A Pebble, a Broomstick, and the Color Brown
Walla Walla College
April 15, 2004

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There's about 800 of you here, and I get to talk to you for about quarter of an hour. So a quarter of an hour multiplied by 800 is 200 hours. That's a lot of time; I hope I don't waste it. Because of the importance of this time, I thought very hard about what I would share with you. As a biology major, I spend most of my time in Rigby Hall thinking about Science. The relationship between faith and Science is a very important issue in our church today. However, I only have this one opportunity to speak to you, [PAUSE] so if it's alright with you, I would like to share with you what has made the biggest difference in my life here at Walla Walla College.

A pebble... (Taken from The Heart of the Enlightened, by Anthony de Mello)

Long, long ago, in a far, far away place called Alexandria, there once was a great library. Unfortunately, it caught fire one day and burned to the ground. Out of all the thousands of books in that library, only one survived. It was a dull and uninteresting book, so it was sold for a few pennies to a poor man who barely knew how to read.

Now that book, dull and uninteresting as it seemed, was probably the most valuable book in all the world, for on the inside of the back cover were scrawled in large, round letters, a few sentences revealing the secret of the Touchstone - a tiny pebble that could turn anything it touched into pure gold.

The writing declared that this precious pebble was lying somewhere on the shore of the Black Sea among thousands of other pebbles that were exactly like it, except for one detail - whereas all the other pebbles were cold to the touch, this one was warm as if it were alive. The man sold everything he had, borrowed a large sum of money, and went straight to the Black Sea. There he set up his tent and began a painstaking search for the Touchstone.

The man reasoned that if he picked up each stone, felt it, and put it back on the beach, he might unintentionally feel the same stone again and again. To avoid this repetition, he tossed each pebble into the sea. And so he began: Lift a pebble; feel that it was cold, throw it into the sea; lift another pebble; feel that it was cold, throw it into the sea... and so on, endlessly.

He spent a week, a month, ten months, a whole year, patiently feeling each stone and tossing it into the sea. Then he borrowed even more money and kept at it for another two years. On and on he went: lift a pebble; feel that it was cold; throw it into the sea. Hour after hour; day after day; week after week… still no Touchstone. Until one evening he picked up a pebble, and it was warm to the touch! But through sheer force of habit, he threw it into the sea.


The color brown...
[I move a chair out to the edge of the platform and sit down.]

Our minds filter our perceptions. Imagine what it would be like to absorb everything around you. For example, you would be aware of the sound of my voice, the tag of your shirt scratching the back of your neck, the growling stomach of the person next to you, the tightness of your shoes, the blood pulsing through your left ear - everything. You wouldn't be able to function. Since we can't pay attention to everything, you have to wonder, how much can we really take in?


If it's OK with you, I would like to try an experiment. In order for this experiment to work, we have to close our eyes. [I close my eyes and cover them with my hands] In a moment I'm going to have you open your eyes and notice absolutely everything that is the color brown. Look behind you, above, beneath, at the person next to you - everywhere you can see. Remember, the object is to notice as many things as you can that are the color brown. I'm only going to take a few seconds to do this, and then we'll close our eyes again. Are you ready?


OK, open your eyes. The walls are brown, the pews are a shade of brown, someone has brown hair, maybe the person next to you is wearing something brown. Look! My pants are brown. Brown, brown, brown. Keep looking… OK, close your eyes again.

Now, without opening your eyes, I want you to think of how many things you saw that were the color GREEN. You can't think of very many, can you? OK, you can open your eyes now. It was hard to think of anything that was the color green because we were looking for things that were the color brown.

The broomstick... [I get up from the chair and get the broomstick]

When I started college my freshman year, my life felt something like this. [I begin to balance the end of the broomstick on my hand] I tried very hard to be balanced, but it took a lot of effort on my part. My life was unstable, and it only took a little push [I bump the broomstick with my other hand and it falls] and my life would fall apart. With practice, I got better at it, but it made me tired and wore me out.


Fortunately, I learned a better way at the beginning of my sophomore year. All my life I had heard and sung the words, "Seek first the Kingdom of God…" It took 20 years of hearing those words to finally understand what they meant. "Seek first" means we should take the time we need to seek God, not the time we have. Even if it meant not studying and not doing my homework, I chose to spend the time I needed with God. If I did nothing else, at least I would have accomplished the one thing that was most important.

It was a scary decision - I felt like my life had turned upside down [I turn the broom over]. An amazing thing happened though - if I missed a homework assignment, it was postponed; if I didn't finish studying for a test, the information I didn't learn wouldn't be on the test. Instead of my grades getting worse, they got better. I don't know why God chose to honor my decision in this way, but He did. Job put God first and he lost everything. God doesn't promise us an easy problem-free life. However, if we anchor our lives at the top, in God [I now hold the top of the broom handle and let it hang down], He will give us peace and stability. If we bump into something hard, instead of falling apart, our lives will fall back into place. All we have to do is anchor ourselves in God, and everything else will fall into place.


Here are three lessons I would like to leave you with:

The pebble: Our habits are very powerful. If we have bad habits, we may throw away the very thing we are looking for.

The color brown: To a great extent, what we are looking for determines what we will find. If we look for problems in life, we will find them. But God has promised us that if we seek Him, we will find Him.

The Broomstick: Where we are anchored makes all the difference. If our lives are anchored at the bottom, in the things of this world, they will be unstable and fall apart. But if we anchor our lives at the top, in God, they will be filled with peace.

If there is one thing that is most important, it is this: Seek first the Kingdom of God - take the time you need, not the time you have.

Thank you for your time.

Special Thanks to:
Jeremy Wageman for ideas
Carrie Ojanen for proof-reading
Doug Houghton and Matt Johns for previewing
Andrew Cockerham
Hanns Rookstool for his broom

Original video

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