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I love categories!!! How to think during suffering.

17 Feb

Categories are useful because they let us SEE how something relates to something else.  When I struggle to understand a new idea or concept, if I can SEE what something is NOT, then I find it easier to grasp the new notion when it is described as ‘something NOT X.’  I need that kind of distinction.

For example, a language teacher might try to get me to understand a verb tense like the ‘imperfect’.  She might say, “The imperfect tense is employed to communicate a repeated, ongoing action in the past or to describe the big picture (canvas-like background).”

My question as a newbie to this way of considering verbs would be:  “As opposed to what OTHER kinds of tenses?  What else is in the group called VERBS?”  She would perhaps answer, “Another category would be ‘one-time’ past actions, not the ongoing, repeating actions that happened.”

Let me apply this tool of categories to Biblical thinking.  (I KNOW you know that God calls us to THINK and use our minds.  Recall Paul’s advice to Timothy – Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. 2 Tim 2:7)

This morning, I was following Paul’s advice below when he exhorts us NOT to worry.  His wisdom goes like this: After we hand over our problems to Jesus with thanksgiving,  we’re NOT to think about the problems, but about………

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  Ephesians 4:8

So which true thought did I take up?  The one above; I started pondering categories of what rests over us.

Consider this distinction from John 3:36:  Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever does not obey the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.

In this distinction, there are only two groups:

  • those covered by a future of God’s wrath (‘remains’ on him)
  • those who do not have God’s wrath abiding over them but a future of eternal life

That should make us grateful and motivated to share Good News!

Then I thought of other things that could ‘remain on us’.  Here’s the category distinction I REALLY felt drawn to –  2 Cor 12:9. This is the occasion when Paul reports his divinely-inspired insight right after he has prayed earnestly to God to remove his painful ‘thorn’.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 

What are the 2 categories here?  The clue is in the verb ‘to boast’.  That word confused me in the context of the above verse until I did some digging on Blueletterbible.org . To boast can also mean ‘to be glad about‘.

Now THAT I get.  ‘Thinking’ further I saw why one can be GLAD about weakness. It’s because of the exceeding greatness of having Christ’s power resting or abiding over them.  So perhaps those who COMPLAIN about their weaknesses don’t stay under Christ’s power.  Just maybe by complaining, they deprive themselves of the grace that could be theirs.

It’s human nature NOT to want or to be glad about sufferings and illnesses and limited ability.  I thank God that we have Paul’s example of prayer, that is of asking God THREE times to heal him.  Jesus does indeed command us to pray.   God, in his wisdom, will either heal us (or fix the situation) or he won’t.  What is our response to God’s answer? Here is the category divide:  accept God’s wisdom and gratefully acknowledge the power of Christ resting on us to LIVE with the suffering.  OR…..complain and not see, call upon, or even DESIRE that power.

Mike and I are in a situation right now where we are weak and helpless.  We don’t know what to do ‘tomorrow’ because there is no light yet for tomorrow.  But this we DO know: that God promises us his sufficient power through Christ when we gratefully look up and accept where we are today.  I am SO thankful for this truth and yes, I AM glad for this problem, this weakness, this suffering SINCE Christ’s power tents over me.

When NOT to engage in a discussion

14 Oct

“We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN” 

Thus reads the headlines of the Guardian’s website last week.

A couple of days later,  I overheard two of my middle school colleagues planning a combined 8th-grade science/math unit, designing it to deepen students’ thinking skills and alert them to a ‘real-world’ problem based on this recently released UN report.

As they talked about this ‘climate catastrophe’ I felt the temptation to butt in and question the validity of the data behind the United Nations’ proclamation. But I dismissed that urge.

Why?  because although I had listened to news about this proclamation via Spanish and French news podcasts, I had not read the UN report, let alone absorbed the content and formulated talking points. I realized that in engaging my colleagues, I’d be in territory over my head.

But there was a third option.  To engage or remain silent were not my only choices. The other way could have been to pose questions about the report with the goal of understanding the UN’s position and the reasons why these two teachers believed it was credible.

To be honest, I didn’t feel like investing the energy to do that.  Besides, they were actually doing some curriculum planning and my questioning would have interrupted them.  Nonetheless, the reminder to either ask questions or be up to speed on a topic re-motivated me NOT to neglect my calling as a ‘logical gal’.

I also recognized a presupposition I hold. And that realization subdued me.

My ASSUMPTION is this: Reports like the UN’s are little more than scare tactics, motivated by someone’s concealed special interests or agenda.

It’s a routine practice for each of us logical Joe’s and Jane’s to work at identifying our discourse partner’s presuppositions, ONCE we’re trained to seek them out.  But we must not be blind to our own assumptions. Let me give you an example:

Last week I listened to an hour-long podcast about how Australian Dr. Gary Fettke has been finally vindicated in his researched beliefs about nutrition.  He had been legally silenced by the Australian Medical Board for counseling his patients to follow a low-carb eating protocol for health reasons.

As of last week, this official organ of Australian medical licensing reversed their position reinstated his license and wrote him an apology.  During the interview with Fettke, I learned that the dietician who had lodged a ‘complaint’, which prompted the eventual shutdown of his practice and ensuing legal battles, had been merely a pawn.  The Dietitians Association of Australia and the Heart Foundation together with some of the processed carb major players like Nestle, Kelloggs and others had colluded DUE to decreased sales of cereal over the previous few years.  So…the axiom – Follow the Money seemed to explain Fettke’s experience.

That podcast conversation, resting in my short-term memory, mingled with reports on similar ‘collusion’ within the climate-change-is-a-crisis-focused lobby. So….. when I listened in on my colleagues’ conversation, I automatically ‘assigned’ the same motive to this UN report without investigating the content myself.

Humility is good for us!  We are all capable of committing the very same logical errors we spot in others.  It pays to think before I open my mouth!

 

Learning to say NO – a life skill from logic

1 Oct

It was one of those sleepless nights this past week.  During the wakeful period, my subconscious memory united some disparate past experiences into one theme.

The prompt for this sorting and configuring of earlier ‘histories’ in my life must have been the previous day’s unacceptable 7th-grade boys classroom behaviors.  I had been really bothered because 3 boys continue to distract our French class, preventing me from teaching the others.

On my drive home, I spent time thinking and formulating an articulate reason to communicate to these boys about WHY this pattern ‘cannot continue’.

Once I had my argument in place, I knew I would find it far easier for the tête-à-tête talks I planned the next day.  The foundation and strength to say NO, you cannot do this to me or to my class!” rested on having a sound reason.

All that was conscious.  But in the dark quiet of the night, God brought to mind 4 different segments of my past life where I failed to say ‘NO’:

  • in overeating and binging on M&Ms and cookies for 9 years of my life
  • engaging in sex before marriage
  • disciplining a son who continually tested the limits
  • setting guidelines of propriety for a teenage son and his girlfriend at our house

It seems to me that the reason WHY I couldn’t draw a line and say NO in each of these scenarios is due to the lack of childhood training in decision making.  That is –  practice in searching for and settling on strong reasons to hold fast to a position or value.  A belief or decision is pretty weak and indefensible even to yourself if you don’t know ‘your why’.

I AM going to point my finger at my parents and my upbringing in the area of how to make decisions, important moral ones, and the everyday kind.

My mom came late to a true faith in Jesus when I was 16 or so.  Neither she nor my dad taught me (whether from God’s moral perspective or a secular perspective) just HOW to think about values and dilemmas, HOW to arrive at a REASON-based decision.

In short, I did NOT learn how to say ‘No’.

I did NOT learn the rule ‘Always be ready to give a reason for your decision and view.’

Training in logic, that is in language-based THINKING, does furnish the practitioner with specific skills, invaluable for life.

When I taught at a classical Christian school in Yorktown, Virginia, I introduced logic to 7th and 8th graders.  It was I who learned the most!  I just wish that I had been gifted with that kind of mental training at their young age.

So for all you like me, who did not receive this early instruction, all you need to know is the format of a basic syllogism.

It works like this:

The 3rd proposition (call it a sentence for simplicity’s sake) IS the conclusion of a syllogism.  We find that in culture, people spout mostly conclusions – naked! – without the rest of the preceding syllogism.

For example:

  • Criticizing my views is intolerant
  • Guns are our biggest problem
  • Americans eat poorly.
  • Most lawyers are greedy

What SHOULD precede each of these conclusions or propositions are 2 logically ordered propositions or reasons that connect, one to the other, leading TO the conclusion. In other words, we need to have reasons for what we do or don’t do!  And the reasons have to lead properly to the conclusion.

When I struggled with binging in earlier years, I can distinctly remember my irrational line of thinking:

I’m bored studying.  I’ll go buy a quarter pound of M&Ms at the sweet shop. Why shouldn’t I do something pleasant?.…..and then as I began to eat them, I can’t think of any compelling reason NOT to finish the entire amount.…and I would.  And feel sick and disgusted.

Had I been conditioned to point to a reason for my decisions, I’m assuming that I could have come up something compelling and rational that at least would have provided a few minutes to ponder outcomes.

