Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ta Ta For Now! (But not really)

It's been a really good experience running this blog since March of 2011, and I've enjoyed the privilege of being able to share my thoughts with the world immensely. However, as I've been transitioning to a new stage of life (I was a junior in high school when I started this blog, now I'm a freshman in college) I'm also transitioning to a new blog. I've known Paul Hastings and Joseph Clarkson for several years now, and we've found common ground in our passion for intellectual thinking and rebellion against cultural intellectual decay. Thus, we have come together to start Thinkers Incorporated, a site dedicated to the above pursuits. What this means, given my fairly hectic schedule, is that I am saying goodbye to this blog. Actually, I haven't posted here since November, so I suppose it won't be missed that much. But, I will be posting at least once per week on my new blog, so, in the end, you'll be seeing quite a bit more from my writing in the future. Thanks for all the support, and I hope to see y'all visiting me soon!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

What Election Day Means, A Rant

In just a few days from now, roughly one-third of the American populace will determine who they want the single most powerful man in the world to be. Throughout the history of the twentieth century, this nation arrived upon the two-party system, which means that for all real purposes, the people have two options. The man who was nominated by the supposedly conservative party (snicker) is one Willard Romney, though the Republicans haven't nominated a somewhat legitimately conservative candidate claiming to at least maybe partially uphold the ideals of middle America every other Tuesday since the George W. Bush of the 2000 election. If the idea of electing a man who would probably call forgetting his cummerbund at a charity ball a bad day doesn't float your boat, you may vote for the incumbent, who's campaign slogan is ripped from such bastions of heartland, apple pie American values as Marx and Trotsky, that is, Barack Obama, who wishes he could use his middle name in public. I personally think he should take a cue from a certain four-year old who referred to him as Bronco Bama. Everyone and their brother would vote for a guy named Bronco.

Other than various differences over the advantages of their nomenclature, the two candidates have truly significant differences. One of them wants to raise taxes on the rich, spy on Americans on any tenuously supported suspicion of terror, support strong regulation of Wall Street, enact SOPA, and has no problem with a total redraw of the healthcare system overseen by the government.  The other one is Barack Obama.

Perhaps their personalities are the key, maybe this is the one factor that will draw voters. The Baracktopus seems to have all of the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile, with the way he relates to the people. The guy is the type who is either in complete control or is throwing a fit. In an attempt to allay this viewpoint during the first presidential debate, he aired a performance that made him appear as if he would rather be having his teeth pulled than being forced to defend himself to a peon, erm, citizen in front of the entire nation. Meanwhile, Romney succeeded in forcing educated public discourse so central to America's direction as the question of the funding of Sesame Street. Seriously? It's as if his advisers came to him right before he went live with data from an apparently significant group of one-issue voters whose blessings lived and died on the demise of Oscar the Grouch. Speaking of the Grouch, he continued on to question the continued support of the debate moderator. I have one suggestion for the Romney staff. When pushing the message of job-creation, don't threaten sacking someone on the most popular TV event of the year. Only Donald Trump can do that. The problem with his personality isn't that it isn't a good one, but that it's sort of obscured by his palpable glee at firing people.

Maybe their running-mates are the true faces of the campaigns. In one corner, we have an accountant who missed his calling. Paul Ryan, who prefers to nickname his children after small garden vegetables, lives for numbers. In the keg party that is the federal government, he's the guy keeping the tab. His persona is plausibly the outcome of some strange experiment in which the nerdiest of nerds at his high-school switched bodies with the star wide receiver. He does multi-variable calculus problems in his head while going through his P90x routine. Unfortunately, his role in the Romney administration will probably be to assume the office of Chief Headache. One easily envisions staff meetings where the cabinet secretaries and the President are going through heated debate over how to spin Romneycare to the public, and Ryan will be arguing over the 0.5 cents per page they could save on printing costs if all government documents were printed in Comic Sans. But it's not like the man on the other side of the ring is appreciably better. In the history of being the man one heart beat away from being the Commander-in-Chief, there have certainly been a few duds. Men like Spiro Agnew and Al Gore come to mind. But there has never been a man like Joe Biden. The past four years make one assume that there must have been some kind of weird conspiracy involving Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien's writers replacing his speech manuscripts with scripts that only comedians could love. If Democrats elected Obama for his promises of change, they must be severely disappointed that for the twelfth straight year, the executive branch of the federal government has had embarrassing gaffe after embarrassing gaffe. The difference this time is that Mr. Biden has an ego of unbelievable proportions. During his cringe-worthy performance in the vice-presidential debate, he seemed to be under the impression that people aren't interested in logical, passionate debate. His coaches must have informed him that the best way to deal with well-constructed attacks on the government's record was to laugh them off. "When in doubt, insult and contradict" has never been a winning debate strategy. It is disgusting and anti-American for a governmental official to possess the idea that he is somehow above the rest of us, and that he has an elevated sense of reality and what's good for us. In fact, it is decidedly progressive in nature, but that's for another post.

