Sunday, April 30, 2006

Driving or Leading

Chua Wee Hian tells of an Arab guide showing tourists around Palestine. He alluded to the tradition of the Palestinian shepherd walking in front of the sheep.

While he was speaking, a tourist on the bus tour spotted a man in the distance driving a small flock of sheep with a rather menacing stick. Just as we often like to prove people wrong this tourist pointed the figure out to the guide.

The guide stopped the bus and allowed the man to rush across the fields for some closer investigation.

Later when he returned, he announced to the tour party, “I have just spoken to the man. He is not a shepherd. He is in fact a butcher!”

Source: Chua Wee Hian in his book Learning to Lead.


Another Woolly Story

A pastor by the name of Griffiths Thomas [he’d have to be Welsh with that name!] once had a study leave in Israel. Toward the end of his stay his Israeli host asked him if there was anything else that he would like to see. He said, “I would like to see an eastern shepherd with his flock.”

The next morning they were up bright and early and they went for miles into the country until they came to a great watering hole. After sitting there for a while they heard some bleats and they looked up and saw a shepherd appearing with his sheep. He wasn’t driving them from behind with dogs. He was leading them from way out front.

Griffiths Thomas then noticed from a different direction there was another shepherd and he was leading his sheep and before long, another shepherd with his flock appeared.

All of these sheep came right down and mixed together around the water while the shepherds chatted to one another. The sheep were going in all directions and there was no way that you could tell one flock from another and who belonged to who.

As this was happening Griffiths Thomas said to his host, “Tell me, how do the shepherds sort out their sheep when it is time to go?” The host said with a twinkle in his eye, “You wait and see.”

Well, later when drinks were over, the shepherds began to walk back in the direction from which they had come. Griffiths Thomas then witnessed a remarkable sight. From one great seething mob, individual sheep began crossing paths and heading out in the direction from which they had come, following the shepherd who was calling them.

Griffiths Thomas took one of those shepherds aside and through the interpreter said, “Do the sheep always follow the shepherd?” And the shepherd said, “Yes, they always do, unless they are sick or unwell. If they are unwell they will follow anyone.”

Source: From one of Griffith Thomas' commentaries.

Image: Shepherd and her sheep.

Weak Enough To Be Helped?

In the Highlands of Scotland sheep often wander off into places they can’t get out off. They jump down onto ledges 10 or 12 feet below to enjoy the grass which is lush and sweet. However, down on the ledges they can’t get up easily, especially when they have a belly full of grass! They may be there for days until they have eaten all the grass.

The shepherd hears them bleating in distress but the shepherd does not go and get them immediately. Shepherds have learned that if they go down there when the sheep first strays, the sheep will often be so foolish and skittery that they will jump right over the precipice and be killed.

The shepherds wait until the sheep are so weak that that cannot stand. Then they will go down, put a rope around them and pull the sheep to safety.

Source: From one of Gordon Macdonald's fine books.

Image: Baaaaaa!!!

Facing Our Wolves

Some time back in America a bounty of $5,000 was offered for each wolf captured alive. This challenge turned Sam and Jed into two hunters who were determined to make their fortune. These two, day and night, scoured the mountains and forests looking for their valuable prey.

One night they were exhausted and they fell asleep dreaming about their potential fortune.

Suddenly Sam awoke and he saw that the two of them were surrounded by about 50 wolves. The eyes of the wolves were flaming, their teeth were bared and they were snarling, ready to pounce.

At first, Sam thought this was the end. But then he thought differently and he nudged his friend and said, “Jed, wake up, we are rich!”

Image: Wolves

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Cockroach Communication

I wonder whether you heard about the man who was travelling on an international flight when at lunchtime he opened his prepackaged meal only to discover right on top of the salad an enormous cockroach.

When he got home he wrote an indignant letter to the director of the airline and a few days later a letter arrived from the director not by normal post but by special courier. He was all apologies. His letter read:

‘Dear Sir, this was very unusual but don't worry. I want to assure you that that particular plane has been completely fumigated. In fact all the seats and the upholstery have been stripped out. We have taken disciplinary action against the stewardess who served you that meal and she may even be fired.’

‘It's highly probable that this particular aeroplane will be taken out of service. I can assure you that it will never happen again. ..And I trust that you will continue to fly with us.’

Well, the man was terribly impressed by such a response but later he turned the letter over and he noticed something strange.

Quite by accident the letter he had written had stuck to the back of the director's letter. When he read his own letter he saw a note at the bottom which the director had scrawled for his secretary. It read,
‘Please reply with the regular cockroach letter.’

That's a fairly common trend these days isn't it?
Word processors are whiz at making letters appear personal.

When people pour out their problems it is so easy to reply with the stock answers.

But the pat answer, ‘cockroach letter syndrome’ fails to recognise the uniqueness of each person. The pastoral challenge is to be attentive to a person's individuality and to respond in appropriate ways.

Geoff Pound

Image: Cockroach

Tension In The Tank

In the United States cod fish are not only a favourite dish, they are big business. The tasty cod come from way up the north east but they are ordered on the tables all over the States. Meeting the public demand once posed a great problem for the fishermen.

First they froze the cod and shipped them elsewhere but the freezing took away a lot of the flavour. Then they experimented shipping them alive in great tanks of sea water, but that was worse. Not only was it more expensive, but the fish lost its flavour and in addition to these safe shallow tanks the fish became soft and mushy.

Finally someone solved the problem in a creative manner. The cod fish were placed in the tank of water along with their natural enemy the catfish. So from the time the fish left the east coast until it arrived in its western most destination those horrible catfish chased the cod all over the tank and you guessed it - when the cod arrived at the market and the meal table they were as fresh as when they were first caught.

Got any catfish swimming around in your tank? Maybe you live with one of them, or it is somebody at work whose irritating presence drives you to despair, or to your knees. Every community has a few catfish lurking around. We don’t always warm to them but they can keep all the others from getting soft and mushy.

You see, it is the difficulties and the discouragement, the tension in the tank that helps develop our character.

Source: From one of Chuck Swindoll’s books.

Image: One member of the catfish clan.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Four Legged Guide

There is one member of the congregation at the Upper Hutt Baptist Church (NZ) that I will never forget. Her name was Relda. She was there most Sunday mornings with her friend Alison, sitting in their usual place. When the congregation stood to sing she would stand and then sit again at the appointed time. As I preached my sermon, though, she would yawn and regularly nod off to sleep (she wasn’t the only one!).

Relda was a black Labrador dog. Alison was blind and she depended on her canine friend to guide her wherever she went.

