These people are not ignorant about what can be known of God, because He has shown it to them with great clarity. From the beginning, creation in its magnificence enlightens us to His nature. Creation itself makes His undying power and divine identity clear, even though they are invisible; and it voids the excuses and ignorant claims of these people. (Romans 1:19-20 The Voice, italics included)
As a Christian, I have struggled with doubt. I believe in a Spirit world that is not physical. I can't see it, hear it, touch it, or smell it. My education steeped me in science and cause and effect and research design and replication. My faith is about a fantastically impossible story. Yet I believe. There is an enormous amount of historical fact to back up the events of Christ's life, for example, but even so, one is left with the interpretation of those facts.
Although I have struggled with doubt at times about the Gospel, I have never doubted that the world and people were created. The idea that the world we have was initiated by randomness and chance until it moved along far enough that evolutionary forces (such as survival of the fittest) came into play, seems absurd. This is a grounding reality for me, and once I have reminded myself, I follow it back to the creator.
I also come at it from what "is". I see the complex order in both micro and macro science. Googling "patterns in nature" reveals a rich study in itself. When reading and hearing how "natural selection has created these patterns" I feel like the emperor has no clothes. How do you even get there without a designer of principles that makes all these things happen in order? By chance?
I look at the most simple things in my life, and cannot comprehend that they originated by chance. Music and the way it moves us as humans, in any culture for example. How did that come to be? How did natural selection craft that? Now many things can be explained retrospectively: music brings people together, provides community, communities are safer and those who stayed together survived, and so on. It is a stretch to believe that natural selection yielded the ability to compose, produce and appreciate music. And music was just the first thing that popped into my mind. So many things in our world are like that: Even people as designing and creating creatures point to a creator that built that into us.
Patterns have always intrigued me. I have noted in the past that our lives are dominated by creating order, restoring order, relocating order, observing order and so on. So it is interesting to read that the reason for patterns in living things is: Patterns in living things are explained by the biological processes of natural selection and sexual selection. OK. Then how do we explain patterns in non-living things like sand, wind, crystals. Natural patterns include symmetries, trees, spirals, meanders, waves, foams, tessellations, cracks and stripes, says Wikipedia. These can be represented mathematically as well. Did math evolve? How did natural selection create the infinitely intricate way the universe is put together and can be observed and described by mathematical models, equations, and descriptors?
A google image search for patterns in nature points me back to the verse at the beginning of this blog. It draws out of me a deep awe of the majesty and wonder of God. Smarter people than me may be able to explain how this all occurred naturally, but to me it seems like there needs to be an agenda that includes not wanting God to exist. For me, the amazing intricacies of the natural world and the universe point a finger directly to God as the creator--He has shown it to me with great clarity.
From The Undoing Project.
"All you had was rubber bands and masking tape, so you fixed things with rubber bands and masking tape," she said. ...There weren't many luxuries. She and Amos had no phone and no car, but neither did most of the other people they knew. The shops were all small and particular. There was the knife sharpener, and the stonecutter, and the falafel seller. If you needed a carpenter or a painter you didn't bother to phone them, even if you owned a phone, because they never answered. You went downtown in the afternoon and hoped to bump into them. "Everything was personal, all transactions. The standard joke was: Someone runs out of their burning home to ask a friend on the street if they know someone in the Fire Department." There was no television, but there were radio's everywhere, and when the BBC came on, everyone stopped whatever they were doing to listen.
As I read through this description of a community, I was drawn to the personal connection that it portrays. It makes me think of the shift I felt when headphones became more prevalent with Walkmans. It felt to me that people who had the headphones on had put up a barrier with the world. They were unavailable. Do Not Disturb. It had not been so with transistor radios and a single ear piece. With the transistor radio, the person with the single ear piece was sneaking a listen to other things, like the ball game, while still being available and present with those around.
Today if I go out walking on a public trail, more than half the people I pass have isolated themselves from the world around them by the use of headphones. Including myself. I have my reasons, of course--and I break headphone etiquette by saying "hi" to people as they go by--but I still do it.
