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Listening in action

8 Mar

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.  James 1:19

My mind has been pondering several blog posts I’ve recently read lamenting the state of public discourse and what each of us should do to ameliorate the atmosphere.

Usually when the Holy Spirit wants to drive home a necessary change, He causes me to NOTICE and READ/HEAR the same message 3 times.

True to His practice, the art and gift of healthy communications was ‘front and center’ in my mind last week.  I had even articulated to my husband:

  • We should not even jump into a discussion with someone until we have taken the time and made the effort to understand and sufficiently verbalize back to the speaker his/her point of view.  And that summary, in a way, that satisfies the owner of the viewpoint.

That wise strategy bore fruit at church last Sunday.  A small conflict ruffling certain members’ feathers arose.  Communicating the complaint to others bordered on ‘talking behind the back’ of the brother in Christ whose decision about an upcoming church activity had miffed several.  The ‘miffed’ ones belonged to a certain church committee.  The ‘miff-er’ did not.

Thankful for the Holy Spirit’s recent focus on my heart, I volunteered to go to the ‘miff-er’ and ask directly why he had made the decision he did.

Here’s what I noticed:

  • I experienced NO pressure
  • my goal was simply to understand his reasoning
  • it was easy
  • he seemed pleased to be given the time to explain his thinking
  • I was able to go back and report to others what he said and recommend we allow his decision to stand
  • a leadership weakness in the church committee was revealed through this ‘conflict’
  • a procedure to avert future conflict was set in place to handle any abrupt suggestions from church members that startle us into acquiescing and making a decision without thinking and consulting the entire committee

Satan seems to enjoy stirring up dissension, especially in families, whether biological or in the Church.

A deep breath, a pause and some clear thinking combined with courtesy go a long way.  For the effort, the payoffs are out of proportion!

 

How to vote….

14 Sep

It’s a doozy of a choice.  And we’ve been leaning toward voting for NEITHER major candidate.  Yet, I want to approach this important constitutional right and privilege with reason thinking.

Acting and concluding ‘reasonably’ means one can support a conclusion or decision with a clear rationale.

As can be expected, a lot of conservative Christians have weighed in.  What do I find compelling so far?

Two voices and their take on how to vote stand out of amongst all the advice friends, family and respected leaders have offered:

Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason.  The essence of his advice is this:

  • When we vote in November 2016, we are choosing an action that WE believe will do the most good, whether voting for Trump, for Clinton, for a 3rd-party candidate or abstaining.  To vote for a candidate does NOT mean one endorses the entire platform he or she promotes NOR does it mean one approves of the candidate’s character in toto.

Professor Hadley Arkes of Amherst College offers what he believes is the most important consideration when allocating one’s vote:

  • Whoever is the next ‘POTUS’ or President of the United States will not only be able to nominate up to 4 Supreme Court Justices, he or she will also nominate Federal Court judges.

So far, these are the only two factors that will go into my ‘decision analysis strainer.’

kitchen strainer

We don’t have to make a conclusive decision until election day.  So I will continue to read, study, listen and pray.  Logical Joes and Janes use REASON to make any decision.

But I want all of them!

6 Jul

can't have your cake Having recently devoured and imbibed the philosophy of minimalism, I picked up another book along the same lines to garner new tips for eliminating stuff.  But Joshua Beck’s recent book, The More of Less….surprised me. Besides new ways of thinking about why we spend money,  I came away with the surprising goal of reducing our purchases in order to create a travel fund.

So here I am, a month out from reading Beck’s book. After some truthful examination of our budget, the only category that has actual flab and can afford trimming is the groceries ‘pot’.  From that line item we fund food for the two of us and our pair of cats, cleaning supplies, wine, and vitamins.

Like with any new project, the initial energy released by setting this goal lasted about two weeks.  Then came the ‘surprising’ realization that I had been operating at cross purposes. How so?  Apparently I hold 3 values equally and that won’t work if I want to squeeze money from groceries.  I EQUALLY want:

  1. to build up a travel fund
  2. to eat organic meats
  3. to buy high-quality vitamins

Brick wall moment!  I can’t have numbers 2 & 3 AND pare down groceries to save for trips. So the past few days I’ve wrestled with the values that support numbers 2 & 3.  Forced to prioritize what I consider important has been good exercise.

As I wrestled with rank-ordering priorities I reviewed some previous decisions that had brought us to this point.  A little background:

We switched to buying and preparing organic meats and eggs after I saw the documentary Food, Inc  Since that film, antipathy against the industrialization of food sourcing has set in. Philosophical reasoning primarily fueled this shift and it was then easy to add the health benefits of organic foods to shore up the argument.  My husband joined me in abandoning all non-organic meats and meat products.

