Rolling in the Deep: Outside-In, Inside-Out

In my last post ("A Prime Example of 'Priming'"), I said that I would use this post to discuss ways in which the church functions as a "priming community." I can only keep half of that promise because the post I was writing grew too long.

In this post I will explore how we get access to the heart through priming, and then in the next post I will hone in on the ways the church does that. Sorry.

(By the way, if you don't know what I mean by "priming," then go read the previous post and come back.)

Okay. The first thing to say is that there is nothing sinister about seeing the church as a "priming community." Every group - from the girl scouts to Microsoft - wants to be a priming community.

When you think about cookies, the girl scouts want you to associate that thought with Thin Mints. And who has the Thin Mints? The girl scouts do! They want to prime your brain to make that connection. That's not immoral, it's smart. They recognize the way that human beings are wired and they try to get in synch with it.

By calling the church a "priming community," I am acknowledging that the church, like any formal or informal social organization, shapes us from the outside-in. That shaping goes rolling in the deep areas of our hearts and minds, and then emerges from the inside-out.

That's why Jesus can say, "the words you speak come from the heart - that's what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander" (Matthew 15:18-19 NLT). Contrary to the myth of the Romantic period, just because something comes authentically from the heart doesn't mean it's good.

But how can we get to the heart?
Obviously it is God who "has made his light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6 NLT). And the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to penetrate the heart (see Hebrews 4:12). But in both cases, causes are present to bring about the stated effects.

Just before saying that God has "made his light shine in our hearts..." Paul declares, "We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus' sake" (2 Corinthians 4:5 NLT). And on a different occasion, Paul rhetorically asks, "how can they believe in him [Jesus] if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?" (Romans 10:14b NLT).

So yes, God is the one who ultimately accesses and alters our hearts.
But God uses means to make it happen.

Again we ask: How can we get to the heart?

I think we get there from the outside-in.

Malcolm Gladwell reports that, "We don't deliberately choose our unconscious attitudes. ...The giant computer that is our unconscious silently crunches all the data it can from the experiences we've had, the people we've met, the lessons we've learned, the books we've read, the movies we've seen, and so on, and it forms an opinion" [1].

James Surowiecki puts it more succinctly: "The neighborhoods where we live, the schools we attend, and the corporations where we work shape the way we think and feel" [2].

The heart is affected from the outside-in.
And then what is in your heart emerges from the inside-out.

Is free-will, conscious choice, just an illusion? No.

David Brooks comes to the rescue here. He explains, "even with automatic reactions playing such a large role, we have choices. We can choose to put ourselves in environments where the moral faculties will be strengthened. A person who chooses to spend time in the military or in church will react differently to the world than a person who spends his time in night clubs or a street gang" [3].

We can choose where we will go and to whom we will listen. Those choices will shape our lives because they "prime" us to see and experience things differently. The old adage, therefore, remains true: You are like your friends, or you will be soon.

The seed is planted in the soil and, in due time, the flower (or weed) breaks through the ground. Whether you like it or not; whether you know it or not; every interaction is priming you to see the world and react to it in certain ways.

The heart is affected from the outside-in.
And then what is in your heart emerges from the inside-out.

[1] Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, 85.
[2] James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds, 42.
[3] David Brooks, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, 290.

Related Posts:
A Prime Example of "Priming"
Rich: Remembering Your Story Amid Scandal


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