Archives For biography

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.

The Beauty of Longing

September 1, 2013 — 6 Comments

A couple of weeks ago I challenged a friend to put together a bucket list. My friend was at a crossroads of life and I felt it was helpful to suggest she endeavour upon this journey to create such a list of things she would want to do in this life.

When I got home, I realized that my list has dust on it.

Last I checked I may have achieved roughly 35 of the 100 items on my list so there is much adventure to be had. At this point in life, the list represents an unfulfilled ‘longing’. But a longing for what? No matter what amazing things happen in life and what I check off on the list, I still feel this longing. C.S. Lewis said,

“There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in reality.”

CS Lewis

Sheila Walsh calls this a “sacred ache”, as we long for a world or life that we cannot fully attain. Heaven and earth collide. As Lewis noted, ‘reality’ takes hold of us until we are fully with our maker.

I recently read in Alister McGrath’s biography C.S. Lewis that when Lewis realized he was not going to live longer, he acknowledged that his name and most importantly, his books would move toward obscurity. The world was changing in the sixties and so he thought his words with them. We know now that his self-analysis was wrong but it revealed how until his end, he wondered if all of it was in vain. He longed for a greater significance.

So why is there longing? Why do we try?

Is longing there to pick and prod us to the point where we sit up in our chair, move the chair back, and stand up? Sometimes, that is the case I am learning. I am also discovering that courage is in the subtleties of life. It is in the thoughtful decisions about how to spend time. It is how I will prioritize and develop richer relationships. It is trusting in God in my career (which is difficult) and dust off my bucket list. I am 34 and have so much life ahead of me. My wife and I both feel this urgency to make a difference but often feel paralyzed by the grind of busyness.

So, I can retire to my excuses or I can act.

Philippians 1:21 points out the Apostle Paul’s struggle with this very thing.

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

It is evident that God has purpose in life as well as death. I am confident though that God knows what he is doing and this is why the longing exists. I was a daydreaming child and now a daydreaming adult. I do know that I feel most alive when I am moving, trying new things (and even failing at them). I question my motives though and ask God if I even should be longing? Is it selfish? I don’t want to get lost in the busyness, I want my time to mean something. If C.S. Lewis had questions about this then I should pay close attention in my life.

My thoughts drifted to the movie Finding Forrester (2000) when the reclusive writer Robert Forrester recites the poem from his young mentor Jamal.

“…we will find that the wishes we had for the father, who once guided us…for the brother, who once inspired us….The only thing left to say will be: “I wish I had seen this, or I wish I had done that, or I wish…”

As Forrester reflects on what he learns from the young man, no matter young or old, we feel these words.

“Someone I once knew wrote that we walk away from our dreams afraid we may fail, or worse yet, afraid that we may succeed.”

Roth_FindingForrester

I have very few regrets in life mainly because my faith comforts and reminds me that it is all part of God’s journey. But the longing is real and as life’s clock ticks and without that prodding, I won’t be pushed to act.

Thankfully regrets are fleeting though and I am comforted most by Lewis’ words,

“We can never know what might have been but what is to come is another matter entirely.”

So I will continue to look ahead.

Tomorrow I will sit up straight in my chair, gently push back the chair, take a deep breath, and pray. After all, longing is beautiful trust and I will stand up and begin walking in faith.