“Grateful athletes are more satisfied with their team and overall lives.”

In a recent academic study, Professor Lung Hung Cheng discovered that athletes with a strong sense of gratitude had a higher sense of personal well-being and team satisfaction: “Grateful athletes are more satisfied with their team and overall lives.” The more thankful a player is for training, mentors, and other players, the more supported and successful the player feels. This support, in turn, builds persistence and confidence and connects individual players to a community of teammates. Grateful people play together better.

From “Grateful” by Diana Butler Bass – HarperOne

“I’m working at it”

Thanks to Nicodemus, I started borrowing a line from Maya Angelou, recipient of the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom, who said she was always amazed when people came up to her and told her they were Christian. “I think, ‘Already?’ ” she said. “ ‘You already got it?’ ” 

“I’m working at it,” she continued, “which means that I try to be as kind and fair and generous and respectful and courteous to every human being.” She was in her eighties when she said that. It sounded like the perfect Christian baseline to me: how you treat every human being, neighbor and stranger alike. Even if you are still working at it, that is the mustard seed.

from “Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others” by Barbara Brown Taylor – HarperOne

Your three-member committee

Your singular human brain functions like a three-member committee. Each of your three primary modules includes many distinct submodules that in turn contain even smaller submodules, and the interactions among these modules and submodules are so fast, so complex, and so overlapping and interconnected that your brain can hardly even begin to understand its own inner workings. 

Your oldest primary module, sometimes called the primitive or reptilian brain, includes your brain stem and cerebellum. It controls your basic bodily functions, including a highly evolved set of unconscious reflexes and responses to novelty or danger: alertness, hunger, thirst, sexual desire, anxiety, fear, terror, panic. This instinctive brain comes online before you are even born, and its job is to keep you alive in a dangerous world.

Next, shortly after birth, a second member of your brain committee wakes up and becomes engaged. This mammalian or limbic brain module orients you toward attachment by generating emotions that strengthen relationships, relationships that are necessary for a helpless infant’s survival. The need for connection, for example, draws you toward caregivers who offer comfort, companionship, and protection. Feelings of affection and loyalty keep you from easily discarding these essential relationships. Like the reptilian brain, this mammalian brain operates at super-high speeds, deeper and faster that you can consciously keep track of. For that reason, we can call this second member of the brain committee the intuitive brain.

Before you even learn your name, before you are even conscious of your own existence as an individual, your instinctive and intuitive brains are already hard at work, forming connections, learning to work together, keeping you safe, and keeping you connected with those upon whom your survival depends. Then, gradually, especially after the age of about two, your third brain committee member, consisting of the neocortex and its components, begins to assert itself. Often called the primate brain, it’s the logical, rational, analytical member of your brain committee. This module is the seat of intellect, and it enables you to use language and to think critically and creativity. This intellectual brain is essential to help you become both an independent self and an interdependent agent in human society.

People sometimes refer to these three committee members as the gut (the instinctive brain), the heart (the intuitive brain), and the head (the intellectual brain). We could also refer to them as the survival module, the belonging or relational module, and the meaning module. When we speak of healthy, mature, or well-rounded human beings, we are referring to people who integrate their survival, belonging, and meaning modules (and all their submodules) in ways that bring benefit and pleasure to themselves and others. 

From “Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What To Do About It” by Brian McLaren

It is our very denial which has allowed the system to continue

Though this book will be talking about race and its impact on how both the Bible and the United States Constitution have been read, interpreted, and applied, it is important to know that this is not about blaming white people. If there is blame to be assigned, it is against the system called white supremacy. Many, many white people abhor racism; they see what it does and has done. The immediate reaction when the word “racism” is used is defensiveness; people will say, “I didn’t do that,” or ask, “Why do people keep bringing it up?” It is easier to live in denial than to face the truth, no matter what the distasteful subject is before us.

But it is our very denial which has allowed the system to continue, challenged from time to time, but not eradicated. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said that it was the silence of so-called liberals that bothered him and made the situation worse, and the poet Audre Lorde wrote that our silence does not and will not protect us. Even as she dealt with the fact that she as a lesbian, a Black woman, and, finally a woman with breast cancer, she acknowledged that being silent about any of that, acting as though it were not her reality, did not change her reality. She wrote:

I was going to die, if not sooner, than later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences. And it was the concern and caring of all those women which gave me strength and enable me to scrutinize the essentials of my living.

Reni Eddo-Lodge wrote, in the preface of Lorde’s book, “And yet, Audre lets us know that staying silent is betraying yourself, because nobody will speak up for you but you. Silence can be a survival strategy, but it can also be a way of giving up, saying nothing simply because there’s too much to say, and you fear your intervention will make no difference.

Our desire to remain silent and to ignore racism is understandable but not acceptable. It feels as though the God of us all beseeches us to do better. 

From “With Liberty and Justice for Some: The Bible, the Constitution, and Racism in America” by Susan K. Williams Smith

The transformation of hearts is essential

Opposing racism but not being active in combatting it sounds rather benign. Forfeiting opportunities to act creatively for race relations may be the greatest contributor to racism’s malignant persistence in society. I believe Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was right when he said: “In a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” All of us are responsible for the persistence of racism. The failure to be involved in addressing racism is also to be guilty of perpetuating it. 

The systemic realities of racism are not immutable. They increase or diminish by the extent of personal and collective involvement we give to combat racism. Individuals giving their hearts to dismantling racism are key to reducing its horrific blight of life. The transformations of hearts alone will not undo racism. Racism is embedded in our institutions. Still, the transformation of hearts is essential to participating in the interpersonal and political processes that result in the transformation of racist systems.

From “Living Into God’s Dream: Dismantling Racism in America” by Catherine Meeks – Morehouse Publishing

God loves the stranger and commands us to do likewise

I cannot suggest what that should mean for you. One cannot legislate love. I can only remind you that in Scripture it is accepted without controversy or question: God loves the stranger, the “ger,” and commands us to do likewise.

Perhaps that invites us to consider three possibilities for a just immigration policy:

  • To advocate for border policies that are effective against illegal migration and that allow authorities to carry out the critical task of identifying and preventing terrorists and dangerous criminals from entering the U.S. It is entirely reasonable to advocate for an immigration policy that ensures that our borders are secure.
  • To advocate for border policies that ensure the humane and compassionate treatment of the “ger,” consistent with American humanitarian values, and recognize that the measure of a society is in how it treats the most vulnerable – especially women and children. This implies a repudiation of unnecessarily harsh or cruel measures of deterrence, including the separation of families and detention measures that led to the dehumanization of detainees. It is entirely reasonable to advocate for an immigration policy that ensures compassionate and humane treatment of all persons.
  • To advocate for policies that create opportunities for hardworking undocumented immigrants who are contributing to our country to come out of the shadows,regularize their status upon satisfaction of reasonable criteria and, over time, pursue options to become legal residents or citizens. The majority of Americans today support a path to residency or citizenship for law-abiding undocumented immigrants.

What I am proposing is, in the words of Shakespeare, justice seasoned with mercy. And it is based on three simple axioms: 1) We are all originally from somewhere else – we were once the “ger”; 2) If we do not learn from our past we are destined to repeat it, and so we start with acknowledging what is hateful, cruel, or immoral, and refusing to do it; and 3) God loves the stranger and commands us to do likewise.

Justice seasoned with mercy.

From “A House Divided: Engaging the Issues through the Politics of Compassion” by Mark Feldmeir – Chalice Press

King’s commitment to representing the God-given dignity of human life

The religious conservatives’ opposition to the civil rights nature of Rev. Dr. King’s ministry also came into focus during the final years of his life, when he embraced a broader set of issues beyond the civil rights movement’s priorities. Many of his fellow civil rights activists abandoned his efforts, thinking they were harmful, a kind of “mission creep” beyond civil rights. One of the most controversial speeches of King’s entire  ministry came not in the South nor about the treatment of black Americans, but at Riverside Church in New York City as he spoke out against the Vietnam War:

As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1954. And I cannot forget that the Nobel Peace Prize was also a commission, a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for the brotherhood of man. This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances.

But even if it were not present, I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me, the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the Good News was meant for all men – for communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this one? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?”

King’s commitment to representing the God-given dignity of human life transcended national borders. King’s opposition to the Vietnam War was rooted not just in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted by the United Nations in 1948) but in his identity as a follower of Jesus. His Christian commitment to not valuing American lives or the interests of the United States over people’s lives in other countries was just as radical an idea as the commitment to racial justice that King advocated for in the United States.

From “Just Faith: Reclaiming Progressive Christianity” by Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons – Broadleaf Books