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I Can’t Think

Friday, July 1st, 2011
In Newsweek recently there was an article called “I Can’t Think.” It is about the fact that we are overloaded by information. “The Twitterization of our culture has revolutionalized our lives, but with an unintended consequence—our overloaded brains freeze when we make decisions,” journalist Sharon Begley writes. Begley warns us that we are overloaded with information, choices, alternatives.  When we have so many choices, we are unable to make any choice at all. As a result, when we finally do respond “the ceaseless influx trains us to respond instantly, sacrificing accuracy and thoughtfulness to the false god of immediacy.”
In other words, we respond out of exigency and expediency and not out of thoughtfulness and care.  We choose the quick not the right, the convenient not the just.
George Loewen of Carnegie Mellon University warns that “getting 30 texts per hour up to the moment when you make a decision means that the first 28 or 29 have virtually no meaning.” Immediacy dooms thoughtful deliberation.
Another casualty is creativity. Creative decisions are more likely to bubble up from a brain that applies unconscious thought to a problem, rather than going at it in a full-frontal, analytical assault . . .”  So much for making decisions in the shower or on a quiet walk.  We swamp ourselves with text messages and twitter and IMs.  We don’t need to reflect on a problem we can google our crisis away with 100s of hits.
Oh that it were so! No one, my friend, can put humpty together again but the Maker. Yes God.  Unless we can Twitter our way to the Holy Spirit or text God we might be in trouble.  We will not be able to send an SOS out on Facebook to solve our sorry lives—we need a direct, old fashioned touch of God.  In the midst of so much information the thing that really matters, we discover, is WHO we know and not WHAT we know.  Well, all this information is only information after all.  Ah ha!  Our epistemology will takes us no farther than our metaphysics.

In Newsweek recently there was an article called “I Can’t Think.” It is about the fact that we are overloaded by information. “The Twitterization of our culture has revolutionalized our lives, but with an unintended consequence—our overloaded brains freeze when we make decisions,” journalist Sharon Begley writes. Begley warns us that we are overloaded with information, choices, alternatives.  When we have so many choices, we are unable to make any choice at all. As a result, when we finally do respond “the ceaseless influx trains us to respond instantly, sacrificing accuracy and thoughtfulness to the false god of immediacy.” In other words, we respond out of exigency and expediency and not out of thoughtfulness and care.  We choose the quick not the right, the convenient not the just.  George Loewen of Carnegie Mellon University warns that “getting 30 texts per hour up to the moment when you make a decision means that the first 28 or 29 have virtually no meaning.” Immediacy dooms thoughtful deliberation. Another casualty is creativity. Creative decisions are more likely to bubble up from a brain that applies unconscious thought to a problem, rather than going at it in a full-frontal, analytical assault . . .”  So much for making decisions in the shower or on a quiet walk.  We swamp ourselves with text messages and twitter and IMs.  We don’t need to reflect on a problem we can google our crisis away with 100s of hits. Oh that it were so! No one, my friend, can put humpty together again but the Maker. Yes God.  Unless we can Twitter our way to the Holy Spirit or text God we might be in trouble.  We will not be able to send an SOS out on Facebook to solve our sorry lives—we need a direct, old fashioned touch of God.  In the midst of so much information the thing that really matters, we discover, is WHO we know and not WHAT we know.  Well, all this information is only information after all.  Ah ha!  Our epistemology will takes us no farther than our metaphysics.

How can you protect yourself from having your decisions warped by excess information?  Ms.  Begley suggests we take our e-mails in limited fashion, like a glass of wine before bedtime.  She wants us to control our access to Facebook—only twice a day.

Silly me.  May I suggest an alternative?  Why not turn off the computer. And pick up your Bible. And read it.

My Story – Part 4

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

For the next couple of days, I want to share my story, my view, and how I can make decisions with commitment.

Yesterday I talked about my surfing experience and how connected you feel with the ocean when riding a wave.

