Everybody in the world needs an Uncle Bob.
He isn’t much to look at.
As near as I can tell he is ALWAYS dressed in red flannel. His shirt looks like he might have picked it up at Wal-Mart about three days following the first Mesopotamian War. My Uncle Bob is just a little teapot of a man with a sort of a question mark slump in his shoulders, a breath that smells a little of tobacco and Listerine, and a belly-bulge that looks as if a medicine ball had given birth to quadrupal-quintuplets inside of his stomach
Uncle Bob is a straight talker – which means that he ALWAYS says just exactly what is on his mind at that particular point in time – even though sometimes you might feel that he is taking the long way around the barn to get to his ultimate point.
In fact – Uncle Bob can be counted on to say out loud just EXACTLY what everyone else in the room is quietly thinking.
“Some stories need to be told straight out,” Uncle Bob told me once. “And some stories need to be snuck up on and some stories need to be shouted out loud. The only problem is knowing just exactly WHICH stories need to be told straight and which need to be rambled out and snuck up on. In fact there have been more wars and arguments started by folks trying to ramble around a straight out story than a fellow could count on a whole handful of fingers and toes times a whole entire pocketful of pocket calculators.”
Yes sir, the man has pure talking talent. I could listen to my Uncle Bob talking all day long – and sometimes I actually have.
Occasionally, I even had a choice in the matter.
But – if you want to boil the truth long enough the simple fact is that my Uncle Bob has taught me nearly everything there is to know about everything important in this world – and he’s just getting set to tell me about the rest of it.
Let me give you an example.
Let me tell you about my Uncle Bob’s Red Flannel Bible Camp.
This whole thing started when he caught me running away from my Sunday School. I had stuck my hand up and asked to leave the room and then I had gone ahead and left the entire building – namely, our town church – and if I have any sort of say in the matter I might keep on going until I have put an entire continent between me and Sunday School.
You see – I had NEVER really understood that whole concept about having to go to school on a Sunday. I mean I already went five days a week for most of the year. Why in the heck did grown-ups think that a fellow really needed an extra day of schooling?
“I didn’t like it in there,” I told Uncle Bob. “The preacher kept on talking about loving your enemies and forgiving and such.”
“Well, loving and forgiving is important,” Uncle Bob said. “Especially when it comes to talking about your enemies.”
I shook my head.
“I don’t know about that,” I said. “Benny Jeeters is always pushing me around at school.”
“He’s a bully, all right,” Uncle Bob said. “His Daddy was before him, too.”
“Well how am I supposed to forgive THAT?” I asked.
“The way I see it the only way I can truly forgive Benny Jeeters is maybe after I have snucked up behind him with a big old rock and maybe thumped him maybe thirteen or fourteen times – and then I might forgive him with a few kicks to the ribs and maybe show him my new baseball bat about five or six times fast before he could up and surprise-hit me back.”
“Is it really a surprise if a fellow sees it coming?” Uncle Bob asked me. “That whole process doesn’t sound very sporting to me.”
“It all depends on hold your mouth while you’re doing it,” I told him. “He who gets in his first hits fastest doesn’t get hit back come the lastest.”
Uncle Bob could see the truth in that.
“That still doesn’t tell me about why you hate Sunday School so much,” Uncle Bob said. “Why don’t you try and explain it to me?”
The way I figured it that would take me at least a month of Sundays to properly accomplish – but I figured I had better do my best to explain it to Uncle Bob before he took it into his head to take me back into Sunday School.
“I know all the stories already,” I said. “I’ve heard them at least a hundred times or so. I know that Eve got Adam in trouble by listening to a snake and then Cain hit Abel with a rock and God got upset and rained down buckets and drench-loads for forty days and forty nights and then Moses snuck out of Egypt after drowning the Pharoah and his army in the Red Sea – and I think the Tower of Babel fell down somewhere in between the hello and amen.”
“That’s pretty close,” Uncle Bob told me. “I guess you’ve been listening.”
It was true.
I liked listening to those stories just fine – the first two or three dozen times I went to church and actually listened – but after hearing them told every Sunday year after year after year I just had begun to think that maybe that preacher ought to find himself a whole new book.
“You like going to the library, don’t you?” Uncle Bob asked.
“Sure I do,” I said. “Books are like television that you can watch without ever having to worry about commercials. Books have special effects and fierce battles and sword fighting and gunplay and bank robbing and dragons and war. Books are cool – all day long.”
Some of the kids at school laughed at me about how much I loved books but the simple truth was I would spend a day curled up inside of a book than having a half a dozen birthday parties every year – unless those parties happened to happen inside of a bookstore.
“Well don’t you know that all they are talking about in Sunday School is the Bible?” Uncle Bob asked. “And the Bible is one of the best books in the whole wide world?”
I knew about the Bible.
Heck, I had even tried to read it once but I got all confused about all of that talk about begetting and smiting and such.
“The Bible is full of battles and death-defying escapes and lions and even a dragon or two. There is war and there are heroes and there is more special effects than you could shake a star cruiser at,” Uncle Bob went on.
“Now you’re just making stuff up,” I said. “I didn’t read any of that there.”
“I am not making it up,” Uncle Bob told me. “Besides, sometimes you have to make up something to get to the truth of what’s bothering you.”
I wasn’t so sure about what he was telling me.
In fact – I was pretty sure that he was just trying to fool me.
Grown-ups will do that to you if you let them get away with it.
“Just let me tell you one of the stories,” Uncle Bob said. “In fact I will tell the whole first book to you and then you try and tell me that you don’t think that it isn’t worth hearing about.”
Well, I figured so long as I didn’t have to go back into that dry old church that I had nothing to lose by sitting here and giving Uncle Bob’s version of the Bible a fair shake.
“This here first book is a story that is called Genesis,” Uncle Bob began. “And it goes something like this…”
And then he kept on talking.
Chapter One – Fiat Lux
“Let there be light,” God said – and then all at once there was a bright and calm and peaceful light shining across the entire universe.
God didn’t make that light, Uncle Bob went on. He just let us all see it – just the same way as you might let someone else see you smile – which is why I kind of like to think of God as the world’s largest light bulb. I suppose you might also think of him as something of a light switch – like he was just turning on the light – but I prefer to think of the light as shining right out of God like it was a part of him that he was allowing us to share in.
Now, just so as you know the rest of this story is going to be ALL my Uncle Bob talking so I am going to do away with all of the quotation marks and the “Uncle Bob said” parts so that you can get right down to the important part of listening and hear it all straight out.
Fiat Lux, Uncle Bob said.
Okay – so that last “Uncle Bob said” snuck out.
I promise I won’t interrupt you again.
Fiat Lux is Latin for “Let there be light” – and I know that it sounds like a cross between a sports car and a vacuum cleaner with a bar of soap caught up in its wind-hose and maybe it actually is because light is something that is bright and shiny and faster than anything you could ever think of.
“That’s good,” God said.
Come the next day – once God could finally see what he was doing he got right down to the business of world-building.
First he raised up a sky just the same way as you or me would raise up a roof over a big old barn that you and I were raising out of a heap of two by fours.
I like to think that he was covering the whole thing over with an umbrella of sky to protect it from spoiling.
“That’s good, too,” God said.
Then – on the third day, if you are actually keeping count – God just let fly a couple of terrifying terra-firma karate chops, neatly parting the land from the water just as easily as you might part your hair.
Now getting that water separated from that land was important because you can stand upon land but you sure can’t stand upon the sea – unless you are wearing a pair of inflatable life jackets for sneakers.
And I know that some of you know-it-alls and read-the-books out there are just dying to reach over and correct what I have just written down and to remind me about that young fellow from Galilee who actually did manage to walk upon the water – but what I am writing and telling you about right now is the Old Testament.
We’ll get to that New Testament, by and by.
“That’s good, too,” God said.
Some of you might also be wondering just why I am talking of light bulbs and race cars way back in a time when things were just getting started and race cars and light bulbs and vacuum cleaners hadn’t even been invented yet – but what I am talking about is the word of God – broken down for us ordinary people – and the way I see it the word of God is a kind of be-all and end-all sort of statement.
What I mean to say is that the word of God is timeless – so any anachronisms that you might spot need not actually apply.
Meanwhile – on that very same third day – God got down to the sowing and the planting and he cast down seeds of every kind that you could imagine. Before you knew it grass was growing and trees were branching up out of the dirt and whole fields of cabbage and tomatoes and bluebells and nasturtiums and potatoes started sprouting up like living green shouts of hallelujah come dinnertime.
But not brussel sprouts.
Not even God would touch brussel sprouts.
I don’t know just WHO invented brussel sprouts – but he sure wasn’t holy.
“That’s even better than good,” God said, feeling more than a little impressed with himself. “I must be on some kind of a wild lucky roll.”
Come the fourth day God decided that he needed a little bit more light and he threw the sun up into the sky and he wired it in good and proper and made sure it was up to the official celestial world-building code of construction and then he decided that he might like something a little calmer – like maybe say a night-light – so he wired in the moon – and then he poked a few holes in the night sky and he decided to call those poke-holes stars and then he strung up a few constellations to give folks something to dream on and then he had himself a cigarette – because even God needs to take a break now and then – and he decided that he would call that cigarette smoke something else.
“Wait a minute,” I interrupted. “Are you trying to tell me that God smokes cigarettes?”
