BLIND BIASES 4

Coming to the End – – A Word of Thanks

All good thing come to an end, they say. Harry Strong’s series on biases is one of them. Thank you, my old friend, for introducing us to Brian McLaren’s framework and the building blocks of a more honest, compassionate, and useful way to identify and seek understanding of our own biases and the those biases of relatives, friends, and, “dare I say it?,” threats and enemies. Harry’s series led me to reflect on belly-buttons. Every human being has a belly-button! — Gordon

Blind Biases 4 by friend and colleague Harry Strong

“People can’t see what they can’t see.”

Brian mclaren

Quick Review.  Brian D. McLaren has identified thirteen (13) Biases which partially explain why we see thing so differently from one another: Confirmation Bias; Complexity Bias; Community Bias; Complementarity Bias; Competency Bias; Consciousness Bias; Comfort or Complacency Bias; Conservative/Liberal Bias; and Confidence Bias; Catastrophic or Normalcy Bias; Contact Bias; Ca$h Bia$; and Conspiracy Bias. [1]  All of these can dramatically impact our views of life and the world.

An Email from Mitch

As our Blind Bias “class” draws to a close I’d like to share with you an email I received recently from my friend, Mitch.  He wrote this: 

“I am at a loss as to how to bridge the gap to a better understanding between myself (and MY strongly held political positions) and my friends (and THEIR strongly held political positions) when our positions on critical issues are at such opposite poles of the political spectrum.  I am finding it is putting a real cramp on what used to be casual and friendly conversations among us.  I AM SURE my opinions are right.  But when I come down off of that perch of righteousness – I have to concede that JUST MAYBE if I learn to be a better listener JUST PERHAPS my friend is not my enemy – but an ally.  If we work TOGETHER (the hard part indeed) we can identify how to move forward in ways that promote understanding of the importance of each person’s position to each individual yet the need to accommodate at least a little bit of the other person’s position so the greater good is achieved.  My challenge is I am not yet that person and I would welcome learning how to become better at achieving that goal.”

email from Mitch

Frankly, it was Mitch’s honest and vulnerable testimony that motivated me to read Brian McLaren’s e-book. [1]  

Shifting Attention

As Brian McLaren shifts our attention from Recognizing Biases to Overcoming Biases, he offers this disclaimer regarding the above quotation which introduced each of the first three “classes” we’ve shared together:  “When I said earlier ‘People can’t see what they can’t see …,’ I was telling the truth, but not the whole truth.  Here’s how that sentence should be completed to be more fair and full: ‘People can’t see what they can’t see unless someone helps them see it.’”  To that end, McLaren offers the following recommendations:

Five Ways We Can Help Others to See What They Can’t See

SURPRISE PEOPLE WITH WHO YOU ARE.  Show kindness, empathy, curiosity, fairness, acceptance, patience, decency, boldness, and humility.  Put understanding and acceptance before agreement, making it safe for people to confront their biases.  Tell stories about times when you failed to face your biases and misconceptions.  Demonstrate fairness by admitting (and addressing) the downsides of your position and the upsides (as well as the downsides) of other positions.  Seek to win friends instead of arguments, since people would rather learn from friends than critics, opponents, or enemies.  People will not believe your message until they find you, the messenger, believable.  In the last analysis, what we are communicates far more eloquently than anything we say or do. — Stephen Covey

SHOW BEFORE YOU TELL.  Use experiential learning (field trips, introductions to “the other,” immersive artistic experiences, simulations, demonstrations, learning games, etc.) whenever possible, helping people step into the shoes of others and see from new vantage points, and following up the experience with honest reflection and conversation.

KEEP IT SIMPLE AND DOABLE.  Whenever possible, find one simple point of agreement or make one simple proposal for consideration or offer one simple, doable, immediate step that can be taken in the right direction, followed by questions and conversation.

CONNECT EMOTIONALLY.  If a person is afraid or angry, don’t shame them or tell them not to feel as they do.  Instead, try to understand their emotion, and then convey, with emotion, that you can see why they feel as they do.

EXPECT THIS TO BE HARD.  Remember that the human brain is structured for safety, efficiency, ease, and comfort, so biases are working against accepting messages that are perceived as unfamiliar, complicated, dangerous, inconvenient, or uncomfortable.  Don’t expect people to be other than human.  Show patience and persistence.  And take advantage of research to help you learn what is most likely to work. [1] 

Where Do We Go From Here?

So, deep breath!  Are we willing to move beyond appreciating McLaren’s analysis of our Biases to the more important and challenging phase of trying to make some changes in our own lives and the lives of others?  That is the $64,000 question, isn’t it?  What is our next step?  I guess we’ll each have to answer that question for ourselves.

