Colour and Success

“Most footballers have very good eyesight and I had never thought much about the issue until Dr. Gail Stephenson wrote to me out of the blue in the 1990s. She was a diehard United fan, but she was also a vision expert at Liverpool University. We had adopted a grey strip for away games and lost four of the five games in which we wore them. She wrote and told me that the drab colour made it much harder for the players to pick out their team-mates than our regular kit. We changed the strip and started to win.”

Alex Ferguson, Leading, 289.

No Play, No Pay

“Some are even plagued with guilt about being paid when, in their own mind, they are not contributing anything. Two examples come to mind: when Fernando Redondo joined AC Milan from Real Madrid, he suffered an awful knee injury in one of his first training sessions, and refused to be paid until he was fit to play. It was two and a half years before he made his debut and he didn’t take a penny off his new club in that time. When Martin Buchan left Manchester United in 1983 after 11 years of service, he joined Oldham Athletic and received a hefty signing-on fee in the process. Early in his second season he realised that he no longer had what it took to be playing professional football, so he knocked on his manager’s door, retired, and returned his signing-on fee. Two class acts from men of honour."

Alex Ferguson, Leading, 51.

A Fresh Approach

“I shall never forget Cairo, 1956, when he [Dag Hammarskjold] was engaged in an extremely complicated attempt to reduce tension in the Middle East. I was Duty Officer, and at two o’clock in the morning a telegram came in indicating a stand by one of the parties which would wreck the whole operation and probably spark off a war, and at the very least it eliminated all that Hammarskjold had tried to do in the preceding weeks. Well, as a man he was entitled to explode with anger. So with some trepidation I woke him up.


He read the signal, he paused for a few seconds, and then he said: ‘We need a fresh approach. Wake up the secretaries.’”

George Ivan Smith, “The International Civil Servant” in Highlights of the Boyer Lectures 1959-2000.

'A story about the English scientist Michael Faraday illustrates the point.  In his time, he was an enormously popular lecturer, as well as a physicist and chemist of the first rank.  In one of his lectures in the 1840s, he illustrated the peculiar behavior of a magnet in connection with a spiral coil of wire which was connected to a galvanometer that would record the presence of an electric current.


'There was no current in the wire to begin with, but when the magnet was thrust into the hollow center of the spiral coil, the needle of the galvanometer moved to one side of the scale, showing that a current was flowing.  When the magnet was withdrawn from the coil , the needle flipped in the other direction, showing that the current was now flowing the other way.  When the magnet was held motionless in any position within the coil, there was no current at all, and the needle was motionless.


'At the conclusion of the lecture, one member of the audience approached Faraday and said, “Mr. Faraday, the behavior of the magnet and the coil of wire was interesting, but of what possible use can it be?”  Faraday answered politely, “Sir, of what use is a newborn baby?”'


It was precisely the phenomenon whose use was questioned so peremptorily by one of the audience that Faraday made use to develop the electric generator, which, for the first time, made it possible to produce electricity cheaply and in quantity.  That, in turn, made it possible to build the electrified technology that surrounds us today and without which life, in the modern sense, is inconceivable.  Faraday’s demonstration was a new-born baby that grew into a giant.


Isaac Asimov, “Of what use?” speakingofresearch.com

A Critic Recognises the Mission Impact of Calvinism

In 1594 Francis de Sales wrote a letter to the Duke of Savoy. This is what he said about Calvin's city, Geneva: “All the heretics respect Geneva as the asylum of their religion.... There is not a city in Europe which offers more facilities for the encouragement of heresy, for it is the gate of France, of Italy, and of Germany, so that one finds there people of all nations — Italians, French, Germans, Poles, Spaniards, English, and of countries still more remote. Besides, every one knows the great number of ministers bred there. Last year it furnished twenty to France. Even England obtains ministers from Geneva. What shall I say of its magnificent printing establishments, by means of which the city floods the world with its wicked books, and even goes the length of distributing them at the public expense? ....All the enterprises undertaken against the Holy See and the Catholic princes have their beginnings at Geneva. No city in Europe receives more apostates of all grades, secular and regular. From thence I conclude that Geneva being destroyed would naturally lead to the dissipation of heresy." Francis de Sales, Vie de ste. Francois de Sales, par son neveu, p. 20.

