Thursday, January 25, 2007

Responding to Hate Mail

The American Congregationalist pastor, Henry Ward Beecher, once received a letter containing the single word, ‘Fool’.

Beecher told his congregation about it but not to rouse their ire or gain their sympathy. He went on to add, “I have known many an instance of a person writing a letter and forgetting to write their name but this is the only instance I have ever known of a person signing their name and forgetting to write the letter.”

Source: Robert J McCracken, Questions People Ask, New York: Harper & Row, 148.

Image: Henry Ward Beecher

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Requiem for Darfur

Last Monday night a who's who of classical musicians combined with aspiring musos to play Verdi's Requiem at Carnegie Hall and to raise money for victims of the conflict in Darfur.

To read this moving story read:

Anthony Tommasini, 'Making Music Speak for those without a Voice', 24 January, New York Times.

Image: The picture that formed the backdrop at the performance.

It Pays To Get Your Facts Right

When introducing a guest speaker it pays to do your homework well.

The chairperson of a local Chamber of Commerce had the task of introducing the guest speaker at the organization’s annual dinner.

He began, “The man who I am about to introduce is someone I know you’ll enjoy listening to. He is the most gifted businessman in the country. He has made one hundred million dollars in California oil.”

The speaker approached the podium but he was looking slightly embarrassed. He said, “Thank you for your kind introduction, Mr. Chairman. However, the facts need some clarification. It wasn’t oil; it was coal. It wasn’t California; it was Pennsylvania. It wasn’t one hundred million; it was one hundred thousand. It wasn’t me; it was my brother. And he didn’t make it; he lost it.”

Source: John Maxwell, Recognize the Importance of Strategic Thinking, 128-129.

Image: After-dinner speaker

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Three Mile an Hour Environmentalist

After an oil spill in 1972 in the San Francisco Bay, John Francis gave up his car and other oil hungry machines and began walking everywhere.

A year later Francis stopped talking. He intended his silence to be for one day 'because I talked too much', but his 'word fast' went on for the next seventeen years.

After earning several degrees, John Francis has now become an environmental consultant and he is still reflecting on the lessons learned through his self-imposed silence.

For more on this fascinating story read:

Image: John Francis

Take a Look at Ourselves

The latest edition of the New York Review of Books contains the translated script of a compelling speech by David Grossman. Speaking at the annual memorial ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin he calls on the Israeli PM, leadership and all thinking people to be 'looking at ourselves'.

Image: David Grossman before the picture of Rabin.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Udderly Disgusting

Marketers have gone crazy in their quest to sell any space with their customer’s advertisements.

I am not one to hit the television mute button during ad breaks as I sometimes find the commercials to be more entertaining and skilful than the programs. But when supermarkets stamp the eggs with the names of upcoming TV programs, subway turnstiles bear messages from an insurance company and beds in doctor’s surgeries are covered with the brand of painkillers it is time to protest against the sensory overkill.[1] When driving along a freeway lined with gigantic, electronic billboards we are not free to close our eyes or hit the mute button.

Branding advertisements onto the backs of cows (see photo) is disgusting and so unpastural. When the church coffers are low it is tempting to sell the space on a church wall or steeple to the advertisers.[2] But isn’t any space sacred any more?

Oversupply, oversizing and inappropriate positioning of advertisements is visual pollution. It is as hazardous to our health as passive smoking is to our lungs or high-decibel noise is to our hearing.

Geoff Pound

Image: A new spin on cattle branding.

Thrill of the Chaste

An interesting sexual journey is told by Dawn Eden in a recent British Times article entitled:

Casual Sex is a con: Women just aren't like men.

Image: Cover of Dawn Eden's new book.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Faith, Creativity and Caffeine

Millions of American Jews read the order of service for their Seder, or Passover meal, from a booklet produced by Maxwell House Coffee. For more than seventy years the coffee company has produced the booklet, called the Hagadah, and during those years it has distributed more than 20 million copies.

How did Maxwell’s Coffee House come to supply Passover booklets? It was the result of some innovative thinking.

Eighty years ago, marketing man Joseph Jacobs advised that the company could sell coffee during Passover if the product was certified kosher by a rabbi. Then Jacobs suggested that if they gave away Hagadah booklets they would increase sales. They have been producing the booklets and selling coffee during Passover ever since.

It is amazing how hurdles can be overcome when we allow our creativity and faith to percolate.

