In “The Book of Virtues,” William J. Bennett writes, “In self-discipline, one makes a disciple of oneself. One is one’s own teacher, trainer, coach, and ‘disciplinarian.’”
And, well, on this here Tuesday, isn’t that a punch to read? That you are your own disciple. It’s a strange way of thinking. Unsettling, maybe, to realize we have such a responsibility and power of authority. That the way we think, the voices we mic in our minds, have a great bearing on who we are and what we will become.
Of course, that’s simple. A one plus one equation. That what we believe has immeasurable bearing on us. Still, I think the word “disciple” elevates the idea. It’s intentional (or it should be); it speaks to study and practice and ritual. This might be somewhat circular reading, and I’m a little sorry for dragging you through this written processing with me (though not sorry enough to delete it, hah!). But, what a powerful way of terming it – us as our own disciples. It feels very sneaky that this word has been hiding within “self-discipline” all along and it’s taken this wonderful commentator to parse it out. (Perhaps you have known this all along, dear reader, and in that case, I doff my hat.)
If you ask my father who he was as a child, he will be brutally honest. He will make a face using every facial muscle, wherein his eyes fly up into his skull and everything else tightens. He’ll use words like “terror” and “rascal” and you will start to wonder about that boy.
He has told us how he lit his basement on fire with gasoline, and how his father had to leap through the flames to claim him, and his mother had to care for the burns all over his body. I’m not sure this was malicious, but his father told him to stay away from the gasoline, and the thing got knocked and spilled itself in rivers to the water heater. The danged thing flamed all over.
I think there was some consternation over that boy for some years. He was a fighter, for sure. A neighbor kid sicked their dog after him once, and he still has the scars to prove it. He learned to run, and if not run, then to grit and anger it out. He was called names at school, and he let them know he didn’t take to that. He told my brother early on to keep cool under pressure. Ignore the bullies, laugh at the easy teasing, because the worse way is to burst your own self into flurry flames and fisticuff the justice.
What I’m saying is, the man is not the boy. He will tell you that it was the Lord who tempered him, and I wouldn’t question that. He was a kid who God searched out. He changed, really changed, and everybody saw it. The passion is still there, the grit and determination, but as the healthiest disciples know, there’s a greater power than they at work, refining the inherent qualities.
I was scanning an article about a recent case, where the jurors are facing a heavy decision – as they always are – about which way to turn the verdict. It’s heavily politicized – as everything is – and they were warned by the judge to not let anyone’s opinion sway them. There are some mighty opinions weighing in, and I can hardly imagine being able to shrug them all off, slipping, as they are supposed to, into some utopian state of pure right judgment.
It made me think of Bennett, though, and his virtuous book, which we discussed in rings and rounds at the start of this piece. He tells the reader in the introduction that none of the stories inside will tackle the touchy discussions of the day. But, he adds, “a person who is morally literate will be immeasurably better equipped than a morally illiterate person to reach a reasoned and ethically defensible position on these tough issues.”
My best friend gave me this book after my son was born. She said her momma used to read it to her and her sisters when they were young. It’s old-fashioned and wonderful, and I’ve enjoyed diving in even a little. Grab yourself a copy, if it sounds intriguing. It strikes against today’s world like a ringing gong, and I like it.