For 9 years I accepted this irrational thinking, never challenging my beliefs.  Control mechanisms like diets were my only tool.  They didn’t work.

The bulimia continued until God in His providence enabled Mike and me to conceive our first child.  All of a sudden I DID have an irrefutable reason to stop the binging and purging.  Our baby’s health!

A syllogism might have looked like this, had I been equipped with this particular reasoning tool.

Premise 1:  I should do all that is in my power to eat healthy in order to help my growing baby.

Premise 2: Binging on junk food and then throwing up is not a healthy eating practice.

Conclusion: Therefore, I should avoid this harmful pattern

Although I didn’t go on to practice such reasoning in other areas of my life, God in His mercy DID remove the desire to binge after Graham was born.  That was pure grace.  And I recall this gift and thank Him frequently.

Age doesn’t matter when it comes to improving our thinking and reasoning skills. Now that I SEE the practiced pattern of NOT being able to say no for lack of a compelling, articulated reason, I have committed myself, when boundary/decision situations arise, to this NEW practice of stop, consider, articulate a strong reason for a necessary NO.

If you have children still at home or can influence grandkids, then think about helping them acquire this decision-making tool.  Maybe you think it’s an intuitive response or routine.  For some of us, at least me, it isn’t.  I’m still a learner.

 

 

Am I a good thinker?

11 Aug

Logical minds are those that operate clearly and rationally.

So, it pays to check, from time to time, the state of our minds.  Are we thinking rationally?  Are our premises true?

Examining my notions and beliefs has preoccupied my thinking this summer!

My conclusions about thinking fall into 2 sections:  How God is cultivating my thought life and worldly truisms that contain wisdom and help in pruning one’s beliefs.  First, the Master Gardener’s work:

Through a series of trials, God has pressed on me the need to abandon worry…..completely!  In a post on my other blog site, I wrote about pulling my thoughts back (numerous times in a day) from the constant pattern of worrying or daydreaming what-if situations.

The night after writing my post, I fell into a different kind of thinking – the quicksand variety that pulls one down into an endless do-loop.  Not ACTUAL thinking but ‘stewing‘!  It all started after that wee-hours routine stumble into the darkened bathroom.  Back in bed, I simply stayed awake and segued into pondering several situations.  Not problems, not trials, just specific issues like:

  • teacher workdays starting very soon and the need to plan lessons
  • researching more portable hiking snacks that fit our Keto lifestyle
  • the need to prioritize and streamline activities during my non-school hours

I couldn’t fall back to sleep.

Can you relate?

When I finally arose and headed downstairs, coffee in hand, for my time with God and His Word, I was saying to myself, “Maria, you are such a mess!  Look at what you wrote in your blog yesterday and look at you now!”  I flipped open my Bible to the section in Philippians where Paul addresses worry:

Philippians 4:4-8 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Square in the head, it hit me.  The problem with ‘stewing’.  It has no purpose, it has no endpoint.  It can go ON and ON!  Most importantly, it doesn’t fit the definition of a REQUEST to be handed over to God.

So, what is the solution?  A grid to sift my thoughts, a form of triage or consideration whereby I evaluate thoughts, draw distinctions and dispose of them:

  • I already have a category set up called:  Sinful worry or meditations on what-ifs, positive and fearful.  Solution?  Stop it and repent!
  • Nighttime Stew topic, Step 1:  can this concern be formulated into a succinct prayer request to hand over to God to take care of?  Yes? – cast it on Him.
  • Nighttime Stew topic, Step 2:  what remains from that which canNOT be reworded into a prayer?  If anything, then just stop the thoughts. How?  By God’s power for those who are worshippers of Jesus. AND by substituting new thoughts.  Per Paul’s formula, as follows.
  • Alternative meditative topics for the middle of the night: Think about what is praiseworthy and beautiful and true.  And what is the noblest of subjects, if not Jesus and His death and life for us?

Second, from the category of sources other than the Bible, I have heard two new messages.  Each has caused me to question the accuracy of my mind and my brain:

  1. What I think about me might not be true!

My pattern up to now has been to accept this: I AM my thoughts.

I take for granted that what I believe is true.   Okay, maybe not about political issues or even some difficult cultural controversies.  But when it comes to what I take as TRUTH about me, I rarely doubt those conclusions. What I think about me IS me. What I think about me IS true, for who knows me better than me?

