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.

A Parable: The College Student

And he spake many things to them in parables, saying, …

As he rode the bus to work each day, the young man scanned the car lots for the perfect car. He knew his life would be changed for the better if he could find the right car, so each day he scanned the car lots as the bus moved past them. Then it happened; one car caught his attention and he knew that car was the car he needed to get where he was going. He promised himself that he would get that car, and the next day he rang the bell, requesting the bus stop at the stop immediately in front of the car lot. Nervously, he descended the bus and approached the lot.

He knew he needed a car but now, he wasn’t sure if this was the right car. A salesman approached him as he circled the car, looking in the windows. “Want to look inside?” the salesman asked. “Sure,” came his nervous reply. “How does it run? Can I start it? Can I take it for a drive? What about a warranty? How many miles?” he nervously asked in rapid fire succession without giving the salesman a chance to answer. Finally, the salesman got a chance to reply, “Yes, yes, yes, yes and we’ll have to see the odometer. Let me get the keys.”

Buying this car was a big decision because the young man knew it would change his life. Sure, it would take some work to get it and keep it up, but whatever it took to get it would be worth it.

When the salesman returned with the keys, what the young man knew to be true was, in fact, proved to be true. It was the perfect car for him. He knew it would be, and it was!

After negotiating the price, which was not cheap, the young man agreed to the deal. “Let’s go inside and do the paperwork” the salesman said with a smile. Inside the office, the salesman began to gather a stack of papers that had to be completed in order to finalize the sale. As each document was pushed across the desk, the young man thought to himself, “This is silly. I don’t need to do all this stuff.” Once, he accidentally let his private thoughts slip out as he mumbled, “I don’t think I really need to do all this paperwork.” The salesman smiled a knowing smile and said, “I understand that it doesn’t make sense, but we’ve collected and organized the paperwork in a way that helps you get everything done, so that you can own the car. Trust me, I’ve done this a lot of times, and although it doesn’t make sense to you now, in the end, you will have the car you want.”

The young man haltingly went along with the salesman. He filled in most of the requested details … multiple times on multiple forms. He also signed most of the places marked by an X. He skipped some details here and there, since he knew those details couldn’t be that important. As the salesman looked over the papers, he noticed the deficiencies and asked the young man to correct those “oversights.” “Really?” the young man thought to himself. “This is getting overbearing; this stuff just isn’t necessary.” The salesman noticed how indignant the young man was becoming with each additional request. “If you haven’t ever done this before, I know it seems crazy, but believe me, every page of the paperwork is necessary … if you want the car.”

Almost finished, the salesman was required to explain in detail the terms of the loan, including the amount of the monthly payments, the due date for those payments, and the date of the final payment. On the 5th of each month, for the next 4 years, the loan required a payment of $427.38. “Sign here, accepting the terms of the loan, and we’re almost done” said the salesman. The young man scribbled his signature with the flair of a new car owner.

Then, the salesman said, “One more document. We need to complete the title transfer document so the car can be put in your name.” “Nah, I’m done. I’ve signed enough papers and I’ll make the payments on time” said the young man. With that he got up and  walked across the lot to the bus stop. He got on the next bus, paid his fare and went to work.

On the 5th day of each of the next 48 months, a check in the amount of $427.38 arrived at the bank. And five days a week for the next 40 years, the young man rode the bus past the car lot, remembering the car that he bought but never got.

For those with ears to hear, let them hear.