A few weeks ago, we had a dinner party at our house, and, as we sat around the table of our pizza garden, one of our friends spoke of a YouTube video (link below) she had seen where a man, Mark Gungor, described the differences between men’s and women’s brains. I laughed as I watched, but I am pretty sure he’s serious, though I’m not sure about the science behind it. But according to Mark, a key difference is how men and women both organize our thoughts, in what he describes as a network of “thought boxes.” He speaks while pacing around an empty stage, save two pedestals upon which rest models of human brains, one male and the other female. He begins by explaining that men are generally able to focus primarily on particular boxes (specific areas of their lives), while with women, the relationships between the different boxes are critical. Because of this, he claims, men are capable of maintaining a completely empty box, thereby allowing them to enter a state essentially devoid of thought. As he stood over the man’s brain, he jokingly described the lounging man, mindlessly killing time. And then, he approached the woman’s brain, he makes the sign of the cross as he hesitatingly described the complex thinking of women and how they are always processing many things at once.
Since our friend told us about Mark Gungor’s theories and having watched the video, I’ve spent a fair amount of time reflecting upon it (shocker). I spent a weekend at a monastery last year, and I experienced a little about the monastic life. As I understand it, monks spend a lot of time in quiet solitude, not thinking, but emptying their minds. I don’t know, but do nuns spend long periods in silence like that? My preconceived notions say no, picturing nuns as always busy. Like my wife. So, perhaps there is some truth to what Mark says, but, honestly, I can’t relate. My thought boxes are either inseparably interconnected or their contents chaotically disorganized like a junk drawer.
Forgive me for the unsanctified reference, but I picture a scene in the Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction (also below), where Butch Coolidge, played by Bruce Willis, stands at the door of a pawn shop. He has just escaped from its basement after being beaten but before having to endure the most inhumane of torture. Down the stairs he has just ascended, though, is Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) who was captured along with him, and he is now being disturbingly assaulted. Bruce pauses for a moment, and then, shockingly, forgoes his freedom in order to return to the basement to save the man, a gangster who had been trying to kill Butch. But in order to rescue him, Butch needs the perfect weapon. This being a pawn shop, there are many options. He circles the room quickly, testing the wieldiness of a hammer, a bat, and a chainsaw. Then, as he scans for a better weapon, his eyes freeze on an item high up on a wall, and the camera turns to share what he has found. A Samurai sword. This is the one. Personal and deadly. Suffice to say that he unsheathes the sword and descends the stairs to rescue one enemy and slay others.
I recalled this scene because I often replay imaginary arguments until I find the perfect words with which to end them. But, ultimately, despite the din of discord, at some point I hear a voice reminding me of who I am. I’m a Christian. I shouldn’t humble friends nor enemies with my own power but should humble myself because of a love that is conquering my heart and has won my soul. And my only hope is that personal humility and vulnerability might in some way be a positive influence on others in whom that same love is also at work. And when I recognize my pride expressing itself, my only recourse is to pray, attempt to empty my mind, and then focus on the things for which I should be thankful, not resentful. But this is easier said than done, because it’s me in the pawn shop, either searching its contents looking for the perfect solution for my problems or those of a loved one or stuck in the basement, kidnapped by dark thoughts.
How easy it was for Mark Gungor to describe thought boxes as he peered down into the model brains containing them. And, no offense to monks, perhaps the monastic life naturally creates an order and simplicity apart from the worldly chaos in which it is so easy for me to get lost. Having been stuck in a place of irrational discontent, it’s more accurate to picture myself inside one of those boxes, a junk drawer of life stuff, my disease and my longevity, my wife and children, finances and job, the house, and the ever-present relational difficulties with or between family and friends. As I find with the drawers in my house that are organized occasionally but are destined for the label “miscellaneous”, in moments of confusion, not only are my thoughts jumbled, I feel overwhelmed by the various things that I cannot control, and suddenly even small problems seem an enormity. I don’t see any thought boxes; I’m part of the junk in one. The more I try to control my life, the more frustrated I get, either wanting to overpower my problems or, sometimes, just give up. The only solution is if there is something outside of me to maintain control for me. Ultimately, to save me.
It cuts my heart deeply to admit this. It cuts to have to embrace it daily. I need a savior, and He must wield love. It’s the only way.
I imagine God, instead of Mark Gungor, peering down into my brain and observing my vain efforts to compartmentalize things, to manage so-called thought boxes. Regardless of the difference between how men and women think, I think the idea of an empty box is ultimately pointless. The closest I want to be to emptiness is a quiet beach with a distant horizon where, even alone, I feel the strange comfort that can only be explained by the presence of God.
So where am I now? A year ago, I’ll confess, I was in a very difficult place, coming off of the failed surgery. These days, I feel much more myself and free, but I’ll never forget the times of darkness. I don’t ever want to go back there, but I live with some fear that an unexpected disaster, a late-night phone call from a friend or family-member, or a “worrisome” CT scan will send me down the path of frustration, anxiety and even to despair, trapped again inside my own mind.
So in my version of Pulp Fiction, the pawn shop scene takes place in one of my cluttered thought boxes. Suitably, I have some experience, at least mentally, with being a proud villain and a tortured prisoner, but here I picture myself as Bruce Willis’s flawed hero. I don’t relate to Tarantino’s glorification of power, though, because experience has shown that no weapon restores order or truly frees. So when I find myself searching through the junk for instruments of rescue, my eyes can’t fall upon the sword, they must rest upon the cross. I’m sure I can find one in a pawn shop. And when I do, like any other magical moment when God is found, my face will daze with awe and wonder.
Mark Gungor’s Tale of Two Brains
Pulp Fiction: OK, folks, against my better judgement (meaning my wife’s) here is a link to the scene to which I’m referring. This clip is PG, but keep in mind, the movie is not. My kids watched the clip and all said it was no big deal, but you are forewarned: Butch chooses his weapon. You can hear the disturbing commotion in the basement, so if you’re really sensitive, mute it.