John Maxwell, Release the Power of Strategic Thinking.

Image: Hagadah Booklet with the compliments of Maxwell Coffee House (for further details see the following link):
From Haven to Home: 350 years of Jewish Life in America

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Dreaming and Living

A study was once carried out of concentration camp survivors in order to ascertain the common characteristics of those who did not succumb to disease and starvation. One survivor wrote extensively about what kept him going.

Victor Frankl was a Viennese psychiatrist before he was put into a concentration camp by the Nazi regime. Upon his release he said in a speech, “Why am I here today? What kept me alive was you. Others gave up hope. I dreamed. I dreamed that somehow I would be here, telling you how I, Victor Frankl, had survived the Nazi concentration camps. I’ve never been here before. I’ve never seen any of you before. But in my dreams I have stood before you and said these words a thousand times.”

Geoff Pound

Source: Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning.

Image: Victor Frankl

Friday, January 19, 2007

Luther and that Hat

The teacher who gave the great reformer Martin Luther his Christian instruction, always took off his hat when he came before the class of little boys. When asked why he did this the teacher answered without hesitation, “Who knows who might be in this class? One of these boys could well change the whole world.” That expectant and respectful attitude was so richly rewarded.

Geoff Pound

Image: Martin Luther

Thursday, January 18, 2007

It's Not Over Until It is Over

In 1983, Henry Blofeld (affectionately known as 'Blowers') was a sports reporter for The Guardian and was covering the cricket game between Essex and Surrey at Chelmsford. After the first day was washed out, the game was meandering to a draw and Surrey came in to bat with an hour remaining on the second day. Blofeld had to leave the ground early, however, to go to a dinner party, so he filed his copy and left a note for the sub-editor (the bloke who checks and cuts the words and saves most reporters' bacon more often than they'd admit) saying "please insert how many runs Surrey scored and how many wickets they lost".

Come 10pm, around the time the port was being passed around at Blofeld's dinner, and the great man calls into the office to see if everything was ok. "How many runs did Surrey score?" Blofeld asked the sub. "Fourteen" was the response. "And how many wickets did they lose?" "Ten."

Of course, Blofeld had written his story from the point of view of the match heading for a draw, rather than one side being bowled out for the lowest total in history. Fortunately, the sub had taken it upon himself to rewrite the story (which still appeared under Blofeld's name).
What makes the story even more interesting is that apparently the sub was a young fellow by the name of Matthew Engel, now Editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack.


Image: Henry Blofeld

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Three Men in a Boat

Having recently returned from Kolkata where influenza was raging and Indonesia where they have just buried the country’s 79th victim of bird flu I decided to keep in touch with developments and subscribe to the email reports of the International Society of Infectious Diseases. After a few days of reports I am starting to question the wisdom of getting these mailings.

Here are the titles of the diseases in yesterday’s (16 January 2007) mailing:
Rift Valley Fever in Egypt
Botulism in Spain due to canned artichokes
Avian influenza: new cases in Indonesia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Egypt, South Korea, Japan and Nigeria
Typhoid Fever update
Epidemic haemorraghic fever in China
Measle outbreak in Scotland
Salmonella from a meat slicer in the USA
Coccidiodomycosis in the USA
Norovirus in Russia
Undiagnosed fungal disease killing platypus in Australia
Undiagnosed deaths in Poland
Foot and mouth disease in Jordan

As I have looked at the headings and scanned the contents I have been feeling a little queasy! I have been reminded of the incident at the beginning of Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat. It is an old book but it is still a funny read. Here is the opening to this classic:

THERE were four of us – George, and William Samuel Harris, and myself, and Montmorency. We were sitting in my room, smoking, and talking about how bad we were – bad from a medical point of view I mean, of course.

We were all feeling seedy, and we were getting quite nervous about it. Harris said he felt such extraordinary fits of giddiness come over him at times, that he hardly knew what he was doing; and then George said that HE had fits of giddiness too, and hardly knew what HE was doing. With me, it was my liver that was out of order. I knew it was my liver that was out of order, because I had just been reading a patent liver-pill circular, in which were detailed the various symptoms by which a man could tell when his liver was out of order. I had them all.

It is a most extraordinary thing, but I never read a patent medicine advertisement without being impelled to the conclusion that I am suffering from the particular disease therein dealt with in its most virulent form. The diagnosis seems in every case to correspond exactly with all the sensations that I have ever felt.

