An Unsettling Realization: Ideas, Identity, Inclusion

I discovered something unsettling about myself recently.

I enjoy thinking about why I think things. How’s that for an odd second sentence?

As I grow older, I’m trying to hold more of my ideas about the world more loosely and not attach them to my identity too much. It’s difficult though. It seems like I constantly catch myself closing to information or ways of approaching something because I’ve attached my identity to an idea.

Some ideas I’ve come to clutch more tightly. They’re dear to me. Hopefully someday I’ll be able to hold all of my ideas loosely so I don’t dig in my heels the instant l feel something pulling in another direction .

All that to say, unfortunately, when I change my thinking on one particular thing, it’s far too easy to begin forming my identity with those who may have introduced me to that way of thinking. It’s easy to be sharp in one area of thinking and sloppy in several others, because I’m excited about a new thought or theory (because it’s new, it has interesting implications, and it’s shiny.)

This might sound stupid, but I get embarrassed when I find out that I was wrong about something. Even saying it sounds silly–as if reality cares about what I think about it, as if me thinking the right or wrong thing about something makes me any better or worse than anyone else. I realize that thinking correctly is preferable to incorrectly because it sometimes affects how we react to situations, but that’s not always what it’s about for me. Sometimes it’s just a bunch of silly pride.

So when I change my mind, the next step is to distance myself from the person I was when I thought incorrectly about it. Sometimes that includes saying things that clearly separate me from those silly people I left back there, which is stupid, but I do it anyway. Too often, those with the ideas I just left become the new target. I’ve found the truth now so if everyone will follow me, thank you, I’ll show them where I found it, or suffer my scorn. (I try not to let it go that far too often, but that’s what’s behind it.)


Moving on in the vein of ideas, I recently heard one that made a lot of sense of what I’m describing in myself, and what I’ve seen in a hundred internet brawls discussions. Brain science allows us to make some sense of this. There’s a small part of your brain called the thalamus that’s located above your spinal column. For the sake of brevity, and the point of this post, I’ll oversimplify: it’s responsible for your sense of self: who you understand yourself to be. It’s how we make sense of who we are in relation to everything else.

That’s pretty cool, but there’s one problem.

All the data you take in passes through the thalamus, this part of the brain that tells you who you are. In other words, all ideas are filtered through your identity. If ideas conflict with your identity, chances are, you’ll shed the idea (even if it’s correct); you’ll resist it, until you find a way to fit it into your identity, or until you find a new identity that includes that idea.

Have you ever recoiled at an idea when you first heard it, and later wondered how in the world you could have questioned it at all? Me too. That’s your handy thalamus at work, telling you “Safe idea. Unsafe idea!”


“The more you see the less you know

The less you find out as you go

I knew much more then

Than I do now.”

-U2

Here’s what I’m saying with all this.

The older I get, the more I realize I don’t know. It’s kind of surprising, but that’s how it’s turned out. When I was younger, I heard older people say things like that and now I know what they’re talking about.

There’s just a lot of stuff we don’t know–way more than we have any idea. Right now there are things we don’t know we don’t know. All of us are wrong about a lot of things, and there’s a very good chance that’s just fine. The world went on just like before when I was wrong about other things, and it will continue to do so even though I’m wrong about things now.

I could go on about this stuff for a really long time, but I’d like to be able to crawl back out of this rabbit hole before it’s too late for all of us.

As much as possible, I want us to remember in all our interactions, how our identities and ideas are linked–how close around the corner our biases toward certainty are lurking.

I want to continue to slowly kill this natural-born habit of fusing unbreakable bonds between my identity and the ideas I currently hold.

I want to be as gracious with people as I want them to be with me.

I want to work on being willing to accept truth even from unsavory sources; even when my identity tells me I should be prejudiced toward it.

I want to remember that if things were as clear-cut on an issue as I’d sometimes like to make them, chances are we’d probably have cracked the code by now and wouldn’t be having the conversation.

I want to engage in patient discussions of discovery, rather than trying to punch people with knockout arguments.

I want to do better at having conversations where there’s room for everyone to say their piece, not just people who tow the Ryan Party line.

That’s what I hope is reality for me when I’m older and wiser than I am now. Hopefully, if I aim for it long enough, and live long enough, I’ll get near it someday. If enough of us want that, maybe we can help each other.

Paintings, Sunsets, and Starry Nights: some thoughts on logic, moments, and reality

“Imagination does not breed insanity… reason [does…]

Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea;

reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. 

To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain.

The poet desires only exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. 

The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens.

It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.”

GK Chesterton, “Orthodoxy”

 

I love taking ideas apart. I love analyzing. 

Sometimes though, when I spend too much time in that part of my brain I begin feeling messed up and anxious inside. 

Because I find it so intriguing, I’ve occasionally spent days taking apart my own perspectives, and wow… As healthy as it is to reevaluate the way you see the world, getting stuck there for days on end without a break is bad for your soul. I know because I’ve been there.

It makes me a irritable and a bit crazy.

You can really get lost in your own head when you heavily critique your own ways of understanding everything.

There’s nothing wrong with science and logic; they help us make sense of the observable.

But logic doesn’t equal reality,

nor can it sum up or contain the scope of my or anyone’s experience of reality. 

A sunset, or a the night sky bursting with stars for example:

We could break the components of both down until we arrive at subatomic particles, and be awed by their intricacies.

But even if we got to the point where we understood everything about both of them and published them in a scientific journal, we still would not have encompassed the whole of either of them.

It’s still just a bunch of words and paper. It still doesn’t have the same effect on us. 

After reading all that, what we really want to do is go outside and look at the real thing– to absorb the light and the colors with our senses and feel the cooling evening air against the surface of our skin. 

Words by nature are binary (they cause us to choose one shade at expense of a slightly different one). They’re so helpful for the specifics of daily life, but they’re great strength also limits them tremendously.

Think of one of your most beautiful or sacred moments. In all the time you’ve spent on earth, there are probably a few moments when time stood still, or when the normal lines between reality and imagination blurred, or when the curtain was pulled tight in front of you and you could dimly see what felt like another dimension.

Now try to put words to it. Frustrating, right?

Of course it is.

Do you know why our transcendent moments are hard to recount? Our brains actually have to reconstruct, limit, and condense these experiences, as they move from the place in our brain they reside, to the language part so we’re able to try talking about these experiences and even then we manage to find some words for them we speak in abstract terms or use metaphor/simile. 

“It hurt like fire, but also felt like a father’s warm embrace…” The specifics are lost on us because words don’t do it justice.

Logic is only one limited lens through which we can look at reality, but if I spend all my time looking at it through that one, I cease to be able to fully experience the fulleness, theessence of life: both the beautiful and the ugly.

Here’s my concern:

I often analyze at the expense of experiencing the moment. While others have lost themselves in it,  I’m sitting there tearing it apart deciding what I like and don’t like about it, and how I would present my opinion about it to someone who might disagree with me. And worse, sometimes I even say these things out loud and spoil it for others. 

It’s a ridiculous approach to something as amazing as life. There are people who live, suspending their own two cent analysis, just unabashedly enjoying the realness of existence… then I come along.

And I have the audacity to scornfully observe to myself, that they’re not thinking about their existence properly–that they’d be so much more enlightened if they’d think about it like I do. But in that moment, I’ve turned into a mere spectator. 

How, in any meaningful sense of the word do I have a better grasp on living well, simply because (rather than actually living and loving life, or whatever else it is we approach this way) I’ve torn it apart and have carefully worded opinions on it?

It’s like buying a gorgeous painting and hanging it on the wall, but right in the middle of it I’ve fastened a piece of paper telling everyone what I like about it and what I think it’s worth.

Who cares?

It’s distracting first of all, cheapening, second, and third, it’s hindering  others from seeing and feeling it for themselves.

It turns out the moment needs my analysis and price tag about as much as the painting does.

It doesn’t need it.

What the Spirit is telling me through the moment is not audible if I’m pillaging the good people, the healthy dialogue, the stunning sunset, the uncomfortable situation, the hard work for something to prop up the things I’m already telling myself. 

There’s a time and a season for everything. Reflection and analysis are not bad; they’re just not everything. There’s time for that afterward, in the stillness and quiet.

It’s a bit late for a New Years resolution, but this year I’d like to do better at not analyzing the life out of everything–to be conscious of turning off the logical, analytical part of my mind before my soul starts suffering. 

If you’re breathing, if I’m breathing, it’s never to late to begin living life for all it’s worth.