One memorable night during my student pastorate, Alison and Relda were present at a home group meeting. At supper time the rain was pelting down outside and the host asked me if I would take Alison home. I agreed and then asked him quietly to tell me where Alison lived. “I’ll show you the way”, said a voice from the other side of the room. It was Alison.

With Relda perched on the backseat of my car and the windscreen wipers working overtime, Alison guided me the two mile distance to her home. She directed me as well as anyone could. She knew the street names and landmarks perfectly. As I turned into the last street she said that she lived “up a long right of way, half way up the hill on the left hand side”. When she told me to stop I could see no letter box. There were no street lights, only the light of the house in the distance.

I stopped the car and said, “I’ll come with you to the door”. “No, there is no need”, she insisted as they scrambled out of the car. “I’ll be fine!” Then Alison said, “So long as Relda knows the way, I’ll be right.”

The door slammed and Alison’s words echoed in my mind as I sat stunned in the inky silence.

Geoff Pound

Image: Black lab

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Dachshund Marsala

If you didn't read yesterday's (26/4/06) blog posting, 'Testing a New Communication Theory' it might make good sense to read that posting first.

If you did, then you will know that today's posting is the first in a series of stories which have an animal theme for we are testing out a new communication theory about the power of animal stories!

When my mother was speaking at her Baptist church’s fiftieth anniversary she told the audience this secret. Years earlier she had been asked to provide the lunch for the Women’s Group. She cooked up a large pot of curry and sat it lidless on the car floor, before the front passenger seat. Bino, our miniature dachshund, was commanded to stay on the ledge behind the back seat.

When the car was approaching the venue the dog jumped onto the front seat. When Mum slammed on the anchors Bino went forward and ended up in the pot of curry. In good Baptist fashion it was a total immersion. The dog emerged paddling in bits of spicy chicken and vegetables.

Mum dried Bino off with a towel, smoothed over the curry and proceeded to serve the lunch as if nothing untoward had happened.

She said in her speech that she was relieved to see at the anniversary that so many of the women were still alive years after devouring her hot dog curry. She concluded, “You will be relieved to know that I am not in charge of preparing today’s lunch.”

Geoff Pound

Image: Drenched Dachshund

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Testing a New Communication Theory

I’ve got an exciting new theory! This is it:

Communicators will get their message across more effectively to their hearers when they regularly include stories about animals, preferably their pets.

I need your help (if you’re a communicator) to test this theory but let me elaborate first.

I first thought about this idea when I reflected several years after doing my first course in Early Church History. One of the most memorable things I retained after all the years was the insightful question: "Why is the Athanasian Creed like a tiger?" Answer: "Its got great big clauses at the end of its pauses." This has provided great illumination for me down through the decades.

News broadcasters have known this for years. How often does the News coverage conclude with a story of some snuggly puppy dogs or a newly born giraffe at the local zoo?

Sometimes the angle is the irresistible cute story to hook us while we’re making coffee during the ad break. Another category is the cat up the lamp post that is saved by two crews from the local fire brigade. Oh, how we love a rescue story.

My theory has been bolstered since reading today's article (26 April 2006) in the Business Section of the Melbourne Age, entitled 'Draining Cats and Dogs'.

Writer Denise Cullen, reports on the high amounts being spent on pets in Australia:

“When Cleo, a miniature poodle, sashays into the pet grooming salon every two months, owner Melanie Ward barely blinks at the $65 bill.”

“You get so much joy out of having pets around,” explains Ward, 27, of Condell Park. “I would never want to live without them , regardless of their cost,” she added.

Remembering it is a business article Cullen then puts in the bite:
“It’s a view shared by many Australians who, according to 2004 research from the Australian Institute, spend more on their pets each year….about $2.2 billion…than they provide in aid to poorer countries.” Ooooch!

The report goes on to detail the high cost of maintaining ordinary mutts; it's not just the price of manicuring pedigree pooches.

I can sniff something here, can’t you? If communicators want to speak clearly and dearly to the hearts of their hearers then they need to weave in a telling animal story.

This doesn’t mean preaching a series on Noah and his floating zoo or telling Jonah’s whale of a story or expounding that final verse in his book that makes animal lovers drool. We don’t have to stage our sermon or speech in the open-air when we speak on the topic ‘Look at the Birds of the air.’ But it does mean an equine reference here, a feline quote there and a shaggy dog story to pat the speech home.

I need your help. Would you put this theory to the test by including in the next few weeks some dramatic stories of animals in your own speeches and sermons?

Since I started this Stories for Speakers blog site the readers have increased exponentially. Over the next few days (or until I run out!), I am going to drop into my blog some animal stories and I will be on the look out to see if the blog hits increase dramatically.

Do let me know in a comment, what you are discovering as you help me trial this exciting new theory.

Geoff Pound

Source: ‘Draining Cats and Dogs’, The Age, 26/4/06. Read this article at:

Image: Cuddly kittens (thanks to the Age).

A Faith To Sing About

My friend and former colleague, Simon Holt, in his Simply Simon blogsite has posted this wonderful reflection and song (which from memory goes to the tune Finlandia):

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945), theologian and founder of the Confessing Church's underground seminary in Germany, became a leading spokesman for the Protestant resistance to the Nazi regime. His active involvement in a plan to overthrow Hitler saw him arrested, imprisoned and, ultimately, condemned to death. At just 39 years of age, one of the most promising and challenging voices in theology was silenced. Yet the influence of his life and writing upon the Christian church has been extraordinary.

Bonhoeffer wrote the following hymn in the concentration camp shortly before his death. We sang these words in chapel just yesterday, an experience I found quite moving.

By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered,
and confidently waiting come what may,
we know that God is with us night and morning,
and never fails to greet us each new day.

Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented,
still evil days bring burdens hard to bear;
Oh, give our frightened souls the sure salvation
for which, O Lord, you taught us to prepare.

And when this cup you give is filled to brimming
with bitter suffering, hard to understand,
we take it thankfully and without trembling,
out of so good and so beloved a hand.

Yet when again in this same world you give us
the joy we had, the brightness of your Sun,
we shall remember all the days we lived through,
and our whole life shall then be yours alone.

Source: Simon Holt in his blog site, Simply Simon

Image: A Dietrich Bonhoeffer montage.

Open to Wonder

When the great cellist Pablo Casals was 93, he wrote:

"For the past eighty years I have started each day in the same manner. I go to the piano and I play two preludes and fugues of Bach. It is a sort of "benediction" on the house. But that is not its only meaning. It is a rediscovery of the world in which I have the joy of being a part. It fills me with awareness of the wonder of life; with a feeling of the incredible marvel of being a human. "

For the good of our souls, let us take time out to wonder.