Ok, so if we take a step back, and look at the campaigns from a different perspective, we should be able to determine who is the better candidate, right? Let's examine their supporters rationale for voting for them. The Republicans have had a rather raw deal in the past several elections, so it may be possible to cut them some slack, but not much considering their logic. A normal, logical person would look at the tally of votes as a pair of scales. A vote put in one candidate's column also counts as a vote against the other. The voted for candidate's side will go down as much as the decided against candidate's side will go up. This is simply the way it works. Not according to Republicans, not at all. My favorite line, "If you don't vote, you're voting for Obama!" What!?! How does that make sense. If each person were given a weight to put on the scale, and one chose to throw his away, whose column is boosted? Whose column is harmed? Um, neither. How is voting not for socialism and not for centrism a vote for socialism? I feel like bashing a newborn kitten against the wall whenever someone makes that argument. But in case you thought only the party of the so-called conservatives was employing faulty logic in GOTV campaigns, wait until the Democrats present their case. We have the master of logical constructions, the veritable brains behind the Left, Joe Biden telling an African-American crowd in the South that Republicans intend to put them back in chains. Other than race-mongering, Biden would do well to remember that it was HIS party, not the Republicans who were standing with John C. Calhoun against Frederick Douglass on the slavery argument. Or they resort to blatant scare tactics. So Obama's followers aren't using logic either.

In conclusion, we have two choices for the next President. They have each spun, rhetorically speaking, vastly different visions for the future of America. But when push comes to shove, are either of them truly desirable? I feel like Bonnie Tyler, wondering where all the good men have gone. Let's hope for a Ted Cruz run in 2016.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Die Schandmauer

"Happy Birthday"

"Happy Birthday"

"Happy B-Day"

"Happiest B-Day"

Rather inexpressive and unoriginal, eh? This, sadly, is the consistency of the vast majority of my communication with specific personages. To the general masses I proclaim my various opinions on politics, religion, and various other minutia I feel entitled to discourse on. It's because of these vast, open-ended conversations we call social networking that argumentation, communication, and community are dissolving ever faster in modern society.

For some reason, we have put an immeasurable importance on the ability to enter characters onto the great scrolling edifice of the Facebook news feed. In many ways, it reflects the attributes of one historical wall, that is, the Berlin Wall.

Die Schandmauer
How so? To go with the very basic, the most transient of similarities, it is covered in graffiti. What I mean is that when one logs onto Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest or whathaveyou, one is instantly assaulted with a barrage of mindless expressions apparently coming from the consciousness of another intelligent being, but possessing neither intelligence nor consciousness. If a man were to walk out onto the street and start proclaiming any random thought or advertising slogan that popped into his head, society would consider him to be a lunatic. But spend hours immersing yourself in precisely the same meaningless "communication" by yourself, with only a plastic rodent for a companion, and you can consider yourself relevant and abreast of society. Nobody ever went to the Berlin Wall and inquired into the vast depths of reason or intimate personal sentiments. It wasn't meant for that. Nor has any human society in the history of the universe felt it necessary to endlessly blabber on about the most trivial of personal details to the world at large, and consider oneself of low social stature if no one took notice. (I resist the snidetude proclaiming that anyone who did so would probably be of low social stature anyway. Society's fools tend to think themselves the most wise, and thus feel the equivalent of the "White Man's Burden" to expose their views to the world. By that I mean the opinions are misguided and confusing.) In short, no one cared what was written on the Berlin Wall, and nobody cares about what is written in 140 characters or less on Twitter.

