"One ought, everyday at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture and speak a few reasonable words." --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Sunday, July 31, 2011

C.S. Lewis Sunday - Morality and Peace

"The price of peace is righteousness. Peace cannot be imposed. It must come from the lives and hearts of men. There is no other way."
--Ezra Taft Benson

"There are two ways in which the human machine goes wrong. One is when human individuals drift apart from one another, or else collide with one another and do one another damage, by cheating or bullying. The other is when things go wrong inside the individual--when the different parts of him (his different faculties and desires and so on) either drift apart or interfere with one another. You can get the idea plain if you think of us as a fleet of ships sailing in formation. The voyage will be a success only, in the first place, if the ships do not collide and get in one another's way; and, secondly, if each ship is seaworthy and has her engines in good order. As a matter of fact, you cannot have either of these two things without the other. If the ships keep on having collisions they will not remain seaworthy. Or, if you like, think of humanity as a band playing a tune. To get a good result, you need two things. Each player's individual instrument must be in tune and also each must come in at the right moment so as to combine with all the others. ...

"Morality, then, seems to be concerned with three things. Firstly, with fair play and harmony between individuals. Secondly, with what might be called tidying up or harmonizing the things inside each individual. Thirdly, with the general purpose of human life as a whole: what man was made for: what course the whole fleet ought to be on: what tune the conductor of the band wants it to play. ...

"Almost all people at all times have agreed (in theory) that human beings ought to be honest and kind and helpful to one another. But though it is natural to begin with all that, if our thinking about morality stops there, we might just as well not have thought at all. Unless we go on  to the second thing--the tidying up inside each human being --we are only deceiving ourselves.

"What is the good of telling the ships how to steer so as to avoid collisions if, in fact, they are such crazy old tubs that they cannot be steered at all? What is the good of drawing up, on paper, rules for social behaviour, if we know that, in fact, our greed, cowardice, ill temper, and self-conceit are going to prevent us from keeping them? I do not mean for a moment that we ought not to think, and think hard, about improvements in our social and economic system. What I do mean is that all that thinking will be mere moonshine unless we realize that nothing but the courage and unselfishness of individuals is ever going to make any system work properly. It is easy enough to remove the particular kinds of graft or bullying that go on under the present system: but as long as men are twisters or bullies they will find some new way of carrying on the old game under the new system. You cannot make men good by law: and without good men you cannot have a good society."

--C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pleasure vs. Happiness

"The present is an age of pleasure-seeking, and men are losing their sanity in the mad rush for sensations that do but excite and disappoint. In this day of counterfeits, adulterations, and base imitations, the devil is busier than he has ever been in the course of human history, in the manufacture of pleasures, both old and new; and these he offers for sale in most attractive fashion, falsely labeled, Happiness. In this soul-destroying craft he is without a peer; he has had centuries of experience and practice, and by his skill he controls the market. He has learned the tricks of the trade, and knows well how to catch the eye and arouse the desire of his customers. He puts up the stuff in bright-colored packages, tied with tinsel string and tassel; and crowds flock to his bargain counters, hustling and crushing one another in their frenzy to buy.

"Follow one of the purchasers as he goes off gloatingly with his gaudy packet, and watch him as he opens it. What finds he inside the gilded wrapping? He has expected fragrant happiness, but uncovers only an inferior brand of pleasure, the stench of which is nauseating.

"Happiness includes all that is really desirable and of true worth in pleasure, and much beside. Happiness is genuine gold, pleasure but gilded brass, which corrodes in the hand, and is soon converted into poisonous verdigris. Happiness is as the genuine diamond, which, rough or polished, shines with its own inimitable luster; pleasure is as the paste imitation that glows only when artificially embellished. Happiness is as the ruby, red as the heart's blood, hard and enduring; pleasure, as stained glass, soft, brittle, and of but transitory beauty. 

"Happiness is true food, wholesome, nutritious and sweet; it builds up the body and generates energy for action, physical, mental and spiritual; pleasure is but a deceiving stimulant which, like spirituous drink, makes one think he is strong when in reality enfeebled; makes him fancy he is well when in fact stricken with deadly malady. 

