Posts Tagged ‘Thinking’

Listening With Our Entire Mind As A Spiritual Discipline

November 15, 2016

Did you ever hear what someone said and not understand what was meant? Sometimes someone you know assumes a background and just makes a comment. You hear it and think it applies to something totally different.

What if you were a friend of Jesus back in the day? He was full of those comments. You knew that when he said something it had spiritual reference. But, still….

One day after coming up with a way to feed 4,000 people by miraculously coming up with truckloads of bread manufactured from only a few loaves as the “raw material,” Jesus was riding in the boat with his buddies.

He says, “Watch out–Beware the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of the Herodians.”

Do they let the spiritual significance of this comment sink in? Noooo. They are still thinking about all that bread they fed the crowd with and where in the heck it came from.


When I’m studying a section that obviously needs some thought, I like to make a mind map. This is a quick one I sketched out in my journal. There were three key words–yeast, Pharisees, Herodians. So, I mapped out a bunch of descriptions of the three and then tried piecing it together. [By the way, I have a prettier app for the Mac and iPad–MindJet Mind Manager. It’s a great way to outline thoughts and brainstorm.]

Of course, the disciples were caught by surprise. Then didn’t have it written. It was a quick comment.

Yeast can mean a number of things. I read once that it is a symbol of evil. But I thought it likely to look at two characteristics–it permeates through the dough and it causes change.

Pharisees? Well, they represented the religious elite who thought that behavior could be changed through laws and the legal system. And in this manner, they could prove they were better than “sinners” because they followed the law. Jesus usually poked at them.

Herodians? They were the political elite. Ruthless exercise of power was their characteristic.

If the dough is us, then think it through.

A GPS for the Bible?

September 26, 2016

When you travel, how much do you rely on your GPS? In your car? In your phone?

We use it often. I’ve tracked taxis. I’ve charted walking paths in cities to a restaurant or other destination.

And of course we rely on it when driving somewhere. Confidence that we are on the right path is priceless. Having an estimated time of arrival helps with planning.

But we have discovered that slavishly following the GPS can lead to lost time or even the wrong path. We were just in Naperville, IL heading back to Ohio. I punched in the street address. It said turn right. I said, “Huh?” Then it said you will reach your destination in 35 minutes. Admittedly I drive fast. But I’m not paring 4+ hours off a trip. Oops, the GPS defaulted to the closest city with my street address–Joliet.

Once I was waiting for my wife to pick me up at an airport while she was enroute from another location. She was about 1.5 hours late. I told her that regardless of what the GPS might say, to make sure she got on Interstate 77. Well, the GPS routed her over the Appalachians to Interstate 75 in order to avoid tolls. It wasn’t set up well. She went way out of her way.

I’ve seen a similar situation with Bible study. We may come to it with pre-formed opinions. We just read our opinions into the words.We lose that “Ah, ha” moment when a new truth sinks into our awareness.

Or, perhaps we choose the wrong GPS.

I remember when that point came home to me. About 45 years ago I read a popular Christian book. It had a few obvious flaws of logic, but the overall theme seemed sound. And everyone around me thought it was great.

Then I read the author’s next work–a study of the letter to the Hebrews. I started the book, but something seemed wrong. I went back to the beginning and opened to that letter reading the translation of the Bible I used at the time (and probably comparing through an 8-translation Bible I have) along with the book. I just kept muttering, “Where did he get that?”

I put the book back on the book shelf and never read that author again. He lost his place as my GPS.

I read lots of scholars and theologians. But I read them in light of the Bible itself. I try to stay true to many of the earliest students–Augustine, Jerome, the Desert Fathers, and others.

A GPS is a good thing; but only if used wisely.

Sometimes Slowing Down Pays

August 1, 2016

Sometimes we pick up the Bible or another book that requires thought as we read. But we read through quickly, as if it were a cheap romance novel.

We heard someone say, it’s a short book. Read it through a couple of times a day for a week. In order to do that, we feel we must read quickly–perhaps even skimming.

I’ve noticed in small groups that often we’ll read through a passage–especially from a letter from Paul–and put the book down, sigh, and go “that was certainly  confusing.”

The writer of the introduction to the letter to the Ephesians in the Renovare “Life With God” Bible that I use, brought us into the study through the story of the archeologists who uncovered the South Stairs up to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It seems that the steps are an engineering mess. Totally irregular. Varying heights. Varying pitches.

“Could they not find a competent engineer to lay these out?” they thought. Or, perhaps they actually were engineered very carefully. You must approach the Temple slowly, with intention, with perseverance. One cannot just rush up to the Temple and declare, “Ta Da!”

Approaching thoughtful literature requires just such care.

