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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