courtesy of Arathon

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

We've Been Down This Path Before

...and we always seem to end up getting tired, coming back, and forgetting that we ever tried.

But productivity is an elusive goal, these days. The pursuit of productivity is marred by laziness (the under-utilization of attention capital, e.g., I have this extra time - I'll watch some TV), procrastination (the over-utilization of attention debt, e.g., "I'm too busy, so I'll learn/do that tomorrow" -- and yes, it leads to attention deficit, as you already guessed), perfectionism (e.g., "I can't do anything else until I'm done with this" -- or, just as bad, "I won't start this, because I'll never be able to do it well enough").

I don't have time to write this blog post. I won't write it well, and in the process I'll probably spend too much time trying to polish it into something 'worth' posting. Still, it's time to do something.

Gmail just introduced Priority Inbox. At first, I was inclined to ignore it - after all, I have my system, and it works well enough. But, being susceptible to the allure of the latest, greatest technology (especially from the G-people), I decided to see what it could do. As it turns out, I like it. I have, for a long time, consistently maintained fewer than ten read emails in my inbox at any given time, with those ten basically representing whatever things I've received that will eventually require some sort of time/effort to deal with. However, these things do tend to pile up, and the more important ones get lost at the bottom of that stack just like everything else. Also, I generally have Starred emails in order to provide a special visual reminder that they're important, but this tends to lose its impact fairly quickly.

This is probably where I should mention Inbox Zero, the strategy a very process-savvy friend of mine> uses and brought up when I started talking about this today over Buzz. I think his flavor of this strategy makes a lot of sense (using Stars for followup/future reference but always Archiving immediately after reading), and I wish I could use it myself, but the reason this is not currently a possibility for me is that I don't have consistent access to anything but pen and paper during the workday, meaning that I either have to manage my task list in my brain (with help from whatever emails I may or may not have in my Inbox regarding those less-pressing tasks that I would be prone to forget), or use pen-and-paper or some solution equally undesirable because of its incompatibility with the digital age that I live a large portion of my life in.

Inbox Zero and its arguable brilliance aside, here's my strategy for configuring (and then USING) Priority Inbox to increase my productivity.

What I do not plan on getting out of Priority Inbox: Time savings later on. Why? Email in an inbox is inherently hard to scan, and even when properly categorized, you have to rescan each email individually for it to remind you of anything. Just because my inbox is now divided into
  1. Important AND Unread,
  2. Starred,
  3. Important, and
  4. Everything Else
doesn't somehow magically let me know what email I should be re-reading right now in order to inform me what my next efforts should be directed toward. Often, an email gets a Star and sits in my Inbox precisely because I know I won't be able to do anything about it for at least a week, and I figure I'll forget about it if I don't leave it there to remind me later.

What I do plan on getting out of Priority Inbox: A reason to ask my brain to do more of the work as soon as I receive the email. When an email arrives, Gmail will do its best to decide if it is Important or not. If it isn't, the email will fall all the way to the bottom of my Inbox, even though there are read emails sitting above it. If I can trust Google to guess correctly, I can now safely ignore that email entirely until such a time as I choose to go through my unimportant email and deal with it. If, on the other hand, the email is marked as Important, I should probably read it now. If the email was indeed worthy of my immediate attention, I will leave it marked as Important - otherwise, it will be marked Unimportant. If the email requires a response of some sort that I am unable to provide immediately, I will leave it in my inbox - otherwise, it will be Archived. If the required action is of considerable effort, I will Star it (thus providing a visual indicator of how many heavy-duty items are on the list).

The other thing I want to discuss here is Gmail Labels - something I've used because they were like folders (and because Filters made them easy to apply automatically) but have applied poorly and used very infrequently. Today's thoughts about Priority Inbox have helped me decide on a better use of Labels. Again, the theory is that it is best to ask my brain to manually categorize an email as soon as it arrives (using, of course, keyboard shortcuts to make the process bearably fast). The categories, though, are the issue - what rises to the level of a category? I have decided that my life is focused around certain basic desires or pursuits, and these should correspond directly to my Gmail Labels. Previously, I had labels like Commerce, Bank, Internet, and Church. Not only do I have no need for a view that shows me all Bank-related emails, but it really doesn't help my brain to classify an email as having to do with banking. When it comes in, I already know all I need to know about it from the first line, and the vast, vast majority of those emails aren't interesting in the slightest. An email from a friend about Photography, however, or an email to a flight instructor about my next lesson - these things are worth categorizing, because it is worth reminding myself regularly what my priorities are, why, what order they fall into, and that each of them requires some regular effort in order to maintain (if, indeed, I want to maintain each one).

This leads me to a question, which may be better addressed in a subsequent post. Around what do we organize our lives? If we're organizing them around anything other than our basic pursuits, I suspect we're fooling ourselves into a false organization that serves mostly to exalt the stated rather than the actual purposes of our lives. Let's talk about this soon, shall we?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Long Distance Runaround

I heard two excellent sermons on Sunday. My very own pastor is preaching through the Beatitudes (helpfully distracting me from his point every time he reminds us how inadequate the phrase "the attitudes you oughta be at" is), and this week's verse was:
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."
Tom pointed out various things that meekness isn't, including being the guy who sits in the back of the room, trying not to be noticed...or the guy who sits in front of his computer, day after day, bothering no one. To be meek isn't to be a shrinking violet - it's to be the beautiful violet itself, which has no eyes to admire its own beauty.
To offer a more tried-and-true explanation of his excellent sermon, I'll quote C.S. Lewis. Tom had a similar quote from someone else, but that quote reminded of this one by Lewis, from Mere Christianity:
Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call "humble" nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you'll think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him... He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.
This rings very true, of course. I know that I think about myself far too much. Scarily, my cognizance of this indicates that there was probably a point in my past when I thought about myself so much I didn't have enough time to think about how much I thought about myself.

Honestly, though, that's not what scares me most. Want to know what does? You're still reading, aren't you? Well, what scares me most about this... is how heartily we'll agree with it. So heartily (as it often is with Truth), in fact, that I am led to suspect that there must be something in the practical application that we're missing completely.

I'd suggest that what we're 'missing' is our ability to completely reconstruct our personalities in a way that allows us to believe we're no longer thinking about ourselves.

Huh-what? Let's take this one step at a time. When I am reminded that I think about myself too much, what is my first reaction? Generally, it's to (gasp) think about how I shouldn't do that. That, of course, is more thinking about myself. Fine, we all get that, and we often eventually realize we're doing this. Next step? For some, we remind ourselves the great Truth about putting off sin, and putting on Christ, or good works, or what-have-you. Fair enough. So now we're thinking about Christ, or how, because He loves me, I ought to love my neighbor, and that if I love my neighbor, maybe she will see how good Christ is, and love Him, and love her neighbors, and then maybe this world won't be such a terrible place - oh, but wait, remember that the world will always be a terrible place 'til Christ returns, and of course, it's not just my neighbors' fault, it's mine too, because I don't live like I should...anyway, it's still Good to build the kingdom of God, and it's lovely that He allows us to participate in that, and I wonder what I can do better tomorrow to love Him and love my neighbors? (This is usually the point where I fall asleep, of course, since I've been thinking while lying in my bed - but that's an issue for another time.) Some of you may have better luck in having those thoughts on a regular basis than I do - some, perhaps, less. Other times, or perhaps all the time with some people, maybe the thoughts are more general - how can I improve my community/environment/world/galaxy/local playground?

All of these are fine - nay, necessary thoughts to have. What concerns me is what we do next. This, by the way, often takes a whole lifetime (this pearl coming to you from my extensive experience with lifetimes), or at least many years to come to fruition, making it (again, from my experience) very hard for us to see in ourselves. What we often do next is, over time, teach ourselves to think about ourselves less, and the goal more. Whatever that goal may be - starting schools, building churches, feeding orphans and widows - we start pouring ourselves into it. When someone makes a comment in church about how many inner-city folks are poor because they refuse to work, my mental militia is marshaled immediately ("But they've been deprived of every social advantage you've ever had! In the city, there's no work to do! When's the last time you actually talked to one of these people, anyway!?"). If an actual discussion ensues, I am often deeply offended or annoyed (on behalf of the important cause I am defending, of course!) by the very real blindness that my brother or sister is displaying.

