“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness
and who seek the Lord:
Look to the rock from which you were cut
and to the quarry from which you were hewn;
look to Abraham, your father,
and to Sarah, who gave you birth.
When I called him he was only one man,
and I blessed him and made him many.
- Isaiah 51:1-2
“Marian Anderson, the great contralto who deserved and won worldwide acclaim, didn’t simply grow great; she grew great simply. ln spite of her fame, she remained a beautiful model of humility.
“A reporter, interviewing Miss Anderson, once asked her to name the greatest moment in her life. She had had so many big moments that to the others in the room that day the choice must have seemed difficult. For example;
“There was the night conductor Arturo Toscanini announced, ‘A voice like hers comes once in a century.’
“Or the day in 1955 when she became the first [of African descent] to sing with the Metropolitan Opera Company of New York.
“Or the following year when her autobiography, My Lord, What a Morning, became a bestseller.
“In 1958 she became a United States delegate to the United Nations.
“Then there was that memorable time she gave a private concert at the White House for the Roosevelts and the King and Queen of England.
“And in 1963 she was awarded the coveted Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“To top it all, there was that Easter Sunday in Washington DC. when she stood beneath the statue of Lincoln and sang for a crowd of 75,000, which included Cabinet members, Supreme Court justices, and members of Congress.
“Which of those big moments, among many, did she choose? None of them. Miss Anderson quietly told the reporter that the greatest moment of her life was the day she went home and told her mother she wouldn’t have to take in washing any more.”
- Charles R. Swindoll, The Finishing Touch (devotion for week 32, Thursday)
Rev. Swindoll went on to talk about how few people want to remember their humble beginnings. As soon as they have arrived in the rich part of town, they lost their old friends, claiming to be from a different rich community in another town.
I even heard of daughters who told the neighbors that their mother was the maid. It gave them status of having a maid, sure. But their mother was obviously of mixed race and the daughter would not be in the prestigious women’s group if she were not “white white.” They may not have those kinds of clubs anymore, but they weren’t worth the admission fee when they had them.
I was an engineer with a masters’ degree and for the last twenty years of my career, I entered steel mills around the world as a leading expert in combustion technology. I could get the steel heated more efficiently, saving the customer fuel costs and “saving the planet” in the bargain.
But the people that I taught often did not have a high school education. They knew that engineers would talk down to them, never at their level. But I strove to establish rapport. In the early days, my employer required business suits, but I would quickly make a comment in class, before introducing myself, about how stuffy the classroom was, and I would lose the jacket and tie – dramatically for effect.
Then I would announce the team of instructors. In those introductions, I might list the years of experience or the various locations where my team had worked. When it came to my introduction, I would say, “And I am the Training Manager for the company. That means that if anything goes wrong here or if one of your questions does not get answered, I take the blame when we get back home. As for my credentials to teach you, all I can say is that I’m a dumb ol’ farm boy f’m Mi’sippi.” (a dumb old farm boy from Mississippi.) That broke the ice. They could talk to me. I laced my presentations with humor, homespun humor for the most part. Rapport can be obtained, but just as easily lost.
In one class, the “smart” person in class… Every class had a “smart” person. They might be smart in their education or their wit or their critical thinking. Or they might just be a “smart” something. You can replace the “something” with a word of your choice. This smart person was the latter. He asked, “Can we ask any question at all?” I guaranteed a satisfactory answer for any relevant question and a reasonable or smart aleck answer for any off the wall questions.
I set myself up for failure, but for a while, the smart something was quiet. Then in the process of talking about heating something you inevitably say something about cooling. They go together. As heat leaves a hot thing to heat the other thing that is not as hot, the hot thing gets cooler, relatively speaking. The smart something asked what the difference was in regular antifreeze for your car and the antifreeze that is safe for your pets. Drastically off the subject.
I replied that ethylene glycol, normal antifreeze, is poisonous, but its kissing cousin, propylene glycol, was not poisonous, the pet safe variety of antifreeze. Look on cosmetic lists of ingredients, especially gels, and with some medicines. You might find propylene glycol, but not ethylene glycol. But the chemical plant makes more than ten times as much ethylene glycol than propylene glycol. Thus, the pet safe stuff costs more.
I did not add that I worked in a petrochemical plant, making a better way to make more ethylene glycol because the company could not sell the propylene glycol in those days, when I first got out of college, actually while in graduate school. The smart something did not need to know that.
A little later, I was teaching them something about radiation and the smart something asked if the radiation levels were dangerous. I wanted him to clarify his question as there were many forms of radiation. He said something about a comparison to nuclear radiation from radioactive materials. I guessed he did not know enough to narrow it any further, so I dove in. I explained that being exposed to the heat radiation from the furnace would result in getting hot and possibly burning exposed skin, like a bad sunburn. He interrupted to say that was like being in the sun too long and too long applied to standing next to an open door of the furnace. He got that point, but I had not finished answering his question. So, I went a different route. I asked if he liked bananas. He ate one every morning. I asked him if he knew that bananas were a great source of potassium. He did; that is why he ate them. They cleared up the leg cramps he used to get. So, I asked him if he knew that in all potassium there was a small percentage of potassium that was radioactive? But don’t worry. You would get more radiation from the x-rays they make of your teeth each year at the dentist plus the annual chest x-ray during your physical. But you could get the same radiation by flying from New York to Los Angeles and back once each year. Or, I noticed, the main office building at the plant had a granite façade. He would get the same amount of radiation by walking by the front of the main office building three days a week for the entire year. I then asked, “Any other questions?” He had none until the break.
During the next break, he stopped me and said, “I thought you said you were a dumb old farm boy from Mississippi?”
I replied, “I did and I am, but I did not add to that at the time – don’t mess with dumb ol’ farm boys f’m Mi-sippi.” He and his friends had a big laugh over that one.
But I had to pray. His off-the-wall questions were things that I directly had dealt with earlier in my career. If he had asked what the best feed stock would be for Angus beef cattle, I would not have had a clue. We raised turkeys. God had something to do with the smart something’s choice of questions designed to stump the dumb old farm boy.
Hallelujah! I shall praise Him! My ever-present strength in times of trouble.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.