Presenting Pencils with Joy

I was party to what must have been a strange scene at church this morning. Before the start of the service, I and two of my friends greeted each other by exchanging pencils. Perhaps it looked to some like a sort of drug deal, or maybe like a strange ritual of greeting, like the thimble in Peter Pan. But the exchange took place because one of the friends brought an infectious interest in pencils, and made me and several others into “lead heads.” Pencil nerds, extraordinaire.

A pencil is a simple thing. Two pieces of wood sandwiched together around a core of graphite and clay—some with a ferrule and eraser, some without. They are cheap. Unremarkable, to most. They are common. Found in every junk drawer in America. But one fateful day, I looked up in the church foyer to see a friend walking toward me with his face set, determination in his gait, and an Apsara HB Extra Dark pencil held up like a baton.

“This is for you. You need to get into pencils. You’re going to love it.”

I turned it over in my hand, a bit amused, and observed, “There’s no eraser.”

“Exactly.”

I went on to explain that I was a “pen guy,” and he listened; but then he told me how America had been built with the pencils. Famous architecture had been planned with pencils, Edison scribbled late into the night with pencils, and Steinbeck refused to write another line when his favorite pencil went out of production. He described to me the pleasure of the scratchy transfer of mineral to paper, as it sheds its weight in the microscopic crevasses of the page. The joy of working a pencil down to a small nub, and the satisfaction of knowing that putting words on paper cost something—it was measurable. The words grew, the pencil shrunk. He spoke of aesthetics, of connectedness to history, and of tactile experience.

I laughed.

But I turned that pencil over in my fingers during the worship service, feeling its smooth finish, smelling the fragrant cedar, and enjoying its shape and weight. I took it home. And I began to write with it.

Within a week, I had become enamored, and had ordered dozens of other kinds of pencils. The Palamino Blackwing Pearl, Tombow, Mitsubishi — I was in. I was a “pencil guy.” Within another week, I had made one or two other pencil converts; they had seen me use a pencil with love, having one tucked behind my ear, and sharpening it with the bullet sharpener I now kept in my pocket. It was obvious: I loved this stuff. And they wanted to know, “Why?”

Today, while partaking in the strange ritual greeting of the Pencil Exchange, it struck me how odd it was. How quickly it all happened. How one man’s presentation of a common, familiar item to me with joy changed the neuron pathways in my brain, and slightly altered the way I live my life. A pencil presented with joy.

What if we presented the Bible to our friends with joy? What if we presented Jesus with joy? What if we so loved and cherished the story of the Bible, what if we explored and delved its nuances, soared through its literary genius, and marveled at the God-man presented as our Rescuer, King, and Husband? Maybe then we would determinedly walk up to our friends, hand them a Bible, and say “This is for you. You need to get into the Bible. You’re going to love it.”

5 months ago

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