Posts tagged “religion

You’re Adding PURPOSE on Purpose?

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you realize your purpose.   Mark Twain

Some of you noticed that I have added Purpose as an additional need to the five Glasser identified. It is true, and I not only added it, I put it at the top of the list. I did not do this flippantly. Instead, my suggesting this new addition represents a very personal process involving a great deal of reflection.

Correct Basic Needs

The thing that started this personal process was my wondering where my spirituality fit into the Basic Needs. And by spirituality I mean something much deeper than religion or church orientation. My spirituality has to do with Who I really am and What are my deepest beliefs and What is the meaning of life (it’s beginning and it’s end) and ultimately, What is my purpose in the grand scheme of things?

William Glasser at work in his home office. (2004) Jim Roy photo.

William Glasser at work in his home office. (2004) Jim Roy photo.

I tried to talk Glasser into endorsing this additional need, but he wouldn’t buy it. (When I first talked with him about it I referred to it as an Existential need, thinking he would be more comfortable with a “secular” wording.) I think he didn’t endorse the Purpose need for two reasons. The first reason had to do with not wanting to mess with the five needs he had emphasized for so long. Even though he had suggested the probability of their being more than five needs in his earlier writing (Control Theory, p. 16), he had settled into a firmness with his five. The second reason, I think, had to do with his seeing religion and spirituality as the same thing. He saw religious participation as a Quality World value or activity, and as such it didn’t qualify as a Basic Need. On top of this, in general, he didn’t view religion as a positive force throughout earth’s history. Without his endorsement I put my thoughts on this on a back burner and worked on other things. Even on a back burner, though, for me, the Purpose need wouldn’t go away.

I am convinced we are driven to understand our personal purpose and to make meaning of our lives, and that meeting this need is essential for the other needs to be fully met.

For a need to qualify as a Basic Need it would have to be needed, at least to a small degree, by all human beings. I believe the Purpose need meets this criteria as every human being has a deep need for personal meaning and the idea of coming into a sense of self. The self-help quest (books, seminars, videos, etc.) is an industry bringing in 2.5 billion dollars a year, so there are a lot of us seeking this thing called meaning.

I see college students that struggle because their life purpose is not clear to themselves. Their other needs are being met – they have friends and social connections, they are free to come and go, and they have some fun in their lives – but not having their identity and purpose clarified hampers their success. In fact, a lack of purpose can derail a college student’s academic success.


I am suggesting that the need for Purpose and Meaning is a universal need that people seek to meet in all kinds of ways. For many their involvement in a religion contributes to filling this need; others who are spiritual, although not into a religion, find meaning in their journeys as well. And even non-spiritual, non-religious people have their own ways of finding purpose and meaning. For instance, it is interesting how movies that depict superheroes, science fiction stories based on “a long, long time ago, in a faraway galaxy” themes, and end-of-the-world scenarios are so popular. It is like we have an innate curiosity about where we fit into the past, present, and future. It is like we have a consciousness void inside of us that can only be filled as our need for Purpose and Meaning are satisfied.

We are always monitoring the extent to which our Basic Needs are being met, something I do quite a bit when it comes to my own need for Purpose and Meaning. Maybe some of you can relate to that.

Every person has a purpose. Never give up.   Manual DeVie


For those of you just getting started with following The Better Plan blog, a great way to catch up is to go the link toward the upper left hand corner labeled 2013 – Year At A Glance. Each of last year’s posts are in chronological order and just a click away from accessing.




My Dear Maggot


The Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis’s 1942 classic) pulled back the curtains that shield us from Second Heaven and revealed conversations that occurred between an uncle and his nephew. Both of them were demons and as such both of them were in the business of tempting human beings toward wrong turns and wrong lives. Uncle Screwtape coached and counseled his nephew, Wormwood, as the younger tempter struggled to influence the life of the human to which he was assigned. It should come as no surprise that one day Wormwood himself would become the coach and pass on his knowledge to a younger relative, in this case his grandson, Maggot, a fledging tempter trying to learn the ropes.

My dear Maggot,

How touched I am that our communication is deepening and that you are so willing to lay open your thoughts and your struggles regarding your tempting strategies and the apparent lack of success that you are thus far experiencing. Honesty is not a trait that we demons display with any consistency, so I commend you for your candor. This openness will assist me as I counsel you toward more effective approaches. Keep in mind, too, that you are planting seeds of discouragement and resentment that will grow in due time. Be patient with your patient. Remember that you are in the business of making others discouraged, not in getting discouraged yourself.

