Monday, March 26, 2007

The Children of Húrin

This just made my decade!

"The first new Tolkien novel for 30 years is to be published next month. In a move eagerly anticipated by millions of fans across the world, The Children of Húrin will be released worldwide on 17 April, 89 years after the author started the work and four years after the final cinematic instalment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, one of biggest box office successes in history."

Who knew?! It is described as "an epic story of adventure, tragedy, fellowship and heroism." Sounds great to me!

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Heroes: Spartans

The Greek state Sparta, as it existed in the last 5 centuries B.C., was founded on a set of ideas formed by Lykurgos. After fleeing Sparta in 776 B.C., Lykurgos first went to Crete and then to Asia and Egypt and later to Libya, Spain and India. In every country that he visited, he studied their civilization, history and constitutions. With this wealth of knowledge Lykurgos set out in preparing a constitution of his own, which he hoped to apply it to make his people, who claimed to be descendants of Hercules, as great as their ancestry proclaimed them to be.

To demonstrate the core values of the constitution and to persuade the Spartans to accept his laws, which demanded many sacrifices, he bred two small puppies. One bred indoors with a variety of foods and the other he trained for hunting. He then gathered the people and showed them that the untrained pampered dog was utterly useless.

The Spartans began to embrace this ideology of discipline, simplicity, and self-denial as the state expanded to meet the demand posed by their quickly growing population. Over the next 200 years, wars and revolts among the surrounding lands overwhelmed Sparta's stability, nearly crushing the Greek city state on multiple occasions.

This only reinvigorated the Spartans desire to follow Lykurgos's model. Their lives were designed to serve the state from their beginning to the age of sixty. The combination of this ideology, the education of Spartan males, and the disciplined maintenance of a standing army gave the Spartans the stability that had been threatened so dramatically in the previous revolts.

A Spartans life was marked with a lack of luxuries, expensive foods, and leisure time. While the Athenians and many others thought the Spartans were insane, the life of the Spartans seemed to hark back to a more basic way of life. Civilization is often seen as bringing disorder, weakness, and a decline in moral values. The Spartan, however, could point to Spartan society and argue that moral values and human courage and strength was as great as ever. Spartan society, then, exercised a profound pull on the surrounding city-states who admired the simplicity, discipline, and order of Spartan life. This established Sparta as the preeminent leader of Greece.

Even above their preeminence as a state in Greece, was their military power, which was highly regarded, as well as feared, the world over. Advanced use of armor and weapons combined with an unheard of emphasis on fighting tactics warranted this reputation. Their military supremacy was not known because of the Spartan soldier as an idividual, but because of their ability to fight together as a single unit, defending and supporting their comrade who fights with them on all sides. Each Spartan has a heightened awareness of his role in the unit, allowing for the full realization of the units potential.

But the power at the heart of Sparta's army is their mental mindset as they step into battle. A Spartan soldier finds joy and excitement in the thought of meeting one's match on the battle field. This provides the opportunity to achieve the greatest glory in life, to lie there life down for what they believe. A belief in freedom from oppression, and specifically in 480 B.C., oppression by a tyrant who fancied himself a god.

...Which will be covered in my next post in the series, "The Battle: Thermopylae"

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Template Update

I have updated my blog template to include live links so you can easily read an overview, review, or even buy, if you feel so compelled, the books on my "Books I'm Reading" list.

If books aren't your thing, then you are missing out on one of the most amazing aspects of this adventure called life. I am convinced that despite all our technological advances, there is still no better way to learn/experience massive quantities of knowledge/life more efficiently. But, and even if books are your thing(!), I have also added a "Music I'm Listening to" section. With live links also, for your convenience.

Finals are over which means I will have a long day at work tomorrow. Consequently, this also means I should have plenty of time to get the next post in my series up!



Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Tyrant: King Xerxes I

My first in a series of post's will be a quick look into the character of one of the earliest recorded and worst tyrants of all time, King Xerxes I.

Inheriting the great Persian kingdom from his father Darius in 485 BC, Xerxes commenced with his plans for world domination.

He amassed an army reaching in the hundreds of thousands made up of contingents from the vast Persian Empire which stretched from India and central Asia to Libya and the shores of the Aegean. At its core was the elite royal corps of Immortals, so called because their number was permanently maintained at 1000, with wounded and killed soldiers immediately replaced by others.

