Archive for the ‘Thinking’ Category

Sometimes I Just Have To Wonder About Things

June 26, 2018

Do you ever just wonder what would have happened if…?

I do. As the old advertising slogan said, “Inquiring minds want to know.”

The Apostle Paul’s writings can be divided into two themes. There was the theology arguing Jesus as Messiah, the resurrection, and presenting spiritual development.

Then there are the instructions (usually prefaced by “I say this”) for the organization of the first century church. This, of course, after the early writing (say, 1 Thessalonians) where he expected Jesus’s return to be any day now.

For centuries we have had men (not women typically) pulling sentences out of these later instructions and built religious movements upon them. Look at the variety of Protestant denominations continually splintering off the mother church because of one sentence or another.

Someone asked me recently about the part of Romans 13 where Paul discusses the role of government. Supposedly someone quoted this passage in support of the current US administration. I didn’t hear these same people quoting Romans 13 under the Obama administration. Just saying…

The thesis (I owe my original thinking to the theologian Elton Trueblood and then studies beyond that) of the passage basically is that government is part of the order of things for the stability of civil society. If you are living a just and true life, Paul says, then you should have nothing to worry about from government.

We know with just a cursory read of the last 2,000 years of Western history–or even the last 10 years–that Paul had it wrong. The atrocities visited upon the people by their governments have been manifold.

Paul wrote during the few years of relative calm in the Roman Empire. Later, after Paul appealed his hearing to the Emperor as the right of a Roman citizen and was shipped to Rome as a prisoner, a new emperor came to power. He was so bad that eventually there was an uprising and a civil war. Nero burned down Rome and blamed the Christians. Thousands were killed. Perhaps Paul was one of them.

The Christian church went underground for the most part until Constantine.

What if Paul had written Romans under Nero? We greatly underestimate the power of the idea of the Pax Romana today.

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.

Time To Devote Deep Thinking To Our Moral Decisions

January 26, 2018

I sat at the computer to think and then to write. Notifications flashed across the screen. “Your Photoshop has been updated.” God bless Adobe. I really needed to know that.

Now, where was I? Oh, yes, thinking.

We do so little of that, don’t we? It’s easier to copy someone else’s opinion and repeat. Even Christians find themselves spouting half-truths or opinions from someone else and passing it off as theology.

We must step back from our narrow views and consider. Society globally and the individuals in it especially must consider how (or if) we make moral decisions.

I saw this in a blog called Big Think. It’s a good starting place for thinking. I copied most of it. Go to the source for more.

It is from Dr. Fred Guy, Director of the Hoffberger Center for Professional Ethics and associate professor at the University of Baltimore.

Adults tend to become lazy with their thinking, backing into moral and ethical wrongdoing without noticing fully what they’re doing. As he says:

“Adults are so busy and focused on so much other than ethical issues that we don’t often stop to think coherently about what our moral principles really are.  Or what we think of our own moral character. We just assume we’re good people and let it go at that.”

Guy urges us to revisit and refine our moral code with the help of some good philosophical thinking.

He offers a series of questions that we can use to examine the case we are faced with. He calls it the ABCD Guide to Ethical Decision-Making and it goes like this:

 A:  Awareness: Are we aware of the ethical issue we’re a part of?

• Do we know all the facts? 

• Is this an ethical problem or a legal one? Or both?

• Can it be resolved simply by calling upon the law or referring to an organizational policy?

• Am I aware of the people involved in this case and who may be affected by my decision and action?

B.  Beliefs:  What are my moral beliefs? What do I stand for?  Most of us know if we give it some serious thought.  What we decide and do in a given ethical situation depends on our moral beliefs, principles, values and virtues — or lack thereof. We may ask:

• What kind of person am I?  Would I want this done to me or to those I love?

• Would it be responsible of me if I thought everyone should act this way in my situation?

• Am I setting a good example or a bad example?

• Can I continue to respect myself given the probable outcomes of my action? 

C.  Consequences:  Use moral imagination to think about consequences for ourselves and others, not only now but into the future as well. It’s the ripple effect. Our actions may indirectly affect others we don’t know.

• Who may be affected by my decision?

• How may my decisions/actions affect other and myself?

 D.   Decision:  Given the facts of the case, our own personal ethics, and the consequences that our decision and action will have on others, what is the best thing to do in this case?  

• Would I mind my action being broadcast on the six o’clock news?

• Could I justify my actions to my family and close friends?

• What advice would I give to a close friend who had the same decision to make as I do? 

Just taking the time to pause and go over these questions when we are making an important decision, can take us out of the default moral mode we live in and, hopefully, out of the trap of just assuming we’re good people, without truly delivering on that assumption.

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.

Some Days You’re Just Tired

April 28, 2016

I’ve had very little time to sit and think this week. Shortly, I’ll have many hours to sit and think.

