What I Learn From Nikola Tesla

(if you are viewing this via email, the website has a recording of this vignette)


I originally posted this vignette on Facebook back in 2015. Tesla’s life story remains a cautionary tale. A man can be brilliant in some ways, but stupid in others. Shift the fulcrum of pride, and brilliance and stupidity balance differently.

What I Wrote in 2015

In “Wizard: the Life and Times of Nikola Tesla,” Marc Seifer reveals how Tesla’s success was undermined by pride and naiveté. One interesting account is in Chapter 26, “Contact:”

On September 22, 1899, Nikola Tesla wrote his assistant, “Do not worry about me. I am about a century ahead of the other fellows.” Those “other fellows” were pioneers in wireless communications. Two months earlier, Tesla had detected a radio signal at his lab in Colorado Springs. Since Tesla was convinced that “the other fellows” were incapable of producing long-distance transmissions, he attributed the radio signal to INTELLIGENT LIFE ON MARS. He concluded, “I have been the FIRST to hear the greeting of one planet to another.” What a special man! As it turns out, the signal came from his archrival Guglielmo Marconi, who was conducting successful tests of ship-to-ship wireless communications in the English Channel, almost 5,000 miles away! Investors, who valued Marconi’s practical experiments, were merely entertained by Tesla’s brilliant, self-serving demonstrations.

How I Cured a Ticktock Tic

True Story!

Back in college, I developed a nervous habit of looking at my watch every minute or so. I doubt anyone else noticed the habit, but I sure did!

My wristwatch was a cheap old Timex, so here was my solution…. I took the back off and removed the movement and face. Then I disassembled the movement, threw the loose gears in the case, and closed it up. The useless watch went back on my left wrist.

True to form, I’d look down at the watch every minute or so. Every time I looked, I had to laugh at myself. There, under the crystal, were a bunch of loose gears, telling me absolutely nothing. Nothing except, “Hey dumb dumb. Stop looking down here!”

The Background Image
That’s not my watch. Who knows where my “Hey dumb dumb” watch got off to. Somewhere between college and now, I lost it (I really did). I’m tempted to buy a cheap old watch to recreate the college timepiece. Its photograph would replace the background image, created in Photoshop from a couple of Pixabay downloads.

The Limerick
When I first thought of writing this limerick, I immediately came up with lines 1, 2, and 5 (the “A A… A” lines). That left me lines 3 and 4 (the “B B” lines) to tell the whole “how I fixed it” story. Believe it or not, that was the hard part. In the prose above, it took me thirty-six words to say what the limerick says in twelve words! That’s one of the main things I love about writing poetry: the challenge and charm of compression.

Have you ever read the most compressed poem of all? Even I can remember this one:


Ogden Nash

Rose Versus Correction Fluid

The rose puts God’s goodness and beauty on display. To every passer-by, it offers a scent that says “You are loved,” a form that says, “God cares about all His creatures.”

Correction fluid only hides. It hides in its little bottle, which hides in the desk drawer. It only comes out to hide errors. Swabbed on a mistake, it says, “We’d all be better off without you.”

Let’s be roses, not correction fluid.


GENEROSITY: That’s what’s on my squirming Scottish mind. As I observe how Luke deals with wealth in his Gospel and the first few chapters of Acts, I want to say that generosity is one of the chief fruits by which we should be known. Love may be warm and fuzzy; in action it is often green, cold and hard (like cash).

(image built from two images on Pixabay, one by Bru-nO and the other by Gerd Altmann).

My thinking on this subject worked its way into a devotional I did later this month: “Generosity, A Fruit of Godliness.”

Funny Detail at World Missions Center

Today, the Director of the World Missions Center at SWBTS in Fort Worth gave me a great tour of the campus (we’re collaborating on a book for use in Brazil). One fun little thing: in the main foyer of the World Missions Center, the floor is a large map of the world with one color of terrazzo for the land masses and another for the oceans. Dr. Ray pointed out that there are no borders represented EXCEPT for that representing the country of origin of the floor construction foreman: El Salvador. As a lover of maps, I couldn’t help but appreciate this one! I have superimposed a map from Google to show that he was almost on the money (unless he’s actually from western Nicaragua!)

The Cretan Purity Coalition

NOTE: This tongue-in-cheek illustration reflects how I’m pondering the book of Titus.

Since my pastor* has begun a series of sermons on Paul’s letter to Titus, I have been contemplating this book. One of the mysteries (to me) that most commentators (at least those I have read) skip right over is how the false teachers (1:10-16) were deriving “dishonest gain” from their teaching. Was this financial gain? If so, how?

Paul seems to contrast what they were “selling” to the fact that “To the pure all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure.” In the next chapter, Paul remarks that Jesus Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Purity—fruitful purity—was in view. It was anything BUT sterile holiness.

By the way, “Morus alba” is the scientific name for the Fruitless Mulberry. If you have ever stood under a FRUITING Mulberry in early summer, you know how messy they can be. The juicy red and black berries fall to the ground, making ugly splats. Birds eat the berries and then make colorful deposits on parked cars. I like to play around with why my imaginary Cretan Purity Coalition would use the non-messy “fruitless” variety of this tree in their logo….

*Any similarity to Sten-Erik Armitage’s Titus sermon series graphic was accidental (at least on a conscious level).

The Wedge Dividing “Us” From “Them”

I have just about given up on reforming anyone but myself. Even that is ultimately hopeless. But I do hope to cooperate with the One who can and will reform me. In the meantime, here’s one way I represent the wedge of polarization. Absent humility, and given a desire for power that supercedes any desire for peace, there is a self-feeding wedge that divides “us” from “them.”

