Mental Gymnastics

From Reaching for the Invisible God:

Some psychologists practice a school of behavior therapy that encourages the client to “act as if” a certain state is true, no matter how unreasonable it seems….If you want to preserve your marriage but are not sure you really love your wife, start acting as if you love her: surprise her, show affection, give gifts, be attentive. You may find that feelings of love materialize as you act out the behavior. If you want to forgive your father but find yourself unable, act as if he is forgiven. Say the words, “I forgive you” or “I love you,” even though you are not entirely convinced you mean them. Often the change in behavior in the one party brings about a remarkable change in the other. Something similar works in my relationship with God. I wish all obedience sprang from an instinctive desire to please God – alas, it does not…I must rely on this technique… (p. 88)

I find this to be one of the fundamental principles of mental gymnastics. One day I’ll write and explain why mental gymnastics are NOT a bad things. I think they get far too much of a bad rap in our circles. As if it were our own striving attempting to make us holy. Of course we should just let go and let god. If sanctification is based 100% on the work of Christ in our heart, then of course it is futile! If it is based in some part on our own works then what is “trying to be nice” or “trying to do the right thing”? Isn’t this what we do every day in our struggle with sin and our journey through life? Of course it is. Anyway, dealing with this fully would take quite a while and I don’t know if I’m prepared to do that. In fact, I am sure that I’m not.

Back to the topic at hand. What do you do when you actually WANT to do something very badly, but you REALLY don’t feel like it at all. So you treat your wife with love because you love her. But what if you’re relationship has broken down (for whatever reason) and at this particular moment, you can’t stand her anymore. Well, instead of ignoring her, punishing her with critical comments, or whatever else people do to spite one another, what if you flip it on it’s head and choose to actively treat her like you’re madly enough. Just pretend for a while, OK? And you know what? The funniest thing happens. This is very well documented. You’re feelings will change and you’re love for her will grow again! Amazing really. This really works, but it isn’t for quitters. Yancy says that the other person’s feelings will change too. I really don’t think you should say that. They may never really change as much as you want them too. As soon as you add that in the mix, even in the back of your mind, than it will undoubtedly make itself some kind of CONDITION for you to continue. I think the part about the other person probably changing needs to be thrown out completely.

This exact same thing could be said about husbands, friends, family, co-workers, etc. I think it’s a special property of human relations. Now, all of this operates independently or IN TANDEM with the holy spirit. Maybe it never operates without the hold spirit. But that work is invisible, so who can say for sure? It might be simply a property of human psychology. It may be God working in our hearts behind the scenes. Maybe it is God working in our hearts behind the scenes THROUGH human psychology. After all, he did make us, right?

Anyway, you can love and then act out in love, or just start with the actions and pick the love back up later. Just jump in.

Defining kept promises

From Reaching for the Invisible God:

I learn about faith by looking back at Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for God proceeded in a most puzzling manner with all three. After God had promised to bring about a people as numerous as the stars in the sky, what followed more resembled a case study in family infertility. Abraham and Sarah entered their nineties before they saw their first child; that son married a barren woman; the grandson Jacob had to wait fourteen years for the wife of his dreams, only to discover her barren as well. This tortuous path toward populating a great nation shows that God operates on a different timetable than impatient human beings expect. Each of those Old Testament characters lived and died in faith, vowing to the end that God had indeed kept his promises. (p. 75)

I think it’s fascinating that the patriarch’s faith is presented as being so loosely tied to tangible results in their lifetime. I wonder if they were like us now: Wanting God to take care of their problems in a relatively short amount of time. (A couple of weeks sounds good.) Then, lying on their bed in their old age, they rally themselves to proclaim their faith, even thought they are about to die without seeing any of the promises come true. OR did they live their day-to-day life with this kind of conviction, not actually expecting God to deliver for a few hundred years or so. When you read about famous characters in an epic, it’s easy to imagine the latter, more mythical faith. However, remembering that Jacob was a guy just like me, I suspect it may have looked more like the former.

I would also like to relate this to eschatology for a moment. The pre-trib, pre-millennial rapture is a future that seems to me to appeal to the impatient Christian. We just hang on for a few more years and then God comes down and whacks everything into shape in a very short amount of time. Only 7 years or so. The post-millennial view sees the power of God working in the hearts of men and growing the church to cover the whole earth over several thousand MORE years from now. This is the slow, patient salvation of our world. When I open the bible, I see God working slowly.

Books to read and blog about

Alright, I always thought that one of the main things I would do with a blog is write about what I was reading. I plan to mostly just include excerpts with little or no commentary from me. I figure that what the author has to say is probably more interesting to say than what I have to say about it! Actually, the main reason I will be blogging about them is to help ME remember what they said later.

So I have been collecting books at used bookstores and such and throwing them in my shelf with the intention of reading them “soon”. Well, I really only get a couple of hours of reading in each week so it’s pretty slow going. I had just finished a book and decided to sit down and write make a list of all the things I wanted to read. That way I could order and and decide what to read next. In my mind was a picture of 5 or 6 books waiting in the queue, but when I went to take a look I was shocked to find the number was closer to 25. Geesh! I’m never going to get these read!

Well, here they are in no particular order. Well, their kind of in order. Oh nevermind.

Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancy – This book was recommended to me by an older Christian man I admire. I’m about half-way though it right now. It’s kind of a hodge-podge of quotes and stores and doesn’t seem very well thought out. I think that’s kind of the point though. How else do you write about something mysterious and confusing, eh?

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A’Kempis – I see this book quoted all the time. I guess it is one of the great Christian mystic classics.

Contemplating Jesus by Robert Faricy & Robert Wicks – I found this at a yard sale. It’s a very short book on contemplative prayer and meditation. I think it’s Catholic.

The Discarded Image by C.S. Lewis – Lewis is one of my favs and so I try to snatch up anything by him I can find cheap. This book is a survey or medieval literature. Looks interesting.

Getting Real by 37 Signals – This is a short online book about software development. I’ve read about half of it but need to go back and finish it. Apparently reading it will make me a slick agile programmer like the cool kids.

The Idylls of the King by Alfred Lord Tennyson – This is Tennyson’s great King Arthur epic in verse. I’ve tried to read it before, but got bored. I’d like to try again though.

Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay – My wife read this and found it very helpful. I’ll read it too.

A Serrated Edge by Doug Wilson – This is probably Wilson’s most controversial book. It is a defense of the use of satire by Christians to ridicule, well, all kinds of things. I typically agree with Wilson, but I know from some of his other writings that I don’t buy everything he argues for on this particular topic. But don’t bash it until you’ve read it right? So I’m going to read it so I actually know what I’m talking about.

Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning by Doug Wilson – One of Wilson’s older books advocating classical education. Some of it is kind of dated, but it looks like it has some stuff in it. Coming from both a background of private school, public school, AND home school, I am often thinking about what to do for my own kid’s education. I’m interesting in finding out more about the classical model.

How to Think Straight by Antony Flew – This is an introduction to logic and rhetoric. Yet another topic that I feel deficient in since I’ve never studied it formally.

Poems (no title?) by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – I pickup this very old (1850’s era) book at an auction. I remember reading “The Wooing of Hiawatha” in school and thought I should check outs some other stuff from Longfellow. Most of it rimes, so I am cool with that.

The Tempest by William Shakespeare – My first introduction to this book was seeing Patric Stewart playing Jean-Luc Picard playing Prospero in the holideck on Star Trek. when I was young. Now that doesn’t happen every day. It seems that this story in particular resonates with other people I have read. Loreena Mckennitt sang a beautiful piece to part of it’s text as well. I want to find out what all the fuss is about.

Music and Ministry: A Biblical Counterpoint by Calvin Johansson – The first thing I did when I saw this book was to use the index to see what he had to say about rock. Since he didn’t take the incredibly silly stance that electric guitars are inherently and abstractly demonic, I decided he probably had his head on straight. Actually, I’ve skimmed though a lot of this book and might just start writing about some of it right away. It is surprisingly well thought out.

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis – One of the few Lewis classics that I haven’t gotten around to yet.

Peace Like a River by Lief Enger – I bought this book for my wife after hearing an interview with the author on the Kindling’s Muse Podcast. She read the whole thing in one sitting and really loved it. I haven’t read any fiction for a while, so I thought I would give this a shot.

The Nautical Chart by Arturo Perez-Reverte – I picked this up because I thought it was by the same guy who wrote “The Shadow of the Wind”, but I got the foreign names mixed up. It still looks interesting though.

And now for some books that I’ve read recently and will probably write about first…

The Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton – The auto-biography of this early 20th century Trappist monk. I had never heard of him until I started reading Michael Spencer’s blog (

Against Christianity by Peter Leithart – The first few chapters of this were especially dynamite.

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton – The classic quirky British apologetic. It’s full of one-liners and everyone likes to quote it to sound clever. Well, actually it is pretty nifty. I’d like to read this one again too.

Fidelity by Doug Wilson – A straight forward and excellent book on morality and the typical troubles that men face.

Wild at Heart by John Eldridge – OK, OK. So there is plenty to bash in this book if you want to. Nonetheless, I think some of his observations are quite keen and he communicates them very well. I’ll have to sort them out again since it’s been a few years since I read this.

Inside Out by Larry Crabb – One of my favorite books. ‘nuf said.

That’s plenty folks.

So my wife made me do this

OK. I read a lot of blogs. I’ve been thinking about starting one for months. I have lots of ideas written down for topics I would like to write about. I have books filled with little Post-It note bookmarks to help me remember important spots I wanted to mention. I think about it a lot, but I have yet to actually start it after nearly 2 years. Why? Oh let me count the ways…

1. I’m afraid to let my thoughts be made public. Some of it is fear of being flamed, but I think I can handle that. Specifically, I fear destroying future job prospects. The field I work in is filled with people that are explicitly anti-Christian. I guess I try to transcend that at the workplace by not being very opinionated about anything. Nonetheless, I have a whole stack of horror stories from places like The Chronicle for Higher Education where a person’s blog got them fired or passed over. I’m not talking about the obvious things like flaming your co-workers online and then reaping the consequences. Those people deserve exactly what they get for letting their tongue slip. I’m talking about more subtle things like political persuasion, religion, etc. So I’m pretty sure I’ll have to always use a pseudonym. The goal isn’t to achieve anonymity’s, but to discourage casual readers from figuring things out without any work at all. I don’t want this to come up if you Google my name.

2. Writing is hard work. I love to read good blogs. I hate reading bad ones. In fact, I don’t read them! I don’t want to post anything that sucks, but that means a lot of time and thought to invest in it. As if I didn’t have plenty of other things to be doing in the meantime, like the dishes. One of my favorite quotes about writing is from Mark Twain: “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one instead.” Bad writing is often disguised as long-winded writing. I don’t just want to blah blah blah, I want to say something significant. With every post! Sound too ideal? Yes, I’m sure it is.

3. Software. I’m a programmer. I don’t want to use some prefab blog like LiveJournal, BlogSpot or WordPress, etc. I don’t even want to install an engine on my own hosted site. I want to write a full-featured blog from scratch using Ruby on Rails and Scriptaculous with integrated load balancing and validation in FireFox, IE, Safari, and Konqueror! With a plan like that, I would spend the next year writing code and not actually make a single post!

4. I’m not sure whether to stick to one topic or post on a smattering of interests. Some possible topics? All the wise people out there say that a successful blog should stick with one topic. If you want to write about more than one thing, you should probably have multiple blogs. Nobody cares about your personal little eclectic grotto. I want to do this eventually, but remember this blog here is just to break the cycle of procrastination.

Speaking of how Blogs should be written… A lot of people say that lists are good. Use lots of lists. Here are 10 reasons why you should use lists, etc. OK. So what will I be posting on? Without further ado…

Christian Theology
More specifically…
Ecumenicalism (Church unity)
Christian Mysticism (Along the lines of St. John of the Cross, Brother Lawrence, Thomas Merton, etc.)
My journey from Baptist to Charismatic to partially Reformed to “More confused but more certain”.
Quotes, book excerpts and commentary from authors and speakers I have enjoyed (Larry Crabb, C.S. Lewis, Peter Leithart, could go on and on.)

More specifically…
Classical guitar
Celtic Music
Celtic guitar (of course!) As typified by Pierre Bensusan, Steve Baugman, James Kline, etc.)
Renaissance Lute
Trance techno (Ha! Topic whiplash!)
Music pedagogy

Web application development
More specifically…
My journey from ASP.NET (C#) and MSSQL to Ruby on Rails and MySQL. (Lots to cover here.)
A place to keep a list of by favorite code snippets.
Miscellaneous musings.

Well, that’s all for now. I’m getting tired and my son (who has been on my lap the entire time) keeps falling asleep on me. He thinks blogging is boring. I guess I will sign off for now!