Some days you’re just tired. Physically. And you need a break. I’m at breakfast in Hannover, Germany. It’s midnight in Ohio. Weirdest thing is I’ll have dinner in Ohio in 18 hours. I’ll take the train to the airport in 45 minutes, 1 hour flight to Munich, then almost 10 hours to Chicago. Then an hour to Dayton.

This week I’ve walked an average 5 miles a day for four days. That doesn’t count standing while interviewing people and taking notes. But being around all those people is energizing. There are many ideas. Many people working on the advancement of manufacturing technology.

I’ve learned over many years of this type of work. Appreciate your downtime. While I have energy, I’ll write all my notes from the show and post to my business blog, The Manufacturing Connection. Then, I’ll put some music on and relax and sleep for a few hours of the flight.

I have protein bars in the backpack. Never eat the airline food. It’s too full of fat and sugar. Drink water, not soda or alcohol (well, maybe one glass of red wine–for my health of course). Unfortunately, I’ll get home too late for Yoga class (I have come directly from Germany to Yoga–a great way to wind down the week).

By the way, this trade show is so huge that I walked that much and only really covered 3 buildings out of 20 or so that comprise the entire “Hannover Fair”. Perhaps 100,000 people here. Nothing in the US comes close to this scale. And the variety of languages you hear walking around.

There are rhythms. Energy and effort. Pause and reflect. I’m looking forward to the pause and reflect thing.

Evolution 2.0

January 11, 2016

There are two types of people. There are always two types of people.

One has great faith and belief that the Bible explains science, and specifically believes that the English translation “day” in Genesis 1 means literally a day as we define it–24 hours.

The other has great faith and belief in a particular view of “science” some call “scientism” derived from the writings of Charles Darwin in the “Origin of the Species.”

These are both faith positions based on an interpretation of their different “holy books.” They like to argue with each other. But no conclusion can ever be reached. They can’t even agree to disagree. Total conquest of the opponent is the only imaginable outcome.

A different view

Sorry to break the usual speaker’s trick, but there are really other types of people. I, for example, am trained in both science and the Bible. I don’t agree with either of the two positions. I believe that there exist a great many people like me.

I do not wish to argue any merits of either position. I’m merely introducing a book sent to me by a friend written by a man I know through business.

“Evolution 2.0: Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design” by Perry Marshall is a book of considerable scholarship written in a totally non-scholarly way. Marshall’s study began with a crisis of faith caused by the conflict of science and faith.

He’s an electrical engineer who took the approach of communication, information, and networking engineering to the study of the two views of evolution–showing the evidence for a type of evolution yet thoroughly debunking the scientism views of the avowedly atheist Darwinists such as Richard Dawkins.

If you are in neither of the two types of people and if you have an inquiring mind, I recommend the book. Not necessarily because I agree with everything he writes, but because it should cause you to think. And that is a good thing.

If you are in one of the two groups of people above (although the one type most likely does not read this blog), then don’t bother. It will just get your blood pressure up.

As for me, whenever there are two poles of a dichotomy, I automatically presume that there must be a more rational alternative. Then I set out to find it. Perry’s set out an agenda for my scientific reading for a while.

But as for my faith, it does not rest on this argument at all. My faith rests on my knowledge of the presence of God and of the resurrection of Jesus. Science for me is just an inquiry into trying to understand the mind of God who created all this wonderful life.

Make 2016 Your Best Year Yet

December 28, 2015

The church staff planning meeting must have been interesting. Well, December 27 is the Sunday after Christmas and before New Years. We need to have a New Year’s Resolutions teaching.

Steve, why don’t you take that? What text would you use?

How about Deuteronomy?

Of course, Deuteronomy. Why didn’t I think of that? <cue head slap>

Teaching Pastor Steve Carter of Willow Creek taught as well about the famous resolutions problem as I’ve heard. You can click the link and watch or listen.

From Deuteronomy 1:6-7–plan your journey, turn toward the promise, go. But before all that, figure out what your Mount Horeb is.

For the Israelites, it was a place of rest and seeming comfort following years of aimless wandering through the deserts.

Problem–the promised land was just “over there.” But they weren’t looking “over there.” They were stuck. God said, “Turn.” Then God said, “Go.”

Our problem–

Where did we get stuck last year. What was your Horeb? Carter says to stop, contemplate, and then name your mountain. Overeating? Overstressed? Overrevving? Overreacting? Overwhelmed?

I’ve always used this week of the calendar to contemplate and review. Yes, years ago I did the self-help guru advice of goal setting and New Year’s Resolutions. I wrote them down. Put them in the front of my DayTimer calendar.

I accomplished exactly none of them.

Then I discovered first getting my heart right. Then uncovering where it seems that God is leading me. Then determining one or more–but not too many–projects that will move me forward. (Note: a project is something that takes more than one task to complete.)

