Tag Archives: Tae Kwon Do

Quit Making Excuses

At least until you get six-figure advances, when you meet people and they ask what you do, beware of telling them you’re a writer. Too often they’ll think you make lots of money. If you’re honest, you’ll admit you don’t. And suddenly they won’t appear to find you as interesting as they did when they saw dollar signs.

Or they’ll tell you they too are going to become writers as soon as they can find the time.

Nobody I’ve ever met has ample time to write. We get the time by stealing it. We take jobs that give us long weekends, and/or find part-time jobs or husbands or wives who won’t expect much money out of us, and/or take our kids to day-care and hustle or pray for tuition money, and/or resign ourselves to five or six hours of sleep a night and/or pass up weekend softball leagues or vacations. When our family suggests a day trip to the beach, we often ask them to go without us and spend our first hour of freed writing time suffering flashbacks of their parting looks or comments.

One evening in Tae Kwon Do, when the time for my black belt test was nearing, I encountered Master Jeong in the locker room and explained why I wasn’t coming to class often enough and admitted I realized that to progress required at least three classes a week. I meant to come more often, I told him, once Little League season ended and released me from managing Cody’s baseball team.

Master Jeong listened to all that. Then, without a nod, a grimace or a word, he turned and walked off. I supposed he was preoccupied.

A week or so later, I found him in a congenial mood. We chatted about some mutual concerns before, once again, I explained my failure to attend more often.

Without expression or comment, he walked away.

After three or four such responses (I’m not always quick-witted), I recognized that people making excuses, reasonable or not, might as well be invisible, and inaudible.

Why we fail to perform doesn’t matter. Our reasons are of no consequence. Missing classes (or writing sessions) because of working the three jobs I need to send my daughter to college will affect my performance in the same way as if I missed them because of an addiction to Survivor.

To earn a black belt, I needed to change my habits. Simple.

Rapture and the Indomitable Spirit

So many people I care about have died this year, which is not yet four months old, I have wondered if the rapture may have arrived.

For those lacking knowledge (or opinions) of the rapture, here’s a Bible passage:

1 Corinthians 15:51-52: “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”

Okay, I saw the twinkling of an eye part, but I’m as sure as can be that our perception of time is simply an illusion. And even if time is flat out real, in God’s perspective, how long would the twinkling of an eye take?

Pleased don’t misunderstand . I am no fan of the Tim LeHaye-Jerry Jenkins bestselling Left Behind series.

Pam, Zoê’s mom attended a high school connected with a church LeHaye had pastored. And long before those books came out, LeHaye issued videos based upon the premise that soon God would take the best folks out of the world and leave the rest of us rascals and ingrates to duke it out with Satan and his minions.

Pam is the source of Zoê’s diligent-student gene. She missed one day of school K-12, which was day two of these early Left Behind videos, because on day one she learned that pastors didn’t necessarily get the green light, and her dad was a Methodist minister. The next morning, she faked an illness and skipped school.

Fast forward. Pam and I taught at a college of which Tim LeHaye was one of the founders. He came and gave a speech at the invocation of a new president. His topic was basically there is us and there is them. And we’re the good guys.

Afterward, between the ceremony and the reception, we adjourned to our office to ditch our cap and gown outfits. The instant the door closed behind us, we turned to each other and said in unison, “That guy is scary.”

I only read a few pages of the LeHaye-Jenkins books. No comment. And until this year, I didn’t give the rapture much thought. But now …

The recent deaths that have most troubled me, even the ones readers of this post aren’t likely to know, I will list because doing so will help keep them in my memory.

First was Carol Galante, a wonderful friend in the mystery community, mother of authors Lisa Brackman and Dana Fredsti. Then Alan Rickman, Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films, of which I am quite a fan. Then came David Bowie, and very soon Glen Frey of the Eagles, with whom I hung out one long afternoon when we were young. Incidentally, Rickman, Bowie, Frey, and I were all born within about a year of each other. Next I got news of the death of Amy Radovic, a young, vital and vivacious colleague from our time at San Diego State University. And a day or so later, writer Jim Harrison died. Then came of Merle Haggard. And last week, Prince.

Every one of these people was exceptional. They all, I believe, had big hearts. Not a jerk amongst them. Which has led to my weird thoughts about the rapture. Weird thoughts have long been one of my specialties. This one may be weirder than most. I ran it by Pam. She thinks I’m loony. We are no longer married.

Yesterday, my Zoe wanted to watch The Karate Kid, so I watched with her, as I’m a big fan of Mister Miyagi. And while watching, I hearkened back to my years practicing Tae Kwon Do and recalled that the main point of the art was to develop an indomitable spirit.

I earned a black belt, which indicates that my spirit at least ought to be reasonably indomitable, and reminding myself of that lifted me out of some fairly severe melancholy. So today, I called my friend Mark, another black belt, and suggested we get together once a week for a Tae Kwon Do workout, even though it’s been some years since I have practiced the art.

I mean, to live in this world, especially if we’ve been left behind, a fellow can certainly use an indomitable spirit.

Number One is Patience

Master Jeong taught: “Number one is patience, number two is patience, number three is patience.”

Deadlines help some of us. They make us get up and work. They offer us the vision of some respite from the pressure once we meet the deadline. They teach us discipline, something we can’t be writers without.

But when deadlines rule us, we can lose our way. What should rule our writing lives is a pursuit of quality that persuades us to relegate deadlines to their proper place, as tools.

Unless we’re salaried journalists, as writers we will either be the imposers of our deadlines or else we’ll agree to them. Friends of mine who have become commercial successes with popular fiction are urged by their publishers to bring out a new book every year. The implied threat is that if they fail to do so, their bank accounts will suffer.

And many writers complete and publish a dozen books a year. These folks might tell you that they need to produce like that to make a living.

A writer who chooses to make a living by working on such deadlines is making product, not art. Maybe the spirit will in some instances inspire commercial products. But as a rule, art requires patience, not deadlines.

Andre Dubus, author of some inspired short stories, tells of a method he calls writing vertically: “One day or night I decided to try a different approach. I told myself that I would not leave a sentence until I knew precisely what Anna (the story’s main character) was feeling. For years, I had been writing horizontally, trying to move forward; now I would try to move down, as deeply as I could.”

We can’t expect a spirit to reveal much in an instant. To hear God, we usually need to quiet our rampaging minds and senses and listen.

If it takes an hour of sitting and waiting to find the right words, to make a scene come alive or to deepen the truths it reveals, any artist will agree that was an hour valuably spent.

Albert Einstein once said, “It’s not that I’m so smart. It’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

Repeat after me: “Number one is patience, number two is patience, number three is patience.”

For plenty more wise guidance, read the whole Writing and the Spirit book.

 

Soren Kierkegaard approves of Jesus Christ Superstar

Last evening I watched Jesus Christ Superstar. I hadn’t seen the film since the year of its release. The songs and choreography are fun, and the portrayal of Christ offers some thoughtful moments.

The disciples and followers join in a frenzied dance, singing “Christ you know I love you, did you see I waved? I believe in you and God, so tell me that I’m saved.” Jesus replies with an accusation, the essence of which is: not one of you gets it. You don’t even know who I am or what I’m doing.

Soren Kierkegaard would agree. “In the world there is lots of talk about this or that strife, about this person in conflict with that person, about that man and that woman living in strife with one another, about this one challenging another to a fight, about there being unrest in the city, about a war that is impending, about the conflict of nature’s elements that rage fearfully. But if one should bring up or mention the strife and unrest that resides within every person with God–what an astonishing effect! To most people such talk is but nonsense, a mere trifle. There are too many other important things to talk about.

“Travel the world over, enter into conversation with all the different peoples, visit them in their houses, follow them to the meetings, and listen attentively to what they talk about. Now tell me if you ever hear anything said about the eternal strife, the war between God and man, the war within a person’s soul. And yet this strife is the affair within every single person.

“But it is certain that every person has opportunity, in one way or another, to become aware of this strife. And it is this strife that underlies all others. Oh, whoever you are, pay heed to this sacred strife. This alone is the strife of eternity.”

He means the war between flesh and spirit. He defines the spirit as the synthesis of the finite and the infinite.

For instance, Christ was spirit, a perfect synthesis. If finite necessity such as communicating with or healing people threatened to overpower the infinite and disintegrate the synthesis, he commonly withdrew and re-engaged with the infinite, thereby preserving his spirit.

Most of us are only vaguely, if at all, aware of the infinite. So any contact with that realm feels awfully foreign and dangerous, like madness, and naturally sparks fear.  On account of the fear, we resist its pull. For distraction from the dread this resistance creates, we occupy ourselves with all manner of insipid conflict, as in a current magazine headline: “Kim calls Khloe fat,” or with relatively trivial strife, such as our retirement accounts.

Unless we surrender to the frightening pull of the infinite, we never achieve the synthesis that creates spirit.

Kierkegaard points out that unless we integrate the finite and infinite our creator endowed us with, we not only have no spirit, neither do we have a true self. We don’t even have a partial self, because we sense the need for a true self and attempt to manufacture one by imitating others we see or imagine and come to believe we ought to be.

If we can surrender to the pull of the infinite, we can become ourselves. Otherwise, we are not real.

When, before Tae Kwon Do sessions, Master Jeong would tell us to meditate and  “Think about who you are. Not what you do or what you think. Who you are,” he wanted us to expel the trivial, invite the infinite, and become ourselves.

 

 

A Christmas Carol

When I mention Soren Kierkegaard to people well-educated in the humanities, psychology, or Christian studies, I usually get a response of admiration along with a comment that he is hard to grasp.

Though I let these responses pass without much comment, they are beginning to concern me. As a parent or softball coach, when a kid says something like “But that’s hard,” I try to help her understand that because something is hard doesn’t mean we can’t do it or shouldn’t bother to try. Master Jeong, a Tae Kwon Do ninth-degree black belt, used to give us this admonition: “Practice the move a hundred times. If you can’t do it right, practice a thousand times. If you still can’t do it, practice ten thousand times.” If something is worth doing, hard is no excuse.

A deep understanding of Christ and his message is certainly worth pursuing, and it’s not something of which we humans are incapable.

I love Christmas carols. I was listening to them and wrapping presents, and when Emmylou Harris sang “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given,” I stopped and marveled over the recognition that God would give us such credit for both intelligence and potential for insight as to send a messenger with no hoopla, who would speak in parables and other ways that challenge all our abilities to understand. Such a vote of confidence ought to make us feel honored and driven to prove his confidence justified.

We humans don’t give ourselves enough credit.

Kierkegaard teaches about confidence in others as an expression of love. One way, perhaps the best way, we can learn to love better is to give credit to others for possessing love. Even though we don’t see evidence of it, if we believe God is love and we are made in God’s image and therefore endowed with love, then we can presume it resides in all people and determine to act toward them accordingly.

If we treat others with loving confidence even while we recognize that they, like Charlie Brown’s Lucy, might snatch the football away and leave us to go flying, then we are expressing purity of heart, pleasing God.

The failure to give ourselves credit for our God-given abilities is dangerous.  In Dostoyevski’s masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov, in a section called ” The Grand Inquisitor“, Ivan, one of the brothers, tells Alyosha, his younger brother, a story set in Spain during the Inquisition.

Christ returns to earth and performs healings. Soldiers of the Inquisition arrest and deliver him to the Grand Inquisitor, who sits Christ down and explains the church’s position. He asserts that when the devil tempted Christ in the desert (see Matthew 4), Christ responded incorrectly on account of his belief that people as a whole are capable of choosing and living with freedom. The vast majority, the Inquisitor argues, would rather give up freedom up in exchange for food, security, and a simple dogma upon which to base all decisions.

The Inquisitor believes his judgments are in accord with human nature and so overrule the benefits of the freedom Christ offered us, since only a small minority of humankind would choose freedom.

Brother Alyosha won’t deny the Inquisitor’s assessment of human nature. Neither will I. But I will argue against joining the Inquisitor in his refusal to urge people toward freedom. And I’ll contend that we should do our utmost to challenge people to grow in depth of free, un-coerced, un-simplified understanding.

No matter how hard, how mysterious or confounding an issue may be, we should be willing to tackle it if for no other reason than in gratitude for God’s belief in us.

The importance of accepting such a challenge is multiplied in the case of preachers, artists, parents, coaches, or anyone else in a position to influence. If I could convince the writers of the Perelandra College community to assume one attitude, I would advise them to never consider anything too difficult, for themselves or for their audience. Sure, they may need to work harder to communicate. So be it.

To believe others are capable of more than we can observe in them is a primary quality of love.

Where Is Truth?

Soren Kierkegaard has been accused of forsaking reason in favor of searching for truth in the purely subjective. To that accusation, I say phooey.

His argument concerning the objective and the subjective and their value in the search for truth holds that logic, reason, and conclusions based upon sensory or scientific observation are only valid in the objective realm. Truth about our values, the meanings of our lives, the essential nature of reality, or our purpose for existing cannot be observed by using our physical senses, nor approached through reason except by commencing with a premise such as: what matters most is achieving the greatest good for the greatest number, or nothing exists outside what our senses can observe.

