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Gifts of the Spiritual Wilderness: Exasperation yields Expertise

Hello friends! it's Friday and Friday means sharing a snippet from our church wide devotional. Seeing as many of you already have the devotionals at this point I'll also add some of my own thoughts to it down below. I encourage you to share your thoughts and reactions to the devotional as well!


Ecclesiastes 1:18

For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow

Today, we're halfway through our Lenten journey. We have faced spiritual droughts, taken inventory of our parched lives, and explored sacrifice and spiritual practice. In many ways, Lent is exhausting. It certainly was for Christ, who was called to the wilderness by the Holy Spirit and accepted that it was necessary for his ministry. But even as Jesus grew in wisdom during those forty days, he was likely annoyed, irritated, sad, and confused. We don't have a detailed gospel account of his inner dialogue, but we know that in Jesus' humanity, he must have felt distressed.

It's difficult to attain wisdom first without having had a challenge. When we think of someone who can command a stage, sport, instrument, art, or skill, we imagine it took a lot of sweat, practice, frustration, and time to get there. Experience, knowledge, and wisdom cannot arrive without sacrifice and sorrow. Lent is a refiner's fire - it's fertile training ground for spiritual Olympics. And we are halfway through. Has there been pain and discomfort in this weeks? Perhaps. Has there been thoughtful reflection? Definitely. Either way, scripture and Christ teach us that we cannot arrive to the gifts of the wilderness without walking through deserted places.


Spiritual Practice

Take a few minutes to reflect on the first half of your Lenten experience. Return to your one-minute journal entry for Ash Wednesday when you made a list of all that you dreaded about Lent. What unexpected lessons have you learned this year? What fruit has come of any and all wrestling you've experienced to date?


- My Thoughts -

I love this scripture from Ecclesiastes as it reminds me of my favorite professor from undergrad who really got me hooked into religious studies. When we asked her what its like to be so knowledgeable of all the rituals, traditions, and myths of the various religions she laughed at us and said "I don't know anything - and I love it!" Adam Grant, who specializes in workplace psychology and promotes healthier, happier, and more collaborative work places wrote the best selling book "Think Again" in February of last year. In this book Grant provides tools and real world examples of how the most innovative and successful people think and how re-wiring the ways we approach problems can transform how we solve problems. I finished this book a few months back and highly recommend it. Anyways, I wanted to share a few principles from the book that I think speak to Ecclesiastes.

  1. Overconfidence is a killer

Grant echoes Phil Tetlock’s claim that overconfidence manifests in our tendency to emulate the behavior of preachers, prosecutors, and politicians: We preach the virtues of our ideas without seeking meaningfully to address conflicting views; we prosecute opposing views with a greater focus on winning than truth; and we politick for support among our constituents instead of engaging in thoughtful dialogue. We might even fall for the “I’m-not-biased” bias, giving ourselves more credit for objectivity than our thinking habits deserve. Realizing, in our cooler moments, that we’re more fallible than we sometimes think opens the growth loop, propelling us from doubt, to curiosity, to investigation, to new learning.

2. Think Like A Scientist

We can think less like preachers, prosecutors, and politicians—and more like scientists— says Grant, by regularly asking ourselves of any meaty conclusion: What evidence would convince me otherwise? This focuses our own inner debates on causal connections instead of prior commitments, on facts instead of feelings.

If there is a feeling with which we should concern ourselves, it’s what Grant calls “the joy of being wrong”—the recognition that every false belief we overturn makes our mental maps of the world that much more accurate. We turn what, in regard to proper thinking, Leonard Peikoff called “red lights,” which won’t sit squarely with new evidence, into “green lights,” clearing the road for new learning.

We can set ourselves up for more such joys by developing the trait of confident humility: confidence in our abilities alongside active questioning about whether we’ve adopted the right strategy or are even tackling the right projects. Those oh-so-wise Greeks called hubris a sin, and perhaps we can better understand why by grasping, as Grant points out, that humility and its cognates derive from a root meaning “close to the ground.” Humility, he says, is not about chucking our self-confidence, but about ensuring that our thinking is well grounded.

3. Persuade by Listening

We should take a lesson, says Grant, from people such as Daryl Davis, the black musician who has helped hundreds leave the Ku Klux Klan. Davis has said that he’s never persuaded anyone. This might be a touch too modest, but his point is that he doesn’t do what Grant admits to having long done; he doesn’t “logic bully” others into corners like a modern Socrates or George Berkeley. He approaches fraught conversations not like a war, but like a dance, emphasizing common ground, listening reflectively, and encouraging others to pause on their own doubts. The greater the distance between us and an adversary, the more likely we are to oversimplify their actual motives and invent explanations that stray far from their reality. What works is not perspective-taking but perspective-seeking: actually talking to people to gain insight into the nuances of their views. That’s what good scientists do: instead of drawing conclusions about people based on minimal clues, they test their hypotheses by striking up conversations.

4. Surround yourself with challengers not followers

Orville and Wilbur Wright were so close they said they “thought together,” but as Grant points out, you could as aptly say they fought together. The brothers enjoyed “scrapping” about ideas, but as heated as their debates got, they never came to blows. That’s because, although they challenged each other to think long and hard about their respective ideas, they didn’t make things personal. They engaged in what psychologists call “task conflict,” not relationship conflict. They prodded one another to think and work smarter and harder, and their results speak for themselves.

Although we’re not all fortunate enough to be born into what Grant calls a “challenge network,” we can and ought to build our own if we want to do extraordinary things. This worked for Brad Bird when he was spearheading projects at Pixar, where even some of the world’s most farsighted and creative executives balked at one of his first proposals. To prove them wrong and get the project done, Bird didn’t go looking for yes-men. He recruited Pixar’s misfits, the disagreeable people he knew would call him on his bad ideas. Their passionate sparring led to The Incredibles, which went on to win the Oscar for best animated feature, grossing more than $631 million. “We learn more from people who challenge our thought process than those who affirm our conclusions,” writes Grant. “Strong leaders engage their critics and make themselves stronger. Weak leaders silence their critics and make themselves weaker.”

It’s easy and comfortable to team up with those who will follow us off any cliff. But to do big things, we need to assemble a challenge network of independent-minded value-creators who will push us to rethink our pet projects and ideas—without undermining morale and cooperation by flinging personal slights.

This is just a taste of some of the notes that I took while reading this wonderful book. I highly encourage you to pick it up for yourself! It can be exhausting and even sorrowful to grow in wisdom because you become more aware of just how far we are from the kingdom of God in some ways. But, on the other side of the coin we have the knowledge and means to make the changes. It's a powerful burden to have :)


Praying the Hymns

Let's close out today by singing in praise or in spirit the words of Be Thou My Vision / You are My Vision. I'll share the traditional and more folk driven Rend Collective version below. Pick whichever speaks to you :)

Just kidding you're getting two folk/bluegrass versions because they both sound so dang cool. So, if you want something more upbeat go with Rend Collective...if you want something more chill go with the Peterson family version.

Be Thou my vision,

O Lord of my heart

Naught be all else to me,

save that Thou art

Thou my best thought,

by day or by night

Waking or sleeping,

Thy presence my light

Be Thou my wisdom,

and Thou my true word

I ever with Thee,

and Thou with me, Lord

Thou my great Father,

and I Thy true son

Thou in me dwelling,

and I with Thee one

Be Thou my battle shield,

sword for the fight

Be Thou my dignity,

Thou my delight

Thou my soul's shelter,

and Thou my high tower

Raise Thou me heavenward,

O Power of my power

Riches I heed not,

nor man's empty praise

Thou my inheritance,

now and always

Thou and Thou only,

be first in my heart

High King of heaven,

my treasure Thou art

High King of heaven,

my victory won

May I reach heaven's joys,

O bright heaven's sun

Heart of mine own heart,

whatever befall

Still be my vision,

O Ruler of all

Be Thou my vision

Be Thou my vision(Still be my vision)

Be Thou my vision(Still be my vision) (O Ruler of all)

You are my vision, O King of my heart Nothing else satisfies, only You Lord You are my best thought by day or by night Waking or sleeping, Your presence my light

You are my wisdom, You are my true word I ever with You, and You with me Lord You're my great Father, and I'm Your true son You dwell inside me, together we're one

Oh, oh, come on church

You are my battle-shield, sword for the fight You are my dignity, You're my delight (my shelter) You're my soul's shelter and You're my high tower Come raise me heavenward, O power of my power

Oh, oh, I don't riches

I don't want riches or man's empty praise You're my inheritance, now and always You and You only, the first in my heart High king of Heaven, my treasure You are

Oh, oh high King

High King of Heaven, when victory's won May I reach Heaven's joy, O bright Heaven's Son Heart of my own heart, whatever befall Still be my vision, O ruler of all

Heart of my own Heart of my own heart, whatever befall Still be my vision, O ruler of all Oh, let's worship Him Oh, oh, oh

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