What Babies Know

I worry, no doubt too much, of the things I want to teach my son. He’s 6 ½ months old. (And – yes, we’re counting half months, which is harder than you would think.)

The truth is, many of life’s most important lessons, he already knows.

Just the other night, we were playing in the kitchen. He was scooting around in his play-toy-thing – the plastic roller whatchacallit with a panel of knobby noisemakers… you know the one. It’s perfect for pre-walking. I was mopping the floor with my butt, as you do.

He had a green, circular snake rattle in his hand, and he was just shaking it, having the best time, laughing and squealing. At one point, he stopped for a brief moment, looked into my eyes and grinned from ear to ear. It was magical, like wipe tears from your eyes and scale a mountain, at the same time.

And – it was ordinary. Without words, he knows the sacredness of the ordinary and the joy of connection.

The real challenge in parenting, I think, is not cramming things into his head. It is helping him to remember these things he already knows at 6 ½ months.

But let’s be real: what do I know about parenting?! He’s not even 2… much less 13… Hah! My sister says it only gets harder.

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Accepting the hard things or wrestling with them

Today my son is 3 days shy of 4 months. Every time I’m trying to console his screams, I hear myself say, “Life is tough, my son. It only gets harder.” But what do I know? I cannot remember the trauma of being born or the struggle to survive as a newborn. It is a foreign, unreachable land, further than traveling to the moon. Babies teach us that from our first breath life is hard.

I’ve run across this idea recently in several places.

Paul Kalanithi, in his unforgettable memoir with Stage 4 cancer, writes:

“Lucy and I both felt life that wasn’t about avoiding suffering. Years ago, it had occurred to me that Darwin and Nietzche agreed on one thing: the defining characteristic of the organism is striving. Describing life otherwise was like painting a tiger without stripes.” When Breath Becomes Air

Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled’s famous first lines:

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no long difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

In the New Testament we have similar ideas:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” James 1:2

“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith… may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1 Peter 1:6-7

How do we deal with difficulty? At its most fundamental level, difficulty is unmet expectations. serenity prayerIf we can accept and even expect difficulty, how might it change our perspective?

Yet, what is justice if not fighting against wrongful difficulty? Can we, in the same breath, both accept difficulty and fight against it? I think not.

In all difficulty, we have just three choices: change our proximity, fight it, or accept it.

 

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What it means to be human, in light of babies

My son recently passed the two month mark. He is in many ways very different from me. He has few memories, no understandable language, and little ability to control his body movement. It’s hard to know what, if any, thoughts he has.

I look at him and can’t help but wonder again at the question of what it means to be human. My son is human, no doubt. In understanding what it means to be human, we must start with the stage we have all experienced and forgotten.

To be human at its most elemental level is to have a body that responds to impulses. My son knows in what seems a reactionary level when he’s hungry or tired or cold or needs to be held. His body responds to internal stimuli to poop, pee, sneeze, burb, spit up, suck, and to cry. And with every day that passes, he is learning that the eyes are the window to the soul – that eye contact connects us in ways words cannot adequately describe.

When I see my son, I cannot help but nod in agreement in the truth that we are human beings and not human doings. He is a long way from the idolized productivity our modern economy demands.

This question – what it means to be human? – is an important one, but it is immensely difficult. I have no illusions that it’s a question anyone can ever really solve; yet, I think it’s important we try.

Here are three reasons what it means to be human is such a difficult and important question:

1. To be human is a process. In a sense we are always learning more what it means to be fully human. Jean Vanier in Becoming Human says something similar. He argues that we start from a place of loneliness and pain, and as we move closer to others in community and connection, we learn compassion and thereby become more human.

I like this idea because to be human assumes movement towards deeper awareness, compassion and connection. It is becoming instead of merely being. Second, if being human is a moving target, we cannot rest soundly on a static point and thereby label others as “non-human.” Dehumanizing others always leads to suffering. We see others at different places in the process, not as nonhuman.

2. To be human is to be deeply connected to others. It is impossible to see the world through anyone’s eyes but your own. And as we in the West consider the question, we usually do so as individuals. We either forget or ignore the undeniable connection and dependence we have on others. Consider language. We are given our native language(s) through no choice of our own. It’s an artifact passed down and continually being changed for thousands of years. Yet, it’s both a tool, illuminating uncountable truths, memories, ideas, convictions and beliefs, and at the same time it limits our horizons and colors our feelings and perceptions. Imagine a world where you didn’t have language – oh wait – you can’t. Abstract thought isn’t possible without the language you have. Therefore, as we consider what it means to be human we must link ourselves to the mysterious, unknowable history of our species. In trying to be distinctive from the rest of creation, we often overlook our inescapable connection to others, the world and the planet.

3. To be human is to be multi-vidual (not a word). We like to think of ourselves as indi-viduals, but the truth is our brains are much more complicated than that. “I” is a lie. Michio Kaku in his book The Future of the Mind compares the mind to a corporation with numerous stimuli, but there’s a CEO that makes big decisions. We think of ourselves as individuals, but that’s merely the CEO. In reality we are a multitude of competing voices in the decisions making process.

Paul in Romans 7 seems to make a similar point. “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do.” Here he describes two different parts – good and evil – fighting to influence his decision making process. Modern psychology corroborates a similar conclusion. We are divided between our body and minds, the sides of our brain, thinking fast and slow, and the parts of our brain. (Read here for more.) And this doesn’t even include the microbes within us. Therefore, when we consider what it means to be human, we must recognize that we have many parts.

How convictions define us:

So I offered an overly simplistic definition of what it means to be human (a body with impulses) and gave three reasons why this question is doomed from the start. However, I have to raise the question of how convictions define us. Part of the reason for the blog (found in about) is that in discovering our convictions, on some level, we discover ourselves, right?

However, Henri Nouwen, in his wonderful book In the Name of Jesus, describes what happens when leaders discuss hot topics and writes, “Dealing with burning issues without being rooted in a deep personal relationship with God easily leads to divisiveness because, before we know, our sense of self is caught up in our opinion about a given subject.” This is a common mistake. Consider your emotional response to gay marriage, abortion, gun rights, reparations, the death penalty, or Donald Trump. So often we allow our opinions to get mixed up with our identities, which can lead to de-humanizing those who disagree. Truth is, “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Conclusion:

What it means to be human is a difficult question. If it’s true that at an elemental level we are a body experiencing various stimuli, the next question is: what are the implications of that? I do think seeing humanity as “made in God’s image (Gen. 1)” and “living beings (Gen. 2)” are also helpful ideas. (For more see here and here.)

Blessings in the journey!

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5 Lessons I Hope to Teach My Son

“In a world deluged by irrelevant information, clarity is power.” – Yuval Noah Harari

Our son, Silas Ged, was born just a few weeks ago on March 22nd. One important question that I’m sure to return to again and again is this: what do we teach our children? Since he’s been born, I’ve quickly realized the equally (or perhaps more?) important question: what do we learn from our children? Nevertheless, here are 5 of the most important lessons I feel like I’ve learned so far:

  1. The quality of your life is relative to the quality and depth of your relationships. The key to quality relationships is authentic vulnerability and genuine care.
  2. Work hard, but also rest hard (ie. well). An important step toward abundant life is learning to balance work and rest.
  3. Everyone worships something. Deciding what you worship will determine the course of your life.
  4. The wonders of life are infinite. School can be a barrier to true learning. Foster curiosity, fall in love with life, and take responsibility for your education.
  5. The most important place and time is here and now. Pay attention to your attention and be where you are. If you learn just one skill or accomplish just one goal, make it mindfulness.

(I wrote 10 but realized 5 is already long enough….)

Explanation and further reading:

1. (Quality of Life = Quality of Relationships) The best word to describe Jesus’ emphasis on love is radical. We are to be known by our love for one another (John 13) and to also love and pray for our enemies. Our God is love. Our message is love. The two greatest commands are to love – God and others. For the Christian, love and relationality cannot be overvalued or over-emphasized. It is the center and filter for all of life.

Further, scientists and psychologists are corroborating the importance of relationship for people. We are a hyper social species and need good relationships. If you’re interested in exploring this idea more, I’d recommend this Ted Talk, this short YouTube video on addiction, and chapters 3, 4 and 6 of Haidt’s Happiness Hypothesis (several chapters can be downloaded for free on their website).

The next question once we realize the importance of love and relationship is then: how do we love well? Or how do we build quality relationships? My answer (of authentic vulnerability and genuine care) comes mostly from Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly and Gifts for Imperfection – both excellent books worthy of your time and attention. Other ideas for loving well are to embrace your shadow by identifying your shortcomings, learning the 5 Love Languages, and reading this book, applying its principles to all relationships.

