Tag Archive: sin

The month of August was the most boring part of the summer when I was growing up. And, judging from my daughter and now my sons, it has not changed a whole lot – except for school beginning before Labor Day, rather than after. Were it not for football workouts, the tension would be unbearable. Even with cell phones, Facebook, email, and so on, the circle of close friends is smaller during the summer than during the school year. Partially because some of those friends are only close friends when you see each other at school. After school, they are not so close.

The only technological device I had was a transistor radio (not complaining – just explaining). There was as yet no such thing as FM radio. Since the few close friends I had during the summer planned their vacations for August, I was forced to resort to my “B” list. You know, the friends that I could put up with if I had to. But B list friends could lead you to do things you would not ordinarily do.

One particular August, hot as usual, I was stuck with a B list friend. He lived next door and I think his name was Jeffrey. He was a little younger than I was, which was partly why he was on the B list. Across the dirt alley behind our homes was a fairly large park without many trees.

Part of the park doubled as the schoolyard for the elementary school on the left as we walked out the back gate. A creek ran along the other side of the park across from the school. The alley where we were standing formed the eastern border of the park and ended on the right at the creek which was the northern border. A few houses to the left, the dirt alley ended when a side street between two houses became the drive behind the school.

The back of the cafeteria was at that corner of the building. There was a short stairway leading up to the kitchen door about a hundred feet from the corner. The door was only used for the kitchen personnel and smaller deliveries. The truck delivery door was to the right, between the stairway and the end of the building.

Jeffrey and I were walking through the parking lot from the alley, bored as always in August. We noticed a wooden “door” of sorts in the side of the building under the floor of the cafeteria four feet past the stairwell. An open lock hung in the latch of the door. We took out the lock, opened the door, and crawled through the 3′ x 3′ space, finding ourselves under the cafeteria. I worked my way through the pipes to where I figured the cafeteria was and found another door above me in the floor.

Surprisingly, that door was unlocked as well.  We climbed up into the middle of the kitchen. We headed straight for the refrigerator. Jeffrey and I helped ourselves to canned fruit,  olives, and pickles. Maybe a few slices of cheese – they were not individually wrapped then. After we had a snack, there was not much else to do. We had no interest in any other part of the school and we were not completely sure no one else was there.

Getting out was a little different than getting in – we did not know if anyone would be looking. But we made it out without incident and walked away quickly. We revisited the kitchen a few times that August – all without incident. I noticed after school began that the custodian had fastened the lock.

I have no doubt Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn engaged in the same type of questionable activity – the mischievous behavior of bored children. But I do not know how much guilt they felt. As for myself, I did not think about it too much, but I knew deep down that I was sinning at the time. Which made it worse that I did it anyway. I probably rationalized the actions by thinking that no one was hurt.

Yet it was a crime (albeit a misdemeanor) and a sin. Ironically, since I lived on the edge  of the schoolyard/park, I always went home for lunch. I was saved the feeling of regret when returning to the scene of the crime. Other than a cursory view from the kitchen, I never saw the cafeteria – just the kitchen and under the floor.

I could not be legally prosecuted now. The statute of limitations on school cafeteria theft of produce and condiments has surely expired. But God knows. It may be low on my list of sins in order of importance, but it is still on the list. Just another one of the things I continue to ask God’s forgiveness for, and that I have in common with Tom Sawyer.

Peace be with you.

* –  Tom Sawyer was one of the first books I read growing up. Things I Have in Common with Tom Sawyer is a series of posts about the activities of prepubescent and adolescent youth – mostly mine. Times when I was in a “Tom Sawyer” frame of mind. Read the first post here.

I was walking to our sons’ school with the youngest son’s football gear stuffed in my backpack. Cyndy was running errands after dropping them off at school. In the waking up atmosphere of sleepy-eyed confusion in which things can slip teenage minds, J.D. had forgotten his gear on the couch. Of course, he had to have it right away. It was a hot and fairly humid day. Which was not conducive to walking long distances on sidewalks with slight, intermittent, shade.

When I am walking, I watch the ground ahead of me – for several reasons. For one thing, I walk quickly which requires watching the terrain. And by watching the ground ahead of me, I am not constantly reminded of how far away my goal is at any given time. I have also found a large number of coins over the years (albeit mostly pennies).

I walk in long strides, setting up a quick rhythm. Inevitably, I set my stride with the aim of missing the cracks in the sidewalk. Lengthening my stride when the situation requires it. At some point the superstition of my youth slips through – bringing to mind the phrase we used to say.

“Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.”

Do I believe it? Not really. Do I avoid the cracks? You betcha – just to be on the safe side. And I will have you know that to this day my mother has not broken her back. A few other things maybe, but not her back. I will also have you know that I do not think my avoiding cracks had a thing to do with it.

Yet, as I was walking to my son’s school, I was avoiding the cracks. Mostly to set up a rhythm in my stride, but avoiding the cracks nonetheless. That got me to thinking – as walking is wont to do – about avoiding cracks and hedging bets.

As a general rule, I can set a rhythm or pace and move quickly along while still avoiding the cracks. As we as Christians can go about our life in the secular world, avoiding the larger, more obvious sins. But then I come across a section of sidewalk – or life – that has begun to show wear, causing a conundrum. There are so many cracks that even a hop-scotch afficionado would have trouble traversing the area.

