Making Words Fit Our Attitude

October 28, 2022

Procrustes, a character in an ancient Greek story, had an obsession with making things fit his prior concept. He had a bed for guests. If a guest was too short to fit the bed exactly, he would have the guest stretched. If the guest were too tall, he’d cut the legs of the guest until he fit the bed.

We do that with concepts. We have an idea about what the Bible should say. Who knows how we ever came up with that notion, but it exists. And then we read the Bible. We try to stretch or chop the words in order to make them fit our preconceived ideas of what they should say.

Beware the Procrustean Bed when reading Scriptural text–or anything, for that matter.

Choices

October 27, 2022

Robert Frost encountered a fork in the path he was walking. Knowing he could only take one, he took the one less traveled.

We are often presented with choices. Take either A or B, they say.

I often think neither.

Or, sometimes, both.

Maybe C occurs to me.

Intelligence Shows By Ignoring

October 26, 2022

Publicity agents and marketers flood my email inbox promoting the latest new product or technology application. They use many big words. Usually I can delete the first paragraph. It tells me nothing. Then I delete other $50 words and keep the $1 ones. Thousands of readers come to my technology blog (unlike the dozens who come here) because I try to make sense and place a context for the news.

I gain by subtracting.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes in his book of aphorisms (sort of like proverbs) The Bed of Procrustes, “They think that intelligence is about noticing things that are relevant (detecting patterns); in a complex world, intelligence consists in ignoring things that are irrelevant (avoiding false patterns).”

A philosophical razor (rule of thumb) attributed to the 13th Century philosopher William of Occam (Occam’s Razor) tells us that when choosing among competing hypotheses about the same prediction, the simplest one is to be preferred.

I’ve seen people (preachers, teachers) take a simple teaching of Jesus or of Paul and expand it beyond all proportion. 

Maybe when Jesus said “they will know my followers by their love” what he meant was people will know my followers by their love.

A Step At A Time

October 25, 2022

My wife and her sisters persuaded me to try an aqua fit class during our vacation at a resort last week. I can swim but seldom get in the pool. Meaning: I’m not that good.

After a lot of “weight” work with 8 oz. dumbbells that in the water simulated several pounds, the instructor got out three or four-foot lengths of foam tubing called noodles. At one point she instructed us to put them between our legs as if we were sitting astride them. Then she said pretend you’re pedaling a bicycle and head to the deep end of the pool. Then she told us to do a breast stroke motion with our arms. I fell off the noodle, got tangled up in the darn things, and was in water over my head. It took a few seconds to get my bearing.

A few minutes later I experimented on my own in shallower water and discovered the “trick”.

Let’s back up a second. When I had a new person come to my Yoga class, I’d ask about experience. Some had more than I did. Great. Just explain the progression of poses and keep an eye on them just in case.

If they said this was their first experience, I would give instructions to the class for moving to the next pose while standing or kneeling with the new person to help them find the correct adjustment for the pose. (without touching them, I never touched a student)

I’m thinking that aqua instructor, nice person though she was, knowing I was a newbie, should have given me a bit more instruction and watched more carefully.

Then I thought about other things.

Do we convince someone to “accept Jesus in their heart” and then just send them to drift into the deep end alone?

Do we tell someone to read their Bible daily without teaching and feedback on how to read ancient spiritual writing?

Perhaps you may have memories of being adrift and lost. Maybe someone teaching live or from a book helped you find your balance sending you off into freedom.

Contradictory Actions

October 24, 2022

Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes in The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms, “Upon arriving at the hotel in Dubai, the businessman had a porter carry his luggage; I later saw him lifting free weights in the gym.”

I drove to the Y to work out after exercising in a park. I always parked in a spot at the far corner of the lot. Many people jockeyed to get a parking spot close to the door before going in to use a treadmill or elliptical trainer to walk.

I now walk to the community center of our little community to use the fitness equipment, hardwood floor for Yoga, and the hot tub. Everyone else drives.

It is not that I am better than others. It’s just a mind set.

Do we carry over that mind set to other areas of our lives?

Do we skip the hard part of scholarship before reading a few passages from the Bible and then formulating a theology?

Do we skip the hard part of sitting in prayer and meditation daily while thinking we are becoming spiritually mature with a few “good thoughts”?

How To Get Out of a Rut

October 21, 2022

Jim was my boss. He was an engineer and an engineering manager. He ate bland food, was never excitable. He got more done than anyone I ever met. He tackled one thing at a time giving it his full attention.

