Google+ Followers

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

For Tuesday of Holy Week

For Tuesday of Holy Week from our congregational devotion, Devoted.

Tuesday, March 31

Lowell Hennigs
Tuesday in Holy Week
Read Isaiah 49:1-7

HEADING FOR HIGHER GROUND
One of the rules of transformative mediation is this.  When we can’t find common ground, we move to higher ground.  This means that sometimes we can’t find a place where our competing interests might coincide.  When that happens, we need to move to the plane of shared values in order to resolve our differences and come to an agreement.

When I work with divorcing parents, we always try to focus on the best interests of the children.  The parents may not be able to compromise if their framework is self-interest.  But when we seek the higher ground of what’s best for the children, agreements come much more readily.

In this second Servant Song, God raises the sights of the Servant.  Mere survival after the Babylonian exile isn’t nearly enough.  A focus on mere survival for God’s people will be little more than a living death.  God has far bigger plans for them.

It is too light a thing,” God says.  It is too small, too insignificant, not nearly big enough a thing for God’s people to focus on personal survival.  Instead, they are to seek much higher ground.  This remnant from the exile will be a light to nations—the Gentiles.  God’s goal is that peace and justice, life and hope will reach every place on earth.

So there is a word here for the church.  It is too light a thing for us to focus on mere survival.  That will be living death for congregations and for the church.  We are the ones who follow the Light of the World.  We are the ones called to let our light shine before others.  We are called to live on the highest ground—the good news of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Where is the higher ground in your life?  Where is the higher ground for our congregation and our Church?

Let’s pray.  Lead us, Lord, to the higher ground where we can do the heavy lifting of your love.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.


For Monday of Holy Week

From our congregational devotions, Devoted.

Monday, March 30

Lowell Hennigs
Monday in Holy Week
Read Isaiah 42:1-9

Being God’s Friends
Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) once wrote, “If this is how God treats his friends, it’s no wonder he has so few of them!”  In the first half of Holy Week, we can read from the Songs of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 40-55.  The prophet describes one who will save by suffering, who will win by losing, who will live by dying.

It is not surprising that Jesus takes these songs to describe his vocation and his destiny.  The God whose heart is love, whose nature is compassion and whose way is peace—that God would come apart at the seams if God tried to save the world through violence and coercion.  So the path of suffering service is the only way.

This Suffering Servant is the one in whom God’s soul delights.  We can hear echoes of Jesus’ baptism at this point.  “You are my beloved Son,” God says to Jesus, “in whom I am well-pleased.”  Lovely words, but God has a funny way of showing it.  From that moment, Jesus is pitched into a battle with sin, death and evil.  That battle takes Jesus to a violent death.

If this is how God treats God’s friends…

And yet, this is the nature of love.  There can be no other way.  As C. S. Lewis reminds us in The Four Loves, to love is to be vulnerable, to be “wound-able.”  To love is to risk having your heart broken, over and over.  And the only way to avoid that risk is to shut your heart up in a loveless casket.

To live without loving is to be dead before you know it.

So this is precisely how God must treat God’s friends.  We are partners now in that task of saving the world through loving self-giving.  We dare not do violence in the name of Jesus, for it we do we contradict our call.  Instead, we suffer the price of loving.


Let’s pray.  Thank you, God, for your willingness to suffer our pain and heal our sin.  Use us to love the world you love.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

When Loss Gets Out of Control

Most plane crashes are the result of "cascading failures." A cascading failure is an accumulation of small errors and breakdowns that result in a catastrophic event. The instructions for an airport procedure are not written in the first language of the ground personnel. A door is improperly latched. Some cargo is not quite secured as it should be. A plane is required to take some evasive action because of a momentary lapse in attention. Shift! Bang! Boom! Crash!

So far, the investigations of the Germanwings crash have not revealed any possible mechanical or structural issues that led to the disaster. Nonetheless, this catastrophe may also have been caused by a cascading failure. The copilot at the controls of the Germanwings flight is reported, by anonymous sources, to have been suffering from depression and personal losses. We may learn the truth of this, or we may not. But we know that losses accumulate and can overwhelm the resources of even the most resilient person.

Losses accumulate. It is hard enough to lose a relationship through a breakup or a death. But life has a way of adding to such a loss. Perhaps a job change follows. Or I move into a different house. And my relationships with friends, family, neighbors and co-workers change. My standard of living may suffer. My hopes and dreams for the future no longer apply. Each of those losses--and the multiple little losses in any given day--pile one on top of another. 

Our losses don't merely add up. The more losses we experience, the greater is our sensitivity to the next actual or potential loss. So there's a real sense in which our losses are non-linear. There comes a point where the line of the graph becomes a curve. And then there is the point where that curve seems to go straight up to infinity. In my personal experience, that is the moment where taking one's life can seem like the most reasonable thing to do.

That non-linear character means that our sensitivity to loss increases with each loss we experience. And the sensitivity itself increases more each time. This is the "compound interest" effect of accumulating losses. After the loss of a loved one, we may worry about losing other relationships as well. The likelihood of that happening is as low as it was a year ago or a decade ago. But my sensitivity to the possibility--my anxiety that others will leave me somehow--becomes horrifically magnified. In the midst of consecutive losses, I will do almost anything to avoid the risk of another loss.

So what can we do in the face of emotional cascade failures? We need to spread out the load we bear. This is the wisdom, limited as it is, of making few changes in one's life after a major loss. At least that reduces the potential for additional losses and spreads out the impact of current losses over a greater time. So we may become more careful about how we invest ourselves in new relationships. 

The downside of that approach is that it has no sensitivity to potential gains. Loss experiences make us loss-focused. But a few gains can reduce that sensitivity if we can muster up the courage to take some low-level risks after loss. 

That being said, we can also spread out the load we bear by sharing that load with others. In times of loss, the presence of accepting friends and family can be critical to survival. This is another way to keep the loss sensitivity graph from going vertical.

We can be aware of our native abilities to absorb loss and move on afterwards. We come with varying degrees of natural resiliency, and it's good to be aware of just how much we can actually take. I found that I was more resilient than I thought. I learned to push through pain to a greater degree. I learned that our loss sensitivity can often decrease fairly quickly if we're just patient with ourselves. And for those who struggle with resiliency, it may be important to have a ready support system on stand-by for those times when the graph threatens to reach to infinity.