"Happiness leaves no bad after-taste, it is followed by no depressing reaction; it calls for no repentance, brings no regret, entails no remorse; pleasure too often makes necessary repentance, contrition, and suffering; and, if indulged to the extreme, it brings degradation and destruction.

"True happiness is lived over and over again in memory, always with a renewal of the original good; a moment of unholy pleasure may leave a barbed sting, which, like a thorn in the flesh, is an ever-present source of anguish.

"Happiness is not akin with levity, nor is it one with light-minded mirth. It springs from the deeper fountains of the soul, and is not infrequently accompanied by tears. Have you never been so happy that you have had to weep? I have."

--James E. Talmage, Improvement Era, vol. 17, No. 2, pp. 172, 173.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wiseguy Wednesday - Steven Wright 1

 "The problem with the gene pool is that there's no lifeguard." 

"If the pen is mightier than the sword, in a duel I'll let you have the pen!" 
"I think they should put the wrapper on the inside of the straw since that's the part you don't want to get dirty."
"Why is it, 'A penny for your thoughts,' but, 'you have to put your two cents in?' Somebody's making a penny."
 --Steven Wright

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Now" - What Does it Mean?

I saw the following article today and it reminded me of a C.S. Lewis quote. It is a thought-provoking topic, so I thought I'd share. Enjoy!

Where is Now? The Paradox Of The Present
by ADAM FRANK, July 26, 2011 (NPR.org/blogs, Category: Science and Philosophy)

The night sky is a time machine. Look out and you look back in time. But this "time travel by eyesight" is not just the province of astronomy. It's as close as the machine on which you are reading these words. Your present exists at the mercy of many overlapping pasts. So where, then, is "now"?

As almost everyone knows, when you stare into the depths of space you are also looking back in time. Catch a glimpse of a relatively nearby star and you see it as it existed when, perhaps, Lincoln was president (if it's 150 light-years away). Stars near the edge of our own galaxy are only seen as they appeared when the last ice age was in full bloom (30,000 light-years away). And those giant pinwheel assemblies of stars called galaxies are glimpsed, as they existed millions, hundreds of millions or even billions of years in the past.

We never see the sky as it is, but only as it was.

Stranger still, the sky we see at any moment defines not a single past but multiple overlapping pasts of different depths. The star's image from 100 years ago and the galaxy image from 100 million years ago reach us at the same time. All of those "thens" define the same "now" for us.

The multiple, foliated pasts comprising our present would be weird enough if it was just a matter of astronomy. But the simple truth is that every aspect of our personal "now" is a layered impression of a world already lost to the past.

To understand how this works, consider the simple fact, discussed in last week's post, that all we know about the world comes to us via signals: light waves, sound waves and electrical impulses running along our nerves. These signals move at a finite speed. It always takes some finite amount of time for the signal to travel from the world to your body's sensors (and on to your brain).

A distant galaxy, a distant mountain peak, the not very distant light fixture on the ceiling and even the intimacy of a loved one's face all live in the past. Those overlapping pasts are times that you — in your "now" — are no longer a part of.

Signal travel time constitutes a delay and all those overlapping delays constitute an essential separation. The inner world of your experience is, in a temporal sense, cut off from the outer world you inhabit.

Let's take a few examples. Light travels faster than any other entity in the physical universe, propagating with the tremendous velocity of c = 300,000,000 m/s. From high school physics you know that the time it takes a light signal moving at c to cross some distance D is simply t = D/c.

When you look at the mountain peak 30 kilometers away you see it not as it exists now but as it existed a 1/10,000 of a second ago. The light fixture three meters above your head is seen not as it exists now but as it was a hundred millionth of a second ago. Gazing into your partner's eyes, you see her (or him) not for who they are but for who they were 10-10 of a second in the past. Yes, these numbers are small. Their implication, however, is vast.

We live, each of us, trapped in our own now.

The simple conclusions described above derive, in their way, from relativity theory and they seem to spell the death knell for a philosophical stance called Presentism. According to Presentism only the present moment has ontological validity. In other words: only the present truly exists; only the present is real.

