Several years ago I was teaching a corporate class and sharing a concept a participant simply could not grasp. For the next 10 minutes I presented the idea every way I could think of to help her understand. Finally, one of the other students raised her hand and said, “I think I see what’s going on here.” She looked her classmate in the eye and in three seconds cleared up everything.
“Oh. Got it,” my learner said, as if the last 10 minutes never happened.
Huh. I thought. That was interesting. I filed the interaction away and mentally visited it several times through the years. By the time I entered graduate school I had many more encounters with, and questions about how, humans perceive and learn. I was at the beginning point in my life of rethinking what I understood about the world, God and my relationships to others.
In my book I talk about the role of perception as it relates to communication. Though I simplified its importance, perception is really how we relate to the world around us. Perception comes from our cultural influences, the groups we belong to and our biology. It was once thought that our eyes were like video cameras recording information as it happened. Now we know that our eyes filter everything through perception.
Our brains gather information and store it in ways we can understand. It’s how we learn and how we perceive. We like to learn systematically: step 1, step 2, step 3, but we store information chaotically. In other words, if I give you three pieces of information you are going to connect that information to what you already know, and believe to be true, and store it away for recall. We call this a “cognitive schema,” or the process our brains use to make sense of our world. An example of perception based on beliefs is how racially divided our country is on the issue of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.
I was still reeling, like much of the rest of the country, from the attack on 9/11, 2001, when my wife announced she wanted a divorce just two months later. In spite of the anger I felt toward her and the dismal life that had become our existence, I didn’t want a divorce. How could she do this to our family? My thoughts anguished.
True to my beliefs I prayed for her. I prayed that she would change her mind, come back to her faith and that the error of what she was doing would suddenly become apparent to her. I read books on spiritual warfare and our battle against the devil’s fight for our souls. That was, after all, what was really going on, I believed. She was backslidden and no longer following the ways of Christ. There was no other explanation. I prayed hard and earnestly that God would change her. I truly, with all my heart, believed God was going to put our family back together and that my testimony of change from homosexuality would be more powerful than ever.
As time went on and reality set in, I began to ponder life differently. I wondered why what I believed about God wasn’t my experience. The idea that “His ways are higher than our ways,” wasn’t working for me. I needed answers. I’ve always been an analytic, but I always asked questions in the context of my beliefs. Consequently, I always received the same answers. Those answers were no longer sufficient.
I wondered what would happen if I began asking questions as if everything I believed was not true. It was a scary proposition. To do so would be to rip out from underneath me the only foundation I’d ever known. I preached it. I wrote songs and sang about it. It was intertwined in every fiber of my being.
Like most of the country I didn’t know much about Islam or Muslims when we were attacked on 9/11. My introduction to the religion was plane hijackings and catastrophe. Yet, these terrorists so strongly believed in their cause they were willing to die for it. Christianity was no different. The westernized version is not nearly as violent as Christianity of the past, but the belief is just as strong. I realize there are different sects and different versions, but each sect believes it holds THE truth and all others are wrong. Certainly, in the name of ecumenicity, Christians are willing to accept the “non-essentials,” but core truths are worth splitting churches over.
The funny thing about perception is that humans only have a minute piece of it. We are finite creatures living in a vast universe with wonders and history our brains are too small to understand. Yet, we speak with such certainty. To claim a corner market on THE truth is presumptuous at best.
The more I learn the more I realize I don’t know. I have more questions than answers, but letting go of my preconceived ideas allows me to think in broader terms. Life is too big and people are too complex to cast into a narrowly defined mold or outcome.
I haven’t shut the door on Christianity, as some propose, but I see it much differently. Without the cultural trappings it is a religion of love, redemption and acceptance. To me, in this very real human world, that’s what has become important. Stripping away what I wanted to believe with what was really happening – and being honest about it – seems to be what that message was about all along. I couldn’t see it until I forced myself to see things differently.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.
Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.