And that's why it might appall you to know some of the things I haven't read. Moby Dick, for instance. Got through the first ten pages or so and just gave up. Paradise Lost? Why would anybody actually read that? There's a summary at the beginning of each chapter. That's all you need to pass the test.
But one thing that really bothered me that I never read was Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe's anti-slavery novel that's often credited with helping to ignite the American Civil War.
But guess what. I read it. A couple of weeks ago. I guess it's never too late.
And then earlier this week I was listening to Nina Simone's version of the old spiritual "Motherless Child," and I never really understood the significance of that expression "motherless child" before. To me it was just a figure of speech.
But it dawned on me as I was listening to the song that the motherless child was a very real part of the American slave experience. That's a theme that comes up in Cabin repeatedly, slave children sold off and permanently separated from their parents.
Now, not to change the subject, but here's something that has always puzzled me in the Gospels. Jesus says "I am the Way and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."
I want to say "Wait a minute, Lord. You're going to need to find a higher-tech method to get that message across. Just telling a handful of people in ancient Palestine ain't gonna cut it."
You know what I mean? How many people since the time of Jesus have lived and died without ever hearing that message? That's got to be a problem for you, whether you're a Catholic or a Presbyterian or a "born again" evangelical. You've got all these people out there who have no way of working out their salvation.
And that's a theme in Cabin too. All these slaves who live and die without ever hearing the Gospel message.
But what that puzzling saying of Jesus' has always meant to me is we live in a world that is so corrupt, that the example of Jesus is the only way to overcome all that corruption. And when we live out that example, that is a kind of salvation. Not an individual salvation. Not you got your ticket punched, so you get to go to Heaven salvation, but a salvation that happens on a grander scale than that, a salvation for the whole world.
Your salvation is salvation for the whole world. For China, Burma, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan. For that motherless child who lived and died without ever hearing the gospel message. I think that's what Jesus meant.