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Changing How We Think and WOrk

Hey church! This morning into work I was listening to an episode of the oh so wonderful "The Ezra Klein Show" where he was revisiting an old episode about changing how we think and work. You can listen to the specific episode by clicking here. In the episode Ezra interviews author Annie Murphy Paul about her book "The Extended Mind" which discusses that the metaphors we use for our brain are fundamentally flawed and as a result we're experiencing burn out, stress, anxiety, and fatigue on higher levels than ever before. This got me thinking about the wise men, learned philosophers from the east, and their relationship with Jesus before and after their experience of meeting him. Before we talk about them in further detail let's first give a quick summary of the podcast and [Annie Murphy] Paul's findings.

For the better part of a century we've referred to the brain as being synonymous with a computer, this analytical machine void of emotion and is the central processing unit of our body. We're often told to "use your brain, not your heart/impulses" when making important decisions. We're inclined to believe that with enough focus and discipline from the rest of our body we can meet our brain at a place of extreme productivity and efficiency to create productive and meaningful work. In other words, anytime we are not being "productive" we're not using our brain. This kind of logic has caused us to reject many forms of rest and renewal and means of leisure rather than necessary. For example, if you have a big project due in a few days it seems reckless or a waste of time to go for a walk or simply sit and enjoy a coffee and pastry. Therefore, we bring the coffee into an office, we eat our lunch with one hand while typing with the other. We treat our bodies needs as a necessary evil that computer of a brain must contend with and reject the bodies wants a temptations. But is the brain really like a computer, or is it abusive to treat it as such? Paul argues that the latter is more true than we might like to admit.

If metaphors are really the most effective way to understand the complexity of the brain it's healthier to think of the brain as the whole computer and not just the motherboard where the processing takes place. A computer has RAM/Memory to manage tasks, a cooling system to keep everything in an acceptable range, a power source, and a seperate vRAM component for complex tasks. We've all experienced an overburdened computer that starts to slow down, right? Internet pages take forever to load, it frequently freezes or needs to load, etc. Our brains are no different. When we take on too many tasks and ignore the need for "cooling" or "task management" than we also get overtaxed and slow down. What ways can we experience those things? By engaging in leisure, fun, relaxation, and rest. By intentionally and actively stepping away from our desks. This is not only productive, but healthy too! Brain scans have shown that it takes more mental processing to keep us seated than it does when we're moving or standing. In other words, sitting down is not restful, it's stressful!

The problem is that our culture is designed to keep us seated. Children sit at desks 8 hours a day. Meetings take place seated. Our workplaces prioritize our desk space. Even our leisure time is done so with seated in mind - TV, aimles scrolling on the internet, reading chairs, etc. Paul argues it best for our minds to be productive by being engaged. For myself, this has remained fundamentally true. Some of the best work Ross and I have done here at the church was visioned and planned while on a 10 mile run. I recall one specific planning session we did over Zoom that lasted a few hours and midway through we both were pacing around our offices with our cameras off and we both apologized for walking around, and then laughed about it because we realize how productive we are that way.

It goes further than just being active though - we obviously need time for rest and renewal too. However, Paul argues in the podcast that rest is not a relief or separate from work but rather part of the process. In other words - take a walk outside during your work day. Take a full lunch break away from the desk. Sweden, one of the healthiest and happiest communities in the world has a tradition that is similar to this known as Fika. Fika is a coffee break that nearly person takes during lunch where friends and co-workers meet up in a space away from work for conversation and coffee. Coffee isn't a stimulant for forced productivity - it's a treat for recovery. Upon returning to the office the employees feel refreshed and renewed and their work is more productive. Employers in Sweden comment that they would rather pay for 6 strong hours of work with a 2 hour recovery break built in than 8 hours of mediocre work that is tired and uninspired. Wouldn't you want the same?

It's not entirely lost on me how often movement and activity is affiliated with God when it comes to learning. The early nomads of scripture followed God to the promised land, and they only settled down and elected a king because they wanted it, even though God said it was a bad idea. When Jesus and his followers take part in parables they are frequently on the move from one city to the next. Which brings us to the wisemen of epiphany. First, they are beckoned by God to travel, to get away from their places of study, to discover the baby Jesus in the world, not in a palace or in a classroom or a meeting room. Upon finding him they are instructed to not return to the world they knew but instead go and tell others about what they found. This season of epiphany challenges to not accept the status quo and instead push back against it until a new normal is established. When God reveals Godself to us, it's not about stillness and forced study, it's about going and telling about it in action and in word. So, let's get moving!

Can you imagine a church service that is more active? A church service that takes place on a walk or a run or a bike ride? Could you imagine a church service that invites us to be more active in our worship? How might your happiness boost and your stress dissipate if we incorporate more movement in our workplaces? How might you discover new friends, forms of joy, and creative dreams if you gave yourself the permission to have meaningful rest and renewal as part of the work and not a temporary relieve from it? May it be so! Amen and amen.


Praying through Praise

Today's hymn is an epiphany hymn found in our hymnal on page 256 called "We Would See Jesus." I think this hymn captures the essence of the blog as it invites us to see Jesus in both the familiar places we might expect to see him and even outside what's familiar. I invite you to join in praise in your soul or in song.

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