This allows for much more serendipity to enter my life. I can move with changes. Yet, I’m still moving toward being the person God wants me to be.

Name your mountain; turn toward the promise; go.

Learn Without Ceasing

October 21, 2015

Living is the constant adjustment of thought to life and life to thought in such a way that we are always growing, always experiencing new things in the old and old things in the new. Thus life is always new.― Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

I have had a core value ever since I was very little of constantly learning. I read everything I could get my hands on. Even in high school instead of studying the stuff we were supposed to be studying, I was off on arcane math, electronics, philosophy, psychology, theology.

I thought college was supposed to be a place of unending inquiry. Then I learned it was a place of unending memorization. So, I got my degree and went off to learn.

When I open the Bible, I am seeking to learn more about God, more about how I should behave (wish I could do it like the book says), more about life.

Seems like there are some people who open the Bible to pick up a cute phrase they can use on someone. Or just memorize some things so they can repeat them. Worse are those who open the Bible looking for words that justify their opinions and prejudices.

Thomas Merton is one of my intellectual/spiritual heroes. He has nailed it. We think, we live, we reflect on how the experience necessitates adjustment to thought. It is an ongoing process. It’s part of prayer.

God, teach me today so that I can grow and modify my thoughts and actions tomorrow to more closely follow you.

Renewing Your Minds

September 23, 2015

Paul brings so much wisdom into his writing of the letter to the Romans. And to think, he may have been happy just to know that it reached Rome at all. Let alone be studied by so many thousands or millions over the years.

He leads Chapter 12, where he moves from theology to practical matters by talking about being transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Renewing our minds???

I’m pondering that phrase. What did he mean? More important, how do we accomplish that?

First–transforming ourselves. Most of you know the cartoon (or whatever) Transformers. Even I know a little, pop culture challenged that I am. That’s what-a car that transforms into a robot or person or something?

So, we started out as something or someone. Then we become someone else. 

That’s a little like when Bill Hybels recommended that you decide who you want to be when you construct your calendar and to do list. Not so much what you want to do.

In the context of Romans, we want to transform ourselves from a person who is captive to our emotions and base instincts into a follower of Jesus. From a prisoner (even though we think we’re free) into a free person living in the spirit.

We decide what we want to be. Now, how to get there.

Well, by transforming our minds.

Here are some of my first thoughts. Feel free to comment with your own thoughts.

Read the Bible daily. First thing in the morning. So you fill your mind with higher thoughts. A mind filled with God has no room for thoughts that will get you into trouble.

Read books about the Bible, about leadership, about  successful people, about the needs of other people.

Develop an open mind that is receptive to the right messages coming in and disrupting complacency.

Practice real listening. Pay attention to other people to reduce your own selfish thoughts.

Volunteer for service. While you are acting for the benefit of others, you don’t have time to fill your mind with junk.

I wonder how else I can transform my mind. I keep trying.

Why Priests

June 12, 2014

Garry Wills has always been a thoughtful and intelligent writer. His OpEd pieces in the 60s were always worth reading. [Side note: I stopped reading editorials and OpEd pieces in the Dayton Daily News almost 30 years ago. Give me the name of a writer, the topic, and I could tell you what they said. Can you say, boring? Now, I don’t even buy the paper anymore. Get my news from Web sources.]

Wills studied to be a priest. Not only just a priest, but a Jesuit. But he dropped out before ordination. The reason I mention that is that I picked up his latest book while browsing the local bookstore, “Why Priests?: A Failed Tradition”. I’ve only just begun the book, but when I sit in the morning to meditate the past two days, his opening  background has captured my mind.

I’m born and raised protestant–a Methodist. So, I have always been taught that when Jesus said, “This is my body,” the definition of the word “is” means “represents”. However, if you are of other traditions, you were taught that the word “is” means “literally the same thing”.

Wills is taking us down the logical path of what it means in the life of the church and as a true reflection of the early church when somehow it became common to vest in a group of men the power (magical? mystical?) to turn ordinary bread and wine into the literal body and blood of Jesus. This led to all manner of “mental gymnastics” and logical leaps.

I don’t know if I’ll write any more on this, since to me it’s just an intellectual exercise. To some people it’s the foundation of their faith. Read with care.

It’s June 12, 2014. Two auspicious events of the day. The World Cup football (soccer) championship playoffs begin. Oh, and it’s the anniversary of my wedding. I’d have to say that my parents were greatly relieved when I called them some 44 years ago and said I was getting married–to a normal middle-class girl. I was about to enter graduate school studying philosophy and publishing poetry. Not the goals of normal, middle-class parents. I caved. Went back to my technology roots and became middle class. It’s all worked out for the best, even though Bev is still working on making me dress and act like a normal middle-class, Midwestern person.