Contemplating Doubt

Last Sunday I was privileged to get to teach.  I love teaching, and have been given a gift to be able to teach well… or so I’ve been told.  My biggest challenge right now is that I don’t have a regular teaching venue, so when I am given the opportunity to teach, it’s generally one session.  But when I start preparing, I often end up with a 7 part series.  I love to study (stuff I’m interested in) and my brain can find itself off on incredible journeys in the midst of those studies, yielding lots to say about lots of stuff.  There’s probably more than a little wisdom in only giving me limited engagements.  This blog serves as an outlet for some of that pent-up teaching desire.  The good news is that you’re not stuck here, and you won’t be obvious if you get up and leave…  In fact, the stat tracker on this site doesn’t have any way of knowing if you read the whole thing, or if you’ve already surfed back out.  You already count as one of my dozen or so readers!

Last week’s topic was “Doubt.”  I’m not sure how I arrived at this topic; I started thinking about what I was going to teach, and one interesting thought led to another, which led to another, and pretty soon I had taken an interesting journey through many amazing places, winding up on this amazing topic, with no idea how I got there, and not completely sure how I was going to get back.  If you’ve ever been on a snowmachining adventure I’ve led, you can completely understand.

Two things made “doubt” a compelling topic:

1)  I’ve been reading a really interesting book called You Lost Me.  The book recounts results from a landmark study by the Barna Group, which looked at 16-29 year olds (the “Mosaic” generation) through the lens of faith.  Subtitled “Why Young Christians are Leaving Church… and Rethinking Faith,” the book provides tremendous insight into an intriguing and underappreciated generation.  (As an aside, if anyone is interested in reading it, I bought it through my Kindle app, and I can “loan” it to “anyone I choose” according to the Amazon website–if you’re interested in reading it let me know, and together we can discover how loaning e-books works.)  It turns out doubt hasn’t been handled well in church, and is a major factor in the tremendous decline of Christian faith in Mosaics.

2)  My wife sent me this well-written editorial shortly after the Sandy Hook shootings:  “Why, God?”  In it, the author reprints a letter written by a Catholic priest in response to the title question.  The priest’s bold, insightful answer:  “I don’t know.”  BRAVO!

Over the years, Christianity has often held up doubt as the opposite of faith.  I can see how this occurred, but it’s not accurate.  In fact, doubt, or the potential for doubt, is a necessary ingredient for faith.  Faith, or pisteuo in Greek, is also often translated in the Bible as “believe,” which is unfortunate, because “believe” doesn’t capture the full meaning of pisteuo.  We use the word “believe” to mean “mental assent”–I agree that something is correct or true–I believe it.  I can even believe someone by giving my mental assent to what they’re saying.  But pisteuo has a much deeper meaning than mere “mental assent.”  For someone to have faith, they must not only give mental assent, but they must act on that belief as if it were true, and must have some element of risk associated with that belief.  I can believe (mental assent) I can fly by flapping my arms, I can even act on it by standing on the ground flapping furiously, but I don’t have faith in that belief until I jump off the roof and try to fly.  Silly analogy, but hopefully it helps clarify the distinction.

Doubt, in the Greek, is apisteuo, or “not-faith”.  This is an inadequate translation though, because it is certainly not the opposite of faith.  I characterize doubt as a condition where the three elements of mental assent, trust, and risk are not fully developed.  For instance, you might doubt the assertion, meaning you are not ready to assent to its veracity.  Or, you might think something is true, but you’re not so confident in your belief that  you’re willing to act on it, or to take a risk based on that belief.  This is doubt.  It’s not wrong, it’s not weak, it’s just not fully bought in. Doubt is a difficulty reconciling seemingly contradictory concepts.

Doubt isn’t a defect.  It’s normal.  In fact, it’s a necessary ingredient.  One of the most profound statements I have heard in years comes from my senior pastor, who said “you can’t have faith without doubt.”  Doubt is not the problem in our world today.  The problem with doubt is we often mishandle it….

