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Thursday, May 31, 2012


This connection can handle 1.21 Gigawatts!

Unless you’re a 9 year old kid riding bikes in your neighborhood, friendships don’t just appear out of nowhere. They come from some other type of relationship – some like to call that relationship an acquaintance, but I like to think of it as a connection.

When I was about 12 or 13, connections became all-important in my life. It’s what I used to determine the girls I liked. I would feel a connection with a female and decide that she must be my soul-mate (she just didn’t know it yet). I would crush on a girl for a while until it was apparent that she didn’t like me (like that), and then I’d go in search of the next connection.

As I matured, I learned that not all connections are romantic in nature (most of them aren’t), but they are a reality in our human relationships. We just feel connections with certain people and we don’t feel connections with other people. Sometimes, it’s like the spark of romance, the phenomenon of love-at-first-sight: there’s no rational explanation, it just happens. Other times, connections build up over time and develop into a strong foundation for a friendship.

There are three main ways that connections can work: two people feel the connection, only one person feels the connection or neither person feels the connection.

Ideally you want to spend time where two people feel the connection. It’s natural, fun and easy. Avoid spending your time with people when neither of you feel a connection. They don’t want to be around you and you don’t want to be around them. So don’t be around each other; everyone’s happy.

The confusing part is when only one person is feeling the connection. This can happen when you want to be friends with a person, but they don’t appear to care much about you. Or it can be when the other person wants to be your friend, but you’re not terribly interested in spending time with them.

Take the time. Spend a little effort here figuring out what’s going on. You could find a great friendship.

If they seem disinterested in spending time with you, try to find a common ground with them. Do something they’re interested in. Often connection and friendships will develop around a shared interest. Look for those things that you have in common or that you might have in common. If you’ve never been mountain biking and that’s what they do every weekend, ask for them to take you out. Show an interest in what they do and what gets them excited and they are more likely to want to spend time with you.

It’s possible that you’ll get out mountain biking (or whatever it is) and find that you hate it with every fiber of your soul – don’t try to force it at that point. They’ll catch on and think you’re disingenuous. But, if you enjoy it, keep finding time to get together with them over the shared interest. Typically, a friendship will develop in due time.

If someone wants to be your friend, but you aren’t very interested, get over yourself. Spend some time with them. Do things you don’t like to do because it means you get to be with them. If there really is no connection at all after you’ve done a couple of things with them, then you can safely determine that you probably aren’t going to be friends (right now, at least). They can be a good acquaintance, and fun to spend time with, but not one of your closer friends. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Friends and Acquaintances

Facebook has eroded the definition of the term ‘friend’ to the point where nearly anyone can qualify. I have ‘friends’ on Facebook that I’ve never met in real life. I even have some ‘friends’ that I’m not sure I know in any way (they know people that I know, but I don’t remember if I’ve met them before). Back in the days before Mark Zuckerberg took over the world, we called people like that acquaintances. I guess that’s too fine a distinction for Facebook.

There’s nothing wrong with thinking about who your friends are versus who your acquaintances are. You aren’t placing a value on any person, you’re just describing the relationship you have with them. Friendship is a living, breathing relationship. It’s engaging and active. Some friendships are dormant for most of the time, but when the friends come together it’s as if nothing changed due to the intervening years and miles.

Acquaintances need to re-connect when they come together. They remind each other about life-details, they usually engage in small-talk and they don’t plan on meeting each other outside of other events or occasions. Acquaintances are great people, they just aren’t friends. Yet.

You will always have a pool of acquaintances that is larger than your circle of friends. That’s normal and natural. Your brain (my brain too) can’t handle more than about 150 friends. This is known as Dunbar’s Number and it states the limit on how human brains can keep track of social connections. You might be really good and you can keep 230 people straight in your head, or you might struggle to manage 100, but the limit is usually around 150.

The average number of ‘friends’ that someone has on Facebook is 245, which exceeds even the upper limit for Dunbar’s Number. For people like me with 759 friends, we can’t hope to keep everyone straight in our minds. I have a lot of acquaintances online – or Facebook-friends – but that doesn’t necessarily translate into real friendship. That’s OK.