One Sunday after a catching a few waves in the morning I wearily washed ashore to find a group of enthusiastic revellers singing right on the beach. It was very small church that met every Sunday on the beach with an uncomplicated worship agenda led by a guitar. No sound system, no microphone, just voices on a sandy slip looking out across the ocean. The environment was saturated with a genuine love for the wellbeing of others and their community. It didn’t take long for me to become apart of this family.

The pastor announced there was a “he said/she said” meeting at the church. I arrogantly smirked and rolled my eyes at the idea of hearing another typical cheesy rendition on the evils of dating and glorification of courting. But, my Maui family was going therefore so should I.

After an hour or so of hearing exactly what I expected, the pastor’s wife threw a misdirecting bolder at my lofty ideas of what love and marriage mean. She suggested splitting off the men from the ladies allowing her to speak directly to the men and the pastor to speak directly to the ladies. The honest story she told was of how she met her husband.

When she was a young adult she asked the Lord for a sign, that her future husband would greet her with a white rose. As the story goes, the night he was going to ask her, every florist was sold of off all roses except white ones, he searched for hours wanting to give her red roses. But, for the sake of being punctual, he settled angrily for white ones… the rest is the tale that brings them here tonight talking to me, as man and wife.

I didn’t know what to make of this. Believe it and I feel foolish. Blow it off as coincidence, and I feel like I’m limiting God. Embrace it and I feel sacrilegious perhaps even blasphemous. But, she was persistent in us to prayerfully seek God for a sign. I flippantly wrote down my sign and thought no more of it. I was not one to test God. I was not one to believe in the hocus-pocus-slain-in-the-spirit gibberish. I went on my way.


Peter Stobaugh
phone: (814) 659-6501

My Story – Part 3

Friday, February 19th, 2010

For the next couple of days, I want to share my story, my view, and how I can make decisions with commitment.

Yesterday I talked about my first job: working in a coffee shop. I then talked about how much I loved surfing.

Surfing was not about me, I am only an average surfer: it was about the ocean. The vastness of the ocean exposed my insignificance in the literal sense of the world, but there was also an intimate connection. Even as a diminutive speck I felt connected each time a wave rolled by and picked me up.

The experience of riding on a wave has been unequalled by most everything I have experienced since. With each anticipatory paddle into the abyss that is the Pacific Ocean my heart beat faster and faster. The water pulled into a solid liquid wall threatening to crush me with one mistake. And then the moment strikes when everything freezes as I reach the peak of the wave and begin to rush down its face. If I could, I would spend my life in this moment.

Every wave has a certain level of predictability. As they come rolling in from the horizon I learned to spot the large waves in their set. From the way a wave breaks I could predict where the next was to peak. Discerning these nuances were vital in order for me to catch a wave instead of being tossed into the melee of a crashing wave like a sock in a washer, which happened all too often.

In the danger and expanse of my universe, I learned my place. I learned to be humble. Upon my surfboard, a floating speck on the ocean, I began to listen. Unspoken questions of my heart gained a voice and a few answers came. Perhaps the biggest wave of my 17 year-old life, I thought, was what my life was going to look like. I felt like in the ocean of life I had picked my wave and was paddling to catch it. What would I make of this wave? How would I ride it?

A surfer can’t control everything he rides; he can only control how he rides it. Dropping down the face he can carve to the right or left, cut back on the peak or simply take the wave as it comes… the options are limited by only the wave itself.   I viewed my life upon an uncontrollable wave. Picking me up to sweep me into a rush.


Peter Stobaugh
phone: (814) 659-6501

My Story – Part 2

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

For the next couple of days, I want to share my story, my view, and how I can make decisions with commitment.

Yesterday I talked about my last year in home school high school that I spent at a Bible College in Maui, Hawaii.

My first job was at a small beachfront coffee shop. The owner was full of largesse, or stupidity, because he hired me to manage the store without him present.