I have no idea if any of this was true for the Germanwings copilot. We are best served to wait for real information and to resist the pseudo-information of anonymous sources. But it is an opportunity to reflect on how we respond to major personal losses and how we might build greater capacity for healthy responses to our personal catastrophes.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Please Don't Protect My Christian Liberty

Today Indiana governor Mike Pence signed into law "The Religious Freedom Restoration Act." That law permits individuals or corporations to use religious beliefs as a defense in suits charging discrimination. In particular this defense can be used to underwrite discriminatory actions against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons. A more complete report is available today on the Huffington Post site. 

First, I find this action morally reprehensible and legally indefensible. But there's more!

I find the whole idea of legally defending religious freedom to be puzzling from a Christian perspective. On the one hand, the New Testament witness is clear that we ought not to make life more difficult for our neighbors in order merely to defend our own interests. For example, Paul writes to the Christians in Philippi: "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others" (Philippians 2:3-4).

Paul is addressing a conflict within the Christian church at Philippi. There is, however, no reason to believe that Paul would wish this social and ethical strategy to be limited to Christian coreligionists. I understand that such a self-effacing strategy is offensive to many people. But, as they say, I don't write it. I just report it.

Paul offers similar instructions to the Christians at Rome. Even if we were to think that our position is superior to that of our neighbors, that does not give us license to impose our positions on others. "We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor" (Romans 15:1-2). I find no permission here for any efforts to defend our religious liberty at the expense of others' interests.

In fact, we ought to expect that our "liberties" will often be tested. "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you," we can read in First Peter, "as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed" (1 Peter 4:12-13). I am grateful to live under a system that seeks to protect the rights of minorities. I follow a Master, however, who does not approve of privileging my rights as a Jesus-follower over those of others.

So I don't want this sort of help.

In fact, when the political system makes life difficult for Christians, Jesus advocates neither a political nor a judicial solution. Instead, he commands creative and compassionate resistance. He calls us to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, love the enemy and pray for those who persecute us. I need no statutory protection for such activities.

And I am uncomfortable having secular authorities describe the nature of my freedom as a Christian. In his treatise, On Christian Liberty, Martin Luther famously writes, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all.”  I am most free when I serve others, not when I am protected from others. I am most in bondage when I serve my own interests. Luther continues as he writes, "trust not in any who exalt you, but in those who humiliate you..." I don't want the law used to put me in positions of power over others at the others' expense.

That is a genuine violation of my Christian liberty. So, thanks for the thought, Governor Pence, but that kind of help I don't need or want.

Lutheran Theory Blindness

Blinded by theory--it is a common condition among all serious thinkers. Thomas Kuhn described it a length in his 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. He demonstrated our tendency to be paralyzed by our paradigms. On the one hand, we see what we expect to see. Jerome Bruner and Leo Postman demonstrated this with such elegance in their "Red Spades" experiments as reported in their 1949 paper entitled "On the Perception of Incongruity: A Paradigm." If we expect to see something, we will have great difficulty seeing anything else.

This is not a matter of conscious stubbornness or the marvelous and nearly infinite human capacity to be obtuse. It is a matter of our perceptual wiring. Our biases are built in at the neurological level. We overcome our blind spots only with great effort. Our tendency toward blind spots is increased by our need to focus on a limited set of information. 

Most of us are familiar, for example, with the "Invisible Gorilla" experiment and accompanying book. It's great fun to return to that experiment periodically and see what new surprises the researchers have added. Once we see the incongruous feature in the video, we can't un-see it. However, that does not prepare us at all for the next unexpected addition. We see what we expect. We process a limited amount of information at a time.

Our theories equip us to see what the theory predicts. When we are challenged to see more, we struggle. And sometimes we simply don't see.

Another feature of theory blindness is the "ubiquitous hammer" problem. If the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything is a nail. Conversely, if driving a nail is the identified problem, then every tool becomes a hammer. So the theories of life we find most familiar and comfortable will be applied to any and every situation, and the solutions will be deformed to fit the theory.

That's how I experience much of orthodox Lutheran theology. The problem is human guilt produced by sin. That problem results in pride as expressed in works righteousness. The solution is to confess our helpless unworthiness and to give thanks that all we have is through God's grace in Jesus, the Messiah. For many in the Lutheran tribe, this ubiquitous theological hammer drives every existential nail.

So our Lutheran toolbox seems remarkably out of touch with many of the existential issues people face. The problem for most is not guilt but rather shame. That's not a problem of what I do. It's a problem with who I am. It is no wonder that the work, for example, of Brene Brown resonates with people far more these days than the Small Catechism. 

Coupled with our shame struggles is the search for meaning and purpose. If our theological hammer focuses on works righteousness, then we can't figure this one out. Our desire to make a difference in the world will be framed as an exercise in prideful accomplishment. Lutheran orthodoxy struggles terribly to make out a positive case for works of love. But people today want their church to make a difference in the world, not just to salve their troubled consciences.

And theory blindness, as Daniel Kahneman points out, makes it "extraordinarily difficult to notice its flaws" (Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 276). Much of our Lutheran orthodox theory is rooted in the Doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement, as proposed by St. Anselm. Luther himself much preferred a "victory" model of the atonement rather than a "victim" model. Aulen's Christus Victor remains the best description of the case.

But theory blindness ties many Lutherans to the "victim" model of Jesus' cross and resurrection. This model relies on guilt as motivation and scapegoating as the solution. I believe this perspective underlies the current flight of many Christians of good heart and conscience from churches that cannot see past their own theories.

It is time to add something besides a hammer to our Lutheran toolboxes. How about a servant's towel?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Radical and Relative Disappointment

Ömer Taşpınar has written a penetrating article for the Huffington Post entitled "You Can't Understand Why People Join ISIS Without Understanding Relative Deprivation." Taspinar is, according the Post, professor of National Security Strategy at the U.S. National War College and a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. You can find the article at: 

The article details the impact of "relative" deprivation on those whom join organizations such as Al Qaeda and ISIS. He acknowledges the impact of ideological, political and theological rationales. But he points further to the reality of heightened hopes and dashed expectations on the part of those who join such organizations. 

