Spiritual Grit & Suicide

spiritual gritSome thought provoking words on suicide from Rick Lawrence in his book, Spiritual Grit:

We live in the most affluent society in the history of the world, and one deadly (and counterintuitive) side effect of affluence is suicide. A 2012 study by the U.S. government found that the richer the neighborhood, the higher the risk of suicide. Arizona State psychology professor Suniya Luthar studies resilience in teenagers, and her work reveals that affluent kids are among the most emotionally distressed in America. “These kids are incredibly anxious and perfectionistic,” she says, but there’s “contempt and scorn for the idea that kids who have it all might be hurting.”

If we have the means to make life easier for our kids, we will extract hardship from their path as often as it seems reasonable. It’s just the way things work. And when we systematically make things easier for our kids, they don’t develop the perseverance they need to keep moving through their inevitable seasons of disappointment, conflict, and depression. Spiritual grit is not merely a catalyst fueling our determined response to challenges, setbacks, and opportunities in our lives—it’s a core strength that can mean the difference between life and death. (Kindle location 3261, chapter 7)

We prioritize so many things; tutoring for school, camps for sports, special classes for SAT prep. But what do we do to prioritize faith development? To help young people develop a long lasting faith that will serve them in all areas of life? How are we developing spiritual grit in our own lives, modeling to the young people around us the importance of this?

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness

still hereI’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, by Austin Channing Brown, is a powerful book. From her opening sentence to the close of the book, Brown writes a provocative, challenging call to not just awareness, but action. She shines the light not just on the blatant ways in which American culture reveals its racism; she also highlights the more subtle, insidious racism that often times goes unnoticed by those exhibiting it.

“White supremacy is a tradition that must be named and a religion that must be renounced. When this work has not been done, those who live in whiteness become oppressive, whether intentional or not.” (p.22)

For me, this book is a call to action for the church. If we’re really honest with ourselves, “white churches” largely ignore this topic, or periodically give it token acknowledgement, but for the most part ignore it because it’s easy. And it’s uncomfortable to actually acknowledge.

I loved her story of a fellow classmate beginning to get it;

“‘I don’t know what to do with what I’ve learned,’ she said. ‘I can’t fix your pain, and I can’t take it away, but I can see it. And I can work for the rest of my life to make sure your children don’t have to experience the pain of racism.’ And then she said nine words that I’ve never forgotten: ‘Doing nothing is no longer an option for me.'” (p.58)

I’ll be honest, it’s hard to capture the book in a short blog post. It’s powerful. It’s important. Christians need to read it, but not just pat themselves on the back for reading it – it needs to provoke change, not just awareness. The challenge of doing nothing no longer being an option rings loud and clear through every page.

The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority

lost worldThe third book in John Walton’s “Lost World” series, this is the first to feature a co-author, and the biggest of the five. The Lost World of Scripture is heavy reading, but fascinating. Walton and Sandy follow the format of previous books with building propositions, but this time with regard to ancient views on communication, authority, and literature. Essentially, Walton writes the first half of the book with a focus on Old Testament literature, while Sandy does the same with the New Testament. The book then concludes with a few more propositions written by them together.

Walton’s contribution was riveting; I was fascinated with his exploration of ancient authority, oral based cultures, and the minor role the written word played – which makes sense, given how few were actually literate. In some ways, it became abundantly clear that as a text-dominant culture and world, it is almost impossible to fully understand ancient culture’s oral based system of authority and passing on of information. Walton does an effective job of identifying those cultural differences and how it has both shaped the scriptures, as well as ways in which we should reconsider our approaches to scripture today.

Sandy’s New Testament portion was also interesting, however somewhat redundant. Literacy was becoming more wide spread during the writing of the New Testament books, but it was still a primarily oral based culture so there was a lot of overlap in what he wrote with what Walton had already established in the Old Testament portion of the book.

In the conclusion, the authors tackle issues of inerrancy, modern standards versus ancient standards, and a present a compelling argument for the authority of scripture. Overall, I’m really glad I read the book. I feel like I have a much stronger sense of scripture and authority. At the same time, it was not an easy read. It took me a while to work my way through the whole book; I’m not sure that it’s ideal for the casual reader. You really need to want to understand ancient languages and literature, as well as ancient views on authority and values in writing to enjoy this book. Having said that, it’s definitely an important work for anyone who teaches/preaches from scripture to read.

Nonverbal Communication with Adolescents

teenagernotcrazyDid you know that 93% of communication is nonverbal?* A large percentage of that nonverbal communication comes through facial and tone of voice cues. What is surprising, however, is just how different the level of ability is in interpreting these nonverbal cues are when comparing adults and adolescents. Further, it probably explains a significant amount of the misunderstanding that can and does happen between adolescents and their parents.

At this point, it’s probably clear that I am a fan of Dr. Jeremy Clark and Jerusha Clark’s book, “Your Teenager is Not Crazy: Understanding Your Teen’s Brain Can Make You a Better Parent”. I blogged a review about it here, and then a follow up post on some of the neurobiology research they were exploring here. In their chapter entitled, “Why are you looking at me like that?,” they explore this topic of nonverbal cues and what the latest research is showing us about it.

Citing research from Dr. Deborah Yurgelun-Todd, they pointed out that while adults have a 90-100% success rate in interpreting the emotions and tone behind facial expressions and other nonverbal cues, adolescents only decipher them correctly about 50% of the time (Kindle location 1389).  Essentially, what the research shows is that adults interpret these cues by using the part of their brain where decision making and executive functions happen (the prefrontal cortex), while adolescents use the region of the brain where emotions are the dominating factor (the limbic system).

Where this is helpful for parents is in thinking through how we communicate with our adolescents. We cannot just assume they recognize the emotions or intent behind our words; 93% of communication is nonverbal, and teens misinterpret those cues half the time, which means they genuinely misunderstand us potentially almost half the time. We can’t change that; it’s biology. Their brains do not finish developing until around age 25. Instead, the Clarks recommend naming our emotions calmly. Let them know when you’re confused, worried, upset, etc., don’t just assume they know what you’re feeling when other adults would understand.

All that to say, if you’re a parent of kids of any age, or someone that works with young people. Get the book. It’s fascinating!

*All percentages and information in this post are drawn from the Clark’s book.

Take Ninety Seconds

90

I recently wrote a review of Dr. Jeremy Clark and Jerusha Clark’s book, “Your Teenager is Not Crazy: Understanding Your Teen’s Brain Can Make You a Better Parent”; you can read it here. One of the things they wrote about in the book I found particularly fascinating and find myself continuing to think about.

Essentially, they explored research by neurobiologists regarding brain chemistry, relationships, and a predictable ninety second pattern to emotions. Basically, any emotion that we feel generally will rise and fall in the space of a minute and a half “if proverbial fuel isn’t added to the fire” (Kindle location 1412). What this means is that if we have a surge of joy, it will generally settle within ninety seconds, and if we have a surge of anger, it will generally calm in ninety seconds. However, what often times happens is that we have a surge of anger, fire off a retort of some sort, triggering the same surge of anger in the recipient, who reacts in kind and the cycle continues to escalate with neither side taking the time to let their emotions settle so they can approach the disagreement in a calmer fashion.

As authors of a book for parents, their advice was simple; when parents face a situation where they are angry with their adolescent … step away for two minutes, gather their thoughts, and return to the conversation when their emotions have settled. They further suggested that over time, modeling this approach to conflict would translate to parent’s children learning to adopt it as well.

I’ve always heard advice to “count to ten,” or “take a deep breath.” It’s always made sense, but something about the neurobiology of this really intrigues me. I like that they’ve actually mapped it out, it’s a measurable, predictable cycle. The way I’m wired finds that very appealing; it’s certainly something I want to get better at doing – not just with my children, but in all relationships.

The Lost World of Genesis One

lost world

At  the recommendation of two of the former pastors from my church, Pastor Bo Matthews and Pastor Bill Parsons, I grabbed a copy of John Walton’s “The Lost World of Genesis One.” Walton, an expert on the book of Genesis, attempts to propose an approach for reading and understanding chapter one of Genesis, one of the more fiercely debated portions of the Bible. He outlines eighteen propositions towards a literary and theological understanding of the passage. A large part of his approach centers on the idea that our best way of approaching the passage is NOT with our 21st century cultural and scientific leanings, but instead to understand how people in general understood and approached the cosmos 3500 years ago (approximately when Moses wrote Genesis), and how that would have shaped their understanding of Genesis one. Here are two of the key quotes that really resonated with me as I started reading it:

Through the entire Bible, there is not a single instance in which God revealed to Israel a science beyond their own culture. No passage offers a scientific perspective that was not common to the Old World science of antiquity. (page 20)

If God were intent on making his revelation correspond to science, we have to ask which science. We are well aware that science is dynamic rather than static. By its very nature science is in a constant state of flux. If we were to say that God’s revelation corresponds to “true science” we adopt an idea contrary to the very nature of science. What is accepted as true today, may not be accepted as true tomorrow, because what science provides is the best explanation of the data at the time. This “best explanation” is accepted by consensus, and often with a few detractors. Science moves forward as ideas are tested and new ones replace old ones. So if God aligned revelation with one particular science, it would have been unintelligible to people who lived prior to the time of that science, and it would be obsolete to those who live after that time. We gain nothing by bringing God’s revelation into accordance with today’s science. In contrast, it makes perfect sense that God communicated his revelation to his immediate audience in terms they understood. (page 18)

I was a history major in college. My approach to scripture has generally been shaped by that influence, which makes sense. And in reality, there are three types of writing that primarily shape scripture: poetry, history, and prophecy. Because of that, as our knowledge of history outside of scripture grows over the centuries, it tends to confirm what we read in scripture – of course. Scripture is in part history, so man’s historical discoveries should confirm the authoritative history that God inspired. But the debate about Genesis one in particular, and science in scripture in general, is a separate issue. It is looking at scripture as something that it was not intended to be. Does that mean all science in scripture disagrees with our scientific knowledge today? Of course not, but that does not mean it was intended to communicate what we sometimes try to read into it.

Ultimately, Walton makes the case that Genesis one is more about assigning functions than it is anything else. For example, the purpose behind labeling the light day was defining its role as a portion of time. This lines up with much of ancient thought that was more focused on role and function than material origin. Function defined existence and value.

Towards the end of the book I began to feel that Walton was dragging out the argument longer than he needed to. He made his most powerful statements when he focused on culture, understanding, limits of language, writing style, ancient culture and cosmology, etc. Some of his propositions later in the book seemed to focus more on the issue of whether or not science could address the issue of God and it seemed unnecessary to me. The historian in me loved the bulk of his propositions that focused on putting ourselves in the sandals of the original readers and how they would have understood Genesis one. Regardless of that, however, this is a must read. Walton has effectively proposed a thought provoking approach to understanding Genesis one that reconciles scripture and science in a powerful way.

 

Kindle as a Tool

kindleWhen ebooks were first being discussed, I swore I would never make the switch from real books to some digital platform. There is something undeniably real about holding an actual book, the weight of it, the smell of the paper, the feel of turning the pages.

Anyway, that’s what I thought. But now it’s 2015 and I love my Kindle. I also love my Kindle app for iPad, Kindle for PC, Kindle in the cloud, the Kindle app on my iPhone … you get the idea. It’s been an incredible resource for me as a pastor and as a seminary student.

  • Cost. The books are generally cheaper. And with the Kindle Matchbook option now, it’s possible to get Kindle versions of physical books bought from Amazon for three dollars or less.
  • Research. I love being able to do keyword searches. My ability to find applicable information for both sermons or research papers far quicker than when I was a college student 15+ years ago.
  • Highlights. Highlighting has turned into one of my critical tools. It’s possible to see all my highlights for a book grouped together – great for having critical information quickly accessible. Even more important? I’m able to log on to the Kindle website, copy and paste my highlights, and/or print them. This has been GREAT for sermons, papers, or even just collecting information that I want to pass on to other leaders or my team.
  • Convenience. Whatever device I read on syncs up with all my other devices, which means whichever one I pick up knows exactly how far into the book I am. If I’m waiting somewhere, I can read from my phone. Later I can use my iPad. If I’m in the sun? Switch to my actual Kindle. In addition, I am able to have my entire library with me at all times – great for travel.
  • The Beach. I love my basic Kindle when we go to the beach. The screen is great in the sun, it fits in my pocket for when we’re walking around, and the battery lasts the whole trip. Next week when we’re on vacation? I’m going to fly through several books while parked under an umbrella sitting in the sand, sipping a Diet Mt. Dew. It’s going to be awesome.

All that to say, my Kindle has become an indispensable tool. The guy who once swore he’d never give up paper does almost all his reading digitally now!