Back in 1973 the band Doctor Hook and the Medicine Show had a top ten hit with the Shel Silverstein song “On the Cover of the Rolling Stone.” It was about how the group was increasingly successful, but they couldn’t seem to achieve that one symbol of success – getting a picture on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. Of course subsequent to the song cracking the top ten, the band did get their picture on the cover – but not their photo, they were drawn by a graphic artist. When I was an undergraduate at OVC, they sent out a newsletter called “Take Thought”, which we called “The Stepping Stone” because most of the articles seemed to feature that ladies organization. When any of us made the cover (I made the cover in April, 1982) we had this song we would sing: “On the Cover of the Stepping Stone.” I don’t remember the words, but we rather enjoyed singing it back in the day.
I felt something of that thrill a few weeks ago when I read about myself in John T. Smithson’s “Smithsonian Sayings.” John T was preacher here back in the 70’s and began writing his “Sayings” here. He continued writing them at Starkville, Mississippi, and still publishes them now he is at the St. Elmo Church of Christ in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “Smithsonian Sayings” are brief, pithy, humorous, insightful – I’ve been an avid reader for nearly 30 years – and so when I read about “the always-desperate-for-a-bulletin-article-idea preacher” of the Manassas Church of Christ (Deb also made the piece as the “ever-alert, sometimes-witty, always-delightful secretary”), it was like being singled out for mention by the President in the State of the Union Address. My old friend Fred Callicoat (now gone) was told “happy birthday” on the air by Paul Harvey once. We were playing dominoes and listening to the radio at the time, and were both ecstatic. But this was even better.
It was certainly better than reading my name in Dante’s Paradiso as someone condemned to hell. I wrote about that years ago in a bulletin article entitled “Is My Name Written There?” It turned out Dante was writing about the Greek mathematician, “Bruson”, and that often when Greek is turned into English a “u” becomes a “y” – thus “Bryson” in the Modern Library edition.
In Dante’s Divine Comedy he described seeing people in hell, purgatory, and heaven who were still alive while he was writing. I doubt they felt as happy about showing up in Dante’s grand work as I was about being mentioned in “Smithsonian Sayings.” It takes a great deal of moxie (if not hubris) to assign people you know to heaven or hell. Only God does that. Or, taking another perspective – we do that for ourselves.
Dante’s criteria were personal, and one senses the dark glee he takes describing his enemies in hell. God has tears (Matthew 23.37). He didn’t make hell for humans (Matthew 25.41). He never willed that any of us should be there (II Peter 3.9). If we find that our names are not written in the book of life it will be because we have chosen not to be included there. In the end it will not matter if our names are on the list of Guggenheim fellows, or if Willard Scott wishes us “Happy Birthday,” or if the Publisher’s Clearinghouse knocks on our door, or if we get our picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone, or the Stepping Stone, or even Smithsonian Sayings. All that will matter is if our names are in the book of life.
And our choices determine that.
He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments, and I will confess his name before My Father and his angels. Revelation 3.5