In 2004 Victor Yushchenko stood for the presidency of the Ukraine. Vehemently opposed by the ruling party Yushchenko’s face was disfigured and he almost lost his life when he was mysteriously poisoned. This was not enough to deter him from standing for the presidency.
On the day of the election Yushchenko was comfortably in the lead. The ruling party, not to be denied, tampered with the results. The state-run television station reported “ladies and gentlemen, we announce that the challenger Victor Yushchenko has been decisively defeated.”
In the lower right-hand corner of the screen a woman by the name of Natalia Dmitruk was providing a translation service for the deaf community. As the news presenter regurgitated the lies of the regime, Natalia Dmitruk refused to translate them. “I’m addressing all the deaf citizens of Ukraine” she signed. “They are lying and I’m ashamed to translate those lies. Yushchenko is our president.”
The deaf community sprang into gear. They text messaged their friends about the fraudulent result and as news spread of Dmitruk’s act of defiance increasing numbers of journalists were inspired to likewise tell the truth. Over the coming weeks the “Orange Revolution” occurred as a million people wearing orange made their way to the capital city of Kiev demanding a new election. The government was forced to meet their demands, a new election was held and Victor Yushchenko became president.
Philip Yancey writes
“When I heard the story behind the orange revolution, the image of a small screen of truth in the corner of the big screen became for me an ideal picture of the church. You see we as a church do not control the big screen. (When we do, we usually mess it up.) Go to any magazine rack or turn on the television and you see a consistent message. What matters is how beautiful you are, how much money or power you have. Similarly, though the world includes many poor people, they rarely make the magazine covers or the news shows. Instead we focus on the superrich, names like Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey.… Our society is hardly unique. Throughout history nations have always glorified winners, not losers. Then, like the sign language translator in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, along comes a person named Jesus who says in effect, Don’t believe the big screen – they’re lying. It’s the poor who are blessed, not the rich. Mourners are blessed too, as well as those who hunger and thirst, and the persecuted. Those who go through life thinking they’re on top end up on the bottom. And those who go through life feeling they’re on the bottom end up on the top. After all, what does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose his soul?”
Source: Philip Yancey, What Good Is God, pages 184-186
There were once two identical twins. They were alike in every way but one. One was a hope-filled optimist who only ever saw the bright side of life. The other was a dark pessimist, who only ever saw the down side in every situation.
The parents were so worried about the extremes of optimism and pessimism in their boys they took them to the Doctor. He suggested a plan. “On their next birthday give the pessimist a shiny new bike, but give the optimist only a pile of manure.”
It seemed a fairly extreme thing to do. After all the parents had always treated heir boys equally. But in this instance they decided to try to Doctor’s advice. So when the twins birthday came round they gave the pessimist the most expensive, top of the range, racing bike a child has ever owned. When he saw the bike his first words were, “I’ll probably crash and break my leg.”
To the optimist they gave a carefully wrapped box of manure. He opened it, looked puzzled for a moment, then ran outside screaming, “You can’t fool me! Where there’s this much manure, there’s just gotta be a pony around here somewhere!”
In January 1997 British yachtsman Tony Bullimore was sailing solo deep in the Southern Ocean. A gale was raging. The waves, reaching the height of a five story building, rushed on him with a sound like roaring thunder. As his yacht plummeted down the face of a wave it hit something submerged in the water and turned upside down.
Tony, who had been sheltering in the two metre by three metre cockpit found it had become his prison. As giant waves buffeted the boat, water poured in and out a broken window, knee high at one end, waist high at the other, the air temperature was down to 2 degrees Celsius, and it was pitch black – the sun couldn’t penetrate the upturned yacht.
Twelve times Bullimore left the cockpit in a vain attempt to release his liferaft. Meeting with no success he took refuge in his little cabin. Sitting inside the cold inky darkness Bullimore had few rations – some chocolate and a device for making fresh water from salty sea. His fingers became frostbitten and Bullimore thought that he was going to die. The odds of being rescued seemed impossibly small.
