A Murder, Eternal Assurance and Something About Cold Hands

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The police ruled it a murder-suicide.  Not like a “usual” one, though, where an agitated party murders a loved one, then turns the gun on themselves.  Often sparked by an assumption of infidelity.

No, the perpetrator in this case felt aggrieved over something (does it really matter what?), so he went out and found a complete stranger to murder.  Then, as the song says, “He turned his own cold hand.”

A mess, a tragedy, a crime, a venal sin.  Call it what you want, it was hard to think of any good associated with it.

Unless you were the preacher at the funeral for the perpetrator of this heinous act.  “He was a loving father,” said the preacher and “He’s in a better place now.”  In case that were too ambiguous, the preacher went on to specify that the “better place” was heaven, in the arms of his (the perp’s) Lord.

It was just a few weeks after another troubled person in our town had taken her own life.  A teenager with no known conflicts, no note left behind to explain things, decided death was better than life and brought about her own end one afternoon while everyone was out of the house.

At that funeral, too, the preacher—a different preacher from the other funeral—assured the audience that the dead girl was “in a better place.”  You know what?  Maybe she was.  The Bible speaks of an unforgivable sin, but it’s not suicide.  It’s the blasphemy (or rejection) of the Holy Spirit.  Now, suicide might well be a sign of such a rejection.  I tend to think that, most often, it is.  That, for whatever reason or factors, a person has decided that their life is not worth living and—by inference—God has abandoned them.

I don’t believe God has abandoned them, but once a person gets to that point in their thought processes, turning the ship around is not an easy task.  I also don’t think that suicide is an absolute guarantee that the person has rejected the overtures of God through his Holy Spirit.  Maybe they just forgot for a time, or acted in haste.  (Which, if that’s unforgivable then everything I have ever done because I momentarily forgot or got cocky is going to be held against me, too.)  Maybe it’s the result of a chemical imbalance.  That doesn’t make suicide right—and it certainly isn’t “right” for anyone left behind—and, more than anything, this is in the purview of God. But since he didn’t say, “Suicide is the unforgivable sin” I’m sure not going to say it is.

On the other hand, I have a hard time with declaring someone who has decided their gift from God wasn’t worth keeping as automatically sitting in his mansion.  (Again, it’s not up to me, [praise God!] but) I think about the auditorium of high school kids at that second-mentioned funeral who came away with the idea that, if life sucks, just end it and let God take you to heaven.  If that were the way it worked, why didn’t God tell us all to off ourselves as soon as we came up out of the baptismal waters?

Now, I have great sympathy for those preachers.  They were asked to preside over a funeral—which is an event for the living; specifically, the family—and bring comfort at a time when comfort seems impossible.  The family is already sitting there wondering, “What signs did I miss?  Is there something I could have done?”  Still, to tell everyone that everything’s fine, now, doesn’t seem like the path of honesty, either.

Not too long after these two events, a car filled with teenagers caught our attention.  An inexperienced driver, with a car full of hung-over, under-aged drinkers, plunged to the death of everyone inside.  Horrible, horrible, thing.  Lives lost, other lives shattered.  But once again, we were told they were all in a better place.  In this case, because they had all attended church while children.  No one in the car had been in church in some time, there was no visible fruit of living for God in their lives, but because they once attended Sunday School without actively setting fire to the sacraments, they’re in heaven.

We don’t want to think bad of the dead, and there’s probably no way I can honestly end this blog without coming out harsh to modern sensibilities … but what if all or some of the people from the above-mentioned incidences are not in a better place?  There’s nothing we can do about it now—for their sakes, anyway—but what about ours?  I firmly believe in grace as an undeserved and unearnable gift, but what if how we live after having received grace—what if the fruit we produce, as Jesus put it—really does matter?  What if life—even a hard life—is a gift from God that shouldn’t be thrown away?

Do We Have Something Better to Do With Our Time Than Worry About the Aliens?

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I receive an email letter each week from a prominent Christian ministry with whom I generally agree.  (I say generally even though, to date, I can’t think of a specific stance of theirs I disagreed with—though I have not read every issue assiduously so there may have been other points with which I would have differed.)  Within each email, there is a question—ostensibly sent in by a reader—and then an answer provided by the ministry.

The question last week was, “Did Jesus die for aliens, too?”

