SPIRIT SAINT STEPHEN’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH PENTECOST 1 | SUMMER 2016 Velcro and Teflon
or a long time, I thought there was something seriously wrong with me. I can have a day full of joyful experiences with kind and generous people, but if someone is rude or threatening or excessively critical along the way, that one experience of negativity can overwhelm and overshadow everything else.
What’s wrong with me, I wondered? Why do I let a single instance of negativity dominate everything else? Even though 30 wonderful things might happen in a day, all it takes is one ugly thing to derail me, and suddenly it’s hard for me to think of anything else.
By Gary D. Jones
Ten I learned that it wasn’t just me. Neuroscientists have discovered that our brains are like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones. When we experience fear, anger, resentment, violence, and so on, our brain cells attach to these like Velcro and refuse to let go. Such negative experiences can end up controlling our lives – we are capable of holding onto our anger and resentment for 30 years or more.
But when it comes to positive experiences of beauty, joy, gratitude, and so on, our brains are like Teflon. According to some neuroscientists, unless a person sits with and savors experiences of positivity for at least 15 seconds, he or she will lose them. It takes at least 15 seconds of sustained attention to the beautiful and good for these to be imprinted on our brains. But when it comes to the negatives—the Velcro—in no time at all, our lives can be consumed by and revolve around them.
In an age of diminishing attention spans, this is not good news.
And this revelation about the human brain makes sense out of so many other experiences:
• You could get two As and two B-pluses on your report card, but if you also got a C-minus, what do you think you’re going to focus on?
• Billions of people in cities across the world (Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists) go about their lives every day, caring for each other with unsolicited acts of kindness that bring tears to your eyes. But after one news report about a terrorist attack, you might well become convinced that a whole class of people are evil and dangerous, or that the world is inherently unsafe.
Jesus and the overwhelming witness of the Bible and Christian mystics for millennia have insisted that God loves and includes everyone, without exception. But if you heard somewhere along the way that God sends some people to hell for not behaving, your life might well become centered on a scary, wrathful God of judgment, instead of an embracing God of unconditional love.
But there’s hope. A mother nursing her baby knows the joy of contemplative gazing, as the baby’s eyes fix on the mother’s. Te imprint of such sustained experiences is permanent. And this can be the experience of anyone who is intentional about savoring that which is beautiful and good. Summer can be
a wonderful time to savor the beauty of a sunrise or sunset, for example. Or, fix your appreciative gaze on the expanse of stars on a clear night. And best of all, close your eyes and ponder deeply the love you have for someone, the way someone has cared for you or inspired you, or the inexplicable joy and gratitude you experience in acts of kindness – all of this is God at work in you. Te God of Love and Peace is not separate from you but is inviting you from within to savor and steep yourself in God’s life-giving presence in you and around you.
I like the way St. Paul sums it up in the fourth chapter of his letter to the Philip- pians, and Eugene Peterson’s translation in Te Message says it so beautifully:
Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. …
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray [or, “ponder,” “contemplate”]. … Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditat- ing on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.
Paul did not have the benefit of modern, neuroscientific research, but he seemed to know that our brains are like Velcro with negativity and like Teflon with the things of God. He knew what scientists are telling us – if you want your minds to hold on to what is good, you have to spend time in prayer and contemplative savoring. n
in this issue I was a stranger and you welcomed me
I was in prison and you visited me An NFL player discusses a ‘rule of life’ Will you do all in your power?
Surprise! (It’s Vacation Bible School)
Shrine Mont weekend offers chance to reconnect Adults offered unique training this summer Summer at St. Stephen’s We’re on national TV
John Philip Newell & Rob Bell, together–here! Hello, StStephensRVA
Allison Seay joins staff in late summer
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