However, if we go a little deeper, we find more profound attributes shared by social networking and the Wall of Shame. What was on either side of the construct in the capital city of East Germany? On one hand, there was the thriving, Western society of West Berlin. Free expression, personal liberty, and the free market existed and grew to overthrow the society on the other side. East Berlin was a reflection on the rest of the country. It was a culture of oppression, fear, paranoia, and the incredible mass of impersonal administration known as The State. On one side, mankind was taking dominion. On the other, mankind was being dominated. What therefore exists on either side of the occurrence and sudden popularity of social networking? A culture still interested in interpersonal communication, and another culture willing to trade this for impersonal communication. Not too long ago, it was not uncommon to compose and send well-thought out articles of communication called letters. These were meant to arrange the author's feelings and musings to a specific person or group of people. They were not meant to be broadcast to the world at large. Nor would one go to the trouble of arranging one's thoughts, putting them to written word, and sending them if all one was going to communicate was a random witticism or sentiment on the evening repast. This lead to only thoughts worth thinking being communicated and dealt with by society at large. Even if the specific contents were somewhat trivial, it was meant to hold more relevance to the sender and receiver than to humanity in general anyway.

Compare what was true then to what is true now. When one crosses the Checkpoint Charlie of the Google+  signup page and enters into the East Berlin of the internet and society, one's attitudes about interaction completely change. It becomes socially acceptable to reduce one's interactions with one's "friends" to a mere wishing of a joyful day on the anniversary of their entrance into this world. Ironically, we celebrate social networking most when we remind people of the world outside. When not performing this most tedious and toilsome of required actions on social networks, one has options indeed. Profess some conviction about religion and one is instantaneously attacked or silently judged. At best, those holding a similar view need not express any kind of meaningful praise. No, Mr. Zuckerberg has given to the masses the ability to simply "like" any particular post, thus making our admirers the most impersonal of all. Profess some political conviction and the same reaction is given. There is incredible pressure to conform. A certain friend of mine has questioned me on my reasoning on posting anything about my personal convictions on Facebook. I inferred that the idea was to avoid notoriety. To avoid standing out. To ease our consciences of this grip of fear that people may not like us, we then try to posit some worthless sentiment on the consistency of the nourishment we are currently consuming or express an equally worthless sentiment on the weather of the day. Thus we relegate true conviction to a hidden part of ourselves that we are more and more afraid of talking about. Yet we tell ourselves that this is not true, by creating minor controversies so insignificant as to baffle any cultural outsider as to the apparent need to comment on them. For example, the author has a particular fondness for the features and philosophical foundations of the Fab Four. Perhaps he might post this on Facebook, and anyone dissenting may vent their dislike of great art in the comment section of the post. Thus a minor controversy is started, but no meaningful takeaways are provided. Life is never enriched an iota by someone proclaiming, "The Beatles suck!"

There also exists a sense of dark foreboding about the popularity and ubiquity of social networking that all participants who hold to something so temporal, so secular, as a pulse must inevitably feel embodied. That is, Mark Zuckerberg has accomplished in 8 years what Central Intelligence or the KGB have been trying to make a reality for decades and decades. There now exists a medium for every member of society, regardless of social strata, wealth, or personal significance to continuously provide anyone observing with a means to track one's personal features, appearances, whereabouts, likes, dislikes, companions, employment situation, personal weaknesses, personal strengths, and even one's musical tastes. How vast the horrors we visit upon ourselves in the name of progress. This creates a feeling of either intense paranoia or disturbing complacency among all users. Recently, it has come to my attention that people are posting legal terms stating that they do not wish to be tracked or observed by anyone other than their friends on their news feeds. What is the implication? Simply this: Every post, every picture, every video one chooses to share with the world is considered duly noted automatically by governments and nameless entities too dark to imagine unless otherwise explicitly stated. But no data exists to support the claim that these new "legal terms" created by the user are honored by the social networks. How does this differ than the world we saw behind the Iron Curtain? Indeed, one is left with two options after joining an online community. The first is to totally accept it, and post everything about oneself, and be willingly observed and watched. The second is to be what is known as a "lurker", that is, to create a profile and maintain a non-existent presence. The latter option self-defeats the purpose of joining such a group in the first place, while the former's predicament should be self-evident.

