My mother always kept a humorous book on her bedside table. Through the years it was a different book— writers like Erma Bombeck, Phyllis Diller, and Jean Kerr. I guess my mother knew that she slept better with laughter on her mind.
As I sorted through her favorite things after my mother passed away, the title of one book intrigued me: The Snake Has All the Lines. I read the book jacket and found the author’s purpose. Jean Kerr wrote, “I have written an inspirational book for one reason only. I wanted to help. These are troubled times. History wise we are at a crossroads. Disillusionment stalks us all.” When I turned to the cover page, I discovered the book was published in 1958. What a coincidence! Jean Kerr’s words could have been written for our times.
Kerr begins by saying, “Disillusionment stalks us all, and even children discover this at a tender age.” Then she tells a story about her son, who came home from school announcing with a rather bored attitude that the first grade was putting on a play about Adam and Eve, and he had been given the part of Adam. Kerr writes, “I was mystified by his lack of enthusiasm. I said to him, ‘You’re playing Adam! Why that’s wonderful, that’s the lead!’” “Yeah,” her son replied gloomily, “but the Snake has all the lines.”
The book is filled with stories about life in the 50s. Jean Kerr has that gift for making even the most mundane things humorous. I admit that for many of the themes the reader would need to be acquainted with the culture of the 50s. Otherwise the humor would be lost. As I leafed through the book I thought, “How times have changed!”
But some of the stories transcend the decades. One chapter begins this way: “I hear the most disquieting rumors that our school system is going from pot to worse and that all over America there are twelve year old boys who write seperate and Filladelphia and think an hypotenuse is a baby hippo.” Kerr goes on to say that while she should be irate over the success of the schools, she is actually grateful. If her five sons were at home, they would be smearing the kitchen cabinets with flour paste or in the living room carefully writing their initials in the coffee table.
As I set the book back on the shelf, I thought about the memories that had gathered in my mind, of times when life seemed easier or better somehow. And then I remembered her reason for writing the book. These are troubled times. History wise we are at a crossroads. Disillusionment stalks us all. This was true in 1958, and it is true in 2018. In our troubled times, many people stand at the crossroads, disillusioned.
So what might the answer or antidote be for this situation, both past and present? Jean Kerr chose to use humor, reminding people that they should not take life so seriously. I like her approach. If we were just willing to laugh at ourselves in moments of impatience or frustration, we might be healthier and happier. Maybe we would even sleep better with laughter on our minds.
As a pastor, I cannot resist connecting the title with what might be our antidote as Christians. Early in our story of faith, the snake makes an appearance, wooing humans into thinking that they could be in charge and have power as great as the Creator’s. As our story of faith unfolds, we learn something more. We learn that while the snake may have the most lines, the snake does not have the last line. At the end of the day and at the end of all our days, we hold fast to the hope and the truth that in life and in death we belong to God.
Friends in Christ,
Sleep Well! Live Well!
Know that God has the last word!