There are 11 verses in the first chapter of Ephesians that are one long sentence in Greek.

We could read that through, think “Wow, that was complex,” and then keep on reading.

Or, we could pause and consider each phrase realizing that Paul was logically building an argument (proposition) a phrase at a time. As we slow down and break it down, we begin to see a pattern of thought.

Or the last half of the second chapter (Ephesians 2:11-22). We read that yesterday. “That was confusing” many said (probably voicing what we all were thinking). But I said, let’s just pause and look at the passage slowly. Who is Paul talking to? Who is he talking about? What was his message before? Oh, he’s telling us about how the death and resurrection of Jesus brought together all the different races of people into unity. “He broke down the dividing wall” between us.

There is a great lesson for us today. Think about that today. For a while. And consider your friends or those you know whose work seems to be to divide people. Perhaps our work should be to continue what Jesus began–let people know about how we all are brought together in unity through Jesus. That has  already happened. It’s just up to us to let people know.

Lost In The Futility Of Their Minds

January 7, 2016

Have you ever met someone who is so smart that they are actually ignorant? They have so many ideas rattling around inside their skull that often nonsense comes out of their mouth (or computer)?

These people are not only atheist philosophers. I have met people who call themselves Christians who live entirely in their heads. Religion is intellectual, ideas, agreements with propositions.

Sometimes people study things to overcome their own deficiencies. Perhaps I’m that way. For a couple of years at the university, especially the year I wasted in graduate school studying political philosophy, my goal was to be an intellectual. University was all about ideas. In fact, some philosophers who were really all about spirit were labelled “idealists” meaning they thought ideas were real.

Now, I often observe that people think too much. They read too much into other people’s writings.

Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God. They have lost all sensitivity. (Ephesians 4:17-19 excerpted)

After the era of Freud, people seem to like to psychologically analyze other people. They think about others problems. Sometimes they explain away evil acts by saying it’s all their mother’s fault or some other such nonsense. (OK, I like Jung and James far more than Freud from that era, I’ll admit.)

We read the Bible and try to dissect every word as if we were scholars who had lived with the nuances of the language for a lifetime.

Jesus basically said it’s all about the status of our heart. It’s how we live out love. Paul emphasized grace. He also was concerned about how we live out love–but he was worried that people would return to being legalistic about it instead of living in the freedom of grace.

But freedom didn’t mean thinking about whatever you wanted to until you slowly went insane. Thinking that leads to understanding of God is good. Better is getting up every day and deciding to once again live out God’s grace by sharing it with others.

Stop sitting around thinking; start reaching out to others in love.

Mind Maps and Other Collaboration Tools

November 6, 2015

For the Friday Leadership post, I bring to you the idea of collaboration.

There are times when bringing people face-to-face is essential to accomplish something. Unfortunately most meetings are routine, pointless, serve only to bolster the leader’s ego, or serve as an excuse for coffee and doughnuts.

Many applications have appeared to help team members collaborate while being remote and also asynchronously. Consider Wikis, Slack, project management tools, Quip, Google Docs, (maybe) Microsoft Windows 365, Evernote, Nozbe, and many more.

I’ve been reading Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci lately. The author  spoke at the Emerson Exchange and whetted my curiosity (the first of seven traits).

Scholars have discovered some drawings akin to mind maps in Da Vinci’s journals. A mind map is a powerful tool. And, if you use a digital tool (I use Mindjet Manager), you can put it in the cloud and many can collaborate on ideas.

Don’t know what a mind map is? Here is one  I constructed using the computer app rather than just drawing (maybe the preferred way) for a project I’m working on.

IIoT Project

You can take notes on a mind map, doodle ideas, organize a project or a book, think creatively. It is a great tool. I’m about to work on two books while I’m between soccer seasons. I’ll mind map the outline and then just add text.

Mind maps are a tool. Thinking is the skill. Providing a safe environment for collaboration is leadership. Put it all together and accomplish something this year.


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.

Think and Do

August 14, 2015

Welcome to the Friday leadership tips post. By the way, this week I passed the 1,000 post barrier. That’s a lot of writing. 

What happens when you realize (finally) that you could use some help?

I know, too many people think they can do it all by themselves (guilty!). Sooner or later you’ll need some help. And you’d better ask for it.

When help arrives, do you know how to make the best of it?

Several incidents and a couple of conversations lately have clued me in to thinking about this.

First–know what needs to be done.

Think about your task. Break it into chunks. Figure out what only you can do. Figure out what sort of person can do the rest.

Second–write a detailed list.

List what you will do. List what you’ll ask your help to do. Trust me, this hard work of thinking ahead of time will save you bundles in the long run. When you list what others can do, include a vision of what the completed work will look like. Include some instructions and best practices. Give them room to think and create a workflow. But, be perfectly clear about the outcome you desire.


