Talking plants? Recent studies have shown that plants can communicate through airborne chemicals and underground networks of fungi. They can even warn neighboring plants about dangers in their environment. And we’ve gone millennia without knowing this!
Walt Disney, founder of the Disney Corporation, is one of the most well-known names in the world. Yet it’s possible we wouldn’t know this name had it not been for a painful rejection. In 1919, while working as an editor, Disney was fired because, according to his boss, he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Only a few years later, Disney founded his company, which would go on to become one of the largest and most renowned businesses in the world. What seemed like a setback actually paved the way for Disney’s success.
Movie director James Cameron has been responsible for some of the most popular movies of all time: The Terminator, Titanic, Avatar, and others. But what many people don’t know is that far from being removed from the details of filmmaking, Cameron is heavily involved with almost every aspect of the process, from cinematography to creative design. Drawing from his earlier experience as a designer, Cameron even played a key role in developing some of the fantastic special effects that are the centerpiece of his most famous films.
The sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic seems like a woeful tale of inevitability. But the truth remains that the demise of the massive ship could have been prevented had its crew listened to others. Ships in the area had tried to warn the Titanic that they were steaming into a field of ice, but the radio operator was so overwhelmed with work that he disregarded these messages and famously wired back, “Shut up, shut up. I am busy . . .” (a comical response had it not been for its catastrophic consequences).
One of my favorite Old Testament professors once shared this startling statistic: 40 percent of the psalms in the Bible are songs of lament in which the authors present their heartache and pain to God. But in the catalog of modern worship music, only 5 percent of songs could be considered lament, even by the most generous standards. My prof believes that part of the reason we don’t know how to lament is because modern worship tends to focus more on celebration and less on lamentation.
In 2013, a jet crashed in San Francisco, resulting in three tragic deaths. One young woman died not from injuries caused by the crash, but from being run over by a rescue vehicle that rushed to the scene. City authorities conducted an investigation and determined that the death was accidental and that the driver would not face criminal charges. But the board of the airline involved took a very different approach to this tragedy: They called a public press conference and bowed low in apology. Even though they may not have been individually responsible for the girl’s death, they felt they shared responsibility as the leaders of the company.
If you watch Orthodox Jews pray at the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem, you might wonder about the leather band wrapped around their forearms and the box strapped to their heads. The objects are called the tefillin, worn during a prayer ritual that some believe dates back to the time of Moses (Deuteronomy 6:6-8). The process to don the tefillin is very elaborate and must be performed in an exacting manner. This illustrates that in Jesus’ time, Jewish prayer was very focused on the “how”—praying in a specific way.
On the fourth Thursday in November, US citizens celebrate Thanksgiving Day. History reveals that for the first few years after the English pilgrims made their home in the New World, they were beset by famine and cold—surviving only through the assistance of friendly Native Americans. And so when they were finally able to have a plentiful harvest in 1621, they celebrated Thanksgiving as a way of remembering both the blessings and the hardships they’d endured.
Many believers in Jesus are well acquainted with the traditional Christmas carol “We Three Kings of Orient Are” by John Henry Hopkins, Jr. What many might not realize is that the book of Matthew never specifies how many “wise men” there were—only that there were “some” (Matthew 2:1). The idea that there were three wise men developed over the course of church history, but that number isn’t universally accepted. In fact, Syriac Christian churches celebrate no less than twelve visitors from the east!
As a pastor, I’ve seen this happen on several occasions during a service: a mother hears a faint cry from beyond the sanctuary, gets up, walks toward the rear of the room, and immediately goes to the nursery where her child is being cared for. Without anyone telling her, she knew that it was her baby who cried out and she needed to go and relieve the childcare volunteer by providing care for her precious child. Studies have shown that mothers are especially attuned to the cries of their own children and can often identify their kid’s cries from those of other children with 100 percent accuracy!
The book Ulysses by James Joyce is often hailed as a masterpiece of modern fiction, but to some it’s a strange if not wholly incomprehensible book. Joyce himself was considered odd as well. His preferred writing position was to lie down on his stomach and use an oversized pencil, his face only inches away from the page. Many viewed this as nothing more than the curious behavior of a strange man. But the fact is that there was good reason behind his behavior: Joyce was nearly blind and was forced to write in this manner in order to see the page clearly.
There are few events of greater historical significance in the 20th century than China’s Cultural Revolution. The Communist Party instituted changes at every level of society to enforce its ideology. These included the persecution of the nation’s Christians, with many sent to labor camps. It’s estimated that the Cultural Revolution resulted in the death of 30 million Chinese people and forced the church underground. But decades later, it turns out that the efforts to wipe out Christianity had the opposite effect. Experts believe that there are more Christians worshiping in underground churches in China than there are total believers in the US!
To Kill a Mockingbird is a much-loved story about two young children coming of age in the American South, a region wracked by racial conflict and injustice during much of the 20th century. Fans were thrilled when a follow-up novel by author Harper Lee was released. But in Go Set a Watchman, readers were dismayed to find that a beloved and honorable character in the first book had transformed into an unapologetic racist in his later years. This twist forces the reader to confront the character’s evolving beliefs, as well as their own.
Ulfberht. No, that’s not a typo. It’s the name for a special type of Viking sword that far exceeded the quality of any other European sword of its era. Where other swords would shatter, Ulfberhts were able to bend and still keep their edge. This was a huge advantage on the field of battle, where one’s life depended on the quality of his blade. Modern-day researchers have discovered that what made these swords so special was the extreme heat in which they were forged. The high temperature allowed for more impurities to be removed, resulting in a far stronger and more flexible blade.
While doing research for a sermon, I stumbled upon a curious creature—the “Jesus Christ lizard.” That’s another name for the common basilisk, a small lizard from South America that’s able to run on its rear legs on the surface of water. This might seem like a miracle, but the basilisk is able to accomplish this feat because of the skin between its toes, allowing it to float on the water for the briefest of moments. Without those flaps of skin, the common basilisk would be, well, common!