“Put it on the ground!”

The woman ahead of me on the hiking trail mildly admonished her small son, who was lagging behind her. I thought the child must have picked up a worm, or doggie doo, or a bad habit. As I got closer, though, I saw that the boy was holding a huge leaf. He was valiantly defying her order. Brave little soldier.

The boy ambled about, reluctant to shed himself of this forest treasure — and perhaps loath to get within range of a parent with confiscation on her mind. I totally empathized with the child. When I was a kid, I asked my dad to stop the car on the side of the road so I could collect giant pinecones that I spied as we drove along winding mountain roads.

The mother repeated the instruction: “Drop the leaf, Louie.” (The name has been changed to protect the innocent.) I passed the boy and then the mother and continued along the trail. I don’t know how it all turned out, but I hope that giant leaf made it home with Louie.

Now, I admit that I don’t know the whole story. Maybe there was a good reason why the mother didn’t want the boy to continue carrying the leaf. I’m quite sure it wasn’t poison oak or cannabis. Perhaps the leaf distracted the boy so that he wasn’t keeping up with the mother’s desired pace.

Undoubtedly, the child was in awe. The enormous leaf monopolized his attention. At least for this moment, it was his. He could twist it around in his little hands and marvel at its immensity and beauty. Maybe he was dreaming up what he might do with the leaf or what he could fashion it into. Perhaps he wondered what kind of tree could produce such a leaf and how big the tree could grow.

Live like Louie

As children, our natural instincts include awe, curiosity, imagination, and connection to nature. Too often, those instincts eventually get beaten out of us to a large degree. Many of us spend too much of our lives indoors, busy, distracted, and moving at a fast pace.

I admire Louie. He reminded me to be childlike, embracing traits that are vital to thoughtful living: awe, curiosity, imagination, and connection to nature. Let’s join Louie by getting outside more, slowing our pace, and finding things that render us awestruck and make our imaginations run wild.

Let’s hold on to that leaf.

We’ve all done it. We’ve inspired a facepalm with a thinking malfunction. But there are ways to minimize facepalms (and worse). Follow these tips to keep your brain out of autopilot, and you’ll see improvement in every area of life. Because thinking is kinda important.

THINKING TIP 1

Make the effort. Arguably, the number one reason why people skip the thinking step is because they don’t want to take the time to slow down and deliberately think … before speaking, before acting, before solving a problem, before making a decision.

Don’t let your brain be a couch potato. Making the effort now will save you from grief later. If you stop to think, you might decide not to buy that velvet painting of Dennis Rodman because you realize that you wouldn’t have money left over for a Maui vacation.

“Our minds are lazier than our bodies.”
— François de La Rochefoucauld —

THINKING TIP 2

Check your biases. Is your prejudice against clowns the reason why you blame them every time you can’t find your keys? There’s a possibility that you left them in the pocket of your seersucker jacket. Also, just because you love Betty White — I will break this to you gently — it doesn’t mean that she’s right about absolutely everything.

“A great many people think they are thinking
when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”
— William James —

THINKING TIP 3

Remember your paradigms. If you’re a middle-aged neo-Druid male from Bavaria, realize that you see the world through that lens and that other people don’t. Try to think outside of your box. You’ll better understand the issues, others, and yourself.

“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.”
— Anais Nin —

THINKING TIP 4

Realize what you’re doing instead of thinking, and make the switch. Here are a few common substitutes for thinking:

  • Reactions • Snapping turtles are capable of these. You’re not a snapping turtle.
  • Emotions • Emotions are swell, but they should be chaperoned by thoughts, and vice versa.
  • Assumptions • Fill in the blanks with facts, not assumptions. If facts are not available, consider probabilities and possibilities, but be cautious about drawing conclusions. This is especially important when it’s about people.

