Violin lost on train: Wake-up call for us all?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Crisis on the footbridge
As the 12:18 from Paddington pulled inRobert Napier to the Great Bedwyn station on Tuesday, January 29, 2008, Rob Napier, 67, gathered his coat and briefcase as usual and prepared to disembark. Only when Rob was on the footbridge and the train was pulling away did he remember the violin he had left on the luggage rack above his seat. And not just any violin: it was fashioned in 1698 by the Venetian master craftsman Matteo Goffriller. Its bow, made by Eugene Sartory of Paris, had been in Rob’s family for more than a century.

Rob explained: “It was the first time I had been on one of the new, fast trains to Bedwyn, and as I got off I was just thinking about the train and whether it would fit on the platform. I just wasn't thinking about the violin. I half thought of jumping over the bridge on the roof of the train, but thought better of it.” Rob immediately alerted the staff of the railway’s lost property office, who telephoned ahead to Taunton, the next stop. A search there revealed the violin was already gone.

Elizabeth HuntViolin had a history
Rob, his two brothers, and two sisters inherited the valuable instrument from their mother, Elizabeth Hunt, who died in 2006 at age 93. As a professional violinist, she had been a member in the 1930s and 1940s of the well-known all-female Ebsworth String Quartet. She had purchased the instrument in 1945 because she wanted an instrument matching the quality used by her colleagues. Elizabeth took the Goffriller with her on trips to India, Africa, and Germany.

Normalcy was costly
Rob had just retrieved the violin from a London expert who had valued the instrument at £180,000 (about $390,000 or €225,000). As he got on the train for the 70-mile (115-km) journey, Rob explained, “I put it on the luggage rack above my seat. I thought I couldn’t possibly forget it, and I didn’t want to appear different. I was trying to behave normally. I’m not a particularly forgetful person.”

“It was one of those terrible moments when I realised, as the train was steaming off, that I had left it on the train,” Rob said. “I think you can imagine the awful, kind of pit-in-your-stomach feeling.”

The frantic, futile search
“We went hunting for it,” Rob continued. “My wife and I drove through all the stations and left notices for it, and my sister and my cousin did the whole journey on the train the next day, but time has gone by and nothing's happened. My brothers and sisters have been very understanding, but that doesn't hide the disappointment."

Taking a new approach
After months of discrete inquiries, many phone calls, and much correspondence, the violin is still missing. That’s why Rob and the insurance company, Allianz, decided to go public, offering a £10,000 reward (about $20,000 or €12,000) for the return of the violin, even though they risk alerting the thief to its real value.

“The chances are that somebody has it without realising quite what it is,” Rob said. “We just want it back. Quite aside from its value, it has tremendous sentimental value.” Rob was about to lend it to his cousin, Libby Wallfisch, also a professional musician.

“It is very sad,” said Rob’s wife Clare. “In fact, it’s a disaster. We are just praying it turns up.”

Can you relate?
Put yourself on that train as the countryside whizzes past at more than 100 miles per hour. You sit down focused on your mission of getting the prized violin back home to Kingsbury Street, Marlborough. You try to act normal, though you are very nervous, hoping no one is watching and plotting to steal it. You look around. No one seems to take any notice of you or the battered violin case on the rack above you. You open The Times and begin to read. The vibration of the speeding train lulls you into a stupor, just like the commutes you have done for years and years. You turn the page. Oh, this looks interesting, you tell yourself. By the time the train begins to slow to a stop, you are mentally asleep, prisoner to your travel routine, forgetting what made this journey special. You pick up your briefcase and coat, and step onto the platform, eager to get to your auto.

This incident prompts me to wonder what other valuable things we let slip through our hands through inattention or neglect.

