I love reading biographies.

I make an effort to read three or four biographies per year about people I have admired or wanted to learn more about.

For those who are avid readers, you may have a genre that you favor more than others. In the past two years I have made an effort to read a greater variety of books, especially by reading (or re-reading) classics and venturing into fiction. These genres are all fascinating and drive my spirit of mind. But, I keep coming back to my first love of biography.

I believe that human lives are beautiful and are meant to be studied. It’s not because I don’t care about myself. It is also not because I think people who have a book written about them (or by them) deserve to be worshiped, either. I do love hearing about their adventures and great triumphs and feel like I am along for the ride.

But, the secret to a good biography is learning that these great people we admire have made mistakes, just like us.

Historian Walter Isaacson said it best,

“When you write biographies, whether it’s about Ben Franklin or Einstein, you discover something amazing: They are human.”

I believe that God sees each of us as a biography being written. After all, He sees us for who we really are; imperfect people who need grace and an urging by his holy spirit to act. Thus, he sends us on a journey called life. Some of us have a harder journey than others. But, we are all meant to seek it for God’s greater glory and that means taking steps beyond what we could ever have imagined. I believe biographies exist to remind us that we are not alone in our struggles.

Psalm 121:8

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

I think when I watch a movie like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, it reminds me that we need to do more than dream. We just need to obey God and act. And by that act comes a great journey in faith. Watch the movie and the life of Walter Mitty to understand this scene. Although the story is fictional, Mitty’s life represents a living biography. Clearly he has dreamed but it his the transformation that counts.

Start by examining your own life and how the story is meant to be told. Then read the lives of others to see how you can see your stories in theirs.

This past year, I have read the following biographies and here is a quick lesson (of many) I’ve learned from each.

Young Winston Churchill at the beginning of his journey.

Young Winston Churchill at the beginning of his journey.

Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill by Michael Shelden

  • Insight: Did you know that Churchill’s career was virtually done with at the age of 40? Did that stop him? “Never give in” were his words. And we now know him as the uniter of the English language to defeat Naziism.

Ike’s Bluff by Evan Thomas

  • Insight: Eisenhower was blamed for not being tough enough on the Soviets in the 1950s. But, it was his restraint and patience that kept the world alive.

Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer (The Odyssey of Pat Tillman) 

  • Insight: Studying the life of someone like Pat Tillman who gave up millions of dollars to join the military post-9/11 is fascinating. But, think twice of why he really served.

The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames by Kai Bird

  • Insight: Ever wondered if CIA agents were all like Jason Bourne or Ethan Hunt? Think again. This is how real 20th Century CIA work was done.

 

Biographies are meant to inspire us.

They are here to compel us to move.

I dare you to pick up a biography this week.

Report back in on the journey.

Remember, Bilbo Baggins needed to go on his adventures first before his story could be told.

Go write yours.

I am a huge proponent of studying the lives of the great people of history. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching a modern-day trailblazer in action but there is something more pleasing about studying another’s life in full to understand their story and what we can learn from it.

I want to know their dreams, adventures, successes, struggles, and what they learned in the process. Then I want to study the life application.

Those who know me and have read this blog are aware that I am a student of Winston Churchill as are many others. The latest book of his I am reading is Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill by Michael Shelden.

Most people know Winston Churchill by his magnanimous speeches with his deep British accent, his cigar in hand as he walked, and the way he led the United Kingdom with the Allies to victory in World War II. He is one of the most quotable people of all time and books continue to be written about him and I suppose more will continue to be for years to come.

churchilldown

What most people do not know is that Winston Churchill was considered an incredible failure by the age of 40.

Like Churchill, we begin life with so much promise and hope – the world is to be conquered. Churchill was desperate to establish himself as a fast-moving politician in Edwardian England. He was an astute student of history and knew that he must be daring in how he lived to gain attention. He served in the military for a few years and in 1899 he was commissioned as a war correspondent during the Boer War. Churchill became famous worldwide for his fight in a train ambush and later through his daring escape from a POW camp in South Africa. Most Americans don’t know that he was a celebrity in the US even in his twenties and went on a massive speaking tour in North America to share stories from his Boer War heroics.

It’s easy to canonize Winston Churchill because of his successes. But, pay closer attention to his failures that made him who we know him today. 