My Next Steps

I’ll tell you my next steps.  First, I’m going to send a copy of Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself) to Mitch for a Thanksgiving present.  Second, I’m going to invite my neighbor, Larry, over to the house for an adult beverage.  (Some of you will recall Larry from my Blind Bias 2 post.  Remember, Larry told me: “I’m not biased or prejudiced about anything.  I have my opinions and my perspectives, but I try to be as objective as possible about everything.”)  I’ll tell Larry about how hard it was for me to overcome the racism implanted in me as a child by my Uncle Herb who lived on Chicago’s south side and every Thanksgiving would rail against the encroaching “African Americans” (not Uncle Herb’s words) who were destroying the value of his home.  I’ll ask Larry if he ever had to unlearn anything.  I’ll listen.  Then, Larry may need a second drink, because next I’m giving him a copy of McLaren’s book as well.  Baby steps, I know.  I pledge to continue “working the program.”  

Thanks so very much for the privilege of your company during our time with Brian McLaren.

Whatever your next steps, may they be grounded in listening, leveling, and loving.  Harry

[1] Brian McLaren, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself) (Self-published: 2019), e-book. 

BLIND BIASES 2

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Second in a four-part series on BLIND BIASES 2 by Harry L. Strong

If you joined me for “Biases 1,” welcome back!

If you didn’t, you may be wondering: “So then, why should I keep reading?

Not a Problem. Let me “catch you up” in a hurry.

“People can’t see what they can’t see.”  Brian D. McLaren

Catching Up

Author, activist, and public theologian Brian D. McLaren has created a remarkably helpful way of assisting us in understanding what makes us see things so differently from one another.  McLaren has identified thirteen (13) biases that contribute to the way people view life and the world and lead them to such polarizing conclusions from one another.  For our convenience, he has managed to categorize them, each beginning with the letter “C.”  

Previously, we took a quick look at how McLaren labels Biases 1 through 5: Confirmation Bias; Complexity Bias; Community Bias; Complementarity Bias; & Competency Bias.  In a moment we’ll consider Biases 6-9.  I’ll choose one and tell you what I learned about myself as I considered my own reflection in my “Bias Mirror.”  Then, if you so choose, you may do the same.  Chances are, we’ll be much more charitable and effective in inviting another into a conversation about why we view a topic so differently if we’ve tried to remove our own “blinders” first.

A Conversation with Larry

But before I share with you Brian’s second set of Biases, let me tell you about a brief conversation I had with a neighbor last week.  While I was out walking my dog, I ran into Larry who asked me what I’d been up to lately.  I told him I was writing a series of articles about “Biases.”  Can you guess what he said next?  “I’m not biased or prejudiced about anything.  I have my opinions and my perspectives, but I try to be as objective as possible about everything!”

I don’t think Larry is alone.  I’m guessing most folks become defensive if someone insinuates they are biased or prejudiced.  The conversation prompted me to come home and “ask Mr. Webster” [1} how he would define all four of Larry’s words.  Here’s what I learned:

Bias: “a mental leaning or inclination; partiality; bent.”

Prejudice: “a judgment or opinion formed before the facts are known (or in disregard of facts that contradict it); preconceived idea, favorable, or, more usually, unfavorable; unreasonable bias.”

Opinion: “a belief not based on absolute certainty or positive knowledge but on what seems true, valid, or probable to one’s own mind.”

Perspective: “a specific point of view in understanding or judging things or events, especially one that shows them in their true relations to one another.”

Fascinating!  I couldn’t help but notice the phrase “unreasonable bias” in the definition of prejudice.  That would seem to suggest that there IS such a thing as reasonable bias.”  Granted, most of us, as we ponder our conclusions about life and the world, are far more comfortable with the less judgmental and less inflammatory terms “opinion” and “perspective.”

McLaren’s Biases Six through Nine

            I’ve likely devoted far too much time to this little grammar-aside.  Let’s invite Brian McLaren back to the lectern to tell us about Biases 6 through 9 that he has identified.

Consciousness Bias: Some things simply can’t be seen from where I am right now.  But if I keep growing, maturing, and developing, someday I will be able to see what is now inaccessible to me.

Comfort or Complacency Bias: I prefer not to have my comfort disturbed.

Conservative/Liberal Bias: I lean toward nurturing fairness and kindness, or towards strictly enforcing purity, loyalty, liberty, and authority, as an expression of my political identity.

Confidence Bias: I am attracted to confidence, even if it is false.  I often prefer the bold lie to the hesitant truth. [2]

            I’m choosing to confess what I perceive to be the most potentially controversial and explosive bias of the four: Conservative/Liberal Bias.  I concede, without apology, that I bring a “Liberal Bias” to my keyboard.  Having said that, I want to underscore McLaren’s phrase “lean toward.”  (Remember, Mr. Webster used the same term.)  To quote my neighbor, Larry, in trying to be “as objective as possible,” the Conservative/Liberal Bias definition may seem to imply that if I champion fairness and kindness, I discount, purity, loyalty, liberty, and authority OR that if I focus my attention on purity, loyalty, liberty, and authority, I’m unfair and unkind!  Remember, McLaren is about building bridges, not walls!   He clarifies this point in Chapter 24 on Conservative/Liberal Bias, when he discusses how Jesus might have wrestled with this issue:  “Jesus neither absolutized nor ignored the four primarily conservative moral values, but instead, he included them and integrated them with the values of fairness and kindness, or justice and compassion … all in service of love.” 