 

“How you see anything is how you see everything.
How you do this moment is how you do every moment. 
If right now (I hope it’s not true)…
you’re trying to prove how I’m wrong, why I’m wrong,
and you’re marshaling your arguments to disprove [what] I’m saying,
…I just want to warn you of this:
that if you’re doing this right now with me,
I am willing to bet that you do this with your wife,
your husband,
with your children,
with your neighborhood,
with your church,
in your politics
–that’s the way you do the moment.
You tear it apart; you critique it.
That’s your way of defending yourself from truth,
from anything that might lead you outside your comfort zone.”
-Richard Rohr

 

Don’t You Want To Thank Someone

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing Andrew Peterson live for the first time. Even before the time I began writing my own songs, he was a writing hero to me. Jason Gray was there as well on what was known as The Storytellers Tour–and with good reason.

We spent the evening listening to their stories and music, and being filled full, and overflowing with the beautiful and profound, whether spoken or sung. Both men are incredibly vibrant and this vibrance can’t help but spill out in their songs and stories. But the purpose of this introduction is not so much to give a concert review, but to give you a preface to the man’s work I’ll be allowing you to sample.

Andrew Peterson: what to say properly without saying what’s been said before? The depths of life, of philosophy, of pain, of hope, of theology, that this man can plumb in a four or five minute song never cease to amaze me. He rarely uses filler content to finish out a song. Never succumbs to the simple, pat answer. He speaks eloquently about the mystery, but allows the mystery to remain. Everything syllable seems to be there for a good reason. Every word serves a purpose in the story he’s telling.

Like his smooth, unassuming, folk-type voice or not, you’d be hard pressed to refute the eloquence, the beauty, the reality of the words he sings. I was driving to town a while ago and was planning to listen a little Paper Route. I really was.

But I decided to finish a song I started earlier, from his new album Light for the Lost Boy. I finished that one and the next song began. I couldn’t stop because the mystery of the music pulled me in. A beautiful song of perseverance and hope. I skipped one and landed on the album closer: Don’t You Want To Thank Someone.

For some reason I don’t believe I’d ever heard it before. The title was simple enough. I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t expecting that much… I assumed a nice, simple closer. It started out well enough: a slow wash of soft synth and percussive echoing guitar that was more than a bit reminiscent of The Joshua Tree era U2.

The part I wasn’t prepared for was an epic nearly 10 minute song filled with beautiful poetry and imagery. This songso marvelously explores the tension between faith and doubt, beauty and pain, sin and redemption, it’s hard to fathom it all. I spent most of the song with goosebumps and at some spots had to fight back a few tears as I drove.

More of my own words really won’t do justice to this piece of art. I have nothing more to say about it but to offer you his poetry and a link to the song. Wait until you can pay attention to it, maybe put on a pair of headphones, enjoy, and reflect.

Don’t You Want To Thank Someone

Can’t you feel it in your bones
Something isn’t right here
Something that you’ve always known
But you don’t know why

‘Cause every time the sun goes down
We face another night here
Waiting for the world to spin around
Just to survive

But when you see the morning sun
Burning through a silver mist
Don’t you want to thank someone?
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

Don’t you ever wonder why
In spite of all that’s wrong here
There’s still so much that goes so right
And beauty abounds?

‘Cause sometimes when you walk outside
The air is full of song here
The thunder rolls and the baby sighs
And the rain comes down

And when you see the spring has come
And it warms you like a mother’s kiss
Don’t you want to thank someone?
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

I used to be a little boy
As golden as a sunrise
Breaking over Illinois
When the corn was tall

Yeah, but every little boy grows up
And he’s haunted by the heart that died
Longing for the world that was
Before the Fall

Oh, but then forgiveness comes
A grace that I cannot resist
And I just want to thank someone
I just want to thank someone for this

Now I can see the world is charged
It’s glimmering with promises
Written in a script of stars
Dripping from the prophets’ lips

But still, my thirst is never slaked
I am hounded by a restlessness
I am eaten by this endless ache
But still I will give thanks for this

‘Cause I can see it in the seas of wheat
I can feel it when the horses run
It’s howling in the snowy peaks
It’s blazing in the midnight sun

Just behind a veil of wind
A million angels waiting in the wings
A swirling storm of cherubim
Making ready for the Reckoning

Oh, how long, how long?
Oh, sing on, sing on

And when the world is new again
And the children of the King
Are ancient in their youth again
Maybe it’s a better thing
A better thing

To be more than merely innocent
But to be broken then redeemed by love
Maybe this old world is bent
But it’s waking up
And I’m waking up

‘Cause I can hear the voice of one
He’s crying in the wilderness
“Make ready for the Kingdom Come”
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallalujah! Hallelujah!
Come back soon
Come back soon

Read more at http://www.songlyrics.com/andrew-peterson/don-t-you-want-to-thank-someone-lyrics/#0IPLos46SF1C7p8X.99

Art Giveaway

We interrupt our not-so-regularly scheduled blogging to bring you a special offer. This post really contains none of my musings, but is instead a bit of promotion for a friend. Rebecca Yoder has kindly offered to give this beautiful original painting to anyone who will help share the word and give it a good home. You also have a chance to win this fine piece of work if you follow the instructions. Click here http://beccayoderart.com/new-site-new-giveaway/ for more information. Just know that if you win it (which would mean that I wouldn’t) I will be very disappointed in you. Now go, with the knowledge that our friendship may be in jeopardy if you win it.

Kony, Social Media & Me

I realize that I’m not the only one writing about this. I’m just trying to sort it out. What I’m going to say is humbling, but I feel like it’s beneficial for me. Take it for what it’s worth.

So, confession time. I admit that when I saw the video depicting Kony and Invisible Children’s actions to help central Africa, I was moved, which is weird in some ways, and not so weird in other ways. I can be very skeptical of some stuff, and occasionally gullible with others.

I feel a little sheepish as I’m writing this because I like to think of myself as someone who thinks things like this through before just jumping on the bandwagon of the latest craze. I like to think of myself as better than the masses. But that’s another issue in itself.

I also like to think of myself as socially aware and also compassionate. You may notice the common denominator: a lot of “thinking of myself” going on. At any rate, I shared the video before I was done watching the last minutes of it on my Facebook wall. I though it seemed like a worthy cause.

These people want to stop the evil man kidnapping children and turning them into soldiers. They need people to know about this, so governments will know people care about this and, in turn, will want to provide aid to arrest him. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

I thought it did. So I shared it.

I thought a lot about it throughout the day. It was kind of distracting to be honest. It seemed like such a good thing to be a part of. By commenting on the video, one of my friends, challenged me a bit when he asked if I thought the US should invade for regime change. No, I didn’t think that. I don’t like war. I dialogued further on it with another friend in the evening and concluded I wasn’t quite as ready to support the video and its message as I thought.

It got me started thinking about the implications of the video. It wants to make Kony famous so people know who he is and want the US government to stop him. Think about it. If the government is to “stop” him, it will likely have to use more violence to do that. He uses child soldiers, so using violence to stop his army will mean killing some of them.

Not cool.

They also plan to work with Ugandan government to make so this works. The problem with this is that the current regime used child soldiers itself to gain power and also has a sketchy record with other with human rights issues.

This whole thing is very complicated and serious, and what I’ve talked about barely scratches the surface. Addressing it should not be something done lightly.

This is one way of dealing with the issue, but like many have said, is it the best way? Do I personally believe that this is the way the problem should be addressed?

 

Social media is a tricky thing. We can discuss things, share ideas, a lot more with massive groups of people. I think sometimes those of us who have grown up with it don’t realize the power it has. It’s something we look at fairly lightly sometimes. It’s just Facebook. It’s just  Twitter.

I like social media. I wouldn’t say I’m hooked on it, but I like it.

One of the things that comes with it is that it’s easy for people to think they care about stuff that they actually don’t. I mean it can give you a feeling of fulfillment and like you’re really doing something about  the issue when you hit that “share” button and post a comment with it. We can feel a surge of heroism with a few keystrokes.

I currently give money to organizations that help with poverty/HIV/clean water in Africa. So it wasn’t that I didn’t believe in some of this stuff enough to sacrifice some of my own money. It wasn’t that I was just trying to feel like I was helping out just because of hitting the “share” button. I do care about this stuff.

My problem was that I didn’t think. Not much anyway.

I like the fact that this type of thing raises awareness for the issue. They say that’s the main point of it, but they are using a lot of money just to raise awareness. Do I honestly believe that contributing money to this organization is the best way of helping out? No. I don’t. That’s one reason why I didn’t give money.

But, unfortunately, by sharing the video and signing the petition, I was endorsing its message: be active by joining the conversation and getting our government to take action to stop Kony. This will almost doubtless be violent. Do I want my name behind that message? Do I believe that more violence is the answer?

I only include this to remind us all, that because of the availability of more information than we are able to digest, we need to be extremely careful what we endorse, and what we say we believe by that endorsement. We need to think about the implications of things like this and the kinds of issues that are attached to them.

