Why Thinking Can Change The World

Have you ever been in a conversation where the other person utters the phrase, “let me think about it?”

Perhaps it is when you are pitching increased job responsibilities to your supervisor. Perhaps it is when you ask someone out on a first date or to grab some coffee for the first time. Maybe it comes up in pitching a new position in your start up company to a personal friend.

Let me think about it.

For the last three months I have been fixated on the meaning of this phrase. What does it mean to think about something. This larger question can be broken into a number of sub questions in an effort to clarify the meaning: First, what is thinking? What does it mean to think? Second, Is thinking just a measurement of your brain’s activity? Or, is it something more? Third, Is your brain the same thing as your mind? Or, are they different functions? Fourth, Does thinking only occur whenever there is a decision to be made? Or can you think apart from deciding?

What is thinking?

Thinking Defined

In his book How To Think, Baylor professor Alan Jacobs offers this definition of thinking:

not the decision itself but what goes into the decision, the consideration, the assessment. It’s testing your own responses and weighing the available evidence; it’s grasping, as best you can and with all available and relevant senses, what is, and it’s also speculating, as carefully and responsibly as you can, about what might be. And it’s knowing when not to go it alone, and whom you should ask for help.

Alan Jacobs. How To Think, p. 14. 

From this helpful definition we can see that thinking generally involves three factors: 1) Gathering information, 2) Filtering the information through an authoritative framework, and 3) Testing the information witin a trustworthy thought community.

Gathering Information

There are many helpful means to gathering information. First, we can use our senses to observe data points around us. Second, we can google something to gain perspective. Third, we can tap into a formal scholarly network of journals and books to obtain info. Finally, we can solicit feedback in a crowdsourcing manner. I suspect there are additional channels of gathering information. Using these four, however, seems to be a strong approach to gathering the most relevant points of view before moving into the second phase.

Consider this practical example. Let’s say you want to establish a new diet routine for 2019 and you wish to do some from an informed position. To begin, you might take a few minutes to reflect on your own personal food journey. Perhaps you may even journal about your favorite foods, foods that trip you up in the weight department, foods that you have a tendency to binge eat, and foods that make you feel sluggish and gross. A journal or list of these foods is important information for your consideration.

Next you may google search “popular diets” to gain a perspective on the various options that are conveniently available in your context. You may discover Whole30, Paleo, Keto, Atkins, low-carb, low-sugar, no-sugar, and others. At this point you are able to cross examine your own personal journaling list with the available diets, which can lead to some inner breakthroughs as to the “right” fit for your lifestyle and preferences.

Third, you can take this research and begin to cull through diet and nutrition books, The New England Journal of Medicine, and other health and well-being magazines, written by research-based scientists and medical professionals. Perhaps they tend to speak to one diet approach that fits your food preferences. At this point, you are beginning to see the information form into a consistent theme and that theme may be an indicator of a prescribed plan for you.

Finally, you get on social media and crowdsource whether a particular diet plan has been helpful to your friend group. Their feedback is also an important piece of the thinking puzzle. By the end of this process, you should be on your way towards forming an action plan.

Filtering Information

Whether you are aware of it, or not, by utilizing these four sources of information, you have actually begun filtering the information through a framework of understanding. Generally speaking, human beings tend to lean on three main sources of authority for feedback on any particular decision or within any thought process: 1) Community Tradition, 2) Logic and Reason, and 3) Personal Expereince. Religious people will add a fourth authority: 4) Holy Scripture or a Religious Text.

Look back at the diet plan process. If you begin with journaling your food cravings, you have begun with personal expereince and reflection. As you move to google searches, you are broadening out your individual experience by seeking a community expereince. Even as you crowdsource on Facebook you are broadening your understanding of community experience. As you notice a trend in your community of friends, you are beginning to see a theme of tradition — a well work pathway of habits that have benefited many in your digital community and that have a strong likelihood of benefitting you.

Next, as you cull through academic journals and books you begin to discover the Reason and Logic component. The science behind nutrition and health helps bolster your approach. Finally, you may spend some time praying about the various options you have discovered and asking if God would direct you in one path or another. Perhaps you may take the options to a trusted fried or group for their prayer and feedback. By engaging in this robust process, you have likely arrived at a highly informed and authroititative decision.

Testing The Information

You may be thinking, “What more is there to do at this point?” Well, the answer is, “It is time to test the information by putting it into practice. By gathering and filtering the inforamation, you have arrived at a hypothesis. You have guessed. But you wont have conclusion until you put the thought experiment into practice. This is the final piece of the process of thinking. As Os Gusiness articulates in his book Fit Bodies, Fat Minds, “knowledge is responsibility.” It is a responsibility to act on the knowledge, both to discover the joy of truth experientially, and to confirm the trueness of truth, ethically.

In our diet scenario, once you have tested out the diet and measured your findings (weight loss, appetite shift, healthy balance, feeling better, etc…), only then can you come to your conclusion as to the diet plan that works for you. Only at confirmation can you conclude the thinking process, resulting in a position statement on the particular subject.

Must I Really Act?

You may be thinking to yourself, “But why is it so necessary to actually act out my though experiment? Can’t I just research and filter and be done with it at the hypothesis level?” The answer is, you can do that, but it is only partial thinking. Full thinking necessitates a responsibility to act.

Consider this scenario. Imagine you are in a worship service where an evangelist is preaching. He implores you to take up the practice of door to door evangelism and your skin begins to crawl with that prospect of getting out of your comfort zone and talking to new people in a cold-call manner. Soon after the service, you learn that the evangelist suffers from agoraphobia and has never once gone door to door and participated in evangelism. What would you THINK about this scenario? Likely, you would conclude that although his message and means made thoughtful sense, his lack of action undermined his overall approach.

Knowledge requires responsibility. Repentance (of thinking) requires belief (in action). Thinking is ultimately action and not inaction.

This is why, thinking can change the world.

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What Are You Doing New Years: Part 2

In last week’s post I asked an either-or question: Do you consider yourself to be more of a “thinker” or more of a “feeler?” Additionally, I posted this question in the form of a quiz on three social media platforms in order to solicit feedback, which in turn produced some intriguing results (To see these results, scroll to the bottom).

By now most of you picked up on the tension within the question — the tension to which I was purposely trying to call attention (A good axiom for communication: “Tension gets attention”). The tension highlighted by this either-or question is that for most of us, we sense a noticeable amount of overlap between what we consider our thinking function (The way we process analytically or rationally) and our feeling function (The way we process emotionally). Most of us probably struggled to click on either button in the social media quiz due to to the awareness that we make decisions by both thinking and feeling. On occasion, those two functions are working together, although admittedly not as consistently as we may prefer (More on this in the bottom of the post).

The Cognitive Triangle

https://medium.com/real-life-resilience/the-cognitive-triangle-bdc4eb08a4f5

I was talking about this concept with my friend Haley, who is training to be a counselor. She reminded me of a concept from psychology called “The Cognitive Triangle.” As the illustration from above explains, all human beings live with three interrelated functions working together at the same time. Our thinking actually impacts our feeling and acting, and feelings impact our acting and thinking, and acting impacts our thinking and feeling. This is the normative way that human beings operate. Or rather, it represents the ideal way we would normally operate if things like sin and trauma and bullying and social normalization didn’t interfere with our development as humans. I suspect many of us know what it feels like when we are operating in a 2/3 way.

2/3 Living

In his book How To Think, Baylor Professor Alan Jacobs explores the literature on thinking and arrives at some helpful considerations. For example, he notes that in a busy, hurried, society like ours, we all suffer from something called “decision fatigue” and are actively looking to limit the number of decisions we have make in a given moment. As such, we have developed a keen instinct that we employ in making routine decisions. Call it snap judgment, call it stereotyping, or call it gut-impressions.

For example, if a strange-looking man in a frumpy outfit and disheveled personal appearance, who is also wearing an old school hockey mask, walks up to you and asks you if you would like to accompany him in his windowless white van, your instinct will likely (and should likely) be to say no and then run while asking SIRI to call the police. Instinct is a way we process through decisions like this. We dont have to think about the merits of joining this man’s van life. We have trained ourselves to act without weighing the rationale.

This also applies to decisions that are of a lesser quality of danger (Like if we are going to order the grande or venti coffee, or if we are ready to get married or if we should make a career change). In a complex world filled with a seemingly endless set of decisions to be made and situations to react to, we have learned to think instinctively in order to survive. And, as helpful as this instinct is to our decision making process, it cannot possibly bear the weight of a good many of our life decisions. Thus, as Jacobs notes, our instinctive way of thinking needs some directing.

Riding Elephants

Jacobs borrows an illustration about an elephant rider. He says that our instinctual ability is like an elephant. It moves where it wants to go with decisive power. But, like any strong elephant, a strong instinct can be wrong in direction and, therefore, can be trained by a wise and nimble elephant rider. The elephant rider illustrates a better way of thinking.

When I considered this illustration, I came to the realization that I need to develop an elephant rider to reign in my massively misdirected elephant instinct. For most of my life, I have wrongly believed that there are essentially two kinds of people in this world: There are those who think and then act, with no consideration of feeling. And there are those who feel and act with no consideration of thinking. I fit well within the former category. For me, I will think about any particular decision and then, when enough facts are laid before me, make a resolved decision to act with confidence. You know, the way that Jesus does it.

This instinct has been further reinforced by my observations of people in the second camp — those who feel and then act. I have come to describe this camp as “impulsive.” This camp, in my estimation, has not adequately considered the consequences of their impulsive actions and as such routinely experiences disappointment and an inability to align priorities with expected outcomes. Simple right?