Four four long days Tony survived, until late Wednesday night when a RAFF plane located him and dropped an electronic probe next to his yacht. Bullimore could hear the faint pings, and with hope rising in his heart, started tapping on the hull to communicate to whoever was listening that he was alive. Early the next morning the HMAS Adelaide drew alongside, and some sailors were dispatched to bang on the hull. Tony heard the banging, took a deep breath, and swam out through the wreckage of his yacht to meet them.
How did he feel at that moment? Bullimore says “When I looked over at the Adelaide, I could only get the tremendous ecstasy that I was looking at life, I was actually looking at a picture of what life was about. It was heaven, absolute heaven. I really, really never thought I would reach that far. I was starting to look back over my life and was starting to think, `Well, I’ve had a good life, I’ve done most of the things I had wanted to do’ I think if I was picking words to describe it, it would be a miracle. An absolute miracle.”
Reflecting on the experience later Bullimore told reporters “…Now that I’m getting a bit old there is one thing, and I don’t mind telling the world, I’ve become more human. In these last six days I’m a different person. I won’t be so rude to people, not that I was, but I’ll be much more of a gentleman and, equally, I’ll listen to people a lot more. And as a dear old friend of mine, David Matherson, said when he had a heart attack – and I’ve never had a heart attack, I’ve got a strong heart, I hope I still have – he said that when he got over it and opened his window in his bedroom and he peered out and smelt the fresh air and all the rest of it, he said: `God it was like being born all over again, life was great!’ Well that’s how I feel now, like being born all over again.”
Tony Bullimore learned the power of hope. It was hope of being rescued that drove him to survive and it was the fulfilment of hope that brought him such joy and a new perspective on life. In the same way the gospel promises hope to all of us, and particularly to those of us who find life tough going. A time will come when the Rescuer will arrive and release the world from the pain and suffering. And it’s that hope that drives us forward.
Bullimore reflects a common outlook among those who’ve had a brush with death. In almost religious language he says it’s like being born all over again, a fresh start at life, and one he will make a better fist of. The death and resurrection of Jesus likewise brings us a fresh appreciation of life, a fresh start and a new way of living.
Source: Scott Higgins. Bullimore quotes taken from The Sunday Age January 1997.
There was once a stone cutter who was dissatisfied with himself and with his position in life.
One day he passed a wealthy merchant’s house. Through the open gateway, he saw many fine possessions and important visitors. “How powerful that merchant must be!” thought the stone cutter. He became very envious and wished that he could be like the merchant.
To his great surprise, he suddenly became the merchant, enjoying more luxuries and power than he had ever imagined, but envied and detested by those less wealthy than himself. Soon a high official passed by, carried in a sedan chair, accompanied by attendants and escorted by soldiers beating gongs. Everyone, no matter how wealthy, had to bow low before the procession. “How powerful that official is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a high official!”
Then he became the high official, carried everywhere in his embroidered sedan chair, feared and hated by the people all around. It was a hot summer day, so the official felt very uncomfortable in the sticky sedan chair. He looked up at the sun. It shone proudly in the sky, unaffected by his presence. “How powerful the sun is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be the sun!”
Then he became the sun, shining fiercely down on everyone, scorching the fields, cursed by the farmers and laborers. But a huge black cloud moved between him and the earth, so that his light could no longer shine on everything below. “How powerful that storm cloud is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a cloud!”
Then he became the cloud, flooding the fields and villages, shouted at by everyone. But soon he found that he was being pushed away by some great force, and realized that it was the wind. “How powerful it is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be the wind!”
Then he became the wind, blowing tiles off the roofs of houses, uprooting trees, feared and hated by all below him. But after a while, he ran up against something that would not move, no matter how forcefully he blew against it – a huge, towering rock. “How powerful that rock is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a rock!”
Then he became the rock, more powerful than anything else on earth. But as he stood there, he heard the sound of a hammer pounding a chisel into the hard surface, and felt himself being changed. “What could be more powerful than I, the rock?” he thought.
He looked down and saw far below him the figure of a stone cutter.
