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Life Is Like a Salad Bar

I love a good salad bar, because it is not just about eating but about creating. You have all these ingredients– different flavors, different sizes, different textures, different colors — and you get to decide which to use and how much of each to use. No two salads are the same— they will all look different and taste different. What will be the perfect salad to you will be revolting to someone sitting right beside you. What fun!

So, what are the principles for making your ideal salad? First, know your ingredients– what tastes sweet, what tastes tangy, what is crunchy, what is syrupy. Second, know yourself– what are your likes, and what makes your tummy unhappy. Third, don’t get tied down by any supposed rules or what other people think– who says you can’t have pickles and beets on a Caesar salad? Fourth, experiment, try different things and different combinations, don’t be afraid to go back to the bar again and again until you have exactly what you want on your salad. And lastly– relax, have fun, and enjoy.

Now to me, life really is like a salad bar. There is all this enormous variety spread out before you– different jobs, different places to live, different hobbies and friends, and a million different ways to combine all those to produce your ideal life. You can live in an apartment or a country house, work alone or with a team, like reading or going to the movies, buying NASCAR box tickets or opera box tickets (or maybe both!), having a bust the house open party or just a few friends over. It’s all your choice as to how to create your ideal life.

And guess what? The best way to approach creating your ideal life is a lot like creating your ideal salad.

You have to know what “ingredients” are available, and what your likes and dislikes are. Do you need supervision and structure in your work, or do you need to be a free spirit? Do crowds drive you crazy, or give you energy? Are you a beach or a mountain person? Part of becoming wise is being able to take an honest inventory of who you are and what your needs and desires are, and what dreams and opportunities meet your individual needs and desires.

Wisdom is also realizing where you are limiting yourself by saying “Oh, I can’t do that.” You can’t go back to school when you’re 60? Who said so, why not? You can’t live on a South Seas island? Well, if you know what other things you have to give up and your heart still sings, why not? Oh, I can’t do (fill in the blank) because (fill in the blank) will think (fill in the blank) about me? Whose life are you living, yours or theirs? Take a hard look at where you’re setting limits in your life– do they really need to be there?

Wisdom also knows that life is a process, a journey. You will always be trying new ingredients, finding new things that are tasty to you, and finding that some things that were tasty ten years ago may not be a good fit any longer. You’ve been a marathon runner for ten years, so you have to keep doing it? No you don’t. Never run a marathon, so it’s too late now? No it isn’t!

Finally, wisdom knows that all this craziness we call life is not meant to be endlessly analyzed and brooded over, is not meant to be taken so seriously, but is meant to be lived— to be enjoyed, moment by moment, day by day. So look at your life and its ingredients— keep experimenting, keep blending, keep living, and enjoy your handcrafted creation of life every day.

What Masterpiece Are You Creating Today?

In the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus, Richard Dreyfuss plays Glenn Holland, a man who throughout his life dreams of someday creating his opus, his masterpiece work of music. However, the inconveniences and struggles of “ordinary” life as a high school music teacher, husband, and father always seem to be getting in the way of his creative work.

He learns a great lesson at the end of the movie: that the masterpiece that he was destined to create wasn’t contained on a musical score sheet at all, but within the lives of the students that he taught each day. They were his opus, the masterpiece that he was creating every day.

When we watch a movie like that, we say, “Of course! It is the everyday connections, the everday ordinary interactions that make up a worthwhile life.” But what we should be asking is, “Am I really living that truth today?”

Today, you are an artist. Whether you realize it or not, you are creating, painting, & sculpting today. You are creating something today with each smile (or scowl) at someone walking down the street. Every kind or harsh word, every touch, every minute spent with another human being will be an artistic creation in the life of that person.

Today, what kind of artist are you aspiring to be, what kind of masterpiece are you creating? Are you blindly splashing paint, or are you consciously crafting beauty? It doesn’t take long hours or years of training to create a work of beauty in the life of another— often all it takes is a heart of love and a few moments of your time.

Today, each moment you spend can be a work of beauty if you will just view it as such. You can create tremendous healing & joy & beauty in both your life & the lives of people you touch if you see yourself as that artist.  Give of yourself and create a masterpiece of beauty in the life of another today.

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without ThinkingThere are some books that are the brain equivalent of cotton candy— satisfying but with no real nutrition.  There are other books that really stretch your brain but also throw it into cramps trying to understand what the book is saying, so you end up grabbing your head shouting ”ow ow ow!”

Blink is a great example of a book that really blows your mind without causing it any pain; it is an entertaining, accessible introduction to a fascinating but little known field of research known by various names such as “adaptive unconscious” ”thin-slicing” or as the author likes to put it “thinking without thinking” (see, simple words, no brain cramp there!).

What is he talking about here?  Simply put, most of us divide our brains into two functional parts, the part that does things like control our muscles and breathing (unconscious) and the part that composes poems, makes mathematical calculations, and decides where to go on vacation (conscious).

However, our brains have a third distinct type of function: subconscious processing. Every second we are awake our brains are compiling huge amounts of data that our senses are feeding us, then making complex decisions about that data instantaneously and continuously, then feeding those decisions to us subconsciously.  We don’t even realize this is happening— it’s often what we call “our gut” or “intuition,” but in reality it is an incredibly sophisticated and powerful processing ability that is beyond anything that a computer can do.

Gladwell uses a variety of entertaining, thought-provoking, and sometimes alarming examples of both anecodote and detailed research to open our minds to what our “adaptive unconscious” is doing for us every day.  For instance, one research project he mentions in the introduction found that,

A person watching a silent two-second video clip of a teacher he or she has never met will reach conclusions about how good that teacher is that are very similar to those of a student who has sat in the teacher’s class for an entire semester.  That’s the power of our adaptive unconscious.

