Reflecting Light Into Dark Places

During the Second World War, German paratroopers invaded the island of Crete. When they landed at Maleme, the islanders met them, bearing nothing other than kitchen knives and hay scythes. The consequences of resistance were devastating. The residents of entire villages were lined up and shot.

Overlooking the airstrip today is an institute for peace and understanding founded by a Greek man named Alexander Papaderous. Papaderous was just six years old when the war started. He home village was destroyed and he was imprisoned in a concentration camp. When the war ended, he became convinced his people needed to let go of the hatred the war had unleashed. To help the process, he founded his institute at this place that embodied the horrors and hatreds unleashed by the war.

One day, while taking questions at the end of a lecture, Papaderous was asked, “What’s the meaning of life?” There was nervous laughter in the room. It was such a weighty question. But Papaderous answered it.

He opened his wallet, took out a small, round mirror and held it up for everyone to see. During the war he was just a small boy when he came across a motorcycle wreck. The motorcycle had belonged to German soldiers. Alexander saw pieces of broken mirrors from the motorcycle lying on the ground. He tried to put them together but couldn’t, so he took the largest piece and scratched it against a stone until its edges were smooth and it was round. He used it as a toy, fascinated by the way he could use it to shine light into holes and crevices.

He kept that mirror with him as he grew up, and over time it came to symbolise something very important. It became a metaphor for what he might do with his life.

 I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world–into the black places in the hearts of men–and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.

Robert Fulgham, It Was On Fire When I Laid Down On It

Why Climb Everest

George Mallory was the famed mountain climber who may have been the first person ever to reach the top of Mount Everest. In the early 1920’s he led a number of attempts to scale the mountain, eventually being killed in the third attempt in 1924. His body was found in 1999, well preserved by the snow and ice, 27,000 feet up the mountain, just 2000 feet from the peak. Give up he did not. His body was found face down on a rocky slope, head toward the summit. His arms were extended high over his head. His toes were pointed into the mountain; his fingers dug into the loose rock, refusing to let go even as he drew his last breath. A short length of cotton rope – broken – was looped around his waist.

In 1992, when Mallory was asked why climb Everest this is the reply he gave:

“The first question which you will ask and which I must try to answer is this, ‘What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?’ and my answer must at once be, ‘It is no use’. There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behaviour of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It’s no use. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for.”

Source: Biographical information from Seattle Times January 16, 2000. Quote from from .www.lackuster.com/quotes

Three Psychaitrists

Vienna, Europe, the period leading up to WW2. Three Jewish psychiatrists, two learned masters in the field, one the young apprentice.

The first master is a man named Sigmund Freud. He has spent years studying people, striving to understand what makes us tick. He’s reached the conclusion that the most basic drive in human beings is the drive for pleasure. It’s our need for pleasure that explains why we do what we do, how we live.

The second master is Alfred Adler. He too has spent years studying human behaviour. His studies have led him to disagree with Sigmund Freud. Adler is convinced the bottom line explanation for human behaviour is power. All of us grow up feeling inferior and powerless. Life is a drive to gain control, to feel we are important.

The third man is a young up-and-coming psychiatrist by the name of Victor Frankl. He hopes to follow in the footsteps of his mentors. But before his career gains any momentum WW2 starts. The Nazis invade and its dangerous for Jews. Freud and Adler are world renowned scholars and so manage to escape before Hitler invades. Frankl is not so lucky. He is arrested and thrown into a Nazi concentration camp for four long years.

After the war is over Frankl is released from the concentration camp and resumes his career. He reflects upon his time as a prisoner. He noticed something quite strange – the people who survived were not always the ones you’d expect. Many who were physically strong wasted away and died while others who were much more weak physically grew strong and survived. Why? What was it that enabled them to hang on through a living hell?

Frankl reflected on the theories of his mentors. Freud’s pleasure principle couldn’t explain it. For four desperate and terrible years the men in that camp knew only pain, suffering and degradation. Pleasure was not a word in their vocabulary. It wasn’t pleasure that kept them going.

What then of Adler’s theory about power being the basic human need? That didn’t fare well either. Frankl and his fellow Jews were completely powerless during their time in the concentration camps. Each day they stared down the barrel of a loaded gun, were treated like animals, felt jackboots on their faces. They had no power and no prospect of power.

Victor Frankl came up with his own theory. The difference between those who survived and those who perished was hope. Those who survived never gave up their belief that their lives had meaning, that despite everything going on around them it would one day end and they would live meaningful, purposeful lives. What is the basic human drive? The one thing that gives life value? The ability to live with a sense of meaning. Not pleasure. Not power. Meaning.