This is the baggage of technology. It helps in many ways, but there is always a cost. With greater awareness, the cost can be managed but it is ever present. It is the tension between a world where connection is always face to face, and one in which I can walk and shut out the world while I listen to teaching or worship, Car Talk or a book on Audible.
I ran across a CS Lewis quote the other day that has stayed in my head and rattled around a bit more this time. It captures a growing realization I have as I get older. It's a realization that in some subjects in certain situations with less receptive people, that I would do better to focus on listening, as my view has no place to lodge.
“The process of living seems to consist in coming to realize truths so ancient and simple that, if stated, they sound like barren platitudes. They cannot sound otherwise to those who have not had the relevant experience: that is why there is no real teaching of such truths possible and every generation starts from scratch.” -- CS Lewis
I ran across an example of this when listening to the commencement speech by David Foster Wallace in 2005*. I have read partial transcripts before, but have never listened to it. I'm linking to the actual speech audio, because some of the transcripts are adaptations of the speech and leave things out. This is perhaps the most read/listened to commencement speech of all time, though admittedly some are critical of it--some for reasons that the CS Lewis quote point out. In this speech, Wallace makes a statement at the 6:00 point that some things he is "certain of" are not true. He goes on to say that an example of this is his belief and experience that he is the center of the universe, and explains why he has believed this.
The graduates laugh.**
It is shocking for me to listen to, as this is a deeply profound and not funny point he is making. He is talking in down to earth gritty language about the realities of life, and those who are listening expose their lack of full understanding by laughter. Now granted, they understand part of what he is saying, and that is that it is ridiculous to see ourselves as the center of the universe. What makes this sobering is that we do see ourselves this way--and it is actually hard not to.
OK. This could seem like an "up with old wise people and down with young inexperienced people" blog. That is certainly not my intent. What I want to do is encourage us all to be honest and less presumptive about what we "know to be true", in order to listen with integrity.
I was having trouble keeping a charge on my laptop battery a couple weeks ago, and kept plugging it in sooner than it seemed I should need to. My first realization of why it had been charging erratically was when I saw that the first part of the cord was disconnected from the second part that went to the wall. During the erratic charging period, the cord "looked" connected, but really was not, as it worked it's way out of the connection. These types of situations help to concretely tutor me on the fragility of my assumed knowns. The older I get, the more I see how I am likely at times to make assumptions which are not true, because I keep on racking up examples.
Hmmm. Perhaps I should look more closely at those times when I laugh out loud when no one else does. Hmmmm.
* I feel I need to mention that Wallace committed suicide roughly 3 years after this speech--in some ways this makes the speech even more poignant.
**At 9:45 there is another place where the laughter seems inappropriate. Perhaps I am being too critical or people are laughing nervously, or they are older people chuckling at the truth.
My lovely wife recently pointed out the Tytler cycle to me, which I find very intriguing. It was conceived by the Scottish Historian Alexander Tytler, and posits that every democracy goes through the same cycle, which looks like this:
The first stage moves from bondage to spiritual faith.
The second from spiritual faith to great courage.
The third stage moves from great courage to liberty.
The fourth stage moves from liberty to abundance.
The fifth stage moves from abundance to selfishness.
The sixth stage moves from selfishness to complacency.
The seventh stage moves from complacency to apathy.
The eighth stage moves from apathy to moral decay.
The ninth stage moves from moral decay to dependence.
And the tenth and last stage moves from dependence to bondage.
This can be drawn in a circle as well, to depict the full cycle including from the bottom back up to the top.
Now clearly this has implications politically right now, but that is not what I have been thinking about quite as much. What I have been thinking about is the clear demarcation in stage 5, where the positive ascent resulting in abundance, gives way to selfishness and then the death spiral. Stage 5 is the tipping point. If an individual could climb the stages and stay in abundance without moving to selfishness, grand things could be accomplished. Abundance without selfishness. Abundance without selfishness.
