Monday over Coffee: Your Equation

Your Equation

 

Since I was a kid I’ve admired the genius of H.B. Reese. He was a Pennsylvania dairy farmer before becoming a shipping foreman for chocolatier Milton Hershey. Then, on November 15, 1928, Reese created what would become known as the peanut butter cup. Not long after that, he left his job at Hershey’s to start his own candy business. Reese’s company grew and was later acquired by his former boss. Now Reese’s sits atop the list of the best-selling candy brands in the world. 

 

If you watched television in the 1970s, you’re certainly familiar with Reese’s ads which featured a series of contrived situations in which two people, one eating peanut butter and one eating chocolate, negligently collide into one another. One person would then make the accusation— "You got your peanut butter on my chocolate!" The other, likewise irritated, would reply, “No, you got your chocolate in my peanut butter!" After calming down, the two reckless snackers would then tentatively sample the serendipitous mixture of the two ingredients only to discover they’d found a new favorite confection, both noting with enthusiasm how the two great tastes tasted great together.

 

Walter Isaacson used to be the editor of Time magazine, but now he writes books. Over the last twenty years or so, he’s authored a series called the “Genius Biographies.” In it, he’s written about Benjamin Franklin, Steve Jobs, Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, and more recently Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist who’s done pioneering work on genetic coding. In researching these biographies, Isaacson seems to have put his finger on something. His recurring theme is that very intelligent people are all around us, but true genius emerges in how an accomplished individual combines his or her gifts together. 

 

For instance, Isaacson notes that while Benjamin Franklin lacked the intellectual firepower, leadership qualities, or philosophical depth of Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, or James Madison, his pragmatic and influential work crossed over and into a number of  unrelated fields, spanning a number of different vocations all at once. In this way, Franklin as an inventor, a diplomat, a scientist, a humorist, a writer, and a business strategist ended up influencing American culture as much as just about anyone. 

 

Einstein, a physicist, would often pick up his violin and play when he became stuck on a mathematical equation. His genius for creative scientific thinking seemed somehow connected to and energized by music. Steve Jobs, though enthralled by technology, audited college classes on both calligraphy and dance. He believed that elegance in design mattered, intuitively understanding that the arts and sciences were beautifully inter-connected. Overseeing the innovation and development of Apple’s products, he combined them into a single thing in a way that’s changed the world. Doudna has combined her life-long passion for detective stories and her devotion to the pursuit of scientific inquiry to likewise revolutionize the fields of genetics and biochemistry. She sees it all as a mystery to be solved. Finally, Da Vinci’s unsurpassed genius was that he could think like the world’s greatest scientist and one of its greatest artists at the same time.

 

Again, Isaacson believes there are lots of smart people around, but has found that some of the most astonishing discoveries are made and some of the most compelling moments in life occur when people identify two of their sometimes quite disparate passions and creatively put them together in some new way. Sometimes we even stumble into the combining of two of our distinct talents like the hapless folks who collided into one another with their chocolate and their peanut butter.

 

Be open to this. Attend this. Give some real thought to how your interests, your passions, and your God-given gifts might flow through, mix, and combine with each other. Perhaps identify two separate things you have a knack for that seem totally unrelated. Maybe one is practical and one is artistic. Maybe one is secular in nature and the other is sacred. Maybe you have a way of combining your faith and a sense of hospitality. Maybe that’s how God intends to speak into the world through you. Perhaps you have an intuitive grasp of numbers, but also a clever or humorous way of making them understood to the rest of us. This is something folks could use in an increasingly complicated world. The combinations are almost endless.

 

Here, I’ll leave an equation of sorts for you with blanks. Consider two of your gifts, your passions, or just your developing interests. Now give some thought and say a prayer over how the equation might come out if you combined them in a way that only you can. The answer, in the end, reveals God’s unique genius in making…you.

 

_______ +  _______ = ___________

 

God—Help me with my equation.

Amen.
 
 

—Greg Funderburk


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