I want to begin by telling two stories. Both may be familiar to you. But I'll summarize them before drawing out a few implications for preachers and teachers.
The first story features CBS anchorman Dan Rather. In September 2004, Rather aired a report on 60 Minutes alleging that when President George W. Bush served in the National Guard, he received special privileges while often shirking his duty. This revelation was based upon newly released documents, reports written by Bush's supervisor in the Guard. Rather's story, coming only two months before a presidential election, appeared to undermine Bush's credibility and electability.
Within hours, skilled experts chimed in, contending the documents were fake. Rather's story was discredited and his reputation as a journalist took a hit. What caused Rather's stumble? His failure to check his sources for their truthfulness, passing on falsehoods as if they were true, because he just didn't do his homework.
Stories I'd rather not tell
My second story concerns a young man named Teddy Stallard, who has mistakenly been called Teddy Stoddard by some who relate his tale. Teddy was the kind of kid who strained the mercy of any teacher. His messiness and unpleasantness quickly worked their dark magic on Miss Thompson, who just didn't like the little brat. In time she enjoyed giving Teddy bad grades on his consistently poor homework.
But when Miss Thompson checked Teddy's permanent records, she discovered he had been a fine student until his mother died of a terminal illness a couple of years earlier. Miss Thompson's shame over her misjudgment of Teddy grew when, at Christmastime, the hurting boy gave her some perfume that had belonged to his mother. When Miss Thompson put it on, Teddy told her that she smelled just like his mother used to. At that moment the teacher's heart was forever changed toward Teddy. Miss Thompson invested countless hours in Teddy, helping him improve in his schoolwork and clean up his personal life. Her devotion paid off as Teddy began to turn his life around.
Years later Miss Thompson received rich rewards for her effort, rewards that came in the form of letters from Teddy. One letter arrived when Teddy graduated from high school near the top of his class. One came when he graduated with honors from college. The last letter arrived when he finished medical school and was about to get married. This note was signed, "Theodore F. Stallard, M.D." In all his notes, Teddy credited Miss Thompson with changing his life by believing in him.
What a touching story! I first heard it from a guest preacher at my church. Not only was I moved, but also I resolved once again to love the unlovely people in my life, no matter how much they bugged me. The story of Teddy and Miss Thompson haunted me for days, so I decided to do a little research on the Internet. Maybe there was even more to the story than I knew.
My Google search revealed many fascinating tidbits about Teddy. His story appeared in dozens of sermons, no doubt representing hundreds or even thousands of sermons that were not posted online. One well known preacher claimed to know Teddy personally. Now there's a lucky man, I thought. An educational website had pictures of Teddy, both as a boy and as a young man on the day of his wedding. I also discovered something utterly fascinating about Teddy Stallard-there was no Teddy Stallard (or Stoddard, or whatever).