Friday, March 30, 2018


One of my favorite podcasts is Shankar Vedantam’s Hidden Brain from NPR. On a recent podcast, called “Crickets and Cannibals,” he was interviewing Rachel Herz on the topic of disgust. Rachel has written a book called That’s Disgusting: Unraveling the Mysteries of Repulsion. In this book she poses an interesting idea. She contends that while we are not disgusted by the fact that we have saliva in our mouth when we drink a glass of water, we would be less eager to drink that glass of water after spitting in it. Her research into disgust tells her that we experience this emotion when something from the outside that is contaminated threatens to come inside of us. This fear works to keep us safe and it is so strong we even fear contaminating ourselves with our own spit.

I am eyeing my toothbrush in a whole new way.

Disgust is thought to be a basic emotion, likely one we are born with. Even though disgust is a basic emotion we are taught how to use that emotion. For instance, most people I know would be disgusted by the thought of eating insects, but that is not true of a rather large segment of the world’s population. We learn what is disgusting from the people around us. It is as if we have this unspoken agreement about what could possibly contaminate.

It is not just possible food items that make us feel disgust. Moral disgust is when we are disgusted by behavior. This is also learned – but the internet suggest to me it is not learned very consistently. The idea behind moral disgust is that we do not want to be around people who do things that go against our moral code because we fear their actions will rub off on us. To a certain extent that is true. We may not begin to behave like that person but we will likely loosen our moral behavior about other things and certainly our reputation may be tarnished.

Human beings typically have a strong sense of moral disgust unless the bad behavior in question comes from a favorite movie star, sports figure, or politician. Then we are quick to make excuses. I guess we don't worry about contamination if we get something else that we want such as entertainment or political power.

During Holy week we celebrate the Last Supper. Here is an event full of potential disgust. The disciples are not aware that soon they will be ashamed to be associated with Jesus. Judas shows behavior full of disgust for his Messiah and later hangs himself from a tree out of disgust for what he did. Then to top it off, Jesus asks the disciples to eat His flesh and drink His blood.

Yet, when Jesus teaches us this sacrament it is anything but disgusting. It is an act of sacrifice, it is forgiveness, it is mercy. In this instance something from the outside does not contaminate us. Instead it is something good that will spread in us and overtake the contamination of sin.

While spit can contaminate a glass of water,  a drop of clean water will not decontaminate a glass of spit. Yet Jesus’ body and blood does just that. It washes away all evidence of our sin. It leaves us standing clean before God.

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Matthew 26: 26-28

God takes something disgusting and makes it sacred. He takes us, steeped in the sin that comes from inside us, and makes us white as snow.

Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD; though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Isaiah 1:18

Because of our beautiful Savior all that is disgusting within us has been made clean.

May your Easter be blessed by this joyful truth.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Building Relationships

Camera Goes on Japanese Sushi Conveyor Belt

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15

I came across this video taken by a go pro camera and I am not sure if I should be amused or depressed. The camera rode on a conveyer belt in a sushi restaurant in Japan and filmed a few seconds of the lives of about 40 people. (Warning: obscene gesture.)

I was struck by how many people were sitting, presumably with friends, but with their attention on their phones or tablets. I watched a second time and counted. It turns out that nearly 40% of the people caught on film were sitting with humans but spending time on devices.

Now I will admit that I spend plenty of time on the computer and I refuse to put any game apps on my smartphone because I know I will not have the necessary self-discipline to stay away. But, these people are at a restaurant – with friends or family! They are not sitting on a train, or waiting in a line. They are eating out which typically is done for entertainment – or at least human engagement.

How important are our screens to us? Way too important if you ask me.

Every aspect of social media and other apps are specifically designed to draw us in and keep us there. The more time we spend on our devices the more ads we see and that generate revenue. These apps have a vested interest in keeping us absorbed and we apparently have little or no desire to resist. I am remembering that in American Sign Language the concept of temptation is signed by reaching one hand around the other to tap on your elbow. Social media and other enticements on our phones certainly give a constant tap of encouragement to capture our attention.

It would seem to me that spending too much time on your phone is not the biggest problem.  Instead, it is what we are not doing while our devices have our brains held captive.

We aren’t engaged in our world. We aren’t sharing God’s love in the form of interacting with those around us. We aren’t showing empathy, helping others, or even thinking of other people while we are playing a game or checking a social media account. We are totally absorbed in being disengaged.

My work with resilience has shown me that our relationships with each other -- the good, the bad, and the ugly -- are important to our ability to survive and thrive. We depend on each other and benefit from each other, even when we think we are doing it alone. 

God created us to be in fellowship with Him and with each other.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:1-4

God gave us each other. It is His desire for us to care for each other, cry, laugh, believe, and do His work with each other. We cannot accomplish any of this without God. We also cannot accomplish any of this without a relationship with each other.

We don’t have relationships simply because we are related, live close, work, or worship together. We have relationships because we spend time together and because our shared experiences build a strong bond. We need to have many kinds of experiences, good experiences, bad experience, deep experiences and frequent ones. We need to invest in relationships so the relationship is strong when it is needed.

Consider Job and his friends:

And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. Job 2:13

We can argue that Job’s friends did him little good with their words, but their presence in his suffering was important. They were there with him even if they could do nothing to relieve his pain and despair. This friendship was not forged over social media or by neglect. It was formed by many interactions over time and each of these interactions was present in this event.

God’s attention for us is all-encompassing and it is constant. He always knows our needs and often meets them before we realize we are in want. His relationship with us is built on the love of a perfect Father willing to sacrifice His Son for a relationship with his rebellious children. Nothing tempts Him away from us.

While we cannot form perfect relationships with each other, we can allow God's love for us to direct our relationships with others. Such friendships take work, but they can be entertaining along the way. It is good to remember that even when we struggle in relationships the process of forgiveness can make the bond even stronger.

God will bless our relationships with the people He places in our lives. God sees everything in our lives as having potential to bring us closer to Him.