The Falseness of Dichotomies

I took a break from this blog for a while.  Seemed like everyone needed a cooling off period after the election.  I had a lot to say, but am trying to practice a very unnatural behavior for me–listening more, and telling less.  So I’ve been working a lot in the past month or so on listening (or more accurately, observing–engaging all of my perceptions to try to better understand).  One of the most significant observations I’ve made involves dichotomies.  I’ve been considering writing about this topic for weeks, but hadn’t fully formed the idea, so I kept observing, with the intent of developing a complete understanding of the idea, and the key learnings from the idea, which I would then inscribe in the electrons so that all could share in this well-packaged lesson.  Unfortunately, the writing style and underlying thought patterns of my 9th grade English teacher (thesis statement, three main points, each with three to four neatly packaged sub-points, all proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that the thesis is true and fully described) just can’t seem to encapsulate the many branches, inconsistencies, dependencies, and variation of the idea rolling around in my head.  So, I’m giving up on neat packaging, and instead I’m going to embark on a thought-journey.  This will transpire across multiple posts–don’t know how many, how frequently, or, unfortunately the exact course it’s going to take.

Lest you think you’ve stumbled onto the digital footprints of a meandering fool, wandering aimlessly with no purpose or destination, I do have an objective for this journey.  I intend, when I’m done, to be better at  loving mankind (and thereby loving God).  I am going to continue to follow the compass that God gave me when I started this blog–the two quotes at the top of the page:  “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness” and “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Before I digress even further off course, let’s get to the topic at hand:  Dichotomy.  Dictionary.com defines the word as:

  1. division into two parts, kinds, etc.; subdivision into halves or pairs, or
  2. division into two mutually exclusive, opposed, or contradictory groups: a dichotomy between thought and action.

That same website goes further to cite the entry from Britannica.com (who knew Britannica still existed?):

(from Greek dicha, “apart,” and tomos, “cutting”), a form of logical division consisting of the separation of a class into two subclasses, one of which has and the other has not a certain quality or attribute…. On the principle of contradiction this division is both exhaustive and exclusive; there can be no overlapping, and no members of the original genus or the lower groups are omitted. This method of classification, though formally accurate, has slight value in the exact sciences, partly because at every step one of the two groups is merely negatively characterized and is usually an artificial, motley class.

So where am I going with all this?  There is a strong tendency in human thought, particularly Western human thought (as opposed to Eastern thought–a dichotomy in and of itself, pointed out here as an example) to classify and characterize everything in an attempt to better understand it. (If you want to dig deeper, do some research into the closely related concept of binary opposition.  If you want to go really deep, I highly recommend the book Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman).  If you don’t want to do a lot of research, I’ll summarize (and somewhat overgeneralize) to say that we tend to be very efficient in processing the infinite amount of information we are constantly exposed to.  Our nature is to quickly analyze a thought, event, or person, and quickly classify them into a category, or series of categories.  Generally, these categories are mutually exclusive, which further enables us to place value judgments on the thought, event, or person.  In many situations, this is a useful process–back to the very basic friend/foe survival instincts.

What’s the problem?  While useful at the basic level of information processing, it can become dangerous when it precludes higher levels of thinking.  All of us witnessed examples of this (most likely externally and internally) during the recent US election cycle.  Red/blue, liberal/conservative, right/wrong…  the extreme occurred when red/blue became viewed as black/white; as polar opposites, rather than variations in a spectrum.

To avoid turning this into a political thread, let’s look at another potentially divisive issue in current events.  The news has been filled in recent weeks with brutal, unexplainable death.  Whether it’s the Samantha Koenig abduction/killing here in Alaska, the Jessica Ridgeway abduction and murder in Colorado, the Jovan Belcher murder/suicide in Kansas City, or this week’s brutal killing of innocent children in Connecticut, our universal reaction is to classify the perpetrator as evil, and to look for an easy explanation which will allow us to place the event and the perpetrator in a neat category so we can process the situation and move on.  Guns? Violent video games?  Poor parenting?  See, if we can place the cause in a nice, neat category, we can then either eliminate it, avoid it, or at least judge it.

I’m probably the most judgmental person I know.  I classify people all day long, starting with the commute to work each morning.  When I am not vigilant about my overwhelming tendency to make binary decisions, I can quickly categorize everyone I encounter throughout the day as incompetent, self-serving idiots, who are terrible drivers.  But, when I get to know those people, I find out that they’re not so easily characterized.

I’m going to close today’s post with an example from the headlines.  Jovan Belcher was a football player for my favorite sports team in the entire world, the Kansas City Chiefs.  Most of you had never heard of him until two weeks ago, when he made national news by shooting and killing his girlfriend and mother of his 3 month old daughter, then driving to the Chiefs practice facility, and in front of team leadership, pointing his gun at his own head and taking his life.  Many were quick to categorize Belcher:  murderer.  Evil.  Monster.  Some went so far as to pronounce that his suicide was a good thing.