I began to doubt my mind’s ability to be accurate about Maria when I heard a gal on a podcast say we are to verify or authenticate the content of our self-talk:

  • How do I know that ‘I can’t change X about me because I’ve always done ‘it’ that way?  What are my reasons? Where is my evidence?

That startled me because I had never applied Logic to what I believed about me, who I am.  The next day, a surprise guest, a ‘motto’, came to lodge in my mind: Be Flexible. I am NOW practicing doubting and questioning my thinking about me.

The other message that has challenged me positively and been a REAL help is this (again from a podcast):

2. The brain seeks ‘pleasant’. 

I see evidence for this EVERY morning. When my alarm sounds, I GROAN inwardly because my routine is to exercise first thing. BEFORE coffee and Bible.  I have battled conflicting desires for years.  But now I know – that’s not me who paints an unpleasant scenario blocking my morning pleasure.  It’s my brain. That bodily organ whose goal is to organize fight or flight to avoid PAIN.

Obviously, but falsely, my brain views 15 minutes of weights plus 15 minutes of yoga as PAIN.  However, with my mind, I can remind my brain of our reasons why health takes precedence over ‘pleasant’ right now. Thank you very much, Ms. Brain, but Maria’s mind is running things, now.

So…..these new thoughts about nighttime churning and limiting beliefs are the fruit of reading, listening, meditating and openness to new ideas.

To sum up, consider how God reveals truth about Himself through the prophet Jeremiah in 11:20 But, O LORD of Hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and mind….

Since we are made in God’s image, shouldn’t we as well test our heart and mind to know if what we are thinking is true, good and helpful?

 

 

 

What to do with your mind

6 Jul

I never understood, until now, how important the mind is in the Christian life.  Yes, I know, that sounds STUPID.  But have you ever read any of John Owen’s books?  I’m on book 2 in an Owen trilogy, this one named, The Power and Efficacy of Indwelling Sin.

John Owen book cover

Owen’s main point is that our minds, once we are believers, have the crucial role of guarding our souls.  That is their job. They stand sentinel, keeping watch over potential influencers.  The battle against temptation and sin starts in the arena of the mind.  If Satan can deceive our minds into thinking OTHERWISE about reality, then he can get the mind to draw a false (and dangerous) conclusion.

And here is the scary thought.  Whatever the mind believes and settles on, the soul (our will plus our affections) follow.  The battle is in the mind.  I should know this, having read Joyce Meyer’s book years ago.   Joyce Meyer

Given the life and death nature of our mind’s assignment, to keep out lies and deceit that lead to sin, training in logic and clear thinking is crucial!

Here are some thoughts gleaned from Owen’s book (quote marks to indicate taken from his writing verbatim) that have sobered me into thinking about thinking:

  • Our minds can only default to one reality – earthly or heavenly.
  • Where the mind goes, what we set our minds on, the entire soul (our will + our affections) will follow automatically.  The mind opens the gate and the soul rushes in.
  • We CAN retrain our minds to default to things above (for we have the Spirit of God permanently ingrafted in us.) The FACT in 2 Tim 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment. – Holman Christian Standard Bible) reminds us of God’s gift.
  • “The principal care and charge of the soul lies on the mind.”

By the way, and this nugget was WAY helpful to me, John Owen explains that ‘spirit’ is often used interchangeably with ‘mind or thoughts’  For example, Paul refers to God, “…whom I serve with my spirit.”  Romans 1:9, meaning he serves God with his mind.  How cool is that!  We are to walk with God, fueled and motivated by means of our thoughts, our mind!!!!

With that idea of how to understand the human spirit, look at this Pauline prayer:  I pray that God, who gives peace, will make you completely holy. And may your spirit, soul, and body be kept healthy and faultless until our Lord Jesus Christ returns.  1 Thess 5:23  (Contemporary English Version)

Here is an example of how the mind can easily fail to do its appointed duty.   Owen explains that our minds can be so deceived by the ‘law of sin’ or Satan’s influence, that we can reason falsely and arrive at a conclusion that does not correspond to reality.  He writes: The deceived mind imposes on the will to obtain its consent unto sin by proposing unto it the advantages that may accrue and arise thereby.  It renders that which is absolutely evil a present appearing good. (page 338).

Owen uses Eve as an example.  Her mind did not hold fast to God’s law, nor to the consequences of disobeying Him. She stopped contemplating/thinking about the sweetness of fellowship with her Creator and how good He was.  Instead, she shifted her mind to consider the benefits of such pretty, delicious and ‘beneficial’ (per that serpent) fruit.

Why did she start contemplating this dangerous tree?  Because she shifted her thoughts from God’s truth to the statements coming out of the serpent’s mouth.  And she concluded they were more true.  And once her mind shifted its weight to this dangerous reasoning that she would benefit MORE from eating the forbidden fruit, her will and affections followed with nary a peep.  Imagine her thinking looking like this:

Thought 1: This fruit does look attractive, tasty and full of good consequences

Thought 2: This garden creature assures me that no harm will come to me, unlike what God has said.

Thought 3:  These potential benefits outweight what I can get from God.

By turning her back on God’s truth and listening to another source, Eve opened the door for her will and affections to side with her mind and almost ‘compel’ her to disobey God.

So what are we to do to strengthen our mind, since so much rides on it?  Much.  But that’s another post.  So I’ll leave you with this starting point.  Observe your thoughts.  And evaluate them through the grid of God’s Word.  Are most about God or about circumstances? Do you tend to say, “I feel that….” rather than “I think that…”?  That might be a clue that your mind is flabby.

And what would I advise if you wake up a weak state of mind?  Read a good book, one that makes you think. Read with pen and paper in hand.  That will slow you down.  The good news is we CAN retrain our minds.  With God’s help.

 

 

Abortion in Ireland – masking truth with acronyms

27 May

Ireland prefers unrestricted abortion, at least according to 2/3 of those who voted last Friday.  Currently, unless a mom’s life is in danger, abortion in this Catholic country is illegal.  Now, subsequent to this recent referendum, the legislature will put together a bill allowing for unfettered access to legal abortion in the first twelve weeks of gestation.

I listen to two daily news programs by podcast.  One of them is in French, broadcast by Radio France Internationale. So this morning, as I was catching up on last night’s summary of the previous day’s events,  I marveled over the deliberate French obfuscation of the act of ‘avortement‘ or abortion.  Their popular substitute for that guilt-producing word is the acronym IVG – ‘interruption volontaire de grossesse’, which stands for ‘voluntary interruption of pregnancy’.

The newsman explained to us worldwide learners of French (yes, this podcast broadcast is designed for French learners) that these 3 letters, I-V-G, were neutral and carried no moral value or stigma. Apparently the original and still used word ‘avortement’ does evoke a judgment.

Why would it be necessary to create a neutral way of communicating the act of killing one’s unborn child?  Because everyone knows it is WRONG!  Scott Klusendorf of Life Training Institute defines abortion this way: the intentional killing of an innocent human fetus.

But doesn’t that pointed description just load guilt onto a mom?  Does a woman who already feels bad because she doesn’t want to go through with her pregnancy need this added burden?

First of all, calling abortion a deliberate death sentence for an innocent life DOES pre-indict a mom if she goes through with the act.  But the goal is NOT to make her FEEL bad, but so that she can wake up to the impending DISASTER, take a breath, step back from the temptation to do this evil that she will most likely come to regret and seek out another solution to her crisis.  If she already feels bad about this unwanted pregnancy, is it reasonable she will feel LESS bad for having allowed her baby to be killed?  Repentance, or telling the truth about a WRONG DEED is a gift!  And there ARE other healthy, God-honoring, life-preserving, ultimately GOOD ways to handle this trauma.  Will it cost her?  Yes!  But abortion will cost her, too.  And that act will harm her and the baby in permanent ways.

My dear logical friends, terms matter! And they impact our standing before the one, true and Living God. Yes, we can repent and God will forgive us.  But we can’t confess our guilt if we don’t think we are guilty!  And others won’t be able to SEE the danger of sin if we don’t call it what it is, ‘evil’!

Isaiah 5:20  Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

The men and women in the French medical field who have institutionalized and banalized (made ordinary) this appellation, one free of moral judgment, bear more guilt before God.

But what about us? What responsibility do Christians exercise, especially those like you and me who take our spoken and written words seriously?  Dear God, may we exercise GREAT care, to be honest!  Why?  Here’s why:

  • If God, who is Truth, spoke the universe into existence through words (in fact, THE Word who is Jesus)
  • If we are made in God’s image
  • If we have the ability to use language
  • Then we, who bear God’s image, should truthfully use our words to communicate ideas and information.

So let us commit to thinking clearly, with integrity before we speak or write.  Life and death can depend on how we communicate.

By the way, here’s another interesting tidbit about how the French view words.  In English, one can always look up synonyms to express an idea differently. In fact, I often do when writing blog posts, in order to write more freshly.   Apparently, the French do not substitute synonyms as freely as we do.  For to them, EACH synonym means something just a shade different and one should use language with precision.  No casual thought-less substitutions will do!

Not a bad principle.  Just wish some of them would apply that standard to their acronyms!

