Help! My Reptile Brain is Eating My Mammal Brain!

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Occassionally, but not often, I am a glutton for punishment.

There may be some disagreement on this from people who know me who may say I’m always a glutton for punishment, but I try to think and act otherwise. In this case there was no argument; I was asking for it. It was last Friday. I made a list of things needed from the store, odds and ends really, and for whatever reason¾decided to go to Wal-Mart.

Now, Wal-Mart on a Friday morning in our south of Charlotte suburb is usually fairly quiet, offering little to no major issues. But we normally don’t have a major health crisis in play and we normally don’t have people freaking out over a viral contagion and we normally don’t have, just fill in the blank at this point. There was no bleach, no toilet paper, no paper products of any kind. For those who may think this is a ‘class’ thing, it isn’t. There’s no toilet paper, bleach, or paper products or limited supplies at most every store around from Whole Foods and Harris Teeter to local convenience stations.

I wondered about this and I know, some would say this is ‘prepping’, just in case it gets worse. The truth is, it’s something deeper and more instinctual than that. It is the reptilian brain in overdrive. He’s how it works. There are three parts to the brain¾reptilian (reactive brain), paleomammalian (emotional brain), and neomammalian (thinking brain). Each area does what the description says it does. It reacts or emotes or thinks. In times where we feel stress or crisis, the reactive part of the brain kicks in, tells the emotional part to quit listening to the thinking part and do something to save our collective skin. In a situation like the Coronavirus threat, people can’t really do anything about the virus (very, very few of us are virologists) so we try to think of what we can do to ‘fix it’ or ‘be safe’ or ‘protect ourselves and our loved ones’.

According to Paul Marsden, a consumer psychologist,

“It’s about ‘taking back control’ in a world where you feel out of control,” he said. “More generally, panic buying can be understood as playing to our three fundamental psychology needs.” …Those needs were autonomy, or a need for control, relatedness, which Marsden defined as “we shopping” rather than “me shopping,” and competence, which is achieved when making a purchase gives people a sense that they are “smart shoppers.”

In my sermon yesterday, I talked about the need to avoid being hardhearted toward one another out of fear or apparent loss of control. I talked about how regardless of the situation, we need to be the hands and feet of Christ to one another. In ancient Rome, there were several plagues that wiped out large portions of the population. During these plagues, Christians were not only taking care of one another, but also those who lived in their communities. Their example became the reason that many converted to the Christian faith; it was a real faith, where the people lived out what they preached. As Pope Francis often says, they became the hands and feet of Christ in the world.

But this only works because we are willing to use the thinking part of our brain and allow the Spirit of God to lead us rather than panic. We have people to care for¾our elderly, our shut-ins, others who need us to step in and take care of things that under normal circumstances would be taken care of. Are you willing to be the hands and feet of Christ, acting out of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?” Or will you let fear lead you to hurt yourself and others.


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