For as the poet reminds us:
"A poor life this, if full of care we have not time to stand and stare."

Source: Told by Barrie Hibbert in his address at the Melbourne College of Divinity Annual Conferral, 27 April, 2001.

Image: Pablo Casals.

Sunrise of Wonder

One of the most inspiring books I have read in recent years was written by Michael Mayne when he was Dean of Westminster Abbey. It is written as a series of letters to the author's grandchildren, sharing with them all that has inspired their grandfather in literature, music and art. The book's title is a phrase taken from a quotation from G. K. Chesterton:

"At the back of our brains, so to speak, there is a forgotten blaze or burst of astonishment at our own existence. The object of the artistic and spiritual life is to dig, for this sunrise of wonder."

I commend the book, "This Sunrise of Wonder".

Source: Words of Barrie Hibbert, guest speaker at the Melbourne College of Divinity Conferral Ceremony, 27 April 2001. Thanks Barrie (GP).

Image: Sunrise over lake.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

My Topic Today Is....

A speaker in his introduction said, “My topic today is ‘Ignorance and Apathy’.

A child leaned over to his Dad and said, “What’s ignorance and apathy?’

The father replied, “I don’t know and I don’t care!”

Source: Stuart Briscoe, Everyday Discipleship, p94.

Image: Preacher

This Is a Better World

Do you remember the conversation between Charlie Brown and Linus?

"I think the world is a much better place today... better than it was say five years ago."

"How can you say that? Don't you ever read the paper? Don't you ever listen to the radio? How can you stand there and tell me that this is a better world?"

"I'm in it now."

Whatever our limitations, whatever our sense of failure, whatever our feelings of inadequacy, you and I are needed in this sad and broken world. What's right with the world? We're in it!

That may sound arrogant but it is not. We are here to make a difference, to cope with the ups and downs, to challenge the status quo, to bring some love to our needy world. When we do our bit the world is a better place.

Source: From the cartoonist, Charles Schultz. Told in a sermon by Graham Brogden in Palmerston North, NZ, 11 January 1989.

Image: Charlie Brown and Linus

So, What Do You Do?

Peggy Campolo, in her early days as a mother, was sometimes annoyed at the fact that she had chosen to stay home and look after the kids while her husband, well known Tony Campolo, went out to work as a sociologist and gallavanted around the world as a lecturer and public speaker.

Peggy found it particularly hard when she was at parties and people would say, "What do you do?" She would usually reply, "I'm a house manager." When she gave this reply she got the feeling that people thought that wasn't significant and their whole body language reinforced this message.

So Peggy devised another way of answering the question so when somebody asked, “What do you do” she would say:

"We are socialising two homo sapiens into the dominant value of the Judaeo-Christian heritage in order that they may be instruments for the transformation of the social order according to the eschatological utopia planned by God from the beginning of creation."

Then she would say, "And what do you do?" and they would often say, "I'm just a lawyer!"

Source: This story arose in a lunchtime conversation with Arbutus Sider when Ron Sider was lecturing at Whitley College, Melbourne in 1994.

Image: Peggy at a conference, pictured with three pastors.

Is That What You Mean?

Moving around the world it is intriguing and often humorous to observe some of the signs.

For instance a sign inside a hotel in Chiang Mai, Thailand said: ‘Please do not bring solicitors into your room.’

A brochure in an Italian hotel boasted its location when saying: ‘This hotel is renowned for its peace and solitude, in fact, crowds from all over the world flock here to enjoy it solitude.’

A sign in a hotel lobby in Bucharest said, ‘This lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.’

A Parisian hotel had a sign which read, ‘Please leave your values at the front desk.’

In a hotel in Athens a sign said, ‘Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9 and 11am daily.’

In the lobby of a Moscow hotel across the road from a Russian orthodox monastery a sign read, ‘You are welcome to visit the cemetery where Russian and Soviet composers are buried daily, except Thursday.’

Outside a dry cleaners in Bangkok a sign said, ‘Drop your trousers here for the best results.’

An ad for a tourist agency in Czechoslovakia said: ‘Take one of our horse-driven city tours. We guarantee no miscarriages.’

A sign in a ticket office in Copenhagen said, ‘We take your bags and send them in all directions.’

On the door of a Moscow Hotel was this sign, “If this is your first visit to the USSR, you are welcome to it.’

A sign outside a doctor’s surgery in Rome said, “Specialist in women and other diseases.’

A sign outside a hotel in Acapulco said, “The Manager has personally passed all the water served here.’

Image: Space available in the dead centre of the town. I note there are numerous web sites with competitions devoted to zany signs (GP).

Giving The Right Message

A couple getting ready to move into their new house discovered a beautiful floral bouquet on their doorstep. They looked at it and reflected on this wonderful gesture.

They were somewhat puzzled, however, when they noticed that the accompanying card bore the words: ‘Rest in Peace’.

They thought this was a mistake so they took it to the florists who apologised profusely.

Then the florist said, "We understand your concern but think of the reaction when the bereaved family get their flowers with these words on the card:
"Good Luck for wherever you're going!"

Source: From a sermon by Robert Schuller, Hour of Power, circa 1998.

Image: RIP

Willingness to Fail

Often hailed as the greatest basketball player of all time, the statistical summary does not do him justice.

Michael Jordan, of the Chicago Bulls and the US Olympic teams, was a staggering athlete with a unique combination of grace, skill, power, artistry, improvisationand competitive hunger.

"Twenty six times," he said, "I have been entrusted to take the game and missed."

"I failed over and over again in my life."

"That is why I succeed."

Source: From an advertisement in which Michael Jordan stars.

Image: Michael Jordan

Monday, April 24, 2006

Canine Sense

One day the entire North American sales force from a dog food company
was gathered for their National Sales Convention at Miami Beach.

In the auditorium the marketing director was giving a performance that any preacher would have been proud of. Using the old pattern of call and response, he was working up the spirits of his sales team:
"Who's got the greatest dog food in North America?"
"We have!"

"And who's got the greatest advertising campaigns?"
"We have!"

"Who's got the most attractive packages?"
"We have!"

"Who's got the greatest distribution?"
"We have!"

"Okay! So why aren't we selling more of the product?"

One bold voice from the congregation said:
"Because the damned dogs don't like it!"

Source: John Gurney in The World's Best Salesman Jokes

Image: A couple of satisfied consumers!

Knowing Where You Are Going

Albert Einstein was on a train coming to New York City but couldn't find his ticket.

As the brilliant scientist frantically searched for his ticket, the train's conductor recognized him and assured Einstein it would not be necessary for him to find his ticket. Continuing to search, however, Einstein told the conductor, 'This is not an issue of trust, but of direction. Without that ticket, I have no idea where I am going.'

Source: Told by Billy Graham, Dec. 14 1999, in an address to world ambassadors, reported by Baptist Press, 12/20/99

Graham asked his audience if they were like Einstein, not knowing where they are going. He concluded by asking, "In the future, when you hear my name, would you give thought to your own final destination?"

Yes and No

I wonder if you heard of that person who had quite a reputation as an outstanding marriage counselor?

A trainee had the opportunity to sit in with the experienced counselor and the first day, after observing his counseling technique he was quite disappointed.

He said, "I am dumbfounded!"
"When Mrs. Baker came to you this morning complaining about her husband, you listened. When she finished, you said to her 'I agree with you, Mrs Baker, your husband is impossible and you are doing everything expected of a wife.'"

But this afternoon, Mr Baker came to see you and he complained of his wife. You listened and said, 'Mr Baker, you are right. You are married to an impossible woman. You are doing everything expected of a husband."

"That's ridiculous," complained the trainee to the seasoned counselor.
"You told them both they were doing fine and that their spouse was to blame.
Either the husband or the wife has to be doing something wrong.
They both cannot be totally right and both totally wrong!"

The counselor thought about the accusation and then he said,
"You know. You are right. You are so right."

When we listen compassionately and open our minds up to the views of others we will see a little bit of truth in nearly every opinion. It may be a partial truth or a twisted truth but still a bit of truth.

People who remain open to others will often feel like the counselor caught between the Bakers.
Its frustrating but seeing both sides of an issue is a necessity.

Image: A counseling relationship.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Bearing a Faithful Witness

Dr George Buttrick told of an experience while attending the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He watched carefully the man with the triangle who was required by the music to sound only one note.

Minutes before that note he stood poised and ready to strike the triangle with his hammer. When the note was sounded it was hardly noticed by the audience but it certainly was noticed by the conductor.

The musician could have brought attention to his own importance. He might have struck the triangle too forcefully; he could have ‘come in’ too early or too late; he could have taken the bow at the end of the performance rather than the conductor.

He did none of these because his purpose was to bear witness and draw attention to the music and serve the conductor, not himself.

Source: Told by Dr John Claypool in a sermon entitled ‘Quo Vadis’, 4/2/1962.

Image: Triangle player seeking some prominence.

Lunar Communion

In writing about their arrival on the moon in Apollo 11, the lunar module, Buzz Aldrin said: “We were supposed to try to sleep for four hours before exploring the surface. But whoever signed off on that plan didn’t know much psychology. We’d just landed on the moon and there was a lot of adrenalin zinging through our bodies.”

“I had one ceremony I’d planned. My pastor at the church I attended in Houston had given me a tiny communion kit, complete with a miniature silver chalice and a wine vial about the size of my little fingertip. I asked ‘every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and give thanks in his or her own way.’”

“The clear plastic shelf in front of our DSKY became the altar. I read silently from the communion service, ‘I am the Vine and you are the branches’ as I poured the wine into the chalice. The wine looked like syrup as it swirled around the sides of the cup in the light gravity before it finally settled at the bottom.”

Eagle’s metal body creaked faintly. I ate the tiny host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility.”

Source: Buzz Aldrin and Malcolm McConnell, Men from Earth, p170.

Image: Buzz Aldrin

Friday, April 21, 2006

What Are Your Hopes?

During this period when Queen Elizabeth has been celebrating her eightieth birthday she was asked, "What are you hoping for? What are your birthday wishes?"

The Queen replied: "A nice sunny day."

Her answer reminded me of a similar question asked once of political leaders.

The British Ambassador in Washington was asked by a television reporter what he would like for Christmas that year. Very modestly he declined to say but when pressed he eventually said he would be happy with a small box of crystallised fruit.

Months later on Christmas Eve the program appeared on television. The French Ambassador when asked what he would like for Christmas said, “I would like to see peace in the world with new agreements between the super powers.”

The German Ambassador said, “I want to see a new upturn in international trade and injustice rooted out among peoples”.

The British Ambassador said, “I would like a small box of crystallised fruit”.

What are your hopes?

Geoff Pound

Image: Queen Elizabeth in her eightieth year.

Exit and an Entrance

Reuel Howe was once visiting a very old friend who said to him,

“You know Reuel, I am amazed at how all this is working out. I always wondered what it would be like to die but lo and behold it is not all that unusual. Death has turned out to be an old acquaintance in a different garb.”

He said, “For years now I have undergone experiences like this. From my earliest days I had to learn to let go of some things I had in order to get some of the things I did not have."

"This is what I did the day I started school or left home to go to work, or launched out on a new career. It turns out that I have died a thousand deaths over the years and in all of this I have learnt something – 'every exit is also an entrance'. You never leave one place without being given another. There is always new life on the other side of the door and this is my faith as far as death is concerned. I have walked this way before. Death is an exit to be sure, but it is also an entrance.”

Source: Quoted in John Claypool's fine book, 'Stages' in the chapter on senior adulthood.

Image: Exit or Entrance?

Who is Reuel Howe? Listen to his own explanation given in a lecture:

"I remember years ago listening to a speaker named Reuel Howe. He spoke of being on an airplane and his seatmate asked him, "Who are you?"
Reuel said, "I suppose I could tell him I was an author, but if he hadn't read my books, I would be disappointed at my lack of fame. "

"Or, I could tell him I was a public speaker, even a preacher, but if he didn't subscribe to my way of thinking and theology, we would just end up having some sort of argument."

"So, he turned to the fellow and said, "I guess you could say I'm a pilgrim."
"You mean like one of those in the early settler days who met the Indians at Thanksgiving?"
"No," said Howe, "I'm a pilgrim on a journey."
"Where are you going?" asked the fellow.
Howe said, "I'm a pilgrim on a journey from Birth to Life." I like that. I guess that's a little how I look at this. Is that our journey together? A journey from Birth to Life. Yes, I guess I like that."

Told by Rev Craig Ellingboe on his blogsite which is at:
Thanks Craig!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Learning from Story Tellers

One of the best ways to improve our story-telling ability is to listen to those who do it well.

Alan Marr is one of the most engaging story tellers I know. His communication skills are part of the reason why he is giving leadership to Baptists in Victoria, Australia. Alan is funny but he is also prophetic. He can split your sides with laughter and then say something that feels like you’re being hit over the head with a piece of four by two. He is personal but he lifts your eyes to ponder the bigger picture, including the pain of the world. He draws on biblical wisdom but his sermons come like freshly baked bread.

