the neurology of self-control

brain mapOf course, I’m not a neurologist. Heck, I haven’t even spent any considerable amount of time browsing Wikipedia entries on neurology…

I have been thinking, however, about life, our brains, choices and the like…

Without delving into how our brains might have developed or evolved into the state they are, I think it’s just fascinating how they work now. As we live life – as we see, hear, things, say things, do things, have things happen to us, touch things, are touched by things, etc., etc. – a correlating ‘network’ of associations, memories, etc. is continually being ‘built’ somehow, somewhere under our hair…

I’ve been thinking about this ‘networking’ process as it relates to the choices we make in life, and what we control and we can’t… Continue reading “the neurology of self-control”

languages of love?

In 1992, Gary Chapman published the first edition of ‘The Five Love Languages‘, which is a well-known book in Christian circles. It offers 5 very practical ways of understanding how your mate shows affection.

  1. Quality Time
  2. Words of Affirmation
  3. Gifts
  4. Acts of Service
  5. Physical Touch

I don’t want to disagree with his 5 points, because I think they are quite helpful, but I do want to share some further thoughts I’ve had about them. Continue reading “languages of love?”

true love: stranger & friend

A very recent post had a moral bent, and the ensuing comment-discussion quickly observed that morals are based on values and eventually focussed on the question of what (if anything) underlies our values. In other words, are values grounded ‘on’ anything? Or, are they as free and changing as the various expressions of human cognition/thought? In this post, I want to try to explore this question further. Just one thing before I begin: Continue reading “true love: stranger & friend”

sexual identity remixed

I’m well aware of this topics’ controversial nature. In fact, that’s part of the reason I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while. What I do not want to do is quote verses or provide what I think ‘the Bible says’ about this issue. Of course, I do have a view on that, but that specific pathway into this topic has been almost ruined for all kinds of reasons, not least simplistic applications of various texts. As with any other discussion, the use of words is key. At one extreme, the sheer number of terms being created (‘pangender’, ‘omnisexuality’ and ‘heteronormativity’ to name but a few) does not seem to help fruitful discussion, but at the other extreme, many can fail to appreciate the complexity of the issues being discussed. Because of this complexity, it would be easy to spend huge amounts of time trying to address everything that has ever been said about human sexuality. But, of course, that’s the job of a lengthy dissertation or something. My hope is to fruitfully contribute to the conversation. Quite simply, I want to raise two concerns I have relating to human sexuality.

Continue reading “sexual identity remixed”

harder than it looks…

I’ve got a quick thought to share…

It’s easy to distance ourselves from people like Hitler and Stalin. We can’t imagine such horrible evils. I mean really, what was the rest of the world doing, right? Why didn’t someone stop him sooner? I guess they just stood by and said, ‘Who are we to say otherwise?’

While I’m sure it’s not a one-for-one analogy, many would say that the large number of modern abortions is comparable to the genocide of those days, and that the same thing is happening today, and still, the world stands by and says, ‘Who are we to say otherwise?’

Now, abortion is a huge issue and I’m not going to take the time to offer a well-nuanced and carefully phrased view, but what if this was actually the case?

One of the small, behind the scenes things that helped bring an end to the regimes all those years ago was people using their voice to let the world know about what was really happening, not what they wanted you to think was happening. (go out right now and watch the movie ‘Sophie Scholl’ – it’s incredible!)

My point is, they didn’t start by physically going in with guns blazing. Some had to make the difficult but necessary decision to not act then and there, but to wait and tell others that could make a bigger, more permanent difference.

What if abortion is a modern-day genocide?

Well, if it is, I think something needs to be done. But what? Try and get the law changed? Use brute political force? Fund Christian political lobby groups?

I think that’s not the wisest way. I think we’ve got to face the fact that the abortion issue, as horrible as it is, is only a part of a much more foundational issue – toxic and destructive human sexual values and practices…

Changing laws won’t last. It won’t help. We’ve got to do the difficult work of influencing people. Now. With grace and truth.

That’s my quick thought…

-d-

eating from the wrong tree

Though many Christians would like to try – and sometimes do try, I don’t think we will ever be able to solve all the world’s morality problems. I’m thinking we might as well get used to it.

But in spite of this, we just love to try and ‘battle’ against the world’s morality. Now, I’m not advocating moral relativism – where right and wrong are determined by what you had for breakfast. I most certainly believe in true good and true evil. What I am suggesting, however, is that rather than it being our job to sort this out, we are to trust God to do so. When we try to sort out the good/evil thing, we are trying to so something that only God can do.

This mistake is actually at the heart of the Garden of Eden story. Adam and Eve were given absolute freedom in the garden to eat from any tree they liked, and were forbidden to eat from just one tree. Genesis 2:16-17, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.” Good and evil were held secure by God – no assistance or meddling needed.

Well, tending the garden and eating from any of the other trees just wasn’t enough. They apparently wanted to help God with good and evil as well. The key verse is Genesis 3:6, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and was a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of it’s fruit and ate.” The results of this are in Gen. 3:22, “…the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil…’ ”

All talk of apples and snakes aside, let’s see what the story is getting at – she ate from the tree that she thought would make her wise! All of the other trees in the garden were ‘good for food’ and ‘pleasing to the eye’ (Gen. 2:9), but this tree had more. This isn’t simply about eating an apple when you were meant to stick to oranges and figs! Neither is it talking about Eve simply wanting more wisdom to make better life choices. This is much more serious. This is the inversion of the creator/creation relationship! This is about Adam and Eve trying to take God’s place!

I wonder if we eat from the same ‘tree’ today. Do we try to tackle morality (good/evil) in our own hands? Who are we to do that!? Please don’t hear me saying that morality doesn’t matter. It matters so much that it takes God to sort it out! Yes, the ‘garden’ needs tending (Gen. 2:15), but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that God needs our help sorting out good/evil. The more we focus on sorting out the world’s morality problems, the more we show we don’t trust God to do it.

May we eat freely from all of the life God has given us.

poor christianity

“And when James, Cephas (Peter), and John… perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of the fellowship, that we should go to the (uncircumcised) Gentiles and they to the circumcised (Jews). They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.”
– Paul in Galatians 2:9-10 NKJV
Wow. Welcoming those filthy, stinking, sinning, dirty Gentiles into the people of God, and such inconvenient, impractical and idealistic priority given to serving the poor?While we can’t reduce Christianity to these two characteristics, they remain at the very heart of the types of attitude and action that should characterise Christians.Welcoming Gentiles Today
It’s hard to imagine just how wrong it would have felt to many faithful Jews at that time even to entertain the idea that Gentiles could be justified by God simply by faith – no Jewish-ness (‘works of the law’ – Gal. 2:16) required. The accomplishment of Jesus had not only surpassed every hope of the Jews, but had also come with a sharp word of prophet-like judgment to them as well. All nations were supposed to be blessed in Abraham and by Abraham’s descendants. Instead, they had taken on some of the characteristics of the various empires that had continually been oppressing them. As N.T. Wright brilliantly puts it, God’s rescuers needed rescuing themselves. The invitation to Gentiles had always been open throughout Israel’s history, but for the most part, it was an invitation that wasn’t getting delivered.

The language of the New Testament is vibrantly coloured by the tension of Gentile-Jew relations, but the language of our world isn’t. Perhaps this can keep us from noticing how often we can take up the same attitude towards people who do not share our faith in Jesus. Our self-righteousness is often disgusting. In the same way that Paul talks about Gentiles ‘doing the things contained in the law’ (Romans 2:14), many people today are doing great things for the world with no faith in Jesus at all. God’s people are identified¬† by faith, and this doesn’t give us the right to make it harder for people that don’t look like us to come to this faith. Not only will we have to be more willing to allow them join us in our work, but we may have to humble ourselves and join them in their work.

Remembering The Poor Today
The leading apostles gave the ‘Gentile side’ of the ministry to Paul and the one thing that was of utmost importance to both of them was care for the poor. One does not have to read the Bible for very long to see how God is angered when His people don’t care for the poor. Multiple prophecy-warnings by prophets in the Old Testament, Jesus in the Gospel narratives, and the New Testament all confirm this concern of God that is to be our concern as well.

What keeps us from ‘remembering’ the poor? Allow me to suggest that our minds are on other things. If you live in a Western nation in the 21st century, that means that you are bombarded with advertising images and slogans that are determined to keep your mind on whatever it is they are trying to sell you. We need to re-capture the eager-ness of Paul and his fellow Apostles (or more importantly, the eager-ness of Jesus our Lord) to care for the poor. Comfort, convenience, home-improvement, investment (let alone drowning in debt), fashion and the like should all take a back seat to our eager-ness to remember the poor. There are countless ways to serve the needs of less privileged people around the world. We must make it our priority.

what we don’t want to know

You really must go and see the movie that my wife and I (and others) saw recently.

It’s called ‘An Inconvenient Truth.’ It chronicles Al Gore’s message about global warming that he’s been sharing for more than a decade. To say it is a must see would be a grave under-statement. The theatrical trailer can be viewed at http://www.climatecrisis.net

Now, many of you may be thinking, “Oh yeah. Global warming. Yeah, some scientists say that this is a problem, others don’t. I’ll wait till it’s really an obvious problem before I get too worried…”

I used to think this way.

I don’t now.

Gore has done his homework. And more importantly, he has talked to a lot of people that have done their homework. This is his life passion. But even this isn’t the reason that you should go see the movie.

You should go see the movie because you need to see what Western culture and life-style does to the planet. God’s planet. The Creator’s planet. The planet God has left in our hands. This is not a side-issue in God’s economy. There are no side-issues.

I am from a region in the United States (which – as many of us know – contributes the most towards the demise of the Earth) called the ‘buckle of the Bible belt.’ Christianity has been so established in this area, that these Christians enjoy many privileges that other Christians have never known and probably never will (and probably won’t be any worse off…). I know what it’s like to live a comfortable ‘Christian life’. You don’t have to go into a normal bookstore to get your favourite Christian books, because you can go to a Christian bookstore and avoid having to be exposed to books that don’t align with your world-view. Heck, in some places, you can go to a Christian bookstore that aligns more comfortably with your denomination. What’s more, many Christians see this as a demonstration of God’s favour on them.

In addition to enjoying the benefits of the established nature of Christianity in the U.S., American Christians (mostly) live identical lifestyles of comfort, convenience, busy-ness and everything else stero-typical of what it means to be an American. Most Christians would assume that the American Dream is fully harmonious with God’s Dream. While I cannot – and will not – include all American Christians in this description, it fits the strong majority quite well.

Why the rant about American Christians?’ Well, I used to be one, and as a participant of such a culture (or sub-culture, actually…), I cared less about the world around me and mostly about my safe, comfortable Christian-hood. A warning about global-warming wouldn’t have phased me much, and I probably would have just shrugged and said, ‘Well, Jesus is about to come back, so what does it matter?’ After all, Al Gore is a Democrat (which 98% of American Christians consider to be obviously not God’s political party), and so therefore he obviously can’t be a Christian and why would we care what he has to say? I know, it’s a little cynical, but it’s not far from the truth…

My point? Care of the earth is an issue at which Christians should be at the fore-front. No, I’m not saying abandon issues such as abortion, family values or other ones. I’m just suggesting that we need not treat this as if it were something that is un-important.

Nuff said…

Go see the movie.

(Note: I just want to add that I’ve now seen and heard too much from either sides of the debate to fully commit to either position.¬† But having said that, even if we aren’t causing global warming as much as some think we are, there are still plenty of reasons to live differently and be eco-friendly, etc.)

buying identity

New Zealand is becoming more like America every minute.

And it’s not a good thing.

Yet another Temple for Capitalism (a.k.a. shopping mall) has just recently had it’s grand opening not far from my flat. So many people were flocking to this Marketing Mecca that traffic was jammed all opening-day long.

Lately I’ve been thinking more and more about how my standard of living (and all of the decisions I make to keep it in place) affects the world around me. It’s not been a pleasant exercise for me. I’ve had to realise that many of the choices I make (most are daily) have very negative consequences. This has caused me to think more and more about many things. Take-away beverage (coffee, coke, etc.) cups, plastic shopping bags, plastic water bottles, ridiculously in-efficient and wasteful product packaging, disposable goods and other such things don’t just disappear when we throw them away.

Allow me to share with you some of the terminology that pushes this type of consumerism along. An article (advertisement?) in the Tamaki and Districts Times, celebrated (venerated?) stage one of the opening of the new Consumerist Worship Centre in Mt. Wellington known as Sylvia Park Shopping Centre. Here is an excerpt.

‘Ultimately, Sylvia Park Shopping Centre will feature over 180 specialty stores, indoor/outdoor foodcourt, The Warehouse Extra, Foodtown and Pak n’ Save, a top-line specialty fashion precinct that is set to offer consumers an unprecedented range of fashion labels from a single location, cafes, restaurants and a state of the art theatre and entertainment complex… …Angus McNaughton says that the retail offering at Sylvia Park is the strongest and most diverse of any centre in New Zealand… …there will be brands and stores making their debut appearance on the New Zealand market to provide shoppers at Sylvia Park with the most comprehensive fashion choices available.’

Another article features the ‘new specialised retail store’ Howard’s Storage World with this opening:

‘…families strive to cope with increasing collections of electronic gadgets, toys for weekend warriors and wardrobes overflowing with clothing, shoes and accessories.’

Hmmm… Anyone see a pattern here?

The connection between our ‘comprehensive fashion choices’ and our ‘wardrobes overflowing with clothing’ is both humorous and deeply unsettling. Also unsettling are the use of the words ‘strongest’ and ‘diverse’ in a sentence about a retail centre that promotes anything but strength or diversity. True strength might help us to realise that we don’t actually need any more clothes. It might begin to reveal just how obediently we are dancing to the beat of the fashion drum (which waits till sales have peaked and then changes pace to generate another peak). True diversity has nothing to do with people letting clothing manufacturers tell them what looks good and why they should dress just like everyone else.

I know we may think ‘it’s just business’ and that it’s harmless, but I think we really need to be aware of the impact that this has on our identities.

Our identities?

Yes. Our identities.

You see, if they can get us to agree with them that we are simply ‘shoppers’ or ‘consumers’ then they have succeeded in altering how we view ourselves – and our identity consists of how we view ourselves. We are not concerned with staying ‘in fashion’ until we are told that we need to ‘make room in your wardrobe for the new season.’ We are quite content with what we have until we are reminded by countless billboards, store-fronts and countless other forms of advertising that we are about to be left in the dust if we don’t keep up with the times. The more I begin to see advertising and marketing for what it really is, the less I’m buying it (literally). We pray ‘lead us not into temptation’ but happily gaze at magazines that tell us how we ought to dress (and also ‘educate’ us as to how we might have ‘healthier’ sex lives) and walk around malls ready to give money to companies who remind us that we can’t do without what they have to offer.

I’m no longer seeing these issues as spiritually neutral. I want to live my life thinking about serving others, not myself. I want my imagination to be captured by the call of the Gospel on my life, not held captive by the call of Globalist agendas. I want my identity to be informed and solidified by the Gospel of Christ, not by anything else.

May we support and encourage one another in our true identity which we could never buy, but that was bought for us with Blood so priceless it could never be sold.

choosing temptation?

The sign read…

Shirts. $15.

It’s safe to say that I’m not obsessed with fashion, but to say that I couldn’t care less about how I look wouldn’t exactly be true either!

At any rate, I like a good deal as I was walking past this particular clothing store, I almost popped in. I didn’t, though. I turned up my nose (in anti-materialism smugness) and strode past. I was quite proud of myself for not visiting the store… until my thoughts took me further.

Sure, I had chosen not to enter the store for some quite good reasons. One of those being that I have enough shirts that are wear-able, so I didn’t really need another one. But as I thought about my actions further, it became clear to me that the most motivating reason for my recent ‘financial carefulness’ was none other than the fact that I had realised my need to save money for my upcoming wedding, honeymoon and receptions!

It turned out that my choice wasn’t driven by the pious, super-spiritual, anti-commercial motivation that had made me feel like I was so much better than everyone else…

This got me thinking about temptation.

A popular church leader has rightly said that we can’t say we are faithful unless we’ve ever been tempted to be unfaithful. We can’t say that we have integrity unless we’ve ever had the opportunity to lie and resisted. We’ve no right to call ourselves patient unless we’ve gone through stressful circumstances, etc.

Don’t worry. I’m not saying that we should go looking for temptation.

I am saying, however, that temptation is a part of God’s plan.

Yep.

God Himself promises never to tempt us (see James 1:13), and we always have a way to ‘escape‘ when we are tempted – which sometimes means not allowing or ‘fleeing’ from even the opportunity to be tempted (see 1 Corinthians 10:13). However, He most certainly allows and uses temptation in our lives (see the entire book of Job). Actually, we are all tempted. So was Jesus (though He didn’t give in… see Hebrews 4:15)

I’ve been reminded that it’s really just prideful of me to be so proud of my little miniature ‘victories.’ Would I be so satisfied with my wardrobe if I had plenty of money in the checking account?
I’ve also been reminded that when we are careless with our choices (where we go, what we do, when we do it, what we view, who we spend time with, etc.), we shouldn’t be amazed that we often find ourselves giving in to temptation!!!

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” – 1 Corinthians 10:12 (emphasis mine)