Presentism holds an intuitive sway for many people. It just feels right. For myself, when I try and explore the texture of my own experience, I can't help but feel a sense of the present's dominance. Buddhism, with its emphasis on contemplative introspection, has developed a sophisticated presentist stance concerning the nature of reality. "Anyone who has ever mediated for anytime" the abbot of a Zen monastery once told me "finds that the past and future are illusions."

Yes, but ...

The reality that even light travels at a finite speed forces us to confront the strange fact that, at best, the present exists at the fractured center of many overlapping pasts.

So where, then, are we in time? Where is our "now" and how does it live in the midst of a universe comprised of so many "thens"?

"Everyone who believes in God at all believes that He knows what you and I are going to do tomorrow. But if He knows I am going to do so-and-so, how can I be free to do otherwise? Well, here once again, the difficulty comes from thinking that God is progressing along the Time-line like us: the only difference being that He can see ahead and we cannot. Well, if that were true, if God foresaw our acts, it would be very hard to understand how we could be free not to do them. But suppose God is outside and above the Time-line. In that case, what we call 'tomorrow' is visible to Him in just the same way as what we call 'today'. All the days are 'Now' for Him. He does not remember you doing things yesterday; He simply sees you doing them, because, though you have lost yesterday, He has not. He does not 'forsee' you doing things tomorrow; He simply sees you doing them: because though tomorrow is not yet there for you, it is for Him. You never supposed that your actions at this moment were any less free because God knows what you're doing. Well, He knows your tomorrow's actions in just the same way -- because He is already in tomorrow and can simply watch you. In a sense, He does not know your action till you have done it: but then the moment at which you have done it is already 'Now' for Him." 
--C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Monday, July 25, 2011

Half a Life

"A ton of regret never makes an ounce of difference."
--Grenville Kleiser, Dictionary of Proverbs

I recently read the haunting memoir of Darin Strauss called Half a Life and was so moved by it, I wanted to share. I don’t know what attracted me to the book; I don’t normally read memoirs. The best explanation I can come up with is that something about it called out to me and reeled me in. It certainly wasn’t the book’s physical appearance: nondescript red cloth cover, no pictures, title and author the only defining attributes. But pick it up I did – all the way to the cash register. Incomprehensible.

The book begins in 1988 with 18-year old Darin Strauss driving along a four-lane road with his high school friends on their way to play a round of miniature golf on a spring day. The weather is gorgeous and sunny, and people are out enjoying the pleasant conditions. While driving along in the far left lane, Strauss notices several bicyclists ahead on the right shoulder, traveling in the same direction as his car. As he approaches, he can see one of the bicyclists - a girl - having a little difficulty. First she wobbles on her bike from the shoulder onto the highway. Then moments later, she inexplicably swerves across the lanes into his car's path. The next morning, the Strauss family is notified that the bicyclist, Celine Zilke, a somewhat unfamiliar classmate, is dead.

There was nothing he could have done. The police confirm the fact. The local newspaper runs an article publicly exonerating him. The insurance companies label the accident a ‘no fault fatality.’ But Darin lives with crippling survivor’s guilt, which he describes with brutal, excruciating honesty and agonizing eloquence. His first heart-wrenching sentence: “Half my life ago, I killed a girl.”  

The most thought provoking thing about his story, to me, was the role of fault and blame in the healing process. On page 127, Strauss writes: “Some years ago, researchers at George Washington University studied the psychological effect of what police call ‘dart-out’ deaths and what insurers call a ‘no-fault fatality’: car crashes, like Celine’s and mine, where someone hurries into an automobile. In the United States, some two thousand drivers a year survive ‘dart-outs.’ And these drivers are more likely to get laid out by post-traumatic stress syndrome than are those who are irrefutably to blame in fatal accidents. No one knows why. Probably the brain prefers a sturdy error to fixate on. It’s hard to learn so viscerally that the questions of guilt and worth are managed with indifference, by nasty chance.” 

How heartbreaking to those who live with a lifetime of guilt, unable to fully heal because there is no irrefutable error to take responsibility for! What does is say about the human psyche that we are more comfortable with assigning fault than living with the fact that sometimes accidents happen? Why is this so difficult to accept?