Alan is one of those people who can come up with a rip-roaring story like the turn of a tap. But one of his secrets is that he is always well prepared and he reads widely. Have a listen to one of his recent sermons that he gave at the Croydon Hills Baptist Church in Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs. It contains old biblical stories that are told with freshness. There’s passion and how is this for an eclectic mix of quotes and stories on the theme of prayer:

From Swiss theologian, Karl Barth:
“To clasp our hands together in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”

From contemporary author, Walter Wink, in ‘The Powers that Be’:
“Intercessory prayer is spiritual defiance of what is in the way of what God has promised. Intercession visualizes an alternative future to the one apparently fated by the momentum of current forces. Prayer infuses the air of a time yet to be into the suffocating atmosphere of the present.”

From U2’s Bono, from an address at a recent Prayer Breakfast in the USA, 2006:
“A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord’s blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it…I have a family, please look after them… I have this crazy idea…”

“And this wise man said: stop. He said, “Stop asking God to bless what you’re doing. Get involved in what God is doing—because it’s already blessed. Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing. And that is what He’s calling us to do.”

The full script of Bono’s speech can be found at:

Alan’s sermon can be accessed at the following web address:

Geoff Pound

Image: Alan Marr, while on ministry in Thailand. Alan is the one with the shorter trunk.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Memorable Story in Water

Following up the story on baptisms by the Archbishop of York, is this story from my father-in-law, Bob Alcorn. He was a funny man and an engaging story-teller, as this story from his memoirs illustrates. It had the congregation in stitches when it was recounted at Bob’s funeral in 2005:

“The account of my baptism, although it did not occur until the end of 1943 is included here for the sake of completeness. I was baptized in this church on 24 October 1943 and received into membership during my final leave before going overseas to Egypt. My pastor, Gordon Bycroft was away at Assembly in Christchurch, and Mr. E A Benfell, our Sunday School Superintendent baptized me. He was a professional gardener and although in his seventies, was still a very strong person. He wore what must have been one of the first prototypes of bi-focal spectacles. I knew this because he held his head at odd angles while speaking to you.”

“The baptistery must have been the original installed in 1883. It was a long and deep tin bath, with steps at one end. The paint was peeling off and because of wartime shortages it had not been repainted. Its bottom was as slippery as glass.”

“I descended through clouds of ascending steam into this baptistery and stood before Mr. Benfell. It didn’t matter at what angle he held his head‑ he still couldn’t see me. The steam had completely fogged his bi-focals. He eventually found me and gripped me hard. One hand behind my neck and the other in the small of my back. As the angle of my body to the perpendicular increased so also did the angle of my toes to my heels. When my body was resting completely on my heels—they slipped forward taking Mr. Benfell completely by surprise. Being too old to respond quickly to an emergency, he let go of me and I floated on my back to the end of the baptistery. I could hear the sound behind me of arms flailing the water in a fruitless search for his baptismal candidate. Wanting to be helpful I kicked off from the end of the baptistery and floated back in his direction. Although he couldn’t see me he felt the swirl of my passage around his knees, signifying my return. He raised both hands high in the air and plunged them down on my solar plexus as if he were a concert pianist playing the first five bars of a Rachmaninoff piano concerto. I gave a surprised grunt and gurgle.”

“Led by my bottom and with the rest of my body following in a V shaped formation I slowly descended and grounded on the bottom, my head and feet being the last parts to disappear! Rather like a freighter in WWII sunk after being torpedoed amidships. Strong arms pulled me upright to the surface.”

“As if from a great distance, for my ears and mouth were full of water I heard a voice say, “Stand still for a moment, try to compose yourself before leaving the baptistery.” I shook my head to clear my ears of water. The congregation was singing:

‘The beautiful, the beautiful, the river,
shall we gather at the

“No thanks,” I said to myself, “never again, once is enough for me.”

"There is still the occasional person, when I return to Dunedin who will say: “You know Bob, I still remember your baptism—WELL.”

Source: R A Alcorn, “Sorry I can’t stay long.”: The Life story of Bob Alcorn.” Volume 1, Auckland, December 2000, p62.

Image: Turning water into story.

Immersed Into New Life

What a spectacle to see the new Anglican Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, immersing four people in a specially erected open-air pool this Easter morning. This 8am service in the cold wind was watched by 300 people but it also received extensive coverage in major British newspapers. I saw it from the Middle East on television news. The Archbishop stood knee deep in water and immersed each of the adults outside the York church St Michael-le-Belfrey.

This was reported as being something new for Anglicans but John Setamu said it has been an option for Anglicans for years. Church officials who were interviewed said the ancient service symbolised death by drowning as the adults went under the water and a reunion with Jesus Christ in his resurrection when they emerged.

When asked to explain the watery drama Dr Sentamu said Christian commitment is "a matter of life and death – [it is] that serious." He should know. He said in a BBC interview ‘Have Your Say’, also on Easter Sunday, that he was a marked man during the brutal regime of Uganda’s former dictator, Idi Amin.

The four members of the congregation were greeted with applause and cheered before being offered towels when they emerged from the inflatable pool. One of those baptised and confirmed at the Easter morning service was 19-year-old Emily Swiatek, from Derby. "It's been fantastic," she said. "It's an amazing congregation here, I felt so welcomed into the church. Baptism signified the initial step of following Jesus but the presence of the joyful congregation, the applause and the welcome indicated that the new life isn’t to be lived on one’s own.

As she emerged from the water and still dripping Emily said, "I think the message is, 'Don't be ashamed of your faith, don't be ashamed of being a Christian, or any other religion.' Show what you are and do it publicly."

Geoff Pound

Image: Dr John Sentamu baptises Emily Swiatek in York (courtesy of BBC)

Source: BBC News, 16/4/06

Right Word in the Right Place

Story tellers can learn much from poets about the skilful art of getting the right word in the right place.

I am glad that my English literature studies at university introduced me to the poems of Roger McGough, one of my favourite poets.

I love the reflection contained in this short poem:

A nun in a supermarket
Standing in a queue,
Wondering what it’s like
To buy groceries for two.

Or the humour or is it the sadness in this shorter poem?:

“I’ve almost reached breaking point,”
She snapped!

There are three poems by Roger McGough with words and the audio on a wonderful new Poetry web site called ‘Poetry Archive’ and found at this web address:

The poem called ‘Oxygen’ needs to be heard to be fully appreciated. It could make a great opener for a talk on creation, life, resurrection or the breath of the Holy Spirit.