Did you see what I just did there? I stereotyped. And do you know why I stereotyped? Because I am operating on instinct — which is an intellectually veiled and condescending way of admitting that I too act on impulse — albeit of a thinking variety.

I have recently come to realize that analytical instinct has become my elephant. And I confess that for most of my life I have operated in a 2/3 manner. I make analytically informed impulsive decisions with almost no consideration of how these decisions will affect others (their emotions) or will affect me (my emotions). As much as I would like to throw shade on the feel-then-act camp, I need to begin with the darkness in my own 2/3 approach.

Perhaps, this is something you have experienced…or thought about.

Integration: Moving From 2/3 to 3/3

I used to believe in only two camps: Those who act from thinking (the rational) and those who act from feeling (The impulsive). But both approaches are irrational and impulsive. The criticisms and tight categories don’t adequately lead us to live as God has designed us to live — in the way of cognitive theory. Therefore, I have recently begun searching for a third way — a way to move from living 2/3 to living 3/3. I have been challenged to locate a way of integration and wholeness in how I think and feel and act.

And I have come to locate this way of integration. It is found in the life of Jesus.

In next week’s post, we will wade into Jesus’s way of integration.

*****

Social Media Results:

  • A couple of observations about my social media feeds based on this poll:
    1. Only one person took the Twitter poll, but I expected the results to skew heavily in the thinker category. I primarily use Twitter to exchange ideas and thus limit my interactions to people who primarily challenge my thinking or who help me to think better from within my own tribe of thoughtfulness.
    2. Second, my friends in facebook and instragram represent a varied demographic — in age, ethnic background, phase of life, self-identity, etc…
    3. It is interesting that I have more self-avowed thinkers on facebook (A place where thinking does not seem to have much place in the frequent social interactions, whether in comments or posts of animals acting like humans).
    4. Instagram is 50/50, which is what I thought the outcomes would be for the non-Twitter polls. Is this because instagram is a place where people are more comfortable being who they really are? This certainly cannot be true as instagram seems to be a place where people lie about their lives by posting staged and photoshopped photos all day.
    5. My friends and followers are the best people. You guys really are. Thanks for taking a poll and for interacting with me. I appreciate yall.
Facebook Poll
Instagram Poll
Twitter Poll
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What Are You Doing New Years? Part 1

Welcome to 2019, people. Here’s to your best year ever. Here’s to our best year ever. Here’s to New Years Resolutions, Words of the Year, Gym Memberships, Meal Preparation Subscriptions, and Diet Plans. I’m cheering us all on. May we become the people God wants us to be in 2019!!!

2019 is exactly 12 hours old at the time of this writing, and already I am getting messages from friends asking the same basic question: What are your goals for 2019? My friends are responding. My text message groups are already out of control with GIFs and inside jokes. However, there is a fair amount of serious talk being had. Most of us are setting goals for 2019. And, most of us are introducing our goals with one of two distinct phrases: I think… or I feel…

Have you ever stopped to notice how often you use these phrases to introduce an idea or to make a decision? Perhaps you and your friend groups are messaging the same way right now in your group chat.

I think I am going to buy the Toyota. I just feel that red will look better than blue in this room. I think I am finally ready to date this person. I feel like this career path will be best for me. Think and Feel. The two basic methods of human decision making.

The Two Types Of Humans

For years I have understood human nature as operating in a sort of binary way, flowing from two dominant processing methods — thinking and feeling — which, when harnessed and interrelated into one’s life, puts you into two distinct camps of humans — thinkers and feelers. On the one hand, there are the thinkers, of which I am a due-paying member. We love to think. We love to process. We love to ponder, to walk pensively through the hallways, mind adrift but locked into whatever curiosity is currently hitting our fancy. We like a good book or article or long form essay.

But, unlike the other group, we actually read books all the way through. Then, we immediately post an in-depth Amazon review. This is before we read through other reviews and begin to check the reddit community for discussion groups about said book. Those of us who are more academically inclined (read “glutton for punishment”) sign up for grad school to read additional books and enter into additional debates and write formal reviews that appear in stuffy books or online journals (Hello, JSTOR). We love ideas. We love analysis. We love to think.

On the other hand, there are the feelers, to which a good number of my friends pay monthly subscriptions (You know who you are, Enneagram 4s). Feelers love love. They love melancholy and frustration. In fact, they love all of the emotions. Every time psychologists discover a new emotional sub-category, feelers dive in to re-examine all of life’s experiences in order to determine if they have felt this particular sub-feeling before. They consume art and culture as a way to experience new feelings for the first time and to feel old feelings afresh.

