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Paul Coughlin Christian Blog and Commentary

Thumos in Action

  • Paul Coughlin

    Paul Coughlin is a former newspaper editor and is the author of numerous books, including the No More Christian Nice Guy, and Raising Bully-Proof Kids. He is the Founder of The Protectors: Freedom From Bullying—Courage, Character & Leadership for Life, (www.theprotectors.org), which provides a values-based and faith-based program that combats the cruelty of adolescent bullying in schools, summer camps, Sunday School, and other places where bullying is prevalent.

    He is a popular speaker who has appeared on Good Morning America, Nightline, 700 Club, Focus on the Family, C-SPAN, The LA Times, FamilyLife Radio, HomeWord with Jim Burns, The New York Times, Newsweek and other media outlets. He is a regular keynote speaker with Iron Sharpens Iron Men’s Conferences.

    His freedom-from-bullying program is used by hundreds throughout North America as well as in England, Australia, Uganda, New Zealand, Brazil, and South Africa. The Protector’s has partnered with Saddleback Church’s Justice & Trafficking Initiative in creating the first-ever Justice Begins on the Playground seminar that helps both faith-based and values-based organizations diminish bullying.

    He is a Boys Varsity Soccer Coach in Southern Oregon, where he was voted Coach of the Year twice, and where he is also a member of the Board of Trustees. He and his wife Sandy have three teenagers and live in Medford, Oregon. Contact him at: paul@theprotectors.org

  • 2009 Nov 20
  • Comments

Parade magazine has called Baltimore minister, former pro-football player, and high school football coach Joe Ehrmann "America's Coach."  It's crucial to him that boys adopt a more noble understanding of masculinity than what our sex-and fame-and power- and money-obsessed culture tricks them with.  He confronts the sins of our nation with strength and courage.

 

Ehrmann's form of masculinity is far from machismo.  It's both tender and tough, like the real Jesus of the Gospels.

 

"What is our job as coaches?" he asks his players.

 

"To love us!" they yell back in unison.

 

"What is your job?" he shoots back.

 

"To love each other!" the boys respond.

 

But Ehrmann's love is not sentimental.  He sweats to help boys comprehend and embrace masculinity, without which, he says, we won't be able to address other issues like divorce, poverty, abuse, crime, and racism.  He and his coaches provide boys with a threefold code of manhood: accepting responsibility, leading courageously, and enacting justice on behalf of others.

 

Ehrmann expects his players not to allow any high school boy to eat lunch alone.  His guys are expected to tackle the largest of all high school oppressors—peer pressure—and sit next to the lonely and the despised, spreading love and growing courage.  Has your child heard that in Sunday school?  Has his or her spiritual lineage provided the courage they will need, the kind God tells us they should exercise?

 

I have never heard the prophets of old speak.  I've never actually heard the pitch and timbre of their voices.  But I'm confident I heard their tone when Joe Ehrmann was a guest on my show.

 

Unlike most of my guests, he gave my audience an uncensored view of his thumos, which was seasoned by the Holy Spirit.  His voice grew louder, lower, and more distinct when he talked about poverty and racism and about the false understanding of masculinity that molests the boys he loves.  He was indignant, but it was not the kind of anger that turns your ears to wax or makes your eyes glaze over.  It wasn't feral; it was harnessed and redemptive.  It animated me and my listeners to be stronger and more courageous.  It was true to the original meaning of the word encouragement: to grow courage in others.

 

Injustice angers Ehrmann without making him hysterical.  It gets him off his spiritual duff and makes him a doer.  What did this Hall of Famer talk about?  Remarkably, he focused on empathy, without which we cannot be courageous.

 

Ehrmann told us about the importance of letting the world's pain get under our skin.  Like Bill Hybels and Chuck Swindoll and Rick Warren, Ehrmann exhorted us to be discontented with what we see around us and to muster all that is within us to fight it, hand in hand with God.  "I think the alleviation of pain is a fundamental root for understanding some kind of cause," he said.  With the kind of growl my chest recognized as righteousness, he continued: "Wherever there is injustice, we ought to show up, stand up, and speak up."

 

Injustice angered Bob Pierce, who in 1950 watched with disbelief, horror, and indignation as orphaned children dropped dead in food lines in third-world Asia during the Korean War.  There wasn't enough food to feed them, so his thumos burst into movement.  He returned to America, gathered his most affluent business partners, and birthed World Vision, one of the largest Christian relief and development organizations in existence today.  He said, "We're going to get food at the front of the food lines.  If it kills me, we're going to do it."

