The Ultimate Super Bowl Ad

I saw some interesting ads yesterday watching the Super Bowl–the Doritos one made me chuckle, the puppy baby one was kind of gross, and I was mildly annoyed at the car commercial (I think it was Audi?) with the former astronaut comparing driving the new car to piloting a rocket.  Seriously?  There’s so much cultural and political force behind space exploration–comparing launching a rocket to driving a new car seemed trite.

But one Super Bowl ad struck me most: the Quicken Loans mortgage one.  It is the ultimate Super Bowl ad.  The premise is Quicken wants to streamline the mortgage experience to boost the economy.  This would occur by more homeowners buying and selling homes, and thus buying and selling more stuff.

This ad plays into many cultural currents: technology as savior, upward mobility, and the pleasure principle (buying more and new things makes and keeps us happy).  The commercial’s emphasis on the latter current is most striking and most troublesome.  The whole point of a commercial–especially on the night of a quasi-holy day celebration of sports, greasy food, and alcohol–is to stir up the desire to want the buy more and new things.  The blatant admission of such an aim is telling.

I’m no economist; the economic principle is intuitive though: the more people purchase things, the better off we are as an economy.  Buying things supports jobs, which support families, which support communities.  How long can we keep it up?  Are we so selfish so as to only be motivated by the pursuit of more comfort and avoiding pain?  Is there not something–anything–more important than that in life?  What about family?  Friendship?

Of course.  No one is guided only by own motive for happiness.  In this affluent age, we all get caught up from time to time in minding our own comfort, perhaps at the expense of other, more meaningful values.  But my biggest concern is what institution is fighting for our attention in support of those values?  So many voices clamor for space in our minds–media being one of the strongest voices.

Which institution fights for the airspace of your mind that announces to you the ultimate values–those that matter for peace in your soul?

I’d love to watch a Super Bowl ad selling that.


I’m Going to Be Writing More

I’m going to be writing more.  Writing is good for me.  I don’t know if my writing is good for you.

It’s easy to be hypersensitive to criticism as someone who is quick to critique.

Plus, I’m very passionate about things I don’t know a ton about.  I’d rather not write and publish something that smells of sophistry only because that’s all it is.

I guess I’d boil it down to my fear of sophistry–not only in appearing like I am just blowing a lot of hot steam (my own self-doubt)–but also in only being able to give just the smallest shred of truth on any given topic.

Basically, I don’t want to be seen as not really knowing what I’m talking about and then I don’t want to misinform.

That is what keeps me from writing more, if I really look deep inside.  I’d be able to find the time and the energy.  I actually type pretty fast.  I have ideas.  All I have to do is read one thing (and I read plenty of things), and I can come up something to write about.

I read about a lot of different topics; mostly politics and political science/armchair philosophy/armchair theology.  Some about Chicago sports.  Occasionally about music theory.  I’d like to write about those things too.

I have stopped and started so many times.  Like so many people.  I’ve had a deadjournal.  I’ve had a livejournal.  And I’ve had a handful of wordpress sites.  And I never really keep up with it.

But why would I keep up with it in the first place?  First, for me.  To think, explore, express.  Second, for my family.  So I can have a place to think, explore, and express and therefore stop being so much in my head all the time.  Third, for people who would read.  Perhaps there is someone who can connect with what I am writing.  Or something I write makes him think.  Or makes him write.

I have this vision of writing a lot.  Of writing for blogs.  Or academic journals.  Or books.  I’d like to be a writer.  As a friend recently reminded me, the best way to get better at writing is to write.

One of the main problems is that I don’t know exactly what I want to say.  When I have written and published, I’ve kind of taken a conservative view against leftist ideology propoganda/moralizing.  Occasionally posting something about psychology or music.  Sometimes, but rarely, posting something personal.  Or sometimes musing about some theological idea or concept.

Those are the kinds of things I like to write about.  I like exposing ideological blindspots.  I like writing and thinking about theological things.  But I’m not a political scientist nor a theologian.  I’m a psychologist.  I can write about those areas from a psychological perspective.  Of course I can.  What would keep me from doing that?


Live and Let Live is Not Good Enough

“We are all called not to reduce the Kingdom of God to the confines of our ‘little churches,’ but to dilate the Church to the dimensions of the Kingdom of God.”

