Just Me, Google and My Bible? Loving a Passionate and Responsive God
The French speaking Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget studied the development of thinking in children. As a constructionist, he believed our knowledge is constructed, not acquired. Learning develops through our experiences.
When Piaget observed children, he watched as they interacted with their surroundings to create their learning experience. He could see that education is not a process of “mind dumping” in which the information from one person is poured like sand from one brain bucket into another. Learning is a process of understanding what to do with new information in our environment. If learning was simply about the transference of information, all any of us would need at this point in history would be the search engine “google”. Let’s be honest. Students can find information on the internet faster than the teacher can verbally distribute it.
No. Googling is not true education. It isn’t instruction. Learning happens when we grow in understanding what to DO with new information. Education is more about developing HOW to think rather than WHAT to think. Cognitive development is much more than collecting details or memorization.
Data or “facts” understood outside of life, stories, and community is obsolete or insufficient at best, life threatening at worst. Just ask your local physician. I am pretty sure the most dreaded words they hear from a patient is: “I was googling my symptoms…” The idea of “just me and my google” makes about as much sense (and is just as dangerous) as “just me and my bible”. We learn and grow in community and through life experiences.
The cornerstone of Piaget’s whole theoretical model is his understanding of the process of learning itself. This process…or journey…involves these key phases.
Disequilibrium (when encountering a new experience or new information)
Stay with me. I’m going somewhere relatable. I promise.
These concepts cover a process we engage every single day of our lives. We are going along in life and everything is in “equilibrium”. We are feeling good. Settled. Smooth sailing. Then, we encounter some new information that sets us off kilter. Maybe it is an idea or an experience. Maybe we see something on the news or a friend tells us about an event that happened to them. It sends us spinning. It upsets our reality. It results in demanding that we live in a state of “disequilibrium” for a while.
Disequilibrium is incredibly uncomfortable. It sends us reeling. Humans do not like staying in this space. So, we do one of two things. We either ACCOMMODATE or ASSIMILATE.
If we accommodate we allow the new information to expand our understanding of the world. We accommodate the new information by creating a new “box” into which the new information can fit. We allow old boxes to be broken down.
Accommodation is incredibly challenging. It requires emotional energy and flexibility. Allowing our minds and hearts to stretch is no walk in the park. Accommodation means saying goodbye to old ways of thinking that we thought made us safe.
Sometimes accommodation is not possible. We aren’t ready. So, we take the alternate route. We assimilate. We fit the new experience or information into old ways of thinking. This choice is not easy either. Sometimes we have to ignore certain aspects of the new information or experience to be able to make this choice.
Either route can leave us feeling disoriented and bewildered for a while.
Let’s think about how these things happen for a baby. A baby is going along in her world doing what babies like to do: banging objects on the floor or hitting them together. She bangs the spoon, the keys, the blocks. Suddenly she is in her high chair and encounters a raw egg. She reaches and attempts to bang it on the counter. Splat. Something entirely different happens with this object. She learns by experience. This encounter demands a new way of thinking. She is forced to construct a new reality: not all objects can be banged on a hard surface without breaking and/or making a mess.
Here’s one example I am sure most of you have seen. The toddler has one “box” for animals: dog. Until he or she is able to accommodate new boxes, he or she places all animals…the horse, the cat, the cow…into one box. They are all called dogs. Same goes for furniture. Everything is a chair or a bed or a couch until he or she can handle understanding that there are lots of different types of furniture.
You and I have boxes, too. These containers keep us safe. They assist us in telling stories about the world that help it make sense. We go to great lengths to keep the boxes properly assembled. We decide who is “good” and “bad”, who is “in” and “out”, who is “wrong” and “right” all in an attempt to keep our boxes in working order. We seek a world that is safe. Understandable. Consistent. Predictable. We desire a world with rules that we can follow in order to create an environment that feels secure and within our control.
We don’t like information that causes disequilibrium…experiences that tell us that things we have believed to be true for years, maybe decades, might be outdated at best, harmful and life threatening at worst.
Our minds LOVE patterns. They will look for and create them on instinct. Have you ever seen the exercise that has floated around online where you read a paragraph and only the first and last letter of a word is visible? It is amazing how quickly we are able to fill in the gaps in the absence of information. We do that with humans, too. Our ideas on gender, socioeconomics, spirituality, sexuality, power, and all sorts of human biases and strong opinions. We create a scaffold onto which we hang our assumptions…even when information is not actually available. Our own life experiences and culture creates a screen through which we filter information, only allowing certain parts of a story and “truth” to reach us in order to keep our little world safe and in “equilibrium”.
There is a reason our brains work this way. We NEED safety and security to thrive. We need worlds we can understand and predict in order to make decisions, plan for futures and care for the next generation.
And? We need a good amount of disruption…death and resurrection…the pushing of our buttons…in order to grow.
Most of us have heard about helicopter parenting. It is the idea of parenting where moms and dads “hover” in order to keep their children safe. I recently heard of a new term: “lawnmower parenting”. It is the idea that parents will go before their children, mowing down any and all difficulties so that their child does not face hardship.
Here’s the thing: hardship within the context of safe relationships is where children grow. The research is clear. Children actually need some struggle in their lives in order to develop into strong, resilient, flexible, and empathetic human beings.
When we moved from Tennessee to Charlotte, North Carolina my oldest child was leaving her elementary school the summer before her very last year. These people had known my daughter for her entire life. The move placed her in completely foreign territory. She faced emotional struggle for several months. It was hard to watch. I wanted to make it all better and would have done anything to help. She later told me: “Mom, I never understood what other kids were going through when they moved. Now I do.” Fast forward to years later she is faced with another move. I asked her how she was feeling. Her response blew me away: “My entire world view changed when we moved from Tennessee to Charlotte. I grew so much. I can’t wait to watch and see how this move changes me, too.”
New Experiences, New Information.
I want to stop here and say that assimilation is not all bad either. We need both responses to new experiences. The challenges of moving helped my oldest daughter realize which boxes she wanted to KEEP, too.
We also have boxes for ourselves. We co-create ideas about our identity based on information we have picked up along the way from our communities and life experiences. If I am THIS, then I have to be THAT. If I belong to THEM, I have to believe THIS.
These boxes often DO keep us “safe”. Until they don’t. Until our world isn’t so safe anymore. Until life experiences crumble the walls of our boxes. We get knocked off by some cataclysmic seismic shift because the house of cards we have co-constructed with our community for ourselves won’t stand under the weight of the disequilibrium.
We try for a while. We could win medals for the mental and emotional gymnastics we do to stay within the boundaries of the mat given to us on which to perform our old routine.
It takes us a while to realize that growth and life is happening for us off the mat.
We see this disequilibrium in scripture over and over. God creates rules to help keep people safe. The people break the rules out of stupidity or adhere to the rules out of a hardened heart to the point of religiosity and rigidity. The condition of the heart seems to be the same in both circumstances.
Then God comes in and breaks His own rules. He prizes hearts and humans over demarcation of membership. You cannot read the bible without seeing this theme of disruption threaded throughout scripture.
Here are the lines, God says. Now I want you to adjust the lines.
This God who responds to people is messy business. It requires community discernment and a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. Who has time for that? It is much easier and efficient to have hard and fast lines.
In Acts the early church faced quite a calamity regarding membership. Throughout the Old Testament God made it abundantly clear that NO ONE outside of God’s people, the Hebrews, the Israelites, could be receivers of the Promise. Gentiles (basically anyone not an Israelite) were spurned as filthy. The act of including them, marrying them, befriending them…all were signs that the people of God had fallen away…all signs that doom was pending.
With no New Testament to read…with no new words to give direction…the baby church had to decide. Do we include Gentiles? If you read Acts 15 you see that there were people on both sides of the debate.
““Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnaba’s into sharp dispute and debate with them…. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear form my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as He did to us.” “Acts 15:1-2; 7-8
For the ones who argued in favor of Gentiles being included (maybe even allowed to LEAD!), what was their main point of reference? Scripture? No. Scripture said Gentiles were dirty. Their main argument was experience…stories. Testimony. Spiritual fruit. Here are Gentiles and here is their fruit. This evidence is what we are seeing. This story is what we are experiencing. It is busting up our old beliefs and we think we need to respond. It seems we need to adjust the lines of membership.
So, Gentiles were allowed to become part of this new movement of Christ followers.
New Experiences. New Information.
Side note: I just love following a God who changes His mind. I know that messes with some people. It has definitely messed with me. There are even theological gymnastics people do to insist that He doesn’t change His mind, but why? Whatever the reasons, whatever the theological underpinnings…I love serving a God Who is RESPONSIVE. I love following a God who engages His own creation in a continuous journey of co-creation. What a gorgeous, amazing, miraculous image that is. The question isn’t “what would Jesus do?” as much as it is “what is Jesus DOING?”
Ok, back on track.
Losing community is often part of the disequilibrium and accommodation process. Some of us can go about changes quietly. For others, our own life becomes a sign to others that their boxes are endangered…so WE become threatening and WE become a source of disequilibrium. It can be easier to cut someone out rather than accommodate to make room for someone whose life is so different that it challenges your sense of safety and sense of how the world works.
I’m not sure what stories you are holding onto, friend. I am not sure what boxes feel so necessary for your survival. I do want you to stop long enough to ask yourself if it is rigid ideals you are trying to save…or yourself? Is it your sense of belonging you are trying to maintain…or your growth?
Our need for belonging is so very strong. It is a biological, compulsory drive. When it comes to choosing between belonging and our own authenticity we will choose belonging. Exclusion feels like death. That is why shunning is so incredibly effective and threatening as a consequence in strict religious communities. It is important that we take this need and the consequences of losing community seriously. Growth and transition brings scary losses that will catapult us into a season of despair. Let’s be honest. No sugar coating here.
Friend. If you are in a season of disequilibrium and accommodation, you are not alone. You aren’t. It is going to feel that way for a while and I am very sorry about that. It is going to be so very hard. You will have days when you want to go backwards even when you realize it is too late for that. You can find community and relationship. Don’t stop looking for it. Even when you find your people, your growth will take you away from an older version of yourself and THAT will feel lonely and disorienting. As I told my 13-year-old daughter today, we all become a series of different people throughout our life. Each new season usually starts with some new experience or new information.
And? I hope you stick around long enough to get to know that new person. I am guessing he or she is amazingly beautiful and worth enjoying. I am also guessing others out there will think so, too.