Priorities


I’d much rather have known my father

George Mallory is the famous mountain climber who died attempting to reach the peak of Mount Everest, and may well have been the first person to reach the peak. But the pursuit of his dream took a toll on his family. In the introduction to the book Last Climb, George’s son John, who is was just three years old when his father perished, speaks of both his pride at what his father achieved and sadness. He wrote “I would so much rather have known my father than to have grown up in the shadow of a legend, a hero, as some people perceive him to be.”

Reflecting Light Into Dark Places

During the Second World War, German paratroopers invaded the island of Crete. When they landed at Maleme, the islanders met them, bearing nothing other than kitchen knives and hay scythes. The consequences of resistance were devastating. The residents of entire villages were lined up and shot.

Overlooking the airstrip today is an institute for peace and understanding founded by a Greek man named Alexander Papaderous. Papaderous was just six years old when the war started. He home village was destroyed and he was imprisoned in a concentration camp. When the war ended, he became convinced his people needed to let go of the hatred the war had unleashed. To help the process, he founded his institute at this place that embodied the horrors and hatreds unleashed by the war.

One day, while taking questions at the end of a lecture, Papaderous was asked, “What’s the meaning of life?” There was nervous laughter in the room. It was such a weighty question. But Papaderous answered it.

He opened his wallet, took out a small, round mirror and held it up for everyone to see. During the war he was just a small boy when he came across a motorcycle wreck. The motorcycle had belonged to German soldiers. Alexander saw pieces of broken mirrors from the motorcycle lying on the ground. He tried to put them together but couldn’t, so he took the largest piece and scratched it against a stone until its edges were smooth and it was round. He used it as a toy, fascinated by the way he could use it to shine light into holes and crevices.

He kept that mirror with him as he grew up, and over time it came to symbolise something very important. It became a metaphor for what he might do with his life.

 I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world–into the black places in the hearts of men–and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.

Robert Fulgham, It Was On Fire When I Laid Down On It

Wayne Bennett

Wayne Bennett is one of the most successful coaches in rugby league history. For over a decade he coached the “Brisbane Bronco’s” (a club side in the Australian rugby league competition). Bennett is revered by players, notoriously difficult for journalists, and widely admired and respected. In 2002 he released a book Don’t Die With the Music In You. Present at the launch were News Limited Director, Lachlan Murdoch, Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh, and a host of rugby league identities and corporate heavyweights. Yet when speaking of his greatest success in life he turned not to his achievements in football but to his home life. Bennett paid tribute to his wife Trish, saying “One of the greatest achievements is to be able to stay married to her, and I hope for the rest of my life that will remain my greatest achievement. It is the thing I want more than anything else. I want the relationship to be there forever and the relationship with my family to be there forever.”

Source: reported in The Sydney Morning Herald May 8, 2002

Cory Weisman’s Basket

In February 2012 Cory Weissman led out the men’s basketball team of Gettysburg College for their last game of the season. Four years earlier he had suffered a stroke that left him paralysed on one side. Four years of rehab and he was able to walk with a limp, but was still not able to play competitively. But before his stroke he had been on the varsity team and the Gettysburgh coach wanted to give him a few seconds on court as a senior. So Cory was nominated captain and led out the starting five for what was both his first and last game for Gettysburg, for he was now due to graduate.

Knowing the struggle it was just to be there, the crowd and the players from both teams greeted him with wild applause. The Gettysburg coach gave him a few minutes on court before benching him.

With one minute to go Gettysburg was well ahead and the coach sent Cory back out on court. The Washington coach called time out and instructed his players to foul Cory Weissman. For those who don’t know basketball this was a very generous act, for it meant Cory would be given two shots at the basket.

Cory takes his place at the free throw line, feels the weight of the ball in his hands, lifts and shoots. It misses badly. But he has a second and final shot left. Again he feels the weight of the ball in his hands, lifts and shoots. This time the ball flies straight through the hoop, and the crowd breaks out in thunderous applause.