Aligning our food prep around these new principles has posed no additional effort.  I enjoy cooking and we eat out rarely.  Once a year we select a high-end, farm-to-table type restaurant for our anniversary.  Yet right from the outset our commitment to organic meat wasn’t monolithic. When on the road to visit family and friends, we continued to eat in casual chain restaurants.  These occasions together with being guests in others’ homes were times of non-organic dining.

So given that I have compromised somewhat since my initial gung-ho ‘no more industrial meats for us!’ cry, maybe we could go back to eating non-organic foods.

What about the vitamins?  We took grocery store/pharmacy-brand vitamins for years, resulting in (anecdotally) very few colds or at worst, quick recoveries. But to ‘afford the organic meats’ I opted to eliminate them, reasoning that healthier meats would provide what vitamins offered.  As our stock of supplements dwindled, winter arrived and we both succumbed to some ‘health problems’.  I suffered my longest bad cold ever and my husband fell ill with heart palpitations caused by multiple factors, kicked off by a cold. Anxiety connected with the erratic heartbeats caused literal sleep-less nights, ‘les nuits blanches’ as the French call them – white nights.  But God worked a healing after 3 months of numerous doctors’ visits, testing and much prayer and Mike’s sleep patterns readjusted.

We resumed vitamins, based on some advice from a nurse who also had suffered heart palpitations.  She directed us to higher quality supplement companies.  What do you know, the better the vitamins, the pricier they are!

So here I am, having to make a choice between the two priorities that cannot coexist together with my new desire to reduce grocery spending and make room for a travel fund. I won’t go into why that is important; suffice it to say that whether the savings allows us to vacation well or simply offers us flexibility in future jobs, this reasoning process has been useful.

Critically THINKING through what I want and the labor to explain logically my thought process has clarified my mind.  I haven’t used logic explicitly, but I have identified my pre-suppositions and values that have been leading me to where I am mid-summer.

Finally, let me point out that I am very much like everyone else in the human race:  when we decide that we want something, even if it’s an irrational outcome, we seek to shore up that decision with rational arguments.  So here’s my ace in the hole:

Matthew 15:11 – It is not what goes into the mouth that makes a person unclean. It is what comes out of the mouth that makes a person unclean.

No, I don’t like supporting big industry meat.  Yes, I prefer the idea of encouraging small quality farms that are committed to healthy and humane raising and slaughtering practices.  But I want a travel fund more!

More than one way to solve a problem

15 Jun

My purse was too small.  So I did what all illogical women do, I bought a new purse.

That wouldn’t have been too poor a decision except for 3 factors:

  • I loved this leather, back pack-type purse
  • My husband had given it to me about 5 years ago as a ‘just-cuz’ present
  • I’m a one-purse gal

I keep standard items in my ‘daily essentials-carrier’ like:

glasses, checkbook, wallet, EXTRA card carrier for all those preferred shopping relationships, notebook, almonds, a foiled 3-oz tuna pack, round Eos lip balm, business cards, spare batteries, pens, the other car’s spare key and a bulky makeup pouch with all the emergency supplies one might need.

What I love about the purse is that it’s a hands-free bag one can sport as a small backpack or sling over the shoulder.  Not to mention also that it is leather and minimalist.

But it’s TOO small (there’s always a price to pay, isn’t there!).  There’s only one way to arrange the above items so that all fits as efficiently as possible.  And several times a week, I seem to need something from one of the bottom residents.  Which means I need table space to take everything out, retrieve the item and repack.

Thus far my logical thought process:

Premise: My purse is too small

Conclusion: Therefore, I need a larger bag

I’m always checking out purse selections when we happen to be in a store, which is not all that often.  So last week I was delighted when I just ‘happened’ on a selection of purses at a hiking/outdoor store while returning an item. There was a backpack-style bag, maybe a fourth larger than my daily ‘porte-stuff’. Perfect, I thought.  Since it was early in the new month, I decided I could spring for this spontaneous purchase. But I knew what I must do if I wanted to remain true to my values.  As an aspiring minimalist, I have taken on the rule of “Bring a new item into the house – Eliminate the old item”

What I had not counted on were two unintended consequences:

  • my husband was shocked AND hurt that I threw out the old purse he had given me
  • the larger purse just didn’t slide on as easily as my old one and seemed less secure

I ruminated for 24 hours and then voilà, the lesson from the  Elevator Problem Story hit me.  Malcolm Gladwell had written about this in one of his books.  Apparently elevators moved too slowly for those waiting to board on different floors.  When design engineers were assembled to brainstorm about increasing the speed of elevators in a multi-storied building, one young maverick re-identified the problem.  It wasn’t that the elevator moved too slowly, but that people grew bored waiting!  I’ll let you click on the above link to read his accepted solution that worked and cost far less to implement.

The point was, I had incorrectly concluded that I needed a larger purse.  If we revisit my so-called logical syllogism from above, you’ll notice there is only one stated premise:

Premise: My purse is too small

Conclusion: Therefore, I need a larger bag

A 2nd premise is missing, thus what is written is an ‘enthymeme’, an argument with an unstated premise or conclusion.

In my mind, I thought there was only one possible premise:

Premise 1:  If one’s purse is too small, then one needs a larger bag

Actually, it’s not that I was incorrect about that premise, but that the premise was not complete!

My Eureka moment came from realizing that I had mis-diagnosed the problem.  It wasn’t that my purse was too small, but that I thought I had to fit all those items into it.  My ‘essentials’ had not even been up for re-evaluation.  My pre-supposition had been this: All that my purse currently carries is essential. As soon as everything was back on the table, so to speak, it was clear that I could pare down what I carried every day.

So with some quick and honest tallying of how often ’emergencies’ arise and the substitution of a less-bulky loyalty card carrier, I eagerly ran to the trashcan outside and retrieved my oldie but goodie beloved friend.

Purse

 

Here is my completed premise that brought about my happy result:

Premise 1: If one’s purse is too small, one can remove some items or secure a larger bag

This logical gal needs some more practice in applying reason to everyday ordinary problems!

 

 

Does reason top all considerations?

7 Oct

If you ask people to distinguish features that mark human beings as different from the animal kingdom, most would respond first that it is our self-awareness or our ability to think and to reason that sets us apart from other creatures.  For example:

  • The power of reason enables us to go against instinct and dash INTO a burning building to rescue a child.
  • The power of reason enables us to subdue passions and wrong feelings and choose the better way and say NO to MORE chocolate or another glass of wine!
  • Self-awareness allows us to learn from past experiences (we hope!) and design a more beneficial course of action

So do we or should we default to clear, rational thinking at all times?  Do decision-analysis models whether from the simplicity of the Ben Franklin two-column approach to the more sophisticated decision trees provide all we need for life? Another way to pose this question is to say: Is Reason the ultimate authority to which we submit our lives?

Recently and without haste I’ve been reading and re-reading John Flavel’s short book on fear. Link to book is here

Flavel was an English Presbyterian minister and author, living in the 17th century.  What struck me was his explicit case for submitting to God’s authority in SOME matters, thus leaving behind or placing 2nd our best sense of a matter derived solely from human reasoning.

Say what?  Didn’t God endow mankind with the very ability to think, to reason?

Yes! By all means.

Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

Furthermore, in the New Testament, the Greek word ‘logismos’ is used.  This term translates as argument or thinking or system of thought.

Educated readers of the Bible will know that ‘logismos’ relates to ‘logos’ or the word.  The Apostle John writes in his very first chapter of the book bearing his name.  In the beginning was the Logos or Word, and the Logos or Word was with God, and the Logos or Word was God.

So, yes, God DOES give us the ability to think and use words to make decisions. But there are times and situations where our thinking will fall short and not be sufficient.  God alerts us to future situations where this is the case, so we should NOT be surprised!

Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.”As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts“.

God unequivocally teaches that there will be circumstances when His ways and thoughts trump our assessments and best reasoning.

Here’s the 64-million-dollar question: How do we know WHEN we are to use reason and WHEN we are to submit to God’s ways?

John Flavel describes the rule of faith as God’s way.  In his book, he teaches HOW to fight fear.  Fear is a normal reaction to our everyday evil world.  Evil in our hearts and evil all around us.  If we are to remain peaceful within, despite circumstances, then we CANNOT let our reason be the final arbiter used to describe or inform or make sense of what our senses provide us.

Here is how Flavel explains:  (p. 106-107 of his book):

  • You must keep your thoughts under the government of faith. Whoever sets aside the rules of faith and measures things by the rule of his shallow reason is HIMSELF (caps, mine) the problem.  If we permit reason to judge all things and derive its conclusions from the appearance of second causes, our hearts will have no rest day or night.  Instead, it will keep us in continual alarms.  The best people are prone to measure things by this rule – to judge all of God’s designs and providences by reason. 

When he mentions the ‘best people’, think ‘the intelligentsia’ of the day who might be tempted to assume that a belief in God is not rational.

Bottom line for us moderns is to use and develop our ability to think and discern and draw conclusions, but measure them through the grid of God’s truth, how He describes reality.  After all, He created all that is.