This was my column from the SEPTEMBER issue of our diocesan newspaper. Not sure how I missed posting it. I'll have the November column (I had no October one) later this week
I've been thinking about thinking. Our country has a long history of suspicion of people who “think too much”. Our current consumer culture works our emotions to insure that we DON'T think, just buy, buy, buy. In fact I believe that the current trend to create more and more rules, guidelines and standards is part of a movement to avoid thinking. Some folks simply want us to do as we are told, supposedly in the name of greater order, justice or truth. I think (oops, there's that word) we need to think about that.
One of the problems with that mindset is that it goes against what faith teaches us. Literally from the time of the disciples people have been frustrated because Jesus insisted on making us think. The most common examples are the parables.
Quick note on parables. A parable is a short story designed to teach a lesson. Parables have been around for a VERY long time. Jesus taught using parables at least 30 times. Despite the simplicity of the stories some (many, most?) of the parables have caused confusion. Over the years of reading I've come to the conclusion that being puzzling is part of the point. Not because Jesus was trying to hide things from us but because he wants us to think.
Some of them, like ones about sheep or farming or vineyards, can be confusing because I grew up in the suburbs and don't know anything about that stuff. But it's not just me. There are enough instances of the disciples coming back to Jesus asking for an explanation to help me feel not quite so stupid. Jesus used images that would have been pretty familiar to folks in that time and place. But he used them in ways that turned them on their heads, forcing his listeners, then and now, to look at them differently. One of the challenges we face is that we've heard some of these stories so many times (The Prodigal Son, The Good Samaritan as examples) that we're tempted to stop thinking about them. We know what they say, we don't have to think about them. Doing that means that we don't let them really sink in and affect our lives.
OK, now I'm just going to flat out steal from Jesus. In the Parable of the Leaven (you'll find it in chapter 13 of both Matthew and Luke) Jesus talks about a little bit of something simple getting mixed in with the everyday stuff and helping it grow. If you don't mix the leaven (leaven is a bit of bread dough that's been allowed to ferment. It was used to help bread expand when baked) you'll get a little bit of surface change but not much else. Thinking is the mixing in of that little bit of something to change the whole thing. Thinking takes you to questions like “What does that really mean?” and “How does/should that effect me?”. It can take you to some uncomfortable places but it will help avoid even worse ones.
Thinking is a great gift from God. Like all gifts it needs to be treated carefully. Clearly God wants us to exercise that gift. That's why Jesus didn't just hand us a new set of standards, guidelines and rules. He told us stories. Stories designed to make us think.