By Charles Rush
February 10, 2008
Mk. 1: 12-15
(mp3, 7Mb) ]
ring the season of Lent, we Christians take some time to do some personal exploration. Remembering that Jesus spent 40 days fasting and praying at the beginning of his ministry for strength and clarification, we too make a self-conscious inventory to see how we are doing.
have been helpful for us to also have developed some disciplines early in life
that we could draw on later like Jesus did. But this is not the American way.
We don’t have time for all of that. We have to get into college, get into law
school, get a decent job, and get moving up the ladder as fast as we can. We
don’t usually get a sense of the importance of these things until we reach a
point where we realize that we are lacking a skill set we could really, really
of us have a wake-up call like that in early mid-life. Shortly after we moved
to Summit, I
got invited to one of those Coffees that President Clinton had at the White
House. We were asked to tell the President one thing the new administration
should work on. Wow… Democracy at work. What is not to like about that?
I took the
train down. My brother dropped me off at the White House, just a few blocks
from where he lives. It is bigger in real life than it looks on TV. They put
you through some security clearance and take you into a room where you network
with all the other people. It turns out there were only a dozen of us. Some of
the people I was introduced to, I recognized from Time magazine. I think there was a second or two when I was
wondering what I was doing there, but mostly I was concerned about whether I
had food in my teeth.
were ushered into the Map room. I wrote my dissertation on World War 2, so the
gravitas of the place really settled on me. They call it the Map Room because
that is where President Roosevelt directed most of the War effort and they
still have those maps on the wall that show the position of our troops and the
Germans all across Europe. I remember feeling
a little faint just thinking about the Ghosts of the great men Roosevelt here
on the phone with Churchill in London.
set placements for us with these little placards to show us where to sit, heavy
little cards with the White House seal. Mine said “Dr. Rush”… Wow… looks impressive,
staffer comes in, explains the drill and after a minute a Secret Service guy
with that microphone in his ear, walks through the door and says, “Ladies and
Gentlemen, the President of the United States.” This brings out the hibernating
Boy Scout in me and everyone else as we all immediately stand up. The President
comes in, says hello to every person, as a photographer snaps a shot of the two
of you shaking hands.
down and then you go around the room and every person gets like 90 seconds to
tell the President what he should be thinking about. I don’t actually remember
much of this to tell the truth. It was very engaging, very interesting. I made
a joking comment and everyone laughed. Shortly after that, I was just buoyed
along with elation. At that moment, I was just in it. Only later could I see
that it was the euphoria of power. I just had this sense that I was getting
smarter, wittier and confident that I could accomplish some really big stuff.
over. You shake hands with all these people again, swap cards. You walk out of
the front of the White House, past a group of photographers that are checking
to see if you are somebody. I was probably trying to walk like I was somebody,
you get past the security gate, hail a cab. I’m feeling heady and I’m like
“Take me to the Kremlin or the Hague
I called my
wife, told her all about it, which undoubtedly covered more detail than she
wanted to hear. She finally said, “Honey, sounds like a great day but it also
sounds like big dog better get home and back on his porch before he gets in
trouble.” Spiritually, how right she was. I had an existential appreciation of
the reality that politicians and top business leaders have to traverse day in
and day out. I could understand how easy to make foolish choices when you are
pumped up, particularly when temptation comes at you all of the time, and
people around you are routinely telling you that you are exempted from a strict
interpretation of the rules. It takes a lot of character to negotiate this
world and keep your balance. It takes a lot of internal discipline.
It is a
very important issue and I realized that I had been through rigorous academic
discipline in my years at the university but not through nearly enough
discipline that I could make constructive use of power. Problem…
spiritual character are not really developed as a matter of intellect. The
biggest challenge in morals is not a question of ‘knowing’ what is right and
wrong. The biggest challenge is actually ‘doing’ what is right rather than
used to say that morals are a question of having good habits, of doing
‘excellent’ or ‘virtuous’ things as a matter of routine. The Athenians
understood that the only way to really teach this is to develop excellent
habits in very young people and rehearse them over and over and over again
until they become second nature.
that this is the case with a tennis serve, with a fly fishing cast, with playing
your violin. You do it over and over and over again until it is in your deep
memory and you don’t actually think about it anymore. Any hack golfer knows
that the greatness of golf is not watching the pros make those incredible shots
through the trees and on to the green. It is going to watch them on the driving
range hit 30 shots in a row right where they want to put them.
watching Roger Federer, probably one of the greatest tennis players ever, make
gravity defying shot after shot in the Australian Open last week. It is just stunning
to watch. It reminded me of an interview I heard with the mother of Bjorn Borg,
another of the greatest tennis players ever. The interviewer asked her at what
point she knew her son might be great? Did he show any interest in the game as
a child? Mrs. Borg dropped her gaze, peered over her glasses incredulously and
said, “Even in first grade, he played tennis hour after hour, hitting the ball
against our garage door. It almost drove me insane.” I bet it did. And he drove
a lot of competitors insane as an adult, one shot after another, after another,
after another. He was like a machine.
character is developed the same way. Moral character is not principally about
making some heroic action in an emergency and it is not principally about
having exceptional insight in an ambiguous situation. It is about doing the
right thing over and over and over again until it becomes second nature.
for better and worse, comes to us from the military. The Athenians who prided
themselves on their intellectual pursuits and their cultural sophistication and
their humanitarian approach to political life, acknowledged that when it came
to moral character and moral discipline, the Spartans were superior. They were
superior because they had a rigorous- some would now say Draconian and cruel-
approach to turning boys into soldiers. How do you teach men to overcome the
fear of pain unto death? How do you instill discipline to follow orders when
you are being overwhelmed by the anarchy that happens in the midst of battle?
