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When the Truth Gets in the Way of the Story You Want to Tell

There’s a fascinating episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History Podcast that looks at the issue of truth and how we tell it. In the episode, Gladwell explores the history behind a statue in a park in Birmingham, Alabama that has come to be among the most iconic images of the civil rights movement. It’s called “The Foot Soldier of Birmingham” and shows a fearsome looking white police officer turning loose a ferocious wolf-like beast upon a defenseless young black protester. The sculpture was the creation of an artist named Ronald McDowell and is based on a photo taken by Bill Hudson at a protest in Birmingham on a spring day in 1963. It captures in a visceral and devastating way the malevolent racial injustice of the American south at that time. The only problem is that the moment the sculpture is based upon seems not to have happened. At least not that way.

Gladwell starts with the boy in the picture, Walter Gadsden. Turns out, he wasn’t really interested in the civil rights movement. He wasn’t at the protest because of any allegiance to or interest in the civil rights movement. He was skipping school and was curious about the spectacle. The next day, when his parents saw the picture in the paper, they were mostly angry at him for being downtown when he should have been in school.

In subsequent interviews with Gadsden, it’s remarkable how he stubbornly and simply refuses the narrative that his interviewers quite clearly want him to confirm—that of the courageous young civil rights activist who was the victim of white hatred. At the time of the interview, he doesn’t even seem to have much use for the movement or think it brought his family much benefit! He thinks it was full of “crooked people.” And as for the moment in the photo itself, Gadsden says that he and the police officer kind of just randomly bumped into each other while he was trying to leave the area and that the officer, far from being an aggressor, was trying to hold back his dog. Unsurprisingly, Gadsden has little admiration for the statue itself. He says that it doesn’t look like him—the boy in the image looks younger and “blacker” (more “African”) than he is. Gadsden even relies on some awkward stereotypes of “Africans” (bigger lips) that no doubt made the interviewers squirm.

In sum, an iconic statue based on one of the most famous photos of the civil rights movement seems in truth to have been based a moment where a white cop tried to restrain his dog from attacking a black bystander who didn’t have much use for the civil rights movement. Gladwell summarizes by saying that what Gadsden’s interviewer expected was “a heroic civil rights veteran; what she got was a grumpy old man still wedded to the oldest most awkward of black prejudices.”

PhotoEven the most cursory glance at the photo alongside the statue would seem to confirm Gadsden’s version of events (if you want to compare larger versions of these two images, check out the Revisionist History site). In the statue, the cop is more sinister looking, the boy smaller and more vulnerable, the dog bigger and more vicious. In the photo, you can see the cop pulling back on the leash while in the statue there’s a healthy amount of slack. The boy in the photo even seems to be leaning on the cop for support. All in all, it seems like what Gadsden said it was—a more or less accidental, if uncomfortable encounter between a curious bystander and a flustered cop and his dog in a general scene of stress and chaos. But that wasn’t the story that the artist wanted to tell. He wanted, in his own words, to tell a story about “nonviolence” and “power imbalance.” And so this is the story he told.

Of course, I desperately hope it goes without saying (but probably doesn’t) that none of the preceding is a commentary on the civil rights movement as such. And it certainly doesn’t mean that there weren’t plenty of awful stories of power imbalance and heroic nonviolent resistance. The story that “The Foot Soldier of Birmingham” tells was true all over the place in the 1960’s American south and it’s still true all over the place today. But it didn’t tell the truth of that particular moment. And by failing to tell the truth of that moment, I think it tells a very important truth about who we are as human beings and why we tell stories in the way that we do.

Put simply, we don’t like complicated stories. We like our stories cleaned up and sanitized and well tailored for public consumption. We like heroic knights vs. evil villains. We like incorrigible racists and bigots vs. tolerant human rights champions. We like credulous believers vs. rational freethinkers. We like medieval jihadis vs. freedom fighters. We like damned vs. saved. We like lazy welfare sponges vs. hardworking taxpayers. We like sinners and saints and darkness and light and red and blue and black and white. And if reality doesn’t serve up the story that we want? If the truth turns out to be a bit blurrier and more inconvenient than we’d prefer? Well, we’ll just tell the story how we want to.

This is who we are and this is how we tell stories. It just is.

There are three sides to every story, the saying goes. Yours, mine, and the truth. Poor truth, so eagerly and easily trampled over in our desperate attempts to confirm the narratives we prefer. Sometimes the truth is simple. Sometimes the lines are clean between good and evil. Indeed, the civil rights movement as a whole is one of these historical moments. But far more frequently the opposite is true. Usually, the truth is hard and ugly and unwieldy and embarassing and prosaic. It doesn’t sell well and it doesn’t lead to easy and self-congratulatory memes that curry favour on social media.