Let me print the first paragraph of the ministry’s two-paragraph response:  “An understanding of the gospel makes it clear that salvation through Christ is only for the Adamic race—human beings who are all descendants of Adam. Do an Internet search and you will find many examples over the years of both Christians and non-Christians who have made comments similar to this. In essence we are saying that Bible-believing Christians would have a problem with a belief in aliens because Jesus died for the human race, and thus only humans in this universe can be saved. Thus Bible-believing Christians don’t (or can’t) accept the belief there are aliens on other planets.”

Now, as someone who has read the Bible from cover to cover several times I take issue with this conclusion in that I don’t think the Bible says a single word—for or against—the idea of life on other planets.  Not one.  (For instance, I believe the angels mentioned are really angels and not “visitors from another planet”.)

I do agree that salvation comes through Jesus and Jesus alone.  I’m going to surprise some people here and put in a “however”.

Salvation comes through Jesus and Jesus alone, however, what if there’s a planet out there with people on it who never sinned?  Who (a la CS Lewis’s “Paralandra”) when Satan tried to tempt their Adam and Eve, stood up to him and trusted in God?  If they never fell, they would have no need for Christ’s redemption.  In fact, they would be walking with God in their garden still.

If they never sinned, were never cursed with death, what would they be like?  Assuming (as I do) that God created all of the universe at the same time, then from the beginning of the universe until now—using fully-functional brains that were not stunted by sin and led by scientists who didn’t die and continued to work on their own ideas—they would be so far ahead of us technologically that, even if they came to earth, we would probably appear to them as something just above a hamster in the intelligence department.

Of course, without sin, maybe they wouldn’t have even seen the need to leave their garden in the first place.  Let’s say they did, though.  What if God did put life on other planets but he only put one life-bearing planet in each galaxy?  What are the odds that we would ever find each other?  Our galaxy’s pretty big, and we’re on a planet in the western spiral arm, so what if the nearest planet with life is in another arm?  Even with incredibly advanced technology, would they ever find us?  Even if we find each other—through radio waves or something—how long ‘til we can actually make contact?

Louis L’Amour (yes, the western author) once wrote that he couldn’t understand the people who want us to be visited by aliens.  Because, he wrote, we would need to hope they were nothing like us as our history is one of conquering or destroying any society we deem inferior to our own.

What if, though, there are aliens out there, aliens who never fell into sin, and they come here one day.  I think of the people who want aliens to come and teach us the “mysteries of the universe” mainly in the hope they’ll prove to us that there is no God.  I’m chuckling as I picture those people’s reactions if the aliens were to show up and start talking about Yahweh God!

But what if, on another planet somewhere, the inhabitants fell into sin just as we did?  Then I trust in God to provide them with salvation.  Would Jesus have to die for them, too?  It seems clear from Scripture that he only had to die once.  So, I go back to my earlier thought that, if there are aliens on other planets, a] they were put there by God and 2] they are sin-free and, thus, do not need to be saved.

Let me return to one of the things I said earlier, though: I find no warrant in Scripture for either the existence or non-existence of life on other planets.  I just don’t think the Bible addresses the subject in any way, shape or form.  Now, when I get to heaven, if God tells me there were people on other planets (and introduces some of them to me) I won’t be surprised.  If I get there and he tells me that Earth was the only planet where he ever put sentient life, I will only be a little surprised (because the universe is such a big place so why not put life on some of the other planets?).

Still, aside from this blog and a novel I will probably never get around to writing, I don’t see a lot of sense in spending much time pondering the matter when there’s so much to be done on the one planet we are convinced contains intelligent life.

{I have great respect for the organization, but in the interest of not being accused of plagiarism, I have to tell you that the above quoted paragraph is from “Answers in Genesis”.}

The Appeal of Legalism

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Legalism is one of those things we dislike in other people but generally like if we get to set the parameters.  And what’s really wrong with it? we wonder.  (When it’s our legalism, anyway.  We know what’s wrong with everyone else’s legalism.)  It just means that some things are right and others are wrong, right?

That’s fine in math.

As much as many of us say we hate math, we like the aspect of it that 2+2=4 and 2+5≠8.  And it’s always that way.  (Yes, I know that it’s usually at this point that some egghead objects that, “Well, not always.  When talking of theoretical numbers … “  Um, dude, I wasn’t talking about theoretical numbers, nor was I talking about 2+2 in the context of a larger calculation.  Left alone, 2+2=4, OK?)

