George Szell

He was born in Budapest in 1897. George Szell was one of the most gifted pianists in the world. He debuted with the Vienna Symphony at the age of ten. But no one remembers George the pianist. They remember George the conductor. You see, George made a critical decision early in his life. More on that in a bit.

By age 20, George was conducting the Strasbourg Opera. By age 27, he was the principal conductor of the Berlin State Opera.

Szell made his American debut in St. Louis in 1930. He conducted at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Then, he built the Cleveland Orchestra into the world’s finest. He became a U.S. citizen there, where he led world-class musicians until his death in 1970.

For 25 years, George Szell led the finest orchestra in the world.

So what was the “critical decision” George made early in life? He decided to not focus on his own skills as a solo pianist, but rather on the ability to lead others. That is what made him famous. And like George, when you and I learn to be a conductor in life, rather than a solo act, we will make great music.

The Bible says it like this. “As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind” (2 Kings 2:11).

Praying Like C. S. Lewis

One of the most prominent minds of the first half of the twentieth century was philosopher and author C. S. Lewis. As a young man, he met Joy Greshem, a poet. They established a strong friendship that grew into love. They eventually married, then Joy was diagnosed with cancer. After a hard battle, she died. But there were many ups and downs along the way.

During a period when Joy was responding well to treatment, a colleague of Lewis’ approached him with words of praise. “I know how hard you’ve prayed. God is answering your prayers,” he said.

Lewis replied, “I didn’t pray for that. I prayed because I can’t help myself. The power of prayer isn’t that it changes my circumstances, but that it changes my heart.”

Most of us practice what I call “outcome prayers.” We pray in order for God to change an outcome. But real spiritual maturity is marked by the man or woman who prays in order to get in touch with the Father out of a desire to change his or her heart.

Joy still died. Still, C. S. Lewis went on to change the world. But before he changed the world, God changed his heart. The Bible says it like this: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26).


The Rushmore Report: How Billy Graham Led Me to Christ

For most of my childhood, my family honored God in a general sense but didn’t know him personally. We were culturally Jewish on my father’s side and culturally Christian on my mother’s side. But our faith – and indeed everything about our lives – began to change one night when I was 12. I came home to see my mother and sister in our living room, sobbing in front of the television. A couple years prior, President Kennedy had been assassinated, so I walked in thinking, “What cataclysmic event has happened this time?” But I discovered that my mother and sister had been watching one of Billy Graham’s televised crusades. That night they both came to Christ.

A few months later, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association released its first movie in theaters, The Restless Ones. It is about a girl at the cusp of making big decisions in her life. She asks herself whether she’ll follow the way of faith or the way of the world. I went to see it at a small theater in our town, Annapolis, Maryland. As I watched, I heard a voice speak to me directly. Although it wasn’t audible, I sensed God saying deep in my spirit, “Kathie, I love you. If you’ll trust me, I’ll make something beautiful out of your life.”

At the end of the movie, someone in the theater stood up and announced, “Whoever would like to make this step of faith, come forward.” I couldn’t get out of my seat fast enough. My brother didn’t want me walking into the crowd on my own and said, “You’re not going anywhere.” I spurted back, “Oh yeah? Stop me.” He came with me to make sure I was safe. Standing at the front of the theater, I asked Jesus into my heart.

At that age, all I wanted was to become an actress and a singer. The Lord met me in a movie theater, in the very world I dreamed of being a part of. From that point on, God was with me at every twist and turn, every decision. The Holy Spirit would say, “Go that way. Go down that road,” or, “No, Kathie, don’t take that part. No, that will not glorify the Lord.” God kept me on his path and eventually led me to Hollywood.

When I first got there, I met for Bible study with about a dozen fellow Christians who felt called to serve God through arts and entertainment. We were chastised far more by Christians than by anybody else back then. They’d ask, “How can you say you’re a Christian and be in Hollywood?” I’d always respond, “How could I be in Hollywood and not be a Christian?” How could I put up with the work and rejection without the security of God’s faithfulness?

But even in the entertainment industry, I never felt pressured to downplay or hide my faith. That doesn’t mean I didn’t struggle, make mistakes, or break God’s heart on occasion. But the story of my life – and I dare say any Christian’s life – is not the story of my faithfulness to God but of his faithfulness to me.

During the 1990s, when I was co-hosting Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, I faced a wave of vicious attacks in the tabloids. I was accused of exploiting sweatshop labor in the factories that made my clothing line, then sold at Walmart. The following year the news of my husband’s infidelity broke. Frank and I both stopped watching TV and reading the papers. We focused on the Word of God. I chose to read what God said about us, not what the world said. We weren’t new to the business; by that time, we knew how the Enemy worked. It became our Hebrews 12:2 moment, fixing our eyes upon Jesus, who endured the shame of the cross on our behalf.