The truth is… complicated. Just like we who try to tell (or avoid) it are.

51 Comments Post a comment
  1. Byron Rempel-Burkholder #

    Thanks, Ryan.Truth is complicated and messy; this is a great reminder to be humble and honest, even in our activism for a good and just cause. Polarization and vitriol alone bring more darkness than light.

    July 6, 2017
  2. To further complicate I find the narrative you present is increasingly a trope (we cannot really escape them I guess). I actually see this type of commentary quite a lot lately (often as though it is adequate response to say something like Trump). Messiness is particular and as such must be navigated more personally not as a public discourse (which this is). As such this approach functions in the same way as Gladwell, Gadsden, and McDowell. I honestly have not see how this form of discourse is helpful. Personally and anecdotally I have seen it function in allowing people affirm their prejudices so that they do not need to take more uncomfortable step *towards* the messiness of life. I have not seen it function in helping people actually change. Perhaps that is what has happened for you, I just don’t see it working well in a public way.

    July 6, 2017
    • Yes, as I said, this is how we all tell stories. Including me.

      I am, however, hesitant to collapse truth into utility. Is truth an inherent good? Or does it have to be “helpful” in order to be worthy of commentary? If it is “unhelpful” does that make it less true? The question will always be, “Whose ends are the measuring stick for the utility or “helpfulness” of this or that expression of truth?” And yet often it is precisely these ends themselves that are the subject of the most intense debate. Which brings us right back to the beginning.

      To be clear, I am not in any way suggesting that the narratives on the extreme ends of any issue are of equal value (Trump vs. Black Lives Matter, as you suggest below). Far from it. As a Christian, I think I must always prioritize the narratives of those on the wrong end of the score. But people on the wrong end of the score are human beings, too, and human beings tell stories badly and in self-serving ways. I don’t think anyone is well served by pretending otherwise. The truth should be enough to commend itself without any of our embellishment. Alas, I know that this is not always (often?) the case…

      I guess I was mostly interested in what stories like these reveal about human psychology. I’m sure that you also are well acquainted with people telling stories in the ways I mention in my second-to-last major paragraph. You are a pastor, after all. 😉 And you’re on Facebook. I think being aware of how we tend to function as human beings is a good thing and, at its best, can be a helpful antidote to wandering blindly down dead-end discursive roads and blundering along in what can often be very toxic conversations.

      July 6, 2017
      • Right. That is why I am trying to figure out how to both navigate that personally but resist it as a more public discourse. Those lines of course are far from clear as I am trying to practice that in our denominational setting!

        July 7, 2017
      • Yes, I can well imagine the challenges in your denominational work.

        Re: public vs. private negotiation of these matters. I guess I’m just wondering if/how a recognition of the psychology of truth-telling (for lack of a better term) and an awareness of how we tend to tell stories ought to influence/shape our public resistance to this or that narrative.

        July 7, 2017
    • My point was that as I hear the sort of narrative you describe I have only ever heard it get picked up as a justification for someone’s already existing position. Rather than getting dirty I have only seen this narrative function to argue for some ‘third-way’ that should be more ‘more helpful’ than the delusional extremes. I don’t know enough about how you navigate things personally but again as a public narrative I don’t really see its point. These conversations are necessary but there is more than one way (and place) to address things. My suggestion is that if this is a conversation to be had in a more public setting then attempting to work through the existing details and messiness of a particular situation that you are in is probably more helpful.
      To give an example it became much more ‘messy’ for me to take a clear and unequivocal stance and public expression at a recent area church gathering rather than sit back with sage advice trying to ‘calm down’ those ‘fringe’ expressions that get equated on either ‘end’.
      This was my somewhat related attempt to make sense of my approach,
      https://davidcldriedger.wordpress.com/2017/01/16/just-let-him-finish-or-you-cannot-serve-both-process-and-advocacy/

      July 7, 2017
      • Well, existing positions are not wrong by definition, are they? Sometimes we need to get dirty on the extremes, but this isn’t always the best or most helpful or faithful way. And the question remains, what measuring stick are we using to evaluate the utility or “helpfulness” of truth-telling? If the ends themselves are what we can’t agree on (and they very often aren’t, as the story you shared proves), then I think it’s valuable for all parties to at the very least be aware of the psychological dynamics at work in how we use truth. It’s a start, at any rate.

