Deep Thoughts While Multi-Basking on the Beach

You may remember several months ago, I mentioned “needing” to respond to a book entitled Jesus Interrupted.  I was asked some questions about it and wanted to be able to respond fairly and honestly.  While this article will not be my complete response (that will be several pages long), I would like to offer you an important observation about my journey with this book as I re-read it again this week.

The author is Bart D. Ehrman, a New Testament scholar who teaches at North Carolina University.  Any discussion of Ehrman’s Jesus Interrupted, must begin with his stated purpose.  While he admits, “the Bible is the most significant book in the history of our civilization,” his goal is to “let the cat out of the bag” regarding what biblical scholars have been saying for years.  What he “unashamedly” does is rework, simplify and sensationalize scholarly conclusions that mainline theological schools have been discussing for years. 

This sounds harmless until he parallels this information with his personal faith journey from evangelical Christian to “happy agnostic.”  The book is a frightening indictment of Christianity for those not trained in the historical critical method of biblical interpretation.  For those who have only read the Bible “devotionally” and not “critically,” this sounds like a whole lot of craziness, but it is very real and he regularly spreads his conclusions about the inaccuracy of the Bible and his belief that Jesus was anything, but divine.

I will be glad to share my longer response to this book, but for now, at the core of my analysis of this book is the relieved realization that I studied the same material he studied, yet came away with my faith strengthened and solidified.  While we traveled similar pathways of evangelical fervor and the higher forms of biblical criticism, we ended in drastically different places.  Ehrman’s faith was destroyed by the contradictions and inconsistencies of the Bible and biblical history.  My faith was deepened by the mystery of the Bible’s “humanity” and strengthened by the personal experience of God at work in history.

The longer I live, the more I am convinced that people of faith who seriously study their Bible will either seek to be indoctrinated or educated and the difference looks something like this:
•    Indoctrination offers knowledge with boundaries and conclusions.  Education insists on knowledge with information and openness. 
•    The first seeks to memorize and confirm.  The second demands exposure and understanding. 
•    The first is the entrance into a room with perfectly arranged furniture.  The second is the invitation into a large house with many rooms awaiting discovery. 
•    The first is a settling into a familiar place of safety and serenity.  The second is an unsettling, but satisfying journey through mystery and hope.

So, this is what preachers do while “multi-basking” on the beach!

Beach Time, Rats and Other Meanderings

I am having some beach time, which always means some book time.  As you would expect, I came with a prioritized stack.  First was a book I have read on at least two other beach trips, but I have been a slow learner on this one.  It is a book entitled, The Power of Full Engagement, by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwarz.  Not only did I re-read it, I also read a follow-up work by one of the authors, The Power of Story.  Both of the books are based on the premise that managing energy, not time is the key to high performance and personal renewal.   

The “aha” moment in today’s reading came when I read “yet again” about the ineffectiveness of “multi-tasking.”  We time management types have a difficult time believing we cannot do two or three things at a time without a significant loss of effectiveness.  But the writer is clear and cutting in his analysis:

“The difference in depth between full engagement and multi-tasking is not incremental.  It’s binary.  Either you’re fully engaged or you are not.”

“Multi-tasking is the enemy of extraordinariness.”

“I believe that energy management is the answer to most individual health problems, which for most people requires a change in their story about physical energy.  With that change will come an understanding that physical energy is actually one of the four dimensions of human energy, and that if the physical dimension fails, the other three fail, too; if the physical dimension fails, the other three fail, too; if the physical dimension flourishes, so can the other three.”

If this wasn’t enough, a recent New York Times article says that technological multi-tasking hinders the learning process hard-wired into our memories.  Scientists working at the University of California, San Francisco discovered that rats whose brains were constantly stimulated did not create a persistent memory of their experiences.  Theorizing that rats and people have neurological commonalities, they suggest that the same thing happens to humans.

Even my favorite devotional writer, Jim Denison, gets in the mix when he references a University of Michigan study, which found that people learned much better after walking in nature rather than walking in a city.  It seems that you and I need downtime to let our brains solidify their experiences and turn them into permanent long-term memories.  He concludes, “reading this essay while watching the news, listening to music and climbing on a Stairmaster may seem like an escape from the rat race, but rats would apparently disagree.”

So, my wife will be delighted to know that I am making a declaration against multi-tasking, unless … it involves multi-tasking my love for her!  Can you tell I already miss her?  See you next week.

Pavement Parties and Payment Options

My mind is on pavement and payment.  First, let me speak to pavement.  The pavement of greater Cincinnati is being shaken, shifted, squashed and secured.  This has been the “summer of the detour.”  Roads and ramps have been rocked and widened, disrupted and reconstructed.  You get the picture because you have been a part of the slow, grueling, snarled traffic as “our world” has been paved.

While waiting “patiently” in one of the pavement parties, I realized the world is paved and according to Harvard economist, Edward Glaeser, this is a good thing.  His point is undeniable:  most of the places people prefer to live are paved. 

Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and there’s a steady stream of people moving from the countryside to the city. In fact, 5 million people in the developing world make the move every month. My son, Nicholas is one of those as he travels to Boston this week.
So why is this “pavement” good news? 

In his new book Triumph of the City, Glaeser calls cities “our species’ greatest invention.”  When people live near each other, they become more inventive — good thinkers inspire each other.  People tend to be more productive and specialized.  The success of large cities is the result of finding new sources of prosperity when the old ones disappear.  It is a simple, but safe bet … if a city is not flexible, it will die.

Back in the first century, the greatest paving projects in the world were performed by the engineering geniuses of the Roman Empire, and all roads led to Rome, the Big Apple of its day. So when the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, he was reaching out to Christians of a thoroughly paved metropolitan area.

Sensing that urban life could make people more inventive and productive, Paul wrote a letter of inspiring theology and ethical application. He offered guidelines that could help Romans collaborate, innovate and practice enough flexibility to make their city work.

“Owe no one anything,” Paul says in Romans 13:8.  This is where “payment” floats into my mind.  Paul knows this statement will grab the attention of the Romans, residents of a political and financial center. Money was constantly changing hands in Rome, and its people understood all about credits and debits as they collaborated with one another.

But Paul takes this collaboration in a surprising direction — he says, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (v. 8).  Paul says that just as the legal tender of money can cover “all debts, public and private” (take a look at the words on your dollar bills), the compassionate offer of love can cover “the fulfilling of the law” (v. 10).

My offer is this.  The next time you are sitting “patiently” on the pavement waiting on yet another detour, look around and smile at your collaborators in honor of how their presence in your life inspires you to flexibility and productivity.  And while you are contemplating if or when you might let the person on your left in your lane of traffic, who ignored the flashing light to “merge” 12 miles ago, remember and redeem Paul’s admonition to “owe no one anything, except to love.”  I can promise you two things:  it will not be easy, but it will ease you!