Archive for the ‘Thinking’ Category

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.

I Do What I Don’t Want To Do and I Don’t Do What I Want To Do

April 15, 2014

The title might sound reminiscent of something Paul wrote when he was letting himself get complicated again. But did you ever notice that one part of your brain knows something and another part of your brain does something different?

I know about warming up before exercise. I know about staying warm between bursts of exercise. I know about stretching afterward.

But, did I do that Sunday? Nooooo.

Last weekend was the first weekend I spent mostly outdoors this spring. I was out in the sun and wind Saturday as a timer for the pro soccer referee fitness tests. Then out again for yard work in the afternoon.

Then Sunday, I refereed two adult men soccer games. It was warm and windy. The field was slightly soft. It was my first outdoor running of the year. I met one of the other referees and we chatted. Then the third came. Then it was time to inspect the players and get the game going. No warmup.

Between games, we stood around for 15 minutes or so, then took off to do the second game. I needed to do a sprint right away. The legs said, No you don’t. Took some time to get loosened up again.

After the games, I got in the car and headed to McDonalds for some carb replenishment. But no stretching. Two phone calls instead.

I know better. I teach it. But I didn’t do it.

We are like that often in our lives. We know and we don’t do. Our brains can hold both thoughts simultaneously and never see a contradiction. Heck, I’ve seen politicians (nameless for this post) who could say something to one group, something totally different to another and never personally appear self-contradictory. Their brains could hold two dissimilar political ideas yet convince the person that there was no contradiction. The person appeared whole.

Like Paul, I know I need to learn to do what I know is right. It’ll save me much grief.

Cultivate A Powerful Mind

April 7, 2014

Twenty minutes of quiet meditation daily rewires your brain to tap into and grow the regions responsible for a more positive outlook on life.

How many people do you know that just can’t settle down? They can’t take time to focus on just one idea at a time. Their thoughts are scattered all over and their anxieties multiply.

Is that somewhere that you’ve been? Or are now?

Brain researchers are discovering that the brain need not harden and weaken as it grows older. It can, in fact, continue to grow, add “wiring”, become more integrated. It just needs new experiences to keep it malleable and growing.

True confession–I have never read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels. I own one in paperback that I don’t think I ever read. But I’ve gotten hooked on the CBS series Elementary, the Sherlock Holmes movies and the BBC adaptation mini-series on PBS. I’ve been learning about Holmes’ thought process.

Maria Konnikova has written a well researched book on Holmes’ thought process intertwined with the latest on brain research. The book is Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes. I recommend it.

Toward the end of the book, she says, “If you get only one thing out of this book, it should be this: the most powerful mind is the quiet mind. It is the mind that is present, reflective, mindful of its thoughts and it’s state. It doesn’t often multitask, and when it does, it does so with a purpose.”

I have struggled with overcoming the busy mind, anxieties, lack of focus on my life. I’m sure many others have. I’ve also spent almost 50 years researching and experiencing and reflecting on this topic. She nails it.

And every time I drift, something calls me back to a quiet mind, focus, being present in the moment.

Here are a few things I’ve discovered:

  • Start the day with quiet time, maybe a cup of coffee or tea, just relaxing and focusing on breath. (remember that in the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible breath, wind and spirit are the same word)
  • Take a break during the day at times to move around to break the momentum of stress
  • Become aware of yourself and your thoughts that reside in the background, when they are not helpful, stop and take a few deep breaths
  • Turn off email and phone when you need to concentrate on reading or work
  • When you listen, listen; when you read, read; when you meditate, mediate–become fully aware of only the present moment

Peace.

Willpower Is Key To Success

March 26, 2014

There was a child, a marshmallow, a closed room, and a promise.

This was an experiment a couple of decades ago where a researcher curious about willpower brought a child into a room. A marshmallow was placed on a table. The researcher stated he would have to leave the room, but he would return in 15 minutes. The child could eat the marshmallow, but if the child did not eat the marshmallow, then he/she would get two marshmallows upon the return of the researcher.

Some ate the marshmallow. Some didn’t.

A follow up on as many of the children as they could find after some 20+ years revealed that the children with the willpower to delay gratification were generally more successful in life than those lacking that one strength.

Daniel Goleman writes about this research in one chapter of his latest book, Focus. It turns out that willpower is more effective a predictor of a young child’s (ages 4-6) success in life than is social class or IQ.

How did the children who succeeded in resisting the temptation do it? They diverted their minds. Those whose thoughts dwelled on the marshmallow, ate it. Those who started singing a song to themselves, or talking to themselves, or played make-believe–in other words, those who diverted their thoughts from the marshmallow–were able to resist it.

Two takeaways.

If you are a parent or grandparent or otherwise can influence a child. Teach them to divert their thoughts to something else instead of continuing to focus on the errant behavior.

Or, for you…when your thoughts start to focus on something you’d rather not think about–be it that donut that is now staring at me as I write this or some worry or anxiety–start to think about something else. The willpower lies in intentionally (yesterday’s topic) choosing to think about something different from the negative thought. I first noticed that I did this myself over 40 years ago. I testify that it works.

Help a kid. Help yourself. Learn how to develop some willpower.

What Was Your Intention

March 25, 2014

There is s guy I know who often talks about living with intention—pray with intention, decide with intention, live with intention.

While driving home after a weekend get-a-way Sunday, I rather absent-mindedly set the cruise control on my car. A scenario flashed through my mind in an instant:

Stopped by a Highway Patrol officer, “what was your speed?” “I don’t know. I set the cruise control.” “At what speed did you intend to set it?”

Intention. That was the word.

I shouldn’t just push the button to set the speed when I sort of felt like it was time. I should have given the matter a little thought and then set the speed with intention. OK, so it was 7 over the speed limit…

When you leave home today, is it with intention? Do you intend to meet new people? Help someone? Be kind? Be loving?

My friend suggested praying with intention for things to happen. I once listened to a teacher on a podcast (I think it was Bill Hybels) who said to pray spcifically and with expectation. Pray intentionally that God willl lead the right people into your life.

Sometimes I see people. Look at their demeanor. Look into their eyes. They are lost. Not just in the salvation sense, but just lost. No direction. No motivation. No intention. Just drifting through life. Lost.

Then I see people with living with intention. Living with purpose. Friendly, helpful, doing good.

Choose life with intention, or wind up lost.

A Little Mindfulness Every Day

February 3, 2014

It is better to master your attention than to have a to-do list.

I try to practice the discipline of Getting Things Done (book by that name by David Allen). The practice is to write down everything on your mind so that it is free to concentrate on the task at hand. You write down ideas about tasks you need to do, projects to be completed, what you’d like to do this day/month/year. Then your mind is empty and you can turn your attention to the immediate task that needs to be done.

Being digital, I use an application called Nozbe (affiliate link) to keep track of and organize my list.

Michael Sliwinski created Nozbe and then started “Productive! Magazine” to write more about practices for Getting Things Done. You can download the magazine to your tablet via the App Store. In a recent issue, Augusto Pinaud discusses the importance of where you place your attention.

Do you focus your attention on the task at hand? Or does your attention drift? In her book “Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes,” Maria Konnikova begins with a discussion of the ability to be mindful–the ability to focus attention. Holmes was observant of the smallest detail because he was mindful–his attention was focused in the present and on what he was seeing.

I believe Jesus exhibited the same characteristic. He took time alone to be with God. When he was with people his attention was focused on people–so much so that he could see right through to their needs and motivations.

There are health benefits to slowing down for 15 minutes or so every day. Just practicing mindfulness, placing attention on the breath or a phrase or a single thought. The spiritual benefits are greater if you place your attention on spiritual things–a story from the Bible, for example.

I thought I’d start off the week suggesting we organize our week around mindfulness, attention, focusing on the right things. I do this to remind myself as much as to teach others.

Anticipation

January 7, 2014

We just went through the advent season of anticipation. I wonder if it was as intense as the anticipation of the last few days in the American Midwest.

I quit watching The Weather Channel at least a year ago. Way too much over-the-top hype. I quit watching network TV news (and weather) 25 years ago. Still, I knew there was a “winter storm” coming toward western Ohio for several days. It was supposed to hit Sunday.

Saturday I wasted a little time on Facebook. Saw the people posting from grocery stores about how the shelves were bare in certain areas of staple items. People talked about the coming storm with worry and even fear for several days.