        July 7, 2017
    • G. H. #

      As a historian it is – in my understanding – one of my professions duties to record, archive and remind of the facts, as they are backed up by sources and can be verified (not falsified) by the scientific method. In this I also refer to Hannah Aarendt’s description of the historian’s job as
      “keepers of bare factual truths” foremost. It is a duty to society historians don’t do so well even as they try – and it is separate from (scientific) opinions we might hold. It is less based on value judgements but more on verifiable historical actions (e.g. as far as we can correlate “at 12.43h the war started”). These duties are important to counteract the other role historians are often meant to play for the state, especially in education: telling stories to show a logical and continuous development towards the status quo. This is important for the cohesion of a country and sadly one of the cynical reasons history is seen as useful. A lot of historians try to counteract these duties by providing critical facts and background to make their students think and become critical citizens. And this is why it is essential as a historian to keep the facts straight, offer later generations of historians stuff they can critically evaluate themselves to base their reasoning on – it is not the historian’s job to be an activist or drive the narrative – older historians who did this were more often than not in employ of kings and acting as marketing department to get food on their table. Don’t get me wrong, a historian can be an activist/marketing person whatever, but he has to make a distinction between the activities, that is easily recognizable by third parties. THAT is why it is is imorptant to get facts out there – even if they hurt in the short term it is much more damaging to a cause in the long run, if such stuff comes up later -as they always do… we are just too curious for this not to happen. And it is also important to accept, that stuff is difficult, there are not easy solutions and that we have to be critical of causes we love to really help them stand on their own feet and really learn to be resilient in the face of criticism. Even if this is hard to accept, this is also true for such difficult topics like race or gender…

      July 10, 2017
      • Thanks for this historian’s perspective. I appreciate your reminder that facts are always shaped into narratives and narratives are very often meant to serve this or that agenda (i.e., the cohesion of a country, as you say). One of your last lines really rings true for me:

        it is also important to accept, that stuff is difficult, there are not easy solutions and that we have to be critical of causes we love to really help them stand on their own feet and really learn to be resilient in the face of criticism…

        Again, thanks for your comment.

        July 10, 2017
  3. This is of course a long standing criticism of the Mennonite church and its ‘third-way’ which has estranged many who were must active in things like the civil rights movement. I get that we need to make personal decisions on how to navigate these things but it is not helpful to create an equal dismissal of the ‘extreme’ ends of society as though both are somehow collapsing reality in the same way; as if the narratives of Trump and Black Lives Matter should be considered comparable in any meaningful way.

    July 6, 2017
    • Paul Johnston #

      Hello David, I respectfully disagree with your last statement. I believe Trump and Black Lives Mattter are identical (apart from perspective/nuance) in the most meaningful of ways. Neither is operating out of a love of God, self and neighbour. Both are false.

      July 6, 2017
      • This is what I am getting at Ryan.

        July 6, 2017
      • Sorry, Paul, can’t agree with you at all here. The power dynamics alone ought to be enough of a major red flag in ever equating these two. Trump represents wealth, privilege, greed, and the abuse of power at every turn. BLM is the cry of a marginalized population that has been on the wrong end of anything resembling justice for a very long time. You don’t have to agree with everything about the movement, but you do at the very least have to acknowledge that people with a boot on their neck will tend to resist.

        As Christians, we are inheritors of a prophetic tradition that speaks of a future day when the lowly will be raised up and the lofty brought down. This should affect which voices we heed in the present.

        July 6, 2017
  4. Paul Johnston #

    I trend towards disagreement with the premise here and affirmed by, Byron. I think, “truth” defined by me here to mean, what a right response to circumstance should be, is pretty simple, mostly binary( with some sense of qualification and nuance) and easily understood as an abstract concept.

    The discipline of living truthfully, well that is another matter. Impossible without Christ and takes, in almost all cases (perhaps saintly exceptions) a lifetime and beyond (I’m a Roman Catholic man who believes in and takes great consolation from the supernatural reality of Purgatory.) to acquire.

    And still then, only as a grace freely given.

    I think what you describe as truth, would be better understood as, “the facts of the matter”. Or perhaps even more accurately how we choose, honestly or not, to interpret the facts of the matter.

    Convolute and confuse the facts and by so doing twist the truth, making incomprehensible, “complicating” something that by it’s reality (the truth) was always inherent to our nature; second nature. Simple, reflexive, spiritual DNA, prior to our “fall”. Our ongoing fall.

    ….The “fall” as understood to be the choices made by, Adam and Eve that has been atoned for. We continue to fall though because we choose, in most cases, to still be like them. To make their same choice. The “ongoing fall”.

