Archives For Culture

Whenever I take strengths and personality assessments, the results usually remind me that I am the kind of person who looks at history to find answers to the solve the future’s problems. At work, I usually ask a lot of questions so I can figure out the best plan to move forward. I am also sure that those I am around, including my wife, are annoyed by me telling stories about history. I can’t help myself. The stories are so rich, alive, and I would offer that they are relevant to solving today’s problems.

Historian Stephen Ambrose (Band of Brothers, Undaunted Courage) once said, “You don’t hate history, you hate the way it was taught to you in high school.”  I was spoiled to have some of the most skilled and entertaining history teachers in junior high, high school, and college. I loved learning history then and love it even more now. In my middle age, I’m much busier than in my student days. Thus, I have to absorb history in different ways. That is why I listen to a lot of history podcasts and have compiled a list to help you get the fun out of history as well. Most of you reading this have either a commute to work or time to walk around your neighborhood. Why not have fun and learn a thing or two?

For that reason, I have compiled some of the best history podcasts that I recommend you enjoy.

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Unknown History with Giles Milton. If you are looking for a good 4-10 minute story about amusing moments in history, you’ll love this one. It’s an easy starter and leads into wanting to read more in his books. Plus, British accents are mesmerizing and amusing.

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Backstory. A conversational exploration of interesting stories you may have missed out on from the past. What I appreciate is during a current day crisis like heated exchanges between the U.S. and Russia, Backstory devoted a show to teaching about the history of their relationship. Hosted by a panel of historians from the University of Virginia. Each episode is 30-40 minutes.

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Stuff You Missed in History Class. This is a unique podcast because it tackles the stories we either glossed over or outright missed. From Frederick Douglas to the evacuation of Dunkirk to even a tackling the brief history of Veterinary medicine, you will be entertained and educated. The podcast explores history with a curiosity like Malcolm Gladwell tackles his books. Each episode is 10-40 minutes.

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British History Podcast. This is a must for any Anglophile. It doesn’t get much better than Jamie Jeffers’ storytelling. It is a chronological retelling of the history of Britain with a particular focus upon the lives of the people. You won’t find a dry recounting of dates and battles here, but instead you’ll learn about who these people were and how their desires, fears, and flaws shaped the histories of England, Scotland, and Wales. Each episode is 20-40 minutes.

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Dan Snow’s HISTORY HIT. I have loved watching Dan and his father Peter host great shows on the History and Military channels. They approach interviews like a battlefield reporter. This is one of my favorite podcasts and I love how Dan brings on fascinating people to interview. Listen to him interview Wehrmacht soldiers who gather together each year to recount their perspective of World War II. Each podcast is 10-40 minutes.

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Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. “The PhD of Podcasts.” This is not for the faint hearted. If you are willing to endure 4-7 hour podcasts, you can do anything. This is the equivalent to listening to an audiobook but it is worth your time. It is conversational and thought-provoking as you are hypnotized by Carlin’s voice and ability to teach us through storytelling. Hardcore History is the way popular history books are written excerpt Dan Carlin shares these stories out loud in a conversational tone. I recommend the 6 part “Blueprint for Armageddon” World War I saga or if you are interested in a single episode, listen to “The Destroyer of Worlds.” To date, he has recorded 60 podcasts. He only has 10 available as of today for free.

Ultimately, the goal is for all of us to have a greater understanding of how our world works. Sometimes that means we need to look back to know how to look forward.

You are never too busy to learn. Have fun while you’re at it.

The past is a source of knowledge, and the future is a source of hope. Love of the past implies faith in the future. – Stephen Ambrose

I drove the camper van to the top of the hill in Siena, Italy. I emerged in exhaustion from and looked around. It was beautiful. I was exhausted but I made it to be my destination. On top of this hill outside Siena sat a beautiful university. It was an estate that overlooked miles of vineyards looking toward Tuscany. Only 24 hours earlier I was observing the Mediterranean Sea in Genoa. I parked the camper van overlooking the water and went to get a slice of pizza.

The joy was brief. I came back thirty minutes later to find my driver side window broken. A thief stole half of what I owned, including my passport. Dusk was settling in and I did what I had to and canceled my credit cards. This was a time before everyone had a cell phone so I was struggling to find a pay phone to communicate back to the United States. Soon after, my travel companion, well I thought was a friend, ditched me and I was left to find my way to Siena. I was alone. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. I had no choice but to keep moving and drive the 300 kilometers. I cursed. I hit the wheel. I even cried. I didn’t feel very proud of myself. But, I somehow kept going. I pushed on and made it there by dusk the next day. I wish I had a picture of me when I was driving, which would be most appropriate but in the end, I made it to Siena to this beautiful view.