I love McGough’s 'Funicular Railway'. In the audio he adds more than what is found in the text, which illustrates the way speakers can get on a roll, thanks to a live audience. The way people reflect on their experience of being on this Italian train offers some delightful insights into cultural behaviour. If I paste the text here you may not discover the web site which is a growing treasury for public speakers and lovers of poetry.

Geoff Pound

Image: Roger McGough.

Flowing with the Spirit

Some years ago there was singing in the choir of an East London church a woman with a rich and lovely voice. Her fame spread until one Christian festival she was invited to sing as one of the principals in ‘The Messiah’ at the Queen’s Hall.

One of her closest friends was talking with her teacher and asked him whether he thought she was equal to the task. The teacher said: “If she tries to remember what I have tried to teach her and merely consciously follow the rules of correct breathing and voice production, she will break down. But if she can forget everything and think only of the wonder of the message she is singing, she will be right.”

The night of ‘The Messiah’ came. At last it was her time to step forward to sing, “I know that my Redeemer liveth”. For a moment she faltered and then the wonder of the message gripped and the music began to follow from her lips with great beauty and control. She forgot the audience and the occasion and sang as one who knew the inner meaning of it all.

The audience was deeply moved. It was a night to remember because she was not trying to follow a set of rules. The soloist was gripped by the meaning of the song and she had found the spirit of power within.

Source: Alan Walker, ‘God is where you are’, p27.

Image: Cover for presentation of 'The Messiah'.

Monkish Morse Code

Reflecting on the way the Easter truth transforms not only life now but the life to come I recalled the following story:

Two monks often got into conversation about the subject of ‘heaven.’ What will it be like in the presence of God? What did the apostle mean that on that day we shall see God ‘face to face’? (1 Cor 13: 12) How will our relationship with God be different when it is perfect and mature? Is heaven really what the choruses and the creeds have cracked it up to be?

These two monks made a pact. They decided that when the first of them died and presumably, entered the state called ‘heaven’, that if it were at all possible for them to return, that monk would return and communicate to the other monk what heaven was like.

They agreed on the communication code. If the monk was able to come back from heaven and he knocked once {bang}, that was his way of saying, “I’m back.”

If he knocked again {bang, bang}, that was his way of saying, “Its pretty much the way we have thought and discussed it.”

If it was different he would knock again—a third time.

The time came. One of them died. The remaining monk, was bereft yet he had a measure of excitement. Was his friend in heaven? Could he come back? Would he return?

Sure enough during that first week, in the middle of the night the monk was lying in bed and he heard the noise, {bang}. The monk thought, “He’s there!” He’s here!

Then he heard, {bang, bang}, a second knock and he thought… “Yes— just as we had discussed!”

Then he heard a {bang, bang, bang}‑ three knocks and then a fourth {bang} and in the quiet of the monastery the knocks were getting louder, then there was a fifth {bang} and a sixth {bang} until finally the monk yelled out: “Ok OK, You can stop now. I’ve got the message!!!!!!!!!!!

Geoff Pound

Image: Monks in heavenly conversation.

Monday, April 17, 2006


In his Easter sermon in 2004 at the Canterbury Cathedral, Archbishop Rowan Williams finished with this story:

“Think back for a moment to the days when death squads operated in countries like Argentina or El Salvador: the Christians there developed a very dramatic way of celebrating their faith, their hope and their resistance. At the liturgy, someone would read out the names of those killed or 'disappeared', and for each name someone would call out from the congregation, Presente, 'Here'.”

“When the assembly is gathered before God, the lost are indeed presente; when we pray at this eucharist 'with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven', we say presente of all those the world (including us) would forget and God remembers.”

“With angels and archangels; with the butchered Rwandans of ten years ago and the butchered or brutalised Ugandan children of last week or yesterday; with the young woman dead on a mattress in King's Cross after an overdose and the childless widower with Alzheimer's; with the thief crucified alongside Jesus and all the thousands of other anonymous thieves crucified in Judaea by an efficient imperial administration; with the whole company of heaven, those whom God receives in his mercy.”

“And with Christ our Lord, the firstborn from the dead, by whose death our sinful forgetfulness and lukewarm love can be forgiven and kindled to life, who leaves no human soul in anonymity and oblivion, but gives to all the dignity of a name and a presence. He is risen; he is not here; he is present everywhere and to all. He is risen: presente.”

Source: Rev Dr Rowan Williams.

Image: Rev Dr Rowan Williams.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter News

Barrie Hibbert shares this memory and story in a letter this Easter:

Dr W.E.Sangster was a famous and much-loved Methodist minister. I heard him preach only once, more than half a century ago, at a service in the Wellington Town Hall when he was on a visit to New Zealand. Wearing an ankle-length, black cassock, and sporting a fine head of silver hair, he cut an impressive figure. But I especially remember his voice, powerful and persuasive as he preached the good news.

Towards the end of his life, Edwin Sangster was afflicted with an illness which eventually robbed him of his voice altogether. On Easter morning, shortly before he died, he wrote to his daughter :

"It is terrible to wake up on Easter morning and to have no voice to shout
' He is risen! ' , but it would be more terrible to have a voice and not to shout it."

Amen, Edwin... Alleluia, Amen !

Image: W E Sangster

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Check Mate?

Down through the centuries there have been several paintings that have been entitled, 'Check mate'.

There is a story associated with one of those paintings. The artist had depicted a game of chess and it only had a few pieces left standing. At the bottom was the caption “Check mate”, which in chess terminology simply means you can’t move, you’re as good as beaten, you’re as good as dead.

A chess master visited the art gallery and he was taken with the painting. After gazing at the picture and analyzing all the pieces and the squares he suddenly said, “That’s not check mate. The king has another move.”

He was right. To the artist it all looked like the end. The game was over but out of this predicament, in a totally surprising way, a new hope was discovered.

Source: First heard from Leighton Ford circa 1983.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Learning to Trust

Leo Buscaglia tells the story of a man driving up a mountain road. The road narrows and the driver approaches a place where there is a precarious curve in the road.

Just as he is about to turn, a woman comes hurtling around in her car. When she sees him, she sticks her head out the window and yells out, “Pig!”

He thinks, “Why…. you road hog!” And he screams back at her, “Sow, sow!”

Then he turns the corner and hits a pig!

Often we don’t believe people want to do us good any more.

Geoff Pound

Source: Heard on a tape by Buscaglia.

Image: Leo Buscaglia

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Coping With Shame

In the 1950s Floyd Patterson dominated the world of boxing. He won the middleweight gold medal at the Helsinki Olympic Games before turning professional. In 1956 he became the youngest world heavyweight champion in history and was at the top of his game for the next five years.