            It’s BOTH/AND – not EITHER/OR!  Again, it’s “lean toward.”  It’s a matter of “where do you put the accent?” 

My Conservative/Liberal Bias

I spend a lot more time viewing CNN and MSNBC than I do watching Fox News or the 700 Club.  I subscribe to Christian Century and Sojourners.  I do not subscribe to Christianity Today or Christian Living.  I realize that puts me at odds with a number of my sisters and brothers in the evangelical Christian community as well as those in the Republican Party.  It also means that many of them have access to “opinions” and “perspectives” that I do not.  If, bravely and vulnerably, we risk entering into a conversation with one another to try to build a bridge of understanding, I won’t say neither of us is “playing with a full deck,” but we definitely are not “playing with the same deck.”

Invitation to Lean Forward

            If you’re willing and able to spend the time, would you please take one more look at those above Biases (Consciousness; Comfort or Complacency; Conservative/Liberal; and Confidence Bias) and then ask yourself: “Does that sound like me?”  The next step is even harder.  In quest of peace and understanding, would you be willing to share what you learned with someone you know who may not view the world quite the same way that you do?

            If not, maybe one of McLaren’s “final four” Biases might be easier to address.  Could we make a date to sit down together again in Blind Biases 3?  Harry

——————————————

[1] Webster’s New World College Dictionary: Third Edition; Macmillan USA, 1997.

[2] Brian McLaren, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself) (Self-published: 2019), e-book. 

Blind Biases #1

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A four part series and the author

Most of us are having a hard time talking with people on the other side of fence from us. A conversation with classmate, colleague, and friend Harry Strong led to this series on Blind Biases. Thanks to Harry for his willingness to do what I could not. — Gordon

Harry L. Strong is a retired Presbyterian Church USA pastor, originally from Chicago. Over the past 50 years, since his graduation from Blackburn College and
McCormick Theological Seminary, he has served congregations in Iowa, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Colorado. Harry and his wife, Anna, currently make their home in Montrose, Colorado.



BLIND BIASES #1

“People can’t see what they can’t see.”  Brian D. McLaren

Former English teacher, pastor and current author, activist, and public theologian, Brian D. McLaren, has created a thoughtful and remarkably helpful way of assisting us in understanding what makes us see things so differently from one another. Given the intensity of hatred, hostility, and violence in our society today, rarely have such tools for bridge-building and healing been so desperately needed.  

A Time-Machine Vexation

Perhaps if we had a time machine to take us back to the 1860s, we would be able to observe a similar, or even greater, degree of polarization among the citizens of our nation; however, since none of us was alive during the “Civil War” (or what the Confederacy called the “War of Northern Aggression”), our current divisions provide ample evidence of the need for increased understanding and reconciliation.

Come to think of it, those two different ways of labeling our mid-19th century national conflict (Civil War vs. War of Northern Aggression) provide an ideal opportunity for me to reintroduce Brian McLaren, because those “different ways of seeing” what happened in The United States of America between 1861 and 1865 illustrate our “biases.”

Inside the Walls of Bias

Says McLaren:  

“People’s biases get in the way, surrounding them like a high wall, trapping them in ignorance, deception, and illusion.  No amount of reasoning and argument will get through to them, unless we first learn how to break down the walls of bias.”  

Brian McLaren, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself) (Self-published: 2019), e-book. 

McLaren has identified thirteen (13) biases that contribute to the way people view life and the world.  For our convenience, he has managed to categorize them, each beginning with the letter “C.”

A Window and a Mirror

Before I invite Brian to share these with us, I’d like to propose that we try to “look and listen” with a window in one hand and a mirror in the other. 

painting of woman looking at herself in a mirror

In other words, as we ponder these various biases that (other) people bring to their perspective on life and the world, let us be open, honest, and vulnerable enough to recognize that we do the same thing.

At the conclusion of this post, I have provided the reference to Brian McLaren’s e-book, Why Don’t They Get It?  Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself).  I highly recommend Brian’s book if you’d like to explore this topic at more depth!  Before he introduces the 13 biases, McLaren quotes these wise words from Francois Fenelon: “Nothing will make us so charitable and tender to the faults of others, as, by self-examination, thoroughly to know our own.”

As your host and guide for this blog and the three to follow, I pledge to try to remember that, and also to trust you with a few less-than-flattering discoveries that I have made about my own biases.  In so doing, perhaps, I’ll expose a reflection in your mirror that you had not previously considered.

Thirteen (13) biases seem a bit overwhelming, don’t they?  That’s why I’d like to distribute them over three separate posts, and then add a fourth and final piece to try to address what is probably the most important dimension of this subject: What issues do YOU care about?  Where do you want to make a positive difference?  Where do you want to help others “get it?”  And what are your next steps in quest of understanding and reconciliation?

