Monday, December 13, 2010

A Broken Jar

When I moved to an apartment community in South Austin last February, I knew I was going through a life change. Not only was I moving physically, but also starting this job in which I was to create community among the residents who were my neighbors. I knew it would not be an easy job. My teammate and I were the first ones to attempt this task in that particular community. I was very optimistic as we signed the dotted lines for a two year commitment. In the beginning, every conversation I had with a passing dog-walker was an exciting chance to enjoy this new opportunity.
After 9 months, the manager decided that the job was not a good fit for us. The program that sent us there also decided we were not a good fit. Now that it is over, it is hard not to look back on it as wasted time and a failure. Despite our efforts, objectives were not accomplished. It is easy to blame people and solve the problem in hindsight, yet it does not really matter.
In Mark 13, a woman interrupts Jesus’ meal by anointing him with expensive perfume. The pragmatic on-lookers suggest that what she was doing was wrong. After all, she could have sold that perfume for a high price and given it to the poor. Jesus did not share the opinion of the on-lookers. Jesus basically said “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me...She did what she could.” Despite the perceived insignificance of this woman’s action, this story has made it’s way through 2000 years into my mind and heart.
May be this can be a new way to look at failure. May be our efforts were a broken jar of perfume that provide a brief moment of pleasant scent before fading away. But Jesus smells it’s sweetness and knows that it is symbolic of that which is good in the hearts of humankind. It feels as if everything has returned to square one, but a broken jar exists as a testimony of a heart’s devotion, even after the scent has faded.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Moving: Box or Bag?

As I write this, just about everything I own is in a box or a bag. It will all be transported elsewhere today in the back of my truck. I thankfully saved all of the boxes that I used almost a year ago when I moved to this place. Moving is kind of a strange experience in which I always feel a little nostalgic. I really do not like moving.
Even if you do not move to another city (which I am not), it still changes a lot about one’s day-to-day experiences. I will likely be driving different roads, getting groceries somewhere different, and going to a different gym. It seems like a small change, but it is a big one that requires quite a bit of adjustment. For a while I will have to do things much more consciously, instead of going through my established patterns.
In Mark 13, Jesus warned his disciples that some things would be moving. As they were walking through what was one of the world’s greatest cities of that time, the disciples could not help but be impressed. When they pointed this out to Jesus, he told them it would all change: “Not one stone will be left on another.” He was right, the move did happen. The good news is that Jesus promised it would be okay. Even though they needed to be on guard, they also would be given the spirit to help them in their weakness. 
So may be the message of moving is to remind us what is important. God is everywhere, even when my world is moving around me. Not one of these boxes will remain on another. I will get settled somewhere else, then at some point I will move again. But God is good and he will be there too.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Pessimists' Gospel



Every year my family attends the Christmas parade around the town square in Granbury, Texas. The parade is organized by the Granbury council of churches. The entries usually include the high school band, at least three fire trucks, Jeeps and Harley owners, and local churches. The church floats make up the majority of the parade. Every year, the theme is “Jesus, ...” like “Jesus, Light of the World.” This year it was “Jesus, The Prince of Peace.” Pretty much every float is a nativity scene every year. They just differ in how they adorn the trailers and pickup trucks. It feels like you are in a slightly more redneck version of a Norman Rockwell painting.
In Mark 12, Jesus tells a parable that kind of turns our hopeful picture of advent around. He speaks of a man who built a vineyard and hired others to tend to it. When the man sent servants to collect from those working the vineyard, the renters beat and killed his servants. He finally sent his son, whom they also beat and killed. At the end of the parable, the listeners knew exactly what Jesus was talking about. They knew that Jesus was describing the way in which these Jewish leaders had persecuted men of God.
When viewed in this light, God sending his son seems to have been both exalting and embarrassing for the human race. It was embarrassing because they just could not right the ship themselves. I can imagine it like an 8 year-old boy helping his dad fix the car. If his dad asked him to hold a screw, he might feel very sad and insecure when he had to tell his dad he could not do it. 
Jesus came and exposed their weaknesses. We rejoice because we know it needed to be done, but I can see how they would be upset and defensive. The light of the world does not just shine on nativity scenes, parades, and church services. Jesus also shines in dark alleys, battlefields, and bedrooms.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

DIY: Worst Idea Ever?

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my younger brother and my father spent a lot of time talking about putting a bathroom in the guest house my parents have in their backyard. Dad has hired someone to come and dig the necessary holes, they just need someone who can set up the plumbing. Most of the discussion consisted of my brother trying to convince my dad that he does not need to hire a plumber, he can do it himself and save a lot of money. I think they are crazy. My brother is in construction, but he is not a plumber, neither is my dad. I can just see it now, going to their house for the holidays year after year and always being instructed not to use the guest house bathroom because it is broken. I think there is a reason why plumbers get paid to do such work.
As a red-blooded American men, asking for help is not our strongest suit. Although I am very social, I often like to be capable of doing things on my own too. There have been times in school when I choose to do a project alone instead of doing one with the help of a group. Usually this occurs because I want to follow my own ideas and not someone else’s. I think the Internet may have affected this weakness negatively because I no longer have to go to other people as much to seek knowledge. Most things that I might need to know, I can learn online. 
Mark 11 recorded kind of a funny miracle that Jesus performed. He seemed frustrated when a fig tree did not have any fruit, so he cursed it. The next day they were amazed to see that the tree had withered. Peter called Jesus’ attention to the tree, then Jesus replied to him by saying “have faith in God.” Then Jesus taught them about asking and believing.
Most of the believing we tend to do stops with us. May be we believe in ourselves (which is why one might decide to go the DIY route), yet where does God fit into the equation? Although I may intellectually acknowledge God in certain sober moments, I think I tend to underestimate God’s role on a daily basis. In reality, life is not a DIY job.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How Will I Know?

A couple of years ago, some of my friends and I were driving through vast expanse of the Texas panhandle on our way to the ski slopes of New Mexico. While we were passing by Lubbock, my friend Alex decided to divert our conversation to the music on the radio. He asked, “Does it seem to you that there was good music in the 1970’s and the 1990’s, but it just skipped over the 1980’s?” 
It seemed like an innocent question, which I thought might lead to a rousing conversation. As a child of the 1990’s, I kind of felt the same way, but I kept quiet. However, Tracy was not ‘gonna take it.’ He replied that he believed the 1980’s was the best decade for music. Unfortunately, he did not stop there, he had to ‘push it.’ Over the next six hours, he attempted to 'beat it' into our brains by subjecting us to an auditory tour of synthesizers, hair bands, and monster ballads from the 1980’s. 
In Mark 10, two of the apostles asked Jesus a question. They asked him if they could sit next to him at ‘the end of the world as we know it.’ Considering the big picture, their question seems kind of ridiculous. However, I cannot blame them, I think I would like to sit next to Jesus too. James and John (the apostles) had obviously grown rather fond of Jesus in their time together. 
Jesus’ reply was very gracious, yet he did not just answer the question. He told them that they did not know what they were asking of him. Instead of deploring their ignorance, Jesus addressed the real issue. Their question was turned into a prophecy and a lesson about leadership in the kingdom of God.
Sometimes our lives are motivated by seeking answers to our questions. ‘Time after time,’ I ask and wait for God to ‘pour some sugar on me.’ I wonder if we tend to miss the lesson because we are looking for the answer. After the anthology of 1980’s music ‘shook me all night long,’ I was still not convinced that the 1980’s was indeed the best decade for music. I wish Alex would have kept his question to himself. However, I did learn quite a bit about the life of Tracy. 
I do not think we should stop asking the questions, but we should seek the leadership of God, even if it is not an answer. Keep 'livin on a prayer.'