“Assumptions are unopened windows that foolish birds fly into,
and their broken bodies are evidence gathered too late.”
— Bryan Davis —

THINKING TIP 5

Develop the skill of accurately identifying a statement as a fact, an error, a thesis, a belief, or an opinion. You’ll get way off course if you think that fortune cookies are Chinese or that the Bible teaches eternal suffering in hell. You’ll be frustrated if you demand proof for matters of faith. You’ll be considered obnoxious if you assert that your opinion about the Norwegian curling team’s trousers is correct.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to
entertain a thought without accepting it.”
— Aristotle —

Each time you practice one of these thinking skills, it’s easier to do it the next time, and it eventually becomes natural. You’ll increasingly see how thinking and thoughtfulness can help keep you out of trouble, increase your influence, maximize your success, and make more people like you. I kid you not, because thinking affects absolutely everything.

“The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.”
— Marcus Aurelius —

When it was announced that President Trump had COVID-19, some people responded with glee. Some even hoped that he would die.

In my last post, I wrote about people on Facebook responding to tragic news stories by clicking on the laugh reaction emoji under the headline. Many people were laughing that a marriage is over, that relationships are strained, that a man is struggling with addiction, that people are sick, and that people are dying. Laughing.

When it comes to the pleasure and ill-wishes regarding President Trump’s illness, some people offer what they consider to be justification for their attitudes:

  • Trump deserves it because he didn’t take COVID-19 seriously and take necessary precautions.
  • Trump deserves it because his policies cause other people to suffer and die.

Let’s give them the complete benefit of the doubt and assume that their “justifications” are valid. Would it then be appropriate for them to take pleasure in Trump’s illness and even hope that he dies?

To answer that question, let me offer a contrast.

“I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies, says the Lord God.”
Ezekiel 18:32

The death of anyone? Even a person who causes his own death because of his recklessness? Even a person who is responsible for the deaths of others? Are you telling me that God didn’t smile — even a little bit — when Hitler died?

“As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why will you die?”
Ezekiel 33:11

Not only does God find no pleasure in death, He pleads with us to choose life instead. This is in particular reference to the second death. The first death is the end of a lifetime on earth. The second death is a future event — after resurrection — that we typically refer to as hell (see Revelation 2:11; 20:6,14; 21:8).

The second death is a natural consequence for those who choose to disconnect from the source of life. The second death is for those who rebel against God — against goodness, light, and life. Do they deserve death? Would their death be justified? When all is revealed, I believe that we will find the answer to be yes. Still, God will have no pleasure.

That is the spirit that we desperately need. We each need a heart that sorrows when others are hurting, a heart that seeks to bless rather than curse, a heart so full of love that there is no room for hate. We need the heart of God.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
Matthew 5:43-44

Not long ago, #InsteadOfThoughtsAndPrayers was trending on Twitter. I’d like to offer an alternative: #InAdditionToThoughtsAndPrayers. Sure, it would max out my tweet character limit, but it would send a message.

With all the suffering and tragedy in the world, thoughts and prayers are indeed not enough, so I get why many people are frustrated by the sentiment. Thoughts and prayers are not enough, but they’re still good.

#1 • We can think and pray immediately.

We don’t even have to get out of bed to think and pray. The very second we learn of a tragedy, we can turn our mind toward those who are suffering and we can call on God to do His thing. Caveat: If the tragedy is a fire breaking out in your neighbor’s house, think and pray after you call 911 and while you hightail it over there to help as you can. I’m not suggesting that you should be a psycho.

#2 • Thinking and praying are the best way to start.

As a thinking advocate, I argue that we always must start there. The better the quality of our thoughts, the better the quality of our words and actions that follow. If we merely react out of emotion or guilt or good intentions, we probably won’t maximize our helpfulness.

As someone who constantly benefits from prayer, I highly recommend it in all situations. Tragedies are bigger than we are, and I find it incredibly comforting to have God as a companion to get through them. If God and prayer aren’t your thing, that’s okay; but please be respectful of those who find strength and hope in them.

A new trend

What do you think of #InAdditionToThoughtsAndPrayers? Shall we get this thing trending?

Sunlight becomes
momentary diamonds
on the water.

