Now that’s a story to tell   

Dec 2003    


INSPIRATIONAL stories from the Internet: who hasn’t been flooded with them?

There’s one about Farmer Fleming, a poor Scotsman who one day heard a cry for help and ran to save a boy from drowning in the bog. The next day, the boy’s father, a nobleman, pulled up in a fancy carriage and offered payment. The farmer refused. Then the farmer’s son came out of the family hovel and the nobleman made an offer to educate the farmer’s son. And as the story goes, the farmer’s son went on to graduate from St Mary’s Hospital Medical School and then discovered penicillin (did I mention the son’s name was Alexander?)

Years later, the nobleman’s son, not content with being rescued from drowning, got himself stricken with penumonia and had to be saved by penicillin. The story ends with the nobleman’s name – Lord Randolph Churchill. And the name of his son who found succour in both Farmer Fleming and Sir Alexander Fleming? Sir Winston Churchill.

One good turn deserves another (and another). What an inspirational story. What a pity it is complete bunkum. The Winston Churchill Centre in Washington, D.C, says this is a myth, as does Churchill’s official biographer, Sir Martin Gilbert. Lord Moran, Churchill’s physician, said that he treated Churchill’s pneumonia with sulphonamide, not penicillin. All this hasn’t stopped the story from making its rounds.

Or how about the one with the atheist professor at the University of Southern California who challenges students about their faith. The professor makes Christians stand up, and says if God really exists He could prevent chalk from breaking. The professor then goes on to drop and break a piece of chalk on the floor. The Christians are made to look like fools. This goes on for 20 years until a particular Christian joins the class. This student stands up to be counted, the chalk is dropped, but then it slides, bounces and rolls off the professor’s clothes and finally ends up on the floor unbroken. The professor rushes from the room in shame, and this student (no doubt a Methodist) preaches the Gospel to the 300 other students in the room.

Unfortunately, although inspirational, the story as it stands is fiction. There is actually a statement on the University of Southern California’s website debunking this urban legend. There is a similar but true story involving a glass flask that occurred in a chemistry class at Allegheny College, in Pennsylvania in the 1920s. But that’s another story.

These and many other fictitious stories are regularly circulated by well-meaning people out to spread some hope, love and joy in the lives of their friends and family. They are unaware, in some instances unconcerned, that these stories are fictitious. I don’t really mind receiving such imaginary stories, because it means that somewhere out there someone is thinking about me with good intentions.

I also have nothing against imaginary stories in general; I read lots of fiction. Imaginary stories can help illustrate a point you want to make. We need imaginary stories for laughs — most of our jokes are made-up stories. But I am not sure we need imaginary stories for inspiration.

Imaginary stories passed off as true do not become altogether uninspiring once they are revealed as fiction. But I feel they lose a certain quality. Why disguise imaginary stories as the truth? You do not have to resort to lies to inspire people. It is the truth that inspires.

We all need to be more discerning with what is true and what is false. The apostle Peter, in the second chapter of his second letter in the Bible, warns of false teachers who introduce destructive heresies. “In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up.” (2 Peter 2:3).

On the other hand, Peter insists that where the disciples are concerned, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16).

Let me tell you a true story that will inspire you, one which you can and should spread to everyone you know. Long, long ago, in a land far, far away, when people were estranged from God and dead to sin, when Death waited eagerly to reap the souls of men, God himself came down as a little baby to bring hope and relief to his people. The small baby’s name was Jesus.

Oh wait, you already know this story …
(For those of you who would like to check out the veracity of stories before circulation, you may want to visit www.truthorfiction.com or www.snopes.com).

The Rev Chiang Ming Shun is an Assistant Pastor at Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.



‘Imaginary stories passed off as true do not become altogether uninspiring once they are revealed as fiction. But I feel they lose a certain quality. Why disguise imaginary stories as the truth? You do not have to resort to lies to inspire people. It is the truth that inspires.’


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