In The Beginning…

Every good epic has a killer back story, and current society loves a great origin story. And why not?! Some of the most popular movies and television series feature the genesis of our favorite super heroes. When we immerse ourselves into their stories, it’s almost as if there is a tangible connection that inspires us towards daring feats–that extra push to do more with our life than meets the eye. Because after all, at one point, even Spider Man was just Peter Parker, a nerdy school boy with a penchant for science and writing before his ill-fated run in with a radioactive spider. It stands to reason that our own origin story could use a twist of fate as well.

Origin stories are interesting things because they serve a powerful purpose–to anchor us to a framework and a set of rules from which to live one’s life.

There’s that word again, “framework”. It’s an important word because it provides us with a way to order the chaos around us.

So let’s take our two ideas–origin stories and frameworks–and let’s get to the point. And more importantly, how can an understanding of these two concepts help strengthen our relationships with our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ?

Etiology is the study of causation and origination. Or, in other words, an in depth look into the reasons why things are the way they are. It is commonly used in the medical field to determine the cause of disease, but other disciplines have adopted it as well to understand the causes of various phenomena. And so we find an application to our topic of origin myths.

In the distant past, myths arose to help individuals and social groups understand why unexplained physical phenomena occurred. Not only did myths serve to pass along information and explain nature, but these stories also served to orient humans to the world around them, even the vast expanse of the universe that the eye could see, but the brain could not comprehend. Without access to the same technology that we have today, it is easy to see how important an origin story could be to the idea of ordering chaos, or just explaining every day life.

In fact, creation myths are also referred to as cosmogonic myths and serve to describe how the cosmos was ordered from a state of chaos into the physical world that we now see. They also go further than that by offering a symbolic narrative of how the world began and how people first came to inhabit it. Every creation story shares similar traits as well:

  • sacred in nature
  • describe one’s relationship to Deity
  • stories with a plot and character
  • set in the dim distant past
  • address questions deeply meaningful to that society
  • reveal a central worldview
  • reveal a framework of self-identity of culture and the individual in the universal context

I think we have hit on something very important here with this list of common traits. The goal of this blog is to bring an easier understanding of self and our relationship with God and Jesus Christ so that we can really harness the gospel in our life. I believe that this list offers some useful information for the starting point of that journey.

How do we view God and Jesus Christ in general? Are they just beings that oversee the events that take place on earth in omnipotent fashion? Do we care if they care? Do we even believe in a God like figure? Or do we consider God as our Father in Heaven, and Jesus Christ as our benevolent and loving brother that left his throne to come to earth and lead the way back to our Father in Heaven?

How you answer that question determines your current relationship with deity.

How you wish you answered that question determines the type of relationship with deity that you hope to have.

As well, how you answer that question determines the value you place on sticking to a framework that offers a relatable origin story, or cosmogonic myth.

And guess what?!

There is no wrong or right answer to these questions.

The only answer that matters is the one that determines what kind of life you want to live in this moment, and in the future.

A creation myth provides you with the framework to order your current and future life. Forget about the past and what ever foibles you’ve participated in, those don’t matter. This is the day you begin your own journey.

In the sense of spiritual belief, a creation myth offers you a starting point for a relationship with deity. It offers you an understanding of how your earthly life is valued in what comes after our mortal body passes on. Creation myths can even offer a better understanding of how your life mattered before your earthly life began. Creation myths offer us a more eternal perspective of how human life factors into the overall story of the universe. They also provide us with basic patterns for life and culture.

How we feel about our spiritual creation myth matters. When we are honest with ourselves about our relationship with deity, we begin to reveal our true priorities and our real prejudices. And honesty is such an integral part of this processes because we cannot improve if we do not lay ourselves bare. Do we want to strengthen our priorities and work out our prejudices? Do we want our life to have meaning beyond the material things we hang on our bodies and outfit our homes in? I think we can find meaning in material things, but only as far as they connect to the significance we place on our personal values and priorities.

As I said before, a creation myth is something of a scalable model. We can use it to orient any aspect of our life from individual goal setting, to our personal standards in the work force, to how we treat others around us everyday. Governments and societies operate with a code of rules that is founded in some sort of creation myth as well–you could call it a motto, a mission statement, or a constitution.