During the deepest, darkest days of apartheid when the government tried to shut down opposition by canceling a political rally, Archbishop Desmond Tutu declared that he would hold a church service instead.
St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa was filled with worshippers. Outside the cathedral hundreds of police gathered, a show of force intended to intimidate. As Tutu was preaching they entered the Cathedral, armed, and lined the walls. They took out notebooks and recorded Tutu’s words.
But Tutu would not be intimidated. He preached against the evils of apartheid, declaring it could not endure. At one extraordinary point he addressed the police directly.
You are powerful. You are very powerful, but you are not gods and I serve a God who cannot be mocked. So, since you’ve already lost, since you’ve already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side!
With that the congregation erupted in dance and song.
The police didn’t know what to do. Their attempts at intimidation had failed, overcome by the archbishop’s confidence that God and goodness would triumph over evil. It was but a matter of time.
Source: reported in Jim Wallis, God’s Politics
There was once an optimistic farmer who couldn’t wait to greet each new day with a resounding, “Good morning, God!” He lived near a woman whose morning greeting was more like, “Good God… morning?” They were each a trial to the other. Where he saw opportunity, she saw problems. Where he was satisfied, she was discontented.
One bright morning he exclaimed, “Look at the beautiful sky! Did you see that glorious sunrise?”
“Yeah,” she countered. “It’ll probably get so hot the crops will scorch!”
During an afternoon shower, he commented, “Isn’t this wonderful? Mother Nature is giving the corn a drink today!”
“And if it doesn’t stop before too long,” came the sour reply, “we’ll wish we’d taken out flood insurance on the crops!”
Convinced that he could instil some awe and wonder in her hardened attitude, he bought a remarkable dog. Not just any mutt, but the most expensive, highly-trained and gifted dog he could find. The animal was exquisite! It could perform remarkable and impossible feats which, the farmer thought, would surely amaze even his neighbour. So he invited her to watch his dog perform.
“Fetch!” he commanded, as he tossed a stick out into a lake, where it bobbed up and down in the rippling water. The dog bounded after the stick, walked on the water, and retrieved it.
“What do you think of that?” he asked, smiling.
“Not much of a dog” she frowned. “Can’t even swim, can he?”
In 1995 the movie “Smoke” was released, starring Harvey Kietel and William Hurt. The centre of the film is the Brooklyn Cigar Co., located at the corner of Third Street and Eighth Avenue.
The Brooklyn Cigar Co is owned by Auggie Wren, played by Harvey Keitel. Every morning at 8 a.m. Auggie walks across the road from his store locate don the corner of Third and Eighth and takes a photograph of it. The angle of the camera never varies, just the weather, the people on the street, the colour of the sky.
One of Auggie’s customers is Paul Benjamin. Paul’s an author who is suffering from writer’s block, he’s suffered it ever since his wife, Ellen, was shot and killed one morning right outside the Brooklyn Cigar Co. One morning Paul wanders in and sees Auggie’s camera. They get talking, and Auggie reveals that photography is his hobby, his art, his life’s work. Paul tells Auggie he’d love to see his photographs, and so, Auggie closes up the shop and takes Paul back to his house to show him his collection.
Auggie pulls out a set of large, heavy photo albums and places them before Paul Benjamin, the writer. Paul opens the first page. There, mounted on a stark black background, are four photos, and they’re all of Auggie’s shop, the Brooklyn Cigar Co, on the corner of Third and Eighth, all taken from exactly the same place, at exactly the same angle. Paul turns the next page and he sees exactly the same thing. Four photographs of Auggie’s shop, all taken from the same place, at the same angle. He turns the next page and he sees more. He starts turning the pages faster and faster, til he’s rapidly flipping through the book, when Auggie puts a hand down on the back page and says, “You’ll never get it if you don’t slow down.”
“But Auggie”, says Paul, “they’re all the same.”
“They’re all the same,” Auggie replies, “but each one is different from all the others.” Auggie explains that he has 4,000 pictures of the same place, but that each picture is different. “It’s my corner, after all. I mean, it’s just one little part of the world, but things take place there, too, just like everywhere else. It’s a record of my little spot.”