In Proverbs 30, Agur says "give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise I may have too much and disown you and say, 'who is the Lord?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God." Abundance without selfishness, without self importance, without pride in what I have or what I have done is next to impossible. It reminds me of Jesus saying that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Now, lest you feel you are off the hook for being rich, 1% of the worlds population makes $38,000 per year or more (the stats vary, so it may be slightly lower than that). That means that all of us in the US live in abundance, because even if we are not in the top 1% we are for sure in the top 5. I would also venture to say that we all deal with selfishness.
We watched a documentary last night called Living on One Dollar, which is about 4 college students that decide to take two months of their lives to see what it is like to live on a dollar a day in Guatemala, where that is a common income. The most impactful part of the movie for me was seeing how generous the Guatemalan people are, how willing to help and give of themselves, and in the end how generous the 4 students were as well. There is something very powerful about people who have very little being so willing to share.
Sunday morning I was standing in Church singing, when the little boy in the row ahead of me kicked over his Styrofoam water cup.
Water, tile floor. No big deal.
However, my 17 year old daughter, with a "help people in distress" streak as big as the sky, darted down the row to help the young mother by cleaning it up. On her way, she inadvertently kicked an extra extra extra large coffee latte which dumped its sticky contents all over the floor and adjacent rug.
We've all been there. Trying to help but making things so much worse than they were before we tried to help.
I told her later how proud I was of her, that just because things turned out embarrassing did not mean that the quality that propelled her into action was any less gracious and kind. Life can get messy, and the only way to avoid that messiness is to stay uninvolved. Some use a situation such as above to say to themselves, "I always mess up when I try to help, its better not to help at all". That is an unfortunate choice because it removes that persons giftedness and contribution from the rest of the world.
Learn from your mistakes when you can, but stay engaged, stay involved and remind yourself that if you're doing it right, at times it will be messy.
This morning on my way to work I heard another report on fake news. The gist of the report was that some groups of people felt it effected public opinion to a great extent and others felt it was not that big a deal. Some groups (I am avoiding naming particular political groups) felt they could easily spot fake news, others not so much. This drew my thoughts to confirmation bias, the insidious and powerful filter in our lives that helps us organize our thoughts, but leaves us seeing less clearly than we think we are.
Confirmation bias is the hard default of our brain that causes us to see what we expect to see and to ignore information that we do not expect to see. I say hard default, because it is impossible to change this tendency no matter how much we know it is present, and how hard we try. We can push against it, but it is forever paddling upstream. Granted, some do not even try to push against it and drift blithely downstream, while others fight with some tenacity.
I noticed a non-relational example recently. Michael Lewis in his book The Undoing Project talks about this in relation to scouting and choosing NBA (or any) draft picks. He tells how Daryl Morey, a sports analytics practitioner, observed that scouts would look at a player and form an almost instant impression of them. After that, the things the player did that confirmed the impression were noted, and the things that did not support the impression went unnoticed. None of this was conscious, their assessment process felt objective to the scouts. Factors that affected this impression were things like:
--reminding the scout of a current Most Valuable Player due to size, build, racial characteristics, mannerisms.
--reminding the scouts of themselves when they were younger, and thus favoring their skills.
--physical features such as looking soft, odd, attractive or unattractive.
Consequently, he began to come up with ways to counteract this powerful but ghost-like force in order to select the best players more accurately. He came up with rules such as "you can never compare a player to someone of the same race". That means if there is a black person trying out, you can not say, "he reminds me of Michael Jordan". You can say regarding an asian player, "he reminds me of Michael Jordan". What he found in the end was that people completely stopped making comparisons because they did not fit so easily cross racially.
If people are going to this much effort to select sports players accurately, it makes sense to put effort into living well with the people around us and swim upstream if necessary to counteract our biases. At this point I do not have any rules to impart, but I do want to raise awareness and encourage you to assess your own biases
I have listed below some factors that could potentially effect the way you "hear" someone. So the question is: How do these things effect the way you view what this person says, or are these things irrelevant? Or, do you feel like some of these things have good reason to impact how you view what someone says?