“I never said that,” Uncle Bob replied. “What I am trying to do is to tell you a story.”
I wasn’t buying that at all.
“I don’t remember hearing anything about cigarettes in the Bible,” I said. “I don’t remember hearing the preacher mentioning anything about Marlborough country either.”
Uncle Bob thought about that.
“Listen,” Uncle Bob said. “I am telling you a story – which means that I am using my very own words and thoughts and imagination to do it with. No, it doesn’t say anything about God smoking a cigarette in the Bible. I just like to think of him that way is what I am saying.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Let’s say that you pick up a newspaper tomorrow,” Uncle Bob said. “And it’s got a story of the President of the United States in it. Do you think that story is going to mention anything about what the President had for breakfast or whether or not he had a beer or a cigarette before going to bed?”
“No,” I said. “I don’t imagine the story would have anything to do with what he ate or smoked or drank.”
“Of course not,” Uncle Bob said. “The story would be about what the President was doing for the country. It would be about him creating this political program or ordering that dam built or this particular war declared. Newspapers – and Bibles – rarely ever concern themselves with what God or the President does with his little time. To them it’s more important to talk about what he does with his big world-shaking this-is-what-is-going-to-affect-me-and-other-people sort of time.”
That made sense to me.
“Only I’m not writing a newspaper article,” Uncle Bob said. “I’m just telling a story about God and what he did back then. That means I get to use my own words and my own voice and my own particular ideas about what God is all about.”
I guess I could follow that.
At leastways I told Uncle Bob that I could.
“God created man in his own image,” Uncle Bob explained. “So when I tell my stories I like to think about God in my own image as well. It helps me understand him a whole lot more than just sitting down and reading and memorizing a full grown Bible.”
“Did you ever even read the Bible?” I asked Uncle Bob.
“I’ve read it twice in my lifetime,” Uncle Bob said. “And I’m reading it – bit by bit – for a third time. But when I tell a story I am telling it fresh for the very first time ever. And I try to tell it the best way that whoever I am telling it to can understand it.”
“So you mean that you’re lying about it?” I asked.
“No,” Uncle Bob said. “I am not lying about it. What I am doing is telling the story as I like to remember it. You see, to me, those old boys – Adam and Moses and Abraham and Cain – were most likely folks like you or me. They didn’t REALLY know that they were supposed to be biblical. They were just trying to get on with their day and do the very best they could – just the same as you or me.”
That made sense to me.
“I see God the same way too,” Uncle Bob said. “I see him as being just like me – a being who means well and is doing his job the very best way that he knows how.”
“So now God has a job?” I asked.
“Of course he does,” Uncle Bob said. “He has got a job and he does just as hard and as good as he can do it on account of he is trying to take care of his family – namely, all of us people down here on the planet earth.”
“If you say so,” I said, still not quite getting it.
“What I am trying to say is that I don’t exactly know exactly WHAT God is like,” Uncle Bob explained. “All that I know is that I hope God is a little like you or me because at the end of the day I wouldn’t feel one bit comfortable with a God who didn’t know how to relax and have a smoke and chew the fat at the end of the day.”
I guess I understood that a little bit. I always liked to figure that God took time out to read a comic book now and then to – because even God can enjoy reading about the Hulk dropkicking Superman all over the planet every now and then.
“So God DOESN’T smoke?” I asked.
“How would I know?” Uncle Bob asked with a grin that showed all of his fake teeth and the few real ones that he had left. “I’m just telling a story.”
“Now can I get back to telling it?” Uncle Bob asked.
“Go ahead and tell,” I told him.
“So God hung those stars and the moon and hand-waved his cigarette smoke all across the sky and decided on what to call them once he did,” Uncle Bob went on.
“I think I’ll call them clouds,” God said. “That makes a whole lot more sense than calling them whooping cranes.”
Now some of those heavenly star-holes were nothing more than whoops-goofs and fudge-it-ups where God had either misplaced a nail or banged his thumb with the hammer when he was swinging it.
And yes – even GOD his-own-self occasionally bangs his own thumb.
Once God had done all that sky-building he set the whole thing a-whirling and that there gave us seasons and years and probably gave us income tax as well – but that’s okay because all good things come with some sort of a price tag dangling.
You don’t believe me – go and ask Minnie Pearl.
So God give us everything – only the one thing that he did not give us no matter how many times people try to blame it on him – was that God did NOT give us religion.
That was something that man made up later.
yours in storytelling,
PS – I swear – on a stack of Uncle Bob’s Red Flannel shirts that I will DEFINITELY write a non-spam blog entry by the end of tomorrow for all of you folks who are heartily tired of seeing me jump and down on this blog page waving a sign that says BUY MY BOOK!