Their involvement is not a product of "absolute" deprivation. That is, those who become radicalized are not from populations who are the poorest and least powerful. Instead, their deprivation is real in comparison with the access to resources and power experienced by other groups. Aspiring young people in the Middle East, for example, see that Europeans and Americans with similar education and other advantages attain far higher levels of affluence and influence.

It is by comparison that the potential radicals suffer. This is what Taspinar calls "relative deprivation."

We can see that value is best established by comparison. We humans are comparison engines. We have great difficulty establishing and experiencing "absolute" value. We are not typically moved by stories of absolute deprivation. We are more likely to be motivated by stories that compare how little one person has in comparison to how much another person has. You can see the comparison engine at work in any effort to raise money, for example, for homeless children. Look at how much you have, the appeal will say. Compare that to how little this child has. What are you going to do?

Most of us will reach for our checkbooks.

When we put relative deprivation alongside heightened expectations, we can have an explosive combination. Humans are rarely more irrational and aggressive than when they see themselves as the aggrieved and offended party. We can compare rewards and be disappointed that others have gotten a better deal than we have. But if we compare inputs--education, hard work, intelligence, risk-taking--and discover that we have still come off worse than others who generated the same inputs, then we will be fighting mad.

Taspinar notes that realities of global information have made the problem far worse. We have immediate access to huge batches of data for comparison and disappointment. Young people in the Middle East, for example, can compare themselves to European counterparts and develop a powerful grievance story. When the grievance story becomes strong enough, the bereaved will protest, sometimes violently.

So what is to be done? We could try to cut off the information base for comparison. But that is no longer possible. We could seek to assist the relatively deprived to learn how to be content with what they have. But that is foolish and unjust. If we wish to reduce the number and intensity of such future conflicts, we must be willing to address the inequalities of outcome that result in the sense of relative deprivation. 

Reduce the hope (but let's not) or reduce the disappointment.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Learning Lenten Hope

Psychologists have marveled at the existence of expert intuition. How does a firefighter "know" that a burning building is going to collapse when the amateur eye sees no evidence of the impending doom? How does a skilled physician make an accurate diagnosis seconds into a clinical examination? How does an experienced pilot almost "see" weather patterns, wind currents, and dangerous traffic before the ground controllers can alert the pilot to the problem? There are some things that we just "know" without really knowing.

It is intuition. Herbert Simon described it this way. "The situation has provided a cue; this cue has given the expert access to information stored in memory, and the information provides the answer. Intuition is nothing more and nothing less than recognition" (see Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 237). Intuition is the recognition of patterns stored in memory.

There are some things that we can learn to recognize after just an exposure or two. For example, we have a narrow bridge that leads from our home to the main road in our part of town. It took only two near-misses on that bridge for me to learn some significant lessons. Now even when there is no visible traffic, I slow down and put my foot on the brakes in preparation for something potentially bad. I think about it after I have done it and realize that this has become an automatic behavior.

Our intuitions are most easily trained to recognize danger. This is obvious in the experience of the firefighter who flees a collapsing building and then later figures out why. We can learn, however, to recognize other patterns as well. We can learn, for example, to have hope in difficult situations. In every divorce mediation, for example, I hear people say, "This will never work." Sometimes that's true. But in most cases I can now see the patterns of thought and behavior that will make a resolution of some kind possible. I have been trained to see hope.

That's a good description of the Christian discipline we call Lent. It is training to see hope. In this journey through Lent, we practice the pattern of Cross and Resurrection. We train our intuitions more fully to see that death can lead to life, that despair can lead to hope, that loss can lead to gain. When we confront loss, despair and death, we are equipped to say, "I've see this before. I know how this turns out." That's why we practice this discipline year after year.

Studies show that experts in a discipline need ten thousand hours or more of practice (as well as some real skills) in order to become experts. The same is true of our intuitions. It takes practice and discipline to have a well-formed and reliable set of intuitions. Sometimes there is a flash--a moment when all becomes clear, when the cross points directly to the empty tomb. But mostly it takes practice and formation. We must be exposed repeatedly to the story that leads from Good Friday to Easter in order to see that story at work in our daily lives.

This is one of the goals of learning this Lenten hope. I pray that you will be able to say, in the face of despair and death, "I've seen this before. I know how this comes out."

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Grace of a Noble Half Truth

The quote is attributed to Louis Pasteur: "In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind." This is, of course, the rankest form of nonsense. Chance--the occurrence of random events-- by definition "favors" no one. Jesus reminds us that the rain falls on the just and unjust alike. It was this realistic appraisal of God's even-handed graciousness that sets him apart as much as anything else.

Chance does not favor the prepared mind. More accurately, the prepared mind is far more able to respond quickly and positively to unforeseen events. This is why I am no fan of strategic "planning"--whether in the church or elsewhere in my life. John Lennon knows this world better than Pasteur at this point: "Life is what happens to us while we're making other plans." I think it is far better to think in terms of strategic preparedness and strategic positioning.

We must make plans or risk paralysis of thought and will. But we must not pretend that we know how things will work out. In addition to making plans, we must develop our capacities to respond constructively to things that disrupt our plans entirely. And we must not be disappointed when the experts turn out to be wrong.

Otherwise, we become like the Lutherans installing a light bulb. It takes four Lutherans for the job, of course, One of them changes the bulb. The other three wax nostalgic about how much they liked the old light bulb.

Bulbs burn out. People die. Life changes. Events transpire. And we are best served to prepare our capacities for nimble response rather than to spend all our energy on detailed plans that will inevitably and quickly become obsolete.

So why do we make such plans? We are regularly victimized by the "hindsight bias." I have discussed this in some earlier posts. This is our tendency to view past events in terms of how things actually turned out. We lose track of our earlier predictions and plans. We are certain that we predicted the outcome in advance, when in fact all we did was to describe the outcome after the fact.

Keep track of how many times people will say, "I knew that would happen." It is deeply satisfying to say that. It creates the illusion of knowledge and feeds our need for certainty. And it is a fabrication. Unless you are predicting that billiard balls will move when struck, it is unlikely that you really know how things will turn out.

There is grace in this reminder. Kahneman reminds us of the perverse power of the "outcome bias" (Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 203). We hold people responsible for knowing things they could not have known in advance. How many people have been penalized because they "should have known" something that is only clear in hindsight? Far too many.

How many times do I punish myself for a "bad" decision? Far too often. Instead, we are well served by one of the noble half truths of life. People make the best decisions they can at the time. Otherwise they would have made different ones. I remind myself of that often--especially at those times when I want to punish myself for not knowing what I couldn't have known.

That noble half truth helps me to focus my energy on being able to respond to what comes next in life. And it makes the whole adventure so remarkably interesting.

I Just Can't Remember

I ask myself, "Is this how I used to feel?" Was I always this anxious, this fretful about the future, this troubled by personal and world events? I'm not sure.

I am often puzzled by how difficult it is to remember the past. I don't mean the history in books. I am talking about my past. I can reconstruct the general sequence of events and timelines. But I struggle to remember how I felt at particular times in my life. And since I can't really remember my previous emotional states, I have some trouble gauging how I am doing now.

For example, I am pretty sure that my emotional "set points" were altered because of the death of my first wife, Anne. I don't think I was as prone to anxiety, to the blues, and to reflections on meaninglessness as I am now. But based on my own recollections, I can't say for sure. In my subjective experience, it just seems like it has always been this way.

I, however, don't think that's true.

"A general limitation of the human mind," writes Daniel Kahneman, " is its imperfect ability to reconstruct past sates of knowledge, or beliefs that have changed. Once you adopt a new view of the world (or of any part of it), you immediately lose much of your ability to recall what you used to believe before your mind changed" (Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 202). 

I find that to be accurate in every way. And it's even more true when the world has changed for me in such a significant way. Now, when I read journal reflections from several years ago, it is like I am investigating the life of another person. This can be disconcerting. But it's also helpful. This is perhaps the best reason to keep some sort of journal. It is a record of how I once thought--in fact, the only reliable record of how I once thought. Even asking others who knew me isn't all that helpful. Their memories have been altered as well.

We need such tools to remind us that our ongoing memories are both malleable and fallible. I cannot view the past from the perspective of ten years ago. I can only view the past through the lens of my life now. Every time I take out a memory and re-live it, I am actually reprocessing it as a new memory.

Is it any wonder that public figures begin to report experiences that they never had? Our memories can do that to us. Suddenly we have done things, said things, felt things, believed things, that we did not actually do, say, feel or believe in the past. And worst of all, we are sure that we did.

Perhaps the most important person on the staff of a celebrity ought to be the memory fact-checker. This might be the person who keeps the celebrity's memories from getting too far off the reality-track. I suspect that this was one of the functions of the court fool (jester) in older times--to remind the ruler that self-justifying memories cannot be trusted.

So on the one hand, I have deep sympathy for the public figures who seem to have made up experiences out of thin air. On the other hand, they can employ folks to keep them honest if that's really what they want.

Or they could just keep a journal.

Please Don't Keep Your Political Promises

I don't expect political candidates to keep their promises. 

There's a news flash for you, right? I am not suggesting a cynical "everybody lies to get elected" evaluation. That is often true, but that's not my point. At least in theory, promises are predictions of future performance. And that's why I don't expect candidates to keep their promises.

They can't predict the future with any accuracy beyond that of a coin flip. I am not suggesting that candidates for office are less intelligent than other people. Instead, they possess the same mix of intelligence and ignorance as we find in ourselves and everyone else. No one is particularly good at predicting how things will turn out in the long run.

The long run is essentially unpredictable.

So I am not impressed by campaign promises. These promises are merely efforts to tell explanatory stories that will make us feel better about our settled prejudices and preconceptions. And the less the candidate knows, the easier it is for the candidate to create a confident, compelling and coherent narrative. "Paradoxically," writes Daniel Kahneman, "it is easier to construct a coherent story when you know little, when there are fewer pieces to fit into the puzzle. Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance." (Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 201).

I have little interest in prospective promises. No one can predict when a plane might fly into a tall tower--at least not years in advance. No one can predict when a category five hurricane will strike the southern coast or a magnitude eight earthquake will devastate the western states. No one can predict when a stroke or a tumor or a reckless driver will alter or end a political career. And certainly no one can predict how that collection of toddlers we call the United States Congress will respond to political stimuli on any given day.

Political promises are little more than rhetorical chocolate. We should be wise enough to base our expectations and decisions on more substantive information. If we do not, then we get the representation we deserve.

That more substantive information involves how the candidates respond to unexpected problems. It also involves their actual records of decision-making in their lives and work. We would get better representation if we generated simply formulas to measure those problem solving skills and then allowed a machine to make the final choice. We could vote on those criteria, and that would be enough democracy for my tastes.

Unfortunately, we are far too impressed with our own powers of discernment and insight to allow such simple solutions to be used.  So we listen to campaign promises that cannot be kept. Then we complain when they are not kept. Or we are impressed with the wooden rigidity of those who keep their promises no matter what--even when that foolish consistency results in paralyzed government.

Let us extract fewer promises as the price of our votes. Let us focus on the folks who know enough to stop making promises and do some actual governing.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Certainty of Non-April Insanity

We find ourselves at the midway point of our annual orgy of predictive failures, which for reasons of copyright we shall call "Non-April Insanity." If we are able to view the NCAA basketball tournament with rational eyes, we know that our efforts at bracket-building are no more reliable than a coin flip. But rationality has nothing to do with Non-April Insanity. This time of year creates a wonderful laboratory "in the wild" for studying and reflecting on blind spots in human decision-making.

The essence of a good prediction is that it actually predicts at better than a 50/50 rate. So bracket-building is not really about prediction. For that you would be better served to check the Las Vegas odds. That's where real money is at stake. Bracket-building is about prospective story-telling and retrospective story-revision.

For example, we tell each other stories about how a particular team is over-rated or under-rated. Our favorite team should certainly have been seeded higher in the bracket by those foolish and ill-informed members of the committee. And that team which displaced our favorite was far too highly regarded. We establish our preferences, and then we build stories to fit with our preferences. Finally, we call those stories predictions.

It's not that the stories have no facts or information. There is a whole season of data on which to draw. It's very satisfying to create a story that will support our preferences. But, as even the casual fan knows, brackets do not predict--at least, not in any sense other than to project our best wishes.

Once the game is completed, we begin our retrospective predictions. If we were correct in our guesses, then we can easily come up with all the reasons we were right. Count the number of times you will hear someone say, "I knew this was how it would turn out." Of course, no one "knew." After that statement will come a revised story. Some of the previous data held up during the game. Some did not. And that incorrect data will be revised with minimal effort or ruthlessly discarded as irrelevant in order to support the new and improved story.

If we were wrong, then we have to accumulate information that will support a different story. "I was never that confident they would win," someone will certainly say. And that will be the same person who was willing to stake life, limb and love on the prediction before the game happened. That person is not lying. That person is simply being human. We humans constantly revise our "memories" in order to fit with the current situation. Tournament postmortems are wonderful laboratories in which we can observe this retrofitting of memories.

We are assisted in this whole process by the professional prognosticators. They have no better predictive powers than anyone else in the long run. They are neither behavioral psychologists nor professional sports bettors. Their job is entertainment. So they are judged by how believable they can make the stories, and how much they can make us laugh and cry in the process. Accuracy is not important. The appearance of absolute conviction is what matters. And it's a real skill to maintain that sense of conviction when you're wrong fifty percent of the time.

I am re-reading Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow, as the tournament unfolds. And it is an amusing experience. Kahneman talks about our story-based confidence.
"Confidence is a feeling, which reflects the coherence of the information and the cognitive ease of processing it. It is wise to take admissions of uncertainty seriously, but declarations of high confidence mainly tell you that an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true." (page 212)
So enjoy your bracket-building and story-construction! Do it with a smile. After all, it's about entertainment, right? 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

How Much Do You Actually Know?

It is perhaps the most important question a grown-up can ask. How much do you actually know

The first response to this question will be surprised incredulity. What do you mean, "How much do I actually know? I just told you what I know about my spouse, my neighbor, a politician, an enemy or a friend. If I didn't know it, I wouldn't have said it! What a stupid question!"

One thing we know is that this response is a confession of minimal knowledge and maximal intuition. I don't have much information. But from what I know, I can create a coherent and plausible story. That story fits with what I already think I know. It fits with what I already know I think. And it fits with what I like and don't like. That is more than enough for me to draw my conclusions. Such ill-informed intuitions can also be called prejudices.

Here's a trivial example from my life. I'm a public person in a very small sort of way. As a public leader, I am closely observed for clues about how I'm feeling and what I'm thinking. Those clues may be highly accurate in the moment they are observed, but they have little to do with my running state of mind or heart. And yet, someone will observe, "My goodness, you are a bit grumpy this morning! Cheer up!" And three minutes later someone will observe, "My goodness, you are cheery this morning! Did you win the lottery?"

Neither observer has taken a moment to ask, "How much do I actually know?" We draw "snapshot" conclusions all the time, and then treat them as if they are true. In fact, mostly what we are doing is reinforcing our Confirmation Bias. We have ideas about how things ought to be. We collect information to support those ideas. And then our ideas about how things ought to be are even stronger. We ignore contradictory evidence.

But how much do we actually know? Most of our conclusions come from looking in a mirror rather than looking through a window. Most of our conclusions are reflections of our preconceptions rather than explorations of what's really out there.

Some wise wag once noted that the only exercise some people get is jumping to conclusions, running down their friends, side-stepping responsibility, and pushing their luck. The only change I would make is to substitute "most" for "some." Asking the hard questions about our own thinking is challenging and consumes a great deal of energy and time. Worst of all, the questions leave us less certain. And we despise that sensation of itchy uncertainty.

But this question is one of the defining elements of civil discourse. What if we asked our media outlets this question? Please tell us how much you actually KNOW about a story before you share unjustified and irrational causal connections. What if we asked our public leaders this question? Please describe to us how much you actually KNOW about an issue before you start generating policy decisions. What if we asked ourselves this question? Please, my overly judgmental self, explain to me why I attribute such terrible things to a stranger based on apparent race, ethnicity, accent, dress or language?

How much do I actually know? If I am honest, I actually know very little. And I would benefit from knowing a great deal more before drawing any conclusions. Curiosity is the key to learning. And learning is the basis of empathy.

This is the neural correlate to Jesus' injunctions about refraining from judgment. It is one of the ironies of our Christian history that people who follow him are world champion conclusion jumpers.

Friday, March 20, 2015

God Should Have Higher Standards

In this time of high anxiety about inclusion, perhaps the church should be studying the little Old Testament book of Jonah. Here's an excerpt from my upcoming publication called Who Knows: Jonah, Katrina and Other Tales of Hope.

Jonah is grieving. He is protesting. Jonah is grieving and protesting because genocide has been averted. We might have about as much sympathy for Jonah as we would for Adolf Hitler at the death of his pet dog. It is an instance of human grief. It is not something deserving of our support.

“As a general rule,” writes Barbara Brown Taylor, “I would say that human beings never behave more badly toward one another than when they believe they are protecting God.”  This is the reality which at this historical moment makes the Book of Jonah the most contemporary and pertinent of the Old Testament books. Certainly the remarks of certain so-called Christians about the reasons for New Orleans’ destruction fit this description. Christians, Muslims and Jews of various stripes have engaged in horrific behavior as ways of protecting God from human sinfulness. The LORD who inhabits the pages of the Book of Jonah neither needs nor desires such protection.

And yet, we feel obliged to protect God from a case of low standards—or at least from a case of having standards other than our own. Jonah flees to Tarshish, perhaps, to save the LORD from the embarrassment of sparing Nineveh. That is, of course, the argument the prophet offers in Jonah 4:2. And what does the prophet get in return? He certainly doesn’t receive an outpouring of Divine Gratitude for his efforts. At best he gets a sort of bemused tolerance for his foolishness. Is it any wonder the prophet feels cheated? And there is no rage like that of someone who has been deprived of a perceived entitlement.

Earlier we wondered how Jonah might have gone from an experience of heartfelt gratitude to bitter recrimination in the course of just over a chapter. Now, what if Jonah’s response to his rescue was not heartfelt gratitude but rather a sense of obligation? What if he was paying off his vow, made in the belly of the great fish, by pronouncing Ninevite doom? In her book, Positivity, Barbara Fredrickson describes the “evil twin” of gratitude—“indebtedness.”

“If you feel you have to pay someone back," she writes, "then you’re not feeling grateful, you’re feeling indebted, which often feels distinctly unpleasant. Indebtedness pays back begrudgingly, as part of the economy of favors.” If we return to Jonah’s psalm in chapter two, we might catch a hint of that indebtedness language. Jonah promises to make a thank-offering to the Lord in response to his rescue. “What I have vowed,” he sings from the belly of the fish, “I will pay.” 

The Hebrew word for “pay” in that verse is related to a word we know—“shalom.” In one sense, the word refers to wholeness, completion, health and peace. In the piel form, however, it has an edgier tone. It can refer to making amends. More to the point, it means paying a debt or fulfilling a vow. It has the sense of obligation answered and accounts settled. Does Jonah celebrate his reunion with the LORD, or does he promise that the moral books will balance? Let the reader consider…

In his book, Give and Take, Adam Grant describes people as either “takers,” “matchers,” or “givers.” Takers have no trouble accepting and even demanding things from others without providing much of anything in return.  Givers have no trouble giving themselves to others without expecting anything in return.  Genuine takers and givers make up a small part of the general population.

Most people are “matchers.”  Matchers try to keep the game of life even.  If I do a favor for you, then I have put you in my debt.  It is only right, from the matcher point of view, that I should be able to expect and claim repayment at some point.  If you do me a favor, I may become very uncomfortable because I have an outstanding debt to you.  Matchers often cannot rest until the “debt” has been settled.

Since most people are matchers, the idea that God is gracious is very difficult.  It seems that Jonah lives with this burden. God is clearly a giver—“gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Jonah is not a giver. Jonah is a matcher. Jonah pays his debts and settles his accounts. It would seem that Jonah expects the LORD to have the same standards. And it would seem that Jonah’s rage comes, at least in part, from a sense of disappointed entitlement.

Terrence Fretheim suggests that the LORD might well have spared Nineveh regardless of their repenting or not.

"It is striking to note that in Exod 32 God repents regarding Israel quite apart from any repentance on their part, with only Moses' prayer in view (Exod 32:14). So, it is possible that God would have changed the divine mind even apart from Nineveh's repentance, on the grounds of divine compassion alone (4:11). God's final question in 4:11 includes no suggestion that Nineveh's repentance conditions God's repentance (so also 4:2). God's compassion prompts God's response to the Ninevite's repentance. God will spare them because of who God is and who they are."  

God is The Giver. The LORD is not a matcher. The world does not work the way Jonah assumes. Can he live in such a world or not? Victor Hugo pursues the same line of inquiry throughout his novel, Les Miserables. In the musical adaptation, Inspector Javert has been rescued from death by his archenemy, Jean Valjean. This presents Javert with a paradox that he cannot cram into his rage for order and fairness. Javert cannot be in the debt of one he believes to be a criminal. Javert is the prototypical matcher. 

Worse still, Javert cannot live in a world where such a thing could happen. He is faced with a moral and spiritual crisis. His “heart of stone” begins to tremble with doubt. The world he has known “is lost in shadow.” He wonders if his enemy and tormentor is from heaven or from hell. The musical plot wavers for a moment on the high note of that line. Then Javert decides. He cannot accept the gift of his life from such an agent of disorder. He cannot live in this world of such disorderly grace. In Javert’s view Valjean has killed him after all. He plunges to his death in the River Seine.

Jonah is not Javert—at least not yet. He desires to leave a world where grace and mercy rule. But he has not yet had his ticket punched.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Trust the Data--Continuing the Previous Post

“The key to balancing our responsibility judgments,” writes Adam Grant, “is to focus our attention on what others have contributed.” Grant suggests a simple exercise for acknowledging and addressing the Responsibility Bias in a group. “All you need to do,” he continues, “is make a list of what your partner contributes before you estimate your own contribution.”[1] Of course, that works well in marriages, friendships and other relationships where such information is readily available. This bias is a greater challenge in a congregation—a system where people’s contributions are in principle protected as privileged and confidential information.

So a healthy congregation will find ways to assist people in making a general estimate of their relative contributions to the life of the congregation. This is the value of publishing in some fashion what people give to an organization. We don’t live in a time when individual giving records are published annually. I suspect that we are better off for not publishing such records, but sometimes I wonder. Instead, we can certainly publish giving ranges with percentages or number of households in each range. The purpose is not to make anyone feel ashamed. Instead, the purpose is to allow people a realistic framework in which to view their contributions in relationship to those of others. 

A greater challenge in this regard would be to measure and report how much people give in service to the community and/or to the congregation. Since much serving is not in the public eye, people will have a skewed view of who serves and how much. A few people who do things that are visible to the community are often those seen as the ones who “do it all.” Systems for gathering information on the community service of members are important in giving a better context for assessing my own level of service to congregation and community.

Addressing the Responsibility Bias isn’t merely about getting people to give more. It’s about helping people to live better. If we don’t provide such relative contribution information, we will encourage people to be takers rather than givers. “In many domains of life,” Adam Grant observes, “people end up taking because they don’t have access to information about what others are doing.”[2] On the other hand, many people—when provided with relative contribution information—will do more to contribute “their fair share.”

Remember that the majority of people are matchers. “People often take because they don’t realize they’re deviating from the norm,” Grant concludes. “In these situations, showing them the norm is often enough to motivate them to give—especially if they have matcher instincts.”[3] They don’t wish to feel that they are “indebted” to someone else, even if that debt is self-perceived.

Here's an example of the power of context information. 

Robert Cialdini and Wesley Schultz studied the impact of information on energy saving behavior among some California and Arizona utility customers. Customers received messages about energy conservation as part of their billing materials. Some customers received minimal information about conservation benefits. Some customers received information that appealed mainly to self-interest in the form of significant cost savings. Some customers received information that emphasized the benefits to the environment produced by conservation. And some customers received information that allowed them to compare their behavior to that of their neighbors.

The only information that resulted in any reduction in energy usage was the message that produced comparison with the neighbors. The information that created a context for giving was the effective message. The information that equipped customers to resist their Responsibility Bias produced a real change in behavior. 

What I find most interesting is the follow-up to this study. “Consistently across our studies,” the authors wrote, “participants rate normative messages as the least effective and believe that they are not influenced by their perceptions of others.” So the customers didn’t think that the contextual information impacted their behavior. “But,” the authors observed with scholarly understatement, “our data show otherwise.”[4]

So even when people in our congregations insist, as they often do, that they will not be impacted by knowing (at least in general terms) what other people give, we should not believe them. That is precisely what we should expect to hear. This is the final expression of Availability Heuristic. I cannot bring to mind specific instances of the giving behavior of others, especially when it comes to financial giving. So those instances don’t really exist for me. Therefore they do not impact me.

But our data will show otherwise.



[1] Adam Grant, Give and Take, page 84.
[2] Adam Grant, Give and Take, page 235.
[3] Adam Grant, Give and Take, page 238.
[4] https://opower.com/uploads/library/file/2/ understanding_and_motivating_energy_conservation_via_social_norms.pdf

But I Do Everything Around Here!

Another factor that works against congregational giving is the “Responsibility Bias.” Due to this bias, we overestimate our contributions to a project or group relative to the contributions of other members. We have more information about our contributions than we do about those of others. We have more information about our own motives and problems. So we can generate far more detailed and gracious explanations for our own successes and failures. The Responsibility Bias is a sub-category of the “Positivity Bias.” We tend to present ourselves in the most positive light possible, especially when comparing ourselves to others.

In addition, the Responsibility Bias depends on what Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky labeled the “Availability Heuristic.” A “heuristic” is what we lay people would call a rule of thumb or a mental shortcut. It’s a way of thinking about things that requires less mental effort and energy to get to a satisfying solution. Tversky and Kahneman defined the Availability Heuristic “as the process of judging frequency by ‘the ease with which instances come to mind’.”[1] In other words, we estimate how often something happens by how easily we can access memories of that event. Our estimates will not be based on any real world statistics.

Every parent has to deal with the repercussions of the Availability Heuristic. I ask my teenager to do the dishes and clean up his room. The whining can be heard in a several-block radius. “But I do everything around here! Tell my sister to do it this time.” This may be pure adolescent sloth. It is more likely, however, that the Availability Heuristic is at work. We are far more aware of our own actions than we are the actions of others. It is easy to call to mind the many times I have made my bed (well, at least that one time), the times I have done the dishes (there was, after all, that one time last year when I did them), or vacuumed the living room (I have that one marked on the calendar on my phone). I can’t remember the last time my sister did anything like that!

And that’s the point. The Availability Heuristic has nothing to do with investigating the number of times I actually cleaned—or the number of times my sister did it in my place. This bias is rooted in what I can most easily call to memory. It makes a difference that I can also most easily remember that which best serves my interests and puts me in the best light in comparison to anyone else. Most important of all, since the heuristic is rooted in my memories and experiences, I really believe that what I’m saying is The Truth. And don’t try to tell me otherwise.

“The availability heuristic,” Kahneman writes, “substitutes one question for another: you wish to estimate the size of a category or the frequency of an event but you report an impression of the ease with which instances come to mind.”[2] If we were to poll congregation members about the percentage of their own contribution to the church budget and then to add up all those self-reports, the total would far exceed one hundred percent. 

How do I know this? Psychologists have studied, for example, the perceptions of relative contributions by spouses in a marriage. When the spouses were asked what percentage of the housework they did and the reports were totaled, the final outcome was enough perceived work for nearly two houses. We can expect that congregation members would demonstrate the same inflated sense of personal contribution.

Indeed every congregation has members who are sure they give more than anyone else. We know only about our own contributions, so it is natural that those contributions come most easily to mind. Every congregation has even more members who are sure they volunteer more than anyone else (and usually these folks do not hesitate to remind others of that fact). Again, this is not surprising since our actions are the ones that come most readily to our awareness. And even if they know better about their financial giving, they are convinced that their contributions in terms of time and influence are more important than the total contributions of others.

The Responsibility Bias becomes pernicious when it leads to controlling or even bullying behavior on the part of one or a few members of a group. Many congregations are managed and manipulated to some degree by members who are sure that they contribute more and are thus more important than anyone else. By the same token, many parishioners are sure that they do less than anyone else, even when this is clearly not the case. That power imbalances introduced by the Responsibility Bias make it difficult for congregations to focus on anything but themselves.

“The key to balancing our responsibility judgments,” writes Adam Grant, “is to focus our attention on what others have contributed.” Grant suggests a simple exercise for acknowledging and addressing the Responsibility Bias in a group. “All you need to do,” he continues, “is make a list of what your partner contributes before you estimate your own contribution.”[3]


[1] Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 129.
[2] Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 130.
[3] Adam Grant, Give and Take, page 84.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sample Sizes and Grey's Anatomy

I hope you take the opportunity to read Shonda Rimes' speech at the recent Human Rights Campaign Gala in Los Angeles. (https://medium.com/thelist/you-are-not-alone-69c1a10515ab)
Rimes is an award-winning television writer. For starters, can you say "Grey's Anatomy"? And it goes up from there.

She talks about the importance of seeing people both like her and unlike her on the small screen. She works hard to make that happen in her scripts. And she does that in full awareness of her own experiences as a detested outsider in her growing up years (and probably still to this day in some settings).

"No one is meaner," she told the crowd, "than a pack of human beings faced with someone who is different." We all know how true that is. And we all know how true that is for all of us--both on the receiving and the giving end. How can we respond? We can speak various mantras--"love and tolerance," "liberty and justice for all," "love your neighbor as yourself." These are important for our self-talk and our social talk.

We can also be more aware of our blinds spots. One blind spot is the similarity trap. We tend to care more for people who resemble us. We tend to give more credibility (and credit) to people who resemble us. We tend to extend more trust to people who resemble us. And we tend to care less for people who look and sound different from us. We tend to doubt the testimony of those whose lives are not like ours. We view strangers with suspicion, whether that wariness is justified by evidence or not. 

And all of these assessments are based on superficial similarity. None are based on investigations of character.

This is how we are wired. In the wilds, that sort of response has great survival value. It is best to be sure about the stranger before extending a hand of welcome. If you're not careful, you may pull back a stump.