–Pope Francis, 10/12/2014 Weekly Angelus Address

Call me a heretic, but I would pick a slight battle with Pope Francis here.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the Church expanding itself and getting outside of itself and turning to the needs of the periphery as he describes.  And it’s his job to help us keep that in mind.  But first we need to get our own house in order, as it were, before we can effectively “dilate to the dimensions.”  What Pope Francis is calling “little churches,” I think, is remaining complacent in our small groups, essentially patting each other on our backs and saying how holy we all are.  I agree with the Pope in emphasizing more outreach and focus on the marginalized.  But I do think we need to get our house in order, in a different way.

Another connotation for “little church” is the family.  The family is the little church, the amazing cenacle where grace meets grace, and begets new life.  To borrow another metaphor, the family is a place where the ground for growth is tilled, weeded, and cured–where growth is cautiously guarded, and masterfully, indifferently, and meticulously tended.  I want to spend a moment with that metaphor.

As a father, I have learned a lot about myself and my personality through this process of tending and guarding.  I(1) have a vision for my(1) family and it is my responsibility to do everything I can to grow towards that vision.

God is the master gardener–he gives the seed and makes the seed grow.  His goodness and grace are the sunlight, water, and nutrients.  Comparatively, the good things that help us grow are good and glorious gifts from Him.  God entrusted this local garden to me.  Now, there are many ways to go about gardening.  One extreme is to have careful control of every part of the gardening enterprise, such as the temperature, air pressure, humidity, pH content of the soil, etc.  The other extreme would be to let the garden grow as it will without much or any interference.

There are two extremes–complete control and complete autonomy.  If my vision for my garden–say, of vegetables–was to harvest the vegetables when ripe, it would probably make sense to have some control over the environment.  Is it necessary to have complete control?  What if that tomato sags too much into the broccoli, which is getting in the way of the spinach’s sunlight, which is crowding out the basil.  Complete control is a myth–it’s a fantasy.  I can never completely control what is going on, my garden, my environment, etc.

But the other extreme of letting the garden grow naturally without any cultivation is equally inadequate, and is an affront to justice.  I have been given this great and amazing responsibility, along with my knowledge, skills, and ability (been reading too many clinical psychology competency-based supervision articles…).  I have this vision of the garden.  And I daresay that I have discerned this vision to in line with the will of God.  God ordains this vision of our garden, I have the ability and knowledge to tend the garden like this.

So it is with my family.  What does this have to do with anything, much less Pope Francis’s comments?  While Pope Francis was talking about a different concept of the “little church,” I think there is too little emphasis on taking care of in-house matters, and there is too much emphasis on being mindful of outside factors.  One perspective on parenting suggests for parents to let their children live and let live.  This hands-off approach is very important when the garden is grown a bit, is hardy, and can withstand the heat of the environment.  But I would never want my little chick-pea to be exposed to the harshness of the frost or the desert–after she has developed enough to stand firm while withstanding the heat.  But as the chick-pea is still developing its characteristic heartiness, the gardener needs to guard, protect, and nurture it, so that it can, when it is mature, fully withstand the glorious yet harshly tumultuous and whimsical environment.

Our little church, our family will grow, expanding the dimensions of the Kingdom of God, in due time.  Our little chick-peas and florets will know the sting of the first frost before they know it.  It’s my job to make sure they have enough warmth in them to withstand it.

(1) I use the pronouns “I” and “me” here and throughout this post, which imperfectly reflects reality.  It’s a glorious job to be a parent–even more glorious when the job is done together, with the spouse who helped beget the child(ren).  That is, a lot of what I am talking about, the responsibility, the gardening, etc., happens together with my wife.  But I am thinking a little existential here, acknowledging my ultimate aloneness.  Fully united with my spouse makes me fully alive; and yet, I am here, ultimately alone.  It’s a paradox/mystery I’d like to explore, preferably over a glass of wine or two!

Mental Flexibility–Who’s Driving Your Car?

I am in awe of the creation that is our brain/mind* for so many reasons.  One of those reasons is the flexibility to adapt to changing situations, and the classic paradigm of explaining/exploring mental flexibility is the top-down/bottom-up heuristic.  Sometimes our mind needs to emphasize strategy, planning, and control (top-down), while other times, our brain just needs to let it be, and ride it out (bottom-up).

A quick example might be helpful.  When driving, most of us who have been driving for a few years or decades generally operate from muscle memory and automatic processing.  Our minds just sort of go along for the ride (as it were), for the most part.  It’s called bottom-up, because the older, physically lower parts of our brains can handle automatic processing–we don’t need to think about every little maneuver we make when driving.

