Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

Our Mind Is an Imperfect Instrument

June 7, 2018

Why is it that we can be so intelligent and have gained so much knowledge with diplomas and degrees, and yet, we can believe the lies of politicians, preachers, and other people? We can believe with certainty things proven beyond a doubt to be wrong.

John Climacus writes concerning the dreams of novices beginning the spiritual journey, “Our mind is the instrument of knowledge, but it is very imperfect and filled with all sorts of ignorance.”

John was writing about dreams. But another John (Milton) said, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell and a hell of heaven.”

Researchers using the scientific method have probed this idea and discovered that our minds will believe anything that we tell it to believe.

That is why on the spiritual journey, or even in everyday life, we must guard against the things that enter our minds. We must have a filter, the filter of discernment. We must be grounded in proven spiritual writing with a mentor to help us understand.

Creativity and Curiosity

April 13, 2018

Just give them a pencil and paper and let them write whatever comes to mind with no thought of spelling, grammar, or coherence. We don’t want to squelch a child’s creativity.

I’ve heard this “advice” until I am sick.

Study any artist. Especially the great (and creative) ones. They all learned, usually through a teacher and mentor, the basics of color, proportion, composition, and anatomy. The creativity came with using the basics in new ways–seeing things others had not. Picasso was great as a “realistic” painter, but then he decided to try to find the essence of the object or person he was painting. He pushed the boundaries with cubism.

You could pick up a guitar and start strumming and picking. Or–you could learn sounds and notes. Tune the guitar. Learn some basic chords. You only need to learn D-C-G and you can play hundreds of rock and folk songs. Just experiment different rhythms within the pattern. Maybe try an added note–go ahead, throw in a C-9 to the progression. If you only learned C-A minor-F-G, you could play around with the progression and play another hundred early rock songs. You’re only truly creative when you can build on the foundation of what works.

Writing is communication. Humans have known just about since the dawn of communication about logic. When you are expressing something, it must proceed logically. Spelling helps us convey the correct word (and it helps if you turn off autocorrect on your iPad, for example). Grammar helps us express a clear idea. Try the book “Eats Shoots and Leaves” or is it “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves”.* Do you get the different meanings? Logic helps us lead our reader to understanding.

No, it’s not “creativity” that we need to worry about in that way.

The real crime is when we kill a child’s (or an adult’s) curiosity.

I love this little poem from Rudyard Kipling:

I have six honest serving men. They taught me all I knew. There names are What, and Where and When; and Why and How and Who.

*There is a story about a Panda who walks into a bar. He orders a sandwich and eats it. He then pulls out a gun and shoots the bartender. He left. Lying on the bar was a field guide to Pandas where an editor had inserted a fatal comma.

A Leader With Soul

April 3, 2018

“If you have to ask, you don’t have it.” — Popular response to people asking what is soul during the rise of “soul music” in the late 60s.

OK, where is this going, you may be asking. The last book I read is, “Awakening A Leader‘s Soul: Learnings through Immortal Poems,” by Gaurav Bhalla, published by Motivational Press. This is less a management how-to than a plea for enhanced leadership

“In today‘s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world (VUCA), leadership success is a function of something deeper, something more enduring than technical knowhow and leadership skills. It’s a function of the leader’s humanity—who they are, what they stand for, what they are willing to fight for, and what they are willing to accept and endure. Because what’s in the leader’s head may be smart and potent, but what’s within the leader that guides what’s in the leader’s head is even more potent, because it is wiser. Accordingly, the most important asset of leaders is not the smartness of their minds, it’s the wisdom of their souls.”

This book is for leaders who want to take the next step up the ladder of effectiveness and fulfillment. A new humanity—consider not only yourself, but also employees, customers, community, suppliers, planet. Reminds of reading AP Martin some 30 years ago—Proactive Management. He introduced me to the idea of “stakeholders.” When constructing vision and goals and making decisions, consider all the stakeholders affected. Bahlla continues the thread of thought.

Try out these ideas. Leadership success is a function of the leader’s humanity—what’s within the leader that guides what’s in the leader’s head. The most important asset of leaders is not the smartness of minds, it’s the wisdom of their souls. Egotistical leaders suck the oxygen from the organization.

Outline

1. Who the leader is

ego

self reliance

Authenticity

2. How the leader thinks

vision

substance

doubt

3. How the leader acts

Risk

perseverance

perspective

4. Beyond the leader’s world

wider circles

employees & customers

communities

planet earth

5. Faring Forward

TS Eliot-Dry Salvages from Four Quartets

Sampling from poems

Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself—shifts from How I am the center of the universe to How I am centered in the universe.

TS Eliot—We are the hollow men; we are the stuffed men…

Albert Camus—But above all, in order to be, never try to seem.

Alexander Pope, A Little Learning (I think this is especially important to ponder today, especially in church circles)

A little learning is a dangerous thing

Drink deep or taste not the Pierian Spring;

There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain

And drinking largely sobers us again.