Thinking about middle-schoolers, moral choices, and truth

29 Oct

 

The topic of the workshop focused on advisory programs run by many middle schools.  Ideally, no more than 6-10 students are assigned to a teacher who mentors these 11-to-14-year-olds during the turbulent years of their early adolescence.

Two skills the presenters emphasized as crucial for the development of youth were a) developing perspective and b) managing one’s emotions.  The overall premise was that social-emotional awareness and strengthening were foundational to and preceded academic success.

One or two barely perceptible groans slipped out of from among us attendees as the co-presenters ‘invited’ participants to leave their chairs and come forward to experience an activity designed to broaden perspective.

Here’s the scenario:  You’re on your way to work and you get into a minor traffic accident with another vehicle. Clearly, it’s the other driver’s fault.  She turns out to be a 95-year-old lady who pleads with you to ‘just exchange insurance information’ and NOT call the police.  For she is sure her license will be revoked.  Fortunately, no one is hurt, but your bumper is damaged.  What do you do?

We were directed to move to one side of the room or the other.  Those who would call the police stepped to the left and those who heeded the elderly woman’s plea chose the right.  As I stepped leftward, some of the others called out in jest, “heartless!”

The facilitator then called for a volunteer from the ‘compassionate’ side to explain his decision.  And then someone from the ‘cold-hearted’ side (my labeling) was invited to respond empathetically to the reasoning just articulated.

“I have an elderly dad and I know how significant it is to lose this last vestige of independence!” flowed one person’s reasoning.  Surely a compelling reason NOT to turn in this driver.

When it was the turn of someone on my side, one gal mentioned that although no one was hurt THIS time, someone very likely might be injured or even killed next time.  An equally compelling reason, for surely that elderly driver would not want to injure or kill someone.  A burden like that would be FAR worse than growing more dependent on others for help with running errands.

This activity was eye-opening and reinforced the notion that sincere people have very good reasons for their decisions.  I don’t dispute that at all.  But what the facilitators presented as the goal of the exercise caused me to ponder a possible unintended consequence, hence this post.

One of the gals reminded us of how middle-schoolers tend toward concrete, black and white reasoning.  The middle school years are when they need to learn that there are shades of grey.   She continued to say, “This is all part of growing more aware of differing perspectives, which grows compassion and empathy toward others.”

I completely agree that we must be open to the reality that others don’t think like we do.  And to expect the world to draw the same conclusions as I do is naive and self-centered.  Yet, I did wonder if our young teens might be led to the following kind of thinking:

  • Recognizing differing viewpoints means everyone has a ‘valid’ reason for why he or she thinks the way they do. (And ‘valid’ as a concept is often taken to mean ‘true’)
  • In fact, as long as I have a reason for what I am doing, this grounding is sufficient to stop YOU from telling me I’m wrong.
  • And if I am right and you are right, then maybe there is no such thing as ultimate rightness or wrongness.

Now are those conclusions what we want our young people to hold?  That just because we build an understandable and ‘reason’-able foundation for how we think and choose a course of action, no one can call us out on our decision?  I don’t think so.

For example: Not confronting a friend when you notice her cheating on a test  (or not telling the teacher confidentially) might be the choice you make as a student BECAUSE you think you could lose your friend. And that reasoning might be ‘valid’ because your guiding principle is to do anything to maintain a friendship. But the choice you have selected IS wrong.

Do you think it is plausible that if young teens are trained to acknowledge possible perspectives, they might ALSO think that there are possible ‘truths’, all of which emerge from one’s ideas of what matters most?

We might be aiming to grow our students from that pre-adolescent view that all of life is binary, but there are indeed some things that ARE binary.  The law of non-contradiction backs that up.  A and non-A cannot both be true in the same way at the same time.

I’m not going to assume that the workshop presenters do NOT believe that some absolute truths do exist.  I am pointing out that we as educators and parents must be careful as we train the next generation to think clearly.  Yes, training in recognizing others’ perspectives IS important.  But we must not neglect to teach our kids that some decisions ARE right or wrong because some absolutes do exist.   A challenging endeavor, no doubt, in a culture where few ground values in God.

God uses logic and evidence

28 Jul

The handwritten note peaked out between flyers and magazines as if to say, ‘Don’t miss me!’  I scanned the return address, quickly recalling a former student from Virginia.