Anyway, we want life to be like that.  In this context, we would like morality to be like that.  I know of a church, a good, strong, Bible-teaching church in most ways, that asks everyone who becomes a member to sign a “no-alcohol” pledge.  I wonder if that includes Nyquil?

And there’s the rub.  See, it’s not just that Nyquil helps some people (not me, it keeps me awake!), it’s that the Apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach.  Why?  Maybe as a sedative, maybe as just a sort of bi-carb.  I know people who find that a small glass of wine helps them to relax their muscles and sleep better at night—possibly because of the antioxidants.

But see, we also know the danger of alcoholism.  Pick up a newspaper (remember those?  If not, ask your grandparents, they still have one delivered right to the front door!) and read through it.  There was probably a wreck near your house last night and alcohol was the presumed cause.  Someone had too much and thought they could drive just fine.

So it seems easier to say, “Let’s just ban all alcohol.”  And honestly, if I never had another alcoholic beverage between now and death, I probably won’t be missing out on much of anything.  (The same could be said of soft drinks, cheese, and TV, but let’s stick to alcohol for at least one more paragraph.)

If Jim Smith decides that he is going to swear off alcohol, I have no problem with that.  Maybe he’s doing it for medical reasons, or because he wants to be an example to his kids or maybe it was some good friend of his who caused that alcohol-laced crash we read about two paragraphs back.  Maybe Jim just feels like the alcohol was coming between him and God in some way.  When Jim tells me, then, that he’s giving up alcohol and why, I’ll probably say something like, “Good for you!”

The problem is when human nature kicks in, as it so often does, and Jim starts telling me and everyone else around that we have to give up alcohol.  His reason(s) for giving it up might be spectacular.  However, there’s not a Bible verse that says, “Thou shalt not drink alcohol!” and to pretend that there is, or that this man-made wisdom one has discovered should be canonized, is when we abandon wisdom for legalism.

Of course, alcohol is not the only place where legalism creeps in, often under the guise of serving God.  I know of another church which will not allow a person to become a member who has ever gone through a divorce.  I don’t like divorce, either, and could spend another whole blog arguing whether the Bible permits it in some circumstances or not, but what I want to address here is one particular bugaboo.

Joe Public married Janie Abernathy one day.  Three years later, Joe and Janie divorced.  For this blog, we’ll say the reason they divorced was because Janie tended to burn the toast and Joe often left his clothes on the floor.  In other words, their sacred vows were discarded in favor of convenience.  Two years after the divorce, Joe married Susy Applecart.  The new Mister and Mrs. Public started attending First Church—maybe because it was where they got married—and then they decided to give their lives to Christ.  Both come forward and are immersed one Sunday, praise the Lord!

This church I know of (which I introduced two paragraphs back, for those who don’t remember), would not let Joe become a member because of his past divorce.  I understand their championship of marriage, but do you realize what they are doing?  They are holding against Joe a sin God does not hold against him!  Was it a good thing that Joe divorced Janie?  No.  There may continue to be repercussions, especially if he and Janie had kids, but having repented, his sins are now taken as far away as the east is from the west.  How dare a church say, “But we don’t forgive you!”

Through all this, I still say I understand the appeal of legalism.  It would be easier to just say, “No alcohol, no gambling, no divorce, no whatever!”  But, amazingly, God gave us brains and trusts us to use them!  Sure, alcohol can be a problem but used properly it can be a help.  Gambling can become a problem and—it could be argued—is a waste of money about 99.9% of the time, but maybe God didn’t prohibit it because he knew that serving him is going to require us to take some risks.

Maybe it’s why he tells us, through Paul, to “take every thought captive.”  Every day, every moment, every thought, has great potential.  Maybe some of these things aren’t sinful in and of themselves, but—at this moment in time—they could cloud or derail that potential.

Nobility, a Thought

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A particular TV show has been recommended to me quite often of late, several of the recommendations coming from Christians I respect.  I don’t have cable, satellite or Netflix, though, so my only way to watch would be through the purchase of DVDs.  Before plunking down that kind of money, I thought I ought to do a little research to see what the show was like.