I had so many good days traveling around Italy but that day was different. I can’t remember as many of the good days, though. I remember the road to Siena so well because of the pain. The pain was perfect. I smile every time I recall the day, which seems a little odd. As I look back, the pain was what made it the adventure. I can’t say it was successful except I lived and made it eventually to my location. But, I made it. Somehow. By the grace of God.

That memory came flooding back after reading the book, Endurance by Alfred Lansing. In it, Lansing tells the epic tale of Ernest Shackleton and his attempt to reach the South Pole in 1914 on the eve of World War I and make it across the continent. As the book shares, “In January 1915, after battling its way through a thousand miles of pack ice and only a day’s sail short of its destination, the Endurance became locked in an island of ice. Thus began the legendary ordeal of Shackleton and his crew of twenty-seven men.”
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“For ten months the ice-moored Endurance drifted northwest before it was finally crushed between two ice floes. With no options left, Shackleton and a skeleton crew attempted a near-impossible journey over 850 miles of the South Atlantic’s heaviest seas to the closest outpost of civilization. Their survival, and the survival of the men they left behind, depended on their small lifeboat successfully finding the island of South Georgia—a tiny dot of land in a vast and hostile ocean.”

Did Shackleton succeed? Yes and no. He certainly did not achieve the mission objective but managed somehow to keep each man going to make it home. I’ve read a lot of books about survival. Not many come close to this. I think if he would have made it, the story certainly would still be good. But, would we recognize the pain it took to achieve such a task? I don’t think so. I believe we read about his voyage of survival with curiosity and wonder how he and his men managed to be creative to stay alive for almost 2 years.

The story of Endurance reminded me of my own pain. Shackleton certainly suffered more than I so I make no direct comparison. Yet, it reminded me of the purpose of endurance.

Good stories are found within those that endure.

Perhaps it is a reason I love movies about survival like 127 HoursApollo 13DunkirkBand of BrothersAlive, and Saving Private Ryan. I wrote about some of these movies in an earlier post.  We are meant to be in pain from time to time to learn, adapt, and understand endurance.

Anytime I struggle in something, I must remember Shackleton and the pain on the road to Siena.

 

For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures. Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, according to Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one mind and one voice.

Romans 15:4-6 CSB (emphasis added)

There is something about the Irish.

Their accents.

Their humor,

or humour.

Their music.

And oh their movies!

What I love about the Irish-set or Irish made films is that they have a soul that very few other movies are able to capture. You can sense it in how they present their ideas throgh film–there is an honesty about life and it does not seem forced but often has a whimsical nature, which is inspiring.

When you think about Irish culture and its history, you may recall St. Patrick, Celtic music, marvelous green landscapes, war, the Potato Famine, immigration, lots of drinking, and the 20th Century fighting known as “The Troubles.”

Despite a fairly rough history, the Irish always seem to be optimistic, joyful, and occasionally magical. It shows in their films, which is why I have loved so many of them. I’ve learned that you don’t have to be Irish to love these films. You just need to have a soul that is open to laughing and growing.

I have had this blog in a draft form for over a year but after recently watching Brooklyn, it kicked me to finish it.

Here are five of the most impactful Irish movies as well as a few others I recommend.

Waking Ned Devine (1998)

When a lottery winner dies of shock, his fellow townsfolk attempt to claim the money. And yes, this is a comedy.

If you want to get a sense of the dark humor of the Irish, you’ll love this movie. A word of warning, there is crazy old man nudity in a race to cover up one of the funniest movie plots in years.

The Commitments (1991)

If I were to name my favorite Irish movie, it would be this. Follow along some down and outers from North Dublin who try to make is as a “soul” band. It has some of the foulest language but the finest of Irish-accented deliveries. Every year I put the soundtrack on the stereo to hear the Irish soul of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett.

Calvary (2014)

I’ve written about this before as I still believe it is one of the most beautiful and relevant depictions of the Gospel (other than the actual Gospel) ever on film. Enough said.

Once (2007)

Here you see a grown up Glen Hansard (from his teenage years with The Commitments). He plays an unnamed Irish street musician in Dublin trying to get by. He meets a young female immigrant from Eastern Europe who shares his loves for music. You see their love of music and longing for connection blossom in the movie. And again, the soundtrack is golden.