The result of this situation is that interpersonal interaction has become shallow, meaningless, and worthless. With the number of Facebook users swelling to upwards of 1 billion, the world has reached the point where this is the new normal. Our fathers worked to defeat a society and worldview and culture that dehumanized people. Our generation works to build an online reality that goes farther than any radical social scientist could imagine 20 years ago. Willful de-personalization, willful loss of humanity has become the newly minted expectation of society. What do I mean by this? Isn't this all a tad extreme? Loss of humanity? Seriously? Yes, seriously. Humans were meant to interact. We were meant to reason together, to build together, to share our thoughts and feelings, to express our emotions, to interact with and influence culture. But all of this requires artful communication that takes time and effort. Labor has been required of man to achieve anything good since The Fall. Ever since, man has looked for ways to avoid work, and to find a different way to effect the same ends. But, the essence of humanity is the upward struggle. A mighty battle against ourselves to redeem what we lost, and to change the world in a good way makes up the very fabric of human existence. Now we spend hours and hours of our preciously short lives commenting on the most trivial, the most stupid and irrelevant details of our temporal existences, forgetting the deadly seriousness of our spiritual lives, and the legacies we leave behind. After all, who wants written on their headstone the number of Facebook friends they had? It doesn't matter in any way, shape, or form. What does matter? What one does for the good of humanity, in the service of the Lord. That matters.

Is there another option? Yes. Can we scale the Wall? We can. Is there an escape route to West Berlin? One does indeed exist. Practically speaking, I invite you to join me on a grand experiment. Deactivate or delete every single one of your social networking accounts. Take a stand against the rising tide of The Fall, redeem what is being lost. Choose to talk to the person sitting next to you. And don't have an insignificant conversation. Have a discussion that will force both of you to look at the world, to wonder at the universe in all of its mystery and grandeur. Find the design to life, don't obscure it with pictures of the sandwich you just ate.

In conclusion, social networking actively works to destroy good cultural interaction. The first being that a good argument require more than 30 seconds of time to develop and more than 140 characters to state. The second is that any argument made is assaulted as being either controversial or irrelevant. Secondly, social networking destroys good communication. We satisfy our social impulses now by agreeing that the lunch our acquaintance had indeed looks excellent. Social networking hurts us in yet a third way by denying us a community of any depth. The idea of a great societal discussion has been reduced from the Lincoln-Douglas debates to whatever ways we can beat a dead horse with whichever new meme has just begun its fifteen minutes of fame. One of our most celebrated presidents once stated, "Ich bin ein berliner." He said this at a time when West Berlin was under direct threat of existence. All that advanced society held dear was pictured by West Berlin. All that humanity struggled against was contained in East Berlin. We are all Berliners. The question is, which side do we live on?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Summer 2012

In case anyone hasn't yet noticed, I have taken off the Summer so far. Fact is, I either didn't think there was anything worth posting, or I was tearing out my hair from sheer panic and stress. So now that I have a momentary breather before really big stuff starts happening to me (Really. Big. Stuff. [like a total lifestyle change, and nicer scenery {hopefully}]), I thought I would basically compile what my Summer has come down to so far.

#1: All Staff Advance
Location: Lubbock, TX
Date: June 1-2
Pics or it didn't happen?
That's me, the guy with his hair partially cut off.
Beginning the day after the most successful primary the PAC has ever had, it marked the first official convocation of all Texas Home School Coalition staff, plus some rather notable volunteers *cough*. I got to personally meet my effervescent, intense co-director of THSCPAC, Beka Ingram. She was even more effervescent and intense in-person. I brainstormed a project that was dubbed, at the time, important but not urgent. Laughing about that now. I'll give you the important details later in the post. A good time was had by all, and we got the necessary inspiration to make it through the hectic Republican primary runoffs.

#2: NCFCA National Tournament, 2012
Location: St. Paul, MN
Date: June 17-25 (Including four days of travel time)
Pics or it didn't happen?
End of long day + always being caught in dorky poses in these kinds of pics = above image.
For all of two days of competition, I was a national level extemporaneous speaker. The other seven, I was having the time of my life retiring my four-year NCFCA career. That puppy has been laid to rest. Got to meet some awesome people, give some mediocre speeches, and have really, really good barbecue in Kansas City on both the 17th and the 24th (I have pics of that, too). Bittersweet memory, as it was my last NCFCA tournament (as a competitor, watch out for me as a judge). I have to highly recommend the league as a good life-experience that is already bearing fruit.

#3: Camping with the Guys
Location: Inks Lake State Park, TX
Date: July 6-7
Pics or it didn't happen?
Super manly t-shirts? Check. Mental preparation for intense mockery by my offspring? Checkaroo.
The camping trip to end all camping trips. I had the distinct pleasure of visiting the location of many a church camp-out (most recent of which occurring around 2002). In addition, I had the distinct pleasure of both viewing some previously hidden foot muscle, and cowboying off the previous covering thereof. Also, I made a foray into bacon-frying, which turned out rather well. The cliff jumping was awesome, and I totally look forward to my next trip, where I might be able to pull off more than one jump before having my foot savagely assaulted by said cliff. Oh, and did I mention that the other dudes in the picture are basically the guys I grew up with? Yup. Big heaping helping of awesomesauce.

#4: Republican Primary Runoff Election
Location: Austin, TX
Date: July 31
Pics or it didn't happen?
I'm the guy with his back to the camera. Because I was working, unlike my boss, who took the picture.
I participated in my first war-room session. The local members of the PAC bundled ourselves (after voting, of course) to a borrowed conference room in central Austin, where we labored to get out the vote for our candidates. This included yours truly developing the most popular post in the history of the THSCPAC FB page. I guess I'm awesome that way. Anyway, the highlight of the day was getting to witness Ted Cruzalicious help David Dewhurst steal defeat from the jaws of victory. Pretty cool stuff. Other highlight of the day? Being able to use a 24'' monitor. I'm not really into tech anymore, but I got pretty psyched about that.

#5: THSC Convention 2012
Location: The Woodlands, TX
Date: August 2-4
Pics or it didn't happen?
Power photo taken courtesy of the talented Christina Hastings, yes that Christina Hastings.
Three straight 14-hour days. Really good food every night for dinner. And my 'brainstorm' was publicly announced as an official program of THSCPAC without my foreknowledge. Things move fast with Paul Hastings and Tim Lambert. Other than that one shot of instant adrenaline, it was a pretty chill conference. I got to finally see what a conference run by people other than my parents looked like, and was duly impressed. Plus I got to visit with some friends, and go to the Cheesecake Factory for the first time, though admittedly I was served at midnight. Oh, and how could I forget having a front-row seat for the Bob Smiley show. If you don't know who he is, look him up. Last but not least, seeing John Erickson perform Hank the Cowdog. It was goodness.

And basically, that's what my Summer has boiled down to this year. In between the above events, I was working my job at The Gap, slaving for THSCPAC in less glamorous locales, and doing a bit of swimming and movie watching.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The True Gospel

The Gospel is central to the Christian faith. Without it, we have no purpose, no hope, and we lack a basis for practically all we do. However, we must take care to preach and teach the True Gospel. While this seems like an obvious point, because the Gospel is so essential, it is worth examining some false gospels common in the Church, and seeing what the True Gospel is, and why it matters.

The first type of false gospel is the Me Gospel. This one is especially pernicious, yet woefully common. It takes the emphasis off of Christ, and puts it on each individual. Focusing on specific things that must be done, it is works based. It tells us that if we don't do certain things, or feel certain ways, or say certain things, then we are not saved. These are things that we all tell ourselves that we have to do. Am I saved if I haven’t prayed the "sinner's prayer"? Am I saved if I didn't feel 'spiritual' during worship on Sunday? Am I saved if I didn't tithe 10% of my income? All of these things are extra-biblical requirements. The consequence of this gospel is the despair that comes from using finite methods to reach an infinite goal.

