• Mindy and I went out today to find a Christmas tree for her apartment, and drove to three Christmas tree farms that were already closed for the season.  The droughts around the country have evidently lowered supply and squeezed the demand. We finally found her a Canaan Fur on the other side of Charleston.
  • Came across this website offering 25 unique Christmas gifts.  Click here to see it.  Isn't it amazing how much we never thought we needed something...until someone tells us about it.  I was able to resist temptation, being at the point in life where I am more ready to divest in things than accumulate!

December 9 , 2018
Judging a Book by Its Cover
My friend Miles is four years old.  And since he had some spare time last Wednesday evening (waiting for the kid's program to start), he meandered into my study for a little visit.  We chatted for a bit...just superficial stuff.  And then he thought he'd like to look at some of the Santa Fe photos on my computer. This led to conversations about bears, honey, spiders, beads on Christmas trees...  We dispatched each of those topic rather quickly, however, because he was distracted by my nearby books on the Old Testament.  Something about them appealed to his curiosity.  Maybe I had overlooked that he was actually a budding scholar. Before long, he wandered over to the shelves...and pulled off a commentary on Isaiah...then a volume on Hebrew grammar.  Eagerly opening each one...he quickly looked disconcerted...discovering to his dismay that there were no pictures.
So, I took him into my other book room and found "The Comic Book Version of the Bible".  Miles was relieved to see that it was full of pictures, but quickly got distressed again because the cover was ratty and the binding was falling apart.  

(At this point, you may be intrigued as to why that particular book was so used...maybe even wondering whether I must use my comic book version of the Bible considerably more often than I refer to my highfalutin scholarly tomes. I'll just leave you to your imagination.)  

Miles then asked me point blank:  Did I have any good books he could borrow?  Even though I have a couple thousand books in my professional library, all of which I like to lend, I was distressed to think that I didn't have a single one that matched his two simple criteria:  a) pictures on the inside and b) a pretty cover on the outside.  

So, we headed down to the church library to find something better for him.  And he quickly selected a fine children's book for himself.

Then he began to feel generous and announced that he would also get some books for his sister and his parents. For Maddie, he selected a thick hardback with a lovely pink cover. She wouldn't need pictures, since she was old enough to read.  For his mother, he choose a nice soft purple paperback (her favorite color).  And dad got a plain blue hardcover.  The title on the purple paperback was, The REALLY Bad Girls of the Bible.  But Miles is only four, and I'm pretty na├»ve, so neither one of us quite understood what that meant.
Anyway, my time with Miles was my most amusing moment of the week.  And that's what I usually write about in this letter:  whatever amuses me.  But Miles is more than just an amusement, as any child should be...to anyone who is serious about being Christlike.  Jesus says that we should take our cues from the little children.  So I've been trying to ponder what God wanted Miles to teach me.  
But shouldn't I be teaching him?  
  • Explain to him that you can't just judge a book by its cover!  
  • Don't just be picking things out, willy-nilly, to give to your sister and your parents...get some advice first!  
  • Sit down a minute, and be quiet, and let me teach you how to read some words...you'll like it!  Blah, blah, blah.  
And then I imagined Jesus stopping by the study to chat with the both of us.  And Miles would sit down at his feet and pelt him with questions.  And Jesus would have a satchel with some picture books, and he'd pull them out and send them home with Miles.  

And I'd casually try to amuse Jesus by regaling him with how Miles had tried to borrow books from me, and all he cared about was pictures, and it didn't mean anything to him how scholarly (and expensive) the books were that disinterested him. And I'd try to get Jesus to laugh by telling him that Miles was disappointed that the commentary on Isaiah had no pictures.  
And I imagined that Jesus would look at me a moment, and then quietly tell me that if I had more books with pictures, more kids (of all ages) would want to stop by my study and chat with me.  
"Mike, Mike," he would declare, "you are worried and troubled about many things.  Miles has it right.  Well...not entirely right.  But everyone should know that there's no possible way to write a book explaining Isaiah without including at least a couple dozen pictures:  can't be explained otherwise!"

Thanks Jesus.  I get the point.   But why is it that you're not very good at chit-chat?

Later, as I was driving home, down Western Avenue, I saw all the houses trimmed with Christmas lights, decorations and delights spilling through so many yards!  And I thought how little I know about what is going on inside  each of those houses:  what food is cooking, what topics are being discussed, what battles are being fought, what amusements are being enjoyed, what fears are spooking the inhabitants...  How little I knew of the insides of those homes.  I was just enjoying the exteriors...and enjoying them very much.  And it was good.  

My knowledge isn't really any better than Miles's. Its just more cluttered.  Sometimes it is enough, though, to simply notice the beauty, without getting all intellectual.  The exterior is no less real than the interior.  The surfaces we enjoy many not be everything in life, of course. But they are something!  --Mike  

 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I write it when I first wake up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation.  The letter you see published here is usually revised from what the congregation receives.  This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than advising.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS


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