Maybe it's because accidents shake our perceptions of control. We would rather take the blame (and guilt and regret) or blame someone else for something that was no one’s fault than accept that we can’t control everything. Even worse, accidents force us violently broadside into the earth-shattering realization that sometimes no one can (or should) be punished for the bad things that happen in this world. So, we punish ourselves for a long time to avoid the absolutely abhorrent next step: the eventual recognition that sometimes these bad things are good for us.

Darin Strauss spent half his life running from these facts. It wasn’t until he faced them that he learned that he, “would have been a different person had the accident not happened.” He continues, “Without Celine, I wouldn’t have become a writer. And therefore, I would not have met my wife [or had my twin sons].”

“Maybe I could have done fifty things to avoid the accident. Left the car in the garage that day. Hurried through a yellow light that I’d stopped at. Gone to the beach instead of mini-golf. Been alone, not talking to friends. But I did all those things, and Celine hadn’t done the many things she could have to avoid the accident, either. All the things get done and you regret them and then you accept them because there’s nothing else to do. Regret doesn’t budge things; it seems crazy that the force of all that human want can’t amend a moment, can’t even stir a pebble.”

“I remember [the officer assigned to the accident] once told me if I’d swerved the car differently that May 1988 morning, I might have flipped it. Say that had happened. Say Celine had lived and I hadn’t; what of herself would she need to put to the side, in trying to think about me: the stranger who’d managed somehow to swerve away from her bike, and who had died because of it?

“I used to think I’d like her to not remember me at all. Not to have to contend—at eighteen, at thirty-five, at all life’s cozy moments—with a stranger. I’d like her to be spared the feeling that she’d traveled for two decades with a ghost.

“But now I don’t know. I don’t know if that would be fair, or even best for her. And not, I don’t think, because I’d want the spirit of who I was to be kept quote unquote alive in her. It’s more that if she’d been too comfortable with my dying, she wouldn’t have remained a fully live person herself.

“It’s not that I outran Celine, or that half of my life. It’s the reverse. The accident taught me this.

“Things don’t go away. They become you. There is no end, T.S. Eliot somewhere says, but addition: the trailing consequence of further days and hours. No freedom from the past, or from the future.

“But we keep making our way, as we have to. We’re all pretty much able to deal even with the worst that life can fire at us, if we simply admit that it is very difficult. I think that’s the whole answer.”

Life IS very difficult…but we make it infinitely more so with the punishments of regret and guilt that we exact on ourselves and others over things we cannot change. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”--Reinhold Niebuhr

Sunday, July 24, 2011

C.S. Lewis Sunday - Source of Goodness

"A live body is not one that never gets hurt, but one that can to some extent repair itself. In the same way a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble -- because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ Himself carried out.

"That is why the Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; or -- if they think there is not -- at least they hope to deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside of him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof  of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it."
--C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Friday, July 22, 2011

Fortune Cookie Friday - Corpses

I am in the strangest mood today. It's like a weird mix between snarky/cynical/pessimistic and total serenity; like the eerie calm before a looming storm. Then I get this weird fortune and of course - in this mood, on this day - it reminds me of the corpse cartoon. It just fits.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Emma Watson on Modesty

"I find the whole concept of being ‘sexy’ embarrassing and confusing. If I do an interview with photographs people desperately want to change me – dye my hair blonder, pluck my eyebrows, give me a fringe. Then there’s the choice of clothes. I know everyone wants a picture of me in a mini-skirt. But that’s not me. I feel uncomfortable. I’d never go out in a mini-skirt. It’s nothing to do with protecting the Hermione image. I wouldn’t do that. Personally, I don’t actually think it’s even that sexy. What’s sexy about saying, ‘I’m here with my boobs out and a short skirt, have a look at everything I’ve got?’ My idea of sexy is that less is more. The less you reveal the more people can wonder."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wiseguy Wednesday - Math Shmath!