Source: Based on a talk given by Australian speaker Michael Frost

The World is a Puzzle

Dad was sitting watching television, when his little boy came running over.  “Daddy, can you play with me?”

Dad enjoys playing with his son, and plans to give him plenty of time, but not just yet. “Soon, son, soon” says Dad. “When this program finishes.”

Five minutes later the little boy returns. “Daddy, can we play now?”

“Soon, son, soon. When this program finishes.”

Two minutes later the little boy returns again. “Daddy, is it time to play yet?”

Dad realises he’s not going to get any peace, so he decides to set his son a task that will take some time. He notices a picture of the world on the front page of the newspaper lying in front of him. He tears the picture out then rips it into small pieces. “Now son, I’ve got a game for you. Take the pieces of this picture of the world and put them back together again and then we’ll play together.”

The little boy eagerly takes the pieces away with him and sets to work. Dad’s relieved he’ll get to see the last half hour of his TV program. But to his amazement his little boy is back in less than five minutes. “I’ve finished daddy. Can we play now?”

The father is stunned when he turns around to see his son holding up the picture of the world, each piece sticky taped into the right position. Dad begins wondering whether he has a child prodigy on his hands. “How did you get it done so quickly?” he asks. “That would’ve taken me a good 20 minutes and I’m an adult.”

“Oh, it was easy daddy. On the back of the world was a picture of a person, so I put the person together and that’s when the world came together.”

How do you put the world together? How do you make sense of your world and find your way through it? Christians find that Jesus is the face on the other side of the puzzle. He enables us to make sens eof life and our world and to find a path through it.

Source: unknown

Alexander Papaderous: Reflecting Light into Dark Places

During the Second World War German paratroopers invaded the island of Crete. When they landed at Maleme they were met by islanders bearing nothing other than kitchen knives and hay scythes. But the consequences of resistance were devastating. The residents of entire villages were lined up and shot.

Overlooking the airstrip today is an institute for peace and understanding founded by a Greek man named Alexander Papaderous. Papaderous had lived through the war and was convinced his people needed to let go of the legacy of hatred the war had unleashed and so he founded his institute at this place that embodied the horrors and hatreds unleashed by the war.

One day while taking questions at the end of a lecture Papaderous was asked, “What’s the meaning of life?” There was nervous laughter in the room. It is such a big question. But Papaderous answered it.

He opened his wallet and took out a small, round mirror and held it up for everyone to see. He told how as a small boy from a very poor family he came across a motorcycle wreck. It was during the war and the motorcycle had belonged to German soldiers. Alexander saw pieces of broken mirrors from the motorcycle lying on the ground. He tried to put them together but couldn’t, so he took the largest piece and scratched it against a stone until its edges were smoothed and it was round. He used it as a toy, fascinated by the way he could use it to shine light into holes and crevices.

He kept that mirror with him as he grew up, and over time it came to symbolise something very important. It became a metaphor for what he might do with his life.

 I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world–into the black places in the hearts of men–and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.

 

Source: reported in Robert Fulgham, It Was On Fire When I Laid Down On It

The Madman

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once told the following parable to discuss the possibility of belief in God. His madman echoes the tragedy of a world in which we have lost belief in God but are unable to find something more worthy to take God’s place, leaving us orphaned in the universe

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!” As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. “Has God got lost?” asked one. “Did he lose his way like a child?” asked another. “Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?” Thus they yelled and laughed

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Where is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him, you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Where is it moving now? Where are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us, for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history before.”

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars and yet they have done it themselves.

It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and monuments of God?”

Source: Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882, 1887) para. 125

Stop Selling Sugared Water

Who among us could live without computers? It seems they’re everywhere – in our studies at home, on our desks at work, in the library, the bank and even the cafe. We get pleasure from them, we swear at them, we need them.

But it’s only a recent thing. Just 3 generations ago the Chairman of IBM declared there is a world market for only five computers. As recently as 1977 the President of Digital Equipment claimed there is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home!

The revolution was brought to us in large part by Steven Jobs, the founder of Apple Computers. Steve Jobs was just 21 when he and Steve Wozniak invented the Apple Computer. Until then computers were a monstrous mass of vacuum tubes which took whole rooms. Then the two Steve’s managed to take that mass of tubes and incorporate them inside a box small enough to sit on a desk.

Jobs and Wozniak offered their invention to Atari. They weren’t interested in big bucks – all they wanted was a salary and the opportunity to continue their work. Atari knocked them back. They offered it to Hewlett-Packard, but Hewlett Packard knocked them back. It seemed Jobs and Wozniak alone could see the possibilities. So Jobs sold his Volkswagon and Wozniak sold his calculator, and with the $1300 that gave them they formed Apple Computers. The company was named Apple in memory of a happy summer Jobs had spent working in an orchard.

The rest is history. By all accounts Steve Jobs is a visionary, and spurred on by that vision he built a successful computer company. But Jobs soon discovered that if his vision was to reach fruition they needed greater management expertise. So Jobs approached John Sculley, then President of PepsiCo. There was absolutely no reason why Sculley should leave a highly paid position in a world leading company to go work with a bunch of computer nerds in a fledgling industry. Not unsurprisingly he turned Jobs down. But Jobs wouldn’t take no for an answer. He approached Sculley again. Again Sculley turned him down. In a last ditch effort Jobs passionately presented his visionary ideas to Sculley and he asked Sculley a question that forced him to accept.  The question was this: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”

“Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?” Indeed Jobs and Sculley did change the world.

Jesus comes to us with the same question: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?” Most of us spend our lives making sugared water, going to work to accumulate more possessions and perhaps finding space for God and the world in our spare time. But Jesus had a vision to change the world. His was the vision of the kingdom of God and he calls us to place it at the center of our lives, to make it our reason for existence (Matthew 6.33).

 

Source: information on Jobs and Sculley from “silicon_valley_story” and “ideafinder” websites.

Phil Jackson's Emptiness

Phil Jackson, was coach of the Chicago Bulls basketball team during the days of Michael Jordan. Before turning his hand to coaching, in the 1970’s Jackson played for the New York Knicks. During his time at the Knicks the team won the championship. He had reached the ultimate goal, the dream he had been striving for since he was a child. A short time later he was in New York and went out to to celebrate with family and friends. The restaurant was crowded with famous people like Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. But instead of joy this is what Jackson wrote about his feelings: “the intense feeling of connection with my team-mates that I had experienced in Los Angeles seemed like a distant memory. Instead of being overwhelmed with joy, I felt empty and confused. Was this it? I kept saying to myself. Is this what was supposed to bring me happiness? Clearly the answer lay somewhere else.” He later understood what was missing. He writes, “What I was missing was spiritual direction.”

Source: reported in Jackson’s book, Sacred Hoops.

Gaugin’s Questions

Paul Gauguin is the famous French artist of the late 19th century. A sailor, then a stockbroker, in 1885 Gauguin left his wife and five children to take up life as an artist. He spent much time overseas, before spending his final years in poverty, disease and despair in Tahiti. So deep was his despair that in 1897 Gaugin attempted suicide. He failed and lived for another five years. It was during this time in Tahiti that Gauguin painted his masterpiece, a three paneled work entitled “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” The first panel shows three women and a child, representing the beginning of life – “Where do we come from?”. The middle panel shows the daily existence of young adults – “What are we?”. The third panel shows an old woman approaching death – “Where are we going?”

The three questions are written in small print in the bottom corner of the painting. They are the questions Gauguin wished to answer, the universal human questions of us all: “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?”

 

Source: Information on Gauguin and the painting from encyclopedia.com and mfa.org (website of Boston Museum of Fine Art where the painting hangs).

Being Jacob Dylan

Jacob Dylan is the lead singer in a band called the Wallflowers. He’s also the son of Bob Dylan, and all his life he’s had to live in the shadow of his famous musician father. When his band went on their first tours they’d find the audiences packed with middle aged fans of his father armed with 20 page letters for the accessible younger Dylan to pass on to his inaccessible father.

I was struck by something Jacob Dylan said in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. He talked about how books had been written about his father, even history books, analysing Bob Dylan’s place in shaping modern culture. The he said this, “There’s countless biographies. In most of the books, there might be one page that mentions the names of [Bob’s] children. That’s it. I don’t want to be a page in the book.”

Source: Quote taken from Rolling Stone Magazine Issue 585, March 2001

Is That It?

George Harrison was one of the Beatles, one of the greatest and most influential pop bands of all time. Harrison knew fame, adulation, the pleasure of mastering his craft, the sense that his was a formative influence on music. So his comment in the Beatles Anthology is instructive: “When you’ve had all the experiences – met all the famous people, made some money, toured the world and got all the acclaim – you still think ‘is that it?’. Some people might be satisfied with that, but I wasn’t and I’m still not.”

Source: Reported by Ananova News Service, Nov 30 2001