It is not a question of the mind, nor is that virtue one exceptional act of
No, it is
about drilling over and over and over again until the discipline of teamwork is
second nature and you are able to do it whatever the reward or risk.
Unfortunately, this insight has been best learned in the service of training to
kill but that is because the very real fear in battle is about as debilitating
as any challenge men are given to know. It is the hardest part of our character
teenagers still get this… Discipline to overcome fear of death, hell, we would
settle for someone that picks up their room. We have a structural lacuna in our
educational model that everyone recognizes at some level. At 17, what our sons
really need the most for their holistic development is a rigorous structure
with no exceptions, so that they really develop habits that they need for
independent living and responsible adulthood. What we give them is a paid trip
to college with probably more choices, more freedom, and less accountability
than they will ever have at any time in their life. We leave it up to them to
develop disciplines of responsibility on their own. And we scratch our heads
wondering how our boys make such foolish decisions as the Duke Lacrosse teams
decision to hire strippers for their team party when they are all drunk. But
they come from such good families? Left to their own, given a very generous
stipend, allowed the freedom to do so, I think this is pretty much what you get
every single time.
mean to pick on Duke Lacrosse as one of my sons would have been on that team if
he had made the grades. He would have been the drunkest one at the party and
probably would have escorted the strippers around. But instead of his first 9
weeks being at college, he spent 9 weeks at Army Basic Training- no alcohol, no
money, no free time, no exceptions to the rules for any reason whatsoever.
him standing at attention for an extra 10 minutes, as I was detained, when he
was given a short leave after Basic training was done. We got in the car and he
said, “Dad you’re driving 32”. I said “So what?” He said, “The speed limit is
30”. Ft. Benning, Georgia, they don’t drive 36 or 31.
They drive 30. Period. We got some lunch, he told me that it was time to get
back by 13:30. This is a kid that probably had 25-30 detentions for tardiness
his senior year… Now I’m the indolent
one who needs to take the rules seriously.
I hardly ever
meet teenage boys who wouldn’t be better off for spending a year in a Boot camp
world with strong structure, definite lines of authority, and a focus entirely
on responsibility and team-work.
We do not
have any system in place that can teach them the inherent value of discipline
as a society, so we either develop them on our own in limited fashion or we
don’t and suddenly realize the value of them mid-life when we aren’t hitting
our potential because of their lack.
profound meaning, Lent is a check-up, so to speak, from the soul up. It is an
honest look into the mirror. It starts with taking stock of how you are doing
in growing towards becoming the person you are intended to become. By now, you
have a pretty good inkling of who that woman is, who that man is becoming. You
have a pretty good idea of your strengths and your weaknesses.
the wonderful episode in the movie Field
of Dreams where Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones, go looking for Archie
Graham. Archie Graham was a real life minor league baseball player for Charlotte in the old North Carolina baseball league. He got called
up to the New York Giants on June 29, 1905. He got to play one inning as an
outfielder but he never actually got to bat in the major leagues.
Graham lived out the rest of his life as a doctor in a small town in the Midwest. Most of us weekend warriors consider his life a
tragedy of sorts- to get all the way to Ebbets field but not be able to bat. So Kevin Costner and James
Earl Jones expect to find a guy that is wistful, perhaps bitter when they
finally find him, now a very old man with not much longer to live.
him, looking back on his life, ‘wasn’t it a tragedy that you only got to play
the game for 5 minutes?’ He smiles at the, thinking about that day when he was
twenty, reflecting back on the 60 something years after that day and he says,
“Son, if I’d only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes, now that would have
been a tragedy.”
hopes and dreams, but at some point, it started to dawn on him what his
‘vocation’ really was -- not just his job, his calling. Baseball was a love,
but he started to figure out exactly who it was that he was becoming. He was
meant to become a doctor, a husband, a grandfather, a community leader in a
small town. You have a pretty good idea of what you are shaping up to become.
standing in your way from becoming excellent in your calling to become who you
are meant to become? What is it that you need to focus on? What discipline do
you now need that you never learned? Patience? Discernment? Becoming a consensus
builder? Getting past vengeance? Dealing with anger? What is one issue that you
could stand some real work on in order to develop the character that will help
you become an excellent leader? Parent?
We are told
that Jesus retreated for 40 days and fasted with prayer. Scripture tells the
story of the life of Jesus like he had a sense of his destiny and what he
needed to do. The Bible suggests that he knew it would be very difficult and
require spiritual fitness. I suspect that he did.
You don’t have
to be the Son of God to know that if you stand up to the Roman authorities, you
will be tortured and probably die. No more than Dr. King had a pretty good idea
that marching for Civil Rights would likely get him shot. Jesus probably didn’t
need an inner connection with God to figure that his destiny was going to be
difficult. And you don’t need some penetrating moral or psychological insight
to figure out what your issue is that is keeping you from excellence.
you devise for yourself that will bring this issue to your mind, front and
center, for the next 40 days? What can you devise for yourself that will allow
you to work on it in some concrete way, just a few minutes each day, so that
you are getting stronger and have a sense that you are mastering your
character? What can you do to
I hope you
will take 40 days to apply some spiritual discipline in this one area. You will
be better for it. Your family will be better for it. We will all be better for
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