Words of Wisdom from Gene Simmons’s Mom

Flora Klein is a lovely, Hungarian woman.  She is on in years.  Born in 1927, she is ninety this year.  Jewish, she survived the death camps of the Third Reich.  To say she is quite a remarkable lady is an exercise in understatement.

As a fourteen-year-old girl, she watched her mother and grandmother go to their deaths.  Her grandmother was given the death sentence and her daughter—Flora’s mother—did not want her mother to face death alone and made the incredible decision to join her in death.  A profoundly moving example of sacrifice and selflessness in the face of evil.

Having survived the horrors of the war, she emigrated to Israel.  There, she married  a carpenter and had a son, Chaim, in 1949.  Her husband eventually left the family and left mother and son to fend for themselves.

In 1958, Flora and Chaim journeyed to America to forge a new life, as have done many Jews over the past century or more.

They settled in New York.  Chaim grew up and took his mother’s name, Klein, and exchanged his Hebrew name for Eugene, or “Gene” for short.  Gene Klein.

Gene—still “Chaim” to his mother—received all his direction, nurture, and inspiration from his mother.  It is no exaggeration to say that Gene worships the ground his mother walks on.  Not his father; his mom.  Mention her and ask him to talk about her and he tears up.

Gene was trained in rabbinic Judaism at a New York yeshiva and eventually worked as a New York City school teacher.  He was a young musician and pursued that, his mother cheering him on.  Eventually he formed a group with his friend Stanley Eisen.  He and Stanley changed their names.  Now they are known as Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley.  You’ve probably figured out that Israeli-born Chaim Witz is Gene Simmons of the rock group KISS.

Gene eventually went on to superstardom in the entertainment industry.  In recent years, he’s gotten into many different business ventures—some as startups rooted in KISS®, the brand.  Others are independent enterprises.

A few years ago, when asked on the Canadian talk show The Hour (minute 11:10) where he got his inspiration to be a success in so many fields, he answered without hesitation, “My mother.”  He began to choke up as he told the audience he wished she could be a part of all their lives.

His advice:  If you want inspiration, look to your mom.  She’s his inspiration to this moment.

He spoke of the time he got his first $10,000,000.00 (yes, that much) check—a one lump sum—as a return on his work with KISS.  He brought the check to his mother, wanting her to be proud of him.  “Mom, look at this.”

She said, in her broken English, “V’wonderful (pronounced VWAHN-dare-fool).  V’wonderful…..Now what are you going to do?”

Superstardom.  A ten-million-dollar check.  “Now what are you going to do?” Are you serious?

“Precisely the point,” says Gene.  One doesn’t rest on yesterday’s accomplishments.  Tomorrow is a new day.  What will you do to better yourself?  How can you improve what you do?

This is timeless—and distinctly Jewish—advice and perspective.  How about you?  Are you going to rest on yesterday’s successes?  Or worse, are you going to give up because of yesterday’s failures and disappointments?  Or will you value the gift of life and make the most of it that is possible?

Not sure?  Ask Chaim.  Better yet, ask his mother.


Suggested Resources:

The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement (Steven L. Pease)

The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank)


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35 Years Ago This Evening

I remember July 29, 1982 like it was yesterday.  Thirty-five years ago, I stopped at a donut shop to visit a friend and picked up the Detroit Free Press.  I read of an airplane crash.  11 people dead.  And one of them, an iconoclast Christian musician named Keith Green.

Quickly, I grabbed the newspaper and went to the house of a friend.  It was probably about 9:30 at night.  And he was in bed.

“Keith Green is dead.  You have to see this.”  He was awake immediately.  We began reflecting on the profound impact this now deceased twenty-eight year old Christian musician had on us.

Keith Green was what we label as an acronym: WYSIWYG.  “What You See Is What You Get.”  He was intense to a fault.  A friend of mine, a recording engineer, met Keith once.  He said he was so intense he was scary.

Keith was a seeker.  And eventually he latched on to Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus became his guru.  And then his master.  He never looked back.

Keith was not easy to deal with.  He was impulsive, impetuous and his intensity–so says his longtime friend, Randy Stonehill– could often give you an Excedrin headache.  He was immature at times but dead earnest with what he knew was truth.

I was first exposed to Keith’s music as a young Christian disciple.  His in-your-face lyrics both challenged me and made me wither.  The same could be said for multiplied thousands of people who came under his influence.

Keith, thank you.  You have no idea the effect you have had on me for thirty-seven years.  Add to that multiplied millions of others.  May your tribe explode in growth.

Suggested Resources:

No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green (Melody Green & David Hazard)

“Your Love Broke Through:  The Keith Green Story”


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Ignore Words–Watch What They Do

Watch What They DoA number of years ago I happened to be listening to an internet talk-show where the host had an expert on Russia as his guest. This Russian geopolitical expert—Jeff Nyquist, for those interested—told his host that Russia continues to produce thermonuclear weapons in the post-Soviet era even though its public position is one of disarmament. Nyquist then added one of the wisest maxims that I have ever heard. “When you look at Russia and its leaders,” he said, “don’t listen to what they say; watch what they do.”

“Don’t listen to what they say; watch what they do.”

This has become a principle and continuous reality check for my wife and I when evaluating all the stuff we hear as we live our lives among six billion other people as well as evaluating where we’re at ourselves.

Talk is cheap. Politicians and those trying to achieve political ends are known for making great promises that folks with even modest intelligence know will never be acted on in any sincere way. And no cynicism here. When you evaluate the current state of our economy and the deficit and then hear the promises of financial improvement and stimulus programs by our leaders, you can see that the promises are simply air. I appreciated our stimulus check. But where did the money come from?

This precept of not listening to what people say but rather watching what they’re doing can be either encouraging or demoralizing. Here are two of the most powerful and life-giving statements a person can utter:

“I love you.”

“I am a Christian (or a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Sikh)”

Conversely, here two of the most useless and demoralizing things a human being can say with their mouth:

“I love you.”

“I am a Christian (or a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Sikh)”

Oh the power of paradox. All the difference in the world based on one simple, observable, quantifiable factor: Is the utterance backed up with action?

Or is it just idle talk?

This is a great inventory tool for looking over your life as well as evaluating reality as you mix with the human race.

For example:

If I say I believe in being a public voice for change but never write to a congressman, senator, the President or some other civic or governmental leader, my actions betray what I really believe. I may be enamored with the idea of being involved, but I don’t really believe in being involved. If I did, I’d act on it.

If I say I believe in helping the poor and then look over my checkbook, my possessions and my time and find I have spent all my discretionary income on videos, sports, and other forms of entertainment, expensive food, toys and other things, then I might believe in helping the poor in theory, as an article of faith in my creed (a necessary and useless thing, a creed), but I don’t really believe in helping the poor.

If I say I’m a Christian (a “little Christ”) and believe in Jesus Christ and then practice a lifestyle contrary to the way and teachings of Jesus and am really no different than the unregenerate world that hates Jesus (John 7:7 – the world hates the real Jesus because he reproves it of its evil), then I really don’t believe in Jesus. I may believe in the concept of following Jesus, but I really don’t believe in Jesus. One of my earliest Bible teachers called that “practical atheism.” James tells us that such faith will not save anyone (James 2:17-26).

You can use this evaluative tool in any area and it works just great. And if you are sincere, you will come away humbled. The bottom line is this (if you don’t get it now, you’ll surely see it is true when you stand at the Judgment Seat before God): What you do is what you really believe.

A.W. Tozer once wrote an editorial entitled “Words Without Deeds: The Vice of Religion.” In another place, he wrote this: “The deadening effect of religious make-believe upon the human mind is beyond all describing.” We have numerous scriptures that tell us that God will judge us according to our works , not our aspirations (e.g. Revelation 20:12-13). But we will also be held accountable for every idle word we say (Matthew 12:36-37 – the word idle here means “non-working”). If our deeds don’t match our creeds, we will suffer condemnation. Jesus promised.

So what then?

Don’t say something you’re not sincerely prepared to back with action.
Better yet, say little or nothing and let your works speak for themselves. God says, in effect, “Show me the money!”
When you back up your words with deeds, it creates credibility, which is priceless.
Inventory your own life, not just others lives who happen to intersect with yours. It’s humbling and tough at times, but it is reality.

So, remember: What you do is what you really believe. And with people, as well as with ourselves, don’t listen to what they say; watch what they do.

“So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17)

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Praise and Criticism: Valuable, But Limited

Fear of ManOne receives inspirations at the oddest times.  Months ago, while listening to some a moving film score, I had a moment of understanding.  It had to do with desire for praise and fear of disapproval.

We tend to desire the approval of people we look up to and to fear the disapproval of the same.  Some of this is normal and healthy, a matter of common sense.  Most every child desires to please his parents.  Spouses yearn for the approbation of their spouses.  Employees want their bosses to be pleased with them and fear falling into disfavor due to poor performance.

All well and good.

