Thinking Out Loud

January 19, 2021

Politics, Race, Viruses, Immigration: The Illusion Analogy

So what do you see?

Do you see a vase? Or do you see two profiles of people facing each other (and not social distancing)?

It occurred to me last week that this is an analogy to where we find ourselves in a coincidentally black-and-white situation with regard to the issues of the day, be it the U.S. federal election, models of theories of the impact of ethnicity, masking or non-masking, getting vaccinated or remaining an anti-vaxxer, being pro-immigration or anti-immigration, etc.

Things are currently polarized. Like we’ve never seen before.

Fact checking is pointless, because sources are challenged. Is it my truth or your truth? Where might objective truth be found? Social media has become a default news source, so you’re getting most of your information from your brother-in-law’s Facebook post.

Which brings us back to the vase above. The picture — and there are now dozens of variations — is called Rubin’s Vase, attributed to the Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin who created it around 1915.

The key to the whole thing is that you can’t see both the vase and the profiles at the same time. At any given millisecond you’re seeing either one or the other. Wikipedia puts it this way: “The visual effect generally presents the viewer with two shape interpretations, each of which is consistent with the retinal image, but only one of which can be maintained at a given moment.”

And this is where the analogy breaks down, because if you’re seeing a vase, or a goblet, or a birdbath; I can then point out the faces to you. You may remain loyal to your initial impression, but you’ll be forced to concede another perspective is possible.

But in real life, it’s often impossible to get someone to see the contrary position.

Or admit that they see it…

…Interestingly, Wikipedia links to an article on Pareidolia, which is the way we read things into certain stimuli that aren’t really there; “the tendency for incorrect perception of a stimulus as an object, pattern or meaning known to the observer, such as seeing shapes in clouds, seeing faces in inanimate objects or abstract patterns, or hearing hidden messages in music. Common examples are perceived images of animals, faces, or objects in cloud formations, the Man in the Moon…”

(Interesting for the purposes of readers here, is that later on the article notes: “There have been many instances of perceptions of religious imagery and themes, especially the faces of religious figures, in ordinary phenomena. Many involve images of Jesus, the Virgin Mary,…”)

If Rubin’s Vase helps us understand polarization of opinion, I would argue that Pareidolia helps us understand conspiracy theories which are, in simple terms, reading something into a situation which isn’t there.

 

September 28, 2020

Lost Embraces: A Lament


by Capt. Sheldon R. Bungay

originally published as The Phenomenology of Embrace; used by permission

I see the images flicker across my news feed and my heart yearns for justice,
yet another unnecessary black death, another riot, another shooting,
another political party fueling the fire and building a platform founded on a lack of truth.

I see the vitriol, the hate, and hear the cries of the oppressed,
I see the disease, the hunger, the lonely, and the dirty faces.
I see the mother who named her child, “Jihad” so that he will never forget.
I also see the sign that reads “stay six feet apart,”
and I cannot help but feel:
If I had the ability to wrap the whole world in a vast global embrace,
I would.

Alas, I cannot.

There is much that I miss from the time before now,
Near the top of that list is the simple embrace.

Why?

Because a hug is more than a form of greeting, or a nice gesture,
It is a drama that unfolds in four acts that has the power to convey much about the relationship between the participants and walks a fine line between love and oppression depending on the intentions of the one who initiates the contact.

Act One: Opening the Arms

This act is an opening of one’s self to another that says “come, be part of who I am.”

Found within these open arms are both a twinge of pain because we feel incomplete without the other, and a welcome sign that suggests I have created space within me for you!

Like a door left open that requires no knock, you are invited in.

Act Two: Waiting

What humility and risk! What courage it takes to extend your open arms to another without guarantee of acceptance or a reciprocated act. The other cannot be coerced or manipulated to respond if the embrace is to have full positive effect;
We have no confirmation that this is what the other desires, or longs for,
and so we…. Wait.

Act Three: Closing the Arms

There it is — goal achieved!

Isn’t it wonderful to think that a hug is only possible when what is being offered is fully reciprocated?
Do you ever think about the beauty of that moment when you are offering yet also receiving?
A true embrace cannot be one-sided, it only works when what is being given is also taken.
And it just feels right.

Act Four: Opening the Arms Again

Notice that an embrace is only love when it is released, if one does not let go the embrace turns to oppression and things get uncomfortable fast.
In a weird twist, an embrace can only be appreciated for what it is when we let go,
only to begin the longing process all over again.
And so, I open my arms to you, and know not if I will be
misunderstood,
despised,
appreciated,
or reciprocated.
But “embrace is grace, and grace is gamble, always.”

