Becoming Thoughtful, Part 1

For more than two decades, I have been known to some as a “Messenger to the Thoughtful.” This is not an exclusive club, but an invitation to conversation that is not merely retweeting headlines. My life has been enriched by the insights of many as we have explored serious issues, laughed and wept at the human condition, and sought hope is a world full of anxiety.

Later this year, I will publish a new book, with the working title, Thoughtful, inviting readers to a 40-day journey from unfiltered reactions to thoughtful responses. In these two essays, I want to offer a preview of five key ideas guiding this process. Hopefully, these will be helpful as we process the deluge of data coming at us from all sides (and even from our own imaginations!).

Our first step in the journey to thoughtfulness is deciding ahead of time what foundational convictions we will not compromise. For example, a devout Christian will not waver concerning the authority of the Bible, the truthfulness of Jesus death and resurrection, and the need for all to find salvation in Christ. There is much room for prudential diversity and interpretation, but God’s commands are not suggestions and the truth of Christ crucified and risen is not up for debate, apart from kind and thoughtful interfaith dialogues. This step also includes essential moral axioms that are not subject to the whims of culture, from integrity to sexual sanity, true equality of all people, and deep concern for the vulnerable.

Our second step is processing our reactions to circumstances and the news of the day. We will have reactions, and many will not be pretty! Our first reactions are not sinful, IF we then process them well. There are some public figures we endure, and others we enjoy. Sometimes we hear ideas and recoil, thinking, “How can anyone believe that?!” We must take a moment before responding publicly (apart from lamenting tragedies and joyful celebrations), and ask why we are responding in certain ways. Sometimes we are feeling deep moral outrage at injustice. We should not apologize for this, even though our responses must be measured. Sometimes our emotional reaction is personality preference or irritation…and in these cases, we must pause (and pray for them) before responding. Some reactions come from deeper places, including subconscious and unconscious influences. For example, a story of abuse and violence will touch all of us, but a victim will feel it more acutely.

Processing reactions can be instant, or it can take time. But it is vital for our emotional health and for our eventual contributions to the culture. So much public discourse is infected with reactionary and repetitive nonsense. We must live in the opposite spirit and pursue the good, even if it means swimming upstream.

Deciding ahead of time and processing reactions well are first steps toward a life of thoughtfulness that will help us and others thrive. Next week we will explore three more steps that will help us contribute to the common good.

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