Like Riding a Unicycle, Virtues Take Practice, Cabaniss Says

Zooming down the aisle of Raley Chapel’s Potter Auditorium on a unicycle, Danny Cabaniss told OBU students he would be talking to them about virtues  - including prudence, fortitude, temperance and justice -- during the weekly chapel service Wednesday, Nov. 3.

“You may be thinking I don’t have any prudence,” Cabaniss said, sharing C.S. Lewis’ definition of virtue as “practical common sense, taking the trouble to think out what you are doing and what is likely to come of it.”

“At first glance, that may not seem to go with a guy riding on one wheel,” he said.

[chapel audio 11/03/2010]

Cabaniss based his message on this year’s chapel theme, “A Return to the Simplicity of the Gospel” based on the book “Mere Christianity” by Lewis. Cabaniss, who is a resident of Shawnee and pastor of Southpark Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, focused on the chapter discussing the “cardinal virtues.”

Riding a unicycle also has a connection to fortitude, Cabaniss said. He conveyed Lewis’ indication that fortitude “includes both kinds of courage  - the kind that faces danger as well as the kind that ‘sticks it’ under pain. ‘Guts’ is perhaps the nearest modern English.”

Lewis defined temperance as “going the right length and no further,” and justice as including “honesty, give and take, truthfulness, keeping promises and all that side of life.” Cardinal virtues, drawn on the Latin word meaning ‘the hinge of a door,’ are pivotal in life.

“Riding a unicycle has opened a lot of doors for me,” Cabaniss said. “It’s amazing how far you can go on one wheel. & Learning to ride a unicycle, at least for me  - and normal human beings, or dogs, or monkeys, elephants and bears, for that matter  - is about muscle memory, repetition, learning how to fall, learning from your falls, practice, a process, something learned over time, a trial-and-error kind of thing. So while it is an uncommon exercise, it has some things in common with virtue, and virtually anything else that requires discipline.”

Quoting from an algebra textbook titled “Algebra 1: An Incremental Development,” by John H. Saxon Jr., Cabaniss said, “Time is required in order for things that are different to become things that are familiar.”

“I submit to you that virtue, algebra, riding a unicycle, anything that requires discipline, anything worth getting better at, is about incremental development,” Cabaniss said.

When he rides his unicycle, he said the No. 1 question people ask is, “Is it hard?” The answer is not as simple as yes or no, because it requires practice and training. It requires muscle memory, he said, and practicing virtues requires “moral memory.” Practice which, according to Christian author Charles Swindoll, is long, arduous and often unappreciated by others.

Cabaniss suggested students consider another definition of the cardinal virtues: Prudence is not given to foolishness. Temperance is not given to excess. Justice is not given to selfishness. Fortitude is not given to quitting.

He shared with students a parable from Luke 12:16-21 in which a rich man produces a good crop, then realizes he has no place to store his crops. So he plans to tear down his barns and build bigger ones so he can store his goods and take life easy by eating, drinking and being merry. But God told the man, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” The parable, Jesus said, represents anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.

Cabaniss asked students to consider if they are playing the part of the rich fool, sporting a “get all I can, can all I get, sit on the can” approach toward life.

“You can be where you are, and be beholden to busily building bigger and bigger barns, and mess around and miss an amazing, magnificent moment to major on becoming rich toward God,” he said. “You can choose foolishness over prudence, excess over temperance, selfishness over justice, quitting over fortitude, getting over giving, acquiring over inquiring, building bigger barns over letting God build your character, or cultivate your virtue and make you rich toward Him,” he said.

A 1988 OBU graduate, he addressed the students  - including his daughter, Melanie Cabaniss, a sophomore from Shawnee, and his niece, Kalyn Hammock, a junior from Durant, Okla.  - from the perspective of a former student who has experienced weekly chapel. He told students he hoped this service would provide a meaningful moment in life when they chose to follow God rather than selfish pursuits.

“For all this talk of virtue, I don’t want to leave you thinking that you simply need to be more virtuous,” he said. “The first thing you need to do, if you haven’t, is surrender your life to Christ, be born again, let God make you into a new creation in Christ,” he said, referencing 2 Corinthians 5:17. “Stop living for yourself, and start living for Jesus.”