Anyone need a hug?


Based on Miroslav Volf’s concept “The Drama of Embrace”
Embrace is Grace Quote – Lewis B. Smedes.

Capt. Sheldon Bungay is a Salvation Army Officer currently serving in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada as Divisional Youth Secretary. Husband, Father of two, student, persistent question-asker and listener.

Graphic: File image, credited to James Sword

August 21, 2020

After 5½ Months Away from Church, Will They Return?

Filed under: Christianity, Church, current events — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:43 am

With most of the media focus on high profile churches which have been defying local and state laws on assembly, we can forget the many congregations which have been faithfully obeying the authorities and meeting through YouTube or Zoom.

With so much time away from their home church, Skye Jethani wondered if people had returned now that restrictions had eased and did a Twitter poll with 1,741 results; with most respones from the U.S. but some from other parts of the world. Here’s what they told him:

Many also added comments. Here’s a sample:

  • It was great to be in-person. But it was not normal.
  • we won’t be comfortable with in-person services for awhile anyway. And I never felt like I could get on board with virtual church.
  • I’m currently hired by a church to make their service videos, I’ve become somewhat burnt out by it. Having said that, the reason I’m burnt out is because the video follows more or less exactly the same as the service and disregards all the amazing possibilities media offers.
  • it feels like we’re herded to our seats and out the building like cattle.
  • I think we all have to just come to the realization that the old “normal” is gone forever and we have to just appreciate and be thankful for whatever semblance of normalcy we have right now
  • Our family uses @bibleproject Church at Home instead of streaming our service. The mandatory quarantine gave us the opportunity to step away from serving at the coffee bar every Sunday and reconsider church. My teenagers prefer the deeper discussion over 4 part sermon series.
  • Went to a live service for the first time in about 5 months. To be honest, I spent a lot of time wondering why most people weren’t wearing masks and how it showed a lack of concern for others there.
  • During this season our house church gathers and participates together online, we don’t “watch online” ;) – This moment seems a perfect opportunity to shift from church being a spectator sport into an actual conversation of a community.
  • Sometimes watch church online while multitasking. Used to be regular attender. Miss the in person fellowship. Huge loss in worshiping God.
  • In- person. But no where near back to normal. We ended up leaving our church and finding a new church body.
  • I’ve mostly tuned out the digital Sunday stuff and just listen to the sermon on podcast, but our missional community has continued to Zoom every week.
  • I selected that I’ve tuned out. In reality I attend when I am scheduled to run the sound board and stay home and stream services from other churches when I’m not.
  • In person with masks, limited to 30% of building capacity. I’m grateful that I was able to be there all along though – when gatherings in my province were limited to 5, I was one of those 5 who still got to go to each service to help with music etc for the livestream

And then there was this one:

  • Wish I could go, but too many people at my church aren’t taking it seriously. 1/3 singing without masks. Some showing up sick. Some even showing up with pending COVID tests. Trying to determine what faithful involvement can look like.

What about you? Comment here, or click the link if you have a Twitter account and comment with everyone else.

Churches will need to identify that 20.2% and reach out to learn if they’ve relocated or encourage them to return as things stabilize.

Photo: ABC News

April 30, 2020

Singing Your Way Through Pandemic Anxiety

Filed under: Christianity, music — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:04 pm

Live To Tell – Enough (Living with Anxiety During a Pandemic)

Our friends Martin and Nancy released this two days ago, and I want to see it get more exposure. Nancy wrote the song, and Martin did the arrangement.

Nancy explains in the video notes:

This song came out of a sleepless night earlier this month when I guess I really started to freak out about the pandemic. Admittedly, I was watching too much news but when a good friend died and a proper funeral couldn’t be observed, it really hit home. From a social perspective, how challenging it is to grieve from a distance.

The lyrics you’ll hear reflect my disquieting and intimate thoughts and are very specifically written for now. The use of the term “peaceful waters” is an homage to John Prine who died from complications of COVID-19 a couple of days prior to me being inspired to write this song.

“There’s no gold in the silence, just a quiet form of violence.”

In this song, I am laying claim to my generalized anxiety disorder, the tension between how I experience my world as it is now and how I imagine it could be – and how I am coping.

Tucked inside the larger narrative is a love song to Martin. I pray that we all have such a good companion to help us get through this.

God bless you. Stay safe, stay home as much as possible, and thanks for listening.

March 27, 2020

Nothing Much to Add to What’s Being Said

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, current events — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:22 am

“A lot of people will be home,” I reasoned, “And a lot of them will be bored.” As I have often repeated, at the ten year mark I granted myself exemption from the drive to post daily here, but I figured this would be a good time to be creating content. Unfortunately, as I tried to put pen to paper — so to speak — I found it very difficult to engage any form of creativity. I’ve thought of re-purposing older articles, which I might do yet, but again, my spirit is simply too restless. 

It seems ‘tone-deaf’ to raise other issues. I know it’s been business as usual for some bloggers and Tweeters, but try as you might, it’s hard to ignore the elephant in the room. Hopefully the extremists and one-issue writers have found their concerns fading into the background at a time like this.

Christianity 201 reaches that 10-year mark next week. I think it’s going to be come a Monday to Friday type of devotional blog at that point, but instead of slowing down, I have written a rather large number of original articles over the past two weeks, instead of borrowing them as I normally do. I’ll say more about that on April 1st, our tenth birthday.

We’ve become locally focused. For the past two Saturday nights I’ve coordinated a community bulletin board letting our people here know who was having services, who was streaming services, and if so, where that content could be found online. The first week — when 2 or 3 churches were indeed still gathering — the service was found to be quite valuable, but last week people were settled into the new normal routine. I probably won’t bother this week.

I never realized the degree to which Sunday worship sets my personal rhythm. I wrote about this last week, but it’s truer now than it was then. We won’t be gathering this week, and as God’s people, it’s part of our DNA to gather.

We own a Christian bookstore which has been forced to close. We have an enormous rent payment due on April 1st, and the landlord has not replied to any request for rent relief. I don’t talk about the store much here because I have a separate publishing-industry blog, and furthermore, I don’t see it as the epicenter of who I am or what I do. But right now all those resources are just sitting there, literally gathering dust, and many of them would be most helpful to people at a time exactly like this. Unlike your local church — which is probably very thankful that so many of you set up pre-authorized giving — we have not one cent of revenue coming in and won’t until the day we reopen. Easter sales are lost. We were heading for a record-high month in what has started out as a strong year, but now that’s lost.

I am not bearing this time well. I find I have an undercurrent of restlessness. I spent a half-hour yesterday afternoon reading selections from an old NASB New Testament which was my father’s, but the calm it brought didn’t last. By evening, I was in full anxiety mode. I want the nightmare to end, but each item on the evening news, and each new post on Twitter seems to suggest this is going to go much longer than originally forecast. This is a particularly nasty virus.

This is how you stop a plague. I believe this works, I support the science. But it’s not easy. In the notes to an online worship set for the housebound, the band Rend Collective posted, “Social distance is good for our health and the health of others… But it’s not really good for our souls.”

I couldn’t agree more.

March 10, 2020

Churches Respond to Coronavirus

Filed under: Christianity, Church, current events — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:59 am

With things moving quickly, I said to my wife this morning that who is to say, looking at it from a Tuesday perspective, that we will have a service this weekend?

The following (and today’s images) are all from a Twitter news sub-feed indicating what churches are doing, accessed at 9:00 AM EST today:

  • ‘No hugs, no handshakes’ seems to be the #1 rule in these times
  • Prevalence of hand sanitizer stations, or in one church, people receiving a pump of sanitizer from the priest before receiving communion
  • At many Catholic churches, the Holy Water has been temporarily removed
  • At other churches, no wine for Communion/Eucharist
  • At some, the priests are dispensing the wafers with a ladle
  • At Orthodox churches, parishioners are asked to honor the icons by bowing, not kissing them
  • Many churches are already streaming services online
  • People encouraged to stay at home if they’re not feeling 100%
  • Denominations and parachurch organizations are cancelling larger conferences and seminars
  • At a synagogue, the hamantaschen (triangular filled cookie; festival of Purim tie-in) are individually wrapped instead of being on a tray
  • Some LDS churches have purchased high-speed thermometers
  • Area around the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque in Mecca shut down for sterilization

While these address the more practical concern, there is also the issue of fear, worry, anxiety, etc., and the subsequent depression this situation can bring on. The ability of the capital ‘C’ Church to meet these needs will certainly be tested over the coming weeks. 

Addressing this climate of concern, while at the same time remaining transparent about urgency taking measures to not spread germs is a two-pronged challenge. 

Then there is the question if some of the things we do on a regular basis, such as the shaking of hands, the sharing of the cup at the Lord’s Table, etc., should be reexamined long after the current outbreak has passed.

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