Archive for November, 2010


I feel like my thoughts are just tumbling around over and over in my head right now.  I spend way too much time listening to my own thoughts, but it’s kind of hard to get away from them, you know?

Since I can’t untangle what I’m thinking about now, I figured I would try to go back and continue something I was writing about a while ago, a response to reading Tim Keller’s book, Prodigal God.  Since my church is currently working through another of Keller’s books during adult Sunday school, some of these issues have continued to be on my mind from time to time.

As I said in my earlier post, Keller sees the two brothers in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son as representing two basic ways that people relate to God.  The younger brother rebels against his father very openly by breaking all of the rules.  The older brother keeps all of the rules, but in the end, his refusal to honor his father and come into the party shows that his obedience has really been rebellion all along.  Just like the younger brother, he wants the father’s riches but not the father himself.  In fact, at the end of the parable, the younger son is restored, but the older son’s outcome is left hanging:

“Although the sons are both wrong and both loved, the story does not end on the same note for each.  Why does Jesus construct the story so that one of them is saved, restored to a right relationship with the fathe, and one of them is not?  (At least, not before the story ends.)  It may be that Jesus is trying to say that while both forms of the self-salvation project are equally wrong, each one is not equally dangerous. […]

Because the elder brother is more blind to what is going on, being an elder-brother Pharisee is a more spiritually desperate condition.”

This is the scariest thing about the story for me– the idea that you can be deceived your whole life, thinking you are in a right relationship with God, only to find in the end that you have missed it totally.  It may not be a logical reaction to a character in a parable, but as I read Keller’s statements about the older brother, I find myself trying to defend him, asking if it is fair to judge him by one statement he made in anger.  The older brother says,

“Look!  All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.  Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”

Not only do these words condemn the elder brother just as surely as the younger brother’s actions did– they also reveal all of the elder brother’s obedience throughout his life to have been selfish and worthless.  It’s very scary.  Will I some day come to a point that reveals my faith in God was empty?

I am really at Jesus’ mercy.  It is not the strength of my faith that saves me– if Jesus were not upholding me every step of the way, I would have no hope.  One of the things about Jesus that can be both comforting and scary at the same time is that he knows the weaknesses of our hearts.

Once, a rich young ruler came to Jesus.  Like the elder brother in the parable, he thought that he had kept all of the rules perfectly.  Still, he wanted to be certain.  He asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life.  You would think that for something like eternal life, no matter what Jesus told him to do, he would at least try to do it.  But Jesus said, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  And the man went away sad, because he was very wealthy.

That was all it took to make the rich young ruler give up on eternal life.  I’m sure there are things Jesus could say to me that would make me give up– I am not that strong.  If he wanted to, he could make me walk away.  But thankfully, he is merciful, and he has promised to keep me through to the end.  It may seem precarious from my point of view, but in fact, Jesus’ grace is the surest thing there is to rely on.

I have lots more to say about Keller’s book– the frustrating thing is that it seems to cause me to doubt, and I have to keep reminding myself that my salvation is because of what Jesus did, not anything I did.  Maybe that’s what it’s meant to do?  I don’t know.

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Every once in a while, I have an experience that drives home the fact that my mind works a bit differently from what’s considered “normal.”

I’m taking a class in marketing this quarter.  (When I was registering for classes, I thought it was a required course, but it turned out that it wasn’t!)  I wasn’t sure how well this course would go, not because I thought the work would be hard (thankfully there are no essays in this class), but because I have an antagonistic relationship with marketing in general.  Every marketing method seems to be all about manipulating people’s thoughts and actions in a way that’s often intrusive and sometimes outright deceptive.

Here’s an example.  A while ago, I was sorting through the mail.  About 50% of it is what’s considered “junk” mail, things trying to get you to buy something.  Because there was an election coming up, there was also a lot of political junk mail looking for money or votes.  There is mail that’s very important to keep track of, like bills or bank statements, and every once in a while, there’s a letter from a person.  I can usually pick those out because the address is hand written rather than printed.

Sometimes, I can tell pretty quickly which pile a piece of mail goes into.  But a lot of the creators of junk mail, political and otherwise, try to fool you.  For instance, one of them was using a printed font that was trying to look as if it was hand written; I could only tell the difference by looking very carefully at individual letters and realizing that all of the E’s looked exactly alike.

That’s marketing.  And it achieved its goal.  I looked at that envelope longer than I did any of the other junk mail, because it was harder to tell what it was.  It may be an effective strategy, and it’s far from the most intrusive thing that marketing does, but it still bothers me because it’s deceptive.  The company that printed that envelope knew that handwritten text seems more genuine and trustworthy because it implies that someone took the time to write it with a pen.  In reality, they printed thousands of envelopes just like this one, but they wanted to give a false impression.  Maybe someday soon, a computer will be able to cheaply simulate the variations of human handwriting so that all E’s will not look the same, and it will be even harder to tell the difference.

Okay, so sorry for complaining about something so minor there, but that’s one of the reasons I don’t like marketing.  I like for the labels on things to be correct.  Marketing does not seem very friendly to people with Asperger’s who like to categorize.

Anyway, I was in marketing class last week, and my teacher was talking about all of the psychological factors that go into the presentation of a product– shapes, colors, space, sound, and even smells can be used to try to grab people’s attention in ways they won’t notice.

The teacher explained that all of us have filters in our brains that are always working to allow us to concentrate on one thing while filtering out the things we’re not focusing on. He said that we usually aren’t aware of all of the things around us until they are pointed out.

I thought about the sounds I could hear in the room.  Besides my teacher speaking, I could hear the rustle of clothing from students fidgeting.  Some were picking up and setting down the plastic bottles they had brought to drink from, and some were tapping the floor or the legs of their desks with their shoes.  I could hear the more muffled sounds from out in the hall as groups of students came and went, sometimes stopping to have conversations.  Under it all was the steady hum of the projector hanging from the center of the ceiling.

“For instance,” said the teacher, “you don’t notice the noise that the thing on the ceiling is making, but now you suddenly notice it, because I pointed it out.  Isn’t that weird?  Especially those of you sitting right under it.”

Students seemed to react as if they hadn’t heard the noise until now, looking up at the projector.  A chair in one of the neighboring classrooms made a loud noise as it was scooted across the tile floor.

“Or like how a chair just made a noise there, but you didn’t notice it because you weren’t listening for it,” my teacher said.

I really wanted to tell the teacher that my filter was broken.  Then I remembered the first thing he had said about these mental filters:  “If we didn’t didn’t have them, we’d go insane.”

I wonder if this explains why I don’t like marketing very much.  Everything that’s for sale is screaming for the attention of people who filter most things out, but my filter is broken, so I hear it all (or at least more than the marketers expect me to).  I notice it the most in places like bookstores.  Every book’s cover is trying to stand out against all other books’ covers.  Some use bright colors, some use intricate designs, some are stark and minimalist, some are oddly shaped, some use disturbing images, and some use shocking titles.  The result is a garish cacophony that can be a bit dizzying from my point of view.