Then you all get to work. It’s a good practice to reflect on what you’re doing to make sure it is best use of your time as the project evolves. Check with your helper. Make sure they’re on the right track. Ask if they need any help or additional tool.

Oh, and celebrate and enjoy the fruits of a job well done.

Three Days That Make Us Different

April 3, 2015

Today is what we’ve come to call Good Friday. I have to admit that as a kid I wondered about that phrase. What’s good about that day? As an adult with thinking skills, I could come up with a lot of reasons to justify calling it good. But still…good?

Good Friday–a remembrance of the day Jesus was killed. Leaders of the day just couldn’t get over their fixation on the way history was supposed to play out. Especially the part that they were to play–that is, they were to lose their jobs. So, they killed the threat.

But, Good Friday leads inevitably to Easter.

Ah, Easter. More than a remembrance. A celebration. Our culture places so much celebration on Christmas. But Easter. Without Easter, we have no faith.

No person of Jewish faith has ever commented on this blog or emailed me directly. But I have had a conversation with a teacher within the Islamic faith.

Within Islam, Jesus is acknowledged as a prophet. Maybe so. I think at that level he was more of a Wisdom teacher than a classical prophet. But then, I’m not a learned scholar. Just a disciple. And he certainly acted as a prophet in several examples.

Within Judaism, Jesus is not recognized. During a recent Bible study, one of the men blurted out (since it’s so obvious to us), “Why don’t Jews believe?”

I found this very consise, rational, scholarly statement from a Jewish rabbi detailing the Scriptures that prove Jesus was not the Messiah. Like I say, thinking people can come up with lots of reasons.

I just finished 1,500 pages of scholarly work showing how Paul (the ex-Pharisee, Jew above Jew) re-interpreted his Scriptures in light of his meeting with the risen Jesus. Jesus, himself, in fact re-interpreted his scriptures.  And he taught his followers to do so. I understand the reluctance to abandon a faith based on what you see as faulty interpretation.

Easter, though, has nothing to do with interpretation of scripture.

Jesus lived. Jesus died. Jesus lives again.

That’s all. Everything else is mental exercise.

Faith in the resurrection is what makes us different. More than that. It’s how lives are changed by the power of God’s spirit when we accept that reality. 

We are different from other religions. But we are also different people. Changed people. That power has been proven over 2,100 years. And it continues to be proven with each new Jesus-follower today.

I cannot help it that so many people claiming the title “Christian” behave so poorly–even to the extent of killing great numbers of people. The power of the resurrection lives in too many of us to deny the fact.

Therefore, I guess we call it “Good” Friday. But it’s all about Easter. Enjoy.

PS. Since my feeble attempts at writing are read around the world, even in places where calling yourself Christian could be life-threatening–my prayers go out to you that you can celebrate the day without fear. And that peace will come to you soon.

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.

Listening Actively Using Your Heart

April 30, 2014

For some reason, this morning I’m thinking about listening. I keep running into people who listen only to hear what they want to hear. They pick up something that satisfies their feelings and go with it.

This thought goes along with the brain research that has shown that our brain is capable of believing whatever “we” tell it to believe. Leading a reflective life, we can think about our thinking and hopefully see when that happens to us and make a course correction.

I turn to examples of people who listened. One comment I overheard recently (they weren’t talking to me, but I was listening 😉 was that Jesus listened with his heart to what people said with theirs. He heard not only the words, but also the feelings, motivations, needs, desires, fears that were all part of the message.

I thought about the powerful Persian emperor who heard Nehemiah completely when he asked what was bothering him and then listened as Nehemiah explained his pain and his hope. And then the emperor provided all that Nehemiah needed to fulfill his dream of restoring the walls of Jerusalem.

Active listening means placing our complete attention on the speaker. We think nothing. We observe. What are the words? What is the tone of voice? What is the posture of the body? Where are the eyes looking? What is the context, history? Are we looking at the person? Perhaps nodding our heads as a sign that we are listening and hearing?

And we need to listen to ourselves. Have we convinced ourselves of some truth. Maybe convincing ourselves that we listened to someone when we didn’t?

Yesterday, I listened to a podcast that is a panel of technology pundits discussing the latest company and technology news in the electronics field. One of the panelists is always an outspoken evangelist of the latest gadgets. He loved Google Glass. A year ago. Then nothing happened with the product. He explained on this latest discussion his disenchantment. Another pundit said, “Kudos to you, Robert, for not only having the courage to change your mind, but also to state it publicly.”

When you listen to others, listen completely. When you listen to yourself, listen completely. Have the courage to change your mind if you find yourself in error. That happens to the best of us.