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When do I keep my mouth shut? – Flawed reasoning confronted me.

6 May

Knowledge is important.  And so is wisdom.

I recognized and used both in one conversation last week: knowledge about a hole in someone’s thinking AND sense or wisdom to keep my mouth shut.

I was with some teacher colleagues on an overnight trip with our 6th-grade class.  It was dinnertime.  We sat together, enjoying some adult conversation while the kids jabbered away contentedly over their pasta and meatballs.

I joined the table with my tray as a fellow teacher,  a dad with a soon to be high school graduate, reasoned that he was going to have to offer his younger child, a daughter, the same arrangement he had with this son.  I interrupted the explanation, asking to be brought up to speed on the conversation.

What I learned should not have surprised me, but it did.  Apparently, this father and his wife allow and even have encouraged their son and his girlfriend to sleep together IN their home, in the boy’s bedroom.  Their rationale?  ‘They are going to do it anyway, so we would rather have them ‘do it’ in our home.

The other teachers at the table, all with children of various ages from college-aged down to 5, seemed to agree.

I immediately spotted the flaw in this man’s reasoning.  I WANTED to pose this hypothetical:

  • So, if your son wanted to use opioids, you would furnish them yourself because he is going to take them into his body anyway

That was only the FIRST scenario that came to mind.  I truly was astonished by this man’s blatant lack of chagrin or shame in sharing this information with us. What an open rationale for just about anything an 18-year old boy might find fun or stimulating to do!

HAD I presented that hypothetical scenario about drug use, I would have been using an argumentative tactic called Reductio ad absurdum.

Here’s the rub:  I wasn’t involved in an argument with someone.  I simply was party to a conversation.  No one asked my opinion.  Therefore, as I continued eating, listening and contemplating this example of poor parenting (to say the least), I made the decision to keep my reasoning to myself.

The writer of Ecclesiastes 3:1 wisely penned: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

Guided by wisdom, I believe, I kept silent.  Not only was I not invited to weigh in with my views, I recognized that none of these colleagues shared my Biblical worldview.  None are believers, held captive to God’s truth by His Holy Spirit.

But I did rejoice that I have grown skilled as a Logical Jane to spot so quickly the lack of healthy reasoning.

I hope someone asks me what I think about a similar topic. Soon!  May I, by God’s grace, be prepared to give a reason for what I believe.

 

 

 

 

The logic of receiving God’s power

25 Apr

Do you feel weak as a believer?  I know I do, every day.  I throw myself on God each and every morning as well as throughout my school day?  Why?  It’s how I tame/master/subdue those negative feelings, my fears that pop up while driving to school.  It’s knowing that I have to ‘do it again’, teach one more day. Even after 26 years, I feel inadequate, like there won’t be enough time to complete planning and grading and teaching AND engage the students so they both acquire AND enjoy French!  It’s THAT pressure that I don’t like and that I fear.

So when I read about God’s power this week, my ears perked up.

Listening to a John Piper classic sermon of the day got me to thinking about how we actually RECEIVE supernatural strength to fight those fears.

Piper explained that Paul’s epistle greetings and even his closures contained power phrases like ‘grace and peace be to you’.  Here’s an example:

2 Tim 4:22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.

My mind started backtracking by wondering:

  • Okay, how do I actually GET this grace?  And what specifically IS it, this grace?

I think the Holy Spirit led me logically to see the simple but effective way to receive God’s power.  Hear me out.

If you are a Christian, you’ve heard and read it many times over that:

…..faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17

So…IF faith comes from hearing or reading God’s Word (and faith means BELIEVING, TRUSTING, RELYING ON, RESTING IN, COUNTING ON), then God’s word is a source of supernatural effectual power that tramples our natural unbelief and causes us to take as true what the Word says.

....AND if Paul is writing what Christians accept as God’s intended words, then God means to transmit the gift (what grace is) of actual power to hearers/readers through the words themselves.  How is that?  by hearing with faith, hearing words that we believe, trust, will rely on, rest in and count on.

Grace covers LOTS of types of gift.  What supernatural gift might one need?  I can think of several:

  • strength
  • patience
  • wisdom
  • clarity
  • understanding
  • peace
  • joy
  • new desires to exercise kindness and compassion toward others
  • control over one’s ‘natural’ expression of feelings
  • releasing of grudges and leaving revenge to God

So here’s the string of logical propositional truths that my mind locked onto:

  • If believing God’s Word to be true comes by hearing with understanding…

…and

  • If God, in His Word, promises spirit and power-filled divine gifts (grace) to His children

Then

  • Grace comes to us from hearing God’s Word.

What’s the implication?

Nothing, that is NO THING, should hinder us from filling up on this grace from the Bible, each and every day.

 

 

Personal growth through questions

15 Apr

A young woman I know, a mom with three small children, related a transformative conversation she had with a wise friend.  With her confidant patiently listening, the mother detailed all the reasons why she was going to try homeschooling again. She had resorted to public school for her older two kids when baby number three came along. In explaining the decision to pick up again with homeschooling, she offered what she considered a strong closing conclusion, the following assertion:

  • Besides, everyone knows how much time is wasted in a regular classroom!

The wise friend thoughtfully asked, “What’s wrong with that?”

Startled, the mom paused and couldn’t really come up with a concrete reason AGAINST ‘wasting time’.  In fact, the more she thought about it, she started to see how ‘wasting time’ all depends on how you view time and the purpose(s) for it.  Her thought process led her to ask some good questions, beginning with the one that had stopped her in her tracks:

  • Well, what is wrong with wasting time? Why do I view that negatively and use that kind of language?
  • Do I believe that we don’t ‘waste time’ here at home or would not if I homeschooled?
  • Is being productive ‘all the time’ actually good for my children?  Don’t they need some ‘down’ time, like I do?
  • In fact, is any time wasted in office settings, on the job?
  • Is my view of time universal, around the globe?

Then, in the providence of God, Anne picked up a book called The Yes Brain.

In it, the author described the different kinds of time children AND adults actually need to cultivate and maintain a healthy brain.  One category had to do with time for play; another was focused time for work or study. Then there was the kind of time necessary for us all to exercise our imagination or to meditate.  You know, the kind of ‘lost-in-thought’ ponderings that Westerners often categorize as ‘doing nothing’.

All this to illustrate not only the POWER but the GIFT of a good question.  Questions make room for new insights. Had the friend not responded to the mom’s assertion with a question, this mother would not have had space or motivation to evaluate her belief to see if it really was true!

So how can we remember to ask ourselves or someone else a question?

Look for assertions that you or others make.  In our climate, people are asserting unexamined opinions and beliefs left and right.  A well-timed, thoughtful question can often stop them in their tracks.  Most of us really don’t know WHY we believe what we do.

Don’t just think of the political or economic arenas, as important as they are. I find I’m WAY more excited about the potential impact of questions for personal growth. With God’s help, I want to develop habits of:

  • noticing what I’m thinking or saying to myself
  • wondering why I think something
  • examining what actually supports my belief, if anything!
  • determining if what I think is true.

What comes to mind as a first belief to question?

Using reason to evaluate feelings

7 Apr

There was a man named Manoah.  He enjoyed a God-centered marriage to an unnamed wife who ‘happened’ to be barren when the story begins.  One day, an angel appeared to her and told her she would soon be pregnant and have a son.  (The son turns out to be Samson).

The wife ran and got her husband and filled him in on all the details of the conversation.  He believed her. (Smart man!)

The angel next appeared to both of them, reiterated the same message and agreed to wait while Manoah prepared a meal for him.  But this divine being did not eat the goat and bread set before him on a rock, instead caused fire to consume it. He then disappeared in the flames.  Manoah realized at once that this angel was the LORD and feared for his life.

Read his panicky reaction from Judges 13: 21b-22. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the Lord. And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.”

The text doesn’t SAY he was frozen in fear, but I can imagine his emotional state.  If I cried out to my husband, “We’re gonna die because….!” there would be A LOT of emotion.