It’s probably obvious that I had our current President and his political opponents in mind. This was written a day or two after mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. It is my opinion that political “leaders” heighten conflict by their careless and uncharitable words. When they resort to “all or nothing” tactics, it feeds anger and a sense of desperation in the general populace. One could easily conclude that Trump’s remarks foment racism (and ARE racist). But I’d argue that when every word coming out of his mouth is branded as racist, and it’s clear to an objective listener that some of the words are NOT (necessarily) racist, that in itself raises tensions. Civil discourse is incumbent on ALL parties in conflict.

I think the following interview between Ben Shapiro (libertarian) and Jonathan Haidt (left-leaning centrist) is instructive both in the insights of Haidt and the respectful responses of Shapiro:

August 5, 2021 Reflection
It’s interesting to see how I was thinking about divisiveness in August 2019. What changed over the ensuing two years?

  • divisiveness INCREASED and
  • my confidence in pontificating about what is right and what is wrong, what is wisdom and what is foolishness DECREASED

Breakfast and the Broken Mirror


The chaotic dance of ideas in my head is hard to sort out, especially since the mirror by which I reflect on it is shattered. “So, don’t reflect!” says the voice of distraction. “Brush aside that broken mirror. Simply act on what little you do understand! Follow the Master!”

The Master, you say? The Master, as best I recall, was Himself afflicted with the powerful weakness of a human mind. He was so weighed down by thoughts that He needed rest, and at least once fell to the ground along with his sweat like drops of blood. If I’m to follow the Master, should I not expect Him to lead me through similar anguish?

Just now, in a shard of mirrored glass, I saw that one dancer is not to be trusted. He gently offers his right hand, but in a left hand, hidden behind his back, he clenches a vial of poison. Am I really to ignore such glimpses of the dance, not ask the name and origin of the dancer? Should I not at least be wary?

Breakfast calls to me, along with a dozen duties: “Come to me, you who are wary. Brush aside that broken mirror, at least for now.” And I comply.

Postscript: At the beginning of this year, I wrote a three page paper, listing things I’m “churning” about, and shared it with two of my best friends. As I reflect on my current churnings, there may be more bubbles than butter, BUT, reading back over that document, I’m encouraged that there has been progress. If nothing else, I realize more fully now how utterly merciful and gracious God is, how utterly worthless are my efforts apart from Him. Is it useful to churn? The questions in this post are real. The objections are my own! Given my limited intellect, time, and resources, what use is it to reflect on the cacaphony of ideas that fill my head, the chaotic dance I described? Will it make any difference in the long run for one man to become more aware of how much he has absorbed the false, self-contradictory, and idolatrous ideas of his culture?

Struggling with Polarization

Over the last year, I have done a lot of thinking about how society is increasingly polarized, and how Christians get caught up in that trend. Two or three of my efforts to build bridges have been clumsy, and I regret the damage that did. But I don’t think ANYONE has this totally figured out; even the smartest, most spiritually mature people I know sometimes blunder in this area. We’re all slightly myopic (I prefer that to the unnecessarily harsh “blind”). Here are some illustrations that I came up with in the process:

I’m trying to work out an explanation for why very intelligent Christian friends — some conservative, and some liberal — are consumed with ultimately trivial matters. I think it has something to do with how they feed their minds and hearts. I’ve been guilty myself! How about you?
This is a big part of the problem. We prefer talking to listening, expressing our own ideas to exploring the ideas of others.
I don’t know which is worse. But I do know that there’s a lot of both going on, and it is a part (perhaps small) of what is driving people to the political extremes. Everyone has a voice nowadays, which inevitably means that there’s a lot of nonsense out there. “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin.” (Proverbs 10:19, in the version I learned as a child)
I made a comment in the wrong context and then removed it. But it’s really how I feel: “I’m getting sick and tired of people liking and sharing every single story that SEEMS to support their side of debates. Reminds me of children in the school yard, yelling “Fight, fight, fight!”” It’s really more sad than anything. I happen to agree with them in some cases, but don’t care to see friends bathing in hatred.
This was for a recent post. The fascinating thing for me is to try to think of what sins I myself might be downplaying because of my allegiance to certain political ideas. Try it for yourself. If you find it repelling to consider what may be prevalent sins on “your side of the aisle” then you may be as snared — or at least influenced — as I am!

I am INFLUENCED. How about you?

I am just about finished reading an EXCELLENT book by Brian Loritts: Insider Outsider: My Journey as a Stranger in White Evangelicalism and My Hope for Us All. I expect to write more about this book later, but here is a graphic that came to mind while reading this morning. In part, the graphic reflects my gratitude for Loritts’ skillful enlightenment, but it also reflects an insistence on probing deeper for the causes of what Loritts describes.

While Loritts hasn’t touched much on polarization yet in the book, I do think polarization is affecting how readily we embrace one sin or another: if “our side” is for it, then we aren’t going to bad-mouth it, are we? If “our side” is unsympathetic to the suffering of others, then maybe we’ll be just fine with an unloving attitude. If “our side” is for downplaying sexual immorality, then maybe we’ll make sure we aren’t the kind of prudes who are repulsed by sexual immorality.

Reflecting on Loritts’ book also prompted this comment to a friend (how the comment relates to the above is something I haven’t worked out yet, but AM working on!):

I’m trying hard to understand the intersection of Kingdom and culture. That is, which kinds of thinking are RIGHT (aligning with the Kingdom of God), which are WRONG (driven by Satan’s purposes), and which are merely DIFFERENT (benign cultural preferences). In this regard, [name] and I have both found Jonathan Haidt very helpful.

– email to a friend

I know this is undeveloped thinking, but I welcome interaction with friends (and not-yet friends) who would like to reflect on their own journey of self-inspection. How are YOU finding yourself influenced by good, evil, and the indifferent benign*?

*Different from Camus’ “benign indifference?” Let’s think about that…