Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Five things to learn from “The Hobbit”

This is from the Art of Manliness blog.

The 5 things:

  1. You can aspire to and achieve greatness no matter who you are and no matter your stage in life
  2. A great leader knows when it’s time to step back and let go
  3. There are some things in life we just have to accomplish on our own
  4. To simply continue on is one of the bravest things that can be done
  5. A great story always has conflict or hardship

And my favorite of the five – the one that had meaning for me – is #5:

5. A great story always has conflict or hardship. Imagine your life as a story. Not too long ago, we even had a guest post about this — our life is a journey, and a heroic one at that. Imagine yourself sitting down with your grandkids and telling them the story of you. “Well, I made some money, bought a few cars, sat around and watched TV for a few hours every night, and that’s about it.” Pretty boring, isn’t it? Now imagine that you can start hours worth of stories with, “I explored…I traveled…I fell in love…I fought and won…I overcame…I sweated…” Not only would the story be better, but you likely would be far more satisfied with the course of your life.

J.R.R. Tolkien agrees. “Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyways.” He is saying that a life of good ease is a boring one. It’s often what the American dream aspires to, but the reality is that personal growth, and even enjoyment, are things that come out of some kind of challenge. Whether it’s huffing and puffing and groaning your way up a mountain for the view at the top, or getting laid off and finally realizing you don’t want to be in a cubicle anymore, joy is often found after a bit of trudging. Don’t shy away from challenge. Embrace it, and know that someday it’ll make for a great story.

The Hobbit was the first big book that I ever read as a child, and I think that it inspired me to move far away from home as soon as I completed graduate school, so I could make my fortune. An adventurous spirit isn’t free – it has to be put into a boy by what he reads. When I was young, I read “The Hobbit”. You should make your children read “The Hobbit”. Put into their minds at a young age the idea that life is an adventure, that dangers and hardships are normal, and that character counts. Put into their minds that all goodness requires sacrifice. I think that things are going to get harder for Christians going forward so it’s better that they be ready for it.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , ,

On wargames, history and heroes: “this story shall the good man teach his son”

Memoir '44: Pegasus Bridge setup

Memoir ’44: Pegasus Bridge setup

Last night, I played through the Pegasus Bridge scenario from the Memoir ’44 wargame with Dina a few times. We actually played the online version of the game, using Steam. She was very gracious to play a wargame with me, which I don’t think is necessarily the first thing on most women’s lists of things to do on a Thursday night! I appreciated her agreeing to learn how to play and then playing with me several times. I think that Christians need to plan and execute more “together” activities like that – activities that involve interaction, co-operation, communication and engagement. We try to avoid doing things where we are both spectators. Playing wargames is not the only thing we do – we also do Bible study and cooking lessons (for me), for example.

Anyway, the point of this post is to express the deeper meaning behind playing wargames. I think that it is important to recognize and celebrate those who have demonstrated good character, whether it be now, or in the past. I think that it is important for us to search out the best role models ourselves, so that they will influence the way we act in our own lives. The second world war was a clear example of good versus evil. Anyone on the Allied side who demonstrated bravery and courage should be celebrated for safeguarding the security, liberty and prosperity that we enjoy today. In the case of Pegasus bridge, the hero is Major John Howard of the British paratroops.

Here is a quick re-cap of his exploits that day from the New York Times:

Maj. John Howard, the commander of glider-borne British infantrymen who seized the strategically vital Pegasus Bridge in the first battle of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, died Wednesday in a hospital in Surrey, England. He was 86 and had lived in Burford, near Oxford.

Under cover of night on June 6, 1944, six gliders carrying 181 officers and men of the Second Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry landed on the eastern flank of a 60-mile invasion front on the northern coast of France. The regiment had a heritage going back to the battles of Bunker Hill and New Orleans, to Waterloo and to World War I. Now its soldiers were in the vanguard of the invasion of Hitler’s Europe.

Major Howard’s D Company was ordered to seize two bridges, one over the Caen Canal and the other spanning the parallel Orne River. If the Germans held on to those bridges, panzer units could move across them in a counterattack isolating 10,000 British paratroopers jumping behind the British invasion beach known as Sword, where infantry forces would arrive at daybreak. And Major Howard’s men sought to strike swiftly to prevent the Germans from blowing up the bridges if they were overwhelmed; the British needed those bridges to resupply their airborne units.

British Halifax bombers towed the gliders over the English Channel, then cut them loose.

Major Howard’s lead glider landed at 12:16 A.M., only 50 yards from the Caen Canal bridge, but the glider’s nose collapsed on impact, knocking everybody aboard unconscious for a few seconds. The soldiers quickly emerged, and over the next five minutes the men directly under Major Howard killed the surprised German defenders.

The nearby Orne River bridge was captured by other troops in Major Howard’s unit, and soon the words ”Ham and Jam,” signifying mission accomplished, were radioed to the airborne.

Two British soldiers were killed and 14 wounded in the operation.

Over the next 12 hours, British paratroopers and commandos reinforced Major Howard’s men, and British forces were able to move toward the city of Caen, their flank having been protected by the capture of the bridges.

On July 16, Major Howard received the Distinguished Service Order, Britain’s second-highest award for valor. On the 10th anniversary of D-Day, he received the Croix de Guerre Avec Palme from the French Government, which had renamed the Caen Canal span Pegasus Bridge, for the flying horse symbolizing the British airborne. The road crossing the bridge was later renamed Esplanade Major John Howard.

Why is this important? Well, it’s important to think on the things that are excellent. There are so many things in the culture that are not excellent that we are confronted with every day. We have to make it our business to do things together where goodness is celebrated. Especially when manly virtues like courage are celebrated. We don’t do that much anymore. And I think there’s a connection between wargames and Christian apologetics that we need to deliberately encourage.

Here’s an excellent passage from Shakespeare’s “Henry V” that makes the point:

This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say, ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say, ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words,
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remembered.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England, now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day. (4.3.43)

This is from the famous speech in which King Henry charges his men to fight well before the famous Battle of Agincourt.

You can read more about the history of the British Airborne division and Pegasus bridge. The famous historian of the second world war Stephen E. Ambrose also wrote a history of the Pegasus bridge battle, called “Pegasus Bridge: June 6, 1944“. You won’t find many military historians better than Stephen E. Ambrose!

You might be surprised how many men are interested in military history and wargames, precisely because men instinctively look up to men like John Howard who embody qualities like bravery and courage. We have a dearth of moral character in this society. And we don’t do much to teach young men about manly virtues, even in the church. I think that it is important for us to think of creative ways for us to present good character to our young men. Young women should also learn about good character, because they must separate out the good men from the bad when they are courting.

Thanks to Dina for helping me to edit this post!

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What is the best way to encourage young men to read?

My answer is to have all-male schools, with all-male teachers, with all fiction books and drama selected by men, and field trips that appeal to male needs, (e.g. – the war museum! the air show! the underground caverns! a computer lab!).

But what about video games? Do they make reading seem boring to young men?

Consider this Wall Street Journal article.

The problem:

When I was a young boy, America’s elite schools and universities were almost entirely reserved for males. That seems incredible now, in an era when headlines suggest that boys are largely unfit for the classroom. In particular, they can’t read.

According to a recent report from the Center on Education Policy, for example, substantially more boys than girls score below the proficiency level on the annual National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test. This disparity goes back to 1992, and in some states the percentage of boys proficient in reading is now more than ten points below that of girls. The male-female reading gap is found in every socio-economic and ethnic category, including the children of white, college-educated parents.

The good news is that influential people have noticed this problem. The bad news is that many of them have perfectly awful ideas for solving it.

Everyone agrees that if boys don’t read well, it’s because they don’t read enough. But why don’t they read? A considerable number of teachers and librarians believe that boys are simply bored by the “stuffy” literature they encounter in school. According to a revealing Associated Press story in July these experts insist that we must “meet them where they are”—that is, pander to boys’ untutored tastes.

Spence explains how many publishers are writing books for boys that are really childish and disgusting.

Spence’s solution:

One obvious problem with the SweetFarts philosophy of education is that it is more suited to producing a generation of barbarians and morons than to raising the sort of men who make good husbands, fathers and professionals. If you keep meeting a boy where he is, he doesn’t go very far.

The other problem is that pandering doesn’t address the real reason boys won’t read. My own experience with six sons is that even the squirmiest boy does not require lurid or vulgar material to sustain his interest in a book.

So why won’t boys read? The AP story drops a clue when it describes the efforts of one frustrated couple with their 13-year-old unlettered son: “They’ve tried bribing him with new video games.” Good grief.

The appearance of the boy-girl literacy gap happens to coincide with the proliferation of video games and other electronic forms of entertainment over the last decade or two. Boys spend far more time “plugged in” than girls do. Could the reading gap have more to do with competition for boys’ attention than with their supposed inability to focus on anything other than outhouse humor?

Dr. Robert Weis, a psychology professor at Denison University, confirmed this suspicion in a randomized controlled trial of the effect of video games on academic ability. Boys with video games at home, he found, spend more time playing them than reading, and their academic performance suffers substantially. Hard to believe, isn’t it, but Science has spoken.

The secret to raising boys who read, I submit, is pretty simple—keep electronic media, especially video games and recreational Internet, under control (that is to say, almost completely absent). Then fill your shelves with good books.

What do you guys think about his idea?

I love video games. ECM helps me to find ones that I will like, and then I play those very sparingly. So this year, I played “King’s Bounty: The Legend”, “Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway” and “Arma II: Operation Arrowhead” on PC, “Etrian Odyssey 2: Heroes of Lagaard” and “Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies” on my Nintendo DS.

And previously I played games like “Silent Storm: Sentinels”,  “Dangerous Waters”, “Silent Hunter IV: Wolves of the Pacific”, “Combat Mission: Afrika Korps”, “Hidden & Dangerous 2: Sabre Squadron”, “Steel Panthers: World at War”, “Harpoon”, “Full Spectrum Warrior: Ten Hammers”, and my favorite RPG, “Wizardry 8″.

So I basically like large-scale tactical squad-based first-person shooters, large-scale realistic military simulations, and 2D turn-based fantasy role-playing games.

But what I noticed is that picking games like these that are adventurous, and playing them modestly, really hasn’t stopped me from reading. So long as I can link the topics that I read with apologetics or with developing a Christian view of politics, economics, marriage, family, parenting and foreign policy, then it seems to me that my reading is just an extension of my game playing. Life is an adventure, and books are weapons.

Specifically, I like to be adventurous and to fight, and I read books that help me to be able to have a job in engineering so that I can travel the world, and also fight about science, philosophy, history and religion. Maybe the real problem is that boys don’t see books as adventuring tools. My married friends view their marriages as very adventurous and subversive – they are very serious about reading and planning things out.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Should parents try to protect their children from all risky behavior?

Story from the National Post. (H/T Andrew)

Excerpt:

A few suggestions for anxious parents who typically hover on the edge of the playground with a first aid kit: Let your child lick a 9-volt battery, just to see what happens. Encourage them to try to drive a nail. And by all means, let them play with fire.

These are among the activities extolled in a new book entitled 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do), the latest in a growing backlash against hyper-parents who try to insulate their children against every scrape, perceived threat and potential disappointment. Underlying this less-is-more parenting philosophy is a belief that today’s bubble-wrapped children are missing out on the way childhood used to be. The Dangerous Book for Boys and The Daring Book for Girls became sensations by teaching the video-game generation such potentially perilous skills as building a snow fort or using a bow and arrow.

[...]The book’s title is “deliberately provocative,” he says, and it is meant as both a guidebook for fretful parents who want to loosen up and a “call to action for over-protected children,” with instructions on safe ways to experiment with dangerous things.

“We create a false impression in our minds that children are in peril all the time and everywhere, when in fact, according to the most recent studies, this is the safest time in history for children,” he said. “There couldn’t be a better time to be running around outside playing.”

If I ever got married, I wonder what my wife would think of me encouraging all our children to do dangerous things? I’ve heard that wives also don’t like it when fathers try to get their children to adhere to moral rules, either (because of moral judgments and sanctions, you know). But I think danger and moral rules are good for children, in the long run. I don’t want a cowardly moral relativist for a child.

Anybody here have the Dangerous Book for Boys? Or the Daring Book for Girls?

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Stephen Meyer is named Daniel of the Year for 2009 by World Magazine

Dr. Stephen C. Meyer

Dr. Stephen C. Meyer

There can be only one. (H/T Evolution News)

Excerpt:

From his office Meyer has ventured forth to debate at least nine prominent Darwinians on CNN, NPR, FOX, the BBC, and other venues. In it he has written numerous newspaper and magazine columns in defense of Intelligent Design (ID), as well as an academic article that became notorious five years ago when Richard Sternberg, a Smithsonian-affiliated scientist, agreed to publish it in the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.

[...]When Meyer completed his dissertation, “Of Clues and Causes: A Methodological Interpretation of Origin of Life Studies,” the University of Cambridge in 1991 awarded him its prestigious Ph.D. Meyer, having proceeded through questioning and discernment stages, had to decide whether to enter the courage stage. Everyone knows that microevolution—change within species—occurs, but the critical issue is whether the descendants of dinosaurs become birds through natural selection. Denying macroevolution leaves scientists unprotected even at some Christian colleges.

[...]Courage becomes a determinant once we count the cost and see that it’s great. Meyer’s first inkling came when “talking about my ideas to people at Cambridge High Table settings, and getting that sudden social pall.” But the cost was and is more than conversational ease: San Francisco State University in 1992 expelled a professor, Dean Kenyon, who espoused ID, and other job losses have come since.

I met Dr. Meyer for the first time at the Baylor University conference on intelligent design in 2000. He comes across as extremely genuine and approachable. At other conferences, he even remembered my name! I still hold out hope of one day going for a PhD (I even came up with a great idea this week) and it’s largely because of authentic Christian scholars like Dr. Meyer who inspire me with a vision of what is possible.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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