A few years back Floyd Patterson, confessed:
“There’s nothing quite like the shame that a proud man feels when, in front of thousands of people he is physically demolished by another man.”

He said, “This is the worst part about losing‑facing the people.”

Patterson wanted to hide and this is what he did. He always carried a case filled with disguises into his dressing room before each fight. He said it enabled him to make a quick exit unrecognized, if he lost.

Each year he spent $3,000 on makeup experts who could help him achieve some privacy in public.

“It sounds very strange to some people,” he conceded, “but if you were in my shoes and you understand what it is like for me, then you might do the same thing.”

Geoff Pound

Image: Floyd Patterson.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Barber Shop Wisdom

Wendell Berry wrote of a barber who refused to give a discount to a bald client, explaining that his artistry consisted, not in the cutting but in knowing when to stop.

Nowhere is this artistic reticence needed more than in public speaking. Excessive explanation clutters language like knick knacks in an auction mart. Why do those presiding at a communion service have to crucify the Easter drama with endless words?

Effective speakers have learned the artistry of pruning phrases and snipping extraneous words like Berry’s barber.

The Hebrew Scriptures are famous for their reticence and often communication is more powerful because of what is left unsaid. The gaps between ideas engage readers, often suggesting a nod and a wink. How understated is the Exodus story when the narrator says: “And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of his sword.” (Ex. 13.17)

Wouldn’t it be wonderful for hearers if sermons were artistically trimmed and speeches were stylistically thinned? It might give more time for powerful pauses and suggestive silence. The promise of a few more hair-raising stories effectively told might be pure joy, especially if you’re bald.

Geoff Pound

Image: Cartoon on baldness.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

In the beginning it was fun!

Terence Rattigan’s play, Ross, is the story of Lawrence of Arabia, the scholar and soldier who led the Arabs in their revolt against the Turks in the First World War.

After the war Lawrence retired from public life and enlisted in the services under false names. One of those names was ‘Ross’, and the play opens with Lawrence, alias Ross, asleep and dreaming. He is dreaming that someone is giving a public lecture on the Arab campaign and describing Lawrence’s part in it. Lawrence laughs gently in his sleep and the lecturer stops and asks, “What’s the matter?”
“You make it all sound so dull,” says Lawrence.
“Dull?” asks the lecturer.
“Yes,” says Lawrence. “It wasn’t like that at all. Not in the beginning. It was fun.”

This could be said about many things‑“You make it all sound so dull…. It wasn’t like that at all. Not in the beginning. It was fun.”

Geoff Pound

Source: Murray Dell, Shadow of the Best, 29.

Image: Ross.

I Saw Your Face In A Crowded Place

What is it about James Blunt that has caused his song, You’re Beautiful to stick at the top of the charts? Why do the crowds at his live performances whip themselves into a frenzy when they hear the opening chords of this melancholic song?

Is it simply because Oprah has given her approval and told everyone to put the Back to Bedlam album into their shopping baskets? Is it Blunt’s trademark falsetto voice? Not everybody loves it. One reviewer reckoned Blunt sounds like his underwear is three sizes too small!

It may be the words:
"You're beautiful. You're beautiful.
beautiful, it's true.
I saw your face in a crowded place,
And I don't
know what to do…”

“But it's time to face the truth,
I will never be with you.”

I don’t profess to understand the story completely and one could dismiss the song as the words of a person of low morals preparing to seduce the love of another man.

There are many people who wonder wistfully how their lives would have turned out if they had decided or been able to commit themselves to another person. Like the comment by Drew from Texas on a James Blunt web site who said, “And I love you Jill, even if I’ll never be with you.”

Associated with this is the reality that sometimes a chance encounter can be life changing. Our eyes lock like magnets “in a crowded place” and we know!

On Good Friday Jesus of Nazareth is made to carry a heavy cross through the city. When he falls under the weight, Simon from Cyrene, who is in town for the annual festival, is conscripted to carry the cross. And so it happened. He got more than what he bargained for. I like to think that in that crowded place unsuspecting Simon saw Jesus’ face and his life changed forever.

Geoff Pound

Image: James Blunt

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Hospitality in a Pig Sty

F W Boreham was an essayist, an editorialist, a sermon writer, a poet, a hymn writer and also a biographer. It is interesting that Boreham, a Baptist, wrote his full length biography on an Anglican, the famous Bishop to New Zealand, George Augustus Selwyn. The book illustrates Boreham’s love of biography and his ecumenical spirit.

Boreham finished the book while he was in Tasmania but he said that in moving around New Zealand, “I had ample opportunities of observing the supreme veneration in which the people of these romantic islands have enshrined the illustrious memory of Bishop Selwyn.”[1] [The old black, wooden churches in Auckland’s Howick and Mission Bay and Selwyn College in Glendowie, are all reminders of Selwyn’s amazing influence]

Boreham attributed Selwyn’s influence to his ability to identify with his people whether they were European settlers or Maori. He took the time to learn the Maori language and “this was a master stroke in identifying with his people.”[2]

A major stuff up had been caused in England before Selwyn was sent out to New Zealand. His superiors got their latitude and longitudes mucked up and instead of making Selwyn responsible for New Zealand he found out that he was the Bishop for the whole of the Pacific! Undaunted, he set about visiting the islands and he established an important strategy of inviting one representative from every island country to come and train at the Theological College in Auckland.

Selwyn was a person who worked for justice and reconciliation. The Maori were literally in a battle with the government over land rights. The indigenous people incorrectly thought the Bishop was siding with the British troops so Selwyn called a conference with the Maori leaders, saying he would come and visit them on their land. The Maori leaders agreed among themselves that if the bishop came they would not let him onto their marae (meeting place). When he arrived near evening they barred him from their meeting house but said he could spend the night in the pigsty. That is exactly what he did and where he slept! This act of humility had such an impact on the Maori that the next day they agreed to talk but for years afterwards they said, “You cannot ‘whakatatua’ this man or in English, “You cannot degrade the dignity of this man.”

F W Boreham wrote many times about Selwyn[3] and in one essay he told this story and then went on to recall the way Jesus of Nazareth was draped in mock purple and given a mock crown and a mock scepter. Boreham concluded that Jesus did not have his dignity degraded as he led the procession.[4]

Geoff Pound

Image: George Augustus Selwyn

Because of its theme this posting appears today on these two web sites:
The Official F W Boreham web site:
Stories for Speakers web site:
[1] F W Boreham, George Augustus Selwyn, 5.
[2] Boreham, George Augustus Selwyn, 52.
[3] F W Boreham, Mountains in the Mist, 125; F W Boreham, The Crystal Pointers, 118.
[4] F W Boreham, Cliffs of Opal, 135.

