7. Deception

Deception. Very few words carry such a wealth of negative emotions. But what sort of things are deceptive?

The first televised presidential election occurred in 1960 between Nixon and Kennedy. The day after the debate the Chicago Daily News ran the headline, “Was Nixon Sabotaged by TV Makeup Artists?” A number of things occurred during the debate that has since shaped our notion of a public image. Two in particular were body language, and presentation. Firstly, Kennedy was bronzed and aided by the use of makeup, while Nixon was pale and began to sweat under the lights. Secondly, Kennedy made eye-contact with the camera while Nixon tended not to do so, giving the impression of lying (History.com staff, 2010).

Can judgements be manipulated by impressions? In the aftermath of the debate an interesting division began to emerge. Voters who saw the televised debate believed Kennedy was superior, but voters who listened to the debate on radio felt Nixon was the winner. It is written, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting” (Proverbs 31:30). This is called the Halo Effect. We tend to like everything about a person, or nothing at all. This means little bits of information about one aspect spill over into other unrelated categories. A person you consider to be polite, may also be considered to be more charitable by you. Even though politeness does not imply charitability. Or in this case, a candidate’s body language and demeanor is unrelated to their political knowledge and leadership (Kahneman, 2011).

A similar situation occurred in Scripture, when Samuel went by God’s command to find a successor to King Saul. Arriving at the house of Jesse, Samuel began to examine his sons. Upon looking at the eldest son Eliab he said, “Surely, the Lords anointed is before Him.” Notice the disconnect. Samuel saw, and concluded he was fit to run the kingdom. But the Lord said, “Do not consider his appearance, for I have rejected him.” From elections, to the people who walk in our church, what you see with your eyes is deceptive. The verse continues, “For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

~John Bryan

Book Recommendations: Thinking Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Reference: (Kahneman, 2011) (History.com Staff, 2010)

6. Empathy

Some people are the world to us, and others hardly matter at all. Strangers do not compel us to compassion, but rather to caution, fear, and exclusion. But Christ teaches us that our moral obligations extend beyond those whom we know and trust. He teaches us that the mere presence of a stranger, makes him a neighbor, and thus worthy of love. (Bloom, 2013)

The system of mirror neurons stands at the forefront of empathy. It makes us feel what others feel. It is a basic level of connection, of humanity. Take a simple emotion: disgust. When shown videos of people smelling a foul odor, participants watching the facial expression on a screen showed activation in the anterior insula. Observing an emotion in others activates the neuronal representation of that emotion in us (Wicker, 2003). Our own brains connect the gap between us and a stranger.

~John Bryan

Book Recommendation: Against Empathy by Paul Bloom

Reference: (Bloom, 2013)  (Wicker, 2003)

5. Adversity

Adversity has made us who we are, and adversity must sustain us. If God has chosen us in this furnace of affliction, why do you fear and why complain?

Longitudinal studies show a U-shaped curve between adversity and resilience. Extreme adversity is never good, but neither is no adversity (Seery, Holman, & Silver, 2010). Individuals who had experienced at least some lifetime adversity, showed better resilience, mental-health and well-being than individuals who had experienced no adversity.
Moreover, optimism in the face of adversity has been correlated with increased life longevity, even when corrected for health risks. So, who taught you to fear?

“To all who mourn in Israel, He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair” (Isaiah 61:3).

~John Bryan

Book Recommendations: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

Reference: (Seery, Holman, $ Silver, 2010)

4. Eternity

Would you want to live forever?

The most common objection is no for fear of boredom. Boredom is indeed an interesting emotion, it expresses an egoistic dissatisfaction with the majesty of the universe. But the desire to be entertained is not a proper gauge for our desire to live. Instead, how socially satisfied we are, often correlates directly to our interest in life. Consider the sad reality of suicides. Why do people end their life? Not because they got bored, but typically because they didn’t feel loved, they felt excluded, or were experiencing heartbreak. We are social beings, and therefore social reasons are at the forefront of suicide. 87% of people who attempt suicide have no adequate social network of friends or meaningful relationships (Magne-Ingvar, et al, 1992). In the elderly suicide attempts begin to rise as time and age wears away precious relationships and social support (Conwell, et al, 2002).

Life is truly about loving and being loved, and we are all responsible for one another. Life is not about what we’re doing, but who we’re with. Interacting with other people. Spending time with those you love, that is what this life is about—and that is what eternal life is about.

So I posit that eternity is not boring, but rather the natural craving of every heart that’s found love. Hearts lucky enough to bathe in love don’t want the world to end, and time to tick away. The promise of heaven rests on this. That where He is, there we may be also (John 14:3).

~John Bryan

Book Recommendations: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Reference: (Magne-Ingvar, et al, 1992) (Conwell, et al, 2002)
*Please note: Not all suicides are due to loneliness, just like depression is not always due to sadness. Our brain is a delicate organ, and the slightest change can lead to thoughts that are not your fault for having. 
Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

3. Fear of Flight

Plane crashes are devastating. It isn’t too difficult to recall all the planes that have been lost. The memory persists, and the list increases year by year. I cannot say that I have overcome my fear. I don’t fly often, therefore I don’t have to face that fear as often. Since I am located right under their path to the airport, planes seem to always fly over my house. I can see them from my window. Day after day. Hour after hour. I look out the window of my room as I lay in bed. I gaze up and see all the planes that are safely reaching their destination—it helps me.

Whenever I do fly, there is a strange comfort in knowing that the pilot is human like me. He is driven by the same fear and the same self-preservation. He wants to stay alive as much as me, he wants to get home to his family, and will do everything possible to ensure it. We share the same humanity.

Christ plays a similar role. There are many things in life that will create fear in us. There are many things about religion that may be as unknown as what’s outside the window of a plane. But there is one thing we do know. That He who is flying this plane, is a Man like me. We share the same humanity.

May we not lose sight of our Heavenly Pilot.

~John Bryan

2. Blessed Wilderness

That blessed Wilderness to which my soul fears to go. In its empty lands I see a peaceful dependence on God, which my heart has not known. There my life will be sustained by the simple manna of God’s word. For in this city I lean too presumptuously upon the wisdom of men, on the philosophies and learnings of the aged. In this city my God is shut out like the stars of heaven, which are so vividly seen in those wilderness’ skies.

There is a Light that will draw you in and a Love that will mend your heart. O that we may learn to softly kneel, slowly close our wandering eyes, and with a faith we barely understand and which often goes astray—pray to Him. I don’t know why, but He hears us. I don’t know what He sees, but He does not turn us away. My friends, praise Him for this. Amen.

~John Bryan

Book Recommendations: The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

1. Food and Mood

While studying the way Israeli judges pass their sentences, Jonathan Levav found that the favorableness of judicial rulings were high after breakfast, then decreased in leniency as the day progressed, only to spike back up after lunch (Corbin, 2011). Serotonin is the neurotransmitter involved in the positive boost of mood after a meal. Being both catalyzed and synthesized from the proteins in your meal, and secreted by the brainIt’s interesting to note what is written in Scripture, that after Christ fed the multitude, their mood changed.

They came to Him for food, and once their bellies were filled, their tongues made haste to proclaim Him King, even by force.

If you think that what you eat doesn’t affect how you think, think again.

~John Bryan


Reference: (Corbin, 2011)