Sorting

It was one of the most popular of the prizes the Lovely Lady offered to her piano students.  They would practice for at least twenty minutes every day, a fact attested to by their parent’s signature on a weekly form.  In return, the children would receive something the Lovely Lady called “music bucks”, one for each full practice session.  These little pieces of paper were photocopied facsimiles of money, not unlike the paper with which you buy and sell property in a Monopoly game.  The kids loved to earn music bucks!  They practiced like never before.  Never mind that in the end, each scrap of paper was only valued at something around three cents. You see, when they had acquired a significant number of the music bucks, they could shop through the gift counter at the music store, a veritable treasure trove of cheap Chinese-made items, each of with some connection to music.  Pencils with pianos or music symbols embossed on them, erasers in the shape of musical notes, treble clef shaped key rings…these and many more were there for them to purchase with their hard-earned music bucks.

Of the many prizes they could redeem with their little pieces of paper was one that a lot of students worked tirelessly for any number of weeks to claim as their own.  It was a little piano shaped bank.  The see-through plastic gizmo actually sorted coins for you!  You would drop in a coin and it would roll down the chute, stopping for an instant at one end before rolling back the other direction.  In the process, it would roll over a series of tubes, eventually dropping into the appropriate sized one.  The dime dropped into the first and smallest one, the penny next, then the nickel, and then the quarter.  The quarter had the furthest to roll, since it was the largest and couldn’t drop into any of the previous tubes.  Many times, I would place the bank out on top of the counter to demonstrate it for a student week after week, as they dreamed of the day when it would be theirs. “Plink!”  The penny would drop and roll down to its proper tube, tumbling to rest at the bottom of the second one.  “Plink!”  There went the quarter as it rolled on down to the very end, like the penny, tumbling to lie flat in its tube.  Every time, the sorter worked its magic, never allowing the penny to fall down the dime tube, nor the nickel to come to rest in the penny’s place.  We had to be sure that there were always plenty of these around to satisfy the demand.

Nifty little tool, huh?  I had a complaint with the system, though.  You see, the sorting method for this little bank was flawed.  How, you may ask?  It only used a single criterion for determining which coin dropped into which tube–its size.  Drop a Canadian penny into the slot and down the chute it rolled, right into the penny slot.  Then if you took those pennies to the bank to cash them in, the teller was likely to refuse to accept the Canadian coin.  It didn’t matter to the little piano-shaped bank if the coin were Japanese or Mexican, or even if it were a legal tender coin at all.  If the round disc you dropped down the slot was similar in size to an American coin, it would be deposited into the slot that matched that size and nothing else.  You might end up with a coin worth significantly less that the others in the same tube, or even with an object worth nothing at all.

Even worse, you could really cheat yourself if you made the error of dropping both of the coins above into the top of the piano-shaped-object.  “Why in the world would that matter?” you may ask.  It matters because of another criterion which the little bank couldn’t determine.

If you were only able to determine the size of the coin, you would make an error costing you many times the value of that quarter you think you see.  The coin on the right in both pictures is one minted after 1965…what we call a “sandwich coin”.  The silver content is negligible and the quarter is worth just twenty-five cents in legal exchange.  The one on the left however, was made in 1964 and is made of silver, about 80% pure.  Its real value today is over six dollars.  Yet, the little bank, with its limited scope, simply rolls it down to the last slot and cavalierly drops it down with all the twenty-five cent ones.  And, until someone with a keen eye and some sense of the value of silver comes along, anyone who looks at the stack of coins will evaluate it by simply multiplying the number of coins by the face value.

We live in a society, really in a world, which does the same thing as that little coin bank.  We determine the value of people with limited criteria, judging by skin color, or economic status, or even by geographic factors.  In the South, “Yankees” are scorned for their lack of sense and civility.  Conversely, to a Northerner, all Southerners are “rednecks”, ignorant and uncultured.  I grew up in a school system, as did many of you, where children were sorted into schools by their skin color and surnames.  Laws prohibit that now, but there is no reduction in the number of ways in which we pigeonhole each other individually and as people groups.

On a more personal level, we have measurements, usually unwritten and unspoken, by which we judge each other.  If any of us were asked, we would protest that we never would even consider doing such a thing.  But daily, I see the ways in which we do exactly that.

I remember a particular gentleman, who a few years ago, stood in front of me in my music store.  He needed a bath and as he spoke, gesturing passionately with his hands, my vision took in his fingernails on both hands, almost entirely consumed with fungus.His acne-scarred face was smiling at me, but his eyes showed the hurt, as he told me how he was treated in many of the local business establishments.  Most people refused to treat him with respect, or to deal fairly with him.  Although his mind was clear, and his communications skills adequate, because of his appearance,he was rejected and scorned.  My mind went back to Biblical times and the way that lepers were cast out of society.  His is not an isolated case.  I’m sure you know of many just like him.  Do you shake hands with them?  Hug them?  Treat them with respect?  Offer them the same recognition you would give to anyone else?

How do we determine the value of a human being?  The longer I consider it, the more I am forced to come back to the reality that our evaluation cannot be anything less than that of the One who created them, and us.  There are no circumstances under which a person of a different color is worth more, or less; no evaluation to be made by a body shape, be it slim or obese; no separation to be forced because of social status or financial situation.  We constantly look on these outward manifestations, but our Creator looks on the heart, seeing the pure silver, as well as the sandwich coin, and determining that both are of great worth to Him.  And, to all, He offers His grace and His love. How can we do any less?

Clink!  The coins still fascinate, as they roll down the chute.  But, I will no longer be lulled into thinking that the evaluation of worth based on size is the final word.  Perhaps, it is time for all of us to reconsider the other evaluations we hold dear as we walk along this path of life together.

However, if you have any silver quarters lying around, you are welcome to bring them by and drop them in my bank anytime…

“Then Peter replied, ‘I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism.  In every nation, he accepts those who fear Him and do what is right.'”
(Acts 10:34,35~NLT)

“One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that the cat has only nine lives.”
(Mark Twain~American author and humorist~1835-1910)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *