What Lights You Up?

22 04 2014

Enjoying the sunWhat lights a fire in your gut? And no, we’re not talking about indigestion from too much Thai cuisine last night.  What drives you to get out of your comfort zone and set off into the dangerous unknown?  What is that inward power, that energy that gets a man or a woman out of their seats and into action–the kind of action that protects life and brings lasting change and good to society?  Where does that kind of heat come from?

The ancient Greeks had very rich languages and dialects.  Greek is a lot like math with its precision.  Many of us are familiar with the many Greek words for love, one of the most common and oft-misunderstood words we use.  Storge.  Phileo.  Agape.  And, of course, eros.  These words talk about the various manifestations of love.

They also gave us the word thumos.  Doctors and nurses will recognize its kinship with thymus, one of the organs in our immune system.  It is not a common word when used in the world of biblical studies—an area very important to many of us.

Thumos may be described as “an inner fire that motivates action.”  It is used of the soul, but, unlike psuche—from which we get words like “psychology”—it describes the soul with a fire lit under its seat.  It is protective by nature.

I first came into contact with writer Paul Coughlin a few years back.  His book No More Christian Nice Guy radically took apart my idea of virtue, namely, that being nice and being good are not necessarily the same thing.  Jesus is the embodiment of goodness.  But he wasn’t always nice.  And He didn’t always play nicey-nice.  He would get into a lot of trouble today, upsetting the applecart.  Being good, rather than just nice, has a way of doing that.

Thumos is the fire, the motivation that enabled Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to champion civil rights—a fight that ended in his death.  It enabled Martin Luther to challenge a corrupt and ossifying Church with the need of reform.  It enables people to defend those who are bullied.  It is that intangible quality that stimulates action—change of behaviour—not simply a change in an intellectual position, a modified idea.  It’s what pushes Popeye to say, “That’s alls I can take; I can’t takes it no more.”  Then out comes the spinach, the muscle and the bad guys are put in their place.

So….how’s your thumos level today?  That fire inside your gut?

Listen to it.  It has something important to tell you.

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Every Human Being A Miracle

19 10 2013

Human Beings Are MiraclesEvery human being who is now, will be or ever has been is a miracle.  The co-workers, family members and friends with whom you trafficked today are, every one of them, wonders beyond belief.  We are all—regardless of color, creed or cult—made in the image of God.  There is no such thing as an ordinary person.

C.S. Lewis, writing in his essay “The Weight of Glory” says this, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ‘ordinary’ people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”

Our society, especially here in the West, is enamored of celebrity.  I don’t quite know how to account for it.  Perhaps it is, in some weird way, a seeking after God, power embodied in fame.  The Kardashian sisters are lovely women but they are no more a miracle than your boss, the clerk at the store down the street or your friendly neighborhood Wal-Mart greeter.

Ask yourself this one question:  “How do I treat those who have absolutely nothing by which I can, knowingly, be benefited?”

Tomorrow, when you stop by the gas station on the way to work, remember you are looking into the eyes of creatures made a little lower than the angels, indeed a little lower than God (Psalm 8:5; Hebrews 2:7).

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Influences and Inspiration

9 10 2013

Influences and InspirationsI read an interesting article some time ago about Viggo Mortensen and his influences.  Viggo is an actor of no mean accomplishment and a Watertown native.  He spent a number of his growing up years here in the North Country.  People who frequent neighboring Clayton see him from time to time as he comes back to visit family.

The article was not so much commentary as it was comprehensive lists.  Being a list junkie, I found it fascinating and invigorating.  You can read about it here.

I heard a wise speaker remark once that we are all composites of the people who influence our lives, whether directly or through their work.  I resonated with this observation and it helped put to bed the nagging urge to “be an original.”

So I thought I would list some of my own, collected over forty-eight years.  I’d be interested in yours if you choose to comment.

Guitarists:  Phil Keaggy, Julian Bream, Christopher Parkening, Jeff Beck, Alvin Lee, David Russell, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Brian May, Chuck Berry, Andres Segovia, John Williams, Earl Klugh, Larry Carlton, Ted Nugent, Paul O’Dette (lute), Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Slash, Steve Howe, Eric Clapton, Joe Fava, Konrad Ragossnig (lute), Tommy Emmanuel, David Gilmour, Rick Foster, Angel Romero, Wes Montgomery, Jacob Moon, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Anthony Phillips.  And many more.

Music, Artists, Performing Arts: Dan Fogelberg, Keith Green, Richard Souther, Elton John, The Allman Brothers, Paul Clark, The Beatles, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Donovan, Honeytree, Sara Groves, Vineyard Music, Maranatha Music, Hillsong Music, James Taylor, Larry Norman, John Michael Talbot, Yes, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Luciano Pavarotti, Frank Sinatra, Michael Buble, Jethro Tull, Randy Stonehill, The Eagles, Billy Joel, Kemper Crabb, Lamb, Peter, Paul & Mary, Michael Bublé, Queen, Simon & Garfunkel, Twila Paris, Yo-Yo Ma, Michael Card, Miles Davis, Bob Bennett, Twyla Tharp, Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam), Brian Doerksen, Debby Boone, Kenny G, Norah Jones, Diana Panton, Andrea Bocelli, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Dave Brubeck, Ralph Sharon, Tony Bennett, Neil Young, Jascha Heifetz, Glenn Gould, Malcolm & Alwyn, Phil Ramone.  And many more.

Composers: Johann Sebastian Bach, John Dowland, Gaspar Sanz, Ralph Vaughn Williams, Erik Satie, G.F. Handel, Ludwig Von Beethoven, Jimmy Webb, Francesco Da Milano, Henry Purcell, Pyotr Illich Tchaikovsky, Harry Gregson-Williams, Domenico Scarlatti, Enrique Granados, Isaac Albeniz, Michael Praetorius, Joaquin Rodrigo, Antonin Dvorak, Ennio Morricone, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, Jerry Goldsmith, Rachel Portman, Felix Mendelsohn, James Newton Howard, John Williams, Mychael Danna, Stephen Schwartz, George Gershwin. And many more.

Film: Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Marlon Brando, Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Johnny Depp, Steve McQueen, Ben Kingsley, Anthony Hopkins, Liam Neeson, Sir Laurence Olivier, James Caan, Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, Alec Guinness, Steven Spielberg, Gus Van Zandt, Jim Caviezel, Franco Zeffirelli, Francis Ford Coppola.  And many more.

Writers: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Eugene Peterson, Morris West, C. S. Lewis, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Will & Ariel Durant, Viktor Frankl, Chaim Potok, Ralph McInerny, M. Scott Peck, J.R.R. Tolkien, Michael D. O’Brien, William Manchester, Dan Brown, Daniel Silva, Leo Tolstoy, Randy Alcorn, Joel Rosenberg, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Elie Wiesel, Sol Stein, Mitch Albom, Mortimer Adler, Will Strunk & E.B. White.  And many more.

Leadership and Self-Development:  Jim Rohn, Peter Drucker, Michael Gelb, John Maxwell, J. Oswald Sanders, Jack Canfield, Dean Karnazes, James Allen, Napoleon Hill, Brian Tracy, Anthony Robbins, Stephen Covey, Earl Nightingale, Dale Carnegie, Warren Bennis, David Schwartz, Zig Ziglar, Warren Bennis. And a few more.

Politics and Economics:  George Will, Henry Kissinger, Abba Eban, Ronald Reagan, John Kenneth Galbraith, John F. Kennedy, George Schultz, Thomas Sowell.  And a few more.

Science and Technology:  Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, E.F. Codd, Stephen Hawking.  And a few more.

Enough for now.  Who inspires you in your talents, work, avocation, and hobbies?

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Learn A Language Fast (It Can Be Done)

7 10 2013

LanguageI studied the French language for six years.  Four years in high school; two in college.  I’ve always been fascinated by language, symbols essentially for concepts.  The sounds of different tongues are color and music to my ears.

In my senior year of high school, I had the opportunity to meet and interact every day with two foreign-exchange students from Europe who were fellow classmates in my French IV class.  Joachim hailed from West Germany (this, of course, before the Berlin Wall fell) and Bo from Sweden.

Given the close proximity of one country to another, most Europeans are, out of necessity, polyglots.  Both of my classmates could speak numerous languages.  It was inspiring, to say the least.

There are benefits to learning languages other than your native tongue.  You can communicate with those from another country and you can read classics, newspapers and other works that are not English.  Someone once said that reading Tolstoy in translation is like kissing through a veil.  You get the picture.

I read somewhere, once upon a time, how Near Eastern scholar Cyrus Gordon learned a number of foreign languages during the course of a summer.  He said–and he learned over twenty languages throughout his life–that if you took any book in a language other than your own, read the first twenty pages of the same and took the time to up the meaning and grammar of every word, you could have a reading knowledge of that particular language in short order.  During one summer, he mastered six languages by simply giving an hour a day to each following this study pattern.  Among them, he learned Portugese and Danish.

How about adding new language skills to your tool chest?  My eldest daughter Anna–who studied French for two years in high school–is now living in the south of France and has immersed herself in the language of Voltaire and Émile Zola.  She’s become quite conversant in it and can interact with people in places like Paris and Lyons.

You may follow Gordon’s study program.  Or you may benefit from the TED talk in the video I’ve attached.  Try it!

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C. S. Lewis on Art and Originality

6 10 2013

C.S.-Lewis

“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” (C. S. Lewis)

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Addison’s Walk

2 10 2013

Addisons WalkI’ve been thinking about and appreciating anew Oxford scholar and author, C. S. Lewis.  Earlier this year, I read his classic–one of many–The Screwtape Letters.  He was a remarkable thinker and writer.

Addison’s Walk is a pathway around Oxford’s Magdelen College.  Lewis used to indulge his peripatetic urges with friends on this footpath, among them J. R. R. Tolkien of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring fame.

When one walks in nature, it gives one time to think about things, especially these days when we are bombarded with stimuli from numerous sources, a product of the digital age.  Sometimes it is helpful; sometimes it hinders through noise, interruption, and distraction.

Lewis never fully entered the 20th Century.  And I think we may well be the richer because of it.  He never owned a wristwatch; learned to drive only later in life and rarely; wore the same clothes to the point of threadbareness.  I’m not sure he would’ve integrated gracefully into the 21st Century.  But no matter.

But he gave us The Chronicles of Narnia.  And Mere Christianity.  And The Pilgrim’s Regress.  And a whole lot more.  I’d be willing to bet that these contributions were a by-product of these walks and talks, many of them occurring on Addison’s Walk.

Take some time to walk.  I’m sure you have your own pathways, perhaps similar to Addison’s Walk.  Think.  Meditate. Ponder.  And see what is borne of such activity.

Phil Keaggy, deeply inspired by the work of Lewis for about forty years, wrote this piece called, appropriately, “Addison’s Walk.”

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Dostoevsky On Truth and Self-Deception

1 10 2013

Dostoevsky

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” (Fyodor Dostoevsky)

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