This is sin, of course - indulgence in hatred and anger is usually pretty easy to identify once you start talking about it openly. But what motivated the sin? Surely, my sympathies are with the people living in miserable conditions in the inner city, not with my own comfort, wealth, or personal liberty? I would suggest that the sin was motivated by the fact that, while convincing myself that I am tearing down the fortress of my own self-absorption, I have silently rebuilt my personality around 'the cause.' This may sound labor-intensive, but it is really rather easy to do, and tremendously tempting. Why? Let me go out on a limb here, and declare that none of my readers will ever be as wealthy as Warren Buffett. You won't, in all likelihood, end up as President of the United States of America. You probably won't even be on the evening news. Your name will not endure in the annals of history, and even if you DO become President, what will you really be remembered for? How well (or poorly) you managed to implement the great programs that you championed, first as a candidate, and then as the Commander-In-Chief. Your only shot at immortality is to be identified with an enduring system - an enduring cultural good (to borrow from the excellent language of Culture Making, which I recommend more highly than any book I've read in the past year, excepting only The Idiot). Whether you know this consciously or not, this is your instinct for self-preservation - or, if you prefer, your striving to be like God - kicking in behind the scenes to keep you satisfied with a life that is otherwise clearly moving toward its end. "If you will identify yourself with causes, then you can live this life without appearing to be selfish. If you pick those causes wisely, then it's a win-win!"

This evening, I read about Kendrick Perkins, the center for the Boston Celtics, who won't be playing in Game 7 of the NBA finals because he tore his MCL and PCL in Game 6, last night. I don't know the man's heart, but I know my own. In his words, however, this is how I would identify myself with a cause:
"'s not about me. We're trying to win a championship. It's not about me. And I don't want the focus to be on me -- for my teammates. I don't want nobody feeling sorry for anything like that. We got a game to win. I want them to stay focused. I'm going to be all right. It's an important game. I appreciate my teammates and coaches that they're concerned. But it's not about me. It's about winning a title."
Well, that's great. Obviously quite the team player. Except, if it were me, I know I would say those same words, and the reason for those words? I want a title. I want a championship ring. Sure, I'll be thrilled for my teammates, too. I'll be very happy for the fans. I'll give away my championship bonus (I know nothing about basketball, bear with me here) to the underprivileged kids in Boston. Because I, yes, I, won an NBA championship! If all my teammates will just please forget that I'm injured, so that they can focus on winning (me) a championship, I will be very, very content!

Thing is, there's really no getting around this. We are on Christ's team. When He wins, we win. When the brokenness of this world is defeated, even a little, by the feeding of a homeless man in downtown Baltimore, we do actually win. But as soon as we start buying into the idea that these victories are worth pursuing, we'll also start reconstructing our own personalities around them. It goes from being a cult of personality focused on my very obvious desires (money, sex, power) to a cult of personality built around all the things I've turned myself into (the crusader for human rights, the Habitat for Humanity builder, the retired Marine officer, the bold evangelistic preacher). So it's still about me, and not about Christ.

Jesus came to set us free from ourselves (the sinful 'flesh'). Free to love Him, free to follow Him, free to find our identity in Him. He doesn't expect us to have no personality at all; He does expect that it not be focused on ourselves, whether through sarcastic, grade-school humor designed to exalt ourselves in the presence of our peers, or through clever political satire designed to make the institutions we've staked our lives on look better than those of our adversaries.

If you find yourself offended by someone's comments about something near and dear to you, ask yourself Why? - and don't settle for the easy answer. If you are constantly getting lathered up about politics, or economics, or social justice, or the unity of the Church, ask yourself, Why? There may indeed be something of the driving-out-the-money-changers-with-a-whip in your motives...but there is guaranteed to be something of the cutting-off-the-ear-of-the-high-priest's-servant in there as well. Pray that you will not be so easily hoodwinked by your ability to love yourself by proxy as you are relying on everyone else to be.

Jesus is the only way to be meek. He is the only one who was meek. I must not turn Jesus, or any of the innumerable, good things that He loves, into that beautiful, new, granite pillar that everyone simply must go see, in order that they will be thinking only of how wonderfully meek I am when they finally see the golden statue of me, high and aloft, in the center of the square.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Age After Age

The more I learn about ancient Israel - the more I read what God was saying to them, and try to peel back the layers of my faulty assumptions - the more I wonder...

The promises that God made to Israel were generally along the lines of "obey, and I will make you prosper in this land." I've often, without realizing it, read that as if it were a promise to take them to heaven - I subconsciously decided that "this land" didn't actually refer to that land, but to the heavenly land that all of "Abraham's children" will one day enjoy. That's really a rather bold leap, and one I'm no longer willing to make. When God said "this land," I believe He meant exactly what He said.

On the other hand, I do see a lot of symbolism in this. In fact, I believe that the entirety of Israel's history is meant as a symbol to the world - a symbol of how well we will succeed at obeying God through our own efforts, even when miracles and prophecies and wonders are happening every generation or so, at least! A symbol that clearly tells the one who sees it, "You won't. You will never succeed, because your heart is hard."

Alright, great. So it's a massive symbol to explain to us our own brokenness. Makes sense. BUT WAIT A MINUTE! Why in the world did God need to play with the hearts and minds of 40+ generations of tribal Israel just to prove a point to the rest of the world? That seems a little ridiculous, doesn't it? Couldn't He simply have told us? Why make them go through all the effort, failure, destruction, and despair? Why not just send a prophet to say, once and for all, "YOU CANNOT OBEY. YOU ARE TOTALLY DEPRAVED.* YOU NEED A DIVINE SAVIOR WHO CAN PURCHASE YOUR FREEDOM, BECAUSE YOU WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO DO IT YOURSELVES." Boom. Done.**

Or what about telling us a story?*** Instead of making all of these people suffer under the weight of ceremonial and religious laws for hundreds and hundreds of years, with only the faint hope that perhaps God would show mercy to them despite their disobedience and failures - why not just tell a few parables with the same message? A few poetic stories about a group of people who tried and failed miserably would prove the same point, wouldn't it?

But perhaps not. Perhaps we, like the ancient Israelites, are just as hard-hearted in the face of what we are told about ourselves. If someone had warned Europe of the coming horrors of World War II, how many people would really have believed that the cold-blooded murder of an entire race was something that the Germans would actually carry out? In fact, if no nation in history had ever murdered the members of a rival nation, who would believe that such an evil was actually possible?

It seems as though God requires Himself to tell us about Himself and ourselves through history. What good is a story, really, if it doesn't mirror actual history in some way or another? Truth, then, is actually worked out through history. It cannot simply be "pretended," or "theorized," or "imagined." It may be that there cannot be something True which has neither happened, nor will happen.

I've heard people say that one of God's reasons for our suffering here on earth is that, having experienced suffering, we will be able to appreciate sides of God's character (His mercy, His healing, etc....) that the angels, who have never suffered, will never really be able to understand. I'm sure that angels have brilliant minds, and I'm sure we could "explain" to them what it is like...but not having experienced it, they will be unable to really comprehend the goodness of God's mercy.

In a similar vein, I've often wondered why Christ actually had to die... If He's now alive, and enjoying the same bliss He was before He came to Earth, what did He actually accomplish? Sometimes it seems a lot like a stage drama - God was obviously trying to get our attention, but He probably could have used a body double for the actual death. Once again, the only answer I can fathom is that, as we have really sinned, so must someone really give satisfaction (make atonement) for our debts. He couldn't simply tell us how much He loved us, or I am sure He would have done just that. He couldn't have truly loved us as much as He does without actually performing an act of love more loving than anything else has ever, or will ever, be.

As a question for further thought, how does this apply to situations where we are trying to help others who are going through a situation we've never been through? How do we interact with them helpfully (or can we even help at all?) despite not having truly experienced what they are experiencing, and therefore on some level being unable understand their suffering?

* Calvin would've appreciated this.
** I am, of course, ignoring the fact that He did actually tell them they were going to fail. But only a time or two, and
obviously He just wasn't being clear enough.
*** Best/most ironic name for a genre of literature, ever? "Religious Fiction."

Sunday, April 11, 2010

This Isn't A Dream

They are born in a vast room.

Their eyes are shut, tightly, against an overwhelming light; a light that seems, at the first, to burn into their minds even through their eyelids. Yet the initial brightness does finally seem to fade, and, eventually, each one will make an attempt to open his eyes and see the sort of place into which he has been born.

The first moment of an unguarded eye is tremendously painful. The light is even fiercer than expected, and the eye must quickly be shut again. Further attempts bring the realization that progress in knowing the world will have to be very slow. Yet, as time passes, they learn to squint into the room... and through their still-woven eyelashes, they now begin to see the faint outlines of fantastical shapes! Foreign! Awful! Patterned and colored in the wildest ways imaginable! The all-illuminating source of light is nearly forgotten in the wonder of what spreads itself dimly before their eyes.

As slowly they learn to move around the room, they discover that the shapes are objects, some small, some of terrible enormity, all distinct, though somehow alike. As they learn more about the objects, they learn to move them, change them, combine them, and destroy them. Their mastery over the objects develops apace. Many get so absorbed in this transformation that they forget that their eyes remain squinted. Many, in fact, begin to disbelieve that it is possible to open their eyes any further, and any suggestion of this possibility is firmly rebutted. Still, many remember the brightness of that initial light and glance upwards in search of it...

A searing pain, even more intense than the first, forces their eyes shut once again

Their eyes recover, but many decide never to make another attempt: they consider that the time lost in recovery is not to be wasted on trying to see something that causes such pain, and is, indeed, of dubious importance. Over time, the light is largely forgotten: many, calling themselves the Morphologists, say that it serves no purpose other than to illuminate their surroundings; others deny that it is anything at all. Some, who call themselves the Pragmatists, theorize that the objects themselves emit their own light, while others (the Egotists) argue plausibly that they themselves are the emitters of light.

Others, however, remain fascinated by the light. As they encounter others with a similar fascination, they learn that there is known to be one method of looking at the light. It requires some special equipment: a device that is both rare and expensive. Some are discouraged by this information, but others begin their search for this mysterious device. Many devices are invented after an aborted search, and some consider their inventions to be superior to the claimed capabilities of the mythical Photoscope, while others declare that theirs is the true and perfect design. Many do eventually come into the possession of the original Photoscope - it is described as a complex machine made of mirrors, heavy filters, and many other, unknown, pieces. It is considered rather unwieldy, and requires instruction and practice for even the most rudimentary use.

Those who find it begin to use it to look at the light. Though the pain is still intense at first, they begin to learn about the light, and their desire to learn more about it increases. Their progress is slow, as even the Photoscope cannot adequately shield them from continued exposure to the light. They call themselves the Photologists, naming themselves after the magical Photoscope itself, and they spend much of their time thinking about and discussing the light or the Photoscope amongst themselves. They will often argue with the Morphologists, the Pragmatists, and the Egotists about the light's existence and purpose, though many of their arguments are with those who espouse the use of a different device.

However, there is yet another set of people who have no patience for this slow progression - from that first painful moment of seeing the beauty of the shapes around them, they are fascinated and insatiable. Despite severe pain, they open their eyes wider, and wider still, disregarding the childish hesitancy of their peers. For many, their eyes are seared in their infancy, yet they pursue ever more strenuously the unimpeachably great achievement of gazing fully and freely upon the wonders of the splendorous objects in the room where they live. These people, calling themselves the Cosmologists, quickly outstrip their peers in their knowledge of the room. Some of them despise the weakness of those who refuse to expose themselves to the pain of knowing their world, though many work tirelessly to convey their knowledge to those who are more timid in their efforts. None of them can agree with those who say that the light is unimportant; based its effects on and reflections from the many and varied objects that they can see (some near, and many that are tremendously far off), the Cosmologists are able to discern a vast number of things about the light itself. However, they remain unable to view the light itself, for it is far more potent than any of the objects upon which it shines.

A few of the Photologists who have used the Photoscopes for a long time eventually come to an understanding of the room that is commensurate with the knowledge of the great Cosmologists (though this accomplishment is indeed rare, and quite hotly debated). Many of the Photologists actively refute the observations and descriptions of objects provided by the Cosmologists, calling them inaccurate and dangerous, and arguing that only the pure study of the light has any power to reveal truth.

The Cosmologists, too, hear of this contraption that will enable them to look directly at the light. Some are not interested at all, their knowledge of the world being already more complete than the knowledge of those who are suggesting its use. Others are interested, and acquire one of the Photoscopes for themselves. However, in the use thereof, the vast majority find that their eyes are simply too injured by the continuously bold use they have endured so far to gaze for long upon this supremely bright object. Others of the Cosmologists, though willing to endure even this last and greatest pain, find that what they see does not quite correspond with what they had already discovered about the nature of the light. Some of the observed discrepancies are lesser, others greater; except for a very few, the Cosmologists conclude that the device is faulty - that in its complexity and mysteriousness, it must be fundamentally altering the view of the great light.

As time passes, the eyes of all eventually fail, and whatever they had seen seems to determine the manner in which they now live. Many find life without sight unbearable; many now deny the existence of the objects themselves - the objects that they had spent so much time using, changing, and characterizing. Many refuse to speak at all; their thoughts are therefore unknown.

It is said that some, who had seen the light itself most clearly, are unable to forget its beauty and its brilliance. It is said that they live in perfect contentment, declaring that they can see it even more clearly, now that they observe it with the eyes of their mind - this, most of all, I am unable to confirm.... And yet I find that my own eyesight is strengthened as I hear the stories of these.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

An EP by Larkin Poe

This is the first music review I've ever written; it was kinda written on a whim, and I don't necessarily expect I'll ever do this again. Regardless, here it is for your enjoyment and/or derision:

Larkin Poe, 2/3rds of the recently-disbanded progressive bluegrass band the Lovell Sisters, gives us their first effort, and it is a very solid start. Wisely eschewing the full-length album format in an effort to put out a cohesive set of quality songs that listeners will find easy to appreciate on the first spin, the two sisters who still carry the surname 'Lovell' shared songwriting duties on the EP to great effect.
As the lead vocalist on all of the tracks, Rebecca Lovell varies impressively between the soulful southern twang of an old-time gospel singer on 'Burglary,' and the uptempo improv jazz vocal on 'Fairbanks, Alaska.' Megan Lovell's harmonies are consistently rich, and her proficiency on the dobro is heard as early as the first moments of 'Long Hard Fall.'
Their lyrics don't break much new ground, sticking largely to the tried-and-true country bluegrass themes of love, heartbreak, and the challenges of spending months on the road. Still, with lines from 'Nothin' But Air' like "cupid ain't so stupid that he'd go and try to tie a blindfold on me," and "choking on lies you've told me: nothing but dares, and little boy jokes, backing up dreams you sold me," Megan and Rebecca prove that they can be clever and even insightful.
The sound of the EP is firmly established by a quartet of excellent backing musicians, highlighted by Daniel Kimbro's virtuosity on the electric and string bass (the latter of which is especially effective as the backdrop to the epic and energizing 'We Intertwine'), and Mike Seal's always solid, and occasionally sublime, control of the electric guitar (most obviously in his inspired guitar solo on 'The Principle (of Silver Lining)').

All in all, An EP by Larkin Poe is a worthwhile addition to your library, a fun introduction to the still-evolving world of 'newgrass' in general, and the only way to start your collection of music from the duo that shows strong signs of being a worthy successor to the far-too-short career of the Lovell Sisters.

To that I will add simply that the whole thing is available for listening and purchasing on their website, and if you're one of them dih-jee-tul folks, you can also get it on iTunes or (better yet)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Things That You Know

I'm afraid today's entry is nothing new. It's even something of an awkward topic, although my strict policy of non-tolerance toward awkwardness obviates that particular concern. But the real problem is not that I can't be original, nor that I may come across as overly self-confident; no, it's that I don't really know much about the subject -- which, by the way, is a least a little ironic.

I used to dread that God would see that I consider myself to be a particularly intelligent person and take away that intelligence to punish me for being so proud and ungrateful. It's true that I was, and am, both proud and ungrateful. However, partly as a matter of understanding God's character somewhat better now, I don't fear that He'll strip gifts away just to punish me for being sinful; for one, if He were consistent about such punishments, I'd have absolutely nothing left, since I'm proud and ungrateful about everything He's given me; for another, if He did take away my intelligence, although it would likely teach me humility pretty effectively, I understand that His motives and actions are not to be reduced to the level of "well, I finally just got tired of how awful Peter is being and decided to show him that I'm serious."

With that window into the psyche of a teenager, I'll progress to my question. What good is being intelligent? Everyone's heard the phrase "ignorance is bliss," and while everyone knows that the sentiment often being expressed therein is actually sarcastic, implying that people who appear to enjoy their state of ignorance are foolish, there's a smaller (though perhaps not much smaller) subset of people who have also seriously considered the plain meaning of the phrase: that not knowing things truly provides for a more blissful existence. And for those who have considered this, it's not a hard idea to accept, at least conditionally. The obvious example is one of the largest groups within our society; children. Who would argue that children do not, on average, live a life with fewer troubles, cares, woes -- occasions for the diminishing of their bliss?

I should admit to equivocation with the term 'intelligence;' many children could be said to be more intelligent than their parents, yet rarely are their parents more 'ignorant' than their children in terms of the "quantity of things known." I've also been overly broad about the corresponding categories of ignorance and bliss - I'm not really all that interested whether being uneducated about current events makes a person more or less happy.
What really concerns me is the question of childlike, and arguably ignorant, faith. I sit in church on Sunday mornings and I struggle. Within me exist, often simultaneously, two opposing thought processes. The one is the incredibly deep-rooted, very serious, and honestly considered belief that God exists, is who the Bible says He is, loves me, and has saved me from all of my sins. The other is that it seems too good to be true, that so much about Christianity seems like exactly what I would want to believe in order to free myself from the miseries of life, and that Bible study, discipleship, and worship seem like just so many facets of a comprehensive program aimed at brainwashing people into living unwaveringly happy and peaceful lives. Not that Christianity preaches a 'natural' happiness, but it certainly teaches that it is good (and possible), "no matter what state I am in, to be content." Of course, there are many arguments that deal excellently with these doubts, and these specific doubts aren't my focus here. But this forms the heart of my question, because I perceive that many of my brethren do not struggle with these thoughts the way I do. Perhaps I am very wrong about this being a result of my above-average intelligence, but since that is unfortunately a very difficult thing to prove without carefully executed statistical analyses, it's better left alone for now.

Assuming (as is only reasonable) that God does exist, it is clearly good to have faith in Him. If it is, in fact, easier to have faith when your mind is not clouded with the many wandering thoughts that run through the overly-active brain of someone who is "above-average," then is being smarter of any lasting benefit to those of us who are? It clearly affords every worldly advantage that can be imagined; on average, we have better jobs, better health, and longer lives; we commit fewer crimes, we are murdered much less frequently, blah, blah, blah, etc, and so on and forth. But since I can hardly believe that any of those things are actually of true importance in the kingdom of God, what have I really gained by receiving this gift of intelligence? Along with all those unarguably enjoyable effects, I appear to have a brain that is capable of chasing itself in circles for hours, - nay, years - wondering whether religion is just a well-reasoned construct of the masses and my own desires, and endlessly contemplating my own capability for self-deception.

Jesus himself said that God has withheld "these things" from the wise, and had revealed them to the 'babes.' That strongly reflects what I observe; that people who are intelligent struggle mightily to believe the things that God has said...and assuming that it's true, it makes sense on the most basic level; the more capable we are, the more we're likely to believe we're smart enough to comprehend enough of the universe to determine whether God exists (though this admittedly ignores the issue of whether truly wise and intelligent people more clearly perceive their inadequacies). As another example of my own psyche, I often wonder whether this was just a well-crafted claim designed to convince less-intelligent folks to believe in God, on the grounds that the stuck-up intelligentsia could therefore be seen as inferior in the most important realm of all knowledge.

As a matter of fact, the truly brilliant people throughout the ages have been well distributed across the spectrum of belief. No stockbroker who has ever lived has been as intelligent as Plato, yet Plato had a strong belief in some type of divinity, while no stockbroker has ever shown any signs of believing in a power higher than the mighty dollar/yen/euro/peso/Kenyan shilling. Many of the greatest artists, writers, and philosophers in history, whose brain activity probably gave off disruptive electro-magnetic fields that caused people with metal fillings tremendous toothaches, have had strong and well-reasoned beliefs in God. I would like to believe that there is a certain level of intelligence beyond which these doubts (which must ultimately be considered foolish) cease to be a trouble. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that this is so, and even less likely that I am intelligent enough to reach those lofty heights.

I am tempted to end there, because I really don't have an answer for this question. I will propose, however, that it seems intimately tied to the answer to the last question I posed; if there is true, lasting purpose in the things we 'accomplish' here on earth, then perhaps the simplistic answer is that, though intelligence may be a burden (how disturbingly haughty this sounds!), it is to be borne for the good of others. That answer is easy enough, though incredibly dangerous for the heart of one so naturally inclined to view himself as superior. In my experience, anything so easy is suspect, so I'll end by suggesting that it's probably inadequate, though how exactly is something I haven't determined. It's very possible that I'm still allowing my brain to run in circles.