Miyagi, Dad and Pythagoras

Armodoxy for Today: Miyagi, Dad, and Pythagoras

A recent social media challenge asked to mention a line from a movie that would identify the movie. A few come to mind, but one in particular hit me: “Wax on. Wax off.” Ah yes, the Karate Kid! Mr. Miyagi taught the Karate Kid how to defend himself by assigning him mundane tasks such as waxing the car. “Wax on” with a rotation of the arm. “Wax off” with the rotation in the opposite direction. The Karate Kid didn’t understand the value of this practice, in fact, he resented learning it, until he put it to use in defending himself.

My father was a pharmacist, which in those days meant he was a chemist and all-around scientist. And so it surprised me when he took a look at my high school schedule of classes and suggested that I take, not a science elective, but typing. In fact, I thought it was silly. This was during a time when young girls made up the majority of the class, which was not a bad thing for the guys who dared to get in the class. I should mention that high school typing in the 70s was taught on manual typewriters – imagine a computer keyboard, where every key had to be pressed hard enough to trigger a small hammer, with a letter on it, to hit the paper, through an ink ribbon and make an impression. Usually the letters “o”, “b”, “d”, and a few others would have the centers punched out by the heaviness of the hammer, giving a feel to the paper of a Braille hand-out. I was not happy, but I promised my dad I’d try the class for one semester, which I did. When a few years later, my first parish landed me in Silicon Valley, during the rise of the computer revolution, I found I had a distinct advantage over everyone else, in that I knew how to touch type on a QWERTY keyboard! I was able to pump out material in high volume. Later I was invited to teach computing at our son’s elementary school.

In High School I excelled in mathematics. I was able to follow through to college Calculus. Geometry, however, was a stumbling block for me. I remember the Pythagorean Theorem in particular, memorizing it and wondering when, if ever, I would need to figure out the third side of a triangle. What practical application could this have for me? We have rulers, and other measuring instruments if I needed to find the missing side of three-sided objects. But I learned it just the same. Many years later, after our kids were born and we moved into a house with a backyard, I set out to build a picnic table. The table top was easy; hammering the boards together was fun. But when I got to the legs, I needed to angle them in an “X” shape to support the top. I put the planks of wood together only to find I needed to calculate the third side of this triangular shape. The Pythagorean Theorem to the rescue! We enjoyed that table for many years. It became a congregating spot for our family.

Thanks Mr. Miyagi, Dad, and Pythagoras. Yesterday we spoke about wisdom. Today we speak about the foundation, knowledge. The lessons in life aren’t always revealed to us at the time of learning. What may seem foolish or unnecessary are merely matters left for time to reveal. Time is the fourth-dimension factor that often confounds our understanding.

Jesus tells this parable, asking us to listen attentively, The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the weeds also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the weeds you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the weeds and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”  (Matthew 13:24-30)

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