So which cracks count in the break your mother’s back scenario? If it is a natural part of the sidewalk which was purposefully made that way, is that considered a crack? Is it just the cracks that have developed over time from wear and weather that count? Or do all cracks count, causing the situation to be crucially problematic?

In our Christian lives the question – considering the cracks as sins – is which sins to avoid. Which cracks are actually sins? And which cracks are part of the sidewalk as it was made? When we come to the section with too many cracks to avoid them all, which do we choose not to avoid?

We are human and cannot avoid all sin. And not all the cracks in life’s sidewalk are sins. Some cracks are merely faults in the sidewalk. Fortunately, “step on a crack, break your mother’s back” is just a game. Unfortunately, life is not a game. Even though it might seem that way at one time or another. Some of the cracks we try to cross in life are wider and deeper than we could have imagined.

When we reach those rough spots in life’s sidewalk, we wonder if we took the wrong path – if we are on the wrong sidewalk. We are unsure which cracks to avoid and which cracks are okay to step on. What false idols we have succumbed to and need to avoid, and what we should be embracing more than we are.

During those times of rough spots, when our paths reach too many cracks in the sidewalk and other obstacles, we need to recall what Paul said to the Corinthians. “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” Corinthians 10:13.

As we walk along life’s sidewalk, we need to put our faith in God, and trust the path we take. By the grace of God we make it to the end of the sidewalk.

 Peace be with you.

My family moved to Wichita Falls just before I started fourth grade. After we settled in, I became friends with the three boys that lived next door. The oldest of the three boys was a few years older than I, the second oldest was a year or two older, and Jeffrey, the youngest, was a year or two younger than I was. Jeffrey’s is the only name I can remember and I am not one hundred percent sure that was his name.

Be that as it may, Jeffrey and I became friends. Particularly when friends my own age were out of town or unavailable. We had several notable adventures, but one in particular comes to mind that involved matchbooks. Matchbooks were still commonplace items, more so than lighters. Disposable lighters were not yet readily available.

The two of us were in the alley behind our houses. The alley was dirt, full of ruts most of the time from the garbage truck and city vehicles. But grass grew in the four or five feet between the alley and the backyard fences. It was late fall without a lot of rain and the grass by the alley was dry, brittle, and brown in spots . And we were bored.

We thought we would experiment with the matches and fire. Holding the matchbook with the striking strip on the bottom, we held the head of a match on the strip with our index finger. Then we would light the match while flipping it toward the ground. If the grass caught fire, we would let it burn, watching the circle of fire grow for a bit, then stomp it out with our foot.

As one would imagine, we kept letting the fire get a little bigger each time. After all, it would not be a challenge otherwise. As fate would have it, and you would guess, one of the fires got out of hand. When we stomped on the fire, ashes jumped, starting another little fire that soon became part of the larger one. It was not too terribly long before we began to panic.

The faster and harder we stomped, the faster the fire spread. When the fire was about three feet across, Jeffrey took off his jacket – which as I remember was brand-new – and began trying to put the fire out with it. At first, he only succeeded in spreading the fire more. I seem to remember coughing and screaming a lot. But he could not hear me, because he was screaming and coughing, too.

We finally put the fire out. Leaving a five foot circle of burned and smoldering grass as a monument to our stupidity. That and the rather large hole of burned fabric on the inside of Jeffrey’s new jacket. He asked me to take it home so he could tell his parents he loaned it to me and buy him some time to confess.

He did not get that chance. The jacket smelled distinctly of smoke and my parents asked me why I had it. I told them he had forgotten it and I would give it back to him. I went out in the backyard and threw the jacket over the fence to Jeffrey, who was in his backyard. His parents had asked him where the jacket was and told him to go get it. Following the rendering of his punishment, his parents talked to my parents. I did not escape unpunished. It was impossible to explain the five foot circle of burnt grass without telling the truth – which was ridiculous enough.

“Rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Follow the inclination of your heart and the desire of your eyes, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.” Ecclesiastes 11:9

Qohelet’s God was a vengeful God. Making a list and checking it twice, as it were. But, with the New Testament and the life of Christ, we know God as forgiving and as a God of grace. While I certainly received my comeuppance for my part in the temporary fascination with fire – giving me a lasting respect for its power – I do not think that any further punishment is forthcoming. It is not a layer in the pile of bad or stupid things I have done in my life for which I will be punished for its totality.

Free will is offset somewhat by our conscience. We may still decide to sin, but we will feel remorseful about it. Each time I have recalled our venture into stupidity, I have received sharp pangs of regret brought on by my conscience. The recurring memories along with regret and feelings of stupidity are sufficient punishment, thank you very much. I do not think I need a final hammer coming down at the end of my life to punish me further for my collective sins.

God may indeed bring us into judgement, but it will be with grace and a forgiving hand of redemption. All will be taken into account, not just our sins. Which is a wonderful thing because no one is without sin. It is easy to understand David singing praises to the Lord. We should sing our praises and thank God with our prayers for his grace, forgiveness, and redemption. Because, in my case, if I was to be held accountable for my sins, the grass fire would be the least of my worries.

Peace be with you.

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