Photo by Adrien King on Unsplash

At work, our team is reading Daniel H. Pink’s book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. Pink believes timing is just as important as intelligence and personality. If we learn to master the science of timing, we will work smarter and live better. We’ll be better leaders and employees.

In the first chapter, Pink uses research to describe how our daily internal rhythms affect our mood, positivity, and decision-making skills. He shares one study about two sociologists from Cornell University (Michael Macy and Scott Golder) who used a computerized text-analysis program to study over 500 million tweets from millions of users around the world. Pink describes their findings:

Positive affect—language revealing that tweeters felt active, engaged, and hopeful—generally rose in the morning, plummeted in the afternoon, and climbed back up again in the early evening. Whether a tweeter was North American or Asian, Muslim or atheist, black or white or brown, didn’t matter. “The temporal affective patter is similarly shaped across disparate cultures and geographic locations,” they write. Nor did it matter whether people were tweeting on a Monday or a Thursday…Whether measured in a large, diverse country like the United States or a smaller, more homogenous country like the United Arab Emirates, the daily pattern remained weirdly similar (10).

A analysis of tweets is hardly conclusive, so Pink goes on to detail numerous studies that show how “all of us experience the day in three stages—a peak, a trough, and a rebound” (32). About 60-80 percent of people see their “analytic capacities peak in the late morning or around noon” (22). In the afternoon, we experience a dip in energy and alertness. Whereas, during “rebound” we excel at more creative or “insight work that requires less inhibition and resolve” (26). For the 20-40 percent of people who are Owls, this process is flipped—rebound (morning), a trough (afternoon), then a peak (evening and night).

Pink’s point? Know your rhythms. Plan your more difficult, analytical work for the morning.

In the afternoon, when you tend to feel less hopeful, energetic, and engaged, cram you schedule full of your easiest tasks (for me this is responding to emails). If you can help it, don’t schedule important work or business calls during a trough. Be a little more critical of what you say in conversations or what you decide to post online.

If you need a spark in creativity, the evening might help. That’s when I get my best ideas. If you’re an Owl, flip this schedule around. Creativity in the morning and analytical work at night.

We can’t always build our schedule around this peak, trough, and rebound cycle, but when we can it certainly helps.

Knowing People Before We Teach Them

Wade —  January 11, 2019 —  Comments

Photo by Tom Sodoge on Unsplash

In last week’s “The Best Books I read in 2018” blog, I mentioned Kate Bowler’s book Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved as one of my favorites of the year. The book moves so gracefully that I read it from cover to cover in one sitting. I don’t read many books this way because I’m not necessarily a fast reader. It also feels a little strange—almost disrespectful to the author—to knock books down like cups of punch. “I know you worked on this every night for two years, but I’m going to close it out while my wife catches up on This is Us.”

Anyways, I read a quote in the Preface that I felt profound and wanted to get it down here. In one section, Bowler discusses her work researching the prosperity gospel movement in American. She then mentions that what attracts so many to this distortion of Christianity is the order and “rules” it brings to pain.

But what gives the prosperity movement breadth and depth for many is its thorough accounting for the pain of life, and for the longing we have for restoration. Those Americans trapped in failing bodies or broken relationships or the painful possibility that their lives might never be made whole can turn to this message of hope. If it is a game—with rules for success that anyone can use—then maybe they can win (xvii).

I’ve written a good deal in the past about the prosperity gospel, so I won’t get into that here. But I do want to highlight how Bowler describes people within the movement. They aren’t monsters or brutes or whatever word you might use to describe a terrible person. They are people looking for hope. Bowler’s words could only come from someone who knows and cares for these people (she attended a prosperity gospel church while researching her very good book Blessed).

When I read this section, I instantly thought of a Twitter thread from author Beth Moore. The thread started with a list of the top ten books sold through Christian retail in November. Sadly, most of these books contained either weak theology or theology used to support a version of the prosperity gospel. One person (rightly) lamented. Moore responded with this:

This is a huge issue to tackle. And there’s probably enough blame to go around. Readers, publishers, writers. What I believe connects Moore’s thoughts to what Bowler says is a recognition of people as people. When you get to know Christians who eat up bad theology instead of good theology, you realize that the answer is much more complicated than simply throwing the Bible their way. If teaching sound theology is a coin, then we could say that information is on one side and embodiment is on the other. Do we know those we’re speaking and writing to? Do we give them just information or do we offer truth that applies to them in the everyday pains of life? This isn’t to say that truth makes people feel good, but how can we make it applicable and digestible? When it comes to preaching, I tell pastors not to dumb their information down, but to simplify and apply it. This goes for pastors, but also anyone looking to serve a friend who needs help.