Along with the graduation announcement and senior photo, he wrote an account of the four years just completed at this classical Christian school in Virginia.  I rejoiced to read his description of the long-term effect our 8th-grade logic and reasoning curriculum had exerted on his life. Encouraged and guided in HOW to question and to think logically had sparked the fuse that propelled him out of complacency in his studies.  Apparently, after I departed, hunger to grow intellectually had gripped him, for he had gained vision and a purpose for learning.  That kind of feedback would energize anyone!

I do give thanks that a middle school logic class birthed this young man’s interest in knowledge and ideas. Certainly, students need to know how to reason well and express themselves clearly in order to advance in academics.  But clear thinking is vital to all of us, even Christians.

Why do I say Christians must know how to express themselves clearly and evaluate arguments accurately?  Contemporary society bombards believers with the false and disreputable view that faith and science or faith and reason are antithetical.  Not true! But we people of the Book must be taught how to gently push back with the truth.  And that takes information and practice, in essence: ‘skill’.

Humans are not born knowing how to reason well. But just like my former 8th-grade student, we all can be taught and equipped with some basic tools and ways of evaluating both written and spoken thoughts.

Why is it important for Christians to use logic? Just today, in Isaiah 41, I read verse after verse where God exhorted His people to argue or reason on behalf of the efficacy of idols. Consider these 3 verses, 21-23 (NLT):

Present the case for your idols,”
    says the Lord.
“Let them show what they can do,”
    says the King of Israel.
22 “Let them try to tell us what happened long ago
    so that we may consider the evidence.
Or let them tell us what the future holds,
    so we can know what’s going to happen.
23 Yes, tell us what will occur in the days ahead.
    Then we will know you are gods.
In fact, do anything—good or bad!
    Do something that will amaze and frighten us.” 

God doesn’t want His people to fall back on ‘blind faith’.  He wants us to believe Him, count on Him, trust Him and thus obey Him having gained true knowledge. Like scientists who collect, observe, and study evidence we also must reason to likely conclusions. Listen to how He chides Jacob in Isaiah 40:26-28, encouraging the people to consider the evidence He provides:

Look up into the heavens.
    Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
    calling each by its name.
Because of his great power and incomparable strength,
    not a single one is missing.
27 O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
    O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
28 Have you never heard?
    Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.

‘Use the eyes, ears, and mind I’ve given you!‘ God seems to argue. From God’s perspective and His true knowledge, only willful obstinacy and sinful desires can explain Jacob’s irrational behavior, since they had been given ample visual and historical proof.

My former logic student probably doesn’t know how learning (and subsequently teaching) logic also changed my life. I had never been taught to think or to reason. No course in grade school or college had guided me in how to begin to evaluate others’ assertions, let alone construct my own reason-based logical argument.  Those six years at that classical Christian school altered my life for good!  I grew into a better reader, listener, thinker, and writer.

Reading this young man’s sweet note re-ignited MY passion for advocating for thinking. As the bumper sticker trumpets:

Critical Thinking - national deficit

 

Self-exhortations to think and feel correctly

7 Jun

I continue to be absorbed by the Triune God’s commands to trust Him.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding! Proverbs 3:5a

Why do we hesitate to actually do just that?  It certainly isn’t due to a paucity of evidence in Scripture.  David repeatedly recommends confident reliance on Yahweh as the way to experience joy.

Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord!  Psalm 40:4a

Looking inward I can only speculate that our reluctance is due to that universal insatiable hunger to control our lives!

Jesus’ counsel to His disciples in the upper room was:

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.  John 14:1

I re-read that verse this morning and then thought through to some ‘crunchy’ encouragement:

  • If Jesus tells me to do something, then as a Spirit-indwelt Christian, I CAN and MUST set myself to obey Him.
  • I am indeed a gal in union with Jesus, host to His Spirit
  • Therefore, not only am I capable of trusting God, I am obligated to.

I looked up ‘don’t let your heart be troubled’ in the Greek to see the original text.  ‘Troubled’ is rendered like this:  don’t suggest doubts to yourself.

What an apt description of how I feel when I am anxious and troubled.   I busy myself, imagining fears and ‘what-ifs,’ all the while discounting GOD!!

Here’s an example:  the other day I was called into my principal’s office.  My mind raced to think of a possible reason.  I’ve had ‘problems’ in the past when my ‘outspoken proselytizing’ was criticized and I was placed under scrutiny for a while.  I catalogued and scrolled through recent days seeking to locate any ‘event’.  I finally settled myself down by reminding myself that I have the Lord constantly with me, no matter what the trouble.  And I chose to trust Him.