Adventure, swords … “A lot like ‘Lord of the Rings’” one good friend told me.  That did sound intriguing.  Based on what I had read, though, I asked him, “But doesn’t it have a lot of nudity and graphic sex?”  He replied, “I don’t pay attention to those parts.”

Based on the fact that he is a male, with a wife an children of his own, I immediately concluded that he was lying.  More on that (maybe) in a minute.

Another person who I talked to about this show assured me that “I don’t let my kids see those parts.”  He didn’t deny seeing them himself.  And secondly, notice that neither of these people denied that the show contains copious amounts of nudity and sex (not to mention graphic violence—something I don’t have as much trouble with but maybe I should).

Before I go any further, let me be clear (as a politician with a particularly opaque behavioral pattern is fond of saying), I am in no way advocating for censorship of this show (or any other) or even a boycott of it.  I realize that freedom of speech is easily abused, but I have a great fear that if it is infringed upon (in the case of a TV show like this, for instance) the next infringement will be on my freedom to preach the gospel or write things like this.

Still, I can’t help but think of the Apostle Paul’s words when he wrote (or said, I happen to think he dictated his letters), “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  (Philippians 4:8, for those of you keeping score at home.)

Is this a command?  Even if it’s not, even if it’s just a suggestion on Paul’s behalf, I think two questions are worth asking in light of the current discussion: 1] what benefit is gained by following it; and 2] what are the consequences of ignoring it?

The benefit of following is a mind (and heart and life) filled with light.  The danger of ignoring, is that we let darkness—even if it’s just one hour’s worth of darkness a week—into our lives.  The same thing could be said of much of the TV, movies, music and books we let into our lives.  Does every word we read need to be Scripture or written by Max Lucado or CS Lewis?  No, but I think it’s worth asking what this “entertainment” I am choosing puts into my head [it stays there, I can’t pretend it doesn’t when I hear a song—even a worship song—I haven’t heard since high school and still can sing along with every word] and how it is influencing further thoughts.

Comic book from Samuel Ben White now available on Kindle!

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The first issue of my adventure/humor comic book, “Burt & the I.L.S.” is now available on Kindle and Kindle Fire!  Read more about it here!

In the vein of “Terry & the Pirates”, with a healthy dose of “Cottage & CO” humor thrown in, “Burt & the I.L.S.” is the most fun you’ll have with your Kindle today!  And it looks just as good on a standard (black and white) Kindle as it does on the Kindle Fire!

Click on the pic to the left there to get a peek at the first page.

“Do Not Let Your Heart Be Troubled”

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There I was, reading my Bible in a mostly daily fashion when I hit this like a tree thrown in front of a stagecoach in an old western:

“Jesus said, ‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust in me.’”  (John 14:1)

Why did that verse catch me so?  I know I’ve read it before.  May times, in fact.  I’ve heard it quoted many times, too.

And that was the thought that came to mind when I first came to a stop on this verse.  I wasn’t thinking about past readings of it, but of a past quote.  “Most of a quote” I should clarify.  For, in the movie adaptation of “Fellowship of the Ring,” it is Galadriel who says to Frodo, “Do not let your heart be troubled.”  (I looked it up—by reading the whole novel—and yes, she says it in the book, too.)

Galadriel is promising a rest from weariness to Frodo—and the rest of the fellowship—if they will but tarry a while in Lothlorian.  Thanks to the skill of the elves, they can keep the bad guys out for a while.

It’s a great line from a great movie (and even better novel), but it’s also just that: a line from a movie.  And, even within the context of the movie, it’s not a blanket statement.  Galadriel knows that what she is offering is only a temporary respite.  Eventually, Frodo and company will either have to get back out on the road/river, or evil will break down the defenses of the forest.  Like other stops along their path (most notably: Elrond’s house), Lothlorian can only shelter them for a time.

Jesus’s promise has no such temporal qualifier.  He goes on—in the next few verses—to promise his followers a room in the very house of God which won’t wear out.  No evil will ever encroach on it, let along get inside to spoil it.

Yet, there is something he asks of us—a key to the door, you might say: trust in God and trust in him.

How hard is that?  Incredibly simple, isn’t it?

Until we try it.  Then, it turns out to be one of the hardest things we’ve ever done.  Especially in the good times.  When laying in a hospital bed, or sitting next to one and watching a loved one slowly slip away, it’s pretty easy to trust in God if for no other reason than, “What else can I do right now?!?”

