Judging Books By Their Covers – A Tribute to Red Stum
Books are wonderful. Books are a collection of ideas from a person’s mind, from the seeming nothing of the synapse to the printed page; a personal act of creation. That is why we as humans value the arts so highly. It is the one way that we elevate ourselves above the mundane and everyday, and take a small step toward deity: a painter who creates beauty from a blank canvas; a sculptor who uncovers a marvelous form inside a block of granite; or the writer who transforms white paper and pools of ink into a coherent and enduring collection of thoughts that have the power to change the lives of its readers. Think for just a moment about one of your favorite books. For me, I return to my days in high school and the time I was forced to read To Kill a Mockingbird. Not only did the book awaken thoughts in my highly provincial, Ozarkian mind regarding race (at that time in our corner of the Ozarks, we had virtually no minority population) but, I was fascinated by the prose of author Harper Lee. Never had I encounterd a work so conversational, even simple, that was so impregnated with deep thought and emotion. A third grader could easily comprehend the words of this book, while a fourth-year seminarian could spend months mining truth from its pages. I believe it remains my favorite book to this day.
Take a look at the books in your house, or some time to remember a trip into your local bookstore or library. Notice the colors, the words, the “gotcha” graphics? I am not talking about the books themselves, but their covers. Cover designers and photographers receive special recognition. Why? Because packaging sells. A book has to have a catchy title. It needs a cover design that grabs your attention while conveying the spirit of the book. A cover photo of a pretty girl encourages us to at least pick the book up, if not buy it and read it.
Let’s face it – we judge a lot of books by their covers or movies by their posters. I have gotten pretty good at picking movies that Hunny B and I like that way. We also judge people this way. Much as we regard the design of the dust jacket of a book or the packaging of some breakfast cereal at the grocery store, we have been conditioned to judge people by their appearance. A person with tattoos, piercings, and strangely colored hair gives a much different impression than one more conservatively attired and adorned. We each, to some extent, have some image of ourselves that we try to project, and this image may or may not truly depict who we are in our core being. But, slick packaging and eye-appealing covers are not what actually make for a good product or book. We may be enticed or repulsed by what we see on the outside, but we really are buying and consuming that which is inside.
I remember the first time I met Red Stum. It would have been in the late 1980s or early ‘90s at another church in Branson. I reminded Red of that meeting recently, but he did not remember it that way, saying he never went to another church in Branson but Fellowship. But, he did. For those of us who knew Red, there could be no mistaking him. I remember his rough look, as someone who had lived a hard and turbulent life. His tattooed arms, his gruff and overly frank manner of speech. I remember thinking he was highly opinionated yet woefully ignorant, which is not an appealing combination. Judging Red by his cover did not leave me with a good impression.
About fifteen years later, Hunny B and I came to Fellowship. Much had transpired in my life to make me a decidedly different person than had met Red in the previous century. Red, who had been at Fellowship for several years, was unchanged, still rough and gruff, still opinionated. As I was soon to learn, Red was not nearly as ignorant as I had previously judged him to be. No, he did not have a great deal of formal education, but Red actually was a quite knowledgeable man, with wide-ranging interests that ran from dirt track motorcycle racing to social-political conflict in the United States and our nation’s need of redemption through the love of Jesus Christ. I got to know a man who deeply loved his Lord, and loved his wife and family. He cared so much for each of us here at Fellowship. I found that this man who always spoke his mind (and might have better employed a filter at times) always exhibited one of the foundations of Fellowship at Cross Creek – Speaking the Truth in Love. I do not believe it would ever occur to Red to speak an untruth. I found I had very wrongly judged Red by his cover. Fellowship was blessed to have this speaker of truth with us for many years, and we will miss him.
When I was a teenager, Harper Lee taught me about prejudice and about speaking truth through her writing. Many years later, Red Stum taught me the same through his living. Until we meet again, Red.
~ Hudd ~
Kevin Huddleston is an Elder at Fellowship at Cross Creek Church in Branson, MO