In your recent letters you have shared so many details – your patient’s tendency to seek the Enemy, to want to be close to him, to want to get involved with helping others – which are all serious problems that need to be dealt with. However, it seems to me that in rushing from a tree here to a tree there, you are missing the bigger forest. Frustration over individual details are keeping you from seeing the bigger picture. Not that these details are unimportant. It’s just that seeing the bigger picture first will serve as a foundation from which to launch a more effective attack.

Since you have asked, I will begin to share with you some of the bigger, more essential elements that, I am confident, will re-focus and re-charge your efforts. Although I hate to quote the Enemy’s manual, it is instructive here to refer to a letter that traitor Paul (how he went to the other side is still beyond me) wrote to people in Corinth (a lovely city with so many wonderful problems). Anyway, he wrote that –

For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. Which do you choose?    1 Cor. 4:20, 21

First, and I think you already know this, it is absolutely vital that you cloud and confuse the choice-power of your patient. This theme – the ability of humans to make effective choices – is rampant throughout the Enemy’s manual, yet so few humans really pick up on this. The minute they stray from this awareness we have them. For if they aren’t in the process of choosing, the alternative is that they are victims of circumstances, tossed to and fro by their tumultuous feelings. I smile just thinking about it. You and I both know that these disgusting little humans have been created in the image of the Enemy, with amazing internal guidance systems, but this must be hidden from them. At all costs.

You may at first question what I am about to write, but write it I must – religion is not our enemy. In fact, humans can be messed up by a lot of things, but nothing can mess them up as much as religion can. Paul (the turncoat) realized this when he wrote about the Enemy’s domain being about a lot of talk versus being about real power. Let his words be a lesson to you. Shower your patient with religion, let him marinate in its rules and habits and schedules. Just be sure to keep him in the realm of talking, and studying, and behaving. There are so many benefits from this focus! Where do I begin?

+ Being disconnected from the real power of the Enemy, they will try to surmise truth and reality from their own miserable, limited, little perspectives. The Enemy tried to warn them about this during his pathetic sermon on the mountainside (it is important to study what the Enemy says and does), when he pointed out that it is possible for them to think they are right(eous), when in fact they are right where we want them.1

+ One of the supreme benefits from the “lot of talk about religion focus” is its effect on their young. I savor this result as much as any of our victories. You would think they would have figured this out by now, but no, they continue to emphasize habits and lifestyles and right living. Let them talk, encourage your patient to talk. The fact is, and we must say this quietly, their young wouldn’t walk away from real power (who would?); their young walk away from talk. I’m almost laughing as I write this. Here they are desperate for power and they refuse to simply plug into the Enemy’s vast resources. It’s too easy, really.

+ Lastly (at least for this letter), without being connected to the power, religious humans lose sight of, and even move in the opposite direction of – I hate even to write the word – love. Based on what the Enemy has done for the wretched things you would think that christian would be a wonderful word to them, a cherished concept. Yet look at what the word christian evokes in people now, especially in that place they refer to as the United States. (united? lol as they would say) When humans hear that word now they often think about pictures of self-righteousness, political posturing, and meanness. This is a victory that must be placed near the pinnacle of our successes! One of the Enemy’s writers, that awful little Ellen White, explained this process perfectly, yet fortunately she may as well have been writing to a wall.

When men indulge this accusing spirit, they are not satisfied with pointing out what they suppose to be a defect in their brother. If milder means fail of making him do what they think ought to be done, they will resort to compulsion. Just as far as lies in their power they will force men to comply with their ideas of what is right. This is what the Jews did in the days of Christ and what the church has done whenever she has lost the grace of Christ. Finding herself destitute of the power of love, she has reached out for the strong arm of the state to enforce her dogmas and execute her decrees. Here is the secret of all religious laws that have ever been enacted, and the secret of all persecution from the days of Abel to our own time.2

I was worried, even scared, when I first saw what she had written, thinking that the earthlians would “get it” and head back onto the Enemy’s path, but I was soon reminded my fears were unfounded. They are more into being right, and making others be their view of right, than they are in being connected and (forgive me) loving. Keep your patient focused on the value of rightness. Prompt him to be willing to sacrifice others for the good of the right. And by all means, present to him the importance of religion and the value of knowing, dissecting, and being right.