During the First World War, Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty and the chief proponent of the invasion of Turkey now known as the Gallipoli campaign. His strategy was to create a southern link to Russia, their ally. The Turks were a skillful and determined enemy, repelled the allies, and the campaign costed the lives of many young Australians and New Zealanders (ANZAC troops). Perhaps not solely responsible for the tactical defeat on the ground, the campaign was never the less Churchill’s idea and it crippled him politically for years.

Churchill was a big, fat, failure. 

We now know the rest of the story as it didn’t end there.

Churchill entered the political wilderness, dug in his heels, and marched back to eventually become Prime Minister during World War II.

So what do we learn from Churchill’s first half of life?

Churchill said it best,

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

We may not live life with the type of drama that Churchill lived but we do share the ups and downs of life. Which honest person hasn’t had setbacks in life? We all have taken a punch or two to the face and even have fallen. It hurts admitting it but it is part of life.

“Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”

Churchill’s life has taught us that failure is part of our journey and we become better because of it.

For that, we can keep getting back up and moving forward because victory in life is found in how we respond to the punches.

churchill2

 

From Boyhood to Killing Lions

September 25, 2014 — 6 Comments

There are times when I get discouraged after watching a slew of movies. Occasionally seem like the majority of filmmakers are playing it safe and opting for just trying to entertain us without any serious thought. Don’t get me wrong, I love entertaining movies but now and then we need to be challenged more seriously. This past month has been great for film-watching after seeing one of the most powerful representation of the Gospel I’ve ever seen, Calvary. Then came the movie, Boyhood

imagesI felt the need to go see the movie Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater because of the fact that he and others committed twelve years of his life to make the film. Linklater and his team gathered in Texas each year to film ten to fifteen minute short films capturing a year in a boy’s life. The boy, Mason, is portrayed to be an average American kid growing up and you follow him each year as he grows up. In key scenes, you see him interacting with friends, engaging with bullies, introduced to porn, you see a lot of his mother’s effort to support him and his sister, an in and out divorced father played by Ethan Hawke, and multiple step-fathers who are alcoholics. Mason along the way is navigates through relationships and a first love and constantly adjusting to change before him.

Any man would have to be sleeping not to see some part of themselves in Mason’s journey. I sure did.

Boyhood is a long and hard movie but a necessary one to endure and I encourage you to watch it with good friends. My friend Phil commented that he could not stop thinking about for the next day but couldn’t figure out why. It is rated R so I recommend watching it with caution and in context of a different worldview. I also wouldn’t expect any major spiritual revelations from it like your common Christian film. It is a movie that displays hope but also exposes the brokeness in a life without a father consistently being in the life. You can’t help but feel for his mother trying to raise Mason while making mistakes of her own trusting the family to drunk stepfathers along the way. We are reminded in the movie that we live in a fatherless nation.

Boyhood is a powerful and necessary movie to watch because it captures life as we remember it, in the most important scenes.

That is a big reason I started blogging on this theme four years ago. Often, we remember our lives in the most dramatic scenes; the saddest ones and the ones that have filled us with the most joy. We also do remember some random memories but beneath them is usually a deeper story God is telling us.

I recommend Boyhood for any man or woman wanting to understand what it is like growing up in today’s American culture. It won’t answer all of your questions but you will find yourself in Mason and learn to be more empathetic of what most boys face today.

A few weeks after I watched Boyhood, I was sent a copy of Killing Lions to read. It is written by John Eldredge (Wild at Heart) and his son Sam Eldredge.

I’ve always enjoyed Eldredge’s books and appreciate his heart as a writer because it always feels truest to my own yearnings. There are some in the extreme conservative theology crowd, even close friends, who take issue with some of his writing but I encourage you to keep an open mind to understand what he is trying to communicate. I’m learning in life that God speaks to us in many ways starting with his word, the Bible. He also gave us the holy spirit used through experience, books, movies, music, and fathers.

Your heart and your mind needs to be open.

UnknownIn a refreshing style, Killing Lions is a conversation about life between Sam (in his mid twenties) and his father, John. Like Mason in Boyhood, many men today have been raised without present fathers or grown up rejecting men above them. Men have a way of thinking they can figure life out by themselves (including me) and it is literally killing us.

I agree with Eldredge that our lives are broken into the stages of life. I am in my mid-thirties, married, have two daughters, and work in publishing. Prior to that I was in the stages of marriage without kids, single life, traveling, and school.

I am content at times but my wife and I often wonder when we will hit that next stage of life, responsibility, and more?