    It would be better for us to prioritize the example of Jesus’s life and what it means to our choices so far as it relates to the truth rather than the atonement aspects of Jesus’ life but that is another truth for another day….

    So insofar as understanding the simple truth goes, I say this, as it is written, “Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength. And love your neighbour as yourself”.

    If these simple words aren’t our objective, then “truth” will forever confuse and confound us and sadly, forever escape us.

    July 6, 2017
    • I’m not sure what your equivocation on the meaning of the word “truth” adds here, Paul. Are the “facts of the matter” irrelevant to the responding rightly or living truthfully? Does seeking to understand and represent them well preclude “prioritizing Jesus’ life” or loving our neighbour as ourself?

      July 6, 2017
      • Paul Johnston #

        Facts are often what we make them to be. In any case, irrespective of them, we are called to always respond in love. That is the truth of the matter. If a response lacks love, however justified it seems based on the facts, it is a lesser response then it should be. It may not be entirely false but it is a lot lot, less then the truth.

        Perhaps this helps, truth as I understand it is not a material reality. Facts are. And that is all they are, even when they are accurately described.

        July 6, 2017
      • Fair enough. Yes, for Christians truth is a person not a collection of data. And that person is love incarnate.

        But in answer to the questions I asked (Are the “facts of the matter” irrelevant to the responding rightly or living truthfully? Does seeking to understand and represent them well preclude “prioritizing Jesus’ life” or loving our neighbour as ourself?), the answer to both would be, “no?”

        July 6, 2017
  5. Paul Johnston #

    Hey, Ryan, with regard to your disagreement based on power structures….Trump vs BLM is kind of irrelevent to my point….could be any supposed, “have” vs. any supposed, “have not”….I think I still see it differently then you. Not in a way that is dismissive or patronizing to the marginalized but in a way that would offer them hope, through the truth.

    Frankly I think both groups have the “boot to the neck” so to speak. Wealth privilege and greed are surely more damning then being marginalized or a victim of injustice. The first group is more to be pitied….”love of enemy”….something about straining a camel through the eye of the needle. The second group,….love of neighbour… should they resist the very great temptation to take on the behaviors of their oppressors, they are children of God. They will inherit the kingdom.

    I suspect at different times too many of us have belonged to both kingdoms….the lukewarm….maybe it is a one or the other choice, in the end.

    July 6, 2017
    • Ok. Not sure why you would make the explicit claim about BLM and Trump that you did if it was irrelevant to your point, but whatever.

      Your second paragraph is interesting. I get the logic you’re operating with, but I’m thinking that saying we should pity rich, powerful people because Jesus says they won’t inherit the kingdom might be a tough sell, even to Christians. And essentially telling marginalized people, “chin up, you’re the children of God… ” Well, that kind of logic has been used to justify all kinds of abuses. Even if we believe these things to be true eschatologically, they sure get put to destructive ends when we employ them in the present.

      July 6, 2017
      • Paul Johnston #

        The use of, Trump vs BLM, wasn’t my assertion, it was, David’s. I wanted to shift the argument away from those two specific groups because the particulars could be any two perceived “have” or “have not” groups…..I’ll have more to say tomorrow. Time for bed and Mrs J has earned a well deserved back rub. Lol.

        July 6, 2017
      • Paul Johnston #

        So I think I’ve spent enough time trying trying to get a right understanding of my position heard….ya think lol….let me deal with the specifics of your question in this response. 🙂 Wait, to be fair to you, 2 responses.

        Q. Does seeking to understand the facts and represent them well preclude prioritizing Jesus’ life or loving our neighbour as ourselves.

        A. Absolutely yes, Ryan. Apart from first seeking the Father, through the Son mediated by the Holy Spirit; absolutely yes!

        I think history well shows that those who have had a better grasp of the material realities (my interpretation of the phrase,” understanding the facts and knowing them well”), apart from obedience, through love, to the word and will of God have used their understanding viciously for the benefit of the few over the many. For greed, for lust, for murder for mayhem for about every sin you can imagine.

        Knowledge apart from love, love understood as the truth of Jesus’ incarnate, dwelling within us as the Holy Spirit, leads all to death.

        With Christ, experienced as relationship through the Spirit of Truth, every human subset that does so, is elevated and made holy.

        The affiliations, the groups themselves mean a slow agonizing passing away of reason, truth, beauty, compassion, mercy, song, dance and every other beautiful thing you can imagine dies, apart from Christ

        Believe Trump or BLM or whatever other identity you wish on each other. I get that in a real material sense some are more of that finite sense and experience of truth then others. Some more finite in love, mercy and justice but finite EVERYTHING ultimately ends; dies.