I apologize for my droning, yet I remember with such affection the counsel I received from my Uncle Screwtape when I, like you now, needed it most. You are my cherished grandson and I yearn for your success. I look forward to more of our discussions.


Grandpa Wormwood

P.S. – I know that you wanted me to specifically help you with a concept your patient is studying called choice theory. You are correct to be concerned about this. Hopefully, you can see how my letter begins to address these concerns. The concepts of choice theory are part of the Enemy’s way and I am glad you discerned this on your own. More on this later.

1. Matthew 6:22, 23
2. White, E. (1896). Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, (p. 126-127). Takoma Park, MD: Review & Herald Publishing Association.


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Behaviorism, Religion, Stimulus-Response, and the Character of God

Character of God

During the recent Soul Shapers class, I asked those in attendance to comment on four important areas or implications of choice theory. We had reviewed and discussed these areas in some depth and I wanted to check in regarding their level of understanding. In the activity format I used they each had two minutes to comment on each of these topics. Here are the topics and their answers. I think you will really find this interesting and useful. (After the topics and answers I also share how to set up a round robin activity.) If given two minutes to answer these questions, what would you write?

Something I have learned about –

. . . stimulus-response theory.

• May or may not work in the short term; does not work in the long term.
• It is a myth. May work with animals and people to a point, but is not how humans were made to respond or think. There are many factors involved in why we do what we do and this theory doesn’t address all of it.
• I learned that stimulus-response will work for some the kids, some of the time, but the students aren’t always responding to the stimulus for the reasons we as teachers think they should.
• The carrot trick can work, but the long-term effect is no good. EGW use the word disastrous. It destroys the ability to think for one’s self and it takes away the personality.
• We will never reach our full potential if we are chasing a carrot. We are not animals driven by desires or impulses. We need to be touched on a spiritual level for us to maximize our potential. Don’t drink the water in Mexico.
• Students naturally want to learn when they see the relevance of what they are learning, when it touches a chord within their hearts.

. . . the Caring Habits and the Deadly Habits.

• Criticizing, nagging, etc. are ultimately not helpful. Caring habits energize, enlighten, encourage, and help with choices.
• Use of the deadly habits will dull a student’s ears and prevent them from caring about learning.
• The deadly habits will ultimately destroy relationships, whereas the caring habits will build relationships. The caring habits take more time and energy to carry out, but the reward is worth it.
• That I am a more deadly person; I need to change. I have both, but I can see that what I fall back to mostly are more in the deadly list. I must make a conscious effort to change. My choice!
• Deadly habits are those I’ve been trained to use. I was amazed by how using these strategies “put down” or stifled creativity. I need to put a conscious effort into using “caring habits” and responses with all the people with whom I interact.
• No more smart-ass responses to smart-ass kids.
• How harmful criticism, nagging, and punishing are on relationships. How switching to using caring habits will increase connectedness and help engage students and even families.
• It is important to be aware of which habits you’re using when interacting with others. The deadly habits will push others away and cause damage, whereas the caring habits will open up doors and cause a deeper, more honest relationship to form.
• That healthy relationships are about building up the students, looking for wars to praise and spotlight. The deadly ones are about picking on faults and causing them to feel like they can’t measure to our standards. I love the Oakland A’s.

. . . Behaviorism and its effect on religion and spirituality.

• Behaviorism can be put on or taken off, but that does not necessarily affect or reflect what the heart is doing.
• It has eroded religion and spirituality. Religion focuses on the do’s and don’t’s. The focus should be more on God’s love for us.
• Behaviorism should not be the beginning of our relationship with God. Attempting to understand His great love for us and the freedom He gives us should be the most important thing. Unfortunately, we often start with the behavior, not the love.
• God will not pour obedience into us and bypass our will. The will and spirituality are linked. Being good is not the same thing as being whole and restored to the original image of God.
• God does not give us spirituality. God guides us, but with our free will we choose to obey God or Satan. My thoughts and behaviors are guided by my internal desires.
• Taking away free choice in religion and putting it in a box will turn students and adults away from the thought of any form of religion.
• That control takes away from the experience. Forcing kids to be baptized when they are 12 or pressuring people to believe or follow without choice makes the experience shallow or meaningless. Tacos are delicious.
• Forcing or not allowing choice in a religious setting will likely end up causing the person to turn away from religion as it becomes too legalistic.

