The H-word, and the Other H-word

In the ‘60s we had a lot of slang phrases using the word “head” –
“head trip”
“got a crazy idea in his head”
“feed your head” (Jefferson Airplane)
“we’d like to change your head” (The Beatles)
“out of my head”
“big head”
“hard headed woman” (Yusuf Islam)

In other words, the significance of the word “head” in popular music and slang was not at all confined to the purely intellectual and cognitive, but made reference to attitudes as well. In popular music, the term “heart” was pretty much restricted to erotic but not outrightly sexual contexts.

The words that are traditionally translated “heart” in the Bible have a different meaning, however. These words referred to attitudes and intellectual assumptions, examined or unexamined, that affect our personal decisions and choices and trigger our emotions. (As I said in my earlier post, the changing emotions themselves are called by words better rendered by “gut” or “bowels.”) And when the Jesus Movement came, and evangelicalism began to change its styles to follow cultural changes, rightly or wrongly (which is beyond the scope of this particular post) they tended to retain the word “heart” rather than “head” to denote the home of attitudes and trigger of behaviors. This may have alienated certain people of the male persuasion to whom “It’s all about the heart” seemed to be talking about sentimentality. That sentence also seemed to be saying that it didn’t matter what you do as long as you had the right attitude about it, and warm and fuzzy feelings were often mistaken for right attitude.

I for one think we ought to pay more attention to ‘60s slang. For one thing, the seat of our instinctive reactions and assumptions is actually located in the back part of our brain, in areas called the cerebellum and medulla. The thing that pumps blood is very important, of course; when it stops we are dead; but it is not the carrier of attitudes or dispositions, evil or good. And in the secular world the type of therapy that is closest to Christian transformation is in fact called “cognitive” therapy. Instead of pitting “head” against “heart,” we need to pit what we think we believe against what our behavior actually shows that we believe or assume. I don’t know what labels we should attach to these, but no more accepting Jesus into our “heart” in a way that leaves the seemingly rational and unsentimental parts of our lives untouched by His influence.

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