Sounds ambitious, doesn’t it?  Indeed – but I hope it will be worth our time together. So – here are McLaren’s first five (5) biases.  Then, I’ll close with a personal note.

Introducing McLaren’s bias framework

Confirmation Bias: We judge new ideas based on the ease with which they fit in with and confirm the only standard we have: old ideas, old information, and trusted authorities.  As a result, our framing story, belief system, or paradigm excludes whatever doesn’t fit.

Complexity Bias: Our brains prefer a simple falsehood to a complex truth.

Community Bias: It’s almost impossible to see what our community doesn’t, can’t, or won’t see.

Complementarity Bias: If you are hostile to my ideas, I’ll be hostile to yours.  If you are curious and respectful toward my ideas, I’ll respond in kind.

Competency Bias: We don’t know how much (or little) we know because we don’t know how much (or little) others know.  In other words, incompetent people assume that most other people are about as incompetent as they are.  As a result, they underestimate their [own] incompetence, and consider themselves at least of average competence. [1]

            As promised, before we conclude our first “class” on Blind Biases, let me show you what I saw in MY Confirmation Bias mirror.  Soon I’ll be entering my 9th decade on this planet.  I’ve been an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church USA for over 5 of those decades, but I continue to read and learn and be challenged.  Almost daily, I’m introduced to new perspectives by names like Bass and Borg, Bourgeault and Delio, Greenway, Rohr, and Wilber, and others.  I confess the “new ideas” don’t always “fit in with and confirm” the ones I gleaned from many of my “trusted authorities,” professors, mentors, and role models.  Yes, I get it.  I can appreciate why my sisters and brothers frequently are confronted by new ideas that don’t confirm their “framing story” and that those ideas are jarring, troubling, offensive, and can evoke resistance and even hostility!

So, which form of “bias” do you choose to reflect on?  CONFIRMATION, or one of the others?  Remember, if you’d like a “sneak peek” at Biases 6-9, you can always access Brian’s e-book!  I’ll “see you” in Blind Biases 2. — Harry

[1] Brian McLaren, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself) (Self-published: 2019), e-book. 

Harry Strong, Montrose, CO, 11/26/2021

Rebranding Reality: Blackwater and Facebook

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Spider-Man

Elijah was Spider-Man this Halloween. No one was fooled. Everyone knows Spider-Man isn’t a four years-old and that Spider-Man exists only in the comics. As It turned out, Elijah’s head was too big for the mask! Elijah’s not the only one whose head is too big for its mask. Facebook is trick-or-treating with a new mask, hoping we won’t see or remember what’s under it.

Rebranding

Re-branding has a history. Not every company is as lucky as Apple. Who doesn’t like apples? Facebook’s new name — Meta — doesn’t change what’s under the mask any more than Xe Services changed Blackwater U.S.A two years after Blackwater “security” guards killed 17 un-armed Iraqi civilians and injured 20 more in Baghdad in 2007. When Blackwater changed its name to Xe in 2009, Views from the Edge highlighted the danger of a privately-owned standing army for-hire on American soil. Click here for the article re-published by Minnpost.com.

From Blackwater to Academi

Changing a name doesn’t change a thing. In 2011, Xe Services was rebranded “Academi”– a training center for military and police special operations. In 2014, Academi merged with Triple Canopy, a rival security company owned by the Constellis Group. But it was and still is a “private security company” of well-trained Army Special Operations personnel, Green Berets, Rangers, SEALs, MARSOC Critical Skills Operators, and other retired armed forces personnel, operating away from public scrutiny in the black waters of its 6,000-acre training ground in North Carolina.

From Facebook to Meta

The same is true of Facebook. Rebranded last week after a whistleblower exposed Facebook and the founder with an ego is too big to hide behind a mask, Facebook is still what it was before it re-presented itself as “Meta”. The rebranding doesn’t remove the spider or erase the algorithm spiderweb in which Facebook users are forever trapped. You can put a mask on a spider but it’s still a spider. In fact, it makes it worse. It “creates” a “metaverse” of “avatars,” and “afterparties” that bring users closer than we dared imagine. “Horrison” is the name of the new “Meta” platform.

Time will tell

If rebranding Blackwater as Academi and Facebook as Meta succeeds in fooling us, it will be because they know better than we how short the American memory is. The companies founded by Erik Prince and Mark Zuckerberg have placed their bets that the American public won’t remember what’s behind the masks. They believe we’re stupid. Only time will tell.



Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), November 2, 2020.

The Fanatical Situation

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Under the Fence: Everything Is Shaking

Everything is shaking. And it’s not because of the fence that now divides us. No matter how high the fence between Trump-ers and Never-Tump-ers, the earth shakes under the fence and on both sides of the fence. The ground itself is quivering, seizing, lurching, caving in on itself, like a sinkhole that stops traffic on a street we assumed to be secure. Everything is up-for-grabs.

Deeper and Wider than Politics

What haunts us across America is not primarily political. All politics rise from something deeper. Like oak trees and poison ivy, the shape and substance of what we see spring from depths we cannot see.

Photograph of Willem Zuurdeeg.

Dutch philosopher Willem Zuurdeeg, author of Man Before Chaos: Philosophy Is Born of a Cry, and An Analytical Philosophy of Religion (APR), uses a phrase that may seem strange.

Until we pause to think about it.

Search for solid ground

”The establishment of one’s existence is the background against which imperialistic and fanatical claims have to be understood.”

Zuurdeeg, An Analytical philosophy of religion, p. 89

To ‘establish’ one’s existence is to ‘secure’ it, to keep it from blowing away. We become fanatical and aggressive because we are insecure. We grab for something solid. When we feel the ground shaking, anxiety grabs for something solid. Something that will stay still. Everything is soul-sized. Something in us gasps at the knowledge of human frailty, our mortality, the inevitability of death. The gasps turn into grasps for a secure foothold.

Fanatical Zeal from Hidden Anxieties and Insecurity

Professor Zuurdeeg proposes that we speak of “fanatical claims” rather than “fanatics.” Like most books published in 1958, An Analytical Philosophy of Religion‘s speaks in the gender specific male pronouns. We cite the following paragraphs from page 81:

We have to say: The 'fanatical claimer' sees his own group as more than just a group. It is a fanum. The word "fanatic" is derived from the Latin fanaticus, and this word is related to fanum, a temple, a sanctuary. Fanaticus meant: first, pertaining to a temple; second, inspired by a divinity, especially with the meaning of a frantic zeal for such a divinity. We can say that for the fanatical claimer his group is such a fanum, a sanctuary, a privileged domain which relieves him of his hidden anxieties and insecurity. 

The fanatical Nazi is "the victorious German nation" (his fanum); the Orthodox Dutch Calvinist of the war against Spain (1568-1648) is the Chosen Nation, and is his God of Old Testament wrath. The fanatical claimer cannot permit his basic presuppositions to be questioned because such questioning would imply a doubting not only of these convictions but of the whole structure (his own person, his fanum, his God) cemented together by the process of identification.

-- An Analytical Philosophy of Religion, p.81

It is through the lens crafted in Zuurdeeg’s workshop that I have come to see the world. In the days following the 2020 election, stunned by the “alternative fact” alleging that the election was rigged and stolen, watching the mob storm the Capitol January 6, and hearing the deadly silence of the President of the United States of America betraying his oath of office to enjoy the show, I saw the frantic zeal of a fanum.

The Focus

But there is more. Drawing from French existentialist philosopher-playwright Gabriel Marcel‘s Man Against Mass Society (1952), Zuurdeeg expanded his analysis:

“Marcel justly points out that there is still another element in the convictional situation of the fanatical claimer, the focus. Marcel suggests that such a focus is an individual; and that is sometimes the case, as with Hitler or Stalin.” (APR, p. 81-2)

Photo of Gabriel Marcel (c. 1951)

America 2021

Everything is up-for grabs. The ground is shaking under our feet. We look for someplace solid, a sure foothold against the chaos. I see the world — or try to — in these terms. But the wise professor and the playwright-philosopher urge us to go deeper than what can be seen and managed, for we are “complex and ambiguous being(s)” who only know ourselves partially. “We are therefore not allowed to speak of a non-fanatical person.” (APR, 84). Although I think I know what Zuurdeeg and Marcel would say if they could see us now, they caution me that only a “fanatical claimer” is without doubt.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), 49 brief commentaries on faith and public life, Brooklyn Park, MN, October 20, 2021.

The Barbed-Wire Fence

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A Childhood Memory: Buddy and I

No fence divided the neighboring properties on Church Lane the day my family arrived in Broomall. The little girl next door and I quickly became playmates. We went back-and-forth with no thought of things like property lines. My yard was her yard; her yard was mine. Until the day the Singletons bought the property and she was gone.

Buddy Singleton was five years-old. So was I. Buddy and I soon became playmates. We played freely in each other’s yards. No one owns a tree. Buddy climbed our Red Maple, I climbed Buddy’s old Oak tree. Until the day the fence went up. Buddy could no longer get to me; I could not get to him. The gate locked Buddy in and kept me out.

Every day we talked through the chain link fence with the barbed wire at the top. “C’mon over,” said Buddy. The only way to “come over” was to climb the fence. So I did! Until my foot slipped near the top. The barbed wire punctured my left hand and left me hanging like a banana nor yet ripe for falling. My mother heard the screaming and lifted me from the fence. I still have the scar to prove it happened.

Photo by Kaique Rocha on Pexels.com

Then and Now

The fence that separates neighbors is higher now. Rarely do we we talk through the fence that separates us. We’ve learned to stay on our side of the fence. I no longer climb your Oak tree. You no longer climb my Red Maple. Neither of us invites the other to “c’mon over” and, if they do, we decline. Once you’ve hung from the barbed wire, you learn not to try it again. But the fence is not all barbed wire. It’s a chain-link fence. We can talk with each other through the fence without impaling ourselves, if we have the will to engage with the other. “The time for talking is past,” said an old friend. “I’m done! The time for thinking is over. You can’t talk to these people. It’s time for the barricades.”

