Speaking the Words and Answering the Questions

You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.

  • Exodus 4:15

Then go to the king and speak these words to him.” And Joab put the words in her mouth.

  • 2 Samuel 14:3

You say you have the counsel and the might for war—but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me?

  • 2 Kings 18:20

For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.

  • John 3:34

This following story is a Jerry Clower story, but in that I have not heard it in some time, and I am going from memory, memory that is steady leaking out, I will attribute it to Jerry Clower, but without the usual quotation marks, and with bold only.  After all, I have probably changed a lot of it.

There was this famous professor who was traveling the country one year.  He went from town to town explaining the intricacies of exploring for crude oil.  He was explaining that we should conserve these resources for they would one day run out.
After giving his speech at one university after another, maybe a hundred times, he was talking to himself about what a wonderful job he was doing.
But then his chauffeur who had been driving him everywhere interrupted what the professor was saying.  The chauffeur said, “Professor man, I have been driving you from town to town from the beginning.  Since I didn’t have nothing better to do, I sat on the back row and listened to you.  I’ve heard your speech a hundred times, and I can do a better job than you can.”
Then the usual argument commenced.  “Oh, no, you can’t!”  “Oh, yes, I can!”
That went on for a while until the chauffeur found a wide place in the road in the middle of some cornfields and the chauffeur pulled over.  This gave the professor time to think.
The professor suggested a wager.  In the next town, there was a university where the professor had never been before.  No one at the university knew what he looked like.  The two men were the same size.  He suggested that they exchange clothes and he, the professor, would drive the chauffeur into town.  He was going to prove once and for all that he was the only one that could give that speech.
Their ruse went beautifully.  The chauffeur arrived in the back of the limousine, and he was greeted by the dean of the college where the professor was expected to speak.  No one noticed the professor, dressed in chauffeur’s livery.  He quietly walked into the auditorium and sat on the back row, where his chauffeur had sat all those many times before.  He was going to enjoy the chauffeur’s humiliation.
The chauffeur took the podium and indeed gave such a passionate rendition of the professor’s speech that everyone jumped up for a standing ovation.
There was just one small problem.  In his passion and excitement to do well, he talked a little faster than the professor and there was five minutes left.  The dean jumped up and said that this was such a wonderful opportunity, and they might never see this professor again, “Does anyone have a question?”
Someone from the third row stood and asked, “Let’s suppose that you have an area of decomposition underneath 400ft of rock with a pH of the soil at 5.8 and …”  On and on for two minutes with intricate detail … “What then, would be the yield of crude oil in that instance?”
The chauffeur turned red in the face.  He shook his head.  Then, he said, “I am APPALLED!!  Yes, I am appalled that a university with such a reputation of this university could have someone ask such a stupid question.  This question is SO SIMPLE to answer, but to show you my disdain…  My chauffeur is sitting in the back of this auditorium, and I am going to have him come up and answer it.”

  • Jerry Clower, The Professor and the Chauffeur

The first three Scriptures speak of one person speaking for another.  The final Scripture is Jesus letting us know that the Holy Spirit will give us the right words to say.

But as for the Jerry Clower story, I had a modified version that I played on a colleague.  I was teaching class somewhere in the middle of the United States, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, somewhere in that general area.  My helping instructor was the special technical assistant to the president of the company, several paygrades above me, but he loved to help as long as I took the lead.  This technical assistant had been with the company since near the beginning and had worked with the owner in developing the training that I managed, decades later.

Since we basically taught furnace operations, furnaces used to heat a hundred tons or more of steel each hour so that the rolling mill could shape the steel properly, it was rare to get anyone other than furnace operators and maintainers.  In this class, I think the only one in hundreds of classes, we had someone from the melt shop, the guys that made the steel that was then cast into a bulk shape and then after cooling, usually, it was sent to the furnace.

In the middle of one of my presentations about something completely different, the melt shop guy raised his hand.  I always honored such requests, so I let him ask his question.  I cannot remember the question, but it was something like this.  “We add manganese to the steel mixture in the electric arc furnace.  I have no idea why.  What property of the steel does manganese affect?”

Someone else in the class used a stage whisper, “I don’t think he knows the answer.”  There were snickers around the room.

The question was so far off the topic being discussed that our usual routine was to write the question on the board to get to the question at the appropriate time in the presentation.  The list of unanswered questions was an understood contract with the class.  We were not finished until the questions on that particular list were answered.  But this question was nothing we would ever discuss at any point in the course.

So, I went off script.  I said, “I appreciate you being here.  We always encourage cross-training so that the depth of learning for everyone in attendance can be enriched.  But this question is a rather simple one.  I think I will have my chauffeur answer it.”  I pointed to the special technical assistant to the company president.  He looked rather confused by the introduction, but he played along.

He got up and answered the question with ease.  After all, he had a double masters’ degree in metallurgy and metallurgical engineering.  He ate, drank, and slept such things. And if you are wondering, manganese is like carbon, more of it increases the hardenability and tensile strength of the steel, but to a lesser degree than carbon – thus, fine-tuning those parameters, if you will. And no, I did not know the answer at the time.

Then the special technical assistant turned to the audience as a whole and said, “As for which of us is the chauffeur, ask the Training Manager here which of us has the car keys in his pocket.”  Everyone roared with laughter.

That night at dinner, he asked what the wise crack was about him being my chauffeur.  I told him the Jerry Clower story.  We had a good laugh.  He said that I should be careful and reserve that routine for just that type of question, so far from our topic that it really did not belong.  But even so, our policy was that if they asked, we needed to answer.

I was well versed in the topics that I taught over thirty years of industrial training.  But when it comes to defusing a hostile situation, or any highly emotional situation, or finding the right words to say when someone is hurting, I can think of many times in my life and my wife’s life when the Holy Spirit gave us the words to say.  Believe me, we, on our own, would not know what to say.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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