Often, it’s harder to trust in God when things are going great.  Bills are paid, no one in the family is sick, and there’s a good show on television.  It’s hard to trust in God at those times because we don’t feel an overwhelming need to do so.

As I write this, the wind is whipping by outside the window with such ferocity I keep looking up expecting to see pieces of the roof flying by.  It occurs to me to trust in God to keep the roof (and steeple) on because I sure can’t do anything about it.  But if I lose all or part of the roof, so what?  It’d be a pain and inconvenience, but not much more.  It might even do me physical harm or, if I’m lucky, kill me, but big deal.

That’s nothing compared to trusting God and Jesus with … everything.  Not just life or death moments, but those simple little moments that might turn into heaven or hell moments—for me or someone I’m called on to minister to.  I think that kind of trust comes only with practice and complete surrender.

Do I trust enough to surrender?  Can I surrender enough to trust?

Sick of Nostalgia

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As my laptop cratered earlier this evening, I thought about getting mad, but then I thought: why bother?  It’s what computers do.  They wear out on us.

Some people, whose intelligence I will try my best not to disparage, say at a time like this, “Oh, for a good old typewriter!  Am I right?”  And then they begin to list all the advantages of a typewriter: instant hardcopy.  No problem when the power goes out.

And then they’re pretty much stumped.

See, I “grew up” on a typewriter.  I remember the typewriter we had in our house growing up in Abilene, Texas (official motto: “We’ll think of one eventually”).  It sat on a bureau in the kitchen, right under the wall phone, where a quick label or even a short letter could be banged out by anyone in the family at a moment’s notice.  Mostly, it provided people with something to do while listening to a boring phone “conversation” (i.e. monologue) from someone whose feelings you didn’t want to hurt by hanging up on them though you wouldn’t have minded hitting them with a hammer.

As I grew older and became enamored with the power of words and a fascination with producing them on a typewriter, I began to lug said typewriter to my room, where I would type on stories until the wee hours—much to the chagrin of my sisters who were in the next room.  And did I say “lug”?  That may be too mild of a word.  Our family actually had a typewriter that was (probably) advertised when new (sometime during the Harding administration) as “portable”.  I can just see the ads in “Life” and “Colliers” that probably showed some smart, trim-looking woman wearing the height of fashion, stepping happily down the street, carrying our typewriter as if it weighed no more than a bagel—and it was conveniently shaped like a purse, too!

In reality, it weighed something more than a beagle and had all the aesthetic charm of an anchor.  The keys were all made out of metal that had only partially been melted down after the Merrimac was decommissioned and were guaranteed to stick every time you tried to type too quickly a word with a “th” in it … or a vowel.

The ribbon!  Who can forget the joys of typewriter ribbon?  How many people in nursing homes today landed there because of the alcohol they drank to try and forget the typewriter ribbon?  For those of you young enough to not have any idea what I am talking about, as you typed on the keyboard of a typewriter (whose keys were arranged in the same non-alphabetical order as what you see on your modern keyboard), tiny little metal “things” would strike a black “ribbon” and print “letters” (and even quotation marks) on the paper you had—hopefully—remembered to insert in the typewriter.

For a while.  Eventually, the ribbon would run out of “black” (or even red, remember those?  The typewriter with the duel-colored ribbon which, in theory, allowed you to type the New Testament but usually just produced writing where the top two thirds of the letters were black and the bottom third was either red or non-existant?).  When the ribbon ran out of black, you were supposed to replace it.  Except that only the people in the State Mental Home for the Chronically Overprepared had spare ribbons on hand (or knew where they kept them—we sometimes owned several new ribbons, but they hid in the backs of closets until unneeded).

This is where typewriters became really fun, kids!  All typists believed that, somewhere on the ribbon that had been in their typewriter for several senatorial campaigns, there was a “sweet spot”, a place on the ribbon where there was enough black to finish out the letter to Aunt Rose you were typing.  So you would hand-wind the ribbon back and forth, looking for that spot, only to find that—yes, there was SOME black left but, unfortunately, by that time it was all on your fingers.

And have I mentioned those erasers that were supposed to be capable of erasing typed print but were actually little bits of sandpaper shaped like an eraser and designed to, with two quick strokes, rub a hole all the way through your paper?  I haven’t?  Well, don’t get me started.

