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

Sometimes a Rosebush is Just a Rosebush

Written by: on November 4, 2019

Thinking is a complex process.  How we get from A to B says a lot about the ways our minds work.  As was mentioned in Stuart Sim and Borin Van Loon’s book, Introducing Critical Theory, “How we arrive at value judgments, and, indeed, whether we can arrive at value judgments, are now at least as important considerations as what the actual value judgments themselves are.”[1]  But the process of coming to conclusions on values can be daunting; it is a complex process of the consolidation of reason, experience, emotions, social factors, etc.  So how do we cut to the marrow of the complexities and learn to think?

This is where the concept of mental maps comes in use.  Shane Parrish, in his book The Great Mental Models, delves into the idea of a map as a metaphor for mental models.  Maps can provide a frame of reference, but one must realize that maps are a reduction of the complexities of geography, national and international boundary lines, locations, and even the distribution of people.  In the same way, mental models must be taken into the same consideration.  Parrish writes, “Still, in using maps, abstractions, and models, we must always be wise to their limitations.  They are by definition, reductions of something far more complex.”[2]

At the same time, there is a need to cut through complexity to understand the core of a problem.  As humans, we are fantastic at complicating the simplest of ideas.  I remember in high school when we were discussing The Scarlet Letter, there was a moment when we were discussing the significance of a rosebush.  At this point, I can’t remember the details of that discussion, but what stood out among all the complex discourse on that bush was this statement: “Sometimes a rosebush is just a rosebush.”  Since then, that has become a personal mantra that I use when ideas get too complicated.

What is the crux of an issue?  How do you explain a concept in a way that is accessible to people who have little to no background knowledge on a subject?  In my undergrad program, one of my professors told us that if you can boil a theological concept down to the point where you can explain it to a child, it means you have mastered that concept.  Again, it’s a reduction, but when people understand the basic notion of the idea, then it can be unpacked in more detail later.

Last week, I talked about Drizzt Do’Urden from R.A. Salvatore’s The Legend of Drizzt series.  Since then, I’ve finished what’s been written of the series so far, and have some new insights onto the issue of his worldview.  To summarize the previous outline, Drizzt’s worldview and belief in the goddess he follows was challenged when his own morals did not align with a decree from the goddess.  After being tasked to kill the Demogorgon, Drizzt accomplishes this and returns to his home where his view of reality is challenged.

However, Drizzt’s grip on reality is shaken as he succumbs to an Abyssal Illness due to the weakened barrier between the Abyssal Plane and the Material Plane.  This is also a result of Demogorgon’s corrupting influence.  This sickness causes Drizzt to think that everything he had been through for essentially the entire book series was a lie.  He recalls how a demon captured one of his friends and tortured him for decades.  Drizzt believes that his reality has become this: That the rebirth of his dead friends never happened, that it’s all a figment of a demon’s influence.

We may not fall prey to thinking that our reality is the concoction of a demon, but how many times do we overcomplicate various situations in our life?

I know that I have a tendency to get stuck in my head and overanalyze conflicts at times.  There have been countless times when I have agonized over the wording of a text message trying to decipher some hidden meaning.  There have been countless times when I have overanalyzed the way people act around me trying to find some hidden motive behind their actions.  The mind is notorious for concocting narratives and seeking validation of those narratives.

We gravitate toward complexity because we can’t handle the simple truths around us.  I think there’s a part of us that seeks complexity as a padding or a coping mechanism to the conflicts that surround us.  We get caught up in the moment and it’s only much later when we look back, we realize just how ridiculous our actions were and now we’re stuck with the consequences of those actions.

But there’s a beauty in simplicity.  Twists and turns in the narrative are great, but the stories that stick with us are the ones that carry an element of simplicity.  Lord of the Rings, for example, is amazingly complex when one digs deep into the lore of Middle Earth, but as a plot it’s very straightforward: A Hobbit seeks to destroy the One Ring with a group of companions.  Simple?  Yes.  Powerful?  Most definitely.

Simplicity sticks with us.  Simplicity speaks to us. 

What I find amazing is when complex concepts I read in textbooks or more academic sources pop up in simplified forms in fiction.  The complex concepts may be in the back of my mind, but it takes on a new meaning and becomes graspable when it’s found in its simplified form.  I like diving into complex ideas as much as the next person; these are normally some of the most life giving conversations I have.  However, at the very end, I notice that these conversations are boiled down to a very simple statement.

It’s in those moments that I recognize the seemingly complex nature of the rosebush…and that it was simply a rosebush.


[1] Stuart Sim and Borin van Loon, Introducing Critical Theory, (London: Icon Books, 2012), loc 103.

[2] Shane Parrish, The Great Mental Models, (Ottawa: Latticework Publishing Inc., 2019), loc 529

About the Author


Dylan Branson

Small town Kentuckian living and learning in the big city of Hong Kong.

16 responses to “Sometimes a Rosebush is Just a Rosebush”

  1. mm Joe Castillo says:

    Simplicity is not a very common word. Often our society is overwhelmed by disorder, the accumulation of things, or gossip about others. The spaces are usually getting smaller and our needs getting bigger.

    Sometimes living in Simplicity is synonymous with austerity or deficiency. Adopting Simplicity as one of our values ​​implies fighting against the current of consumerism that strikes society. Living in Simplicity, far from what it may seem, is incredibly difficult to achieve, but once it is within you, it changes your life forever.

    Someone said that Simplicity is a philosophy of life. A lifestyle can be temporary. It cand be dictated by a fashion, age, or stage of life.

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      You’re right. Simplicity is countercultural to mainstream society. Though it’s interesting to see a push TOWARD simplicity in a lot of ways, whether it’s the movement to getting rid of clutter, the move toward tiny homes, etc. Though I guess the irony is the push toward simplicity comes with complications as you make that switch.

      What I find interesting is how here in Hong Kong, space is so precious (you literally have some people living in 100 sq. ft apartments with families of four sometimes). But Hong Kong is also so consumeristic where people are looking for the next big thing. If anything, the dream in Hong Kong is to upsize, as it becomes a sign of prosperity. I wonder what it would look like to cut the complexities of consumerism in a city like Hong Kong and push toward simplicity. Or what it would look like for the church to model such a change.

  2. Nancy Blackman says:

    I remember this statement from Occam’s Razor, “Instead of wasting your time trying to disprove complex scenarios, you can make decisions more confidently by basing them on the explanation that has the fewest moving parts” (Location 1686).

    When I was in art school we lived off of a mantra, which I have also heard Jason mention in a similar format. Our mantra was KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). Being simple can be so powerful.

    I love how Parish also included snippets of reality that helps make these tools easier for us to reach for. Parish also noted within Occam’s Razor that sometimes a rosebush is not a rosebush. What do you do then? How would you or do you handle those situations?

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      I think it’s also that reality that no one mental model directly affects/is relevant for every situation. What I try to do is cut to the center of the issue and work my way out from there. You have the core center with these different threads leading out of it, so you can follow those threads as far as they can go once you know the core issue.

      But even then, I think it’s also important to be following those cords with different voices or in community. I try to check with other people about whether I’m on the right track when it comes to these threads I follow. Because you’re right: Sometimes a rosebush ISN’T a rosebush. Learning how to discern that is something that’s done in community through experience and wisdom.

  3. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    As one who appreciates simplicity, I find the complexities of systems and constructs to be overwhelming. When the options get to be too much, I just shut down. I appreciate dhow you mentioned that our bent toward complexity is a coping mechanism to our inability to receive the simple. I think of the love of God. We say we believe God loves us. There are songs and felt board stories that communicate God’s love to us in the simplest of ways, yet we still heap theological construct upon theological construct to justify why God loves us, and then we add behavioral modification models upon those to move us closer to God’s intended design for us. Is it even possible to live simplistically on the grid of society or within Christian culture? It makes me think of the desert mothers and fathers and their intentional movement into the wilderness to rest in the simplicity of God’s Presence. How can we reclaim that amidst the hustle and bustle of our extremely complicated world?

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      Have you read The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher? It’s an interesting book that draws on a lot of Eastern Orthodox practices and how to implement that into the daily Christian life. It hits a lot on the idea of alternative communities within society that, in a sense, act as monasteries amidst the busyness of culture. I think the key to living simplistically is doing so in community. By yourself, I think it may be near impossible. But with other people, I think you would have a greatest chance of success.