Fired at first sight with what the Muse imparts,

In fearless youth we tempt the heights of Arts;

While from the bounded level of our mind

Short views we take nor see the length behind,

But, more advanced, behold with strange surprise

new distant scenes of endless science rise.

Rumi, Transcending blame, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

Confucius, Asking, “The person who asks a question is ignorant for a few moments, The person who doesn’t remains ignorant for life.”

Herman Hesse, “Siddhartha listened…completely absorbed, quite empty, taking in everything…he had often heard all this before, all the numerous voices in the river, but today they sounded different.”

From the Bhagavad Gita, “Work for the sake of work not for the sake of rewards or material gains.”

Leonardo daVinci—every now and then go away and have some relaxation.

John Donne, “No man is an island, entire of itself.”

A Month of Proverbs

January 31, 2018

31 days in January; 31 chapters worth of Proverbs.

What did I learn?

Intentionally re-reading something provides ever deeper insights.

Wise people don’t think of themselves as all that wise. They are always open to correction, instruction, and learning.

There is a chance for foolish people to turn their lives around if only they would begin to listen to wise teaching.

There is little hope for the scoffer. Those cynics who ascribe everything to self-serving motives. Those who refuse to acknowledge God. Those who try to bring everyone down to their level.

Young men (probably old ones, too) should beware women who are out to seduce them. Adultery, profligate sexual activity, affairs are to be avoided as they will lead to ruin.

While a contentious wife is like the dripping of rain, Proverbs ends with a picture of a conscientious wife who should be praised in “the assembly”.

If Solomon had followed his own advice, would the kingdom have split because of his son?

How much better would our own lives be if we brought this wisdom into our daily lives?

[Oh, and I do a lot of writing on my iPad. I’ve learned yet again that all that artificial intelligence employed to figure out what I’m trying to say and then complete words for me before I type them needs a watchful human to check them. Artificial intelligence is, well, artificial.]

Say What You Mean

August 4, 2017

Don’t you ever wish that when the gospel writers quoted Jesus that once, just once, he’d just come out and say things in plain language?

I’m puzzling over chapters 7 and 8 of the Gospel of John. Of course, one of John’s agenda items is to emphasize the conflict that Jesus caused in the Jewish religious community.

But I read Jesus’ words over and over. I’m still confused.

Perhaps that’s the point.

We should work for understanding.

Question and Listen

August 2, 2017

It’s a small, private dinner party. A few corporate executives, a couple of writers, and a featured guest. He had recently published a book and was a distinguished professor at a prestigious university.

I took a seat two away from the guest. I had a choice of either end of the table. I chose poorly.

I had actually read his book and came armed with a couple of questions. There were parts I wasn’t sure what he was getting at, and there were parts where I thought he had taken a wrong path.

Unfortunately I had arrived after most other people. The person between the guest and me was monopolizing conversation.

After a period of time I noticed that the guest was decidedly turned the other direction talking with the person on his other side. I spent the evening talking with the person beside me. Don’t think he even noticed that the guest had turned his back our direction.

Aside from my being too shy in some social conversations to take charge–I hate to interrupt people–I let an opportunity for learning slip away.

How often do we let our tongues get in the way of learning?

There are very few people I’ve met who couldn’t teach me something. See an interest, ask a question, sit back and listen and learn.

Helping The Poor As A Mission Discipline

June 26, 2017

My grandfather used to tell me about an incident during the Depression when a train derailed in town. His step-father, along with half of the town, ran down to the train that night and helped themselves to loads of “free” coal. It was the depression. Many people. Were out of work. It gets very cold in Ohio. It was like a gift from God.

News from Pakistan at the end of last week. A gasoline tanker truck wrecked and fuel was spilling out. Hundreds of poor people ran to save some of that fuel. Gasoline is a flammable. Catches fire easily. Yes, this spill ignited. A hundred people died.

A gospel that preaches “We’ll save your soul if you wish, but you are on your own for food, clothing, and shelter” isn’t the gospel of Jesus.

Jesus talked often about the responsible use of money. Paul collected money from his churches to return to Jerusalem to feed and clothe women and children left in poverty by their joining the community following Jesus.

It baffles me that we (the collective rich country “we”) cannot devise an economic system that shares something of the wealth of the economy with such poor people. There are so many people who are so focused on “I want my share…and more; and I want to keep it for me”. That emotion is driving an awful lot of worldwide politics these days.

I’m not talking politics, though. Politics won’t solve any problems.

I’m talking mission and service as a discipline. And how if every Christ-follower who has any financial means contributed, so much good could happen. 

