Three Key Shifts of Thoughtful Christianity

In my last post I asked if biblically consistent, striving-to-be-faithful Christianity can co-exist in a pluralistic society? My answer to the question is yes, it can. Personally, I have found it possibly to navigate around our pluralistic culture by making three key shifts of thought:

  1. Develop a critical mind, not critical personality. One of the reasons that positive thought has found a home in Christian communities is in reacting to alarming amount of critical Christians in the church.  And by critical I mean negative.  You know the type. Its the mean old deacon who tells you to stop running in the hallways.  Its the mean old hellfire preacher who shoots down every new thing. Its the seminary grad who dumps on your camp-high or your conference experience.  For some reason, Christians tend to struggle with the tendency of meanness.  And I suspect that part of the reason is that we don’t allow space for thoughtful reflection and expression of concern because it doesn’t seem nice.  Keep in mind, however, that nice is not a biblical term. The Bible seems to call people, not to nice, but to a loving and truthful disposition. Christians can be critical thinkers who speak the truth in love — they can ask hard questions, press one another for clarification of ideas, not rush a position on a particular issue, and skeptically pause at novel fads from a place of genuine love, respect, care, concern, and hopefulness.  Thinking takes time and struggle and angst and wrestling and mental energy.  But it is time that is well worth the effort because it can produce an examined life, rooted in the confidence of who God is and is not.  
  2. Strive towards integration and not reduction. Life is complex. But reduction of ideas doesn’t make life any less complex.  It only makes you feel a bit more simplified in interacting with complex things.  The way to gain true simplicity in the midst of complexity is to begin to integrate things into your complex life.  Think about it like this: Suppose you need to read a chapter in a book and you need to exercise.  You could spend 30 minutes biking and 30 minutes reading.  But that takes an hour and you only have 30 minutes — life is complex and you are lacking in margin. One option is to get a summary of the book chapter and skim it as you head to the gym to get on the bike.  But that reduces things, and does not respect the complexity of the assignment. Another option is to read the book on a stationary bike in the gym where you are integrating both tasks.  Another option is the see if there is an audio version of the chapter and to listen to that while you ride a road bike in your neighborhood.  This is also integration.  Integration is respecting the complexity without reducing any given component part. It takes hard work, for sure. But integration is a key habit for growth in thinking and being.
  3. Move from group think towards charitable dialogue. Group think is passive. Charitable dialogue is active. Group think occurs whenever we feel a sense of social pressure to align our views with the dominant social view. Charitable dialogue occurs whenever we evaluate the various social positions in terms of strengths and weaknesses before choosing our own thoughtful position. Sometimes our position is unique to our individual worldview. Sometimes our position is adopted by a sub group in our culture. But our driving aim is neither to acclimate to the preferred group around us (the way a thermometer would) or to parrot a dominant view of the culture around us (the way a chameleon would) or to take a provocative position just to rub it in the faces of the culture around us (The way a drive time radio DJ personality would). Rather, our aim should be to consider everything with charity and then pick the best possible position we can articulate, before God, given the information we have presently.  
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Isn’t Christianity Incompatible With Pluralism?

One of the greatest challenges to living as a professing Christian in America is the lingering presence of a Christian subculture in America.  In the 20th century, it was the fear of a rapidly expanding pluralism that was expected to challenge the traditional Judeo-Christian ethic. However, in an ironic turn, the thinking that comes from pluralism may actually be more of a help to Christian ideas than the kind of thinking (or lack of it) that comes from Christian subcultures in America.  

Consider that Pluralism operates on at least three assumptions: 

  1. There are multiple competing ideas floating around in our social consciousness. 
  2. These ideas, and therefore our experience of them, is a complex reality. 
  3. Careful thinking about these ideas will aid us in arriving at our preferred worldview and can also help us to locate our preferred community of thinkers, in which to take up residence.

