The Glass Test

One morning the dentist says you need a new crown—$1,000 please. That afternoon you land a job that pays $1,000. These are the facts.

How you choose to see the facts will determine how you feel.

If you see the crown as an opportunistic thief stealing money needed elsewhere you’ll feel frustrated, angry perhaps. If you see the job as a timely provision for the unexpected expense, you’ll feel relieved, happy even.

What you initially feel depends on whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist.

An optimistic attitude is largely inherited, and it is part of a general disposition for well-being, which may also include a preference for seeing the bright side of everything. … A disposition for well-being is as heritable as height or intelligence. —Daniel Kahneman

Your disposition is set by nature and reinforced or moderated by nurture. Knowing your default setting helps you understand why you see things the way you do.


The Glass Test reveals who you are:

An optimist says the glass is half full.

A pessimist says the glass is half empty.

A fatalist says, “It is what it is.”

An engineer says the container is twice the size it needs to be.

A Republican says, “Who’s been drinking out of my glass?”

A physicist says the glass is completely full, half with water
and half with air.

I’m a physicist.

What are you?


Matter of Fact

“You can’t argue with facts.
You are not entitled to your own facts.”
—Larry Page

We may not be entitled to our own facts but we are entitled to our own feelings, and they control what we believe and how we behave. We’d like to think we’re rational, logical creatures but a mountain of evidence proves otherwise, as Daniel Kahneman points out in Thinking Fast and Slow:

The normal state of your mind is that you have intuitive feelings and opinions about almost everything that comes your way. You like or dislike people long before you know much about them; you trust or distrust strangers without knowing why; you feel that an enterprise is bound to succeed without analyzing it. Whether you state them or not, you often have answers to questions that you do not completely understand, relying on evidence that you can neither explain nor defend.

You may not know that you are optimistic about a project because something about its leader reminds you of your beloved sister, or that you dislike a person who looks vaguely like your dentist. If asked for an explanation, however, you will search your memory for presentable reasons and will certainly find some. Moreover, you will believe the story you make up.

Because this process takes place instantly and subconsciously it’s almost impossible to change—read The Happiness Hypothesis if you want to understand why—but at least we can be more aware that the heart, not the head, is in charge.

“Reason and emotion must both work together
to create intelligent behavior,
but emotion does most of the work.”
—Jonathan Haidt

Which God?

Religious faith brings out the best—and worst—in people. ISIS zealots are beheading Christian children in front of their parents because they aren’t Muslims. Christian missionaries from half a world away are staying in towns overrun by ISIS to care for those families—at the cost of their own lives.

What do these actions reveal about how God is perceived by these different faiths?

“My God is pleased when I behead children who don’t have the proper belief.”

“My God is pleased when I lay down my life for others, regardless of their beliefs.”

Which God inspires you to love and worship?

Which God would you rather spend eternity with?


What’s the Minimum Doctrinal Requirement (MDR) for Christians to live together and serve side by side?

Many churches, ministries and Christian schools have statements of faith to which members, staff and students must agree. I understand the need for a common core of beliefs, but what belongs in that core?

The most recent addition to many evangelical statements of faith has to do with the inerrancy of Scripture, added as a result of the Modernist-Fundamentalist debate of a century ago. The Bible isn’t just inspired, it’s infallible in the original documents.

Even musicians must now pass muster on this nascent issue, as this recent story shows:

Dove-Award Winning Gungor Rattles Christian World With Revelation That They Don’t Believe the Bible Literally 

The Christian music world has been abuzz in recent days about the unorthodox theology of celebrated Dove-award winning musical artists Michael and Lisa Gungor, known for popular worship songs like “Dry Bones” and “Beautiful Things.”

The Gungors, however, have never really concealed their evolving theological position. In a blog post titled “What Do We Believe” in February, the couple asserted that they simply no longer literally believed in stories from the Bible on such topics as creation and the flood.


Can the Gungors worship acceptably—and lead others in worship—without sharing a particular view of Scripture—one not specified in the creeds or earlier confessional statements?

Can Christians allow for diversity on some issues and stay in fellowship?

We can if we reduce our MDR to something as simple as 1 Corinthians 15:1-6 and John 13:35.

The Stories We Tell

Stories are what we use to organize information and remember incidents. Loose details are hard to corral; lassoing them together with a storyline makes them memorable. This is how we make hi“story” out of chaos.

This does not make for consensus, however, since people connect the same dots differently according to their mental biases, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb points out in The Black Swan:

“When Arabs and Israelis watch news reports they see different stories in the same succession of events. Likewise, Democrats and Republicans look at different parts of the same data and never converge to the same opinions. Once your mind is inhabited with a certain view of the world, you will tend to only consider instances proving you to be right. Paradoxically, the more information you have, the more justified you will feel in your views.”

The same is true for the religious and nonreligious. Each fits the “facts” of physics, geology, biology, anthropology and a myriad other disciplines into a cohesive story—THEIR story.

The three main organizing systems the nonreligious use to understand reality are Platonic, Aristotelian or nominalistic.* The religious usually find blueprints in their sacred books. Even the same text can give rise to diverse faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have their taproots in the Hebrew Bible.

Some stories are truer than others but all are told with a slant. Admitting this to ourselves shows maturity. Admitting this to others shows humility. The world could use more of both.

“The very ink with which history is written
is merely fluid prejudice.”
Mark Twain

* The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Memory of Nature, Rupert Sheldrake


I recently finished a course on the history of Christian theology. I’ve concluded that most councils and creeds have been about defining borders. Borders are necessary; they encircle citizens and exclude foreigners. Those included are orthodox; those outside are heretics.

What I find interesting is the criterion used to demarcate the faith. They have nothing to do with following the example of Jesus or obeying his commands. They have everything to do with believing the right things ABOUT the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Belief in—and obedience to—the Sermon on the Mount, the Olivet Discourse, the Upper Room Discourse or any other of Christ’s teaching aren’t required by the creeds. What is essential are the correct beliefs about Jesus’ origin, nature, will and current disposition: subjects about which he said almost nothing.

Proper beliefs about the Father and the Holy Spirit are just as important, and just as esoteric. Case in point: Does the Holy Spirit proceed “from” or “through” the Father and the Son?

Therefore the Latin Church professes that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (qui a Patre Filioque procedit) while the Orthodox Churches profess from the Father through the Son. He proceeds “by way of will,” “in the manner of love” (per modum amoris). This is a sententia certa, that is, a theological doctrine commonly accepted in the Church’s teaching and therefore sure and binding.

We need borders. Doctrine has to be defined. But let’s not lose sight of what Jesus focused on while he was here.

By their fruit you will recognize them.
Matthew 7:16

Still Here

I’ve been AWOL from my blog for a while. Publishing two books, getting married and writing for clients have filled my time.

I’m thankful I still have time as I start my 63rd trip around the sun. Check out these pictures from birthdays past and you’ll understand why.

Mary Beth doing the needlework

Got cancer for my 56th birthday – 6 rounds of chemo for presents. 30 more sessions to follow.


Bone marrow transplant for my 57th birthday. The gift that keeps on giving.


Three shoulder surgeries during my 58th year. And I only have two shoulders.


Neck surgery for new cancer shortly after turning 59.


Lost Susan along the way after 37 years together.


Found a new soul mate to share the rest of the journey. Each day is a gift.