There are many of us, however, who have an inordinate and unhealthy desire to please everybody.  We fear being “on the outs” with people–the more significant, the deeper the fear.  Corollary, we yield to the corresponding urge to bend over backwards to please.

We do this because of the valuation we’ve given to human applause or criticism.  And it trips us up.  One Proverb from the Bible sums it up: It brings a snare (Proverbs 29:25).  This fear of disapproval has been called, from ancient times,  the fear of man.

If I had Confederate currency lying around or piles of Monopoly money in my home, I would not be too upset if someone took it.  Why?  Because these things have little or no value.  Their gain or loss is of little moment.  It’s a different story when someone picks my pocket.  You get the idea.

Someone once wrote, “If you desire the praise of man, you will fear man.  If you fear man, you will serve him–for you will serve what you fear.”

What to do?

Remember, if you don’t get in the habit of drinking the Kool-Aid of praise and applause, you’re less likely to dread their loss.  You will ultimately answer to One, not seven billion.

It’s the sense of perspective that makes all the difference in the world.  Go and do the right thing and don’t fear man.  As my wife reminds me over and over again:

“We’re just people.  We poop.  We pee.  We die.”

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The Book of Lights and Tough Ethical Questions

The Book of LightsI’m currently reading a book by Chaim Potok, author of my favorite novel, The Chosen.  This particular book, written in 1981, The Book of Lights, is set in Korean War-era New York City near historic Riverside Church and Grant’s Tomb, Korea, and Japan.

The main protagonist, Gershon Loran, has been ordained into the rabbinate and conscripted into the service after the armistice has been signed.  He is a somewhat melancholy and, at the same time, brilliant and reflective man who is particularly enamored with the study of Kabbalah–the books of Jewish mysticism.  He is haunted by visions.

His roommate, Arthur Leiden–also a rabbinical student and future rabbi, is a curious figure.  He is a conflicted man, often drinking too much and coming to class unprepared (and drawing upon himself the kind of ire that was standard for teachers towards lazy students a generation ago.)

Arthur is conflicted as well because his father, a physicist, was involved in the creation of the atomic bomb.  Albert Einstein, Harry S Truman, Leo Szilard and Enrico Fermi are all colleagues of Arthur’s father and figure into the story.

The book, a predictably thoughtful story, forces the reader to examine the moral import and consequence of developing weapons of mass destruction and its consequences for those who bear the weight of such a dark legacy.

I am about half the way through this novel.  Potok is a masterful writer.  He understands the human psyche and Jewishness (in which he was both raised and trained).  Read this and his other works.

And reflect.

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Gandhi on First Things

95e39/huch/1887/3“Let the first act of every morning be to make the following resolve for the day:

– I shall not fear anyone on Earth.
– I shall fear only God.
– I shall not bear ill will toward anyone.
– I shall not submit to injustice from anyone.
– I shall conquer untruth by truth. And in resisting untruth, I shall put up with all suffering.” (Mahatma Gandhi, 1869-1948)

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The Hidden Costs of Shortcuts

The Hidden Costs of Shortcuts

“I do not deny that many appear to have succeeded in a material way by cutting corners and by manipulating associates, both in their professional and in their personal lives. But material success is possible in this world and far more satisfying when it comes without exploiting others.” (Alan Greenspan)

Bernie Madoff.  Michael Milken.  Ivan Boesky.  Charles Ponzi.  Jack Abramoff.   Enron.

The aforementioned are cataloged in the annals of infamy for cutting corners financially, hurting a lot of people and ending up in jail.  Greed and hubris motivated them all.  Plus the fatal narcotic of self-deception, thinking they could get away with their crimes.

There is no shortcut to the building of a large and stable estate.  Wealth grows in the soil of patience, competence and hard work.  There are no substitutes.

A good deal of the writings in the book of Proverbs came from Solomon, son of David, Israel’s wisest and wealthiest king.  Here is what he had to say about the acquisition of wealth:

  • Pro 28:8  Whoever multiplies his wealth by interest and profit gathers it for him who is generous to the poor.
  • Pro 28:19  Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.
  • Pro 28:22  A stingy man hastens after wealth and does not know that poverty will come upon him.
  • Pro 10:4  A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.
  • Pro 21:17  Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.
  • Pro 22:16  Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.
  • Pro 13:11  Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.

Avoid like the plague the get-rich-quick mentality.  Build your estate, your wealth, day by day, dollar by dollar on a foundation of hard work, thrift, competence and compassion.  You are not Gordon Gecko.  You’re better than that.  Avoid the siren song of cutting corners and coloring outside of the lines to get ahead.

“Rather fail with honor than succeed by fraud.” (Sophocles)

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