Confirmation bias: the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities
I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that the past few weeks have afforded you a few opportunities to observe humans behaving badly on the Internet. Maybe even more than a few. The Syrian refugee crisis has polarized people—particularly Christian people, sadly—in a way that few issues that I can recall have. Ever since, “the post” and the many unpleasant responses it generated, I have a rapidly expanding email folder full of often very kind messages from people around the world that often begin with something like, “I’ve been so discouraged lately by the things I’ve been reading about the refugee crisis online…” Read more
You must not judge what I know by what I find words for.
— John Ames (in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead)
Given the heavy themes of recent posts, it occurred to me that perhaps we could use some lighter fare around here. I could, at any rate. And what better way to accomplish this goal than to compose a self-indulgent and nakedly hubristic piece to celebrate the one thousandth post in the history of this blog? In the (quite likely) event that this prospect does not set your heart alight with anticipation, you are welcome to click away now. Read more
Part of today was spent at our local city hall for a meeting about refugee resettlement in our area. There were reps from the city, from the healthcare and education sectors, from immigrant services, from various other community support organizations, and one lonely pastor off in the corner. :) We talked about all kinds of practical issues related to the challenges and opportunities that undoubtedly loom on the horizon as we prepare to welcome government-sponsored refugees. We also talked about how the tone seems to have shifted in the conversation since the events in Paris last Friday. Almost to a person, people remarked that they have noticed a dramatic increase in fearful, angry, xenophobic language around Syrian refugees in the last few days, particularly online. Read more
So, terror remains on everyone’s minds. Paris, of course. But also Beirut, Baghdad, Kenya, and the countless other less glamorous places in the world, places deemed unworthy of inspiring memes and hashtags or temporary profile pictures or any of the other ways that we express our compassion/outrage and brand ourselves appropriately during dark and fearful times.
This is the world we live in. Read more
For many people, Fridays are the days when their spirits begin to lift. The drudgery of the workweek is almost done and a weekend full of freedom and promise beckons. TGIF and all that. For me, Fridays often feel, well, exactly the opposite of that. I have noticed that on many Fridays a heaviness of sorts will just descend upon me. The reasons for this are myriad, but, having performed a cursory inventory on this Friday, the following seem consistently to rise to the top of the list. Read more
You know the drill, by now. “Miscellany” means fragmentary, unrelated mind scraps hastily assembled and lumped together for your reading, um, pleasure?
I’ve talked to enough pastors over the years to know that I’m not unique in saying that I have some ambivalence toward the whole “visitation” thing. Some pastors are born for the task and seem to enjoy it immensely, but I’ve also had numerous conversations with colleagues that run something along the lines of, “Yeah, it’s not really my thing… It’s something I have to talk myself into doing… It’s hard to find the time…” And, of course, the ubiquitous, “I should probably do more of it than I do, but it’s just so hard…” Read more
I got into the car this morning in a bit of a surly mood. A few things hadn’t gone as I had anticipated the previous day, I had received an unwelcome email that morning, and I was behind on sermon prep. Again. I stabbed the key into the ignition only to be greeted by the ear-splitting strains of the local top 40 station that my wife and daughter were, evidently, listening to on the way home from their evening activities last night. The part of the song that I was forcibly subjected to heard before frantically locating the combination of knobs that could lower the volume and/or change the station went something like, This is my fight song, take back my life song… Read more
We are bargain hunters, all of us. We make bargains with God, with reality or the cosmos or karma or whatever. We are convinced someone or something out there is keeping score, and that our lives are like a bet we are daily making that the things we do are somehow a reliable indicator of the things we will get. Read more
I’ve been thinking about doubt over the past few days. It started when I read a recent piece over at Pete Enns’ blog about a pastor who confessed his doubts about the existence of God in front of his congregation. It continued when a friend pointed me in the direction of The Liturgists podcast, and particularly the episodes where the host (Michael Gungor) and co-host (Mike McHargue, or “Science Mike”) discussed their de-conversion and reconversion narratives. Especially interesting was the shape of the faith that was eventually returned to. Gone was the black and white faith of their evangelical upbringings. In its place was a postmodern faith more comfortable with grey, increasingly open to mystery, and less certain about the doctrinal content of orthodox Christianity.