That was relatively easy.  What is tougher to halt has been wrestling or ‘agitating my mind’ over something I said that I now regret.  As I thought about that episode, I spun out a ‘worst-case’ scenario in vivid color.  Enough to put a damper on my mood.  The ONLY way I could handle it was to confess the sin of betraying a confidence and to remind myself that God IS sovereign, even over my sin and mistakes.  Though I couldn’t undo what I had revealed, God could handle the outcome. Yes, there might be consequences that would be painful, but He would still be with me.  I confessed to God again and then sought relief in 1 John 1:9 and God’s promise to forgive confessed sin.

Three more times, I replayed the ‘regrettable’ incident and wondered what would happen.  True heart-troubling behavior. But Jesus’ word to His brothers is: DON’T!!!

Instead, trust God.  And remember that for those who belong to Jesus, there is NOW no condemnation.

I had confessed my sin and Jesus had already paid for it on the cross.  Settled.  This is how I talked about to Satan who seemed to fling the event back into my face.

This is the logic battle we fight.  And let me assure you, logic is not cold and analytical and disconnected from feelings.  I’m a thinker, but I’m also a feeler and I see the power in logically, REASONably applying God’s Word to my heart so I hold on to Truth and tame those emotions.

Brothers and sisters, logical Joes and Janes, we MUST harness our minds.  And if God says we can, then empowered by Jesus’ Spirit, we can and must. But it’s a daily, hourly battle.

The abortion issue and missing compassion

31 May

We now read the New York Times Sunday paper.  It takes us 3 weeks to make our way through the articles and features.  I disagree with a some of what I read, but the writing is often excellent. I learn a lot and THINK hard.  Others’ contrary views certainly exercise my patience but sometimes they prove painful to tolerate kindly.

A self-proclaimed ‘abortion doula’ writes about the need to offer compassion for women who only want to make their own decisions, without judgment.

The author makes several remarkable assertions without reasons or statistics.  I do understand that her word budget probably limited her to around 700 words. But the danger in bald-faced statements is that the average UN-thinking Joe or Jane might swallow them down whole.

The most glaring paragraph offers these ‘facts’.

  • “When we are denied abortions, we are 3 times as likely to end up below the federal poverty line, compared to those who are able to get the abortions they want.”

I checked this ‘fact’ and found one study from which Sherman most likely drew.  The women supposedly denied abortions in this study numbered 182.  My first question focused on whether 182 is a significantly large enough sample size from which to draw valid conclusions.  Furthermore, I’m unclear whether the women in the study already lived below the poverty line before they became pregnant.  Doesn’t it make sense that after the birth of a baby, one’s ability/availability to hold down a job decreases?

  • “About 2/3 of people who have abortions are parents who want to give the children they already have the best life.”

How does she know what they intend for their other kids?  How does adding another child to the family automatically imply a degraded life for the older children? How is the one (assumed desire) related to the current condition (carrying another child)?

Finally the most dubious cited statistic:

  • “95% of women surveyed don’t regret their decisions, and it doesn’t affect our mental health.”

That statistic, I found, comes from one study of a carefully circumscribed group of women.  Here’s an analysis.  We should recognize how easy it is to find any study you want on the internet to back up your viewpoint.

So given the questionable reliability of ‘facts’ and studies out there in cyber space just what questions should a Logical Joe or Jane pose? Classic questions that fit the essay in question are:

  1. How do you know that?
  2. What is your evidence?

Questions provide you TIME to think and clearer understanding of your interlocutor’s point of view.  I find that people are more willing to engage when I ask questions.  My challenge is to REMEMBER to avoid direct statements and use the softer approach.

Finishing up what I saw in this essay, let me share its staggering conclusion:

The crux of the issue is not whether you would have an abortion yourself.  It’s whether you would stand in the way of someone else’s decision.”

Worded like this, readers are led to a conclusion that actually deflects them away from the essential issue of the life of the unborn to the arena of personal liberty.  And what about compassion, that ‘unconditional kindness’ the abortion doula says every woman who finds herself pregnant deserves?   Doesn’t the baby deserve compassion?  Where’s the kindness shown him or her?

Do you see the deeper moral question that has broad ramifications?

  • What do we do when ‘rights’ are in conflict with one another?  How do we decide between competing moral values?

Our Declaration of Independence promotes the protection of  ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’  How do we prioritize competing rights of life and liberty? What if someone’s right to life contradicts someone’s right to liberty?  Who gets to decide? What considerations inform the decision process?

Life is complex.  Certainly most issues are too layered to present anything coherent or rational in a tweet or even one 700-word opinion piece in the New York Times.  We need MORE thinkers.  And thinkers need to keep practicing their skills.

That’s why I read the New York Times Sunday paper!