On Good Characters

Recently, I was asked, via essay question, what my definition of “good character” was. My response actually took a bit of time to compose, as I must confess that I’ve never really understood the assertion that someone has a “good character.” In fact, I’d go so far as to say that merely stating that someone “has a good character” seems a bit of an empty compliment, especially if that’s all that’s said of that person. Perhaps it’s just my own flawed impression, but “he has a good character” seems to have an unpleasant undercurrent. It’s almost as if the speaker is really saying, “Oh, bless his heart, he means well, but…” Having good intentions is something, but as we all can attest, they must come to some sort of fruition in order to actually do any good.

That’s why, should anyone ever tell me of a “good character” they know, I intend to reply: “That’s wonderful. What do you mean by that?” Or perhaps a better question would be: “How so?” To me, a “good character” is an empty shell that has to be filled with good actions. What’s more, if someone truly does have a good character, it’ll be revealed by what they do.

A classic example of someone with good character is the Biblical figure of Job. In Job 1:11, he is described as “…blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” I’ll freely admit that in everyday life, saying someone “turns from evil” may seem a bit melodramatic. No matter what one’s definition of evil, most everyone will agree that some things in life are bad, or at least harmful. So, when a job candidate is recommended on the basis of his “good character,” the recommender is in effect saying that this potential employee won’t lead said company to harm. The applicant knows what the right is, and, to the best of his or her ability, does it.

But then, what is “the right?” As a Christian, the “right” for me hearkens back to Job, to “fear[ing] God.” As a college student, I am meant to exude my university’s so-called “core values:” excellence, integrity, leadership, loyalty, respect, and selfless service. As I see nothing in them that contradicts my Christian worldview, I will consider them to be part of this “right.”

In our modern age, deciding to strive for excellence, for honesty, to become a leader, to remain loyal, to practice respect, and to deny oneself in favor of others is becoming increasingly harder. Unfortunately, at the same time, the standard of “good character” has perhaps gone down as well. That is why, for me, the key quality a “good character” must have is “discernment.” It’s not a word that is used often today, but I like it nonetheless. The Oxford American Dictionary defines discernment as “the ability to judge well.” Thus, a person’s good character will allow them to discern what is good and evil, and then, it will cause them to turn from the wrong, towards the right.

To truly posses a “good character” you cannot just mean well, but you have to strive, with all that is in you, to do well.  Looking back over this sentence I just wrote, this seems to be a rather obvious assertion.  But, be that as it may, it’s still a true one, and one that I intend to keep in mind for the sake of my own character.

 

 

Two Quotations and Two Cents

Short post today! Lately, I’ve been thinking about the kind of love necessary for lasting relationships, and below are two quotations related to the topic.

“We are all fallen creatures and all very hard to live with.”

– C.S. Lewis

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

– Shakespeare

What I find interesting in the above quotations is that both Lewis and Shakespeare approach relationships from the perspective of “there are going to be problems.”

With this premise that trials will come, Lewis and Shakespeare create an environment for a relationship that allows for what might be termed a seeing love–love that is fully conscious of the hurt a loved one is capable of causing (and heartily abhors it), yet is also prepared to remain steadfast, able to extend forgiveness and grace.

Of course, this love must go both ways in our earthly relationships: we must be willing to extend grace yet also humble enough to receive it when it is we who do wrong.

That may be all very well, but what does this steadfast love look like in practice? I believe we see the ultimate example of this love on the Cross. In the history of humanity, Jesus knew better than anyone else the brokenness of those he loved–he knew his disciples would desert him, that Peter would deny him three times. He saw better than any the fallenness of his people, but despite this knowledge, he still loved them enough to die for them. Such an unwavering love costs much, but is the sort, as the Bard writes, “That looks on tempests, and is never shaken.”

Note: For a semi-related and somewhat humorous article that served as a springboard for this one, have a look at this post.


Lewis, C. S. The Quotable Lewis. Ed. Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root. Wheaton: Tyndale Fiction, 1990. Web. 17 Nov. 2015. <https://books.google.com/books?id=kO0JeQn2TxAC&gt;.

