James 2:1-13 one of the four Christian Bible passages suggested for preaching this week. (Spoiler alert to all in my congregation: I’m preaching again from James.)
James is famous for his insistence on the integration of faith with deeds, and much can be said about that, neuro-spiritually speaking.
But this passage specifically speaks against stereotyping, and it’s something we need to hear over and over and over again. Because our brains are wired to stereotype. What our brains do, it’s not inherently evil. Our brains are just going along their merry way, trying hard to conserve energy and find shortcuts. (Remember, our brains consume 20-25% of our calories. Sadly, your brain won’t necessarily burn off the extra delicious calories that come from ice cream or m&m binges, even if you think really really hard about this blog.)
So, our brains are wired to stereotype, because it’s a shortcut, and it saves energy. What is unfaithful, or unreflective, or irresponsible, is to allow our brains to dictate our lives. Contradictory, I know. But: Just because our brains stereotype to save energy, doesn’t mean we sit back and let them be lazy. No, God gave us this gift of a brain, to use. We 21st century human beings are called to a higher standard; we’re called to engage our prefrontal cortex.
What does that look like? Thinking about our thoughts, because
1. We are not our thoughts.
2. We can change our thoughts.
3. Unthinking action leads us into trouble.
4. Our often unconscious bias needs to be dragged out into the open for evaluation, and often more than once. It didn’t get there overnight, and one good overhaul won’t fix it permanently. Those new neural pathways take time.
The good news? We carry the tools we need around with us all the time! Our brains have the tools to change how they are wired. Crazy, huh. But because of our brains, we can take responsibility for how our brain is wired today, and can be changed with our intentional help, for tomorrow.
(And the reason meditation is such a hot topic, and why it is similar to prayer, is that in that quiet time, we can become aware of, and think about, and evaluate, our thoughts that we didn’t even realize we were thinking. Because our brains are also sneaky little buggers.)