The assistant vice president for athletics at Gettysburg, David Wright, later wrote to Washington College: “Your coach, Rob Nugent, along with his … staff and student-athletes, displayed a measure of compassion that I have never witnessed in over 30 years of involvement in intercollegiate athletics.”

Source: reported by Frank Record, “When there’s more to winning than winning.” NPR Radio, Feb 22, 2012

The Special Olympics

Joni Erickson Tada is the president of JET ministries, a ministry which aims to serve the disabled. She is herself a quadriplegic. A few years ago she was a spectator at the Los Angeles Special Olympics. Her husband Ken was the coordinator for track and field events. Joni was among a large crowd watching the participants prepare for the 50 metres running race.

The starter’s gun fired and off the contestants raced. As they rushed toward the finish line one boy left the track and started running toward his friends standing in the infield. Ken blew his whistle, trying to get the boy to come back to the track, but all to no avail.

Then one of the other competitors noticed, a down syndrome girl with thick bottle glasses. She stopped just short of the finish line and called out to the boy, “Stop, come back, this is the way.”  Hearing the voice of her friend the boy stopped and looked. “Come back, this is the way” she called. The boy stood there, confused. His friend, realising he was confused, left the track and ran over to him. She linked arms with him and together they ran back to the track and finished the race. They were the last to cross the line, but were greeted by hugs from their fellow competitors and a standing ovation from the crowd.

The downs syndrome girl with the bottle glasses taught everyone present that day an important life lesson, that it’s important to take time out form our own goals in life to help others find their way. Reflecting on the episode afterwards Ken was reminded of some verses from Romans 15:

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up . . . May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus.

Source: reported in Joni Erickson Tada, “It’s Called Unity”, found at joniandfriends.org

The Space Race

On the evening of July 20, 1969 people across the world were huddled around black and white TV sets, breathless as they watched a grainy image. Those who didn’t have TV sets had gone to the homes of neighbours who did. No one wanted to miss what was being shown on the screen. The air was thick with excitement and nervous tension. Then at four minutes to eleven a white suited Neil Armstrong stepped from his spacecraft onto the surface of the moon, uttering the immortal words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Getting to the moon was a phenomenal achievement. It signaled hope that we humans could achieve great things. But from another perspective it signaled the very worst about us. Eight years before Armstrong stepped on the moon the Russians put a guy named Gagarin into a spaceship and launched him into orbit around the earth, the first ever manned space flight. That moment shamed the people of the United States. It was the time of the Cold War and once Gagarin went into space the US was hell bent on beating the Russians to the moon. They redoubled their efforts, the space program became a national priority.

Why? What was so important about being first to the moon? The race to the moon was a race for bragging rights. It was a competition to show which nation had the greatest know-how, which system – Capitalism or Communism – the most advanced technology, the cleverer scientists.

A report to the House Subcommittee on Manned Space Flight of the Committee on Science and Astronautics in 1974 stated that the Apollo moon program cost $25.4 billion, which equates to over $100 billion in today’s (2012) values. Christian rock singer Larry Norman observed in his song the Great American Novel that this occured at a time when the US and the wold were filled with hungry people.

Source: Scott Higgins

Letter from a College Student

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.

Your loving daughter,
Edna

 

 

Everything In Its Place

Most of us have become familiar with the Amish people of the United States as a result of the film Witness. There we learned that Amish people avoid modern technology. They have no TV sets in their homes, no telephones inside the home, and electricity is hooked into the barn but not the house. Such a lifestyle seems to us very harsh and rigorous, but an Amish bishop once explained why it is the Amish live this way. He suggested that most technology had in fact had a negative effect on people’s lives. Television was a good example. It brought violence and poor ethical values into our homes, so much so that many people would like to watch less TV but find they can’t.

Does this mean the Amish are against modern technology? No, explained the bishop. The Amish simply want to keep it in its proper place. The Amish weren’t against telephones. In fact he’d had one installed down the lane from his house. A telephone was handy to have in an emergency or to call distant family and friends. But why bring it into the house. “Telephones intrude into the most precious moments of life.” said the bishop. “You may be talking to your children or sharing something important with your wife; if the phone rings, you will allow it to interrupt what you’re saying. The family can be at prayer, and if the phone rings you will stop and answer it. You could be with your wife in bed, and you will allow the ringing telephone to interrupt what you are doing there!”