Now with all this feeling talk, thinkers may wrongly assume that feelers are prisoners to their emotions — they are not. In fact, feelers are masters over emotions, and they have learned to utilize their emotions as a dominant lens by which they process through decision making in life. This group feels things deeply on purpose. They are a kind-of genius at understanding the complexity of human emotion. Some emotional implication of a decision that would take thinkers years of counseling and the advantage of hindsight to comprehend, feelers knows intuitively and in real time. That is their gift to the world.

But What If There Is Another Way?

For 37 years I have more or less operated as if there were only two ways of operating as a human being. But in the past few months I have observed the possibility of a third way of operating in life. This third way adds an additional factor into the binary options and then invites me to begin integrating the three factors into a radically different way to live.

In Part 2 of this post topic, I will begin to discuss this third way. And for the foreseeable part of 2019 I will be devoting my writing to the exploration of what this third way looks like in both practical and philosophical ways. If you would like to join me, keep reading this blog. You can subscribe for your convenience in the right sidebar. Or you can follow me on social media at @doughankins where I will likely post my weekly updates.

Here’s to the best year of our lives. 2019.

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The Church Long Lasting — Not Quick Acting

Jerry Seinfeld has a bit in his popular standup routine where he addresses the various labels on pain relieving medicine:

this one’s quick acting, this one’s long lasting.
“Hmm, when do I need to feel good?”
“Now or later?”
“I don’t know.”

I tend to think about this routine whenever I read about updated statistics on church decline and growth in America.  The latest Pew research report from the Washington Post leads with the exceedingly frank title: Liberal churches are dying. But conservative churches are thriving. Here are two lengthy but insightful quotes:

After statistically analyzing the survey responses of over 2,200 congregants and the clergy members who serve them, we came to a counterintuitive discovery: Conservative Protestant theology, with its more literal view of the Bible, is a significant predictor of church growth while liberal theology leads to decline.

This quote leads to the meat of the findings:

What explains the growth gap between liberal and conservative congregations? In defense of liberal churches, one might venture that it is the strength of belief, not the specifics of belief, that is the real cause of growth. In this case, pastors embracing liberal theology are just as likely as conservative pastors to experience church growth, provided they are firm and clear in their religious convictions. Yet different beliefs, though equally strong, produce different outcomes.

I have seen this last sentence first hand in my life.  My dad grew up in the home of conservative Southern Baptist parents.  And his reaction to their strong beliefs was to strongly believe in a practical form of Atheism for most of his adult life.  Then, in his 50s, he was dramatically converted to Bible-believing, Jesus worshipping Christianity. Shortly after his conversion, I entered seminary and began studying theology broadly across the various positions on the spectrum. In a moment of tender honesty, my dad asked me a question that has stuck with me today — for it is the question that many a new believer will eventually ask as discipleship is taking place:

Why would anyone choose to be a Liberal Christian?

Keep in mind that my dad was a staunch political Liberal before his conversion. He knows the world of Liberal philosophical thinking well and has traveled in its company for most of his adult life. So when he asked why anyone would willingly choose to be a Liberal theological Christian, he was assuming that Liberal is something self-evidently antithetical to Christianity and therefore something of an oxymoron in the spirit of Microsoft Works, king crab, or the living dead.

Making matters more complicated, I was in a period of seminary training when a great many of my fellow seminarians were flirting with the idea of moving over to Liberal Christianity in their own theological journeys. In each conversation I would ask my peers what was motivating them to switch sides from a more faithful reading of The Bible as authoritative to a more referencing attitude towards holy scripture as a helpful tradition. In many of the cases, the answer was the same: The Christianity I inherited (Conservative, traditional, Baptist) was either incapable of or uninterested in speaking to the pressing social issues of the time.  Whether the place of gay people in the church, or human trafficking, or political rights of the marginalized, or women’s rights at large — my colleagues felt that the conservative church wasn’t moving at all or fast enough in addressing these issues.  So the motivation to switch sides was to do something about the issue of injustice and marginalization.

*****

I think it would be fair to summarize the statements made by my classmates in the following manner:  We want justice, and we want it now.

This is certainly an overwhelming motivation to leave the safe suburbs of conservative theology and move into the urban areas of Liberal theology. Since the ministry of Walter Rauschenbusch, Christians have viewed Liberal theology as the framework that best approximates immediate action, swift justice, and real change in society.  As the Washington Post article mentions, much of this impulse to change for the sake of change reveals the attitude towards the Bible made most recently famous by Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong in his book “Why Christianity Must Change or Die.” If Christians will throw out the literal interpretation, Song writes, they will be poised to address current issues. If they maintain a literal interpretation of God’s Word, they will be unable to help.

And many of my seminary friends bought in to Liberal theology and were able to act quickly.

And many Americans have bought in to Liberal theology and were able to act quickly.