Manoah’s wife did not share her husband’s panic.  Instead, she responded with REASON, with truth.  This is what I want us to look at, her assessment of the situation.  She calmly fed her husband with facts, in a way that he could evaluate whether his feelings were well grounded or false.

Judges 13: 23  But his wife said to him, “If the Lord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.”

Apparently, that was enough to settle Manoah, because the next verse in the text simply announces that she bore a son.

When Mike and I read this account last week I remarked to him, “Look at her logic!”  I love seeing how God encourages us to use our biblically informed minds to reason through situations.

I find that I often churn with emotion when I am not thinking biblically about a situation.  Here’s a simple and very real example.  I’m coming to the end of my Spring Break.  And like many of my students and colleagues as well, there is this reluctance to get back into the saddle, plunging into the fast pace of the workweek.

As I tried to THINK my way scripturally through this dread, the Holy Spirit brought to mind a new application about why we are not to worry.  I’ve written about the battle against anxiety and angst on my other blog site. What helps me fight the sin of unbelief  (at the root of worry) is the idea that when I think about TOMORROW, all I see are the potential circumstances minus God’s provision of grace.  He gives ‘manna for the day’.  And since it’s not yet tomorrow, the pre-planned grace is invisible to me right now.

My variation of that tactic was to think about the idea of what I’m going to call ‘joy-moments’.  I started telling myself yesterday each and every time a ‘dread’ thought popped into my mind, “Maria – God has planned moments of joy and delight for you on Monday – whether with your colleagues or students or in an email or a turn of circumstances. You just can’t see them yet.  All you are imagining are the bare circumstances unadorned by God’s goodness.”

Today, I found the biblical warrant for that idea.  Psalm 16:11b states ‘In your presence there is fullness of joy.’ Before today I assumed that this promised condition referred to my future in heaven when I am face to face with Jesus.  But this morning, a Saturday, I had time to think. And I realized that Jesus’ presence TODAY, on this earth, is promised me.  During Jesus’ explaining the ‘Great Commission’ He promised that He would be with us all the days of our lives.  And the writer to the Hebrews in Chapter 13 argued that we can “…..be content with what (we) have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.

So here is how I used my reasoning abilities to fight the emotion of dread about going back to work:

P1 – As a Christ follower, I have the promise of His permanent presence.

P2 – The Bible teaches that in His presence the believer experiences joy.

C – As a Christ follower, I can expect to experience joy each day, from being aware of His continual presence.

No, I don’t know what that joy will feel or be like, but I trust God and His Word.

And that is ENOUGH of a rope to cling to when I’m battling anxiety.

Your worries might very well be weightier and more serious today than mine.  But these every-day fights for faith are where I live.  And I am a BELIEVER!   I’m in that category of Christians who confess:  ‘Help me, Jesus, for I’m fighting unbelief!’

And God’s answer to my prayer?  He has given me reason AND His Word, to think my way out of some of these emotions that seem to want to keep me locked into ‘churn’ and sadness.

What do YOU do when your negative feelings tend to dominate?

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.

Language Clarity or Confusion? The Protestant Reformation

10 Oct
October 2017 has arrived and along with it another century’s culminating celebration of the birth of the Protestant Reformation.  Books, articles, conferences, and tours have focused on educating and further reforming our generation of believers who are 500 years closer to Jesus’ return.
My favorite British podcast, ‘Unbelievable’ hosted by Justin Brierley recently featured a polite conversation between a nominal Protestant-turned-believing Catholic and a religiously-raised Catholic who embraced historical and Biblical Protestantism.  Speaking with restraint, both sincerely believe their church’s doctrine and did indeed explain their beliefs with clarity.
My curiosity mounted as I waited to learn what compelled the current Catholic to hold to what appears to me as false teaching.  At first, he ticked off what my reformed denomination holds is true:
  • We are saved by grace alone, through Christ alone
  • Jesus alone saves; our works don’t earn us salvation
  • Salvation is a gift of God, even the faith to believe God is a gift
So far…..so good. But then came the ‘hic’, the point of diversion:
  •     We must ‘cooperate’ with God’s grace.
Voilà!  Here is one place where historic, Biblical Protestantism parts company with Rome and her teachings.  What in the heck does ‘cooperate’ mean and how is that a gift or good news?
I imagine a spectrum, a continuing line of required effort.  On one end the energy to be expended is minimal:  “Don’t hinder,  interfere with or try to block God’s work”
Moving along the COOPERATION line I picture the next bit of advice: “Actively work with God!”
Passing that polite but not yet desperate midpoint, the pleas for greater exertion and more good works grow insistent: “If you don’t join in, God won’t be able to succeed in placing you in His eternal presence!”
Really?  Does the Catholic Church actually think we dependent, derivative, created beings have the power to thwart Almighty God’s purpose?
Cooperating with God’s grace sounds nice, non-threatening and civilized.  But as a concept that Catholic leaders use to teach and encourage their followers, it misleads millions about God.
Words matter.  Especially about eternal issues.  Either God saves us and our forever destination depends solely on Him as the Bible teaches OR we have a key role to play in the outcome. This is how the issue must be framed.  By the way, this hypothetical proposition is called a Disjunctive Proposition.  In the way I believe this argument must be framed, either the first disjunct is true or the 2nd one.  They both cannot be true.
Whatever degree of human effort the Catholic Church teaches is necessary for salvation, this idea that one must ‘cooperate with God’s grace’ continues to mislead generations toward eternal separation from God.  Words can be cruel albeit comforting in their confusion.  And the Bible teaches that God will judge teachers harshly who have twisted His word.
Since words matter and can have eternal consequences, let us as logic lovers be careful in how we use God’s gift of language.

What does ‘progressive’ mean?

20 Aug

I heard a news story that Cal State Sacramento decided to drop their Intermediate Algebra requirement for non-math/science majors.  Having to add remedial Intermediate Algebra to one’s course load has hurt the institute’s graduation statistics. Apparently, the number of undergraduates completing degree requirements in the normal 4 years is at an all-time low of 21%.

When asked in an interview about the change in required courses, one of the school’s administrators apparently explained:

“It’s a little radical. It’s a change. It’s progressive, but we think that it’s really needed.”

Progressive – that’s a term one hears bandied about.  I happen to teach in a school that prides itself in its adherence to ‘progressive education’.  When pushed to explain what that means, the usual answer is to juxtapose our ways of learning as different from ‘traditional’ schools, those who focus on delivering content via textbooks or lecture to mostly passive students.

As any logical Joe or Jane knows by now, step one of any discussion is to define one’s terms. So let’s start with this current adjective, ‘progressive’.

The top hit on Google defined progressive this way:

  1. Happening or developing gradually or in stages; proceeding step by step.  “A progressive decline in popularity”
  2. (of a group, person, or idea) Favoring or implementing social reform or new, liberal ideas.  “A relatively progressive governor”

Next, I scrolled down a bit further and landed on Merriam-Webster’s site: 

Possibility c seems to fit with the Cal State guy’s reflection:

a :  of, relating to, or characterized by progress  b :  making use of or interested in new ideas, findings, or opportunities  c :  of, relating to, or constituting an educational theory marked by emphasis on the individual child, informality of classroom procedure, and encouragement of self-expression.

If we look at description a – having to do with progress, the first question that springs to mind is:  What are we progressing TOWARD?  What is the goal?  Does anyone even know?  Simply moving in a direction away from the way things have been done in the past does NOT imply a wise or good choice.  Deliberate thinking to evaluate what truly is in the best interests of the constituents is what counts.

This emphasis on constant movement and change brings up a very real danger that often leads to error.  That pitfall is called the Chronological Snobbery fallacy.  This sloppy thinking occurs when people automatically privilege something new JUST because of its newness. The counterpart can be equally faulty – valuing something JUST because it is old!    “The latest model!”  “A classic!”  Newness or oldness hold no value in and of themselves.  We must examine the benefits of an object, service, practice or idea to determine if it is praiseworthy.

Anyone with a legitimately good product or idea will not fear standing up to that kind of scrutiny.  Let’s not just reject or embrace something because it’s ‘progress’.