The next kind of false gospel is the Conditional Gospel. It is similar to the Me Gospel, except that it is composed of requirements put on us by other people. We aren't saved in their eyes if we don't meet certain conditions. The idea that one's salvation depends on someone other than Christ's opinion of you is heretical. You may believe this gospel if you think that someone's salvation is in doubt if they haven't been slain in the Spirit, spoken in tongues, or prophesied in church. The problem is that, again, Christ is not at the center of this. Extra-biblical requirements are. Additionally, this gospel ends in fear that other people may make another criterion defining true salvation

The third variety of false gospel is the Uncertain Gospel. The main idea of this one is that ultimate salvation is constantly in doubt. One never knows for sure whether they have done enough to deserve, or receive salvation. You find yourself asking, "Have I given enough money?" "Have I repented of my sins enough times?" "Have I lived in such a way as to deserve salvation?" This is the beginning of the road to legalism, because it necessitates certain rules to make us feel as if we're good enough. This is totally false, and inspires arrogance and pride in those who subscribe to it.

The last kind of false gospel I want to address is the Elite Gospel. This gospel centers on the belief that the Gospel isn't appropriate for everybody, that you have to be good enough, and know enough. Basically, it preaches that the Gospel is an exclusive form of elitism. You might not be saved if you're not a Calvinist. You might not have salvation if you don't home school. You might not be saved if you listen to secular music. This is has much the same end result as the Uncertain Gospel, in that it creates legalism. The Gospel is not about being better than anyone else, or being more pious than God. Extra rules do nothing to secure salvation, but do a lot to create false assurance.

Now that we've seen several kinds of false gospels, the obvious question is, "What is the true Gospel?" The Gospel may be defined as: The teachings of Jesus and His apostles regarding salvation. Which are the promises of justification and forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ alone. One thing to notice about this definition is that it clearly limits itself to what is actually in Scripture, and the two foundational doctrines of justification and forgiveness of sins. There are four specific traits of the True Gospel that I want to address.

The first is Solus Christus, which is Latin for "Christ alone." The Gospel's unavoidable center is on Jesus Christ. Romans 10:8-9 says: "But what does it say? 'The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart' (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." We see that the Gospel revolves around Christ alone. Nothing else. It doesn't matter what clothes you wear, how or when you were baptized, or how much you have contributed to your church's building fund.

The second trait is Sola Gratia, which means "Grace alone." According to Galatians 2:21, "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose." In other words, it is impossible to keep the law of God. Since it is impossible, we have to totally rely on the grace of God to justify us. If it weren't for divine grace, there would be nothing that could achieve salvation for man.

Another trait of the True Gospel is Sola Fide, or faith alone. We read in Galatians 2:16, "yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified." So we see that it isn't any standards that we come up with that save us, but only faith in Jesus Christ. Compare this to all of the false gospels I have discussed, where the requirements are faith plus something else.

The last trait of the True Gospel is Sola Scriptura, which means scripture alone. Everyone knows John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." You see, the scriptural view of salvation is not elitist. It is not uncertain. It is not legalistic. It is not bleak. It epitomizes hope, and that only by the grace of God.

The result of the True Gospel, what it inspires in us, is both freedom and slavery. First, it removes us from bondage to sin. When we are justified before God, we no longer are seen as sinful to God. No longer do we have to live sinful lives with a destiny in Hell. Second, we become slaves. We become slaves to righteousness. We are purchased by Christ to become His servants. Being a slave to righteousness is like being forced to eat chocolate, we have to do something we know is awesome anyway.

Why does this matter? What consequence is it what each individual believes? Quite simply, there is eternal life in the balance. Giving oneself, or others, rules that do not have any founding in scripture, and claiming that these will save you is arrogant, sinful, and foolish. Worse, it detracts from the work Christ has done, and makes man seem capable of his own salvation, thus negating the need for Christ's death and resurrection in the first place. We should constantly strive to preach and teach the True Gospel, so that eternal life and salvation may be ours, and we do not lead others into error.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Re-Blog: Discipline

Note: This post was originally written on my good friend Nathan's blog: www.beekeeperontheloose.wordpress.com. It is part of a fantastic series of posts on manly virtues. After reading this particular one, I thought it good enough to share with my own readers.

