GALVESTON COUNTY DAILY NEWS
June 28, 2002
‘Screen Door Jesus’ set in Bolivar
By Manuel Moreno Jr.
CRYSTAL BEACH — As a teen-ager growing up in Port Neches, Christopher Cook got his first glimpse of Jesus Christ. Well, sort of.
Just a couple of blocks down the street from where he lived, an elderly lady discovered her screen door had an image of God’s son miraculously enshrined on it.
“You really had to stretch to see it,” Cook said with a smile.
Thus led to the title of his latest paperback novel, Screen Door Jesus & Other Stories, recently named a finalist for the Texas Institute of Letters fiction award.
“My personal belief is that miracles are very common and around us all the time,” Cook added. “But we don’t even notice them. Instead, we look for sensational things.”
Cook, also the author of the award-winning novel Robbers, which is partly set in the Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula areas, will be in Galveston on Saturday for a book-signing session of both books at Galveston Bookshop, 317 Tremont (23rd Street), from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
“‘Screen Door Jesus’ is more of a personal exploration of my own religious upbringings,” he said, noting book clubs have received it well since its release earlier this year.
“It’s a conventional book about people who have differences in their religious beliefs,” Cook added. “Yet they live in a small community, so they can’t avoid one another like they can in a city life.
“I think it deals with very personal questions about spiritual meaning, kinds of questions that people struggle with but often don’t admit to other people because they would be self-conscious or embarrassed.”
“Screen Door Jesus,” in fact, is a title of one of the 10 stories in the book.
There, in the fictional East Texas piney woods town of Bethlehem, where churches of various denominations are located on just about every block and the setting of each of the “doing religion” stories, Mother Harper, while watering her gladiolas, sees a picture of Jesus on her screen door.
“You know, I’ve often wondered why God just doesn’t come down and get on television and make a speech, like the president. Or show up at halftime in the Super Bowl. Make an appearance, tell everyone to straighten up and fly right,” says the 13-year-old Houston boy in the story, who while exiled to his grandparents’ house for the summer months pays a visit to Mother Harper’s house to witness the vision up close.
“That’d be the simple and straightforward approach, it seems to me,” the teen-age boy, acting as the narrator of the story, continues. “But no, instead, He’s got to play cat and mouse, hide the thimble. Wants you to look under the rug, behind the couch, like some joker leaving clues in unlikely places.
“That’s how God is, I suppose. But why? Seems like He could step right out in the open, say ‘boo!’ Instead, you got to go looking for Him, like a game of hide and seek.”
Cook, too, would prefer the simpler approach.
“Religious faith, we make it a complicated thing, with all kinds of rules and regulations,” he said. “Personally, I think the beauty of Jesus’ teachings was his simplicity, because it really boils down to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself,’ which essentially is the golden rule.
“Fact of the matter is we don’t want it that simple. It’s hard to follow the golden rule. It requires more self-discipline than we want. When someone treats us badly, we have a choice between forgiveness or seeking revenge.
“Which one is more gratifying? Revenge feels good. Forgiveness requires some sacrifice and effort. Frankly we’re not a culture that believes in sacrifice and effort. We’re more of a culture who believes in drive-through fast foods.”
Mother Harper eventually dies in the story, and slowly but surely so does the vision.
Ironically, the elderly lady’s house in Port Neches still stands, and the screen door remained in tact on the premises. A memorial to the screen door was even built.
“That’s the way it is with a lot of beliefs,” said Cook, who will return to his current residence of Prague, Czech Republic, on Sunday after a month-long book-signing tour.
“One man’s God is another man’s Zeus,” he added. “It’s harder to see your own (belief) in an objective way. But that’s the human dilemma and not just about religion.”
One of his favorite stories in Screen Door Jesus & Other Stories, which is being made into a movie later this summer, is “Star Man,” where three oil drillers driving to work on Christmas Eve encounter a strange child and his mother in a Waffle House in Alvin.
The child, according to the story, is Jesus.
“If you want to believe something, you will,” Cook said. “And if you don’t
want to believe it, you don’t.”