Change the category, change everything!

5 Aug

He might have missed his greatest retirement project!

This professor learned first hand how hidden treasures can come to light by changing what you focus on and what you don’t include.

Catacombs art

Gregory Athnos (in what turned out to be a major theme of his retirement after a career teaching music at the college level) has written about the wall paintings in the Roman Catacombs.  Link to his book

When he researched and examined the frescos himself, he intended to write a 20-page paper.  His original focus pinpointed the quality of the art.  However, when he actually visited the underground graves of early Christians and studied the paintings, he was taken with the symbols. Not one cross was depicted on these burial sites, but God’s many-faceted deliverances were.

So he shifted his research question away from the quality of the art (which was probably not worth more than the 20-page paper he planned to write) onto the theology of the art.   And that shift made all the difference.  His casual study turned into a multiple-year project that birthed a book, a lecture series and DVD on the theological worldview of early Christians in the first 3 centuries.

When I listened to the interview, I was struck by this fact:

The content/subject matter of the paintings was the same – whether the context was art or theology.

But when one re-categorized the content away from art onto theology, EVERYTHING shifted.   That’s it – a change in categories changed the research goal which led to entirely different results.

That should come as no surprise.  Hasn’t that happened to you before?  When you reframe something, you react differently to it?  I recall the anecdote of a distracted father on a big city subway riding with his 2 high-energy small children whose antics were bothering the other passengers.  One irate lady apparently said something curtly to the dad about controlling his kids.  He wearily and humbly apologized and explained that they had just come from the hospital where the children’s mom and his wife had died.  Instantly a different mood and mindset descended on those around this small family.

Changing the context from: “things that annoy me” to “things that I find tragic” completely altered the sentiments of the others. The content or circumstances didn’t change, though.

I often reframe other drivers’ possible circumstances when they drive in a manner I find rude.  If I imagine that their spouse has just left them or that they are habitual drug users, I treat them differently.  The first scenario elicits a ‘let it go’ response in me and the latter a ‘let me stay out their way!‘ behavior.

Along the same line, I’ve been helped most on a daily basis through category shifting by the conviction that God is sovereign over every single event that occurs.  So when I’m delayed or when a door shuts I’m LEARNING (a work in progress!) to drop my complaining and instead wonder about what God might be up to in my life.  Helps with the stress!

Question:  What happens when YOU change the context or category around some content in your life? 

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