Wednesday, December 30, 2015

NUBBY Guest Post! Critical Thinking: Having better conversations

The Bubble has the best readers in the world! While I am on a minor blogging break, furiously working on my little book project, Nubby has graciously come forth to fill the gap and has written a fantastic guest post! Anyone who has spent any time in the Bubble over the years knows that Nubby is brilliant, witty, no-nonsense, and just a great Catholic lady. We all are about to learn something important right now. Take it away, Nubby!

CRITICAL THINKING – Having better conversations

“If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.”
-- W. Edwards Deming, PhD., statistician, electrical engineer, professor, author, lecturer, and management consultant.

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” – Henry Ford

Hello Bubble Readers,

Leila was kind enough to give me space on her blog to take this opportunity to share some thoughts on thinking – specifically, to give examples of two techniques that are sometimes used in logical problem solving in the private sector.  One can search for all kinds of charts or explanations online regarding the principles involved in critical thinking and various skills that should be practiced to acquire smarter habits of thinking (which are helpful), but here I’ve just written up a summary of two useful tools that I’m familiar with.

Before I begin a rundown on mere process, I think it’s important to take a step back and include an explanation of why we’re exploring this topic of logical problem solving on a faith-based blog in the first place. Why are these techniques valuable here or in any discussion?  Why is this topic of logical thinking pertinent to the interactions we have here in the Bubble? 

It’s common knowledge that here on Leila’s blog her purpose is to teach the faith and to engage the wider culture at large.  This means, of course, that her audience could be very broad and that her blog posts can usually generate a variety of perspectives from any number of people who respond in the comments section.  This can be useful and entertaining as we know.  Leila’s template here gives everyone a platform to contribute freely without censorship (unless there’s vulgarity), and she has always promoted the idea of clarity over agreement.  Her goal is to see transparency of thought -- not merely for purposes of debate, but for the wider idea of educating her readership.

And here we’ve hit upon the issue of why I’m writing about logical approaches to problems:  The main problematic issue that I see within the conversations in the Bubble (and Leila sees it, too) is that often times when commenters challenge the main idea of any given post of Leila’s, they typically start out with an emotional reaction and they continue to mentally wander around in that.  The comments get stuck in nugatory thoughts that ignore the facts and disregard the logical application of those, and so we just end up chasing opinions.  This doesn’t happen on purpose, perhaps, but it definitely illustrates why we should be (in my opinion) talking about logical reasoning, as we are in this post.

Picture the discussions like this:  There’s a wide open pasture with nothing but horizon.  Everyone wanders, everyone opines.  The point of the comments and of the interaction is to start fencing off the thoughts, to corral the thoughts, so that if we’re going to “wander” and challenge intellectually then we’re going to do that together.  We should aim to wander within the same logical parameters in order to clear up the thoughts, and to hopefully reach clearer intellectual insight on various points of discussion.  We can’t have good or (even entertaining) dialogue if everyone wanders and nobody’s thoughts tie into anyone else’s.  We can all agree on this.

So what’s a good approach to foster a better conversation?  Here are a couple of techniques summarized briefly and casually that will illustrate what Leila is shooting for here at the Bubble when she reiterates “clarity over agreement”:

Technique #1: Splitting the Dictionary

One problem-solving technique used in the business sphere is called, “Splitting the Dictionary”.   If you’ve ever played the childhood game, “Bigger than a Breadbox” or “20 Questions”, you’ll notice the similarities in technique.  How does it work?  A single question is asked that immediately divides the possible answers/solutions:  50% possible and 50% impossible.  A person then asks another question to split the remaining 50% the same way.  So in a mere two questions you have ruled out 75% of the possibilities. You’re now down to 25% to be analyzed.  That’s it.  The rest is off the table.

It’s a logical reduction. You can further split that 25% down with relevant questions and so on.  Consider how much irrelevance and conversational noise we’ve eliminated in just two questions!

This is a very useful method that drives clarity of thought.  This is probably the same formula used in those “magic mind reader”-type games.  You know, “Ask the thing a question and it will read your mind”?  They most likely use a similar splitting technique and funnel the possibilities.  That’s all.

The goal -- and the skill necessary -- is to ask pertinent, logical questions.  For instance, when you play “Bigger than a Breadbox”, an example of an unintelligent question would be, “Is it silver?”  Why isn’t this a smart question?  It’s not smart because you have not narrowed much down, not gained much new information, and you’ve left all the other colors besides silver as a possibility to sift through.

A better question for a tidier conversation is, “Is it alive?”  Then you know -- in one question alone -- that your answer will only include those things logical to the answer of “yes” or “no”.  You’ve halved the possibilities in one question.  Your goal is to effectively cut in half, and then cut in half again, etc.

It’s all about reduction of possibilities so that you can focus on the more detailed questions of what logically remains.  This is a tool often used to get people closer to a solution.  It’s not statistics or math, but it is a way to reduce possibilities and to trouble shoot for a logical solution (or at least for clearer thought towards that).

Essentially what this sounds like in action in the Bubble is:

“Ok, here are the facts on the post on the Resurrection of Jesus (for example).  Here are the opinions. Everyone has given their input.  Now couple the facts to opinion.  Start with one question to ‘set the table’.  Ask one question to clear off what doesn’t belong and leave the rest for exploring.  Categorize: If this question is true, then, say, we’ll move 50% of these possibilities off to the left since they can’t be true, but we’ll move 50% to the right, because they potentially could be true.”

Then you’re on a systematic road to exploring, reducing, and perhaps seeing the logical answer -- or at least seeing the logic in the possible answers -- without someone popping over on to the other side of the dividing line, bringing up what has already been logically dismissed.  “Timeout.  We’re over here now, on the right.  These are the only pertinent possibilities.”

We use this method to parse and analyze.  We simplify, compartmentalize, reduce, and synthesize. We want to drive good dialogue and separate fact from opinion now that everyone has given their input, and from there we logically apply the facts and distill down the thoughts.

See, facts talk to logic, and logic gives clarity, and clarity gives the answer/solution.  So there’s no real discussion until we all agree on these: Do we all understand what is what?  Have we guided the thinking and explored together?  Have we pruned off the extra noise of the conversation and focused on what is relevant to the facts and therefore to the logic?

Technique #2: Extreme Contrast

There’s another logical tool implemented in problem solving application that deals with analyzing through extreme contrast.  Certain work projects have tagged these as, “a BoB and a WoW”.  That stands for “Best of the Best and Worst of the Worst”.  So we use what is called ‘extreme contrast’. We mix and match to trouble shoot a solution to fix the ‘worst’.

A simple example from everyday life I can use here is an example of two different light bulbs in two different lamps.  You know you have the Best bulb working in one lamp already.  That’s your tester to put in the lamp with the bulb that doesn’t light up.

If it lights up, then you know it’s a bulb issue with your non-lighting bulb, because this (best) one lights in this lamp (the other bulb didn’t).  If the best tester bulb doesn’t light up then we know it’s a lamp issue, because we know this bulb works since it came out of a lamp where it worked.  You need to prove if the bulb is any good and, likewise, you prove if the lamp has any issues.

Essentially, this extreme contrast is helpful to drive better dialogue in the Bubble because it’s a line of thinking that contrasts meanings of things against a standard (a Best or a tester).  It’s a process of holding up ideas to a standard that’s already in place (like our working lightbulb and working lamp).  We test what seemingly doesn’t work against what is already working (logically).  But so as not to confuse you, reader, just think in terms of these types of good questions that are outside the realm of feelings and peer inside at the dialogue, objectively:

Are the facts driving the logic? Does the logic align with the facts? Am I being accurate in my thoughts by holding them up to a firm standard or next to a working theory?

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
-- Albert Einstein

Leila’s aim in questioning her readers and commenters here is to promote thinking in a culture that, quite honestly, doesn’t “think” as much as it “feels”.  This is a common complaint we raise here at the Bubble, and the factors that contribute to this intellectual cultural laziness are many.  But this quote above attributed to Einstein should hopefully inspire us to stick with the learning process in order to acquire the skills to learn how to think better.

And this quote below from the late, great Pope St. John Paul II should inspire us as to the “why” it’s important to learn to correctly put the right questions together:

"Step by step, then, we are assembling the terms of the question. It is the nature of the human being to seek the truth. This search looks not only to the attainment of truths which are partial, empirical or scientific; nor is it only in individual acts of decision-making that people seek the true good. Their search looks towards an ulterior truth which would explain the meaning of life. And it is therefore a search which can reach its end only in reaching the absolute.” 
-- Pope St. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Little Shares and Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone! Mary has brought forth the Christ Child for the salvation of the world! We continue to celebrate because Christmas is not over, it's just begun! Christmas is a liturgical season that begins on the Feast of the Nativity, December 25 (also known as the Christ's Mass, i.e., Christmas)! Continue to enjoy the Baby Jesus, Who brings peace on earth to men of good will!  <----- That's a reminder that if you want Christ's peace, you must be of good will.

Now, to a few Little Shares...


I love Catholic blogger, author, and speaker Devin Rose. Indirectly, Devin is a huge reason why this blog exists. I have followed him for years, and now I am honored to count him as a friend. Devin was an atheist in his early life, became a Baptist in his college years, and then found the fullness of the Catholic Faith in 2001. He is an amazing Catholic apologist. And, like so many millions of men, he was a slave to pornography for many years.

I am so thrilled to announce that Devin has designed a program that will help lift other Catholic men out of the sin and despair of porn addiction. The program contains every weapon a man needs to conquer this monster, and best of all, it includes personal, one-on-one support and advice from Devin himself. Check it out, and go to battle:


Throughout the centuries, there have been countless volumes written about the Marian Doctrines and in defense of our veneration of Mary. Yet, sometimes the simplest off-the-cuff statements resonate most profoundly. Our buddy Chris Sawaya came to the defense of the Blessed Mother recently, when an anti-Catholic fundamentalist burst on the scene spewing ugliness and ignorance in the comments. I loved Chris' response so much that I put it on my Facebook page. The reaction there was astounding, and someone even asked if Chris' words were copyrighted! Here is what he said:
And John, it's ok to love Mary. Jesus certainly did. If the Angel Gabriel took time out of his busy schedule to talk to a human and use the greeting "Hail, full of Grace" you're probably ok with honoring that person.  
Not to mention, who wants to hear on judgement day "dude, did you really spend all that time dissing my Mama? Why don't you say it to my face?" 
Brilliant, I tell you!

And here's another that Chris heard once, and that stuck with him (and now me): "Be nice to Mary, her Son will be your judge."


You might not be hearing from me for a while, for a couple of reasons. First, I have decided to write a casual little self-published book. There have been enough providential nudges that I finally took the hint and decided to get writing. I have kinda suspected that I would one day attempt to write a book, but I always thought it would be a compilation of Little Teachings. I'm a little surprised that the subject matter is of a different nature....

It's still taking shape, but the tentative title is Raising Up Chaste Catholic Men in a Pornified Culture, and I'm enlisting the help of my three oldest sons (ages 22, almost 18, and 15). I am really excited about it! Believe me, I know it's a big risk on so many levels, but I ask for your prayers as I spend the next few weeks putting it all together. As soon as the bulk of it is complete, I'll be back to blogging, but I need to minimize distractions until that time. (I am like a child, easily distracted.)


A second reason I won't be blogging for a while is that both my daughters and their families are coming to town! Hooray!! 

I realize I have not provided any updated photos of my two grandbabies, nor have I announced that my older daughter and her husband are expecting their second daughter in May! Yes, Miss Felicity will have a sister for life! Here she is, our sweetie pie, at 18 months:

She had a white Christmas!!

And my handsome grandson David is nine months old already! Enjoying his life and his very first Christmas!

My daughter told me he really loved eating the bows!


God bless you all this Christmas season, and I'll be back soon!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Synod Report is out in English; LGBTQ agendas are dashed

Did anyone notice?

I never wrote about, nor was I at all concerned about, the Synods Of Bishops On The Family that convened at the Vatican in recent months amidst much hand-wringing and controversy. I was saddened by the number of Catholics who were up in arms and full of anxiety, who followed every news report, interview, and conspiracy theory, wondering what the final result would be.

Why was any faithful Catholic worried? Why do we not trust the Holy Spirit? Jesus Christ is not dead, He is fully alive and the Head of His Church.

Finally, the English translation of the The Final Report of the Synod Of Bishops is out, and it is a steel-strong, unassailable re-statement of the truths of marriage, family, and human sexuality. The report, as the National Catholic Register has noted, has "not only dashed the hopes of those who hoped the Church would jettison its historic and biblical teaching on sexual ethics, it blew them to hell."

For the millionth time, the hopes of the heterodox were raised, and for the millionth time, they have been dashed. When will people understand?

"Gender ideology" is utterly rejected (Section 8, emphases mine):
Today, a very important cultural challenge is posed by “gender” ideology which denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without gender differences, thereby removing the anthropological foundation of the family. This ideology leads to educational programmes and legislative guidelines which promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, which can also change over time. According to our faith, the difference between the sexes bears in itself the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26-27). “This tells us that it is not man alone who is the image of God or woman alone who is the image of God, but man and woman as a couple who are the image of God. [...] We can say that without the mutual enrichment of this relationship — in thought and in action, in affection and in work, as well as in faith — the two cannot even understand the depth of what it means to be man and woman. Modern contemporary culture has opened new spaces, new forms of freedom and new depths in order to enrich the understanding of this difference. But it has also introduced many doubts and much skepticism. [...] The removal of the difference [...] is the problem, not the solution” (Francis, General Audience, 15 April 2015).
Homosexual "marriage" is denounced as a lie (Section 76):
Regarding proposals to place unions of homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family” [CDF]. In every way, the Synod maintains as completely unacceptable that local Churches be subjected to pressure in this matter and that international bodies link financial aid to poor countries to the introduction of laws to establish “marriage” between people of the same sex.

There was also no mention of admitting the divorced and remarried (without annulment) to Holy Communion, as had been widely rumored. Nothing has changed. Why did anyone think it would?

Every Catholic needs to be at peace with Christ's promises. Our Lord would not have warned us against building our houses on shifting sand if He had not also provided the firm ground on which we are to build. His Church is that unshifting ground, and those who have built upon it have nothing to fear.

When will we learn to trust?

It's important to note that the Synod Report is not primarily concerned with gender ideology and homosexual "marriage" (aside from the rejection of their veracity). There is so much more, so much goodness and beauty and mercy in it, and so much help and hope for families today, rooted in eternal truths and promises, all of which are made for human flourishing. Read it all, here.

I am grateful to Pope Francis for convening the Synod, and I love what he is doing to bring in the lost sheep. He stands for unwavering Truth even as he reaches out in mercy and love to a world that, without Jesus, has no hope.

And did you all know that today is the pope's birthday? Let us each offer up a prayer for the Holy Father's intentions today!

Happy Birthday, Papa!

CNS photo/Paul Haring

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Why I am glad that "everything happens for a reason"!

I had no idea until recently how emotionally charged is the sentiment, "Everything happens for a reason".

In recent months, a few blog posts have been making the rounds on Facebook and social media blasting the use of the phrase, and even denying the basic truth of it. Here, here, here and here, for starters.

I'm not going to lie -- I've been disturbed down to my bones that even good and faithful Catholics have re-posted or lauded these articles.

Now, a huge caveat: I fully understand that some people are simply decrying the phrase as unhelpful or insensitive in the immediate aftermath of an intense suffering or grief. Indeed, there is much to be said for simply listening to someone in great pain, being present to that person, holding a hand, loving the person through a hard time, and being silent as they grieve or try to cope.

After all, we are all individuals, we all react differently to a crisis or tragedy, and we all need different things to help us in the moment. Recognizing the deeper meaning of something can certainly come later, when the agony starts to lift.

But the outright denial that everything happens for a reason, well that I don't understand. Here is an example of what I've been seeing:

If anyone tells you that all is not lost, that it happened for a reason, that you’ll become better as a result of your grief, you can let them go. 
Let me reiterate: all of those platitudes are bullshit. 
You are not responsible to those who try to shove them down your throat. You can let them go. 

I am left stunned by this. How can this be? How did we get so far from understanding the truth of God's Providence and what it means for us as Christians?

I am fairly certain that none of the authors I linked is Catholic, and I recognize that outside of Catholicism there is no understanding of redemptive suffering, no theology of suffering at all. This in itself is a loss, and a barrier to the true peace and joy that can be ours even in a dark and painful world.

Think about what God has told us about His divine care, down to the last detail: He knew each of us before he knit us in our mothers' wombs. Every hair on our heads has been counted. Not even a tiny sparrow falls to the ground outside of His will. Everything, everything is accounted for in God's Divine Providence.

So how could it possibly be that some things do not happen for a reason? And how could it be that our own trials and sufferings are random, arbitrary, accidental, if the greatest sin and suffering of all, the brutal torture and crucifixion of God Himself, was the very planned, very meaningful instrument of the redemption of the world and our salvation?

How could the world's gravest evil and suffering, i.e., the Cross, have a reason, but yet our lesser sufferings do not?

It's simply not possible.

We know from Christ Himself that God would not give His children a stone when they ask for a loaf of bread. Isn't everything, our joys and our sorrows, given to us by the very Hand of a loving Father? If we are weak and imperfect and do not understand His ways at the moment, does it follow that there is no reason, no purpose to those ways? Of course not.

I don't understand what comfort there could be in believing that God is not all powerful, and that pain and suffering and agony happen to us indiscriminately and incidentally while He watches helplessly? Who could find comfort in a world spinning out of control, "ruled" by a God who only picks up the pieces after the randomness of the moment begins to settle? To my mind, that is incredibly unsettling.

And thankfully, it's untrue.

We are a fearful and anxious people precisely to the extent that we don't understand that a loving Father is in control and that His Providence covers us at every moment.

It is only in total trust, only in total abandonment to God, that we can find true freedom from fear and anxiety, to be graced with the peace that surpasses all understanding. To find Christ's peace and joy is to say, without reservation, "Thy will be done" -- and then to give ourselves over to whatever cross has been fashioned for us by the Lord, for our perfection and sanctification.

This is our Faith.

One of my favorite passages from one of my favorite books is hard for modern Americans to hear:
The distinction between what God wills and what He merely permits is extremely important on the theological level. When it has to do with real life, however, with unavoidable events and our reaction to them, we might wonder if speculation about the difference is not often a subtle form of escapism. If God does not will the evil that befalls me, I do not need to accept it. Then I may in good conscience rebel against it. 

And we know, from the example of Job and the saints, that this rebelling against unavoidable suffering is not the good path. God can be trusted in all things that He places in our lives -- all things. Even in our lowest and most excruciating moments, He knows what He's doing and why. We can be sure that it's always for our good, never for our harm.

I find this teaching on total abandonment to be so comforting, so true and real, that I have ordered my life around it, just as we are all called to do. When I was in my darkest moments, how very comforting and welcome would have been these words from Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade:

If God takes away your peace of mind, very well, let it go with the rest; God remains always, and when nothing else is left to you.

This kind of trust, this level of surrender to God's Providence is nothing less than complete freedom. What balm for the soul!

And so, to all my friends and family: When I enter a crucible of suffering again (and I will, as we all will), I give my full and unrestricted permission for you to comfort me with the true and sweet and beautiful words that so many inexplicably decry:

Everything happens for a reason.

Nothing is random.
Nothing is meaningless.
Nothing is out of His plan or His control.

To that I say, praise God!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

"RELIGION: Because Thinking is Hard"

Let's think about this.

My 15-year-old son and I were pulling out of his large public high school when we spotted a bumper sticker on the back of a student's vehicle:

Image result for religion: because thinking is hard

Apparently, this is a popular saying among "free-thinkers" (atheists, agnostics, secularists), and although "religious people are blind followers" is a standard platitude, I had not seen this particular incarnation before. 

I started to laugh, but it was my son who nailed it:

"Wow, that's so ridiculous, because I'm sure she goes along with whatever belief is popular right now."

Bam! Good thinking, son!

I would bet the farm that the young woman with the bumper sticker holds the most popular, fashionable, and faddish thinking on abortion, gender/transgender/LGBTQIA, sexuality, gay "marriage", racism/sexism/classism (and "safe spaces"), environmentalism, "death with dignity", gun control, etc., etc., etc.

I don't believe for a minute that she's thought about centuries of Catholic scientists who have done the work and made the discoveries she takes for granted; I don't believe she's thought about, much less read, myriad Catholic philosophers whose entire raison d'ĂȘtre is the search for and love of Truth; I don't believe she's thought about where universities and schools of higher learning originated; and I am certain that she has no background in the thought and history of Western Civilization itself. 

I have no doubt that her worldview is as predictable as it is disconnected to any ideas that are actually her own.

The good news is, she's young (we've all been there), and, God willing, she has many years ahead of her to start actually thinking.

Your thoughts?