The Little Things Matter

In certain of my courses I assign Bible memorization. The goal and requirement of these assignments is “word perfect.” In this context, “word perfect” means the words appear exactly as they do when you read them in a published Bible. Each mistake (e.g., missing word, additional word, wrong order) reduces the score by ten points, and five mistakes is the maximum allowed. If a student makes more than five mistakes, their score is a ZERO. Thus, the possible grades for this type of assignment are 100, 90, 80, 70, 60, 50, or 0.

The above explanation seems fairly simple and straightforward, but students often offer push back. Sometimes they wonder why five mistakes is acceptable and six is not. My answer: Even five mistakes is not acceptable; word perfect is the goal. And, although six mistakes is only one more than five, there is a certain point at which the student simply didn’t get enough correct to warrant credit or demonstrate any level of mastery. And, five mistakes is where I draw the line. While feeling “unfair” to those who make more than five mistakes, the above system seems to offer a measure of grace while still expecting perfection; i.e., it allows some points for mediocre, even poor performance. Yet it still requires the student to produce something.

The most interesting push back, though, is from those scoring 90, which means they made only one mistake. Frequently, the complaint is, “It’s just one word.” I understand the point they are trying to make, but I’m not sure they understand the point they are actually making. To whit: “one word does not matter.” Granted, all mistakes are not equal. But since this is a training exercise and the goal is perfection, all mistakes are treated equally. One must also remember that this is God’s word the students are memorizing, so forgetting or adding one word can be critical.

On a trip to Israel in 1995, my flight boarded but was delayed. A fifteen minute delay turned into a three-hour delay, before the flight was finally rescheduled for the next day. As the captain made the announcement of the cancellation, I was standing in the doorway beside an Israeli man whose countenance dropped to the floor upon hearing the news. I tried to cheer him up by saying (in Hebrew), “Don’t worry, they will give us a nice halon.” His puzzled look, puzzled me. He didn’t say anything; he simply turned and walked away. We deplaned and were bused to the hotel the airline had provided for us. I didn’t think anything more of the oddness of my “conversation” with the Israeli man until I saw him at breakfast the next morning. Immediately upon seeing him, it occurred to me what I had said. What I intended to say was “They will give us a nice hotel” (malon). What I actually said was “They will give us a nice window.” No wonder he looked puzzled. Embarrassing, to say the least. Oh well, sometimes a mistake is simply a mistake and amounts to nothing … but a little awkwardness or humor. On the other hand …

I once read an evangelistic blog article that was making a good argument for trusting in Christ, until … “all you have to do is except Jesus.” What she meant was “accept,” which means to “consent” or “receive.” What she actually wrote, “except,” essentially means the opposite, “to exclude.” But, it’s just one word; in fact, it’s just two letters. However, those two letters can make all the difference … in eternity.

My New Friend

Last week while passing a lumber yard, I noticed a man sorting through what appeared to be clean discards. I hadn’t noticed that before, so I wasn’t sure what I had seen. With my curiosity piqued and my hoarder tendencies activated, I made my way safely into the turn lane, then backed up 50 yards or so to investigate more closely. I rolled my window down as I backed into the entrance, then asked the man, “Is that give-away lumber?” “Yes,” he responded about the time I saw the spray painted “FREE” sign in front of the rack of miscellaneous pieces of lumber. As he looked up, he said, “I’ve got lots of ideas for this wood.” That fueled my interests more, and the possibilities started to race through my brain as I clumsily tried to push pause on the Ted Talk on reducing clutter in my life that was emanating from my phone. Reducing clutter had suddenly become less important in the presence of a treasure trove of possibilities residing in that stack of free lumber pieces.

As I approached the stack, I found myself in the midst of a mental and emotional battle: On the one hand, even though I had no intended purpose for the lumber, it was there. And. It. Was. Free. On the other hand, I had listened to several Ted Talks that morning that focused on organizing my life by simplifying, which included reducing clutter and stuff that I don’t need. Should I or shouldn’t I? Yes! No! I don’t know!

In an effort to find reprieve from the “yes/no” battle going on in my head and heart, I offered to help the man get his lumber into his car. To his objection, I grabbed all his wood and said, “I’ll get this, you open the back.” As I looked back, I noticed that he was noticeably dragging his right foot. His hat said “US Army Disabled Veteran” so I thanked him for his service and used that as conversation starter, which is one of the tips for engaging with others that I teach my classes. However, while we continued with the small talk, my mind kept returning to the free wood. Should I take some or not?

During our conversation, the man struggled to remember common information. For example, when I asked where he is from, he immediately said, “California.” However, as he continued to tell me that his wife was from Missouri, he struggled to remember the city. “She’s from … just a second. She’s from … uh … uh … uh … it starts with a B. She’s from Bri___ no, that’s not it. Sorry, I can’t remember the name of the town.” As he tried to remember the name of his wife’s home town he even tried to spell it out with his finger in the air, but it never came to him. Then, he apologized again for not being able to remember the city before he confessed something really personal. “Listen, I had a stroke recently and I … uh … uh … uh …,” he said as he motioned around his head with his finger. I helped him finish his thought, “And things aren’t always connecting.” “Yes. Things aren’t always connecting.”

Then he asked me, “Are … you … uh … are you … uh … a … Christian?” In that moment, I noted something really important. My new friend who had just confessed that “things aren’t always connecting” in his brain because of the stroke, had not lost his heart concern that others know his savior. It would have been easier to let it slide and simply hope the best for me. Or, not to even think about me again. Who could blame him. He had suffered a stroke, after all. But, Christ matters.

I’ve thought much about this encounter in these intervening days. I’m thankful for a real example to share with my students. I’m also thankful for a real example to remind myself about the priorities in my own life.

I’m thankful someone cared about me. Note to self: Now, go and do likewise.

Am I a bad professor if . . .

Am I a bad professor if I let a student sleep through the last half of class? If you answered no, would your answer change if you knew that I also allowed the rest of the students (their idea, not mine) to quietly exit the class and leave the student to sleep through lunch?

My daughter thought I owed the student a lunch. I disagreed. My initial thought was if a person is paying $250 per credit hour and sleeps through the class, they must need some sleep . . . so, let them sleep. Is that wrong?