SOME decades ago in the USA a group of young students from a prosperous white neighbourhood got onto a Greyhound Bus and as their peer group language had it “they were feeling fresh” and so they decided to have some fun. They noticed a hunched figure at the back of the bus wearing a track-suit and he was an Afro-American or as they said in those days “he was black”.
They decided to see how far they could push him and so they began with loud singing, then went onto turning up the heating system of the bus and all this lead eventually to racist comments and vulgar bantering. The man in the track-suit did not respond - he seemed impervious to their ridicule. Soon the bus came to a town at which the man in the track-suit was going to disembark. As he passed these glowering youths, who now realised just how muscular he was, he dropped into one of their bags his card. It read:
“Joe Louis: Professional Boxer”.
Joe Louis knew all about keeping his cool. During his days in the US army he and another GI were involved in a minor accident. A truck driver got out and railed foul language at Louis who sat and took it all with equanimity. His colleague urged Joe to “sort him”. Louis replied, “If someone insulted Caruso did he sing them and aria?”
What Defines a Person?
Joe Louis had mastered a great secret - what defines a person is who they are, not what they do! Anyone of my generation who had ever heard anything about sport has heard of Joe Louis.
Born in Alabama in 1914 he became world heavyweight champion in 1937 and held that title for 12 years defending it successfully 25 times. When he died in 1981 Alistair Cooke said of him:
“The Brown Bomber is no more, a memory of incredible speed, a slow shuffle, a solemn face, a gentleness, a shy acceptance of his greatness. All things considered a credit to his race - so long as you mean by that the human race.”
In Praise of Self Control
In the book of Proverbs there is a verse which runs:
“He who controls his temper is better than he who takes a city”.
In the era out of which that Bible book came, the soldier who commanded an army and conquered cities was the celebrity of his own tribe. But the Bible made a significant statement - he who mastered inner space was the truer champion. Tennyson the Victorian Laureate wrote this couplet -
“Self-knowledge, self-reverence and self-control - these three lead on to sovereign power.”
Evangelical conversion can be described in terms of gaining heaven and escaping hell but it is better defined as incorporation into a kingdom of life enhancing relationships, where all one’s capacities, emotions, gifts, aspirations and motivations are centred upon one overpowering relationship - with Jesus Christ. This centralised heart makes sense of our conflicting inner drives and one is at peace with God and oneself. This is the conquest of inner space.