarly, we may find that our expectations of media-driven perceptions become very different realities when we actually see for ourselves what is out there. And Wheaton has been quite a different experience now that I've visited this bustling town west of Chicago. This has been particularly true with my discovery of the Theosophical Society, located not too far from the Wheaton College campus. (The first two images here and above are from the library of the Theosophical Society.) Admittedly, I've never encountered anyone who was part of the Theosophical Society, though I've read things about theosophy over the years. In Philadelphia a few years ago, I remember walking down a street and coming across a distinguished-looking old building with a finely printed antique sign, which read "The Theosophical Society of Philadelphia." That had been the first time I'd ever seen a society "branch" or what may be more accurately called a "lodge" or "study center," according to the society itself.

Theosophy itself was founded (or perhaps created) as a religio-philosophical school in 1875 with the establishing of the Theosophical Society in New York City. The principal founders were Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891) and Col. Henry Steel Olcott (1832-1907), both of whom may be seen in photographs hanging on the walls of the Theosophical Society in Wheaton (see farther below). Blavatsky and Olcott traveled to India 1878-9, and later Sri Lanka, where Olcott has become a cultural icon; some Buddhists even consider him a reincarnation of the Buddha himself. The Theosophical Society's official website speaks more about this complex of early history, its founders, and its beliefs and mission. The following link will connect you to the Theosophical Society website and other sources related to the society:

The basic mission statement of the Theosophical Society, as stated on their website, reads:

The Theosophical Society in America:
  • ...has a vision of wholeness that inspires a fellowship united in study, meditation, and service.
  • ...encourages open-minded inquiry into world religions, philosophy, science, and the arts in order to understand the wisdom of the ages, respect the unity of all life, and help people explore spiritual self-transformation.
  • ...holds that our every action, feeling, and thought affects all other beings and that each of us is capable of and responsible for contributing to the benefit of the whole.
When I first entered the building of the Theosophical Society in Wheaton, I was greeted by a delightful older gentleman, who told me that he was retired, but spent part of his time tending the desk of the society and helping out. He had a warm spirit and kindness about him, and he spoke softly as he explained a little bit of the history and beliefs of the society, as well as what sort of events were taking place. It is, as I came to discover, a place that promotes human well-being and the spiritual-religious curiosity of achieving that well-being.

Above is the 19th century looking library--very ornate, yet very warm and living-room like.

Here we find the images of the founders and early practitioners of Theosophy; most dramatic is the famous portrait of Madame Blavatsky (center), with her intensely focused eyes looking out into and through the soul of those who cast their own gaze onto her century old portrait.
The main hallway of the society headquarters had several historical artifacts and displays along its walls, as well as little shelving units offering information about the society and workshops about meditation and the worlds beyond. The image below is an example of one of the display cases, which contains materials about the history of religious diversity in the late 19th and early 20th century, specifically in the Chicagoland region. One of the attractions to this area for many has been the historical association with the first Parliament of World Religions, which coincided with the 1893 Columbia Exhibition. This connection with religious diversity and multiplicity has fostered both interest and development by various religious groups in the United States.

Above is the entryway and sitting area of the Theosophical Society. Below is an embossed carving in the facade above the entrance of the society. The symbol shows the multiple layers of religious interaction found within the searchings of theosophical philosophy.

Above is the building itself, and below is the Quest Bookshop, which is the bookstore serving the Theosophical Society. It is located on the same property, just a few hundred yards away from the main building and library. The following images were taken inside the bookstore and include a shot of some of Madame Blavatsky's collected works.

Now, most of the time when you drive down the road and you see this sign of a person reading, it is a sign for a public library. This was the first time I'd seen a specialized library sign that I can recall. I was glad that I had the opportunity to slip into this magnificently unique library and center. The people were very friendly and helpful, and I was able to speak to a librarian, even though I had but a few minutes to stay in the library itself, since they were closing up for their lunch break. I was told that the society's archives were in the basement and for the most part either locked or not open to the public. But I was happy to discover one more aspect of Chicago area history and library resources, one which I'd been unaware of before my visit. I was also quite delighted that I'd had this opportunity to visit Wheaton in such fullness: not just visiting the college, but the libraries, the archives, the museum, and now the Theosophical Society. And of course, it was the people who made it all worthwhile and extraordinary. It also makes one more cognizant that people of very different beliefs, religions, backgrounds, and world views can live, work, and co-exist quite finely in the same spot on this great earth.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Books and "The Book" of Billy Graham

The Evangelists' Evangelist

Not too long ago, I'd heard a story on NPR about someone--perhaps a journalist--recounting their recent visit to the new Billy Graham Center and Museum. More accurately, it was a visit to the Billy Graham Evangelical Association's Library and Museum in Charlotte, NC--which you can see in the following link (

The segment seemed to tell about what some may consider the "cheese-ball" factor of the museum, recounting the over-Evangelization and theme-park feel of the place, especially in the wake of Ruth Bell Graham's death in June 2007. This sort of media narrative doesn't portray such industry in the best of lights (the fact of it "being an industry," specifically a "God industry," which earns tens of millions of dollars a year in sales makes it even more of a target by journalists and writers). Nonetheless, we should only assume that a place constructed by Billy Graham and family would be "over-Evangelizing," if such an expression were accurate or to even exist! As the Evangelists' Evangelist--taken almost biblically from pages of scripture like "King of Kings!"--or as the "Preacher to the Presidents," Billy Graham and his corporation are truly an American monarchy of Bible Industry.

I don't believe the Rev. Graham was necessarily considering a monetary powerhouse or kingdom on earth back in 1950-1, when he was setting off to preach his Gospel to the world, but 60 years on, and now in his 92nd year (he'll be 92 in November), one can see how the vision and passion of some individuals can lead to extraordinary messages, outcomes, and experiences. So whether or not you agree with or are comfortable with the preaching and legacy of the Rev. Graham, it is still a remarkable thing to partake in the experience of the Graham enterprises and see for yourself what sort of "over-Evangelizing" and historico-theatrical trappings go with such organizations. And that's just about where my tour began: not in North Carolina, but at another Graham Center and locale. It was one afternoon, when I was visiting Wheaton College, that I happened to have a chance to visit this other Grahamtastic facility. It was the same day that I'd been at the CARA Conference, and had just visited the archives on the floors above.

You see, the Billy Graham Center Museum is located on the ground floor of the Graham Center--a vast complex located in a mammoth 5+ story neo-colonial/Federal/Georgian style structure. Admission is free, but donations (or, "free will offerings") are accepted. Surely, why would it cost one money to enter into the Evangelist's tent? And this is where the tour begins--it is a self guided tour, with the help of visual cues and placards. In the reception area, where a woman greets visitors at the information desk, you can look slightly to one side and find a blocked passageway (seen here), which is actually a view of one of the final rooms in the museum. But its placement seemed evangelistically relevant: it was the famed passage of John 3:16, used in many American Evangelical circles as the battle cry for salvation. From this position, visitors would be greeted by the verse, but so too later, reminded at the end of their visit (or "journey?"), why they had not just gone through the museum, but why they were on earth, and what their role was in embracing Christianity!

The museum itself began with an interesting motif and pattern. One entered a circular room, with a fairly high ceiling, which makes the visitor feel extremely small. Almost as if you are being funneled down to the center. It is called the "Rotunda of Witnesses," and includes long narrow quilts draped down from the ceiling, each depicting a "Christian Witness." For Graham, these witnesses include Apostle Paul, Justin Martyr, Gregory the Great, Francis of Assisi, John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, Blaise Pascal, Jonathan Edwards, and Oswald Chamber. Indeed, and interesting group! It makes one feel like they are being looked down upon by some giants of the past, almost passing judgement on you in the present, and for the future of the human species! The darkness is illuminated by track-lighting set upon the quilts, and you turn in circles, looking at each quilt, wondering about them, just as it seems they might be wondering about you! "What have you accomplished?" they seem to ask.

