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 3

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Third of the four-part series Blind Biases” by Harry L. Strong

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

— Brian McLaren

Catching Up to Lean Forward

Today we turn to the final four (4) of thirteen (13) biases identified by author, activist, and public theologian, Brian D. McLaren, which, McLaren believes, contribute significantly to the hatred, hostility, and polarization that pervades so much of our nation and world today.  Previously, we have noted nine (9) additional biases that McLaren suspects explain partially why we see things so differently from one another.  These include Confirmation Bias; Complexity Bias; Community Bias; Complementarity Bias; Competency Bias; Consciousness Bias; Comfort or Complacency Bias; Conservative/Liberal Bias; and Confidence Bias.  To glean a more thorough understanding of what these biases entail and how they create stumbling blocks to healthy communication and understanding among people with conflicting opinions, the reference appears below to Brian McLaren’s e-book, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself).  So, what are four other biases that can dramatically impact our views of life and the world?  McLaren cites these:

Catastrophe or Normalcy Bias: I remember dramatic catastrophes but don’t notice gradual decline (or improvement).

Contact Bias: When I don’t have intense and sustained personal contact with “the other,” my prejudices and false assumptions go unchallenged.

Ca$h Bia$: It’s hard for me to see something when my way of making a living requires me not to see it.

Conspiracy Bias: Under stress or shame, our brains are attracted to stories that relieve us, exonerate us, or portray us as innocent victims of malicious conspirators. [1]

A Window and a Mirror

Did any one of these prompt you to think to yourself: “Oops!  ‘Never thought about that before, but that sounds like ME!”  If you identified one (or more) of those biases in yourself, good for you!  Give yourself a pat on the back for your openness and your vulnerability!  That’s one of the reasons McLaren published his e-book in the first place – so readers like us (you and I) would see our reflection in a mirror and ask: “OK, so now what?  Now that I’ve acknowledged this blind spot, how can I do something about it?  What can I do to change my perspective?”  The other reason McLaren believed his literary venture had some merit was so he could inspire folks like us to recognize biases in others who may not view the world the same way we do AND to motivate us to take the courageous step of looking out our window and reaching out to our sisters and brothers in pursuit of understanding and healing.

Contact Bias: Guilty as Charged

If you zeroed in on “Contact Bias” the way I did, perhaps that’s already occurred to you.  When I was serving as a pastor in a university community like Ames, Iowa, or State College, Pennsylvania, or in an urban setting like Trenton, New Jersey, or Memphis, Tennessee, daily I found myself encountering people who were not like me in appearance, heritage, values, economic status, lifestyle, faith perspective, and a myriad other ways.  Now, living in a golf course community in a town of 20,000 on the western slope of Colorado, hard as it is to hear: “When I don’t have intense and sustained personal contact with ‘the other,’ my prejudices and false assumptions go unchallenged.”  Contact bias: guilty as charged.

So, if like me, you’ve identified Contact Bias as one likely impediment to your ability to understand and appreciate why other people may see things differently than you do, what can we (you and I) do about it? Fortunately, our instructor/mentor, Brian McLaren, can help.  His e-book is not just an academic analysis of our polarization plight.  Brian offers us some very practical bridge-building guidelines, at least one for each of the thirteen (13) biases he identifies.  What does he suggest related to Contact Bias?

Beyond Myopia (Nearsightedness)

Diagram of Myopia (Nearsightedness)

McLaren points us to Jesus and his intentional, unique way of reaching out to the other, including the other at the table, and putting the other in the spotlight by giving the other a voice.

We may protest: “But how does that help us when there are so few “others” in our geographical area?”  

I think McLaren might say something like this: “Maybe you need to reassess your definition of “others.”  The conflicts that plague our nation are not all related to racial ethnic, socio-economic, or religious differences.  No matter how homogeneous you may think your community is, topics like vaccinations, masking, gun control, individual rights vs. the common good, states’ rights vs. federal mandates are just a few of the issues that are traumatizing and polarizing our nation these days.  No matter how isolated and insulated you think you are where you live, what if you were to broaden your horizons a bit by exploring books, magazines, websites, blogs, news channels, and other venues that are outside your community?  

