Monday, May 09, 2005

"I'll take 'Pop Duos' for $400, Alex"

The phone rang this afternoon as I was home with the kids. It was my wife, calling from her part time job. She had a question for me, and she knew I'd know the answer. The question? "Who were the two guys who were around the same time as the Beach Boys, but. . ."

"Jan and Dean."

"Jan and Dean! That's it! Thanks!" And the phone went dead. It was obviously quite the productive day at the boutique! That had to be one of the shortest phone conversations I've ever had with my wife. Even when we're not speaking to each other we talk longer than that! But she knew that if she wanted the answer, she could always call her former disc jockey husband. It's tough to fool me on trivia, especially music trivia pre-1990.

One of the games I like to play with my satellite radio system is to listen to 5 seconds of a song and then identify the song title and the artist. I'm mighty good at it. I've always said that I am the King of Useless Information and it's a title I wear proudly. God has gifted me with a mind which remembers the last names of all the castaways from Gilligan's Island and the lyrics to obscure Beatles album cuts, but can't recall the names of people who have just introduced themselves to me. If it's trivial, I probably know it -- if I care about it at all.

Back in 1980 I was a freshman in college. This was before someone got the brilliant idea to set up a game called Trivial Pursuit. So when a sign appeared in my dorm announcing a Trivia Contest, I saw the opportunity to finally use all this garbage which was cluttering my brain. I needed a team of four, so I recruited the guy in the next dorm room who was a sports nut. Then we got the guy who was really into movies. Then lastly, we signed up my roommate who agreed to sit quietly and fill the required fourth chair. The plan was flawless. The areas I wasn't well versed in, I had guys who could cover me. We would be unbeatable.

In the tournament, I was on fire. The sports guy chipped in a few answers and the movie guy got one or two (and my roommate sat there in the fourth chair very well) but I was unstoppable. Two blowouts in two rounds and we were on to the Trivia Bowl, playing for, um... well I don't know what we were playing for, but it didn't matter. I knew what I was playing for -- pride! I can get quite competitive and this contest was bringing it out in me.

As the finals began, I was back in form. The format was simple: be the first to hit the indicator light when you know the answer. The "indicator light" was actually a desk lamp with a push-button power switch, as this wasn't exactly a high budget affair. If one team answered three straight questions correctly, they were asked a bonus question worth double the points. I came out of the gate strong. I answered 4 of the first 6 questions. The host, who was a junior communications major, was becoming annoyed that I could answer most any question he asked. I sat confidently slouched in my seat, right hand hovering near the indicator light waiting to hit the button and show off my knowledge. I answered three in a row and the host pulled out the bonus question. He read it with a sneer, as if to say, "Here's one you'll never get."

I still remember that question. "Name the serial number of the starship Enterprise on..." I cut him off there and without breaking eye contact said confidently, "NCC 1701." The host stared at his card incredulously. All that came out of his mouth was, "Uh, yeah." The assembled masses were duly impressed. I smirked the defiant smirk of pride. Somewhere my fans were doing the Superior Dance.

Why is it that knowledge, as Scripture says, puffs us up? Why do kids like to taunt others by chanting, "I know something you don't know"? I remember back in ancient times, when MTV actually played music videos. In between songs, the announcers (VJs) would rattle off trivial facts about the artists. John Oates likes green Chicklets or The Police video was shot with a CP-2 sepia enhancing battery-operated filter over the camera lens. Stuff like that. The reason they did, according to the MTV executives, was that in that demographic, knowledge is power. I loved the power of knowing I was smarter -- at least when it came to important things, like trivia.

I still have the tendency to "puff up" in my knowledge. I'm not always patient with people trying to find 1 Samuel in their Bible. I've been known to occasionally show off a la Cheers' resident know-it-all, Cliff Claven. I know I'm not alone, and I'm certainly not the first. The Gnostic movement of the early Christian years focused on obtaining special knowledge to gain spiritually. It made sense to enough people that it was a formidable false teaching for a number of years. After all, doesn't God bless the person who knows the most stuff?

The truth is, God blesses the person who knows Him. I could memorize books of theology and seven translations of Scripture, but if I have no relationship with Jesus it's all pointless -- "Chasing after the wind, " as one incredibly intelligent person once put it. Instead I must know my Creator and Savior.

By the way, the finals of the Trivia Bowl in college? We lost. After my shining moment, the other team began coming up with too many answers. It came down to the last question, and nobody on our team knew which soap opera had a major character named, "Phoebe." The other team did. We complained, calling it a stupid question, as if asking for the serial number of a fictional space ship was an intelligent question. But it was all over. So I packed up my ego, and went to the dining hall for dinner, awaiting another opportunity to impress people and puff myself up. After dinner I tried to run down a gentle breeze but failed at that also.

Knowledge is meaningless. Knowing Christ is everything.

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