How do you differentiate between friends and acquaintances? How many real friends do you have on Facebook? 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Introverts and Extroverts

I’m an introvert.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t like people or that I’m shy or that I’m afraid of crowds. Rather, it means that being with people takes energy from me, while being alone restores my energy. Extroverts are the opposite, they get energy from being with people and are drained by being alone. Because of that, it’s usually easier for extroverts to make friends, while it takes some effort for an introvert.

Think of it in terms of sleeping and waking; both are necessary for a proper, healthy life. Some people naturally need less sleep, they wake up chipper and excited at 5am. Other people crawl out of bed at a quarter to noon stumbling after the first cup of coffee. Neither one is wrong or bad. Both need sleep and both need to be awake.

The important thing is finding your balance and learning how you function best. Think of alone time as sleep and time with people as being awake. You can’t sleep forever and still be healthy, that’s called a coma and they put you in the hospital for it. You can’t stay awake forever and still be healthy, that’s called insomnia and they give you medicine to deal with it. You can’t stay alone forever and you can’t be with people forever. We need both to be healthy.

Introverts need to learn how to be with people and extroverts need to learn how to be alone.


As an introvert, I sometimes need a boost to get out with people. It’s not that I don’t like it, I just need some help getting started. It’s the relational equivalent of a cup of coffee in the morning. When I’m spending time with people I need to be aware of the energy I’m expending. The more people there are and the more people I’ve never met, the more energy I expend. I can spend a long time with a few close friends, but after a couple hours with a crowd of strangers, I’m exhausted.

When I’m tired, I need to rest and recuperate. Just like someone who’s sleepy needs to go and take a nap, spending time alone is important for health. If I need to, I can stay up for a couple days or go for a week on just a few hours of sleep, but it’s not a long-term situation. If I were to try and live that way, I’d get sick, be grouchy and generally just not be a happy person. The same is true for spending time with people. If I need to, I can do a lot of it, as long as it’s for a short amount of time. Then I need to catch up on my alone time.

Introverts do a good job at being close friends with a few people. They need help meeting new people and making new acquaintances.


My wife is an extrovert. She loves to be with people and enjoys crowds. Sometimes she needs help to stay in and relax, even when there’s a party going on somewhere. In the same way as me being enticed to go out, I need to encourage her to stay in sometimes. Once she does relax, she’s happy about it and it’s a helpful thing, but it’s not her natural state of being.

Extroverts can’t last a long time being alone. They can do it for a short time, if necessary, but they’ll start to go a little stir-crazy after a while.

Extroverts do a good job of making new friends and meeting people. They need help creating deep friendships and slowing down.

Which are you, and introvert or an extrovert? How does it help you to be friends with people? 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I'll be a Friend Like Jesus

When I was growing up in church we sang a song entitled “I’ll be a Friend to Jesus.” It was all about loving Jesus when no one else would. But the more I think about it, the more it seems that Jesus was really good at making friends. He had no shortage of people who wanted to be his BFF (best friend forever). Jesus was constantly at dinner parties and surrounded by people who wanted to be with him. There was just something inherently friendly about Jesus. He had qualities that made people want to be with him.

Don’t always be the center of attention. Jesus knew when it was time to hang back and when it was time to take the lead. There were many parties where he was the focus and the honored guest. But when he went to a friend’s wedding, he let the bride and groom be the stars of the show. Even when Jesus performed a miracle, he kept it on the down-low so that the couple could continue to enjoy their wedding.

Want to be where the people are. Jesus often went off alone early in the morning or late at night. He knew the value of being by himself. But when he went to parties, he was in the midst of the crowd. He had conversations with Pharisees, tax collectors, teachers of the law, various sinners and even suspected prostitutes. Jesus was surrounded by people, not off in the corner hiding from conversation.

