I was driving down the freeway rather slowly, preparing to exit onto a right-hand off ramp. In the rearview mirror I noticed a car rapidly advancing on my left hand side, with what appeared to be a tall, skeleton-like black-wrapped form sticking up above the car’s roof. As the car continued to accelerate, the black wrapping pressed hard against what appeared to be a protruding nose and bony, cavernous face. A rope was wrapped around its neck, as if to represent death-by-hanging.
It looked like a ghoul, or a Grim Reaper figure. My mind began organizing the potential scenarios as to where this apparition-like figure was going, standing so tall above the car. Its one arm was extended as if steering a hell-bound boat directly across the River Styx to the Underworld…Coffin races, somewhere? A spooky party set-up at a school or office? Something newly purchased, on its way home, to frighten unwary trick-or-treaters?
As the car zipped past me, I slowed to get a clear and accurate sighting of the ghoul: and to my surprise, I quickly realized it was a disassembled bicycle with the bike seat facing forward and its support fully extended upwards. The unit, wrapped in black fabric that had torn as it flapped behind the seat and bike body, also covered part of one angled-out fender so that its wrapped form resembled an arm in a tattered sleeve.
I couldn’t decide if I was disappointed or embarrassed at the object’s true identity. But the word that came to my mind was conditioning.
I started analyzing the reasons I had formed that particular impression of the figure, and it pretty much boiled down to a factor of timing: Halloween is one week away. From grocery stores to home improvement stores, ghoulish figures are maliciously dangling overhead or menacing the candy aisle when you walk by; posters in windows are promoting haunted houses or other “scary adventures”; costumed people are walking down sidewalks as they attend seasonal parties or lunches, and movies on television are offering a larger-than-normal inventory of occult or horror-themed films.
And our senses are impacted. I have made no deliberate effort to expose myself to any of these seasonal displays…but quite frankly, this bicycle-incident made me recognize that my mind has, indeed, been temporarily “conditioned.” Conditioned to perceive something with a not-immediately-recognizable shape to look like a ghoul, for instance…in broad daylight. With no thought, whatsoever, leading up to it. For just a moment I wondered — if I had recently toured several zoos (or the same zoo, several times), might the figure have looked more like a
giraffe statue, draped with protective fabric?
The contrast and shift from ghoul to giraffe is humorous to think about. But there is truth in that statement. And here is the key question that results: with what – or whose – reality, are we conditioning our minds?
This element of constant worldly conditioning is a reality – and danger — we all face. All the time. I’m not referring to the particular trappings of Halloween, now, but of the larger reality that is represented: even without willfully participating in what we see and hear around us, we are impacted by those trappings. They are constantly assaulting our senses. Molding our thinking. Poking our confidence with a rod of fear and uncertainty, raising eyebrows of Unanswered Questions when we seek to extend our faith in practical ways.
OK. Now some good news from the Scriptures, for this onslaught of “conditioning” certainly isn’t anything new.
Paul spoke strongly to the Corinthians, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5, NASB)
The Message translates this passage a bit differently, stating, “The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity…”
We are not designed for the role of “being conditioned”…rather, for “tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God…” To the Romans, Paul described this as not being “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Colossians 3 begins with the admonition, “Therefore, if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” (Col. 3:1-2)
I have heard teaching that “setting your mind on the things above” equals “disciplining the mind,” an encouragement to kick out stray thoughts that might hinder you from embracing the path He has set before you. And there is, indeed, a certain truth to that.
But I believe there is more. I am drawn to remembering part of Jesus’ example of prayer: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10, NASB)
Set your mind on the things above…that’s where the Kingdom exists fully, that’s where we seek, hear, and embrace the Father’s vision…so that the Spirit “will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.” (John 16:14-15, NASB)
It is a place and a reality where you might not mistake a covered bicycle seat for a ghoul…