I love the challenge of haiku. Reading it and writing it. Haiku in English, that is. I’m as equipped to write authentic Japanese haiku as I am to write actuarial valuation reports. I don’t even know what I just said. Still, English haiku has its demands that make it a beautiful process and product.

SYLLABLES • That sensational syllabic structure that made haiku famous! Three lines of up to 17 syllables (typically 10 to 14). If this is the only demand you make on your haiku, you’re missing out.

SEASON • The kigo takes the poem to another level. A kigo is a season word. It’s meant to refer — subtly — to a season of the year. The majority of kigo are drawn from the natural world.

CUT • Ready for the next level of challenge and beauty and Japanese vocabulary? The third element of haiku is a cut (kire) — indicated by a real or a verbal punctuation mark — to compare two images or ideas implicitly. The essence of haiku is ‘cutting’ (kiru). Sometimes this is done by juxtaposing two images or ideas with a kireji (‘cutting word’) between them.

A handful of syllables. A subtle reference to season. A juxtaposition of images or ideas.

One of the many aspects of haiku that I love is that it’s simple. It doesn’t try to do and be everything. It typically captures a fleeting moment in time. Haiku shuns excess like a hermit shuns Walmart on Saturdays.

“The haiku that reveals seventy to eighty percent of its subject is good. Those that reveal fifty to sixty percent, we never tire of.” (Matsuo Bashō)

I love haiku for what it doesn’t do. It doesn’t tell; it shows. It doesn’t explain; it suggests. It doesn’t expose; it hints.

Almost endless blue
cut in two
by shifting white sails

Feeling inundated with information about COVID-19? Before that, perhaps it was the impeachment or Brexit or The Bachelor finale. How do you know what bits of information are true? Here are a few ways to get closer to the truth about anything:

1

Consult multiple reliable sources. See where the consensus lies. Consensus is not always an indicator of truth, but it usually lines up with other evidence.

2

Follow the evidence. Just like a detective, follow leads. See where the weight of evidence lies.

3

Use common sense. If it doesn’t sound right, there’s probably a reason for that. Don’t just automatically accept or reject information; think it through for yourself.

4

Be comfortable with uncertainty. In the absence of proof, file the information under “possible” or “likely” or “unlikely”.

5

Desire the truth. If you have a bias for what you want to believe rather than for the truth, you’re in trouble. A sincere desire for the truth — whatever it is — is the best way to find the truth.

Especially with information that affects our health and lives, it’s important to sort truth from error. In these days when we’re all being careful with where we go and what we touch, let’s remember also to be careful with information.

Did you watch Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood when you were a kid? I watched it a bit, but now I wished I had watched it more.

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I say that, now that I know more about Fred Rogers. We watched the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? at a meetup with The Thinkery. We all were impressed by the loving tenderness and dogged determination of this man who ministered to millions of children throughout his life.

The film included several interviews with Mr. Rogers. In one interview very early in his career, he pointed out that he didn’t wear a silly hat as many child entertainers did. As I watched footage from his program in which he used hand puppets, I noticed that he didn’t even try not to move his lips when he spoke for the puppets (I don’t remember noticing that as a child). It struck me that, when he pointed to the tapes containing many years’ worth of episodes, he didn’t refer to them as shows; he called them visits. Often he dealt head-on with harsh realities of the day, such as the episode in which the cast discussed assassination in the wake of the killing of Bobby Kennedy.

What does this all add up to? Mr. Rogers didn’t aim to entertain children; he aimed to relate to them. He didn’t just love children; he also respected them. He didn’t talk down to them. He looked them in the eye. And they looked in his.

Won't you be my neighbor? Mr. Rogers


I loved the clip in which Mr. Rogers used a hand puppet to talk with a little boy about something fairly difficult and personal. Even though Mr. Rogers used his puppet voice and made the toy’s mouth move along with the words, the boy looked straight into Mr. Rogers’s eyes throughout the conversation. The puppet made it easier for the boy to open up, but it was Mr. Rogers with whom the boy was connecting. The boy knew it was this man who cared.

Millions of other children knew the same. That goes for Mr. Rogers’s family, his friends, and his coworkers, as well. Mr. Rogers truly loved everyone he considered to be his neighbor.