Friday, April 07, 2006

C'est magnifique!

It is so good that the champagne corks are popping in France and around the world this week. Celebrations are raging in recognition of the sixtieth anniversary of the publication of the wonderful classic, The Little Prince. The stage play, Le Petit Prince, is running in Paris and a special opera, Der Kleine Prinz, is in full swing in Germany’s Karlsruhe. With 500 different editions and a range of stationery, mugs, glasses and toys The Little Prince is quite an enterprise.

The idea of the book emerged in 1942 as a drawing on a paper napkin in a New York restaurant. From this small beginning and the encouragement of the publisher it has sold more than 80 million copies around the world and has been translated into 160 different languages. There have been 11 million copies of the book sold in France making Le Petit Prince the most popular French book in the world.

The author, Antoine Saint-Exupery, was a pilot living in exile in the USA before taking to the skies again against the Nazi occupiers of his native France. When the story was published in France in 1946, sadly the author was not alive to see it as he disappeared in his plane over the Mediterranean Sea.

Children love this book perhaps because grownups are made out to be narrow and unimaginative whilst children are shown to be sensitive, enquiring and besotted with the beauty and mystery of the world. However, it is not for children alone. The book has important themes that adults need to be reminded of‑the broadening of the mind, the arousal of curiosity and the encouragement to explore the world in all its richness.

I am grateful to have been introduced to this book by a Spiritual Director who was prodding me to explore the richness of the spiritual dimension [thanks John!]. He was encouraging me to make a deliberate time each day to meet with God and to illustrate his point he shared with me this wonderful excerpt from The Little Prince:

“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “First you will sit down at a distance from me—like that—in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day…”

The next day the little prince came back.
“It would have been better to come back at the same hour,” said the fox. “If, for example, you came at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o’clock, I shall be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you…”[i]

Geoff Pound

Image: Front Cover, The Little Prince.

[i] Antoine De Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince. London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1945, 65-66

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Keep It Simple

General Alexander Haig, the former Secretary in the Reagan administration had a new word coined because of his style. Alexander Haig loved to speak in multi-syllabic jargon and verbal distortions. They coined the word ‘Haigese’ which the Scots would no doubt call Haggis!

An aide once went to Mr Haig and asked for a pay increase. Mr Haig could never bring himself simply to say ‘No’. What he did say was this: “Because of the fluctuational disposition of your position’s capacity as juxtaposed to government standards, it would be momentarily injudicious to advocate an increment.”

The bewildered aide looked puzzled and said, “I don’t get it.”

Haig said, “You’re right.”

Geoff Pound

Source: Heard in a lecture given by Dr John Gladstone.

Image: Alexander Haig trying to understand Ronald Reagan.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Your Tribute

Recently I heard of a man who had to prepare a plaque that was to go on a Wall of Memories in which the ashes of his wife would be deposited. The challenge was not only thinking of a fitting tribute but in addition to the name of his wife and her dates he had a limit of five words in which to sum up his wife’s life. The person telling me about this challenge then asked me what five words I would use to sum up my life. I was stumped by the restrictions. It made me think I might need a larger tombstone and that it may be best to leave it to some surviving relative who is more economical with words!

On this anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jnr I love the instructions that he left for his tribute. At his funeral at the Ebenezer Baptist Church an excerpt was played of a sermon he had given there only two months earlier. He said:

“If any of you are around when I have to meet my [final] day, I don’t want a
long funeral. And if you get someone to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to
talk too long… Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize, that
isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred
other awards, that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to

“I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King Jnr., tried to
give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day, that Martin
Luther King Jnr., tried to love somebody. I want you to say on that day, that I
tried to be right on the war question. I want you to say that day, that I did
try and feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say that day, that I did
try, in my life, to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say, on that day,
that I did try, in my life, to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say
that I tried to love and serve humanity…”

Have you thought about what you would like as your epitaph or what you’d like said about you at your funeral?

Geoff Pound

Image: Martin Luther King’s Tombstone at the King Centre for Non Violent Transformation. In addition to his name and dates there are these dozen or so words:
"Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty I am free at last."

Monday, April 03, 2006

Here Comes the Dreamer. Let us kill him!

The 4th April is the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jnr. This posting offers a reflection on his life and death.

In March of 1968 King responded to the rubbish workers in Memphis to help them in their striking against unfair labour practices. That night Martin was feeling depressed. He felt like a failure. Full of a cold he went along to a large church to be the speaker and on his last night he gave one of the greatest speeches of his life.

Nobody knew that this would be the last sermon he ever gave and here are some of his famous last words:

“It really doesn’t matter what happens to me. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, … the pilot said over the public address system, “We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night.”

“And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?”

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been up the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”[1]

The following night, April 4, as he was leaving his motel to go out for dinner, a shot sounded in the air, King fell to the balcony floor, the victim of an assassin’s bullet. He died later that night in hospital.

When you visit the Lorraine Motel now, there is a wreath on the door of King’s room and a plaque with Martin Luther King’s name, his dates (1929 to 1968) and the verse from the first book of the Bible that was the text used by Ralph Abernathy at King’s funeral. It’s from the Joseph story. The words: “Here comes the dreamer. Let us kill him.” The truth from the Bible and the truth preached by King is that you can kill the dreamer but you cannot kill God’s dream!

[1]Washington, James M, ed. I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World/ Martin Luther King, 202-203.

Geoff Pound

Image: King and colleagues on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Born in a Grave

Human tragedy is never ultimate. Unbelievably, incredibly purpose often springs out of chaos and light from the darkness.

Paul Tillich tells of a moving event that came to light during the Nuremberg War Trials. It seems that in Wilna, Poland, in an effort to escape the clutches of the Nazis, several Jewish people resorted to hiding in graves in a nearby cemetery. There in such an unlikely place a young woman gave birth to a child.

An 80 year old grave digger was the only one there to assist in the birth and as he saw what was happening he said in awe: “Great God, hast thou finally sent the Messiah to us? For who else but a Messiah could be born in a grave?”

The old man was wrong as to the identity of the child because the emaciated mother had no milk and very soon the child died. But he was right in another sense, for only God could do something as incredible as cause life to be born in a grave.

This is exactly what did happen on Easter morning. New life from the grave is the greatest of all symbols of God’s ingenious resourcefulness. Out of that awful matrix of death and tragedy, healing began to flow.

Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons), 1955, chapter 20. Sadly this book is out of print but this insightful chapter can be seen online at:
Quoted in Easter Sermon by John Claypool, Tragedy and Hope.

Image: Paul Tillich