Eric Weisz was born in Hungary in 1874 and immigrated to the U.S. at a very young age. The rest of his history is obscure, but he grew into a young man who knew locks. Eric was also very good with sleight of hand tricks and became a big attraction at the local circus dime show. He wasn’t there long because his skill was in much more than just cards and locks, it was in escape. Eric grew in fame as he escaped every pair of handcuffs with which he was shackled. He also got out of strait jackets, coffins, jail cells and six feet of earth. Eric Weisz gained national fame and traveled the globe as the Handcuff King and Escape Artist Extraordinaire. But we know him better as Harry Houdini.

How did he do it? Discipline. The training he put himself through is enough to make anyone cringe, but he could escape because of it. Resolve is a good pre-cursor to discipline because you must have the discipline to carry out your resolve. They are two sister virtues that must come together or not at all. From resolving to read this horrendously long article, to resolving to escape six feet of earth alive, it all takes discipline. But I hope you will do it. There are four parts to discipline: Habit, Will, Focus and Efficiency. Discipline is the difference between escape and death, success and failure, riches and bare existence, Godliness and foolishness, manliness and boyhood. It doesn’t take being a Houdini to be disciplined; it only takes understanding its rudimentary parts.

Discipline through Habit
“This fact applies to everything that we do, and to every relation of our lives. We can make a habit of honesty, of industry, of kindliness, of attention, of courtesy, and of whatever we will. Indeed, Aristotle, one of the wisest men of antiquity, defined virtue as a habit of right doing… Another great advantage that springs from the fixity of habits is found in the fact that, by means of this, our lives may make real progress.” ~ Charles Carroll Everett.

Discipline through Will
“I want to be first. I vehemently want to be first. First in my profession… For that I give all the thought, all the power, that is in me. To stand at the head of my rank: it is all I ask… so I have struggled and fought. I have done and abstained; I have tortured my body and risked my life, only for that – to have one plank on the stage where they must fall back and cry “Master!”… I am strong, as you see; strong in flesh, but my will has been stronger than my flesh. I have struggled with iron and steel, with locks and chains; I have burned, drowned, and frozen till my body has become almost insensible to pain; I have done things which rightly I could not do, because I said to myself, “You must”; and now I am old at 36. A man is only a man, and the flesh revenges itself. Yet the will is its master when the will is strong enough.” ~ Harry Houdini
Discipline through Focus
There are two parts to focus: doing but one thing at a time and being one in purpose and action. In a letter to his son, Lord Chesterfield wrote:

“A man is fit for neither business nor pleasure who either cannot, or does not, command and direct his attention to the present object, and in some degree banish, for that time, all other objects from his thoughts… There is time enough for everything, in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once; but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time… This steady and dissipated attention to one object is a sure mark of a superior genius; as hurry, bustle, and agitation, are the never-failing symptoms of a weak and frivolous mind.”
Second, you must be one man; one in purpose and in action:

“My man, first of all consider what kind of thing it is: and then examine your own nature, if you are able to sustain the character… different men are formed by nature for different things…You must be one man, either good or bad. You must either cultivate your own ruling faculty, or external things; you must either exercise your skill on internal things or on external things; that is you must either maintain the petition of a philosopher or that of a common person.” ~ Epictetus

Discipline through Efficiency
Houdini was a master in physical efficiency. He tied knots with his toes and worked a deck of cards while conversing with guests. He also took ice baths and submerged himself under water to where he could hold his breath for four minutes. Because he was physically efficient, he was the best in what he did. But what about being mentally efficient? Here is the kicker. We are notorious for all of the diets and work outs we put our body through to get it in shape. However, we are sorely lacking in having our mental faculties as sharp as they should be. Being mentally efficient is just as important as being physically efficient in discipline. Here are a few tips from a 1911 article by Arnold Bennett:

“A strange thing – was it not? – That I never had the idea of devoting a quarter of an hour a day after shaving to the pursuit of mental efficiency… Your conscience tells you that your mind is less active and less informed than it might be… you say to yourself that you will take your mind in hand and do something with it. Wait a moment. What precautions are you going to take against failure this time? For your will is probably no stronger now than it was aforetime… What are your precautions? Have you thought of them? Failure in the past was due to one or more of three causes. And the first was that you undertook too much at the beginning… do not form an elaborate programme. Simply content yourself with a preliminary canter, a ridiculously easy preliminary canter… The second possible cause of previous failure was the disintegrating effect on the will-power of the ironic, superior smile of friends… Therefore don’t go and nail your flag to the mast. Don’t raise any flag. Say nothing. Work as unobtrusively as you can… The third possible cause was that you did not rearrange your day… Robbing yourself of sleep won’t help you, nor trying to ‘squeeze in’ a time for study between two other times. Use the knife, and use it freely. If you mean to read or think half an hour a day, arrange for an hour. A hundred percent margin is not too much for a beginner… We come now to what I may call the calisthenics of the business… [first exercise] There are few mental exercises better than learning great poetry or prose by heart… The chief, but not the only, merit of learning by heart as an exercise is that it compels the mind to concentrate. And the most important preliminary to self-development is the faculty of concentrating at will… [second exercise] the exercise of writing is an indispensable part of any genuine effort towards mental efficiency. I don’t care much what you write, so long as you compose sentences and achieve continuity. There are forty ways of writing in an unprofessional manner, and they are all good… After writing comes thinking.”
… And proficiency in thought is our ultimate goal.

Wrapping it up, I was particularly struck by the words of Harry Houdini in his quote under “Discipline through Will.” His words reminded me very much of Apostle Paul’s creed and I decided to re-phrased Houdini’s quote to reflect Paul’s thoughts and turn it into something we can declare as well.

I want to run well. I vehemently want to run well. For that I give all the thought, all the power that is in me. To stand before my King and hear Him say “Well Done!” It is all I ask… so I have struggled and fought. I have done and abstained; I have tortured my body and risked my life, only for that – to hear the praise of my Maker. I am strong, as you see; strong in flesh, but my will must be stronger than my flesh. I have struggled with iron and steel, with locks and chains; I have been beaten, spat upon, and harassed till my body has become almost insensible to pain; I have done things which rightly I could not do, because I said to myself, “You must”; because of Grace; because of faith; because of my King. I am only a man, and the flesh revenges itself. But the King is the master of my will, my will is the master of my flesh and my flesh will run this race well.


Be strong and courageous. Be disciplined.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What Is The Meaning of Life?

Why are we here? What is the point of our existence? Upon a quick perusal of the Wikipedia article for this topic, one is bombarded with many different views. These are incredibly varied, from "To realize one's potential and dreams" to "To achieve biological perfection". On the surface, these seem like good things. After all, if one is born with amazing natural talent, shouldn't they work extremely hard to develop it and showcase it? If I cognitively realize how terrible the world is now, shouldn't I work extremely hard to make sure the next generation is better than this one?

What is the solution that each of these ideas reaches after? I believe it is ultimately the fulfillment of each individual. At the end of the day, if I can say I moved towards my meaning of life, and provided further reason for my continued existence, then I can look past all the bad that I have done, pat myself on the back, and try to do the same thing tomorrow. The only thing this really accomplishes is to release endorphins and make me happy. If all I try to do is realize my potential and dreams, I am solely working for me, making sure my priorities are above everyone else's. If all I try to do is achieve biological perfection, and try to make the next generation better, I know that everyone after me has me to thank for their great lives.

We can easily see that all of this is, in the end, amazingly self-centered. Everything we do, we do to get ourselves something. The problem is that we are inherently finite beings. We cannot know everything, do everything, see everything, feel everything, touch everything, or even live long enough to give ourselves the chance to try. Following any of Wikipedia's answers leads to ultimate failure.

What is the Christian's answer? What is the meaning of our lives?
 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man. - Ecclesiastes 3:10-13
Our meaning in life, the point of our existence is to be joyful and do good. Doing these two things puts us in direct contrast with the world. Being joyful does nothing to make people cater to your needs. Doing good and serving oneself cannot both be done. If a Christian does not do these things, he puts his meaning of life in something else, something other than what he is called to.

Author Stephen Covey in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People writes that an effective person should begin with the end in mind. Basically, one should envision one's eulogy being read. What goes into it should determine what we do with our lives. If the Christian was to begin with the end in mind, he would center his life on being joyful and doing good. This is the only way to do what God has called us to do, and it also puts on a totally opposite path from the rest of the world.