The basal ganglia and cerebellum (the parts of our brain that, together, guide automatic processing) can act as a sort of “automatic pilot.”  These structures are evolutionarily older and they are physically lower down in the brain.  However, when we are driving along and unexpectedly encounter a road block, our minds (hopefully) switch from bottom-up processing (automatic) to top-down processing (strategic planning and control).  The road block presents a problem that requires some assessment (wait, what is going on here?), analysis (what are the circumstances, what are my choices?), planning (I’m going to turn around and go right), and execution (let’s do this!).  It’s literally a top-down interaction in which the evolutionarily newer and physically higher parts of our brain, the frontal lobes of our cortex, take control and direct the lower processes in a focused way.

It’s definitely a lot slower and inefficient, but (hopefully), it’s an effective way to deal with the complex, changing environment.  Bottom up: efficient processing of (over)learned behavior in routine, day-to-day contexts; top down: slower processing, but useful especially in novel contexts or circumstances which require a little strategic thinking, problem solving, planning, and complex analysis.

I love that about our brain.  It is so cool!  Of course, it’s not fool-proof.  Sometimes we are in automatic mode when we need to be in strategic mode (perhaps looking like inattention or impulsivity), or maybe we are in strategic mode when an more automatic mode would be more appropriate (perhaps looking like overcontrol, scrupulosity, or obsessiveness).  Of course, our brain’s output (our behavior) tends to be a synthesis of control and automatic behavior.  We are functioning well when we can allow for the greatest automatic thinking with an optimal level of top-down control.

I tend to focus on that top-down control a little more than I would like, and knowledge about the relative importance of automatic processing helps me “let go” a little bit.  To be, without overthinking–that’s what I need to do a little more of.  To live and to breathe and to act without too much regard strategy and control.  Of course, a little too much automatic processing, too much acting without thinking, too much behaving without regard to the consequences isn’t ideal as well.  It’s all about balance.

*I am hyperaware of the dangers of materialist reductionism, especially when neuroscience is brought into the picture.  The relationship of the brain to the mind (soul?) is complex and beyond this post to go into greater detail.  To get a taste of my thinking on this topic, check out Daniel Siegel’s The Developing Mind, which posits that the mind is actually an unobservable composite comprised of the relationships between the physical body, the physical brain, intrapsychic processes (thinking), and interpersonal transaction.

Fr. Z Has It Right

Fr. Z, whose blog I frequent periodically, writes about the Church and politics.  One fantastic series he has in his blog is “What Does The Prayer Really Say?” or “WDTPRS,” in which he attempts a literal translation of the Collect for the day’s mass from latin to English.  

His post for the Collect for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time stood out to me.  Rather, his commentary and translation pointed out to me the beauty of the Sunday’s Collect.  Here is the latin and current translations:


Adesto, Domine, famulis tuis, et perpetuam benignitatem largire poscentibus, ut his, qui te auctorem et gubernatorem gloriantur habere, et grata restaures, et restaurata conserves.


Draw near to your servants, O Lord, and answer their prayers with unceasing kindness, that, for those who glory in you as their Creator and guide, you may restore what you have created and keep safe what you have restored.

Fr. Z’s literal translation is slightly different, but seems to cover the same ground:

Be present to Your servants, O Lord, and grant Your unending kindness to those seeking it, so that You may restore favors to those who glory in having You as author and guide, and You may preserve them once restored.

This prayer affirms the order of the relationship between Creator and creation, acknowledging us as “servants,” and the Lord and “Creator and guide.”  Fr. Z commented:

Our status as lowly servants is the key to everything we receive or regain.

How infrequently we acknowledge this status!  It is commonly assumed that servitude is the opposite of freedom.  The doubter would assert that being a servant of God means giving up complete freedom, just the opposite of the Church’s teaching.  What are some alternative perspectives on God’s relationship with humanity, and how do they line up?  The question of servitude relates directly to who God is and is not.  

1.  God is a creation of humanity.  In this regard, the relationship is completely opposite of the one offered by the Church.  God is complete servant of humanity inasmuch as God’s existence is fully dependent on those irrational souls who conjure some idea for God to satiate some need or seek extra-ordinary salve for psychic wounds.  God only exists as a nice idea that helps people feel better.  

 Those who have this view typically regard themselves as superior to the God-fearing folks who have not yet found true enlightenment.  People who believe that people created God regard self-sufficiency as one of the highest ideals.  The idea is that if I am self-sufficient, I don’t need a God or higher power.  And conversely, if I claim I need a higher power, I am not self-sufficient.  

This is a common attitude, but while there is some comfort in perceiving ultimate control for our lives, the reality is that we are never in complete control of our lives.  One may make an active choice to accept the vicissitudes of life, but total self-sufficiency robs us of our capacity to fully live, because we can never fully give.  

2.  God is distant from humanity.  God is simply creator and it’s our job to figure the rest out.  This view acknowledges a hierarchy between God and humanity.  At the same time, it presupposes a distance from the lived experience of God and the lived experience of people.  To endorse this view would be to negate the experience of countless mystics throughout history.  Personal relationship with God, in which God is increasingly known and personal details, highs and lows are shared is a common experience among many contemporary believers.  This view also espouses personal self-sufficiency.  While the deist might rely frequently on other people, ultimately, he relies on himself as the source and guide of his existence.  At best, living is an extension of one’s highest ideals, such as justice.  

3.  God is creator and redeemer of humanity.  God’s son redeemed us so that we can be close to God.  It is our gift to be servants of God.  Our service of God rightly orders our humanity such that we learn to be more like God.  Since we are created in God’s image, we actually become more human as we become more like God.  

St. Thomas Aquinas teaches of the order of the universe.  He places humans above animals and below God.  While we are created, living creatures like animals, we have evolved beyond animals.  We have the capacity to become more like God.  However, if we allow our lives to be guided solely by passions, pleasures, and instincts, we are living more like animals.  That is, if our guiding principle is increasing pleasure and avoiding pain, what difference are we from other animals?  

Avoiding pleasure and increasing pain is not the goal; however the Law of Love completes us and gives us ultimate freedom.  This law speaks to us at an even deeper level than the Pleasure Principle since it draws us out of our own baseness, out of our selfishness and vanity and pride.  The Law of Love says to give live freely and accept love freely.  Justice would dictate that the ultimate action is to give love freely to and accept love freely from God.  Secondarily, we should give and accept love freely from other people.  When we are guided solely by our passions, we relinquish the ability to freely choose our destiny.  On the other hand, when we live the Law of Love, we deeply express the freedom which is at the deepest part of our personhood.

The Law of Love is the the law of the Kingdom of God.  Because we are his beloved, and we love in return, our rightful place in the Kingdom is service of God.  But this is only because he served us first.  His incarnation, passion, death, and resurrection is the ultimate sacrifice.  He instructs us to do the same.  

This View Will Change Your Life Forever

Today is the feast of the Transfiguration, the remembrance of when our Lord appeared in heavenly glory upon the mountain and spoke with Moses and Elijah with Peter, James, and John on looking.  God the father spoke decisively: “He is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased; Listen to him.”  One line of the Transfiguration story found in Luke stands out most to me:

They became awake and saw his glory…

The transformation of Peter, John, and James at the Transfiguration mirrors our own.  One moment they were asleep and at rest–encounter with the divine Lord jarred them from the slumber of the universe as they knew it.  Jesus’ divine kingship stirs us to move.  The reality of Jesus’ reign as king directly challenges our will toward self-reliance.  And we must to reconcile this reality with the notion that we are fully in charge of our lives and existence.  Either Jesus is king or he is not.  Either he is divine or he is not.  Either we, in turn, like the disciples become awake upon encounter or we deny his glory.

Jesus’ divine kingship remains true, but in our relativistic culture, it is easy to evade the question of Jesus’ divinity.  Tough questions are gently brushed aside.  People make broad statements such as, “That’s fine that Jesus is divine for you, but he’s not for me.”  We must open ourselves to the possibility of encounter.  When the encounter does occur, the choice remains–Jesus always gives us the choice to follow him!

While God has given me the grace of faith, I struggle with self-reliance.  It’s easy for me to try to do things all myself, which eventually leads to distrust in the Lord and worries and fears.  I lose touch with Jesus quite easily, having more faith in myself at times than I have in the Lord.  This turns my hope sour , and I am unable to give myself to the present moment and to love freely and unreservedly.

Recently, the Lord called me back to him.  I had a steady mental prayer schedule for a few months, at the guidance of a spiritual director.  While God graced me with a spirit of devotion and faith abounded for that time I lost track of that devotion upon a recent move with my family and lost track of prayer.

Minor annoyances became major obstacles as my self-reliance were inadequate for my vocation.  In God’s grace a wonderful priest friend of mine recommended a book that he was reading, Interior Freedom.  I felt compelled to pray over the book, and I have since then re-established my prayer routine.  While I have not been fully free of self-reliance I am again opening myself to the daily encounters with our Lord.  These encounters strengthen me and purify my will.

My prayer routines do not have the same drama as the Transfiguration, but yet I am grateful for prayer as my touchstone with divinity.  I pray that I continue to open myself up in my daily life and “Listen to him.”


James 3

This reading compares the wisdom from above with wisdom from below.  While there are many aspects of this reading which jump out to me, one in particular speaks to me today.  This is the admonition against selfish ambition and boasting.  I received life-altering news on Friday which confirms the path our family is on and rewards the hard work I have done for the past three and a half years: I received notice of matching to an APA accredited internship.  It still hasn’t sunk in–my wife and I are overjoyed (even if it will be bittersweet to say goodbye to lots of great people).  At the same time, I feel a very real shift in my own perspective.  I feel sort of confirmed as a psychologist in training and have a sense of “I have this, I can do this,” which is quite opposite to the feeling I have recently had of relative incompetence.

Thus, this admonition to avoid selfish ambition and boasting comes at a great time for me, as I will without doubt encounter classmates at school today who may or may not have matched to internship.  For charity toward them, I have renewed perspective.  But moreover, I receive the graces from what the reading does admonish the reader to do.  

James encourages his beloved to be humble and full of mercy, among other attributes.  Those are two areas in my life in particular I need work.  It is so tempting to me to lay claim to the fruits of my labor–tangible or abstract.  Glory be to God for the good work that he has done.  Those with whom I disagree deserve mercy as well.  It is so easy for me to write off those with whom I disagree.  One of my main weaknesses is spiritual and intellectual pride and I so often put myself above others in my mind, when, in reality, I am a son of God, truly, but so is the person I denigrate in my mind.  Not only does it cultivate discord, but this pride alienates me from connecting on a truly human, much less spiritual level, from those around me.  

Lord, I give you praise and glory for the wisdom which you impart to me from today’s readings.  Thank you for sending the Spirit to teach me.  I pray that I may humbly and compliantly receive the gifts you have given me, especially in my professional life.  May all glory be yours, who gave me life.  Teach me to be humble and merciful and guide me to pure, peaceable wisdom.

Mark 9

This reading is also full of things that I could touch on.  The first piece I gain from this is a healthy dose of humility.  I understand the humility and possible humiliation the disciples went through when they could not drive out the demon from the boy and Jesus apparently has no problem doing so.  “This kind can only come out through prayer” Jesus teaches them privately, after the fact.  This lesson hits personally as I embark on this journey toward becoming a professional psychologist.  There are a few lessons to be gained from this reading.  Firstly, there are actual “demons” that the disciples could, in fact, drive out.  They were effective in some things.  That gives me hope that I will be able to be effective, at times.  On the other hand, there are different kinds of demons, some of whom are not fazed by one level of intervention, and who require a higher quality of spiritual combat.  That is, some require Jesus’ direct intervention.  I have often wrestled in my mind about the utility of psychotherapy.  Scientific evidence exists which speaks to its long-term positive effects.  I have seen short-term effects in my limited experience.  However, if true healing comes only from the grace from the Living Son of God, wouldn’t I be better of recommending attending mass more often and receiving the graces of the sacraments and daily prayer?  

I have reasoned that perhaps I can be effective in providing psychological services in that I can be an instrument for God’s grace by building a relationship with someone and guiding them to right relationship with Truth.  On the other hand, there are some who may require more extensive spiritual intervention and for whom, whether or not it will be professionally effective to suggest, spiritual healing would be more effective. 

On a more personal level, I admire with the father of the boy in the reading.  How infrequently I turn to Christ when I need healing.  More often, like our first parents, I cower in isolation when I am in pain.  Only in extraordinary situations do I rely on Christ.  Only when I have tried everything else do I acknowledge the healing presence of God.  But Jesus remarks, “Everything is possible to one who has faith!”  So often, I doubt, and so I remain attached to my own personal devices (literally and figuratively!) in handling the minor and major difficulties of life.  I cut myself off from the saving power of God because of my foolish pride in attempting to handle everything myself.  

Lord, help me to soften my heart and let go of my pride.  Help me to accept your loving embrace when I am poor, needy, and suffering.  Give me the grace to turn to you with my supplications.  Give me the faith of the father whose son was possessed by a demon.  Grant me the grace to cry out, “Help my unbelief!” in moments of distress.