Yes, I want to boot my laptop (not as in “reboot”, but as in “kick it like a football”), but I have just enough brain cells left to know I don’t want to go back to a typewriter.  Maybe I’ll just write all these things out in pencil and tie them to the feet of birds—any bird will do, I’m sure—with express instructions to take the message to the High Plains Observer.

Hole-y Cow!

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In one of the more alarming news stories you probably missed from the great state of Indiana (official motto: “We have a motto!”), holes are forming and disappearing at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Now, officials are quick to tell us these are not like the sinkholes we’ve been seeing on the news that have swallowed houses and—in one of the most tragic events of our young century—several classic Corvettes.  No, these are little holes that are only about a foot to eighteen inches wide—barely big enough in which to lose a small, cherished, family pet—which appear for a day or two and then DISAPPEAR.

Yes, you read that right.  The holes appear in the sand dunes seemingly out of nowhere, and then they fill back in.  If you’re like me, the first thing that comes to mind is a thought like, “What’s for lunch?”  The second thought is a more thoughtful one like, “Sounds like a problem that solves itself.”

Researchers at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which is near the wonderfully-named Indiana town of Michigan City, however, are extremely worried about this phenomenon.  One of the main researchers, Geologist Erin Argyilan, is said to break into tears at the mere thought of these mysterious holes.

She is also said to be seven months pregnant in the article I read.  Now, pardon me for being an insensitive and misogynistic chauvinistic pig for thinking this, but could some of the tears have been caused by the hormones of pregnancy?  I remember when my wife was expecting our first child and—I’m not kidding—once broke down crying because the self-serve line at the grocery store wasn’t open.

Having holes that randomly appear and disappear in one’s landscape, I can see where that might cause some alarm, but tears?  Then again, maybe she’s worried about losing something in one of those holes, something she really cares about, like her car keys or something.  I shouldn’t be so quick to judge.

There is much speculation about what is causing the holes.  These sand dunes apparently cover an area that once had trees, so some people are speculating that, as the trees underneath the sand decay, they eventually collapse and a hole is formed, which then fills up with the blowing and drifting sand.  Living in the Texas panhandle, I can understand the concept of blowing and drifting sand.  I can’t really picture it filling in holes, though.  All the sand that has blown into my back yard these last few days, none of it has filled in the holes the dog dug.  (“Dog dug” is a fun phrase, say it to yourself a few times.  See what I mean?)  No, the sand that blows into my back yard will very carefully cover the one section of the yard that actually has grass.  This way, I have to go out there and rake the sand away from the grass like I’m in some kind of weird golf course, in hopes the grass doesn’t follow the rest of my yard into the great beyond.

But I’m not sure about this concept of trees.  I’ve heard of them, but what are they?  I would call Geologist Erin Argyilan, but I don’t know how long ago the article I read was written and she might be in labor by now and I hate to interrupt her at a time like that.

A Jacket, But Not for Cold

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I venture to guess that most of us, if we have ever thought about dust jackets, have not thought much about them.  In fact, up until my having mentioned it, the vast majority of both my readers have probably never given them much thought at all.

What exactly is the purpose of a dust jacket and why is it called that?  Without going to the extraordinarily tiresome work of looking things up, I’m going to guess that someone, at one time, got the idea of wrapping a book in an extra layer of paper (as if there weren’t already a lot of paper in the book!) so as to keep the dust off.

The problem, someone quickly pointed out (there are always people ready to point out problems), was that with the book wrapped up in paper like that it made it awfully hard to get at the readin’.  It was then that someone else hit on the idea of only wrapping up the cover.  This solved the one problem but still left most of the book—especially that part full of reading matter—exposed to the dust.

At this point, the publisher probably just gave up and started drinking.

Now-a-days, the purpose of a dust jacket is to a] look attractive; 2] provide a few details about the contents of the book; and c] snag on things so that the cellophane tape people can stay in business.  (Oh, and, it also serves a fourth purpose as we use it to mark our page, unless it’s a book that is so thick that the dust jacket flap can’t reach as far as we’ve read but that’s OK because we probably weren’t ever going to finish that book, anyway.)

