Poor Elisha Grey (guest post)
by Ron Walters
Grey, an Illinois electrical engineer, brainstormed an idea, morphed it into form, and after he proved its worth, sat on the idea for two years, all because of bad advice.
But…I’m getting ‘way ahead of myself.
In 1874, on an otherwise ordinary day, Elisha Grey walked into the sanctuary of the Highland Park Presbyterian Church and made history. He strung a large spool of telegraph wire throughout the church in an effort to create the telephone—a Greek word: tele, meaning “far away”, and phone, meaning “voice”. Grey believed two people could speak with each other from distant points using nothing but liquid-based microphones and wire.
Low and behold, the crazy thing worked. Crowded pews of gapping onlookers were wowed by the success. The sound of the first telephone was born—and in a church no less!
But Grey had a much harder time swaying his investors with his ingenious product. And, based upon the bad advice of his dentist who thought the telephone was “a waste of investor’s money,” Grey’s prototype went nowhere. Some people just don’t get it!
However, after two years of painful delay, a self-determined Elisha Grey packed up his notes and stormed the halls of the United States Patent Office to file paperwork on his invention. He was anxious to tell the patent committee all about his success in the Highland Park Church sanctuary.
Unfortunately, during that lost time, another inventor had been working on a similar concept. And as Grey unveiled his story to the committee, he learned that Alexander Graham Bell had dropped off his own plans and applied for a telephone patent just two hours earlier.
(Insert mirific name calling, accusations and litigation.)
Although Bell’s plans did not include a working model, nor did his conceptual prototype ever work, the courts found in Bell’s favor and rewarded him the rights to the telephone invention—all because Grey was two hours late with his presentation.
He had left his idea hanging in the sanctuary.
But bad choices are not limited to inventions. They can come in the form of words too.
For example, in November of 1863, the Honorable Edward Everett gave the opening address at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, PA. Everett’s brain-numbing rhetoric droned on for two full hours. When Everett finished, President Abraham Lincoln was invited to speak. Two minutes later he’d given the most memorable speech in American history—The Gettysburg Address.
Lincoln’s words will live thru time. Everett’s words died at the cemetery.
The same can be said of Jesus and His ever-present nemesis, the rabbinic fraternity. While they loved to exegete The Law, Jesus simply came to fulfill it. While they tried to handcuff their listeners, Jesus set His free. While they wanted confessions, He offered compassion. Big difference!
The Pharisees had a one-size-fits-all approach to ministry, but Jesus customized His for each person and every audience. To the hurting, He spoke of hope. At a funeral, He spoke of life. To the blind, He spoke of light. To the leper, He offered His healing touch. And the people loved Him for it.
The Pharisees’ words were left hanging in the sanctuary while His changed the world!
There’s a great summation in Jesus’ prayer of John 17. “The words that You gave to Me, I have given to them.” Jesus’ teaching was filled with the Father’s words, and therefore, full of power. They were irresistible. They revolutionized lives—then and now. That’s because, more than any others, the Father’s words have staying power. They hit their target.
Our pulpit work is not your average nine-to-five. It shines light into darkness. It pumps life into hardened hearts. Like Jesus, we want our words to count. We get it! And because we do, our words will never be left in the sanctuary.
Vice President of Church Relations
© Copyright 2008 by Ron Walters