Unleashing Courageous Faith
- Thursday, February 05, 2009
Thumos is where our head and heart converge, quarrel, and then put feet underneath our courageous intentions. This is an integral part of our fulfilling the good works that God has prepared for us in advance—if we have the guts (a blue-collar definition of thumos) to play our part by being obedient to transcendent causes larger than our own ego and appetites. It's the place where we talk to ourselves in the age-old effort to "screw on our courage." Men talk to themselves more than women, and again, this is not a coincidence.
Just as our heart alone isn't adequate to enliven our spiritual growth, reason (thoughts, mind) provides clarity but doesn't provide strength and impetus. Our lives are only strong, purposeful, and meaningful when we do something loving, beautiful, freedom-giving, redemptive, and worthy of respect. Or as J. D. Salinger's troubled Franny puts it,
“Everything everybody does is so—I don't know—not wrong, or even mean, or even stupid necessarily. But just so tiny and meaningless and—sad-making. And the worst of it is, if you go bohemian or something crazy like that, you're conforming just as much as everybody else, only in a different way.”
Go and do, the prophets and other malcontents tell us—don't just think and feel.
Those who have been shot at in the line of military duty will tell you that if they'd waited for courage to flow before they responded, it would have been far wiser just to have stayed in bed. Something else within them, from another region of their soul, kicks into action. Rarely does one feel courageous in the face of opposition, and so over-reliance on one's heart or mind can be a trap. Courage must be manufactured within another inner place.
Yet thumos-courage is not only part of the physical life, it also can have a moral dimension. When Boris Pasternak refused the Nobel Prize and with it the opportunity to deliver a speech to expose the lies of the former Soviet Union, Alexander Solzhenitsyn was mortified by Pasternak's lack of thumotic energy.
Solzhenitsyn's response, much like Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail," shows us the elegant strength of thumos—the prophet-like justice it demands, the sacrifice it often requires from those who flex it, and the need for us, when necessary, to overrule our heart, because though love can flow from that region, so can life-stopping, love-freezing fear.
“All the more vividly did I see [the Nobel Prize], all the more eagerly did I brood on it, demand it from the future! I had to have that prize! As a position to be won, a vantage point on the battlefield! ... I should resolutely accept the prize, resolutely go to Stockholm, make a very resolute speech. ... [I would] touch off the explosive charge ... [and] speak for all those who had been stifled, shot, starved or frozen to death! Drag it all to the platform of the Nobel Prize ceremony and hurl it like a thunderbolt.”
Those are passionate, heart-drenched words, but they are more than passion. They drip with courage as well, born from the thumos-place within the man that binds emotion and intellect together. The place where a man stands and says what he stands for is right, and that those who stand against him are wrong. It's the place from which Jesus was able to say, "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters." Minus an appreciation for thumos, these are the ravings of a lunatic.
In Unleashing Courageous Faith, we'll explore the many facets of thumos: where we find it, what kills it, what fuels it, and so forth. For now, let me offer this hopeful insight up front: It's already in you. The potential is there.
We want men to have a heart so that they can more tenderly express love. Likewise, we need to help men, as the Wizard of Oz did for the Cowardly Lion, to have thumos so they can create a more muscular, manly form of love: that practical, unsentimental, no-strings-attached, kingly, prophetic, forceful love that lays down its life for another without fanfare or an arsenal of publicists—the kind that makes nations weep, faith grow, and God be glorified.
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