If a book were to lose it’s jacket, it’s not like it’s in danger of catching cold like some inattentive second grader who may have left her jacket in either the art room, the science class, or Aunt Nell’s.  If a book loses its jacket, about 99.9% of what made the book worth having to begin with is just as good as it ever was.

However, as a voracious reader [note to self: try to find a dictionary and see if that’s the word I meant], if I am reading a book that came with a dust jacket, I generally set the jacket aside until I have finished the book.  This is partly because I want it to stay pristine.  Why I care, I’m not sure.  If I have any friends who are likely to walk into my house and mumble under their breath about the ragged shape of my books, they have kept their voices so low I never knew what they were saying.  But maybe they aren’t saying anything because I’m one of those OCD people who, when it comes to books, can read all the way through a paperback without leaving any noticeable creases or breaks on the spine.  The pages turn yellow and fall out before I break the spine!

Anyway, the other reason I take the dust jacket off while reading a book is because if I don’t, another one of my personality quirks kicks in and my reading constantly gets interrupted by having to reposition the jacket as it has somehow slid up or down on the book.  “This book is really interesting but, oh my!  The jacket is poking a full eighth of an inch above the hard cover!  Zoot alores, or whatever it is the French exclaim!”

I say all this, though, because there is one other thing I like about dust jackets.  Sometimes, when you take one off, you find that the publisher has placed some attractive embossing on the hard cover.  Maybe it’s a symbol from within the book or maybe it’s just the title or the author’s name, but I always feel like I have uncovered a tiny little treasure.  Here’s this neat little picture, evocative of the whole book, and most people will never see it because they don’t look past the dust jacket.  Kind of my own little secret message from a publisher I’ll never meet, saying, “Hey, this is for you, a token of my esteem for someone who likes a good book.”


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I have always been on the frugal side.  OK, let’s just get it out in the open and say “cheap”.  I realized yesterday I have become even more so than I used to be and, being a true “Generation X’er”, I look outside myself to place blame.

Yesterday’s revelation was brought to me—and, by extension, to those of you who are reading this—by a desire for a softdrink.  It was about eleven o’clock and I suddenly had a craving for a soft drink (Dr Pepper was my preferred drink, though I wouldn’t have turned down a Sprite).  I didn’t get one, though.

Do I have incredible will-power?  No.  In case you forgot: I’m cheap.  The problem was not the calorie count but the time of day.  See, if I had had the craving just one hour and one minute earlier, I could have slaked my thirst—or craving—at Sonic, where all large drinks are cheap before 10 a.m.  If I had had my craving just three hours later, I could have gone to “Happy Hour” at any one of a number of establishments and gotten a drink large enough to do bladder damage with a single serving for as little as 79 cents.

Speaking of “Happy Hour”, back when I was in high school in Abilene, Texas, they opened up a new Mall (called, wittily enough, “The Mall of Abilene”).  One of the businesses that opened up in the brand new mall was a semi-upscale restaurant—for Abilene, anyway—which had applied for a liquor license.  There was much debate about whether a business located in a mall, where children might walk by, should be allowed to sell the Devil’s brew.  Eventually, the business got the license because it had a door with which, used judiciously, they could keep children out.  The unforeseen consequence, though, was that it left the local liquor board unable to turn down license requests from other merchants in the mall, which led to daily “happy” hours at Famous Amos’s Hot Dog Stand.  Up until that time, “happy” hours had been held behind closed doors so, if you didn’t go out of your way to participate, you never knew what they were really like.  Now, just walking through the mall like any innocent kid, I was brought face to face with the fact that people who drink alcohol at three o’clock in the afternoon—at a hot dog stand, anyway—look anything but happy.  I guess “Famous Amos’s Morose Hour” just didn’t have the right ring to it.

So anyway, for those of you still following me who haven’t recently attended a happy hour and can remember clear back to two paragraphs ago, I was able to quell my desire for a Dr Pepper not with will-power but with parsimony because the drinks weren’t on for cheap anywhere.  By the time two o’clock rolled around, the craving had gone.  Personally, I count that day as a victory in my personal diet wars.

Still, I can’t take the credit.  I give the credit for my lack of sugary drink yesterday—credit or blame, either word works—to those fast food places who host happy hours.  If not for them, I would have sucked down a large Dr Pepper (or Sprite!) between the hours of 11 and twelve yesterday.  It’s not my fault.