Mobilizing the English Language

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Rhetoric.

Perhaps due to the profoundly unsavory and generally depressing state of politics today, a term like “rhetoric” has taken on a quite negative meaning. We use it in an almost derogatory sense, forgetting that rhetoric is one of those things that is neither inherently evil, nor inherently good. Rhetoric is merely: “the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.” Our word rhetoric comes from the Greek rhētorikē, or “art of oratory.”

Now do not be mistaken, rhetoric has been used with devastating effect as a tool for evil. But that is all it is. A tool. It doesn’t have any magical properties, nor inherently evil properties, unless you allow it to. Adolf Hitler is an example of how rhetoric can be employed with cruel and terrifying effect: for a warped and evil cause, against entire races of people, and for the incitation of war. But to reason that a tool is evil merely because it has been at times used for evil is fallacious.

Throughout history there are many examples of rhetoric being used to very good effect while employed in quite righteous causes. Indeed, it is quite a pity that rhetoric is not rigorously taught in the public school. What passes for “English” now at a high school level would quite likely have been laughed at one hundred or more years ago. One has merely to think of say a speech made by a politician recently, especially a younger one. You cannot think of one, can you? Even as far as content goes, there is little that is memorable in modern oratory, and there is even less stylistically that is memorable. However, it is quite likely that you would at least recognize, if not know from memory, some lines from oratory—from rhetoric—of times past.

Winston Churchill is an extraordinary example of a person employing rhetoric to extraordinary effect. His command of the English language was impressive, and is matched by few. His oratory was just as impressive. His ways of conveying ideas, and of crafting phrases, were and are memorable to say the least. Of Churchill’s skills, John F. Kennedy said: “In dark days and darker nights, when Britain stood alone, and most men save Englishmen despaired of England’s life, he mobilized the English language and sent it into battle. The incandescent quality of his words illuminated the courage of his countrymen.”

Especially when speaking of oratory, one rarely thinks of anyone recently sending it into battle. And if so, then certainly not in a good nor admirable way. Yet with practice this can be done. It is a skill that can be learned, should be learned. Churchill had gifts certainly. But the honing of those gifts came with practice and work, and use. The ability to mobilize the English language was not something he was born with. Nor is it something anyone could be strictly said to be born with. Yet what if he had not honed this skill?

Churchill’s oratory, just as much as his tenacity, carried the English through the Second World War. He imbued his own confidence into his people. He also imbued his own tenacity and stubbornness into them, or at least fanned into flame the spark that was already there. Much of this was accomplished through his practiced skill with rhetoric. He wrote all his own speeches, and spent as much time on single phrases in some instances as some modern speechwriters would spend on the entirety of a speech.

Tremendous results and good can be accomplished with the skilled and artful deployment of language. Yet increasingly we neglect any real rigorous teaching of this art. We would rather produce business men and mathematicians and inventors then warriors with language. Yet we forget the usefulness and value of such a skill no matter one’s profession. We would do well to remember it again, and to remember its past employment in great deeds and accomplishments. It is time that we taught and mobilized our language once again.

 

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Case Studies in Masculinity: Luke Skywalker

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Many would argue that the appeal of the new Star Wars trilogy that began back in 2015 is in large part because it brought back characters from the original trilogy. Characters not seen in theaters since 1983, when The Return of the Jedi was released. The Force Awakens saw the return of Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker, popular characters from the first set of films.

What makes Luke—the hero of the original trilogy—so interesting? He gets more screen time in The Last Jedi then Han Solo got in The Force Awakens. And overall, it is a safe bet to say that he is probably the top character that audiences wanted to see on screen again. Among males especially he is probably the most popular character in the saga. There are reasons for this. In the original trilogy Luke is unabashedly portrayed as a hero; in the new trilogy Luke is still a hero, though admittedly jaded and self-doubting.