Speak the language of others. Instead of forcing everyone to talk about his topics of conversation, Jesus was able to have conversations on topics that were comfortable and familiar to the people around him. He would talk about farming or trading or politics as the situation dictated. If the people around him were deep into religious studies, he’d talk about that too. I’m convinced that if Jerusalem had a football team, Jesus would know the players and be able to talk about the game. He was well-rounded and able to converse on many different topics.

Know when to take the conversation deeper. Jesus had impeccable instincts for when to share a story or thought that would cut to the heart of an issue. When he was talking with the woman at the well in John 4, he effortlessly and insightfully found the real issues that were troubling her. He went from a surface-level conversation about the differences between Jews and Samaritans to a personal discussion of the woman’s faith and life. It takes time and skill to develop the instincts to take conversations to a deeper level; most of all, it takes a genuine love for people.

When you love people, you listen to them and want to hear what’s important to them. When they feel that love, they’ll be invited to open up and share deeper issues with you. Don’t force a conversation where it’s not going. Let it happen and be available when you friend is ready to talk.

Be comfortably awkward. Jesus brought an awkward presence wherever he went and he was comfortable with it. As a rabbi, it was uncommon for him to go and eat with those labeled as sinners. But he did it with complete confidence, not because it wasn’t awkward, but because he loved the people.

As a Christian, I’ve been to parties where I was an awkward presence, but I was comfortable with it because I loved (still do) the people at the party. Once we approached that awkward moment and moved past it, my friends were better able to see that I loved them more than I was worried about appearances.

Friendship doesn’t equate with condoning. Jesus was accused of condoning prostitution, embezzlement and blasphemy because he was friends with people who did those things. Never once did Jesus apologize or stop being friends with them. Neither did he condone things that were wrong.

I have friends who’ve done everything. I don’t condone sin, but I will continue to be their friends. I love them. It’s not my job to convince them that what they’re doing is wrong. It’s my job to be their friend. My condoning or not condoning their actions has no bearing on their lives or the lives of anyone else. What does, though, is how much I care about them and show it to them with my actions.

What other ways was Jesus a good friend? How can you be more like Jesus in your friendships? 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Making Friends

It was so easy once. When I was 9 years old I saw a kid riding his bike down my street. I asked, “Do you want to be my friend?” He agreed and we were friends. Simple.

But now, as an adult, friendship doesn’t come so naturally. I would never dream of asking someone on the street if they wanted to be friends. And if I did, I’m sure they would think it an odd proposition.

Friendship typically happens due to proximity, time and shared interests. It was easy for me to be friends with the kid on my street because we had great proximity (one house separated ours), we were children so we had plenty of time and little boys are generally interested in the same things (bikes, robots, guns, trucks, the usual).

In school it’s not much different. You’re friends with the people you spend time with in your classes and extracurricular activities – so you share an interest in track or choir and you become friends with the other people who are doing the same things. You don’t stop to think about the way that bus rides on choir tour build friendship or the regular time together working on sprints deepens your relationships. You’re just doing things and the friendships happen.

As adults, though, friendships are harder to start. Sometimes we try to hold on to the friendships of our youth. There’s a strong foundation there that we can build on, but if we lack proximity, time and shared interest, it’s difficult to keep building the friendship. Time fades the connections of the past and the old track and choir buddies from high school lose touch.

Work friends are very common. There’s a lot of time and proximity to build the relationships. Sharing interests, no matter how few, will make work friendships happen. It’s just easier to spend 8 (or more) hours a day at work when you feel a connection with the people. But most work friendships don’t survive a transfer or job change. Shared interest is, perhaps, the most important ingredient for creating friendships. The stronger the interest, the more quickly the friendships can grow.

For Jesus followers who want to be friends with non-Christians, this poses a problem. So much of church life is set up to separate and segregate Christians from non-Christians. The interests are all church-based, the activities are church-located and the time is church-focused. There’s the unspoken rule that you should be spending your time at church doing church things with church people.

If you do that, you’ll only be friends with other church people.

