The Scoreboard of Life

This is ultimately not about the World Cup happening right now this beautiful 2014, but the title was inspired by it being that I think scoring goals in soccer / football is not just due to skill and teamwork but also a matter of psychology. You know when you are so sure that a certain team is not going to catch up after losing a goal? I don’t think it’s purely thanks to skill and teamwork, but also the momentum of morale at that point.

Anyways, these are actually thoughts about living faith and the psychology behind it that I got from some insights about the psychology of learning.

Carol S. Dweck speaks about the psychology of learning in education, and has an acclaimed book entitled Mindset. This is my transcript from the first part (the first 2.5 minutes) of a talk she gave on the subject, entitled How to Help Every Child Fulfil Their Potential:

Here’s that talk:

  • [Picture of a happy baby.] We all come like this: infinitely curious, always experimenting, always learning, and addressing the most difficult tasks of a lifetime with tremendous gusto. You never see an unmotivated baby. [Picture of a bored, smoking baby ‘bum’, face propped by up a hand.] Nooo. And yet, just a few years later, you start seeing lots of kids who look as turned off as that baby. [Picture of a young student in a pose like the baby, minus the cigarette.] Not so different from the baby.
  • But what we have now discovered is that mindsets are at the heart of this kind of problem. Mindsets that make kids afraid to try, and make them easily derailed by setbacks. But what’s important is that we are also discovering why this happens, and what to do about it.
  • In my work, we find that some students have a fixed mindset about their intellectual abilities and talents. They think intelligence is just a fixed trait: you have a certain amount and that’s that. This is the mindset that makes kids afraid to try, because they’re afraid to look dumb.
  • But other students have a growth mindset. They believe that intelligence can be developed through their effort, dedication, learning, and mentorship from others. They don’t think that everyone’s the same, or that anyone can be Einstein, but they understand that even Einstein wasn’t the guy he became before he put in years and years of dedicated labour.

It’s a great talk on its own, but being the distracted listener that I am whenever someone gives an informative talk, I started to draw the parallels between a mindset about intelligence with a Christian walk and the mindset about faith:

  • Babies are born with an openness and willingness to know God, and most children too. After some years, you get teens who become doubtful, skeptical, or legalistic, and they can grow into adults who are even more so.
  • Our mindset about faith and its cultivation at the heart of this problem. Certain mindsets make us afraid to trust God and easily derailed by setbacks. As such, we do not live freely.
  • Some Christians have a fixed mindset. This could be because they see ‘faith’ as a binary of believing or not believing, so you either have it or don’t have it. God chose you and that’s that, so we have no obligation to do more. This could also be because they see faith associated with ‘legitimate’ activities showing the abundance of your faith: working in ministry, being a missionary, successfully making lots of money (to tithe though, you know), being married, being a mom/dad… This mindset makes Christians narrow-minded and focused on the Scoreboard of Life. If they are hitting certain checkboxes they are on track as Christians, and easily satisfied by things other than God and God’s plans. If they fail in that work or lose that role, they do not know their purpose or value, and this can cause them to be embittered with God. They are afraid of change, because it takes away the confidence of faith they’ve built up in their chosen check points.
  • But other Christians  have a growth mindset. They believe that faith can be developed through their effort, dedication, learning, and mentorship from others. It’s not that they think everyone can save themselves through those efforts, but they know that after God has set us aside and saved us, we must respond by taking personal steps of faith, and not just to meet a set of standard criteria set by societal norms or even church norms. They understand that even the greatest men and women of faith put in years and years of dedicated labour, and even Jesus as a child made an effort to learn and know God’s Word well. They understand that faith is a constant development and that there is no plateau to reach and no stagnancy in what God expects of us. We are not to look constantly at a Scoreboard of Life on which we decide how successful or unsuccessful we are being as Christians personally, but we are to fix our eyes on Jesus, author and perfecter of our faith, not to grow weary with sin or prideful with success. They understand that being too occupied with the things of this world that can be seen is not the best that God intends for us, and they hold things and people loosely before God, despite loving them deeply.

Alright, I don’t know if my theology is completely straight with every word there, and I know for sure there are other good parallels I am not drawing, but I think the general outline compares well. Am I fixing my eyes on the Scoreboard of Life (I have a job, I’m witnessing to co-workers, I have a Christian husband, I have a beautiful family, I have smart well-adjusted kids…) or am I fixing my eyes on Jesus, counsellor for the one who gives and takes away?

To go further, Carol Dweck lists 3 worlds in which the mindset about intelligence works:

  1. Goals
    1. Fixed mindset: look smart at all costs
    2. Growth mindset: learn at all costs
  2. Effort
    1. Fixed mindset: it should come naturally; if you have the ability you don’t need effort
    2. Growth mindset: work hard, because effort is key
  3. Setbacks
    1. Fixed mindset: hide mistakes and deficiencies
    2. Growth mindset: capitalise on mistakes and confront deficiencies

I can see this translated too for faith:

  1. Goals
    1. Fixed mindset: look smart faithful at all costs
    2. Growth mindset: learn develop faith at all costs
  2. Effort
    1. Fixed mindset: it should come naturally; if you have the ability faith you don’t need effort works
    2. Growth mindset: work hard, because effort actively trusting God in everyday things is key
  3. Setbacks
    1. Fixed mindset: hide mistakes sin and deficiencies
    2. Growth mindset: capitalise on mistakes and boast in deficiencies and confront deficiencies sin

 

The Sestina of a Lifetime

If you are not aware of the poetic structure of a sestina, it is a poem of highly structured word repetitions (6 words) following this pattern of retrogradatio cruciata: wherein all six chosen words appear in every end-position possible within 6 stanzas of 6 lines.

Table of sestina end-words (columns for stanzas, rows for lines, order+word listed as number+letter)
OneTwoThrFourFiveSix
1 A 6 F 3 C 5 E 4 D 2 B
2 B 1 A 6 F 3 C 5 E 4 D
3 C 5 E 4 D 2 B 1 A 6 F
4 D 2 B 1 A 6 F 3 C 5 E
5 E 4 D 2 B 1 A 6 F 3 C
6 F 3 C 5 E 4 D 2 B 1 A

This is followed by a final 3-line stanza, the envoi, containing the 6 words again in this order: 2-5 / 4-3 / 6-1.

You might surmise by now that a poem with such rigid and repetitive structure that lasts for a significant number of lines (39 in total) is good for expressing something about the more repetitive things in life. I’ve seen good ones about a long train ride with strange people (Sestina of a Train by Al Purdy), and obsessive lovers who can’t stop thinking about each other (The Lover’s Sestina by Bruce Meyer). Both poems capitalised on the repetitive aspect of the sestina form to create that (oppressive) feeling of reading the same words over and over. But I really wanted to try a sestina in which the words clearly repeated without such a heavy feeling of them repeating. For this I had to choose the kind of words that could have varied meanings. I did “cheat” in that I intentionally chose to make one of the six words change throughout the poem, but I decided that before even beginning to write. Besides that disclaimer, I don’t want to over-explain the poem. Here is my attempt:

The Sestina of a Lifetime

9 months she ate the things she craved to eat.
On Monday noon he heard the doctor call,
with trepidation rushed in from the hall,
to see his babe emerge from head to feet,
untangled from the womb to be set free:
To hold her was to see her as The Only.

They sent her off to school when only 5:
a sandwich, fruit, and cookie she would eat,
then play with friends outdoors when time was free.
When bullies nasty names of her did call,
her mother taught her how to turn defeat
into the courage shown in concert halls.

Then, fresh-faced from her graduation hall,
she joined a firm to ‘start her life’. Only,
Monday mornings she would drag her feet
and wonder, “Eat to work or work to eat?”
She’d close her eyes her childhood to recall,
and wonder how she squandered times once free.

When dreamy man her passions did set free,
they tied the knot and filled a banquet hall.
Guests watched as pastor at the altar called
them husband wife – each other: one and only.
They barely sat to celebrate and eat;
their life would start once they had thrown their fête!

But changing diapers proved to be a feat
from which young parents struggled to be free
when seven mouths would cry, “I want to eat!”
Then soon their children passed through college halls,
and once again they were each other’s Only,
except when grown-up children came to call.

On Friday night she got a sudden call:
his heart attack had brought him to his fate,
and once again she lived with herself only,
until her soul fled too. Finally. Free.
Some tears were shed by loved ones in the hall,
then dust to dust and soon the worms would eat.

All counted, would you call your life as “free”?
Which Way goes your feet walking down the hall?
These questions, only, away at you to eat.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding…

…will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I’ve heard a cancer patient talk about how difficult it was when she was waiting to hear back about whether it would be a serious cancer or not. It was a rough month of waiting and not knowing. Then she realized this: that the result that came back did not matter, but if she would receive whatever news with the peace of God, having trusted his goodness in either scenario, that was what mattered, and what she had to cultivate.

Coming from November 11th, Remembrance Day here in Canada, and the associated stories of soldiers told by family members who remember God’s faithfulness in narrowly saving this soldier or bringing that soldier home despite the odds, it remains that more still were not spared the bullet and were not brought home safely. What of God’s faithfulness to their family? As such, it is essential to cultivate a thankfulness and remembrance of God’s faithfulness in all circumstances, to not reduce God to being powerful only when He is granting our desires against all odds, but to see Him as mighty to accomplish His good, pleasing and perfect will even through everything that is not so pleasant.

This is still beyond my understanding.

A Matter of Semantics

Much of history, theory/theology, knowledge, and life is distorted when you don’t call a thing by its proper name.

Was the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1937 part of “World War II” or was it just a “Sino-Japanese War?” If you call it the Sino-Japanese War, then why is the end of WWII marked by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Taking this timeline, WWII starts with Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 and ends with America bombing Japan… Why does that not quite line up? Perhaps until the world saw little Japan’s powerhouse war-waging capability, they dismissed Asian wars as regional affairs, not world affairs. In this case, even after the fact, Asian wars were not considered very important on the world stage; the fighting that broke out along the Eastern coast of Asia from Manchuria to Indonesia did not count as the start of WWII, but the regional wars of Europe did. This is not to say “change the history books” but to point out that simply naming something is actually not so simple.

(Blue indicates the extent of Japanese expansion in WWII)

Is a baby baptism and a baby dedication the same thing? Both may be done in the same spirit, but calling a baby who has been dedicated to be raised to know and fear God a ‘baptised’ child is vastly different from calling that baby a child whose rearing has been dedicated by the parents to God’s guidance. That is, if ‘baptism’ is to be an outward ceremony and declaration of a voiced decision to follow Christ by the one being baptised.

How far before love becomes idolatry? One is noble, the other hideous, taking the place of God. There is a difference, but it may not always be clear.

Semantics is a defining matter.

‘Fallen believers’ or ‘never believers’?

This long section quoted from John MacArthur’s book, Slave, brought to mind the uneasy question about why there are believers who ‘walk away’ from following Christ if we are sealed with the Holy Spirit and saved for good once and for all after our profession that Jesus is Lord. Is what MacArthur says here relevant to the question? In a few words, he seems to be saying that people may not be as good as their word (of profession), and that they may talk the talk but not walk the walk. It’s true: if one is soaked in Christian community, it is not too hard to assimilate the lingo yet resist the repentance and lack the regeneration and reform. A section from pages 90-92 is quoted below:

—————————————-

As slaves to righteousness, believers are “under obligation” (Rom. 8:12; cf. 6:18) to honour God in how they live. Yet, for those who belong to Christ, the motivation to obey is far more profound than mere duty. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments,” Jesus told His disciples (John 14:15, emphasis added); and again, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word” (v.23). The apostle John echoed Christ’s words in his epistles: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3); and elsewhere, “This is love, that we walk according to His commandments” (2 John 6). Genuine believers are characterized by a deep love for Christ, and that love inevitably manifests itself in obedience. [1] By contrast, those who do not love the Lord, either in what they say or by how they live, evidence the fact that they do not belong to Him. [2]

The only right response to Christ’s lordship is wholehearted submission, loving obedience, and passionate worship. Those who give verbal assent to His deity, yet live in patterns of unrepentant disobedience, betray the hypocrisy of their profession. To them, the terrifying weight of Christ’s question, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46) directly applies. As He warned the crowds at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, after describing they dangers of hypocrisy:

Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matt. 7:21-23).

Clearly, not all who claim to know the Lord actually do. Those who truly “belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24). Rather than walking in the flesh, they now “walk by the Spirit” (v. 25), being characterized by a growing desire to obey the Word of God. As Jesus told the crowds in John 8:31, ‘If you continue in My Word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.” [3] After all, “each tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6:44); and genuine conversion is always marked by the fruit of repentance and the fruit of the Spirit. [4] Loving obedience is the defining evidence of salvation, such that the two are inseparably linked; as the author of Hebrews explains: “He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (5:9). [5]

Notes:

1) 1 Cor. 8:3; Eph. 6:24; 1 Peter 1:8; cf. Mark 12:30; John 21:15-17; 1 John 2:3

2) 1 Cor. 16:22; cf. John 8:42; Rom. 8:9

3) Cf. John 6:66-69; Matt 24:13; Col. 1:22-23; 1 Tim. 4:16; Heb. 3:14; 10:38-39; 1 John 2:19

4) Luke 3:8; Gal. 5:22-23

5) Cf. John 3:36; Rom. 1:5; 6:16; 15:18; 16:19, 26; 1 Peter 1:2, 22

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Doing Hard Things

In the second year of university, I decided I would begin to try doing hard things.  The reason was relatively simple: prior to that I really wanted to succeed in anything I attempted. It’s an obligation to get a job well done, to pull something off. In saying that, I don’t mean that I was successful at a whole lot, just that if I didn’t succeed, I would try not to think about it and either not tell anyone or make like I thought it was funny and that I didn’t care if I did talk about it.

Now, this next paragraph is not going to be me saying that I’ve now overcome that anxiety to perform because I’ve placed my trust in Christ. Hah, wouldn’t that be easy? In truth, I have placed my trust in Christ, but it is still hard to do hard things. That will not go away while I still walk this ground and breath this air. But these truths are the silicone oven mitts to the searing flames of anxiety:

1 Kings 2:1-3

1 As the time approached for David to die, he instructed his son Solomon, 2 “As for me, I am going the way of all of the earth. Be strong and be courageous like a man, 3 and keep your obligation to the Lord your God to walk in His ways and to keep His statutes, commands, ordinances, and decrees. This is written in the law of Moses, so that you will have success in everything you do…

Deuteronomy 5:29

If only they had such a heart to fear Me and keep all My commands always, so that they and their children will prosper forever.

Isaiah 45:7

I form light and create darkness, I make success and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.

In the face, body, and internal heat of difficult situations, we are not asked to overcome and succeed. Our obligation is to fear the Lord and keep His commands; He makes success and disaster. It may even be disaster after disaster that comes first however well you carry out your obligation to obey.

2 Timothy 4:5-8

5 But as for you, be serious about everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time for my departure is close. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 There is reserved for me in the future the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only tome, but to all those who have loved His appearing.

This too is Paul’s attitude. Keeping the faith. It is the name of a strange Edward Norton, Ben Stiller, Jenna Elfman movie in which the characters don’t keep the faith; hence, more so, keeping the faith means what it did in the OT. Our obligation is to trust in the gospel and to attest to the truth of the gospel. To know the greatness of God and make his greatness known. The hard thing in this is … you don’t want to be anywhere near greatness or mention greatness when you feel small.

Good grief. A poor excuse not to try doing things.

You couldn’t have planned it better

I recently spent some time talking with friends about the withered fig tree in Mark 11. We were a little stumped by the placement of this section and the meaning it was supposed to convey. I’m still unsure about this whole tree/fruit thing, but as for one verse in the section, I have seen some illumination from scripture-lived-out.

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:24)

I was unsure about how the logic of ‘believe that you have received, and it will be yours” would work, but it is becoming clear as I attempt to ask for specific things in prayer (and have other people pray for me), attempt to believe that God has answered my (our) requests, and then see that… whoa… God was working that out and doing stuff about that specific area before I even realised I should pray for it. It might not even be ask for A and get A, but the unexpected (perhaps even unrelated) B that happens is interconnected. I think such things (chain answers to prayer) happen in conjunction with a chain of obedience linked by a great dollop of faith. Not everything is pleasant, but it’s all working for good.

Sometimes God answers so suddenly and clearly — but you know, in a casual “I’ve always been working” God way.

Now you don’t see it… and now you do :)