A Faith to Life and Die With

Shirley’s Old Book Shop in Springfield, Missouri, was, in 1980, a perfect sort of place for book lovers. Complete with musty smells, dusty shelves, and a witty proprietor, the shop promised that this time, maybe, you could find the book to change your life. And I was in the market for that.

Dressed in a black pullover that roughly matched her smudgy wig, Shirley presided over her shop with a certain regal sense of what was good for us, her customers. She had an eye for the out-of-the-way book that just might work for one of the out-of-the-way folks who dropped in every few days. Shirley introduced me to Frederick Buechner.

Still carrying its orange and yellow dust jacket, the book stood out gaudily on the shelf. The Book of Bebb—an omnibus of four novels—though hefty, felt right in the hand. And at $4.60, how could I lose? It was a cheap enough price for a week or so of escape into somebody else’s story.

I’d never heard of this Buechner. Was it "Bukener," or "Buckner," or "Beekner"? I’d never heard of Bebb either, for that matter, but I took him home for a trial run. I’d probably have been more careful had I known where Leo Bebb would take me.

LEO BEBB, WEARING a porkpie hat and a raincoat that is a size too small, is the "shady minister" at the center of the four novels: Lion Country (1971), Open Heart (1972), Love Feast (1974), and Treasure Hunt (1977). I had long been wary of over-identification with characters in books, but Buechner’s Bebb and Bebb’s erstwhile sidekick Antonio Parr invited me into a world where the questions were some of my own.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1998
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