And the Washington Post reports, this quick action is, tragically, not long lasting. In economic terms, the Liberal churches are quickly losing a labor force that could help them with their social agenda.  And that leads me to another crucial question: Why are so many Liberal churches dying? I have a few thoughts on why this is:

  1. Liberal theology is ill-equipped to address the significance question.  There will always be a tension between the difficulty of the mission and the reason for the mission.  If the mission is challenging and the reason for the mission is weak, the mission will fail.  Liberal theology has historically struggled to answer the big “Why” question in any type of compelling way.  Thus, the lack of a compelling reason undermines the very mission effort of social justice and change.  For example, a parishioner may ask, “Why are we helping fight sex trafficking?  Why does this effort matter?”  A Liberal theology that denies the resurrection and denies the authority of Scripture (usually the same philosophical move) has no compelling reason to provide the justice and help that it was originally aiming to provide.  Again, “Why do you want to help victims of sex trafficking?”  Because it is an immoral thing?  But immoral according to whom?  According to what standard?  When you have no authoritative standard, or when your authority is something fluid like an appeal to “common humanity” or “it just is,” your standard will struggle to hold up to the “Why” question.  And your mission and standards with both struggle to hold up to the great effort that true justice ministry will require. I suspect that one reason for the shrinking of Liberal pews is an unsustainable and flat reason for why effort should expended towards the mission of justice in the first place.
  2. Liberal theology is continually uncomfortable with absolutes. Again, this premise undermines the mission. If there is no absolute right and wrong, and if everything is somewhat relative, then why again is sex trafficking wrong at all? Isn’t it relatively wrong?  Isn’t continual oppression of gay Americans only relatively wrong (in other words relatively right)? Isn’t denying Syrian immigrants entrance into the USA relatively wrong? Or relatively right?  Who is to say?  And that is a huge problem.  When there are no absolute truths, there is no authoritative source to which humanity can commonly appeal for unity, alignment, and guidance.  Thus, it becomes the blind leading the blind.  Or worse, it becomes the law of the strongest.  Whoever is strongest wins.  Might makes right.  And that ironic — that the problem which Liberal Christians try to fight — namely oppression and injustice — becomes the end to which Liberal Christians work — namely that they will be able to use might to get their justice accomplished.  This is why, I suspect, many Americans are saying no to the Liberal church.
  3. The Jesus of the Bible isn’t welcome in the Liberal Church. To be fair, Jesus isn’t always welcome in every corner of the conservative and evangelical church (cough cough race issues).  The churches I have been a part of have their fair share of blind spots and tone deafness.  But there is a substantial difference between blind spots (which we all have) and closed doors.  And the Liberal Church has closed their doors to Jesus.  What they want is something akin to Jesus as a malleable symbol onto which Liberal Christianity can project its current pressing issue agenda. To this approach, pastor Tim Keller says, “If your god never disagrees with you, you might just be worshiping an idealized version of yourself.”  Again, the conservative church can tend to have an unbiblical vision of Jesus from time to time, but the conservative church pairs with this vision a commitment to studying the Bible and being submitted to what it actually says.  Thus, there is a course correction built into the very framework of evangelical Christianity to mitigate against error. The Liberal church doesn’t have this same framework and thus is adrift in the sea of relativeness.

It is to this last observation that I return to Jerry Seinfeld.  Liberal Christianity may be quick acting, but conservative Bible-based Christianty is long lasting. This past week I had the pleasure of attending the Passion Conference in Atlanta with 60,000 college-aged Christians and leaders.  Over the past decade, Passion has been responsible for leading the way in fighting sex trafficking on a global scale — to the point that President Obama initially invited founder Louie Giglio to pray at his inauguration. This past week, Passion students adopted more than 4000 children at risk in 4 countries, through Compassion International.  Neither of these social justice issues were part of the Passion project when I first started going in the early 2000s.  But now they are an integral part of Passion.

What happened in the span of 15 years?

The conservative, Bible-believing church caught up.  They are long-lasting. And they always will be.

Yes, the Church often lags behind in addressing the world’s need.  Sometimes they are behind because they are sticking their head in the sand (American slavery, racism, etc…).  But more often than not, they are principally not quick-acting because they need to pray, discern, seek wisdom, and make sustainable infrastructure changes so that they can be long-lasting.  And this adjustment period often takes time.

So, if you are someone who is leaning towards Liberal Christianity for the purposes of quick action, I would encourage you to stop.  Instead, I would encourage you to spend your efforts ringing the clarion call before the leadership of the conservative Biblical Church.  Ringing may take time.  In fact, ringing towards new things will often take time.  But keep in mind that prophetic activity is often a long-play ministry (See the Old Testament). And keep in mind that conservative Bible-based Christianity is the only labor force who can change the world.  And keep in mind that Liberal Christianity is dead on arrival.  And keep in mind that its not about you.  God is in control.  He wants Justice far more than you do.  Play your part. Ring the bell. Pray for ministry and change.  Start helping in your own individual ministry way.  And keep worshipping Jesus as the God of the universe — He will come through.