The kind of car one drives
type of employment or unemployment
how organized the person is
how loud or withdrawn a person is
religion and the level of priority placed on religion including atheism
where they went to school
body piercings or art
feel free to add to the list, this is just a start.
I am going to leave this as a "food for thought" blog, but I would love to hear any input you may have regarding this.
Speaking of streams, it's Interesting where a news story can take ones thoughts.
Today I feel stressed, small and inadequate. In the grand scheme of things, there is nothing tragic in my life--it is normal (difficult) stuff that converged today and left me wilted and wanting and in need of God's intervention--in whatever form He brings it.
I take some encouragement from this however. In the beginning of Revelation, God gives John a series of visions and asks him to write down the words he gives him for letters to 7 churches. In 5 of those 7 letters God has some positive and some negative to say about each church. I church he has nothing critical to say, and in the last church, Laodicea, he has nothing positive to say. What is the biggest issue with Laodicea? They say, "I am rich. I have acquired wealth and don't need a thing". They had become self sufficient. Not the self sufficiency that is robust while still acknowledging that "everything I have I have received" (1 Cor 4:7), but a self sufficiency that said we don't need a thing, we frankly have no need of God, we've got this covered.
I can be the same way when things are going smoothly in certain areas of my life. In fact, I think it is important when things are going well to have a thankful heart and "remember the Lord our God for it is He who gives us the ability to produce wealth" (Duet. 9:18). It is also He who gives us everything else.
I don't go here quickly. I internally fuss and fume and try to figure my way out of my predicaments. None of this is wrong of course, but turning to God sooner is always better than later.
So today, though I am feeling needy, I am thankful that I have a God who can give me everything that I need, and that I am so much more aware of my need because of my circumstances.
When I was 8 years old, i got my first pair of glasses. I can distinctly remember my amazement as I surveyed the new world. Trees had individual leaves that moved about, not just blobs of green. I could see the chalkboard. I could see how cute Ingrid was from way across the room. I could see clearly.
In my counseling practice, I see people who have stressed and struggling marriages. Most come because they want things better; they want a marriage with joy, peace, and love. The excitement of a first date for some, and the comfort of a favorite pair of jeans for others. Over the years I have noticed a barrier to their goals that is simple to understand, but hard to remove. In order to remove it, they must put on new glasses.
Inattentional blindness is a phenomenon that has been observed in many contexts. Our brains take in an enormous amount of information, and it is necessary to filter out the less important things in order to attend to the more important things. Inattentional blindness is a result of this filtering, and paradoxically, the more attention is focused, the worse the blindness can become. Two experiments illustrate this: In one, a group of radiologists were asked to look at 5 scans of patients lungs looking for cancer. The final scan had a gorilla 48 times as large as the cancerous nodules, yet 83% of the radiologists did not see it. In another experiment, participants were asked to watch a basketball game and count how many passes were made. During the segment, a person in a gorilla costume (not sure what the gorilla connection is) crosses the court. Subjects were able to report the number of passes, but were shocked to learn of the gorilla person.
One last example that we can all relate to immediately is our nose. It is very prominent in our field of vision, yet our brains edit it out and even "patch in" what is expected to be behind it.
So, what does this have to do with marriage? A phrase that is frighteningly true unless you have learned to use it to your advantage is this: You see what you expect to see. I hear phrases like this: "he always does _______" "when _____ happens, she always______" "this is what he does......" I can never _______, because she __________" and so on. It is the narrative that I know how things go and they always go that way and he/she needs to change so that things can be better. Things can never be better until he/she stops doing the things they do." Once this mindset has developed, it creates inattentional blindness to anything that does not support it. The mind thinks it is doing us a favor (simplifying life) by excluding the data that do not support what we expect. So, how do we counteract this phenomenon?
1. Look for evidence that your preconceived ideas are wrong--look for exceptions and magnify them. When she expresses appreciation for the yard work you did, don't miss it because "she never appreciates anything I do". Use it as an opportunity to say how good it feels when she expresses appreciation.