Remember that Community Bias? “It’s almost impossible to see what our community doesn’t, can’t, or won’t see.”  “Community” can refer to like-minded folks as well as to geography.  Nobody said it was going to be easy, but, one-on-one or in small groups, you can humanize the other by giving people with diverse opinions a spotlight and a voice.  Be intentional about trying to facilitate understanding and deeper relationships.  Again, like Jesus, engage people in storytelling and active, conscious listening.”

Sneak Peak

Wouldn’t it be great if we could conclude our consideration of Blind Biases by identifying Five Ways We Can Help Others to See What They Can’t See?  Guess what?  Brian McLaren can make that happen!  I look forward to getting together with you one more time for Blind Biases 4.  Meanwhile, let’s reflect on these wise words from Stephen Covey (which McLaren quotes in his chapter on Contact Bias): “When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it.  That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.”  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

“Wait a minute!” – Tributes to Fred Craddock

Fred Craddock

Fred Craddock

Fred Craddock, one of America’s great preachers who died last Friday, was honored Sunday by CNN. Click HERE to see the CNN video and written tribute.

In this post on Views from the edge, two other preachers influenced by Fred Craddock share their stories.  The first came by email from McCormick Theological Seminary classmates and friend Harry Strong, recently retired, in Prescott, Arizona:

Fred may have been small in stature, but he was truly a homiletical giant! I still remember sitting with him and Barbara Brown Taylor in a preaching seminar back in 1985 at Kirkridge in eastern Pennsylvania. Fred was talking about the texts in Mark that made you want to interrupt Mark’s narrative and say, “Wait a minute … wait a minute! Mark, you can’t drop that sentence to the middle of the story and then move on!” One I especially remember was Mark 6:48  — “When (Jesus) saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by …” And Fred interjected: “Mark! Wait a minute! Wait a minute! ‘He saw them straining at oars … he came towards them, walking on the sea – and HE INTENDED TO PASS THEM BY???’  Where the heck was he GOING??!!

A second email arrived from Bob Young who once served as Pastor First Presbyterian Church in Enid, Oklahoma. Bob is no retired in Corsicana, Texas:

Fred Craddock lived a block away from me in Enid. I chaired the Fall Festival of Faith for the Council of Churches one year. Fred was our preacher. It was a treat to work with him. We met several times to prepare the liturgy for the services. He often preached at the chapel services of Phillips Theological Seminary where I was an adjunct. He ALWAYS — and I mean ALWAYS — left us as people who knew we had overheard the Gospel again. We laughed and cried and listened with wrapt attention. I hate to admit this, but one time, as he began to preach, I said to myself “I will not let him hook me today. I will just sit here and be stoic.” By the end of the sermon I had tears in my eyes. In my experience he simply could not be ignored. When he preached, barely visible behind a pulpit in that squeaky little voice, everyone listened. Amazing just amazing.

I was at the funeral he preached for a Phillips faculty member who had battled cancer for years. Still gives me goose bumps. A very fine, humble, amazingly gifted and faith-filled gentle man. I have been rereading Cherry Log Sermons and the book of his “parables.” Whew!

Quite independently of each other, Harry and Bob each ended his email by calling attention to Fred Craddock’s Cherry Log Sermons.

Thank you, Fred, for your long ministry of thoughtful humor and tears. “Well done, good and faithful servant….Enter into the joy of your Lord” [Matthew 25:23].

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 11, 2015.

Remembering Ernie Banks

There is no bigger Cub’s fan than Harry Strong. Ernie Banks – “Mr. Cub” – who died Friday night, was his hero. And Harry KNOWS baseball.  So much so that the editor of American Sports: A History of Icons, Idols, and Ideas [published by ABC-CLIO, LLC in 2013], invited Harry to write the entry on Ernie Banks.

Harry sent the following photograph and email to six close friends who gather annually:

I only met him once, but it’s a day I’ll never forget. In July 2004, while I was serving as interim pastor at the Morrisville Presbyterian Church in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, just across the river from Trenton, I learned that Ernie would be appearing at a Baseball Card Show in Atlantic City about two hours away and signing autographs from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. I informed Anna [Harry’s wife] that WE WERE DEFINITELY DRIVING TO ATLANTIC CITY immediately following the benediction at the 11:00 a.m. service since this might be my only chance to meet this hero whom I’d idolized since I was 10!