These three assumptions appear at odds with a boilerplate cultural Christianity that pops up in prosperity gospel literature and church growth seminars — and that is often communicated from the stage or on the lecture circuit: 

  1. Its relatively easy to follow Jesus if you will just keep these steps/behaviors/principles in mind.
  2. The Christian life is really simple, if you think about it.
  3. Careful thinking may actually bring about more anxiety and stress. You need to let go and let god.  God wants a life of surrender. After all, only He can bring about a peace that surpasses all understanding. So, don’t worry. Be happy.  

This is no doubt a caricature and a misrepresentation of Christianity (and perhaps a misrepresentation of the subcultures of the prosperity gospel and church growth seminars).  That’s the point I’m attempting to drive home. Boilerplate cultural Christianity is itself a caricature and misrepresentation of Christianity.  And the sad reality of our current pluralistic society is that cultural Christianity is what many Americans are often presented with as a form of authentic Christianity — which is one of many reasons why careful thinking about the Christian worldview is needed in our time.  

But what about biblically consistent, striving-to-be-faithful Christianity? Can this kind of idea co-exist in a pluralistic society? I want to spend more time on that question next week.

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5 Things You May Not Remember About Teddy Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.

Happy President’s Day.

In honor of the US office of President, I want to remind everyone of five interesting facts about my favorite presidential figure, our 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt Jr.

1. He served in numerous high profile political offices. Just to name a few: He was the 33rd Governor of New York. He was the 25th Vice President of the United States under William McKinley. He was the police Commissioner for New York City.  He was Minority Leader of The New York State Assembly (where he punched out several opposing politicians in a bar fight). And, he served as the Assistant Secretary of the United States Navy. Not a bad résumé.

2. He voluntarily started a military outfit. This was, of course, in order to help with the Spanish American war.  His “rough riders” consisted of former college boxing buddies, professional athletes, cowboys from the Dakotas, Native American friends, and polite society gentleman who drank with Teddy.  He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his leadership in the decisive battle at Kettle Hill.

3. He suffered from asthma-like symptoms for the majority of his life. Biographers tend to cite this early childhood ailment as the chief opportunity that permitted Teddy with time to read and read and read some more.  Roosevelt read thousands of books ranging from forestry to warfare to poetry to European history.  This ailment also acted as a lifelong foil to his vision of manhood. It motivated him to go to war when he was ineligible to join armed forces.  It motivated him to become a champion boxer at Harvard.  It motivated him to take up early morning rows on the lake.

4. He was a prodigious writer.  At the age of 24 he published The Naval War of 1812 and was considered one of the foremost authorities on the subject.  He penned 17 additional books on subjects such as natural history and the vision of the American frontier.  It could be argued that his role in American popular life is as much a function of his writing as his political voice.

5. He won the Nobel peace prize. In 1906 he was awarded the prize for his work in negotiating a peace settlement between Japan and Russia.  But this award could be considered a lifetime achievement for Teddy’s Big Stick diplomacy (speak softly but carry a big stick) — a throwback to his days as the commissioner of the New York City Police.  As much as Teddy liked to mix it up in controversial matters (ahem — he punched a fellow politician in an Albany bar) he seemed to do so with a noble end in mind (peace and progress in moving forward).

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The Lost Art Of Christian Hospitality

My wife and I are from the southern part of the United States and as such have an almost instinctive tendency towards extending hospitality to others. I say this up front because I want to talk about how simple it is to practice hospitality — and how strategic hospitality is to helping others to think with you about Christianity. And yet, I know that many people, including Christians I know, struggle to practice a basic hospitality.

At least some of the unease can be attributed to personality (introverts, anxiousness, etc…) and some of the unease can be attributed to the cost (hosting people is a lavish gift). However, I also suspect that much of the hesitation to practicing hospitality comes from a misunderstanding of what hospitality is and is not.  In this post, I want to address some of the basic mechanics of hospitality as a way to cast vision for how Christians can leverage hosting to facilitate a conversation about the consideration of Christian truth between neighbors, co-workers, or friends.

What Is Hospitality?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines hospitality as “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.”  Thus, any vision of hospitality should mention a tone of friendly receptivity, and entertainment. 