Loving Trucks More Than People

On August 18, 1983, Douglas Crabbe, a 36-year-old long-distance truck driver, was refused a drink by the staff of the Inland Motel at the base of Uluru in Australia because he was already too drunk. He hurled abuse at the bar staff and was ejected from the motel. Crabbe then got into his truck and drove it as full speed into the motel killing five people. Later in court Crabbe claimed that he was not the kind of person who would do such a thing. He was asked how he could be so sure about this. He replied that he had been driving trucks for many years and “looking after them as if they were my own…” with the unspoken word ‘children’ left hanging in the air. He was saying in effect that for him to half destroy a truck was out of character. The tragedy is that he was telling the truth. To Crabbe’s way of thinking his truck was more precious than a human being.


Salman Rushdie recalled this incident at the time the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against him asking all Muslims to execute Rushdie and all involved in the publication of his book, Satanic Verses. Rushdie rightly reasoned that the mentality behind the fatwa was akin to Crabbe’s mindset. There were Muslims who “might be people on their way to execute a writer for his blasphemous words.” And, if so, “faith, or a particular interpretation of faith, was the truck they loved more than human life.” Joseph Anton. A Memoir (New York: Random House, 2013) 7-8.

The Importance of the Bible in Early Colonial New South Wales

On March 7, 1817, the Governor of New South Wales, Lachlan Macquarie, convened a meeting of leading citizens of Sydney. His purpose: to form the NSW Auxiliary of the British and Foreign Bible Society. What moved the Governor to do this? His wife Elizabeth was concerned about the lack of Bibles in NSW and persuaded him to do something to rectify this situation.


Source: A vision realised. Sower (Bible Society; Bicentenary Year Autumn 2017) 2.

The King Who Thought He Was Made of Glass

Very occasionally in the modern world there are people to be found who suffer from the delusion that they are made of glass. In the late Middle Ages and early modern period (15th to 17th centuries), there was a significantly higher number of people who thought this of themselves, along with others who had similarly bizarre ideas about their bodies, e.g. that they were made of cork or of lead. This kind of disorder was particularly found among wealthy and educated classes. There were people who genuinely feared that they were made of glass and liable to shatter into pieces.


One famous person to suffer from this disorder was Charles VI who ruled France from 1380-1415. This monarch came to be known as “Charles the Mad.” Psychiatric disorders were common among European rulers. One contributing cause appears to have been the common intermarriage between relatives which resulted in genetic defects and hereditary diseases. Charles VI was actually a big man by the standards of his day. He was evidently broad-chested, taller than average and a good horseman and skilled archer. Nevertheless, he came to believe about himself that he was made of glass and to stop himself from shattering into pieces he insisted that iron rods be inserted into his clothing to prevent him from breaking. At times he would wrap himself in blankets to stop his buttocks from breaking. His fear of shattering into pieces made him wary of letting people coming too near. Indeed, he insisted that anyone who approached him do so on tip-toe.

Anglican Clergy in 19th Century England: Privilege versus Piety

Jane Austen was the daughter of an Anglican rector. The rectory in which she grew up in Steventon, Hampshire, had a drawing room, kitchen, parlour, study and library, and seven bedrooms. She was embarrassed by how poorly this compared with the homes of other Anglican clergy. In 1851 a country rector typically earned as much as might a senior civil servant, £500. This pay did not come from money put into the offering plate by church members, but from rent and tithes. From 1836 onwards, the farmer paid the local Anglican clergyman a fixed annual sum, even when he had bad years.


It was common for the younger sons of peers and gentry to become Anglican clergymen - the other main option being that of going into the military. To be ordained in the Church of England it sufficed to have a university degree and most clergy had not studied theology, but rather classics. They had not been trained in how to preach or how to counsel and minister to people. Many would not preach a sermon they had prepared themselves, but rather read out a sermon from a book of prepared sermons.

As a consequence, 19th century Anglican clergy were primarily characterised by their wealth and education, not by piety.

Source: Bill Bryson, At Home. A Short History of the Private Life (Doubleday, 2010) 16-17.

The Necessity of Clean Water

"A tall, rugged man stands at the bedside of his 11 year-old-son. The boy had been sick with a fever for days but now it is over. Lifting the bed-sheet and gazing down at his son’s now lifeless body, he chokes as he speaks through sobs of grief, “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die!” He buries his head in his hands, his tall frame convulses with emotion. His son was such a good boy who had endeared himself to everyone who knew him. Just recently he had told his Sunday School teacher he wanted to become a teacher or preacher of the gospel. Now that dream was gone. This man’s other son, just 8 years old, is now also very ill with the same dreadful fever. Would he die as well? How could he bear the grief of losing two children at the same time? He is physically strong from years of hard labor having grown up in great poverty, but his great strength is no match for this struggle. He had now risen to become an important man in his country but this disease is no respecter of person or position. Scriptures had been read and prayers offered but his son had died in spite of the best efforts of all the doctors and pastors. 


"There is nothing that can be done because this is February 20, 1862, and there is no cure for the typhoid fever that has just taken the life of “Willie” Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln. The most powerful man in the United States and one of the greatest men in history could not keep his son from dying from a preventable disease because he did not understand that you cannot take your drinking water from the same river, the Potomac, that was also the city’s sewer. 


"Tragically, this scene is repeated every minute of every day all around the world. Mothers and fathers likewise grieve over the loss of their children and all the dreams they had for them. Today, almost 2,000 children will die from dirty, disease-filled water. In the time it takes you to read these two pages, five more children will die from preventable waterborne diseases. Every year sixty-million children are born into households that do not have clean water and sanitation."

Source: Rick Wood, “What Does God Want the Church to Do?” in Mission Frontiers, September 1, 2013.

The Struggle for Common Sense

“What is common sense today often became so because someone was willing to challenge the entrenched interests behind the conventional thinking and practices of their day. These pioneers often pay a terrible price for having the vision for a better way of doing things… 


“Here is one notable illustration of this point from history. Today, we all know that washing your hands is an effective way to prevent disease transmission and infection. This is a common sense, simple solution to what had before often been a deadly problem. But in 1867 when British surgeon Joseph Lister first developed antiseptic surgical procedures and proved that washing your hands and surgical instruments in carbolic acid prevented infection, few believed him. The doctors of his day thought that it was too much trouble to wash their hands and instruments between patients. They were convinced that it was “bad air” (miasma) that caused infections not “invisible germs.” These doctors actually took pride in their dirty, blood-caked surgical coats and referred to the terrible smells as “good old surgical stink.”


“For decades, Lister worked tirelessly to get his proven “common sense” solution accepted by the medical profession of his day—meeting with greater success in Europe than in the U.S. Fourteen years later in 1881 when U.S. President James Garfield was shot in an assassination attempt, the “best doctors” in the U.S. still saw no problem with repeatedly probing the bullet wound with unwashed hands and instruments. Garfield died a painful death 79 days later from massive infection. 


“By 1902 attitudes had largely changed when just two days before his coronation Edward VII, King of the United Kingdom, came down with an appendicitis which was typically untreatable by surgery at that time because of the high risk of infection. Lister was pulled from retirement to advise the surgeons on his antiseptic methods and they worked. The King credited Lister with saving his life saying, “I know that if it had not been for you and your work, I wouldn’t be sitting here today.” It literally took over 20 years of tireless advocacy for Lister’s common sense, simple solution to become generally accepted for its tremendous value in saving lives.”


Source: Rick Wood, “Simple, Common-Sense Solutions to World Evangelization”, Mission Frontiers, September, 1, 2012.

The Rapid Modernisation of PNG

Jared Diamond “looked at the faces of …. New Guinea passengers, counter clerks, and pilots at Port Moresby airport in 2006, and I saw in them the faces of the New Guineans photographed in 1931.”


“The most obvious difference between that 2006 check-in scene etched in my memory, and the 1931 photographs of ‘first contact,’ is that New Guinea Highlanders in 1931 were scantily clothed in grass skirts, net bags over their shoulders, and headdresses of bird feathers, but in 2006 they wore the standard international garb of shirts, trousers, skirts, shorts, and baseball caps. Within a generation or two, and within the individual lives of many people in that airport hall, New Guinea Highlanders learned to write, use computers, and fly airplanes.”


“In 1931 it would have been utterly impossible to encounter Highlanders, south coast lowlanders, and north coast lowlanders together; any gathering of people in New Guinea would have been far more homogeneous than that 2006 airport crowd.”


“Another subtle difference between the 1931 and 2006 scenes was that the 2006 crowd included some New Guineans with an unfortunately common American body type: overweight people with ‘beer bellies’ hanging over their belts. The photos of 75 years ago show not even a single overweight New Guinean: everybody was lean and muscular. If I could have interviewed the physicians of those airport passengers, then (to judge from modern New Guinea public health statistics) I would have been told of a growing number of cases of diabetes linked to being overweight, plus cases of hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and cancers unknown a generation ago.”


“Still another distinction of the 2006 crowd compared to the 1931 crowds was a feature that we take for granted in the modern world: most of the people crammed into that airport hall were strangers who had never seen each other before, but there was no fighting going on among them. That would have been unimaginable in 1931, when encounters with strangers were rare, dangerous, and likely to turn violent.”


“All of those differences between the 2006 and 1931 crowds can be summed up by saying that, in the last 75 years, the New Guinea Highland population has raced through changes that took thousands of years to unfold in much of the rest of the world.”


The World Until Yesterday. What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies? (Allen Lane, 2013) 2-5.

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