Xerxes suppressed revolts and regained control of economic regions that were vital to his empire, such as Egypt and Babylon, within his first year on the throne. This left Xerxes free to move against the Greeks.

A somewhat humorous, although extremely insightful, look into the "god-complex" this tyrant had developed is revealed in the events that followed his attempt to build a bridge across the Hellespont to allow his army to easily travel from Asia into Europe. After the bridges had been destroyed by a storm, Xerxes ordered the engineers to be beheaded and then had the water whipped in punishmet. Chains were thrown in the the Hellespont as Xerxes addressed it insultingly:
"You salt and bitter stream, your master lays this punishment upon you for injuring him, who never injured you. But Xerxes the king will cross you with or wihtout your permission. No man sacrifices to you and you deserve the neglect by your acid and muddy waters." (Clive Foss, "The Tyrants")
There is some confusion because of the translation of names, but he also appears to be the same King Xerxes, though later in his life, mentioned in the book of Esther. Xerxes demanded that all men bow down to his highest ranking official, implying his own authority over God and demanding submission to only himself. "But Mordecai (a Jew) would not kneel down or pay him honor." (Esther 3:2) because he would only bow down in submission to the true God. In the face of this supreme defiance, Xerxes demanded not only the death of Mordecai, but the annihilation of all Jews.

Check back soon (sometime after finals are over this Wednesday) for the next post in the series titled "The Heroes: Spartans".

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Dying Religion?

Excuse my infatuation with MLK Jr., but I must share another quote.
A religion that professes a concern for the souls of men and is not equally concerned about the slum that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them, is a spiritually dying religion.

Martin Luther King Jr. Strength to Love, 1963
I believe this is a truth very much in line with Scripture. James tackles the issue of, essentially, what should be a litmus test for our faith:
James 2:14-18 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

And early in James 1, in his call for the believers to take action:
27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Wow! So much emphasis, in Christian circles, is put on living a moral life, but for James, that should follow suit in our fight against social injustice. In my experience, this works. I cannot help but become keenly aware of my immoral actions as the love of Jesus flows out of my life.

Bono's words, "True religion will not let us fall asleep in the comfort of our freedom", should ring ever louder in the ears of Christians living in America.

Are you living a life of a dead religion?

Back to preparing my speech on MLK Jr.

David Knepprath

Monday, March 05, 2007

Bono's Acceptance Speech

You guys gotta watch this:

Thanks to Mark Harris for referring me to the video.

"True religion will not let us fall asleep in the comfort of our freedom."

This quote will fit excellently into my speech on Wednesday.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

MLK - Six Weeks Late

Dan Franklin's post "MLK - One Week Late" just over a month ago really put MLK Jr. on the radar for me - hence the inspiration for the title of this post.

The following is a quote from a book that caught my eye as I was walking through the library to study for Physics:
"Emphasis on the role of a civil rights activist, Gandhi's influence, and Afro-American culture has tended to obscure King's debt to Christian theology and ethics except for the studies by a few interpreters. 'King was regarded'" Herbert Richardson has written, 'as a civil rights leader and as a man of extraordinary personal valor, but he has not been understood as a brilliant and mature theologian: the first two would, however, have been impossible without the first third.'"

-Kenneth L. Smith in "Search for the Beloved Community: The Thinking of Martin Luther King Jr."
All fault for personal ignorance is my own, but being exposed to MLK Jr. Day year after year in America, I have heard and seen excessive amounts on the prior two and very little on the latter third. Beloved Community was published in 1974. Thirty-three years later, the impact of the misconception Smith spoke of can be clearly seen in societies disproportioned value on the actions of MLK Jr.'s life. Even more devastating is how this skewed view has been similarly embraced among Christians. Yes, he was a pastor, that blatant fact is not brushed over. But...

How did his Christian world view influence his actions?

What theology did he understand that was so misunderstood by other Christians of the time to allow for acceptance of such atrocities?

What Scripture so overwhelmingly convicted this man to dedicate his life to carry out God's rescue plan on earth in such a drastic way?

How can he be an example to Christians to be more like Jesus in our day brimming with social injustice?

Through volunteering at Nightstrike and my Education Practicum at Glenfair Elementary School, God has put the chasms of social/economic status found in our world on my heart. I have developed quote a few thoughts on this subject - which I would like to get some feedback on - so check back in a week or so.

David Knepprath