Benjamin Franklin on The Morals of Chess

Ben Franklin was our most moralistic Founding Father. By “moralistic” I mean–he had to make some huge philosophical, right and wrong statement about everything in existence.

Some of this moralism is good, but most of it smacks of stupid based on the guy’s life. He who said “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” Used to sleep until noon and go to bed in the early morning hours.

Morally speaking, he was a rather depraved individual. For me, this disqualifies him from being someone I take seriously, and most of his moral blather is probably just guilt justifying itself.

chess--it is a cool game
chess–it is a cool game

But alas, he wrote a cool piece on the morals of chess–how chess teaches important life lessons as well as how to play the game morally and how to win, lose, or spectate.

we learn by Chess the habit of not being discouraged by present appearances in the state of our affairs, the habit of hoping for a favourable change, and that of persevering in the search of resources. The game is so full of events, there is such a variety of turns in it, the fortune of it is so subject to sudden vicissitudes, and one so frequently, after long contemplation, discovers the means of extricating one’s self from a supposed insurmountable difficulty, that one is encouraged to continue the contest to the last, in hopes of victory from our own skill, or at least of getting a stalemate from the negligence of our adversary


Practicing Christian Living

“Practice makes perfect.”

Recent brain research has found that one of the main benefits of practice is that you don’t have to think about what you’re practicing after a while. It becomes “automatic.” The result of getting things automatic is that you can do it better and faster, more efficiently, and use less effort.

The above video shows a cup stacker and how little his brain is engaged in what he is doing. This allows him to go faster.

When it comes to Christian Living, I wonder how much practice we need to become efficient and proficient?

This study has very easy applications to make here for sports. But notice how often the Bible uses athletic games as metaphor for Christian Living.

What are we to practice in Christian Living that we could do better? Memorizing is easier the more you do it. So is reading. So is preaching. So is evangelism.

If you’re not used to living Christianly, you will stumble and falter. Your actions won’t look natural, nor will they go well. Is Christianity so much a part of who we are that our brains don’t even have to notice we’re doing it?!

Christian Living is a skill like any other. It requires time, energy, and practice. Don’t get frustrated. Keep going. Put in the time. We aren’t saved into automatic maturity; we grow. Growing takes time. Put in the time.

Many Christians falsely assume that because the Spirit is involved, I don’t have to do anything. Spiritual growth is automatic and we merely sit around and wait for the Spirit to get to work. That’s not how the Bible puts it, but it is what most Christians believe. We are getting results that prove we are misguided in this thinking.

Practice what you preach!

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Lecturing While Running: Free Stuff

My son and I occasionally run together and he says stuff that deserves lectures. Here’s the latest.

Dad, today track started and I’m not joining. There are 115 kids on the team. That’s too many. They never even run much at practice, they just run like one mile and spend an hour and a half talking.

Well, son, that’s why many people don’t vote for referendums to tax money from people for school activities. I guarantee you, if parents had to pay for their kids to be on the team, there wouldn’t be nearly as many people on it.

Furthermore, the ones who were on it would be the ones who took it more seriously. Thus, the team would be better. Instead, now you have about a hundred extra kids who will just waste time and dork around, hurting the whole team.

Sure, there will be some poor kids who would probably be good and wouldn’t be able to pay to join. But if the school had a limited number of scholarships available to pay for it, things kids would compete for, a kid with talent and no money could still easily be on the team. This would be much cheaper and more efficient at developing actual talent.

But we live in a day where if a kid wants to do something, the whole world has to lay down and let them do it even if they stink at it. Since that’s the case, few of these kids work at anything and sit around and wait for someone else to do the hard work of paying for it. They will continue to stink.

Few, if any, of these kids would endeavor to train for a half-marathon on their own. Most kids join track to be social, not to run. Thus, most of the kids won’t get better at running, but they will get better at talking more. And this is not good. The more obstacles in your way, the harder you need to work. This weeds out the pretenders and improves the skilled.

People don’t care about stuff that’s free. People care about stuff they are invested in. If being on the track team is free, expect a lot of people to join and expect a lot of wasted time and a lot of poor results.

What is Marginalia?

I was recently introduced to the word “marginalia.” It’s a word that refers to notes and marks made in the margin of books. Lots of people do this, while others view their books as treasured possessions never to be marred.

The first pieces of marginalia were actually in Bibles. Many older Bibles contained illustrations as well as notes for liturgical purposes.

writing in Bibles has a proud tradition
writing in Bibles has a proud tradition

Mark Twain wrote in margins

Mark Twain's handwriting is nice
Mark Twain’s handwriting is nice

My grandfather used to scribble in his books, often noting what he did the day he read that page. Odd notes about what his kids were doing, even patterns for wood carvings traced on a page. Not sure that’s how it should be done. . .

If you’d like to know how to start doing Marginalia, consult Mortimer J. Adler’s article “How to Mark a Book.” Or this article about applying Adler’s advice, “Reading Actively.” Or perhaps read “A Weapon for Readers.”

The Place of Reading Books in Your Faith

Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

Thus saith Solomon, who wrote three books of the Bible.


What does that word do to you?

Personally, I love books. I read books all the time. I read 90 books last year. I have a spreadsheet cataloging all the books I have read in the last 12 years. It includes my rating, review, and critique. It has 1077 books in it and does not include multiple readings of the same book.

Books are awesome. I do not find them to be a weariness to my flesh. In fact, I would consider many of them to be life-giving to my soul.

Over my years in Christianity I have met Christians who fall into three camps on books.

Books are central to faith
This group sees intellectual pursuit as the cornerstone of faith. They love scholarly volumes and talking over your head about them. You can’t help but feel intellectually puny in their presence. They don’t so much believe the Gospel as they believe academic achievement IS the Gospel.

Books are anathema to faith
This group thinks books are wrong. “I just read the Bible” is frequently said by them. They are convinced that they have it figured out, no one has anything else of value to add to my understanding. In fact, you can understand too much, and thus eliminate faith itself. The love of knowledge is the root of all evil.

Books can be helpful but not always
This group likes to learn. They know they don’t know everything and that other believers may have valuable insights to offer. At the same time, no one is perfect. There is no one author who has it all figured out. Take what you can from each book and forget the rest. But keep reading for those gems that are out there.

I obviously consider myself to be in category three. There is no point in being intellectually superior and lording over others your ten volume systematic theologies. Glad you read it (if you actually did). Glad it helped. But condescend to men of low estate.

There is also no point in delving into Christianity’s anti-intellectualism. Much danger lies here. Ignorance is not bliss; ignorance is dangerous. There are people who can help you. Take their help.

So what was Solomon talking about? Was he suggesting not reading or studying? Look at the context:

Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. 10 The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. 11 The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. 12 My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

Solomon is warning his son to not get carried away. Solomon did lots of work to find, study, and arrange wise proverbs. Stick with those. It’s God’s Word. Don’t think you can find inspired words elsewhere.

Lots of people write. Lots of people claim inspiration. But be careful. Don’t go after people. Learning their stuff will wear you out. Stick with God’s Word. Read people to the extent they help you understand God.

I think Solomon would read books; he’s merely warning his son not to make reading and academics his main drive in life–it will wear you out.

But a good dose of reading, along with a good dose of applying God’s Word and growing, will do wonders. Sitting in a room all day studying books isn’t the point. That doesn’t mean books can’t help; it means using books aren’t the sum of Christian growth.

As in all things: moderation. There is a season for everything. If you find yourself getting worn out by books and learning and the rat race of intellectual pursuit–chill and stick with God’s Word.

If however, your reading helps you enjoy God’s Word even more and it’s not wearing you out–by all means, read away!

Walking Helps Creative Thinking

Stanford put out a study showing that walking increases your creative thinking.

The study found that walking indoors or outdoors similarly boosted creative inspiration. The act of walking itself, and not the environment, was the main factor. Across the board, creativity levels were consistently and significantly higher for those walking compared to those sitting.

I like this. I walk all the time while coming up with sermon ideas and going over things. I pace up and down the hall and around my room and down to the lake and around the block and all over.

Our brains need quiet, the ability to rest. During this time it’s amazing how many things come together in the brain. I think walking, running, or biking are great times for your brain to chill and put some things together.

It’s also interesting how often the Bible talks about walking and running. The Christian life is not described as sitting, but fighting the fight, running the race, and walking in the light as He is in the light.

Your brain needs you to move. Go move.