This heroism is an element of something more important yet: Luke is masculine. Not jarringly so. But he is a masculine hero, tactfully, unashamedly portrayed as such. And this resonates with male audiences. He is the hero that nearly every young boy (and not so young boys) would like to be in the shoes of. He studies under an old knight. He has a sword passed down from his father. He fights for and rescues a princess. He plays the key part in destroying the main weapon of the enemy (the Empire). And he is recognized and rewarded for this. He acquires a cause to fight for.

Over the course of the trilogy he is mentored, he grows, he becomes skilled, and able to handle situations. He learns to fight and does so. He develops a determination and clarity of vision that eventually serves him well in facing down his own father, and in turn the Emperor.

Then—in the new trilogy—we learn that he eventually became a mentor to others, yet ultimately failed when it came to a key student: Ben Solo. For what seems to be implied as being years, this failure consumes him. It drives him to despair. He has to learn again. This time that failure is a teacher too, and that he can use even his failure—even in discipling someone else.

Most importantly through all of this Luke plays the part of a hero. Not arrogantly so. He plays the part of the knight. He embraces a masculinity that is at times so subtle as to be missed, but there and appealing. He isn’t a sitcom character sitting in front of a television set as good as dead as far as the world is concerned. He is active. He has an effect on his world (or galaxy). He fights. He is proactive. He seizes the day, though it takes some prompting at times, importantly from his mentor Ben Kenobi in the beginning of the first installment of the trilogy.

Luke Skywalker embodies a heroism that isn’t the cocky, exaggerated masculinity of say Batman or James Bond, or even Han Solo. He portrays heroism in a way, that while both stereotypical and archetypal, is real. The garb this heroism is clad in might not be real. There may not be aliens on other planets, or lightsabers, or guns that fire lasers, or X-wings, but there is evil to fight, there are princesses (or as John Eldredge would call them in Wild at Heart, “beauties”) to rescue and there are mistakes to be made and then learned from. There are opportunities to embrace heroism and masculinity, and to take “first steps into a larger world.”

Why We Care About Jedi

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Some of you may have heard of a little movie that was released in theaters a few weeks ago, and that has so far made a small amount of money world wide somewhere north of one billion dollars. For the last three years, Star Wars films have secured top spots at the box office, domestically in the U.S. and worldwide. Three years ago, Star Wars: The Force Awakens took in over two billion dollars worldwide. A little movie called The Last Jedi recently crossed one billion dollars worldwide before the end of 2017 and continues to take in impressive totals.

Why though? Why does anyone still care about Jedi and Sith? Why did anyone ever care about them? Star Wars is branded as science-fiction, yet it is in some ways lightyears away from what is normally considered science fiction. To call it science-fiction, or fantasy, or action, or even drama, is only partially correct. A better term would be romance.

It is not romance in the sense moderns think of it. Albeit, it certainly contains elements of that sort of romance. Among a myriad of other definitions, way down at the bottom is this one: “a medieval tale dealing with a hero of chivalry, of the kind common in the Romance languages.” Now Star Wars is certainly not medieval in an immediately recognizable sense, but it does contain other important elements of romances, and even more so, of myth. It contains heroes and villains, it contains archetypes, and it contains good and evil. It contains some heroes that are very much like us, but more importantly some that are not at all like us: heroes that are in fact knights.

Star Wars appeals to us because it is reflective of our own story, whether we know it or not. It is in fact, more reflective of reality than a great many so called “realistic” movies or books. There is evil: The Empire, the Sith, the First Order. There is good: most prominently displayed in the Jedi Knights—the chivalrous heroes of the story. There is the inevitable victory of good over evil, the Rebels over the Empire, the Jedi Knights over the Sith.

It appeals to us because it reflects and plays out a reality we sometimes forget: that there are such things as good and evil, that there is a conflict everyone is involved in whether they like it or not, that there are heroes and villains, and that in the end the Light inevitably triumphs over the dark.

