Monday Memo: Focus the Filter

Terry Walton


Focus the Filter

I was thinking...

There is a little structure in our brainstem called the reticular activating system. The reticular activating system is our brain's filter; it allows us to filter through all the sensory stimuli we receive and focus only on what is important to us. The reticular activating system allows us to filter out the hum of the air conditioner, the itchy sweater we're wearing, the flickering light overhead, so that we can focus on the speaker at a gathering.

My bride of almost 46 years had brain surgery in the fall of 2020. It has caused me to do some reading and thinking about this powerful gift that is lodged above our eyes and between our ears. It is amazing to say the least.

There are three types of information that are so important that they get through our built-in brain filter. 1) Things that are unique; 2) Things that have value; and 3) Things we find threatening.

For example, let’s say we are in an important business meeting. We are focusing on the boss’s speech. Suddenly, the coffee pot behind us blows up. We would almost certainly notice the coffee pot blowing up because this would be both unique and a potential threat to us. Or let’s say that we’re working on a big project at home when we hear a little squeal come from the baby’s room. We notice that small sound because we are automatically attuned to our baby. She is valuable to us. Therefore, we notice anything connected with her. All of this is due to the reticular activating system.

Dr. Fred Craddock, a mentor to many preachers, tells of a time when he and Mrs. Craddock had a guest in their home who was spending the night. As Fred read the paper, the guest played with their kids and taught them a new game. Fred thought to himself, "How long has it been since I came home from work, got down on the floor and played with the kids and taught them a new game?" 

Following dinner, the guest said to Mrs. Craddock, "I certainly appreciated the meal. That was just a wonderful meal."  Fred tried to remember when it was that he had said that to his wife following dinner. He thinks 1949.

The guest went for a walk and came back in and said, "Oh, those are nice folks next door. I met Mr. Yung and his wife from Seoul—very nice couple."  Fred says, "Well, I had heard some [new neighbors] moved in down there, but I didn’t know." I was just living a familiar pattern, says Fred Craddock, "Come home, read the paper, and eat supper. Then here comes someone strange. Everything looks different, and I think, 'Where in the world have I been?'"

Luke 16 tells of a rich man who passed by a beggar that lay at his gate. Every day it was a familiar pattern… the rich man passing the beggar, as if he didn’t see him. I wonder what I am passing, missing, not seeing, not doing, that is being filtered out of my brain because of a wrong focus. We need our soul to focus the brain to think like Jesus. What are you focused on?

Always Thinking…

The Rev. Dr. Terry E. Walton
Executive Assistant to the Bishop

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