Posts for April 27-May 4, 2011

Story of the Day for Wednesday May 4, 2011

Well, Join the Crowd

                    Strive to enter through the narrow doorway.

Luke 13:24

George Evans served as the press agent for a young singer whose career had not yet ignited. But, after spending sixty dollars, Evans catapulted Frank Sinatra into stardom in one night.

In 1942, Sinatra was booked to sing at the Paramount Theatre in New York. In order to generate enthusiasm for Sinatra, Evans hired a dozen teenage girls and paid them five bucks a piece to follow his instructions.

The girls were paid to sit in the front row at the concert and swoon. They rehearsed in the basement of the Paramount. Some of them practiced fainting in the aisles when Sinatra sang his slow songs, and others rehearsed jumping up and screaming, “Oh, Daddy!” when Frank sang Embraceable You. Evans then made sure the concert hall was packed by passing out free tickets.

That night, a dozen girls earned their five dollars. About twenty girls, who weren’t paid to faint, also passed out. The crowd went hysterical. The next time Sinatra performed at the Paramount, a promoter recalled, “They went nuts. Absolutely nuts!”

Frank Sinatra became an overnight sensation, and soon was the most popular singer of his day.

George Evan’s stunt may be ethically dubious, but I admire his genius in understanding how easily people are swayed by the behavior of the crowd. None of us likes to admit that we tend to conform our behavior to those around us, but we do.

The Asch Paradigm, developed in the 1950s, was pivotal in our understanding of conformity.  Solomon Asch of Swarthmore College developed a simple experiment. He gave students a “vision test.” Participants were shown a vertical line, and then a group of three lines of various lengths. They simply had to identify which of the three lines matched the length of the first line. When subjects were given the test privately, only one of out 35 ever gave an incorrect answer.

But things got interesting when Asch gave the same test to a group. The first several participants were confederates. They were told, in advance, the answer Asch wanted them to give. The last student asked didn’t know this.

At first, the confederates would give the correct answer. Then, they were cued to deliberately give the wrong answer – to say a vertical line matched the first line, when it, obviously, did not. What would the unwitting student say when the rest of the group gave the wrong answer?  Seventy-five percent would conform their answer to that of the group.

Jesus wants us to be thoughtful about life and not be swayed by the opinions of others. Have you ever felt as if you were being manipulated to conform to the decisions of a group? Well, join the crowd. No, wait – that’s not what I meant . . .

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)


Story of the Day for Tuesday May 3, 2011

Truth Poses No Threat

                 . . .that we might no longer be infants, tossed by the waves, and blown around by every wind of teaching and by the craftiness and cunning of men in their deceitful scheming.

Ephesians 4:14

Do you know what conqueror created the largest contiguous Empire in history? I’ll give you a clue: his empire stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Adriatic Sea, and included China, Baghdad, and Moscow.

His name was Genghis Khan, and in the 13th century, his Mongol army was unstoppable.

He didn’t rely simply on brute force and superior numbers. His army was well-trained, but Genghis Khan was a master of deception.

In 1241, the Hungarians seemed to be strong and willing to fight to the death. Since Ghengis Khan didn’t have the strength to stage a frontal assault, he surrounded the enemy. The Hungarians, however, noticed that they failed to completely surround them. There was a gap in the lines through which they could escape. As soldiers broke ranks to escape from their attackers, they had no idea they were running into the trap. The Mongols created an “escape hatch” so that, once in the open, they could be funneled into a trap where they would be overwhelmed.

In 1258, the Mongols invaded Szechuan with 40,000 but spread rumors that they had 100,000 soldiers. Genghis Khan set up camp and ordered every soldier to light five campfires to create the illusion that they he had an overwhelming opposing army. On the horizon, the Mongols would tie branches to the tails of their horses to stir up dust in order to make it appear to their adversary that a large army of enemy reinforcements was arriving.

