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Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

I have finished recently listening to the audio book called the Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, who is a Psychologist from Harvard University. While the very name can obviously make one very skeptical, it was a very well rounded book that gave clear scientific and psychological examples and studies to back up its claims. It was not like many self-development manuals which is full of mere ideology that the author has created. The basic thesis is that happiness creates success and not the opposite which is usually taught in society that success creates happiness.

There were many powerful aspects to the book which I will be dealing with in future posts, but one of the most intriguing parts of the book was the link between happiness and gratitude. Now, we all know the basic idea that gratitude makes us have a better view of the world and therefore, we become happier. However, Achor goes into more depth and points out the scientific studies that actual show this reality. In one study he cites, a group of individuals are asked to write down the things in their life they are grateful for every afternoon for just a few days. The results are astounding as the participants are not only much happier when the study is being done, but continue to be much happier after the study compared to the control group who did not write down what they were grateful for. The simple act of remembering ones blessings had a large impact.

In the end, gratitude is not just something we should practice; it is essential for our well-being and our happiness. It allows us to get out of the rut of only looking at the negative in our lives and actually begin to see the positives that are all around us, but that we usually miss. Today, a great activity you could start would be to simply write down the blessings of the day, no matter how small, you may see your view on the world start to change and your happiness grow.

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I have been reading an amazing book by Upton Sinclair (The Jungle) called “They Call Me Carpenter.” It is about the era of the 1920’s, when social inequality and injustice was at a great high in the nation. Workers were striking because of mistreatment by management, slums were filling up, and the rich were getting wealthier every single day. However, despite all the blatant injustice and exploitation of the era, the nation still considered itself a society greatly based on the teachings of Jesus.

In the midst of this environment comes Jesus Christ. He is accepted and loved by the poor, outcast, and workers, but he is soon despised and feared by the wealthy, powerful, and “Christian leaders.” He is accused of being a Bolshevik, a socialist radical, and a dangerous pacifist. The church is fearful of him, because he defies so many of their traditions and what they stand for. As the book progresses, the hatred and fear against Jesus soon turn to violence.

Even though this book was written in the 1920’s, the message is so relevant today, especially due to the fact that our current political state seems to be digressing to those days. The vital questions are presented in the book: How would Jesus really be accepted if he were to come back today? What would today’s Christian leaders think of him? Would he be rejected as some type of radical? The questions are disturbing, but something we should all consider. What would happen if Jesus was among us today, how would we treat him?

In the book, Jesus sums up the era he comes back to this way,

“Rome was rough, and crude, and poor. Rome was nothing to this. This is Satan on my Father’s throne, making new worlds for himself.”

But he also gives these words of prophecy, yet hope,

“The days of the exploiter are numbered. The thrones of the mighty are tottering, and the earth shall belong to them that labor. He that toils not, neither shall he eat, and they that grow fat upon the blood of the people-they shall grow lean again”

It is a quick read which is now in the public domain. If you any type of Kindle or e-book device, you can download it for free. I would highly recommend it. It is an eye opening look at historical fiction that is untold importance and relevance today.

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In his famous novel, 1984, George Orwell describes his nightmarish totalitarian society, a police state with complete surveillance and control over its inhabitants. Last night, we took another step forward in that direction. Obama just renewed the Patriot Act that was originally created right after the events of 9/11. While the Patriot Act is supposed to protect us from terrorist attacks, it also opens the door for complete government surveillance, tracking, and power. Do I think that the U.S. is going to turn into a complete police state under Obama? No, but we are opening the door to allow untold liberties to be simply taken away in the future, especially if we are going through another type of crisis or disaster.

Let’s imagine what will happen when we enter a serious conflict; let’s say like another World War. In the past, the government turned from a free, liberal democracy into a type of police state very quickly. The worst example of this was in World War I with President Woodrow Wilson who essentially made it illegal to speak out our write against the war movement. Back then, it was somewhat hard to track people, can you imagine what would happen today with our technology and Internet communications? The government could have complete control.

The nightmare of 1984 could become more of a reality. People like to make the book, 1984, simply a critique against Communism. While it was certainly written in opposition to Stalin and the policies of the Soviets, Orwell himself had been a Socialist. It was not about the economic system; it is what happens when a police state takes over. This can happen in a left wing or right-wing government. It could happen to us.

