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On Higher Ground

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By Bill Horner

A gracious attitude reflects the character of God

 

“The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious, but the lips of a fool shall swallow him up” (Ecclesiastes 10:12).

I knew I had a real find—a record album of Roger Williams with his 1960’s-era Top 40 hit “Born Free” And there wasn’t a single scratch on it. It cost all of $5. In the time it has taken to type these first few lines, the transaction was complete, and the store owner handed me my album.

I first saw the movie “Born Free” at the Tennessee Theater in Knoxville in 1967 and was enamored with the story of a lioness cub taken in from the wild and later set free.  The Roger Williams album with his piano rendition of the film’s theme song was one of my prized possessions until I dropped it one day and it broke. Suddenly, 30 years later I possessed it again.

I have always enjoyed the sometimes-soft, sometimes-jazzy music of this master pianist. Born Louis Weertz, he was the son of a Lutheran minister. For career purposes he adopted the stage name Roger Williams after the founder of Rhode Island.  His rendition of “Autumn Leaves” is the only piano instrumental to reach the number one slot on “Billboards” pop music chart. But a true story of his generosity permanently secured my admiration for him. 

Radio Bible teacher Steve Brown of Florida tells of an experience from his early career in radio many years ago. He worked for a station in Miami as a young trainee with big aspirations of becoming a popular radio personality, when his supervisor approached him one day with a risky opportunity. The talented Roger Williams was in town for a concert and had agreed to grant them an exclusive interview. Unfortunately, the interviewer was out sick.  No one else was available. Would Brown like to give it a try?

Would he!  He jumped at the chance. Gathering up the bulky tape recording equipment of that day, he loaded his vehicle and raced off. During the 30 minute drive to the hotel where Williams was staying, Steve envisioned his success—he’d conduct an incredibly good interview, his superiors at the station would rave about it, he’d get a big promotion, and in no time he’d become a big radio star.

As he neared his destination, however, reality began to set in.  “I’ve never conducted an interview before. What will I ask him? Will he be offended that they sent an office boy to interview a successful concert musician? Will I get nervous and ask all the wrong things?” By the time he arrived at the hotel and stood before the famous Roger Williams, he found himself blurting out, “Sir, the regular interviewer was sick, and the station didn’t have anyone else to send, and so they sent me, but I’m just a trainee, and I’ve never conducted an interview before.”  Definitely not the way to begin a media encounter with a prominent personality.  But Williams proved to be quite gracious.  “Don’t worry, Steve,” he began. “Before you turn on that tape machine, I’ll tell you the first question to ask me. Then when we start the interview, you ask that question and listen carefully to my answer. In my answer you’ll find the next question to ask me.  And in that answer you’ll find the next question and so forth. It will be a good interview.”

And it was.  

Williams could have been offended that the station thought no more of him than to send out this rookie. He could have declined the interview. Instead, he took pity on a hapless young employee, gave him invaluable on-the-job training, and produced a good interview in the process. Back at the station young Brown’s superiors did indeed rave about it.

Steve Brown went on to become a dedicated pastor and, later, a Bible teacher on a radio network. He has had a far-reaching influence for the Lord in the lives of many people and is a most generous man. But a famous concert pianist’s reflection of the Lord’s character surely influenced him.

“The LORD is gracious and full of compassion” (Psalm 111:4).