Even more interesting were the “axioms about faith” that Science Mike had come up with as the “scaffolding” for this new approach to faith. Read more
A few disconnected and thoroughly disjointed musings for a Tuesday afternoon…
Here in Canada, it’s the morning after a federal election. And, like the provincial election in Alberta back in May where the NDP party swept aside a Conservative party that had been in power for roughly forever years, the result was equally shocking. Gone is the much-maligned Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada. In his place, we have Justin Trudeau and the back-from-the-dead Liberal Party promising hope and change and bright new days and the usual assortment of platitudes that inexplicably retain their capacity to get people screaming euphorically and exultantly waving their signs… Read more
It usually takes about five or six days. When one of my wife or I am traveling, this tends to be the threshold beyond which I start to feel strangely disoriented or unsettled or somehow, I don’t know, adrift. When I am the one at home—as is the case now, while my wife visits friends in Germany—this tends to be around the time when the kids have begun to peer dejectedly into the refrigerator, sadly pondering the prospects of another evening of dad’s “cooking.” The pets have started to wander around the house full of confused longing, being generally accustomed to warmer treatment than they tend to receive from me. It’s as if the entire house senses that things are not as they should be. Read more
I hate paperwork at the best of times. I hate filling out forms, grinding through the interminable bureaucratic labyrinths that seem to be part and parcel of modern life. Sign this waiver. Check that box. File this form. Send that release. Print it for your records. On and on it goes. Paperwork is slow death.
I hate paperwork even more today. Read more
I’ve been paying attention to Germany lately. And not just because my wife happens to be there visiting dear friends of ours who live in Bavaria (my daily act of spiritual discipline this week has been to attempt to suppress the feelings of jealousy that regularly flare up as I think about her wandering the streets of Munich while I clean the cat’s litter box and make dinner…). I’m also paying attention to Germany because this is the nation that was and remains a focal point of the refugee crisis that took a dramatic turn in early September with the discovery of Alan Kurdi’s body on a Turkish beach. Read more
I voted today. I spent forty-five minutes in an advance polling line to plunk my little x beside the candidate that I thought might do the best job of representing our little corner of the country in Ottawa. Or, at the very least, the one that I thought might do the least damage. Read more
Amena* is very warm and personable. She speaks clearly and confidently. Her smile is infectious. We have met several times now to discuss the possibility of our local refugee sponsorship group helping to bring members of her family who are currently refugees in Lebanon to join her in Lethbridge. Our conversations seem like such strange and weighty things. There is so much that hangs in the balance. Probably more than I can even know.
In a post last week I reflected a bit on having the “heart of a stranger” when it comes to how we think about the present Syrian refugee crisis. I wondered if some of our unwillingness to welcome the stranger might be due to the fact that many of us have never actually been strangers in any meaningful sense. I ended with a discussion of the twin biblical injunctions to remember and imagine well—to welcome the stranger either because we remember being strangers ourselves or because we can imagine what it would feel like to be one and how we would want to be welcomed.
Remembering is probably easier than imagining. Personal experience is worth a lot. But imagining is a lot easier when you are thinking not of abstract “refugees” or “immigrants” or “victims” out there but real human beings with names and faces. Imagining has not been difficult for me these last two days, mainly because of two conversations. Read more
Hassan is short, slight, quiet. He says little as he approaches the counter at the soup kitchen. He’s wearing black pants, black hoodie, and a black hat pulled down over his ears. He smiles, almost shyly, as I give him his plate, but does not hold eye contact for long. He takes his food to a table where he sits, alone, and eats his lunch. Read more
There are times when I despair at the possibility of human communication. In the last few weeks, this despair has often been triggered by opening up my computer each morning and discovering a fresh stream of vitriol and righteous indignation associated with a piece I recently wrote about Christian discourse around the Syrian refugee crisis that generated a fair amount of heat (and considerably less light, I fear). So many angry people that seem so resourcefully determined to interpret my words in such bewildering ways. The picture of me forlornly sitting, chin in hands with a furrowed brow peering confusedly at my computer screen is probably the enduring image that my family will remember from the past few weeks. Read more