2. (Work hard; rest hard. Stay balanced.) The common advice to “work hard” can also hardly be over-emphasized in achieving success. Two profound pop psychology books on this topic are Dweck’s Mindset and Gladwell’s Outliers. Both critique the assumption of natural ability and argue for a growth mindset (Dweck) and accomplishing 10,000 hours of practice (Gladwell).

However, working hard is a half truth that can lead to all sorts of hell on earth. The rat race of capitalism teaches us to idolatrize hard work to our detriment. Even the Atlantic agrees. Success, realized in doing – working, achieving, accomplishing – usually triumphs over life’s equally important being – experienced in resting and playing. This idea of rest work imagebalancing the two comes from the Biblical idea of Sabbath and Breen and Cockram’s third lifeshape seen in the picture. For more on counteracting the rat race, I’d recommend two: Foster’s Freedom of Simplicity and Buchanan’s Rest of God.

3. (Everyone worships something.) One of the most famous commencement speeches was given to Kenyon College class of 2005 by David Foster Wallace. You can listen to it here or read it here for free. It’s worth reading thrice. At one point he says, “There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.” Bob Dylan sang a similar tune when he wrote:

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance…
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Like it or not, when we turn from one thing, we cannot help but turn toward something else. Worship is inevitable. That which we give our attention or that which we work toward – that is what we worship. We become that which we worship. Philosopher Peter Kreeft has said something similar: “The opposite of theism is not atheism; it’s idolatry.”

This is anything but a new idea. The first three of the ten commandments admonish a similar idea: Have no other gods. Don’t make idols. Don’t worship anything but Yahweh God (Ex. 20; Deu 5). Further, when Jesus gives his greatest command – Love God with everything – he’s quoting Deuteronomy 6. He’s saying the same thing as the first three 10 commandments. Loving God = worshiping God only. For more on this idea, I recommend this sermon or this book. Both are great!

4. (Wonders are infinite. School limits. Foster curiosity.) When I was a junior in college, I had the opportunity to participate in a study abroad program. It was a watershed moment for me in the fact that for the first time in my life, I wanted to learn. My little bubble burst and I saw glimpses of how big and wide and wonderful the world could be. Up to that point I tolerated school, treating it as a game and jumped through all the hoops. After that point school became an opportunity to learn. Ideally, that is the goal of school — to learn. In practicality it is a pipeline to get a job, motivated and distorted by money. If we can teach our children to love this wonderful miracle called life, curiosity will fuel all motivation needed to learn.

Perhaps I’m floating in the clouds of idealism, or perhaps I lament learning this lesson after completing most of my school years. This bleeds into one of the pressing questions of our time, namely how to teach our children. Most believe our current school system is outdated and (mostly) ineffective, but so far no one has figured out a great system that can be easily replicated. The 4 C’s are appealing: communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity. I would add curiosity (of course!) and perhaps change/adaptability, although that may be a subset of critical thinking. Nevertheless, overall I am sorely ignorant. The one book I’ve read on the area is Ken Robinson’s The Element.

5. (Attention: here and now. Be where you are. Learn mindfulness.) Brother Lawrence’s classic The Practice of the Presence of God teaches to gently return your attention to being in God’s presence, which is key. And God’s presence is usually found in the present. For instance, God’s self-identification with Moses was YHWH, literally, “I am who I am,” not “I have been and will always be.” Jesus similarly said, “Before Abraham was, I am,” not “I existed before Abraham.” When departing from his disciples, his final words in Matthew were, “And lo, I am with you always.”

Furthermore, when considering the kingdom of God, we find a similar emphasis. For instance, Jesus repeated, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Not over there or some other time, but right here and now. Repent today! Later, when questioned of when the kingdom will come, he makes the astonishing statement, “The Kingdom of God is within you,” again an indirect emphasis on the present.

It is near impossible to read any self-help or positive psychology book today that does not extol the virtues of meditation and mindfulness. In her remarkable survey of the science of willpower, Stanford Psychology Professor Kelly McGonigal makes the audacious claim, “If there is a secret for greater self-control, the science points to one thing: the power of paying attention.” In other words, if you want willpower and self discipline, learn mindfulness. Loving well, the core of point #1, I would also argue also springs from mindful interaction with others.

Conclusion:

So — what would you say are the most important lessons we teach our children? And how do we teach them? (Would love some suggested resources on that one.) My general thought is that simple, repeated statements stick, hence the attempt at conciseness. Curious if that just becomes annoying for kids? 🙂 As always, I’m interested in your feedback.

 

Posted in Fundamentals, How to live, Life, wisdom, Worship | Tagged | 1 Comment

Hello, pants?! Your most precious possession is being stolen!

First a riddle:

I am hidden yet always present. I am your most precious possession; yet I’m being stolen and you don’t even realize it. What am I?*

While in college I had the opportunity to travel abroad. On one stop, we visited a famous marketplace that had several hundred small stores. One focused on luggage, another had watches, another jewelry, and on and on – all of it knock-off brands. Who doesn’t want a $10 Rolex?! The sales people knew enough English (and Russian) to make the sale. Most important though was to get your attention, often by yelling. The person who could grab your attention first would make the most money. One particular guy – a seller of jeans – said hurriedly to everyone, “Hello, pants??!” To us, it felt like he thought our names were “pants.” From then on, for years among our group, “Hello, pants!” became the phrase for getting attention. 🙂

attentionIf you want money, the secret is to first get their attention. To sell items, you must get the attention of a buyer. To raise money for a non-profit, you must get the attention of potential donors. Even to get a job, you must get the attention of an employer. Money often brings more money, because money grabs attention. Your attention is your greatest asset and your most valuable possession.

Because attention is the door to making money, everyone is working to steal your attention. Today I want to reflect on the important question:What should we pay attention to?”

To begin, I’ll admit this is a big question that no answer will ever truly satisfy. But it’s worse if if we don’t ask it. Here are 5 reflections:

1. We should pay attention to people. Homo Sapiens (that’s us) is a hyper-social species; our DNA propels us toward connection to others. Christians have the same belief. We are created in God’s image, who is triune in nature, so we are designed by God to be communal creatures, created for community.

 

In now one of the most watched TED talks (seen above), Robert Waldinger makes a similar point. If you want to be happy, if you want to live longer, if you want to have a good life, he says, “Focus on your relationships!” Leaning in to good quality relationships is without question one of the best things to give your attention.

2. We should pay attention to the loners. Jesus was odd, particularly regarding his focus on outsiders. Whether that’s a rich lonely guy in a tree (Zaccheus), a prostitute crying over his feet (Lk 7), the lonely woman at the well (John 4), or the numerous lepers and demon possessed he healed, Jesus paid unusual attention to those on the margins of society. Some of his harshest words were reserved for those who paid no attention to the hungry, imprisoned, thirsty, and sick (Matt. 25). What that looks like is another conversation, but for those of us striving to be like Jesus, we ought to make “loners” a priority.

3. We should pay attention to beauty, goodness, and truth. I stumbled upon this idea, sheesh, almost a decade ago, here and here. But the general idea is that if we are created in the image of God, we will find our true selves in pursuing (i.e. paying attention to) the core qualities of God, namely beauty, goodness/justice, and truth. Connected to that, like God our creator, being creative is a wonderful thing that brings life, which for me means to pay attention to art, and writing, and music, and building stuff, and trying to care for plants.

4. We should pay attention to the present moment. So often my mind is somewhere different than my body. Maybe I’m planning the next thing I want to say, or trying to figure that next chore on the to-do list, or I’m daydreaming about an adventure to Iceland. There is great wisdom in learning to be in the present moment. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand (aka right now)!” “And lo, I am with you always” (present tense). And when we think about it, we can never really be anywhere but the present. Be where you are.

5. We ought to pay attention to where we want to go. Jesus said, “Seek and you will find.” Why? Because we become that which we seek. A person wanting to learn electricity will apprentice another electrician. A person wanting to be a good lawyer will read and follow another lawyer they admire. A personal wanting to increase their retirement portfolio will often read some advice from Warren Buffett. We move toward that which we focus our attention on. So identify your role models and learn from them, giving them your attention.

So there you have it. Some thoughts on what to pay attention to. I’m interested in what you’d add?

What steals our attention?

We tend to think of morals as a duality, either right or wrong, black or white. This, I think, is (usually) a mistake. “Is it wrong to eat ice cream?” is a poor question because it creates a false dichotomy. “When is best to eat ice cream?” is a better question. What follows is an attempt to reflect on when it’s best “to eat ice cream” – it might frustrate some of you. These aren’t black and white issues, so take it all with a grain of salt. My hope is to wrestle with the ideas, not to judge your character.