And we need only look to history to determine the value a creation myth carries with it. There is strength in valuing a framework. Great buildings like the pyramids, or monuments like Stonehenge, or the American Constitution didn’t just occur randomly, they were the direct result of a set of beliefs. Those that held those beliefs dear made a concerted effort to create a tangible record of those beliefs that would serve to order human behavior across time and space.

Losing sight of those beliefs and their origin, I feel, is dangerous.

I have always wondered why great religious leaders have directed their followers to read scriptures daily and to write them on their hearts. I think the answer lies in this idea. By immersing ourselves in our chosen creation myth daily, we remind ourselves of:

  • where we came from
  • who we came from
  • who we are
  • why we are here
  • what we are supposed to do here
  • where we want to go
  • we are offered suggestions of how we can order our chaos
  • we are reminded again and again of who we should look to and rely on to overcome chaos when order seems to be lost

How many people question the meaning of life, and ponder endlessly over what happens after death? In our day, social media is rife with podcasts, youtube channels, facebook groups, television series, movies, etc., that explore the meaning of life and death–and even life after death with a zombie-like twist. If the entertainment industry is any reflection of where people place their values, figuring out the answer to those questions is just as valid today as it was in the distant past. The difference might be that with all the technology and leaps in scientific discovery, perhaps we have moved away from a focus on deity as an explanation for the unexplainable. We see no problem distending belief when we discover that Peter Parker becomes the wily Spider-man after he is bitten by a radioactive spider, but believing in and trusting that there is a loving God in our own personal life might be too great of a stretch.

We allow Peter Parker a new twist of fate, but have a hard time believing the same for ourselves.

Adopting a creation myth for ourselves can do that, it can offer a new twist of fate for ourselves.

In the past, cultural groups engineered elaborate burial tombs and grave rituals that expressed the belief in some sort of creation myth. We know that the value they placed on these beliefs was high because of what we find inside. When resources were scarce and access to luxury goods was next to impossible, archaeologists uncover again and again vast troves of wealth that boggles even our minds today. The man power alone that went into designing and building such tombs is staggering when considering it was all done by hand. When people place a high priority on what they value, however, they are willing to go to great lengths to secure the desired outcome.

So, here we are, back to the point–how can a creation myth strengthen our relationship with God and Jesus Christ?

I offer you some questions to ponder, because the answer to this question lies inside of yourself:

  • What do you know of your faith’s creation myth?
  • How does that creation myth make you feel?
  • What does your creation myth offer to you as an individual?
  • Do you have enough faith to believe deeply that what your creation myth offers is worth struggle and refinement?
  • What are you willing to do– to sacrifice– to ensure that your life aligns with your creation myth?
  • Does your creation myth offer you a meaningful relationship with Deity?

Next week, I hope to take apart the creation myth that I grew up with and answer a few of these questions. I also hope to focus on how the creation myth I have chosen for myself has helped me through some of the challenges I have faced in my own life. Up until now I have been talking in general, but I promise to put a more personal spin on the next installment.

What Does “The Thinking Saint” Mean?

In my last post I talked a lot about anthropology and order vs. chaos. Perhaps you might wonder why the name of the blog is “The Thinking Saint” since I have not mentioned religion at all. That is a fair question, so let me offer a fair answer.

Religion has always been a major part of my life. When I was young, I did not understand why my parents went to church, just that I was going with them. As I grew, I began to experiment with religion myself–reading scriptures, praying to God, trying to live the 10 commandments, being kind to others, etc,. For the most part, my life was pretty easy and the trials I faced didn’t really seem to phase my belief in God or my efforts towards religion. As I have said before, I haven’t really been someone that seeks to defy authority and push boundaries, so I don’t really have a problem with having religion as part of my life. I don’t view religion as something that holds me back, just as something that helps me to navigate chaos.

But what happens when obeying the tenets of religion suddenly seem to not make any sense?

For the record, I believe very firmly that there is a God. I find that there is too much order in the universe to deny that He is. Let’s take the pile of laundry example for instance–how did it get there? Why isn’t it folding and organizing itself? When will it put itself away? It’s not going to happen if someone comes a long and does something with it. Someone that can envision something more for that manky pile of clothes than just sitting there with no meaning and greater purpose. That’s about the easiest way I can explain my faith in God.

I also believe that God has a son, and that his name is Jesus Christ. I believe that at one time in the far distant past, all mankind lived in the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. In order for us to gain the experience of ordering chaos, I believe we were all given a chance to come to earth to obtain mortal bodies and seek out experience. I believe that Jesus Christ came to earth as a mortal too, made careful decisions about how he would lead his life, and in the end, I believe that he consciously chose to suffer and die for all of us so that we could return to the presence of God the Father and Jesus Christ.

I believe our mortal journey is messy and clouded by ignorance, but that mess and ignorance do not need to be the sum of our journey. That is why religion makes sense to me, because it offers a method for gaining knowledge and ordering one’s life around a set of rules. I think that some religions offer more than others, but value each religion for the truth that each one offers. I think that if someone lives up to their beliefs the best way they know how, they are closer to order than the original chaos we all came from.

Does that mean that I discriminate against those that don’t care for religion?

Not at all.

One of the great things that I enjoyed in my studies in Anthropology was the tendency to value all cultures, social groups, and peoples as unique individuals that share a desire to fulfill basic needs and wants in the most comfortable way possible. We all come to our conclusions from different starting points, and we don’t all end up at the same end point, but we all seek for happiness, health, and comfort. To each their own. That is one thing that is so interesting about culture–it is a social agreement that we make with one another to uphold the “group” effort towards prosperity.

Religion is just a small part of the overall picture.

Back to the original question:

So what happens when one’s religion suddenly doesn’t seem to make any sense?

The easiest answer would be to just walk away.

I get it, and I’ve seen it happen before. Giving up is the easy answer

But that’s not what I did. I dug deeper. I did what I always do, and I asked “Why?!”

What is the point of praying to a God,reading scriptures, obeying commandments, and serving others if, in the end, my prayers go unanswered?!

Well, that is the very question I hope to answer with this blog. Because, guess what? There is a point–all of those things I listed above:

  • praying to God
  • reading scriptures
  • obeying commandments
  • serving others

They all serve to change who we are on the outside and on the inside. Yes, we become kinder and achieve a beautiful soul, but it also changes the very biological makeup of our physical being. It enhances our brain and can even change our DNA.

Does that sound crazy?

I think that might sound a little bit crazy, but religion didn’t make much sense to me until I combined the study of it with the study of anthropology.

What exactly does the study of anthropology combine?

  • culture
  • folklore
  • psychology
  • biology
  • osteology
  • neuroscience
  • linguistics
  • art history
  • history
  • food ways
  • politics
  • transportation
  • etc.,

Basically, it is a deep dive into how humans have ordered chaos throughout history. Chaos on all levels, from cellular all the way up to political and beyond.

I’ve basically stated that I am a Christian, so lets just get that out of the way–yes, I am a Christian. However, being a christian has not stifled my interest and excitement in studying all other religions, so let that not cloud judgement here.

One thing that I have noticed about people that have been part of a cultural group for long periods of time is that sometimes truth get’s mixed up with tradition. Traditions are a great way to pass information to the next generation and to cement belief in ritualized actions, but they also tend to turn important elements of a belief structure into a cliche. Essentially, the reason for doing something gets lost to the past instead of remaining in the forefront of our mind.

What if, just what if, there really is something about religion that is more profound than just the traditions and cliches that we have carried on over the years?

I think there is, and I want to share those things with you.

I hope you don’t get turned off by the mention of religion. I know, I know, it’s a rather decisive topic right now, but I don’t think it has to be. I wish it wouldn’t because there is so much to be learned. So much I have learned.

In the posts beyond, we are going to explore what religion can teach us about the brain, homeostasis, meta-cognition, shame, folklore, language, etc. And…what each of those things can teach us about religion.

A very dear friend once stood up in front of the entire congregation and said something so profound that it has stuck with me since–

“Sometimes you have to lose sight of God in order to find your way back.”

Like I said before, when tradition and cliche become trite, significance and meaning become lost. The only way to find our way back is to turn our back on what we think we know and venture out into the darkness on our own to find out what is really truth.

But that is all a topic for a different day.

I do hope you will join me.

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What is this all about?

You know, it’s hard to put together a 30-second elevator pitch when there is so much more to me than 30 seconds. Should I tell you about my childhood, my college career, what happened to me after all of that, or what hobbies I like?

(Meh, I’m not even going to try…)

Those anecdotes would be fun and enlightening in a way, but what I really want you to know is that I am someone who has always questioned things. Not the type of questioning that leads an angsty teen to rebel and clash with her parents, but the kind of questioning that leads a girl to pour through the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Dictionary, and just plain old raiding the library before the internet was even a thing. You know, the eternal search for Who, What, Where, When, and Why?!

I couldn’t understand, at a young age, why my parents would insist I always did things their way, even if “their way” didn’t occur to me first, or always make sense to my way of thinking. But I did know that I felt bad incurring their displeasure, and so I made it a goal to anticipate what I thought they would want me to do. You know, it’s crazy, I didn’t have a problem letting my grade 12 teacher know when he was wrong, or that there was a different way to interpret that passage in Macbeth. There is just something about parents that gets into our heads and their voices never leave your mind. In my case, I spent many years listening to those voices, and trying to make their decisions, but at what cost? Even as an adult, I listened…maybe a little bit too long.

This isn’t a blog about parents, or venting about anger towards my parents, but this experience from my life has brought about a personal realization that fits into what I want to do here.

Sometimes we take upon ourselves the weight of other peoples choices and make them our own. They may be friends, family members, social media acquaintances, work colleagues, or any number of persons we meet throughout our lives. We try to make the decisions that we think they would make, instead of the ones that we deep down want to make ourselves. We might be afraid of failure as others might define it because we can’t even conceive of what success by our own definition might entail.

Or maybe not. Maybe you are someone that has already figured yourself out and have already taken responsibility for your own decisions and life path.

To you, I commend!

It is my goal to pull back the covers on things that we might take for granted when we make choices and decisions. Most choices that we make come from a subconscious assimilation into the culture into which we were born. I know from my days of huddling under a blanket over the heater in my living room reading the encyclopedia A through Z, that humans all over the world have taken Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and interpreted it in unique and marvelous ways. Well, to be honest, it wasn’t just the encyclopedia that taught me that. In one of the boldest moves of my life, I chose to focus on Anthropology in University instead of something that would provide me with a heap of marketable skills. It wasn’t a choice that my parents agreed with. And yet, everything I learned in each and every one of those classes resonates with me still– humans are mysterious and complex creatures with an unlimited ability to express themselves. I don’t think my college career was a waste, in other words. I think it was the best decision I’ve ever made, even if it went against the subconscious assimilation of family culture that I had adopted as my own.

Probably one of the most important take-aways from my college days was the ability I gained to look at a group of people–from Renaissance re-enacters, to businesses, to tribal groups living on islands–to find their framework.

What do I mean by “framework”?

This is where I get giddy because my friends, order and chaos are my absolute favorite things to talk about.

Humans are naturally driven to order their chaos.

Just think about a pile of laundry that has come out of the dryer. Your fingers practically itch to fold that laundry and put it away. Perhaps you can’t get to the laundry just then, no matter, but every time you walk past that pile, you are going to think about folding it, and maybe even imagine folding that laundry in your head as you walk past.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a fairly organized person, consider how your partition out your clutter. Order is there.

Humans are naturally driven to order their chaos.

That is what I mean by “framework”–how humans order their chaos. And this idea is a great one, because it is highly scalable. From individuals, to corporations, to social groups, to governments, and any place that humans are, if you look closely, you can find a framework of beliefs and ideas that organize action and group culture. Even down to families and individuals, we all strive to order our chaos.

But the really incredible thing is, if we are not honest with ourselves in how we design this framework, like, for example, if we continue to strive for someone else’s definition of perfection for ourselves–our framework just might not work. It might work for a bit, and we might find success for a period of time, but eventually we will realize that fitting ourselves into the framework we “think” we need might really be like fitting a square into a circle.

It’s not going to happen!

We might not even realize why it’s not working, and instead blame ourselves for not fitting into what someone else has designed for their own strengths and weaknesses.

We might not realize at all because finding out what type of framework works for us takes courage.

It takes time.

It takes ripping back everything we think we know about ourselves and others, and looking at the bare facts.

Sometimes the bare facts aren’t very nice to look at.

But the only way to get out, is to go through.

Brutal honesty, that’s what it is going to take.

Brutal honesty with yourself, about yourself.

It’s easy to look at the framework someone else has built and focus on it’s strengths and weaknesses. In fact, it’s so easy that social media is founded on this very concept. We choose to “like” or not like things all the time, lending or withholding our support of someone else’s framework. We even willingly place ourselves in the arena of finagling support for our own framework as we post elements of our lives for other people’s perusal, hoping to accumulate likes in favor of our choices. It’s almost as if we use these interactions between someone who hardly even knows us to guide our choices and actions. After all, it is really easy to focus on what someone else is building in favor of sifting through the chaos of our own self.

With every like, we get a shot of adrenaline running through our system that encourages us to participate in the game again and again. If we don’t get a like, we look for other ways to ensure that next time we get that same rush of chemical energy. I find it so interesting that even down to our biological make-up, we are designed to create order out of chaos.

So, if we seek for the assurances of the masses to order our own chaos, are we really heading in the right direction?

Let’s wrap this all up by heading back to the beginning of my manifesto.

From the start, I have always been interested in how other people have ordered chaos over time. I could rhapsodize for hours over the magnificence of language, words, even letters. Numbers!! Oh, just the thought of how mere symbols can order so much chaos!

But I digress.

I have always known that how I ordered my own chaos would be a great determiner in the path that my life went down. However, somewhere a long the way, my path was hijacked by the thoughts and intents of other people.

Let me say here and now that I do not believe for a second that my father or my mother ruined my life. I will say that I just did not feel confident in ordering my own chaos. But all of that is an article for another time.

Due to lack of confidence and knowledge about the world and myself, I chose things that I may not have if I understood on a deeper level the importance of choosing the fight I wanted to engage in, and not the one someone else thought was easier for me to win.

That is not to say that I regret the life I have, or the choices that have led me to who and what I am now. I don’t think I would have had the same desire that burns inside of me to uncover truth and understanding if my life had gone down another path. Oh sure, there have been times where I have fallen into the trap of trying to shove my square peg into a round hole–years in fact–but for a while now I have made every effort to learn who “I” am and what I value. Coming to this point has been a painful and confusing journey that wasn’t exactly my choice. No one chooses uncertainty and hardship on purpose, because the outcome is just that–uncertain.

That’s why we are so driven to order our chaos.

This is what I want to do here, I want to pull back the covers on what we think we know about culture, and order and chaos, and reveal the bare facts. I want to provide anyone that stops here with a scalable model that will enable them to pull back the covers on their own self and reveal the bare facts beneath. From there, I hope to offer some methods and ideas that will enable you to move forward in life with an attainable model of goal setting and course completion. I want you to be able to find comfort and affirmation in who you are, and what your strengths and weaknesses are. Most of all, I want you to understand that weakness and failure are stepping stones towards progress and strength. We aren’t meant to be perfect, and the only way to really, really learn something is to make mistakes and take different paths and start again and again until we finally understand what we are doing inside and out.

What a liberating truth!

Am I going to ask you for money, or to join some kind of club?

No.

I just ask that you come back here every now and again and cut me some slack when our opinions about life sometimes don’t coincide. I am choosing to be bold and open by putting my thoughts and research out there, and I hope that you will receive it with candor in the spirit it is given.

Candor, a great word that means being open and honest, even frank.

If we can agree to do that with each other, we are going to make great strides becoming who we were meant to become, not who someone else thinks we should become.

On this journey, just about the only thing I can promise is that it will be difficult and confusing at first, but when we reach our new normal, ordering the chaos will be well worth it.