The Human Fly

Time for Assembly?

The Human Fly


Here’s a story that you might find useful if you’re planning or leading an act of collective worship in a secondary school.

When I used it, I introduced the story like this:


Lots of people have a rather unhealthy obsession with failure.  When something good happens for someone (especially the famous) the world often waits with baited breath for it all to go wrong.  The British tabloid press are usually the first on the scene and they gleefully describe the fall of our heroes and analyse the way in which they have stumbled.


(A modern example of a disgraced or fallen hero could be inserted here)


This is no new thing.  And, over the years, some people learned to use this ‘obsession with failure’ to their advantage.


Here’s the story itself:


Back in 1910 a man called George Gibson Polley made an unusual bet with a big group of people.  He bet them a considerable sum of cash that he could climb, unaided, up the outside of a huge department store inChicago.


An enormous crowd gathered, certain that he would fall to his death.  But, to everyone’s amazement, he managed to scale the whole building by gripping the edges of the bricks.


Polley realised that he was on to a winner and began to scale buildings for money all over theUnited States.  He kept the money he was paid as secret as possible so that it looked as if he was just doing it to please the crowds.


He shinned up an enormous flagpole onRodeIsland.  Then he climbed the ‘Customs House’ inBoston, a building over 500ft tall!  His next move was climb what was then the tallest building in the world: theWoolworthBuildinginNew York.


Polley was nicknamed ‘The Human Fly’ and he became (secretly) wealthy because of his performances.  But the crowds began to peter out…  He was just too good!  Everyone knew he never made mistakes.


Polley put this problem right very swiftly.  So skilled was he at his climbing, he built a mistake into every climb to keep the audience huge.  Two or three times in each climb, he would loosen his grip and slide perilously close to the edge, and certain doom.  The shrieks and cries from the audience would turn to cheers as then adjusted his grip and continued his climb.  It worked a treat!


George Gibson Polley sadly died of a brain tumour when he was just 29 years old, but he had climbed over 2000 buildings and earned a fortune!


He successfully played on people’s desire to witness failure.


I drew the following points out of this story for the students:


If you wind the clock back further than just 98 or so years – to the time of Jesus Christ being physically among us – you can see people desperate to witness failure even back then.  The crowds who cheered for Jesus as he arrived inJerusalem, screamed for Him to be crucified just 5 days later!


Jesus understood only too well what people are like.  In an amazing moment He prayed for the forgiveness of the people as He was being crucified.


I believe that Jesus did this because (unlike George Gibson Polley) Christ was facing death for the sake of the crowds who were watching, waiting for Him to die; not for mere financial gain.


Hearing the story of ‘The Human Fly’ you can learn a lot about the way humans think.

Hearing the story of Christ’s sacrifice you can learn a lot about the way humans think… and you can also learn a lot about the extent of God’s love for us humans.


I used this as a conclusion:


Thank God that our creator does not share our morbid fascination with failure.  Failure disappoints and saddens God and He paid the ultimate price to put our failures right.


And this is the short prayer that we prayed at the end:


Father God, we all get things wrong from time to time.  Thank You for sending Jesus Christ to put our lives right in Your sight.  Teach us to be like Christ and to focus on encouraging success in those around us, rather than revelling in their failings.

We ask this in the precious Name of Jesus.  Amen.

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