I didn’t know Jovan, but I knew of him.  He had a great story.  Undrafted, worked his way up to starter.  Set the example on the field and at practice for his dedication and work ethic, his passion.  None of that excuses what he did.  But if you read much more than the headlines following that tragic event two weeks ago, you found that his teammates, many of whom were close not only to Jovan, but also to his girlfriend, were torn.  They couldn’t classify him as an evil monster.  They knew him.  They went so far as to say that they had no indication that he was capable of such brutality.  When it became personal, it wasn’t easy to categorize the man.

I’m going to stop here for today, with a request:  be aware this coming week to the dichotomies you use to make judgments and decisions.  How many of them are legitimate?  How many are oversimplifications?

Windows 8 Beta release!

Windows 8 Beta is releasing tomorrow, 2/29/12.  I’m excited!

I’m not really a tech geek, but I tend to be an early adopter of technology that truly changes the game.  Hence my Asus Slate.  It came with Windows 7, but in October I upgraded it to the Windows 8 Developer Preview.  This is a really cool OS, that is different from whatever you’re used to.  I’m not going to pitch it a lot here; there will be all sorts of articles on the internet tomorrow.  It’s not like the Windows you’ve been running for years, and it’s different from Apple’s OS as well.

The folks at Microsoft really did a good job of starting with a blank slate, rather than updating the very worn Windows environment, that hasn’t changed all that much form-wise since Windows 95.  This OS works with the traditional forms of mouse and keyboard, but it also works very well for touch.  If you haven’t migrated to a touch environment yet, you’ll soon learn that the traditional way of laying out screens to work with a mouse doesn’t work well at all with a finger or stylus (things like scroll bars, the little red X for closing windows, etc, are all too small, and in a bad place, so that your hand blocks the screen when you’re trying to use it).  Windows 8 deals with that, very well.

Windows 8 also makes your desktop a useable place, with Live Tiles.  If you’re like me, you never saw your desktop once you started your computer, and only used the toolbar at the bottom to switch between the multiple windows you had open.  I never really found any use in the gadgets or widgets, or whatever they called the little mini-programs designed to run on your desktop, because I had to minimize 6-10 windows just to see them.  Now your “desktop” is your start menu, and it’s a swipe away, to get you to a full screen of very useful Live Tiles.  These little animated boxes will launch your different apps/programs with a click/tap, or they’ll give you summary info at a glance.  If you haven’t seen the Metro environment in Windows Phone, Live Tiles won’t make much sense from just my explanation, but I’ll give it a shot:  Imagine your “app button” on your smartphone, but instead of it being a plain button that you click to get to your email account, it is animated, showing you the number of new messages you have without even opening the app.  Or, even better, if you have a Live Tile for a contact, it provides you the current FB profile pic, their current status from whatever social media you have linked to that person (Facebook, Twitter, etc), and will indicate if you’ve received a text or a missed call from them, again, at a glance, without opening the program!  Many more apps and cool uses yet to be developed, but Microsoft has raised the bar with this one, and Apple and Google aren’t even in the game yet.

If you’re a traditionalist, or you’re overly emotionally attached to i-anything, you’re probably not going to like it.  That’s why Windows Phone is getting slammed by the comments section of any tech website, even though objective testers have come out and said that in many ways it is superior to the iPhone 4.

I’ll be updating from the Developer Preview to the Beta version of Windows 8, probably not until this weekend.  I’m not planning on turning this into a tech blog, but I’ll probably post an update or two, just to provide you with an “average guy” opinion.

But it really is cool!

This ought to be interesting…

I just deleted my Google account.  I now no longer have a Gmail account, my Blogger identity (where my old blog was hosted), a YouTube account, Google docs…

I was surprised that Google offered a button on their account settings that let me delete my entire account, but they did!  As I posted earlier, I don’t like the way Google decided that they can link everything together without my approval.  Truth be told, I like having a lot of my online info linked together, but I want to make that decision, and not to have it done for me for the company’s marketing purposes.  So, the “Google Greg” no longer exists!

I’m going to go in the other room now and see if my dog can still see me.

Modern English Definitions

We all know that language is constantly evolving. Here is my understanding of the new definition for several familiar English words in prevalent use today:

Liar: Someone who does not assent to my understanding of reality

Cheater: Someone who appears to have circumstances more favorable than mine who has not yet assented to yield their advantage to me

Truth: The understanding of circumstances that best suits my needs at the time

Justice: 1) Seeing all the cheaters suffer; 2) Getting the opportunity to make someone else’s circumstances worse than mine

What do all these new definitions have in common? They are all egocentric. These concepts are no longer defined by an absolute standard, but instead are defined by comparison with the speaker’s condition.

