Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Images of Greatness

When I was in 7th grade, one of my class projects was "Images of Greatness". The purpose was to do extended research on a person we considered to be great. Then, near the end of the year, we would dress up like our person and offer clues to the audience who had gathered (mostly parents). We would end our speech with a standard question: "Who Am I?" The audience would call out the famous person's name after the question was asked. Almost every person was easily identifiable, if not by their costume than by the descriptive clues offered by the 12-year olds. (It's not difficult to find distinguishing costumes for Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jordan, Ben Franklin, or Betsy Ross.)

However, there was one obscure "famous" person that stumped the entire crowd. My friend Matt chose his great uncle as his image of greatness. Matt spoke of how his great uncle had won the Nobel Peace Prize and was credited with saving over 1 billion people from certain death due to starvation and famine. He gave clues about how this man grew up the small town of Cresco, IA and eventually became a world-renown leader in agronomy and would be called the "Grandfather of the Green Revolution." He had recently started the World Food Prize to recognize other people who were finding ways to improve food security in developing nations. The list went on and on. The biographical clues were thorough. Matt's attire - denim and flannel with a straw hat on his head and a stalk of wheat in his mouth - was spot-on.

And yet when he asked "Who Am I?"...the crowd was silent.

The audience members looked around with confused looks on their faces. Certainly someone in the crowd had heard of this man's heroic feats. Finally, Matt's parents both exclaimed, "NORMAN BORLAUG" as the audience nodded with equal parts embarrassment and awe.

I received similar responses yesterday when I told some of my friends that Dr. Borlaug had passed away on Sunday night at the age of 95. In one sense, it's a shame that more people don't know about this life-saving miracle worker who worked tirelessly to end world hunger. On the other hand, it's rare to find genuine humility in a truly great man.

Dr. Borlaug's life (along with the lectionary text from Mark 9:30-37) is the subject of a Faith Lens study that I wrote for the ELCA. You can read it here. The New York Times ran his obituary on Monday. Borlaug will be honored with a memorial service at Texas A&M University on October 6. Let's give God thanks for the life and ministry of this true image of greatness.

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