As a broad generalization, I try to avoid:

1. The News. For about 3 months, I’ve taken an indefinite fast from the news. Headlines are mostly driven by what grabs attention (i.e. what makes money), which means they are skewed toward sensationalism, novelty and fear. As one person said, “News is to the brain what sugar is to the body.” Is sugar bad? No, but too much will kill you. A thought-provoking article (in the Guardian!) argues that the news is misleading, overly negative, bad for your mental health, mostly irrelevant and time consuming. How often does the news positively affect your life? Further, reading the news can give the false sense of doing good, while in truth accomplishes nothing. With all that said, investigative journalism is the bedrock for a healthy democracy. So I am conflicted. When is it best to pay attention to the news?

2. Entertainment. There is little doubt that things that are entertaining are often a mixture of joy and beauty, not to mention great story-telling. Plus, entertainment is the common go-to for unwinding after a long day. All great things! Nevertheless, for me, most TV shows toy with my emotions. There’s the build up and constant wonder at what will happen next?! And then the cliff hanger. On repeat. They make money by holding our attention, so is it any surprise we keep coming back for more? Mere consumption dulls the minds. Our hearts long for relaxation, and deep joy, and beauty, and connection, and we often turn to entertainment for these things. Does entertainment satisfy or is it like candy, leaving us wanting more? Where do we turn for joy, beauty, and relaxation?

3. Screens. I spend about 3 and half hours staring at the screen in my pocket, everyday, and another 3 or 4 hours staring at the screen at work, and then now however-many-more hours staring at a computer screen at home. Surfing the web is like channel surfing – again, it’s like candy. Screens occupy an exorbitant amount of my attention. Which means I have that much less attention to give to the things I actually do care about, like those I love, my goals, learning, and all the other stuff. So I want to recognize my hypocrisy without shame and press on.

4. This last point deviates from the candy/ice cream analogy, but it’s important. Social constructs take perhaps the largest amount of our attention. Money is one of the best examples. It is something we (as society) have agreed to give value but does not actually exist in nature. It’s created purely from collective agreement. Other examples are school and jobs. Learning is wonderful, but school often is not. Work is an integral part of life, but jobs often stink. In short, most of your stress comes from social constructs, which occupy most of your attention. To transcend these pressures, I believe is a key to spiritual growth.

As always, I’m interested in your feedback!

Key questions for reflection:

  • What should we focus our attention on?
  • What keeps us from doing that?
  • How do we care for the “loners?”
  • How do you explore truth, beauty, and goodness?!
  • How do you consume news? Or stay informed? Any recommendations?

 

*Answer for the riddle*: “Time” and “heart” are two good ones, but I believe the best answer is “attention.” Curious if you came up with a better answer.

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Self-Driving Cars, Infinite Scroll, Algorithms, and Some Ways to Make Your Life Better.

This week I had the startling realization that my son (who is due on March 15th) will likely not drive a car, at least not much. Two reasons – first, the development of self-driving autonomous vehicles is well upon us. In 10 years, like it or not, they will be commonplace. Disagree with me only after watching this video. Second, the average cost for insuring a 16-year-old today is $2593/yr. With self-driving cars everywhere, that cost will skyrocket, which means it’ll likely be more cost-effective to share cars rather than put him on our insurance (assuming we even still own a car in 16 years…).

Today I want to reflect on the important question of how technology affects us. And specifically I want to look at the “infinite scroll,” complain about algorithms, and give a handful of suggestions that I’m experimenting with.

The Infinite Scroll

angry birdsI’m sure I have some addictive tendencies. I have watched the sun come up after playing online Risk, Catan, Angry Birds, and you guessed it, Plants vs. Zombies on multiple occasions. You heard that correct – staying up literally all night playing dumb games, which is a terrible feeling. I tend to be all or nothing, so I try to limit possible addictions. Some are good at moderation, but I really struggle.

That being said, psychologists, governments, and corporations are working frantically to form addictive habits in us. Here is a Stanford educator detailing how to hook consumers on product design. Cigarettes still make billions every year. Video games, adding sugar to literally most foods, and fear mongering in news media are other examples. If you can figure out how to hack someone’s brain, you will likely get rich… yay. The example I want to focus on though is the “infinite scoll” now found on countless websites, particularly social media.