This is the real reason that Star Wars continues to reap such enormous successes, though things like actors, writing, and characters certainly help. However, contrary to what some people would say, stereotypes are not necessarily a bad thing. And Star Wars is what some might call a stereotypical portrayal of good versus evil. But then, reality just might be stereotypical too. Because Star Wars contains an element of truth that all the documentaries and thrillers and dramas can’t convey. It contains an element of the story we live in.

 

Regain Your Christmas Wonder

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“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when[a]Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed,[b] who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.[c]

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”[d]

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” Luke 2:1-20

For humans, repetition kills. It is the everyday that bores us. The miracle of a flower, or the miracle of a door (both of which were just as fascinating to us as children) now cease to be miracles at all. They are mundane. It doesn’t take long for stories to become this way to us—true or otherwise. One has only to look at the films produced: each year the special effects become more elaborate and the explosions more devastating and extravagant.

Very quickly even scripture loses the wonder it once (or at least should have) held for us. We are especially prone to this with passages that garner much focus and attention annually—that is mainly the passages concerning the birth of Christ, and the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. We hear them over and over again. It no longer amazes us that a virgin conceived, or that a king was born in a stable, or that the same king was tortured to death and then came back to life. Perhaps it is merely that we hear these stories so often that it is not that the details don’t amaze us, as much as we no longer take the time to absorb them and be amazed by them. We read over these stories the same as a textbook on some obscure and boring subject: just slowly enough to retain the information, but not enough to really understand it or worry about engaging with it.

When one stops and considers the details of the Christmas story, one begins to regain some of that wonder. Don’t just read through it while half asleep while inhaling your morning coffee. Take time. Pause. Savor it like a well-prepared meal paired with your favorite drink. Let its tone and texture and flavor impact and change you. Come and eat.

Never Lose Your Wonder

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It does not take much to entertain a child. Or at least, that is how we perceive it. As we mature the things that amused us or fascinated us as children seem mundane—even boring. We give these sources of amusement names, like “childish” as if this was a derogatory term. As adults we can do something that is endlessly entertaining for a child, especially a young child. The seemingly simplest of actions can elicit cries of, “Again! Again!” And sometimes this irks us.

A child can be astonished by, and in awe of, the simplest of things, and it confounds the adult mind. It takes much more to astonish an adult—and in certain situations this can be a good thing. It would not do for the licensed driver to sit in dumbstruck astonishment every time the stoplight changed colors. The difference in sources of amusement and astonishment for adults and children can be seen in the stories and aspects of stories that entertain each as G.K. Chesterton states in Orthodoxy:

Just as we all like love tales because there is an instinct of sex, we all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment. This is proved by the fact that when we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales — because they find them romantic. In fact, a baby is about the only person, I should think, to whom a modern realistic novel could be read without boring him. (Chesterton)

The adult is bored at being told that someone opened the front door—even bored in most cases at being told someone came through the front door. The child finds it fascinating that there is a door in the first place, let alone that the door opened and someone came through it. The child has a sense of wonder and astonishment that is deep and strong—what G.K. Chesterton referred to as instinct—and can find wonder in the simplest things. If the door is a source of fascination to a child, then a flower is absolutely extraordinary. When the stoplight changes color for the child it is a source of dumbstruck awe. And when the sun rises it is something beyond comprehension. Adults would do well to retain and to emulate some of this wonder. The ability to take wonder in the seemingly simple or mundane is a valuable ability—and reflects the fact that we are created in the image of God:

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. (Chesterton)

Retain this wonder. Cultivate it. Remember your old appreciation for things that cynicism, sin, and the detrimental sort of age that Chesterton speaks of, have long since dulled. Never lose your awe. Never lose your appreciation. Never lose your sense of wonder.

 


 

Citations

Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy. 1908. Print.

 

 

Education Is Not About Learning Job Skills

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There is an insidious ideology making its influence felt today. It concerns the purpose of school, especially before college, but even during college. It is now popular, and even required, that students—beginning in high school—are to choose something that is generally given a glamorous name like “career path” or “career track” or just “pathway” or “track.”