Shakespeare, William. “Sonnet 116.” The Sonnets. Lit2Go Edition. 1609. Web. 17 Nov. 2015. <http://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/179/the-sonnets/3890/sonnet-116/>.

A Picture Study

The Letter
“The Letter” (Date: ca. 1865)

“The Letter” by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot is a portrait of a seated woman holding a letter.  Darkness and gloom shroud the scene, leaving only the figure illumined.  The woman is seated in a dark chair which hints that it might be green.  With her downcast eyes, slumped figure, and listless hands, the figure looks like “Melancholy” in human form.  Her face is softly shadowed, her expression more resigned and emotionless than sad.  Though her dark coils of hair are neatly arranged and tied with a red ribbon, her dress is slipping off her white, drooping shoulders, as if she is too distracted to notice or care.  As the dark chair and shadowed background focus attention on the woman, so the downward curving lines of the woman, from the arched eyebrows to the wrinkles of the dress to the curved fingertips, draw one’s eyes to the white letter which her hand clasps in her lap.

The entire painting is full of mystery and questions.  “What news did the letter bring to affect her so?” Corot makes his observer ask.  Even the indistinct background leaves one guessing.  Is that a room behind the woman?  If so, what is in it?

Jean Baptiste Camille Corot
Jean Baptiste Camille Corot (lived from 1796 to 1875)

Corot uses bland colors for most of the portrait.  The room and background are dark, and the woman and her dress are primarily a pale off-white.  Only the red hair ribbon, green bodice, and white letter stand out.

In his painting “The Letter,” Camille Corot masterfully demonstrates how to focus a painting on one object in it.  Though the concentration of a portrait is usually on a person, the lighting, lines, and title of this work direct one’s attention to a small, white object in the person’s hand.  Having accomplished this, Corot has created a story with his painting.  “The Letter” by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot is a very intriguing and well-painted portrait, and its air of melancholy and mystery makes it unique and memorable.

3 Titles from the Golden Age

Comic books have been read and enjoyed for a long time here in the United States. Even with the slow demise of their original platform, the newspaper, they have blossomed into their own standalone publications. Unlike today where the term ‘newspaper comics’ conjures up images of slapstick or satirical humor contained in four small boxes with simplistic artwork, it was not always so. In the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s long form story arcs were masterfully played out in the pages of the daily papers. Today I would like to share some of the “greats” of this genre. I have not had the opportunity to read all of the below listed, but still appreciate the artistic and storytelling excellence they have provided in the small excerpts I have had access to.

Terry and the Pirates (1934-1973)

TerryPirates_Cover
Terry and the Pirates

Written and rendered by the artist Milton Caniff, this series follows Terry and his buddies through their adventures in China –primarily focusing around their interactions with a woman known as the “Dragon Lady” and the pirates that she leads. During the years of World War 2, the comic strip took on more patriotic and anti-Japanese themes as Americans battled in the Pacific. Terry and the Pirates was released as a daily strip, as well as having Sunday color pages. The artwork is impressive given the volume of work that Caniff had to create for the series, and the stories he weaves are entertaining.

 

 

Secret Agent X-9 (1934-1996)

Secret Agent X-9 Page from the Alex Raymond Years

This series was begun by Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon) and Alex Raymond, the illustrator best known for Flash Gordon –another piece of artistic greatness. My experience with this series lies only between the years 1934 and 1936 when Raymond was the illustrator. Featuring exquisite artwork by Raymond, and a 6+ month story arc by Hammett, along with subsequent shorter ones, the adventure strip follows the nameless secret agent X-9 as he battles evil.

 

 

 

 

Prince Valiant (1937-present)

valiant-preview
Prince Valiant by Hal Foster

For many, this comic strip does not even require introduction. Begun by Hal Foster in 1937, it follows the exploits of a Prince called Valiant as he adventures in the world of King Arthur. Featuring many characters from the Arthurian legends including Merlin and Gawain, the series tells a tale of integrity, honor, and chivalry. Hal Foster does an impeccable job illustrating this masterpiece, and his stories are engaging and wholesome. Unlike the previous two series, Prince Valiant was only printed once a week as a color strip. However, Hal Foster spent more than a full 40 hour workweek on each print, and it definitely shows.