Uppermost House: Hazards of teachable moments
We had a guest speaker at church last week, Dr. Larry Guthrie, from Harvest Home Farm in west-central Wisconsin. In addition to the organic livestock, vegetables and fruit, the farm also produces another crop, an eternal crop. Using the daily challenges and small victories of working a quarter-section (160 acres) of rich heartland, Dr. Guthrie reaps “teachable moments” in the form of 60-second radio spots. With titles such as My sheep hear my voice, Goodness and mercy, I shall not want, and The best time to prune, he takes the toils of farm life and truths from the Bible and weaves them together as inspirational produce.
Speaking to us last Sunday, Dr. Guthrie told us a story much longer than his typical minute-long anecdotes. It seems that back on a spring day in 1992, with the best of intentions and after diligently following the rules and taking all prudent safety measures, while burning a big pile of pine needles he nonetheless also managed to burn his neighbor’s house to the ground.
No teachable moment was this; it was more like a teachable week that stretched into teachable years — an ordeal that God used to harvest an unexpected crop. As only the Lord can, from a single match and a wheelbarrow and a swamp and a little breeze and drifting sparks and some buckets of water and many friends and a mutual-aid fire call and scorched propane tanks and uniformed state officials and an insurance adjuster and even a foreign airline, from the ashes of apparent tragedy God knitted hearts together, built a dream house, and unleashed the power of his great love in the mighty halls of an atheistic government half a world away. Like the best storytellers, Dr. Guthrie had us laughing and crying at the same time, and we left feeling recharged.
Over lunch and with Dr. Guthrie now off the clock, several of us began telling a few stories of our own. Since Dr. Guthrie often used his expertise with a bow and arrow when he speaks to children, I regaled him with a little archery tale of my own.
When my son and I were both about 12, I took him out into our driveway one sunny day for a combined lesson in physics and bravery. We would stand side-by-side and I would fire an arrow straight up toward the towering cumulous. With the arrow thus skyward loosed the plan then called for us both to just stand there, looking into each other’s eyes to see who would flinch first and run for cover.
The instant after I released the string, the butt-end of the arrow became invisible, it’s small diameter and thin synthetic fletching lost instantly against the white and blue above. My son noticed this first, and said, simply, “Yikes.”
As far as the bravery thing, we both failed, he and I bolting simultaneously the four steps to the house while screaming and then clawing each other to be first through the front door. Once inside we hunkered down at the nearest window, shoulder-to-shoulder, hands clutching the sill, visibly shaking, and peering nervously out. After the few inevitable seconds, there came from the driveway a tremendous metallic WANG! as the arrow plumb-lined dead-center into the hood of my car.
We sprang outside, delighted to be alive and happy that at least half our experiment had been successful, and we fingered the dramatic dimple in the sedan with the requisite reverence. “Yikes,” my son said again.
“A fine story,” Dr. Guthrie said, sitting back from the edge of his seat and taking a breath. “Now, to be a successful teachable moment, you must have a keyword for it.”
After a few seconds I suggested “dingbat,” which, judging by the laughter and clapping, was well received by our small crowd.
“And a corresponding Bible verse?” Dr. Guthrie asked.
“Oh, just pick any of the ones that deal with utter foolishness,” came the quick quip from the lady I’m still married to.
I looked through Proverbs later, but came up short. Couldn’t find anything quite foolish enough, it seemed. I’ll ask my son — of the two of us, he’s the one who actually grew into an adult.