Our Worship theme for Lent is based on a book written by Edward Bear called: “The Seven Deadly Needs” – kind of a spin-off from the ancient “Seven Deadly Sins”. The Seven Deadly Needs include the Need to Know, to Be Right, to Get Even, to Look Good, to Judge, to Keep Score, and to Control. Some of these habits or needs can keep us from fully accepting ourselves as God does, or they can get in the way of self-love, and our relationship with God or others. They can become obstacles that keep us from a greater awareness of how rich our lives can be. While the book is part of a 12-step process for AA, the principles and practices are universal. Over these next six weeks of Lent, the anchor image that will ground us is reflection – the beautiful reflections of creation in the stillness of a body of water, or the reflection of our own “child of God” image in a mirror. This anchor image invites us to do a bit of Soul-cleansing – to poke in neglected corners, to open the windows, to go deeper in spiritual self-reflection and examination. So throughout Lent, you will see mirrors scattered throughout our worship space and photos of reflections in nature provided by Don & Joe. And you will be invited to take a tiny little mirror to keep in your pocket or place some place special at home as a reminder of this reflection practice during Lent. Through this time, my hope is that we might see the possibilities open to each of us, and how to view each day as a wonderful opportunity for living.
Of these so-called “deadly needs”, you might wonder why the need to know is on the list. It seems innocuous, harmless enough. In fact, education is a value we uphold. Most of us would agree that it is good to know things. Especially in an age of “alternative facts”, having facts & knowledge is a good thing. Of all the deadly needs, “the need to know” most easily masquerades as something to strive for. It’s easy to see how the need to control might be bad, or the need to get even. But the need to know?
The phrase “knowledge is power” is often attributed to Philosopher Francis Bacon in the late 16th century. Thomas Jefferson used the phrase in his correspondence on at least four occasions in connection with the establishment of a state university in Virginia.
“My hopes for a state university are kept in check by the ordinary character of our state legislatures, the members of which do not generally possess information enough to perceive the important truths, that knowledge is safety, that knowledge is happiness. Knowledge is power, and ignorance is weakness.”
Knowledge is happiness, because to have deep knowledge – is to know true ends from false, and lofty things from low. To know the thoughts and deeds that have marked humanity’s progress is to feel the great heart-throbs of humanity through the centuries; and if one does not feel in these pulsations a heavenward striving, one must indeed be deaf to the harmonies of life.”
NBC (the tv network) ran a series of public service announcements called “The More You Know” for since 1989 suggesting that knowledge is what we need to thrive. And just think of all the progress we have made and lives saved through knowledge.
Given the fact that this congregation has more masters and doctorate degrees, brilliant, above-average, not to mention good-looking people, than any congregation has a right to have, I may be on thin ice saying that the need to know can get you in trouble. So when does the need to know stop being healthy and start becoming deadly?
We now live in an era with instant information at our fingertips 24-7. I remember growing up with the Green & Ivory set of Encyclopedia Brittanica, with everything I might need to know contained on one bookshelf. Or the library where I used to go to the card catalogue – those long wooden drawers containing thousands of little cards telling you which section and stack of the library to find the book you needed. Wikipedia and the World Wide WEB has now replaced those slim green & ivory volumes and the card catalogue in one fell swoop. Technology and the internet are a blessing and curse – we can squander a lot of time. Connected instantaneously 24—7. It can be Overwhelming and apparently it is changing our brains. There are a number of ways that is happening: (see list at bottom of sermon)
One example: we don’t need to remember as much. How many phone numbers do you keep in your head anymore – While I can remember my childhood #, and a few others, I no longer have to remember phone numbers or addresses anymore. Our brains have become so reliant on the availability of information contained in our smartphones we don’t memorize numbers, addresses, poetry or scripture anymore.
There are a few ways this “Need to Know” creates obstacles in our lives. Let’s go back to the Garden of Eden. Many people think that the Creation story is about Original Sin. Some of us grew up with that theology. What if it the creation story is about people trying to understand why things are the way things are. Why it is the way it is? Why we don’t live in creation and harmony. Why we’re ashamed when we’re naked. When we suffer – why is that?
We find Adam and Eve in the paradise of a garden. As far as we know, they have one rule, They are not to eat the fruit from one of the trees. Not just any tree, but the “tree of knowledge of good and evil”. Natural curiosity emerges – there is NO doubt that I would have gone after that fruit. To figure out what I didn’t know. The temptation was not the fruit itself, the temptation was figuring out what they didn’t know. This need to know became so strong they decide it is more important than anything else… and so they eat the fruit. It really doesn’t seem fair that God kicks them out of the garden, out of paradise, just for eating a piece of fruit. Adam and Eve didn’t mean to distance themselves from God, they weren’t trying to get thrown out of the garden. They just wanted to know. Why is that so bad?
What they didn’t realize, is that there are simply some things they couldn’t know, couldn’t fathom, couldn’t ultimately understand. The Chinese Tao says that “the more you know, the less you understand.” And perhaps the writing of the story of being expelled from the Garden is doing their best to make sense of what happened, of that which they didn’t understand. Trying to figure out the why. Because if we knew why it is, we could makes sense of our lives as well as avoid pain. Why did it all happen – not because a woman ate the fruit, but because we wanted to explore to understand the how and why. Explore with curiosity the world we’ve been given.
We have an insatiable need to know, we want to know, we want to understand the fullness of this life. Curiosity is a wonderful thing, But sometimes there are limitations to what we can know. And most of the limitations have to do with the question of “Why” – which most of the time can never be answered-or at least not with any satisfactory answer. Spend any time with a 3 year old and you will notice they incessantly ask WHY?
One of the questions posed in the book is: What is the most important thing you don’t need to know? The answer in this conversation between two men in recovery:
“The most important thing you don’t need to know is why things happen the way they do. Why is not the most helpful of questions. Once you get into why, it’s all over. Give up the need to know why things happen as they do. The ego-driven part of our Brain, that part that has to know absolutely everything, takes over and goes ’round and ’round until it overheats and burns out. It’s the intellectual equivalent of a dog chasing its tail. And once it starts, you can’t stop it.” IT’s Death by over-thinking. Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am upset, it’s because I haven’t accepted that’s the way it is at this moment. “It is what it is.” Hard truths. Instead of asking why, why, why…it is what it is. Concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as what needs to be changed in me and my attitude.
We need to know things: the how, the why, the when…the facts. If not the facts, then the stories, of what might be true. My clergy colleague Elizabeth Ingram Schindler writes:
But what does researching the facts actually do for us?Often, they increase our anxiety rather than reducing it.We don’t know to be afraid until we start knowing. We think that knowledge will give us power, that if we know all the details, we can ultimately control everything: protect ourselves and those we love, avoid the pitfalls of life, get ahead of our perceived competitors, sidestep heartache. But it doesn’t work.The need to know is a seductive, dangerous game.
Edward Bear learns in The Seven Deadly Needs,
“Knowing things is vastly overrated… your head can be so full of facts that you forget you have a heart. Hearts are what count.”
The need to know keeps us from fully living in the mystery of God and fully trusting God.
Another way The Need to Know gets in the way – is that It’s not necessarily the knowing that kills you, it’s why you need it and what you end up sacrificing to get it. Thomas Jefferson and Francis Bacon and Helen Keller may have said, “Knowledge is Power.” But the need to know becomes deadly when the knowledge is about power. Power over people, power over situations, power over circumstances. Like when we have information before other people – it can make us feel smug: “I know something you don’t know.” That feeling is about power. It’s power over – because you possess information others might want. This might be a person who makes sure to let everyone else know that they got the news first? “Oh, you just found out about so and so …. ? They told me months ago, and it was so hard to keep the secret!” That is about power. I am exerting power by informing you about my importance. Or gossip, “Did you hear about so and so” or “There’s a rumor going around…” Gossip wields power by using knowledge, fact or fiction, to control situations, opinions, and perceptions. When you need to know things about other people, secrets or information that hasn’t been made public, or just really enjoy gossip, that is always about power.
Curiosity can also become an issue if it hurts other people in our desire to know why – Angie and I attended an event sponsored by Associated Ministries Friday night. Elizabeth Smart came to Tacoma and talked about life after trauma. She was the 14 year old teenager about to graduate from Jr. High when she was kidnapped, kept hostage and raped for 9 months of her young life. She has a new book out called: Where there’s Hope: Healing, Moving Forward and Never Giving Up. She says the first question people ALWAYS ask her is,
“Why didn’t you tell the police who you were when they asked you if you were Elizabeth Smart? You were found! You were safe! Why didn’t you tell?”
Elizabeth said that wasn’t the most helpful question. She said the most important thought at that moment was survival, and she had been threatened and brainwashed for months. Other people’s curiosities about the WHY was not the most helpful for her own healing. It’s a good thing for us to remember. Our curiosity, under the guise of “the need to know” can sometimes get in the way of other people’s healing.
There is a song on an album that just turned 30 years old – It was written by Emily Sailers of the Indigo Girls. Emily is the daughter of a Methodist Pastor & Professor of Theology and Worship at the Candler School of Theology. She wrote a song that is a show closer for every Indigo Girls Concert – it is called Closer to Fine. Emily had just graduated from college when she wrote the lyrics realizing that even after a great education that there are things we will never ever know, because God created this world of wonder. People are trying to find understanding for their life, their existence on this earth. Why is our human nature to tighten our fists, muscling through things the way we think they should go, when perhaps it really would be easier to turn my gripped fists into open palms? Why do we beg for certainty that everything in our lives will all turn out ok, but then on a clear night, we stare up at the stars, and realize we cannot capture the expansiveness of the galaxy and realize how small we are.
Another question the book poses….What’s the most important thing I DO need to know? To know that the universe inclines toward you. Wishes you well. It’s of good intent. Could be God. Cosmic Consciousness. Universal mind. The Great Spirit. The Force.
Focus on the things you can do. Instead of fretting, worrying, being anxious. There are things you can do. You can go for a walk. You can Listen to your favorite music that will lift your spirit. Take a friend a meal. By your presence, by your care, you have made a difference in their lives. Another thing you need to know: We’re all in this together. Common humanity.
One last thing we need to know: There is More mystery than certainty.
Indigo Girls – Closer to Fine
I’m tryin’ to tell you somethin bout my life – Maybe give me insight between black & white
And the best thing you’ve ever done for me Is to help me take my life less seriously
It’s only life after all, yeah
Well darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable – And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear
I wrap my fear around me like a blanket – I sailed my ship of safety ’til I sank it
I’m crawling on your shores
I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains, I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
There’s more than one answer to these questions Pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for some definitive The closer I am to fine
I went to see the doctor of philosophy With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee
He never did marry He graded my performance, he said he could see through me
I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind Got my paper and I was free
I stopped by the bar at three A.M. To seek solace in a bottle, or possibly a friend
And I woke up with a headache like my head against a board
Twice as cloudy as I’d been the night before And I went in seeking clarity
I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains – I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
We go to the doctor, we go to the mountains. We look to the children, we drink from the fountain
Yeah, we go to the Bible, we go through the work out
We read up on revival, we stand up for the lookout
There’s more than one answer to these questions Pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for some definitive The closer I am to fine The closer I am to fine
Albert Einstein – the more I know, the more I realize I don’t know.
From Seven Deadly Needs, ”Beware of the limits of knowledge. Knowing things is vastly overrated… your head can be so full of facts that you forget you have a heart. Hearts are what count.”
How the internet is changing our brains:
Continuous partial attention has an impact on your brain with constant flow of stimuli.
People have lower rates of recall when they expect to be able to access information later.
We’re getting better at finding the information we need. The brainpower previously used to retain facts and information is now being used to remember how to look it up. “We remember less through knowing information itself than by knowing where the information can be found.” adapting to new technology and becoming highly skilled in remembering where to find things.
People rarely consider the encyclopedia or history books, but rather, think about computers. We don’t have to trek to the library, all you have to do is Google it.
Our Concentration is suffering – deep reading that used to come naturally is now a struggle.” Our minds begin to wander.
We’re becoming physically addicted to technology. Dopamine is delivered as a response to stimulation — without it, you feel bored. After spending time online, your brain wants to get back on for more, making it difficult to concentrate on other tasks and “unplug.” The more you use the internet the more it lights up your brain. Our brains seek out incoming information.
Online browsing has created a new form of “reading,” in which users aren’t really reading online, but rather power browsing through sites. Comprehension and attention are at risk.
Even after you log off, your brain remains rewired. A lack of focus and fractured thinking can persist, interrupting work, family, and offline time.
Creative thinking may suffer.