When near the Dneiper River, the Mongols were far outnumbered by 80,000 warriors led by Prince Mstitslav of Kiev. The Mongols sent a token force on horseback to attack, but then they turned and retreated. The prince’s cavalry realized the Mongols were few in numbers, and left their defensive position to pursue them. The Mongols retreated to the Kalka River, with their enemy strung out in pursuit. Then, the bulk of the Mongol army waited to ambush the attackers from both sides. The retreating Mongols suddenly spun around and attacked from the front – destroying their adversary.

Truth poses no threat to the believer. The Christian community has always welcomed debate with atheists, evolutionists, pro-abortionists – you name it.

But, the Bible urges us to grow up in our faith. Spiritual maturity doesn’t make us more loved by God, but it does make us wiser to the many deceptions and false claims that intimidate those young in the faith.

Genghis Khan could never have accomplished what he did without the cunning to deceive his enemies.

The only way deception can hurt you is to believe it.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

Story of the Day for Monday May 2, 2011

Begin by Slowing Down

                     Blessed is the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither.

Psalm 1:2-3

Never has any generation lived at the frantic pace which we do today.  If the car at the traffic light in front of me doesn’t respond to the green light within three seconds I get agitated.  “C’mon, what’s your problem?  Let’s move!”

Thomas Huxley was a zealous promoter of Darwin’s views on evolution.  “Darwin’s Bulldog” they called him.  Chuck Swindoll wrote about the time when Huxley lectured in Dublin and gave a series of public assaults against Christian beliefs.

The next morning he was in a hurry to catch a train.  He took one of Dublin’s horse-drawn taxis, and assumed the driver had been instructed where he wanted to go.  “Hurry!” Huxley shouted, “I’m almost late.  Drive fast!”

The driver whipped his horses and off they went.  After a while, Huxley looked out the window of the taxicab and noticed they were headed west instead of east. “Do you know where you’re going?” Huxley asked. The driver shouted back, “No, your honor.  But I am driving very fast!”

We don’t always know where we’re going, but we’re getting there fast.

I have taught guitar lessons to quite a few people.  Invariably, they want to learn to play a song at the proper tempo first. Later, as they improve, they assume they will learn to play it without making mistakes.

But they won’t.   One of my sisters is a music professor.  She says you must first learn to play correctly, and then work to increase the tempo.  If you begin by playing fast, making lots of mistakes in the process, you are actually training your brain to play the mistakes.  So, even though you need both correct fingering and proper tempo, the order is crucial.

The same thing is true for your inner life.  We have to begin by slowing down.  The Bible says we need to take time to meditate on God’s law. Then, when we start racing around, at least we’ll be reading in the right direction.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

Story of the Day for Saturday April 30, 2011

On Grammar, Eloquence, and Thematic Cohesion

                 We don’t know what we ought to be praying about, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us . . . And he who searches hearts knows the thoughts of the Spirit.

Romans 8:26-27

The Reverend William Archibald Spooner was both a kindly Anglican priest and a brilliant professor at New College, Oxford. But, he achieved fame through his slips of the tongue.

Once, he delivered a sermon to the students and sat down. Apparently someone whispered something to him because he walked back up to the pulpit and announced, “In the sermon I just preached, whenever I said Aristotle, I meant St. Paul.”

Dr. Spooner’s superb scholarship, sadly, has been overshadowed by his tendency to scramble words. Through his unintentional efforts, the term “Spoonerism” has worked its way into our present dictionaries. For example, he called the “rate of wages” the “weight of rages,” and “conquering kings,” “kinkering congs.”

Soon, this tendency was noticed by the students, and they waited eagerly for his next slip of the tongue. At the height of his notoriety, Spooner lamented, “You don’t want to hear a speech; you just want me to say one of those . . . things.” Don Hauptman, in his book, Cruel and Unusual Puns, says “the craze spread like filed wire – er, wildfire.”

The enthusiasm to record the latest Spoonerism soon made it difficult to separate his original sayings from those attributed to him.

The professor, it is said, proposed a toast to Her Royal Highness, Queen Victoria: “Three cheers for our queer old dean.” At a naval review he is said to have praised “this vast display of cattle ships and bruisers.” Officiating at a wedding, he concluded by informing the groom, “It is kisstomary to cuss the bride.”

