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.

We ID

We ID! That’s a logo and a mantra at many convenience stores in our area, which is intended to tell minors they can’t buy tobacco or alcohol. Here’s a story from Fort Worth about a liquor store that allegedly sold vodka to an underage patron that ended very badly.

In the story, the owner of the store says that he recently made a mistake and didn’t ID an underage buyer that had been sent in a sting operation. But, he explains, “I was so tired and exhausted and I wasn’t even paying attention” before assuring the readers: “I check IDs, and if they’re too young, they aren’t getting anything.”

I don’t know what the protocol for ID-ing an alcohol buyer is supposed to be, but a couple days ago, at the Walmart in Odessa, two men clearly in their 60’s got carded before they could purchase two large cases of beer.

They were in line behind me, so I was already walking away when I heard the clerk ask both for identification: “Since you are together, I have to see ID from both of you,” she said. I didn’t think I heard her right since I was already walking away and they were both obviously old enough to be AARP members. But, I hesitated long enough to see both of them present their driver’s licenses. One actually gave me a sly grin as I turned to leave. I wanted to verify their ages at the door, but thought I better mind my own business.

If a manager from the east Odessa Walmart reads this, you can be sure that at least one checker does ID those buying alcohol . . .  even if they obviously aren’t minors.

I’m guessing this is part of the zero tolerance movement that sets certain rules that eliminate judgment on the part of those in authority. In this case, the clerk apparently doesn’t have to make any determination . . . just ask EVERYBODY for ID. Maybe it’s better this way for alcohol purchases, but I’m afraid zero tolerance policies generally dumb down society and end up hurting people along the way. Usually, the stories of zero tolerance lunacy come from elementary schools, but I think I’ve found one here, too.

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