The only thing I remember from my Introduction to Psychology class in college is the concept of “cognitive dissonance.” It’s that tension that exists when the mind tries to hang on to two contradictory thoughts simultanously. I’m convinced we humans, especially those of us who are people of faith, live in that state more or less constantly.
One scholarly example from decades ago: the Beatles sang, “I don’t care too much for money — money can’t buy me love.” They also sang, “Give me money — that’s what I want.” How can both of those be true?
On a deeper, more profound note, we people of faith say, “Trust in God.” We also say “Make your plans.” Which is it? We read that our citizenship is in heaven, yet our journey is earthbound. So is our attention celestial or terrestrial? It has to be both. These seemingly contradictory thoughts exist in the tension called cognitive dissonance.
This morning as I write, a friend of ours lies very close to death, at the end of a year-long battle with cancer. This terrible invasion slowly robbed her of her faculties and her mobility and soon will take her life. How can one not be preoccupied with the impending loss of someone close? The thought overwhelms the mind, and we feel somehow as if it should drive out every other thought. Yet at the same time, my hometown of Seattle is today obsessed with the Super Bowl-bound Seahawks. I watched half an hour of local news this morning at the gym and the newscast was at least 90% devoted to the game, the fans, the preparation, the speculation. The city is awash in Seahawk blue and green. 12th Man flags are everywhere. How can one not be preoccupied by an event that has gripped an entire region?
The thought of impending death seems so profound — the thought of an impending football game seems (by contrast) so trivial. Behind the first thought lurks the notion that the world is a terrible place where people die too young. Beneath the glitz of the second thought is the idea that the world is a happy place where strangers hug each other when their team wins. Dwell too much on the sad realities of life and we become paralyzed, depressed, nihilistic, unable to function. Focus entirely on the party aspects of life and we grow shallow, self-indulgent, never attaining maturity. Mourning and celebration have to find a way to coexist. We live with the tension called cognitive dissonance.
Are death and football polar opposites? I don’t know. I guess what occurs to me this morning is how glad I am that God somehow gave us the ability to compartmentalize. We weep for a friend, and we cheer for the team, and we realize the remarkable way God weaves the threads of darkness and light, sadness and joy, into the tapestries of our lives and creates something truly beautiful.