Posted in reflections

Barnabas, the man with the yellow cap

yellow_capEdward de Bono has written about six thinking hats. In Bono’s analysis, for efficient and productive meetings, the leader (the “blue hat”) must encourage a mix of contributions from the others:

white hat: seeks facts, data

red hat: senses the emotion involved

green hat: contributes new ideas and perspectives; creative

black hat: sees the potential pitfalls and dangers of a idea; pessimistic

yellow hat: highlights the possibilities in proposals and people; optimistic

My adulthood has been a quest to toss away my black cap and doff a yellow one.

People who wear yellow hats are sunny, bright, optimistic. Those words hardly described me in high school, where my black cap was firmly in-place, so much that my 10th grade American History teacher – word-playing on my name, Gregory – called me “drudgery.” In retrospect, he did me a favor, sowing a seed that later produced a desire to change, to let God’s grace change me.

Emphatically, I reject the determinism of our day. Are temperaments immutable, “once a black hat, always a black hat”? Followers of Christ committed to a Wesleyan-Arminian theology should know better. We believe like John Wesley (1703-91) that God graciously enables individuals to choose. Therefore, whatever my innate inclinations or childhood conditioning toward pessimism, I have a choice. For my part, I’ve consciously decided to belt out Annie’s “The sun will come out tomorrow” ten times for every one time I (might) listen to Gary Jules’  “Mad World.” Black cap? Been there, done that. With the Holy Spirit’s help, every day, I’ll choose the yellow one instead.

Barnabas, the son of encouragement
Barnabas, the son of encouragement

Part of wearing a yellow cap is a firm resolve to encourage rather than discourage others, and no Bible character modeled yellow-hat-living better than Barnabas, the “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36). When the believers in Jerusalem were rightfully wary of Christian-persecuting Saul’s “conversion,” it was Barnabas who convinced the church to accept him as a genuine brother – Paul, no longer Saul – transformed by the grace of God (Acts 9:27). Later, when John Mark disappointed Paul and Barnabas by abandoning them on the first missionary journey, Barnabas stood staunchly by the youthful John Mark, setting out with him as a new duo. Why? Paul – once burned, twice shy – refused to allow John Mark to journey with them the second time around (Acts 15:37-41). It was providential that yellow-hatted Barnabas was there for John Mark at a very fragile moment. Today, many consider Barnabas’ protegé the author of the Gospel of Mark. Even Paul eventually had a change of heart, asking Timothy to bring John Mark with him, because “he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).

Encouragers do not live in denial, as if evil and suffering don’t exist. Rather, because they know all too well that these results of the Fall are rampant, yellow-capped disciples of Christ purposefully lean into optimism, underscoring the possibilities of the grace of God to redeem both individuals and communities.

It wasn’t just the church of the first century that needed encouragers.  The people of God in every age must have a healthy number of them for its own equilibrium and flourishing. But I wonder:

When it comes to the church and her prospects today, where have all the yellow hats gone? Like honey bees, are they mysteriously dying off?

Judging by what I read on the internet, there must have been a sale on black caps. Lots of people – especially bloggers – are busy lamenting the church’s decline, writing her obituary, as if the church can do nothing right. You’ve seen the posts: “10 blunders that…” and “5 mistakes that…”  As one who has worn the black cap too often myself, I realize the danger of that kind of unchecked pessimism. Black-hatters, I challenge you:

Come with me on my quest for the yellow hat.

There is a place for caution. The church cannot do without some black hats, but does she now have too many? More than ever, the church needs upbeat people like Barnabas, sons and daughters of encouragement. You know you want to sport that yellow cap! It’s stylish and comfortable. Enough already with the over-the-top negativity. Together, let’s make the choice – by God’s grace – to be possibility thinkers.


Image credits:

yellow cap:

Barnabas: The Faith Pal



Greg is interested in many topics, including theology, philosophy, and science.

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