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How To Think About Orlando

prayfororlando

You have certainly seen the headlines by now.

‘Voice’ singer Christina Grimmie shot and killed at Orlando concert venue

Shooter Opens Fire In Nightclub In Orlando

Alligator Snatches Toddler In Front Of Parents At Disney Resort

The question has surely come up in your mind: What in the world is going on in Orlando? After all, you understand the basics of math.  y=mx + B. With three plot points, one can see the forming of a line that appears to be sloping in the negative direction and that only can mean a downward spiral for Orlando.  It’s over.  Get outta the city as fast as you can.  There is no hope.  There is no opportunity for rebound.

As a Baylor grad and former Waco resident, I have wrestled with similar headlines before.  Branch Davidians, Baylor Basketball Scandal, Baylor Football Scandal. And, I have asked, What in the world is going on in Waco? 

But perhaps I could even ask this question in general — what are we to do when we experience a series of common events occurring in rapid succession in one particular area of life?  Because, this is much bigger than Orlando. And this is much bigger than Waco. This is a downward spiral of Job-like proportions.  And, it is far more common to life than many of us may realize.

Consider this common scenario: A woman comes home to find that her mate has walked out on her and the children.  As divorce papers are finalizing, the woman learns that her job is being eliminated. As the woman is putting their for sale sign in the front lawn, headlines indicate a cooling of the housing market.  When crying on the phone with her lawyer, the woman learns that one of her children is sick with a cold. What is she to do?

Or this scenario: Its an election year and supreme court nominations and who do I vote for and where is our country heading? What are people to do?

So. What should we do with these kinds of plot points in life?  And is there anything that can inform the way we live so that we don’t end up in a massive depression?

The Bible And God’s Providence

The place to begin is with Truth.  In the time when Jesus walked the earth, people in these types of situations would often ask, “Who sinned, this man or his family?” In their superstitious worldview, they would interpret these kinds of successive events as eternal punishments from an angry God in response to one’s personal holiness, cleanliness, or obedience.  This is not unlike the eastern notion of Karma, where good deeds are rewarded with good fortune and bad deeds in kind.

But Jesus doesn’t respond to this question with affirmation.  Instead he answered:

“It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” John 9:3-5 (ESV)

In this short reply, Jesus reminds us of several important ideas which speak to Orlando, Waco, and our own plot points of despair:

  1. God’s got this.  God is sovereign.  He is in charge.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, occurs without His permission. And He is working in this for His glory and for the good of His people (Romans 8:28).  This idea reminds us that even when events prompt hopelessness, we can still have hope in Jesus.
  2. We don’t live in Paradise yet.  In Genesis 3 we learn that humanity was removed from the perfect garden because of their willful choice to exalt self over God.  When sin entered the world, the world fell  in every way.  This idea helps us to understand why there is so much animosity between mankind.  This idea helps us to understand why there is so much animosity between man and beast.  This idea helps provide a framework for mental illness, for evil choices, hate crimes, and for tragedy.
  3. There is still work to do.  Jesus says later in John 10:10, “The thief (Satan) comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” The fact that so much evil exists, in part, reminds us of the Jesus work Christians have to do. The reason we are still alive is to help make others alive in Jesus.

Processing The Plot Points

So with this truth from John 9 in mind, I want to offer some thoughts on how to process through the plot points, whether you are thinking about Orlando, or whether you are thinking about your own personal downward spiral.

  1. Anxiety is normal, but don’t let it master you. I want to encourage us with what Paul writes in Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Anxiety often accompanies plot points of despair.  And God knows this.  That is why he has given us an antidote called prayer.  In praying to God, we get to do two significant things:
    1. We get to thank Him for everything he has given us.  With a background of thankfulness in view, our three measly plot points don’t get to seem so unbearable.  We remember that God has taken care of us in the past and God will take care of us in the future.
    2. We get to make prayer requests to God.  Supplication (Asking for God to supply) is a really good discipline because it reminds your soul as it reminds God that He is the only one who can really help you.  When you request things of God, you basically praise Him for his sole helpful ability.
  2. The slippery slope feels real, but it is not. Fatalism is the idea that we are all trolly cars linked to a defined route on a street and that once we jump on the trolly car of life, God is moving us towards a predefined point that we can’t change.  This view makes us prisoners of life on a slippery slope.  The only problem with this view is that it A: has been disproven in the experienced lives of far too many people to be a comprehensive explanation of reality and B: is not what the Bible says. The Bible tells us that God provides for creation in a way that a father provides for his children (Matthew 7:7). Within the framework of a father/child relationship we know that sometimes a child goes through rough season, but that never hinders a father from providing for his children.

The Big Take Away

Three plot points are not enough to invalidate the amazing, surpassing, sovereign work of the Creator of the universe.  Even though it is tragic, scary, and unnerving to read the news today, know this Christian: God’s got this. And, He will continue to provide for and care for His children. And He will continue to give His children opportunities to share Christ so that they can bring friends with them to be with Him in Heaven.

 

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12 Thoughts on 12 Years of Marriage

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My wife and I have been married for 12 years.  We dated for a year and a half before getting engaged, which lasted one full year — so technically, my wife and I have been an item for 14 years.  Nonetheless, we celebrated 12 happy years of marriage this re-ast weekend and in turn I thought I would trot out 12 nuggets of thusfar-wisdom about married life, specifically from a Christian perspective. Here goes:

  1. Marriage really is like a Navy SEALs training program for character development. One week into marriage and I realized just how selfish I was.  12 years in, I am fully aware of my own depravity and tendency towards selfishness (BTW: Having kids is like the Navy SEALs version of the Navy SEALs version of character development). I used to have a routine that was intricately built upon my precise needs.  Then I got married and had to develop a routine that was built upon my precise needs, precisely when my wife’s needs did not interfere with my needs.  In other words, I had to start thinking about someone other than myself.  And it has been an incredibly helpful thing. In the process of marriage I have learned to consider others before myself.
  2. When someone truly loves you for who you are, it is one of the most amazing things in the world.  Think about it. You brush your teeth — a fairly revealing act about the true nature of your mouth area — in front of someone with whom you are trying to woo.  This doesn’t appear to be a pleasing gesture at first thought.  In fact, there is no way to redeem the process of brushing slimy gunk from your teeth and mouth roof.  Also, hurling all of that bile into a sink is equally gross to display in front of another.  However, when that person looks at you and smiles and says, “I love you” even with mouth bile still residing in the sink…you come to realize that you don’t have to fake it any longer.  That, my friends, is powerfully freeing.  In marriage, you get to be the real you.  You don’t have to fake it till you make it.  You get to be you, mouth nastiness and all.  And someone loves you — unconditionally.  And at this moment, you get to see a small glimpse of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  3. Marriage is not the antidote for singleness.  Community is the antidote for isolation.  I was in community before I got married.  Marriage is just a particular form of community.  But I know lots of people who practice isolation before getting married and then they get married and are still isolated. Marriage cannot cure isolation.  But community can.  Singleness does not mean lack of community.  But often single adults are in isolation.  Marriage will not solve this.  Community will.
  4. Adventures are important for marriage.  Whether it is visiting new cities or taking staycations in your neck of the woods, healthy marriages are fueled by common experiences together.  My recommendation for any married couple is to plan for and save for adventures together.  Seriously, it is worth it.  Natalie and I were tallying it up and we have visited East Coast, West Coast, Southeast, Midwest, Canada, Mexico, Africa, and Europe together.  While these travels have broadened our horizons, they have even more so fueled our marriage.  It is not that I have visited San Francisco – it is that I have visited San Francisco with Natalie.  We have tons of shared experiences and endless inside jokes together.
  5. The ministry of home is an irresistible force for good.  As I have documented before, Natalie and I regularly have people over to our home for meals, Bible studies, and parties.  Our homes have become a location where we have seen God do amazing works of transformation. We tell couples in our pre-marital ministry to consider buying a home with ministry in mind.  One of the best things you can do is invite people over to eat dinner with you and watch how a Christian family works – it is a powerful way to model the gospel.
  6. My wife is really amazing. Seriously.
  7. That being said, I was not 100% knowledgable about who my wife was when we were preparing for marriage. And this is okay.  I knew that Natalie had strong character.  I knew she was a Christian.  I knew we had a basic chemistry.  I knew she went to bed early and was an early riser.  I knew she was frugal with money.  I knew she was adamant about gathering with a church family on Sundays to worship.  I knew she wanted to be a pastor’s wife.  These were all qualities I wanted in a spouse.  What I didn’t know, that I was pleasantly surprised to discover, is that Natalie is passionate about order in the home and in life.  This has resulted in our home being consistently perceived as hospitable and friendly to guests.  What I didn’t know is that Natalie is a rule follower.  This means that Natalie is able to hold me accountable, not to her standards, but to my own standards.  She is my biggest cheerleader, and my life coach.  All this to say — if you are engaged and reasonably sure that the person you are marrying is right for you, just understand that there is a whole lot more coming down the pipeline.  Again — this is not only okay, it is part of the adventure of marriage.
  8. Even with the best prep work, prayer, and persistence, marriage can have some difficult seasons.  Although I can look back and remember some past seasons of marriage as challenging, these seasons don’t affect us in the present.  Lets just say that up front.  However, in the midst of the particular struggle, it was a struggle.  For better or worse includes the worse and it can be the worst.  But God has been faithful to get us through them all.
  9. Mentors have been crucial for us.  Older couples.  Older singles. Wise people.  People with stories.  All of them have helped us. And this hasn’t happened by accident.  First, God has brought people into contact with us.  Second, we have actively sought out, cultivated, and kept up with many of these people.  Being mentored is both a passive and an active task and it is has been vital for the health of our marriage.
  10. Date nights are not optional.  And by date nights, I mean regular moments where the two of us connect.  Generally, this involves some type of foodstuff — coffee, tea, dessert, meal, whatever.  But Natalie and I have aimed to have a regular time just to connect with each other and assess how we are doing as individuals and as a family.  It has also given us an opportunity to go on adventures to check out the local food scene in the places we have lived.
  11. The honeymoon doesn’t have to end.  The best thing about the honeymoon is that it seems like you are living in a consequence free environment with almost no concern for the cares of the world.  And while the magical non-consequential attitude of the honeymoon leaves the minute you get back to the real world, the sense of awe, wonder, and fascination with your new mate doesn’t have to stay in the honeymoon suite.  This is why adventure is so important.  This is why date nights are important.  This is why anniversary trips are important.  Natalie and I don’t actually celebrate anniversaries, as much as we celebrate the anniversary of our honeymoon.  This has been an intentional value that helps fuel our marriage.
  12. Marriage does get better with age.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is misleading you.  I think each passing year our marriage gets easier to sustain and better in quality.  Ours is a shining example of why the “marriages have an expiration date” logic is flawed in its very foundations.  Marriages are supposed to go the distance.  They should last 40, 50, 60, 70 years.  They are a highly stable institution.  And the reason for the stability is because marriage is so fulfilling and enjoyable.  Probably because God invented it.
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Its Art…Or Just Someone’s Glasses?

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Perhaps you have had a similar experience — you are sitting through an English or Art class and your classmates seem to intuitively grasp some deep meaning within a story of literature or work of art. Meanwhile, you are looking at the cover of the book or straining  with a puzzled gaze at the work of art thinking, “Is there really some deeper meaning in all of this?”

Well, two teenagers in San Francisco decided to call BS on the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art this past month.  Having walked through the exhibit of puzzling items that were cleverly displayed as “modern art” the teenagers “looked at it and we were like, ‘This is pretty easy. We could make this ourselves.’” The two teenagers found a blank wall with open space and decided to place a pair of eye glasses on the ground.

CjMSUbPUUAAsvovRather than stand around to form the first crowd, the teenagers walked away to observe from a distance. Within three minutes museum patrons took note of the glasses and began openly admiring the work of “art” by taking pictures and launching into deep discussions about the meaning of life, beauty, and reality.

What Does This All Mean?

This incident illustrates many things.  So allow me to be meta here and draw meaning from the act of people drawing meaning from something that was, by design, meant to be meaningless.

  1. This story illustrates the value of authorial intent when trying to interpret meaning.  One of the best features of DVD movies is the director’s commentary audio.  While sometimes laborious, hearing the director’s commentary helps viewers appreciate the whats and the whys behind a film’s construction.  Often times, this can take a film from an enjoyable rental to a “I’ve got to own it” purchase.The reason that DVD commentaries, podcasts about book histories, and other historical methods appeal to consumers of art is that we want to know why we are interacting something. Every director of a film had a reason why he or she made the film  Every painter had a reason why they were putting paint on a canvas.   Every writer had a reason why they put pen to paper. Understanding an author’s intent is crucial in the appreciation of art in any form.This gets us back to the art mockery in the SFMoMA.  The authors behind the glasses display had no intention or purpose in displaying the glasses on the floor.  And yet, what they witnessed, in turn, was a group of patrons who were conditioned to pull meaning out of random and meaningless objects. Therein lies the humor and tragedy in the prank — a problematic feature of modernity — our culture is lacking the ability to locate authority and therefore lacking in the ability to interpret things in culturally helpful ways.
  2. This story illustrates the unfortunate prominence of group think. Many of us start reading a book or watching a film or listening to music because we are told by our culture that this artifact is worth exploring.  What we don’t get from culture is why this artifact is worth exploring.  The answer to the “why” question is closely related to authorial intent.  The author will tell us what this meant to him or her.  That first order meaning will then frame a context of exploration that allows us to determine what a particular art form means to us. But this process is far too complex for the commercial society in which we dwell.  Marketers won’t spend too much time telling you why a song is good, they will just simply tell you that a song is good.  The pitch is, “Just listen to it because it is good.  Trust us.”  And because some popular cultural figure agrees, it begins the process of group think where people perpetuate the messaging that the art is good without ever considering first order meaning or second order meaning.  And this approach is quite successful from a monetary standpoint.  However, at the end of the day this approach is just a monetized version of two teenagers placing glasses on the floor of the SFMoMA and laughing as patrons take pictures.  And it is not ultimately helpful for cultivating a society that learns how to appreciate art.
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