Thursday, December 10, 2009

Recommended Book Mash-up: Evolution of God and Fingerprints of God

I happened to end up reading these two books at around the same time by chance, but if you are looking for something to read during the holiday break, or you are looking for a gift for a reader I highly recommend this combination.

The two books are:


It's an interesting combination to read together - Wright focuses on high concepts like politics, economics, and power and their influence on religion, whereas Hagerty focuses on the personal spiritual experience and the real impact of spirituality on individual lives. I won't go into it too deeply as I haven't written a book report since the 10th grade and don't intend on writing one now. Suffice to say, they are both good and interesting books and if you happen to read both and want to discuss them further drop me a line.

(Argh - ok, for those that really need more info before they can commit to reading a book here are two short summaries:)

Robert Wright covers the history of God to show how the idea of "God", gods, and god have historically evolved based on the political and economic realities of the communities. The basic premise of the book is that in order for a religion to thrive it needs to attract an audience. In order to attract an audience and grow, successful religions have to address some fundamental needs - either of the people who worship (in a more open society) or of the people in power (in a more closed society). Wright further argues that accepting the fact that human needs influence religion does not mean that "God" does not exist. In an interesting flip, he actually argues that the gradual historic progression of humans towards more understanding and compassion might be more proof of a divine influence rather than less. From that perspective, the evolution of God over time from multiple morally ambivalent deities to a single morally-just deity today may reflect God's plan for the moral evolution of mankind.

While "Evolution of God" focuses on large things like religion, politics, government, and power, "Fingerprints of God" focuses on the personal spiritual experience and the science around those experiences. In the book, Hagerty seeks to document the stories and experiences of those that have had deep spiritual experiences and delves into some of the new scientific studies that are being conducted around spirituality. The interesting takeaway for me was that there is a real, tangible scientific difference between people that have deep spiritual lives and people that do not (It didn't matter what religion they were, brain scans of Christian nuns and Buddhist monks came out remarkably similar in prayer and in meditation). However, even though there are areas in our brain that seem attuned to spirituality it isn't really clear yet whether those areas of the brain are acting more like radio antenna (and picking up signals from a divine source) or they are triggering the sensations themselves.

All in all - good stuff. BTW - the other reason why its good to read them at the same time is that its nice to have a break from the history of Egyptian deities at some point and read a personal story of someone's encounter with something (possibly) divine.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

15 Things I Wish I Had Learned Earlier in Life:

1. Practice doesn't necessarily make perfect, but it certainly increases the odds of getting there
2. Persistence does pay off, but not necessarily in the way you expect
3. Persistence and Practice Build Confidence (in sports as well as in life)
4. Persistence and Practice without failure isn't really persistence and practice. (We need to push ourselves to the edge of our capabilities which means accepting failure as a part of learning)
5. We can control how we feel (if you are moping, you can decide not to mope)
6. Don't mope or complain about things you can't change (it's pointless)
7. Don't mope or complain about things you can change (just change it)
8. Don't underestimate what you can change (more than you think)
9. Don't underestimate the work required to enact change (more than you think and see #4)
10. True confidence is never brash, loud, and arrogant, but assured, steadfast, and humble.
11. Character and Integrity are more important than Intelligence and Strength
12. Who we choose to associate with in life matters - whether we like it or not, our associations influence our thinking and perception of the world and ourselves. (We should actively seek to surround ourselves with people that strive to be assured, steadfast, and humble with Character and Integrity)
13. Teachers, parents, and "old folk" aren't always right, but they are right often enough that you should really pay attention and think about what they say.
14. Human achievement is built upon the knowledge and effort of those that came before us. Learning as much as we can about the past improves understanding of the present, and gives hope for the future.
15. Leading a spiritually rich life can help achieve, identify or enable all of the above

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Are you a better person today than you were yesterday?

Decay happens gradually.

I hit 200lbs a few months ago, but I got there an ounce (or less) at a time.

My wife and I had at one point almost stopped talking to each other despite our love for one another.

I barely remember how to calculate an integral. (ok, sorry, I admit it, I don’t remember at all despite 2.5 yrs of Calculus – it was something easy though, I’ll have to look it up)

It seems obvious that without deliberate care and feeding our Body, Soul, and Mind decay.

Body - An artery can close from tiny bits of plaque accumulating over-time.
Soul - A heart hardens gradually as real or perceived slights, disappointments, broken promises mount up over-time.
Mind - what was I writing about?

I think we all recognize this on a intellectual level but following through day in and day out can be tough. If it isn't tough for you (and I know there are some of you mutants out there) then this is probably all part of your daily regimen already. If that's the case, I'm happy for you - really! (Now leave).

Here’s what I’m going to do:

I’m going to setup a simple spreadsheet here:

Within this spreadsheet I’m going to keep a simple log of whether or not I’ve done something that day that improves my Body, Soul or Mind. The rules will be fairly simple, each day that I do something that benefits Body, Soul or Mind I give myself a point for that day. Examples might include:

Body: Working out, Eating less, Deferring dessert, etc…
Soul: Praying, Doing something positive for relationships, Volunteering etc…
Mind: Reading a book, Practicing a new skill, Learning a new skill, etc…

Here’s my thinking behind this:

Building the inertia to keep things going is hard (e.g. that first workout after not having done any exercise in 3 months). It’s easy to get discouraged and it’s easy to give yourself excuses (“I woke up too late”, “No time”, “American Idol is on” etc…)

In order to build that inertia it seems to make sense to apply concepts that are effective in the workplace to myself. They are:

Accountability: A daily log is important. Lapses happen. The intent is to make sure that a single lapse doesn’t gain inertia in the wrong direction and quickly become two lapses, then three, then four, etc…There is relatively little value in me cheating (that would be a little sad frankly), so the point here is to provide some history to my progress.

Transparency: It really doesn’t matter a whit if no one ever looks at the log that I post. The important thing is that its out there with a clear goal, metrics, and a history so that if anyone ever does want to hold me accountable they can at any time.

Goal-orientation: My goal 100 points. Weight goals are tough (Lose 5 lbs in 2 weeks!) in that our individual bodies react so differently and the actual day-to-day progress is so difficult to perceive. My point system seems pretty straightforward and simple and gives the person (in this case me) constant positive feedback that I am getting closer and closer to my goal (as arbitrary as that goal may be). Regardless of how long it takes, I’m reasonably assured that at the end of 100 points I’ll at least be a better person at the end than when I started.

The pastor of my church mentioned today how, “some people age like fine wine and others age like milk.” I probably don’t need to explain this as the analogy seems pretty clear – as folks get older some get wiser, more caring, and more open, whereas others become more entrenched, close-minded, and mean-spirited. I doubt anyone ever expects or plans on becoming the crotchety old man (or woman), the unhealthy guy, or the could-be-smarter guy, but I can certainly see how it happens. I’ve certainly seen how it can happen to me. This is my plan for trying to age a little bit more like wine and a little bit less like milk.

What do you think?