Thursday, June 26, 2014

Freak Out!

Two of my primary sabbatical goals are to worship in other settings and to read and write.  This is the first book report of the sabbatical.

I had one thing to "do" at Annual Conference this year, lead a gathering of the clergy before the conference session had officially begun.  My role was primarily as the glue between pieces of work others had done.  I was nervous, what to say, what not to say?  Then I remembered a podcast I had listened to recently that discussed three of the hardest words in the English language to say . . . "I don't know."  I decided to encourage others to say "I don't know."  What if we prepared to truly listen to another by saying "I don't know what this person is going to say."  What if we gathered with a curiosity and care for one another?  So with that, we made bread, broke bread, and conferenced.  That podcast came from the authors of "Think Like a Freak."  Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.  Thus, by saying "I don't know" I began to "Think Like a Freak."

When their first book "Freakonomics" was published several years ago I ate it up!  Levitt and Dubner produced and easy to read and fun economics book!  What?!?  This wasn't a book about the stock market or the impacts of interest rates or something of that sort.  It is a book about the core of economics, exploring the incentives of people.  Often we use money as an incentive, we sell things in order to gain money or we are persuaded to use money for a particular purpose.  Yet, people are motivated by a number of factors and with an economists eye, they explore virtually any question.  In the first book there are memorable essays on the crime rate drop of the '90s, they pursued questions like, "why do drug dealers live with their moms?"  Their second work originally titled "Superfreakonomics" they tackled global warming, prostitution and terrorism.  Now they bring us "Think Like a Freak."  If you are enthralled as I am you can also hear from them on a weekly podcast at

Steven and Stephen tackle a wide variety of questions and in this book they don't get into detailed
statistical analysis (bummer?) what they do is tell the story of thinking like a freak.  In fact in chapter 8 on the question of persuasion they highlight the importance of telling stories, using the Bible as an example of effective story telling.  I am reminded of the sermon I heard last week about the resistance people have to being converted, but in sharing our stories we show that we care and in caring we are moved sometimes even changed into a new understanding or action.

What if we took a microeconomic view of the church?  Instead of bemoaning declining attendance of the church in the "western" world, what if we started looking for good questions to ask about the motives of the church and the motives of people in their religious and spiritual lives?  In "Think Like a Freak" we are encouraged to admit we don't know, ask good questions, think like a child, consider a persons true incentives, tell stories and even sometimes to quit.  (You will also read an awesome account of why you sometimes hear about the "ridiculous" requests superstars make in their touring contracts, be prepared to be surprised on how smart David Lee Roth looks.)

One of the keys to "Thinking like a Freak" is to go forward with a willingness to think against conventional wisdom. This isn't a comfortable place for many of us.  We are creatures that enjoy affirmation and community with others.  Yet, in asking difficult questions we might find ourselves creating answers that defy the established norms of what it means to be church.  How might thinking like a child help us in our spiritual lives?  What story of transformation can we tell?  What do we need to quit doing?  I don't know yet but I feel the call to seek answers to these sorts of questions.  God help us as we Freak out into the future.

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