Sure, you might have a few work friends, but those are typically superficial relationships. A few people will really connect with coworkers, but most don’t spend any time outside work. So, if all of your interests are fulfilled by the church, you have no space for making friends with non-Christians.

How many friends do you have that are non-Christians? How did you develop those friendships? 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Questions Come from Doubt

Jesus doubted.

On the cross, Jesus cried out "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Just hours before that, he prayed that he could be spared the trial that was coming. He wanted any other option. He questioned the plan of God. Jesus doubted.

For whatever reason, the notion of doubt has gotten a bad reputation. There's this unspoken idea that we must have absolute certainty in what we believe. It may come from the Enlightenment which elevated rational thought above all else. It might be a part of the Industrial Revolution where precision was the key to productivity and success. It might be the prevalence of the 24 hour news cycle that encourages newscasters to spout out positional statements in a non-stop stream.

Doubt is not bad. It's not the opposite of faith, it's not detrimental to the Christian life and it's not something to be avoided.

Not only did Jesus doubt, but he inspired others to doubt as well.

I can feel your fingers ready to type comments at me about how Jesus rebuked doubting Thomas for his lack of belief. That's true. Jesus said that it was more blessed to not see and still believe. But he still answered Thomas' questions; he still provided the evidence that Thomas craved.

In essence, what Jesus said to Thomas is this: You must pass through doubt to get to faith; some make the journey more easily than others, but I will help everyone who's willing to embark on the path.

The bible is filled with doubters. Abraham, Jacob, Gideon, Job, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, and more. The heroes of faith were those who suffered through doubt. They willingly stepped into doubt, despite the fear, despite the danger. They walked the path of doubt and found faith.

Faith can't be had without doubt. Hebrews 11.1 says: "Now, faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Confident surety in an invisible future without any prior doubting isn't faith, it's blindness. God doesn't call us to that, he didn't ask it of any of his exemplary followers, nor did his son live that way.

The questions of doubt lead us to faith rather than away from it.
"Does God really exist?"
"Is Jesus the son of God?"
"Is God really good?"
"If God is good, why do bad things happen?"
"How can God be all loving and the church be so hateful?"

If you aren't willing to wrestle with these questions, they will undermine and poison your psyche until your religious system crumbles. So much of Christian industry exists for the sole purpose of defending church-goers from hard questions. Christian industry is anti-doubt and therefore destroys faith.

I don't think anyone is doing it on purpose. I believe that the people in Christian industry are honestly trying to help. But their attempt to defend faith by avoiding doubt is akin to saving people from falling into a river by tearing down the bridge. There is a risk that those who attempt to cross over the doubt-bridge will fall off and be swept away, but without any bridge at all, the raging river is impossible to cross safely.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ask the Right Questions

While it's important to ask questions, asking the wrong questions isn't particularly helpful. In the book Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, authors Roger Fisher and William Ury share principles on negotiating. Many of the same principles apply to questioning and living the disciple cycle.

When it comes time to formulate your questions, look at principles instead of positions.

In negotiation, a position is a statement of what you want. "I want a raise." "I want a book deal." "I want this car for $1,000 less."

Positions create a clear winner and a clear loser. Positions are binary statements. Yes or no. You get the raise or you don't. You get the deal or you don't. There's no room for differing opinions outside the proffered options.

Positional questions:
"Are you a Democrat or a Republican?"
"Are you for or against abortion?"
"Do you think gay marriage should be legal?"
"Is it a sin to get drunk?"
"Do I have to go to church on Sunday?"
"Is the bible inerrant?"

Principles are analog statements. They offer a range of opportunities in negotiations. Principles underlie positions. Positions are the symptom, principles are the disease.

Behind the position of wanting a raise might be the principle of wanting to save for retirement. Behind the position of wanting a book deal might be a principle of wanting opportunities to speak and teach. Behind the position of wanting a discount might be a principle of having a maximum monthly budget for the car.

Once the principles are stated and clear, it's possible to be creative and look for other ways to meet the principles rather than just the stated positions.