Once the kindly reverend showed us the way, everyone wanted to get in on the act. Radio announcer, Harry Von Zell, gave tribute to the president of the United States by addressing him as “Hoobert Heever.” This only inspired Lowell Thomas to introduce the British minister, Sir Stafford Cripps as “Sir Stifford Crapps.” The British then solidified the eminence of their native son, the Rev. Spooner, when an announcer proclaimed the military would give their honored royal guest a “twenty-one son galoo.”

With all this glorious imperfection surrounding us, it still baffles me that some are reluctant to pray publicly because they don’t think they’ll say the right words – as if God is going to grade them on grammar, eloquence, and thematic cohesion.

But, our situation is far worse than not knowing the right words; most of the time we don’t even know the right topic. Let’s face it: we’re not all that great at informing the Creator of All Things about the best way to run the universe.

Nevertheless, the Lord tells us he wants us to pray and he is ready to listen. And, even when, in our pain and confusion, we can only look to heaven and moan, God assures us the Spirit can interpret our hearts, and send our prayers on their way . . . despite our garbled thoughts and tips of the slung.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

Story of the Day for Friday April 29, 2011

Total Abandonment to Your Calling

                        Moses said, “O Lord, please send someone else.”

Exodus 4:13

Have you ever wanted to do something, but were afraid to try?

There’s a lot to be said for not trying.  Think about it: if you try to do something new, you’ll inevitably begin wobbly and will always be able to point to those who can do it better than you.  When we try, and fail, it produces embarrassment, frustration, discouragement, and criticism from others.

If, however, you simply refuse to try, you will be spared these humiliations of failure. Moses put up an admirable protest when the Lord called him to be the spokesman for his people. He stuttered. He was not a good speaker.

The Lord didn’t ask Moses to be good; he just told him to do it.

Bill Staines is one of the most popular folksingers of our day. Both his resonant singing and accomplished guitar playing are easy to listen to.

Yet, Staines didn’t start his musical career because he was talented. He was inspired, as a child, by a framed embroidery that his mother hung above the piano. It said:

I CAN’T PLAY

AND I CAN’T SING

BUT I CAN TRY LIKE ANYTHING

Florence Foster Jenkins loved to sing. Much to the dismay of her parents and husband, she decided to perform publicly. Her voice sounded like she was killing a cat, and the notes soared in a futile search for the correct pitch. Undaunted by any sense of rhythm, she never let the music’s tempo boss her around. Her accompanist, Mr. Cosmé McMoon, would constantly adjust the pace of the music to her unique sense of timing.

In The Book of Heroic Failures, Stephen Pile summed it up by saying, “No one, before or since, has succeeded in liberating themselves quite so completely from the shackles of musical notation.”

Jenkins’ popularity began to soar. It wasn’t simply that she was so spectacularly awful; many people know how to sing poorly. Instead, it was her total abandonment to her calling. She loved to sing. Robert Bagar in the New York World-Telegram captured her appeal: “She was exceedingly happy in her work. It is a pity so few artists are. And the happiness was communicated as if by magic to her hearers.”

Florence Foster Jenkins culminated her career on October 25, 1944, when she screeched and warbled before a sold-out crowd at Carnegie Hall.

Although Florence was fully aware of her critics, she simply didn’t care. “People may say I can’t sing,” she observed, “but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.”

Michael Jordan nailed it: “If I try something and I don’t succeed, it doesn’t mean I failed. It means I tried.”

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)

Story of the Day for Thursday April 28, 2011

The Path Worn Down

                  Thus says the Lord, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it. And you will find rest for your souls.”

Jeremiah 6:16

There probably never has been, nor ever will be, a more magnificent city on this earth than ancient Rome. Their sculptures, artwork, arches, and buildings were stunning.

Then the barbarian hordes swept down from the north and looted and destroyed the city. At least, that is how I remember it.

