Sunday, June 19, 2011

On Emotion and Impulse: A Ravi Repost

There are a few choice famous people that really stand out to me in their thought processes and efforts. Ravi Zacharias is one of them. I won't gush too much, but he sent out the piece below in his most recent newsletter.

Emotion and Impulse

Author Daniel Goleman wrote a best-selling book in 1995 called Emotional Intelligence. He begins that book with the heart-stirring story of Gary and Mary Jean Chauncey who were in the Amtrak train that went down over a bridge into swirling waters which swallowed up the lives of many. They themselves were trapped in their compartment as they tried desperately to save their eleven year-old wheelchair ridden daughter Andrea. They succeeded in saving her life, and they did so at the cost of their own.

In describing this noble act, Goleman points out that such emotionally charged moments do not give birth to impulse in a vacuum, but rather it is the outworking of a commitment to certain values and truths already made in one's life. I believe Goleman is right in this sense. What is most obvious in the love and commitment of these parents to their young one is that passionate commitments never stand alone; they stand on the foundation of a worldview.

I mention this holding thought of many wars and much heartache around the globe, killings, insurgencies, and other manmade devastations. We shake our heads in disbelief that murderous and cruel individuals can masquerade throughout the world as heroes and saviors. They are not. They are destroyers of lives, addicted to hate and power. The truth is that many have wedded hate to their own selfish wills, and once hate lives in the human heart reason dies.

In fact, this is why Jesus said that it is not murder that is the crime; it is hate, the foundation where it all begins. He said that it is not adultery that makes a relationship wrong; it is the lust from where it all begins. You see, our actions do not come just by impulse. They come by a system of values to which our lives are deeply committed. Murderers and masterminds of violence and oppression are rarely emotionally deranged people; they are morally perverted. Their thinking is destructive and their emotions follow.

There is a simple lesson here. We must learn to think righteously if we are to act righteously. We must think justly and honorably and mercifully if we are to act with goodness and honor and mercy. And for this kind of strength, only God’s power is big enough. I hope your life and mine can learn to think God's thoughts after Him. Only then can hate be conquered and life be lived with truth and love. 

Tingles and Goosebumps and MMA

"Who doesn't like the tingles and goosebumps?"

That was a question posed at our last small group in reference to the exhilarating experiences that growth as a Christian has to offer. At first I thought "yeah...tingles are nice." But then I REALLY thought about it. While most emotional experiences are too complex to be simply liked or disliked um...tingles and goosebumps... not my favorites.

I believe that Christians all come from different starting points and we grow toward different goals, for which God has equipped us and customized our paths. Mine...well it goes a little something like this.

I'm naturally a pretty stoic person. One of my father's favorite memories is of his father openly admiring the emerging personality of my two-year old self. "She's not always smilin' and laughin' like other children." I wasn't one of those bubbly, endearing children. Some of my earliest memories are of people talking to me in kiddie voices and my not understanding why. Though extroversion and expressiveness was highly prized in my culture and extended family, I was raised to appreciate logic and reservedness.

When I was a teenager, my long time pastor died and my church home took a turn for the more charismatic and emotionally expressive. This came under leadership (a series of pastors) that was more interested in status, possessions, social clubs and attention. I was younger and not as in tune to social environments, but I remember a lot of fruitless conflict, scandal and division.

During that period I learned a lot of mistrust. I developed a distaste for gospel music that persists to this day...part of that is the musical character itself, but part is also a simple association with an unhappy corner of my life. I learned to mistrust emotional expression and in turn, began to mistrust emotional experiences (something that bled into all areas of my life, of course). Multiply that by my aforementioned nature and I ended up in a place where I've had to learn to re-trust, and re-appreciate emotions

To be completely honest, I find almost all emotional extremes to be slightly stressful, so of all the experiences that God brings into my life, I prefer the peace and still waters to the exhilaration and exuberance. I experience excitement very similarly to anger. Yes, excitement is preferable, but I find it tiring and, after a few moments with it, I'm ready for it to pass. I prefer exploration to adventure... fulfillment to elation...sadness to despair. .

On a side note, I took a break to see the results of one of the fighters from the gym and he talks about his recent disappointment and a prayer he prays before every fight. In the same study, we'd discussed the importance (and difficulty) of praying for not just what we want, but also for God's will and guidance. It was nice to hear that sentiment reiterated.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The crazy stuff I believe.

One of the best books I've read in the last few years is The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson. Put most simply, it's a book about the history of humans use it, how we've changed it and it's changed us. It's won a lot of awards and attracted a lot of criticism, but one passage in it really got me thinking about faith. is a matter of belief, even faith: belief in the person paying us; belief in the person issuing the money he uses or the institution that honours his cheques or transfers. Money is not metal. It is trust inscribed. 

One of the biggest turning points in my life as a Christian was accepting that logic isn't the end all and be all of human existence. A long time ago, a former pastor used to say something that confused me deeply. Quite frequently he would call from the pulpit "You have to know that you know that you KNOW that you know." I never understood how the concept of knowledge could be applied to something none of us had ever seen and could not possibly, logically "know". Sure, there are elements of logic in Christianity and you can use it to decipher issues in life and Biblical study, but at the end of the day, it really doesn't make logical "sense".

Mr. Ferguson got me thinking of other things in life I simply "believe" with little physical or experiential evidence.

  • The theory of relativity: Sure, I understand it from a very basic, scientific level, but I've never personally conducted any experiments and really have no experience with its applicability across the universe. 
  • Man landing on the moon: Yes. I believe we did it. I've seen shuttle launches and pieces of moon rock. Still though, I've never been to the moon myself, couldn't build a shuttle or complete the calculations needed to get a craft to the pretty round ball I see at night. 
  • The existence of...anything in space. I just saw the movie Thor (which I LOVED conceptually and visually) and the most amazing part for me, were the scenes flying past nebula, planets and stars (...ok...the Ice Giants were cool too). But still, as much as I do believe they do exist, I have as much proof that they exist as I do Bigfoot or Nessy or the Chupacabra.
  • Almost...all of history: I've seen quite a few historical artifacts, Dowager Empress Xi Ci's palace, Akhenaten's death mask, Ancient engravings at the ruins of Tulum...all of them amazing. The stories behind them? I'm taking people 100% at their word. I saw none of them created and have never spoken with any one who has. Considering that "history is written by the victors", and I've done absolutely no work in archaeology, that's pretty much the definition of blind belief. 

Why believe things like this? Is it because they're convenient and fit neatly into the way I see the world? Is it because belief to the contrary would label me an outsider? I'm really not sure. What I do know though, is that believe and faith, in the secular and the spiritual, require suspension of reliance on the absolute reach of your individual understanding and experiences.