Then Paul sees someone he knows in one of the photos: his wife, who was pregnant when she was shot and killed one morning on the street outside the store. “It’s Ellen,” he says. “Look at her. Look at my sweet darling.” And he begins to cry.
Now all the photos do not look the same anymore…It’s just that you’ll never get it if you don’t slow down.
Roy Campanella was one of the first African Americans to play in the US Baseball major leagues. In a distinguished career he won the Brooklyn Dodgers Most Valued Player award many times, and in 1955 was in the team that won the World Series.
But in January 1958 his career was cut short after a car crash left him a quadriplegic. After he was injured he spent a lot of time in the Institute of Physical medicine and Rehabilitation in New York City. One day he stopped to read a gold plaque upon one of the walls, and for someone who had been blessed with such athletic gifts it resonated deeply within him:
“I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I might learn to humbly obey…
I asked for health that I might do great things.
I was given infirmity that might do better things…
I asked for riches that I might be happy,
I was given poverty that I might be wise…
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of others.
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God…
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life that I might enjoy all things…
I got nothing I asked for, but everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among men, most richly blessed!
Source: Scott Higgins, using information from Baseball Library.com and Chicken Soup for the Soul.
In November 2000 my wife, my kids and I took a holiday to the Gold Coast. About 600kms north we were driving up a big hill, knowing that Byron Bay was down the other side. We were looking forward to it. We’d been in the car for a long time, it was hot, and we were eagerly anticipating a break. So up the hill we came, knowing that our break was down the other side. And then we saw it – the most breathtaking view you’re ever likely to encounter. At the top of the hill we got the most breathtaking view of a lush green valley stretching away to the deep blue of the ocean.
There was a lookout at the top of the hill, so we stopped, jumped out of the car and stood looking. The kids figured they’d reached the top of the world, so they danced on a little stone wall singing, “We’re on top the world, we’re on top of the world.” Over and over, “we’re on top of the world, we’re on top of the world.”
And in some ways it really felt like it – it was one of those perfect moments frozen in time. The kids singing and dancing, the wind fresh on the face, the sun shining above us, the road we’d travelled stretching out behind us, the road to come winding its way ahead. We knew who we were, where we’d come from, where we were going.
If you think of life as a journey, most of us would like to sit at the top of the world, to have one of those perfect moments where it all comes together and make sense, where we can look back at where we’ve come from and look ahead and know where we’re going, to have a sense of what is out there waiting for us, to see the detours and potholes and danger points that lie out there and start planning how we’ll meet them.
But instead of sitting at the top we spend most of our time travelling on either side of the hill. God sits at the top, has a sense of how it all fits together, but we usually don’t get that view. We get surprised by potholes and detours and danger spots and have to struggle our way through them. Faith however reminds us that God is at the top of the hill, and that even in the roughest parts we can live with trust in him to guide us through.
A college student once wrote this letter to her parents.
Dear mum and dad,
It has been nearly three months since I left for college. I have been remiss in writing, and I am very sorry for my thoughtlessness in not having written before. I will bring you up to date now; but, before you read on, please sit down. You are not to read any further unless you are sitting down. Okay.
Well, then, I am getting along pretty well now. The skull fracture and the concussion I got when I jumped out of the window of my dormitory when it caught fire shortly after my arrival are pretty well healed now. I only spent two weeks in the hospital, and now I can see almost normally and only get those sick headaches once a day.
Fortunately, the fire in the dormitory and my jump were witnessed by an attendant at the gas station near the dorm, and he was the one who called the Fire Department and the ambulance. He also visited me at the hospital; and, since I had nowhere to live because of the burnt out dormitory, he was kind enough to invite me to share his apartment with him. It’s really a basement room, but it’s kind of cute. He is a very fine boy, and we have fallen deeply in love and are planning to get married. We haven’t set the exact date yet, but it will be before my pregnancy begins to show.
Yes, Mother and Dad, I am pregnant. I know how much you are looking forward to being grandparents, and I know you will welcome the baby and give it the same love and devotion you gave me when I was a child.