2. Focus on the positives and the things you like/love about your spouse. The things you pay attention to will become more important in your mind. (which is why things go downhill when the focus is on the negative).
For example, rather than focusing on how little time your husband spends with you and how you feel unappreciated, focus on how he works consistently, he is a good father, and he is faithful. This doesn't mean the other things are not important, it means that if you focus on what you have instead of what you don't have, things will tend to get better. If you focus on what you don't have things will always get worse.
3. Practice Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers and sisters, fill your minds with beauty and truth. Meditate on whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praiseworthy.
I do recognize that all three of these overlap. It just feels good to have 3 points instead of one. The main idea is to purpose to look for things that are going to put the eye glasses of grace and truth on our relationships. In addition, it is encouraging us to spend more time looking at the leaves, and less time looking in the sewer.
I wrote this a little over 10 years ago, but often find myself remembering the depth of the experience and reliving it to a degree just by reading it again.
A couple nights ago, my four year old daughter (I have 6 kids from 4 to 20) asked if I wanted to watch her do a dance. She had one of her sisters put on a song for her, and she put on a little ballerina thingy over her pajamas. It was just the two of us in the family room while she danced for me, and the pride and the emotion, and the realization that all she wanted to do was bring joy to me was almost too much to contain. I cried and smiled and enjoyed the moment as much as I have enjoyed anything this week.
I have thought about that a number of times since then, and she has mentioned it too, “do you remember when I danced for you?” I well up inside with emotion again, but it is not all about that situation anymore. I have realized that my heavenly father, my father God delights over me in the same way. The depth of feeling I have for my daughter is nothing compared to his feeling of joy over me.
This is perhaps something that only fathers will be able to relate to, and mothers to some extent. I could not have come close to understanding what I am so poorly expressing, until it blossomed in my own heart many times over as my children have grown up.
What a blessing it is to have children, and what a blessing it is to be loved by God.
Since I was young, the principle of “if you're not growing, you're dying (shrinking, stagnating, etc.)” has been part of the way I see life—a challenge to push on when things become routine and unchallenging. For me, this is important, because I am one that can quickly settle into the “best” way to do something, and then fall into the rut of always doing it like that. At times I need to step out of my comfort zone and do something different, or take some continuing education that challenges the way I do things, or see things.
However, not everyone is like me. We all have our propensities, the ways that we drift or dive into unhealth. I've noticed recently a subset of people for whom the axiom, “if you're not growing, you're dying” is questionable. I would describe these people as non-homeostatic livers (not the organ, but “how they live”). Now, before you tune me out, let me explain. Do you remember in science how homeostasis was the description of keeping everything in balance for the sake of health? For example, our bodies are made to have a core temperature of around 98.6. When that starts to change, homeostatic mechanisms serve to resist the change and keep things at 98.6. So when you are outside and not wearing a coat and the temperature drops to 30, you feel cold, which compels you (perhaps) to get a coat and conserve heat. If you don't, you begin to shiver, which produces movement in your body which creates heat, and so on.
So, people who are non-homeostatic livers don't have the corrective tendencies that are needed to keep them on a healthy track. They may drift into fantasy and forget their responsibilities in the real world. They might feel like it is too hard to get up for work, so today they will sleep in. They may be so overwhelmed by what is going on in life, broken marriage, struggling finances, behavior problems with kids, that they loose sight of where normal is, or just can't manage to get there because they are so totally depleted.
For all of these non-homeostatic livers, the best thing they can do is find a way to level out, to find balance, to persevere, to be responsible for a long time in the same direction doing the same things to keep steady. For these people, at this time in their life, growth is maintaining equilibrium for an extended period of time. It may be to grow the muscles of responsibility. It may be to ride out the crisis without doing something that leaves life long regret. And it almost certainly will be incredibly difficult.
“If you're not growing, you're dying”. Strictly speaking, I suppose that is true, but not in the way we usually think about growth. In the end, it turns out that focusing on “steady as she goes” for some people, during some seasons in life, is exactly the growth they need.