“just when you think you’ve arrived, you are called up again. As soon as we’ve begun to get a feel for the stage we are at, the next one comes knocking at the door. And though one stage really does prepare us for another, they are never quite the same and so once again we wonder if we have what it takes.”

We can go through life’s journey alone as an island or we can join forces and seek guidance. Eldredge’s encouragement in all of his books is pressing on us the need for other men to show us the way.

“Having a guru or father we can learn from, to guide us down the path of mastery, may be the only way to really know we are heading in the right direction.” – Sam Eldredge

I also have learned that machoism is not what God is calling us to. It is a humility to understand that God continues to work through us and takes kindness in our process. We never lose our boyhood in some ways, which explains a lot of how I feel in this process of going up; constantly learning and reflecting. Do you feel that way?

“Every man is part boy and part man. God requires the man to step up and play the man; but to the boy he offers comfort and healing. Be kind to the boy inside. It is the man God is calling to face down the next lion, but the boy he treated with genuine kindness.”

I love author Thomas Wolfe’s take on man,

“The deepest search in life, it seemed to me, the thing that in one way or another was central to all living was man’s search to find a father, not merely the lost father of his youth, but the image of a strength and wisdom external to his need and superior to his hunger, to which the belief and power of his own life could be united.”

We need other men to guide us. We need our heavenly father to guide all of us.

What do I do with this great wisdom? I am ready to do the following:

  • Ask God regularly to guide me in this journey. (Eldredge has some great prayers to help us start)
  • Be intentional in my time with my father to talk about life’s stages, today’s struggles and triumphs,
  • Re-engage with mentors of mine.
  • Seek to help those younger than me as a mentor.
  • Lovingly talk with my wife more about these things.
  • Teach my daughters about the journey they are on to understand God’s greatness through their femininity and how to deal with men in their lives.

I encourage you to read Killing Lions and watch Boyhood. Let me know what you think!

You can get a copy of the Killing Lions here from Ransomed Heart Ministries. They have some very helpful and impactful free videos to go with the book that I encourage you to also watch.
Boyhood should be in theaters for a few more weeks. Go watch it with a group of friends and share what you think.

 

Today, September 18th is one of the most important days in Scottish history.

The people will have a chance to decide whether or not they want to continue being part of the United KIngdom, run from London, or completely separate as sovereign nation. Most Americans think that Scotland achieved its independence in 1996 due to Mel Gibson’s revisionist history epic known as Braveheart (Hey, I love it!). Scotland originally won their independence in 1314 after winning the battle of Bannockburn. Then came Mary Queen of Scots and it got very confusing for 150 years until Scotland and England rejoined in 1707 to form what now know today as the United Kingdom. There are some fascinating books on Scottish history that can explain more and I encourage you to dig deeper.

To most around the world, the Scottish vote will not mean much except to economists and a few people who appreciate Scotland for what it represents. As an American, I have always had a fascination with Scotland and its deep, majestic history.

I visited and lived in Scotland three separate times. I first visited in 1999 as a college student studying in the UK.

In 1999 at the borderlands of Scotland and England, my first visit there.

In 1999 at the borderlands of Scotland and England, my first visit there.

I fell in love with Scotland so much that I found a way to graduate early from college to then move there to live for my last semester in 2001. I ventured to Scotland without a job but with the hope to immerse myself in the culture enjoy the journey.

What I found this time in Scotland was something I did not expect.

I figured I would live in Edinburgh, which is the quintessential, picturesque medieval city. Who does not fall in love with the Romantic and more well-known Edinburgh? I did like many others but I realized that I needed to get out of the comfort zone of the tourist city and venture to Glasgow, which had far fewer Americans and I’d be forced to engage with the culture. It was an adventure after all. Mark Twain wrote,

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I worked two jobs in Glasgow; Glasgow University and a coffee shop in the evenings. I met friends from around the world, traveled to the Highlands, toured the cities of Stirling and St. Andrews, joined a church, ventured frequently with a hiking group, and mostly listened to the people and their mesmerizing accents. It was pure majesty and I made it my home away from home.

I even revisited in 2003 with some great friends from college, Adam Zuber and Steve Griffin, as well as a friend from Germany (Tobi Schneider), whom I met in Scotland when I lived there. It has been eleven years since I last visited and I miss like it is home.

I love Scotland for many reasons and here are a few pieces of my journey to share that I hope you will enjoy. It is a beautiful country and no matter what happens with the people’s decision to be a part of the UK or not, it will always be my home across the pond.