Passing through the rotunda, one now enters into perhaps the most apropos portion of the "Books and Biblios" itinerary: the book exhibits. The Graham Museum has done an exquisite job at displaying a vast and expansive number of books on spirituality, mission, and evangelization. And each of these books holds distinct historical significance to the American enterprise of evangelism. Starting with fine examples of 18th century tomes on missions to the Native Americans (see here, Essays on Instruction on the Indians...), published in 1740. If you enlarge the image you will note some of the notes in the lengthy title (titles well into the early 20th century had long descriptive titles)--and this one notes information about directions and prayers for "the heathen world," among other directives!

Early American Bible printing can be seen in this next image. It is a page from the first such example: an Algonquin Bible, printed in 1663. It wasn't for nearly another eighty years that a Bible in any European language was published in the colonies. In 1743, Christoph Sauer published his German-language Bible in the colonies--it was the first such in any European tongue.

Above we find works about "Indian converts" and Puritans. Below, an original manuscript sermon from the famed Puritan preacher Cotton Mather, entitled "Spiritual Blessings."

More history in the making: the Bible above, printed in 1782, was the first such authorized edition printed in the nascent United States, granted by the Continental Congress. This, as the sign reads, was a result of the blockades from the American Revolution, disallowing imports of Bibles from England. Below, we find a window into the American past on the construction and operation of the Erie Canal, in "Five Years on the Erie Canal" by D.M. Eaton.

This book is very interesting and of importance to those interested in various layers of American history, whether local history, Erie Canal or American fluvial history, maritime history, or religious history. Its availability may be limited, but is easily found and accessible on Google books. It details the sights and sounds and actions of those who milled around the banks and on the boats of the Erie more than 175 years ago, and includes such chapter headings as "Orphan Boys," "Silent Ministers," "Traveling Christians should not leave their religion at home," "More Opposition--Roman Catholics and Black-legs," "Conversion of a Boat's Crew," "The Swearer's Pledge," "The Colored Man and his Bible," and "Two Infidels." There's always something hidden in lost books like this; something that may yield another find or intrigue.

Pamphlets like these above, discussing such issues as "the Bible in schools," were very common during the 18th and 19th century, and easily producible.

A display of two magnificent books--an early edition of Phyllis Wheatley's poems, seen above, may be part of almost every American's memory of high school social studies. The now famous image of Miss Wheatley sitting pensively at her desk, considering what to write in her poems, has been reprinted in the school books of millions of school children. I recalled this image instantly when I saw it. Of course, we never read any of her poems in school! So as a tribute, to Miss Wheatley, here is one of her poems, entitled...

An Hymn to the Morning

ATTEND my lays, ye ever honour'd nine,
Assist my labours, and my strains refine;
In smoothest numbers pour the notes along,
For bright Aurora now demands my song.
Aurora hail, and all the thousand dies,
Which deck thy progress through the vaulted skies:
The morn awakes, and wide extends her rays,
On ev'ry leaf the gentle zephyr plays;
Harmonious lays the feather'd race resume,
Dart the bright eye, and shake the painted plume.
Ye shady groves, your verdant gloom display
To shield your poet from the burning day:
Calliope awake the sacred lyre,
While thy fair sisters fan the pleasing fire:
The bow'rs, the gales, the variegated skies
In all their pleasures in my bosom rise.
See in the east th' illustrious king of day!
His rising radiance drives the shades away--
But Oh! I feel his fervid beams too strong,
And scarce begun, concludes th' abortive song.