Teacher: "If you have $2, and you ask your father for $4, how much will you have?"
Billy: "Two dollars."
Teacher: "You don't know your math."
Billy: "You don't know my father."
--Lisa McNease

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Quotes From My Favorite Movie

It was recently brought to my attention that it's surprising that quotes from my favorite book/movie have yet to show up on my blog. I've been blogging for 3 months now, so I guess it is about time I unleashed the beast that is my obsession with The Lord of the Rings. And I'm not going to be conservative about it, either. I'm just going to DUMP every geeky drop of it on you by sharing my most favorite quotes/scenes with you! And because I know you'll ask: Yes, I did pause/type/rewind to get them. Yes, I am proud of it. No, I can't explain why I like some of them; it's just a feeling I get in my soul when I hear the words. It's something like fulfillment; like my heart found a missing piece I didn't know was missing until I heard the words. I know, I know...I'm hopelessly in love. Smitten. Besotted. Enraptured. All of it...

You know what would make my ardent LOTR heart skip a beat? If you would share YOUR favorite quotes/scenes from the movie, too. At least then I wouldn't feel alone in my love. Misery loves company, people. So spill! ;) 

“I think a servant of the enemy would look fairer and feel fouler.” --Frodo (Fellowship)

“Many that live deserve death, some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death and judgment. Even the very wise can not see all ends.”--Gandalf (Fellowship)

Frodo: “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.” 
Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides that of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the ring. In which case, you also were meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.”
--Frodo and Gandalf (Fellowship)

“Alas, that these evil days should be mine. The young perish and the old linger. That I should live to see the last days of my house…No parent should have to bury their child.” --Theoden, King of Rohan (Two Towers)

Eowyn: “I fear neither death nor pain.” 
Aragorn: “What do you fear, my lady?” 
Eowyn: “A cage. To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them. And all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire.” 
Aragorn: “You are a daughter of kings; a shield maiden of Rohan. I do not think that will be your fate.”
--Eowyn and Aragon (Two Towers)

“My lady, a time may come for valor without renown. Who then will your people look to in the last defense?” --Aragorn (Two Towers)

Frodo: “Why do you do that? Call him names; run him down all the time?” 
Sam: “Because…that’s what he is, Mister Frodo. There’s not left in him but lies and deceit. It’s the ring he wants. It’s all he cares about.” 
Frodo: “You have no idea what it did to him; what it’s still doing to him. I want to help him Sam.” 
Sam: “Why?” 
Frodo: “Because I have to believe he can come back.” 
Sam: “You can’t save him, Mister Frodo.” 
Frodo: “What do you know about it? I’m sorry Sam, I don’t know why I said that.” 
Sam: “I do. It’s the ring. You can’t take your eyes off it. You’re not eatin’. You barely sleep. It’s taken hold of you, Frodo. You have to fight it!” 
Frodo: “I know what I have to do, Sam! It’s my task - my own!” 
Sam: “Can’t you hear yourself? Don’t you know who you sound like? [Like him! Gollum!]
--Frodo and Sam (Two Towers) 

“It’s like in the great stories mister Frodo – the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end it’s only a passing thing - this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come and when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those are the stories that stay with you; that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mister Frodo, I do understand; I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something. (Frodo: “And what are we holding onto Sam?”) “That there’s some good in this world, Mister Frodo. And it’s worth fightin’ for!” --Sam (Two Towers)

Elrond: “The life of the Eldar is leaving you.” 
Arwen: “It was my choice. Ada, either by your will or not, there is no ship now that can bear me hence.”
--Elrond and Arwen (Return of the King)

“You think you are wise, Mithrandir. Yet, for all your subtleties you have not wisdom. Do you think the eyes of the White Tower are blind? I have seen more than you know. With your left hand you would use me as a sword against Mordor and with your right you’d seek to supplant me. I know who rides with Theoden of Rohan. Oh, yes. Word has reached my ears of this Aragorn, son of Arathorn. But I tell you now I will not bow to this Ranger of the North. Last of a ragged house long bereft of Lordship; the rule of Gondor is mine, and no other’s!” --Lord Denethor, Steward of Gondor (Return of the King)

PIPPIN:  So I imagine this is just a ceremonial position. I mean, they don’t actually expect me to do any fighting, do they?
GANDALF: You’re in the service of the steward now.  You’ll have to do as you are told Peregrin Took. Ridiculous Hobbit!  Guard of the Citadel!
PIPPIN: There’s no more stars!  Is it time? 
PIPPIN:  It’s so quiet.   
GANDALF: It’s the deep breath before the plunge.
PIPPIN: I don’t want to be in a battle. But waiting on the edge of one I can’t escape is even worse. Is there any hope Gandalf, for Frodo and Sam?
GANDALF:  There never was much hope. Just a fool’s hope.
--Pippin and Gandalf (Return of the King)