Brooklyn (2015)

What a delightful movie about courage, family, community, friendship, loneliness, and love. The movie thrives because of the subtle wins for the main character played by Saoirse Ronan and feels more like real life than the over the top dramatic. One of my favorite writers, Nick Hornby (Fever Pitch, High Fidelity, About a Boy), wrote the screenplay.

 

Other great Irish films I recommend:

  • Evelyn
  • In the Name of the Father
  • Michael Collins
  • The Boxer
  • 71′ – not technically Irish but set in Northern Ireland
  • Bloody Sunday
  • The Wind That Shakes the Barley
  • My Left Foot
  • Other notes:
    • I did not see Angela’s Ashes so please don’t hit me.
    • And before anyone brings it up…P.S. I Love You and Patriot Games don’t quite qualify.

When I find myself immersed in a history book the question often comes, “how would I act in this situation?” This is typically a moot point because I have the luxury of context and a more complete view of history. Yet, I still am tempted to do this and as I read 1944, I kept putting myself in each of the character’s shoes to make an attempt to evaluate how I would react.

I picked up Jay Winik’s new book 1944 last year and recently finished it. Although not his best work, it is an important book. To this day, I believe his book April 1865 is one of the finest popular history books to educate and entertain. I wrote earlier it is a book that will make you love history.

1944: FDR and the Yimagesear That Changed America could turn you away from reading history books. Not because it is a bad book but because it addresses some of the most difficult questions of modern history and what evil humans are capable of. I figured the book would provide a good contextual perspective of World War II but it focuses on FDR, the Allies, and the knowns and unknowns about the Nazi regime’s oppression of the Jewish people.

Known and unknown.

Despite the improvements in society, genocide has not gone away and in fact the majority of the modern western world has essentially turned a blind eye to such atrocities as Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda, Cambodia, and Syria. These situations have proved that we have a long way to go.

The same questions arise,

We know it is going on but what are we able to do?

If we do something, what are the consequences? 

Will our reputation be damaged? 

Will Americans (or our people) perish in an attempt to help? 

Why can’t another nation closer to this take care of the issue?

We have so many other problems that also take priority.

These were similar questions asked when most of the Western world discovered about the Holocaust and the horrors of concentration camps like Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, and Flossenberg. In the United States, “pass the buck” seemed to be the unofficial policy between the State Department, the military, and even FDR. There wasn’t a clear answer in what to do and it too far too long to do anything to save the lives of these people. Thousands died each day as it was debated. Eventually action was taken and some lives were saved but millions still perished when they possibly could have been saved. 1944 is powerful because it illustrates how we easily we can shy away from big problems.

What do we do?

Anytime there is discussion about these questions, it is helpful to look at the people. If we don’t humanize the oppressed, we will never act. We will never become creative enough to do. I am encouraged to get out of my comfort zone to learn more and to listen to someone who is of the oppressed. Perhaps then action will emerge.

Oppression in this world is far from over and whether the issue is with equality of minorities in America, freedom for a North Korean, or a child standing up for their religious belief in school, we must search deep inside to be creative and act. I may not know exactly what to do next time this happens but I am reminded that I must get out of my chair and move. What can I do to help those in my city? What can I do to help my neighbor? Just get up, move, and love them, Dave.

 

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hod us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

 

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I have put audiobooks to rest for the past couple months to focus on a podcast binge.

Most of it has been spent listening to interviews on Fresh Air, The Tim Ferriss Show, Brian Koppelman’s The Moment, and others. I’ve always been liked the one on one interview format to learn about “what makes a person who they are.” It doesn’t have to always focus on some outrageously successful person but it needs to dig into what makes people tick to do what they do. Podcasts are able to successfully do this because tv shows typically have to serve the short attention span of its audience while succumbing to pressure from advertisers. On broadcast television, Charlie Rose is probably one of the few to still do this and the Larry King one on one talk show format simply doesn’t work anymore, which is sad.

Enter podcasts, the hope for the future.

In all of the interviews that I’ve listened to, there is something special that keeps rising to the surface. Good interviewers are able to dig into what makes that person special or discovers moments that helped the person break through in life.

It is simple and it affects us everyday.

As I listened to so many of these people interviewed, each shared a story of how words changed their lives. Whether positively or negatively, words often changed the course of their lives. Here are three examples.

