I can’t remember exactly what I was reading the other day, (a book often leads to an article which leads to a blog which leads to another book…sort of a common hazard among us ADD’s. Anyhoo….) but at some point a reference was made to Benjamin Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues. It gave a brief description, and I was fascinated, so I had to find out more. After a very quick search I learned the following from Wikipedia:
Franklin sought to cultivate his character by a plan of 13 virtues, which he developed at age 20 (in 1726) and continued to practice in some form for the rest of his life. His autobiography lists his 13 virtues as:
- “Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.”
- “Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.”
- “Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.”
- “Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.”
- “Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.”
- “Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.”
- “Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”
- “Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.”
- “Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.”
- “Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.”
- “Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”
- “Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.”
- “Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”
Franklin did not try to work on them all at once. Instead, he would work on one and only one each week “leaving all others to their ordinary chance”. While Franklin did not live completely by his virtues and by his own admission, he fell short of them many times, he believed the attempt made him a better man contributing greatly to his success and happiness, which is why in his autobiography, he devoted more pages to this plan than to any other single point; in his autobiography Franklin wrote, “I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.”
Um…first of all, at 20 years old he “sought to cultivate his character” so he made a list of the highest virtues he could think of, then briefly defined them, and created a plan to follow them in order to have descendants that someday followed his example??
WHOA. I don’t know what you were doing when you were 20 years old, but I think I was probably just trying to cultivate enough dough to pay my rent and keep gas in my car. I was barely worried about my character (which explains a whole lot if you knew me back then.)
I have read over this list of Franklin’s 13 Virtues several times in the past week or so. I have been very inspired by it. I wondered how it might benefit me, as well as the world around me, if I took time to intentionally cultivate (or on some days, even bother to pay attention to) my own character as he did. How would it help bring to light things that I need to work on? How would it show me the ways that God’s gifts are already being used well through me? And what would be on my list of virtues to use as a measuring stick?
As a person of faith in Jesus Christ, my list is really already figured out for me. We already have a list of virtues to live by…they’re more commonly referred to in scripture as the fruit of the spirit. They are not just virtues that we should aspire to; they are actually the evidence that we’re growing more Christ-like every day.
I have an experiment in mind. Not even sure if that’s the best word for it. Maybe more like a 9-week devotional journey. What if we took this list of 9 fruits of the spirit, briefly sketched out what those look like to us in everyday life, and focused on cultivating one of them in our lives each week? Not a lot of work or hype, just focus and notice. I’d almost bet that some cool stuff would happen right in front of us.
I’ll be starting this next week. I’ve already had a couple of crazy chicks I know say they’re on board with it too. We can share our thoughts, progress, and shortcomings through the journey. Anyone else care to join us?
The back cover of the book states, in bold print at the top:
KNOWING ALL THE ANSWERS ISN’T AS IMPORTANT AS ASKING THE QUESTIONS
For some things, this statement doesn’t sit very well with me. For example, if I’m going in for surgery, it’s not a motto that I’d like to see hanging on the wall next to my surgeon’s med school diploma. I’d kind of like him to know the answers when it comes to the why and where and when and how of cutting me open. Because surgery is something that must be precise. There’s not a lot of room for doubting and questioning, you know what I’m sayin’? I like my surgeons to have lots and lots of definitive answers…not questions.
But faith is not surgery. No matter how hard we try to make it so, it’s really not exact and precise. In fact it can get pretty messy and even uncomfortable at times. That’s why it’s faith. Scripture, the scripture that I believe to be wholly inspired by God, even tells us that “faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we cannot see.” (Heb 11:1) I think that in almost every way, our entire lives are spent pressing toward the place where we become content with that exact definition of faith.
Last week I started a new summer read-along that I’m doing with some folks over at my new friend Marla’s blog. The book is called Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans. It’s about one woman’s journey through the questions we all (likely) ask of our faith. She just had the cojones to ask them out loud, on paper, through thousands of copies out in front of the world. If she can be so bold, can’t we??
Part of the reason it’s taken me a week to write this post is because I felt the need to establish a bit of context for my comments about this book. Much like Rachel, I felt like I needed to tell my own personal faith story in order for anyone to know where I was coming from in reference to this book or my own questions about faith. So I took the time to go back and piece together story of how my faith was born. If you’re interested, check it out here, but be warned, it is looooooong.
Okay so let’s get on with it, shall we?
This week’s assignment was only to read and comment on the preface and introduction to the book. Lemme tell ya…that was plenty for me. Here are some things that stood out to me:
- Deep breath…..I forgive you, Rachel, for referring to apes (via Koko the Gorilla and Dian Fossey references) as monkeys. It’s a common problem and a personal pet peeve of mine. I am going to assume you did so on purpose so as to keep up the clever reference to the Scopes Monkey Trial throughout the book. Enough about that. Deep breath….