 

As a nonresistant Christian, I should not support, even verbally, ideas that condone violence as a good way to solve problems–even big problems. I’m not making a commentary on what I believe the government should or should not do. That is their business. They are in that place for a reason.

I believe that as a follower of Jesus Christ, I am called, to try to follow His example. That doesn’t mean I should disrespect the government officials for the decisions they make. But I should be very careful what I say I support: whether with my words, my actions, or my Facebook wall.

I feel that when He tells me to love my enemies, He doesn’t mean killing them is okay. Therefore I shouldn’t support people that think that’s a good option, and essentially tell them, “Good job.”

With the steady stream of media, good and bad, I need to be super careful to compare everything to the truth of God’s Word and not be so quick to believe, or think I believe stuff just because it seems cool and popular at the moment.

All of this said, I think some of the stuff that Invisible Children is doing is valuable: they’ve helped rebuild communities and schools. They’ve helped some victims of these atrocities through trauma. I can’t and won’t minimize the good they’ve done. Their motives appear good.

But, after reading more about how complicated the issue is, what my own beliefs on nonresistance are, and what my ideals are for dealing with the problem, I can say that it was a mistake and poor judgement for me to share the video and by doing so support its message.

What I am not saying it that the people who support it are bad people. What I am saying is that it was bad idea for me to do that considering what I say about my beliefs. I’m not either saying I need to be in agreement with everything a person says before I can agree with them on anything, but I should know what exactly it is they are saying before I agree with it.

As one person commented, saying, in essence, unless we are willing to kill Kony ourselves, we should not share the Kony2012 video. It’s a sobering thought indeed.

I could never do that. I would rather die than kill him.

Jesus loves him too. And I can’t help but think that there are better ways to stop violence than using more violence.

I honestly don’t know what those ways are, but until I do, I can pray for the situation, and also be willing to give to organizations that work to help out the people of Africa in other ways. I believe Christians should be leaders in helping out with poverty issues in other countries, so this isn’t excuse to stand there and criticize. If you criticize those that get involved for the means they propose to use, find a better way.

Do something–even if it’s just giving money. Find an organization you can support and get to work. As Christians, we have no good excuse to sit here and do nothing about all the poverty in the world. It’s a huge problem but that doesn’t mean we should throw our hands up hopelessly and say, “It’s so big. I don’t know where to start.” That’s often translated, “I’m lazy.”

The answer is not to do nothing. Let’s just be careful what it is that we do.

 

Props to my friends who challenged me to think about this. I appreciate you guys and thanks for the constructive dialogue. 

Suffering and . . . the Reward I Want?

I hate that feeling when life seems a bit like driving a car that doesn’t drive where I want. I have a steering wheel, but for some reason, the steering wheel’s not connected to anything. I spin the wheel in the direction I think is right, and nothing happens, or worse, maybe the car turns the opposite way.

I especially hate it when it feels like God wanted me to do something and I think I know what He wanted me to get from the situation, but it turned out to be completely different. There should be a visible reward at the end of the suffering. (In other words, something that makes me feel like this is all worth it.)

But what about when that doesn’t happen?

I often think that if I go through this, I should be able to get what I want in the end. I think it should be like a trade: “Okay God, I’ll go through this mess, if you give me what I want at the end of it.” In my completely human way of thinking, I say, “If I don’t know why I’m suffering, if there’s no visible reward at the end of it, if the reward isn’t what I wanted it to be, then WHY?” It’s just not efficient to have all that suffering with no product.

But something occurred to me recently. What if that wasn’t God’s point at all?  What if God’s point wasn’t that I come out of that situation feeling successful and like I had accomplished what I had set out to do? What if the only thing He wanted out of that whole experience is for me to come out of it knowing Him better, loving Him more, trusting more steadfastly in His goodness? What if all that other stuff is only peripheral compared to what God actually wanted to do in my life?

In case you wondered, that peripheral stuff is rubbish compared to having a working relationship with the Creator of the Universe. That’s not to minimize the great blessings in this life. I could list quite a few. But those are only bonuses. What He really wants is you to develop a relationship with Him that causes you to love Him, to trust Him, and to be transformed into the image of His Son.

Those are the results He wants from suffering. If he chooses to give tangible blessings with them, great! But those blessings aren’t the point of life, like I sometimes think they are. The point is for my obedience to glorify God, and leave the results of that obedience up to Him.