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McChrystal leading his team

General Stanley McChrystal

On one of the podcasts, General Stanley McChrystal shared an important story about his time as a cadet at West Point. McChrystal is one of the most successful military leaders of our age and as a young West Point cadet, he was graded often in the middle of his class. He couldn’t seem to break ahead and several commanders repeatedly told him he did not have a chance to become a true leader in the army. It wasn’t until a senior officer at West Point pulled him aside and pointed out one very important thing. He told McChrystal that his peers repeatedly gave him high marks and believed in him as a leader. The senior officer explained to McChrystal that he had what it took because his fellow cadets believed in him and would follow him. Whereas other senior officers overlooked this characteristic, that moment changed his life. These words became a cornerstone of his leadership as servant leader and he repeats this lesson to others.

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Kevin Costner on set of Field of Dreams

Kevin Costner

Next, it may not be a big surprise for an actor to be self-conscious but Kevin Costner shared a story on Tim Ferriss’ Show about when he was in 3rd grade. He was walking in the hallway at school when he was called into a 5th grade classroom. The teacher for some reason wanted to show off and asked the young Costner to complete a complex math problem on the board when he clearly was years away from being able to complete. Costner couldn’t do the math and the teacher began to laugh at him in front of the whole class. Over fifty years later, Costner could recall that moment in such detail as it affected him today. He still seemed bothered by it. In an opposite way, those words motivated him to evaluate how he would treat others, especially working in an entertainment industry focused on “me.” It has served him well as Costner is one of the most well liked and successful artists of the past thirty years. Most people know of his success in sports movies like Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and Tin Cup but he is also an Oscar-winning screenwriter, director, producer, and now an author.

A Rowdy 6th Grader

Last, this story is about my time as a rowdy 6th grader. I wasn’t a poor student or necessarily a kid with a bad reputation but was distracted and occasionally disrespectful. There was a day in class when I was fooling around with other boys in my class. My teacher was a newer teacher and was trying to figure us out. Mrs. Conley stood up and with the look on her face, you knew she had it with us. She looked us with this look of “you better be quiet now or else….” She then proceeded to walk over to the stereo and turn up the dial to Aretha Franklin’s iconic song RESPECT. She took us around the class dancing to the song and singing the lyrics. It brought a lot of laughter but she took time throughout the year to talk to me and teach me about what respect meant and how to treat others. Boy, did she work me over and almost 25 years later, it still sticks with me. I am thankful for Mrs. Conley and am pleased she is still teaching and impacting lives of the next generation.

 

Our life is full of scenes of words to build us up and words to break us down. We can choose to be crushed by these words or we can use them to lift us up.

Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 1:7,

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”

In fact, this is a mere sprinkling of encouragement you can find from Paul and others in the Bible. It is a reminder that encouragement is needed more than ever in our lives today.

God whispers to us encouragement everyday through his Word and through others. 

But, just as the serpent spoke nonsense to Adam and Eve, we also must pray for discernment. In those moments, remind yourself that you are not alone and that encouragement is still there.

Instead of sharing words to break others down, share words that matter and can change hearts.

You never really know the power of these words at the time but they can change the direction of a person’s life.

I once heard Sheila Walsh say that there is this “sacred ache” within us. We sense that things in life aren’t supposed to be this way and we ache for what God intended for us from the beginning of time. Heaven awaits those who trust in Christ but as we live our lives today, we feel a loneliness and yearning for what it was also supposed to be. That is why we should return the garden of Eden.

My friend Erik Parks and his team at VCE Productions created a wonderful short film that captures the heart and story of man. It is a short 15 minute film so take time to watch and I would love to hear what you think.

After watching Return to the Garden, I was forced to sit down and think about it for a while. There is beauty yet a haunting in “Return to the Garden” that captures what is behind our joy and pain we experience through life. Just like what Sheila Walsh referenced, the lead male actor referred to the pain as “it wasn’t supposed to be like this.” We start life with so much joy and freedom but pain, sin, and disappointment creep in and we are tempted to throw in the towel like this young couple considers. The movie naturally put me in a place to reflect on my life and how I have experienced similar ups and downs. That is what a good film does, whether in 2 hours or 15 minutes – it brings the viewer personally into the story. There are few filmmakers, who happen to be Christian, who have the courage and ability to let the visuals and story tell the message without shouting it out.

Our world is lovely and tragic, and Parks nailed what is underneath this journey. I even sensed a young Terrence Malick in him in the style and storyline. Parks is an outstanding young writer and director and I am excited to see what is next. You can follow his movie review blog in the meantime as we await to hear his favorite movies of 2015.

