War, Work, and Race

Sunlight blazed upon the stands.  Two horses opposite of one another pawed the ground and chewed their bits; two bridles jingled with impatience.  At the sound of the trumpet, they were off, and horses’ hooves thundered as the two knights collided in the middle of the lists, cracking their lances against each other’s shields, their steeds trembling beneath them with shock from the blows.Knight on horse

Jousting tournaments, farming, and racing all have one important underlying element: a horse.  Cavalry could make the winning difference in battle; a strong horse could mean more food for a man’s family; the horse with the most stamina and speed could win the race.  In war, work, and race the horse has always been significant in the lives of men.

Friesian
Friesian Stallion

Knights were the greatest power in medieval armies, but one of the factors that made the knight important was the horse he rode.  Without the Great Horses of England, the Flemish, Flanders, and Friesian horses, powerful Destriers, there would never have been knights.  Destriers could carry the weight of a full grown man in armor, plus armor of their own.  Their endurance, strength, and reflexes had to be great to last the long hours of battle.  Horses were intelligent and had good senses of sight, hearing, and smell which made them the perfect animal for war, where these senses were vital.  Good war horses were very costly and bred for great size, strength, and stamina.  Duke William of Normandy was one of the first rulers to use a large group of mounted soldiers in battle, and not long after his invasion of England, in 1066 A.D., knights emerged from the regular cavalry.  In the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, knights became a dominant force on the field.  Cavalry was used in battle during the Civil War in the United States of America and also in the two World Wars.

Civil War
Civil War

Although horses were used in both World I and World War II, with the invention of tanks and artillery, the need for horses in war began to quickly recede.  However, not all horses were used in war.  Descending from the Great Horses of England came the Shires and other powerful draft horses.  Farmers, merchants, and couriers all used the horse in their various occupations.  Shires, the strongest horse breed in the modern world, are capable of pulling up to twenty-five tons.

Shire Horse
Shire Horse

Other large horses in the draft breeds include the Clydesdale, Belgian, Percheron, and Suffolk.

Clydesdale
A Team of Clydesdales

Draft horses contained strength that aptly fit God’s description of a horse in the book of Job, for their necks are “clothed with thunder” (Job 39:19).  These horses were used to pull plows, carts, and to do other necessary jobs on farms.  The stronger the horse was, the more food a farmer could plant and harvest.  Before the invention of machines for travel, the horse was the fastest method of locomotion and many draft horses and ponies worked as transportation for couriers, merchants, and any person who needed to travel.  The Pony Express used small ponies to carry the mail and post-boys along the route from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California.

War and work aren’t the only equine occupations, though; for hundreds of years, horses have raced, from across the Middle Eastern deserts to the European country sides.  In 680 B.C., there were chariot races during the Greek Olympics, and from the small beginning of official horse races in Greece, horse races have grown in size.  The largest modern day horse races are the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.

Kentucky Derby
Kentucky Derby

Common race horse breeds include the Arabian horses, which have the most endurance of horse breeds, and the Thoroughbred, which is faster over shorter distances.  Arabians are usually smaller and more lightly built than Thoroughbreds, which typically weigh 1,000 to 1,200 pounds and are 62 to 65 inches high from the ground to their withers – which is the highest point of their backs.  The greatest modern day racehorse, Secretariat, who won the Triple Crown in 1973, was an American Thoroughbred.  Secretariat set the record for the greatest win at the Belmont Stakes when he won by 31 lengths in only two minutes and twenty-four seconds.

Racing Horses
Racing Horses

War, work, and race have all been strongly affected by the equine family.  In Job 39:19-25, God asks Job, “Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? …the glory of his nostrils is terrible.  He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength…He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword…he smelleth the battle afar off…”  This passage of Scripture truly describes the horse for what it is.  In war it is fearless, in work it is strong, and in the race it “swalloweth up the ground with fierceness and rage.”

Rugged Individualism: Nietzsche, Superman, and America

Just some ideas that have have been going through my head the past few months. I hope that they are informative and interesting.

“It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.” ~ Henley

hommedia
William Ernest Henley

William Henley, Superman, Nietzsche, and the “man with no name“, what do all of these persons and characters have in common? Individualism. They hold a desire and belief in their ability to conquer no matter the odds, reliant upon none, and answerable to no one. These are the ideals that pervade modern American culture, and while living in a welfare state might seem to contradict the idea of American individualism, the influences of self-sufficiency and the “American cowboy” still hold a grip on the modern American psyche. However, while the concept of the cowboy surviving on his own out on the broad plains of the Wild West may sound appealing, the concepts represented are very dangerous and can be extremely damaging.