 

In 2005 alone, World Vision helped more than a hundred million people in ninety-six countries receive physical, social, and spiritual support.  Pierce's anger at what he witnessed was noble because it transcended himself.  Like all people of thumos-courage, he saw the world as it was and decided that it wasn't what it can and should be.

 

You know what might be the best-kept secret in the Bible?  The thumos of the real Jesus, who prayed and wept, who was betrayed and was abused, who was battered and murdered, and who harnessed his astonishing courage to accomplish the will of his Father in the ultimate spiritual war.  If Jesus had listened only to his heart, what he would have heard was fear, anguish, and sorrow "to the point of death."  If Jesus had listened solely to his reason, he would have heard a less noble calling, safe but not redemptive.  Jesus heeded another inner dimension.  The human heart alone isn't strong enough to overcome such obstacles.

 

Jesus loves us with more than his heart and his mind.  He loves us also through that third region, that God-breathed part of us where thumos is found, the part of our soul that when seasoned, comprises part of what Abraham Lincoln called our "better angels."  It's a place from which love can emanate as well and as powerfully—and certainly more steadily—than our heart.

 

The greatest commandment, Jesus said, is to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul [the seat of thumotic will] and with all your mind."  We've read it so many times that we don't even notice that three "parts" of us are capable of and called to love.

 

What are further practical ways we can reverse the trends of anti-thumos and non-thumos?  Straightaway, we must endeavor to provide a more biblically balanced understanding and application of the attribute and its spiritual benefits.  For one thing, I think the application process to all seminaries should incorporate a Courage Assessment Test (CAT).  Questions like this should be asked:

 

            ~Can you tell us about a time when you showed courage?

            ~Why did you do what you did?

            ~Can you tell us about a time when you showed cowardice?

            ~Why did you do what you did?

            ~What happened after each occasion?

 

Today thumos-powered courage is in startlingly rare supply, so we must prioritize and emphasize grace when we discover this treasonous state of our soul that has rendered us cowardly and innocuous.  Calling forth an absent attribute doesn't get it onto the front burner of our spiritual lives right away, but at least it will be moved onto the stove top.

 

These same questions should be revisited upon graduation.  Perhaps they should be requirements to the point that candidates do not receive their degrees until (for example) they have a witness to at least one courageous deed.  Deacons and elders should be asked these seminal questions as well.  So should Sunday school workers.

 

Perhaps questions about cowardice will be the most important.  You learn a lot about a person by his cowardice, not so we can condemn but rather help.  This isn't information that should be shared with just anyone; perhaps before the questions are asked of a potential student or leader, members of the review board should profess an act of their own cowardice in order to warm up the room.  In this way—whether the setting is academic or familial—we can pray for one another and bind up each other's spiritual wounds, since cowardice brings up a degree of shame most of us don't want to remember.

 

We need to talk sense to one another.  We ought to reassure and re-empower each other.  We must allow love and mercy to patch up the cowardice-wrought hole that still smolders in our chest.  And we should emphasize the importance of telling each other stories of courage, thereby encouraging boldness in the lives of fellow believers.  This is especially significant when it comes to asking others for forgiveness, since we rarely talk about how essential courage is to this godly action.

 

I know a man who was a bully in high school and who is now part of The Protectors.  He became a Christian in his thirties, and part of his soul-work was to contact the men he had tormented and apologize.  He found three.  Two told him to "go to hell."  (No surprise there.)  But one, who also had become a believer, responded well to this courageous act of contrition.  They talked and helped bind each other's wounds.  He told me he wouldn't have done this if he hadn't stoked his courage first.  It takes a lot of thumos to repent and to fulfill the greatest of all commandments.

 

One of my best friends is a pastor, and he sometimes gets called to be with people during their darkest hours.  He told me about the time he visited a family whose son had just committed suicide.  As he walked through the front door, he saw a distraught father standing at the fireplace mantel.  He was running his trembling fingers over the pictures of all his children.  They stopped upon the face of his dead eighteen-year-old son.  And he said, "He was such a nice boy.  He just didn't have what it takes to make it in this world."

 

The young man had not shown the usual signs of depression.  He attended the same emasculating, anti-thumos church I'd once attended.  When life got hard, when his girlfriend broke up with him, he had no inner fighting spirit from which to draw comfort and hope.  His spiritual training did not honor the boldness and courage he needed, and like so many young men, he was a sitting duck when buried under unexpected, bitter disappointment.

 

Let's write courage back into the Official Script.

 

Paul Coughlin is the author of numerous books, including Unleashing Courageous FaithNo More Christian Nice Guy and No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps. He also co-authored a book for married couples with his wife Sandy, titled Married But Not Engaged. His articles appear in Focus on the Family magazine, and he as been interviewed by Dr. James Dobson, FamilyLife Radio, HomeWord, Newsweek, C-SPAN, The New York Times, and the 700 Club among others. Paul is founder of The Protectors, the faith-based answer to adolescent bullying, which provides curriculum for Sunday Schools, private schools, retreats, and individuals that trains people of faith to be sources of light in the theater of bullying. 

Visit Paul's websites at: http://www.theprotectors.org, and http://www.paulcoughlin.net

Visit Sandy's website for reluctant entertainers at: http://www.reluctantentertainer.com

 

Parade magazine has called Baltimore minister, former pro-football player, and high school football coach Joe Ehrmann "America's Coach."  It's crucial to him that boys adopt a more noble understanding of masculinity than what our sex-and fame-and power- and money-obsessed culture tricks them with.  He confronts the sins of our nation with strength and courage.

 

Ehrmann's form of masculinity is far from machismo.  It's both tender and tough, like the real Jesus of the Gospels.

 

"What is our job as coaches?" he asks his players.

 

"To love us!" they yell back in unison.

 

"What is your job?" he shoots back.

 

"To love each other!" the boys respond.

 

But Ehrmann's love is not sentimental.  He sweats to help boys comprehend and embrace masculinity, without which, he says, we won't be able to address other issues like divorce, poverty, abuse, crime, and racism.  He and his coaches provide boys with a threefold code of manhood: accepting responsibility, leading courageously, and enacting justice on behalf of others.

 

Ehrmann expects his players not to allow any high school boy to eat lunch alone.  His guys are expected to tackle the largest of all high school oppressors—peer pressure—and sit next to the lonely and the despised, spreading love and growing courage.  Has your child heard that in Sunday school?  Has his or her spiritual lineage provided the courage they will need, the kind God tells us they should exercise?

 

I have never heard the prophets of old speak.  I've never actually heard the pitch and timbre of their voices.  But I'm confident I heard their tone when Joe Ehrmann was a guest on my show.

 

Unlike most of my guests, he gave my audience an uncensored view of his thumos, which was seasoned by the Holy Spirit.  His voice grew louder, lower, and more distinct when he talked about poverty and racism and about the false understanding of masculinity that molests the boys he loves.  He was indignant, but it was not the kind of anger that turns your ears to wax or makes your eyes glaze over.  It wasn't feral; it was harnessed and redemptive.  It animated me and my listeners to be stronger and more courageous.  It was true to the original meaning of the word encouragement: to grow courage in others.

 

Injustice angers Ehrmann without making him hysterical.  It gets him off his spiritual duff and makes him a doer.  What did this Hall of Famer talk about?  Remarkably, he focused on empathy, without which we cannot be courageous.

 

Ehrmann told us about the importance of letting the world's pain get under our skin.  Like Bill Hybels and Chuck Swindoll and Rick Warren, Ehrmann exhorted us to be discontented with what we see around us and to muster all that is within us to fight it, hand in hand with God.  "I think the alleviation of pain is a fundamental root for understanding some kind of cause," he said.  With the kind of growl my chest recognized as righteousness, he continued: "Wherever there is injustice, we ought to show up, stand up, and speak up."

 

Injustice angered Bob Pierce, who in 1950 watched with disbelief, horror, and indignation as orphaned children dropped dead in food lines in third-world Asia during the Korean War.  There wasn't enough food to feed them, so his thumos burst into movement.  He returned to America, gathered his most affluent business partners, and birthed World Vision, one of the largest Christian relief and development organizations in existence today.  He said, "We're going to get food at the front of the food lines.  If it kills me, we're going to do it."

 

In 2005 alone, World Vision helped more than a hundred million people in ninety-six countries receive physical, social, and spiritual support.  Pierce's anger at what he witnessed was noble because it transcended himself.  Like all people of thumos-courage, he saw the world as it was and decided that it wasn't what it can and should be.

 

You know what might be the best-kept secret in the Bible?  The thumos of the real Jesus, who prayed and wept, who was betrayed and was abused, who was battered and murdered, and who harnessed his astonishing courage to accomplish the will of his Father in the ultimate spiritual war.  If Jesus had listened only to his heart, what he would have heard was fear, anguish, and sorrow "to the point of death."  If Jesus had listened solely to his reason, he would have heard a less noble calling, safe but not redemptive.  Jesus heeded another inner dimension.  The human heart alone isn't strong enough to overcome such obstacles.

 

Jesus loves us with more than his heart and his mind.  He loves us also through that third region, that God-breathed part of us where thumos is found, the part of our soul that when seasoned, comprises part of what Abraham Lincoln called our "better angels."  It's a place from which love can emanate as well and as powerfully—and certainly more steadily—than our heart.

 

The greatest commandment, Jesus said, is to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul [the seat of thumotic will] and with all your mind."  We've read it so many times that we don't even notice that three "parts" of us are capable of and called to love.

 

What are further practical ways we can reverse the trends of anti-thumos and non-thumos?  Straightaway, we must endeavor to provide a more biblically balanced understanding and application of the attribute and its spiritual benefits.  For one thing, I think the application process to all seminaries should incorporate a Courage Assessment Test (CAT).  Questions like this should be asked:

 

            ~Can you tell us about a time when you showed courage?

            ~Why did you do what you did?

            ~Can you tell us about a time when you showed cowardice?

            ~Why did you do what you did?

            ~What happened after each occasion?

 

Today thumos-powered courage is in startlingly rare supply, so we must prioritize and emphasize grace when we discover this treasonous state of our soul that has rendered us cowardly and innocuous.  Calling forth an absent attribute doesn't get it onto the front burner of our spiritual lives right away, but at least it will be moved onto the stove top.

 

These same questions should be revisited upon graduation.  Perhaps they should be requirements to the point that candidates do not receive their degrees until (for example) they have a witness to at least one courageous deed.  Deacons and elders should be asked these seminal questions as well.  So should Sunday school workers.

 

Perhaps questions about cowardice will be the most important.  You learn a lot about a person by his cowardice, not so we can condemn but rather help.  This isn't information that should be shared with just anyone; perhaps before the questions are asked of a potential student or leader, members of the review board should profess an act of their own cowardice in order to warm up the room.  In this way—whether the setting is academic or familial—we can pray for one another and bind up each other's spiritual wounds, since cowardice brings up a degree of shame most of us don't want to remember.

 

We need to talk sense to one another.  We ought to reassure and re-empower each other.  We must allow love and mercy to patch up the cowardice-wrought hole that still smolders in our chest.  And we should emphasize the importance of telling each other stories of courage, thereby encouraging boldness in the lives of fellow believers.  This is especially significant when it comes to asking others for forgiveness, since we rarely talk about how essential courage is to this godly action.

 

I know a man who was a bully in high school and who is now part of The Protectors.  He became a Christian in his thirties, and part of his soul-work was to contact the men he had tormented and apologize.  He found three.  Two told him to "go to hell."  (No surprise there.)  But one, who also had become a believer, responded well to this courageous act of contrition.  They talked and helped bind each other's wounds.  He told me he wouldn't have done this if he hadn't stoked his courage first.  It takes a lot of thumos to repent and to fulfill the greatest of all commandments.

 

One of my best friends is a pastor, and he sometimes gets called to be with people during their darkest hours.  He told me about the time he visited a family whose son had just committed suicide.  As he walked through the front door, he saw a distraught father standing at the fireplace mantel.  He was running his trembling fingers over the pictures of all his children.  They stopped upon the face of his dead eighteen-year-old son.  And he said, "He was such a nice boy.  He just didn't have what it takes to make it in this world."

 

The young man had not shown the usual signs of depression.  He attended the same emasculating, anti-thumos church I'd once attended.  When life got hard, when his girlfriend broke up with him, he had no inner fighting spirit from which to draw comfort and hope.  His spiritual training did not honor the boldness and courage he needed, and like so many young men, he was a sitting duck when buried under unexpected, bitter disappointment.

 

Let's write courage back into the Official Script.

 

Paul Coughlin is the author of numerous books, including Unleashing Courageous FaithNo More Christian Nice Guy and No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps. He also co-authored a book for married couples with his wife Sandy, titled Married But Not Engaged. His articles appear in Focus on the Family magazine, and he as been interviewed by Dr. James Dobson, FamilyLife Radio, HomeWord, Newsweek, C-SPAN, The New York Times, and the 700 Club among others. Paul is founder of The Protectors, the faith-based answer to adolescent bullying, which provides curriculum for Sunday Schools, private schools, retreats, and individuals that trains people of faith to be sources of light in the theater of bullying. 

Visit Paul's websites at: http://www.theprotectors.org, and http://www.paulcoughlin.net

Visit Sandy's website for reluctant entertainers at: http://www.reluctantentertainer.com