So, it’s been about 20 months since Mom died and we needed to clean out the house – and enormous and daunting task even on a good day. One of the big areas that we worked on, that required some cooperation, and at the same time, everyone speaking their heart about what something meant to them, was the family library.
My folks loved books, and they shared that love with the seven children that followed them. It seems like we read books until the words fell off the pages. For instance, every month we would receive a book, which must have been a Reader’s Digest Condensed version of all sorts of stories and fairy tales that were compiled for children. The folks, of course, had their “condensed books” that filled probably four shelves or more. I remember that when it would come in the mail, I would sit down in the hallway and devour the stories. I then would go back and read other book over and over again, just enjoying the images and the plot lines. Among the children’s stories were at least two that involved Babar the Elephant. When we were going through the books, my sister Lisa found one that indeed did have Babar, and I have it today, cherishing it as a jewel of my childhood.
I think my parents liked to order books, even before there was an “online” presence. They had Time-Life science books delivered monthly as well, and again, I would devour topic like, “Man and Space,” “Planets,” and “The Mind.” The last one was particularly cool, because they would include illustrations and games that your mind would play on you. For instance, one of the pictures had you stare at an American flag, although it had black stars, a yellow background and blue and black stripes. After 30 seconds of staring, you then would look up at the wall, and you would see a perfect red, white and blue flag in the image. It was so mysterious, and so wonderful. I was able to snag a number of those special books now for my own library, even though the bookplate says, “A Book from the Library of Ruth and Roger Cross.”
Like deciding which book you like best is akin to naming your favorite child, but I have to say that one book in particular captured my mind and my heart. It was a big black tome with gold writing, called “Golden Treasury of Bible Stories.” It was awesome. The story book walked you through the entire Bible, and all the stories that seemed to matter. Every so often, there would be a beautiful, full-color, detailed picture that would illustrate the particular story you were reading. So, we had Adam and Eve, tastefully covered with long hair on Eve, and strategically placed shrubs in front of the couple. There was tiny David, flinging the stone at Goliath. Of course, there was the scene at the manger, and other important events in biblical history.
I would linger at the pictures, and I must say they became the framework for imagining all the different stories of the Bible. To me, there was no reason to have another image – these were the best, in my six year old opinion.
We were free to look at any book we wanted, so long as we followed the two important rules of the house: one – don’t be careless with the book. Someone else after you might want to read it, so take care, and put it back when you are done reading it. Two – and this was perhaps even more dire – when you are reading the book, absolutely, completely, surely do NOT eat anything. Ever.
Well rules are important, of course, but one afternoon after school, the old hunger pangs took hold. I decided that my best course of action would be to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Of course, there was no need to scrimp, so I loaded lots of peanut butter on one side, and lots of grape jelly on the other, smushed the bread together, and curbed my hunger.
However, I learned early how to multi-task. I decided, while I was eating my sandwich masterpiece, that I would just take a look at the Golden Book. It seemed to be a perfect match. I flipped through the pictures, not worrying about reading the stories, and once again got caught up in the imagining of how it would have been “back then.” I know. It was against the rules. But nothing would happen, right?
When I eat a sandwich, I eat all around the outside crust first, to get that over with, and then I have the tasty, non-crust innards left. Of course, that means the infrastructure of the sandwich is compromised, but if you keep turning it around and around as you eat, as the inner blob moves around, you grab it with your mouth before it plops out on to your lap. This was my procedure as I thumbed through the book.
I came to the picture that illustrated, “The Giving of the Law,” when Moses went up on Sinai. I didn’t understand the story at all, but the picture was incredible! Purple and white, and lightning and people cowering below the mountain – it was one of my favorite pictures, because it was so full of power and action.
Unfortunately, as I stared at the picture, I neglected to keep rotating the sandwich, and as it was poised just in front of my mouth… the big plop happened. Peanut butter and jelly, right on the giving of the law, which at that moment I understood with a deathly shudder meant not to eat while looking at a book…
I was frozen in panic, filled with dread. I had not just broken the family law – I had really messed up a picture I liked. In that moment, I lost my mind, and as quickly as I could, I slammed the book shut, peanut butter and jelly and all, right on Mt. Sinai. I quickly put the book back on the shelf, and slunk away in the darkness of my own sin…
I suppose it was a few days later, when from the other room, I heard the distinct, “Ick! What’s this?” and then the sound of fine quality, glossy picture paper ripping in two. One of my other siblings had sprung the trap, while they looked at the book innocently and unknowing of its danger.
The investigation followed, but enough days had passed that the trail was cold, and my tracks were covered well enough that I was never found out.
Two thing happened of course: one was that I really didn’t look at the book after that day. The other is that I felt a sadness, and the first real understanding of being wicked. The word “wicked” doesn’t mean what we have transformed it into being, as a witch that wants to get Dorothy. The word itself really means, “one who strives to live apart from God.” The “ways of the wicked,” are those ways that refuse to abide by God’s call to us to live holy, and righteous and loving. The “wicked” do what they want, but they end up living completely alone.
So there I was, wicked wretch, destroyer of the Giving of the Law – and all alone in my disobedience. I never told Mom or Dad. I’m not crazy. Nor did I ever let on to my brothers or sisters. But the book, sitting for years on my parents’ shelf, reminded me of perhaps the first time I decided I didn’t need to abide in the truth, or even be considerate.
When the books were divided up, I was able to bring the Golden Treasury home to my home. Half the picture that had been peanut buttered still remains – interesting that it is the top of the picture, which illustrates the power of God above the people. I have to say that book means more to me than any other I have.
We are interesting beings, us humans. When I talk constantly about being intentional, and living that kind of life, I guess I need to expand the meaning of the word, so that we are called to live intentionally GOOD, with our will and our decision making based on what pleases God, and brings glory to God’s name, and not just being intentionally self-centered! We are all given the gift of living under God’s loving care, and it’s a safe bet that each of us, at some time, will decide we know better, and eat a peanut butter sandwich in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or worse, as lives get ruined, and hearts get broken, and our own lives sour and lose joy over our bad decisions.
I simply leave with you today this cautionary tale, and let you think about the way in which we all may and should live as children of God. Peace.
Word for the day: cynosure. Pronounced SIGH-no-sure. Fascinating word, that’s not used much anymore. It comes from the Latin and the Greek before that. The Greek kouno, means “dog,” and oura, means “tail.” So, literally, it’s a dog’s tail. That of course is before it runs through the filter of the ages. As the Greek sailors would search the sky for direction of where they were heading, one constellation was very important. “Ursa Minor” which today we call the “little dipper or little bear” was once seen as a dog, and the end of the “dipper” was really seen as the tip of the dog’s tail. That “end” star is the North Star, the key star which guided mariners and kept them from losing their way. So, “cynosure” came to be defined as “the center of attention,” or the “object of attention,” as one would search out the North Star in the night sky. The best we could use the word for today is that thing that guides us, and keeps us on track, and that keeps our attention.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.