But we don't live in the wilds. Stranger hostility has lost most of its survival value in a world of billions who need to depend on each other for survival.

Another blind spot is what Daniel Kahneman refers to as the "law of small numbers." We draw irresponsibly large conclusions from painfully small samples. We believe that one or two experiences of a stranger give us enough information to draw big conclusions about all the people who resemble that stranger. We draw conclusions about all black people, about all white people, about all poor people, about all rich people, about all...well, you get the idea.

And those broad conclusions are inevitably inaccurate.  Kahneman says that our brains are more interested in coherence than in accuracy. Our brains are more interested in comfortable certainty than in realistic doubt. He notes that "sustaining doubt is harder work than sliding into certainty. The law of small numbers is a manifestation of a general bias that favors certainty over doubt..." (Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 114).

When we combine the Law of Small Numbers with our self-justification biases, we have a formula for human disaster. We draw inaccurate conclusions and then we sort our experience to support the conclusions we have drawn. It takes too much work to suspend judgment and to question our own reasoning. It's much easier and far more comfortable to believe that "those people" are bad. And once we have begun that process, we are not far from dehumanizing and destroying them.

So thank you, Shonda Rimes, and all your colleagues, for exposing us both to real people like us on the screen and real people unlike us on the screen. At least our sample size might be increased!

Hide'n'Seek at IKEA

Recently, IKEA, the Swedish furniture retailer, has had to plead with patrons to stop playing adult hide and seek in the stores. A Belgian woman wanted to play hide and seek in an IKEA store before she reached her thirtieth birthday. It was all fun and games when it involved at most a few dozen people. But now the game has gotten out of hand.

A game in Amsterdam attracted over 19,000 people to a sign-up for the event. The game has taken on a life of its own as it spreads across Facebook. Games have been planned in other places in Europe and in Canada. Participants in the games have hidden in closets, in refrigerators, under shopping bags in carts, and in any other place that provides cover. A few participants have gotten trapped in their hiding places. And a few regular patrons have been distressed to find human beings concealed in their potential purchases.

The company has issued a plea on Facebook and asked the participants to take their games outside. It appears that the players will cooperate. But what in the world produced this strange happening?

One element is certainly the mixing of social norms and market norms. The IKEA stores are efforts at creating community as much as they are retail outlets. The store cafeterias are built to put strangers together at tables. The displays give one the experience of walking into another's living room, bedroom, kitchen or office. The layout leads one on a journey through the store, complete with a map of the path. And as you make your journey, you tend to walk with the same traveling companions.

Many of the items for purchase have a sort of "do it yourself" quality to them. Assembly is usually required. That assembly creates the sense of being a partner in the enterprise rather than being a customer. All of these elements are clearly intentional, and for the most part they serve IKEA's bottom line very well. Except for the hide and seek. 

The stores have skillfully blended market norms and social norms. In fact, the social norms provide excellent camouflage for the market norms. A journey through an IKEA store feels more like a family adventure than a trip to the furniture outlet. But, as Dan Ariely points out in Predictably Irrational, this blending has its risks. "If you're a company," he writes, "my advice is to remember that you can't have it both ways. you can't treat your customers like family one moment and then treat them impersonally--or, even worse, as a nuisance or competitor--a moment later when this becomes more convenient or profitable" (page 87).

It doesn't appear that IKEA customers will penalize the store for this pull back from the social norms. More to the point for our purposes, here is an illustration of the power of social norms when they are clearly communicated. IKEA perhaps did too well, as a store, in creating a socially normed experience. On the other hand, what could churches learn from the IKEA model to enhance the social norming of their own operations? 

The store provides a skilled welcome and orientation to newcomers. There are clear signs and directions. There is a simple path forward that is well marked. The tenor of the store is informal and relatively self-guided. And yet there are invitations at every moment to be a participant and a partner in the process. All mentions of money are subdued and in small print (but still available). And there is no sense of hurry.

IKEA may not want hide and seek games in its stores, but I would be glad if people wanted to spend that much time having fun in our church communities.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Necessity of Frames

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman talks about the impact of "framing effects" on how we perceive and evaluate our experiences. He describes framing effects as "different ways of presenting the same information that evoke different emotions." 

The examples he gives are simple. Would you prefer a surgery with 90% survival odds or a 10% mortality rate? If we take a moment to think, we know that these numbers describe the same scenario. We would all admit, however, that we prefer the first frame rather than the second.

Would you prefer ground beef that is 90% percent lean or 10% fat? Again, we know that we're talking about the same pound of hamburger either way. However, we also know that we prefer the first frame instead of the second.

So, rather than inviting people to give ten percent of their income, would we be better served to encourage them to keep ninety percent? This would take advantage of the frame bias that Kahneman describes from his research.

Of course, this framing creates other bias problems. Since the focus will be on the money we give or keep, our tendency will be to minimize our sense of connection with others. We will tend to expand our sense of independence. We will also tend to focus more on market norms than on social norms. This again will lead us in the direction of self-sufficiency and even selfishness. So the simple framing effort may produce undesirable stewardship results.

The slogan that many stewardship programs use is something along the lines of "it all belongs to God anyway." The frame here is that we own nothing and have everything as a gift. Of course, that is quite right. I don't find, however, that this slogan is all that motivating to most people. For those who are focused on ownership, this statement turns the relationship into a sort of tug of war. No, it doesn't all belong to God! I worked hard for this. It really is all mine after all.

Perhaps this is a clue to a different framing issue. If we frame stewardship in terms of ownership, we will generate a sort of custody dispute between competing interests. If, instead, we frame stewardship in terms of what we receive, the outcome may be different. 

I think this is how Martin Luther, for example, understands the doctrine of Divine Creation. We are the recipients of all that we need for this life. That includes all our physical necessities. As a result we can respond with gratitude and praise. That gratitude and praise will likely involve sharing those gifts with others.

For this reason, gratitude lists are a critical, but underutilized resource in congregational stewardship. I find it helpful as often as possible to help people compose lists of the good things they received in this life. Researchers have demonstrated the health benefits of composing such lists on a regular basis. I am certain that people who create such lists regularly will be more generous in giving for the life and mission of the church--especially when they create those lists during a worship service or class or discussion time at church.

Stewardship is like a window. It's not much without the frame.