  4. mm John McLarty says:

    I struggle with simplicity. Sometimes because the topic feels too easy- like a cop-out or the path of least resistance. Other times because it feels too hard- like I can’t make sense of out a subject no matter how hard I try. My wife loves the Hallmark Christmas movies because they are so simple. She relaxes because the plot is straightforward and the characters are shallow. I hate them for the same reasons. But I think I’m in the minority. For the general public, it certain seems like simple is better. So how do we embrace a mindset of simplicity without selling out thoughtfulness, nuance, and complexity?

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      Maybe that’s the paradox of it all. From simplicity comes the ability to greater appreciate complexity. The process itself of getting to a state of simplicity is wrought with thoughtfulness, nuance, and complexity as you untangle all of the excess. Once you’re at the the simple core, I think you can begin to follow it to the different points of view that stem from it.

  5. mm Steve Wingate says:

    You wrote, “I know that I have a tendency to get stuck in my head and overanalyze conflicts at times.” I appreciate your revealing something that I’d bet we all suffer with; at least the stories in our heads that sometimes seem to sabotage progress.

    Those in the neighborhood I serve have seemed to become numb by the conflicts and lost hope. Their analysis is how much food can I get from the food bank or how soon will the ems get here- but many times it’s 2- 4 times a week. We need to help others think and that takes a long time, most of the time.

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      Changing the narrative is so important. When I first started volunteering in Hong Kong, the first thing they told us in training was that Hong Kong has this narrative: “Study as hard as you can in school so that you can go to university. If you go to university, you’ll get a good job. If you get a good job, you’ll make a lot of money. If you have a lot of money, you’ll have power, and power equals happiness.”

      The reality of Hong Kong is that the system is broken and it ultimately perpetuates a cycle that’s near impossible to break out of. Part of our mission is to speak hope into the hopeless and let them know that there IS something beyond the present moment.

  6. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    Dylan, out of excitement and fervor, I find it pretty normal for people to fall in love with a mental model and apply it to everything. Design Thinking has followed that trend. It originated in the architecture field, then went to marketing, then problem solving, and now personal growth “Design your life.” Helping know the limits of a model are equally as important. To use your words, we must leave room for a rosebush to simply be a rosebush.

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      Definitely. Every model has limitations and part of thinking well is knowing when to apply which model in the best way. Not every model fits in every situation; just like the imagery of a toolbox. Was reading a book this morning where the author was using the illustration of using a golf club as a hammer. Will it work? Sure. Is the golf club made for it? No, and you may damage the golf club doing so.

  7. mm Jer Swigart says:

    I appreciate your sentiment that simplicity is graspable. I agree with you and, thus, wonder if this doesn’t point to its superiority over complexity. In some ways, I see this principle embodied with the onset of Twitter: if it can’t be said in 140 characters, perhaps you’re not ready to talk about it.

    I wonder how you would interact with this idea: the more one has (resources, power, privilege) the more prone he/she is to over-complexifying. The less one has (resources, power, privilege) the less prone he/she is to over-complexifying.

    Is there a correlation between access to “more” and adding complexity to life or is adding complexity simply an expression of human nature?

  8. mm Dylan Branson says:

    Jer, my gut reaction is to say, “Yes and no.” I think when we have more, it can lead to more complexity because there’s literally more to work with. When we have less, we keep it simple because, again, there’s literally less to work with.

    However, I think at the same time you can also see a drive to accumulate more when you have less and a drive to simplify when you have more (probably less so than the former). As I talk to my colleagues, one of the driving forces to them is to get more because more equates to power in their minds. I think of the driving force behind the “American Dream” and how people come to the US a lot of times with nothing in an attempt to make something of themselves. One of my colleagues (who is a Greek-Canadian) was sharing with me not too long ago how her family left Greece after financial ruin and immigrated to Canada to start over. It was there that they started a successful natural healing business that deals in herbs and other natural medication.

    And then there’s the paradox of once you’ve made it, you often wish for the “simpler days.” Simplicity is something we don’t value until we realize just how hard complexity can be.

    Perhaps having access to more promotes an avenue into complexity, or that we don’t realize that more often leads to complexity. At the end of the day, I would say that the push toward simplicity is something that runs counter to what we’ve been taught, even if it isn’t explicitly stated as “complexity.”

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