Thoughts on Divergence (pt 3): next stop – Erudite

(part 1),

(part 2)

“Study to show thyself approved…”  ~2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV)

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”

~Henry Ford

Beatrice Prior, and her brother Caleb, who was less than a year older, both found themselves at the end of a school year – both 16, and finishing the same grade in school. In the dystopian world of Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” series, this was the end of their formal education in society as they knew it. It was time for them to take the aptitude tests that all 16 year olds take at this time of year, which would determine which of the 5 factions they were best suited for. They were not to talk to anyone about the aptitude tests, or their results, after taking them. And the following day (not much time to consider the results) they would gather in the Choosing Ceremony and publically (and ceremoniously) announce their choice. They would leave the ceremony for training with the faction they chose without the opportunity to say goodbye, or offer an explanation to their family for their choosing. The rest of their education would come from their faction leaders. And, as good obedient Abnegation children, neither Beatrice not Caleb spoke to the other about their results, or impending choice, after their tests.

On the day of the ceremony, the Prior family (Beatrice and Caleb were the only children to 2 Abnegation leaders.) arrived together and took their places in the room where the Choosing Ceremony would soon take place. Beatrice was already a bundle of nerves as she contemplated the possibility of switching factions (though she hadn’t entirely made up her mind). She knew that her brother Caleb was Abnegation through and through. She, on the other hand, felt herself to be too selfish to be content to stay in the faction in which she had grown up. Although she was unsure, even as she stood waiting for her name to be called. As they called each “chooser” in reverse alphabetical order, Caleb would choose first. His choice, it would turn out, would make hers all the more difficult.

“Caleb Prior,” the announcer called. Caleb walked to the center and grabbed the ceremonial knife. He ran the blade across his palm, and walked to the bowls laid out before him. Each faction had a bowl containing something that symbolically represented them. He passed his hand over the bowl with gray stones that represented Abnegation, and held his hand over a bowl of  water, letting the blood that had pooled in his palm drip into the bowl. Caleb had chosen Erudite.

By now, at the age of 50, I have taken several aptitude assessments over the course of my life (some legit, and many just for fun). But there was only one that I recall taking in high school. And, if my memory serves me well enough, I didn’t find it encouraging. I don’t know what test it was (That was over 30 years ago.) but I do remember not being encouraged to go to college. This didn’t surprise me, as neither of my parents finished college, and they didn’t encourage me or my siblings to go.  I never planned on college. I didn’t see the value. I had world-changing stuff to do, and didn’t want to waste another 4 years of my life just so I could have a degree to validate me.

Sidenote: I’ve always been a bit idealistic and stubborn (My friends will not be shocked at this revelation.)

To this day, I have no idea what my IQ is. I do know that I am a Melancholy-Phlegmatic, and a C/S (in the DISC model), and an INFJ. I have taken all 3 of these type assessments multiple times over the course of the last 20-something years. And, though I grow and change, I always get the same results. Only the percentages may vary slightly. And according to the test on the “Divergent” movie’s website, I am Divergent. And after reading the books, who wouldn’t want that result?

I was not an A student, or even a solid A-B student. School to me was just something I had to get through before I set out to change the world. My last 2 years of high school I got out at noon to go to work. I only excelled in classes that intrigued me. I did NOT consider myself to be very intelligent. But I was curious about many things.

I am grateful for a few people in my life that did encourage me to go to college. Even though I never really considered going until a year out of high school when I realized that I wasn’t exactly turning the world upside down, and wanted to go to school for what they could teach me, and not for the piece of paper. And it was another 2 and a half years before I actually went. It was more difficult going to college as a young, broke, and married, student who had to work while attending school in order to pay for it.

The Erudite faction believed that conflict was caused by a lack of knowledge. Therefore, conflict could be resolved by finding truth through study.

I am very grateful that my mother was always (and still is) a reader, and that she read to me as a child. I learned very young the joys of reading. That, combined with an insatiable desire to understand the world, eventually drove me to higher education. After Caleb declared his move to Erudite in the Choosing Ceremony, Beatrice recalled seeing a stack of books in his room the night after the aptitude tests.

So…what leads a person who lives a simple life of service to others, to choose to complicate their life through study?

It’s one thing to embrace the simplicity of life in the sense of not accumulating stuff, or debt; or not stretching yourself too thin with duties and responsibilities; or not making mountains out of mole hills. It’s quite another thing to accept something as true just because someone has said it is. I’m convinced that we all have doubts. The difference is that some people will believe that the cure for doubt is faith. Just believe it even if it doesn’t make sense. Some things are just beyond our ability to understand. I have no trouble believing that my cognitive abilities are limited, but I refuse to impose those limits on myself or others. I believe that many people leave the faith of their childhood because they are not allowed the room to wrestle with their own doubts.

What makes some people continue believing in the “Great and Powerful OZ” even after the curtain has been pulled back. Why would someone take the blue pill and consciously choose to live a lie after they’ve seen the world that has been “pulled over our eyes”?

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.” ~Morpheous (from “The Matrix”)

Many people will refuse to read books by people they disagree with, or listen to contrary information to what they already believe, because it upsets their ordered world. Ignorance is often chosen in preference to the illusion of order, over chaos. Many people find comfort when everything can be placed into a black or white category. And they are willing to accept the variety of colors in the spectrum as illusory to maintain that comfort.

But I can’t unsee, unhear, unfeel. I cannot ignore. For some, doubt is like a barely perceptible sliver of something that can be swept under the rug. For me, it is the sliver that get’s lodged under my skin while walking barefoot. If I try to ignore it, it becomes  infected and causes a great deal of discomfort and dis-ease. It simply must be dealt with.

Caleb had somehow been exposed to information that challenged him. As much as he loved the life of Abnegation, he simply couldn’t ignore that voice within him that told him there must be more. Black and white categories wouldn’t suffice. There are very few questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. He just could not accept something on faith without a diligent search for understanding. He was not turning his back on the life of service and self-sacrifice, or the people he loved. He just had to surround himself with the people that could help him find the answers he sought.

True Erudite should never be elitist. They should be known by humility and hunger. Never forget your prior ignorance (because you still have much) and get puffed up because of your new understanding. You believe what you believe because it makes sense to you now. But don’t get too comfortable. Chances are…you won’t stay there either.

Thoughts on Divergence (pt 2): first stop – Abnegation

“Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”                ~John 15:13 (KJV)

 For some reason (other than the usual issues that cause procrastination) I’ve had a difficult time getting back to this “series”. Note to self: At least have a working draft of the entire series before posting the first blog to introduce it. I’ve thought a lot about it. I’ve wrestled with what to say, and how to say it. But, until now, I haven’t just made myself sit down and type it out. To be honest (like Candor) I would probably scrap the idea for this post if I hadn’t announced a series, because it is not very timely anymore. I did that on purpose, you know. It’s how I push myself to do what I truly WANT to do, but have a tendency to put off because it won’t be perfect enough. If I tell you I’ll do something, then my integrity is on the line.

So here it is…the next installment.

We begin our tour of the Divergent social landscape with the Abnegation faction. We start here, because Veronica Roth began her trilogy here. Our protagonist, Beatrice Prior, grew up in Abnegation. And our introduction to the social structure that drives the story, begins with this, the selfless-server faction. And, beside that,  Abnegation is the group with whom I most identify.

Abnegation, as I described in my introduction for this series, “Thoughts on Divergence” part 1, is the faction that countered the selfishness of the world by denying themselves all but the basic necessities in life. They dressed simply, and modestly. Beatrice was only allowed to view herself in a mirror once every 3 months when she got her hair cut – and then, only in short glances. They were not to spend time thinking of themselves. They had no need for large homes, or closets, or dressers to keep their stuff. They didn’t accumulate things. The simplicity in their lives and dress might be analogous to the Amish or Mennonite communities in the American North-east. They were often mockingly referred to as “stiffs”.

