Archive for May, 2018

What Feelings Tell Us

Monday, May 7th, 2018

I am not a psychologist. But, over the years, I have learned that emotions — whether positive or negative — do not behave very well when ignored or pushed aside. A good life, including healthy spirituality, incorporates the wide range of human emotions relating to each other in ways that make each of us unique and open us to a sense of purpose and meaning. Maturity is acting in a manner consistent with our inner reality, integrating feelings with intellect and integrity. Maturity is being fearless in face of emotions and owning up to feelings denied or derided.

Emotions do not tell us that climate change exists or who the president of Zimbabwe is. They are not “facts” in the way that scientific or historical data are. But feelings are the data that point toward our inner realities. Feelings alert us to what is unresolved in our lives, what is missing in our hearts, the brokenness that needs mending, and the relationships that need tending. When we do not feel grateful, something is blocking the feelings — and whether that something is learned or feared is important to explore.

— Diana Butler Bass, Gratitude, p. 34-35

[Photo: Assateague Island, October 24, 2016]

Values and Stress

Sunday, May 6th, 2018

Since that first study, dozens of similar experiments have followed. It turns out that writing about your values is one of the most effective psychological interventions ever studied. In the short term, writing about personal values makes people feel more powerful, in control, proud, and strong. It also makes them feel more loving, connected, and empathetic toward others. It increases pain tolerance, enhances self-control, and reduces unhelpful rumination after a stressful experience.

In the long term, writing about values has been shown to boost GPAs, reduce doctor visits, improve mental health, and help with everything from weight loss to quitting smoking and reducing problem drinking. It helps people persevere in the face of discrimination and reduces self-handicapping. In many cases, these benefits are a result of a onetime mindset intervention. People who write about their values once, for ten minutes, show benefits months or even years later.

Why is this one small mindset intervention so powerful? Stanford psychologists Geoffrey Cohen and David Sherman analyzed over fifteen years’ worth of studies on this mindset intervention and concluded that the power of writing about values is in how it transforms how you think about stressful experiences and your ability to cope with them. When people are connected to their values, they are more likely to believe that they can improve their situation through effort and the support of others. That makes them more likely to take positive action and less likely to use avoidant coping strategies like procrastination or denial. They also are more likely to view the adversity they are going through as temporary, and less likely to think that the problem reveals something unalterably screwed up about themselves or their lives.

Over time, this new mindset builds on itself, and people begin to see themselves as the kind of person who overcomes difficulties. Cohen and Sherman call this a “narrative of personal adequacy.” In other words, when you reflect on your values, the story you tell yourself about stress shifts. You see yourself as strong and able to grow from adversity. You become more likely to approach challenges than to avoid them. And you are better able to see the meaning in difficult circumstances.

— Kelly McGonigal, The Upside of Stress, p. 70-71

[Photo: Stirling Castle, Scotland, July 2003]

The Wideness of the Tent

Saturday, May 5th, 2018

This desire to learn what the faith is from those who have lived it in the face of being told they are not welcome or worthy is far more than “inclusion.” Actually, inclusion isn’t the right word at all, because it sounds like in our niceness and virtue we are allowing “them” to join “us” — like we are judging another group of people to be worthy of inclusion in a tent that we don’t own. I realized in that coffee shop that I need the equivalent of the Ethiopian eunuch to show me the faith. I continually need the stranger, the foreigner, the “other” to show me water in the desert. I need to hear, “here is water in the desert, so what is to keep me, the eunuch, from being baptized?” Or me the queer or me the intersex or me the illiterate or me the neurotic or me the overeducated or me the founder of Focus on the Family.

Until I face the difficulty of that question and come up, as Philip did, with no good answer . . . until then, I can only look at the seemingly limited space under the tent and think either it’s my job to change people so they fit or it’s my job to extend the roof so that they fit. Either way, it’s misguided because it’s not my tent. It’s God’s tent. The wideness of the tent of the Lord is my concern only insofar as it points to the gracious nature of a loving God who became flesh and entered into our humanity. The wideness of the tent is my concern only insofar as it points to the great mercy and love of a God who welcomes us all as friends.

— Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix, p. 94

[Photo: Meadowlark Gardens, Virginia, April 3, 2012]

God as Savior

Friday, May 4th, 2018

The cross is many things, but it is not a quid pro quo to mollify an angry God. Above all things, the cross, as the definitive moment in Jesus’s life, is the supreme revelation of the very nature of God. At the cross Jesus does not save us from God; at the cross Jesus reveals God as savior! When we look at the cross we don’t see what God does; we see who God is!

— Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, p. 82

[Photo: Glenveagh, Ireland, July 2001]

Practice

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

This openhanded, teachable attitude is what is implied in the word practice. Inherent in this word is the freedom to experiment, to try and try again with limitless humility to fail. Practice makes perfect, but the practice itself is not perfect. Practice is a patient, related process of finding out what works and what doesn’t. Practice leaves plenty of room for making mistakes; indeed mistakes are taken for granted. In practice it goes without saying that any success is only the fruit of many failures. Hence the failure is as important as the success, for the one could not happen without the other.

Many people avoid practice because of the fear of failure. Perfectionists have the mistaken idea that something is not worth doing if they cannot look good by getting it right the first time. For the perfectionist, any misstep is an unpleasant and embarrassing surprise. But for a humble person, the surprise is getting it right. Humility expects trial and error and so rejoices all the more at success. Humility is always being surprised by grace.

Either life is practice, or it is performance. It cannot be both. Do you love surprises, or do you prefer to stay in control? Are you a professional at life or an amateur? Do you live spontaneously and experimentally for the sheer love of it? Or are you an expert who takes pride in being right about everything? Would you rather be right than happy?

None of us can be perfect. But everyone can be free. Which will you choose?

— Mike Mason, Practicing the Presence of People, p. 180-181

[Photo: Dahn, Germany, July 1997]

The Good News

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

Atonement theories are not the gospel. Across the New Testament, while metaphors do appear to hint at the “how” of atonement, the emphasis is not on these symbolic explanations, but on the story itself. Preaching the gospel never meant theorizing how atonement happens but, rather, proclaiming good news: the events and impacts of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

— Bradley Jersak, A More Christlike God, p. 230

[Photo: Meadowlark Gardens, Virginia, April 3, 2012]

Valuable Lessons

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

Though it may seem counterintuitive to our inner perfectionist, recognizing our mistakes as valuable lessons (not failures) helps to lay the groundwork for later success.

— Sharon Salzberg, Real Love, p. 68

[Photo: Meadowlark Gardens, Virginia, April 3, 2012]