        Infinite life, infinite truth, infinite love, is only possible, “through Him, with HIm, in HIm, in unity with the Holy Spirit forever and ever, Amen”

        Sometimes a bit of rant is all ya got. LOL

        July 7, 2017
      • Paul Johnston #

        Don’t the beatitudes, say as much? Was Jesus inferring a logic so as to effect relief from circumstance and the grace of salvation or just providing the wicked with justification for their abuses?

        July 9, 2017
      • Well, I would say the beatitudes are a word of comfort to those who don’t look or feel “blessed” by any reasonable measure and a prophetic link to Israel’s prophets who promised that the lowly would be raised and the haughty brought down. I don’t think it was in any way justifying this arrangement of things or legitimating our acquiescence to them.

        July 10, 2017
  6. Paul Johnston #

    Hey, David. Why did you choose to talk about me instead of to me?

    July 6, 2017
    • Michael #

      Perhaps because, regardless of your intentions, you appear to be trolling.

      July 6, 2017
      • Paul Johnston #

        Michael, what does what you are saying, mean? Please define, “trolling”.

        July 6, 2017
      • Paul Johnston #

        As I understand the term, “being provocative, or disagreeable in an ad hominem way so as to provoke anger” would make you the troll.

        It might be helpful if you would take the time to tell me what you think I have said here that is malicious.

        July 6, 2017
      • I addressed it to Ryan because what you said was nearly a verbatim example of what I was talking about and as such did not add anything to the conversation.

        July 7, 2017
      • Michael #

        Paul,

        In your earlier reply to David, you said “I believe Trump and Black Lives Mattter are identical (apart from perspective/nuance) in the most meaningful of ways” immediately after he commented on the unhelpfulness of doing so. Ryan then challenged you on your statement, and instead of defending or apologizing for it, you’ve said “Trump vs. BLM is kind of irrelevant to my point,” “I wanted to shift the argument away from those two specific groups,” asked “what you think I have said here that is malicious,” and so on. This suggests that you’re not engaging in good-faith dialogue, where people are willing to be accountable for their words, and are probably just trolling for reactions instead.

        As for my comment, I’m not suggesting that you _are_ a troll or a terrible person or otherwise attacking your character. We’ve all (except possibly Ryan, who is incredibly patient) engaged in bad behaviour on the internet at one point or another. But that doesn’t excuse it, and the first step towards changing that sad reality is naming it.

        July 7, 2017
      • For the record, I’ve behaved badly on the internet a time or two. Actually, quite a bit more than that. 🙂

        Re: Paul, trolling, etc, I can only say that based on interacting with Paul in this space for many years now, I have found him to be a generous conversation partner who is interested in the common pursuit of truth. I don’t always agree with him or even understand the directions he takes, but rabbit trails and the occasional careless comment are part and parcel of the medium, I suppose, and like you say, Michael, we’ve all done it. You’re right, we should be accountable for our words. But I think we also ought to be as charitable as possible with our interpretation of others’ words, too. This, at any rate, is what I hope for when others read what I write.

        July 7, 2017
      • Michael #

        Gasp! Even you? 🙂

        From what you say, I’m willing to call Paul’s comment as a honest mistake, and I apologize if I jumped too quickly to my earlier less charitable interpretation.

        July 7, 2017
  7. Nomad #

    A great thought provoking contemplation,Ryan and a great example of wilful blatant manipulation. Confirmation Bias is something we all do regardless of our politics or religious beliefs, but the example in your story falls under the heading of something altogether different….almost sinister imo and there seems to be so much of this going on in the media now in order to foment division and hate. I’ve never in my lifetime seen anything like what is happening now in Politics. Christ have mercy on us ALL…..

    July 6, 2017
    • Thanks, Nomad. Actually, if you listen to the episode you don’t come away with the impression that the artist was doing anything wilfully malicious or sinister. He was just deeply (and rightly) convinced that there was an important story of injustice to be told about what was happening in Birmingham. He thought that this was one of the ways he could do it. I enthusiastically affirm his desire to expose the racism injustice of 1960’s Birmingham (and beyond, of course). I just don’t think misrepresenting the truth—even of a moment—is the way to do it.

      July 7, 2017
  8. Paul Johnston #

    There are two trajectories to my comments here. One of spiritual understanding (what is truth) and one of material understanding (what are the circumstances/facts of situations, as we encounter them) I believe the distinction is crucial. In my little thesis here, no right interpretation of circumstance can be made unless the observer is first grounded in the Spirit of truth. First loves God with “heart and soul.”

    Heart and soul inform mind and body. We are not automatons, we are human. How we feel (heart) and what we imagine (soul) will always inform what we think (mind) and the action we take as a result (strength/body) To reborrow “Nomad’s” borrowed phrase and put it in what I believe is it’s proper understanding, “the whole darn ball of wax of life, is confirmation bias!”

    The question is, “what bias is to be confirmed”?….only one, Michael. God’s bias. God’s bias is the only truth.

    So to Ryan I say, my brother, don’t prioritize the lesser smaller truths of circumstance. They only confound and confuse. They are as you say, “hard, ugly, unwieldy….and complicated.” So much so, I believe that to offer this story as a potential pathway to right moral understanding (truth) only makes the journey that much more difficult and discouraging.

    Offer the Spirit of truth instead. Encourage communion through prayer and sacrament. Invite us into relationship with the Lord. Not with a better accounting of human circumstances. That comes later.

    The Lord and I shared a beautiful moment of mutual love yesterday. He accepted my offerings such as they are. He is pleased with me, just as I am. He will work with me gently to refine me further. He let me feel His love for me yesterday. He loves me…..the Lord loves me and He told me so….and of the many graces that abound in His love one is certainly this. In Him I am better equipped to revist the circumstances of the life and determine, through Him, better response to them. The “truth” of human experiences seem softer, more beautiful, more manageable and less complicated.

    From heart, to soul, to mind then body. This is the pathway, my friend. 🙂

    Any political movement, culture or human institution, irrespective of their ambitions, for better or worse, that isn’t grounded, heart and soul in Jesus Christ, does not speak to the truth.

    David chose Trump and BLM, I suppose based on the subject matter addressed in this post. As a consequence I used those two specific groups in my first example as I was respectfully addressing David with my response. But the specific two groups themselves were not my point, they could have been any two groups, whatever their inclination. Hopefully this response better explains that position.

    David, based on the what I discern to be the spirit of your dialogue, I don’t think it beneficial to either one of us for me to say anything more than this to you. His peace be with you.

    Michael, my 10 year old self want’s to tell the 10 year old self you presented here, “I know you are but what am I!!”

    July 7, 2017
    • Paul Johnston #

      Shite! First copy went out before the kinder, gentler revision. Oh well, it stands as is. 🙂

      July 7, 2017
  9. Paul Johnston #

    There are two trajectories to my comments here. One of spiritual understanding (what is truth)
    and one of material understanding (what are the circumstances/facts of situations, as we encounter them) I believe the distinction is crucial. In my little thesis here, no right interpretation of circumstance can be made unless the observer is first grounded in the Spirit of truth. First loves God with “heart and soul.”

    Heart and soul inform mind and body. We are not automatons, we are human. How we feel (heart) and what we imagine (soul) will always inform what we think (mind) and the action we take as a result (strength/body) To reborrow “Nomad’s” borrowed phrase and put it in what I believe is it’s proper understanding, “the whole darn ball of wax of life, is confirmation bias!”

    The question is, “what bias is to be confirmed”?….only one, Michael. God’s bias. God’s bias is the only truth.

    So to Ryan I say, my brother, don’t prioritize the lesser smaller truths of circumstance. They only confound and confuse. They are as you say, “hard, ugly, unwieldy….and complicated.” So much so, I believe that to offer this story as a potential pathway to right moral understanding (truth) only makes the journey that much more difficult and discouraging.

    Offer the Spirit of truth instead. Encourage communion through prayer and sacrament. Invite us into relationship with the Lord. Not with a better accounting of human circumstances. That comes later.

    The Lord and I shared a beautiful moment of mutual love yesterday. He accepted my offerings such as they are. He is pleased with me, just as I am. He will work with me gently to refine me further. He let me feel His love for me yesterday. He loves me…..the Lord loves me and He told me so….and of the many graces that abound in His love one is certainly this. In Him I am better equipped to revist the circumstances of the life and determine, through Him, better response to them. The “truth” of human experiences seem softer, more beautiful, more manageable and less complicated.

    From heart, to soul, to mind then body. This is the pathway, my friend. 🙂

    Any political movement, culture or human institution, irrespective of their ambitions, for better or worse, that isn’t grounded, heart and soul in Jesus Christ, does not speak to the truth.