While some cultures are very community oriented, like the Japanese, modern American culture is based on the idea of individualism. Rather than thinking of the group, Americans (and therein I include myself) tend to put their own ideas, interests, and desires first with little or no thought of the effects that they will have on the community as a whole. Rather than thinking about what can be said or done to help the community, or more importantly what should not be said or done, Americans seem to be obsessed with personal rights and personal expression. This view is rooted in the teachings of Nietzsche and is tied to the post-modern belief that as long as a person is sincere, it really doesn’t matter what they believe. A good example of this can be found in the movies that Americans flock to the movie theaters to watch. While I do enjoy a good superhero movie (or comic book), “superheroes” are a good example of the United States obsession with individualism. Superheroes, for the most part, are vigilantes who take the law into their own hands, defeat bad guys, and otherwise set down their own rules that often reside outside the bounds of the laws of existing governing authorities.

So why is rugged individualism a problem? The problem is that individualism, at least in the extreme, makes people neither willing to ask for, or accept, help whenever they need it, nor willing to offer it whenever it is required. The isolating of oneself from others in this way leads to a truly lonely existence. Returning to my superhero example, have you ever seen a superhero who was happy? I am reminded of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. For almost three movies Batman is a lonely and hunted man; only whenever he leaves behind his persona that had acted as a wall between himself and other people is he able to find real peace and happiness.

Batman

God had designed us to be social: people need other people. He calls us to give up our self to Him, but it doesn’t stop there. We cannot simply accept God and then keep on living the same way as before: isolated and “masters of our fate.” We have to give up the mask of self-sufficiency and individualism – and that is all that it is, a mask –and acknowledge to ourselves and others that we can’t do it on our own.  The Bible has multiple commands relating to this problem. In James 5:16, James says to “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (NASB). Here James implies that it is not sufficient to just confess our sins to God in private, but that to truly be healed and mature in our walk we must confess to, and pray for, one another. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, also displays the church’s need for group support.  In Romans 15:30-32, Paul says, “Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company” (NASB). What I find striking about this passage is the universal, united effort of prayer that Paul is calling the Roman church to. Paul doesn’t just pray personally for a successful trip to Judea and Jerusalem, but realizes the importance of believers’ prayers, even believers that he has never met, in the bringing about of God’s will in his journey. My pastor said, “We often think that the church is an independent improvement project, that all we need is ‘me and Jesus’, and that is sufficient. If that were so, God would not have put us in the church, God wouldn’t have called us Christ’s body…We are all in this together…We all need one another” (14:-16:08).

boots

Rugged individualism pervades modern American society, filling the music, movies, and books that cover store shelves. Man thinking that he can “do it on his own” is not new, but is still just as dangerous today as it was back at the dawn of the earth when Adam and Eve sought to be wise as gods. However, God in his Word has shown how we must live, and through Christ the Savior’s work on the cross, and the ministering of the Holy Spirit, we can be freed from the chains of our individualistic obsessions and become who we are meant to be. As Paul says in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (NASB).

References

Bennett, Warren. “The Problem of Phoebe.” Sunday Evening Sermon. Covenant Presbyterian Church, Natchitoches LA. May 5, 2013.

“Bible Gateway.” BibleGateway.com: A Searchable Online Bible in over 100 Versions and 50 Languages. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 May 2013.

Henley, William E. “Invictus.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 19 May 2013. <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/182194&gt;.

Reflections of a First Year Teacher

These are a few reflections which occurred to me as I wrote a final exam for some of my students. Enjoy.

The scratch on paper of lead or ink

In hurried, frantic meter

Forces me to pause and think

“How well have I been a teacher?”

These young minds into my hands

Were entrusted to me for molding;

To fill with wonders of the lands

And give facts without withholding!

Warily did our classes begin,

And get on in fits and starts.

I know by now I’ve touched the mind,

But did I touch the heart?

Many will stay, while others leave

On their own path to embark.

More important to me than a legacy:

Did my Lord leave His mark?

Improve Your Credibility

Note: this post is in addition to our regular Tuesday posts. We hope to be able to provide more of these bonus “improve your writing” posts in the coming weeks.

Pinocchio

Lies damage one’s reputation more than anything else, but today I am going to focus on a smaller, more common way that ordinary people like you and me damage our credibility.

Honestly…

We often qualify statements either written or oral with “honestly,” “frankly,” “to tell you the truth,” etc. when we shouldn’t. This may seem counter-intuitive at first, so to clarify let us examine for a moment the speech of a foppish young socialist named Caesar (a fictional person who is about to have a brief moment of fame before being forever forgotten).

A reporter is asking Caesar about his views on a certain financial policy, and Caesar says, “Honestly, I think it’s a capital idea!”