Principle questions take more time to formulate. In a way, they require diagnosing the issues that lead to the positions. Why does someone want to know if you're a Democrat or a Republican? When you figure out why they're so interested in the positions, you can start to work back toward the principles. For example, in the debate about gay marriage in the US the questions posed don't really address the underlying principles involved.

Conservative people tend to be against gay marriage. They argue that it erodes family values. Their family values are based on moral convictions. The moral convictions rely, largely, on religious teaching. Therefore, the principle is one of religious teaching being applied to civil laws.

The conversation isn't really about gay marriage, it's about State's Rights and the First Amendment of the Constitution. Asking questions about the principles will lead to a variety of answers, not just two. The result is far more messy, but it's also much more productive and helpful.

(Note: the book link earns me a small commission on any purchases).

Monday, May 14, 2012

Ask Questions

Questions are like nuclear reactions, the power inside can transform or destroy, but there is no denying the sheer power available. Despite the power of questions, or perhaps because of it, they are in rare supply. Statements are far more common. Look at this paragraph, for example.

Good questions apply the gas; statements put on the brakes. Questions create space; statements define limits. Questions inspire new thoughts; statements regurgitate old ones.

Of course, a well-crafted statement can function like a question inspiring, and motivating. And a poorly-crafted question can be a blunt instrument used to defeat and subjugate rather than liberate minds. It’s not simply the punctuation mark at the end of the sentence that makes the difference. It’s the attitude behind the sentences.

A questioning attitude assumes humility, patience and value for others. It’s the admission that you and I might be wrong. It’s the wisdom that lies in lacking knowledge as opposed to the hubris of supposed omniscience.

Jesus-followers are questioners. He taught the process, he invited questions and he led his disciples through the process. Jesus expressed his gentle strength by inviting people to question with him.
“Who do people say that I am?”
                “Will you give me a drink?”
                                “Is there no one left to condemn you?”

Each question digs deeper into the relationship. They invite more questions, more conversation, more understanding. Jesus doesn’t often presume to dictate, but he has no problem sparking new thoughts with his insightful questions.

Followers of Jesus keep questioning. They keep asking, digging, searching, not only to find out more about Jesus, but also to discover more about themselves and the people around them. If you want to be a follower of Jesus, questions are the key, the doorway and the first step through. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Why I Stay with the Church of Christ

The article below is from the May 2012 issue of New Wineskins. If you would like to comment on this, please do so on the New Wineskins site here. I'm disabling comments for this post so I can keep the conversation straight in my head.

New Wineskins - Why I Stay with the Church of Christ

Why I Stay with the Church of Christ

by James T Wood
May, 2012

Why I Left / Why I StayI almost didn’t. I almost left. Something just held me back. It’s not the doctrine. It’s not the relationships. It’s not the time I’ve spent investing in the Churches of Christ. There’s something else that just won’t let me go. Despite the fact that more of my peers have left than have stayed, I can’t quite do it. Not yet.


In the Church of Christ, I learned that the Bible is the source of our belief and practice. We’re encouraged to read it, know it and apply it to our lives. It’s not a distant, dusty text, but an immediate, palpable guide. But the resulting mishmash of beliefs and practices in Churches of Christ can be baffling, frustrating and infuriating. Arguments over – well, over everything. And everyone claims biblical authority for their own position. Recently I had a chance to travel all over the country and around the world, and I visited churches everywhere. It’s the same argument. Everywhere. It may not be the same topic, but the gist of the argument is the same.

I’m tired of it. I want to get away from all the wrangling (and many of my peers already have).


As a member of the Church of Christ, I’ve been able to play the “Do You Know” game on three continents and I always make connections. It’s beautiful; I get to be a part of a family that extends around the world. It’s also deadly. This family is inbred and insular. There is no growth in the future of a family like this, only slow decline and then death. This closed-off family is awkward and uncomfortable for new people to understand. There are inside jokes and connections that strangers can never hope to share, so they will always be strangers.

I’m tired of it. I want to throw open the doors and invite everyone in (my peers have gone to the strangers’ churches instead).