    David chose Trump and BLM, I suppose based on the subject matter addressed in this post. As a consequence I used those two specific groups in my first example as I was respectfully addressing David with my response. But the specific two groups themselves were not my point, they could have been any two groups, whatever their inclination. Hopefully this response better explains that position.

    David, based on the what I discern to be the spirit of your dialogue, I don’t think it beneficial to either one of us for me to say anything more than this to you. His peace be with you.

    Michael, my 10 year old self want’s to tell the 10 year old self you presented here, “I know you are but what am I!!”……ok bud, I know I really shouldn’t say this but I think you earned it….so I will let it stay. Enjoy the rest of your day. it is a beautiful one here in, Barrie On and the garden beckons for a little weeding. Lol

    July 7, 2017
  10. Paul Johnston #

    Thank you, Ryan. I think. lol

    As for rabbit trails, my dear sir, I only introduce them so as to coerce you off the ones you occasionally place yourself on. 🙂 Or so I think at any rate. 🙂

    July 7, 2017
  11. Paul Johnston #

    What the widdley!!!

    …man (me) caught in the vortex of his own testosterone and his love for God….

    Michael your last comment came in about 2 hours after mine. You get, I’m “in the room” right. 🙂 You don’t have to talk at me or about me, you can talk to me.

    I get that my last couple of posts haven’t exactly been me pouring out undying love for you but at least they were spoken to you. 🙂

    So, for the record bud, I don’t owe you an apology or anyone else for that matter, for words YOU have misunderstood. I default to the possibility that your misunderstanding may well be a consequence of poor communication on my part so I make effort to restate my positions more clearly. After that you can ask more questions of me or tell me to piss off, or any other expression in between. Your choice, man and I take no offense from any of it. 🙂

    But don’t be wrong in your assessment of my words and condescending in some kind of faux-apology directed at me, through Ryan,

    That’s just a dick move, bud. 🙂

    July 7, 2017
    • Well, Paul, you’re threatening to make a fool of me here. Classy comments like “dick move” don’t exactly exude the “generosity” I referred to above. 🙄

      July 7, 2017
      • Michael #

        Paul,

        Although it can be hard to use the threading feature on this site, all of my comments are replies to your posts. I apologize for not making that more clear.

        July 8, 2017
    • Michael #

      And I do regret jumping to conclusions about your comment. If I may, though, I doubt my interpretation of your words is unique. Although it may seem strange from your context, many people in my context would find the equation of Trump and BLM offensive.

      July 8, 2017
      • Paul Johnston #

        Thanks, Michael. Apology accepted. I’m sorry for my assumptions about your motives and my choice of words in describing them. Please accept my apology.

        I’m sure you are right in your assessment re: Trump/BLM.

        Whatever you might think of my context, know that I am in no way a supporter of Donald Trump. Or any politician for that matter.

        The only tent big enough for me, for us all, I believe, is in the person of Jesus Christ. I tell you with all sincerity that I believe, I am, as a person, a consecrated child of God. As are you, as is everyone. “Brothers and sisters” in Christ is the only truthful understanding of who we are as a human community.

        I believe all other definitions of person are subsidiary to this true identity. Believing this to be true, it makes perfect sense to me, to say that all other self identify groups, self identifying apart from Jesus Christ or making their relationship/identity in Christ subsidiary to another idea of their personhood, are all false understandings.

        False understandings that will only perpetuate harm. One group against the other.

        July 9, 2017
  12. Paul Johnston #

    Yeah, sorry about that but in my defense I don’t think I have called a guy a dick, who wasn’t acting like a dick, since I was about 45……maybe 50….

    July 7, 2017
  13. Paul Johnston #

    Final thoughts: Michael,

    Wherever you are, I hope the Lord’s love is real to you, felt by you.

    Life certainly has it’s struggles and however insignificant, I wouldn’t want my words to be part of yours. In retrospect I think to describe me as didactic would be more accurate then calling me a troll. “Troll” is just fighting words and neither of us is filled with enough beer or close enough to each other’s chins to make that possible….or fun lol….Calling you a dick, certainly doesn’t affirm you or flatter me and I’ll make effort to do better if there is a next time. If there is a next time, you would make it easier on my long cultivated, Scot’s temper if you spoke to me rather then about me.

    Peace 🙂

    David,

    Reading here and on you blog, you strike me as man struggling with the right questions. Perhaps, irrespective of your feelings about my contributions to this conversation, it might be of benefit to you to hear from a man who is insisting on spiritual prerogatives, so as to re-inform personally held political ones, as a means of deciding, ” the way forward”. You decide. 🙂

    Ryan,

    My brother from a different mother….ya poor bastard, run for whatever hill that is near to you LOL….It all distills down to me thinking that I have some charisms of content to share with you, I’m 20 years further down the road then you and when I see you veering in political directions, I want to save you from them. I firmly believe that in all public expressions of faith, those speaking, are reflecting discernments gleaned solely (as solely as possible) from a deepening relationship, through prayer, with Jesus.