Similarly electricity could be a good thing, if kept in its proper place. The Amish in his community had electricty in their barns to refrigerate their milk, but they kept it out of their homes. Why? Because they felt it disrupted the natural rhythms of life. With electricity people stay up late instead of going to bed. With electricity people listen to radios and watch TV that involve them with the outside world rather than their Amish community.

What about tractors? If the Amish will use electricity in their barns, why not tractors in their fields. The Bishop explained that with a tractor a person can plow their field on their own. But using a horse drawn plow the whole family needed to be involved. So rejecting the tractor was a way to create family solidarity.

The Amish have perhaps given more thought to this issue than most of us have. While we may not agree with the Amish on everything we certainly could follow their lead in asking about how we can make modern technology work for us rather than allowing it to determine our lives.

Source: Bishop’s comments reported in Tony Campolo, Following Jesus Without Embarrassing God (Word, 1997)

Dr Livingstone I Presume?

David Livingstone is renowned as one of the greatest missionaries of all time. He was among the first to explore Africa, driven by a passionate desire to end the slave trade. Livingstone was convinced that by opening up the continent he could expose slavery for the evil it was. When he died he was beloved in both Africa and England. His heart was buried in Africa and his body returned to England, where he was given a hero’s funeral. The gravestone read “brought by faithful hand over land and sea, David Livingstone: missionary, traveller, philanthropist. For thirty years his life was spent in an unwearied effort to evangelise the native races, to explore the undiscovered secrets and abolish the slave trade.”

Yet it is easy to focus on Livingstone the “saint” without recognising that he was an ordinary human being facing normal human struggles. Before he found his life’s work Livingstone met with a lot of “dead ends”. He initially entered medical college in response to a call for medical missionaries to China, but by the time his training was complete the Opium Wars had begun and the door to China was closed. He then settled on South Africa, having met a missionary already at work there, Robert Moffat. Moffat had a mission station 600 miles north of Capetown, and had told Livingstone that it glowed in the morning sun with “the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary had been before.” Unfortunately, when Livingstone arrived he discovered Moffat had been exaggerating. Rather than the smoke of a thousand villages Moffat had less than 40 converts, of whom half had returned to their pre-Christian ways, and the surrounding countryside was destitute of people.

Disillusioned with Moffat’s mission station Livingstone then set out to establish his own missionary work. Over the course of ten years he established a strong of mission stations, but had only one convert, who eventually returned to paganism.

This caused Livingstone to rethink his vocation, and it was only after all these setbacks that he finally embarked on his great journeys of exploration.

Not only did Livingstone face many setbacks before finding his vocation, he also suffered many character defects. While he loved the native Africans and got along well with them, he found it almost impossible to get along with his fellow Europeans. He fought with fellow missionaries, fellow explorers, assistants, and even his brother Charles. He held grudges for years, could explode with rage and later in life had a serious falling out and parting of the ways with his original mission organisation, the London Missionary Society.

Application: Livingstone reminds us that God’s work is carried out by ordinary people, not “supersaints.”

Application: . Livingstone’s story reminds us that we move into the future one step at a time, that where we will end up is often unclear, that there may be many detours along the way, but that if we are faithful God will take us and use us.

A Good Citizen?

Jim Langstaff was a Canadian doctor who practised in the early 20th century. He was known for his extraordinary commitment to the welfare of his patients. For example, upon learning a woman who lived on an isolated farm was about to have a baby and needed medical help immediately Dr Langstaff set off. It was a bitterly cold winter’s day and the roads had become unusable. Undeterred Dr Langstaff strapped on his skis and continued. Snowdrifts on the road made skiing difficult so he took to the fields beside the road. At one point he tripped over a fence and became badly tangled in the wire. He freed himself, continue don to the farm house, delivered the baby and, once the weather had cleared, returned to his car.