Losing your valuables
Here is your spouse, your companion through triumph and trial, with Train of Your Lifewhom you have not had an evening’s conversation in weeks. There are your two kids, who seldom get your full attention, even when they address you directly and passionately. Your Bible (now, where is it, again?) you have set aside, though you are a voracious reader. Your reputation, your integrity, and your values are all strewn here and there around you. Your spirituality, which seemed so promising and enriching when it was young, you toss onto the overhead rack as you settle into your seat. All the while, the train of your life shakes and rattles you into a stupor, as it streaks toward eternity. You yawn. Your routine is giving you amnesia to what is precious.

Make your own list. What is priceless but neglected in your life? What would you spend the rest of your days trying to regain if you let it slip away due to careless inattention?

Preventable tragedy
How differently the story would have ended if Rob had placed the violin case in his lap instead of on the luggage rack! What’s the lesson for us? Stay in constant contact with whatever you value. Spend time conversing with your spouse every day. Get down on the level of your kids, and stop the multi-tasking. Devote yourself to reading, reflecting on, memorizing, and sharing the Scriptures regularly. Evaluate you reputation, assess your integrity, explore and refine your values constantly. Take time to invest in your spiritual life, every day. Keep in constant contact with what is precious to you. Don’t let anyone or anything steal them away.

The biblical warning is clear: “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away…. How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:1, 3).

Want to go deeper?

Here are some passages to look at regarding "watching" and "guarding":

  • Neglect: Psalm 119:16; Matthew 23:23, par. Luke 11:42; Acts 6:2; 1 Timothy 4:14.

  • Staying spiritually awake and paying attention: Matthew 25:13, par. Mark 13:33, 35, 37 & Luke 21:36; 26:41, par. Mark 14:34, 37, 38; Acts 20:31; Romans 13:11; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Ephesians 5:8-17; 6:18; Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-8; 2 Timothy 4:5; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 4:7; 2 John 1:8; Revelation 3:1-3; 16:15.

Recommended for purchase:

Victor E. Frankl. Man's Search for Meaning (Rev. ed., 2000) – Between 1942 and 1945 psychiatrist Viktor Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the stories of his many patients, he argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. He outlines his resulting unique method of therapy, known as "Logotherapy," designed to help subjects to discover what is their purpose for living.

Note: A quick survey of the following two books tells me they have forms you can use to keep up with how you are doing spiritually. As always, I don't necessarily recommend everything they teach. Part of "going deeper" is developing your own spiritual discernment.

Craig Groeschel. Chazown: A Different Way to See Your Life (2006) – Packed with storytelling, graphics, in-your-face honesty, bite-sized chapterettes, step-by-step guidance, surprising self-assessments, and irresistable energy in a fast-paced style that will drive you forward with purpose.

Rick Warren. The Purpose-Driven Life Journal (2003) – Featuring quotes from The Purpose Driven Life, space to record your daily prayers, and a host of inspiring Scripture readings. Each of the journal's five sections ends with a topical "spiritual health assessment" to encourage you onward towards a life of purpose.

Online Resources:

Harold G. Koenig, M.D. "Spiritual Assessment in Medical Practice" (2001)

Gowri Anandaraja, M.D., & Ellen Hight, M.D. "Spirituality and Medical Practice: Using the HOPE Questions as a Practical Tool for Spiritual Assessment" (2001)

As inadequate as these are from a biblical perspective, they at least provide a starting place for spiritual self-assessment. See 2 Corinthians 13:5.

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Text and Context: Can we understand the Bible?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008
reading the BibleHave you ever had an argument about the meaning of a biblical text, and the other person complained, “You’re taking it out of context.” What does that mean? Does it really make that much of a difference?

Context defined
It is true: the meaning of a biblical passage is largely determined by its context, which we usually understand to be the words, clauses, and sentences surrounding the “target text.” A better way to think of it, however, is as a series of rings that surround the “target text” and become ever wider as they move away from it.

Internal and external contexts
Context consists of internal context, internal to the Bible, which includes the paragraph in which the target text occurs, then the section of the book it is in, then the entire book, the other writings of the same author, the entire testament, and the other testament. But context also consists of an external context, which includes the geographical, historical, and cultural circumstances at the time the text was composed.
rings of context
The more you know about each of these rings, the easier it will be for you to interpret the “target text” correctly. Of course, by “correctly,” I mean the way the author intended it to be understood.