The reason for the delay in our wedding date is that Michael has some very large debts from his three previous marriages that he needs to work off before we can afford to be married.
Now that I have brought you up to date, I want to tell you that there was no dormitory fire, I did not get a concussion or a skull fracture, I was not in the hospital, I am not pregnant, I am not engaged, and there is no one in my life. However, I am getting a “D” in History and an “F” in Science, and I wanted you to see these marks in the proper perspective.
Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the greatest and most influential architects of the twentieth century. As a boy he used to a lot of time on his uncle’s farm in Spring Green, USA. It was there that he had one of the most formative experiences of his life. He was 9 years old, it was a winter’s day, and he and his uncle had just walked across a snow-covered field. Frank’s uncle stopped the young boy and pointed to the tracks they had left in the snow. Frank’s meandered all over the place, while his uncle’s went in a straight line from start to finish. “Notice how your tracks wander aimlessly from the fence to the cattle to the woods and back again,” his uncle said. “And see how my tracks aim directly to my goal. There is an important lesson in that.”
Years later the world-famous architect pointed to the important lesson he learned that day, but it was not the lesson his uncle had intended him to learn. “I determined right then,” said Frank Lloyd Wright, “not to miss most things in life, as my uncle had.”
Sources: Details found at Biography.com and Focus on the Family letter, September, 1992, p. 14
Once upon a time there was a goldfish called Bogglehead. He gained his name from the fact that he was one of those awkward looking goldfish with enormous eyes that stuck out the side of his head. Bogglehead was owned by a little girl who used to make his life hell. Every day she’d come into the room, stick her hand in the fishbowl and start swirling the water round and round, creating a whirlpool. She laughed as she saw Bogglehead flailing helplessly in the current. But poor Bogglehead would end up feeling nauseated and giddy. Other times the little girl would try to catch Bogglehead, scoop him up in her hand and watch him flip fearfully, gasping for breath, as she held him aloft out of the water. Then at the last moment she’d drop him back in again.
One day Bogglehead was enjoying a moment’s peace from the little girl when he noticed something gleaming among the stones at the bottom of the fishbowl. He swam down to investigate and to his great surprise found a tiny brass lamp. He rubbed his nose against it and out popped a magic fish genie. “Greetings master. I am the genie of the lamp. I have the power to grant any wish you make.” As Bogglehead pondered what he might wish for he saw the nasty little girl come into the room. “I wish to be that little girl for a day” he blurted out. And with that, whoosh, the little girl became a goldfish and Bogglehead became the little girl.
“Aha!” thought Bogglehead as he towered over the fishbowl and saw the fear in the eyes of the little girl turned goldfish. “Now I can gain my revenge!” With that he placed his hand in the bowl and started to churn the water into a whirlpool. The little-girl-turned-goldfish started to be thrust around by the current, growing nauseas and dizzy. But after a moment Bogglehead cringed with shame and stopped. “I’m sorry” he said, “that’s not fair.” Instead Bogglehead stopped and played carefully and thoughtfully with the little-girl-turned-goldfish. After 24 hours he was returned to his life as a goldfish and the little girl became a little girl again.
But from that day on things were changed. The little girl no longer tormented Bogglehead, but cared for him. Bogglehead in turn came to enjoy visits from the little girl and to look forward to them.
Application 1: Incarnation, God’s love, God’s care. We often find ourselves in the situation of Bogglehead. God sometimes can appear like the monstrous little girl – uncaring, unthoughtful. What would he know about being a human, and the problems we struggle with? The Christian story however assures that God indeed knows what it’s like to be human, knows it from experience. For in Jesus Christ God came to us as a human being, experienced our world as a human, longed as a human, got hurt as a human, experienced hunger and injustice and rejection and pain as a human. Ours is a God who knows what it’s like to walk through life difficulties and so is able to walk with us through our difficulties.
Application 2: Relationships, conflict, perspective, communication. Bogglehead teaches us about the way to relate to others. Often all we do is see them from our own perspective – that person who hurt us or ignores us. But by trying to see things from their point of view we can be transformed.