Monday, July 19, 2004

But it makes the point...

In church yesterday, our interim pastor used a story as an illustration for the closing of his sermon. Now this is a typical tactic for just about any public speaker - highlight your point(s) by using a story that the audience can relate to. But I got a bit uneasy when, after he started the story, I realized I had heard a different version of it years ago.   Here's the story (attributed to a Randy Walker): 

In 1967 while taking a class in photography at the University of Cincinnati, I became acquainted with a young man named Charles Murray who also was a student at the school and training for the summer Olympics of 1968 as a high diver. Charles was very patient with me as I would speak to him for hours about Jesus Christ and how He had saved me. Charles was not raised in a home that attended any kind of church, so all that I had to tell him was a fascination to him. He even began to ask questions about forgiveness of sin.

Finally the day came that I put a question to him. I asked if he realized his own need of a redeemer and if he was ready to trust Christ as his own Saviour. I saw his countenance fall and the guilt in his face. But his reply was a strong "no."

In the days that followed he was quiet and often I felt that he was avoiding me, until I got a phone call and it was Charles. He wanted to know where to look in the New Testament for some verses that I had given him about salvation. I gave him the reference to several passages and asked if I could meet with him. He declined my offer and thanked me for the scripture. I could tell that he was greatly troubled, but I did not know where he was or how to help him.

Because he was training for the Olympic games, Charles had special privileges at the University pool facilities. Some time between 10:30 and 11:00 that evening he decided to go swim and practice a few dives. It was a clear night in October and the moon was big and bright. The University pool was housed under a ceiling of glass panes so the moon shone bright across the top of the wall in the pool area. Charles climbed to the highest platform to take his first dive. At that moment the Spirit of God began to convict him of his sins. All the scripture he had read, all the occasions of witnessing to him about Christ flooded his mind. He stood on the platform backwards to make his dive, spread his arms to gather his balance, looked up to the wall and saw his own shadow caused by the light of the moon. It was the shape of a cross. He could bear the burden of his sin no longer. His heart broke and he sat down on the platform and asked God to forgive him and save him. He trusted Jesus Christ twenty some feet in the air.

Suddenly, the lights in the pool area came on. The attendant had come in to check the pool. As Charles looked down from his platform he saw an empty pool which had been drained for repairs. He had almost plummeted to his death, but the cross had stopped him from disaster.

I remember hearing the same story as a youth, except the main player (the hapless diver) was a rich executive who had returned home early from a business trip. He decides to dive into his pool and experiences the same fate as the aforementioned Chuck Murray.   According to the Urban Legends Reference Page, the University of Cincinnati had two Charles Murray's enrolled in the 1960s, but neither of them were at the school in 1967 and neither of them were divers. Also from Urban Legends,

You have to wonder about a university that would grant one of their top athletes -- a guy who's in training for the Olympics -- special pool privileges, then close their pool for repairs and drain it, without even notifying him about their plans. have to wonder about a diver who walks around a pool, climbs up a ladder to a diving platform, and stands overlooking the pool in a building "under a ceiling of glass panes" on a night when "the moon was big and bright" yet didn't once notice the absence of light reflecting from where the water should have been. And you really have to wonder about an experienced diver who plunges into a darkened pool from a high-dive platform without having first checked the water to ensure that there are no objects (such as people) in his landing area.

You've also got to wonder why a diver of Olympic stature isn't concerned about noting the surface of the water - remember that little stream of water that is constantly sprayed onto the surface, creating ripples, in order to give the diver a point of reference?   Now I'm not faulting our interim pastor... he most surely received the story thinking it to be true. Yet a little bit of research can help verify accounts and / or claims that, on the surface, seem a bit too contrived.   Still, what concerns me is just how many people in the congregation, if told about the story's lack of authenticity, would care? Would they be more concerned with whether the story helps make the point the pastor is delivering, or would they think that the story's veracity is more important?   Would people accept the story, simply because it made them feel better?

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