Notice Caesar qualifies his statement with “honestly.” What’s wrong with this? Well, what Caesar implies with this word is that at other times he is not being quite as honest. He is implying that when he does not say “honestly,” “frankly,” etc. that his words don’t hold quite as much weight.

An Example

I witnessed a sterling real-life example of this problem at an information session when I was visiting colleges last year. The speaker, a very pleasant-seeming student, was giving families a rundown of what the university was like. When he began talking about the cafeteria at the school, he said, “The food here is awesome. I mean, I’m from way down South, so I know what good food tastes like. Look, I would not lie to you about this–the food here is great.”

As he said these words, a question entered my head: what would he lie to me about?

This is an extreme example, I know, but it illustrates my point: we shouldn’t use words that will potentially detract from our perceived integrity. We shouldn’t be “more honest” in our speech at some times than others. We should be honest at all times so that we don’t have to use these nasty qualifiers…

Why? Because honestly, it damages our credibility!

The True Merchant

Throughout high school English I invariably chose all the “fun” prompts that involved creative writing.  However, there were times when I actually had to write a serious essay, and this was one of them.  It’s one of my better compositions, perhaps because I actually had strong opinions on the prompt: “Antonio is the title character in the play, but which character do you believe is the most important?  Write an opinion paper explaining which character you believe to be central to the play and why.”

First, I have a confession: though I may be a prospective English major, and even though I’d read adaptions of The Merchant of Venice, I still always assumed that the merchant referred to in the title was Shylock, that notorious example of anti-Semitism in Elizabethan England.   But, as William Shakespeare reveals in the play’s subtitle, Antonio (or as I refer to him “that stupid guy,”) is the actual merchant.  However, I always found Antonio something of a dull, if poetic, character, who floats about Venice being mournful or spiteful as the case may be, and is generally of less influence and interest than his nemesis, the Jew.

In fact, it would take much to convince me that Antonio deserves the title piece.  That honor ought to have gone to the one who is most wronged through the play: Shylock.  After all, without him The Merchant of Venice might be a totally different play.  Without Shylock, it would be but the story of some merchant (Antonio), who lends money to his friend (Bassanio), so that that friend can court a lady (Portia).  In this circumstance, the main drama might have revolved around the trials Bassanio must endure to win Portia.  I suppose a play could be made of that, but it would probably be a light, frothy one, indeed, more of a comedy than the actual play is.

But would Venice then take its place on the shelf of “great” Shakespearean classics?  Maybe so, maybe not: there is no knowing how Shakespeare would have worded that simple tale.  Instead, however, he chose to embellish the sparse story by including the man that Antonio in turn borrows money from.  That creditor is Shylock, who demands a pound of Antonio’s “fair flesh,” should he fail to reimburse the moneylender.  Though Bassanio (in what now becomes something of a side plot) manages to win the lady, Antonio is unable to repay Shylock.  The rest of the play is mainly taken up with Shylock’s seemingly vindictive quest to make Antonio fulfill his vow.

In creating this extra character and plot, Shakespeare fashioned perhaps the ugliest modern controversy concerning his work: Shylock, the villain, is a Jew.  Unfortunately, there is no getting around the fact that The Merchant of Venice is an anti-semitic play.  The Jew is the bloodthirsty bad guy, the perpetrator of Old Testament law, opposed to the gentle mercy of the Christian characters.  As the play closes, the Jew is bested, and he and his daughter convert to Christianity.  In Shakespeare’s day, and for a many of centuries after, Shylock was played as a caricature of a Jew: scheming, devilish, and vicious.

But fortunately for those devotees of the Bard, this play is not quite as disgusting as it first appears.  Shakespeare does give some justification to Shylock’s vendetta against Antonio:  “He hath disgraced me, and 
hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my 
bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what’s his reason?  I am a Jew.”  At least there is reason to the madness, but the author still ends with the admission that the wronged is a Jew.  In Shakespeare’s day, and for hundreds of years later, that was a perfectly rational reason for hatred.

Yet Shakespeare goes even further.  Shylock laments: “Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs,
 dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with 
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
 to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as
 a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? 
if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison 
us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not 
revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.”  What is this?  Is a Christian finding empathy with a Jew?

That is the majesty of Shakespeare.  He is not content to say: “Shylock is a Jew.  That’s that.”  Whatever prejudices of the times Shakespeare subscribed to, he still cannot keep himself from exploring the psyche of “the other side.”  As a result, intentionally or no, he gives one of the most stirring defenses against racism, in the midst of the very play that is criticized for it.

Ultimately, Shylock has even more importance than merely superficial influence over the plot of the play.  Through Shylock, Shakespeare reveals that he is no bit playwright, conveniently writing stereotypes for the amusement of the crowd (whatever the unjust title may imply).  Shakespeare is willing, however subtly, to let a Jew take center stage.