Friday, July 24, 2009

A Da Vinci Code for Success: Forgiveness

Leonard Da Vinci worked on painting The Last Supper for three years from 1495 to 1498. The painting was commissioned by the Duke Lodovico Sforza for the dining hall of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in Milan, Italy. As the painting neared completion there were still two heads which were unfinished: Christ and Judas. Da Vinci had not yet found an acceptable model for Judas. For the image of Christ, he knew he needed inspiration to depict the heavenly divinity of the Master.

Milanese novelist Bandello, who often visited Da Vinci while he worked on The Last Supper related the following, “I have often seen him come very early and watched him mount the scaffolding—because The Last Supper is somewhat high above the floor—and then he would not put down his brush from sunrise till the night set in, yes, he forgot eating and drinking, and painted without ceasing. Then two, three or four days would pass without him doing anything, and yet he spent hours before the picture, lost in contemplation, examining, comparing, and gauging his figures.”

The days of no painting by Da Vinci offended one of the Priors (ruling magistrate), and receiving no answer to his complaint from Da Vinci, this dignitary who was accustomed to see workmen do their daily task, went to the Duke and laid complaints against the idle painter. The Duke called in Da Vinci and admonished him to paint, but told him he only did so to please the Prior. Da Vinci got angry, and knowing that Duke Lodovico was a sensible and intelligent man, he explained to him that great minds accomplish all the more, the less they appear to work, because their intellect invents and shapes the ideals which their hands afterwards delineate and work out. He added that he still wanted two heads for his picture: that of Christ, for which he could not find a model on earth, and that of Judas because he could not devise a countenance to represent the face of him who, after all the benefits he had received, shamefully betrays his Lord, the Creator of the world. Da Vinci then said that he no longer need to look for a model for Judas for he would use the head of the Prior for his model. The Duke smiled and the Prior feared he would be known as the face of the traitor Judas.

Da Vinci proceeded to paint the head of Judas as the Prior who had reported his idleness to the Duke. Once he completed the head of Judas, Da Vinci began to work on the face of the Savior. Da Vinci made several attempts to portray the face of the Master but each attempt let him with feelings of despair. He was unable to receive the inspiration he sought and needed to portray the face of the Redeemer of the World. Da Vinci then wiped off the face of Judas and sought out the Prior to ask for his forgiveness. It is recorded that on the night following his reconciliation with the Prior, Da Vinci saw Christ in a vision. Da Vinci saw the face of Christ more vividly than he ever saw it in his supreme moments of exalted inspiration, and so lasting was the impression that he was able on the next day to paint the face of Christ we see in The Last Supper today.

Adolf Rosenberg, Leonardo Da Vinci, (Bielfeld and Leipzig, Velhagen & Klasing: 1903) p. 68 -70; James Hastings, The Expository Times, Volume XIX, (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark: 1908) p. 427

Monday, July 13, 2009

What Cars Do the Wealthy Drive?

There is a common misconception that the wealthy drive Ferraris, have multimillion dollar houses, and wear extremely expensive clothes. Typically, those who drive expensive cars and wear expensive jewelry have a low net worth. Those with a high net worth are often unconcerned about how they are viewed by others. The prosperous value their financial independence much more than displaying high social status.

Forbes researched the 10 richest people to find out what kind of cars they drive. The results are interesting. “You won’t find a Bugatti, Ferrari, or BMW driven by these billionaires. But you will find a Lincoln, a Mazda, even a Dodge and a Ford. It seems that for the super-rich, a vehicle is seen not as a status symbol but a means to an end in which to get from point A to point B. Status is something that these billionaires need not prove to others. In many cases, the people on our list prefer to live inconspicuously.” (Nate Chapnick, “Top 10 Vehicles Owned by Billionaires,” Forbes) On average, the cars they drive are six years old. Research from the book The Millionaire Next Door revealed that eighty percent of millionaires spent less than $41,300 on their most expensive car. (Thomas J. Stanley, William D. Danko, The Millionaire Next Door, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996) p. 113) In 2006, Warren Buffet, the richest man in the world, drove a 2001 Lincoln Towncar with the license plate “Thirty.”