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why You are Gifted, Part II


When I was in college, I made two very important decisions. First, I decided that I wanted to make good grades. I had been an underachiever for all of my life. At my high school graduation everyone was wearing ropes and medals except me. I was friends with the smart kids, but I did not share in their academic prowess. After my first year of college, I found myself watching the “pomp and circumstance” of a college graduation and I decided that I intended to graduate with honors.

The second decision I made was that my ability to be successful in college would hinge directly on the effort I invested. As my professor and renowned author Willard Tate said: “You cannot have everything you want, but you can have anything you want, you just have to be willing to pay the price.” I decided that I was willing to pay the price to get the grades I desired.

Research suggests that around the time of adolescence, our view of ability changes. Children seem to view ability as the result of a learning experience. Therefore, if a child puts effort into something, he or she will feel good about the resulting increase in ability. After the change occurs, putting effort into something is seen as an indicator of lacking ability. For example, on exam day no one wants to be the last person to turn in his or her test. The extra time we spend on that test suggests to us that we do not have the same ability as the other students, therefore we have to invest more effort and should feel inferior.

In reality, most scientific evidence suggests that effort expended is likely a prerequisite for ability.  The idea seems simple, but it is very countercultural in American society. If you really let this idea sink in, it is quite a game-changer. It was for me. Suddenly new things become possible. You can stop envying others and realize that you can achieve if you want it bad enough.

When it comes to loving God with your strength, you may not necessarily have to spend a lot of time doing strengths inventories and in spiritual reflection. May be it would be better to simply treat as our strengths those aspects of life that we enjoy and in which we have invested a large amount of effort to achieve some level of mastery. Such strengths may not be included in a Bible verse or a spiritual gifts inventory, but I believe God can still use them.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why You are Gifted, Part I


What does it mean to be gifted? The word itself suggests being given something. However, in the academic world, it is a label imposed upon those whose academic achievement seems to indicate intellectual superiority to one’s peers. I was included in a school “honors” program for the first time when I was a sophomore in high school. Many students are inducted into such programs in early elementary school.

The overall idea behind these programs is that these high functioning students need higher levels of intellectual stimulation in order to continue to grow. Without a higher level of stimulation, the logic is that we run the risk of stunting the students’ growth or increasing behavior problems related to boredom. The unfortunate implied message to the students is that some students have been endowed by genetics as superior. It is often perceived that genetics is the giver of the gift.

As an educational researcher and professional, I have found that there is much more to the puzzle of being “gifted” than genetic endowment. Although there is a requisite level of genetic endowment, the genetic piece is more about the absence of genetic abnormalities. The biggest pieces of the puzzle are outside of genetics. Factors such as poverty, family situation, parenting styles, and teachers have a huge impact on a students’ level of achievement.

So what does this have to do with the Shema and loving God with your strength? The implication is that your strength is not from you. Even the genetic gifts you have would not be useful without other factors allowing them to be utilized. Any strength that you have has been gifted to you from God, who is the creator of all things. If we understand that God has given our strength to us through a combination of genetics and life circumstances, then the next step is to return that strength in his service. To be continued…

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Getting Engaged


As an aspiring academic, a good portion of what I do happens between my ears. I have thought before that if I were to have a head injury, I would have to get into a different field. I could go lose other aspects of functioning and still be fine. If I could not think, I could not function in this environment. That being said, I do not think critically about everything. I think such a lifestyle would drive one to pure madness. Some music I hear and like, for no particular reason at all. Sometimes I like to watch television or movies and just enjoy the ride. I might see intellectual elements or messages in music or stories, but I usually think about them after I have enjoyed being swept away by a compelling story, or a beat that makes me want to cut a rug. Different things engage my mind and emotions differently.

In the original Shema in Deuteronomy 6:5 as we read it in English, there is no mention of the word “mind.” When Jesus quotes it in Mark 12:29, the mind is included. This always confused me because the song we used to sing based on this verse was different from the original scripture. Recently I learned the reason behind this discrepancy. It appears that the Hebrews did not have a word for the independent concept of “mind.” In their language, the word “Lev,” (which is translated as “heart” in Deuteronomy 6:5) included the both the concept of emotion and reasoning. It seems like Jesus included the Greek word “Dianoia” (which means mind) because the Greeks did see the concepts as separate. I think it is interesting that science has subsequently found the Hebrew was closer to being right than the supposedly intellectual Greek.

Reason and emotion are inextricably linked and housed mostly in between your ears. The legal system may think its decisions are based on evidence, but none of this evidence exists in an emotionless vacuum. It seems to me that we have an easy time putting reason on our emotions, but quite a hard time putting emotion to our reasoning.

That being said, it seems to me that many Christians would have us love God only with our emotional connections, not our minds. They might even implicate erroneously (in my opinion) that our understanding of God and understanding anything about God should not be attempted. Conversely, others seem to believe that we should seek God solely as an intellectual pursuit. If we know the right things, then we will act right and be loved by God. Both sides involve engaging different systems unequally.

Given that emotion and reasoning are so closely allied, it appears there must be a third option. This option involves understanding and emotions simultaneously engaged to love God and seek all things that are good in this world and the next. This is my goal and I intend to employ my reasoning and emotions in the pursuit. It is time to get engaged. (my apologies to those who thought the title meant I was getting married).

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Indulging the Nephesh


A couple of months ago I decided that I wanted to resume the practice of commuting by bicycle. I enjoy getting the exercise and foregoing the stress of morning traffic. The ride to campus is really nice because it is mostly downhill and covers some of the prettiest parts of Austin. I get to class feeling energized and connected with the world around me. The ride back to my apartment (obviously) covers the same route, but in a much less pleasant uphill battle.

Before the recent considerable reduction in temperature, this ride was very taxing. I arrived home with an empty camelbak whose contents appeared to have been directly transferred to the rest of my body. It would take quite a while for me to stop sweating and feel normal again. After working so hard, my flesh needed nourishment. I drank a lot of water and ate whatever I could find.

It seems that our bodies have a way of directing our desires to what it needs. Hormones in the endocrine system seem to communicate with our brains in influencing what we consume. Human needs for touch and interaction may work in similar ways. The opposite also seems to occur, in which our psychological state may hinder us from desiring that which is essential. The former process is usually healthier than the latter. Scientists have called these processes “drives.”

In the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:5), Moses told the Israelites to love God with all of their “nephesh,” which is translated in English as “Soul.” According to what I have read, the word “Soul” does not quite seem to cover the true meaning of Nephesh. Some say it means “life” or “flesh,” others say it means “throat.” Looking at all of these definitions, it seems to me that nephesh is the seat of our physical and spiritual drives.

Therefore, I think God is saying that we also have an internal drive that seeks to know him. The human body is not satisfied without its creator (see Psalm 63). The incredibly large percentage of Americans (92% according to a 2007 study done by Pew Research) who believe in God testifies to this truth.

I wonder how often we let our other drives snuff out our drive for God. I think our collective nephesh is like a displaced pine tree in West Texas, or a sweaty bicycle rider, longing for nourishment. When will we give in and indulge that for which we were designed? How long can we run from our own nephesh? 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Papa


One time a professor of mine brought to class a picture of her favorite American President. As she showed it to us, she talked about Harry Truman’s presidency. She discussed the situation in which he came into office, his political party, and his accomplishments as president. After discussing all of this, she asked the class why we thought she was such a fan of Harry Truman. The answers she received were basically parroted back from he earlier presentation about his accomplishments and personality. After hearing our responses, she said we were wrong. Although she acknowledged the value of his contribution, his contribution was not the reason he was her favorite. Our professor said she loved Harry Truman because he looked like her “Papa.” She loved her papa, so President Truman was automatically lovable.

To me this is a great example of how emotions almost always drive behavior. Research has shown that the emotional parts of our brains are involved in a lot more than just happiness, sadness, and anger. These same systems play a vital role in how we process the world around us every minute of the day. People whose brain injuries have disconnected their emotional brain systems tend to become paralyzed with indecision and relational blindness. Similarly, some psychological disorders and psychoactive drugs can heighten emotional awareness to an unhealthy level leading to poor decisions and debilitating anxiety.

One part of the Shema Yisrael (Deuteronomy 6:5) suggests that we love God with all of our hearts. Heart and emotion seem to be almost synonymous when Jesus quotes this passage in Mark 12:29. Jesus used the Greek word “psuche,” meaning the seat of feelings, desires, and affections.

However, God is not a soft teddy bear or a familiar face. Since our world is broken by sin, he does not always occupy an automatically lovable place in our hearts. Our hearts are dragged away by other things. Broken people have distorted our image of our true loving God. Jaded thinking can lead us to not feel emotionally about God, but derogate the creator of the universe to our negligible intellectual understanding. We forget to stand in awe.

I think we need to spend some time with our heavenly papa. Watch the sunrise and think of God. See his work in the ones you love. Say his name in song and prayer. Tell others how good he is. Ask your heart how it feels about God, not just your mind. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

The A Word


Personally, I am very careful with the word “love.” I have no idea if I have ever been “in love” before, what does that even mean? I have never said those three words to a woman in the context of a romantic relationship. In a moment of rare open conversation, I once asked a group of my single grown-up male friends if they had ever been “in love.” I was surprised to hear that most of them said yes. After our conversation, it seems that most of them seem to define being “in love” as an extreme sense of affection for someone resulting from the combination of physical attraction and emotional attachment. I think if these guys were to be honest, they would say that they are no longer in love with that person.

As hard as it is to define love between humans, how hard is it to define love of God? The actions that signify love in humans might be very different from the actions that signify love for God. What does it look like to love God?

In the original Shema Yisreal from Deuteronomy 6:5, Moses used the Hebrew word “ahab” for “love.” From what I have read about it, this seems like it meant pretty much the same as our word for love. When Jesus repeats these words in Mark 12:29, he uses the Greek word “agape.” This word seems to combine affection with selflessness. This type of love seeks the good of the other.  In his book “The Four Loves,” C.S. Lewis called agape the purest form of love.

Knowing this definition, I wonder how many people actually have agape for God and/or others? Instead, we use knowledge of God’s agape to quell our fears and anxiety. We take other people’s selfless love for granted. Sometimes I do not love God in this way, seeking him above myself. I think relationships would work much better if we included some more agape.  People talk about the L word often, what do you think about the A word?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Word for Word


Lev Vygotsky was a Russian Psychologist who is famous for his work in developmental and educational psychology. He suggested that human thinking is inextricably linked to language. His research suggests that young children internalize the voices and speech of their parents and thus learn how to speak. This emphasizes the role of cultural interaction in everyday thinking.

Evidence for this theory comes from different cultural types of language. It has been said that Native Americans who live in the Arctic have numerous words that infer different types of snow. We only have one word for snow. Another example would be the difference between a layperson and an expert’s language. I might have seven or eight categories for which to describe a building, an architect would probably have hundreds. (For more on Vygotsky and the power of words, listen to this interesting radio show called "Radiolab")

Considering this line of thinking, the next portion of the Shema Yisreal is very interesting. When it was first spoken in Deuteronomy 6, the word used for the concept of love was the Hebrew word “ahab.” It appears that this word was fairly generic, much like our word “love.” It seems to have meant all of the things that the word love means to us. 

However, when Jesus quotes the Shema Yisreal in Mark 12:29, he uses the Greek word “agape.” The Greek language had several words that signified the concept of love. Agape appears to have mostly been used to connote a decision-based love, a commitment.

It makes sense to me that the languages would change over time. As the world gets more complex, so does language. What does not make sense is that in modern-day English we only have the word “Love.” It just seems too simple to describe something that was so complex that the Greeks had several words for it. It seems like it would be the same as calling all plants trees.

Given that language seems to be what shapes our thinking, could it be that having only one word is one of the reasons why we have such a hard time understanding love?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Echad


Is the sky blue? Of course it is, right? Wait, what exactly is blue? Blue is a particular mixture of light wavelengths that pass through my retinas and stimulates my brain in a particular fashion. Now do I experience “blue” the same way as you? Is there any way I can know that? I guess I can know that what I call “blue” is the same things as you call “blue.” Even if we experience blue differently, we generally call the same things blue. What about feeling blue? Do I feel blue the same way as you? Do you know what it looks like when I feel blue?

As I grow older, the world often looks less coherent. Some simple generalizations I have perceived about the world that worked in the past no longer seem to hold water. Pluto was always a planet, but now it is not. Yet Pluto did not misbehave and lose it’s status, something only happened to the way Pluto is understood. It seems that depth of knowledge actually induces less generalizations and more complexity.

Yet amidst this world of complexity, there is a word from God. In Deuteronomy 6:5, he says the Lord is one God. Moses used the Hebrew word “Echad,” which means one, alone, or unique. As the world of knowledge gets complex and seems less coherent, there is one God. Although humans may not perceive any coherence, there is one God.

As a learner, this gives me some peace. That peace comes from having faith that the existence of one God implies some level of order in the universe, even if we do not perceive it. For example, I had a hard time figuring out how the numbers in my apartment complex were assigned. It seemed like there was no reason in it. Yet I know now that whoever assigned the numbers ordered them in two concentric circles. There actually is coherence. It was just hard for me to see. If there is coherence, then may be my attempts at learning are not in vain, there is actually truth I can discover. There is some order.

Second, God is unique. It seems to me that even people who believe in God like to treat the world as being governed rules and principles like a computer program. Although this seems attractive to our brains, God is unique. Our world’s governor is a conscience, not a science. You can have a relationship with a conscience, not so much a science.

In the Shema, God first called us to hear him. Now he tells us who he is: the one, alone and unique. He makes and breaks order, we rise and fall because he is. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hear and There


It is very common for people to practice selective attention. When an adolescent is enthralled in a video game or an adult in a sporting event. It seems like a bomb could go off in the next room and no one would notice. This is actually an amazing ability of the human brain. It seems to have limited capacity to process information at any given time, therefore it can cancel out extraneous input. Yet the extraneous information is not completely cancelled, because some things can be impactful enough to shift the person’s attention.

In the Shema, God needed to shift their attention. It is as if he is saying: “If you hear nothing else, hear this.” God had already brought them out into the desert in order that he could pass on this word. It is quite common in the Bible for God has to go to extremes in order to get peoples’ attention. In one Old Testament story, a guy’s donkey had to talk to him (Numbers 22). In another story, Jonah had to be abandoned in the middle of the sea to shift his attention (Jonah 1). Paul had to become blind in order to hear God (Acts 9).

Jesus said in John 8 that the people were not hearing him because they had no room for his word (John 8:38). Jesus’ teaching was outside their box of normal everyday life, therefore they could not hear him. They had selective attention and hearing.

I know I am guilty of selecting that which I hear. My mind darts around like a mosquito from one thing to another, yet sometimes missing that which is important. I think it is important for me occasionally to stop and hear. I need to listen to voices outside of my own head. I think everyone needs to take some time to stop using selective attention and try some elective attention. In this we can decide to listen for the voice of God around us everyday. What do you hear?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Shema


In Luke 10:27, a prominent religious person tries to test Jesus by asking him what he must do to inherit eternal life. As he often does, Jesus turns this question back on him and asks him what he thinks. The man’s response to Jesus included very familiar words. He said “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.”

When I read those words, I was curious. Why is this basic sentence is repeated over and over again in scripture? When I was in youth group we had this really cool song we would sing which included these words as well. So I did some research….

This sentence is part of what Jewish people call the “Shema Yisreal,” (named from the first words, which are “hear Oh Israel”) that first appears in the Bible in Deuteronomy 6:5. The book of Deuteronomy is basically a long sermon from Moses. After he gives the Israelites the Ten Commandments, he continues to pronounce to them the words of God. He says the Shema, which also includes instructions about how they are to repeat these words, to commit them to memory, and speak of them often. Subsequently, the Shema is a very important part of Jewish prayer services, to be recited in the morning and the evening.

The words of the Shema are quoted in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In Matthew and Mark it is Jesus who recites them. Since I find this so interesting, I am going to break some of it down and post about what I find. I hope you will follow along…

Friday, August 6, 2010

Smelly Roses


Someone asked me the other day to describe a simple pleasure that I have. I had a hard time answering the question, because a lot of things are simple pleasures to me. I would define a simple pleasure as something that gives one unadulterated joy or exuberance. I get joy from having good conversations, learning new things, being with kids and family, solving problems, talking and listening to God, being in nature, listening and playing music, and many other things. I think life would be very sad and dark without simple pleasures. Yet it is also a pretty common experience to forget these simple moments of joy.

In Luke 10, Jesus’ disciples return to him with a good report. He had sent them out to do good work among the people, and they were successful. Upon hearing this report, Luke wrote in verse 21 that Jesus was “full of Joy.” Then Jesus turned and thanked his father.

What simple pleasures do you have? When was the last time you thanked God for the pure joy that comes from simple pleasures? When you smell the roses, do you thank God?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Legit

Something powerful happened the first day I began teaching. When I started talking, they sat down and listened. When I passed a piece of paper to them, they inspected it carefully and kept it for future reference. Most people would think this is not a big deal, but it was very different for me. The further one gets in one’s professional career, these experiences tend to occur more often. All of a sudden your words matter. Your thoughts are coherent and meaningful at least to someone. You start to feel legitimate. It can be intoxicating.

In Luke 10, Jesus sends out seventy-two of his followers to heal people and drive out demons throughout the region. Evidently they were very successful, because they come back to Jesus joyfully reporting “even the demons submit to us in your name.” It seems that Jesus shared in their joy, happy that they were doing so well. Yet he also reminded them, “do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

I think this reminder is absolutely essential to every Christ follower, especially in times of success. We need to know that knowing God is our greatest opportunity for success. Such a thought may allow us to remain humble as well as endure the struggles of life. 

Friday, May 7, 2010

Thinking Fourth Dimensionally


Great Scots! I really loved the Back to the Future trilogy. I think it would be awesome to find out what may happen in the future, as well as to personally experience what happened in the past. It seems like being able to travel in time would really help me to have greater insight and live life better in the present. Then I might be better at thinking “fourth dimensionally.” Having a flying car would be pretty sweet too.

A couple of books I have read recently have discussed how humans are often not very good at making decisions because we are also not very good at predicting the future. David Dunning’s book about “Self-Insight” says that there are many roadblocks we face to making such predictions. He says we generally underestimate the impact of our possible future emotions. We also view the future in the most utopian of circumstances.

Finally, we often fail to consider available data. For example, there may be a good chance statistically that people who speed in their vehicles will get a ticket at least once a year. Yet if you asked someone who speeds if they think they will get this year, they probably would tell you “no.” Based on Dunning’s book and other research I have reviewed, it seems that people only make realistic predictions when they are required to take the time and explore many different possibilities concerning their predictions.

In the 7th chapter of the book of John, Jesus confronts some people who seem to be making quick judgments. Much like the way we predict the future, the people used very little information to decide that Jesus was demon-possessed. They did not consider the possibility that Jesus might actually be the one who was sent from the God they presumed to be advocating. If they would have taken the time to investigate the circumstances of Jesus’ life and the prophecy of the scripture, they may have been more inclined to believe. To this Jesus tells them: “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.”

Unfortunately, driving in my truck at 88 miles per hour is infinitely more likely to result in a speeding ticket than transportation to the future or the past. I guess I am stuck with thinking fourth dimensionally based upon my limited current knowledge. However, I think it is valuable to be aware of our tendency for quick judgments, and to attempt to be more mindful of the consequences involved.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Wannabe


At this stage in my life, I see a lot of people around me who are continually striving to build their lives. We are “wannabes.” We are baristas that want to be musicians, assistants who want to be managers, and students who want to be teachers. We are singles who want to be married, married people who want to be parents, and lonely people who want friends. May be 50 years ago people would be safely tucked into a nice comfortable spot by now, but it seems to me that is becoming the exception instead of the norm.

