Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Good Life

Written by: on April 3, 2023

In week 11 of our blog posts, Kim shared with us a thought “God made the brain so we shouldn’t be surprised that neuroscience and theology can overlap.”[1] The reading from this week in Your Brain at Work[2] offered me another chapter in this area of discovery.

David Rock develops an analogy of our minds operating as a stage, where only so many actors can effectively hold a place in our attention, with the spotlight only being able to focus on one player at a time. He also relies heavily on the concept of a “director,” who … “can watch the show that is your life, make decisions about how your brain will respond, and even sometimes alter the script.”[3]

To better deploy this director, Rock recommends the practice of mindfulness, which, if I understand correctly, is the practice of finding something in the present on which to anchor our thoughts. Rock is not alone in his opinion of mindfulness. A quick search in the New York Times informs me that mindfulness can help me in my dieting, in my consumption of the news, in my holiday shopping… the list goes on.

To be really good at using our director, Rock suggests we “practice activating your director while you are eating, walking, talking, doing just about anything”[4]

This last portion made my brain hyperlink to verses that give us some idea of how God wants us to think about his instructions:

“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Duteronomy 6:4-8.

Recently, I also started reading Scott McKnight’s The Jesus Creed[5] I learned from this that this passage is a creed of Judiasm. Referred to as the Shema, it was and is taught to Jewish children as something to recite daily. Something to help the faithful stay focused on the center stage.

A second hyperlink my brain made when reading Rock was to another book I have been reading: James KA Smith’s You Are What You Love.[6] In his work, he draws a parallel between where our brains focus, and our understanding of “The Good Life.” In other words, I will orient my thoughts around what I think will directly or indirectly impact my ability to get what I want. Following up with Rock’s idea of the director, then: my director will make decisions on who I let on stage and where I focus my spotlight based on what I think will satisfy my goals. Smith makes a compelling case that we are all in love with something, and our attentions are in service to those loves. [7]

Smith goes on to talk about the impact of our surroundings on where we place our attention, and by extension, our love. “We need to become aware of our immersions. ‘This is water’ and you’ve been swimming in it your whole life. We need to recognize that our imaginations and longings are not impervious to our environments and only informed by our (supposedly ‘critical’) thinking., To the contrary, our loves and imaginations are conscripted by all sorts of liturgies that are loaded with a vision of the good life. To be immersed in those ‘secular’ liturgies is to be habituated to long for what they promise.”[8]

I don’t usually read the acknowledgements of a book very carefully, but those at the end of Your Brain at Work jumped out to me. Rock thanks his wife, the collaborators on the book and adds “a final big, warm, hearty thanks to my brain’s own director, without which I wouldn’t have completed even the first page of this book.”[9] I guess this director is kind of a big deal. And he should be. An effective director orders what is happening on stage. They help the actors be more effective at what they want to convey. They offer an outsider view to us to add perspective to the play that is being acted out.[10] If Smith is correct (and I think he is), then the director character is directing where we place our love; what we worship.

To pull this together:

  • We learn from Rock that we have a neurological limit to how much we can focus on at once, and we have a director who will determine (prioritize) where we focus
  • In our Judeo-Christian heritage, we have a pattern of spiritual practice that also reinforces where we should place our attention
  • Where we focus is reflective of what we love.

Important Questions for Applying Rock’s Work:

  • In the acknowledgement section of your book, who would you thank for being your director? How would that message read?
  • What is the value we can capture today from the ancient practice of the Shema? Is this another instance of what Kim referred to as a place where “neuroscience and theology can overlap?”
  • What is the water we are swimming in that is shaping who gets center stage in our minds?


[1] https://blogs.georgefox.edu/dlgp/the-pursuit-of-happiness/#comments

[2] David Rock, “Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long” (New York, NY: Harper Business, 2009).

[3] Rock, 87.

[4] Rock, 97.

[5] Scot McKnight, “The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others” (Paraclete Press, 2004).

[6] James K. A. Smith, “You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit” (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2016).

[7] Smith goes on to refer to our thoughts and actions as acts of worship. He reviews that these acts of worship are often not toward God but to the objects of our desire. I especially appreciate his encouragement to do the “slow thinking” to take stock of these desires, moving them from our subconscious to our conscious.

[8] Smith, “You Are What You Love,” 38.

[9] Rock, 248.

[10] Rock, 97.

About the Author

Jennifer Vernam

7 responses to “The Good Life”

  1. mm Russell Chun says:

    Respond, not react.

    These words were spoken into my life late last year.

    I have a S1 reaction to most things (mostly being wrong) rather than a S2 response. It was suggested that like a first responder, who comes upon a situation to help and heal, that my first impulse to react to a situation is not useful or helpful.

    Respond plus two seconds.

    I think that is when my director kicks in. In those two seconds if I choose to respond (rather than react) …If I can consciously ask HIM to be a that director, then aligning my will with HIS may well bear more fruit than reacting on my own.

    Thanks Jennifer…I learn a lot from your posts…Shalom Russ

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      I think I am on the same page as you are, Russell… I will utterly fail if I try to take on being my own director. For example, if I am directing, Chocolate cake will take center stage every time! (Maybe a bit of an overstatement… maybe not)

  2. Travis Vaughn says:

    Jen, you referenced James KA Smith’s work (I STILL need to read Smith!) and said that he “makes a compelling case that we are all in love with something, and our attentions are in service to those loves.” That statement, and your summary statement at the end (“Where we focus is reflective of what we love”) makes me think of Tim Keller’s little book, Counterfeit gods, written about 13 or so years ago. Have you read that book? If so, I wonder how it compares to Smith’s? I also thought of Martin Luther’s commentary on the First Commandment in the book of Concord. You should read that — very similar to Keller’s work and is a similar motif with what you’ve included here from Smith’s work.

    You asked “What is the value we can capture today from the ancient practice of the Shema? Is this another instance of what Kim referred to as a place where “neuroscience and theology can overlap?” Such a great question. Something that my wife and I did a little bit — and wish that we could have / would have done even more — was to include a catechism in our children’s formative years. We didn’t do that until later, but if I had to do that over again, we would have started much earlier. Great post, Jen.

  3. Scott Dickie says:

    Jennifer…as I read your post, and specifically your last question, I thought about the impact and growing popularity among evangelicals of some kind of ‘rule of life’ (essentially, practices throughout the day that help frame our day and focus our attention). With all of us ‘swimming’ in the pool of over-stimulation, constant information, innumerable distractions, pressure to produce….I wonder if some specific spiritual activities throughout the day will become increasingly important for Christians to maintain the primary story we are meant to inhabit and live into?

  4. Esther Edwards says:

    Hi, Jen,
    I was impacted by your correlation of the director directing where we place our love and worship. I just purchased Smith’s book and have already gleaned quite a bit by paging through it.
    The Bible does have much to say on what we need to think about and meditate on and why.
    Mindfulness has become trendy in many ways and we all certainly need a reawakening to healthy brain practices, but it always amazes me how the Bible has been saying these things all along except with God in the center of the equation. Thank you for drawing attention to this connection. I needed the reminder.

  5. Jennifer, I love the way you write. I have an easy question for you. This week, who and when can you thank for being your director?

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