Without relying on such a premise, questions of value, meaning, purpose, or essential reality must be approached from outside the reach of the purely objective. To find answers, we must add another element to the equation.

In other words, Kierkegaard doesn’t deny the usefulness of the objective, but simply maintains that it can’t answer all of our concerns. Either we give up searching for answers outside the objective realm or we find another path.

Many, perhaps most, people choose to give up searching and instead choose to rely exclusively on someone else’s answers or to relegate any non-objective search to the category of nonsense.

Kierkegaard suggests, as an alternative to giving up or blindly following a leader, that we inquire of the subjective when we feel called to explore places in which the objective will only reach a dead-end. The subjective, contrary to popular belief, is not necessarily synonymous with wishful thinking or whim. In Kierkegaard’s  vision, the subjective involves a dedicated and relentlessly honest journey inward.  I’ll offer a few thoughts about this journey.

One way to begin is to cultivate solitude. Removing ourselves from other people and the distractions they bring can at least allow us time to discover what else we are and what our beings possess other than the superficial and obvious.

Kierkegaard proposes that “… anyone who stands alone for any length of time soon discovers that there is a God.” Though in this passage standing alone can refer to alienation from others, another of his central topics, it can also apply to solitude.

Anyone at liberty to practice solitude, or who sometimes longs for solitude, may appreciate reading Thomas Merton’s No Man Is An Island, which in one edition was subtitled “thoughts in solitude”.

But solitude is by no means the only route inward. Even while surrounded by people and engaged in activity, we can do our best to expel from our thoughts a lot of what normally occupies them. Many of us spend valuable time and effort needlessly passing judgment on people or things or situations. We not only judge ourselves but dedicate energy to making excuses for the thoughts or behaviors that led to those judgments. We listen to the opinions of others, or read books or articles, without absorbing or relating to any subtle insight or wisdom because we are occupied with creating arguments against or in favor of the speaker’s or author’s assertions or implications. All this activity, most of it fruitless, keeps our minds whirling, on the surface.

When I studied Tae Kwon Do, we began each session with a brief meditation. Master Jeong would guide us to: “Think about who you are. Not what you do or what you want. Who you are.”

Some of my deepest and most valuable excursions inward have come during long road trips. For an account of one such journey, and to experience how a journey inward can lead us to the kingdom of heaven, take a look at Reading Brother Lawrence.

Happy holiday preparations,

Ken Kuhlken

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tough Guys Like Jesus

Following the lead of my son Cody who at age seven hoped to become a ninja, I practiced Tae Kwon Do for five years, under Master Jeong.  Among his admonitions were, “Don’t fight unless you are willing to die,” and a corollary, “Don’t take black belt test unless you are willing to die. “

The advice is about risk versus reward. If you fight with the least timidity, you probably will lose. The black belt test is meant to push you beyond your capacity.

Soren Kierkegaard offers similar advice about choosing the Christian faith. Making an existential choice, at least one so fraught with peril as following Christ, requires us to take a stand, to commit to an idea, value, or view with the intention of following it to the grave.  Like marriage, for those who take their vows in earnest.  So, wisdom would dictate, “Don’t take a stand, don’t commit, unless you are willing to risk dying for it.”

To commit ourselves is simple enough unless we mean to keep the commitment.  To keep a commitment, we don’t just choose once, but need to make the choice over and over, all our lives.  Remission in our will to stand firm often proves fatal to the commitment, and causes its purpose to backfire.  Again, think of marriage, or of church leaders who get busted for preaching one value and living otherwise and who in consequence bring disgrace and mockery on the faith.

Recently Zoë and I watched The Karate Kid.  The old one with Mister Miyagi.  I was reminded that the Tae Kwon Do spirit is “indomitable spirit”, which I as a black belt am supposed to exemplify.

At first, I felt confronted with a dilemma, and struggled to resolve the insistence on exerting my indomitable spirit with the Christian’s call to die to self, to consider our own power as nothing, but submit to God and rely on His power.

Then I saw that in order to stand up to discouragement, frustration, doubts, and the other forces that attack us all, and to recommit over and over to follow the choice I made, I (at least) need an indomitable spirit.

For those who would remind me that God can give us an indomitable spirit, I will point out that we still need to summon and apply it, and to remind ourselves of it when we feel forsaken, as even the best of us occasionally do.

Ken Kuhlken