Here are a few pictures from my Scottish journey.

My parents visited me when I lived there in 2011 and we took a trip to St. Andrews. Here we are on top of the historic Swilcan bridge.

My parents visited me when I lived there in 2011 and we took a trip to St. Andrews. I even got to play The Old Course in 1999.  Here we are on top of the historic Swilcan bridge.

View from Portree on the Isle of Skye. The perfect day in Scotland.

View from Portree on the Isle of Skye. The perfect day in Scotlan

The ubiquitous hairy coos

The ubiquitous hairy coos

photo 4-2

Tobi, Adam, Steve, and I at Edinburgh Castle in 2003 revisiting Scotland

photo 5

Our 2003 team eating haggis in the highlands. Mike Myers once said, “My theory is that all of Scottish cuisine is based on a dare.” Well, it’s probably true.

The Scots love their football. I adopted Glasgow's Rangers. Simply the Best.

The Scots love their football. I adopted Glasgow’s Rangers. Simply the Best

photo 2-6

I was blessed to work at Glasgow University. This was my walk to work.

photo 1-8

On the Isle of Skye, this was a glimpse of heaven. See for yourself.

If you want to get a taste for Scotland, I recommend the following:

READ

WATCH

VISIT

Well, that is a completely new post but no matter what happens, go support Scotland and explore the beautiful country. Just go.

 

Scotland is on the verge of independence. We will soon see on September 18th when the people of Scotland vote to determine their long-term fate and risk 300 years of union with the United Kingdom.

It is inspiring to see the democratic process at work and it brings about the reasons why people should get involved in politics to have a choice in the ways things are in government.

Early in my life I was highly involved in politics and in some ways like any good idealist. I have mellowed out a bit, partly because of how polarizing it has become.

But, I still hold onto hope and possibilities of how politics can change people for good.

I believe in due process and I believe in good, reasonable dialogue about key issues that affect any citizen of any country.

There are many great films about politics but there are a few special ones that are designed to inspire us. The theme of my favorite political movies is seeing how someone can stand firmly for what they believe in and act upon those convictions.

Here are the best inspirational political films:

1. All the President’s Men

All_the_president's_menI am sure every journalist is inspired by this movie. With power in Washington, corruption is inevitable and it is our responsibility as citizens (and journalists) to uncover the truth of what really is happening. Sometimes, this takes time and great risks of our careers and perhaps our lives but in due time, the truth does come out. I love seeing how Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Woodward and Berstein work together as a team to expose one of the greatest cover ups in our modern American history.

Deep Throat: Follow the money.

Bob Woodward: What do you mean? Where?

Deep Throat: Oh, I can’t tell you that.

Bob Woodward: But you could tell me that.

Deep Throat: No, I have to do this my way. You tell me what you know, and I’ll confirm. I’ll keep you in the right direction if I can, but that’s all. Just…follow the money.

2. Dave

MOV_65120890_bYes, I love Dave for many reasons and sure, because we share the same name but, Dave represents the everyman who could be thrust into politics. I don’t want to give away the movie but it is a fun treat to watch and be inspired by.

The most hopeful message from Dave happens as he glimpses the possibilities of political process.

“If you’ve ever seen the look on somebody’s face the day they finally get a job, I’ve had some experience with this, they look like they could fly. And it’s not about the paycheck, it’s about respect, it’s about looking in the mirror and knowing that you’ve done something valuable with your day. And if one person could start to feel this way, and then another person, and then another person, soon all these other problems may not seem so impossible. You don’t really know how much you can do until you, stand up and decide to try.”

3. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Smith_goesIn America and many other Democratic countries, there is the ability for anyone to be thrust into the spotlight. But, greatness happens when those in those positions stick to their values and serve with courage, like Jefferson Smith.

“Just get up off the ground, that’s all I ask. Get up there with that lady that’s up on top of this Capitol dome, that lady that stands for liberty. Take a look at this country through her eyes if you really want to see something. And you won’t just see scenery; you’ll see the whole parade of what Man’s carved out for himself, after centuries of fighting. Fighting for something better than just jungle law, fighting so’s he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent, like he was created, no matter what his race, color, or creed. That’s what you’d see.”

Watch the famous filibuster scene where Jimmy Stewart as Mr. Smith delivers his hope for America. “Love thy neighbor” is his message.

