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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Why the Conversation Matters or What Heisenberg has to Teach Us about Life

Albert Einstein famously responded to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle with the quip, "God does not play dice with the universe."

Einstein hated the rise of quantum physics even though it was a direct result of his work.

So, what does that have to do with conversation? I'm glad you asked. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is the quantum application of the observer effect which states that when measuring a system, the observer changes the system. This effect is so pronounced when taking measurements at the quantum level that the observer must be considered as a part of the system being measured.

Make sense?

Okay, let me try again. If you check the pressure of the air in your tire, you have to let some of the air out in order to gauge what's going on inside the tire. You change the system to measure the system. If you wanted to do a quantum measurement of the electrons of the molecules inside the tire, your act of measuring would make you a part of the system.

The same thing happens in conversations. I had a conversation on Facebook recently about gay marriage. It got up to 265 comments over the course of 5 days. Toward the end several people were questioning the point of such a lengthy discussion since no one appeared to be changing opinions on the matter. I don't think anyone did end up changing views, but they all changed. Every person who contributed to the conversation was changed for it.

By measuring your thoughts, you change your thoughts. You cannot state what you think without affecting what you think. So by being forced to type out words, everyone in the conversation was also forced to subtly change their minds. Then, in addition, they were forced to specifically address their thoughts toward opposing views, and since I won't brook abusive, dismissive comments, they had to do it in relationship with others.

That changes people. That changed me.

Even though my opinion on gay marriage isn't substantially different now than it was before, I better understand why those who disagree with me hold their views. They better understand why I hold my views. And, I think, we're all better for it.

How have you benefited from having a conversation in which no one changes their opinion?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Opinions on Gay Marriage are Shifting for Everyone

Yesterday NPR pointed to new research from Pew that says people's opinions about gay marriage are changing.

Currently more people support gay marriage than oppose it (49% to 44%), which is a change from previous views. But the astounding statistic that comes out of this research is that 28% of people who currently support gay marriage used to opposed it.

It's a rarity in modern social and political spheres for people to so radically change their minds. What could cause such a shift in opinions on such a divisive topic?


People changed their mind on gay marriage because of a relationship with someone homosexual. It's much harder to oppose something when you put a face on it. It's much easier to change your mind when you do it out of care for someone.

Relationships change minds far more than statistics, logic, rhetoric, or pleading. Knowing someone and being known by someone is, perhaps, the most powerful way to convince someone. It creates a cognitive dissonance to see someone who seems good and to ascribe to them the label of evil. It's difficult to believe that gay people are bad when you know a good one.

Do you know any homosexual people? How has your relationship changed your mind?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Is Rob Bell Right or Wrong about Gay Marriage?

So, I guess Rob Bell is in favor of gay marriage now.

According to the Huffington Post Bell said:
"I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it's a man and woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed and I think the church needs -- I think this is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are."

So, is he right or wrong?

The Washington Post welcomes Bell to the side of right and justice in a new Civil Rights Movement.

The Patheos blog descries Bell as the latest celebrity to fall to the scythe of cultural normativism.

Which one is right?

I think that we're asking the wrong question here. Or, to put it differently, we're not asking the right questions.

Rob Bell says that he supports gay marriage. Okay, great. But what does that mean? Doe he now think that homosexuality is not a sin in the bible? Or does he think that the bible shouldn't affect civil laws?

Both are conversations that are worthy and need to be discussed. But what's happening here (in the case of the Patheos blog, to name just one) is that Christians are condemning Bell to hell (ha, the jokes on them since he doesn't believe in hell). On the other side, gay rights activists are saying the Bell is in favor of homosexual relationships (not just gay marriage).

From what we have so far, we can't really make a determination. And that's the problem.

The conversation about gay marriage is so mired in preconceived notions that any statement on either side means that one must align with a particular view. It's inconceivable that one could be for gay marriage and still consider homosexuality a sin according to the bible.

And that's why we can't talk about this. We're yelling at each other rather than having a discussion. Yelling gets us nowhere and, in the case of the church, it is only serving to further marginalize and minimize any message of hope or truth they might have.

Please stop yelling. Please stop promoting the yelling. It's not helping anything.

So, is Rob Bell right or wrong about gay marriage?

I don't know, let's have a conversation and figure it out.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Embrace Fear

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," quoth Franklin Roosevelt.

In some sense that's absolutely true, our fears are based on our imagination far more than on reality. But what if we didn't perceive fear as a negative emotion? What if we decided that fear was simply a barometer pointing to the reality of our lives?

What if fear stopped being something we avoid and started being something we embrace?

Not that we should become fear junkies who seek the next fright-fix, nor that we should hope to encounter terrifying situations, those aren't helpful.

But fear is. Helpful, that is. It tells us when there's something that we want to avoid, and often that thing is something we really ought to do.

Think about it. Top fears - once you get past spiders, snakes, and rats - are public speaking, dealing with conflict, and pursuing dreams.

We fear what we need to do. We know what's good. We're easily able to determine what is good, but we have a hard time moving to do the good that we know we ought to do. We're afraid. We run from the fear and so we don't do the good that we ought to do.

Instead of running from fear, we should embrace it. As Brene Brown says, "Lean into the discomfort."

Growth is uncomfortable; it's scary. But that doesn't mean we should avoid it.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fear, Guilt, and Life

Fear and guilt aren't bad things. They help us to identify what's going on in our lives. They are powerful, useful markers that should increase our awareness of what we're doing.

But we've shifted so that we are driven by our feelings rather than being driven by purpose. It would be like planning your life around which gas station you can get to with your car rather than just finding a station when the tank is low.

Fear and guilt signals that something's happening, not unlike the low-gas light on your vehicle. But what you do with the signal matters far more than the signal itself. We've become signal averse rather than signal aware.

We think it's the light that should be avoided rather than the low gas level. So we might do things like put tape over the light, remove the fuse, or constantly and obsessively fill the tank ever few miles.

It's no different with fear and guilt when we seek to numb them, avoid them, or constantly assuage them through some sort of penance or ritual.

We're missing the point of the emotional signals we have.

How do you work to integrate fear and guilt into your life rather than avoiding them?

Monday, March 11, 2013

We were Made for This

In the origin story, we read about two trees being place in the garden. One tree was life, the other knowledge. The tree of knowledge was forbidden. Yet it was grasped anyway.

In some ways it seems that the church has interpreted this to mean that knowledge is evil. If it was a sin to take and eat of the tree of knowledge, then it must be wrong to pursue knowledge now. The conclusion became that knowledge itself was wrong.

What if that's not the case? What if we were made for knowledge and he problem wasn't in gaining it, but in gaining it too soon?

In the biblical stories, the life-tree never leaves. It's in the beginning and at the end. We were always meant to eat from it. We were made to eat from it.

What if we were made to eat from the knowledge-tree too? Just not yet.

Look at a child who is confronted with the knowledge of good and evil before they're ready. Children who suffer through abuse and tragedy don't have the mental power to cope with what they've learned. They gain the knowledge of good and evil but lack the ability to comprehend them. So, most often, they shut down in various ways.

What if that's what happened to humanity?

What if we became aware of good, and it was too much for us, so we feared it? We covered our nakedness and put up barriers to vulnerable relationships because the sheer goodness of them is terrifying.

What if we became aware of evil and it was too much for us, so we felt guilty? We let guilt overwhelm us and blind us so that something minor exploded into a major problem; greed gave birth to murder.

These twin demons of fear and guilt are coping mechanisms that our immature minds threw up against the onslaught of overwhelming knowledge. And since that moment in the garden we've been grasping forward trying to deal with the knowledge that was thrust on us long before we were ready for it.

Knowledge isn't bad; we were made to eat from the knowledge-tree. We just got there too soon.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Questions of the Heart

Today's blog lives on another site. You should go there and read it.

My friend Peter asked me to write a guest post for his blog. The title I chose was: "Questions of the Heart."

Here's a teaser for you:
"Growing up in church, I was taught that certainty, not cleanliness, is what’s next to godliness. From the pulpit to the Sunday school classroom, we were told that we could be sure of our faith. It came as a surprise to me, then, when I discovered the many of the heroes of faith in the Bible have struggled with questions."
 You should go and read the rest. And leave a comment over there.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Then it All Went Wrong

It seemed like a good idea at the time. It really did. The Industrial Revolution transformed our world. It shaped government, economics, education, religion, and nearly everything else about our world. We found ways to make things faster, cheaper, more long-lasting, more interchangeable, and more profitable.

We went from a world where everything was hand-crafted as a unique item. Every bowl, gun, book, ship, house, and saddle were unique. They cost a lot of money, time, and effort to produce which helped to keep the poor poor and concentrated power in the hands of the few rich. But with the Industrial Revolution we learned how to replicate identical copies of a prototype.

So we tried to replicate identical copies of the United States government around the world.

We tried to replicate copies of intelligent people through our educational system.

We tried to replicate copies of our religious leaders through our churches.

While you can easily copy a tire, mass-produce it, and end up with better, cheaper results, it's actually detrimental to try to do the same thing with government, intelligence, and religion. We took the good of the Industrial Revolution and made it a bad thing by over-applying it.

Sir Ken Robinson points out that schools are killing rather than nurturing creativity. One of his main complaints is: “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

Yet we've designed an educational system that systematically punishes students for doing exactly what they need to do in order to learn and grow.

How messed up is that?

People, and the systems made up of people, cannot be replicated. Human beings are not interchangeable parts to be swapped out on a whim. With each person, with each generation, we need to provide opportunities for growth and change. We need to provide opportunities to doubt, question, and grow.

The current generation needs to take up the ideas of racism and civil rights and examine them anew. They can't rely on the conclusions of the past. The current generation needs to work through the deepest questions of religion and philosophy for themselves.

We should, absolutely, interact with the great thinkers who have gone before. But they aren't molds into which we inject our own minds to be conformed to their way of thinking. Rather they are guides who've blazed a trail for us. It's on us, however, to walk the path--or to choose to blaze our own trail.

Monday, March 04, 2013

You Can Never be Right without being Wrong

We're born with the innate capacity to be drastically wrong and still be okay with it. Babies eat dirt and, most of them, learn that dirt doesn't taste very good. Toddlers touch something hot and learn that it's a bad idea. Children crash their bikes and learn that the jump was too high.

But somewhere on into the teenage and early adult years we start making the switch. We have, somewhere, gotten the idea that to be an adult is to be right. I wonder where children could have ever gotten the impression that adulthood is the equivalent of always being right...

But it's the very people who eschew the idea that we're right who are our greatest innovators and heroes. The dirt-eating baby who grows up continuing to try new and daring combinations of flavors might be a famous chef or a prize-winning chemist. The toddler who burned her hand might grow up to develop new technology to keep us safe in our cars. The child who crashed his bike might grow up to be a test pilot and get to crash even bigger things.

We have this dual-personality issue in our society where we laud those who embrace being wrong only once they've been wrong enough times to be right. We focus on the end rather than the means that got them to that end. We don't praise Edison for his failed bulbs, but for his success. We don't praise Asimov for his terrible writing, but for his breakout works. We don't praise Steve Jobs for NeXT, but for OS X and iOS.

What if we started praising people for failing? What if we started encouraging people to be wrong?

How would that change our schools? Our jobs? Our government? Our churches?

Most of the major breakthroughs in history would have been impossible without people being wrong. Why then, are we so averse to it?

Friday, March 01, 2013

Lessons in being Wrong

Happy Sequestration Day!

Today is the feared, dreaded, awful day on which the sequestration of federal government funds takes effect and mandates spending cuts across the board.

We're here for one reason: no one is willing to be wrong.

The Democrats won't admit do being wrong. The Republicans won't admit to being wrong. The president won't admit to being wrong. The senate won't admit to being wrong. The house won't admit to being wrong.

But in some ways they're all wrong. They've all made mistakes. It's not a surprise (or it shouldn't be) that human beings thought one thing was right and, after time, discovered that it wasn't. That's the story of how we've progressed from stone-age cave-dwellers to masters of our world (which we're admitting that we've been wrong about).

"Hey, maybe it wasn't a good idea to eat that chicken raw."
"Hey, maybe you're right. That was a mistake. I'll try to fix that in the future." 
"Hey, maybe it wasn't a good idea to racially enslave people."
"Hey, maybe you're right. That was a mistake. I'll try to fix that in the future." 
"Hey, maybe it wasn't a good idea to make that asbestos so easy to inhale."
"Hey, maybe you're right. That was a mistake. I'll try to fix that in the future."

But, for whatever reason, the current government seems incapable of having a similar conversation. And, for whatever reason, the current church seems incapable of having a similar conversation.

There's no danger in being wrong, or even in the possibility of being wrong. The greatest danger is in convincing ourselves that we can never be wrong.

Am I right?