It was two things–several inches of snow followed by cold weather. Really not an unusual occurrence in our area in the winter. It’s actually beautiful on the days following snow. The sky is blue, the air is clear, sunlight reflected from the snow and ice on trees is enchanting. Oh, the temperature may be single digits F and sometimes below, but we have modern furnaces and clothes to counter it.

In my area, the storm sort of fizzled out. We were about 40 miles to the east of the line dividing rain from snow. In the end we got a couple of inches. Oh, it’s -9F as I write this, up from -11F when I went to bed. The heavy wool sweater I bought in Norway is a help.

Still I ponder, we get so worked up and agitated with the hype of weather systems (OK, when a tornado is coming, even I get worried). I don’t sense the same level of awareness during the season of anticipating Jesus’ birth. We get snow every year. We get Christmas every year.

What do we need to do individually to recapture the anticipation of Jesus’ arrival. Maybe too many presents and parties, not enough reflection and worship and celebration?

(Personal note: I hope Jon made it home yesterday OK. The roads through Chicago were still treacherous, and I bet US30 through Indiana was slick. And I hope all my Midwest readers had the common sense to not venture too far into the cold and ice. Stay warm today.)

His Heart Is Bigger Than His Brain

December 4, 2013

“Forgive him. His heart is bigger than his brain.”

That was supposed to be a funny put-down of cousin Eddie by Clark Griswald in Christmas Vacation. It implies that he wasn’t the brightest bulb in the candleabra, so to speak.

The phrase sort of stuck in my brain, so I meditated on it for a while.

It occurred to me that this has practical implications. I am by nature an analytical person. I tend to think about things a lot. My university education reinforced that tendency. But as I got deeper into spiritual practices and I discovered that other people really do exist, my attitude toward the message in the Bible changed.

John Ortberg captured the idea with a sentence in a message he gave a few years ago–“You see, Jesus is most interested in the condition of your heart.”

Paul reinforced that a few times in his writing where he would tell his story about being an intellectual and then having a life-changing transformation.

Jesus and Paul were not anti-intellectual (the “brain” part). Indeed, they were both scholars. I think that there is nothing in the New Testament that does not emphasize the condition of your heart. Perhaps summed up succinctly by James who emphsized that if your heart is right, then your actions will be right. One follows the other as day follows night.

Exercising our brain is good. We need to study in order to have background and depth for faith.

Our hearts need to be bigger than our brains. It is not enough to study and gain knowledge. We need to have our hearts fixed on Jesus and let our actions flow from that. Indeed, our study will also flow from that posture.

We develop our brains through study and thinking. We develop our hearts through trusting Jesus as our guide and saviour, living a life of putting others ahead of ourselves, practicing prayer, meditation, service, worship, celebration.

Explain Things to a Six-Year-Old

October 15, 2013

I am at another conference. All these conferences feature a keynote speaker–an author, an astronaut, a professional speaker, a motivational person. The person speaking right now is a “futurist.” While researching a book, he ran across a quote from Albert Einstein who said that if you cannot explain your theory in terms a six-year-old can understand, then you are a fraud.

Boy, do I ever run across this problem with people explaining theological concepts. People try to explain the Trinity. OK, just about impossible to make that understandable. People try to explain Jesus, the teachings of Paul, how we should live, and many other concepts. When they are through talking, no one understands anything new.

Karl Barth was a theologian who wrote thousands of pages. His work on the book of Romans was extensive. He wrote thousands of words explaining what Paul wrote in a few hundred.

But…when asked toward the end of his life to sum up his work, he said, (or sang) “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

That is the explanation that a six-year-old can understand.

Do you make things too complex?

I know people who take a simple project and, by the time they finish explaining the project it is so complex that no one can understand.

I have actually built a career trying to explain complex technical ideas into words that any educated person (my audience) can understand. Microsoft people have complemented me on my ability to explain embedded operating systems and programming to a general engineering audience.

The point is to challenge you to think about your beliefs and learning and then explain them in understandable terms. Perhaps the exercise of thinking through your beliefs will cause you to throw out prejudices and half-truths and come to reality–the simple truths.

Hint–study Jesus as an example, not Paul. Jesus could go directly into the heart of the matter. Paul–he was a highly educated man. He used 100 words when 5 would work better.