I’ve been in the Church of Christ since I was seven years old. Since then I’ve done it all. I went to every service, every camp, and every Bible Bowl. I attended a Church of Christ college and then went to a Church of Christ university for an M.Div. I’ve worked at churches in six states and attended around the world. I’ve poured 26 years of my life into this fellowship, but all that isn’t enough to make me stay. Like most of my peers, I’m hungry for something new and challenging. I want to make a difference and change my world, and most of the churches I’ve seen don’t really share that vision. The unspoken mission statement seems to be, “Keep doing what we’ve always been doing until Jesus comes again.”

I’m tired of it. I want to explore new ideas, to challenge and be challenged (my peers are doing this in other churches and in non-profit organizations).

Why I Stay

The reason I stay is something that happened at a conference in Seattle, Washington a couple years ago. But, before the conference can make any sense, I need to explain some of my pre-college education.

I was baptized as an infant into the Lutheran church. I went to a Lutheran middle school and a Baptist high school (there were no Church of Christ schools in my town). There I found myself as the sole defender of the “truth.” I constantly asked questions about baptism and predestination. I saw it as my purpose to educate the lost people that surrounded me. I would go to my preacher and get counsel on how to approach the issues that were being taught at my school. Then, armed with ammunition, I would go back and fire away.

I didn’t have many friends in school.

By my senior year of high school, I was tired. Instead of me initiating the arguments over doctrinal purity, I was being accosted in the hallways. I could come up with (or find) the right answers, but they never satisfied anyone. They just came up with their right answers and we’d go another round. It was exhausting.
Then, one day, I was sitting in a lunchtime prayer meeting and I looked across the room at one of my few friends. I thought, “Do I really believe that he’s going to hell?” Of course he was doctrinally wrong on so many issues I couldn’t count them all, but I was also sitting in a room asking him to pray for me. So, was he hell-bound?

Fast-forward to the conference a few years ago. I sat in a room with Lutherans and Baptists, along with Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, and most other denominations. Several speakers shared their thoughts with the group, but a theme started emerging (at least in my mind).

The Lutheran stood up and told about how his church was reaching lost people, but they were noticing something unique for their denomination. He asked the crowd, “Did you know that the primary way that people are converted in the New Testament is through adult baptism?” Those of us at the Church of Christ table were not surprised, rather, we were smug. Of course we knew.

CrossroadsThen the Baptist talked. He shared the power and wonder of free will in connecting with lost people and helping them to find a faith in Jesus. This was in complete contrast to his denominational doctrine of predestination. We knew all about this too, but he’d only come to it through reading the Bible.

But then something we didn’t know came up. The Holy Spirit. Our table of Church of Christ ministers had to wrestle with the work of the Holy Spirit from a New Testament perspective. And we saw that we’d been wrong. These speakers were able to point us to something in the Bible that we’d missed. We couldn’t be smug about it anymore. It took them admitting that they’d been wrong to force us to admit that we’d been wrong.

That’s why I stay.

I stay, not because we’re the only ones who can read the Bible and do what it says, but because we’ve had that as our plea for centuries. I stay because I’ve seen the doctrine and practice of other denominations and they aren’t better than what’s happen in the Church of Christ (nor are they worse, necessarily).

I stay, because, despite the indoctrinated, insular, indolent history I’ve had with the Churches of Christ, I’ve also been challenged to read the Bible for myself. I’ve had opportunity to see what other people believe and practice. And, I’ve seen the opportunity to make things better, not just for our small fellowship, or just for Christians, but for the world.

I stay because we can still, in the words of Alexander Campbell, endeavor “to read the Scriptures as though no one had read them before.”

I stay because, as I looked at my friend in the prayer meeting, I realized that while we, in the Churches of Christ, may be Christians only, we are certainly not the only Christians.

I stay because our history of seeking unity can, possibly, be our future too.New Wineskins

Friday, May 11, 2012

Search for Something

Not seeing the picture is frustrating.