So what could this look like, especially from a Christian perspective?

In her book Taste and See,  Margaret Feinberg argues that part of God’s plan for the world is to provide meals that not only fill our stomachs, but also heal our souls, as we learn to taste and see the goodness of God together.  And the ideal spot where this “healing in togetherness” takes place is around the table in the home. Feinberg hangs much of her outlook on a quote by German poet Christian Morgenstern, “Home is not the building you live in; home is wherever you are understood.”

In the home. Around the table. This is where people are understood, and healed, together. This, I think, is what the Christian vision of hospitality looks like. Around the table, we receive friends and neighbors and co-workers. Around the table, we eat together. And around the table, we are entertained, not by frivolous conversation, but by meaningful discussion of who we are and who we are meant to become. 

The table is meant to engage us in the task of thinking together. 

So What Might Hospitality Look Like?

By now the introverts who are diligently reading this post have possibly begun to feel a strong sense of anxiety and are thinking many of these thoughts:

  • Host people in my home? My place of refuge and retreat from the world?
  • Do I have to host more than 2 people? Including me?
  • But these people and conversations will deplete my internal resources!!!
  • But how will I kick them out of my home when I am ready to go to sleep?
  • Is it every room they can walk-through, or can I keep some parts of my home guarded? Like an ambassador’s palace?
  • Man, this sounds expensive. Seriously, though. Can I just provide water and bread from Fazoli’s?
  • No. Just no. Tell them I am busy. 

Be cool introverts. You will be okay.  This is not as bad as it could seem, nor is it meant to be a depleting task.  Here are some irreducible rules of hospitality I would encourage people to consider:

  1. Hospitality is meant, ideally, to be life giving for EVERYONE. Hospitality is not envisioned to be great for all the guests and miserable for the hosts.  If you are thinking about hospitality in the latter manner, please know that is a whacked out, extreme outlier of hospitality. 
  2. Hospitality is not about numbers, it is about people. When thinking of having some people over, it is important to have real people in mind. Often times the anxiety kicks in when we begin with the proposition of trying to fit “100 people into our home.” Or, we get stressed at trying to throw the biggest and best party ever. However, when we imagine hosting real actual people with faces and names — the people that we know a little bit and want to know a bit better — then our hospitality finds its natural setting. A good question to consider: Who is the ideal group of people that I can enthusiastically host without causing me strife or consternation?  If you can imagine this ideal in your mind, you are well on your way to hosting well. 
  3. Hospitality is not about showing off the biggest and coolest space, it is about facilitating a space for mutual understanding and meaning.  I have noticed that some of us have unease about hosting a small group gathering, or Bible study, or dinner party in their home because of insecurities about the size, neighborhood location, or furniture arrangements.  I have similarly noticed some of us project a dangerous arrogance at hosting because of the size, neighborhood location, or furniture arrangements. Accordingly, I know plenty of people who host amazing gatherings in their 700sf efficiency apartments.  And, I know people who host duds of gatherings in their swanky mansions around town.  The reality of Christian hospitality is that you can facilitate community in our apartments, in our duplexes, in our starter homes, in our dream homes, and in our mansions.   We can also facilitate community at coffee shops, in storefront businesses, in parking lots, in DisneyWorld parks, and in tons of other third spaces.  
  4. Hospitality pairs well with food, but not necessarily with expensive food.  Food is critical for hospitality because food communicates community and friendship.  But merely providing a steak and lobster dinner doesn’t necessarily indicate a greater degree of hospitality than a dessert and coffee affair. When thinking through a table setting with friends, neighbors, or co-workers, consider what type of items would help you and help them bridge the conversation gap.  Also, consider what foodstuffs would help communicate welcome and warmth to your company. For some folks, it may be chips and salsa. For others it may be coffee and desserts. For others it may be salads, or subs, or soup.  And for some folks, it wouldn’t seem right in the world to bring people over for anything less than a three course meal. The point is, have some food and make sure that the food pairs with your goal in hospitality-led conversation. 
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Repentance, Not Concession

I was recently watching through The West Wing on Netflix during the episode where Congressman Matthew Santos is elected President. In the wake of defeat, Senator Arnold Vinick must stand before his supporters and offer a concession speech. I thought to myself as the scene unfolded — “conceding seems to be in conflict with thinking.”