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The Best Books of 2015

December 26, 2015 — 1 Comment

This year was a bit of an unexpected journey of reading. I try to read about 25-30 books a year and looks like I’ll accomplish the goal this year.

I gauge a book’s success in my heart by its ability to entertain, educate, motivate me to re-read it, underline, and reference from time to time.

None of the books that made my best books list were ones I set out to read in 2015 so they had a serendipitous value that made them that much more special. These are the books I have enjoyed and been shaped by the most in 2015. I also have given each of these books to friends or recommended them along the way. I also chose several passages for you to read to get a feel for each book’s purpose, entertainment, and beauty. Perhaps these books also inspired you in 2015. If not, I hope they will in 2016. Salud.

 

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World

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This book has been incredibly helpful to me as I am now leading a larger and more complex group of teams this year in publishing. In Team of Team, McChrystal and his colleagues show how the challenges they faced in Iraq can be rel­evant to countless businesses, nonprofits, and other or­ganizations. The world is changing faster than ever, and the smartest response for those in charge is to give small groups the freedom to experiment while driving every­one to share what they learn across the entire organiza­tion.

“Purpose affirms trust, trust affirms purpose, and together they forge individuals into a working team.”

“A leader’s words matter, but actions ultimately do more to reinforce or undermine the implementation of a team of teams. Instead of exploiting technology to monitor employee performance at levels that would have warmed Frederick Taylor’s heart, the leader must allow team members to monitor him. More than directing, leaders must exhibit personal transparency. This is the new ideal.”

“Efficiency, once the sole icon on the hill, must make room for adaptability in structures, processes, and mind-sets that is often uncomfortable.”

 

Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics 

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Many people wondered what they would read after Seabiscuit and Unbroken. Well, they should be reading Boys in the Boat. It reads like a novel and you get such a vivid picture of life during the Great Depression while finding yourself cheering as a coxswain for these University of Washington rowing boys.

“It’s not a question of whether you will hurt, or of how much you will hurt; it’s a question of what you will do, and how well you will do it, while pain has her wanton way with you.”

“It takes energy to get angry. It eats you up inside. I can’t waste my energy like that and expect to get ahead. When they left, it took everything I had in me just to survive. Now I have to stay focused. I’ve just gotta take care of it myself.” – Joe Rantz

“All were merged into one smoothly working machine; they were, in fact, a poem of motion, a symphony of swinging blades.”

“The wood…taught us about survival, about overcoming difficulty, about prevailing over adversity, but it also taught us something about the underlying reason for surviving in the first place. Something about infinite beauty, about undying grace, about things larger and greater than ourselves. About the reasons we were all here.”

Peace Like a River

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Perhaps one of the greatest novels of the early 21st Century, it is beautifully beautifully by Leif Enger. Suggested to me by my friend Matt West, I already want to re-read it.

“Sometimes heroism is nothing more than patience, curiosity, and a refusal to panic.”

“Fair is whatever God wants to do.”

“We and the world, my children, will always be at war.
Retreat is impossible.
Arm yourselves.”

“Many a night I woke to the murmer of paper and knew (Dad) was up, sitting in the kitchen with frayed King James – oh, but he worked that book; he held to it like a rope ladder.”

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe and a Great War

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Although I knew plenty about C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, what I did not know much about was their experiences during World War I and how it brought them together as friends. Their writing about good versus evil was shaped by their experiences and the book was very well researched and written by Joe Loconte, a former author of mine. This is one of the best stories about an epic friendship that has helped me re-look at how I value friendships in my own life.

“Their experience reminds us that great friendship is a gift born of adversity: it is made possible by the common struggle against world’s darkness.”

“Like few other writers over the past century, they show us what friendship looks like when it reaches for a high purpose and is watered by the streams of sacrifice, loyalty, and love.”

“I grew up believing in this Myth and I have felt – I still feel – its almost perfect grandeur.” – C.S. Lewis

The Martian

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Rarely does a movie honor its original book so well and Ridley Scott did a great job for Andy Weir’s underdog book. The book I listened to this audiobook, which is probably the one thing that is better than the movie. I laughed most of the way through and you will too. Pick it up for a long road trip.

“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”

“I guess you could call it a “failure”, but I prefer the term “learning experience”

“It’s true, you know. In space, no one can hear you scream like a little girl.”

“Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. “Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.”