    Speak the, Spirit, offer the, Spirit. The rest is just one form of human baggage or another.

    …..yeah, didactic works. 🙂

    July 8, 2017
    • Thanks for the perspective 20 years down the road, even if I don’t always agree with your assessment of the “directions” that I am allegedly going (it’s very strange for someone with as little interest in politics as me to be accused of “veering in political directions” 😉 ).

      July 10, 2017
      • Paul Johnston #

        Fair enough, I don’t know you in real relationship.

        I hope we can remedy that circumstance someday. 🙂 ….so in my accounting of our on line relationship, my primary objective so to speak, is to encourage you, exhort you,….convict you with very little success I might add lol….to accept the mantle of prophet….as I’ve said or implied several times before…To believe that it might be so. That God is calling you to greater things. That the real purpose of all your writing, anybodies writing for that matter, (from the Christian perspective) ought to be to speak and share the word of God. To give hope. To spread love. To point direction. And to claim it as so. Not based on any certainty on the part of the individual ( in this case you) for who among us could reasonably claim such a thing. But to claim it as prophet, certain that the knowledge is revelation, not opinion or argument.

        “Bond servants, set apart for the Gospel” is I think how the apostle, Paul put it.

        I think you are up to the task.

        While I know there is more nuance and variant contextualization particular to every person, every circumstance, every story, in the end, choices must be made, directions taken.

        Choice seems pretty binary to me. Good or evil. Yes or no. In or out. Sometimes I just want you to go all in, on the Spirit side of things…..all the time. 🙂

        So perhaps what I describe as, “political directions” I should restate more honestly as my perception that you are holding on to some of your understandings as wholly your own and in so doing they often caste doubt within you, insecurity within you and a defensiveness that makes you think and speak that your ideas about God could be wrong.

        I don’t mean to say you will never be wrong but that when you are, God will tell you. God will show you. Until then, those moments of correction, I would encourage you to, “swing for the fences, so to speak. I’ve heard a lot of voices over the years….inside my head and out lol…you’ve got the gift. I’m sure of it.

        Preach it, Preacher!!

        July 10, 2017
      • Thank you for your encouragement, Paul. I will probably never see things in the binary way that you seem to wish that I would 🙂 (i.e., the phrase “Spirit side of things” makes little sense to me… I don’t see this as something completely separate from the physical). But I do appreciate your challenge and your prodding. Perhaps one day our paths will cross and we can sort all of these things out over a coffee rather than words on a screen.

        July 11, 2017
  14. Paul Johnston #

    So I wish I communicated in a more coherently, linear way…..not gonna happen any time soon I’m afraid. Lol.

    My mom sent me a video wishing me a happy 60th, today. In it she related many stories of our past, as a family. At the end of it she said something quite profound. She said, “Paul, remember the good things and let go of all the bad. If you let go, in time you will be able to forgive them.”

    My mom is right.

    July 12, 2017
    • Well, Paul, I wish you a very happy 60th. And yes, your mom is right (as moms so often are).

      Last night my wife and I watched a movie called The Light Between Oceans. There was a line in there that stuck with me:

      You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day.

      I’m not sure it’s 100% accurate (there’s a daily, decisional component to forgiving, too, I think), but it sure intuitively resonated. Resentment (hanging on to the bad) is hard and profoundly unrewarding work.

      July 12, 2017
  15. Paul Johnston #

    Without a doubt, a daily decision. More than that, if the, “Lord’s Prayer” is to be taken at face value, forgiveness would seem to be the necessary spirit by which we must choose to live. Living each day seeking and offering forgiveness, if we are to live life in some form of godliness. If we are to become holy/perfect as our Father is holy/perfect.

    God’s love is perfect and before any action towards us, He forgives. So must we forgive before we take any action, if we wish our love to be perfect also. To bear good fruit.

    So many of the people of the world, seemingly goodhearted people, are moved by a sense of injustice, a spirit of judgement that may or may not be true, in order for them to offer service, charity, love….before they take any action to assist one, they find it necessary to first discredit another. Where is God’s love in that approach? How can justice ever be a consequence of contempt, of anger, of judgement towards another…..of injustice.

    “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

    July 13, 2017

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