Oftentimes those who display the highest social status (big house, fancy cars, expensive clothes, jewelry) actually have the least in terms of net worth and financial independence. They create the illusion of wealth by greatly leveraging their income to purchase items on credit. A great deal of their money goes toward paying interest, and nothing they have is really theirs—it is the bank’s. The prosperous enjoy the security and independence of owning their possessions more than social praise and status. This paradox is similar to the Indian proverb, “A mango tree loaded with fruit bends to the ground; the one without fruit stands tall.” Or as they say in Texas, "Big Hat, No Cattle."

Monday, July 6, 2009

God's Hand in the Founding of America

The Founding Fathers relied upon and called upon God for assistance. They frequently declared that God’s hand was working through them in the founding of America. James Madison, commonly called the Father of the Constitution, recognized God’s hand in the rising of America. He concluded his inaugural address as president of the United States on March 4, 1809, with this statement, “. . . we have all been encouraged to fall in the guardianship and guidance of the Almighty Being whose power regulates the destiny of nations, whose blessings have been so conspicuously displayed to the rising of this republic, and to whom we are bound to address our devout gratitude for the past, as well as our fervent supplications and best hopes for the future.” (E. B. Williston, Eloquence of the United States, Volume II, (Middletown, CT: E. & H. Clark, 1827) p. 414)

In a motion for daily prayers in the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin declared, “God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings that ‘except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this, and I also believe without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.” (Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Volume XI, (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, The Knickerbocker Press, 1904) p. 377)

George Washington–Servant Raised Up and Protected by God
George Washington was born in what is now modern day Virginia on February 22, 1732 to Mary Ball and Augustine Washington. George’s character was formed and developed early in his youth. His parents instilled in him the values found in the Bible. “At a very early age George was required to memorize the Ten Commandments. His mother found time to see to this . . . [George’s father] did his part by explaining the meaning of the Ten Commandments. He made it crystal clear that a member of the Washington family does not lie, does not steal, does not cheat.” (William H. Wilbur, The Making of George Washington, (DeLand, FL: Patriotic Education) p. 71) These early lessons prepared him for the inspired missions he completed later in his life.

In 1754, Washington, age 22, was a colonel in the British army and fought in many battles during the French and Indian War. One such battle was the battle at the Monongahela on July 9, 1755, when the British were ambushed by a party of the French and Indians. “It was a purely Indian-style fight, more one-sided than had ever occurred in the history of woodland warfare. The pandemonium lasted over two hours. A hail of bullets that hardly tested the aim of the French and the Indians had been poured in the British army. It was butchery rather than a battle.” (David Barton, The Bulletproof George Washington, (Aledo, TX: Wall Builders, 2003) p. 42) The British suffered a decisive defeat with 714 of the 1,300 soldiers being killed or wounded while only 60 of the French and Indians were killed or wounded. During this battle, all of the British officers on horseback were slain or disabled except for Washington. This made him an obvious and important target as he moved about, commanding the soldiers.

Dr. James Craik, a military surgeon, who witnessed the events of the battle, recorded this regarding Washington: “I expected every moment to see him fall. His duty and situation exposed him to every danger. Nothing but the superintending care of Providence could have saved him from the fate of all around him.” (John Frederick, Life and Times of Washington, Volume I, (Albany, NY: M. M. Belcher Publishing Co., 1903) p. 247–248)

Following the battle, Washington wrote to his brother, John, saying, “. . . by the all-powerful dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability, or expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me, yet escaped unhurt, though death was leveling my companions on every side of me!” (Washington Irving, Life of George Washington, Volume I, (New York: G. P. Putnam and Son, 1869) p. 218)

