I had the incredible privilege of being taught by some of the members of the NIV translation team. These scholars were of such renown that original texts were handed to them from museums.
One such man was involved in translating several books of the Old Testament, and actually read the texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls! This is the professor who taught my Hebrew class, as well as a course in Psalms that is heads above any course I have ever taken on any Old Testament book of the Bible. Dr. M sat at his desk, reading to us from the Hebrew, translating into English as he explained to us the technical meaning of each phrase or line. In addition, his knowledge of the culture and specific nuances of phrases as they related to that period of time further enriched each and every class hour. The Psalms came alive as never before; the class time routinely ending before the students were ready to fold up their notebooks.
Did this contemporary giant of a man have any tidbit of advice that stuck with me? Indeed, he did; I use his quotation even today, as a matter of fact. The elderly man was of average physical size, so it was a wonder how his normal-sized brain could contain all that he knew. Many warm, sunny Friday late-afternoons, when it seemed that Hebrew class would never end, Dr. M reminded us of his motto by which to live. With that perpetual twinkle in his eyes and smile on his face, Dr. M gently closed his text and said, “Just remember class, as we dismiss for the weekend and you long to be out in that sunshine so grabbing your attention, ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’” Seeing the smiles from everyone now released to go and enjoy the weekend, at the professor’s suggestion, he quickly finished the motto, “But, all play and no work, makes Jack even duller.” Okay, point taken and we nodded our understanding; balance is the key.
Dr. G was working on several books of the New Testament. He, on the other hand, was also a physical giant of a man. Even so, his heart was so tender; he longed for the students to really understand all that he taught us. He was my Greek instructor. To spice up the drudgery of learning the ancient language, Dr. G gave us a chance to try to translate the New Testament books on which he was working, too. It was very helpful to have his correction and explanations as we worked through the Gospel of John and the Book of the Acts of the Apostles together in class. Again, we learned much of just how the cultural practices of the people influenced the text, adding amazing depth to our understanding.
You might be tempted to think these serious, and well-known contemporary greats, were pretty boring guys, right? I mean, sticking their noses in those dusty volumes so many hours a day; no doubt, hidden away in some musky, moldy library basement. Ha, not at all! Yes, they knew how to work hard and did expect that of us; but they really knew how to have fun, and insisted that we learn that, too.
Hence, I will recount for you just one of the parties we had in the faculty homes that sticks in my mind the most. Likely, you’ll see why, and just what lesson it might have taught me.
The notice said that the party would be at Dr. G’s house. We were to bring a sauce into which we would dip strips of cooked chicken, shrimp, or some kind of protein…I can’t remember exactly what, for sure. No one was assigned any particular kind of sauce; we were instructed to be creative.
“I think I’ll make a sweet and sour sauce,” I announced to Cheryl, as we stood at the mailboxes.
“Have you ever made one before this?”
“”No, but how hard can it be? The notice says to be creative. I figure that means do something you’ve never done before, right?”
“I’m not so sure. I think I’ll work on something I know is a good dipping sauce. You go ahead and be creative.”
All the way home I thought about the sauce. Perhaps, our landlady had a cookbook with the recipe. If not, I’d just wing-it. I tried to remember what a sweet and sour sauce tasted like so I could figure out which ingredients I might identify by taste-recollection. It turned out not to be many. Cooking was, definitely, not my natural gifting.
Back at home, I scoured the cookbooks offered to me, and found one recipe I thought I might be able to do. I’d need to go to the grocery store to pick up a few items, but it sounded easy enough. That should have been my first red flag, but it wasn’t. I was not an experienced cook, but I was, certainly, a confident one.
The afternoon of the event, I measured and mixed ingredients, until I had a lovely tasting concoction. The only thing was that it was too runny for dipping. It’d make a mess on their table; I’d need to thicken it a bit.
“Best take the corn starch with us, Sojourner. That way you can add it as you heat it up at Dr. G’s house. There will be a time of praise and worship before the meal, so if we get there a little early, you can do it then.”
Thinking that a great idea, I put the box of corn starch in the sack with my bowl of sweet and sour sauce. Off we went, anticipating a fun evening with students and staff.
Dr. G’s wife, a talented artist, was happy to show me to their kitchen, handing me a saucepan and wooden spatula to use. I added the corn starch as soon as the sauce began to boil. Slowly, little by little, stirring all the while, I tapped in the powder to thicken the sauce. Boy, this stuff just would not thicken. More powder and stir.
“Okay, Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s gather together and take up the song sheets.” My breath caught as I heard Dr. H’s British accent calling us to the large room next to the kitchen.
The sauce was only slightly thicker at this point, but what could I do? I had to just forget it and take my seat in the other room. I turned off the burner, poured the sauce in the bowl provided and stuck the spoon in the sauce. After having quickly washed out the saucepan, I set the bowl of sweet and sour sauce on the serving table, as I made my way into the living room.
“Did you get it thickened?” Cheryl was whispering through the noise of the folks getting settled.
“Well, I tried but I can’t say it is thick enough for dipping. I just ran out of time. Maybe no one will know it’s mine.”
“I think that it thickens some when it cools off, so it’ll probably be fine. Did anyone see you put it on the serving table?”
“No and only Mrs. G knows I was trying to thicken a sauce. I don’t think she saw which one. I just hope it doesn’t ruin their tablecloth when it drips all over the place. I worried that I’d not be able to replace it, if my sauce ruined the cloth.
Soon, all thoughts of the thin sauce left me as the beautiful harmony of students and staff lifted high those familiar praises to the Lord. Such fun to sing with this group! Then, the prayer of thanksgiving offered to the God Who provided everything we needed, followed by Dr. A’s pronouncement. “Okay, let’s try the creations you all have made.”
We moved over to the serving table, but before I got there, I heard Dr. G’s loud laugh. “Who made this sauce? I think we may need a chisel here, Honey.”
To my great horror, I recognized my bowl. Dr. G held it high for all to see. However, it was not in the normal position, resting in the palm of his giant hand. Oh no, it was being held by the handle of the spoon I’d placed in the sauce, upside-down! Not a drop of liquid left the up-turned bowl. The spoon did not move, regardless of how Dr. G moved it. The sauce had set like concrete; spoon captured by the sauce. Hmm? Well, no worry that it would ruin their tablecloth, but they might have lost their spoon.
My face and neck burned red-hot, so I knew the glow answered Dr. G’s question. Since I was the only one not laughing, my guilty silence gave me away. “Ah-ha, Sojourner. Well, thanks for your creative addition to our table. Uh, I think we will need to pass on this one for tonight, but maybe you could try it again another time? A bit thinner sauce would be better.”
The landlady had warned me to take care in how much corn starch I used, but having never done it before, I had no idea what to look for in the process. It was, definitely, the only time I tried this sauce recipe in my life. It was also the only time I brought something I had never tried before to a potluck gathering!
The students and faculty were kind in their teasing and agreed that being humbled would always be a part of learning. God was in the business of seeing that our pride not ruin our spiritual growth.
The contemporary greats and their wives were incredibly talented men and women, hard-working scholars and professionals, yet balanced in their personal lives. For them, fun and people were as important as translating Bible passages. My year of study at this new graduate school taught me to work as hard as I played; and to play as hard as I worked. I also learned that being humbled before friends is no more painful than my own pride lets it be. The discomfort lasts only as long as my pride resists humility. The same is true today!
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