It took years for me to incorporate that idea into my own workflow. I just finished a 3-month project. It entailed figuring out how to get all the assets distributed communicating with many people constantly. The only way I kept my sanity was tackling the next right thing. One at a time I finished.

Oliver Burkeman, writing in his newsletter The Imperfectionist, “In the end, it isn’t really a question of ‘breaking big projects down into small chunks.’ It’s more a matter of seeing that ‘big projects’ are nothing but psychological constructs, quasi-illusory entities summoned into existence by taking a particular view of what our lives really consist of – which is moments, and the actions that unfold in them.”

I got through the project and through the pandemic the same way—one day at a time. It’s not trying to comprehend a major long-range project. Just live in the moment.

In The Image of God

October 20, 2022

The first story in the Hebrew Scriptures (Christian “Old Testament”) has become a source of contention among those who read spiritual writing in various ways. Some think it’s science (something unheard of 3,000 years ago when this was written). Others have other concepts.

Perhaps we miss the important point. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former “Chief Rabbi” in England provided this analysis.

“What makes the first chapter of Genesis so revolutionary is its statement that every human being, regardless of class, color, culture, or creed, is in the image and likeness of God himself. We know that in the ancient world it was rulers, kings, emperors, and pharaohs who were held to be in the image of God. So what Genesis was saying was that we are all royalty. We each have equal dignity in the kingdom of faith under the sovereignty of God.”

We should pause. And then pause further. And then let it steep into our very DNA. And then upon meeting another one of God’s children or reading about another one of God’s children, let this knowledge that we have equal dignity in the kingdom of God guide our reactions. If we all could do that, wouldn’t this be a better place to live?

We Forgot To Choose

October 19, 2022

Viktor Frankl writing in Man’s Search for Meaning solidified the idea of our power to choose in my mind. The idea became one of my core beliefs. Ancient people knew that truth, the truth of choosing your attitude, your response, your life.

Seth Godin writes, “We are leaving the age of information and entering the age of choice. Not just choosing what we’ll consume, but who we will become. Who will we connect with, lead, trust, honor, dignify, isolate or believe? And how will we choose to walk through the world and what will we leave behind…”

Long-time technology pundit Steve Gillmor early on predicted companies on the Internet were all about capturing our attention. Now we read about the many psychological tricks companies such as Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and others use to capture and retain our attention. 

To whom do you choose to give your attention? And all the other choices Seth suggests?

Church Walls

October 18, 2022

I drive the car into a parking space. I look at the building, the destination of the trip. Perhaps I will spend the day there at work. Perhaps I will make a sales call. Or try to solve an engineering problem. Or try to help someone in need.

Walls and a roof enclose the space. Outside where I am temporarily, nature and atmosphere and freedom. Moving inside everything changes. In there hierarchy, drama, politics engulf the spiritual atmosphere.

Madeleine L’Engle must have realized this. “Sometimes the very walls of our churches separate us from God and each other. In our various naves and sanctuaries we are safely separated from those outside, from other denominations, other religions, separated from the poor, the ugly, the dying.…”

I have felt that many times. When I enter one building and others from the community are entering another. And others enter buildings not churches. And others stay outside. And we are all separated by those walls. Wars have been fought with people killing neighbors because of which building they entered.

And I weep.

She writes further, “The house of God is not a safe place. It is a cross where time and eternity meet, and where we are – or should be – challenged to live more vulnerably, more interdependently.”

Some people lift a sentence from a letter of the Apostle Paul and rejoice in being separate. I’m not so sure Paul would rejoice. Reading his entire opus, the theme seems to be the desire to bring everyone together as followers of Jesus. And Jesus didn’t love the walls.

Closest To God

October 17, 2022

Humans often ask impossible questions of God. The questions often are a variation on the theme of just where is God, anyway.

Where was God when the tragedy occurred? Where was God when I needed support and care and strength?

I used to ask how will God get me out of this mess I’ve gotten myself into.

If we keep our awareness antennae focused, we discover later that God was there all along. God doesn’t prevent tragedy from occurring. Well, sometimes I think maybe he does. But many writers have told stories about discovering God at work in the midst of doubt, despair, fear, worry.

God was closest to us in those moments. We often don’t realize the support we get until later reflection reveals God and our friends were there all along.

Maybe we spend hours in meditation, contemplation, and prayer hoping to be close to God. Maybe we don’t realize the presence surrounds us ready to pounce when most needed.