Traffic was heavy. The trip took longer than I’d hoped, so we did not arrive at the Card Show in Atlantic City until 2:45 p.m. I hoped and prayed Ernie would still be there, but our late arrival proved to be most fortunate if not providential. When we found Ernie and his agent in a large room behind a table, they were the only ones in the room. Apparently, all the other attendees hoping to meet him had come early and moved on to other baseball celebrities and exhibits. Apparently, all the other attendees hoping to meet him had come early and moved on to other baseball celebrities and exhibits.

Ernie and his agent greeted us warmly. I told Ernie I had grown up in the shadow of Wrigley Field before moving to Glen Ellyn in 1951. I told him that Phil Cavarretta, Cub first baseman and later Ernie’s first manager, had moved into the apartment in which my parents and I had lived after our move. I confessed that I had idolized Ernie as a child and that I owned all of his baseball cards from 1954 until his retirement in 1971. I had brought along several items of memorabilia hoping that Ernie would sign them. There was an established signing fee for each individual piece, but Ernie signed a card, ball, cap, poster, and several other items all for the price of one item.

Mr. Cub (L) & Mr. Strong (R)

Mr. Cub (L) & Mr. Strong (R)

He also consented to pose with me for a picture, which Anna snapped.

About that time, Louis Armstrong’s “Hello Dolly” began playing over the sound system in the room. Ernie and I began singing along with “Satchmo,” while Ernie’s agent took Anna by the arm and they began to waltz around the room together.

By the end of the dance it was after 3:00 p.m., so Anna and I offered our sincere thanks for their gracious welcome, their time, and Ernie’s generous signatures. As they bid us farewell, I noticed that Ernie was limping badly. I asked if the pain was in his knees and he acknowledged indeed it was. Then I told him that by age 53 I had been walking with a cane because of the pain in my right knee due to the loss of cartilage, so that I was hobbling around “bone-on bone.” BUT – I had found an orthopedic surgeon in Trenton who was willing to perform knee-replacement surgery for me at a relatively young age for such a procedure.  I told him I had been pain-free for 8 years and demonstrated for him my ability to jump up and down and squat like Jody Davis behind home plate. I urged him to give serious consideration to having the knee(s) replaced (which he later did). I’m sure he received all kinds of solicited (and unsolicited) advice regarding the procedure – but I was thrilled to learn later that indeed he had had both knees replaced and that he enjoyed many more years of more comfortable mobility on the golf course and elsewhere.

After that memorable afternoon in Atlantic City, Anna met him twice, at HoHoKam Park, the Cubs former Spring Training home in Mesa, Arizona. Both times I was too busy attempting to secure autographs from present and future Cub “stars” along the right field line before the start of the Cactus League game. (My loss.)

The first time, Anna waited patiently while Mr. Cub spent time talking with an older woman so she could greet Ernie again and remind him of our meeting a few years before in Atlantic City, when he and I had performed while she and Ernie’s agent danced to “Hello Dolly.” Ernie greeted Anna warmly, seemed to recall their earlier meeting, and signed her Cubs cap, which I am wearing as I type.

Anna’s later encounter with Ernie came a few years later when she saw him beneath the stands at HoHoKam Park. Unfortunately, that was a less pleasant meeting. Anna found Ernie disoriented and confused, attempting to make his way to the press box for an interview. After speaking with Ernie briefly, she quickly grabbed the attention of an usher who was able to assist Ernie in getting to the press box.

As a lifelong Cub fan, I will forever cherish the opportunity I had to spend a few minutes with this gifted ball player and remarkable man!

P.S. As I reread my article just now, I was struck by this quote from Ernie I’d included [in the American Sports entry]:

“When I die, I want my ashes to be spread over Wrigley Field with the wind blowing out!”

— Rev. Harry Lee Strong, H.R.  Prescott, AZ 

EDITOR”S NOTE: The Cubs have a real shot at going to the World Series this year. Perhaps, in honor of Mr. Cub, they’ll win it all in “the Friendly Confines” of Wrigley Field “with the wind blowing out”.