The Barricades?

I know the feeling. But the time for talking is never over. The time for thinking is never over. However strongly I disagree with or despise the neighbor on the other side of the fence, however deeply I agree with Eugene Robinson’s question — “How dumb can a nation get and still survive?”(Washington Post, October 7, 2021) — as much as I want to back away from the fence to the club house in my Maple tree, something nags me to remember the commandment I prefer to ignore: to love my neighbor as myself. If I dare to look, I will find the enemy I despise inside myself.

Talking through the Chain-Links of the Barbed-Wire Fence

The time for contemplation and self-criticism is always now. It’s always time for thinking. It’s still the time for talking through the fence and trying to understand how and why people on opposite sides of the fence think, feel, and act as we do. Barbed-wire fences do not make good neighbors! “Something there is that doesn’t love a [fence].”

Brian Maclaren offers a way to talk through the openings if the chain-links fence.

People can’t see what they can’t see. Their biases get in the way, surrounding them like a high wall, trapping them in ignorance, deception, and illusion. No amount of reasoning and argument will get through to them, unless we first learn how to break down the walls of bias. . . .

Brian Mclaren, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself)
(Self-published: 2019), e-book.

To be continued with a look at Brian McLaren’s 13 walls of bias that shape how and why we see ourselves, each other, and the world at the barbed-wire fence.

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN, October 18, 2021.

Elijah asks Grandpa about facts

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This “conversation” between Grandpa (Bumpa) and Elijah took place during the Senate’s first impeachment trial. It’s been buried in the draft file. Elijah was two-and-a-half at the time. But some things are still true when Elijah is four.

Elijah and Bumpa (Grandpa) in Elijah’s room

Elijah: I don’t get it, Bumpa! I have questions.

Grandpa: What questions, Elijah? Shoot!

I don’t want to! We don’t like guns at daycare!

I’m sorry, Elijah. I don’t mean shoot. I meant it as a “figure of speech”.

Yeah! We like figures. One, two, free, four, . . . l, m, n, o, p. . .

I’m so proud of you!, Elijah! You know your numbers and your ABCs! But “a figure of speech” is different, it’s an idiom.

Like what?

Like . . . you might say that somebody “lies like a rug.” So what are your question?

We hate lying, We like facts, right Bumpa?

Yes. We do, Elijah.

So we don’t like the Publicans. They lie like rugs, right?

Publicans?

Yeah, Publicans, like the ones on TV who hate facts and get all angry on TV.

I see.

We’re not Publicans! We like Jesus, right?

Well, yes, sort of. You’ll come to your own faith as you grow older. The Publicans collected taxes for the Romans. It would be like Americans working for a foreign government.

Okay. But we’re not publicans. We don’t like craters and creezin, right?

Creezin? Are you sure you have the right words?

Geez, Bumpa! Don’t ya know? C r e e z i n ! Like you and Grandma have for breakfast every morning.

Ah, now I get it. We eat Raisin Bran. R a i s i n B r a n. You mean treason! T r e a s o n.

Yeah! Are they going to de-peach you? Did you commit creezin? Are you and Gamma craters who should be de-peached? Publicancraters?

Those are big words you’ll learn about in school. No, we can’t be impeached, and we’re not Publicans. We try to stick with the facts, not lie like a rug. Any other questions?

Yeah. Ucranes. We have Ucranes at the cabin. Do Ucranes whistle?

  • Grandpa and Elijah, Dec. 4, 2019.

America at the Precipice

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Two American Founders

The Founders Archives of the National Archives preserves a letter to Ben Franklin eighteen months before the Declaration of Independence was issued. Ben Franklin became a household name. Charles Thomson did not, and that’s a shame. Thomson was the Secretary of the First and Second Continental Congress, a quiet leader on the road from colonial rule to an independent democratic republic. The official Declaration of Independence had only two signatures, the President and the Secretary of First Continental Congress: John Witherspoon and Charles Thomson.

Charles Thomson Letter to Benjamin Franklin

“When I look back,” wrote Charles Thomson, “and consider the warm affection which the colonists had for Great Britain till the present reign, the untainted loyalty unshaken fidelity and cheerful confidence that universally prevailed till that time, and then view the present heartburnings, Jealousies, gloom and despair, I am ready to ask, with the poet, ‘Are there not some chosen thunders in the stores of heaven armed with uncommon wrath to blast those Men,’ who by their cursed schemes of policy are dragging friends and brothers into the horrors of civil War and involving their country in ruin?”
Thomson Letter to Franklin, Nov. 1, 1774

Charles Thomson and Cato, A Tragedy


The poet whose words Thomson cited were from James Addison, the anti-royalist English poet-playwright, whose play,“Cato, a Tragedy” was widely read and often quoted by the Founders of the new nation. Whether intentionally or inadvertently — memory will do that to memory—Thomson changed the “Cato” text from singular to plural to suit the circumstances that enraged him. “Blast the Man” (the king) and “Blast those Men” (i.e. Parliament) who had violated the rights and freedoms of the American colonies’ rights and freedoms under British law.

