Twenty-One Pilots and Your Soul

Being a millennial can be rough.

I don’t typically care about labels, as I find them restrictive, but categories of things clearly matter and being a millennial does predict certain traits.

It’s a generation of people whose jobs have been gutted by stupid trade deals.1

Most of them were raised with self-esteem centered parenting styles that can leave somebody crippled by even slight criticism.2

The majority of them were raised during the time when the public school system was facing it’s most colossal crises of content, teaching style, classroom sizes, and stupid advice to graduates.

The baby boomer generation has a tendency to make fun of millennial types for still living with mom and dad, but if the only jobs in an area are in the service industry or if those jobs are entry level internships with little to no pay, somebody can’t just move away and take them.

On the other hand, millennials can demonstrate above average narcissism and anxiety (one must ask though, do they simply have more outlets available for the normal human desire for honor and appreciation?).
Millennials also have, it seems, made some of the stupidest decisions regarding student loan debt of any generation. But, they go to college as kids after having been told that: any degree is better than no degree and that student loan debt is “good debt.” While the racket is obvious to adults, millennials hear these stupid messages in in high school.
Spiritually, millennials have grown up in the generation of parental outsourcing. Over the years working with college and high school students I’ve surveyed hundreds of millennials. Very few of them who identify as Christians read the Bible, prayed, or discussed discipleship to Christ with their parents.

Now, why do I care about all of this?

It’s actually just a clever segue for introducing you to a song:

In the song, the main character has had his car radio stolen and he’s forced to sit in silence:

I ponder of something terrifying
Cause this time there’s no sound to hide behind

I find over the course of our human existence
One thing consists of consistence
And it’s that we’re all battling fear

Oh dear, I don’t know if we know why we’re here
Oh my,
 too deep – please stop thinking
I liked it better when my car had sound

There are things we can do
But from the things that work there are only two
And from the two that we choose to do
Peace will win
And fear will lose

There’s faith and there’s sleep
We need to pick one please because
Faith is to be awake
And to be awake is for us to think
And for us to think is to be alive

And I will try with every rhyme
To come across like I am dying
To let you know you need to try to think

In ancient times, some Christians found the need to simply sit in silence in order to overcome the temptations of being within a society dominated by evil ideas, destructive images, and worst of all their own words leading people into evil. Henri Nouwen wrote very eloquently of modern man’s experience of silence and 21 Pilots’ song reminded me of this paragraph:

“In solitude I get rid of my scaffolding: no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no books to distract, just me-naked vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived, broken-nothing. It is this nothingness that I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in my wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something. But that is not all. As soon as I decide to stay in my solitude, confusing ideas, disturbing images, wild fantasies, and weird associations jump about in my mind like monkeys in a banana tree. Anger and greed begin to show their ugly faces. I give long hostile speeches to my enemies and dream lustful dreams in which I am wealthy, influential, and very attractive- or poor, ugly, and in need of immediate consolation. Thus I try again to run from the dark abyss of my nothingness and restore my false self in all its vainglory.”3

Now, the horrors described by Nouwen are the inheritance of all the sons of Adam who, like their father, have chosen to go astray from God. And most of us love the darkness of being distracted because our deeds are evil and exposed by the light, whether or God or simply of a silent moment wherein our consciousness can absorb the quieted cries of our hoarse and weakened consciences.

If I were to give a challenge to millennials, I would tell them to spend more time in silence and solitude. Many don’t know themselves or even know that they have a soul. We cannot repent if we do not know what’s wrong with us. And we cannot, in my mind, love our enemies if we do not know how thoroughly we’ve been the enemy of our own happiness.

Conclusion

If millennials would spend some time in silence, perhaps they would know that one’s response to circumstances does not have to be a spirit of defeat. And indeed, for Christians there is a Spirit of love, power, and self-control. But one has to see the wreckage of their own soul in order to submit to it’s reformation.

There is a distinctly Christian response to living with an existential dread that your deeds don’t matter and that the wrungness in your soul is unique to yourself. It’s to get to know this person that you’ve become and to recognize that the God before whom every quark and quasar is displayed knows you even better and still loves you. Even further, it’s to think about genuine solutions to the problems you face. The purposes in our hearts are deep. Nevertheless the wise man, and I would add, the wisdom of solitude can help us draw them out. Once you know your habits of thought and feeling when undistracted, it’s a lot easier to change them.

References

1This book made me rethink almost everything I think about trade. I highly recommend it:
Ian Fletcher, Edward Luttwak, and United States Business and Industrial Council, Free Trade Doesn’t Work: What Should Replace It and Why (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Business and Industry Council, 2010).

2Carol S Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (New York: Random House, 2006).

3Henri J. M Nouwen, The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry, 1981, 17-18

What are people like? What I learned from Copywriting

Since I teach rhetoric, I’m always looking for ways to give my students an edge and this leads me down all sorts of great rabbit trails: books on hypnotism, psychology, watching speeches by famous politicians, ancient rhetorical manuals, books on family systems communication, and even books on marketing.

Today I started Victor Schwab’s classic, How to Write a Good Advertisement.

He wrote it in the 1940s and one of his main points is that you have to advertise to the people who will be buying your product, not to the person you are, that you wish you were, or that you wish everybody was. He gave this list of what he thought was an alarming trend in the United States in the 40s. He thought people were leaning toward:

Success— instead of— Integrity
Spending— instead of— Saving
Restlessness— instead of— Rest
Self-Indulgence— instead of— Self-Discipline
Desire for the New or Novel— instead of— Affection for the Old and Tried
Show— instead of— Solidity
Dependence— instead of— Self-Reliance
Gregariousness— instead of— Solitude
Luxury— instead of— Simplicity
Ostentation— instead of— Restraint
Easy Generosity— instead of— Wise Giving
Quick Impressions— instead of— Careful Thought[1]

If he’s right, and he is. And if things are worse today, and they are. Then what does this mean for evangelists and pastors?

When Paul evangelized Felix, this happened:

Acts 24:24-26  After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus.  (25)  And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.”  (26)  At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him.

 

Now, Paul’s method is summarized by Luke here and we discover that this went on some two years. But I do wonder, when we share the gospel and we start by talking about self-control or right/wrong and the people to whom we speak do not even comprehend these concepts, where must we start?

 

 

 

 

[1] Schwab, Victor (1942) How To Write A Good Advertisement: A Short Course In Copywriting (Kindle Locations 1206-1216). Pickle Partners Publishing. Kindle Edition.

 

Hell or Why I am a Christian: Pathos 1

My first emotional reason for being a Christian is the one that is often treated as the least worthy reason to care about Jesus. It’s the doctrine of hell.

The doctrine of hell, some experience of post-mortem divine punishment for misdeeds in the present life is rejected by many intellectually and by even more practically. In fact, many people seem to reject the notion of God precisely because they find the doctrine of any sort of hell unconscionable. I’m not writing this to defend the notion of hell. Remember, this is in my emotional reasons section for why I’m a Christian. But think of it this way, instead of rejecting the notion of God because hell is a terrifying notion, consider the possibility that it is real. Whatever it is: eternal destruction, eternal torture, fire, darkness, hanging out with all the losers and jerk you hate and who hate you for eternity, etc, it can’t be pleasant. On top is hell clearly being terrible, versions of it have been believed by billions of people. Now, billions can be wrong and often are, but our instincts have a tendency to point us in the right direction if we consider them at the bar of reason.
The possibility of a post-mortem punishment for immoral behavior worth checking out. Here’s why I care about hell. In real life, my normal motivation for doing the right thing is usually ease in the moment. My life is set up so that moral behavior requires little effort. I’m not sure how good of a person I would be if times got tough. But nevertheless my desire for ease does cause me to consider the possibility of hell with concern. If misdeeds are punished, then that conflicts with my desire for ease. Because of the possibility of hell there are three things I can think of to do just in case (these are not contradictory):

  1. Seek forgiveness from whoever invented or cares about my morality.
  2. Be as excellent of a person as I can (not just outwardly, but learning to desire goodness inwardly).
  3. See if some religion seems true and adhere to it.

Why I am a Christian

A few months ago I reevaluated this question from the angle of rhetorical appeal.

I did this because as I’ve grown older I’ve had two somewhat opposite experiences:

  1. I’ve studied logic much more carefully.
  2. I’ve learned that, in general, while people are rational (their behavior has rationale), they are not reasonable. We do not operate solely on the basis of dispassionate reason.

These two facts made it seem prudent to think through my commitment to Christ using the three modes of appeal: pathos, logos, and ethos.

  1. Pathos
    1. Hell
    2. Tribalism
    3. Cosmic Story
    4. Social Life
    5. Happiness
  2. Ethos
    1. The moral credibility of Jesus
    2. The moral credibility of Christianity’s best
    3. The power of Western Civilization
  3. Logos
    1. Why I think God exists
    2. Why I think Jesus was raised

I’ll write a series of short posts explaining each of these. They aren’t meant to be comprehensive. In a way they can’t be. I’m too long winded to be interesting if I tried to be. Secondly, I have a blog, I’m not a scholar or an author. So don’t expect anything here to be particularly novel or great. But hopefully, if you’re a Christian with doubts or a non-Christian with questions, this will help you toward Jesus.

Wisdom Wednesday: The Master of Destruction and Deep Work

Proverbs 18:9 Even he who is slack in his employment is a brother of a master of destruction. (Author’s Translation)

I can’t tell if I translated the passage above based solely on a desire to be literal or because “master of destruction” simply sounds better than the less literal, “him who destroys (ESV).”

Anyhow, the book of Proverbs, at its heart is about the good life. And central to the good life in the Bible is work. Many people see work as a punishment, but this is not so. Work is the task of humanity from the beginning (take dominion…tend the garden, etc).

Today we are apt to face distractions. These distractions can keep us from fulfillment in terms of skill level, relationship quality, spiritual growth, and employment.

The proverb above reminds me of Cal Newport’s concept, of deep work, which is work “for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction.”

To work in a fashion designed to produce the most efficient and highest quality results leads to the good life.

Now, let’s look at the rest of the proverb at hand. One who is slack (by doing less than required) is cheating those to whom the work is owed. You may as well destroy their property. On the other hand, one who does not do their best, while meeting the expectations of the job should still feel the force of this proverb. Why? Because while not being literally like the one who destroys as in the previous case, such a person is still missing out on their potential for blessedness (Proverbs 3:13), which is the lot of those who destroy rather than create and tend.

So, find a way to do deep work, or be the brother of the master of destruction.

 

Happiness Project: 30 Days to Happiness

Gretchen Rubin wrote two books about happiness, Happier at Home and The Happiness Project. My wife and I read them. We weren’t big fans of the style and I was less a fan of her definition of happiness which, as far as I could tell, meant, “positive emotions.” She doesn’t define it as pleasure, she’s not a hedonist, but in my mind any definition of happiness that leaves out virtue is incomplete.

The concept in the books is that she takes month long periods to work on her happiness with respect to different aspects of her life: money, energy, body, relationships, love, etc. The books are worth reading or at least perusing for this reason.

The concept of chunking your life in order to marathon certain projects and to spend 30 days building specific habits that will be easy to maintain before moving on to the next thing is simply brilliant.

Of course, such things can be very frustrating. For instance, my wife and I decided to spend a month devoted to fixing nagging problems around our rent house, buying useful items to help us enjoy the space more, and gaining certain habits: check outside daily for damage (windy city) and garbage (trashy neighborhood), sweep more regularly, and water plants (despite high humidity, summers easily soar above 100 and the ground dries out). The amount of things that break right after I fix other things, tools that are broken out of the box from stores, and hardware stores with precisely the things I’m looking for being sold out is simply astounding.

While these two books weren’t favorites, the concept in them and reading her implementation is worth purchasing at least one of the books to help her out. And most people get way more out of the books than I did (in terms of small tips and pleasure reading), but I’m not sure I know anybody who has tried month long stretches of thematic happiness enhancing activity.

Theology Tuesday: The Soul

 

I had never read anything by John Ortberg until now. I picked up his book “Soul Keeping,” simply because I found it for next to nothing and knew that he had been friends with Dallas Willard. The book, as far as I’ve gotten anyhow, ranges in quality. He has a kind of mega-church pastor style of telling anecdotes and give lots of examples. For instance, in the beginning he spends several pages explaining how frequently the word soul is used in English.

But as the book goes on, he explains many important things about the human soul and this often happens, to my delight, in the form of anecdotes about Dallas Willard. Here is one such place:

When I think of that pastor and this businessman, I recall Jesus’ memorable words about the soul: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” I have always thought this verse meant that in the long run it won’t do you any good to acquire a lot of money and have a lot of sex and other sensual pleasures if you end up going to hell.

When I mentioned that to Dallas, he gently corrected me: “That is not what Jesus is saying. Jesus is not talking here about people going to hell.”

He explained that Jesus is talking about a diagnosis, not a destination. If we think of hell as a torture chamber and heaven as a pleasure factory, we will never understand Jesus’ point. For the ruined soul — that is, where the will and the mind and the body are disintegrated, disconnected from God, and living at odds with the way God made life in the universe to run — acquiring the whole world could not even produce satisfaction, let alone meaning and goodness.

To lose my soul means I no longer have a healthy center that organizes and guides my life. I am a car without a steering wheel. It doesn’t matter how fast I can go, because I am a crash waiting to happen.[1]

At first glance it appears that Willard’s interpretation of the parable in question is mistaken. But in the context of the gospels, namely, the parable of the sower, it is possible for a person through distraction and lack of focus to reject God and reality so totally that their life (belief in the gospel) is choked out. Having a lost soul is the reason that the man’s death is so tragic. His lostness lead him to live without reference to his inevitable death or God himself. This state, according to Willard, is a state of having no satisfaction, perhaps living like man in Ecclesiastes who finds no pleasure in wisdom, folly, life, riches, or even death.

It’s sad to think that we can lose our souls so thoroughly that we’re insensible to the peril in which we live.

References

[1] Ortberg, John (2014-04-22). Soul Keeping: Caring For the Most Important Part of You (pp. 44-45). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

 

Music Monday: Beneath the Dawn

I don’t know what the clips are, but this was the only youtube upload of this song. It’s Beneath the Dawn by Brave Saint Saturn. It’s a great song to meditate upon as we approach fathers’ day.