Thursday, July 26, 2007

Trends in Brain Imaging

Brain imaging, such as fMRI, is becoming increasingly more popular. In fact, that brain you see on the right is my brain. I participated in a study at CalTech on pain and mental associations. Sure they shocked my foot while showing pictures to me (seriously!), but I got some money and - based on the lack of a silicone chip - a little more certainty that I am not a cybernetic robot.

But what does all this mental imaging mean for the future? An article reports that when making ethical decisions people use parts of their brains where old memories are stored. Thus those ethics training seminars aren't going to be very effective because are ethical decisions are based on what we learned as kids.

But we're still on the cusp of what neuroimaging can find. And that means we're going to get better at reading people based on how their brains work. Can we predict who will be the best psychologist based on the layout of their brain? Can we pinpoint child molesters, violent offenders, and antisocials based on their brain scans? What would that mean for believing in free will? And what about when we find out things about ourselves that we don't like? What will all that do to our society?

I'm not pessimistic about the future. But I do think it is important to pose questions before we have any of the answers. I hope that we figure out how to use this information for good.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Perfectionism and the Spiritual Disciplines

I was recently wondering whether I should cut down on the amount of TV that I watch. Over the summer months I often will become engrossed with television and spend countless hours channel surfing. Sometimes I can become so entranced that I feel almost like I cannot stop watching. So I started considering whether I should just quit watching television altogether. When I mentioned this to a mentor, he quickly started trying to investigate my motives. He suspected that perfectionism was the root cause of my desire to quit.

I can't blame him for his conclusion. When probing for the reasons behind why I want to stop completely, all I could muster up were appeals to what is "normal" and feeling like I had to stop. Many of the motivations behind wanting to stop were a grand delusion that once I stopped watching TV, that I would soon morph into a perfect Christian. I would be caring, compassionate, and interested in the lives of others. And I would like myself.

That final bit is what leads me to think he was right, in part. When I think about it, the fact that I do not like myself now says much about how I will feel about myself if I actually change my behavior. It seems pretty likely that I won't really like myself entirely if I did stop watching TV. I cannot accept where I am today, even though I have tried really hard to get where I am. So maybe my insecurity is deeper than a remote control.

One thing I need to understand is that no matter how disciplined I am, if I cannot accept imperfection, I won't be happy. The spiritual disciplines can soothe my insecurities for a little while, but unless I hare real soul change then my life will not be any more satisfying - nor more loving. So I must pray for God to turn me into a person who accepts his grace and lets that gift, rather than my own perfectionism, drive my obedience to his will.

Friday, July 13, 2007


Have you ever wondered why we have a layer of being that is below everything that seems to completely liberate us when we find it. Or maybe wonder at why we don't operate at that level more? I'm talking about that way of relating that makes us feel completely content. You feel after you've had a long heart-to-heart or when you've shared a secret that has been pressing down on you and been received with grace.

I think it is one of the mysteries of life why we were created with the need for authenticity. That seems to be what is behind our enjoyment of such times. We thrill at having authentic relationships.

I think the joy we feel at such moments reveals a lot about the way we ought to live our lives. The scariest moments of life are when we reveal something sacred about ourselves to someone else. But, when handled right, those are the most blessed moments as well. I can't resist putting it in spiritual terms because there seems to be nothing mundane about such moments of meeting.

I wish I could live my life with more authenticity. When I was in therapy, I found it difficult to open up and reveal what was at my core. I deeply longed to be called out, to be invited into authentic relationship. But such times and such relationships are scarce. Although I find that I can be sustained by these moments for a long time, I still long for such times to come with more regularity. I want to pour out my heart to someone without holding anything back.

I wish that I could learn to live with less fear of authenticity. I wish I had the capacity to live authentically at every moment. I feel that this kind of relationship is the one that God craves. I believe that God desires it more than anything else. Because out of such authenticity does true connection come. And in that connection there seems to be a power that grows us in love. If only we could find that power more often as we go about our lives.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Saturday was supposed to be the luckiest day of the millennium. It was 7/7/07. But why do people believe in luck? If the world has an order then being lucky would only mean that the outcome turned out against the odds. But people seem to believe that they are going to experience some great event - that luck is coming their way.

I think that the belief in luck is simply part of our inherent desire for hope. When we hope that luck will go our way, we are awakening a desire in us for something to look forward to. When people hope they will be lucky, they are looking forward. But when they realize that it hasn't gone their way, they blame their misfortunes on being unlucky.

If luck is based on hope, then believing in luck makes sense. We are hardwired to be hopeful. Of course depression can disrupt that hardwiring. But I think it says something about what people are craving when they believe in luck. They want something to hope for.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Relational Evil

In my young adult class at church, we've been trying to figure out what constitutes evil. In a world where absolute morality has lost its appeal, we need to envision culturally relevant and intellectually sophisticated arguments for the reality of evil. Rather than seeing evil as trespassing an archaic rule, it seems that we need to gain an understanding of evil that respects those rules while finding a deeper and truer principle. So we've developed this definition of evil:
Evil is a system that breaks relational ties with God, with others, with myself, and with nature.

Thus, evil is anything that destroys a relationship. Now we are by no means the ones that came up with such a definition. But I hope that I can help popularize such a view as I believe that it encompasses all evil in the world. Not only does it condemn those actions that are obviously evil, such as murder, theft, and idolatry, but it also helps us see actions such as insensitivity to others as being evil as well.

Now I'm aware that the acceptance of this definition hinges on the ability of individuals to recognize that connectedness is a good thing. And there are plenty of people who wish to be islands to themselves. But I believe that at some level all people recognize that they need to be harmony with the universe.

Such a definition is tricky. Because it means that we are labeling as evil acts that were not done with malicious intentions. But I believe that as we become more spiritually aware, we will see that we have sinned against all creation by our self-centeredness and greed. What are your thoughts?