Narcissism is a related psychological concept. I’ve done almost zero research on this, but I propose that US society (collectively and individually) is suffering from some form of egocentricity or narcissism.

Check this list of narcissistic traits:

*An obvious self-focus in interpersonal exchanges
*Problems in sustaining satisfying relationships
*A lack of psychological awareness
*Difficulty with empathy
*Problems distinguishing the self from others
*Hypersensitivity to any sleights or imagined insults
*Vulnerability to shame rather than guilt (if you’re having trouble envisioning this one, picture the response of any recently arrested public figure)
*Flattery towards people who admire and affirm him or her
*Detesting those who do not admire him or her
*Using other people without considering the cost to them of his or her doing so
*Pretending to be more important than he or she is
*Bragging (subtly but persistently) and exaggerating his or her achievements
*Inability to view the world from the perspective of other people

See our culture in these descriptions? See your friends, co-workers, neighbors?

See yourself?

If you don’t, you’re probably wasting your time reading this.

If you have this really heavy feeling in your gut right now, welcome to my reality.

In Luke 9:23, Jesus says: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Deny yourself–no wonder Jesus is having trouble finding people who want to be his disciple in America today.

In the Garden, the Serpent tempted Eve by telling her that eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would make her eyes opened, and that she would be “like God, knowing good and evil.” I don’t believe this means she would be able to recognize good and evil. Rather, I believe she would be able to define good and evil. Eve didn’t get in trouble for breaking God’s rule, she tried to take his throne! She was tempted (and responded to the temptation) to define good and evil from her perspective, rather than accepting and submitting to God’s definition. And no, I’m not just beating up Eve; Adam was right there, and joined right in. And so have I.

A lot of people in our country today are fed up with “those other guys”. Some are actually mad enough to do something about it.

I’m fed up with me. I pray that Jesus will do something about it.

A post about nothing…

OK, it worked for Seinfeld for how many years? Can’t I get away with one?

Life’s been so busy this past week, that I can’t fit it all in. Had a great class Friday night and Saturday (Biblical Interpretation), but I’m behind on my homework.

Work is work: too busy, too much to do, not enough time to do it all, let alone do it well.

The building project I’m working on in my spare time is coming along, although on a schedule that only God knows, and He doesn’t show any signs of consulting with any of the rest of us for our plans…Should start pouring a foundation Monday. That’s great news, until you consider that the best time to pour a foundation in Alaska is, like, JUNE.

Leaving for vacation Thursday morning! Two weeks in Israel! No job distractions, just time to explore, learn, have fun, hang out with family and friends. Only stressful thing about it is I haven’t even begun to prepare!

I say all this not to snivel. OK, not just to snivel. I’m learning something in it all.

I’m learning about studying God’s Word, and mining truth out of a passage in the same way that some of the best teachers I’ve been privileged to learn from use. You know, those ones that open up the Scriptures, and show you a new depth or nuance to a passage you’ve read many times before. I’m not there yet, but I’m learning.

I’m learning that the work gets done. And the work that doesn’t get done, probably wasn’t that big of a deal.

Most importantly, I’m learning that taking time to do the important things in life pays off. And the important things are almost never about a job, a bank account, a project, or getting ahead.

Instead, it’s things like taking the time to talk to a man who I didn’t have time for, but in doing so, discovered that he’s learning to walk a new walk, late in his life, kinda like I’m doing in mine. Hopefully I was an encouragement to him–he was to me.

It’s taking the time to hang out with my son, who I don’t get to spend much time with anymore. Yeah, there’s a lot of joking around that looks a little harsh, but I also get to tell him how proud I am of him, and how he’s doing one heck of a job becoming a productive member of society.

It’s getting ready to spend two weeks with my daughter, showing her some amazing stuff, and anticipating her enthusiasm, and her infectious laugh when we get to walk down Ben Yehuda Street (she loves funny-sounding words, and you gotta admit, that one sounds funny!).

It’s pulling a late night study session with the love of my life, as we both scramble to get all our homework done, balance all the challenges of life, encourage each other, pray together, and prop each other up, when we’re too tired to go any farther.

Finally, it’s about knowing that in all things, God has a plan, and this season I’m in is part of that plan. It’s easy for me to think about it as “preparing for something”, but I can’t lose sight of the fact that it’s just as much about the journey, and how I walk it, as the next destination. Maybe more important.

Stay tuned!!! I plan to be posting from Israel in a few days…

Technology 3, Greg 0

But it’s 4th and goal, I’ve got the ball on Technology’s 2 yard line, and there’s 17 seconds left in the 4th quarter. 2 tight-end set, and I’m going for 6, baby!

I’ve been fighting with the desktop at home for months now, then Wednesday my really cool Windows Mobile Phone (HTC Tilt, none of that feel-good iPhone junk–a real power-user’s phone!) had a hardware failure.

But, at 1:32 am Saturday morning, I’ve got my hard drive reformatted, with all my new software up and running (including my Zune software, so I can listen to podcasts again–and it WORKS!!!). Partitioned the hard drive so next time the OS goes south, I don’t have to remember where all the data is squirreled away (got all the really important stuff, but I lost my “favorites”).

And, I got a new phone–HTC Fuze. Tilt on STEROIDS!!! All the cool UI of the iPhone, plus real functionality, not just toys (but I can get toys too).

So, life’s good! What did we ever do before technology made our lives so much easier? We definitely got more sleep. I’m off to bed. Gotta get up in about 5 hours.

Sorry for the long delays with no posts. But, I’m baaacckkk!

Anybody else restless?

Unsettled? Feel like you’re doing a lot, but not doing what you need to be doing? Not sure what you should be doing, but pretty sure what you spend most of your time on isn’t it?

I thought at first it was just me, but in watching friends, co-workers, spouse, etc, it seems like we’re all busy, productive, and totally restless and unsettled with where we are.

I’m tired. I want to be purposefully busy, but not frazzled from an extended adrenaline rush that is my normal workday.

What about the rest of the world? Am I normal? Abnormal? Anybody figured out how to redirect this?

Part of the reason it’s been 5 days since my last post is that I can’t slow down long enough to think deep thoughts. I’d like to change that too.

Today wraps up our vacation at Disneyworld, which bills itself as “The Happiest Place on Earth” and the place “Where All Your Dreams Come True.” it’s neither. Don’t get me wrong…I had a great time, but it was because I was here with my wife and daughter. That’s my Happiest Place on Earth-where my family is.

This place also made me think. I posted earlier about the riches spent to build this place. It IS impressive. We’re watching the nighttime parade at the Magic Kingdom. The showmanship, attention to detail, and excellence exhibited by the Disney organization should inspire each of us in our own jobs. I know–we’d all work hard and settle for nothing less than excellence if we worked at Disneyworld. Wrong! Some of these tourists are NOT happy–they’re downright mean and angry! But the “cast” always responds cheerfully. I wish I always had that attitude at work.

The design and engineering are also amazing! If you pay attention, you notice all sorts of details that make this place beyond the ordinary. In Animal Kingdom, the concrete paths look like real dirt trails, right down to the boot prints and bike tracks formed into it. They do the little things with excellence, not just the big things.

However, in the end, the experience left me feeling unfulfilled. I’ve wanted to go to Disneyworld since it opened. I imagined it to be magical. It’s not. It’s…nice. But for me, it’s turned into a metaphor for all the temporal things that we desire…Disneyworld as kids, and later cars, money, jobs, power, or prestige as adults. IF we ever attain them, we realize they aren’t all we imagined. We wind up unfulfilled. Like King Solomon said (a man who had it ALL by any measure of worldly success):

“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.” Ecclesiastes 1:2

In the end, I agree with Solomon. Theres only one thing in this life that brings true fulfillment. If you don’t want to read his whole treatise on the emptiness of worldly success, you can skip to the ending, at Ecclesiastes 12:13.

Excuse me now while I watch the fireworks.

Communication thoughts…

Two quick thoughts before we head out for the day in Disney World. Both come from communications that I didn’t need to do, and could have very easily not initiated:

1) Talk about the uncomfortable things with the people that are really important. It’s much easier to bottle them up, and let them set. That’s how vinegar is made. It’s not going to be good for your long-term relationship, or for you.

2) Take the time to do those dumb little things for other people, even when you think it might be corny, or a waste of their time. God has a way of prompting YOU to do something that turns out to be what someone else needs, just when they need it. Most of the time, you don’t even get to know that you made a positive impact on that person at that particular time. Sometimes you do, if nothing else because they write you a note and let you know. So the next time God brings someone to mind for you to send a note to, or a gift, or just to call and say “hi, how’s it going?”, do it. You may be the difference in their day. And who knows–their note of “thanks” may be just what you needed to hear when you heard it.

Kinda cool how God works all that out in our lives, if we’re only willing to cooperate, huh?