People who knew Dr Langstaff say that sort of dedication was typical of the good doctor. It came from a sense of place in the world instilled into him by his father. One day Dr Langstaff’s son Walter came to his father and said “Dad, I got 99% in mathematics on my report card.” His father responded, “That’s great, but are you being a good citizen.”

Decades later the words still challenged Walter. “I have remembered that remark for the last 45 years” he said. “Was I being a good citizen?”

Desmond Tutu

In May 2001 journalist Giles Brandeth interviewed South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It was a powerful experience for Brandeth, for Desmond Tutu was suffering from prostate cancer and there was a real chance this might be the last interview he would ever give. What might Tutu want to talk about? Perhaps the amazing transformation in the politics of his country, and of which he himself had a leading role. No. Here’s what he told Brandeth: “If this is going to be my last interview, I am glad we are not going to talk about politics. Let us talk about prayer and adoration, about faith, hope and forgiveness.” For Tutu these are the things that are the stuff of life.

Source: reported in The Age May 19, 2001

Can I Buy Some of Your Time

A businessman who worked very long hours arrived home one evening to find his 7 year old son waiting for him at the door. “Daddy?”

“Yeah?” replied the man.

“Daddy, how much money do you make an hour?

“Well son, I don’t really think that’s any business of yours” the man said.

“Please daddy, please tell me, how much do you make an hour?” pleaded the little boy.

“If I tell you, you must promise you won’t tell anybody else”

“I promise” said the little boy.

“Alright then” said his father. “I make $150.00 an hour.”

“Oh,” the little boy replied. He looked a little sad, then said “Daddy, may I borrow $20.00 please?”

His father was furious. “If the only reason you wanted to know how much money I make is so you can borrow some you can go straight off to bed!”

The little boy burst into tears and made his way to his room. After an hour or so the father had calmed down and went to his son’s room. “I’m sorry for being so hard on you earlier son. If you tell me what you wanted the $20 for and it’s a worthwhile thing I’ll think about giving it to you.”

The little boy ran across the room to his piggy bank and counted out all it’s contents, exactly $130.00.

“$130.00, that’s a lot of money son. Surely that’s enough for what you wanted to buy” said the father.

“Well with the $20 you’ll give me it will be” the little boy replied.  “I’d like to buy an hour of your time.”

All You Are is an Interruption

In 2001 Bob Reccord was the President of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board. During an address to the New Orleans Baptist Seminary he told of how his commitment to ministry almost cost him his marriage. Bob was 29 years old at the time and he and his wife Cheryl had a four year old son and a newborn. Bob was also a “bi-vocational” pastor, working as a businessman and as National Director of Training for Evangelism Explosion. His business and pastoral work had him away from home for 33 weeks of the year.

Returning home from a trip he one day came in the door, put down his suitcase, and said excitedly to his wife, “Want to hear what God’s done?”

Cheryl, looked at him and said, “No,” then began to cry.

“You used to be an asset to this family” she said. “All you are now is an interruption to this family.” Cheryl went on to say that if things didn’t change, she and the children would leave him.

That episode shocked Bob Reccord to rethink his life and make some changes. To the students at New Orleans Baptist Seminary he made the very important point that it is easy for those with strong commitments to ministry to become distracted from what’s important – such as their marriages and families – not by evil things but by good things.

 

Source: Reported at BPNews.com, November 21, 2001

Put the Big Rocks in First

A university professor used to begin his first class each year by saying, “I am about to teach you the most important thing you’ll learn during your entire stay at this august institution.”  He pulled out a large glass jar from and set it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.

When the jar was filled to the top he asked, “Is this jar full?”

Everyone in the class said, “Yes.”

Then he said, “Really?” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel, dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.

Then he smiled and asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was onto him.

“Probably not,” one of them answered.

“Good!” he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?”

“No!” the class shouted. Once again he said, “Good!” Then he grabbed a jug of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”

One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!”

Another said, “The water came last. So no matter how busy you are there’s always time for a drink.”

“No,” the professor  replied, “that’s not the point. The point is this: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all. Make sure you get the big rocks into your life first.”