Dragging their Country into Ruin

The circumstances of November 1, 1774, and January 6 and September 18,2021 are different, but Charles Thomson’s outburst is as fresh as the day he wrote to Franklin. The longing for a king exceeds the bounds of time. The anxiety that hangs over us makes our heads swim; we long for solid ground, something solid that does not change. So it is that a political party and a portion of the American public have come to mistake treason with patriotism, a bully with a savior, a quack with a swan, and have followed the strong man’s quackery into the halls and offices of the Congress that makes America a democratic republic. When we confuse patriotism with terrorism, Charles Thomson’s letter from the Founders Archives is more than archival.

Teetering on the Edge of the Precipice

When a hollow man and hollow party hollow out the core of what we have thought we valued, the question from Cato’s tragedy rumbles like thunder from the heavens. Charles Thomson’s renderings from Cato fit the eve of a threatened sequel to January 6, when the democratic republic once again “teeters on the very edge of the precipice.”

Toward Healing the Wounds

Will we in 2021 share the hope and prayer with which Charles Thomson ended his letter of November 1, 1774: “Even yet,” he wrote, “the wounds may be healed and peace and love restored; But we are on the very edge of the precipice. I am sir your affectionate Friend and humble Servant.– Chas Thomson”

--Gordon C. Stewart, Public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), September 17, 2021.

I wish I were a lily pad

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Early morning reflection from the dirt road by the wetland pond

Walking the off the map dirt road where nothing much happens, it’s quiet. The only sounds are bird songs; the only things that lie here are the lily pads lying on the shrinking wetland pond bordered by the cattails and wild flowers between the pond and the unpaved road. Nothing toils or spins. Nothing is anxious here. Not this morning.

Lily pads on a wetland pond

“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet, I tell [all of] you [human beings], even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Jesus of Nazareth, Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:28b-29.)

There are no Solomons here. No kings. No countries. No states. Nothing seduced by the will-to-power. No illusions of sovereignty. No delusions of grandeur or control. No toiling and spinning like the mind observing it all from the dirt road. Everything is what it is: Yellow Goat’s-Beard, Yarrow, and Golden Clubs; Sweetflag, White Sweet Clover, and Butterfly-Weed; Bugle-Weed, Cuckoo-Flowers that aren’t cuckoo, and Bullhead-Lilies that don’t bully; pink Storkbills, Wild Sorels, Common Milkweeds, and blue-violet Pickerelweed.

Water lily –Photo by Hiu1ebfu Hou00e0ng on Pexels.com

Only the hunting-blind on the distant hill gives evidence of other spinning heads that toil for the mastery we cannot have. The hunting-blind on stilts high about the pasture waits for trigger fingers. Soon buckshots from the tower will fire babel that breaks the silence of this place. The flowers of the field — the Butterfly-Weed, the Bugle-Weed, and the Cuckoo-Flowers, the Lilies, and the lily pads — are not anxious. They are what they are. What is is what is. What will be will be. They neither toil nor spin.

— Gordon C. Stewart, from the wetland, August 3, 2021

Insurrection and Faith (Part 4)

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A State of Mind: Patriots and Traitors

The maximum capacity crowd at the First Tuesday Dialogue did not have a crystal ball. It was February 1, 2013, eight years before the insurrection that would come eight years later. QAnon, the Proud Boys, the Boogaloo Bois, Wolverine Watchmen, Oath Keepers, and other White nationalist militias that traveled to Washington, D.C. to “Stop the Steal!” were unknown, but the mindset was already there.

Some Mindsets Never Really Die

Some states of mind are like toxic waste. They have long shelf lives. Before two people in the crowd took the floor to read aloud from the John Birch Society Blue Book and newsletter, it had been years since I last thought of the John Birch Society (JBS). What we thought had ended with the public shaming of Sen. Joe McCarthy and McCarthyism had not died. Like a baton that changes hand in a mile relay race, the mindset of McCarthyism was passed into the hand of the John Birch Society.

Like McCarthy’s search for traitors hiding in government and the entertainment industry the Birch Society’s conspiratorial mindset was ludicrous. The JBS had alleged that President Dwight Eisenhower (“Ike”) was not to like. Ike, his brother, Milton, and Allen Dulles, director of the CIA were closet Communists or Communist sympathizers.

When the John Birch Society Blue Book and newsletter were quoted on February 1, 2013, those who knew their history recognized the old voice we thought had died in the mid-1960s.

The Jack Ash Society lyrics (Mary Brooks)

A bunch of jack ashes at large in this land
 Have suffered a terrible fright
 They looked under their beds and discovered such reds
 As Allen and Milton and Dwight
 

 If more you would know of this Jack-Ash credo
 See the blue book, the black book, the white
 If you do you will find we're all Reds of some kind,
 Like Allen and Milton and Dwight.
 