When I was accused of awful things, and when the news came out that my husband had been unfaithful to me, the first phone call always came from Billy Graham, who had become our friend. Decades after I saw Billy on TV and the movie screen, he continued to share the same gospel hope with us directly: God loves you, God died for you, God has a plan for your life. And God is coming back to take you to glory. In a world where trends, people, fads, and politics change, the Word of God never changes. God himself never does. And Billy’s message never did.

I said, “I love you” and goodbye to Billy at his 95th birthday party in 2013, not knowing that Frank would leave the earth before Billy. Last year, I got another call from the Graham family – this time from Franklin – to extend their sympathies the day that Frank died at age 84.

Frank passed away on a Sunday morning as we were getting ready for church. He was wearing my favorite outfit of his, a white shirt and tight black jeans. After his death, I felt at once the tragedy of losing him and the triumph of his life. While mourning the loss of the man I had been married to for 29 years, I felt the love of my coworkers, friends, and many others like I had never known.

A week after Frank died, I felt the Lord calling me to go back to the Today show and share about his life. I had no idea what I would say. I prayed, “Lord, give me utterance.” I spoke from my heart, as I have for 40 years on television. I sat in my chair in the studio, looked into the camera, and told viewers about the core of our Christian faith. I said that Frank died in complete peace, knowing that every sin he’d ever committed was forgiven, and with the hope that we would one day be together with the Lord. Our faith had always been the answer, and it could be theirs too.

I also shared a story from our last trip to Israel, when we went to the Valley of Elah – the place where David battled Goliath. Our friend Ray Vander Laan, a Bible teacher and historian, explained that the miracle of David and Goliath was not that a shepherd could kill a giant, but that David had a personal relationship with the living God who gave him the victory. Remembering David’s story, we picked up stones from the brook. Ray looked at each of us and asked, “What’s your stone? What has God already prepared you to do?”

I thought of God’s promise back in that theater – to make something beautiful with my life – and all that he’d enabled me to do in his name in music, television, and on Broadway. The question hit deeply for Frank, enough that I believe it changed his life and deepened his faith more than ever. Frank lived his last years focused on his stone and his legacy as a servant of God.

The Scripture tells us, “Let us not be weary in well doing.” When I read that, I prayed, “Okay, Lord, you’re going to have to help me be strong. You’re going to have to help me with inspiration. You’re going to have to help me keep going.”

The devil would have us give up. The devil would have us stop sharing the Word. He would have us stop giving hope to the hopeless. And we can’t fall for that. As much as we long for a different world, we have to stay in this one for now. It’s up to us to make an impact for Christ until he comes or until he takes us. The words God spoke to me 50 years ago are just as true today, and for every moment I have left, I will trust him to work his beautiful plan in me.

About the Author

Kathie Lee Gifford is a Today show co-host and the wife of the late NFL star and commentator Frank Gifford.

The Rushmore Report: Drew Brees Blasts Roger Goodell

The NFL scored a significant and perhaps Deflategate-ending victory over Tom Brady in an appeals court Monday, but its real legacy may be suspicion and anger over how the league handles discipline. “I think we would all agree that he definitely has too much power,” New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in a conversation with’s Maggie Gray.

“He’s the judge, jury, and executioner when it comes to all the discipline. I’m not going to trust any league-led investigation, when it comes to anything. It’s not transparent.”

Brees was a member of the Saints teams that Goodell punished for Bountygate, a scheme in which players allegedly were given bonuses for injuring opponents. Goodell’s punishment in that case was vacated by his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue.

“At times, I feel like there is a desired conclusion or agenda that they have in mind and that may prevent the absolute truth from being told or the absolute facts from being presented,” Brees said. “At the end of the day, we as the public, we as players, don’t ever get to really see that. We don’t get to see those facts, those truths and those things. That’s the unfortunate part of this whole thing.”

As long as the league makes money, owners are likely to be pleased and Goodell is secure. But the perception that investigations aren’t on the up and up will be difficult to overturn, especially with popular players like Brees speaking out.

About the Author

Cindy Boren is the deputy sports writer for the Washington Post. She covers breaking news stories and offers commentary on current events that shape the daily sports scene on a national level.

