Valleyview, a Short Story

This story was used by the Mendozas of Holistic Community Development and Initiatives (HCDI) in its Training of Trainers program for CHE (Community Health Education). I don’t really know who came up with the story first. I modified it just a bit.


There was a small mountain village we can call “Valleyview.” The mountain it is on is very steep and so the only connection to the surrounding world was a steep, winding, dangerous footpath.

Unfortunately, the villagers would have to walk down this path to go to River City to sell their products and pick up supplies. Sometimes this treacherous path would claim a victim as a villager would slip and tumble down to the valley below.

Usually the one who tumbled down the hill would not be killed, but would only be maimed. He would lie at the bottom of the mountain trail until a vehicle driving through the valley would spot him and pick him up to take him to the clinic. Or perhaps another villager coming down the hill would spot him and run ahead to River City to get help.

Clearly this was not a good situation, so the villagers had a meeting to come up with a good solution. After a lot of discussion, they come up with a wonderful idea… PLAN A.

PLAN A was to pay a villager to stay at the bottom of the hill. When someone tumbled down the hill, he would be ready to get immediate help. And the plan would work. When someone tumbled down the hill, the paid guard would quickly run to River City, and get help.

Eventually, the villagers became unhappy with the situation. If the guard at the bottom of the mountain could not hitchhike a ride on the way to River City, the injured villager may end up lying at the bottom of the mountain for an hour before medical help could arrive. After further discussion, a new plan arose… PLAN B.

PLAN B was to give the guard at the bottom of the hill a vehicle… an ambulance. When someone fell off the path and landed in the valley, the guard could quickly lift him into the ambulance and drive off to River City to be treated. This was great, for awhile. But it was rather expensive to maintain a vehicle and pay someone whose only job was to drive the injured to River City to be treated. But then came a brilliant idea… PLAN C.

PLAN C was so obvious. Why drive them off to River City to be treated? Why not treat them where they are? So the villagers built a medical clinic at the bottom of the path. Now as soon as someone fell off the path, a medical team and equipment was immediately available to provide help.

And perhaps this would have been a satisfying solution, if it were not for the high cost of maintaining the clinic, and the lost labor due to injured villagers stuck healing at the clinic. For a long time the village dealt with the burden of PLAN C because it seemed to be the only good solution.

But one day, a child in the village, was asked to go to River City. He had never been off the mountain before. Looking down the path, he got scared and said, “I’m not going down there until someone puts in a handrail.”

And that’s exactly what they did.


This story is used to show the value of prevention over cure. In health, we often focus on pills, hospitals, and operations. Yet the better focus in health is diet, exercise, and lifestyle. Additionally, in missions, we often focus on money solutions. Throw money at problems. A medical clinic is impressive and one can put a big brass plate on it. But a better solution, a handrail is less impressive, and is not as easily explained to supporters. Supporters love hospitals, but may not value handrails.

Missions should be more focused on prevention and transformation rather than dealing with the aftermath of problems. Missions should also be more focused on the needy rather than on supporters

The Lamb and the Unacknowledged Self

One of the truly great parables in the Bible is the “Parable of the Ewe Lamb” in II Samuel 12

Then the Lord sent Nathan to David. And he came to him, and said to him: “There were two men in one city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had exceedingly many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and with his children. It ate of his own food and drank from his own cup and lay in his bosom; and it was like a daughter to him. And a traveler came to the rich man, who refused to take from his own flock and from his own herd to prepare one for the wayfaring man who had come to him; but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”

So David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity.”

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more! Why have you despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in His sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the people of Ammon. 10 Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’

There are scholars who like to interpret this passage different ways, and I don’t feel competent to argue much beyond what the text clearly seems to say, since Nathan does, ultimately, give his own interpretation for it. However, I would like to consider its effectivity because of the three selves of David.

1.  Self #1. The Public Self. David, hearing this story, injected himself into the story as the hand of justice. This is no surprise. As king, he was the ultimate hand of justice in the Kingdom of Israel. Nathan, then would be the witness to a crime, and David would be the judge.  This is pretty obvious. The office of David is consistent with this, and the role of Nathan as court prophet was probably consistent with this as well.

2.  Self #2.  The Private Self.  David’s history made him susceptible to a message to his “private self.” It is pretty clear from Scripture, that David, even as an adult, identified with his youthful role as a shepherd. This role was emphasized in Biblical description of his early life. He appeared to be proud of his dedication to protecting sheep. If he did indeed write the 23rd Psalm, he even saw God as assuming a shepherding role, like himself. He expressed pride in his self-sacrificial care of the sheep, risking his own life against a bear and a lion. Even years later, David apparently remembered the barbed complaint from his older brother,

“Why did you come down here? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your pride and the insolence of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.” (I Samuel 17:28b)

When David heard the story of Nathan, on a private level, he certainly connected to the story on a different level. He was the poor man who cared for his own dear sheep. The rich man was the wolf or the bear who was coming to snatch that lamb away.

David’s response as the role of judge (his public self) was driven by his private, emotional connection with the poor man.

3.  Self #3. The Unacknowledged Self. David as king, had blood on his hands. In fact, he had a lot of blood on his hands. He also was very rich. And had certainly used that wealth, position, and power to get his own way. It would have been perfectly logical for David to connect with the rich man. Having been a king for decades, and even before that was a common sight in the king’s court, or a military leader for more decades, the most obvious connection to the story would be the rich man. In fact, Nathan identifies him ultimately as fitting that role, to the shock of the king. David was the rich man— his unacknowledged self. David wasn’t wasn’t the poor shepherd. He was the rich tyrant. He was the lion, the bear, the wolf.

So why was David so blind to Self #3? Simple. He identified publicly with his role as judge (Nathan set the stage for that interpretation). He also identified emotionally with the poor man. He was once a shepherd (a lowly role) and most likely identified himself (emotionally) with these roots more than his present situation.

When using stories, to edify, one needs to know what role the person will assume. (Recall the Sawi tribemembers in “Peace Child” who identified with “clever” Judas, rather than “betrayed” Jesus.) The story of the Fall of Jericho has an important lesson for those who hear it. But does the hearer identify with the Israelites marching around the wall, or one of the city dwellers wondering whether they will live to see another day? Perhaps they need to identify with both roles— faithful servant as well as victim.

Hope and Horses

Horses have had an important role in human civilization since… well… human civilization. They have often been used to help us understand our humanity, or more often our inhumanity (such as  in Gulliver’s Travels, Black Beauty, and the War Horse). You can delve into them on your own. I will place here a couple of old old old stories that have been used, somewhat jokingly, to remind people to hope. Both of these stories I have heard from others (and likely you have as well). As such, I will tell them the way I want to… not necessarily how I or you have heard them.

1.  The Talking Horse.

Centuries ago, there was a suzerain. For those who don’t know what that is, you are certainly encouraged to look it up. But you can think of him as a “king” if you prefer. He had many vassals who paid their tributes to him. One vassal was named Thomas. Okay, his name wasn’t really Thomas, but if you found the title “suzerain” difficult, you would have an even more difficult time with this vassal’s name. So you can call him “Thomas.” Thomas had been underpaying in his tribute to the king, and was even negotiating with the king’s enemies to break free entirely from his obligations. Not surprisingly, when the king gained knowledge of this, he summoned Thomas to stand before him in his palace.

The king was not a particularly kind or forgiving man, and he threatened Thomas with hideous punishments that I really don’t think you would want to hear described, would you? Further, this king was not known for his bluster… what he threatens, he does. No amount amount of begging or promising from Thomas would sway the king.

Finally, in desperation, Thomas cried out, “Lord, you are correct that I have been to the lands of your enemy. But I have not done so as an act of treason. I have been seeking wisdom– in fact, a wisdom that has been passed down from father to son in only the most secluded places on earth. My perseverance has not gone unrewarded, however. For have have found the secret I have sought for for so long.  I have discovered… how to teach a horse to speak.”

“Mad! You are most certainly mad!” cried out the king. But he did pause to think. His royal stallion, his greatest pride after his children (or at least after 4 of his 13 children), was an animal of great beauty and noble bearing. His horse served him well in battle and in the hunt. It was more than a work animal, it was a pet. And more than a pet, it was a friend. What if it was possible that his friend could learn to talk. A king rarely has a friend he can talk to who has no desire for power, nor the slightest temptation for treachery.

Thomas replied, “Oh king, live forever. I am many things, but mad I am not. Perhaps, you give me five years, so I can teach your personal horse to speak.”

“Five years? I was right to deem you mad. I do feel merciful, however. I will grant you a stay of execution for… 1 year. If after one year, you have succeeded in your claims to teach my horse to speak, I will grant you your life. If, on the other hand, you fail… you will wish you never have bee born. Now leave my presence.” said the king, and Thomas did exactly that.

Three months later, Thomas brother found Thomas in the royal stables. Thomas brother, Hamid (which is his actual name… their parents were much kinder to Hamid for some reason) was one of Thomas’ few real friends. Vassals, like kings have many friends, but few real friends.

Hamid said to Thomas, “I heard you were I but I could not believe it. You are now taking care of a horse?”

“Yes. I am caring for the king’s I am teaching it to speak,” said Thomas.

“I heard that too. Are you out of your mind. You have promised to do the impossible. And then you will be killed!”

“Hamid,” replied Thomas. “I have a year, or now 9 months. And a lot can happen in that time. In that amount of time, the king may die. Or maybe the horse might die. Or perhaps I die. Or maybe, just maybe, I can teach this horse to speak.”

That’s the end of the story. The lesson is that where there is life, there is hope.

The second is actually an old joke.

Two privates in the army kept getting in trouble with their sergeant. The sergeant decided not to write them up again, because it never seemed to make a change in their insubordination. Instead, he sent them to work in the Army stables. Horses are not part of war anymore, they are kept for parades, and also for training men.

The two privates were brought to a room that was filled high with manure. Higher than the tops of their heads. They were given manure forks and shovels and told to bag all of the manure and carry it outside.

Both began working. It was a miserable job especially on such a hot day. It was also a slow work. But one of the privates seemed excited in the work, while the other one was very grumpy and slow.

Finally, the one who was grumpy and unhappy said to the happy, hardworking partner. “Joe. I don’t get it. This job sucks. Why are you acting so happy. This is miserable!”

“Paul. Look at all this manure! With all of this manure, there has to be a pony here somewhere! I’m going to find it.”

This story is a bit farcical. But it is also about hope. The messes we meet may be evidence of a blessing.

Stuck in a Steeple

The small country church stood at the center of the small farming community. Ivory BaptistTim loved playing around there along with several other neighborhood kids. Tim had always loved to explore and today he decided to explore the church attic. Because almost no one ever went into the attic and the entrance was very inconspicuous, Tim felt like he was a first time explorer of this mysterious domain. He had his flashlight with him. He opened the part of the wall that hid the janitor’s alcove where a ladder went up to the attic. The first chamber in the attic appeared at first to be pitch black. The flashlight exposed a dusty and thoroughly uninteresting space. He thought he could see a couple of small lights at the far side. These were made clearer when he turned off his flashlight. Going to the larger light, he found that it was an opening into the large attic space above the main sanctuary. The light came from a large stained glass window that let in light from the outside– an eerie mixture of colors. At night an attic light made the stained glass look beautiful from the outside. During the day, the daylight intensified the effect in the attic. It looked like the eye of God watching him rummage around. This window used to light up the sanctuary, but now only lights the attic since the ceiling was lowered decades ago. He could see the original ceiling with the old lighting mounts. After completing his search of this room, he went back to the first chamber and to the second light. This took him into the steeple.

The steeple had louvered shutters that allowed him to look out on the valley the church was in. It also allowed bats to freely come and go. Yes, they did indeed have bats in the belfry. He saw his older sisters, Anna and Hannah, along with some friends playing in the front yard and parking lot of the church. The bell for the church had a rope that went through the floor he was standing on and into the church. It was rarely used. But then he saw the speaker that was even more infrequently used. That sure gave Tim an idea.

Tim worked his way back out of the attic. He went into the church office where the sound system was. He turned it on and waited for the old vacuum tubes to warm up (Hey! So what if it’s old. It still worked after all). Once it was warmed up, he turned on the switch to the outdoor speaker (the one in the steeple). Then he went to the pulpit and started speaking into the microphone in a scared voice.

“Anna! Hannah! Please help me; I got myself stuck in the steeple. I can’t get out. Please get me. I’M SOOOO SCARED!!”

Down in the yard, Anna, Hanna, and their friends heard Tim’s scared voice coming from the steeple. Anna looked up and thought about this and muttered to herself.

“There goes Timmy again. Pulling some prank. I’m not going to make some fool of myself in playing along with one of his stunts.”

Hannah’s response was quite different. She ran into the church to the entrance to the janitor’s alcove. She opened it and started climbing the ladder while saying,

“Come on. We need to get Timmy! Can someone find a flashlight? We need to find a way to…”

She stopped as she heard Timmy laughing behind her. Soon the rest of the kids and Anna were laughing at her as well.

The church custodian came back from his work in the Sunday School rooms and asked what’s happened. After being told, he scolded the children.

“First,” he said, “Timmy, you shouldn’t be going up there without permission. It can be dangerous. If you want to see what is up there, ask me. Second, NONE of you should be laughing at Hannah. She was the one who risked her safety to help when help might be needed. To risk one’s safety, and risk ridicule to help one in need is not foolish… it is Divine.”

Reflections on my Trip to Arkwright Falls

When I was young, my father and Mr. Dyer were Sunday School teachers at our church, Ivory, NY (need a really good map to find that place). The two of them took several of us boys, students in their classes, camping. We set up tents on some state land a mile (more or less) from Arkwright Falls. We had a great time hanging around the campfire roasting marshmallows, swatting mosquitoes, and doing other campish things. We slept, tightly packed, in our little tents. The night was cool, but not too cold. In the morning, we ate our Spartan breakfast. Learning how to make toast using a stick and a fire was interesting. Then we prepared for our hike.

Arkwright Falls is not the largest falls around. It is fifty miles away from much larger Niagara Falls. But there are no people at Arkwright Falls– just river, forest, and falls. The Falls are on no map that I have seen. People near it know where it is. Sometimes the serenity and peace is more important than what is the biggest and the “best”. We had a great hike. We goofed around, as kids are prone to do. Although out in the wilds, the dirt path there was smooth and straight.

The water sure was ice cold, but the day was hot and bright., so it felt great!! We stayed and swam and splashed in the pool at the foot of the falls. In movies I have seen, people seem to be compelled to go to the top of the falls and jump off into the pool below. But since there was no movie being done there that day, we did not do anything particularly death-defying. Besides, I doubt my dad would have let us.

One can only appreciate a waterfall, large or small, for so long. Eventually, it was time to start going back to our campsite to pack for home. We were all soaked now. Our canvas top sneakers “squished” as our wet feet “squooshed” in them, sockless.

Some of us started walking and jogging faster than the rest and in a friendly sort of way we became a bit competitive. Competitive may be the wrong word, but gradually I came to the conclusion that I would win (who knows what?) if I made it to the campsite first. So I started moving faster and faster. Soon I was jogging along at a pretty good pace. It became apparent that the return trip would not be as fun as the trip over. The sun was high now in the heat of the day and the sweat generated from running soon attracted happy little bugs of the forest. I also was not one who particularly enjoyed running. Years later, two years on High School track only further clarified my general dislike of running.

Weary, hot, and buggy I arrived at the campsite first. I had won. Looking back I discovered that there was no one else racing. I had raced myself while everyone else was having a merry stroll along the path. Worse, I discovered a problem with running sockless in wet canvas-top sneakers. My ankles were heavily abraded and I was bleeding. Eventually, everyone else came along happy and relaxed. We packed up and left.

Yes, I know. This was one of the most boring stories ever, right? But for me it was not boring at all. It was one of those life-lesson moments.

  • Success is not always being first

  • Success is not always “winning” (however you define winning)

  • Sometimes success is in the journey

A man who can swim faster than anyone else, yet is messed up in his relationship with God, family, and friends, is not much of a winner. To win at one thing, yet lose in hundreds of other ways, is not much of a success. If one can view life as a journey… maybe a walk back from Arkwright Falls, one can look at success as more wholistic. Make the entire journey a success, not just one tiny portion– sacrificing other joys in so doing.

The Scholars of St. Anselm’s. A Short Story.

Jon, Tom, Bev and Tammy were eating lunch together in the school yard of St. Anselm’s Elementary School. Jon and Tom were, as usual, trying to show off who was the best— the smartest, strongest, fastest, bestest.

Jon said, “I know what the biggest biggest most huge creature looks like. Bet you don’t!” This was probably aimed mostly at Tom, but Jon was open to challenging the girls as well.

Tom said, “Ha! Everybody knows that… that’s so stupid. Bet you don’t.”

Tammy joined in. “ Well I bet neither of you know, really. You just think you do.”

Bev kept quiet, as she usually did in these sort of arguments.

“The biggest creature,” stated Jon with the air of an expert, “has gray skin, big ears, and a long nose. Bet you are so stupid that you don’t even know what they are called.”

Tammy jumped in. “That’s an elephant. Even my baby brother knows that! But that isn’t the biggest creature anyway. The biggest creature lives in the water. It looks like a giant fish but it breathes sir. They are so big that they can swallow a person. I read about that.”

“That’s a whale… of course!” said Tom.

“A blue whale actually.” Bev chimed in. She loves watching shows about animals. “But blue whales can’t swallow people. They eat small stuff in the ocean. Maybe some others could, but I would hate to find out. But I saw a show that said that there are trees in California that are bigger than any animal. They are so big that one can drive a car throught them..”

“How can you drive a car through a tree? But that don’t count,” countered Jon. “Trees aren’t creatures. They don’t move or anything– at least not much.”

Bev responded. “Who says that a creature has to move? Animals are alive and plants are alive. Who says that plants aren’t creatures?”

Tom jumped in. “It really doesn’t matter what a creature is anyway. The biggest creature doesn’t look like any of those. It has scaly skin like armor, wings so that it can fly and breathes fire.”

“That’s a dragon, you idiot!” yelled Tom. “And their not really! Their like made up. Imaginary.”

“Who says? How do you know. I saw a thing on TV that showed that dragons might be real… or at least to really exist at one time. A lot of those, you know, dinosaur skelatons look a lot like dragons. You think you are so smart, Tom. But you don’t know…” Jon sounded hurt.

Bev tried to calm things down. “Maybe we should limit things to things we know for sure exist or existed.”

But Jon was on a roll. “Who’s to say that if I imagine it, it is not real? If I say it is real, it is real to me, and I am picturing a dragon that is bigger than this school.”

Others began adding joke suggestions. “A whale bigger than our town.” “A goat bigger than the biggest tree and it can eat it in one ‘CHOMP’.” “An elephat that is bigger than the earth and travels from galaxy to galaxy.” “A person bigger than the Universe.” That last one stopped the group for a moment.

Jon said.”That’s stupid. Nothing can be bigger than the Universe. It is… everything, right?

“My dad said that God is bigger than the Universe,” replied Tammy. “He made it, God must be the biggest.” Tammy looked at the rest triumphantly.

“Oh… right…” said Tom. “You want to rejct my dragon simply because I can’t prove it actually exists outside of my imagination, but then you want us to accept God. I bet your dad can’t prove God really exists either.”

Tammy responded. “My dad thinks that because we can imagine God, God must be real. If God wasn’t real, then we couldn’t imagine Him… or something like that.” Tammy always got confused on this point.

Bev thought about that and replied, “That doesn’t sound right. Does giant walking snowcones exist just because I imagine them?” Everyone laughed as they pictured giant snowcones invading their school on this particularly hot day in June.

“Yeah,” John continued the argument, “and if each person on earth has a different picture of God in their heads, does that mean that all of them are right, and God is like all of them?”

Tom jumped in. “So if everyone imagines God different from everyone else, maybe it means that God must be all of those things everyone imagines…. or maybe that means that God doesn’t exist.”

Another moment of thoughtful reflection. Tammy broke the silence. “But that is like what we have been talking about, you know… the biggest creature. Tom, if you are right then the biggest creature must have gray skin and big ears, is shaped like a fish, has branches and leaves, and flies while breathing fire.” The others laughed again picturing such a creature. “Or… the fact that we can’t agree what the largest creature is, proves that the largest creature does not exist.”

Jon stated emphatically, “That’s stupid. Of course something is the biggest creature. That just stands to reason. Just because we can’t agree doesn’t change the fact that something is the biggest. You know, this has gotten pretty lame. I’m getting a headache. Let’s do something else.”

The others agreed. It was much too hot of a day to talk that much.

The Chaplain Who Did Not Show Up

Chaplain Tom started work at Hampton General Hospital. He was excited. He had trained, it seemed like, his whole life for this day. From College, to Seminary, to CPE, he has dreamed of this. HGH was a small hospital, and he was the only chaplain, but he was excited nonetheless.

He visited as many patients as he could fit in… taking detailed notes… he did not want to appear to be not doing his job on the first day. He continued the pace throughout the week. In the Integrated Care Team (ICT) meeting, he sought to give appropriate inputs on patients who he had visited and evaluated. It was a good week.

Tuesday of the next week, he was asked to see the Hospital Director. Chaplain Tom was excited but a bit nervous. He went into director’s office and sat down when invited.

“You don’t have to come in tomorrow,” stated the Director, putting aside all pleasantries.

“But… umm… what do you mean by that, sir?” queried Chaplain Tom.

“Well, we don’t really need you.” Tom was shocked to hear this. Nothing gave him a prior inkling that the Director did not value chaplains.

“Why sir. Did I do something wrong?” The Director responded.

“Well, I have been looking at your comments in the patient records, listened to you at the ICT, and got some feedback from the nursing staff. You give patients good medical advice. You give them counsel as far as some of their social concerns. You marked down your thoughts regarding psychological assessment.”

“Well yes, but…” started Tom, but the Director cut him off. “Do you know why you were hired? You were hired to be a chaplain. You were hired because we need someone to assess their emotional and spiritual concerns. Their feelings about death, issues of belief and faith. We need to know what sort of support system they have internally and externally based on their beliefs and their community. I need you to assess what is going on inside them using skills that the rest of our hospital staff have not been adequately trained to identify.. I don’t really need you to do a psychological assessment. I have psychiatrists who are better at that than you. It is great that you are counseling patients regarding social concerns. That helps… but I have social workers who are good at that, better than you. It is fine if you want to put down medical notes that you think the nurses or doctors might find relevant— but again, they are better at that than you.”

The director continued. “I don’t mind if you want to do other people’s jobs, as long as you don’t get in the way. But you are doing everyone else’s job except your own. Take the rest of the week off. If you are ready to start doing YOUR job, I will see you next Monday. Otherwise, I really don’t need you”

Seward Hiltner Quote on Stories and Principles

“In Christianity and Judaism, which have beliefs and principles but regard them as having emerged from history and events, expressing the faith may take either of two general forms: narrating and interpreting the events, or describing and clarifying the principles. Thus the dramatic as well as the expository form of expression is inherent in these two faiths. Probably the most effective communication is achieved with some combination of the two methods. Without reference to events, principles tend to lose their connection with actual situations. Yet mere storytelling without principles to relate the meaning of the old event to the new situation makes the expression nostalgic rather than salvatory.”

                -Seward Hiltner (Theological Dynamics, A

A Wise Gift

Variation of an old Korean tale (or so I am told). Hopefully, I haven’t abused the story too much:

Many years ago, schooling was done far differently in the rural villages. Young boys would gather under the tutelage of a wise elder who would instruct them. Special emphasis was history, traditions, ethics, and discernment.

On this particular winter day, the boys were rather unruly. They had been taught to respect elders and demonstrate honor by quietly listening and answering when asked. But boys are still boys, and on this day they were not really listening.

The old man decided to challenge them. “I can see that all of you are interested to finish your training today so you can go home. I am very willing to oblige. But you must give me something to demonstrate that you have gained wisdom this day. I want to you to buy me an item. … Now, don’t be worried I will give you the money to buy it. You can buy whatever you want, but it must fill this room.” With that, he gave each boy a bronze coin.””

As each boy received his coin he thought to himself, “What can I possibly buy with such a small amount?  I could get a fair bit of rice with this coin, but not nearly enough to fill the room.”

Each sat quietly and thought. They glanced at each other with confused looks… but did not know what to say. What could fill a room with this little bronze coin? This was wintertime and the sun was already going down well before evening meal. The room started to take on a gloomy appearance as sunlight began to fade.

Finally, one of the boys, Minwu, looked startled as an idea popped into his head. He stood up and asked the wise man if he could leave to purchase an item. With permission granted, Minwu left, to return minutes later with a candle.

The old man looked at the candle. “That is an interesting purchase, but it certainly does not come close to filling the room.”

Minwu ran back outside and returned momentarily with the same candle— now lit.

“Ah,” said the wise old man, “The light from this candle certainly does fill this room. Well done.”

Looking at the other boys, he continued. “The light from this one candle fills the room. A word of wisdom can also fill the minds of all those who hear it… if they are willing to listen. I believe each of you now has the wisdom to know what to do.”

Minwu went home as each of the other boys ran off to buy a candle to light.

**The currency in Korea at that time was the “mun.” However, I haven’t found information on how much one can buy with this coin.

Poetic Tribulation

This is an excerpt from the book  “A Study of Words” by Richard Chevenix Trench, dated 1859. This version is actually drawn from the Sanders “Rhetorical or Union Sixth Reader” from 1862.  It focuses on the “poetry” of the term “tribulation.”

Tribulum in Action

A popular American author has somewhere characterized language as “fossil poetry,” [Ralph Waldo Emerson] –evidently meaning that just as is some fossil, curious and beautiful shapes of vegetable or animal life are permanently bound up with the stone, and rescued from that perishing which would otherwise have been theirs– so, in words, are beautiful thoughts and images, –the imagination and feeling of past ages, preserved and made safe forever.

Language, then, is fossil poetry; in other words, we are not to look for the poetry which a people may possess, only in its poems, or its poetical customs, traditions, and beliefs. Many a single word, also, is itself a concentrated poem, having stores of poetical thought and imagery laid up in it. Examine it, and it will be found to rest on some deep analogy of things natural and things spiritual; bringing those to illustrate and to give an abiding form and body to these.

“Iliads without a Homer,” some one has called, with a little exaggeration, the beautiful but anonymous ballad poetry of Spain. One may be permitted, perhaps to push the exaggeration a little further in the same direction, and to apply the phrase not merely to a ballad, but to a word. Let me illustrate that which I have been here saying somewhat more at length by the word “tribulation.”

We all know, in a general way, that this word, which occurs not seldom in Scripture and in the Liturgy, means affliction, sorrow, anguish; but it is quite worth our while to know how it means this, and to question the word a little closer. It is derived from the Latin “tribulum” –which was the thrashing instrument or roller, whereby the Roman husbandman separated the corn from the husks; and “tribulation,” in its primary signicance, was the act of making this separation.

But some Latin writer of the Christian church appropriated the word and image for the setting forth of a higher truth; and sorrow, distress, and adversity, being the appointed means for the separating, in men, of their chaff from their wheat, of whatever, in them was light and trivial and poor from the solid and the true, therefore, he called these sorrows and griefs “tribulations,” thrashings, that is, of the inner spiritual man, without which there could be no fitting him for the Heavenly garner.

Now, in proof of what I have just said, namely, that a single word is often a concentrated poem, a little grain of gold capable of being beaten out into a broad extent of gold-leaf, I will quote, in reference to this very word “tribulation,” a graceful composition by an early English poet, which, you will at once perceive, is all wrapped up in this word:–

Till from the straw, the flail the corn doth beat,

Until the chaff be purged from the wheat-

Yea, till the mill the grain in pieces tear,

The richness of the flour will scarce appear;

So, till men’s persons great afflictions touch,

If worth be found, their worth is not so much;

Because, like wheat in straw, they have not yet

That value which in thrashing they may get.

For, till the bruising flails of God’s corrections

Have threshed out of us our vain affections-

Till those corruptions, which do misbecome us,

Are by Thy Sacred Spirit winnowed from us.

Until from us the straw of worldly treasures-

Till all the dusty chaff of empty pleasures-

Yea, till His flail upon us He doth lay

To thrash the husk of this our flesh away,

And leave the soul uncovered-nay, yet more-

Till God shall make our very spirit poor,

We shall not up to highest wealth aspire,

And then we shall,-and that is my desire.

[George Wither]