We want to be significant, to matter. We spend our blood, sweat, and tears in our attempts to make our dreams come true. We seek mostly what is just beyond the horizon. There is a sense of spiritual hunger that seems to drive us. Yet sometimes it seems that hunger can get so strong that one can be consumed by it. We want just one drop of…

Something.

Jesus says in John 6 that he is the goal of our striving. He says that believing and drawing to him will cause us not to hunger or be thirsty. He also guarantees that what we seek is not the temporary stuff we see around us. It seems this stuff is what makes us strive.

The truth is probably that this striving is not limited by life stage or situation. May be it is a universal human condition to want. I am not sure what it looks like, but I “wannabe” filled with that which will last.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Immigrated

Following Arizona’s new law, many people have been talking about the immigration question. There have been threats of boycotts and many protests. Washington D.C. has even taken notice. In case you have been hiding in a hole for the past week, the new law gives authorities the right to ask anyone to provide proof of citizenship. Individuals who cannot provide said proof might be subject to jail time. Many have called it racism, or a violation of privacy.

Personally, I think this law is ill conceived. It seems to have been passed out of revenge and fear. I think it will be effective solving it’s objective if enforced; yet I do not think this objective serves to benefit the citizens of the state of Arizona. The best possibility that I think could come from it is that it might cause the United States government to take notice and try something different than putting people in jail. I am not a law expert, but it seems to me that making citizenship easier to attain is a much better idea.

In the 6th chapter of the book of John, Jesus is being followed by a large group of people. These people are away from their homes, longing for a better life for themselves and their families (does that sound like immigration to you?). They had come to listen to Jesus and see his miracles. Jesus kept his part of the deal and spoke to the people. No one said that Jesus had to feed them. Yet Jesus brought it up, then he performed the miracle of feeding over 5,000 people even though he started with next to nothing. Jesus also said in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

I know that immigration is not an easy problem with easy solutions, many of which I probably do not understand. Yet I do not think Jesus would be in favor of Arizona’s current approach. He was in the business of convincing people that they are important. What do you think?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Renew


Ray Kurzweil is a famous scientist. He is famous because he was instrumental in developing software in which a computer can read text. He is also a futurist, making predictions about trends and breakthroughs in technology. He predicted the growth of the Internet in the 1990’s as well as the growth of wireless Internet. Kurzweil also predicts that before he dies, he will be able to download his consciousness on to a computer, waiting for the time when the technology will exist to give him a new body. Then at some point, he will be able to download the consciousness of his deceased father as well. He thinks they will take their new bodies and live forever.

There is no doubt that Kurzweil is a brilliant man. His intelligence has brought him many accolades. Yet just like many other men, he wants to have power over death. He chooses technology and nutrition as the tools he thinks will give him this power.

The problem is that the odds are not in his favor. All but one man in the history of the world who have sought power over death have not gained it. Many have tried in many ways. The Bible mentions other men who were resurrected from death, but only Jesus Christ has in himself power over death.

In John 5, Jesus talks about his Father bestowing upon him the power over death. He says his followers will cross over from death to life, no technology needed. We will be renewed.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Jumped the Shark

Have you ever heard of the phrase “jumped the shark?” It usually is used when a successful group or company does something that leads to its downfall. Jumping the shark also seems to happen when that group or company loses touch with how it became successful. This loss of touch brings about something outlandish, which seems to turn the tides of public popularity. 

The origin of the phrase is from an episode of “Happy Days” from the 1970’s. In the episode, the character Fonzie dawns water skis and uses them to jump over a shark in order to prove his manhood. It seems like everyone could tell that the producers were hard up for ideas. Even though the show continued for 7 more years, it was not the same. It was like that one episode symbolized that it would never be the same again.

In many ways, it seems like Jesus jumped the shark in John 5. He openly opposed the Pharisees and proclaimed himself as the only Son of God. From that statement, things could never be the same again. People could not think of him as a teacher or just a prophet. At this point he is who he says he is, or he is out of his mind.

Has your faith jumped the shark yet? Have you reached the point where you either throw in all your chips, or shrink back into the same old routine like everyone else? Can you make that leap? Can I? 

Posted via email from stilllearning's posterous

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Motivated


I have never been very good at logic puzzles. This seems weird to me because I think I am a pretty logical thinker. I do not enjoy working on them just for brain exercise. I think this may be why I have never been too good at math. However, when it comes to real world problems and solutions, I will spend hours pondering novel solutions.

The best explanation I have found for this paradox is an issue of motivation. I guess I have a hard time seeing the point of solving a nebulous problem that does not do anyone any good. Many different things tend to provide us with motivation. Sometimes we merely want to do better than other people, other times we are motivated by trying to master a task. Trying to achieve valued goals is also motivating, so is trying to avoid unwanted consequences. Motivation is also affected by the extent that we personally identify with our objectives, as well as how we perceive our own capabilities.

In John 4, Jesus talks about his motivation. He was not trying to write a best-selling book, build a mega church, or to be known as the greatest guy around. Jesus’ valued goal was to do the will of his father. He was not trying to avoid consequences, for he knew he had to face them head-on. His life was surrendered to reach his goal and he seemed to have such confidence that people listened to him.

I think it is important for us to examine what motivates us, as well as how that affects our behavior. As part of that, we must consider our real goals, what we value that may be driving us onward. I guess the final step is to soberly assess whether you think that motivation is in line with what is right and good.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Floodgates and f

I remember when Facebook was just for College Students. I reluctantly joined back in 2004 when I was working on my Master’s. The girl I was dating was on it all of the time, so my curiosity led me to give it a try. Everyone had to have a college e-mail address in order to get a profile. I think college students were quick to adopt it because using computers and the Internet was absolutely essential for college even then. Plus, college students seem to like being connected with one another.

According to Wikipedia, Facebook opened itself up to high schoolers in September of 2005, then to anyone over the age of 13 in 2006. That was when the floodgates opened. Now it is likely that your parents or even grandparents have Facebook accounts. Just recently an Internet research company reported that 60% of Internet traffic was separated between Google and Facebook.

In the 4th chapter of the book of John, it seems like Jesus was starting to open the floodgates. Religious belief systems before Jesus was largely separated among geographical and/or ethnic boundaries. Unfortunately, the Samaritans were second-class because they were the offspring of the Jews who intermarried with other tribes against God’s command. The comment said by the Samaritan woman makes it seem like she did not feel good enough for God. When Jesus told her about how true worshippers were not only Jews, she must have felt enormous relief. In the coming centuries people all over the world of all colors and sizes would put their faith in Christ.

In some parts of the world, the word of God is still flowing like it just broke through a dam. I recently heard that Christian Churches in China are constantly multiplying. In other parts of the world it seems more like a large river with incremental, yet largely undetectable increases. No matter how the Church is growing in your area, it is the responsibility of Christians to continue the work. We have a better message than a social networking site. We serve a God who desires to draw all humanity to him. It is that message which breaks through anything.

P.S. For the past few days I have been correcting the capitalization of the first letter of the word “Internet,” yet I did some searching about it today and I found that there is currently a huge debate concerning if it is correct to capitalize the word. Personally, I would vote “no.”

