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Every Mind Matters: What are you feeding yours?

Bet you can’t eat just one! Remember that slogan from the Lays Potato Chips advertising campaign? They knew that if they could just get us to try one, we’d find the rest of the bag hard to resist. These days, satisfying our cravings has gotten more complicated; we feed not only on a steady diet of processed foods but also consume a constant stream of print and online media. Those producing it know that once we click, we’ll find the rest of what they have to offer hard to resist.

While most of us know that too many chips are bad for our waistline, most of us don’t know the risk to our minds when subjected to so much media. That’s because brain science is a newly emerging field. Just twenty years ago our text books taught that the structure of the brain never changed. “Alcohol kills brain cells,” I used to admonish the college students I taught, “and you won’t get them back.”

IMG_0479Now, thanks to new techniques available to study the brain, we know the textbooks and I had it wrong. The brain is actually a highly ‘plastic’ structure; it is changing all the time in response to the stimuli in its environment. Our brains actually create new pathways when we explore new things and establish preferred routes for things we think about the most. As remarkable as it sounds, our brains are constantly being sculpted by how we use them.

No wonder scripture advises us: whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8) Perhaps Descartes in proclaiming, “I think, therefore I am,” was more right than he knew. Of course, the God who designed us knew it all along.

So, as the apostle Paul writes to the believers in Rome,

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. ~ Romans 12:1-2

encouraging us to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, we don’t just set our minds aside. That’s where the renewal happens! Especially during this season of Lent, as we draw closer to our God by His invitation, we ask, how can I offer my body and mind in ways that are holy and pleasing to You? In doing this, we make ourselves fully available to His sculpting hands and shaping will.

What a joy to discover that we are designed with renewal in mind. Setting our minds on the things of Christ will help us test and approve what God’s will is for us. That doesn’t mean that the world isn’t going on out there. It simply means that what’s going on in us and in front of us – where we can have the most impact — will get accomplished by our efforts, in accordance with the will of God. Thy Kingdom Come.

What if, instead of consuming the news, we set our sights on making it? Surely, that would be a sacrifice both holy and pleasing to God.

Consider fasting from all online and print media today and, instead, make your own news. Then share it with your friends, family, neighbors or community.

Author’s note: This writing appears in the 2018 version of the Lenten Devotional booklet published and distributed by the Church of the Good Shepherd, United Methodist, in Vienna, Virginia.


Praying in pencil

I make my prayer list in pencil.

Oh, I have my regular categories: family, friends, my vocational pursuits, the world, my enemies. Those are all written in pen. They’re there to stay. But what’s in the categories, that is the things I am praying for or about, the people I hold onto tightly and hoist high, the folks for whom I am so grateful, those are all written in pencil. Because they change.

The objectives of my prayers are changing all the time. I write them in pencil because I expect them to change, the circumstance to be resolved, an answer to become clear. And then I erase them.

Don’t get me wrong. Plenty of things have been on that list for some time. And plenty keep popping up there – especially in my “enemies” category. That’s actually, where I started the pencil thing. I resisted writing those things, those people, those inconvenient aggravations, in pen. So I, in my great wisdom and power, wrote them in pencil …so I could erase them if they talked back or got too confrontational.

But today I realize this practice has spilled out into the rest of the list. This penciling in. This temporary nature. Not because I am afraid of what I’m writing or can’t face it, but so I can replace it with the next thing. My prayer list is a revolving page of the conversation God and I are having. My eraser is my thank you.

Today I erased Justin, a friend’s 43 year old nephew, because miraculously he has pulled through a critical time when things looked very grim. I don’t know what the future holds for Justin. Actually, I have never even met him. But I penciled him in for a time and then erased him into the rest of what God has in store.

Writing things down is a funny thing. Some people don’t do it, especially the tough stuff, because it seems more real when we put it in print. I, on the other hand, write boldly in pencil – or, a bit more cautiously by cursor on a computer screen. Both are temporary. But the penciled one, I hold privately; the erasures are the only evidence a conversation ever took place. The other, this screen, is public, and I may be deceiving myself to think it’s nature is temporary. Because perhaps someone reads it or shares it and then who knows where it goes or what it becomes?

I think God’s okay with that. From the beginning He was One to share what He spoke. And people, perhaps even people something like me, wrote it down. Word processors, nah. I don’t think they even had pencils. I’m glad. What if someone had erased it?

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