Welcome to the first post in a brand new series of guest posts on the subject of our everyday work lives. For the remaining weeks of Ordinary Time, I’ve invited some friends to share a one-day snapshot into their work life that will help us see what they know to be true right now about who they are made to be.
I’m grateful for the work of my first guest, C. Christopher Smith, for the work he does which is both theologically rich and missionally compelling. His work has influenced my own love for reading, writing, church, and meaningful conversations with friends and neighbors. It’s an honor to introduce him to you all today.
Hi, I’m Chris Smith, my family and I live in the urban Englewood neighborhood on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis, and I make a living by piecing together a number of book-related jobs: mostly writing, editing, publishing, and bookselling. I have loved books since the very earliest days of my life when my parents would read incessantly to me, and I feel really fortunate to be able to work with books daily. Here’s a little peek into some of the sights of my daily work.
My work is rooted in the life and mission of our local church community, Englewood Christian Church. Englewood, a church with a long history of being a reading congregation, has created a space for me to do this work that I love – a space both literally, within the church building, and metaphorically, within the shared economy of our life together. I dabbled in some parts of my work before I came to Englewood over 15 years ago, but without the church, I would not be able to do this work full-time.
(I LOVE the 1960s era font of this sign on our church building!)
Englewood has started a number of businesses together over the last quarter century. My various book-related jobs were not our first venture into common work, nor were they our most recent. This picture was taken in our little park across the parking lot from church building and a few houses down the street from my house. The primary function of this park is as a nature playspace for children in our early childhood learning center. The young children get to play amidst natural wonders like trees, wildflowers, vegetable gardens, and even a little stream, right in the heart of the city! Our learning center was one of the first businesses that we started in the mid-1990s. About the same time we also started doing work together in affordable housing. In the back of this picture, behind the red-ish roof of the picnic shelter, is our most recently completed housing development, named Oxford Flats, which consists of 15 units of mixed-income rental housing. It opened in late 2017. On beautiful, sunny days like today, I like to go out to the bench in this picture, and to work on editing or simply collecting my thoughts.
Just around the corner from our little park is Pia Urban Café and Market. Pia (or Pia’s, as the locals who like to tack possessive apostrophes onto everything, call it) is owned by our friend Maria, who grew up in Puerto Rico, and came to Indianapolis for a previous job with a pharmaceutical company. Englewood owns this building, but we’ve helped Maria get her business started and keep it going. She aims to serve “Indianapolis’s finest Puerto Rican Coffee,” and Pia is a wonderful gathering place for people in the church and neighborhood. I usually stop in there a couple of times each week.
Pia is also one of the places where Indianapolis locals can pick up a free copy of The Englewood Review of Books, the quarterly magazine that I edit. I stopped in today, said hello to Maria and to another friend who was using the coffeeshop as an office today, and snapped this picture of the copies of our two most recent issues. Probably two-thirds of my working hours are devoted to the two editions of the ERB, our online edition and our quarterly magazine. We cover a wide range of thoughtful books that will be of interest to socially-engaged Christian readers. Almost all our readers identify as Christians of some tradition or another, but probably less than half the books we review are published by Christian publishers. The practice of reading broadly, and talking together about our reading, has been immensely transformative for us as a congregation, and has been an integral part of the diverse sorts of work that we do together in our neighborhood. The ERB is one way that we encourage Christians in other churches and other places to read and reflect in ways that transform the communities to which they belong.
Next door to Pia is our neighborhood branch of the Indianapolis Public Library. I love the architecture of its early 20th century, Carnegie-funded building, one of the most distinctive structures in the Englewood neighborhood! My wife works here as a clerk, so I am regularly popping in to see her and to pick up books that I have ordered through the library system. When budget cuts threaten to close this branch, our church fought to keep it open, and eventually we were part of a neighborhood coalition that helped not only keep it open, but also to expand and modernize its facility, making it accessible to all neighbors.
Back inside my office in the church building are, as one might imagine, shelves upon shelves of books. In the twelve-plus years since I went full-time with this book-related work, one of our main sources of income has been selling used books online. And I had been selling used books for the better part of a decade before I started working at Englewood, starting while I was in grad school, trying to pad my meager budget as a student by doing something I loved. Pictured here are a few of the shelves in our online used-book inventory. Within six to twelve months, we will be stopping our used book business. This is a bittersweet development that will allow me to narrow the range of work that I do, focusing more intently on The ERB, and writing and speaking engagements. I will be glad to juggle fewer work-areas, but as used bookselling is the type of work that I have done for the longest stretch of my adult life, over two decades, I am a bit saddened to let it go.
A few years ago, my work afforded me the luxury of reflecting on my personal vocation and the ways in which reading has been a transformative practice not only for us as a church community but also for our neighborhood. These reflections eventually took the shape of the book Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish. Many of the themes that I have very briefly introduced in this photo-essay are explored in more depth in the book (e.g., the connections between reading, imagination, and social transformation; the vital relationships between churches and libraries; and the crucial role of reading in discerning a vocation and maturing within it.)
Thanks, Tamara for the opportunity to show your readers around my place and my work!
C. Christopher Smith is a member of Englewood Christian Church on the urban Near Eastside of Indianapolis. He is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books, and co-author of the award-winning book Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus. Chris is eagerly awaiting the release of his next book, How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, Spring 2019).
What about you?
What story does your daily work tell about who you are called to be in this world right now?
Let us know in the comments below.
A prayer for all of us: