DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Mysterious Beings: Beyond the binary of logic and intuition

Written by: on March 15, 2018

We are a mystery. A beautiful, complicated mystery. Sociologists, psychologists, economists, marketing analysts, politicians, biologists, educators—all seek to understand, interpret, and respond to the nature of humans.[1] And yet, we quickly come to a place where a person or group responds “irrationally” or out of character from what we would expect. Journalist and commentator David Brooks, in his book, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement,[2] suggests that our culture’s focus on the rational, conscious mind of individuals misses the reality that most decisions occur unconsciously in our emotions and our internal desire to bond with other people. He begins, “If the outer mind hungers for status, money, and applause, the inner mind hungers for harmony and connection—those moments when self-consciousness fades away and a person is lost in a challenge, a cause, the love of another or the love of God.”[3] In other words, his thesis, told as a fictional narrative, “emphasizes the role of the inner mind—the unconscious realm of emotions, intuitions, biases, longings, genetic predispositions, character traits, and social norms. This is the realm where character is formed and street smarts grow.”[4]

We are shaped—and we shape—by our relationships with others and the world around us. And while our responses to the world may seem deliberate and logical, a deeper response happens in our gut, where we long for connection and harmony. Our very identities are changed/transformed by our relationships with others.[5] Brooks writes, “The desire for limerence [the pleasure gained from harmony] is at its most profound during those transcendent moments when people feel themselves fused with nature and with God, when the soul lifts up and a feeling of oneness with the universe pervades their being.”[6]

Brooks’ text provides much to absorb or chew on, including:

The unconscious mind wants stories[7]

We like arcs; beginnings, middles, ends; model making to explain what’s going on. I thought about this, and how much the stories of Harold and Erica, Rob and Julia, captured my attention and drew me into their (very ordinary, though middle/upper middle class) lives. I thought about how a narrative-style of preaching resonates more with me than expository preaching. And I thought about how authors like Wendell Berry, Madeline L’Engle, Frederick Buechner, and others, have crossed non-fiction and fiction genres to communicate their ideas, and how it is their stories more than their essays, that stay in my memory. We want examples, the more specific the better. This might be why Bobby Braddock’s country music songs resonate with so many Americans, because they tell detailed stories, “where emotion is not something to be endured; it’s something to be embraced:”[8]

Kept some letters by his bed

Dated nineteen sixty-two

He had underlined in red

Every single “I love you”

I went to see him just today

Oh, but I didn’t see no tears

All dressed up to go away

First time I’d seen him smile in years—He Stopped Loving her Today[9]

 

Can we trust ourselves?

We (at least I) have been taught not to trust our emotions; they are not reliable. As Brooks points out, “research pointed out ways our unconscious processes lead us to deviate from the economic model of perfectly rational man.”[10] Our emotions and feelings delude us to reality. Which also fits well with the model of the rational (thinking) man and the irrational (emotional) woman model. And yet. Rather than defining a human in these binary terms, we can recognize that God created us much more rounded than one-dimensional. Rather than pitting intuition versus logic, Brooks recognizes that “we need both systems to thrive—the conscious and unconscious, the rational and the emotional.”[11]

We are not as strong as we think we are

Following with themes I’ve observed from the past two weeks, Brooks’ narrative and reflections bring us back to humility. He writes, “One of the constant implications of this research is that we have to be completely modest about what we know or can know. We don’t even know ourselves, let alone other people…. We have a constant tendency to be overconfident.”[12] The “hubris of experts” is a danger, especially for those of us who truly are “experts” in something (say, a doctor of ministry). While we’ve done the research, studied, written, and experienced, we risk overstepping our self-assurance to a point where we might be wrong, or even convey that delightful knowledge in a way that turns people off. (Here is a dark side of expert knowledge). Brooks challenges, “the most important thing is to develop an attitude of epistemological humility, an awareness of how little you are likely to know and how little you will understand the things you do know. Much of life is about failure, whether we acknowledge it or not.”[13]

What’s missing?

While I enjoyed/appreciated the story told by Brooks, and the thesis he built with it, I also missed something in the telling: tradition. It was amusing to follow the entire life cycle of a few people perpetually in present time. But the reality is that we build on the past, on others who came before us, and on the repeated motions of doing what’s been done before (and after) us. We did not get to explore “how traditions preserve the non-rational forms of wisdom that underwrite family meals, relational loyalty, care for the next generation, love for the old, and skilled and vocational practice.”[14] This absence of social tradition misses out on the relational depth of the Trinity and the richness of a true “social animal.”

[1] See Brooks’ TED Talk, “For centuries we’ve inherited a view of human nature based on the notion that we’re divided selves, that reason is separated from the emotions, and that society progresses to the extant that reason can suppress the passions. And it’s led to a view of human nature that we’re rational individuals that respond in straightforward ways to incentives.”

[2] David Brooks, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (New York: Random House, 2011).

[3] Ibid., ix.

[4] Ibid., viii.

[5] Ibid., 14.

[6] Ibid., 209.

[7] Ibid., 378.

[8] Malcom Gladwell, “The King of TearsRevisionist History podcast, season 2, episode 6, July 19, 2017.

[9] “Why did he finally turn his back on his great love? Because he’s dead. Only death could end his love” for his wife who’d died years before.

[10] Brooks, 379.

[11] Ibid., 380.

[12] Ibid, 381.

[13] Ibid., 382.

[14] Glasman, Maurice. “How to be a Better Person.” New Statesman 140, no. 5057 (Jun 13, 2011): 61-62

 

About the Author

mm

Katy Drage Lines

In God’s good Kingdom, some minister like trees, long-standing, rooted in a community. They embody words of Wendell Berry, “stay years if you would know the genius of the place.” Others, however, are called to go. Katy is one of those pilgrims. A global nomad, Katy grew up as a fifth generation Colorado native, attended college & seminary and was ordained in Tennessee, married a guy from Pennsylvania, ministered for ten years in Kenya, worked as a children’s pastor in a small church in Kentucky, and served college students in a university library in Orange County, California. She recently moved to the heart of America, Indianapolis, and has joined the Englewood Christian Church community, serving with them as Pastor of Spiritual Formation. She & her husband Kip, have two delightful boys, a college junior and high school junior.

8 responses to “Mysterious Beings: Beyond the binary of logic and intuition”

  1. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Katy, this was a good point: “Following with themes I’ve observed from the past two weeks, Brooks’ narrative and reflections bring us back to humility.” I didn’t see this until you pointed it out. Very true though as I mentally review the book. It’s humbling when you consider much of your life to be about failure. I also find it relieving. As a high achiever, I don’t have to expect myself to achieve more than I fail. Enjoyable post, thank you.

  2. Mary says:

    The story-telling aspect of the book was interesting, even if a little contrived. I agree with you that his device of keeping each section of life in the 21st century did leave out tradition. We are also products of tradition.
    Your point, “We are not as strong as we think we are” fits in well with the last few books we have read.
    I am curious, Katy, you are such a deep thinker, how do you pull in your emotional piece when you are introspective? Do you recommend meditation or centering prayer?
    Really enjoyed your post as always!

    • mm Katy Drage Lines says:

      You ask such a good question of me, Mary. “how do you pull in your emotional piece when you are introspective? Do you recommend meditation or centering prayer?”
      I wish I were better disciplined at meditation or centering prayer! As a One on the Enneagram, I am active and doing; I need to be better at stopping and being still.

      So pulling in my emotional piece– I’ve found myself cultivating that through poetry and music, both my own and others. Music & poems stay with me, in my gut, and move me. And I don’t know if it’s surprising or not, but tears actually come very easily for me (too easily, sometimes). I’ve tried to lean into those moments. As Frederick Buechner says, “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They’re not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you’ve come from and is summoning you to where, if you’re soul is to be saved, you should go next.”

  3. Lynda Gittens says:

    ” Much of life is about failure, whether we acknowledge it or not”

    I would say to this, that there are a number of people with negative view of life. People react to failure differently. I believe we must be cognant as to how we raise our children and not to always tell them about what they do wrong and never praise them for what they do right.
    Same as a leader, we must balance our feedback and guidance to those we supervise and our flock.

  4. Stu Cocanougher says:

    I think that your comment on “tradition” is a very good point. As much as I enjoyed the stories of Harold and Erica, these characters where not fully developed. While there heritage and upbringings were noted. Harold’s “silver spoon” childhood and Erica’s Latino-Asian inner city upbringing certainly could have been more deeply explored.

  5. Jim Sabella says:

    Katy, I think you make an important point here about the Gospel and the understanding of truth in general. “We like arcs; beginnings, middles, ends; model making to explain what’s going on.” There was a time in the not so distant past that “good” preaching was only expository. Chip mentioned this in one of his posts. I have seen a decided change when I visit churches. As a guest speaker, I am often asked “not to preach, but to tell stories” as if preaching cannot be “story.” The story model seems to be more acceptable now than it was in the past. It might be because people don’t like boring preaching—who does! But it also might be that the complete story, arcs and all, is that which speaks to the heart and the head. Enjoyed your post.

  6. Katy,
    Great post and insight as usual. You pulled out Brooks point about humility – and I really liked it: One of the constant implications of this research is that we have to be completely modest about what we know or can know. We don’t even know ourselves, let alone other people…. We have a constant tendency to be overconfident.”
    How much pain – leadership or otherwise – would be avoided with a more accurate understanding of ourselves and what we are capable of?

  7. Kristin Hamilton says:

    “Rather than defining a human in these binary terms, we can recognize that God created us much more rounded than one-dimensional.” This is what I appreciate about Brooks’ book and your post – we are made up of so much more than we give ourselves credit for or permission to experience! Yet, somehow we (even as Christians) also have the arrogance to assume an understanding of not only the human experience in total, but creation. We have lost the imagination that comes with community. I see pockets of the church beginning to say, “What if?” and it gives me hope.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *