The Greatest Forger

It was perhaps the greatest hoax in art history. Han van Meegeren was an artist with a grudge. Painting in the Netherlands pre World War 2, critics mercilessly panned his exhibitions. One critic described him as “A gifted technician who has made a sort of composite facsimile of the Renaissance school, he has every virtue except originality.” Stung, van Meegreen decided to strike back. He painted a work with flourishes of the style of the great Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, titled it “The Supper at Emmaus”, and submitted it to the prominent critic Abraham Bredius. Bredius took the bait, writing that “It is a wonderful moment in the life of a lover of art when he finds himself suddenly confronted with a hitherto unknown painting by a great master… And what a picture! We have here a – I am inclined to say the – masterpiece of Johannes Vermeer of Delft.”  The art world gasped, the painting was sold for the equivalent of millions of dollars, and displayed in  the Boijmans Gallery in Rotterda.

Han van Meegren planned to expose the forgery at the opening of the Gallery’s 400 Years of European Art exhibition, in which his forgery was given pride of place. His critics would be humiliated and their reputations shattered. Greed, however, got the better of him. Rather than exposing the forgery, he made more, raking in millions more dollars. When the Nazis swept through Europe, he even managed to sell The Supper at Emmaus to them.

This almost proved his undoing.After the war the victorious Allied forces were determined to return the artworks collected by the Nazis to their previous owners. A receipy led two soldiers from the Allied Art Commission to the studio of vm Meegren. They wanted to know from whom van Meegran had bought the artwork. Unwilling to divulge the truth, van Megreen was arrested on charges of treason and faced the death penalty. Confined in prison, facing death, van Megreen had a change of heart. He confessed, but no-one believed him. Experts testified that the work was indeed an original by the Dutch master Vermeer. The only way to prove his innocence was to produce another fake, anfd so he did, spending weeks literally painting for his life!

The final twist to the story is that van Meegren was not only acquitted, but became a national hero, for he had fooled the Nazis, shown them to be the corrupt regime everyone knew they were.

Source: information found in “The forger who fooled the world” The Telegraph, Aug 5, 2006
 

Why Would I Give It to You?

A highly successful businessman was once asked to make a substantial donation toward an urgent charity appeal. The businessman listened to the case presented then said, “I can understand why you approached me. Yes I do have a lot of money, and yours is an important cause. But are you aware that I have a lot of calls upon my money? Did you know my mother needs 24 hour nursing care?”

“No we didn’t” came the reply.

“Did you know my sister is struggling to raise a family of eight on her own?”

“No we didn’t” came the reply.

“Did you know I have one son in a drug rehab clinic and another doing voluntary work overseas?”

“No we didn’t”

“Well, if I don’t give them a cent, what makes you think I’ll give it to you?!”

 

Source: unknown

The Midas Touch

“He’s got the Midas touch”…or so we say about people who seem to be good at making money. The story of King Midas comes to us from ancient Greek mythology, and it’s worth retelling in full. King Midas once found Silenus, the tutor of the god Bacchus, and showed the lost Silenus the way back to his pupil. Excited at the return of Silenus Bacchus promised Midas any reward he wished. Midas’ wish was the wish shared by many – unbelievable wealth. Midas asked that everything he touched might be changed to gold. Bacchus immediately granted his wish and Midas returned to his palace with his newfound talent. True to Bacchus’ promise everything Midas touched turned to gold. Midas could take a stick and with a touch turn it into a stick of gold. He could take a mud brick and with a touch turn it into a brick of gold.

But this talent was not the blessing it first appeared to be. Elated at his new talent Midas had his servants prepare a sumptuous feast. The choice dishes were placed before him, but the moment Midas touched anything it turned to gold. The cloth, the plates, the cups, the food, all turned to gold as soon as they touched his fingers or his lips.

In the end Midas found enormous wealth could not satisfy his most basic need. Desperately hungry he returned to Bacchus and begged him to remove the gift, which Bacchus did.

The Midas touch is not the blessing we often assume it to be.

Smeagol

There’s a wonderful character in Tolkien’s book Lord of the Rings – Smeagol. Smeagol is a hobbit, a member of a small, friendly and insular species of human like creatures. One day Smeagol discovers a ring. When the wearer slips it on it makes him invisible. It grants long life. But the ring possesses an insidious power. The wearer finds himself developing an obsession with the ring, a terrible fear that he might lose it, that someone might take it from him. Over time Smeagol becomes so obsessed that he withdraws from community to live below ground, cradling “my precioussss” as he calls it. His greed for the ring changes the shape of his body and his spirit. He becomes mean spirited, vindictive, jealous. He grows slimy and thin. The ring becomes his undoing.

Hunting Monkeys

In early 2001 some towns in India were stricken by a plague of monkeys. The monkeys were so numerous they would invade homes, bite people, and make off with food supplies. It was agreed the monkey’s would have to be caught and relocated. The people in these towns resorted to a traditional method for catching them. They gathered their old milk bottles, tied them to the ground, and then placed something sweet such as a lolly inside the bottle. Then when a monkey comes along and sees the sweet he places his hand inside the bottle, but with the sweet enclosed in his palm his fist is too big to get back out the bottle. Our monkey will pull and push in an effort to get that sweet out, but he will not let it go, not even as his captors approach. And so the monkey is caught, literally with his hand in the lolly jar!

Application: Materialism. Although we know Jesus’ warning that materialism is destructive to our souls (and our world!) we find it very difficult to let go of possessions and the need to consume and possess them.

Application: Bitterness, forgiveness: unless we let go of our hurts and bitterness we will become trapped by the past, wanting to move forward yet unable to. Yet this is difficult, as we find it perversely attractive to hold onto our pain and bitterness.

Application: Sin, Temptation: often in life we are like the monkey, presented with an attractive offer, yet knowing that unless we let go of it, it will destroy us.

Source: reported in news stories at the time of the episode occuring.

How Spider Got a Skinny Waist. A Parable About Greed

How Spider Got A Skinny Waist

Long ago, back when animals could talk, the spider looked very different to how we see spider’s today. Today the spider has a big fat head and a big fat body body joined together by a skinny little waist. But back in the days when animals could talk the spider had no waist, but was big and fat all over. Here is the tale of how spider got a waist.

One day spider was walking through the forest when Rabbit came hopping down the path. “Where are you off to in such a hurry Rabbit” inquired Spider.

“Why I’m off to the wedding feast at Upstream Town” said the Rabbit. “You should come along too. Everyone’s invited and I hear it’s going to be the feast to end all feasts!”

As Rabbit hopped off Spider decided that this indeed would be a wonderful feast and that he would attend. But just as he was setting off he met Fox coming in the opposite direction. “And where are you off to Mr Fox?” asked Spider.

“Why, I’m off to the Anniversary celebrations at Downstream Town.” replied the fox. “You should come along too. Everyone’s invited and I hear it’s going to be the feast to end all feasts!” And off ran Mr Fox.

Now Spider was delirious with joy! “Two feasts! How wonderful! I’ll rush off to the Upstream Town feats and eat my fill and then I’ll race down to the Downstream Town feast and eat all the delicacies on offer there. And off Spider went. But he had not gone far when a terrible thought struck him. “What if Downstream Town serve their feast before Upstream Town. Then I will miss the delicacies on offer Downstream. But if I go there first and Upstream Town starts earlier I’ll miss out on the Upstream Feast!”

Spider’s joy turned to great consternation. What was he to do. He did not want to miss out on either of the feasts. It was then that he had a brilliant idea. He raced home and found two very long ropes. He tied the end of each rope to his body and then instructed his two children to take the other. His daughter was to head off to the Downstream feast and his son to the Upstream feast. When the food was served they were to pull on the rope. He would know which feast began first and could then make his way there.

Unfortunately for Spider the two feasts began at exactly the same time. Each of his children began pulling on their rope at exactly the same time, harder and harder when they got no response, til finally, they realised something was wrong and rushed back to find their father lying on the ground almost spit in two gasping for breath. They untied the ropes but from that day on Spider had a skinny little waist separating his big fat head from his big fat body.
Source: Based upon a folk tale from Africa found in The Moral Compass.