4. Lincoln

Lincoln_2012_Teaser_PosterLincoln in the movie is full of wisdom as we have read about him. Academy Award winner who portrayed Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis said he felt he had never felt such profound love for a man he had never met like Lincoln. We see why in the ways Lincoln explain the thought process in how to end slavery in the United States. This movie is a masterpiece of political theatre.

“All we’ve done is show the world that democracy isn’t chaos. That there is a great, invisible strength in a people’s union. Say we’ve shown that a people can endure awful sacrifice and yet cohere. Mightn’t that save at least the idea of democracy to aspire to? Eventually to become worthy of?”

5. Amazing Grace

amazing_gracePolitics requires patience. William Wilberforce understood this and was committed as a Member of Parliament in 18th and 19th Century United KIngdom over a 30+ year period to end the slave trade and ultimately get rid of slavery. He saw that his dream could come true and this is his story. Long before the United States was able to deal with slavery and all its evil, the United Kingdom was thankfully able to see its end.

“Perhaps we should begin this journey with a first step.”

Here are some other great political films I recommend watching and you don’t have to be a political junky to appreciate them. I haven’t seen every political movie ever made so there may be some I’ve missed and I’d love to hear from you on ones you love.Some are inspirational, some are merely amusing.

What are your favorite political films and why? 

In a future post, I will list some of the best political tv shows. Stay tuned.

Recently, I watched the movie Calvary (2014), which was one of the most powerful representations of the Gospel I’ve ever seen on film.

I don’t want to ruin the movie but go see it but see it with caution. Often truth in a movie like Calvary can hit us like a two by four. It is also R-rated and deals with some of the most serious issues in life.

 

LIke I would do with any good film, I shared my enthusiasm with a few people and the first question was typically,

“Well, is it a Christian film?”

My reaction?

giphy-2

 

 

 

 

 

I knew this question was coming and I bury my head in my hands every time someone asks it. It brings up the greater question, “What is ‘Christian’ in all media?”

When you ask if it is a Christian film, what are we talking about?

 

Is it about Jesus, Christians, or the Bible in general?

Is it a movie that people pray on-screen or talk about Jesus? 

Does a person who believes and follows Christ have to write and/or direct it? 

Is it produced by a company or person who believes in Jesus? 

Does a church show it to their congregation? Is it endorsed by a popular pastor? 

Is there an altar call at the end of the movie?

Is it produced by an evangelical? What about a Catholic?

 

Sorry, but I don’t have a specific answer to what constitutes a ‘Christian film’. Only God knows but what I do know is that he created each human being to ultimately honor him and movies are a great way to do it. I believe that the arts, especially in music, books, and movies are a way to showcase God’s great story. The Godfather of movie storytelling, Robert McKee shares,

“A fine work of art – music, dance, painting, story – has the power to silence the chatter in the mind and lift us to another place.”

Christians have a funny way of trying to package things in a pretty box. What if that box isn’t genuine, though?

I am thankful that God gave me a passion for books and movies and how they can have a transformative power to change lives. I feel like I in the majority of movies, I can point out the Christ figure in the film that represents ‘redemption’. Most of my favorite movies are written or directed by people whom I don’t know where they stand in their faith. I am comfortable with that and I’ll explain why.

For example, I know a lot of serious evangelical Christians who love Eric Liddell’s story. They love the movie Chariot’s of Firewhich tells some of Liddell’s story as the famous Scottish runner who in the 1924 Olympics refused to run a heat for his best race because it was on the Sabbath. The movie is widely quoted in sermons, articles, and blogs. What most Christians don’t know is that Liddell was played by Ian Charleson, who was gay and later died tragically from AIDS in 1990. Regardless of where Charleson stood in his faith, does the fact of his sexual orientation make the movie invalid as a ‘Christian’ film? Some Christians would throw the movie into the fire because of this fact.

Along with Chariot’s of Fire, here are a few movies that have had a profound impact on my life yet do not fit a typical mold of Christianity.

I think when you have good writing and good visual storytelling, a film can change a life. Redemption is at the core of good story, after all. 

I am comfortable seeing God in the beauty he presents through a variety of people. Some people may not but I challenge you to give these a chance with an open mind and to pray for God to show you his heart. Then go to scripture and dig deeper. And, as much as I want to celebrate every openly evangelical film, I want people to recognize that each of those films may not be a true representation of the Gospel in all its grit.

We live in a brutal society.

We live in a world where people are being decapitated on broadcast television. Children are being molested. Men and women are raped. Politicians and bankers are cheating the poor. Pornography is more accepted by culture. We can dance around the truth or we can engage with it head on.

