The Greatest Risk I Ever Took

Ten years ago, I went scuba diving during a shark-feed with two of my kids. We descended sixty feet to the ocean floor and knelt in a large circle. A scuba pro (in chain mail) followed us down with a basket of fish heads. Scores of sharks slammed into us on the way to their feast.

I couldn’t resist buying a few professional photographs (even though they cost me an arm and a leg), and I posted my new favorite photo to my computer’s desktop.

shark-r1

(The hungry-looking big fish are sharks; the tasty-looking humanoids are my kids and me.)

About a year later, I opened my laptop on a business trip, and the man next to me asked about the shark picture. I told him about our shark dive. He then shared his own story of risk.

He once took a chance in a business venture, but the venture failed, costing him money, prestige, and self-respect. He decided never again to take a risk. And that’s how he has lived ever since.

Now, twenty years later, his wife just filed for divorce, he hates his job, and his kids despise him. He ended his story with a line that has haunted me. “Sam,” he said,

“The greatest risk I ever took was the decision never to risk again.”

The Curiosity Vacuum

Last week I slumped at my gate in an airport. Bored. Twenty-five more minutes until boarding, and I felt the tedium of the wait. How could I kill time? I tried Sudoku, then reading email, then Solitaire, but boredom and the noisy terminal distracted me.

I checked out noise-canceling headphones in a gadget store, but I couldn’t choose. I sagged back in line. Waiting-in-Airport r1Only twenty more minutes of monotony. My watch seemed to run backwards.

Two old women behind me discussed the evils of the internet. I yawned. Heard it all before.

Then one woman said, “The biggest problem with the internet is that it kills curiosity. We used to search for answers; now we just find information. The joy of the quest is dead.”

I sat up. My own curiosity was sparked and I began to wonder. I liked it. I recently read this,

Digital technologies are severing the link between effort and mental exploration … By making it easier for us to find answers, the Web threatens habits of deeper inquiry.*

Curiosity killed the cat. And soul-less (satisfaction starved) information is killing our curiosity.

The Curse of Conformity

Let me tell you how (and why) I landed my first job in the computer industry. I applied for an open position, sent in my resume, endured two or three interviews, and finally attended one last meeting.

In that meeting, my soon-to-be boss said, “I wanted to tell you personally that I have chosen you for the position, but I also want to tell you why I did.” He explained,

  • Sonny r1I didn’t choose you because of your education” (I had studied 17th Century European Intellectual History, not exactly Computer Science);
  • And I didn’t choose you because your grades were better” (when I say I “studied history” I don’t mean to imply I studied real hard);
  • And I didn’t choose you because of your great business experience” (three years of overseas mission work didn’t qualify as a practical MBA).

(His care for my self-esteem was underwhelming; I began to wonder if the job was really mine.)

He continued, “I chose you because you answered my questions differently than I would have. I didn’t agree with your every answer, but your answers gave me an outlook I hadn’t considered. I don’t need more people who think like me—I already think like me—I need people who offer different perspectives.” He concluded,

“The curse of the computer industry is conformity; never lose your non-conformity.”

Spiritual Insanity

A couple years ago I met with a twenty-eight-year-old woman who told me of a struggle she faced. She was dissatisfied. Growing up, she had sensible desires for her life: a reasonable husband, a nice family, and a moderate house.

Soon after college she married a really good man; they both found good jobs (in their fields even); they bought a nice house; and a year later they had a healthy baby boy.

She had everything she had wanted yet she was restless.

Then they bought a newer car, repainted the house, added granite countertops and stainless steel appliances.restless couple They were promoted. Her husband got an MBA. She quit her job to become a full-time mother. It felt good. For a bit. It didn’t last.

Soon she felt restless all over again. She asked herself, “Is this all there is?” She saw the same restlessness in her friends, going after raises, cars, promotions, and kids.

Then she read an Einstein quote,

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.

She said to me, “I wonder if we’re all spiritually insane.”  

The Ecosystem of Grace

Several months ago I wrote an article about the joy of pausing in the moment of confession; telling God about my total unworthiness, acknowledging my wrongs, and even admitting ways I acted wickedly. I suggested we stop right there in that moment.

A Christian leader canceled his subscription and emailed me to explain. He said my suggestion that “we chronicle our wrongdoing” is “just wrong.” ShrekHis approach in life is to remember he is made in the image of God and that he has been given a new heart.

Then he explained how he deals with criticism. When friends say he “seems arrogant,” he says that they confuse his confidence with arrogance; but they can have his high level of confidence if they would just realize their own goodness. He suggested I try it.

My inner response was a bit different. I thought, “What a jerk! Doesn’t he know the difference between gospel confidence and worldly arrogance? Can’t he examine himself honestly when others criticize him?”

The more I thought about it, the more confident I became that his approach is just wrong. And the more I thought of him, the more I became … arrogant.

Like my friend, and many before him, in my attempts to feel good about myself, I abandoned grace. I realized I often really misunderstand grace.

Many of us misinterpret grace, because grace is an ecosystem.  

Hearing God in Meditation

God speaks time and again—in various ways—but nobody notices” (Job 33:14).

Most people I know have an innate desire to hear God; actually, more than a desire, an intense longing. We want to connect with the divine, to somehow see the face of God, to touch and be touched. It’s inborn, an inherent ingredient of our humanity.

Scripture says God is always speaking, but we miss it. We don’t notice his voice because voices r2we don’t recognize it. Oh, sometimes he breaks in through writing on the wall or through a speaking beast of burden, but mostly he speaks in a still, small voice.

We miss his voice because it is drowned out in the sea of other voices. The cacophony of sounds, like an orchestra tuning, obscures that still small voice. Stomachs growl their hunger, bosses bark their orders, and that insult from twenty years ago still shouts its condemnation.

How do we learn to discern God’s voice? In meditation. Christian meditation trains our ears to distinguish God’s voice—that one instrument—amidst the orchestra of others. And once we learn to recognize God’s voice, we begin to hear it “time and again, in various ways.”

To hear God’s voice, we need to learn to meditate. Unless, like Balaam, you have a talking ass.

Spiritual Lobotomy

I recently heard a Christian speaker say, “Thinking is the devil’s territory; I just want to experience God.” He continued, “Hearing God is a totally right-brained activity. We need to turn off our analytical thinking and lean into our intuition.”

He’s wrong, totally wrong, and dangerously wrong. But I think (oops, I feel) that I understand his dismissal of the analytical. He is reacting.

He’s reacting to the modern era’s enthronement of reason. In the modern age (which began with the Enlightenment), rational thinking became the epicenter, the very essence, of humanity. 2013-02-06-LeftBrainRightBrain21So Descartes—a prominent rationalist—penned his famous declaration, “I think therefore I am.”

Many people (including the speaker above) react against crowning reason as king. They see too many “intellectual” Christians who spend too many hours studying supralapsarianism vs. infralapsarianism* (who makes these terms up?); such highbrows might hold right doctrine, but they often live harsh, anxious, and miserable lives. Something isn’t working.

So nowadays we reject reasoning. Instead we feel, intuit, or “just believe” because it “seems right.” We prefer the right-brain, we choose imagination over discernment (unless the discernment is based on a gut feel), and we leave thinking to those brainiac eggheads.

The Enlightenment divorced the heart. Today we chop off the head. Both approaches are stupid. Divorcing the heart doesn’t help us think better, and a lobotomy doesn’t help us feel better.

Guillotining the head is not an improvement over stabbing the heart.