I aim to cultivate not just thinking but thoughtfulness — consideration for others. I encourage you to see the film. Think about what you see. Think about what you can learn from this amazing man. Above all — just like Mr. Rogers — think about others.

There are three ways to ultimate success:
The first way is to be kind.
The second way is to be kind.
The third way is to be kind.

— Fred Rogers —

I get asked all the time (not really) about the right way to prepare tea. The main thing is to steep it according to directions. Do not (I implore you) add anything to it or (even worse) drink it while it’s steeping, and (for crying out loud) remove the leaves from the water when the time is up.

Stay tuned for upcoming episodes, when I will discuss the difference between a kettle and a pot, whether the milk should be added before or after pouring from the pot, and the correct pronunciation of scone.

really-funny-memes-none-of-my-business-kermit-the-frog-meme-kermit-meme-no-tea-bag

Their jaws dropped. They stared at me with eyes wide open. Just like the time I told them that there will be sex in heaven.

It was not unusual for us to have brain-bending and mind-blowing moments our meetups with The Thinkery. This time, though, an audible, synchronous gasp filled the air outside the coffee house, where a few of us gathered after we closed down the place and resisted bringing the conversation to an end. What caused the gasp? I asserted that jealousy is love.

Earlier in the discussion, someone mentioned that he was burdened by jealousy. Indeed, jealousy is widely regarded as a negative trait, one that implies a flaw ranging anywhere from insecurity to psychotic possessiveness. (Often, it’s used to express envy, another negative trait.) Yet, the Bible names jealousy as an attribute of a perfect God.

IS GOD INSECURE OR PSYCHOTICALLY POSSESSIVE?

Shortly after I blurted out that jealousy is love, we had to wrap up the conversation. We planned to pick up where we left off the next week. I went home and gleefully researched the etymology of jealous. ‘Cause I’m a word nerd.

You shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. (Exodus 34:14)

The Hebrew word that is translated into English as jealous is qanna’, which means “not bearing any rival”. That’s not surprising, but it doesn’t tell us anything about the motivation. There’s still room for insecurity and psychosis.

THE GREEKS DON’T JUST MAKE GOOD YOGURT

Now let’s look at the English word jealous. It is derived from the Greek word zēlos. Does that look or sound familiar to you? The English word zealous also is derived from zēlos. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Zealous means “having great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective”. Add that to “not bearing any rival”, and we’re forming a clearer picture of what it means to be jealous.

Most of the words that became distinctive terms for jealousy
were originally used in a good sense of zeal and emulation.”

The Greek word zēlos denotes a positive quality. The two English words that derived from it — jealous and zealous — originally denoted a positive quality. Zealous has retained it, but jealous went off the rails somewhere on the way to the 21st century. (The same thing happened to customer service and dinnertime.)

What did jealous mean when it was written in the Bible? The Greek word zēlos, which is used in the New Testament, literally means “heat” and figuratively means “zeal, ardor in embracing, pursuing, and defending something”. Here are a couple of texts in which zēlos is used, although it has been translated into different words in English, depending on the version.

I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband — Christ. But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent. (2 Corinthians 11:2-3)

This was written by the apostle Paul in a letter to Christians in Corinth. This helps us understand that jealousy is God’s desire for undivided devotion. He knows that, if we turn our hearts elsewhere, He’s lost us. He doesn’t want to lose us, because He loves us. Paul reminds readers that Eve’s devotion to God was undermined by the deception of the devil. That’s how we all got into this mess, dang it.

THE WAGES OF SYNTAX

Notice the syntax in Paul’s writing. God isn’t jealous of us; He’s jealous for us. I can be envious of someone — wanting for myself something that belongs to him. I can be jealous for someone — wanting him not to belong to anyone else because that would mean that I’ve lost him. That’s how God feels about us. Because He loves us.

If we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26-27)

Pardon my Shakespearean English, but I like the word choice in the King James Version. Here, zēlos is translated as indignation, which is anger provoked by injustice. This adds to our understanding of jealousy. God is so zealous for the relationship, He will wipe out any enemies of the relationship.

Who are the adversaries? The passage from Paul above tells us who’s who in the big picture. There are three parties: the husband, the bride, and the deceiver:

  • The husband is God.
  • The bride is originally Eve and ultimately all people who love God.
  • The deceiver is the devil and anyone who conspires with him to turn people’s hearts away from God.

The good news? The adversary who is devoured is not the bride. (This is not a horror movie.) The adversary is the one who strives to turn people’s hearts away from God. He’s an enemy of God. He’s an enemy of God’s friends. The Bible describes him this way: “Your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” In the end, he is the one who is devoured by our jealous God.

ONE BRIDE FOR SEVEN BROTHERS? GOOD LUCK WITH THAT

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24)

A person can love multiple friends, no problem. A person can love multiple children, no problem. But when a bride tries to love multiple husbands, a plethora of problems ensues. Everyone gets hurt. It’s not the same kind of love we have for friends and children and siblings and third cousins. Romantic love is singular by nature. The Bible tells us so, and it uses that kind of love as a metaphor for the love between God and people.

No, I’m not one of those people who call Jesus their boyfriend; that’s an odd notion. But I agree with the Greek philosophers who believed that romantic love contributes to an understanding of spiritual truth. This kind of love is the context in which jealousy belongs. It’s the kind of love that jealousy serves and protects.

JEALOUSY IS A GIFT

That’s why I say that jealousy is love. It’s not a burden; it’s a gift. I’m deeply grateful that God loves me and cherishes our relationship so much that He will take out anyone who interferes. That’s not to say that He won’t let me walk away if I choose. Everyone has that choice, always.

But, if we walk away, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and the whole of the Bible tell us why such a choice is made: We’ve been lied to by someone who seeks to destroy our relationship with God, and we’ve fallen for the lie — that God can’t be trusted, that He doesn’t really love us.

One day the the liar and the lie will be devoured. No more deception. No more damage. Just mutual love and loyalty.

I’ll understand if you think I’m wacky or just wrong. I know that my views hang on faith and a particular interpretation of the Bible. You may see things differently, and that’s okay. But, if you ever thought that God must be insecure or psycho because He’s jealous, I hope I can help you see something you never saw before. Maybe faith isn’t your thing, but can I interest you in etymology?

He had a daughter called Gigi.

George Floyd had a daughter called Gigi. She is six years old. He also had a son named Quincy, a brother named Philonese, a cousin named Tera, and an uncle named Selwyn. He and Courteney were engaged to be married. George was a Texan, like me. A star on his high school football team, he later started a basketball ministry in his neighborhood. He was humble, cheerful, and likeable. He was forgiving.

David Dorn was protecting a friend’s store when he was shot and killed amidst looting in St. Louis yesterday. Retired from the police force after more than 38 years, David had a wife named Ann Marie, a son named Brian as well as four more children and 10 grandchildren. He mentored youth and helped a young man out of a life of poverty and into a life as a police officer. He was fun, well liked, and respected. He was forgiving.

When we get to know someone …
We see that they aren’t simply a statistic. They are not just a name. They are more than a face. They transcend a demographic. Their life is more than a single incident.

When we get to know someone …
We realize that they are a human being. They have family, friends, a personality, opinions, beliefs, talents, and dreams. They care about certain things. They have a past. They deserve a future.

When we get to know someone …
We begin to care. We are concerned with them. We feel connected to them. We celebrate their joys. We mourn their losses. We grieve when they are gone.

I didn’t know George or David, and chances are that you didn’t either. Somehow, though, getting to know them just this little bit seems to help. It helps us transcend the barrage of news and social media — rising above the crossfire of vitriol and cold data to a plane of deeper reality. It allows us to elude the greed and hypocrisy of opportunists and find real, good people. Getting to know George and David just this little bit helps us regard humanity and, in doing so, find our own.

“George Floyd is not just a name, not just a meme, and not just something to be chanted. George Floyd was a real person.”

Justin Miller