The Rushmore Report: Trump’s Big Sweep – The Math Doesn’t Matter

Presidential campaigns are about media, math, and momentum. But in the wake of Donald Trump’s five-state sweep in the Northeast Tuesday, it’s time to add another measure. And that is psychology – which may be his biggest advantage of all. By adding Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, and Rhode Island to his New York landslide, Trump is clearly riding a wave of momentum and positive media coverage.

But when you get to math, the journalistic nitpickers come up with various scenarios in which Trump may not get to 1,237 delegates, leaving him vulnerable to a contested convention. Fair enough. (Yes, any other front-runner would have been declared the de facto nominee, but The Donald is a rather controversial fellow.)

Which brings us to the psychology surrounding a candidate who has won state after state in all regions of the country – from Alabama to Massachusetts, from Georgia to New Hampshire, from Florida to Nevada, from South Carolina to Illinois. And look at the margins: 46 percent in Arizona, 46 percent in Florida, 47 percent in Mississippi, 60 percent in New York.

Ted Cruz won Wisconsin by an impressive 48 percent, but outside of his 44 percent victory in Texas, and nearly matching Trump with 41 percent in Missouri, most of his wins have come in caucus states where he has outperformed his rival at the inside game.

Cruz pivoted to a different target Tuesday night, saying the media were having “palpitations” over Trump’s expected big night and that he is the fourth estate’s “chosen” candidate. That’s become a standard Cruz riff, even as Trump gets more than his share of bad press and biting commentary and himself complains about the “dishonest” media.

What’s true is that as Trump continues to pile up primary wins, the psychology shifts, and most of the media and political establishments now expect him to be the nominee – whether they regard that prospect with excitement or loathing. Six in 10 Republicans say in a recent poll that the candidate with the most votes should be the party’s standard-bearer, magic number or not. Two-thirds of Connecticut Republicans said the same in an exit poll Tuesday.

That leaves Cruz, who has way exceeded expectations in this campaign, in the position of arguing that he should be the alternative to Trump, even as he loses state after state. (Yes, Cruz could win Indiana next week, but that doesn’t change the overall equation.)

And it leaves John Kasich, who has won exactly one state – his own – arguing that a fractured convention should turn to him.

The Cruz-Kasich non-aggression pact quickly fizzled, and not just because the two rivals said they still wanted votes in the three states where they are not campaigning in deference to the other guy. It was because their supporters don’t have much in common, and they handed Trump the argument that his opponents are playing insider games to deprive him of the prize.

Psychology isn’t everything. Trump could hit a rough patch as he toggles between appearing more presidential and mocking Kasich’s eating habits. He coulde underperform in California and New Jersey on June 7.

But the mindset of Trump’s supporters will be anger and disgust if they feel he’s been cheated out of the nomination. And that may matter as much as any numbers

About the Author

Howard Kurtz covers media issues in politics. He is a regular contributor for Fox News, and can be seen weekly on The O’Reilly Factor.

The Rushmore Report: Bizarre Comments from Clinton and Trump

Abe Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Franklin Roosevelt said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” John Kennedy said, “Ask what you can do for your country.” Ronald Reagan said, “It’s morning in America.” And not to be outdone, Hillary Clinton has come out in support of “positive gangs,” while Donald Trump has blasted John Kasich for the way he spells his name. Huh?

Let’s start with Mrs. Clinton, who once famously said, “It takes a village” to raise children. (Some outdated Neanderthals still argue that it takes a family.) It seems that during a recent campaign stop, during a discussion on gun violence, the Democratic front-runner spoke of the need for “positive gangs” to help guide urban youths.

She was responding to a man in Connecticut who said that he had joined a gang in order to feel like he was part of a family. She said, “You said something that is so very important for people to hear. You know, joining a gang is like having a family. It’s feeling like you’re part of something bigger than yourself. So we’re either going to have gangs that murder and rob and do the things that are so destructive to the gang members and to the community. Or, we’re going to have positive gangs. We’re going to have positive alternatives for young people.”

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, an African American, said the statement showed Clinton “is totally disconnected from life in the black community. She has such a misperception about our intelligence level. She thinks we’re some lower form of intelligence to think, that because we don’t have a family experience, we should join a gang. I mean, that is preposterous.” Clarke then asked why Mrs. Clinton, if she was looking for alternatives to the family unit, didn’t suggest young people join a church, scouts, or a local boys and girls club. “Why a gang?” he asked, before tying the crisis in the black community to “failed liberal policies” and the “war on poverty.”

“Mrs. Clinton has advocated for ‘positive gangs.’ She couldn’t be more out of touch. A gang is not like a family. A family is like a family,” the Sheriff concluded.

Not to be outdone, the leading candidate from the Republican party has decided to make a campaign issue of John Kasich’s name. Yes – his name. Trump said, “The Governor should change the way he spells his last name so it would be easier to pronounce. I mean, who spells his name like that?”

The Donald has an excellent point. It’s good that Mr. Kasich (pronounced ka-sik) has led Ohio to their best economy in decades, has created a million jobs, reduced unemployment, cut taxes, and eliminated all their debt. But who does he think he is, keeping the name of his father? There are so many better alternatives available. Let me help: John Smith, John Jones, or John Brown. Maybe John Adams – that even sounds like a president. Maybe John Kennedy would work. Anything but “Kasich.” The last thing we need is for other world leaders to not know how to pronounce the name of our President.

We can all be grateful that Mr. Trump has become “more presidential,” as promised. The attack on Kasich’s name is a good thing. Every sentence that makes something of Kasich’s refusal to change his name is a sentence in which we don’t hear the words “China” or “wall.” There is always time for Trump to return to calling Cruz “Ly’in Ted” and Clinton “Crooked Hillary.” At least they have normal last names. But how can Mr. Trump make fun of Kasich if he insists on keeping a last name that doesn’t work well with a Donald insult?

So we at The Proud Americans, who will not endorse candidates, will come alongside both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump. We appreciate the emphasis being brought on the underappreciated glue of modern society – street gangs. And we join the call for candidates to change their names to something we can pronounce in an era when no one knows how to spell anymore. At the very least, we call on Mr. Kasich to change his name to “Kasick,” or start pronouncing the “ch” like “ch.”

We are just six months from the presidential election. Thank you, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump for stepping up and raising the level of public discourse. Our future is in good hands.

The Rushmore Report: Hillary’s Faith – In Her Own Words

In a recent town hall meeting, a high school guidance counselor asked Hillary Clinton to explain her faith. Mrs. Clinton took the opportunity to share her views on Christianity and the Bible. These were her words.

Thank you for asking that. I am a person of faith. I am a Christian. I am a Methodist. I have been raised Methodist. I feel very grateful for the instructions and support I received starting in my family but through my church, and I think that any of us who are Christian have a constantly, constant, conversation in our own heads about what we are called to do and how we are asked to do it, and I think it is absolutely appropriate for people to have very strong convictions and also, though, to discuss those with other people of faith. Because different experiences can lead to different conclusions about what is consonant with our faith and how best to exercise it.

The idea you heard on the radio of looking at individuals, I think, is absolutely fair. My study of the Bible, my many conversations with people of faith, has led me to believe the most important commandment is to love the Lord with all your might and to love your neighbor as yourself, and that is what I think we are commanded by Christ to do, and there is so much more in the Bible about taking care of the poor, visiting the prisoners, taking in the stranger, creating opportunities for others to be lifted up, to find faith themselves that I think there are many different ways of exercising your faith. But I do believe that in many areas judgment should be left to God, that being more open, tolerant and respectful is part of what makes me humble about my faith, and I am in awe of people who truly turn the other cheek all the time, who can go that extra mile that we are called to go, who keep finding ways to forgive and move on. Those are really hard things for human beings to do, and there is a lot, certainly in the New Testament, that calls us to do that.

The famous discussion on the Sermon on the Mount should be something that you really pay attention to. There’s a lot of great Bible studies: What does the Sermon on the Mount really mean? What is it calling us to do and to understand? Because it sure does seem to favor the poor and the merciful and those who in worldly terms don’t have a lot but who have the spirit that God recognizes as being at the core of love and salvation.

So there is much to be learned and I have been very disappointed and sorry that Christianity, which has such great love at its core, is sometimes used to condemn so quickly and judge so harshly. When I think part of the message that I certainly have tried to understand and live with is to look at yourself first, to make sure you are being the kind of person you should be in how you are treating others, and I am by no means a perfect person, I will certainly confess that to one and all, but I feel the continuing urge to try to do better, to try to be kinder, to try to be more loving, even with people who are quite harsh.

So, I think you have to keep asking yourself, if you are a person of faith, what is expected of me and am I actually acting the way that I should? And that starts in small ways and goes out in very large ones, but it’s something that I take very seriously. So thank you for asking.

The Rushmore Report: Hundreds of Hindus Coming to Christ in India

Despite mounting persecution, Christianity is thriving in India as hundreds of Hindus and tribal animists are embracing Jesus Christ, the Gospel Herald reports. One of the areas where conversion and evangelistic events are taking place is in the jungles of Kandhamal District in eastern India, which used to be “a hotbed of Hindu persecution of Christians,” according to the Christian Aid Mission.