One of my favorite podcasts comes from a man named Dan Carlin. He gives a great illustration about our growing military industrial complex and our growing police state. He compares it to a gun that we buy to keep our family safe, only later to find out to our own horror that the gun was the weapon used to actually kill our family. In the process of trying to keep ourselves safe, we could be endangering ourselves more than we ever know.

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“Here is a man who was the world’s first revolutionist..a man whose whole being was one flame of hatred for wealth, and all that wealth stands for-for the pride of wealth, and the luxury of wealth, and the tyranny of wealth; who was himself a beggar and a tramp, a man of the people, an associate of saloon-keepers and women of the town; who again and again, in the most explicit language, denounced wealth and the holding of wealth” (Upton Sinclair, The Jungle)

Do you feel discouraged that so many of the professed Christian leaders in the country stand on the side of the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and oppressed? This is exactly the frustration which can be seen in the page of Upton Sinclair’s book, The Jungle. Towards the end of the book, the main character is talking to a minister who explains to him how the words of Jesus are very relevant to economic issues today and that far from being a simple promoter of the status quo and the rich and powerful, he was a person who stood up for the poor and oppressed and stood against those who were gaining and storing the wealth at the expense of the rest of society.

The minister goes on to explain how the words of Jesus have been used by the rich and powerful to keep up and justify their oppression, but that this is simply a perversion of the true words of Jesus. He goes on to state how this has happened, “This man (Jesus) they have made into the high priest of property and smug respectability, a divine sanction of all the horrors and abominations of modern commercial civilization! Jeweled images are made of him, sensual priests burn incense to him, and modern pirates of industry bring their dollars, wrung from the toil of helpless women and children, and build temples to him, and sit in cushioned seats and listen to his teachings expounded by doctors of dusty divinity.”

The minister concludes with these words, “Here is an historical figure whom all men reverence and love, whom some regard as divine; and who was one of us- who lived our life, and taught our doctrine. And now shall we leave him in the hands of his enemies (the rich and powerful)-shall we allow them to stifle and stultify his example? We have his words, which no one can deny.”

For all those Christians who have found the current Capitalistic system which puts the wealth in the hands of the few and leaves many impoverished as incompatible with the message and life of Jesus-take heart. There has been a long history of those in the Christian faith who have chosen to really speak out and promote the true message of justice for the poor and oppressed that Jesus promoted. There is a history of people who have refused to accept a status quo Christianity which simply allows injustice to flourish in the veil of religion.

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In Paulo Coelho’s famous book The Pilgrimage, there is quote that really struck me, “The boat is safer anchored at the port; but that’s not the aim of boats.” It is something quite simple, but it is something that we often forget in our quest for safety and security. In our quest to make our life secure, we take out all risk and in the process lose any true joy. In the words of Jesus, we seek to save our lives, and in the process we lose them.

There is obviously a danger in taking too many foolish risks; however, most of us never even venture close to that arena. In many ways, we are more secure than ever, but at the same time we are filled with less joy and passion for life. Perhaps this sounds philosophical and or even cliché, but what are the real ways we can move from the harbor to the sea in our own lives?

1.Choose to do something each week that scares you. This does not have to be something huge; it could be simply having a conversation that you know you need to have, but that scares you. It could be as simple as striking up a real conversation with a complete stranger. Facing our fears in the end makes us stronger, more confident, and happier people. Refusing to take that step leaves us feeling helpless and useless.

2. Take some type of financial risk each year. This does not have to be something major. This could be something as small as giving a little money to a friend’s startup venture. It could mean using a little money to try and make that great idea you have some type of reality. This doesn’t mean a foolish risk like buying lottery tickets or heading off to the casino. Rather, it is a calculated risk, realizing that only by risking do we really win.

3.Commit to try something new at least once a month. We often fall into a monotonous pattern in our lives. We do the same thing day in and day out in our jobs, relationships, free time, etc. Perhaps, we feel that things are going ok, so there is no need to rock the boat at all. However, if we are not growing in our careers, relationships, and overall lives-the truth is that we are slowly dying. Risking something new might not turn out the best, but in the end choosing to live life chasing new adventures will be much better than refusing any change out of fear.

4. Refuse to accept fear based rhetoric and those pushing to give you “more security”. So many people thrive and make extraordinary sums of money off our fears and doubts. Whole political party and organizations are set up on this model. If they keep people fearful, they can continue to exploit them. TV Preachers use this fear to gain large sums of money. They can promise the blessing/wrath of God and keep people from thinking rationally about what they are giving their money towards. Companies try to sell us every product in order to ensure our mental, emotional, financial, or even physical security. While there are obvious measures that we should take to ensure our safety, security, and health- we should never fall into the traps of those who use our need for security to keep us from living our lives to the fullest.