Example: Jesus the warrior?
Here’s a brief example. In Matthew 10:34, Jesus says, “Do not suppose I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Does this mean that He intends to raise an army of warriors and start a political revolution? The context is against that jesus as soldierinterpretation. In the immediate context, we find him saying that the decision of whether or not to follow Him will divide families, and those who choose to become His disciples must take up a cross (Matt. 10:35-39), not a sword.

Parallel passage illuminates
As we go farther away, in Matt. 26:51-56, we find Jesus rebuking a disciple for using a sword to try to prevent Him from being arrested. Jesus tells the man to put away his sword, warning, “All who draw the sword will die by the sword.” He then asks the mob, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?” The obvious answer is no.

Evidence from the Semon on the Mount
At about the same distance from the target text is the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 through 7). In chapter 5, Jesus tells his disciples to love their enemies, do good to those who abuse them, and pray for those who misuse them. Specifically he speaks of going two miles with one who forces them to go one, which the historical background informs us was just what the Roman occupying force was doing in Palestine.

No armed resistance in the Garden
Going out a little further, we encounter the passage in Luke that is parallel to the target text--Luke 12:51: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” We know this is a true parallel passage because Jesus goes on to talk once more about division within a family (verses 52-53). When you put the saying in Matthew side by side with the one in Luke, you will see that instead of ‘sword,’ Luke has ‘division.’ In other words, in Matthew’s version, Jesus uses ‘sword’ as a metaphor with the meaning of “division.” Luke just has the literal meaning without the metaphor. You can understand why he might have wanted to avoid the confusion.

Range of meanings with degrees of probability
The more we explore the context, and the more every piece of evidence points in the same direction, the more confident we can be about our interpretation. Of course, sometimes a passage is more ambiguous than Matt. 10:34, forcing us to investigate both the internal and the external contexts long and hard. In such cases, we may lay out a range of meanings and assign to each a degree of probability relative to its alternatives. Many or all of the rules of interpretation might come into play before we can make a confident decision.

Deciding not to decide
Rarely, the probabilities are fairly even, driving us to say with a shrug, “At this point, with the level of spiritual maturity that I have and knowing what I know, I can’t decide which interpretation is correct.” But even this unsatisfying result is better than saying it doesn’t matter or they are all equally valid. It matters, and perhaps later on, when you return to a passage with more information and more experience as an interpreter, the meaning will become clear.

Consult a commentary?
In the mean time, you might take a look at a good biblical commentary, which will lay out the options and walk you through the reasoning process of making a good choice among them. As a spiritual exercise, however, it is best to start with your own analysis, rather than running to a commentary whenever you want to understand a passage. Over-dependence on commentaries stunts your growth as a thinking believer and exposes you to the danger of swallowing everything a commentary feeds you, even if it is wrong.

If you do your own thinking first, then you can dialogue with the commentary, finding either confirmation or correction of your own conclusions, or else telling yourself that the arguments the commentary is making are bogus for reasons x, y, and z.

--Steve Singleton

Want to go deeper?

The area of hermeneutics (the art and science of interpretation according to established principles) is the subject of a great deal of scholarly work right now, and hot controversies rage regarding which principles are legitimate and which are not.

Recommended for purchase:

Can We Solve the 666 Puzzle? Using Interpretation Principles to Illuminate One of the Darkest Verses of the Bible by Steve Singleton. Read excerpt. This is an example of how I apply hermeneutics to interpret a difficult passage.

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., and Moisés Silva An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics (1993) Read excerpt.

Grant Osborne. The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (2nd ed., 2006) Read "Context" chapter.

Online Resources:

Beau Abernathy. "Principles of Interpretation" (2005?)

Frederic W. Farrar History of Interpretation (1886)

Pastrick Fairbairn. Hermeneutical Manual: Intro. to Exegetical Study of NT (1859)

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