To concede, defined by Miriam Webster, is “to acknowledge grudgingly or hesitantly” or “to accept as true, valid, or accurate.” In short, concession occurs when we admit that we are incorrect in our present course, despite our initial instincts and trajectory, and are agreeing, often begrudgingly, to change course. In other words, our posture may appear to change, but our thinking has not.

Concession is an interesting foil to the concept of repentance. Repentance is defined in these three manners: 1) to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life; 2) to feel regret or contrition; 3) to change one’s mind. In other words, repentance happens when we change our minds about something to the extent that it changes our behavior too. We stop proceeding in the wrong direction and then begin moving with gusto in the correct direction.

Groundhog Day

On Saturday I rewatched Groundhog Day with my family, as is our tradition on February 2. The scene where Phil steals the groundhog and drives him off of the road into a rock quarry is one of the most jarring scenes in the film. Just before he drives off the cliff he has a choice to make: A) he can drive away from the edge or B: he can drive towards the edge and into the quarry below.

This visual of the truck and the edge of the quarry is a perfect analogy for the two concepts we have been discussing in this post. Concession is looking at the quarry and begrudgingly admitting that the edge is dangerous. But concession stops there. Concession is wholly focused on not doing the wrong things. Repentance, on the other hand, sees the danger in the quarry and looks instead to the exit. Then, having changed course, it follows the road to safety. Repentance is wholly focused on doing the right things.

And herein lies the critical difference between the two: Repentance is beginning to think differently and to act accordingly. Concession is a begrudged admission that the current way is incorrect. Internally, however, concession often still longs for what might have been. It is standing on the precipice of the quarry and longing for the rush of the fall below.

Why This Distinction Matters

A few years ago some parents came to me distressed about one of our youth ministry leaders and the advice they were giving in small group settings. The parents had caught their teens smoking pot and in the midst of unpacking the decision-making that led up to this, they discovered a strange authorization moment.

These teens had first spoken with their youth leader about the ethics of marijuana use. At the time, our state viewed pot as illegal and therefore it was off limits to these teens for recreational use. But here is where the conversation got weird. When asked whether the teens should pursue pot smoking, the youth leader paused, looked whistfully into the distance, and replied, “I know it is illegal, but the law is a stupid law and I think in time it will become legalized in our country.”

This was the advice given to teenagers about pot use from a Christian leader. Of course, this counsel was all the information the teens needed to continue pursuing pot in their recreational time.

How do we make sense of this type of conversation with a small group leader about an issue like this? My read of things was that this was a leader who got “saved” through concession, not through repentance. They admitted, begrudgingly, that a former life was incorrect, but still stood on the precipice of the quarry and longed for a different universe where “falling to your demise” could be the right way. And so, this youth leader gave advice out of concession, not repentance.

Thinking Requires Repentance

Thinking is going to require repentance along the way. It is not enough to not do the wrong things. Thinking requires that we turn and follow the right things, the right path, the right ideals. And, when people ask us to give counsel out of our thinking, what is helpful is to give counsel out of repentance.

It seems to me that the battles in thinking are not won and lost on discussions about “which are the right things and which are the wrong things?” The battles are won by people trying to live out of the right things and lost by people who are still whistfully longing for the good old days — the days before the concession speech —when they could enjoy the momentary fruits of the wrong things.

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Words Matter

My friend Danny has this great saying whenever he is crafting a public communication message.

“Words matter.”

What he means is that the verb we use, the adjectives employed to describe our statement, and the preposition we select all communicate something specific. So our task as communicators is to select the words that best correspond to our intended meaning.

Why does he put so much time into this?