“The stars are veiled. Something stirs in the east; a sleepless malice. The eye of the enemy is moving.” –Legolas (Return of the King)

“I’m just a Hobbit. I know I can’t save middle earth. I just want to help my friends.” --Meriadoc (Return of the King)

"Courage, Meri. Courage for our friends." --Eowyn (Return of the King)

Witch King of Angmar: "Fool. No man can kill me. Die now."
Eowyn: "I am no man!"
--My favorite scene (Return of the King)

“The road must be trod, but it will be very hard.  And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it.  This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong.  Yet it is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world:  small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere" --J.R.R. Tolkien, LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
--J.R.R. Tolkien, The Riddle of Strider

Here's the second half of The Riddle of Strider from the movie. LOVE IT!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Quotes by Topic: Adversity

As I have mentioned before, whenever I find myself feeling sad or out of control due to adverse circumstances, I go straight to my quote closet to find some solace. The following quotes are all special to me because at one time or another, each of them has given me the desire, the strength, and the courage to pull myself out of a deep, dark hole. If you let them, they might do the same for you sometime. Enjoy!

“All the adversity I've had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles have strengthened me... You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” --Walt Disney

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground." --Frederick Douglas

“Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward.” --Henry Ford

“Adversity is the diamond dust Heaven polishes its jewels with.” --Thomas Carlyle

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” –Khalil Gibran

"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome." --Anne Bradstreet

“Without adversity, the butterfly would never have the strength to achieve its destiny. It would never develop the strength to become something extraordinary.” --Joseph B. Wirthlin

"Nothing happens to any man that he is not formed by nature to bear." --Marcus Aurelius

"Trials are medicines which our gracious and wise Physician prescribes because we need them; and he proportions the frequency and weight of them to what the case requires. Let us trust his skill and thank him for his prescription." --Isaac Newton

"Difficulties exist to be surmounted." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

"I am not afraid of storms, I am learning how to sail my ship." --Louisa May Alcott

“There are as many nights as days, and the one is just as long as the other in the year's course. Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word 'happy' would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.”  --Carl Jung

“Kites rise highest against the wind -- not with it.” --Sir Winston Churchill

“A smooth sea never made a skillful mariner.” –English Proverb

“Life is pain. . . anyone who says differently is selling something.” --Wesley, The Princess Bride

“Don’t look for a life virtually free from discomfort, pain, pressure, challenge, or grief, for those are the tools a loving Father uses to stimulate our personal growth and understanding.” --Richard G. Scott

"The greater the difficulty, the more the glory in surmounting it." --Epicurus

“The beauty of the soul shines out when a man bears with composure one heavy mischance after another, not because he does not feel them, but because he is a man of high and heroic temper.” --Aristotle

“People are like stained glass windows -- the true beauty can be seen only when there is light from within. The darker the night, the brighter the windows.” --Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

“An absence of rainy days in life makes for a desert in the heart.”--Unknown

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” --Helen Keller

“The task must be made difficult, for only the difficult inspires the noble-hearted.” --Kierkegaard

“Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortunes; but great minds rise above them.” --Washington Irving

“Times of great calamity and confusion have ever been productive of the greatest minds. The purest ore is produced from the hottest furnace, and the brightest thunderbolt is elicited from the darkest storm.” --Colton

“Heaven is not always angry when he strikes, but most chastises those whom most he likes.” --Pomfret

“Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which, in prosperous circumstances, would have lain dormant.” --Horace

"Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict." --William Ellery Channing

"Our real blessings often appear to us in the shape of pains, losses and disappointments, but let us have patience and we soon shall see them in their proper figures." --Joseph Addison

Sunday, July 17, 2011

C.S. Lewis Sunday - Resistance: The Measure of Strength

“No man knows how bad he is until he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation is. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German Army after fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by walking against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after 5 minutes simply does not know what it would’ve been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They’ve always lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it. And Christ, because he was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation really means.”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Beauty and the Beast

"When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure."
--Peter Marshall

Last week, I watched a modern-day re-telling of the old Beauty and the Beast story with my children. They range in age from 8 to 14, so at the conclusion of the movie I thought it was more than appropriate to expect at least a couple of them to have picked up on the message. I was looking for something akin to “External beauty is only skin deep. Real substance is on the inside.” Yeah...was I in for a surprise! It looked promising when my 10 year old son took a moment to ponder. But when he concluded, “Don’t be mean to ugly ladies!” I was sure he had completely missed the  point.