So, what does the book cover? Gladwell himself outlines three major tasks that he wanted the book to accomplish:

First task: decisions made very quickly (through our subconscious processing abilities) can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.

Second task: That we can learn about how this subconscious processing works and when it can be trusted and when to be wary of it.

Third task:  that “our snap judgements and first impressions can be educated and controlled… as we can teach ourselves to think logically and deliberately (better), we can also teach ourselves to make better snap judgments. The power of knowing, in that first two seconds, is not a gift given magically to a fortunate few.  It is an ability that we can all cultivate for ourselves.”

Along the way, the reader is intrigued and entertained by a wide variety of little known research facts about human behavior and thinking.  There is the marriage researcher who can predict divorce with 95% accuracy years before it happens by only listening to a couple have a conversation for a few minutes.  How does he do it?  By focusing on the ratio of conscious and subconscious positive to negative emotion expressed (a ratio any worse than 5:1 positive:negative is bad, and any expression of true contempt is a death knell).

Then there is the online test you can take to show whether you have a subconscious prejudice against blacks (80% of whites and even 50% of blacks do). And how you can influence how patient a test subject will be by having them read sentences that have words like ”patient” in them before they have to wait on someone. And his interview with a lady who can separate the taste of Oreos into ninety separate components (eleven of which are critical, we are told!).  And the team that has calculated every possible anatomic facial expression, what they mean, how some cannot be faken or hidden, and even that the mere act of forming some facial expressions trigger the autonomic nervous system on a subconscious level (in other words, smiling really can make us feel happy!).

So, by the time you turn the last page, how well does Gladwell succeed on each of his three tasks?  For task #1, he does great. Time after time he convincingly shows the power and the wonder of our subconscious processing, and how often it is superior to what we normally think of as “thinking.”  I gained a great deal more respect for the incredible things that my brain does and what an incredible creation of God it is.

What about the second task, to understand how this works and when to trust it? This is much harder, because we are just beginning to do serious research on the nature and extent of our subconscious processing.  He gives a few good examples of where our “gut” doesn’t do a good job, such as when evaluating people by stereotypes such as height or race, or having to make certain decisions in rapid high stress situations.  But that’s really just the tip of the iceberg regarding the limitations of our subconscious.

Unfortunately, with the third task (to make better “snap judgements”) no book can deal definitively, because generally you have to thoroughlly understand how and why something is going wrong to correct it, and our limited understanding of our preconscious really hampers our ability to proactively improve and correct it.

All in all, this is an enormously fascinating and entertaining book that is both an important and a fun read for anyone.  To better understand both the power, extent, and limitation of how we “think without thinking” is of value to all of us. Unconditionally recommended.

More information from on the book is available here. All of my book reviews on are available here.

Scribbling in the Sand

Scribbling in the Sand: Christ and Creativity

There are thousands of books today on “creativity.”

Some read like sterile academic dissections, some like high school pep rallies, and others like the anguished moan of a tormented soul. All have their own “expert opinion” of what it means to live a life of creativity.

But for those of us whose life is hid in Christ, what voice is there to guide us on our journey?

We need a voice of wisdom, from someone who is skilled in the Bible and skilled in people.

We need a voice of humility, from someone who does not think he is God’s gift to all artists.

We need a voice of experience, from someone who doesn’t just think about creativity, but has lived it out in his life over decades of creative work.

And lastly we need a voice of eloquence, so that what is said penetrates deep into our heart and soul.

Michael Card has that voice, and he has given it to us in his beautiful book Scribbling in the Sand.

Michael explores such themes as the hunger for beauty, the call to create, and the nature of creativity in community. He defines creative works as that which “can open up a space in time through which God may speak.” (p. 17) and creativity as ultimately a response to God, an act of worship (p. 29). Because creativity is a response, he teaches that the quality of our creativity will depend on the quality of our listening, both to God, to others, and to ourselves.

Michael considers the most important chapter of the book to be chapter nine on “The Call is to Community.” He feels the stereotype of the creative as tortured loner should not be our guide; that Christ means for our creativity to blossom, grow, and bear fruit in the context of rich, meaningful community.

There is a whole chapter composed of letters written to Michael which he solicited from other creatives for this book. My favorite is a letter from Harold Best, who states, “Make art because you cannot keep yourself from the simple joy of shaping something as best you can and then pouring it over Jesus’ feet. The only reason for doing our very best, despite any cost, is the infinite worth of Jesus, for making art this way is where authenticity lies.”

But most importantly, I know that this book is much more than just words. Anyone who is familiar with Michael knows that he humbly strives to live the kind of creative life that he writes about.

A few years ago Michael volunteered to help out a Christian coffeehouse by being at their fundraiser. So, here’s a guy who’s sold 4 million albums and could name his price to go anywhere, coming to a small inner-city ministry with his entire set-up being an overhead projector full of scribbles and an old upright piano. I still have notes in my copy of Scribbling (probably a few tear stains too) of Michael opening up Phillipians chapter 2 and how a true understanding of humility and servanthood were the key to true creativity. He sang and he taught and he mused and he sang some more, and then after a prayer he just milled around and talked to everyone like, well, like he was just like everyone else there.

I asked him to autograph the most important page in the book, and he went straight to the chapter page on community. Although he didn’t say it, I realized that he had just demonstrated what it meant to live creatively in community.
Scribbling in the Sand weaves together moving personal experience, sound exposition of Scriptures, and gathered wisdom from other creatives to give us a voice of guidance for a life of Christ-honoring creativity. On page 61 Michael writes “if we are to effect a permanent change in people’s hearts, we must do more than simply teach them facts or reduce them to some emotional experience.” True to its word, this book does do more than just teach facts or give emotional experience. It will change your heart.

More information on the book from is here.

— originally published at —