The basic gist is this: when we do something that has a reward, we want to do it again. That’s how habits form (Here’s a great little resource for more). The reward/pleasure part of your brain fires when you get something good. After doing it a few times, you start to crave that reward. Compulsive gambling is a great example. The possible thrill of winning keeps you coming back for more. Facebook’s newsfeed has a similar effect on your brain. There might be something really interesting on your feed – you just got to keep scrolling to find it… In short, the infinite scroll on social media affects your brain like pulling the arm of a slot machine.

So, what do you do? Some try to avoid Facebook, or delete it, which is tough. A great second option that’s really helped me is to add a “Facebook Newsweek eradicator” extension to your web browser. (Below you can see what it looks like.) In short, you can do everything you need on Facebook, but when you go to the home page, it’s blank – a nice white page (usually with a thoughtful quote). Sounds complicated but it really is not. Here’s a link for chrome. Here’s one for safari. The Newsfeed is by far the most addictive aspect of Facebook. Adding this extension takes all of 2 minutes, and it has saved me hours of time.No newsfeed facebook

Algorithms

They are everywhere and some argue they are taking over the world. There’s an algorithm that suggests what to watch on Netflix, what to buy on Amazon, what shows up on your newsfeeds, or what ads you read next to your emails. All of these companies are watching you every moment they can, and storing that data to make money.

Think for a moment about google. Likely you have a free email address where you send all sorts of personal information about yourself. Likely you also use their free calendar where you tell them about all your appointments and often who you’re meeting. Likely you also use their free maps, telling them where you’re going and how often you go there. Likely you also use their free search engine, asking any sort of question. Likely you enjoy free videos on youtube. All this information is stored “in the cloud,” aka giant warehouses of hard drives, and is continuously being crunched in super computers to make money using you. As artificial intelligence and big data develop, information like this becomes gold and we give it to them for free. I highly recommend reading this article by Yuval Harari. Or you might listen to this NPR’s Big Data Revolution.

Furthermore, these algorithms that give you exactly what you want have some significant consequences.

  1. They are moving us into silos. Everyone enjoys being right; confirmation bias feels good. As we teach the algorithms what we “like,” they just feed it back to us, reinforcing whatever we already believe (and usually building our righteous indignation for the “other side.”)
  2. Algorithms move us from growth and challenge to entertainment and relaxing. (Thinking Youtube here.) What is fun and enjoyable is more likely to show up in our feeds because people “like” it more.
  3. It’s easy to get sucked into the “black holes of the internet!” Bum, bum, bum. *queue scary music sounds* Who knows how many lifetimes you could spend watching Youtube, Netflix, or scrolling Facebook. In short, they take up a lot of time and distract us from our goals.

Practical Suggestions:

  1. Stop using google. Use ecosia instead. They plant trees every time you search something. Make it your default search engine.
  2. Stop using Chrome. Use Mozilla Firefox instead. It’s open-source and non-profit.
  3. Add a “Remove Youtube Suggestions” extension to your web brower. Here’s one for Firefox. Approximately 80-90% of the videos you watch on youtube are ones they suggest. This gives you a nice white screen instead.
  4. This is blasphemy, but I’m going to try to switch away from gmail. After a lot of researching, these two look promising: Tutanota and Protonmail. Both are open source and super secure. Not even they can read your emails. I just opened an account at each.
  5. As a final suggestion, I’ve been getting Dr. Delaney Ruston’s weekly email – Tech Talk Tuesdays –  for maybe the last year where she explores how to discuss technology with teenagers. Tons of insights and great questions, even if you don’t have kids. Sign up here.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Habit Formation, How to live, psychology, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What is the Point of Life? A Christian Response

In an earlier post, I argued that sometimes we are asking the wrong questions. Some questions simply miss the point. In this post, my hope is an attempt to answer that question: What’s the purpose of life? What is our telos

main thing quoteThere’s truth to the statement: the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. For me the passage in Matt 6:33 has always held special significance, hence the blog title. There Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things (i.e. food, drink, & clothing) will be given to you.” So, there you have it, our purpose – our telos – is to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness. Simple.

But what does that even mean?! Despite being the Jesus’ favorite discussion topic, scholars still disagree on when and where and what the “kingdom of God” is. “Righteousness” is also pretty confusing.

However, rather than pull out the microscope and zoom in on the complexities of these two ideas, I want to increase altitude and cruise at 30,000 ft.