Taking risks may mean more failures and setbacks at times, but in the end it will ensure that our lives are actually worth living, that we are truly making a difference in the society, and that we are filled with a purpose. We can choose to stay safe in the harbor, but we will never the joys and triumphs of sailing the sea. What is the sea you need to sail in your life this year?

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This was the opportunity that was given to the author, Donald Miller, after film producers wanted to make a movie about his life. He soon came to the painful recognition that while his books and articles were popular and interesting, his life was quite dull, passionless, and lacking of adventure and purpose. Through the course of re-writing the movie, Miller was a given chance to re-write his life, and this book is the result.

I found this book at my school library, and I hesitantly decided to check it out. I had read and really enjoyed Miller’s first book Blue Like Jazz, but had not been able to get into his other books. He seemed to be speaking about a life that really amounted to very little of substance. I was blown away when I started reading this book that this was the actual premise of his writing. He needed to make a real and substantial change in the way he saw and participated in the world.

One of his quotes book really sums up the journey and change of perspective he was embarking on, he states, “I’ve wondered, though, if one of the reasons we fail to acknowledge the brilliance of life is because we don’t want the responsibility inherent in the acknowledgement. We don’t want to be characters in a story because characters have to move and breathe and face conflict with courage. And if life isn’t remarkable, then we don’t have to do any of that; we can be unwilling victims rather than grateful participants.”

As I finished reading this book, I felt I needed to pick it up and read it again. I rarely have this sensation; the only time I can remember having this feeling was after reading “East of Eden” by Steinbeck. However, I found through reading the re-writing of Miller’s life, that I was starting to have more reflection on the changes needed in my own life. I highly encourage you to read this book. It will not only help change your outlook, but could change your whole way of being. As Miller concludes at the end of the book,

“We live in a world where bad stories are told, stories that teach us life doesn’t mean anything and that humanity has no great purpose. It’s a good calling, then, to speak a better story. How brightly a better story shines. How easily the world looks to it in wonder. How grateful we are to hear these stories, and how happy it makes us to repeat them.”

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I was 19 years old. It was a Wednesday night and I was lying in my bed reading a book. This wasn’t just any Wednesday night though, the next day I was scheduled to give my final signature to join the Air Force National Guard. I am not sure for all my reasons for wanting to join; some of it was definitely money. I also wanted some adventure and travel around the world. It was a 6 year commitment which would have just ended last month. Of course in the National Guard, after boot camp and initial training you go one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer for more training; however, they can call you up at any time if you are needed.

The book I was finishing that night was Tuesdays with Morrie. If you haven’t read the book, it is an amazing, true story about a university professor who is dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease, a slow and painful death. One of his former students comes to visit him while he is dying and essentially receives a “final lecture on life”. The book goes on to account the last months of life for the professor, but even more importantly the life lessons and wisdom that he has gained along the way.

Some of the book goes into the stories of his time as a professor. One part I thought was interesting was how in the midst of the Vietnam war, one year he gave all his male students A’s to make sure they kept their deferments from being drafted. He was also involved greatly in the Civil Rights movement on the campus of the school. He had touched student’s lives and made a real social impact. As I finished the last pages of the book, something just struck me- I couldn’t join the Air Force. I mean no disrespect for those who serve in the U.S. armed services or any other countries armed services, however; at that moment I realized I was about ready to join something in which I did not have the desire or the vision to be a part of.

Actually, this was one of the main influences in my life to become a teacher. It was soon after this, that I finally decided on teaching as a career-specifically Social Studies. I can remember putting the book down and thinking that I wanted to teach and make an impact on student’s lives. I haven’t come back to read the book since that day, but the impact it had on me in that vital time in my life was so tremendous. Was it the greatest book I have ever read? No. Was it the deepest philosophical or spiritual commentary I have ever read? No. However, in that time and in that place it was exactly what I needed. To this day, I try to confront each book I read and even each film I watch with how it can impact my life. Never diminish the impact literature can have on your spirit and your life. If you let it, it can help open your eyes to see new opportunities and the world in a new way. If it wouldn’t have been for that book, I might not have ever been living in Costa Rica, teaching Social Studies, and writing this article right here.

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