Requiring a student in high school, or even early high school to choose a career has several problems—and not the least of these is that education was never traditionally intended to prepare for a specific career, certainly early schooling was not; preparation of that sort was something saved for advanced, graduate work at a university level, or as something to be learned as an apprentice to someone. To put it another way: a specific form of work was something you generally learned at work. How to think was something you learned at school, something far more important than the specifics of a certain career or trade.

Our English word school comes from the Greek “skholē” meaning leisure, or philosophy. Leisure of course is not generally associated with work, and philosophy of course comes from the Greek “phileo” meaning love, and “sophos” meaning wisdom. Hence love of wisdom. And until very recently, school was reflective of this.

For the majority of history, school was something reserved for the wealthy, the aristocratic, those who had “leisure” time. It is very unlikely they would have ever dreamed of turning school into preparation for a job, a career, for that was never its purpose. School or education was meant for the enrichment of the mind. It was meant as an instrument to hone and to sharpen one’s mental faculties. It was meant to teach one how to think, it was meant to teach one an appreciation of language, of art, of history. It was meant to teach and demonstrate the greatest triumphs, and greatest mistakes of the past, so that we might learn from them.

Now if much emphasis is given to any of these subjects that traditionally comprised one’s education, it is because one happens to be going into a field where knowledge in these areas is necessary. Or at least, deemed necessary. It has however been forgotten that knowledge in these areas has been, and is an essential grounding and foundation to any job or career. Skill sets can in many if not most cases be taught as training for a particular job, by the employer. Employers however would have a much harder time, and less impetus, to teach history, ethics, classics, logic, and other foundational and integral subjects of study.

U.S. News reports that: “Employers readily identify the creative, communicative and problem-solving acumen traditionally associated with liberal arts majors as the most valuable attributes of new hires (McNutt).” The liberal arts, the focus of a traditional education, have a foundational value that the more specialized skill sets of STEM majors can never replace.

People who can think, who know where they and their country stand within the context of history, and who can communicate effectively and fluently with both the layperson and the expert, will always be in demand. In contrast: expertise in Microsoft Office or computer programming will not always be in demand and certainly not in a way that education can meet. Technology—especially with things like computer programming changes so fast that by the time one graduates with a degree in such an area, there is a danger that the knowledge and more specialized skills acquired will already for the most part be irrelevant.

Plato will not become irrelevant—and certainly not with the speed of technology intensive fields. The syllogism has worked the same way for centuries and it has worked well and been found useful—it is only the teaching of logic and sound thinking that has declined. Homer’s Iliad has been deemed worthy of study and enjoyment for thousands of years, it is only recently that classics have begun to be thrown to the wayside. Latin and Greek were long deemed valuable courses of study, affording their students many advantages—now it is HTML and the language of what is passed off as “science” that is diligently imbibed as a new wine found more intoxicating and less expensive than the old. In short, a very small number of people—who happen to have the advantage of being alive—have in an astonishingly short number of years decided to raze whatever values and systems that the vast state that G.K. Chesterton called the “democracy of the dead” long deemed noble and worthy of study and practice.

 

 

Citations

McNutt, Mark. “There is Value in Liberal Arts Education, Employers Say.” U.S. News & World Report (2014). Electronic.

 

On Books as an Olfactory Experience

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It is a fact universally acknowledged that the reading of books does not involve the eyes alone, nor just the brain, though both are of extreme importance. There are other sensory experiences available that many modern readers are not aware of, especially with the advent of that abominable device known as the “e-reader.” In reading, the nose is also a very important and underrated organ—one of supreme value.

It is a little-known fact that books are like wines: they get better with age. Not only are the bad ones weeded out, but the good ones have time to mature. Physically they have time to mature. The covers become worn, matured, and more dignified looking. The pages take on a color that like the grey hair of a man promotes respect. And of course, the aging of books allows for olfactory involvement and pleasure.