. . . the character of God.

• God’s love is very deep. The power He gives us to choose is such an amazing gift. Wow!
• God’s love is so great for us that He has given us the power of choice. To love is not to force.
• Righteousness by choice; we choose our level of connectedness to Jesus. He does not force us on any front.
• God gives us free will. I may believe God is controlling me, but He is not. My behavior stems from my will to want to obey God and be like Him and like Christ.
• He loves a cheerful giver, not someone who gives under compulsion. This is probably why EGW says that rules should be few (but strictly enforced).
• From the beginning of the Great Controversy, God has let choice be the measure of your love. Decide today who you will serve. Love is not forced. Choice is not forced or coerced. That’s why prosperity gospel ministries are so shameful. God is love.
• That we have free will. God has the power to change – past, future, and present – but He allows us to choose, so that the universe can see what choices we make. I love burritos.
• God has given us free will to choose. God wants us to make the choices based on our connection with Him. God wants us to allow others to right to choose.
• He bravely gives me the ability to choose. I have been created in His same character and can reject His will or love in my life. His character teaches me to love others via His love for me.


These topics and answers came out of a Round Robin learning format. The Round Robin format is simple to set up, yet it can lead to powerful learning results. To use a Round Robin in your classroom –

1. Identify four topics that students have recently been studying and develop clear, concise questions that can serve as writing prompts. It works best when the questions are open-ended.

2. Create quads. Divide students into learning teams with four on each team. (You can have a team of three, but don’t go more than four.)

3. Have team members number off from 1 – 4, and then provide every team member with a piece of paper.

4. Team member #1 will then write the first topic question, in bold letters, at the top of his/her paper; team member #2 will write the second topic question at the top of his/her paper; team member #3 will write the third question; and team member #4 the fourth question.

5. Each of the team members will now have a sheet of paper in front of them with a topic question headline written across the top. At the signal, students will have two minutes to write an answer to their sheet’s question. (The time can be lengthened or shortened as needed.) When the time is up, students will stop writing and slide their sheet to the team member on their left. Each team member now has a new question in front of them. At the signal, they will have two minutes to answer another prompt. This process continues until each team member has been given a chance to comment on each of the questions.

7. The round robin activity can help teachers check for understanding, as reading student answers to the prompts will show how students view the topics. Students can read what their team members wrote and then discuss their answers within the group. Small group discussions can then lead to a full-class discussion. In general, the round robin format is a good way to get 100% of your students engaging in the lesson content. And that’s a good thing!


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Is Choice Theory in the Bible?

Choice Theory and Scripture

The ideas of choice theory have appealed to me a lot. Initially, I the appeal had to do with my belief that choice theory ideas would improve the school at which I was a principal. As I learned more about the ideas, though, I came to see that they were deeper than mere school improvement, as important as that goal is, and that similar to a C.S. Lewis phrase out of Narnia, choice theory involved “deeper magic.” In other words, unintentionally, Glasser had stumbled onto spiritual principles as his therapeutic strategies took form.

I have thought about choice theory and its comparison to spiritual principles a great deal and thus far it has appeared to me that they consistently strengthen and support one another. Choice theory is not a gospel in itself. Choice theory describes and explains human behavior, but it doesn’t empower. It can explain, as our last blog did, how a person can repeatedly choose an unhealthy way to meet a need, yet this insight does not necessarily bring about change. Scripture is full of choice theory, yet religionists have missed it. So many of us church-attenders have not come into a knowledge and appreciation for our own role in making good choices, in believing, in having a saving faith. Many are waiting for God to change them from the outside-in, like a giant puppeteer, but alas, they’re still waiting. So, anyway, I think the two – the principles of choice theory and the principles of Scripture – can help each other.

Over the years I have been collecting Biblical texts that speak to or support choice theory components. What follows are texts that speak to each of the basic needs. Glasser settled on five basic needs – survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun – although in Control Theory (1984) he allowed for flexibility in this list. My list of basic needs looks slightly different and includes – Purpose and Meaning, Love and Belonging, Power and Achievement, Freedom and Autonomy, Joy and Fun, and Security and Safety. I invite you to add to this list. What Scriptures have you found that support the basic needs?

Purpose and Meaning

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”   Jer. 29:11

“The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.”   John 10:10

Love and Belonging

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”    Matthew 22:34-40

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.   1 John 4:11, 12

Power and Achievement

Trust in the Lord and do good.
Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you your heart’s desire.   Ps. 37:3, 4

“I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him.”   Ephesians 1:19

Freedom and Autonomy

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, because the Lord has appointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to announce that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.”   Isaiah 61:1

Now, the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, he gives freedom.  2 Cor. 3:17

Joy and Fun

Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!   Psalms 34:8

“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey me, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father and remain in his love. I have told you this so that you will be filled with joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!”  John 15:9-11

Security and Safety

“Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but to trust the Lord means safety.”   Proverbs 29:25

“I am leaving you with a gift — peace of mind and heart.  And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives.  So don’t be troubled or afraid.”   John 14:27


I am comfortable with the concept of the basic needs. I cannot prove their existence, and if we agree on their existence we cannot prove exactly what a person’s basic need strengths are. Yet theory of the basic needs provides a very good starting point when considering personality and motivation. To know ourselves seems to be a life-long process. Sometimes when I pray I ask the Spirit to show me me. Over time I have come to see myself a little differently. I used to think that I have a very high power need; now it seems to me that my power need is somewhat average, while my love and belonging need is very high. Regardless, the premise of the basic needs is supported in Scripture. And it is so cool that God cares about our needs so much. As Paul wrote – “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.”   Philippians 4:19

God and Choice Theory: Some Thoughts

A few days ago I posted a question on why the God of the Old Testament seems to behave so differently than He does in the New Testament. Was the God of the Old Testament a choice theorist? Several of you commented on this topic – thank you, Paul, Bob, and Tom for helping us with this conversation. I, too, will attempt a comment. What follows is my two cents worth –

Comparing the behavior of God in the Old Testament to His behavior in the New Testament has challenged the thinking of theologians for centuries. There seems to be such marked differences between the two, yet we know that the same God was centrally involved both before (during) and after the Cross. Why the difference?

I don’t claim to have the answer to this vital question. Since coming into an appreciation for choice theory I must admit that I have thought about the question with greater interest. In the process, I have come to recognize the importance of the power of choice and the freedom with which God created us. And since we are created in His image I have to believe that these are qualities He values a great deal. With that in mind, I offer the following ideas to the discussion –

1) The Old Testament Had Its Flaws

Heresy, you may say, but hold on. I actually got this idea from Jesus. A significant section of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21-48) is devoted to Jesus pointing out that “You have heard that the law says . . .” whereupon He comments on things like anger, murder, adultery, divorce, vows, vengeance, and relationships. After stating what the Old Testament law supposedly demanded, He surprises us by continuing with ” . . . but I say unto you . . .” whereupon He shares a much different response, a decidedly different way of being. Don’t return violence for violence, he encourages, but instead give your cheek to be slapped if that will help. Don’t only want to be in relationship with friends, he offers, but instead behave in a way that will even show love to people you consider to be your enemy.

Jesus, who is the God of the Old Testament, must have had a huge challenge communicating with the human race. I think we really don’t understand the gulf that sin created between us and heaven. Only God coming to our little outpost called earth, and showing us who He really is and what He is really like, would begin to shed light on the events of the Old Testament.

2) We Struggled with LSL (Love as a Second-Language)

As a result of sin, the gulf between earth and heaven was wide, and our ability to commune with God directly was broken. Not severed, but seriously damaged. God’s primary language, which is love, became foreign to us. Communication was an issue. Some of the Bible writers seemed to get this language of love; others not so much. A passage in Genesis is relevant here.

“And the LORD told Moses, “When you arrive back in Egypt, go to Pharaoh and perform all the miracles I have empowered you to do. But I will harden his heart so he will refuse to let the people go.” Ex 4:21

I don’t think that God reached down and forced pharaoh to be obstinate. Most of us agree that God simply knew in advance how pharaoh was going to react to Moses’ demands. This seems to be an example of the kinds of misleading passages sometimes found in the Old Testament. Bible writers said it the best way they knew how, and maybe said it in the way they thought their hearers or readers would understand, but something was lost in the translation.

Many Bible writers did “get” God’s love language, though, and the Old Testament is full of such examples. Take, for instance, a passage from the Psalms.

Listen to me, O my people, while I give you stern warnings.
O Israel, if you would only listen to me!
You must never have a foreign god; you must not bow down before a false god.
For it was I, the LORD your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it with good things.
But no, my people wouldn’t listen. Israel did not want me around.
So I let them follow their own stubborn desires, living according to their own ideas.
Oh, that my people would listen to me.  Psalms 81:8-13

This description reveals a God anxious to fill people with good things, and hurt and frustrated that His people didn’t even want Him around. Instead of fire and brimstone and threats and punishment, it simply says then He let us follow our own stubborn desires and live according to our own ideas. To me, this writer is capturing a more accurate picture of God; a picture that emphasizes His love for us, and at the same time reminds us of our ability to either embrace Him and what He stands for or to tell Him to take a hike. And even in the midst of our telling Him to take a hike, He continues to love and support us; to seek us out; to save us.

Language is important. And the words we choose are important, especially so when they depict the character of God. An obvious theme throughout scripture is the theme of choice. God created us with the ability to choose and He has sought to maintain that freedom from the beginning. Let’s keep this theme in mind as we read the messages of scripture.

C.S. Lewis commented on this topic when he wrote in his classic book, The Great Divorce, “In the end there will be but two classes of people—those who say to God, Thy will be done, and those to whom God says, thy will be done.”

Of all our choices, this really is the ultimate choice.

WE Want to Feel Good, Pt. 1

We Choose

I recently discovered that May is Mental Health Month, which is cool, although I would like it even better if the other 11 months were mental health months, too. With that in mind, let’s look at the following —

We want to feel good.

The phrase we want to feel good seems too simple and too self-evident to even take a glance at, yet there may be more in these few words than first meets the eye. Rather than dismiss the phrase, I suggest we actually consider it more deeply. To that end, today we begin a four-part series that will explore how we want to feel good, one part of the phrase at a time.

WE .  . want .  . to feel .  . good.

The picture accompanying today’s blog is of one of my shirts. The company I get some of my shirts from includes free monogramming and I decided to place We Choose over the pocket. People frequently ask about the shirt (Do I sell them? No, I don’t.) or about the phrase (What’s that about? or What do we choose?). The shirts have definitely led to good discussions relating to choice theory and internal motivation. When I had the first shirt monogrammed I wrestled with whether I should use I Choose rather than We Choose. I settled on We because I think it is accurate. We are all in this planet earth soup together. We all make choices every day.

It is significant that in this case the concept of We is a principle. It transcends time and place. Whether we live in the mountains of Nepal, the plains of Africa, or in a large city in the United States, we share a desire to feel good. We have in common a motivation to survive, but that is only the beginning; we want to identify our purpose, to be connected to others, to accomplish worthwhile goals, to experience freedom, and darn it, to have some fun in the process.

We is not limited by geography or culture. Different cultures come up with unique ways for people to meet their own needs, but at our human core we are all the same. We strive to have our needs met, to feel connected to others and to achieve success. We is not limited by religious affiliation. Around the globe humans have for millennia come up with ways to connect with deity and express their beliefs. With so many different religions around the world (over 300 in the U.S. alone) it would appear that religion is more about what we want from God than what He wants from us, but whatever the case we share a common urge to act on our religious beliefs.

We is not limited by age. We don’t strive to feel good when we reach a certain age or a certain level of maturity. The process of wanting to feel good begins at birth with every human being. This is why understanding the principles of choice theory is so important for parents and teachers. Acknowledging the needs that children are attempting to satisfy and even helping them to understand their needs and the ways they can fulfill these needs is a huge gift. Creating a needs-satisfying curriculum at school is also hugely significant.

And so, regardless of how old we are, where we live, and what we do, We is us, all of us.

On Obedience

I wrote something five years ago and I want to run it by you. I know it was five years ago because I referred to my wife, Maggie, and I being married for 30 years, and now we’ve been married for 35 years. I’m good at Math. We no longer have that second Saturn, although we had it for 11 years before trading it in on another car, a Scion xB, if you must know. It’s sad that GM seemed to intentionally let their Saturn branch die like it did. That story might be for another blog, since that story is really about corporate managers wanting more external control. Anyway, here’s some thoughts on obedience.

On Obedience

What is the antonym of arbitrary? What word or phrase captures its opposite? Over the next few minutes, as you read the following ideas, I invite you to answer these questions..

I was recently reading from the small devotional book, As Bill Sees It. This particular Bill isn’t Bill Glasser, whose ideas I also like to read. No, this Bill is Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Over a twenty-five year period he wrote books and articles about the A. A. way of life and As Bill Sees It (Wilson, 1967) contains short excerpts from this literature. The following passage really got me to thinking.

We of A. A. obey spiritual principles, at first because we must, then because we ought to, and ultimately because we love the kind of life such obedience brings. Great suffering and great love are A. A.’s disciplinarians; we need no others (p.27).

It was the phrase we love the kind of life such obedience brings that caught my attention. Christian choice theorists don’t know exactly what to do with the word obedience. Obedience, as either a word or a concept, is found throughout scripture. Jesus himself used the word to describe the standard for our behavior. Yet the word conveys the idea of the control of one person over another. It conveys the idea of compliance. Words like control and compliance raise caution flags in the eyes of a choice theorist.

During one of my interviews with Dr. Glasser, I asked him to do a word association exercise with me. He agreed to the exercise and I said the word obedience. He replied, “Well, I don’t really like that word.” I then said the word forgiveness. “Oh,” he said, “I like that word a lot.” Is he so different from us when it comes to our gut reactions to these words?

But again, I am joyfully confronted by the A. A. principle that we love the kind of life such obedience brings. As the words wove their way through my brain cells a picture came to me.

Twice in our thirty years of marriage, Maggie and I have owned a new car. The first time was in 1996 when we bought a gold-colored Saturn SL2. The second time was when we traded that Saturn in for another new Saturn in 2000, which we still drive to this day. I don’t know if they still do this or not, but when we purchased these new cars the people at the Saturn dealership made a big deal out of it. They all gather around and congratulate you and sing to you and take your picture. It’s like you’ve now become part of a special community. I thought back about how I felt as we drove away from the showroom. It was a need-satisfying moment, to be sure. I felt joyful and powerful and free. As Maggie drove us home to the friendly, waiting garage, I looked in the glove box and pulled out a crisp, new car manual for the model we had just purchased. It contained all kinds of helpful information. It described little details on how you could custom program the automatic door locks; or on how the posi-traction worked; or on how to make the change your oil light go off after you changed your own oil; or on the kind of oil you should put in the car; or on how much oil should go in the car. And on and on the information went.

So think about this for a moment—If I put the kind of motor oil in the car that Saturn recommended in the manual, was I obeying Saturn? When I change my oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, am I complying with a Saturn demand? It seems silly to view it this way. We don’t view Saturn as an arbitrary car company out to make our lives difficult. We figure they built the car and they probably know best how to keep it running well. Obeying Saturn, if you will, rather than being restrictive, simply makes sense. Further it leads to a more joyful car experience now and in the future.

With my Saturn experience in mind, the A. A. principle that we love the kind of life such obedience brings begins to appear in its true light. Such obedience is really not like the obedience we usually think of. If the A. A. passage above is accurate, and I for one think the passage is on the right track, then there are different levels of obedience. Level one is based on I must, probably for reasons of survival. Level two is based on I ought to, which reveals a growing sense of personal responsibility to one’s self and to others. Level three is based on the idea that we love the kind of life such obedience brings, which is the highest and most secure level of obedience, where we obey because it makes sense and is for our best good.

I can see how God would have a challenge on his hands when working with the human race. At times during our earth’s history our very survival has been at stake. When the Hebrews were rescued by the mighty arm of God from Egyptian captivity they formed a massive group, probably approaching two million in number. Although impressive in numbers, they had almost no knowledge of their Rescuer God, had minimal knowledge on how to create and preserve effective relationships, and no knowledge on principles of health. It indeed was a situation calling for God to be extremely clear about who He was and what His expectations were. The boundaries for behavior had to be very specific. For instance, without modern medicine an illness could easily wipe out every one of them. Therefore, cleanliness procedures were vital, not because God was arbitrary, but because their very lives depended on it. It truly was an obey and live moment in time. If they weren’t ready for level two or level three obedience, God was willing to work with them at level one, even if it meant being misunderstood, even if it meant later generations might struggle with the word obedience.

And so we come back to the question that started us off—what is the antonym of arbitrary? Because I think Christian choice theorists would be very interested in those words or phrases. Could it be that God is more like the Saturn car company than we realize?

Wilson, B. (1967). As Bill sees it: The A.A. way of life (selected writings of A.A.’s co-founder). New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

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