What Are You Thinking About?

Every week, Michael and I meet online to talk about questions for Intellectual Roundtable. These conversations always start the same way: with the question, “What are you thinking about?”

The discussions we have are wide-ranging. They might cover interesting things we have read, from online articles to non-fiction books, from novels to blogs. Sometimes we discuss thought-provoking conversations we have had with others.

The topic of our health, mental or physical, occasionally comes up. How we make the decisions about how to stay as healthy as possible, from the food we consume to our exercise routines.

We also talk about politics. We don’t spend too much time on the latest happenings in Washington D.C., but rather what we consider the ways to make life better, both for us individually but also for society in general.

Sometimes, these conversations can be distilled down to particular questions for this blog. Some of them are obvious, and make for insightful questions. But not always. Sometimes, we can’t quite get the wording right. Or the content can’t be boiled down to one sentence. Or a question just isn’t apparent.

But what we have to say is always engaging. We never run out of things to talk about, and I always end our meeting having been exposed to ideas or perspectives that I hadn’t before.

And it all comes from a simple question: What are you thinking about?

Related questions: How much of our thoughts are our own? Where do shared ideas exist? What do you think about when out for a walk? What are you reading?

10 thoughts on “What Are You Thinking About?”

  1. I’d like to devote the answer to today’s question to a book I’ve been reading over the past couple of weeks. While I am an atheist, I get a lot out of writings by Jim Wallis, author of, for example, “God’s Politics” and “The Soul of Politics.” Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reading his most recent book, “Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus.” It has me contemplating several things:

    – what it means to be a good neighbor;
    – the requirement to speak the truth and challenge those who don’t;
    – the preaching of Jesus to have a kinship with the oppressed and those living in poverty;
    – how to relate to those in positions of power appropriately; and,
    – what it means to be a peacemaker.

    I try, although not my best, to measure up well to these questions and guideposts. For example, I admittedly need to put some more effort into listening to the voices of those who struggle in poverty, as my profession has me spending a lot of time working and identifying with the powerful (e.g., politicians, funders, and lobbyists).

    Or, what should it mean for me to be a peacemaker? Don’t get me wrong. I think I am a peacemaker, or at least someone who hungers and thirsts for righteousness — but that feels too passive to me. But what I am trying to get at is that our economic system requires that there be some number of people living in poverty for it to “work.” And I’ve devoted my career to reducing that number and reducing the level of violence that that exacts on those forced to live in such a condition. How, for instance, can you not name the impact poverty has on little kids’ brain development — their physical, intellectual, and emotional advancement hampered significantly for the rest of their lives — as anything other than violence? Yes, I fight this. But, still, I wish I could do more while still protecting my emotional health.

    So, what am I thinking about? I’m thinking about justice and the role I play in advancing it. And, I am grateful for Jim Wallis’s for giving this atheist an interesting way to contemplate issues within that realm.

  2. I don’t think “poverty” means to same to all people. What it meant to Jesus, for instance, may not be the same as to you or to me or to bureaucrats making the rules.

  3. Ruby, I’d like to know more about what you are thinking.

    However, I want to be clear, I know many good politicians, funders, lobbyists, and bureaucrats. What I am pondering is my relationship with those living in poverty in comparison to my relationships with those in power. And, regarding my role as a peacemaker, while I do place the blame for much of today’s poverty on our economic system and those who prop it up, I am also asking a personal question: How can I do more to advance justice?

  4. Michael, I don’t doubt your sincerity or good works. I can see that you long to do even more. But what I object to is the use of the word poverty as if it meant just one thing to all people. Perhaps trying to fight “poverty” is like trying to paint with too broad a brush. Having to struggle to make ends meet may not always mean to be completely desperate. It even has been known to build character. Also, there is the poverty of the soul which could apply to even rich people. Do you have sympathy for those people as well?

    1. Ruby, many words have different meanings.

      And as the question is, “What are you thinking about?” I am thinking specifically about poverty in an extreme economic sense. To give you a little background to what I am talking about, I used to run an organization that specifically addressed the systemic issues related to the deep economic poverty of homelessness. (As an aside, I want to add that nearly half of those who are homeless are children. A large number of women who are homeless identify violence as a contributing factor to their situation. And a huge number of all adults who are homeless became homeless because of a severe health issue.)

      Thanks for pointing out that the word “poverty” has multiple meanings. As such, I would love to read a post about those who suffer from a poverty of the soul — as experienced by rich and/or poor. And, yes, I do have sympathy for them. My profession has me working with people who are very rich, very poor, and many in between. I care about them all. I also care about family and friends who are living in poverty — both in an economic sense and “of the soul,” which that phase, I might add, can carry multiple meanings.

      As for character-building, adversity of many types can result in this. However, adversity can also injure, scar, or even permanently debilitate a person. I have incredible empathy for people who experience the adversity of economic poverty and are scarred in a permanent sense because I know people who currently live and some who died too young because of this adversity that they did not deserve to suffer from.

      Growing up poor certainly built my character. It, in fact, led me to my career as an advocate for social and economic justice.

      Again, thanks for engaging me, Ruby. I look forward to your response … or a post about those who experience a “poverty of the soul.”

  5. Over the last month, my thoughts have been dominated by my father. We found out that he has terminal cancer and he won’t be with us for much longer. He’s only 65. It sucks. It isn’t fair. But, I’m grateful that we get this time to say goodbye. It would be worse if he was here one day then, just gone.

    1. Cecily, I’m sorry to hear about your father. He is in my prayers. Thanks for letting us know. My church as a prayer team and I will ask them to pray for him. Miracles happen!

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