- The introduction is actually entitled “Why I Am An Evolutionist.” I thought this was a very good use of this sometimes-dirty word. I don’t really get what the big deal is. To evolve means to change into something new… evolution is actually defined by the good folks at Merriam-Webster as “a process of change in a certain direction.” By that definition, all of us are evolving, either into something more and better than we are now or something less that we hoped we’d be. The direction is what matters. As Christians, we are called to constantly becoming more Christ-like every day. That is an evolution if I’ve ever heard of it, and certainly in one specific direction. So if our actual being is changing to become more like our Savior, then wouldn’t our understanding of that process (our faith) constantly be changing along with it? It would have to. I know that because of God in my life, I understand more about Him, myself, and others around me that I ever have. Therefore my faith itself has changed. For example, I love my husband. He is one of the most important parts of my life. But when I learned, through studying the Word and prayer, that he could not be THE most important thing in my life, the way I interacted with him changed. I no longer looked to him to give me my identity or my worth. That’s a job he couldn’t do. Those things only come from God, so I have to go to Him with those needs. When I do, my foundation is firm and I can live confidently and love my husband better because I am not expecting him to do things that he cannot do. My faith in God is actually bigger because that understanding has changed…it has evolved into a faith that allows me to put God before my husband, which enables me to honor both. So I am not scared to say that indeed our faith evolves. In fact, if it does not…are we living fully and growing at all?
- My faith began with lots of questions. I have a feeling it will always include and even end with questions upon questions. That doesn’t scare me either. I feel like if I had everything all settled and felt like God was figured out and I could explain every miraculous event and I had a quick, neat little response for everything God-related… then how big could God really be? Isn’t the fact that we humans cannot figure him out and explain his reasoning and all that just more proof that He is in fact, God? God is enigmatic, and if He weren’t, then what would about him would be worth worshipping? I have experienced many cool things in my life, but none of them were worth reshaping my whole world around. God is. And the sheer fact that he is so awe-inducing and beyond my tiny understanding is what makes Him worth giving my whole life to. I know there will always be things about Him and His decisions that I do not understand. But if I allow them to produce anxiety and fear and doubt in me, then really I think He’s keeping something from me that I need and I question His motives. If I do that, then do I really trust Him? Not so much. If I believe that God is good and loves me and knows what is best for me, then I’ll understand that He gives me knowledge about what I need to know (and what I can handle) when I need to know it. I trust that whatever I don’t know yet is just because I have what I need to know right now. He gets to call the shots when it comes to tell me more details. I am okay with that because I know that He gives me only good things.
- What about monkeys (APES!!) and evolution and old earth vs. new earth and evolution and all that stuff?? I do not believe science and faith to be mutually exclusive at all. The bible says that God created everything in 6 days. It also says that a day in the Lord is like a thousand years. So does that mean He created everything in 6000 years? Hmmmm. I think this: God created everything. All I have to do is look at a newborn baby or see the Fibonacci sequence in nature to know that there is a rhyme and reason to all things. Things like the way food chains work, the way that our body heals itself, and the vast diversity of species on the earth and deep in the sea… those incredible things don’t point to a happy accident that resulted in a long line of events leading up to the birth of human beings to me. No way. There is purpose in everything, everywhere. Those things point to a Creator who knew what He had in mind when it was created. It doesn’t matter how long it took for Him to create it. The point is…whether is was 6 days or 6000 years or 60 billion years, humans couldn’t have made it happen. A couple of molecules and some heat couldn’t have done it. It’s beyond our understanding…it’s an unfathomable task, regardless of the time it took. I am not dismissing the discussion about it, but again, I love the wonder it creates in me….it’s not going to shake my faith in any way shape or form. God chose men to breathe his Word into. Therefore, when they penned the writings that He knew would eventually be the compilation of what He wanted to say to us in that way, He had to allow those scribes to put it in language that we could wrap our minds around. So whether he had allowed the scribe who penned Genesis to say “6 days” or “6 billion years” we would still question it. It’s amazing that God created everything and He still loves and cares for us. He is outside of our complete understanding, outside of time and space. The fact that He’s let us in on even some of His big story is amazing.
- On page 18 of the introduction, Rachel uses this sentence: So fearful of losing their grip on faith, they squeeze the life out of it. She is referring to fundamentalists, or people who “think God is pretty much figured out already” and He’s “done telling us anything new.” (pg. 17) I’ve known a few people like this in my day, haven’t you? Those churchy folk who refuse to allow their children to participate in science class for fear of what they might learn. Those people who don’t believe in healing because that only happened “back in bible times.” Those church leaders who insist their congregants dress a certain way and cover any tattoos and cut their hair because by golly, that’s what Jesus would have looked like if he’d had the modern conveniences of a suit and a shave. Um, yeah…those folks. Don’t they just seem to drain the life out of everything? If that’s what people want to believe, then that’s fine…but don’t go slapping a Jesus fish on it. Because that’s not what Jesus was like. He questioned things. He rebuked the folks who looked like they had it all together. He shot straight to the heart when people came around wanting to look cool on the outside. He didn’t have time for all that. He was busy trying to bring life to people. And I would rather do that too. I’d rather focus on bringing life to people around me rather than holding tight to the way someone should dress or act or think or whatever. I’m perfectly okay with asking questions. As long as they inspire wonder and awe for God, rather than causing us to simply grasp for knowledge just for the sake of feeling like we know something more than the next dude.
Okay then, there’s a lot more that I could say about this, but I need to get started on my next reading assignment anyway. If you’ve made it through this long-arse post and you have another sec, why not leave a comment telling me a faith-question (or maybe an anti-faith question?) that makes you a little uncomfortable. It may end up being one of the same question asked in this book later on. I can’t wait to find out.