What Little Miss Sunshine taught me about Church

Marcel Proust is someone I know nothing about.  I feel like I should because he is acclaimed to be a rather well known author who wrote about memory in a seven part series, entitled Remembrance of Things Past.

In fact the extent of my knowledge of Proust is what I learned from Steve Carell's character in Little Miss Sunshine.

With that said, I encountered this line from Proust not too long ago about memory:

"(Memory) would come like a rope let down from heaven to draw me up out of the abyss of not-being".

Each week the Church gathers together for a number of things, but in part to remember.

When we remember the Story of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, we are given once again a rope to draw us up out the the abyss of not-being.  Each week we come together to discover again, for the first time, what it means to be a "being".

While it is an interesting story, it would be hellish to never have a memory.  Movies like 50 First Dates or Memento are great to watch but I would not wish my enemy into that state of memory limbo.  Amnesia is a horrible thing to witness and if you do not believe me just ask anyone who has witnessed a loved one suffer from Alzheimer's disease.  Or just ask Clive.  

The Church comes together each week to stave off group amnesia or collective Alzheimer's.  We remember and we are pulled from that abyss.  We remember and we are once again home.  We remember and we are no longer alone.  We remember and we are found.  

Science supporting Jesus?

There is this idea in our culture that if you are angry then you need to pop off or let of steam.  This idea excuses a number of behaviors of people in relationships.  I cannot express how many people I hear (myself included) say, "I just needed to get this off my chest" or "I just need to yell and get this anger out."  If you have ever thought that popping off in order to release steam then you too have, at least one time, bought into the idea that letting off steam alleviates anger.

And it does.  Which is why we do it.

The issue is that letting off steam in this way may make us feel better but it never stops us from having to let of more steam in the future.

Take this little bit from You are Not so Smart.  Please note that it takes a bit of set up to get to the interesting stuff, but we have to see the set up before we can get into it.  So first the set up:

"In the 1990s, psychologist Brad Bushman at Iowa State decided to study whether or not venting actually worked. He divided 180 students into 3 groups. One group read a neutral article. One group read an article about a fake study that said venting anger was effective. The third group read about a fake study that said venting was pointless. He then had students write essays for or against abortion, a subject about which they probably had strong feelings. He told them the essays would be graded by fellow students, but they weren't.  When the students got their essays back, half were told their essays were superb. The other half had this scrawled across the paper: "This is one of the worst essays I have ever read!" Bushman then asked the subjects to pick an activity like playing a game, watching some comedy, reading a story, or punching a bag. The results? The people who read the article that said venting worked, and who later got angry, were far more likely to ask to punch the bag than those who got angry in the other groups. In all the groups., the people who got praised tended to pick non-aggressive activities."

No big shocker there.  When we are told by an authority that some behavior is good/not good for us then we tend to heed that advice.  While this is no surprise, it might be worth taking note that this also creates feedback loops.  If we are told "venting" is good then we will more likely seek out opportunities to do it, and if we are told "venting" is not good then we will seek out other ways to deal with anger.  

Now onto the interesting part in which another experiment is created like the first but with a twist, in which the group that was told their essay was the worst essay the grader ever read was then divided in half and and were told they were going to have to compete against the person who graded their essay. "One group first had to punch a bag, and the other group had to sit and wait for two minutes. After punching and waiting, the competition began. The game was simple: Press a button as fast as you can. If you lose, you get blasted with a horrible noise. When you win, your opponent gets blasts. The students could set the volume the other person had to endure, a setting between zero and ten, with ten being 105 decibels. Can you predict what they discovered? On average, the punching bag group set the volume as high as 8.5. The time-out group set it to 2.47. The people who got angry didn't release their anger on the punching bag-their anger was sustained by it."

This may be common sense to you.  It may not be. For generations Christianity has taught about loving the neighbor who is sometimes also your enemy. Forgiveness is critical to the life of the Christian. Jesus is said to have spoken words of forgiveness while on the cross. 

