Your Brain on Goodness

Who hear has ever been called a Goody Two Shoes?  I have and it does not feel like a compliment, but this week I looked at the history of where this phrase originated from and I can confidently say that if you have been called a Goody Two Shoes, then you should take this as a compliment. 

One of the first places that this phrase appears was in the title of a children’s book published by John Newbery in London in 1765.  In the book, you meet Margery Meanwell and her brother Timothy.  These two children are penniless orphans who walk around wearing only rags. The book makes a point of the fact that Margery only has 1 shoe.  One day, Margery is given 2 shoes by a generous benefactor.  This gift sets off a series of events that encouraged Margery to work hard to become a school mistress.  Later, she falls in love and marries a man who owns land.  While Margery seems to have good fortune, her brother also returns from living overseas bringing with him a fortune that he gives to Margery as a nice dowry for her wedding.  Margery now has money and land, but this doesn’t change who she is. Having once lived in poverty, Margery views her wealth as something to be used for the good of those less fortunate and not for personal pleasure.

Being a goody two shoes is used to describe someone who has high moral standards, who has a clear understanding of right and wrong, and who acts for reconciliation in the world.  Goody two shoes are people who want the light to shine in areas of darkness so that truth might be revealed. All of us not just the goody two shoes among us have this internal sense of goodness as we are created in the image of a God whose very nature is good.

Our people, the people in our communities that we may or may not know yet, are crying out to find ways to shift their internal state of being away from mirroring the fear, anger, and anxiety that is present all around us. They want to show the goodness that is in their heart through their thoughts, words, and actions. If people are hungry for spiritual practices that change their internal state of being and if our bodies are this amazing instrument that God gave us to tune to God’s frequency which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness etc. then we as the church must talk about how the mind & body are involved in our spiritual practices. 

We are in a new sermon series titled, “Your brain on fruit” Today we are talking about your brain on goodness. Through new discoveries in Neuroscience, Christians have another way to talk about what we mean when we say “In Christ, we are a new creation!” This is exciting to me because it confirms what practitioners and mystics have written about for 100s of years and it gives us a new and interesting way to talk about our faith.

In our sacred text, we find letters from highly esteemed mentors addressing people of faith throughout the region.  In the letter to the Thessalonians that we read from today, their mentor, Paul, writes about the idea that how we live our life today matters.  How we care for ourselves and each other each and everyday matters.  Let us hear the words again from 1 Thessalonians 5: 12-18,   “But we request of you, brothers and sisters, that you cultivate a grateful heart for the leaders among you.  Live in peace with one another. 14 How we live our life each day is important, so We urge you, to speak to the [k]unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. 16 Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

The definition of goodness that I am using today is that goodness is having a zeal for the truth. But what many of us think this means is not exactly what it means.  A passion for the truth begins with acknowledging our ignorance which is what Jesus called us to do when he said, consider the log in your own eye before you offer to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.  So, we have to do the internal work that humbly acknowledges that we don’t know everything and that we have a particular bias towards the knowledge that we do have. And we can understand our bias through looking at how our brains work.

Brian Spoon in his book Neuroscience and the fruit of the spirit writes, “If we believe something to be real, the thalamus will help make the perception become our reality.” (115) What he is saying is that if we trust a certain line of thinking, our brains are primed to see more of it and now we know that our media is filtering what we see to reinforce our bias. News sources focus solely on telling us how bad the people who don’t think like us are which creates more division and less opportunities for reconciliation.

Instead of just believing everything we read that fits in our narrow window of thinking…What goodness does is give us the ability to be curious instead of judgmental and creative instead of hopeless as we work for reconciliation between opposing groups. When we shift into a sense of curiosity and creativity, then the prefrontal cortex is engaged to help us problem solve and make plans to make the world a better place.

How does a person cultivate this sense of goodness that becomes like a North Star pointing them in the direction of the truth? How do people become curious and creative in their work for reconciliation?  Let’s look at 3 different stories that are examples of what our sacred text encourages us to do which is to take seriously how we live our lives everyday: we want to be a people who live in peace, who are patient with each other and who encourage each other to continue working for the good of all people.

In the year 2000, a man named Paul Ekman had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with the Dalai Lama.  Paul Ekman said, “He held my hands while we talked and I was filled with a sense of goodness and a unique total body sensation that I have no words to describe.”  Ekman talks about how most of his adult life he struggled with anger and rage, but that once the Dalai Lama touched his hands, he felt completely cured of his anger and rage. Recently, Paul interviewed eight others who have experienced similar transformations after meeting the Dalai Lama.  (Mind in the Balance, Allan Wallace)

The Dalai Lama credits his regular meditation practice to wiring his brain and flooding his body with a sense of goodness that can relieve the suffering of others through a single touch. He knows his daily practices matter! Reading his story inspired a curiosity in me about how other people accessed their inherent goodness. So let’s hear another story about a well-known, well-loved individual.

I think we might all say that Mr. Rogers was a goody two shoes!  During an interview, Fred’s wife Joanne was asked, “What’s it like being married to a saint?” After a short pause, she responded, “If you call him a saint, then what he does is somehow unattainable,” she explains. “He works hard at it. Its’s a practice.” Mr Rogers’ credits his daily practices of silence, swimming, and playing the piano. And it seems that these worked to help give him the clarity and courage to do ministry in a unique way.

When Fred was going to seminary to become a presbyterian minister, the TV was just being introduced into people’s homes. He began to see that having a TV in every home was shaping and escalating the racial tension in America quite similar to the way the internet shapes and escalates the ways that we are divided today. So, Fred decided that his ministry would be through the TV so that he could capture the hearts and minds of children across America.

I was reading an article this week that reminded me of an episode that Mr Rogers created 4 months after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.  He created an episode that would reach into every home in America that would address the crisis in America in a different way.  In this episode, Mr Rogers did not do his traditional opening where he comes into the home singing, changes his shoes and sweater and begins the episode.  Instead, he stayed out front of his home and took off his shoes so that he could put his feet in a baby pool full of cool water because he was so hot.  As he is enjoying the cool water on this hot day, his friend Officer Clemmons, a Black police officer with the voice of an angel arrives and Mr. Rogers invites Officer Clemmons to put his feet in the pool with him.  This was a radical act because one of the hot button issues at that time was the segregation of the public pools.  But here in Mr. Rogers neighborhood there is no problem. Mr Roger’s was working for the good of all people in his own peaceful and patient way.

Now, I want you to hear from someone in our own tribe. His words to us are like a fresh word coming from a mentor to our local church like how Paul was  writing to the Thessalonians.  Pastor Terrell McTyre is the head of New Church Ministry for the DOC and he sent out a newsletter a couple of weeks ago that I feel calls Heights Christian Church to embody a sense of goodness that would allow us to be curious and creative as we approach the task of discernment that is before us today. The practice that he engages to relate his goodness is through drawing inspiration from our sacred text.  Here is what he says to us today.

He invites us to consider the first 9 verses of Joshua chapter 1. In these verses God is talking to Joshua and saying to him that it is time to pack up and cross over the river so that the people can enter the promised land. This is the land that God had promised to Moses and it is now right in front of Joshua. God reminds Joshua 3x’s that he must be strong and courageous. God tells Joshua to be strong and courageous as he leads the people into this new land. God tells Joshua to be strong and courageous as he leads the people to continue following God’s ways in this new land.  God tells Joshua to be strong and courageous so that fear and discouragement does not hold him back from the new life God is calling him to move into.

Pastor Terrell writes directly to us about this text. He writes, “As you transition to the part of your future story where you must conquer and divide your new territory—your new spiritual battleground—you cannot be weak or afraid.” He encourages us..

Don’t choose the familiar over the uncharted.

Don’t let fear become interference (inner fear).

Don’t select a familiar hell over an unfamiliar heaven. 

Rev. Terrell McTyre

Friends, Just like in the time of Joshua, we have a river to cross and we may be tempted to hold onto all that is familiar, but let us use this discernment process to celebrate where we have been, to choose what to bring with us and what to let go of, and decide together where God is calling us to go so that we can walk boldly into the next chapter of HCC.

This will take strength and courage listen for God’s voice because there are many pressures that might seem easier to just decide to be who they want us to be. This will take strength and courage to continue encouraging each other along the way. This will take strength and courage to discern how HCC will work for the good of all people in our next chapter.

So let us declare with strength and courage the last verse of Joshua chapter 4 but insert our own time of transition so that we make it more personal to the mighty river that we are packing up to cross over…
This statement is printed on the back of your bulletin. Let’s read it together!

This discernment process is so that everybody on earth would recognize how strong God’s rescuing hand is and so that we would hold God in solemn reverence always.

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