  • Fresh drinking water to help eradicate diseases
  • Investment in businesses large enough to hire people providing jobs and dignity
  • Medicine and access to health professionals
  • Investment in agriculture, aquaponics, and other technologies where people could feed themselves
  • Investment in communication and transportation infrastructure 

Update

I’m still amazed that at least in the US we can’t treat women better. But some little progress and awareness seems to be hitting the “bro-land” of Silicon Valley. After denying and obfuscating for a long enough period to complete a funding round, the VC leader finally stepped down and apologized for his treatment of women and said he’d seek counseling. Hope that works out better than the “counseling” that NFL players get.

How much counseling do you need to stop reaching under the conference room table and feeling up a woman’s leg during a meeting? Maybe we need to bring back the slap in the face or something?

And Uber now is looking for a CEO, COO, CFO, VP of Engineering, and other top staff after cleaning house due to the frat house culture they enabled.

Remember when boys grew up and became men?

Are You Teaching Quality

April 28, 2017

Some of you may have seen my Facebook post about the death of Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values as seen in The New York Times.

The book is not really about Zen (a form of Buddhism popularized by Alan Watts and the Beatnik generation) or about repairing your motorcycle. “The real motorcycle you’re working on is yourself.”

Along with the Bible and St. Augustine, this book was most influential in my life.

While teaching rhetoric at Montana State University in Bozeman, another professor asked while passing him in the corridor, “Are you teaching quality?”

That led him into a deep dive into the meaning of quality.

Part is philosophical as he detailed his battles with the famous leader of philosophy at the University of Chicago. (I’ve read Mortimer Adler. I prefer Pirsig.) I think he was right about the decline in western thinking with the over emphasis on rationality thanks to Plato and Aristotle (especially the latter).

Part was details on working on his motorcycle preparing for a cross-country trip with his son and two friends. He must have been worse than me, by the way, as a travel companion. I often get lost in thinking. He must have gone a bit overboard on that.

He talked about learning skills in metalworking to do his own repairs because he was upset with the lack of care so many mechanics took in repairing thing.

Quality in part comes from caring about what you do.

He also taught logical troubleshooting. Something more of us need when we approach a problem.

Living With God Every Day

March 28, 2017

Do not be transformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern the will of God. Paul, the apostle, writing to the church in Rome

Paul has dropped that ancient wisdom on us before–you become what you think about. He knew that centering our minds on the right thing leads to life. On the other hand, focusing on the wrong things leads to alienation, strife, destruction.

Yesterday, I was pondering the passage from Steindl-Rast’s book about spirituality infusing us as an everyday thing. Perhaps this is a part of that living spirituality.

We transform our minds. That means a choice. And will. We intentionally choose things, reading, activities, and the like, that will renew us in our knowledge and relationship with God.

With our minds renewed daily by focus on God, we can move beyond the vicissitudes of political winds–beyond “political stupidity”, which by the way is different for you and for me. Or theology which is often different for you and for me. But God is still God. The creator. The essential life-force.

Just before Paul told us this, he told us to offer our lives as a living sacrifice to God.

I’m not entirely sure about all the implications of what he meant. But I’m sure that he means for us to wake up daily, pray / meditate asking God what we are supposed to do for him today. The day is his, not ours.

And if we are clueless, then Paul drops some hints. Read Romans 12:9-21. Paul Simon once sang about 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. Paul the Apostle gives us 29 ways to show love and be that living sacrifice–he could have written a song “29 Ways To Be a Lover”.

Overcoming Our Own Ignorance

March 10, 2017

“Our mind is the instrument of knowledge, but it is very imperfect and filled with all sorts of ignorance.” John Climacus

The Ladder of Divine Ascent has been on my “to read again” bookshelf for a long time. John is so perceptive. It’s an education in psychology as well as spiritual development to read his work.

It is easy to see ignorance everywhere–everywhere but in ourselves, of course. Does your heart ever ache at those times when someone seems ignorant on purpose? Proud of it? The answer is right there in front of them, and they stubbornly cling to an idea completely different?

I actually took a couple of years to study brain science to figure that out. But, I digress.

Have you ever stared at a passage of Scripture and then exclaim, “Oh, that’s what he’s saying???”

Happens to me often.

I try to be open to new ideas. New interpretations. Open to God breaking through and going “Open your eyes, dummy, and learn this.”

Two things help. One is to read a lot. I watch about 3-4 hours of TV a week (well, plus another 4-5 hours of soccer, but that’s s different story). Otherwise I read.

The other is meeting people. Not just seeing people. Meeting them. Christian fundamentalists. Ordinary Christians. Atheists. Pagans. Muslims. Hindus. Buddhists. And having conversations. And listening. And seeing people as people–God’s children.

Know what? People are different from what you see in the news. Some people like to see their names in the news. Most people try to live a moral life as best they can. Most Christians I meet no matter what flavor of theology are just trying to live a spiritual life an hour at a time. Quietly. No headlines. No anger. No hate. Just people.

We have to watch our minds. Root out our ignorance through continual learning. Listen to someone today.