Hall of Men in Kansas mixes books, beer and prayer

WICHITA, Kan. – The Hall of Men lives up to its name, with get-togethers offering beer, cigars, an open bar, some sort of men’s food (think pizza), and lots of chit-chat around a giant wooden table.

But there are also evening prayers, icons, Bible readings and lectures on the authors whose portraits hang in this “Christian speakeasy”. Names include CS Lewis, Flannery O’Connor, WH Auden, Dorothy Sayers, Fyodor Dostoevsky, JRR Tolkien and many more. Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan are also in the game.

This group has met twice a month for a dozen years and most worshipers are Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran, with many Evangelicals at special events. Honored authors are selected after an informal process that usually begins during the fellowship before and after conferences, with men talking about books that have touched their lives.

It’s all affected by having this bookstore right next door,” said Pastor Geoff Boyle, a Missouri-Synod Lutheran who has long been active in the project. “The man behind the counter is used to having these conversations and obviously knows all about the books the guys are talking about. The books are there and if they aren’t they soon will be.

“That bookstore” is Eighth Day Books, which attracts customers from across the country to an old three-story house with 46,000 new and used books – 27,000 titles – stored and stacked anywhere that will fit them, including including the “Hobbit Hole” basement packed with children’s literature. The white-haired man behind the counter is owner Warren Farha, an Orthodox believer with family ties to Lebanon.

It’s not a “Christian bookstore” full of trinkets, inspirational posters and religious self-help books – but “Eighth Day” is a reference to Jesus’ resurrection.

Farha established the shop in 1988 and selects all the books, with the help of an ecumenical network woven into the Eighth Day Institute and its lectures, newsletters, podcasts and groups such as the Hall of Men and the Sisters of Sophia .

“My goal has always been to be fair to the great traditions,” said Farha, from her office in the bookstore’s attic. “We have classics of history, literature, poetry, church history, theology and philosophy—Christian writings through the ages. … I always listen to people who GET the role model for what we do here.

“Great books from different traditions are on the shelves next to each other, even though they collide in ways that we need to discuss.”

At the heart of the Hall of Men project is a question that all kinds of bookish people, from academics to popular writers, have been asking over the past decades: what can be done to encourage more men – in the age of screens brilliant digital – to read books?

There are men who read popular classics, old and new, and then there are those who, when exposed to ancient writings, delve deep into the books of monastery presses and Christian scholars, Farha said. . Hall of Men leaders have stopped trying to push men into niches on either side of this equation.

“These men don’t sort it out easily,” he added. “There are many lads in vans who buy volumes of the Early Church Fathers and read them devoutly. All kinds are needed.

Everyone agrees that the “bridge” writer between these two worlds is Lewis, the Oxford professor whose books – fiction for all ages, scholarship, poetry and journals – have been bestsellers for 75 year. Thus, the bookstore has a large “CS Lewis & Friends” section, and the institute holds an annual conference focusing on The Inklings, the circle of writers that included Lewis, Tolkien, Sayers and others.

The key is that the Hall of Men and other Eighth Day projects help members and visitors dig deeper into the lives and works of all of these authors and more, said Jeff Reimer, book editor and art professional. Internet who lives outside of Wichita. It doesn’t matter where readers start – when there are friends to help keep them going.

“Warren has created a kind of community of desire here that draws people in. … I tell people this is the most erotic bookstore ever – but not in the usual sense of that word,” Reimer said with a laugh. . “It’s a place of conversations heard that can change everything. One conversation leads to another and one book leads to another.

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