Recognizing Greatness

Reading Time: 6 minutes

It was January 12th, 2007, on a cold winter morning in a Washington, D.C. Metro station. A man was actually playing a violin for the roughly 1000 people who walked by during rush hour. Hardly anyone noticed him. In fact, Gene Weingarten, who wrote the piece for the Washington Post said, “Three minutes went by before something happened. Sixty-three people had already passed when, finally, there was a breakthrough of sorts. A middle-age man altered his gait for a split second, turning his head to notice that there seemed to be some guy playing music. Yes, the man kept walking, but it was something.” 1

For his efforts, this man received $32 after 45 minutes, and this, after he tossed in some ‘seed’ money to get things started. Those that did give, hardly slowed their step to listen to him play, and many just tossed a quarter. Who was this man and why is it significant?

The man was Joshua Bell, who just a few days before played at the Boston theater to a sold out crowd with tickets that averaged $100. Bell began playing when he was a young boy, and was clearly a musical prodigy. The instrument he used in the metro station was his personal Stradivarius, said to be worth 3.5 million.

What would people do if they walked by a man who was arguably one of best violinists in the world, playing, not popular tunes today’s culture would recognize, but classic master pieces that have endured throughout the ages? Couple that with his multimillion dollar Stradivarius, and you can’t help but wonder if people, even in a New York metro station at rush hour, would stop to listen, or even recognize the talent and beauty of the music and musician.

This experiment was caught on tape using several hidden cameras. Weingarten wrote, “There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch.” 2

Matthew 18:3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 11:25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.

Matthew 19:14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

We go through life thinking we have gained so much knowledge. Some of us become quite learned with masters and doctorates to post on our wall and impress those around us, but for all we gain, the older we get there is a sense of loss.

Many adults, those middle-aged and beyond, can relate to the lost childhood, missing the wonder, excitement, and certainly the lack of responsibility. Even young adults who are working for the first time in their life, going to college, having to pay bills, can sit for a moment and reflect on a childhood that is now gone forever. But, is it really just freedom or the lack of responsibility we miss, or could there be something more? Are we viewing the world in a different way than little children, who, if the article above is pointing out something significant, see things we can’t or don’t any more?

Every week I work with students who look at things differently than I do; who ask questions I never thought of. Who are still impressed with the world around them, and things some people are able to do in life. My students see things, hear things, smell things, touch things that amaze them, but I don’t give it a second thought. They see the miracle that is imbedded in the world and our very existence, though they may not express it in those terms. They still see the wonder as to why things are the way they are, innately seeing the miracle in ‘something rather than nothing’.

Edith Nesbit, and English author and poet who wrote children books in the 1800’s said, “It is wonderful how quickly you get used to things, even the most astonishing.” Over time, even the miraculous can become mundane to us, because we forget what life is about, and focus on what is about our life.

Life can and does get in the way of our seeing that every morning. Flu’s, colds, bills to pay, disagreeable co-workers, a car breaking down, illness or loss in the family. “Our destiny may be eternal life at home with God, but we aren’t there yet. ‘So be truly glad!’ the apostle Peter said. ‘There is wonderful joy ahead, even though it is necessary for you to endure many trials for a while’ (1 Peter 1:6). And Peter made it clear why God is keeping us here. He has a mission for us to accomplish.” 3

Joshua Bell has an amazing gift from God. This gift has gained him wealth and notoriety in certain circles. The gifts we have may apply only to a small circle of friends or family, or you may have a gift that will touch thousands, but what ever the gift is, it needs to be applied to our mission in life. Without a mission, without a purpose, without a plan, life has no meaning – just a moment in the geologic time scale. Our lives forgotten in a hundred years.

Viktor Frankl was a survivor of the Nazi death camps in World War II. He recognized and saw first hand the need for meaning in life, especially if you are to survive in difficult circumstances that result in long suffering. He wrote in his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, “As we said before, any attempt to restore a man’s inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal.”4 Those who lost hope he explained, quickly perished, even the most hardy individuals. Only those who had a reason to live managed to survive.

In Romans 1:19-22 Paul wrote, “ since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.” Carl Gallups, author of The Magic Man In The Sky said, “The apostle Paul wrote this passage to the church at Ephesus, to help these early Christians discern that there is an eternal purpose to life. He wanted them to be certain of the Grand Scheme.” 5

I have no doubt as to one of my purposes in life, and that is to teach at the Jr. High level and impact the lives of my students in a positive, Godly way. Over the years, I have had many students who lacked parents at home or any kind of father figure. What eternal outcomes I may or may not have had on many, I will never know in this life time, but I do know that I have influenced a few. That, along with some family, friends, and possibly this blog are my mission, my purpose.

Recently a young mother began attending our church. My wife noticed this new face and made sure to greet her when she saw her again. After a couple of Sundays, my wife noticed her sitting alone and invited her to sit next to us. We could tell she was pleased by the invitation, and she began sitting with us in church. Naturally, we each shared a little about our lives and she mentioned her boyfriend of several years. I asked if he would ever come to church and she said probably not. I asked if he attends any church and she said no, church was not his thing. I could tell she was a bit uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation, so I just asked her directly if he believed in God, she said no. I laughed and said, “No wonder he doesn’t want to come to church!” She laughed with me and that seemed to break the ice.

Last Sunday, she announced to us her live in boyfriend of 5+ years asked her to marry him. She was very excited and we shared in her joy. We don’t expect to see her for a couple of Sundays because they are traveling to Las Vegas to be married and will be out of town. It was not hard to touch her life, to invite her into our circle, to share the gift of Christ’s unconditional love.

You may not be a Joshua Bell, but you have a gift, which with little effort can be shared and recognized by all who encounter you. I saw a quote that said, “Greatness is not in what you have, but what you give.”


1. Weingarten, Gene. “Pearls Before Breakfast: Can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? Let’s find out.” Washington Post, 8 April 2007. Web. 9 February 2015
2. Ibid.
3. McDowell, Josh. McDowell, Sean. The Unshakeable Truth. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2010. Print.
4. Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search For Meaning. Boston: Beacon Press, 1959. Print.
5. Gallups, Carl. The Magic Man In The Sky. New York: WND Books, 2012. Print.



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Recognizing Greatness by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
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Black shoes and brown shoes

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Dean Bernachi who recently retired from the Mariposa School District as head of technology shared a story via e-mail to the whole district.

The e-mail that Dean shared was titled, Brown Shoes and a Red Helmet. Dean explained that not long ago he had a rare opportunity to ride on the U.S.S. Nimitz on what is called a ‘Tiger Cruise’ from Hawaii to San Diego. Aircraft carriers are floating cities with five to six thousand personal. They have movie theaters, stores, banks, gyms, shooting ranges, and galleys or kitchens that can serve up to 18,000 meals a day. Carriers have doctors, dentists, and telephones where crew can call home if they desire. As great as all that sounds, there is a down side to working on an aircraft carrier. For example, the flight deck can be dangerous, and not many crewmen have an opportunity to work out in the open. By far, the majority of the crew does not see sky in their normal work day. In fact, some may go weeks without seeing any sea or sky. Sleeping arrangements are cramped, with the crew sleeping in berthing compartments that hold about 60, and each person has a single bunk with a small locker for personal items. Bathrooms are shared and each compartment has a small area with a T.V. hooked up to a satellite dish.

Carriers are very tempting targets because they are so valuable. Consequently, they are escorted by cruisers, destroyers and nuclear powered attack submarines. The last aircraft carrier we lost was the Hornet, during World War II, in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. If you know your history, you will know the Hornet (CV-8) took part in the Doolittle Raid, and launched Torpedo Squadron 8. On a side note, the USS Hornet was replaced by another aircraft carrier (CV-12) which participated in WWII, Vietnam, and the Apollo program. This USS Hornet is docked in Alameda, California, and is a national historic landmark that is open for tours. I have been on the Hornet twice and would highly recommend the tour to anyone interested.

Dean said he experienced many events that he will not forget, but one occurrence that he shared was that everyone on the ship wore black shoes, except the pilots, who wore brown shoes. This simple visual difference was to emphasize that ultimately the work of the black shoes was to support those in the brown shoes. It was an aircraft carrier after all, and Dean explained the job of an aircraft carrier was to carry, launch and retrieve aircraft, support the missions of the pilots while on the ship and in the air. From maintenance to meals, those who wore black shoes supported the brown shoes so that they would be successful in their missions. He equated this to teachers being the brown shoes, and how valuable they are, and that everyone else in the district, including his former staff, had worn black shoes in support of the teachers.

It was an interesting analogy that made me immediately think of what kind of shoes we wear as Christians. I would imagine us, that is believers, being the black shoes doing the work of our Lord. Everyone else who is not a believer would be wearing brown shoes. Ultimately, what is it we are trying to accomplish? Win over to our side as many brown shoes as possible before their time ran out. Their mission, should they choose to accept it, (thankfully this is not Mission Impossible), is to receive Christ as their Lord and Savior. All else is secondary to that mission. The pain and suffering we all endure as black shoes matters little compared to the importance of a successful mission for the brown shoes. I am not an evangelist and will never pretend to be one, at least not in in the sense of what we normally consider an evangelist, someone on a street corner, Bible in hand calling everyone to repent. Over the years, I have heard many from the pulpit share that we are all really evangelists and that is our calling. Given’s Dean’s e-mail, I suppose what they were saying is, we as Christians wearing black shoes have to support the operations of the brown shoes, (non-believers), until they have a successful mission. How you support the brown shoes will vary greatly. Some of us ride alongside the pilot, supporting their role as they actually are engaged in their worldly mission. Others take a more subtle role, providing clothing and meals to those that have a need, a quiet word, simple actions, loving tasks that bless others. Some that work in a background role as a black shoe might not meet any brown shoes in their work environment. Maybe over time, due to the stresses of real life, dealing with others who, like all of us are imperfect, our shoes start to lose their shine. Maybe at times our black shoes start to look more brown and we might even be mistaken for a brown shoe. Has anyone ever acted surprised to find out you’re a Christian? Have you ever regretted some behavior or activities that you took part in and wish you had not? I think all of us have, and will again. The old saying, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven” is very applicable.

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. 2 Timothy 2:10

What does the red helmet have to do with the story? Dean explained that the red helmet had nothing to do with the story, but was simply on his head as he was kayaking down the Merced River enjoying his retirement. I have work for, under, and with many people in my life, but without a doubt Dean Bernachi was one of my favorites. As much as some of us enjoy retirement, or look forward to it, I realized that the task of the black shoes never really leaves us, until we meet with the individual who gave us our orders.

Here’s to black shoes and red helmets when we really get to enjoy a long retirement!

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