 Joe McCarthy is dead, so Jack Ash instead
 Leads the anti-Communist fight;
 U. S. Reds he has found swarming all around.
 (179 million so far)
 Including Allen and Milton and Dwight.
 

 If you believe in more hospitals, housing, and schools,
 New highways and civil rights,
 The Ashites will add you to the un-American list,
 Along with Allen and Milton and Dwight
 

 Social security's a Bolshevik plot
 Cooked up by some shrewd Muscovite.
 So go naked you must or be security risk
 Like Allen and Milton and Dwight.
 

 Beware of good pay and the minimum wage,
 It's part of the Socialist blight;
 Created by conspirators bold,
 Like Allen and Milton and Dwight.

Pete Seeger and the “Jack Ash Society”

Pete Seeger performing The Jack Ash Society

The Berkeley Pit

Photo by William Rosmus uploaded from Wikipedia. Shot of telephone poles used to show scale of the flooded Berkeley Open Pit mine site, with respect to the photo ‘Composite fish eye view of the Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana’ (Butte_MT_Berkeley_Pit_April_2005_Composite_Fisheye_View.jpg). The poles are just slightly right of centre in the larger composite fish eye picture of this flooded open pit mine.

Long Shelf Lives

An uninformed passer-by may assume the Berkeley Pit is a swimming hole, a place to swim and fish. It’s not. Nothing lives there. The Berkeley Pit is a pool of deadly toxins left behind by the Atlantic Richfield Company which bought the site from Anaconda Copper. Anaconda Copper left long ago, but the Berkeley Pit is still there. The Pit is not managed by the Department of Parks and Recreation. It’s an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site, one of the largest, if not the largest in the land of the free.

The Call for Patriots

By 2013 the John Birch Society’s had made a quiet comeback in American political-cultural. It had not perished. The toxins from its Superfund clean-up site had seeped into the stream of American consciousness. It has never been cleaned up.

Now, more than ever, your patriotic leadership is needed. Is this the America our Founders envisioned? Their principles, and the Constitution itself, are under attack by forces that include socialists, Marxists, globalists, and the Deep State. We’ve created some great resources for you to educate Americans and stand for freedom. May we count on your help? We, as Americans, cherish our God-given liberties. We stand for a free and independent nation that fully abides by the Constitution and the Founding Fathers’ values. The John Birch Society provides a national program designed to counter the Deep State/Big Government agenda and to restore our rights.

John Birch Society website

The Birther Movement and “Stop the Steal!” Call for Patriots

2010 billboard displayed in South Gate, California, questioning the validity of Barack Obama’s birth certificate and by extension his eligibility to serve as President of the U.S. The billboard was part of an advertising campaign by WorldNetDaily.

The “Birther” and “Stop the Steal!” movements repeat the Birch Society call for real patriots to fight against “socialists, Marxists, globalists, and the Deep State.”

During Barack Obama’s campaign for president in 2008, throughout his presidency, and afterwards, “there was extensive news coverage of Obama’s religious preference, birthplace, and of the individuals questioning his religious belief and citizenship—efforts eventually known as the ‘birther movement‘”, by which name it is widely referred to across media. The movement falsely asserted Obama was ineligible to be President of the United States because he was not a natural-born citizen of the U.S. as required by Article Two of the Constitution. Birther conspiracy theories were predominantly held by conservatives and Republicans, as well as individuals with anti-black attitudes.

“Barack Obama citizenship conspiracy theories,” Wikipedia

The Pit of American Toxic Waste

Donald Trump tapped into that toxic stream in which right is wrong and wrong is right, truth is wrong and falsehood is right, information is wrong and disinformation is right, reality is wrong and fantasy is right, science is wrong and ignorance is right, confession is wrong and denial is right, Howdy Doody is wrong and Mr. Bluster is right.

But some things stay the same. White is still right and Black is still wrong. Barack Obama had no birth certificate. He had been elected, but his presidency was illegitimate. So was the election of 2020. Donald Trump is legitimate. Real patriots know they wish to believe. Real patriots stand back and stand by until the time is right to fight.

The toxins in American culture reach far back into our history, and the Pit is deep. The prevailing myths of White supremacy and national exceptionalism were here from the start. The Founding Fathers’ and Mothers’ values are both healthy and toxic.

Cleaning Up the Superfund Site

Only we can clean up the mess. The toxins in the Berkeley Pit still poison the American mind and turn hearts to stone. American culture and politics will be clean when we embrace our history as the continuing struggle between truth and falsehood, reality and fantasy, and all the hard truths we prefer not to see.

Bob Dylan, like Mary Brooks and Pete Seeger, may have thought the Birch Society was terminal. Or perhaps Bob, like Mary and Pete, knew that some toxins continue to make us blue.

John Birch Paranoid Blues — Bob Dylan

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock) — 49 two-four page social commentaries on faith and life — Chaska, MN, Feb. 24, 2021.