An Indian warrior who played a leading part in this bloody battle stated, “Washington was never born to be killed by a bullet! For I had seventeen fair fires at him with my rifle, and after all could not bring him to the ground.” (John Warner Barber, Thrilling Incidents in American History, (New York: James Miller, 1868) p. 90) Another distinguished young Indian warrior, Redhawk, became acquainted with Dr. Daniel Craig. In a conversion with the doctor, Redhawk inquired what young officer it was who rode with great speed from post to post during the action. The doctor replied, “Colonel Washington.” Redhawk immediately stated, “I fired eleven deliberate shots at that man but could not touch him. I gave over any further attempt, believing he was protected by the Great Spirit, and could not be killed.” (Samuel Kercheval, A History of the Valley of Virginia, (Woodstock, VA: John Gatewood, 1850) p. 320)

In 1758, Washington resigned from active military duty and worked as a Virginia planter and politician. In 1770, Colonel Washington and some woodsmen were locating lands in Kanawha, present day Ohio and West Virginia, when they were approached by a group of Indians. One of the Indians, who led the attack at Monongahela on the British 15 years earlier, approached Washington and said through an interpreter, “I am a chief and ruler over many tribes. My influence extends to the waters of the great lakes, and to the far Blue Mountains. I have traveled a long and weary path, that I might see the young warrior of the great battle. It was on the day, when the white man’s blood mixed with the streams of our forest, that I first beheld this chief [pointing to Washington]: I called to my young men and said, mark yon tall and daring warrior? . . . Quick, let your aim be certain, and he dies. Our rifles were leveled, rifles which, but for him, knew not how to miss—‘twas all in vain, a power mightier far than we, shielded him from harm. He cannot die in battle. I am old, and soon shall be gathered to the great council-fire of my fathers, in the land of shades, but ere I go, there is a something bids me speak in the voice of prophecy. Listen! The Great Spirit protects that man, and guides his destinies—he will become the chief of nations, and a people yet unborn will hail him as the founder of a mighty empire.” (Eugene Parsons, George Washington: A Character Sketch, Chicago: University Association, 1898) p. 30–31)

The prophecy of the Indian chief would soon be fulfilled as Washington took a leading role in the growing resistance of the American colonies to British rule in the early 1770s. Fighting began on April 19, 1775 with the Battles of Lexington and Concord to begin the Revolutionary War. On June 14, 1775, Congress created the Continental Army and selected Washington as commander-in-chief. The fight for freedom and the creation of a mighty empire had begun.

Washington led the Continental Army in numerous battles. In each battle, Washington escaped unharmed. The Continental Army suffered much sickness, privations and death during the eight years of the Revolutionary War, but Washington’s courage, will, and reliance on the power and guidance of the Almighty led the colonies to an eventual victory over the Kingdom of Great Britain. In 1783, the Treaty of Paris officially ended the Revolutionary War and a new nation was born, even the United States of America. To bring about this noble purpose, God raised up, protected, and guided George Washington.

After victory, there were desires by some to make Washington king. The first Congress voted to pay Washington a salary of $25,000 a year (approximately $500,000 in 2006 dollars). Washington, however, chose to continue his work as an unpaid servant of the people. During his years as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army he took no pay. He would do the same during his 8 years as the first president of the United States. He exemplified the word of the Savior, “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11, King James Version)

In 1797, as he ended his presidency, Washington delivered a farewell address that emphasized the proper role and function of government. In this address he stated, “Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness. . . It is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.” (Orations of American Orators, (New York: Colonial Press, 1900) p. 40) Washington had completed his divinely inspired work and would shortly be taken home to the God who gave him life.

On December 14, 1799, at age 67, George Washington died, but the nation he helped bring to life lives on. At his death, Congressman Henry Lee said of Washington, “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen . . . Correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence and virtue always felt his fostering hand; the purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues. . . Such was the man for whom our nation mourns.” (Orations of American Orators, (New York: Colonial Press, 1900) p. 249–250)

Washington was a patriot whose soul did joy in the liberty and freedom of his country. A man more concerned with deeds than words, who fought and labored intensely for his people. Through his firm faith in Christ and selfless devotion to country, he lived his motto, “For God and my Country.” (Jared Sparks, The Writings of George Washington, Volume XII, (Boston: American Stationers’ Company, 1837) p. 407)