Because words matter.

@instagram On @twitter?

This phrase came to mind as I was listening to a podcast between The Ringer’s Bill Simmons and Twitter founder, Jack Dorsey. Apparently, when Instagram was beginning to ascend to the upper echelon of the tech/web world, Jack had a chance to purchase and integrate it into Twitter’s universe. Jack was not only an early investor in instagram, but he also hired instagram’s founder as an intern years prior. Jack ultimately decided against burying instagram and offered this explanation of the decision:

I think there’s just something so powerful about text because it gets at thinking directly. You cant get the vibe of how someone thinks necessarily through an image or video. Text is really fast…its to the point…its just so close to our thinking process…and I think its so beautiful beautiful.

What is Jack saying? Words matter. Actual text is what is closely related and linked to our thinking process.  Or our processing process. 

Elsewhere I have seen this same idea pop up.  In his book How To Think, Alan Jacobs writes this of words:

Words are immensely seductive, in ways we don’t often recognize. Their power can perhaps most clearly be seen in young children, who become fascinated by new words and look for every possible opportunity to use them. Now, in fact, adults are no different in this respect: we just have learned to do a better job than our younger counterparts of obscuring our fascination, of pretending that a phrase brand new to us has been part of our word hoard forever. Oh, this old thing? But we turn the shiny new phrases over and over in our minds, as a miser fondles the coins in his pockets.

Practical Examples Of Words Mattering

The point I am trying to make is that words articulated are the chief metric that thinking has been accomplished.  It answers the question, “How do I know if I have thought enough about this in a healthy or productive manner?”  And the answer is, “Whenever you can begin to put your thoughts into words.”  

Let me provide a few examples of how we all know this to be true.

  1. Let’s say you head to an art exhibit in a museum or storefront art house.  Walking around, you can admire the paintings and even gather some basic impressions of how the paintings subjectively strike you.  But, suppose the artist walks up to you and asks if you like his or her painting?  And suppose you say yes.  And suppose the author then begins to explain the context around the painting — the season of life that inspired it, the intent of the artist, the hope of the communication, the description of particular strokes and colors.  Or, suppose you find a little placard to the side of the paining that provides context and date and goal.  At this point, you have moved beyond a subjective impression of the art towards a richer and more objective understanding of what the art is trying to communicate.  In a sense, you have begun thinking with the author about the work of art.  And what is it that moved you beyond your subjective expereince?  Text.  Words. Context. Words matter. 
  2. Or, suppose you have some deeply affecting personal experience in your life that you have been slowly and subconsciously considering in the back of your mind.  Perhaps it was a traumatic event or childhood wound.  And suppose you discover a trustworthy counseling group in your town. And suppose you show up for a few sessions of talk therapy with a counselor and that counselor has you begin to process together about that expereince.  And suppose you expereince breakthough and are able to move past this expereince in your life. What has happened in that session to help you jump over this life hurdle?  You have talked about it.  You have put the experience into words and then begin to use some word tools to help you reframe and understand and process through things.  Words matter. 

The Bible and Words

I find it interesting that when God comes to earth, He chooses to come as The Logos, or the Word.  In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God – John 1:1. God doesn’t just love human beings through some mystical invisible expereince.  He loves human beings in a way they can measure and process and understand. He uses words.  

  • He is The Word.
  • He physically wrote down one of the first typefaces in the Hebrew alphabet on the Ten Commandments. Then He gave it to Moses.
  • He inspired Moses and David and others to WRITE DOWN the Hebrew Scriptures.
  • He inspired Matthew and Mark and Paul and others to WRITE DOWN the Christian Scriptures.  

Because God matters. And because He wants us to know that we matter…God made words matter. And He uses Words to love us and to call us into lives that matter. 

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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

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
Posted in Discipleship, Leadership, Ministry, Theology | Tagged , , | Comments Off on What Are You Doing New Years: Part 2

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.

Posted in Discipleship, Ministry, Theology | Tagged , , | 3 Comments