These two ideas take for granted an encounter with God. “Kingdom of God” is frequently understood as “living within the reign of God.” “Righteousness” is “being right with God.” Both assume interaction with the divine creator.

Moses also encountered God through a burning bush (Ex. 3). God in this story refused to give Moses a name, but self-identified as “I am who I am (a.k.a. Yahweh)” – a name that is elusive, hardly a name, and perhaps intended to be beyond words. An important lesson I draw from this story is that the-one-we-worship cannot be fully named, for no name or word can ever capture God. Or to put it another way, we can speak of God only through images and metaphors knowing that each one is incomplete.

The Bible

The Bible largely tells the story of encountering God’s presence through a multitude of metaphors and images. Here are few big ones:

  • After each day of creation (Gen. 1), God saw that “it was good,” eventually “it was very good.” The creator is good.
  • God promised Abraham that he and his offspring would be a blessing to all the nations (Gen 12).
  • God’s presence is the focus of Hebrew religion, seen in the tabernacle, the arc of the covenant and eventually the temple.
  • Throughout much of the Old Testament is the idea of “shalom” – God’s peace.
  • As referenced above, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God/Heaven more than anything else.
  • In John, Jesus again and again speaks of eternal life – it is to know God (17:3).
  • Paul and others similarly talked repeatedly about salvation.

Goodness, blessing, presence, shalom, kingdom of God, eternal life, salvation are all different ideas for the same thing. They are all different aspects to the multi-faceted beauty of God’s infinite goodness. It is God encountering humanity, God at work in the world.

Metaphors for Salvation

To go look further at the Bible’s use of metaphors for encountering God, consider the following ideas for salvation in the New Testament:

Metaphor Sin Salvation/Grace Textual Example
Purity Contaminated/Dirty Pure/Clean Heb. 10:22
Rescue Perishing Saved 2 Cor. 2:15
Economic Debt Payment Matt. 18:27
Legal Crime and Punishment Forgiveness/ Justification Rev. 18:5
Freedom Slavery Emancipation 1 Cor. 7:23
Optics Dark Light John 1:5
Seeking Lost Found Luke 15
Nation Alien Citizen Eph 2:19
Health Illness Health Matt. 9:12
Relational Enemy Friend James 4:4
Military War Peace 2 Cor. 10:4
Epistemology Ignorance Knowledge Luke 11:52
Familial Orphan Adoption Eph. 1:5
Horticultural Pruned Grafted in Rom. 11:24
Vision Blindness Sight Matt. 15:14
Development Infancy Maturity 1 Pet. 2:2
Biological Death Life Rom. 6:23
Ambulatory Falling/Stumbling Standing/Walking 1 Cor. 15:58
Truth Error/False Correct/True Gal. 2:4
Performance Lose Win Phil. 3:4
Sleep Sleep Awake Mark 13:36
Captive Hostage Ransom Heb 9:15

This table comes from Richard Beck’s book Unclean. Beck writes, “Each metaphor provides a window, a bounded perspective that provides partial illumination of a much larger phenomenon. (35)” Each is another way to describe an encounter with Yahweh. Beck goes on, “Metaphors can distort as much as they illuminate. No doubt this is why the biblical writers deploy a diversity of metaphors in approaching the experience of grace. (36)”

I think encountering God, what I’m arguing as the point of life, is the same way. It too is a multi-faceted reality that requires a variety of incomplete images and metaphors.

integral theoryIn a word, the result of encountering God is flourishing. This encompasses all of life. Here I’ve found Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory to be helpful. Our goal is flourishing on the individual and collective level, both within and without. It is what we strive for and work toward.

Summary Statement:

The point is of life is to encounter God’s mysterious presence in all its multi-faceted beauty, as individuals and collectively, internally and externally. This encounter results in a movement toward flourishing, toward infinite goodness, that will eventually result in all things being made new (a.k.a. resurrection).

Conclusion

To be honest, this is still a thought in process, so I’m all ears on your feedback, push-back and/or resources.

Why is this important?

I think it’s important to at least attempt articulating our aspired goal for life, similar to a mission statement. Knowing our telos helps to understand our morals. If we know where we want to go, we are able to structure practices and activities that will get us there. Our telos determines our direction and helps to filter and frame our questions. It helps us not only ask better questions, but to determine the answers. It also provides a litmus test for evaluation and strategy.

What do you think? How would you describe your telos? Or what is the point of life?

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