Mark Eberhart earned a Ph.D. from MIT, proving he is smart. He wrote a fascinating book onscience that is accessible to everyone, proving he is intelligent. In “Why Things Break,” Eberhart helps us understand our world by the way things come apart. Who would have thought this was a field of scientific study? After reading this book—and actually understanding a good bit of it, a tribute to the author—I find myself talking about it to everyone I meet. I even brought a sermon to our people based on some of the book’s insights. Here is one of them.
Most people will tell you the Titanic sank in the waters of the North Atlantic because it hit an iceberg. But the ship was designed to handle such a collision without sinking. To be sure, the Titanic’s situation was compounded by too few lifeboats, no binoculars for lookouts, and a captain who persisted in racing through dangerous waters when other ships had anchored for the night. But it was the brittle metal in the ship’s hull which proved the ship’s undoing.
I remember when Michael Jackson was the coolest thing on the planet. Every new song he recorded generated trainloads of money, radio stations outdid each other in their adulation, everything the young star did was hip, cool, imitated, worshiped, and talked about. But it is not his record sales or his videos that forever froze him in my mind from that period 20 years ago. It was a young lady in my church who had a major crush on him. Holly pinned posters with his likeness all over her bedroom, she played only his music, and since she was unable to get to the man himself, she did the next best thing: turned her affection toward a Michael-Jackson-lookalike at her school. Her family worried about her for a while, wondering if this was normal and hoping it was a phase. It was probably normal and it was a phase.
I thought about this the other day while watching a television special about Jackson’s serial cosmetic surgeries. Not to belabor the obvious, but he went from looking like a thousand healthy teenage males to the bizarre figure we see on our television screens today. In between, at a couple of stages, he seems to have gotten it right. The problem was, he did not know when to stop. I sat there thinking that when Jackson was 25, there! You look terrific. Stop right here. But alas, he kept on authorizing more surgery until finally there’s not much left of his face to carve.
The handsome 25-year-old Michael Jackson is not the first great-looking person not to like the way he looks. Ask any resident of Hollywood, USA. Ask a thousand plastic surgeons. Ask the mother of any teenage girl.
Our Matter-of-Fax for December 30, 2003, was on 25 ways to change our world. At the end, we invited you to send your suggestions. Here they are.
Let’s talk about failure. Whom shall we bring in as our expert teacher? Steve Spurrier, the boy wonder of college football who failed as an NFL coach? The head of Enron or WorldCom? Al Gore who came so close to the White House? Ben/Jennifer, whose recent movies bombed? Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker of televangelism notoriety? You? Me? Most of us have failed to one degree or another. And, to our surprise, that’s not all bad. There are certain benefits to failing. Sometimes.
“Paul, can you come to the lobby? There are two teenage girls down here who need someone to talk with.” Paul Jones led the Christian Life Commission for Mississippi Baptists, based in the Baptist Building in Jackson. When the receptionist paged him, he had no way of knowing he was about to have one of those experiences that confirm all over again the nearness and reality of a great and gracious God.
“Jane here is pregnant,” one of the girls said. “Help her.” Paul said, “I’m not going to help her get an abortion if that’s what you had in mind. But we can definitely help her.” The leader was belligerent and said, “Let’s get out of here. I told you we wouldn’t find any sympathy here.” And they stormed out.
The next day, the pregnant girl, Jane, returned. “You said you could help me,” she told Paul. “How?” Paul said, “Tell me your story.”
Recently, I sat in Frank’s Barber Shop—the closest thing I know to Floyd’s establishment in Mayberry, N.C.—thumbing through a magazine while my grandson received his quarterly shearing. An article in Esquire from December, 2002, (one of Frank’s newer magazines) caught my attention. The editors listed “36 ways to improve the world.” Some were brilliant, several were tongue-in-cheek, and a few were outrageous. Here is a sample.