The other work is by a pioneering African-American woman Evangelist, Amanda Smith (1837-1915). Mrs. Smith had been a slave in Maryland. After the Civil War her husband and children had died, and she devoted herself to preaching, outreach, and evangelism. And after 1878, she began traveling more regularly abroad, to England, then to India, Africa, and beyond. She set up an orphanage for African-American children in Harvey (south of Chicago), which was later taken over by the state and re-named the Amanda Smith Industrial School for Girls. Unfortunately, three years after her death, the building burned to the ground in 1918, (cf. African-American Registry, Amanda Smith).

Of course, there were many more curiosities throughout the museum, like this wood carving of a preacher and his flock. And below: a cut out of another early 20th century American evangelist, pasted to the wall, and surrounded by early hymnals.

Now, perhaps one of the most striking objects in the museum was this Christ on a Cross sculpture, which in reality, is more like "Christ IN a Cross." It is quite an amazing object. I'd be curious to take down visitors' reactions of this object, as it is clearly meant to evoke a sense of pain endured through crucifixion. And yet, being within this crystal-glass entombment, the totally humanized character strains under some worldly and external stresses, appearing almost gelatinized. While at the same time, being stationed in a room of complete darkness with an illumination source coming from within or below the sculptured object, one is forced to think about the spirituality of the moment, the character, and so forth. This is yet another gentle reminder of the museum, which mixes media and art and religious iconography, to let the visitor know the intentions of evangelism.

Above and below, one can see the trappings of the good Billy Graham himself: photos, notes, letters, and Bibles--here is one given to Rev. Graham by his mother.

His passport and his pulpit!

Now just imagine, you've gone through the whole museum, and you find yourself confronted with a variety of images and rooms, which are each designed to remind you of, say, God's greatness. After the whole serpentine tour of the museum, you enter another dark room, with a diorama style painting of biblical antiquity. You are meant to be drawn into the world (or, worlds) of the Bible. You are meant to be reflective. It is dark. You think about whatever it is you're thinking about, and you think you are leaving. An "EXIT" signs glows above the door.

 are not there yet! You are reminded just a few more times as to what is really happening here: the emotive heartstrings of evangelism working at every step of the way. First, we have this hallway--a "cross shaped" hallway, leading to a cross on the wall farther on. The thing I remember about this passage was that it seemed to close in on you, not necessarily that you were embracing the cross, but that the cross was embracing you! Also, this passage way was inclined, so that when you went "through the cross," you were walking up a ramp, which made it feel like a difficult journey: you were being both constrained (or, one may argue "restricted" vs. "embraced"--depending on how you felt about the experience; or perhaps both, paradoxically) and forced to walk up an incline, somehow heightening the experience of that space. But you're also forced to look ahead, at the cross, which some people might think: "do you accept it or not!?"

Once you've gone through the Tunnel of the Cross or Tunnel of Christ, whichever you think appropriate, you'll turn left, and find this image of an angel on a large glass wall, again in a very dark room. The angel points to the words "He Is Risen, He is Not Here...";

And one final room, after the angel, is silent, but not dark. Rather, it is illuminated by another room-sized image of clouds, meant presumably to evoke our understanding of heaven. I thought to myself: "where am I?" And perhaps, that IS the question that they want you to ask!

I finally climbed out of the darkness, haze, and tints of the museum, and out of the cumulus of evangelism that afternoon. I was glad that I went through it, as I wasn't really quite sure what to expect. Wheaton itself is an extraordinary place, and the Billy Graham Center and Museum has both charm and character, even if it may go over the top on a few of its devices and evangelistic trappings. I went into the light of the fine autumn afternoon. The sky was bright with its own clouds, seen here over and beyond the Graham Center itself. I realized as I walked around the campus commons and felt the soft breezes and calmness of the afternoon and the fresh air encapsulate me that creation and the world and all that was "real" were outside. I didn't need dark rooms to tell me about the greatness of humanity and the world. But then again, maybe I wouldn't have appreciated the day, the afternoon, or that moment on the commons in the fresh air, if I hadn't had the contrast of a dark museum. Billy Graham had worked his magic once again.