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Pastor's Monthly Newsletter Message

October 2012

~A Book of Life~


“The Lord said to me, ‘Eat this book that I give you. Eat your fill of it.’  

I ate it, and it was sweet...”

~Ezekiel 3:3


Dear Friends,

            The book is about three inches thick.  Layers of yellowed tape hold a tattered cover to a broken spine.  But faded pictures are still visible through the tape.  There’s a mother bear in Victorian dress.  A whip-wielding rat, seated on a pumpkin with wheels—Cinderella’s carriage after midnight.  A frog in coattails and top hat.  An Indian nobleman riding atop a richly decorated elephant.  The book’s title is washed-out but legible in the quaint script of a bygone age: Young Years: Best Loved Stories and Poems for Children.  It’s a children’s book, yes, but when I unearthed it in my parents’ attic, about five years ago, I told my children that they were not allowed to touch it.  The book was too fragile, and too old, and too dear to my heart to fall into the hands of real life children!

            In addition to well-known tales, the book includes fables, and poems, and lesser known stories from the Brothers Grimm.  Turning back the cover, flimsy with age, I felt doubly justified in keeping the book away from my kids.  Many of the stories are dark and far more gruesome than contemporary versions.  The first two pigs don’t escape; they get devoured by the wolf, after which the third pig…eats the wolf.  Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother meets a similar fate.  The punishment for Snow White’s wicked queen is to be fitted with “red hot iron shoes, in which she had to dance until she fell down dead.”  Some stories in my old book are so shocking and violent that they don’t even appear in modern collections, like the gothic “Jack the Giant Killer,” not to be confused with “Jack and the Beanstalk.”  How had my four siblings and I survived these stories?  And on top of all this, much of the book’s language is lofty and archaic.

            Though I didn’t allow my kids to handle my old book, I did read it to them—simplifying the language and sifting out the violence as I went.  My daughters protested, “That’s not what Sleeping Beauty looks like!  That’s not how Aladdin is supposed to end!  That doesn’t look like the Beast!”   And it’s true.  The pictures and the storylines in my old book are uninfluenced by Walt Disney.  Pinocchio looks like a bowling pin carved out of wood.  The Beast looks like a wild boar.  The story of Rapunzel doesn’t include its Disney hero, Flynn.  And yet, as I leaf through the pages of my old storybook—which had been a Christmas present to me in 1971—I realize that these pictures shaped my young mind, and they are lodged forever deep in my memory and imagination.  The images from this very book worked their way into my thoughts, molding me, giving me narratives and even “visuals” by which to understand the difference between good and bad, kindness and cruelty, generosity and selfishness.  In some formative way, this book gave me a handle on the world.

            Nowadays, I allow my kids to do whatever they want with the book.  And since it doesn’t take batteries, and it doesn’t connect to the Internet, they mostly ignore it.  Like most modern children, they have so many books, and gadgets, and toys that one more is just…one more.  I have no hope that they will be as shaped by its images and tales as I was.  And yet, I do wonder what pictures and stories will help to form their young minds.  From what imaginative sources will they draw their visions of good and bad, freedom and bondage, home and exile?

            I recently heard a preacher say that imagination and faith have nothing to do with each other.  I disagree.  People live by stories.  All our life long, we cling to images that we collected somewhere in childhood.  Some of the stories and images that we live by are healthy and good, whereas others are not.  The Scriptures are the long, long story of how our faith ancestors experienced God in their lives and world.  The Scriptures shape our collective imagination as a church.  They give us stories to live by, parables by which to understand our world.  Some of those stories are better than others, and none can be used to teach science or history.  But they become God’s Word to us when the Spirit brushes up against them and speaks their truths anew into the day-to-day situations that we face.  What stories do you live by?  What age-old images do you cherish?  And how do they shape the person you are today?

Christ’s peace,