The Roman Road and the Romance of Words
reblogged from: Posted by Ravi Zacharias on August 11, 2015
In our time, the story goes on as means change and the battle rages for the ends. Our calling matters. An imagination that runs away from reality too often and too far will run out of the means of generating awe within the soul. That yearning cries out from within, and who our teachers will be will shape our longings and our fulfillment.
Years ago I remember an event that was a landmark moment in human accomplishment: watching and hearing the American astronauts’ voice after they went round the dark side of the moon. The best description was made by one who captured the moment from earth. I can’t remember who said it, but I was young enough to immediately memorize it: He spoke of watching earth rise “garlanded by the glistening light of the sun, against the black void of space.” What an awe inspiring description. That was real, and that is language befitting the sight. A few short years ago, two astronauts visited us at our office and presented me with a framed picture of their flight into space and a CD of one my messages that the pilot had taken with him to listen to during his time in space. I so treasure that gift, just to think it floated in a spaceship for days. It is overwhelming to think of the incredible strides science and technology have made. The world spins with new thought patterns and capacities.
I thought of all this just a few hours before writing this. Why? I did a first in my life. I watched two movies on the same day. As one who may go to just one movie a year, this was a landmark for me. While in Jakarta, on an off day from writing, a friend took me to see them. The first was a Chinese film based on a true story called “Little Big Master,” about a small elementary school in a village of Hong Kong. The school had been built in 1950 but was dying four decades later, reduced to five students, and if one more student was lost the city council was going to shut it down. A young woman with a burden for children’s education applied for the headmaster’s position and was determined to save the school. The family life from which these children came brings emotions to the surface. The stirrings are deep, the story riveting, the production very simple, at times almost amateurish. But people in the theater were not hiding their tears. I was also profoundly moved. Without giving it all away, the school still stands today. The teacher’s simple testimony was that it was her calling. She had to do it at all costs. And the cost was huge for her. The postscript told us that she is still the headmaster there today.
It brought back memories for me because when I attended school growing up in Delhi it was all in tents. I was a terrible student but my teachers saved the day for me. I am so indebted to so many, principally my mother, and then, more educated and intelligent friends, my culture, and in the years to come, my professors and books: Norman Geisler, Carl Henry, John Warwick Montgomery, John Stott, J.I. Packer, Gleason Archer, and Kenneth Kantzer among many others. What memories, what power in their dedication and teaching. Once I started traveling, books became my instructors: Muggeridge, Chesterton, Lewis, James Stewart, Os Guinness (now a colleague), G. Campbell Morgan, F.B. Meyer, F.W. Boreham, etc. I learned, I memorized, I repeated, I transmitted. Today my soul has been shaped by my teachers. Nostalgically, I wish I could return to school. But the high-noon of youth is gone. My only regret is that I wish I had not just memorized what I learned but put it down in written form so that I could recover it with precision when needed … although with the recent flood in my study when we were away, I would have lost it all anyway. Thirty years of notes were washed away. A huge loss. How we learn and from whom we learn shapes our thinking. How we store and how we preserve are equally important.
The second movie I saw was “Mission Impossible.” Thankfully, the title confessed the strained credulity required to enjoy it. Here there were no tears, just brilliant drama and the impossible made scintillating. The genius of cinematography is the winner here, not the reality. (This also took me back to my youth. Indian movies specialized in the impossible made spectacular, such as one storyline where the Taj Mahal was stolen every night and returned to Agra the next day.) When we left the theater, the thirteen-year-old with us captured the story better than I did. I would have to see it two or three times to get it all. But for the young man it was another day at the movies. To him, this is the astronaut’s voice. Technology and science have reshaped the mode of instruction. The young can look beyond the story to the medium, and the method becomes the genius.
In the first movie it was the person. In the second movie it was the means. The world has changed. The “garlanding of the earth” is not romantic enough; rather, the bright lights of technological genius hold us entranced. What I lost by losing my notes may never be lost with the movies. The one lifted us above the clouds; the other brings what’s in the clouds to us. But one wonders whether a few years from now we may not even need to go to the movies. Will there be implants in the brain to rewind or fast forward? Who knows!
The Roman road and the medium of a common language have both changed, to say nothing of the romance of words. Alexander the Great is not needed to conquer the world and bring unity in diversity. The visual world has done that. But there was another difference between the two movies that is timeless. In the first movie there was a real hero who lived and worked with health-sacrificing dedication to win the soul of a generation. In the second movie the nail-clinging strength of an actor holding on to a plane about to take off is a reshaping of the imagination. Both have their place. But there is a difference. In the first, there is the strength of values that works through the darkness to change the future. The second was changing the future without presenting any corrective to the darkness within. Granted, that was not the purpose. For technology, maybe that is the real Mission Impossible. But there is a world of power within those means. Chesterton reminded us that God is like the sun: you cannot look at it. But without it you cannot look at anything else. As our means improve, our ends had better stay noble.
Therein lies the deeper difference behind the two stories. In the second, the ends justified the means. In the first, the means had to justify themselves. In our time, the story goes on as means change and the battle rages for the ends. Our calling matters. An imagination that runs away from reality too often and too far will run out of the means of generating awe within the soul. That yearning cries out from within, and who our teachers will be will shape our longings and our fulfillment.
And oh yes, I must add a footnote. I wonder what the actors were paid for that performance? Frankly, I don’t begrudge them that. They entertain the masses. But I know the answer to this from the story itself. The teacher’s salary at that school was so meager that she was nicknamed by the amount of her salary. And her job included janitorial responsibilities because she was the sole employee. We pay handsomely to be entertained. As for our teachers? I shall not comment because it won’t make for a happy ending. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. For where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.