They take on their own distinctive, though related smells. The musty smell of the volume long buried in the corner of some dungeon, and only just being rediscovered and brought to the light: it is the smell of a prisoner that has undergone many long trials coming out of the grave and into life again. There is the volume in the second-hand book shop, mixed among its varied brethren, that has a story to tell besides that printed in its pages—the volume that can tell one something about its previous possessor—that has that delightful smell of a mature book, one that has been dug into many times before; it is a smell of eminency, of emeritus. There is the huge tome that has a full-bodied smell, and the little volume of poetry that has a sharp, sweet scent.

The scents of books are to be enjoyed and savored like the words printed on the pages. They tell of character. They tell a story. They whisper it, or shout it, in a dozen different smells, for the attentive nose to take in and interpret and cherish.

The Power of Story

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The modern Christian’s reading habits when it comes to scripture are intriguing. Speaking in the broadest categories, it would be safe to say that many, if not a majority of Christians spend most of their time in the New Testament and very little time—for a variety of reasons—in the Old Testament. This is not to imply that the New Testament is any less valuable, wonderful, or true than the Old. Not at all. The Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles all have their value. However, there is a difference in language between the New Testament (especially the Epistles) and the Old, and I do not speak of the fact that one is predominantly written in Hebrew, and the other Greek.

The language I speak of is almost as dramatically different as Hebrew and Greek are different from each other. The language of the Epistles which form a large part of the New Testament is exactly that: that of epistles, of letters. They are, one could say, almost purely prescriptive in nature. They address problems. They address practicalities, which is all well and good and certainly needed, and valuable. The language of the Old Testament is predominantly that of Story. By story, I do not mean fiction. I mean story, in the sense that a really excellent, gripping history of say, Winston Churchill, is story. It is largely descriptive rather than prescriptive in nature. We see, if the teller of the story has done his job, the good, the not so good, and the downright bad in the life of a person.

Think of the films in our culture that are always huge successes. You don’t hear about documentaries, or “nonfiction,” or even the thrillers and mysteries, making billions of dollars at the box office. It’s films like The Lord of the Rings, Jurassic World, Avatar, and the Star Wars franchise that are predictably enormous hits. Story is the language that humanity in general seems to speak the best—across cultures and continents. And it seems, the more fantastic the story, so much the better.

Now let us return to the aforementioned scripture reading habits of the average 21st Century Christian. Prescriptive material is certainly good: if you have a problem it is natural to want a prescription for it—a solution to the problem. However, one does not survive on medicine (prescription). Medicine can address a specific problem or abnormality. But one cannot live on it. One lives on food, or in the case of scripture “every word that comes from the mouth of God.” If one looks at Scripture, the largest portion of it (the Old Testament) is nearly entirely Story. It’s not medicine, it’s food. It has flavor, texture. It nourishes. It warms—or chills, the soul and spirit. It shows people at their extraordinary best, and their depraved worst. It shows the interaction of God with people. It’s descriptive.

What stories the Old Testament gives us! It gives us the tragic fall of Man from perfection and relationship with God, and even in that story foreshadows the redemption of Man. It tells us of a man named Abram who is called by a God he never knew, to go on a radical and seemingly insane journey to a land he’d never seen. It tells us of Saul, a man who is anointed king and tragically descends into outright disobedience and rebellion against God. It tells us of David—a man who starts life as a shepherd boy and eventually becomes Saul’s successor. It tells us of 450 prophets of Baal who had a confrontation with a man called Elijah, and more importantly of the confrontation between their god and Elijah’s God. It tells in poetic foreshadowing in Isaiah of the incarnation of Christ and of his sacrifice for fallen Man. We have in the Psalms extravagant, raw expression of emotion and beautiful worship. We have in the Song of Songs an almost embarrassingly honest look at romantic love in it’s different expressions.

The Old Testament speaks a language that in all of humanity seems to be the most natural. And yet, it is the Old Testament that is probably the most neglected by Christians, with the exception of perhaps the Psalms. If Story is the language that overall comes most naturally to us, then why would we not spend more time reading the tremendous stories that the Old Testament gives us? Absorb these stories and replay the lives of the heroes and villains that it paints portraits of. Medicine has its place and is of great help and even comfort, but food is just as necessary: for nourishment and for enjoyment. Come. Eat and drink deeply. Enjoy. Ponder. Be filled.

Winston Churchill: A Profile in Persistence

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When one thinks of good qualities in a person there are many that may come to mind: integrity, intelligence, common sense, willingness to work with others, even, one might say “niceness”. Certainly, a majority of people would agree that most or all of these are good qualities in a person. However, there is a quality that we don’t think as much about, one that can be good or bad, but one that we tend to think of as bad, especially when it manifests itself in a very public figure, and especially when that public figure goes against the established way of thinking.

We’ll call this quality persistence, but it is really more complicated than that, and one could perhaps in a descriptor of this quality also add the word stubbornness. The dictionary defines persistence as: “firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.” Stubbornness is defined as: “dogged determination not to change one’s attitude or position on something.” We don’t always like people with these “qualities.” They annoy us. Sometimes with good reason. They can be impossible to work with, which can do more harm than good in many situations. And yet, there are examples where this quality has been of supreme helpfulness, and times where all of us could benefit from a dose of this character trait.

As a specimen of this quality we will take a leader from the 20th Century: Sir Winston Leonard-Spencer Churchill. He was famous, or infamous for his possession of this quality. Yet the world is fortunate that he possessed it—for it was this quality that almost certainly above all else, pulled him and the world through what for a longtime seemed like a hopeless war with Adolf Hitler and National Socialism.

Churchill was not necessarily known for being the best “people person” at times. He wasn’t always exactly a “nice” person. Even his own definition of “tact” illustrates this: “Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.” He was known to be a rather disagreeable character at times, and for often being much too blunt, at least for some people’s thin skins. It is accurate to say that Churchill was stubborn. It’s accurate to say that he could at times be a person that was not necessarily pleasant to be around. Yet his stubbornness had a root. His persistence possessed a foundation. A little, innocuous thing. Four little letters, a word that we claim to profoundly dislike today: truth.

He placed an enormous value on truth, saying of it: “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.” If he was persistent in something it was because of conviction. It was a deep-seated confidence in the truth, and in its importance. A confidence we are pitifully lacking in today. Churchill even quipped, “Truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” Persistence, even mind-boggling persistence, is of the utmost value when it has a foundation in truth, in conviction, and in belief.

Contrast this with much of the persistence demonstrated today. We persist in what we are comfortable in. We persist in what we think will result in the most monetary gain for us in the least amount of time. For an extra five or ten thousand dollars a year, many people are willing to condemn their souls to the dull, meaningless existence of what may as well be a prison. Leaders persist in a course of action or an idea as long as it profitable, or as long as it is election season, then mysteriously lose both their conviction and their resolve.

Churchill in the early years before the outbreak of war was not popular for his predictions of what Germany would become, and what the result would be. Yet popularity has very little to do with truth. Anti-Semitism was quite popular for a time, but very few today would dare to claim that its basis was upon any sort of truth. Even when war broke out, Churchill’s views and courses of action were very unpopular. Few wanted war, and most viewed it as unnecessary, far easier to attempt to appease Hitler, and Neville Chamberlain attempted this approach, to ultimate failure. And when war was certain, and Britain stood alone—Austria, Poland and France gone, the United States unwilling to get involved—Churchill held out. Surrender wasn’t an option. He was quite prepared to himself die should invasion come, though only after taking as many of the Nazis with him as he could. Slowly—in an incredible feat—he infused this view into the general population, this persistence. His speeches reflect this willingness to go onto the end, to stick with conviction. At Harrow School on October 29th, 1941, Churchill uttered these famous words:

You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done. Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist; certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination. But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period – I am addressing myself to the School – surely from this period of ten months this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. We stood all alone a year ago, and to many countries it seemed that our account was closed, we were finished.