I’m becoming more and more convinced that one of the biggest problems society’s faces today is that we just don’t know people. We know caricatures, avatars, but we don’t know people. We are tempted to believe that everyone thinks like we do. Or—and this is a big one—should think exactly like we do. I’m not advocating for us to ignore erroneous belief. I’m talking about understanding the different ways people process and apply information.

As a writer, it always makes me sad when I come across authors who brag about writing books for the casual reader and yet only end up writing books for people just like themselves. I heard one author say this recently and I thought, “I think maybe 1% of the people in my church would finish your book.” That’s not necessarily a bad quality. We need those books. We need to encourage people to read difficult, sometimes boring, work. I do lament, however, how easy it is for myself and others to think we are speaking to the average person when we’re not.

So, here’s my advice for writers (and myself): If you want to be a good writer, you need to talk to people.

Thinking With Humility

Wade —  January 9, 2019 —  Comments

Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

Alan Jacobs set up a splendid newsletter that delivers tiny, little presents to my inbox each week (you can sign up for it here). His latest email included a link to a piece by John Timmer called “Political radicals don’t evaluate their own errors—about anything.”

In the article, Timmer outlines an experiment that asked participants to guess the number of dots in a specific area. They were also asked to describe how confident they were in their answers.

You can learn more about the experiment here, but the researchers found that the people who held more radical beliefs (“all participants were given a set of questions about their beliefs on a variety of topics, designed to get at things like their dogmatism, intolerance, and authoritarian tendencies”) were less likely to approach their opinions with humility. Most of them also decided against changing their answers even when presented with new information that would help them make a more accurate guess. Timmer writes:

The authors sum up their work by writing that “more radical participants displayed less insight into the correctness of their choices and reduced updating of their confidence when presented with post-decision evidence.” That’s a bit surprising, given that most research into this area has focused on the ideas themselves and suggested that confidence is simply a mechanism for protecting those ideas.

This is not an easy topic to dissect, and likely requires more chiseling to get to the root of the problem (a black and white analysis of the cause and effect would probably hurt more than help). But it does highlight the need for more humility in thought and decision-making. Recently, I heard Daniel Kahneman on the Conversations with Tyler podcast talk about the need for “delayed intuition.” Meaning, it’s often healthy for us to keep from making an instinctive, reflex decision before we hear more facts. In other words, let some time pass before you trust your gut. Obviously this doesn’t apply to all situations (athletes and chess players must learn to act quickly on their intuitions), but it does in most.

Here’s the takeaway for me (and maybe for some of you): I hold strong beliefs in certain areas. I’d like to think that I’m right (I’ve also done a great deal of research which leads me to believe I’m right). Even if I am, I must realize that certainty in one realm may also point to a tendency to jump to conclusions and prideful stubbornness in another. I need to give attention to my intuitions—which I hope I’m developing over time—but also practice delayed intuition whenever possible.

The Best Books I Read in 2018

Wade —  January 2, 2019 —  Comments

I spent most of 2017 and 2018 writing. I published Failing Faith last year and got about a third of the way through a new book this year. Sadly, writing always seems to distract me from one of my other great joys—reading. I tried to jump back on track during the summer and close out some books before the year ended. Overall, I encountered some incredible work that—not exaggerating—changed my life. Here a few of my favorites (in no particular order). To keep up with my reading throughout the year, follow me on Goodreads!

2018 Books

I didn’t read very many 2018 books, but most of what I did read turned out to be wonderful:

Before I move on, I just want to say that this tweet is my brand.

Non-2018 Books

  • The End of the Affair by Graham Greene – It’s a classic for a reason. Specifically, I’m struck by Greene’s use of tragedy as divine mercy.
  • How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs – Wonderful. Just wonderful.
  • The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt – Probably the best book I’ve read this year. Everyone needs to read it before arguing with people online (that way you’ll stop arguing with people online). Thoughts here.
  • Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler – I love a good biography and this exhaustive 850-page tome on Walt Disney tells a great story without resorting to hagiography. I’m kind of obsessed with all things Disney right now.
  • Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann – A non-fiction thriller that reads like a novel. Rumor has it that Scorsese is working on an adaptation.
  • Persuasion by Jane Austen – A friend of a friend (and hopefully a real friend soon) Cameron Combs recently wrote a blog that said: “I’m having a revelation. All the books I was supposed to read in high school—but didn’t—are SO GOOD.” Me too. I’m going to read more of these types of books in 2019. Austen’s works are truly wonderful. They function as more than simple romantic comedies. They peer into the world of high society and elitist snobbery to exalt virtue and charity. We could all learn a thing or two by observing the morality of her worlds.
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Ditto above.
  • The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber – Read some of my thoughts here.
  • Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton – Getting to those important books when I can!