The first day of managing this café by myself was a disaster. The day started with opening the doors for business at 5 am to get the locals their coffee. With two alarms set, I still managed the to sleep to 6:15 am, ensuring a failing grade for the start of the day.

As I biked down the street in a mental tornado of worries I knew my greatest fear was not of my boss, but rather the barbarians lined up at the door waiting to drink the black life drug called caffeine. Without this potion they were inept to being able to enter back into respectable society. I greeted them before they had their coffee, somehow, managed to navigate through the morning without .

It was a fearsome task distributing coffee every morning, however, every morning was followed by the afternoon. This promised surfing, diving, snorkeling, anything to take me to the ocean…and my favorite sport—surfing.

I love to paddle out on my long-board to a remote surf break to come to rest and watch the waves gather on the horizon. My thoughts always seemed to be clearest on the ocean. It held a power to manifest the splendor of God through his physical creation. Nothing was metaphorical about this moment. It was real, it was dangerous, it was awesome. But it also promised unprecedented adventure for the surfer who could overlook the little, insignificant waves, and wait for the best wave, the awesome wave, the once in a lifetime wave. Which always left me breathless.


Peter Stobaugh
phone: (814) 659-6501

My Story

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

A few weeks ago I shared some insights about a couple of my friends and their views of the world especially in the context of love. For the next couple of days, I want to share my story, my view, and how I can make decisions with commitment.

The easiest question to ask me is “how do you know you love Heather?” Through movies and greeting cards I know my prompted response is “I just know” or an even increasingly popular response is “I don’t know, but I don’t care”.

Here is my effort to break out of that mold and give you more than a prophetic modified food starch shaped heart that says, “be mine”, can.

My story, with Heather, begins without Heather when I was 17 years old. Entering Bible College, I launched out on my own, washing onto the shores of Maui, Hawaii. This little postage stamp of paradise was teeming with sunburned tourists, Post-modernism, and a diverse array of incredible adventures—in short supply in Hollsoppple, PA.

Moving out of my house at only 17 really was easier for me than I thought it would be. As my family counselor pastor dad is fond of saying, I had already experienced a sort of “differentiation” or breaking away. And, besides, he gloated, my mom and he had prepared me just for this day.

Not to imply that I did not enjoy my life under my parents’ house, rather I was confident enough in my independence to move 2,000 miles away without fear of being lost. But I should have been less confident. Looking back, this was not from heroic spirit but probably more of ignorance to responsibilities. Paying first and last months rent and balancing two jobs taught me some maturity and common sense.


Peter Stobaugh
phone: (814) 659-6501

Rutherford, Wilson & Peter continued

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

After thanksgiving Rutherford, Wilson, and I decided to share a press of coffee in quaint Davis Square, Cambridge, MA. Listening to my two friends’ places in life, how different their situations are, but based on the same problem: they don’t know what they want, and they are not alone.

What I’ve discovered is there is an alarming number of people who are getting divorced from their straight-out-of-college spouses, are unable to commit to someone special, or are getting engaged to someone whom loves them but they don’t love. The decision of marriage is a symptom from the font line of the wasteland, America.

Rutherford has fabricated an ideal woman, piece-mealed from the movie Princess Bride and artist Bob Dylan, to compare every girl to. This is his standard to compare Tela also. For Rutherford to love Tela for who she is would be a compromise and would mean he was not living life to the fullest. I question him on this, and he says, “Well, I just don’t really know what I want.”

Wilson is caught in a web where he thinks marriage is simply the next step and he has no idea what he is looking for. He can fall in love with a million women and since Esther is here, why not? She is no different than any of the other girls. I question him on this, and like Rutherford, he replies “Well, I just don’t know really know what I want.” I wonder if the reason they don’t know what they are looking for is because there is something missing in their foundational thinking. Which makes me glad I met my future wife . . .

Wilson

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Wilson’s girlfriend was Esther. Unlike Wilson’s truthful buildings, Esther was an innocent imp. Have you ever burned the roof of your mouth on scalding pizza? The pain would go away if you could just stop tonguing the wound. Esther is that wound. She walks into the room and people dive for cover. Her idea of conflict resolution with Wilson was a slammed car door, turned off cell phone, and/or slashing comments. But this made no difference to Wilson.

The beast, love, began to tow; and Wilson longed for the jaws of this ride to close around him like a coffin of security. Commitment to him was another building to find himself in. Here, in the present, loving Esther was a brick, another piece as good as the next to mold a truth that his reality can adapt to.

All his life he found solace in the direction his work took him. Design after design he drafted, each, reflected the truth of who he was so intimately. They provided him with tangible evidence of his worth to offer as a sacrifice to up others, to Esther. Upon his shoulders he bore the responsibility to design and erect this institution of matrimony. After all, everything depends on a white wedding dress, glazed with joyful teardrops, inside the stone church.

Wilson’s life was surrendered to constructing wonder out of the ordinary materials within his reach. He had the right tools. No worries. One material was Church. There in the pews, he meditated on the precise elements to his and Esther’s relationship. Slogging through marriage books, he discovered more passageways to his self-consciousness. Peering into his favorite art by Jackson Pollock, he sought justification for rejecting reason. Esther was as random as a thrown paint-soaked brush, dripping, splashing onto to his canvas. He must learn to accept her for who she is, that is love. He would have been better off if he reread the book of Ephesians.

After one particularly violent encounter with Esther, he grinned at me and said, “A gentleman can live through anything.” But in his eyes this was not what he wanted. In his shoulder’s you could make out the tense unspoken words buried deep in his sinews.

His truth came from his constructions; he could always form his reality around an edifice. The driving force behind all his work was a clear sense of knowing what he wanted. Standing at the base of the Cathedral of Learning, Wilson began to fall apart. Peering up, he knew what he wanted from this building, it was simple: the answers came from within him.

Thinking of Esther, he searched inside himself and was left wanting for answers. Marriage, this institution, was a structure whose roof was mortality. The consequences of committing were too great for him to sustain alone. His work had never asked him to look beyond the tip of a steeple for meaning. Now, he strained to see where the steeple was pointing and saw nothing.

Directionless. Pointless. Unsure of what he wanted from marriage, Wilson surrendered to the beast. He left the cathedral mumbling, “There will be time, to prepare a face to meet the faces that I’ll meet.”

Ring shopping, not out of aspiration, but an apathetic stride. Consequences, commitment, had smudged his view of the world with a yellow fog. A cruel woman intruded into his neat spatial drama, coming and going, jawing of Michelangelo, and pinning him wriggling to the wall.

Just before he proposed, he texted me, saying:

“Human kind cannot bear very much reality.”-T. S. Eliot

Rutherford, Wilson, & Peter

Monday, January 11th, 2010

My next friend, Wilson, is quite the polar opposite of Rutherford. An ambitious architect for a well-respected firm in D.C. Wilson quietly dedicates himself to his work, church, and friends with a dutiful reverence. Growing up alongside him was at times exhausting. Though he accomplished his work to perfection at a fervid pace, his “to do” list never seemed to conclude. Keeping up at this pace would have buried me long ago.

“The only thing a man can do for eight hours is work.”- William Faulkner

Rutherford, Wilson, and I used to sneak into the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh to talk about life. Rutherford would blather about a Bennie Maupin’s role as an influential jazz mutireedist. I would be staring out over the city, watching the sun’s rays play among the tall buildings. Wilson, he would be staring down at the structure of the building, muttering what he would change about its design. His eyes revealed the intensity he felt when surveying the minute details of the painstaking work it took to erect such a majestic object.

Looking back, it was days like sitting in the cathedral that he knew he wanted to become an architect. With a jolt, he would come alive with his own ideas, scratching diagrams and images. Utilizing an arsenal of modern techniques and materials, he would demolish purposeless fluff, added to buildings for popular style’s sake, to pragmatically create a new beauty that worshiped avant-garde efficiency.

Being encased in stone and metal, organized and purposefully place, gave him the sense of right. Buildings to him were like a perfect finger pointing to God in a magnificent display of disciplined work. While most people loved reading in parks, Wilson preferred to read in breathtaking buildings. He always felt more alive, more real, more good, sitting in buildings reading or doing his work. He said once to me, with a wink, “Peter, read Hemingway in a well planned building and truth will fall from its rafters.” Thoughts, for Wilson, were only as clear the spatial drama in his sketches of floor plans.

Rutherford – Part 2

Friday, January 8th, 2010

My friend’s love was Tela, who in all respects seemed perfect for him. She was patient and willing to traipse down any city street in search of the next underground music scene. Her love was strong and affirming. Years passed by as they continued grow more comfortable with each other taking for granted the sempiternal presence of one another.

As things go though, the beast began to heave; the jaws of this ride began to close in around Rutherford. Commitment to him was the removal of freedom. Freedom to my friend had nothing to do with faith or the Gospel. It had everything to do with his own desires. Note: Rutherford had known Christ all his life and had lived a fairly, solid Christian life. But when the really big decisions came before him, he naturally acted out of his carnal nature. Interesting—but another story.

According to him, upon becoming engaged we loose our liberum arbitrium, our free will, our ability to choose with only ourselves in mind. Rutherford fears this. Removing his independence could erase his self-identity, sending him on a ride of despondency, stumbling to the exit of the roller coaster with his romantic angst turned into defeat. Rutherford had forgotten that we are servants of Christ (Romans 1), or doulus “love servants” who choose to be slaves of Christ.

Rutherford left Tela a letter. She let me see it over Thanksgiving, it said:

“Tela, I’m writing you this note from the underground of my heart. I want to be an intelligent man. I must, no, am morally obliged, to be a characterless creature. Loving you, will dawn a man possessing character, a man of action, who would be fundamentally limited. I want to be limitless. My very own free, unfettered desire, my whims, no matter how wild, though sometimes roused to the point of madness, is my most advantageous advantage. I am a sick man…¦ I am a most unpleasant man. But the most intense pleasures occurs in despair which you haven’t even dared to take halfway…matrimony or dissolution, either or, know that …neither fraud, nor deceit, nor malice had yet interfered with truth and plain dealing’-Don Quixote.”

That was it. Rutherford adorned his pack of essentials like a suit of armor set out to experience his life concretely, face to face with the nakedness of the world. Before he left for some foreign country, he said to me, “Liberty, Peter, my friend, is one of the most precious gifts that Heaven has bestowed on mankind”.

Rutherford

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Rutherford is a freethinking sojourner hippy that is always primed for a pot of tea and a good beat to jive with. Held down by nothing but his own physical form, he travels the world with a backpack of only essentials, except for one luxury; his precious worn copy of Søren Kierkegaard’s journal.

Life to Rutherford was all about living passionately. A shared libation to conversation, he conveyed how it was our responsibility to bring meaning into our own lives. Our experiences were to annex our substance. There really is no good or evil measured by an objective standard, just obstacles to overcome in order to refine our internal spirits. He viewed himself as a free individual with an excited lament, his proverbial angst, at struggling through life as a writer and musician.

Music lessons were out of the question. Only those who wished to kill their creativity would pull out books, mimic a tutor, be unintentionally harnessed by preconditioning. The only way to learn was to connect to the soul. Delicately leaning over his instrument he would tune his instrument. His long brown curly hair drooped over his eyes like a veil partitioning him off from the world. He fingers would pass up and down the neck placing pressure in unplanned rhythm, not for an audience, but purely, unselfishly, surrendering to the guitar until it and his soul were in harmony. Slightly less than all the time, his guitar twanged to some celestial orchestra that the physical world around him was inept and ill fit to hear. And it showed, painfully on the faces of onlookers.

“The task must be made difficult, for only the difficult inspires the noble-hearted”- Søren Kierkegaard