Simon Fowler's Blog

Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Zack McLeod meets Tim Tebow on Saturday at the playoffs!

Posted by Simon on January 13, 2012

I wept while reading again the diary, photos and videos about Zack McLeod, whom I’m privileged to know at church.

Three or so years ago Zack suffered a traumatic brain injury on a high-school football field. He’s still recovering but his speech hasn’t returned and he suffered damage to his cognitive and physical abilities; but he still has an unquenchable joy and love of Jesus Christ and other people.

You’ll have to take my word for it that Zack and his mom and dad are the most incredible, courageous, joyful, faith-filled people I’ve ever met. I don’t know the other siblings but I’m guessing they’re made of the same stuff. They’ve suffered in ways I can’t imagine, yet their faith in Christ and their love for others (the two most important markers of Christians: faith expressing itself in love) is humbling and challenging to experience.

Zack has always been a die-hard Denver Broncos fan. He later adopted the Patriots. So I’m guessing tomorrow may be a conflicting day for him! But he’ll be more excited to have been chosen by Tim Tebow’s W15H Foundation to meet Tebow before and after the playoffs on Saturday. We’re praying that it’ll be a great gift for Zack and joy for Zack and his family and friends.

Theological side note:

When Tebow thanks God for his abilities, he’s just doing what all of us – believers or non-believers – should do; be grateful for the gifts, dispositions and opportunities we’ve been given. You don’t believe he’s actually thinking God will intervene in the fourth quarter, or that God will trip the opposition to let him through, do you? I suspect Tebow would find that highly annoying! Going through all that agony and pressure only to have someone else do the final push and get the credit?!

Everyone knows – except 42% of Americans!that a game outcome a) is not God’s primary concern, and b) is impossible to validate/deny as God’s doing. Thanking God, “giving him the glory” is not saying “it’s not me, God did it”. That’s not the kind of ‘credit’ one gives God. If it is, what’s the point of me? Tebow, or Brady, really are throwing that pass, and throwing it that well! It’s them, praise them! But not as though they’re God. Praise God for being God. He is the ultimate source, giver, lover, of all, and so he rightly receives the thanks and praise.

But God almost exclusively works through people, through his creation. God’s glory is shown, not in the gaps, not in the things-we-can’t-otherwise-explain, but through his creation doing what it does best and rightly; flowers flowering, seas roaring or lapping, creatures emerging, and humans doing what they can with what they have, with love*, faith and gratitude. The God of Jesus Christ also shows his glory, in an asymmetrical way, through suffering and death, and ultimately resurrection. That’s the uniqueness of Christianity, the way life is, and the way life seems to play out for most of us, including Zack McLeod.

If God has any impact on Tebow’s game it’ll be because his trust in God gives him courage. He knows that life is more than a performance or one game. That’s Tebow’s story, so it seems, from what I’ve read about him. And it’s Zack’s story. Let’s enjoy the game and give thanks and praise for what and to whom it is due.

Hmmm, that was a bit long for a side note.

Updates (some videos):
ABC News

CNN Interview

CBS Denver

*Yes, I know, American football doesn’t exactly look like an expression of love, but that’s for another time!


Posted in Faith | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Neuroscience and “belief”, “faith”

Posted by Simon on June 8, 2010

The way the brain works is mindbogglingly fascinating and complex, in the same way that genetics is. The interrelationships between the various parts, hormones, neurons and then how they all relate to how humans actually live … well it’s just amazing.

I briefly discussed ‘mirror neurons’ in my 30-day blogfest on relationships. Mirror neurons fire when we see ‘intentional action’ in someone else (as opposed to random action like flitting about aimlessly). Interestingly these neurons appear to be the same those that fire when we actually take the action ourselves; so that’s how we know how to interpret the intention. But we seem to know it’s someone else taking the action so our brains basic threat/reward response kicks in based on the intention. Scary looking, wide-eyed, grimacing stranger approaching = threat = run away!

David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work was speaking tonight at a local event put on by the Int’l Coach Federation of New England (as in leadership, not sports). I’d read his book so for me it was a recap. One major theme he helped me remember regarding the social brain was the power of this threat response – it’s quicker, stronger, more lasting than the reward response. We have about one second after detecting the threat to squish it before it just addles our pre-frontal cortex to the extent that can’t think straight.

He put forward three techniques to handle it:
1. Focus on ‘direct experience‘ such as breathing, a cold beer, warm sun, ingrown toenail. Your brain has two neural maps to process experience but it can’t do both at once. So it can’t process ‘narrative experience’, such as matching scary-wide-eyed-man to past memories of scariness and pain, while it processes ‘direct experience’. This is why focusing on taking deep breaths calms you down when you’re nervous.

2. For low to medium threats, simply ‘label’ the feeling, rather than suppress it. This actually reduces the feeling (but dwelling on it increases the feeling, so don’t turn the label into dialog!). Nervous about meeting someone? Try saying to yourself, “I’m nervous, yes I am!” Procrastinating? “This phone call I have to make scares me”.

3. For bigger threats, you need to “reappraise” (reframe) the threat. Reinterpret: Scary man was actually annoyed and running for train, maybe?; Normalize: all people look like that; Re-evaluate: I’m twice his size and I have a gun; Re-assess perspective/values: I’m willing to die to protect this child, I don’t care what this scary man does to me.

So to the point of this post, “reappraisal”: it’s extraordinary, this ability to think different thoughts and so change your neurobiological reaction to something, your emotions, and then actually change your thinking again so you change your actions. “Thoughts” in this context are ideas, beliefs, interpretations and sense-making about the world and people and life … and God.

That is, “God”, on a simple level, is just part of the entire realm of things and people and people’s characteristics that shape how we neurobiologically feel and think and act. The only thing that varies among us is WHAT and WHO we believe and why. “Belief” itself is not a preserve of religious people, it’s a fact of all human existence. What and who and why we believe isn’t necessarily proved or denied just because we’re neuro-biologically wired for it. But the fact is those ‘beliefs’ do change how we think, feel and act, for the religious and non-religious person alike.

Posted in Faith, neuroscience | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

%d bloggers like this: