Unleashing Courageous Faith
- Thursday, February 05, 2009
Maybe I just described your father. Or a sibling. Or a friend. Or you. I know this much: I just described the life I lived for far too long.
For years and years I was not connecting with or activating a special region within me, a dimension that my spiritual training didn't even address or, when it briefly touched on the matter, told me was off limits and sinful. It's a God-designed area, within me and within you, where courage and its fruits—unsentimental love and a martial spirit (to name just two)—are forged and stored.
This is a soul region that the ancient Greeks studied, praised, and placed warning signs around. It's a place that is a gift to those we love—if we'll do the soul-work required to grow it and unleash it. It's also a curse if it isn't seasoned and disciplined. At times it appears elusive. It's a lost piece in our spiritual puzzle. For many of us, it's our absent ingredient, the missing link in our spiritual journey.
The Greeks called it thumos (sometimes spelled thymos). This powerful word bulges with meaning, and it doesn't translate into English without some hitches. God created men and women with thumos, a "fight drive," a courageous and animating spirit, without which we don't grow in spiritual breadth and depth, are unable to deeply love, consistently fail to lead or surmount the sins of our flesh.
Think of thumos as a Thermos container of spiritual heat and spiritual juice. It's a pugnacious yet playful drive, an attribute that separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls.
Thumos, wrote the ancient Greeks, is one of three main parts of our soul, along with logos (head and logic) and eros (heart and emotions). It's found—or at least should be found—more in men than in women, making a man's spirituality and his earthly responsibilities similar but also different. It is largely due to this difference that men have become a cultural target of bigotry, resentment, even hatred. Thumos is a mighty gift and, like many giftings, can also be a burden.
Thumos is the reason two preachers will talk about God's requirement for social justice and mercy, yet only one will commit the deeds required to usher them in. It's why some men think that their men's ministry group at church should do more than flip pancakes every fourth Saturday morning. It's why one guy stands and denounces brutality while others pretend to have lost their vision and their speech.
Most Christians leave far more than their sin at the cross: We are admonished by the church and, in a different sense, by our culture to forsake our thumos and its fruit, courage— which is essential to deep and abiding love—as if they were a scarlet T covering our genitals. The church doesn't give us spiritual swords and other martial weapons for battle when we become Christ-followers. It gives us acoustic guitars and open-toed sandals, and then shows us how to become pacifist folk singers. "Jesus is our Savior," we're told in Sunday school. "Now let's make some rainbows!" No wonder leadership is so rare and elusive.
And this makes sense, given the hair-model Jesus many of us grew up with. He has a killer smile and is very popular with the gals ... just not so popular with the guys. A neutered Jesus doesn't garner another man's allegiance and faith but rather his irritation and scorn.
It’s Neither Heart Nor Mind
Your thumos is not a subset of your feelings or emotions. An awakened heart is invaluable for our spiritual life, but when overemphasized, it actually can lead us away from a rounded-out understanding of our God-created design. Hearts alone do not lead us into worthy battle. And hearts sometimes lead us astray. Rudolph Hess, swearing in the Nazi party in 1934, exhorted his hearers in a manner that should make all of us carefully evaluate our fickle home of emotion: "Do not seek Adolph Hitler with your brains; all of you will find him with the strength of your hearts."
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