 

Billionaire George Soros on Materialism

George Soros is multi-billionaire financial wiz. He retired from his Investment Agency at the age of 70 in the year 2000. He was also phenomenally successful as an investor. If you had invested $1,000 in his Quantum Fund when he started out in 1969, he would have turned your $1000 into $4 million by the year 2000.

Yet life was not always so easy for Soros. He was born in Budapest in 1930. He also Jewish. When the Nazis invaded his homeland during World War 2 his father had to bribe government officials for false identity papers so that George could pretend to be the godson of a gentile bureaucrat. Then the family had to spend a period of the war hiding in the attics and concealed stone cellars of almost a dozen homes.

After the war the teenage Soros moved to England and worked odd jobs. As a waiter at Quaglino’s, a posh restaurant in London, he found himself scavenging the leftover profiteroles. Eventually Soros enrolled in the London School of Economics, and the rest is history.

Partly because of his background Soros is not only a capitalist, he’s also a philanthropist. He has injected almost $3 billion into foundations designed to promote open and free societies throughout the world. He plans to give away the rest of his fortune – another $5 billion – by the time he turns 80.

In recent years Soros has turned his attention to the sorts of societies being created by our international economy. And he is concerned by what he sees. Unlike others who have had a rags to riches story Soros does not believe anyone can do it. Indeed, he is worried at the way financial success has become the dominant value of our age and the skewed social outcomes this is delivering. “Markets reduce everything, including human beings (labor) and nature (land), to commodities” he says. “We can have a market economy but we cannot have a market society.”

Source: Biographical information found at Soros Foundation website. Quotation on markets taken from George Soros, “Toward a Global Open Society”, The Atlantic Monthly; January 1998. Volume 281, No. 1; pages 20 – 32.

Free as a Bird

A happy and cheerful man once captured a bird and placed it in a cage. “Give me my freedom sir!” cried the bird as he shut the door. Startled that the bird was talking to him, the man listened as it continued. “I am no use to you sir, for I have no beautiful feathers to look at nor am I able to sing beautiful songs, and I am to small to eat. If however, you promise to grant me my freedom I will tell you three wise teachings.”

The man agreed, whereupon the little bird told him: “First: Do not grieve over things that have already happened. Second: Do not wish for that which is unattainable. Third: Do not believe in that which cannot be possible.”

“Indeed, these are wise things you have taught me” said the man. As agreed, he opened the door of the cage and set the little bird free. The man sat and pondered the bird’s sayings, and the bird flew up to a branch high up in a tree. After a few moments the man heard the bird laughing. “Why do you laugh?” he called.

“Because I so easily won my freedom” replied the bird. “You humans pride yourselves on being the wisest of the creatures, yet I a tiny bird, have outwitted you. Within my belly lies a diamond the size of a hen’s egg. If you had not let me go you would be a wealthy man.”

Upon hearing this news our once happy and cheerful man became angry, sad and depressed. And the more the little bird laughed the angrier, sadder and more depressed the man became.

After some time the man started hurling abuse at the laughing bird as he attempted to recapture it. But to no avail. The little bird was always beyond his reach. Finally the little bird called out. “Listen to me O human. When you granted me freedom I gave you three teachings, yet you almost instantly forgot them. You should not grieve over things that have already happened, but still you are grieving that you gave me my freedom. You should not wish for things that you cannot obtain, and yet you want me, for whom freedom is my whole life, to voluntarily enter a prison. You should not believe that which is impossible, and yet you believe that I am carrying about inside my body a diamond as large as a hen’s egg, although I myself am only half the size of a hen’s egg.”

And with that the little bird flew away.

 

Source: Adapted from Otto Knoop, “Die drei Sprüche,” Ostmärkische Sagen, Märchen und Erzählungen (Lissa: Oskar Eulitz’ Verlag, 1909), no. 72, pp. 147-149 (translation by DL Ashlimann).