I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch – hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into – some fearful, devastating scourge, I know – and, before I had glanced half down the list of “premonitory symptoms,” it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.

I sat for awhile, frozen with horror; and then, in the listlessness of despair, I again turned over the pages. I came to typhoid fever – read the symptoms – discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it – wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus’s Dance – found, as I expected, that I had that too, – began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically – read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight. Bright’s disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years. Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid’s knee.

I felt rather hurt about this at first; it seemed somehow to be a sort of slight. Why hadn’t I got housemaid’s knee? Why this invidious reservation? After a while, however, less grasping feelings prevailed. I reflected that I had every other known malady in the pharmacology, and I grew less selfish, and determined to do without housemaid’s knee. Gout, in its most malignant stage, it would appear, had seized me without my being aware of it; and zymosis I had evidently been suffering with from boyhood. There were no more diseases after zymosis, so I concluded there was nothing else the matter with me.

I sat and pondered. I thought what an interesting case I must be from a medical point of view, what an acquisition I should be to a class! Students would have no need to “walk the hospitals,” if they had me. I was a hospital in myself. All they need do would be to walk round me, and, after that, take their diploma.

Then I wondered how long I had to live. I tried to examine myself. I felt my pulse. I could not at first feel any pulse at all. Then, all of a sudden, it seemed to start off. I pulled out my watch and timed it. I made it a hundred and forty-seven to the minute. I tried to feel my heart. I could not feel my heart. It had stopped beating. I have since been induced to come to the opinion that it must have been there all the time, and must have been beating, but I cannot account for it. I patted myself all over my front, from what I call my waist up to my head, and I went a bit round each side, and a little way up the back. But I could not feel or hear anything. I tried to look at my tongue. I stuck it out as far as ever it would go, and I shut one eye, and tried to examine it with the other. I could only see the tip, and the only thing that I could gain from that was to feel more certain than before that I had scarlet fever.

I had walked into that reading-room a happy, healthy man. I crawled out a decrepit wreck.”

I have cancelled my daily dose of reports on infectious diseases and have already noted an improvement in my health. It is amazing how an avalanche of bad news or a fellowship of negative people can affect us.

Geoff Pound

Source: Jerome K Jerome, Three Men in a Boat.

Image: Picture from Jerome’s book.

Memorizing Your Way to Freedom

The United Arab Emirates has come up with a novel way to reform its prison inmates. Since 2002 the Dubai authorities have offered to prisoners a reduction in their jail term if they can recite portions of the Quran. The well-defined incentives range from a three month deduction for memorizing three sections of the Quran to a twenty year deduction for reciting the entire book (which amounts to 6,346 verses or 80,000 words). Hundreds of prisoners have enrolled in this Inmates Memorization Program[1] and scores are benefiting from a reduction in their prison term.[2] Testimonies from these recipients indicate that the memorization of the Quran has brought joy, achievement and “a change of heart” as well as a release from prison conditions.[3]

The program is another initiative of Shaikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum who has transformed most sectors of Dubai. It is an extension of the International Holy Quran Award[4] which promotes the memorization of the Quran through its widely publicized annual contests complete with diplomas and attractive financial awards.

There is an extensive Islamic tradition of Quranic memorization stretching back to the Prophet Mohammed who was regarded as the first hafiz, a term given to a person who has memorized the entire text.

For many years Christians have encouraged the memorization of the Holy Bible (which consists of 31, 102 verses or 783, 137 words). The Navigators[5] has produced scripture verses on cards called the Topical Memory System and now a range of software is being made available to aid believers in the art of memorization. In earlier times and in cultures where literacy levels were low, memorization and recitation were primary ways of transmitting the faith. Many advocates today are promoting the memorization discipline to develop a holy life (‘I hide God’s word in my heart that I might not sin…’), as a guard against temptation (Christ’s example in his time of testing) and as a way of letting the truth seep down deep to shape one’s character (‘Let the word of God dwell in you richly’).

Memorization of famous speeches and Tennyson poems, let alone Holy Scripture, is not popular in this age that has labeled such practices as rote learning. However, the Jewish Scriptures proclaim the truth that “as a person thinks in their heart so are they.” This reminds us that what we fill our minds with and what we set our hearts upon (both good and bad), will inevitably produce a change in our behavior.

Geoff Pound

Image: Prison inmates being presented with diplomas for memorizing the Quran.