Magic Eye pictures were all the rage in the 90s. The stereoscopic images would become 3D if you could just unfocus your eyes enough. I remember staring at them for hours. Sometimes I couldn’t get a picture to resolve, it would slither and slide tantalizingly just out of focus. But if someone told me what I was supposed to see, it would usually become clear. Just knowing what I was looking for made a difference in my ability to find it.

When you search, search for something. Of course it’s important to realize that there are a range of answers available to every question. Just as it’s important to admit that you might be wrong when searching for answers. But if you don’t even know what you’re looking for, the search will take much longer.

Define the win. Determine what will be true when you’re done searching for the answers that you want. When you ask questions that have tormented philosophers, theologians and scholars for millennia, you aren’t going to find an easy answer. What answer will satisfy you? How will you know when you’ve reached a conclusion?

Limit the parameters. If you go out searching for the meaning of life, you’ll never stop and you’ll never be satisfied. The disciple cycle must move from questioning to searching to discovery and then change. If your questions don’t lead you to live your life differently, you might as well become a philosophy professor. Pare it down to something manageable. Don’t try to find the meaning of life, try to find what you should do with your life today. Don’t try to understand the nature of God all at once, tackle one aspect of God at a time.

Create a process. The searching process might be different for you than it is for me. I like to read everything I can get my hands on and then let my brain sort through it all. I thrive in situations where disagreement brings out the salient points. Think about the ways that you learn best, if you do well with discussion, join a book club on the topic. If you work well by yourself, journal about your search. If you need direction, consider auditing a class on the topic. Create a process that lets you search and learn in the ways that work best for you.

Know what you’re searching for and how you’re going to find it before you begin. Otherwise you might not see the sailboat in the magic eye picture.

Hint, it's not a sailboat or a schooner.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

You Might Be Wrong

Juan Ponce de León traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to Florida and sought out the Fountain of Youth. He had in his mind the legends that dated back to the time of Herodotus and, as a part of his royal charter to explore the New World, he looked for the fabled fountain.

But he was also skeptical. The search for the fountain was only one of the things he worked on while he explored Florida. He ended his life having never found the fountain, but as the first governor of Puerto Rico for the Spanish crown.

The search for the Fountain of Youth required the question of its existence, the hope that it was real, but also the skepticism that it might not be real. If Ponce de León had believed without question that the fountain was real and located in Florida, then he would have wasted his entire life searching for a myth. But because he allowed for himself to be wrong, he was able to move on and do other things.

The disciple life is no different. We have questions and beliefs that we hold, but we must admit that we might be wrong. At its root, the message of Jesus is that the religious people had been wrong. Those who followed Jesus were the ones that were willing to admit that they’d been wrong. The disciples heard the words of Jesus about the Sabbath and admitted that they’d been wrong; the religious establishment rejected Jesus because they couldn’t be wrong. The disciples admitted that their view of the Messiah was wrong in light of Jesus. They re-understood dietary laws, they found they were wrong about true worship, respecting women, loving people, forgiving, giving and dying.

All followers of Jesus must admit that they’ve been wrong. But that admission doesn’t stop at the moment of conversion. Jesus didn’t come to make converts, he didn’t call his followers to make converts and proselytize the world to a point of view. No, instead Jesus made disciples and called his followers to make disciples. Learners who admitted that they were wrong and continue to live with the possibility that they might be wrong.

Learning is impossible if you can’t be wrong.

Jesus commissioned his followers to make disciples, which translates into learners. So, in essence, Jesus called us to admit that we might be wrong, to give up clinging to the views we’ve been taught and to examine them anew, constantly.

When we’re willing to admit that we might be wrong, then others can admit that we might be right. 

Monday, May 07, 2012

You Find What You Seek

Search for a confirmation of what you already believe and, most likely, you’ll find it. Look for the reasons to keep doing what you’re doing and they will appear. Seek all the ways that your opponents are wrong and you’ll easily locate them.

Or, go after contradictions to what you already believe and you’ll find people who disagree with you. Suss out all the reasons why you should stop your actions and you’ll find them. Hunt for all the ways that your opponents are right and you’ll see a new perspective.