What books did you read in 2018?

Sometimes, I’ll read a book synopsis and wonder if the author started the project by hanging up a picture of me in their office. “It’s all for you, old chap,” they whisper while gently punching out prose. Some plots just feel like they were tailed specifically to my interests.

That’s certainly how I felt when I heard about Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things. Faber includes most of what I love in a good novel. It’s a religious story (*nods head*) about a pastor (*pulls down glasses*) who becomes a missionary (*loud siren*) to aliens (*galaxy brain*). I mostly like the book and Faber’s greatest strength comes when developing the main character, Peter.

We soon learn that Peter was once a homeless drug addict who lied and stole to support his habit. Upon becoming a Christian, his life changed dramatically. He now shows just as much devotion to God and the Bible as he did to crack and heroin. Eventually, he’s chosen by a mysterious organization to proselytize a group of indigenous people on a planet named Oasis.

Here’s where Faber’s construction of Peter really rolls. While Peter is generally a kind, honorable man, we begin to wonder if his faith functions as a new sort of addiction. In other words, does he live for a spiritual high? Is his faith just a way for him to feel good about himself? Throughout the book, Peter borders on cliché. He responds to his wife’s troubles with words that amount to little more than “Trust God and everything is going to be fine.”

In one particularly emotional moment, Peter counsels a troubled co-worker by saying:

He [God] cares about us very much. So much that He became one of us. He took human form. Can you imagine that? The creator of everything, the shaper of galaxies, got Himself born as a human baby, and grew up in a lower-class family in a small village in the Middle East” (332).

Reading through the scene, it’s obvious that Peter botched his opportunity to provide comfort. There is a time to talk about the incarnation and there is a time to express empathy. Peter’s co-worker laughs off his awkward grab at a quick conversion.

Faber’s story is fascinating for a number of reasons. First, even though he’s an atheist, he manages to write about religion like an insider. He also doesn’t look to humiliate the faith or point the finger at people who believe it to be true.

Second, Faber seems to acknowledge the good within Christianity while also realizing the potential for it to be highjacked for selfish reasons. A look at Peter displays this much. How often do we follow the commands of Jesus not because we want to glorify him, but because it brings with it a hit of endorphins? (Doing good feels good, but is that our only motivation?) There’s the prosperity gospel (“Trust God and he’ll make you comfortable”) and then there’s the callous gospel (“Trust God and you don’t have a reason to be sad for more than a short period of time”). Like drugs, religion then becomes a way to escape from the real world (figuratively and literally in this book).

The Book of Strange New Things forced me, as a Christian, to consider the relationship between hopeful certainty and present pain. I know that one day God will set the world to rights, he’ll wipe away every tear. I also know that sometimes that makes me oblivious or apathetic to the pain around me. The story also considers how easy it is to view people as mere projects. I meet (and read) some people who have great theology, but ultimately lack the ability to express basic empathy to others around them. Certainty functions like a drug if we don’t handle it with care. Conversely, true love means something deeper, something more intrusive. Maybe that’s a line I’ll use again someplace. Love is intrusive. All of these ideas are rather beautifully—and with complication—explored in Faber’s book.

I’m making more of an effort to read good fiction. I haven’t always done this in the past, but I want it to happen with greater frequency now. I’m learning that great fiction (and art in general) “coats flesh to the bones of truth.”

Daniel McFadden/Universal Pictures

Last week, I talked about Damien Chazelle’s new film First Man on two different podcasts. It’s a wonderful picture in nearly every way—technically, narratively, and thematically. Specifically, I was surprised at the film’s spiritual focus.

First Man isn’t simply the tale of humanity’s journey to the moon, it’s an exploration of grief and the ways we find meaning and purpose in the midst of tragedy. It’s a film that longs for transcendence in the universe, highlighting how we often go about searching for this significance through ambition and accomplishment. From a Christian perspective, First Man is a deeply satisfying and spiritual story.

For more of my thoughts on the film, check out the links below:

Hear my review of First Man on Episode 173 of Seeing and Believing.
I also chatted with Steve Norton over at Screen Fish about Chazelle’s movie.


I just finished reading Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion and I’m not sure I can think of a recent work that’s more “for us right now.” Haidt’s research on political and religious discourse feels like it comes straight from one of those old fashioned California gold mines.

Haidt argues that our minds process information through two distinct yet intimately connected systems. Haidt compares the first system to an elephant. This part of our mind (which some experts call System 1) handles our “automatic processes,” including emotion and intuition. A good example would be how our brains automatically add 2+2 or read the word “red.” We don’t make a conscious decision to do those things, they just happen. System 1 also includes our biases—those internal beliefs ingrained into psyche.

Haidt describes System 2 as a rider on top of System 1’s elephant. The rider is our conscious reasoning. If the elephant tells us what 2 + 2 equals, the rider is who we go to for 12 x 15. (Note: Haidt first published this analogy in a previous book titled The Happiness Hypothesis.)

Usually, when we talk to someone about a deeply emotional topic like religion or politics, we speak to the rider. We throw facts at the rider. We scream at the rider. Per Haidt, this won’t change anyone’s mind. The inner beliefs of a person, their emotional response, is already going in the opposite direction. And if the elephant is going one way, then the rider follows along, too.

Haidt conducted a number of experiments where he asked subjects if certain taboo scenarios where morally wrong. The elephant moved, and the subjects mostly said yes. When asked to explain themselves, many people didn’t have any logical arguments to back up their beliefs. So, they made them up on the spot. Even for fairly cut and dried judgements, we still struggle to include the rider. Haidt says, “The rider is skilled at fabricating post hoc explanations for whatever the elephant has just done, and it is good at finding reasons to justify whatever the elephant wants to do next” (54).

Here’s the highlight quote for me:

The rider and elephant work together smoothly to fend off attacks and lob rhetorical grenades of our own. The performance may impress our friends and show allies that we are committed members of the team, but no matter how good our logic, it’s not going to change the minds of our opponents if they are in combat mode too. If you really want to change someone’s mind on a moral or political matter, you’ll need to see things from that person’s angle as well as your own (58).

I think what frustrates me so much about discussion these days (and Haidt alludes to it) is that there are many people who know how to say good things, but few people who know how to say good things persuasively. Social media exacerbates the problem. Social media doesn’t reward long, charitable responses. Rather, it crowns the individuals who “lob rhetorical grenades.” At this point, I wonder how much good can come from debating over deep topics via the feed.

As I’m working through how to both think and discuss better, here are a few “rules” that immediately come to mind. Rules designed to speak to the elephant first, then the rider.

  1. Don’t post about politics and religion online if your only goal is to prove how intelligent you are or to prove how unintelligent your opponents are.
  2. Posting on social media will probably only change someone’s mind if they’re already close to your position. Most radical change happens over long periods of time in face-to-face relationships.
  3. “Owning” or humiliating an opponent will energize people who agree with you, but make it harder for those opposite you to understand your position.
  4. You may need to change parts of your perspective as well. A little humility goes for miles.
  5. Listen to other people. (Yeah I know it’s elementary, but most people aren’t good at it.)
  6. Before you responds to someone, imagine what it’s like to wake up as that person, to go to work in their footwear, to interact with their friends and family members. If you can’t imagine, then you need to listen more.

Not an exhaustive list, but a place to begin.

It smelled like it did twenty-three years ago—stagnant moisture combined with diluted soil and grass. The familiar scent enveloped me like a tiny cloud as I knelt in Mom’s closet, using a chalky razor blade to slice across a seam in the Sheetrock. It was the same joint my dad cut through when I was seven, and I can still picture him pulling back the crumbling fragments of wall with a hammer and crowbar.

This is the second time my childhood home has flooded. The first in 1994; the second by the recent Hurricane Harvey. The house still bears the physical marks of one trauma, even as we are cleaning up from another. Continue Reading…

I don’t even want to calculate how many days it’s been since I’ve last blogged—let alone blogged regularly.

If you used to follow, you might have wondered where I disappeared to. Well, let me explain. The last few years I’ve been:

Continue Reading…


If you grew up in a Christian home during the last thirty years, you’re a member of an exclusive clique. You lived through McGee and Me’s tornado episode, survived a youth group game that required drinking a gallon of milk, and even weathered the Newsboys’ disco phase. Remember the day you accidentally ripped your Amy Grant poster? Some tragedies are too difficult to bear.

Christian culture possesses a unique attachment for its members, and judging by the amount of nostalgia-centric artifacts surging in popularity, we can’t seem to get enough of it…

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