Church

Motivated

All motivated reasoning is not equal. This feels important to note, given the rise of the term to explain how we’re all just seeing what we want to see and easily integrating discomfiting news into our already comfortable paradigms. Make no mistake: reasoning that is motivated by fear of ideological or cultural opponents is bad, dangerous, and never healthy.

But that reasoning would be motivated is not disqualifying of itself. All reasoning is motivated by something, either the as-impartial-as-possible search for truth or partisan loyalty.

Not all motivated reasoning is bad, because some motivations are better than others.

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Church

Fact

“Factuality is authority.” Colin Gunton, A Brief Theology of Revelation

This sentence appears in the second of its’ author’s seven 1993 Warfield Lectures, and when I read it I immediately connected it to my growing unease with the fact-checking media complex in 2020.

We are living through the ascendancy of motivated reasoning, and though we’re all engaging that vice, some of us are swallowing worse fibs than others. And fact checking isn’t helping.

I’ll wager that part of fact checking’s fecklessness owes to the motivation of the reasoning. A cultivated regard for “the media” as an elite enemy among a massive segment of the population has established the flouting of fact claims by that institutions as an end in itself. And fact checking is a media function. There is a perceived superiority, even arrogance, in the claim to possess the definitive account of where a Presidential candidate was born or of a Senator’s voting record. Who told you it was your job to check facts on our behalf?

Perhaps the checking part of fact checking is the problem. The presumption it implies feeds motivated reasoning against it. And when I share a fact checking article with someone, I’m extending myself as an agent of that presumption in a way that is almost certainly bound to be rejected.

The medium is probably still the message, and I’m starting to think that the message carried by the medium of fact checking might be too condescending to be useful.

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Church

Meredith

A presbytery meeting by Zoom with over 200 participants, many of whom may reasonably be assumed to be the opposite of “digital natives,” and thus to supply the younger and more technologically adept of us with a steady stream of un-muted gaffes and close up confused expressions ranging from the comic to the exasperating, was not how I preferred to spend my afternoon.

Sure enough, within seconds of logging on I encountered what was surely inevitable. “Someone just logged on with the name ‘Meredith’,” a voice announced with a moderatorial tone. “Can you please change your name on the screen so we can properly identify you?” This is one of the most confounding–though simplest–of Zoom exercises for the uninitiated–the proper display of one’s name, and it was among the likeliest candidates to cause disruption at this meeting.

A moment later the request was made again. Clearly “Meredith” wasn’t paying attention, or couldn’t handle the basic instruction. It occurred to me for a moment to interject a personal joke, to the effect that my wife’s name is Meredith and I would be happy to investigate whether she had found a sudden urge to join our presbytery. But no. The jokester makes Zoom worse. That conviction was tested momentarily by a second request for a name change, issued to whoever had now logged on as “Granny’s iPad.”

A third summons to “Meredith,” registered with heightened irritation, and by now I’m texting colleagues snide asides about the bleak interval these opening moments portends. It’s then that I receive a text from a compatriot who knows my wife: “I think you’re Meredith.”

Good one. Here I may harmlessly exercise my joke: “No, I’m Granny’s iPad.”

It’s only after my colleague replies that she’s not kidding that the merciless truth dawns on me. Because it was already out, and not stuffed inside a backpack like my work laptop, I’m using the family computer for this meeting. And who was the last person to log in to Zoom on this computer? Meredith.

I’m Meredith.

I hastily un-mute and chuckle a cool apology to all the hopeless neophytes who, whatever their technological limitations, are not confused about their own names.

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Church

Win

Yesterday the 12 year-old spent hours writing a novel, working through the process laid out in this book she picked up with her mom two weekends ago, sketching out a protagonist and her “misbelief,” as well as the defining moments of her story. This writing is not a school assignment, though she’s spoken with her teachers about it, and they will figure out a way to credit her work.

Hours, though. Unprompted and uninterrupted. Committed.

This is the positive side of school at home. It’s just one day, I know, and today may be very different. But we should celebrate the wins where they happen. This is a win.

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Church

Practice

Yesterday we conducted three youth groups over Zoom. It worked. Succinct debriefs with leaders affirmed the usefulness of short, repeated, one-on-one breakout conversations combined with about 10 minutes of 5-6 person breakouts and some time all together on the same screen. It worked. It can be done.

It feels like there is an opportunity here to reprioritize practice in what we’re doing. Planning for an hour on a screen can lull you into a fixation on content: what story are we hearing? What discussion are we having? But the formation of disciples (of any age) demands the practice of faith’s claims of new life in the midst of death and its promise of hope. Those are not ideas to teach but practices to try on.

That, too, can be done.

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Church

19

It was the worst thing to happen in my lifetime. All white hot terror on us in a moment. The terror stayed for days, while people clustered with their closest friends and relations, staggered by the force of it. Terror moved on, but it was replaced by a maturing knowledge that things were different now and would never go back to how they were before we saw what we saw ( and then saw it again, and then saw it again), before we knew what we now know, before we lost what we’ve lost.

That was 19 years ago today. 19 years before most of us had any notion of a novel Coronavirus, which has, of course, become the other worst thing to happen in my lifetime. The loss of this is multiplied almost 70 times over, yet parceled out in daily reports that obscure its immensity and protect us from the terror that a sudden attack delivers. The impact of this will almost certainly outweigh, in terms of scale and duration, the impact of 9/11, yet 19 years from now I don’t expect we will mark a specific day as the locus of our loss.

Be safe today. Hug your dear ones.

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Church

Shell

The late night walk with the 12 year old to the convenience store for chocolate (let the reader understand) was a balm that followed an afternoon tempest of pre-teen contempt (let the reader understand).

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Church

Seasons

When I declared it fall last Friday (the air had cooled and pumpkin spice was already announcing itself in shop windows), the 12 year-old resisted. “No. It’s still summer. Fall doesn’t start until October.” Never one to pass on a gag, I intensified my autumn declarations over the next several days, to her increasing irritation and intransigence.

This morning over breakfast I shared with her the strange news of September snow in Colorado. “No,” she demanded. “It’s fall, not winter.”

I win.

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Church

Cat

It started in the morning and worsened through the afternoon, such that, by bedtime, I laid out with an ice pack over my puffed and bloodshot eye. Allergy, no doubt, just the latest phase as the days cool in which, in any case, I spend interminable hours indoors with three cats. Especially this one, who lays on my lap as I read and twists to contort herself to explicitly suggest the spot to be petted (she prefers the under-chin). I comply. My eye twitches.

Now she starts to sneeze, though, in violent bursts of four, five, six cat-snorts that leave her licking at her nose, dazed. Could she be allergic to me, too?

Ours is a pact of mutually assured destruction.

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Church

Process

Process is a scrim. Under these conditions, its flaws are well-lit and its limitations infuriating. But with a slight lighting change, it disappears to reveal the outline of figures behind it.

Process is real. It has measurable, concrete effects on people who don’t understand it. The process for applying for unemployment; the process for group deliberation; the process of a toddler’s bedtime—most things that matter involve process.

Justice is a process.

Focus too intently on the mechanics of a process and you miss the human actors enmeshed in it. Some of those actors built the process. Their motives and incentives are fair game for scrutiny. But others behind the scrim have their hands on it now, and they’re using it for aims it may not have been designed to pursue. They’re not passive actors.

These are the questions I put to complaints about process: do we understand it as well as we can? And can we wield it to do the things we want to do? If the answer to either question is “no,” we have work to do.

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