Archeologist, Rodolfo Lanciani, however, tells us that Alaric destroyed the palace of Sallust and Geneseric took down the bronze roof of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. Yet, other than minor damage, they didn’t destroy the priceless structures in Rome. Do you know who was primarily responsible for tearing down the city? The Romans themselves.

The basilica in Rome, 1200 years old, was the oldest and largest cathedral in Christendom. They tore it down to build a modern building.

Michelangelo carved the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius on the Capitol, but he swiped one of the columns of the ancient temple of Castor and Pollux to do so. Material for the columns in the Sistine Chapel was robbed from Hadrian’s mausoleum. Marvelous ancient marble statues were pulled down and pulverized to provide lime so that Renaissance artists could have a convenient source of plaster.  Painters would plaster over old masterpieces so that they could create contemporary works of art.

I’m not opposed to change or modern things or newness. I’m not writing this story by dipping a turkey quill into a bottle of ink.  We buy milk from the Sturdevants, which comes straight from their cows. Given the choice between a fresh glass of local milk or discovering a milk jug in the back of the frig that is four months old . . .

Technology is improving electronic gizmos at a breathtaking pace. Yet, because of the technological explosion in our society, we face a greater struggle to understand a truth that other generations more easily understood.

Some things, like technology keep improving. But, other things do not. Trusting in God, kindness, honesty, and love never become outdated.

In our fast-paced technological society, “old” means “out-dated.”  As a result, we are far more likely to dismiss God and morality as relics of the past, and to plaster over them.

At a crossroad, you have options. You can choose which path to take. God told his prophet Jeremiah to tell the people to examine their options, and to choose the ancient path. The Lord said the path worn down by past ages of believers was the good way.

He wasn’t talking about electronics. He was talking about a way of living that refreshed the soul.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)


Story of the Day for Wednesday April 27, 2011

A  Wild Enjoyment in Possessions

                    Hope in . . . God, who provides us riches for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and extravagant in sharing.

1 Timothy 6:17-18

Randy Pausch captured the hearts of many Americans when he realized he was dying of pancreatic cancer, but refused to let his terminal illness break his spirit.  He helped remind us of the priorities that are so much greater than material things.

In his book, The Last Lecture, Randy recalled the time when he was still a bachelor and bought a new Volkswagen Cabrio convertible.  He went to his sister’s house and picked up his seven-year-old nephew, Chris, and Laura, his nine-year-old niece.

Their mother warned them to be careful in their uncle’s new car. “Wipe your feet before you get in it. Don’t mess anything up. Don’t get it dirty.”

As Randy listened to his sister’s stern warnings he realized the kids were being set up for failure. Of course they’d eventually get the car dirty – it’s just what kids do.

Randy opened a can of soda, and while her sister impressed on her kids the need to be careful, Randy slowly and deliberately poured out the can of soda on the back seat of his brand new convertible. He wanted to convey to them the message that people are more important than things.

He was glad he spilled the soda in front of his nephew and niece because later on Chris threw up in the backseat. The poor boy would’ve felt horrible and guilty, but he had already learned from his crazy uncle that the backseat had already been christened.

If you bought a brand new convertible, could you pour a soda on the backseat like Randy did? I don’t know if I could. But don’t you wish you could?  I’ve never met anyone who says they value possessions more than people. But, it’s one thing to say it; it’s another thing to live it.

As much as we want to guard our precious possessions, we should ask ourselves this question: who do you believe finds a wilder enjoyment in possessions – those who live like Randy Pausch, or those who would blow a gasket if a kid gets the backseat of their new car a little dirty?

Oddly, the more we covet and cling to material things, the less we enjoy them.

God invites us to be extravagant in our generosity. I hope it’s not irreverent to say that God is obsessive, but, if God is obsessive about anything, it is about giving. He would give you the moon. He would give you his only Son. Invariably, when you read in the Bible about God’s love, you will find him giving you something.

If you’re like me, and not quite to the point of wanting to pour pop on the back seat of a new car, maybe we can start by taking the next step: keeping a can of soda stashed under our car seat . . . just in case we get in the mood.

And store some towels too so your passengers don’t ride around with wet butts.

(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)