After twenty years, some of which I was more actively engaged than others, I am very close to publishing a book about my dad’s experience as a POW in WWII and how it shaped me as a person and a pastor. My father died in 2006. His mother, my grandmother, died when I was a young child. And yet the book I am about to publish has my grandmother’s handwriting on the cover. How can this be? The wonder of modern computer graphics! My daughter Anne, who is a graphic artist, designed the cover of my book. I knew she would make it creative and beautiful. I didn't know it would be so extraordinarily personal.
In writing my dad’s story my mother gave me all sorts of materials related to his time as a prisoner of war. Among the artifacts were several telegrams that were sent to my father while he was a prisoner of war in Japan. He didn't receive any of them. They were returned “undeliverable.” At some point after my father was liberated and returned to the United States, my grandmother gave him the telegrams. My mother passed them on to me. I gave all of the documents and photographs to my daughter to scan in order to put them in the book. When I asked her if she would design the cover, the only thing I requested was that she include on the cover a picture of my dad holding me when I was a young child. The rest was up to her. What she did was stunning, and when I first saw it, it brought me to tears.
The front cover background is one of the telegrams with the government stamp with the date Dec 1945 clearly displayed. The closure flap of the telegram is also visible along with the government instructions for delivery. Though technology can be a menace at times, in this case it was a creative gift. The electronic scan of the inside of the telegram allowed my daughter to capture my grandmother’s handwriting one letter at a time. Then she used those letters for the title of the book and my name. The effect is stunning. Stunning because the use of the telegram and it’s written message makes the cover of the book a literal peek into that period of history. Stunning because the story is about how our parents' life experiences shapes us. My father’s mother is part of this string of life-shaping history. Her actual handwriting on the cover of the book is a remarkable testimony to this fact.
The back of the book also employs creative use of technology. My daughter was able to find a picture of the skin of aircraft panels online and use them for the background. This whole area of computer technology amazes me. I have no idea how it works, but it certainly is changing the way we are able to communicate in all sorts of mediums. In this case, for good; it visually communicates the book’s story. History shapes us and especially as it is absorbed through our significant relationships.
When history is communicated as story, it elicits images that can make it very compelling and very personal. Thinking about the power of the cover of my book got me thinking about the gospel. We have artifacts but we do not have actual pictures of Jesus and his time. We have the written story told meticulously from at least four angles in the Gospels. But the “images” of the gospel that bring the story to life and give it authenticity are the people whose lives have been shaped and transformed by the story of Jesus. His life and death and resurrection--the gospel--has shaped their lives. Their stories are the pictures and images of the life shaping-power of Jesus. Like my father’s story, the telegram, and my grandmother’s handwriting, the “images” of people whose lives have been shaped by the gospel story are what make the story so compelling and so personal.
· A man imprisoned for serious and violent crimes encounters the gospel while in prison and is transformed. A serious student of the Bible while still in prison, when he is released he becomes part of a local church and is a dedicated follower of Christ, serving and ministering to the power of the gospel.
· A woman imprisoned by drugs for most of her life and in and out of jail for related crimes had her children taken away two times. After a third time she began recovery. This time she encountered the living Christ in the gospel message and has turned her life around. Now sober four years she has regained custody of her three children. She has completed a certificate program in dental hygiene and is partnering to assist other parents regaining custody of their children. She too is a serving and contributing member of the local congregation, inspiring others to be shaped by Christ.
· A woman abused as a child and in unspeakable slavery to evil for almost thirty years is told by her Jewish psychiatrist that it's a miracle she is even alive. The scars and pain of her early years will never be forgotten. Three Christmases ago she stumbled into an Advent service and began to encounter the Christ of the gospel. She continues in therapy, but her life is now being shaped by the love of Christ and the love of his people who have surrounded her and taught her what love and trust really looks like. She, in turn, is helping to shape the Christian community as she gives her time and talents as an artist to a program for children after school and as a deacon serving others.
All these are stunning examples of the shaping of people’s lives by the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are pieces of history, images that display in living color the power of the gospel story. These lives, like the font of my grandmother’s handwriting, are being lifted up for all the community to see and know that Jesus is alive and shaping lives for eternity. This too is stunning and brings me to tears.