Monday, June 13, 2011

Cultivating the Whole Brain

TITLE: Cultivating the Whole Brain
WRITTEN BY: Conrade Yap
Date: 13 June 2011

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” (1 Cor 13:11)

MAIN POINT: The way we do Bible studies need to be re-examined. We need to adapt. We need to grow. We need to cultivate our whole minds for God.

A few weeks ago, while trying to explain how I resolve a certain situation, my daughter exclaims: “Dad, you’re so left brained.” I smile as I remember that it is not the first time I have heard that.

Years ago, a good friend with a psychological training background said the same thing to me. They call me logical and systematic. They say I am one that prefers to quantify things. They say I am rational and like most engineers, very methodical and analytical. Given my training as an engineer, and my experience as a technologist, these skills are vital. I am a problem solver. I like to see myself as a solutions provider, dishing out answers to complex problems. When friends who have problems with their computers approach me for help, I will give them suggestions and tips. Problems can range from a slow performing computer, to a virus-infected software. Once resolved, there is a certain satisfaction I have, just to know that I have accelerated the computer performance, or vanquished the pesky viruses.

A) The Left-Brain Heavy Technological Society
Certain things in life need more left-brained mindsets, especially a technological society. Tony Schwartz acknowledges the advantages for the development of our brain’s left hemisphere, crediting it to much positive development in economic growth and technological progress.
The power of rigorous critical thinking has driven remarkable advances in science, medicine, technology, and the growth of economies and democracies around the world.” (Tony Schwartz, The Way We're Working Isn't Working, NY: Free Press, 2010, p206)
The flip side of it all is that because a technological environment credits the left-brain more, it unwittingly undermines the development of the right side of the brain. Schwartz then refers to the neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor, who suffered left-brain damage due to a stroke. Forced to live with only the right brain, she learned to cultivate the unique right brain, the only brain she had left. In an amazing turnaround, Taylor was able to recover from her stroke, and studied her own brain, and re-vitalized the use of her right brain. Now she is a popular speaker who travels widely to assist the recovery of people with brain trauma. Her own biography states:
It took eight years for Dr. Taylor to successfully rebuild her brain - from the inside out. In response to the swelling and trauma of the stroke, which placed pressure on her dominant left hemisphere, the functions of her right hemisphere blossomed.” (Dr Jill Taylor biography)
Here is a useful table that highlights the different hemispheres in our brains.

KEY POINT: I am not saying that the right-brain is better than the left. I am simply saying that if we over-use one side of the brain, we become lop-sided in our thinking.

B) The Way We Do Bible Studies
I believe that one reason why many of our Bible studies grow stagnant over time is the excessive left-brained manner we read and study Scriptures. As a leader, I share this insight with one study group some weeks ago. We cannot afford to bring left-brain thinking into all of our Bible studies. For too long, we have relied on:
  • Study materials that present a problem that demands a solution;
  • Questions that contain spaces _______ for us to fill in;
  • Statements focusing on the facts of life, more than the REALITY of the experience;
  • More objective driven, at the expense of a subjective interpretation.
  • Search for one particular answer when there are more than one perspectives.
In fact, the reason why many of us are frustrated about God's will for our lives, is because we are overly left-brained in our thinking. God's will for us is to be creative beings, which means our left has to be exercised together with our right brain. The analytical 'left' needs the creative 'right.' The logical goal-getter needs the admiring meanderer.

I can understand that for younger believers, they need to be guided with more directed questions. They need to grow their roots and foundations of faith. They require a Bible Study of Christianity 101. However, over time, one cannot continue to grow based on the milk of objective data. They need the solid food of both objective+subjective understanding. They need to embrace a multi-perspective manner of openness. True growth cannot be restricted to only one part of the brain. It needs ALL of our brain. Let me give an example.
“Behold, I cry ‘violence!’ but I get no answer; I shout for help, but there is no justice.” (Job 19:7)

Job the man is suffering. Not only does he has to suffer the loss of his children and his property, he is tormented by the accusations of his three friends. For them, Job must have done something wrong. That is why Job is getting his punishment. None of them truly understands his condition. Eliphaz gives a logical ‘good-guys-win-bad-guys-lose’ argument.
All his days the wicked man suffers torment, the ruthless through all the years stored up for him.” (Job 15:20)

Bildad declares outright that the righteous will not be punished.
Surely God does not reject a blameless man or strengthen the hands of evildoers.” (Job 8:21)

Not to be left behind, Zophar rubs salt into the wounds of Job, by pronouncing the guilt of Job:
Surely such is the dwelling of an evil man; such is the place of one who knows not God.” (Job 18:21)

All of the three friends exercise an overwhelming left-brained thinking. Such is a problem-solution mindset that keeps them stuck in their half-minded thinking.
  • Eliphaz: The reason why a person suffers (Problem) is because he is wicked (solution).
  • Bildad: Rejection (problem) does not come to the blameless (solution).
  • Zophar: Evil (problem) comes to those who does not truly know God (solution).

None of them appreciates the mystery of suffering. None of them acknowledges the Total Sovereignty of God to allow or disallow suffering. Does that mean that God NEVER allows suffering for the righteous? If that is the case, why then do innocent people die? If we allow our left-brain to overwhelm all of our thinking, we become frustrated when we do not find a solution. In our haste for answers, we look for easy cut-and-paste methods or explanations. In our rush for a two-second quick fix, we miss out on the larger picture of the Sovereignty of God, preferring a fish-bowl interpretation of life. We become so cozy with solutions and answers, that we find living with the mysteries of life and the questions of evil and suffering very unbearable.

Key Point: The Mind of God is way beyond our left-brained thinking or right-brained creating.

C) Living with Mystery
One of the pathways to maturity is to be able to live with the ambiguities of life. A mature man learns what it means not to have only one answer. He recognizes that behind one model answer, lies another possible interpretation. He is able to acknowledge that God is sovereign and must be allowed to be free to give or NOT to give us an answer. God is sovereign and His will is not restricted to only letting the ‘good news’ of Easter cover up the ‘bad news’ of the Friday crucifixion.

There is no rational way to understand love. Life is often a paradox. Love is not love until it is given away. The way to a more blessed life is to learn to give more than to receive. One more thing. The paradox of Easter is that one man must die, in order for another to live. An innocent man has to die. He does not have to. God can simply choose to wipe the world clean, punish the evil, reward the good, and start over. He did not. Instead, he gave, and gave, and gave His greatest gift: His Son.

D) The Mystery of the Cross

The mystery of Good Friday and Easter cannot be fully understood until we see BOTH the pain and the gain. I have seen too many people zoom straight to Easter, bypassing Good Friday. They cover up the pains while revealing the gains. They forget the cross but remember the bunnies. They choose to search for Easter eggs instead of searching for the heart of Christ. In doing so, they downplay Christ' death even as they play up Christ's resurrection. Trouble is, if Christ did not fully die, how then can we say he has fully risen?

We need to grow our faith by using not only one hemisphere of our brain. We need both. We need the wisdom to exercise the left as well as the right side of our minds. Both minds need to inform each other. Both minds need to be cultivated. Both minds need to be exercised to the full when we approach God’s Word. When we say we want to grow in knowledge and understanding of God and His Word, we need to put aside childish half-brained thinking. We need to reason with all of our minds. We need to think and grow as complete beings, and not be stubborn little people, constantly insisting that Bible studies can only be done in one way. May the Holy Spirit guide all of us in all truth.

Thought: "People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. The reason why the world is in chaos, is because things are being loved, and people are being used."(Anonymous)


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