Abnegation had the charge of governing the land, as they had no personal or political aspirations, but simply a desire to serve. Yes, there really are people like this. Although no one is completely immune to the draw of power or money, some are pretty close. Think of Mother Theresa. It’s just that, in our world, these people seldom get elected to anything, as they have a disdain for the political machine. Real-life Abnegation is more likely to work quietly (even secretly) behind the scenes to be agents of change.

Children born into Abnegation are raised in what might look like poverty to those on the outside looking in, but would likely be richer in relationships, and have a better understanding of the interconnectedness of all people. But all Abnegation children have the opportunity (and responsibility) to choose to remain Abnegation, or choose another faction, at the tender age of 16. They may choose to remain Abnegation for fear of the unknown, discomfort with change, loyalty to family, or because they believe it to be the best choice for life. Those that choose another faction after having grown up Abnegation, may do so because they feel that another faction may hold better promise for righting the world’s wrongs, or they could be disillusioned with their parent’s faction. It may be an act of outright defiance, or just a search for belonging and meaning.

It might be a stretch to say that I grew up Abnegation, but I can identify with it fairly easily. We were not a poor family, but we were not a family of means either. We didn’t celebrate much. We ate out very seldom. I remember 2 family vacations my entire childhood. Both were short, and cheap. Our get-aways consisted of a trip to see grandparents for Christmas, or occasionally in the summer.

But most true to Abnegation was that my parents were (and are) servers. They modeled service to me with neighbors and members of our local church. Even now, my 77 year old father will drive his little John Deere riding mower down the road to cut someone else’s lawn when they are not able. And he does it at his own cost. He pays attention to people, and perceives when they have a need. And he is a driving force to the benevolence of his church congregation.

As I learned of, and fell in love with, the example and teachings of Jesus, as a young person, I committed myself to follow his example in my own life. What I found was that Jesus didn’t only “lay down his life” in his death, but in life also. To lay down our lives is to put the needs of others ahead of our own. It’s to defer, to give up personal rights at times, to live sacrificially that we might benefit others rather than ourselves. It is to give ourselves in service to others. You might say that the goal is to take care of the needs of others and trust that our own needs will be met. Life is lived in pursuit of equity, not in competition.

One of Beatrice’s issues is also one of my own. She had a love for the Abnegation way of life, but struggled with her own selfish desires. She wanted. She had a need to experience more in life. She wanted to be a little more dauntless and carefree.

One of the battles I’ve had to deal with in mid-life, is the feeling that I gave up too much. I had a long list of “I have never…”s that I may have even been proud of. And, as I stood at the middle of my life looking back, I felt cheated, to be honest. I felt like I prioritized others’ needs so much that I found myself depleted, and wanting more. I focused on the cat’s comfort, when my legs were going to sleep. (see Why Disturb the Cat?)

I’ve come to the realization, though, that selflessness and selfishness are not polar opposites. You don’t have to be one or the other. Actually, though you may be able to be completely selfish, it is not possible to be completely selfless. At least I don’t think so. We all have desires, whether or not we act upon them. And it is possible to have selfish desires that you choose not to act on, out of deference for others. One of the reasons I’ve been pushing myself to get this entry written and published today, is that today is Mother’s Day in the U.S. It is a day that we celebrate the mothers who selflessly give up their own time, resources, and energy to care for their children. They often do without new clothes, so their quickly growing children stay clothed. They give up their rest to keep house. They sacrifice time with friends to wipe noses, read nursery rhymes, and rock their children. They invest themselves in their kids.

It’s not that they have no wants. It’s not that they don’t want to have nice things, go out, have fun, and be pampered. They keep wanting those things and more. That is, in a sense, selfishness. However, their love for their children cause them to repress their “selfish” desires for themselves, and focus on serving their children. Is that fair to say? I’m not a mother, and feel a slight trepidation to assign these feelings to such saints. However, I know these things are true of me. I wish I weren’t so selfish, that I had no wants but to serve others, but I am, and I do. The best I can do at times is to repress those desires, to ignore them if possible, and to defer my wants for someone else’s.

Like Beatrice, I love Abnegation, but I have some Dauntless longings.


(part 3 – Erudite)



Turning 50: A New Beginning

So, I am coming upon a new milestone in the middle of this week. I officially reach mid-life (Since my maternal grandmother lived to be 100 I can say this.).


Thanks to the magic of social media I have been observing many of the “kids” I grew up with, and went to school with, turning 50. Many of them, except for their online presence, I’ve not seen since high school. Many of them have grandchildren now, as do I. Time really does fly.


When I was in school the “oldies” were the songs of my parent’s generation. Now the term includes the music of my childhood and early adult years, and even beyond.  And, just as I could never see my parents as anything but old, I am looked at by my son and students as an “old guy”.


Physically, I get a few more aches and pains now. I have to live within my limits. And, occasionally, I am reminded of them clearly.


As I’ve approached this marker (over the past few years, actually) I’ve taken some steps to slow down (if not reverse) the aging process. I’ve made diet changes, and added some physical and mental exercise to my routines. I play word and math games, and read, to keep my mind as sharp as possible. As an aside, I should add Facebook debates, but I’m trying to lay off of them. (They’re usually pretty fruitless.) And I take walks in the neighborhood (which has both physical and mental benefits).


Yesterday, as I have been doing for a couple of weeks now, since letting my gym membership lapse, I was working with a set of weights that my son got at a garage sale a couple of years ago. It’s not a lot of weight, but it’s sufficient for a decent workout. (This is about being healthy, not body-building). Anyway, after doing a few sets of squats, and some core and upper-body lifts, I was feeling pretty good. Then I set the weights aside, and thought I would do some exercises that I remembered from PE classes as a kid. Remember the windmill? That’s the one where you stand with your feet spread apart, and from a standing position, you bend your waist and reach for your left foot with your right hand, then stand back up. Then repeat with your left hand to your right foot. Yes, that one. That’s when I threw my back out. No weights involved – just my muscles, joints, and gravity. I’ve spent the better part of today on an icepack. I did go to a movie this afternoon with some friends. When I got up to leave the theater after the movie was over, I felt like the tinman from the Wizard of Oz, in need of an oil can.


My eyes, though, have been diminishing now for just over 10 years. I couldn’t type this without my reading glasses. It was hard for me to accept the weakening of my eyesight. My eyes were great till a month or so before I turned 40. I can’t pick out as much detail anymore. And I really dislike fine print and product labels.


I’ve always enjoyed a strong sense of hearing also. Yet I can’t always discern pitch as well these days. On a good note, I think my singing is getting better!


I also have found in the last few years that I have a more difficult time controlling my tears. And I feel things very deeply. Even today at the movies, they showed a trailer for the upcoming movie “Interstellar”. I don’t know if it will be a good movie, or not, but the trailer made me cry. Movies, music, pictures, acts of kindness – they all carry the possibility of bringing tears.


But despite what seems like negatives of aging, there are some definite benefits.


As I’ve learned that I cannot always trust my eyes to accurately report my surroundings, so that serves to remind me that we don’t always see things the same way. And that doesn’t necessarily make either of us wrong (or right, for that matter). Just as I sometimes have to hand something to someone else and ask, “What does this say?”, so I inquire of others, “How do you see this issue, and why?”. I believe that we all have limited vision, but collectively we can see so much more.


The loss of pitch discernment causes me to listen more intently. I have to work harder to clear my head of the noise of my own agenda to clearly hear what you are saying. I have learned that everyone is capable of contributing something beautiful to the conversation. I think one of the greatest compliments I ever receive is to be quoted (in context, in an affirming way). I think we miss out on many pearls of wisdom because we are formulating and rehearsing our response rather than truly hearing the other side of a conversation.


My physical limitations cause me to be still just a little more. To rest. Breathe deeply. Take better care of my body and soul.


My tears? I don’t apologize for them. They come from a life of feeling, connecting, pursuing goodness, and realizing my own imperfections. They express both grief and joy, anger and love. They come when I see the world at it’s worst, and at it’s finest. To feel deeply is not a weakness. And to express those feelings is to be authentic. Neuropathy is a danger of many diseases. It causes you to lose feeling in your extremities, most especially your feet. Without the nerves firing as they are designed we don’t always know when we are wounded. We are more susceptible to burns and cuts because we lose the reflex action to draw back from heat or something sharp. Untreated wounds can get infected. Tears are proof that we can still feel. Pain and longing are better than numbness, because they drive us to change.


As I turn 50 this week, I know that I’ll never have the body of a 20- or 30-year-old again. I accept that. But I also know this: I’ll have 50 years of experience being human; I have had many successes and failures (and I’ll make more of each); I have made and lost friends (And I have a few that are more valuable to me than all the riches of the world.) and; I have brought happiness and sadness to others. There are things that I would go back and change if given the chance, and things I would never change (even painful experiences, because they helped shape me). I regret the times that I have caused others pain, or disappointed people I care for. But, with all said and done, I like who I am.


I am not perfect by any stretch.


But I like me.


My next 50 years, I’ll use the lessons I’ve learned over the last 50, to try to do more good than harm, to see more clearly, to listen more carefully, to experience all of life more fully, to love more completely. And to do all these more grace-fully. I am beginning a new chapter. Clean page. Fresh pen. I am HOPEful, and have much more story to write.



Wait Training: Examining the Virtue of Patience

Over the last holiday breaks, at Thanksgiving and Christmas, I saw more movies than I had in more than a year before that. I enjoy seeing movies on the big screen. But it’s not quite as enjoyable when I go to the movies by myself. So, when I had a movie buddy to join me, I took advantage of the situation. And I like to get to the theater early, about 30 minutes before the scheduled start time, so we can visit, and so I can see all the trailers for the upcoming movies. I discovered that I would become interested in some movies that I normally wouldn’t, because the trailer made my friend laugh. I enjoyed the sound of her laugh. I remember seeing the trailer for “Anchorman 2” and thinking it was utterly ridiculous. But she laughed. And it was a genuine, childlike kind of laugh. It infected me. The next time I saw that same trailer, I saw it through her eyes. And I actually saw the humor in it.

One of the trailers that we saw on a couple of occasions, was “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”. This is not a movie that interested me at all. I’m not really a big Ben Stiller fan anyway, and the trailer didn’t hook me. I’d never really read the story, and it looked like a story of a guy who just had a rich fantasy life. No thanks. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t watch it if I was asked to, but I wasn’t planning to.

Then Two very good friends of mine, Bryan and Shanna (a couple whose wedding I had the very good pleasure of officiating in 2008), had gone to see this very movie. And Shanna told me that she thought that I would like it. Now, Shanna knows me very well. She not only knows me…she gets me. She knows the movie scenes, songs, books, that will move me. She knows the very moment in a story where I’ll choke up and reach to dry my eyes. So when she tells me that I would like a movie, I can take her at her word.

A few days later, Rhonda, my movie buddy, told me that whenever she saw the trailer for Walter Mitty, it reminded her of me. A little puzzled by the connection, I asked her why. She said that it was because I waited till later in life to start living. Ouch. But that observation actually came from conversations we had shared. After Rhonda moved away to continue her education, I went to see the movie. And I found it poignant.

I have to admit that waiting is one skill at which I had become quite adept. As a very reflective person for all (or at least most) of my life, I wrestled with knowing when to wait, and when to act. I heard people that I respected say to pray, and wait. To trust God to act. I thought, if I acted, I was being impatient or impulsive. But, if I waited, I might be seen as lazy or disobedient.  So I waited for insight and direction. And I dealt with the internal dialogue that kept asking me if I was waiting, or simply procrastinating.

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary says that to wait means:

to stay in a place until an expected event happens, until someone arrives, until it is your turn to do something, etc.; to not do something until something else happens; or to remain in a state in which you expect or hope that something will happen soon.

And to procrastinate means:

to be slow or late about doing something that should be done : to delay doing something until a later time because you do not want to do it, because you are lazy, etc.

I have probably earned a gold medal, trophy, or at least a merit badge by now for both of these. I have developed a great deal of patience in waiting. But, I often procrastinate doing what I THINK I’m supposed to do, because I could be wrong, and may act because I have just grown tired of waiting. Not everyone will appreciate this dilemma. But some will understand full well. Am I exercising patience, faith, trust? Or am I being lazy, disobedient, avoiding responsibility, afraid to disturb the cat? Since patience is seen as a virtue, and procrastination is seen as…well, NOT at all virtuous, it would seem a good idea to get a firm grasp on the difference between the two – if a firm grasp is possible.

I probably come about my aptness for waiting somewhat naturally. My mother has always shown great patience (Well, ALMOST always – she did raise 3 kids, and spent many years keeping others in the church nursery). But I think waiting was a skill that was honed for me by circumstance. I was a middle child. Quiet. Unassuming. Often seemingly invisible. I would often sit for long stretches in the living room of our home as a child, watching a program on the television that I had little or no interest in, waiting for a commercial to come on so I could ask my father for permission to do something. Then, I often waited much longer for an answer. I learned early to believe that the wait was worth it if it ended with the desired answer. Though it more often did not. Sometimes the wait was just a waste of time.

The difference between a worthwhile wait, and a waste of time, is the result. And the results are rarely something that one can be sure of. There is a marked difference between waiting for a paycheck, that has been earned, and waiting for the results of a game you’ve bet on, or an investment you’ve made. One you have reasonable assurance that it will happen because you’ve earned it. The other, you simply hope you’ve made the right decision and it pays off.

There is waiting that causes anticipation and excitement. And waiting that causes anxiety. Some brings both. There is waiting for which you know the outcome, and waiting for which you don’t.

I have spent enough time waiting in my life that I just accept it as part of being human. From lines at the DMV to renew a driver’s license, to holiday shopping lines, to hurricane evacuations that move at a snail’s pace. From waiting in line outside a concert venue or eagerly anticipated movie sequel, to taking a child or grandchild to see the friendly white-bearded man at the mall, to waiting for a text, email, letter, or phone call, from that special someone. Waiting is just part of the journey. You just have to learn to deal with the inconvenience of waiting when necessary, circumvent the lines that bring the least reward if at all possible (I would much rather make purchases online than fight Black Friday madness, for example.), and make good use of the time spent waiting.

I have learned (and am still learning) that there is a difference between passive and active waiting. Passive waiting waits for life to happen to you. It’s praying that God will act, and then sitting back to watch the show. Let go, and let God, as some say. You may argue that prayer is not passive. And I would agree. However, I don’t think we should limit our responsibility to that of praying only. At least, in my experience, I was too often still on my knees when I should have been moving my feet. I spent too much time distrusting the inner voice, and waiting for a neon sign to point the way. I was waiting for the world to change around me, rather than to get up and be an agent of change myself. I was waiting on God to DO SOMETHING! And now…I think God was waiting on me. And despite a few of my friends who want to remind me that my heart is “desperately wicked” and can’t be trusted, I think God is whispering to me that He has placed His heart inside of me, and I should trust it.

So I actively wait for the world to change (I expectantly wait for the world to change.). I pray for wisdom and direction, pausing at times for clarity because of the weight of my decision, and then act upon my understanding. Perhaps it is because I most likely have fewer days on the horizon than in the rear-view (although my grandmother lived to be 100, and I am not quite 50) but I just don’t want to waste time. I’d rather spend it well. I’d rather spend my energy, time, and HOPE, on the things I value most. It may be necessary to first reassess the world through a different set of eyes. Then, perhaps, just as it was true for Walter Mitty, great adventures await me (and you) in the second half of life.