Years ago, Michael Card wrote a book and song titled “A Violent Grace”. I believe the chorus captures life best.

So ruthless, He loves us, So reckless His embrace
To show relentless kindness, To a hardened human race
The joy that was before Him
On the Man of Sorrows face
And by His blood He bought a violent grace

I think this is why movies like The Passion of the Christ provoked so many people because it felt closer to reality of what Christ went through than previous movies portraying his sacrifice.

Scripture even backs it up in Isaiah 53:6 NIV

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Jesus’ death and sacrifice was brutal.

In order to follow Christ, we must engage with the fact that Christ died violently for us. There is no sugar coating it.

My encouragement is to pray for discernment when it comes to any information you take in any movie, book, or piece of music. Just because I am moved by the movies above, it doesn’t mean I agree with everything in them; the heart of the story is what I am after. N.T. Wright shares good caution from his book Simply Christian,

“You become like what you worship. When you gaze in awe, admiration, and wonder at something or someone, you begin to take on something of the character of the object of your worship.”

 

Here are some questions I ask myself and points I consider when I watch a film.

  1. Does it showcase ‘redemption’ well?

  2. Does it glorify sin? 

  3. What is the motivation of the film maker? 

  4. Does Scripture back up the heart of the story?

  5. Pray and ask God for discernment to show His way through these stories.

 

In the meantime, I challenge you to take risks and go see movies like Calvary. Let me know what you think.

What other movies have you watched that are not in explicitly Christian but have had a profound effect on your life? Why? 

Calvary_movieposter

I was thirteen when my mother took me on a special trip through the midwest. She took me to two special historical homes of great midwesterners: Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois and Mark Twain’s boyhood home in Hannibal, Missouri. As a kid, my mother introduced me to the stories of Tom Sawyer and like every young boy, I wanted to live the adventures just like Tom. As I grew up, I graduated to read more of his classics.

I was born in Missouri and spent my formative years there so Mark Twain has a special place in my heart. I have made it a goal to re-read The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn every couple years to be reminded of the importance of learning about people who are different than me and look at life as an eternal adventure. I read it again this past week and watched Ken Burns’ 2001 Documentary on Mark Twain so he’s fresh on my mind. Every time I read a book by ole Samuel Langhorne Clemens (his real name), I learn something new about him.

Twain possessed a wisdom and originality that was unmatched.

Based on learning about Mark Twain, here are Mark Twain’s top five secrets about life.

Mark Twain

1. He traveled.

Early in his life, Twain recognized the power of ‘travel’, living on the Mississippi River. Early on in his writing and reporting career, he ventured out to the western United States and then Hawaii, Europe, and other places throughout the world.. This inspired him to write classics like The Innocents Abroad and Following the Equator. He was inspired by travel to write and learned more about other people by doing so.

2. He never forgot his roots.

After writing great travel classics like The Innocents Abroad, he would go back every few books to write about his life. He mastered the idea of ‘write what you know.’ His heart was all over the world but it started on the Mississippi River in Missouri. Start reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi, and The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn to see.

3. He took time to get to know people who were very different than he.

Once, Twain supported a young African American to pay his way through Yale and then law school. That man was one who later mentored a young Thurgood Marshall, our first African-American on the Supreme Court. Twain used his writing style and influence to help shape post-Civil War America.

4. He failed and he failed.

Throughout his life, Twain published numerous books. Not all achieved the success of The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn but he continued to write. I work in publishing and most books fail to achieve an acceptable level of financial success. He was not immune to failure with his books but he kept writing and trying new things until the day he died.

5. He found humor, even in the dark.

Mark Twain was known as one of the first stand up comics. He dreaded speaking tours but he treated his lectures became like standup comedy. Laughter is what makes life special and he was the master of his day.

The Quotable Mark Twain

Mark Twain is one of the most quotable people to have lived on earth. Here are some of my favorite quotes from him.

“Heaven goes by favor; if it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.”

“Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”

“I would rather have my ignorance than another man’s knowledge, because I have so much more of it.”

“It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either.”

“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

“Classic: A book which people praise and don’t read.”

“The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.”

“Never argue with stupid people. They will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

“God created war so that Americans would learn geography.”

“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.”

“There’s one way to find out if a man is honest: ask him; if he says yes, you know he’s crooked.”

“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

Take some time this year to read a book by Mark Twain and study his great life.  Enjoy his wit and be inspired by his adventures.