Searching for answers to questions ceased being about locating the correct facts about the time that Google indexed all the knowledge in the known universe (this may be a slight exaggeration). As the sage and philosopher, Homer Simpson said, “Pshhh, facts schmacts. You can prove anything that’s even remotely true with facts.”

Instead of looking for facts, figures and proof-texts that answer our questions, searching gives us the chance to weigh thoughts and opinions. We dig in to disparate viewpoints to see which one holds the most validity. This is a dangerous place, though, when the black-and-white world is cast off, the colors can be blinding.

It’s tempting to remain in a binary world. The answers are either ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ right or wrong, good or bad. Instead, searching leads us to an analog world with a range of answers that merge together. The binary system provides a framework for the immature. For children it’s appropriate that they should see the world in stark terms. Their young minds haven’t developed to the point of isolating subtle differences. Children are taught to not lie – binary. Adults use tact avoid giving offense – analog.

The same principle applies to matters of faith. Those new to the faith need firm boundaries within which they can explore and learn. However, maturity brings a multitude of shades and variations that need to be addressed.

·         The bible is the word of God.
·         The preacher teaches us about God.
·         Creation is good.
·         The church is God’s people on earth.
·         Good people go to heaven; bad people go to hell.

·         The bible was inspired by God, written by humans and copied by other humans.
·         Each preacher’s words should be compared to God’s word and examined for truth.
·         God created humans with the ability to do evil, creation was cursed and the world is suffering from disease, destruction and pain. God hasn’t fixed it yet.
·         Churches can be good or bad, church members can represent God or demonstrate hypocrisy. God hasn’t fixed it yet.
·         God redeems those who choose him and shapes them into heaven-citizens; he respects the wishes of those who don’t choose him and allows them to be apart from him for eternity.

Note: I’m not trying to start an argument about specific doctrines, these are just examples to illustrate the point.

How do you move from binary to analog? In what ways are you, or people around you, stuck in binary thinking? 

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Faith versus Reason

Just as music must be performed, faith must be lived. Reason and faith vie for your focus and it's nearly impossible to engage them both simultaneously. Multitasking is a neurological impossibility, and so faith and reason are individual activities. They can reinforce and compliment each other, but our limited minds can't hold both of them together at the same time.

When two separate activities occur together, the pace is almost never the same. Rehearsing music improves the technical aspects, but the feeling and pathos of the piece lags behind. When the emotional power of the music is engaged, the notes and rhythm might suffer. We work on one and then the other. Musicians balance the work so that the technical skills and the emotional connection are both in sync. If either one is missing, the music is lost.

A ship is made to sail. Limiting it to a safe harbor is denying its purpose. But it's in the safe harbor where as ship is built, where it's repaired after the storm, where it goes when the journey is over. The harbor isn't the antithesis of what a ship is made for, it's the impetus. It's in the harbor where the journey is made possible, but only by leaving the harbor does the journey begin.

Reason challenges, critiques and dissects. It leaves no corner unexamined. Reason doubts the existence of God, because there is no physical evidence. Reason analyzes the bible to see if it's reliable. Reason looks at the historical failings of the church to predict the future suffering that Christianity will cause. Reason constructs doctrine out of the pieces that survive the culling process.

Faith supports, encourages and motivates. It moves forward boldly. Faith trusts God without requiring proof. Faith judges the bible on its message, not its reliability. Faith looks at the historical failings of the church, weeps, and hopes for a future where the suffering Christianity has caused will be forgiven. Faith constructs a picture of God by stitching together the disparate pieces of religion and spirituality.

Neither faith nor reason are paramount. Both support each other, even as they undermine each other.

The answer isn't to choose one over the other. It's not an either/or proposition. Both/and is an option. Dwell with reason, suss out the meaning of a text, wrestle with doctrine and dogma. Then live in faith, act on the message of a text, wrestle with the closeness and power of God.

Reason calcifies, faith liquefies, together they produce a firm, yet flexible foundation for life.