[1] The Holy Quran Memorisation Program for Inmates
[2] Alia al Theeb, ‘Jail Inmates to be Released after Memorising Quran’, Gulf News, 15 February 2006.
[3] Sanaa Maadad, ‘Freedom for Five for Memorizing Quran’, Khaleej Times, 17 October 2002.
[4] International Holy Quran Award
[5] Navigators

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Becoming More Ourselves

Thomas Merton was a capable student with all sorts of opportunities before him but he shocked many when he exchanged it all for a life of prayer in a monastery in the hills of Kentucky. Business people speculated on what he might have become. They thought he now would turn out to be a silenced, suffering version of his former self, weighed down by the sacrifices and discipline of the monastic life.

After thirteen years, Mark van Doren visited him and when he reported back to Merton’s old friends he said, “He looked a little older but as we sat and talked I could see no important difference in him, and once I interrupted a reminiscence of his by laughing. “Tom,” I said, “you haven’t changed at all.” “Why should I? Here,” he said, “our duty is to be more ourselves, not less.”

Source: Max Lucado, Cure for the Common Life, 34-35.

Image: Thomas Merton.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A Whale of a Lesson

There is a great story in the New York Times about a woman who discovers that training her husband or children can be so easily learned from the way handlers train their whales.

Check out What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage.

Geoff Pound

Everybody Can Be Great

Development of the Dreamer
Martin Luther King Jnr., was born on this day (January 15) in 1929 at the family home in Auburn Avenue Atlanta, Georgia. He was the first son and second child born to Alberta and Rev. Martin Luther King Snr.

Growing up in Georgia, Martin suffered those experiences of discrimination that demoralize and outrage human dignity. He recalls the curtains that were used on the dining cars of trains to separate white from black. "I was very young when I had my first experience in sitting behind the curtain," he said. "I felt as if a curtain had come down across my whole life. The insult of it I will never forget."

I remember riding with him [my father] when he accidentally drove past a stop sign. A policeman pulled up to the car and said, "All right, boy, pull over and let me see your license."

My father replied indignantly, "I'm no boy." Then pointing to me, "This is a boy. I'm a man and until you call me one, I will not listen to you." The policeman was so shocked that he wrote the ticket up nervously and left the scene as quickly as possible.
With this heritage, it is not surprising that I had... learned to abhor segregation, considering it both rationally inexplicable and morally unjustifiable.

On another occasion, he and his school teacher were riding a bus from Macon to Atlanta when the driver ordered them to give up their seats to white passengers. "When we didn't move right away, the driver started cursing us out and calling us black sons of bitches. I decided not to move at all, but my teacher pointed out that we must obey the law. So we got up and stood in the aisle the whole 90 miles to Atlanta. It was a night I'll never forget. I don't think I have ever been so deeply angry in my life."

It so often that a dream comes to us through pain, through some event, some situation we have a burden for. Yours might be a burden for young people, for street kids, for people who are wasting their lives away thru drugs, for people who can't secure jobs and are bored stiff. Do you have a real burden for some group of people? Do you find yourself weeping for people? Let God use that pain that it might be a catalyst for some dream that he wants you to possess.

Qualifications for Service
Martin Luther King had a university training but he was later to talk about the qualifications for serving God. Perhaps he had Rosa Parkes in mind when he said:

Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve.
You don't have to have a college degree to serve.
You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve.
You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve.
You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve.
You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.
You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

Within hours, the black Americans were embarked upon a bus boycott that almost ruined the bus company. Martin Luther King Jnr., was elected the President of the Boycott committee. Montgomery was one of the first great battles won by the blacks in the South and it all began when a woman refused to stand up.

Death of the Dreamer
The next morning (4 April 1968) Dr King was shot while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. His funeral services were held on 9 April 1968 in Atlanta at the Ebenezer Baptist church and on the campus of Morehouse College with the President of the United States proclaiming a day of mourning.

The area where King was entombed is located on Freedom Plaza at the Martin Luther King Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change. On his grave are the words, "Free at last."

The door of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis has the inscription, "Martin Luther King Jnr., 1929-1968 followed with Ralph Abernathy's funeral text from Genesis, "Here Comes the Dreamer let us Kill Him."

Today we remember the birth of Martin Luther King Jnr., the dreamer. We also recognize that while people can kill the dreamer they cannot kill God's dream.

Geoff Pound

Image: Martin Luther King Jnr.