Churchill wouldn’t give up. Everyone told him that it was useless to attempt to resist the ascendant Nazi state, now in control of most of Europe. Churchill wouldn’t swallow this line. He would fight. The island of Britain would fight, as he stated so eloquently after Dunkirk:

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

Churchill’s intention, and the intention that he eventually brought the majority of the nation to, was to fight. He would not give up. He would persist. And as elaborated on in his speech, even if the island of Great Britain fell, the Empire would go on fighting. He, and the Empire, would fight until the very bitter end. In retrospect of course, we admire his persistence. At the time it might have been a little harder to see the value in it. When German bombs were falling on London every night, this persistence might seem like foolhardiness, or even an evil. Margery Allingham wrote thus of Churchill:

Mr. Churchill is the unchanging bulldog, the epitome of British aggressiveness and the living incarnation of the true Briton in fighting, not standing any damned nonsense, stoking the boilers with grand piano, and enjoying it-mood. Also he never lets go. He is so designed that he cannot breathe if he does. At the end of the fight he will come crawling in, unrecognizable, covered with blood, and delighted, with the enemy’s heart between his teeth.

A perhaps less than comfortable description. One that one feels the average politician today, or the average person, would not really like to have used of them. Yet here again it was a persistence based firmly on Churchill’s perception of the truth, on “convictions of honor.” He had seen, and continued to see, the nature of his enemy clearly—and he saw what the consequences of submission would be, and thus, whether it meant continuing on alone, or with support, he continued the fight. A striking contrast to many people, leaders, and politicians of today—and even of his time.

People of today would do well to learn from his persistence, and from the foundation his persistence was based on. This persistence founded in “convictions of honor and good sense” is something that is sadly and profoundly lacking in many today. How many major problems of the past and the present, could have been resolved while still small problems if this was a common quality. And how many large problems could still be confronted and resolved in the end if Churchill’s perhaps most remembered quality was something we endeavored to study, to imitate, and to put into practice.

Power in the Name of Jesus

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Consider names. Each person has one. People may also have nicknames–good or bad–reflecting certain perceived traits of that person. Some names are well known, or rather the persons they are attached to are well known, and others are not. Consider some names: St. Paul, Judas Iscariot, J.R.R. Tolkien, Richard Dawkins, C.S. Lewis, Harrison Ford, Bill Clinton, George Bush. Each a well known name, and each bringing to mind certain good, bad or neutral traits and incidents depending on one’s view point and knowledge of the person. Names also bear meanings in many languages. Think of some of the names of God in the Old Testament: El Shaddai (all sufficient one, or God almighty), and Jehovah Jireh (God will provide). Names can have importance.

Names can also have power depending on the person than bears the name. For instance a messenger from a monarchial nation might go to another nation “in the name of the king or queen.” An ambassador from the United States to another country conducts affairs in the name of the President and government of the United States. Within certain contexts the name of the President bears weight, power, and authority, beyond what my name or your name does.

When Christians pray, consider a common ending to their prayers: “In Jesus’ name.” They pray, they petition, they ask, thank, command by a higher authority. On their own they have no authority, the same as an ambassador has no authority apart from the President and government. But their leader, their king, lends them his authority. They can speak in the name of the king–in the name of Jesus Christ. There are numerous instances of this in scripture in different contexts. Matthew 28:18-20 says: “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Here is the investing of that authority as ambassadors. Here Jesus gives permission and authority to preach the gospel to the nations: preaching and teaching about him, and in his name. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he refers to himself as “an ambassador in chains” (Ephesians 6:20). In 2 Corinthians 5:20 Paul says: “Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ be reconciled to God.”

In John 14:13-14 Jesus says: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” Acts 3 records a story of Jesus working through his ambassadors in a dramatic way. “Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong” Acts 3:1-8.

When days are dark, when the outlook of the future is grim, remember this, Jesus Christ the God we serve is a powerful God. There is power in his name, granted to those who love and serve him. “I [Jesus] have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” John 16:33.