Although Hindu fanatics once used these jungles as their killing fields for Christian converts, they remain the sites for evangelistic events since last August, with 1,000 to 2,000 attending each one, the Christian Aid Mission says in its latest report.

“By God’s grace we are holding evangelistic jungle camps everywhere the violence took place,” the director said. “It is God’s doing. The violence took place almost everywhere in Kandhamal District. We held a jungle camp at one village church, and in 2008 that church building had been attacked, broken and set on fire, and the believers had fled to the jungle for safety.”

The Christian ministry director, who did not give his name for security reasons, said thousands of Christian converts regularly gather in the jungle camps to hear the Word of God. “They are happy to accept Jesus as their God and Savior and to live for Him in the midst of persecution,” he said.

The director said true stories about healing and other miracles are convincing more and more Hindus and animists to abandon their old faiths and turn to Jesus Christ instead.

For instance, there is the story of a 53-year-old Hindu woman who put her faith in Christ last year. She was baptized along with her husband earlier this month. She said being a devout Hindu, she previously hated Christians. However, she was compelled to go to a Christian church to ask for help after she was “completely possessed by an evil spirit,” which prompted her to embrace one religion after another in search of a cure for her sickness and despondency.

She said she was eventually healed in the name of Jesus and now she is “testifying that Jesus is the true and loving God.” The woman said her son also converted to Christianity. “I was searching for this kind of life, and Jesus gave it to me,” she said. “He is the only true and loving God. I am happy now.”

The ministry director also recounted the story of another Hindu who had a son with a mental illness. When a pastor prayed for him, the young man began recovering his sanity. Previously, the Hindu man spent thousands of rupees for his son’s treatment, sacrificing many pigs, chickens and goats before many Hindu gods and goddesses. But these did not work, according to the ministry leader.

He said they are planning to take the Hindu’s son to a hospital to ensure his “complete healing.” The leader continued, “We are sure that through his healing, the entire village will come to know Christ, the Savior.”


The Rushmore Report: The Politics and Faith of Prince

On April 21, pop music icon Prince shocked the world with his sudden death. The majority of his fans will remember his music as being provocative and laced with sexual content. But many have missed the subtle changes in Prince’s life – changes informed by his personal faith and beliefs. Raised a Seventh-Day Adventist, he converted into a Jehovah’s Witness later in his life.

Religion and spirituality were influential to his life and career. In a 1999 interview with a Dutch TV program, he described his destination in life as “complete oneness with the spirit of God and knowledge of the truth.”

Christianity has always been a part of his music. His biographer wrote of the “amount of discussion of religion and spirituality and God and Jesus” in his music. Musician Larry Graham, a devout Jehovah’s Witness, was instrumental in leading Prince into that faith in 2001. He soon became a different man. In a 2004 interview, he was asked if he was still the same man. He replied, “I don’t think so. I’m constantly evolving, trying to work on my whole being to better myself and the world around me.”

Of the Bible, he said that with Graham’s help he was learning to read the Scriptures for their practical application. It helped him “see everything clearer.” Politically, he was a lifelong Republican, but came to resent what he perceived as their reliance on the Bible for political gain. On the other hand, he rejected many liberal views, such as support for same-sex marriage.

What can we learn from Prince in light of his tragic loss? We can learn how amazing it is to be human. Prince reminds us of the creative side of God. Many credit him for his creativity. But Prince never created a single note; he just put them together well. The creator of music is the creator of life. Nor did Prince invent a new instrument; he was the instrument, created by the instrument-maker.

The loss of Prince, at the younger-than-it-used-to-seem age of 57, is enormous. But in the midst of the loss, we must remember the man and the music – but mostly the Maker.

Phone Booths

Today, let’s talk about phone booths. If you are too young to know what they are, borrow your parents’ book of ancient American history. There used to be a wonderful activity we would engage in as kids. It taught us fellowship, teamwork, and tolerance of body odor. It was called “seeing how many people you can cram into a phone booth.”

This critical American pastime had its origins in South Africa, dating back to the mid-1950s, when students there claimed to have fit 25 people in a space approximately three feet square and eight feet high. British students tried, but couldn’t outdo the South Africans.

American and Canadian college students had a go at it, and the craze spread acorss the continent, with increasingly elaborate “rules” in phone booth stuffing. Lots of variations were tried, like stuffing people in a car or in a booth underwater. One of the shorter-lived fads of the 1050s and ’60s, phone booth stuffing faded by 1970. But its basic premise was good. It is always a good thing when we can bring people together.

The Bible says, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free, and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13).

The lesson of the phone booth is simple – God intended us to be one.