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Star

The Fort Worth Star Telegram published a story about an older couple that had a flat tire on a Sunday night. After about a hundred cars drove by, someone stopped to offer help. It did not take long for Bill and Sharon White to recognize the well-dressed man who stopped. It was none other than Dallas Cowboy’s quarterback Tony Romo. They were shocked.  Evidently Bill asked the pro bowl quarterback not to talk about the game because he had not watched it yet.


I am not really in to celebrities. I have met some kind of famous people, but usually it is just awkward. Meeting people is supposed to be a two-way street, but with celebrities one seldom has anything to offer. That pretty much makes it a one-way deal, which is awkward.

In John 4, a Samaritan woman meets a celebrity and does not know it. Instead of it being a one-way relationship, he starts talking to her. It is clear that she does not realize that she had an audience with the Son of God. Yet he was mostly concerned about the condition of her soul.

I think it can be helpful to be reminded occasionally that humans can have a personal relationship with someone much cooler than Tony Romo (and most of you know that I think Romo is pretty cool). Not only do we have access to him, he pursues us like he did the Samaritan Woman. May be we should work harder to build that relationship.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Deconstructed

Since the invention and application of functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI), it seems that neuroscience has taken off. The last ten years have accelerated our knowledge of the brain faster than the journals can publish the results. Everyone is getting on the bandwagon. Even though some uses of this technology have not really been substantiated by research, that has not stopped people from offering it to the public. Companies are already popping up that use FMRI technology to diagnose and treat psychological disorders, as well as criminal lie detection.

Some research has shown that adding the words “neurological” or including a picture of the brain will lead to your findings appearing more credible. It is also a movement towards deconstructionism. Since you can look at someone’s brain activity in real time on an FMRI machine, it has led us back to the idea that our entire existence is a collection of chemical reactions that occur a few inches above the neck. We call this the “Mind-brain” problem.

Jesus teaches a teacher about the mind-brain problem in John 3. He tells him that “flesh gives birth to flesh, but the spirit gives birth to spirit.” Jesus also explains that there is something beyond what we see, hear, and experience. Finally, he tells the teacher that he is trying to use imagery that normal people can understand.

Although it is very important to study our brain’s processes, I think being human is more than chemical reactions. We are more than carbon-based complicated robots. However, I do not think science will find some inexplicable hole in the brain where God jumps in and listens to our thoughts. As Jesus said, there is flesh and there is spirit, they are different realities. Even though the two may interact, I think the spirit is undetectable by human means. I believe this is one of the greatest mysteries. Someday, we will know the answer.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Below the Surface


When people I meet find out that I study psychology, the most cliché question they ask is “so are you analyzing me right now?” Another question that I tend to get is harder to answer and usually occurs later in relationships. Sometimes they ask: “so what do you think is wrong with me?” The former question is such a cliché that most people in my business have some cliché answer to give them, such as: “What would make you think I am analyzing you, do you have something to hide?”

Sometimes people seem to think that studying psychology gives you magical powers so that you can see deep into the core of people you barely know. This is as ridiculous as saying that physicists can see electrons without a microscope.

 At the end of the second chapter of the Gospel of John, we are told that Jesus “knew all men” and that he “knew what was in a man.” There was no such thing as psychology when the book of John was written. There was no scientific way to interpret people’s behavior. Jesus knows all men because he can look below the surface. He knows every neural action that happens in our brains. Sometimes I imagine him chuckling at our naiveté, like we would chuckle at a child who is trying to learn something new.

I think it is incredibly valuable that humans seek to understand our own brains and thinking processes. It is an intellectually stimulating pursuit that is very beneficial to humanity. However, psychology is a flawed human science just like every other human-formed entity. There is always a margin of error and bias. Christ, on the other hand, is not a flawed human entity. He knows you completely, with no margin of error.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Valid


I once had a boss who almost never gave positive feedback to me. He seemed to love heaping loving praise on a few people. I worked really hard in that job, for a long time, trying to please him. However, this same boss did not often give negative feedback either. The one time that he did give me negative feedback, he communicated it in quite a humiliating fashion. He did not seem too mad, but he made me feel stupid.

That job was very important to me from the start, but receiving praise from him was a goal I wanted badly. I felt that if I could join the “favorites” group, everything would be fine. He would recognize that I worked really hard and did a good job. I was never able to join that group of favorites, but I did get some praise from him that made me feel ten feet tall.

In the second chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus performs the miracle of turning the water into wine. The interesting part of it to me is that he was careful that only a select few at the time knew about what he had done. He could have performed the transformation in front of all the guests at the wedding. Everyone would have been stupefied. Instead, his mother, the servants, and his disciples were the only ones who witnessed it.

Seeking validation has been an overall theme in my life. It can be a very tough battle. I think it is a pretty common theme for most people in one way or another. Jesus seems to have been immune to it. He did not try to get anyone to praise him. He knew his true identity.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Keep it Real


Sometimes I am amazed with the human capacity to act fake. It has been found that individuals who believe lies enough and have decent control over their bodily arousal systems can very easily beat a polygraph lie detector. How often do you find yourself wondering if they really mean it when an acquaintance says: “how are you?” More importantly, how often do you really want an answer when you ask the same question?

When I catch myself acting this way, it makes me feel stupid. I try to ask myself: “What are you doing? What good is this doing?” Another perplexing question might be “Why do I not want to really talk and invest in this person?” A recent research article found that people who are happy seem to have less meaningless small talk conversations.  I think happy people have less small talk because walking around all day trying to give false impressions is exhausting and leads to superficial unfulfilling relationships.

In the first chapter of the book of John, Jesus calls Nathanael. When Nathanael’s brother tells him they have found the messiah, Nathanael makes a remark that was not exactly respectful of the savior of the world. He says; “does anything good come from Nazareth?” Yet when Jesus meets Nathanael, he says he is a “true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”

I would really like for Jesus to have a similar impression of me (not the Israelite part, there is nothing I can do about that, but the “nothing false” part). I think I already tend to veer in the direction of being blunt, but I think I always can improve the genuineness of my relationships.

I think we should all make some attempts to skip the niceties and really relate to each other. Some research shows that disclosing your weaknesses to another person often has the effect endearing yourself to them and strengthening your relationships. Unfortunately we often think the opposite and hide our weaknesses. So give it a shot, keep it real for at least once. Have a real conversation with a small-talk-type of acquaintance and post a comment about how it works. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Credentials


During my first week of orientation for my Ph.D. program at the University of Texas at Austin, I overheard some of my classmates talking about their scores on the graduate requisite exam (GRE). They were talking about how they had taken the test more than once. One of the young ladies said, “I got a ___ for my score, and I knew I had to take it again because that score would never allow me to get into a good program.” When she said that, I chuckled to myself, because my score was substantially below that score she thought was no good. I kind of wanted to tell her “well I got a ___ and we both got into the same program!”

Sometimes I walk around campus, wondering, are these best and brightest students in the state of Texas? If you look at the numbers, they pretty much are some of the best and brightest. In 2008, 75% of UT freshman were in the top 10% of their high school class, 94.7% were in the top 25% of their high school class. I know I never would have been admitted out of high school, yet I do not feel like I was/am academically or intellectually inferior. The more I study in the field of learning and education, the more I realize that there is a host of variables which have a big impact on one’s academic success.

In the last part of the first chapter of the book of John, we see Jesus essentially enrolling his students. From what I have learned, it was quite common in those days for a teacher to enlist young men to follow him as a sort of internship for those who would like someday to also be teachers. Yet something that strikes me is that it does not seem that Jesus was very selective. It is almost like he just kind of said, “sure, come on, bring your brother too” when willing prospective students presented themselves.

It seems willingness may have been the most important factor Jesus required. He did not stop to give them a grammar test. He also did not seem to care about how they looked, their politics, or their parental lineage.

I can understand why institutions have selection processes, working at a community college for three years taught me about some of the difficulties associated with an open door. However, I am thankful that when it really matters, Christ wants my heart, not my credentials.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Voice


Not too long ago, I got into some trouble for what was described to me as my “swagger.” Evidently, some people were not impressed with what they called a “street-wise, Joe Cool” attitude from me. I did not mean to upset anyone. I honestly think there was some type of miscommunication that unfortunately led me to making a bad first impression. Nonetheless, I tried to be more conscientious.

I have done a substantial amount of study on the topic of humility and pride. It is a complicated issue. It seems like sometimes humility is seen as quiet strength, other times it is seen as weakness. Sometimes pride looks like self-confidence, other times it looks like ignorant arrogance. People seem to prefer one or the other in different situations. We want politicians to emanate pride, whereas we like to see humility in professional athletes.

I think that John the Baptist is a good example of someone who had a good balance between humility and pride. In the first chapter of the book of John, he describes himself as a “voice” and a person who baptizes with water. He does not degrade himself or call himself nothing. He knew he had an important role. He also did not inflate himself by assuming the role of prophet. Instead, he defined himself through his relationship with Christ. He basically said he is a human billboard, not worthless or incredibly valuable, yet his value lies in pointing the way to that which has value.

Sometimes I pretend to have all the answers, pointing to my own goodness, which is probably where pride comes in. Other times I can bring myself so low as to doubt his goodness in me. Instead, I want my life to be a voice, a message to the world about the goodness of God.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Final Frontier


Watching LOST has helped me encounter something about myself that I had never encountered in the past. It must lie somewhere deep within the depths of me, so deep that it remained undiscovered for such a long time. I think my propensity towards social desirability may have formed a thick protective layer, keeping this trait far beneath the surface. I have spent most of my life in situations where those who have this trait usually kept it silent, or were pushed off to the fringe of social circles. I am not sure if I have felt it before or not, but if I did I was afraid to admit it even to myself. But I can no longer keep silent, I must admit it and let it be as it may.

I enjoy science fiction. I cannot hide it. I never enjoyed Star Trek, I did not even see the Star Wars movies until I was 24 years old. I was sucked into LOST when it seemed to be an interesting survival drama, but I am even more engaged now that it is full-blown sci-fi with mythical monsters, time travel, and alternate realities. In the last week my roommate has got me hooked on watching “Battlestar Gallactica” and I enjoy it immensely.

Reading the first chapter of the book of John this morning made me think about science fiction. I can just see the first 18 verses in large yellow letters appearing at the bottom of a star-lit screen and moving slowly into the distance accompanied by a dramatic John Williams symphony. “In the beginning was the Word…”

It seems to me that there may be some similarity between the draw of science fiction and the intrigue of this chapter. Both include epic, larger than life stories. Both are mysterious and other worldly. Both draw you in by toeing the line between what is familiar and what is novel. I believe it is our attraction to God’s story that makes science fiction’s stories attractive.

So as I continue to work my way through “Battlestar” and everyday life, I need to be reminded that the reality God created is more epic and intriguing than any science fiction story. I do not need to try to hide my desire to part of his bigger story. Life can sometimes seem mundane, we need to remember that the story is epic. May the force be with you, live long and prosper.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Deceived

I recently heard a story (on “The Moth” podcast) about a woman who received a disturbing phone call. The unknown voice on the line told her that her boyfriend was having affairs with two other women. Understandably, she was enraged. She got all of his stuff and proceeded to his house. The storyteller said that until that moment, she had never understood how murder happens. 

I have never been in that particular situation, although I have been in situations in which I found out how someone was very different from whom I thought they were. There is this sense of psychological loss of the person I thought I knew. From that point on, one’s perspective will never again be the same.

Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11 about people who deceive others through a masquerade. He wrote that even Satan himself performs a masquerade as an “angel of light.” According to Paul, the result of such behavior will be that the deceiver shall get what is deserved.

I think our response should be first and foremost to examine our own lives for deceptive practices. I know there have been times in which I have been worn a deceptive spiritual mask. Second, as much as it does hurt, we need to be exceedingly careful about enforcing God’s judgment on someone who deceives us. Although we should not enable it to continue, it is God who should be the one to punish. Finally, being deceived is just a part of life. I think it does us little good to beat ourselves up, always thinking “I should have known better.” We have to accept our own fallibility and move on with life without the tethers of paranoia tying us down.

As far as the woman in the story, I propose you follow the link and listen to it. The story is by a woman named Teri Garr, it is named "The Wake Up Call." That podcast is really interesting.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pleased


I sometimes find myself trying to please people who are hard to please. There was one particular faculty member back at ACU who was not everyone’s favorite guy. He was not afraid to tell you what he thinks. During my first meeting with him, it felt like he was trying to talk me out of going to graduate school. He was pretty intimidating. We all learned very quickly that whenever we needed to meet with him, we needed to have our ducks lined up in a row.

It was not too long before I ended up working as his graduate assistant. It seemed to me that he did not get much pleasure out of people who merely did what he said. Everyone did what he said. So I started not being afraid to speak my mind to him. If his instructions were vague, I did it my way. If we disagreed, I would have a reason to support my position. Of course I still did what he said because he was my boss.

I guess I enjoy the challenge of proving myself. Getting approval from someone who is so hardcore somehow seems to mean more than getting it from someone who is less discerning.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10 that he does not want to be compared to those who commend themselves. He said that comparing yourself with others is not wise. Instead, Paul advocates boasting in the Lord and receiving his commendation.

I think this is a great spiritual challenge. We must be reminded continually to seek God’s approval, not in order to get gold stars next to our spiritual name on the board, but in contrast with always seeking the approval of other people.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mystery


Lately it seems that the fields of economics and psychology have been asking many of the same questions. We are both wondering why people make certain decisions. It seems to me that economists have grown weary of their traditional models of explaining everything in dollars and cents. According to a story I heard on NPR’s “This American Life,” even their most complicated algorithms fail to adequately predict the economic behavior of the public.

Even psychology used to attempt to explain things in much a simpler way than it does today. Behaviorists thought that all behavior could be whittled down to stimulus-response schedules with reinforcement and punishment thrown in. Through their experiments, we learned a great deal about how animals learn, but applying similar principles to humans has shown to be problematic. It is just not that simple. People think about more than just rewards. Furthermore, we tend to think differently from person to person much more than animals. Then it gets very complicated.

I think we also try to think of God with the simplest terms. Many images come to mind, but they fail to describe God. Yet we seem to operate with these images in mind.

For example, we think that God will forgive us if we are good. Yet when we are not good, we expect punishment. Fortunately for us, the Bible does not support this view. Isaiah 55 says that we may turn to the Lord and receive mercy. He freely pardons.

May be it would be better to think about God like someone you just randomly met walking down the street. When you randomly meet someone, there are quite a few things about that person you can extrapolate from the situation and how they look. Despite those few things, the vast majority of information about that person is still a mystery.

Although I constantly want to learn more about God, I know there will always be some mystery in my thoughts of him. He is both simple and complex, here and there, today and tomorrow. What a mystery!

Friday, February 19, 2010

College: The New Frats


Yesterday I ate lunch with a fellow graduate student who lives in a co-op. I had heard about this phenomenon from other students, but I had never had the chance to find out what it really is. She said it is a building where up to 100 students all live, sharing a kitchen, as well as study and living areas. She said they sign a “diversity agreement,” have their own rules, and have chores assigned to them by the semester. They even have officers to help them deal with certain situations.

To me, it sounds a lot like a new-era-Austin version of a co-ed fraternity. The difference is that it seems they do not have near the social exclusivity that is common with fraternities and sororities. It is a way that students can reduce the ample social opportunities to a much more manageable in-group.

After navigating this campus for the last seven months, I definitely understand that desire. The difference is that being in a graduate program has provided me a sense of community, because my classes have between 10 and 40 of the very same people that I have been working with in the past seven months. Our little diverse group is a far cry from the sprawling 500+ seat undergraduate lecture halls.

Yet I think it is very important for people, no matter their age or occupation, to live in community. I think everyone desires it at some level.

P.S. I have decided to diversify my blog a little bit. I am going to write a little more about this college experience, as well as some of the things I am learning. I think it might interesting for some people to read. Let me know what you think…

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Easy Street


Sometimes it seems that we are constantly looking for the exit to Easy Street. We use e-mail instead of having to buy a stamp and head to the post office. We drive cars instead of walking. We avoid awkwardness with a lie. We avoid pain with medication.

Unfortunately, these conveniences do not make all of life easy. E-mail often goes unread, cars break down, pain comes back, and we can get caught in lies. Even if none of these things happen, no amount of technological advances will actually transform our lives into an easy float down the Comal River. There are still accidents, disease, poor choices, and death that can make life hard.

In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul does not describe his pursuit for the easy life. He describes a pursuit for the Godly life. In the Godly life, he sets out a paradox of suffering and happiness. It seems like sorrow mixed with fulfillment. It actually appears opposite to that easy life that most of us are seeking.

I personally do not believe the easy life exists. Even a person who has all the money in the world without having to work for it would likely have the hardship of feeling like the days are meaningless. So life is hard, deal with it. I think realizing this gives us the freedom to take our challenges head on instead of avoiding them.

Easy Street


Sometimes it seems that we are constantly looking for the exit to Easy Street. We use e-mail instead of having to buy a stamp and head to the post office. We drive cars instead of walking. We avoid awkwardness with a lie. We avoid pain with medication.

Unfortunately, these conveniences do not make all of life easy. E-mail often goes unread, cars break down, pain comes back, and we can get caught in lies. Even if none of these things happen, no amount of technological advances will actually transform our lives into an easy float down the Comal River. There are still accidents, disease, poor choices, and death that can make life hard.

In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul does not describe his pursuit for the easy life. He describes a pursuit for the Godly life. In the Godly life, he sets out a paradox of suffering and happiness. It seems like sorrow mixed with fulfillment. It actually appears opposite to that easy life that most of us are seeking.

I personally do not believe the easy life exists. Even a person who has all the money in the world without having to work for it would likely have the hardship of feeling like the days are meaningless. So life is hard, deal with it. I think realizing this gives us the freedom to take our challenges head on instead of avoiding them.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Religious Violence


In his bestselling book The Road Less Traveled, Psychologist M. Scott Peck wrote that the Church keeps him in business as a therapist. He went on to tell stories about how different aspects of religious dogmatism can cause or be related to mental illness. For example, he treated a woman who was debilitated by the conviction that God wanted her to die. He also talked about how parents can use religious traditions and laws as an excuse to intentionally dominate their children.

One time I was called to counsel a young man who was talking about hurting himself. One of the central struggles he kept repeating was how his mother used her religious convictions to condemn many of the things that he liked. She also used her convictions to keep him with her, stunting his ability to grow. He was 19 and still did not even have a driver’s license. It seemed to me that it was her own insecurity, not her faith, which largely contributed to her behavior. It is sad to me that he was turned off to God by her religiosity.

I think this is a big part of the new reality in the United States. There may be less people who are “unchurched” and more who are “de-churched.” Unchurched people may not know much about religion; de-churched people have been a part of a religious system that has somehow turned them away from God.

In 2nd Corinthians 5 Paul explains his mission, that people will be reconciled to God. He did not call them to take on the faith of their fathers, get a master’s of divinity, or to start climbing the ranks of the religious establishment. He simply explained Christ’s compassion and sought to show his love. Knowing God is the goal.

It was Jesus’ message that changed the world. The voices of condemnation were not loud enough. It is definitely time to change.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Great Beyond


I recently watched an interesting movie called “City of Ember.” The setting is a future post-apocalyptic world in which a handful of the world’s leaders created an underground city in order to preserve humanity from something unknown. Although the setting is supposed to be in the future, there are no flying cars or light sabers, the city looks like England in the 1900’s. The conflict is when the massive generator which gives them power begins to fail and some of the city’s citizens start to long for a life outside of the city. Most of the people tell them there is only darkness outside of the city. The city is all they have ever known.

A theme of escaping limited reality is actually fairly common in movies. There was the ever-popular Matrix trilogy, in which the characters tried to escape their computer generated fake world. For about 6 movies, the astronaut played by Charlton Heston tried to escape an earth that was dominated by oppressive apes. Kevin Costner tried to find land in a water-covered world in the biggest movie flop of all time, “Waterworld.”

Good or bad, this movie theme seems to say something about human nature. We seem to have something within us that longs for the truth beyond what we can see. Science also continually creates theory to conceptualize what is not readily observable. We are always looking at the horizon.

Paul wrote fairly vaguely in 2 Corinthians 5 about the world that exists beyond our grasp. He says we will live eternally in a place not made by humans. We will be “clothed” by a heavenly dwelling. We were made for the purpose of living in a different, immortal world.

I think it is good to be occasionally reminded that our present reality is not our future reality. Even in this life, things change in ways we cannot currently imagine. This life itself will also pass away, but that is not the end.
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