Cookies, A Clothesline and a Dead Sparrow


When I was five or six years old, I would often walk the 3/4 mile from Wintersteen Elementary School in Sacramento, to our home. On the way, I could easily detour to the home of 2 sets of grandparents, Uncle Joe and Aunt Fanny, and my great grandparents.  My Granny Spurgeon was the closest to my home, and on a hot day, I would often stop there for a drink of water. Grandpa would be at work for Ma Bell, installing telephones somewhere, so it would just be us.Sometimes, on the way home I would pick her dandelions, which she would gratefully put in their own glass of water, and sometimes even give a name to.  “I love it! I will call it… Fred… Yes! Fred the dandelion…” She’d hold onto the dandelion for 3 or 4 days because she knew I’d come by and ask about it. Then she’d give me a drink and I’d be on my way.

Sometimes I’d score the motherlode and she’d give me a couple cookies. Usually they were the crunchy kind, with lemon frosting in between two wafers. One day, on my trip, I got my water and my cookies, and granny said, “Do you think Lori will want some?” Now, my little sister was maybe 2 or 3 at the time, just a year out of diapers so, of course she’d want some cookies. Granny put two cookies in a little bag and told me to bring them home to Lori. After my own snack and a “smooch” (she never kissed me–she smooched), I headed home. Now, Granny’s house was maybe 400 yards from our own house on Windsor Dr., so of course the hunger overwhelmed me and before I got home, I ate them. Lori would never know, right? Of course not. The evidence was gone, and so was the paper bag–I’d disposed of it at the park.

The next day, after school, I stopped at Granny’s house and asked if I could have more cookies.

“Did Lori enjoy her cookies?”

“Uh… Yeah. Mmmmm. She liked them.”

“Well, funny thing. I saw your mommy today, and she told me Lori never got her cookies. How do you think that happened?”

“I dunno.”

“Brian, did you eat Lori’s cookies?”

“Yes.”

Then, of course, I got a lecture, after which she told me she would indeed give me more cookies, but to remember this lesson–be sure if you trick your sister, or anyone, you’ll be found out.

That was about 40 years ago. I still remember granny’s lesson. I doubt anyone else living remembers that story, and it stuck with me all that time.

Going into this story, I had a point. Now that I’m about 450 words in, I’m not sure I want to make it anymore.

My point is about sin. Be sure they will find you out, the Bible says (Numbers 32:23, for those who care). Of course, Numbers 32 is about the children of Israel conquering the land west of the Jordan river. That’s the sin being referred to… Still, our popular culture is steeped in acts sin. We’re obsessed with it.

The first step (Step A) on the protestant Christian road to salvation is to admit you are a sinner. Now when I was eight or nine years old, I had my first moment of Christian worry. What are my sins, I thought? I hung on Grandma and Grandpa Carpenter’s clothesline. Got a whipping for it too. I shot a bird with a bb gun once–Aunt Edith found out and made me feel about an inch tall for taking an innocent life. And… those cookies. Had I apologized to Aunt Edith, and Grandpa Carpenter? How about Lori? Yeah. Was I repentant? Sure. But did God forgive me?

Nope.

What were the stakes? When I died, I’d be in Hell. I was sobbing. My mother was there consoling me, I couldn’t really articulate the trouble.

Step B of becoming a Christian. Believe Jesus Christ is God. Ok, good. So I believe. I believed hard! Did I believe hard enough for Jesus to forgive me? I don’t know. He didn’t answer. What if I was believing wrong?

Step C: confess that Jesus is lord. Okay! I confess! Out loud, right in front of my mom, with Jim Bakker’s PTL Club on the television.

So, B and C were covered… The problem was A. Those sins. Let’s say he took them away. What if I accidentally sinned tomorrow? Is that one forgiven, or do I have to do it all over again? What if I have a thought about killing a bug? What if I hide more cookies from my sister? Those are forgiven too?

Finally, after maybe an hour of crying, I was all cried out. My mom had me call her mentor Jackie Hull (503-247-7109 was Jackie’s number… It’s weird what we remember, years and years later), who congratulated me on my decision to follow Jesus. I sang her a little song I made up on the spot, about “walking the streets of gold”.

But my young mind still had questions. How do I know? I don’t have a phone line to God. I don’t feel different. My sins were still sins. My answer? just to keep on going, and do the best I could.

In later years, I wondered why was this all on me?  What if I live a pretty-much sinless life after this? Is it all good? No. You see, Adam sinned too, by eating that apple, and that’s weighing me down too. So you, me, everyone.   “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” said Roman 3:23. The doctrine of original sin (total depravity) means none of us is safe.  We’re horrible, horrible people just itching for the sensation of flames on our feet. Unless you accept Jesus.

Was I saved? Sure. Jackie Hull thought so. But the shadow of doubt was still there.

In case you think I’m arguing against the Christian doctrine of salvation (soteriology) or sin (hamartiology), rest assured that I’m not.  I’m just laying out the thoughts I had when I was young. Did you ever experience a moment of doubt? Did Noah’s ark seem exceptionally cruel? Were you ever tormented by those Late Great Planet Earth films? Did your sins ever crush you? Should the weight of sins of the whole planet be placed on a child? These all meandered through my mind over the years. I doubt I’m alone.

All this–the threat of eternal damnation–because of cookies, a clothesline and a dead sparrow.

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5 thoughts on “Cookies, A Clothesline and a Dead Sparrow”

  1. Lately I’ve realised I’m a mess (though not uniquely so), that my flesh doesn’t want to work with the grace God offers, that my spirit is not up for being the master of his house, and that the best I can can do right now is to pray for others in their attempts to commune with God. Господи помилуй. Κύριε, ἐλέησον. Lord, have mercy.

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    1. Or in the words of the father who brought his possessed son to the temple to be healed, “Lord, I believe; Help my unbelief.”

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  2. Hmm…you raise some good questions. I haven’t struggled with whether I believe or not, or Jesus as God. I think the biggest struggle is feeling unworthy. Nobody should love me that much. NOBODY.

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  3. Oh lawrdy lawrd did it bother me. I had plenty of “Left Behind” scares once my mom went back to work. Just about the time I got it into my head that God might cut me some slack between altar calls, I went to college. There I was castigated by the zealots and told that my lifestyle was clearly inconsistent with a redeemed person.
    After college, I went in search of more tolerant churches. But even then I struggled with whether or not I was living up to what God wanted me to do with my life. It was not so much about sin and not doing enough righteous acts to win God’s favor.
    After my adult spiritual mentor committed suicide, I had to let it all go. My working assumption is that God is nothing like what religion tells me. If I am wrong, I headed straight to hell. And really, I am OK with that. The God of my childhood religion is not a nice guy. I would rather be authentic in hell than an automaton in heaven (as if I could fool God).
    Luckily I do not believe the Dante version of hell. If God is really that cruel, I would rather side with the eternally oppressed.

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