It is good to see that science is catching up :)

Examples or Metaphors - not both

At most conferences people who are giving speeches take the approach of sharing metaphors or specific examples of what they are talking about.  I have found this to be radically annoying and not helpful.  


When someone gives a few examples of how "this thing" works, they give a specific example.  The problem is it is generally too specific and people are curious, but quickly discount the example as "able to work there but that would not work in my setting."  So a couple of specific examples are generally flashes in the pan.  Cool to see, but difficult to cook with.  

Another 'write off' of a few specific examples is that people do not own that idea.  There is some program that works in some area, people are generally not able to sustain that idea in their context because they really do not own the idea.  This 'lack of ownership = unsustainable" idea is on display when someone tells you, "you know we should really be doing ______.  You should make that happen."

If, however, you were to give more that a couple of examples for an idea then you are onto something.  If you were able to give somewhere in the ballpark of 20 examples of where/how this "idea" is working, then you begin to shut down the thoughts of "that will not work in my context" because you give people the ability to see how their context can be navigated to implementation.  If I hear of a prayer program in schools in one location, I will discount it.  If I hear of 20 prayer programs in schools, I am more apt to get excited on how I can implement that in my context.  

On the other end of the spectrum of giving a few examples, a speaker will often give one metaphor.  However, these metaphors are often 'heady' and the fear is getting too heady without giving specific examples of how the idea looks on the ground.  Which is why speakers do not spend much time developing the metaphors too much and jump right to sharing a few examples.  Then we are right back into the problems of sharing just a few specific examples.  

However, if a speaker develops a metaphor deeply and fully then it will capture the imagination of people to problem solve their own context.  When we problem solve ourselves then we have ownership to the idea and thus up the chances of success and sustainability.  

Let me violate my comments above and give just one example.  

Recently I heard the metaphor of the church as an airport.  The speaker went on to say that airports are never destinations in of themselves.  No one takes a vacation at the airport for a week.  The only time the airport as a destination was a good idea it was made into a fictional movie with two big movie stars in order to sell the movie.  

That was all the development the presenter did on this metaphor and the metaphor was dead in the water.  The metaphor was too heady and too abstract and people forgot the metaphor all together.  If however, the presenter had developed the metaphor more it had the chance to capture the imaginations of people.  Perhaps he could have asked:
  • Where do people check their baggage?
  • Who is responsible for flying the plane?
  • Who is designated to work in the lost and found area?
  • What does a passport look like in your church?  
  • Do you have a security check point?  
  • Are you profiling?
And on and on.  This metaphor, when developed, leads to a number of ideas on how to do/be Church.  

When the metaphor is not developed in favor of giving a few examples, then both the metaphor suffers and the people listening discount examples and do not build the metaphor.  

So give me examples or a metaphor.  Don't try to do both.  


This marks the first of  several posts on blindness that I want to share.  These are not my ideas, all I am doing is taking what others have done and highlighting a spiritual dimension to them.

Where we look matters in our lives.  If we are looking in one direction we will miss something else.  This is why slight of hand works so well.  We are distracted by one thing and we miss the "trick".  Where we look matters, however it is assumed that when we look we all "see" the same thing.  That is when I look at an apple I assume that everyone else sees an apple.  Or if I look at the color red, then I assume that others also see red.  However, it is coming to light that not only where we look matters, but HOW we look matters.

These next posts are examples of how we look and most of these examples come from the book Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman. (All quotes in this post are from this book.)

"Imagine you're watching a short film with a single actor in it. He is cooking an omelet. The camera cuts to a different angle as the actor continues his cooking. Surely you would notice if the actor changed into a different person, right? Two-thirds of observers don't."

You are kidding me right?  This study shows that 2/3 of people are unable to see the actor replaced by another actor in a short film!  That seems crazy.  Until I saw this little video which might have been posted before.

Where we are looking matters but it also matters how we are looking, and it turns out our brains are great at allowing us to see only that which the brain thinks is important.  Needless to say (and the video above articulates it well), we miss a lot of things in this world because our brain is deciding for us what is worthy of noticing.

In the next post there is an example of how questions drive what we are looking at.