Relating, Creating, Transforming

Asking Good Questions

John 14:1-14

Kids are great at asking questions. It’s true, and this constant inquiry helps children make sense of the world and also helps them figure out how to navigate the things happening all around them.

Studies show that when we are four or five years old, we ask the most questions. As we get older, we ask less and less questions.

I was thinking about this and it’s true—teachers, bosses, authority figures [even clergy]—do not really encourage us to ask more questions.

They want answers.

This is too bad, of course. Because as we get older, we are really just older kids. And questions can help us explore, be creative and innovative, and like the four-year-old, questions can help us to make sense of this crazy world and even navigate all the issues that come up.

To start asking questions again, we need to look around us and see the world with curious, observant eyes. We need to think like a child and actually find imagination and curiosity [even about things we think we already know]. And we’ve got to leave behind the attitude about “why” questions. “Why” questions may seem naïve or too childish. Why do we drink water out of glasses? Why do we refrigerate food? Why is the sky up and the ground down? Why am I breathing right now? Why, why, why?

But the why questions go deep and surpass conventional thinking and reach for opportunities that seem impossible and far away.

Why?

Okay, so I’ll admit that the why questions can get monotonous and the four-year-old can keep asking why as if she’s in a samsara circle, but you are the one suffering. Stop asking why!!!!!!

So perhaps good questions move from why to what if and how?

This is what Warren Berger argues in his book, A More Beautiful Question: the Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas.

questionsberger

Berger writes that questioners can move forward on almost any problem or challenge by first trying to understand it [why is this a problem?]

Then, they imagine possible solutions [what if I approached the problem this way, or that way?] And finally, the questioner can try to figure out practical ways to turn the “what if” ideas into realities [how might I actually begin to make this happen?]

But it’s not about easy answers. Being thoughtful and productive in our questioning takes effort, time, lots of thought, and of course—experimenting, making mistakes, learning.[1]

I am convinced that the more we ask questions, the better we live.

Each time when we feel stuck in life, we have an opportunity to ask a question:

Why am I stuck?

It may sound superficial and be a “duh” kind of question, but ask it anyway.

And then:

What if…

This is when we imagine not being stuck. What does that look like and feel like?

And finally:

How can I make this happen?

The “this” is the imagined thing that can lift us out of our feeling stuck.

So we have to ask questions—even about things we think we know well.

And John 14 is a passage many people think they know well.

Before you say: But I don’t know this John 14 well at all! What does it say?

John 14 says this:

I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.

Right. Any questions?

Sounds like a definitive answer, does it not?
Jesus is telling us [and the whole, wide world] that he is the one and that no one can find God except through him.

Here is the main argument for imperialistic Christianity in one sentence.
Here is the dominant religion throwing its weight around.

But I have a question.

If Jesus was giving an answer here, who asked a question?

Aha!

Thomas, question-asker-extraordinaire.

The John text actually reads: Jesus said to him.

To Thomas.

Thomas had heard Jesus’ pretty speech about going to the Father and preparing a house there so do not be troubled and blah, blah, blah, and I’ll prepare a nice studio apt. for you guys to hang out in and just believe it, okay?

But Thomas, like an inquisitive four-year-old, asks the where question that the other disciples were not willing to ask:

Jesus, where are you going?

At this point, are the other disciples looking around, dumbfounded, feeling embarrassed about Thomas’ stupid question?

WHERE ARE YOU GOING?!

Man, Thomas, wake up! Of course, Jesus is going…
Well, right. Where WAS Jesus going?

Uh, good question, Thomas.

These stories in the Gospels were written after Jesus died, so the author of course knew what was going to happen. Betrayal, arrest, death, burial, resurrection appearance.

But Thomas didn’t know, of course.
So the question was valid and it was wonderful.

Where are you going?

Give me a map, Jesus, because I want to go, too.
Or punch in the directions on my GPS.
Or Whatsapp me when you get there and take a pic of the place so I can find it.

Where are you going?

But Thomas’ next question is even better.

How can we know the way?

He is rewarded with a deep and impactful answer.

Just like when he said I am the good shepherd, Jesus answered Thomas by saying: I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Thomas, to answer your question, the where is not concrete.

It’s a way and not a destination.
It’s a truth and not an easy, comfortable solution.
It’s a life and not a fear-filled existence.

And you won’t find your way, truth, and life by looking at a map.
Just follow me there.

There’s a real connection here to the Hebrew Scriptures—specifically the book of Deuteronomy 1:33, which says: “the Lord goes before you on the way to choose a place.” Thomas and the disciples knew all about the story of Moses and the Israelites journeying to the Promised Land. This following Jesus thing was about the journey itself, and not really about the destination.

But meanwhile, another disciple, Phillip, opens his mouth, but does not ask a question. He says: Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.

Not really interested in following the way, seeking the truth, and living the life, are you, Phillip?
You see, Phillip could have learned from Thomas, as all of us should.

Ask a question, no matter how stupid or naïve or childish it sounds.

Ask a question!

So look—life is tough. It really is. There are situations that seem hopeless. There are problems that seem insurmountable. There are moments when we just want to give up.

So ask why questions. Ask like a child.

Then move to the what if.

Then, move to the how.

And expect deep, insightful, and challenging answers. Don’t expect cookie-cutter solutions and easy fixes. Expect creativity and innovation. Expect change. And expect a journey, a way, a path that leads to truths and a path that leads to life.

Friends, don’t stop asking questions.

 

 

[1] Berger, Warren, A More Beautiful Question, Bloomsbury, NY, 2014.

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