We had a good, hearty laugh followed by an excellent discussion as I took the opportunity to teach the message I expected them to learn. But during the discussion, my son kept reiterating what he had said and insisting it was a better lesson because had the prince been nice to the old witch, the whole affair could have been avoided. And he’s right; it could have been avoided. Had he missed the point, or had I?

Hmm. Thought provoking! Is it better to make excellent choices, or is it better to make mistakes and let Life sort out your faults?

I’ve thought about that a lot through the years. There are things in my past that I’m not proud of--choices I wish I hadn’t made--that led to negative consequences that caused a lot of heartache for myself and others. But now that they are in my past, I have to admit that on some level, I’m glad I experienced it all because, like the prince, the consequences of my mistakes (the Beast) made me a better person. If I hadn’t made the mistakes, would I be who I am today? No.

I think if you asked the prince after the Beast was behind him, he would tell you he was glad the whole thing happened to him, too. He’d probably tell you the same thing I’m about to tell you: Even if I had the option to go back and choose differently to avoid the Beast, I wouldn’t. I’d do it all over again because all that I gained was worth the price I paid.

I have also experienced other unpleasant trials in my life that were completely out of my control that caused heartache as well: death, illness, betrayal, poverty, loss, etc. But while I know many would disagree with me on this point, even these experiences have made me stronger and I wouldn’t change them.

On the other hand, I have always understood the importance of living by a set of noble, moral standards. At times, I know living up to my standards has saved me considerable grief and/or pain. It has certainly given me the peace of a clear conscience. This way of living is epitomized in the character of the Beauty. Her choices were noble and kind. She saw the value of the Beast and overlooked his incongruous outward appearance. She was everything the Beast was not--his antithesis in every way. But did her goodness prevent ALL adversity? No. She was enslaved and treated badly despite her goodness. But it was her determination to make the best of her circumstances and to continue choosing kindness in the face of her hardships that changed everything. It was only then that her goodness inspired the Beast’s change, and his inner nobility born from that change that inspired her love. They were connected and strengthened by the contrary winds of struggle.

Maybe just because their paths to improvement were divergent, it doesn’t have to mean one is “right” and one is “wrong”. The point is that there is no path that saves us from adversity, nor should we expect or desire a life free from it. Sometimes we’re the Beauty and sometimes we’re the Beast. Without the opposing forces, there would be no story. Without free will, struggle, and suffering there would be no value in nobility, no learning, no character development, no purpose…no Beauty in life.

Related  Posts:
Being Wrong
Got Glue?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wiseguy Wednesday - Mystic Mat

I used to practice meditation on an old mat. My wife was not happy about the worn-out mat.
One day I found the rug missing from its usual place.
"Where is it?" I asked her sternly.
"It has achieved nirvana," she retorted.
--Anil Bharti

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Keep Breathing

Have you ever had one of those Murphy’s Law phases; you know, when it seems like anything that can go wrong, does? Yeah, I’m in one of those phases right now. Nothing really BIG is happening; just an accumulation of little things like broken cars, faucets, attitudes, etc. Life just feels heavy and I feel like I’m not in control of much.

Whenever life gets me down like this, I’ve taught myself to open up my quote closet and start pulling out words of wisdom on the topic of Adversity. I can’t count how many times this little act has helped me! Adversity quotes pump me up and make me feel courageous and capable.

It was during another comforting, encouraging visit to my quote closet that I came across one of my favorite movie scenes of all time, and wanted to share.

I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks, but I’ll just give a brief introduction just to set up the quote.

Chuck Nolan is the only survivor of a plane crash into the ocean and gets washed up on the shore of a remote island. He is resourceful and is able to survive for many years on the island. But after a while, the loneliness and hopelessness of his situation starts to get to him. It’s clear he won’t be rescued, he can’t escape, and he is faced with the prospect of the daily, monotonous grind of survival without hope of love or companionship. He had control over very little, so he decided he could at least control his death and tried to hang himself. After that failed, he resigned himself to meaningless survival, when a port-a-potty washes ashore and gives him the idea of a sail. He uses it in the construction of a boat, which he takes out on the open ocean, probably with the idea that he’d die at least TRYING to escape. At the brink of death, he is rescued and taken back to his home in Memphis, Tennessee where he learns that Kelly, the woman he was engaged to before the crash, thought him dead and eventually married another man. It is under these devastating circumstances that the best, most life-changing, hopeful scene in movie history takes place. I cry every time I watch it (or read the quote).

"A feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew…somehow…that I had to stay alive. I had to keep breathing, even though there was no reason to hope and all my logic said I would never see [home] again. So, that’s what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing. And one day all that logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in and gave me a sail. And now here I am. I’m back [in] Memphis…talking to you. I have ice in my glass. ... And I know what I have to do now…gotta keep breathing…because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?”
--Chuck Nolan, played by Tom Hanks in Cast Away

Keep breathing. I can do that…

Monday, July 11, 2011

Closed Doors and Grass Huts

"When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us."

--Helen Keller
The Little Grass Hut

The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for GOD to rescue him, and everyday he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming.

Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect himself from the elements and to store his few possessions. One day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames with smoke rolling up to the sky. The worst had happened!  Everything was lost! He was stunned with disbelief, grief, and anger.

"GOD, how could you do this to me?" he cried. Early the next day he was awakened by the sound of a ship that was approaching the island. It had come to rescue him. "How did you know I was here?" asked the weary man of his rescuers. "We saw your smoke signal," they replied.

Moral of the story:

It's easy to get discouraged when things are going bad, but we shouldn't lose heart, because GOD is at work in our lives, even in the midst of pain, and suffering. Remember that, the next time your little hut seems to be burning to the ground. It just may be a smoke signal that summons the grace of God.

--Author Unknown

Sunday, July 10, 2011

C.S. Lewis Sunday - Rules and Excuses

"Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining 'It's not fair' before you can say Jack Robinson. A nation may say treaties don't matter; but then, next minute, they spoil their case by saying that the particular treaty they want to break was an unfair one. But if treaties do not matter, and if there is no such thing as Right and Wrong -- in other words, if there is no Law of Nature -- what is the difference between a fair treaty and an unfair one? Have they not let the cat out of the bag and shown that, whatever they say, they really know the Law of Nature just like anyone else?

"It seems, then, we are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong. People may be sometimes mistaken about them, just as people sometimes get their sums wrong; but they are not a matter of mere taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table.

"I hope you will not misunderstand what I am going to say. I am not preaching, and Heaven knows I do not pretend to be better than anyone else. I am only trying to call attention to a fact; the fact that this year, or this month, or, more likely, this very day, we have failed to practice ourselves the kind of behaviour we expect from other people. There may be all sorts of excuses for us. That time you were so unfair to the children was when you were very tired. That slightly shady business about the money -- the one you have almost forgotten -- came when you were very hard-up. And what you promised to do for old So-and-so and have never done -- well, you never would have promised if you had known how frightfully busy you were going to be. And as for your behaviour to your wife (or husband) or sister (or brother) if I knew how irritating they could be, I would not wonder at it -- and who the dickens am I, anyway? I am just the same. That is to say, I do not succeed in keeping the Law of Nature very well, and the moment anyone tells me I am not keeping it, there starts up in my mind a string of excuses as long as your arm.  The question at the moment is not whether they are good excuses. The point is that they are one more proof of how deeply, whether we like it or not, we believe in the Law of Nature. If we do not believe in decent behaviour, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently? The truth is, we believe in decency so much -- we feel the Rule of Law pressing on us so -- that we cannot bear to face the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility. For you notice that it is only for our bad behaviour that we find all these explanations. It is only our bad temper that we put down to being tired or worried or hungry; we put our good temper down to ourselves."
--C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity