Wineskins Archive

January 27, 2014

The Agnosticism of Inattention (May-Jun 2008)

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by Brad Thomas
May – June, 2008

I read about a man who was driven insane not by his ability to count every raindrop that fell, but by his maddening ability to count the spaces in between them. . .Donald E Broadbent [ ] proposed [ ] selective sensory perception [which] keeps us from counting the raindrops and remaining entirely unaware of the spaces between them.”
Erwin McManus
Soul Cravings

I often wonder if Jesus is here with me, not because he isn’t here, but because I wonder if I suffer from what Brennan Manning terms “the agnosticism of inattention”? As I reach for my cup and take a sip of coffee, I find myself thinking about what I’m reading. I have the mug I designed at Angelo’s, one of those local stores where you decorate pottery and get it fired then bring home. All over this big mug are quotes and words I teach in my classes and hope to remember myself. On the inside lip of the mug, placed conspicuously so that I should read it every time I take a sip is the word compassion. But today I place the mug to my lips and take a sip of a very fine coffee brewed from Ahab’s cabin boy, and I fail to notice the word. Even in moments of reflection, I’m multi-tasking. I ponder this, then write:

You can take the reflection out of the culture
But you can’t take the culture out of the reflection

In Yann Martel’s excellent novel Life of Pi, the protagonist states that it’s not atheists that get “stuck in [his] craw,” but agnostics. At least atheists choose. Agnostics make no choice, which, of course, is a choice, albeit a wimpy choice. But if I am truthful with myself, I’m guilty of agnosticism as well, “the agnosticism of inattention.” I don’t really see “the mug” of compassion staring me in the face. I don’t really taste the coffee. I don’t really feel the desk at which I’m sitting. I honestly probably don’t treasure the moment of the book I am reading. I’m busy doing all those things at once, and so I don’t really do anything. I ponder this, then write:

I think I’ve just experienced a glimpse
Even as the television echoes from a distant room
As shower water flows through pipes in walls
As the refrigerator rattles electrically
And the house settles, even after fourteen years of existence

And what of my forty-two years of existence? I know I’m still settling, trying to rest in the love of Christ. What of my SSP, the faculty that helps me pay attention to what really matters or to what I really should pay attention? What if I’m attending to what I shouldn’t? Or worse yet, am I attending to too much all at once and so in turn attending to nothing?

I believe that God, Jesus, and His Spirit always speak to me. I’m certain that I’m not always listening. He speaks through the hug of my son, through the soft breath of my wife as she lies next to me in bed, through the smile of my daughter, through the aroma of coffee wafting through the house in the pre-dawn morning, through the colleague at work, through the urge to help a homeless man with piercing eyes, through a song on the radio, through the words on the page.

The “agnosticism of inattention” simply reveals to me my brokenness, and in my brokenness God’s grace covers me and flows through me. To be still and know God may not just be a quiet time or a Bible study. It may be just that: to be still, to be silent, to quiet your mind and reflect on God, letting him speak to you about where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going, emphasis on where you are. To see, hear, touch, taste, and feel his presence at every moment, his “present risen-ness” as Manning puts it, his resurrection gift of life and love right here, right now, in the hug of a son, the gentle breath of a wife, the smile of a daughter, the loss of a friend, the anguish of scorned love, or the eyes of His starving children.
New Wineskins

Brad ThomasBrad Thomas is a high school English teacher at Central High School in Grand Junction, Colorado. He is also a Worship Leader at Canyonview Vineyard Church. His latest CD music release, Love, is available on itunes and along with a previous release, Revolution. Brad and his wife, Margaret, have two children: Hannah and Benjamin. Brad is currently working on a non-fiction work: Simply Conversational: Reflections on Discipleship. To get free music downloads or to read Brad’s blog go to [].

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