Mt Stupidity

Lately I’ve been fascinated by the Dunning-Kruger effect.  This is a study that has shown that in just about any area of knowledge, expertise, or skill, 90-95% of people believe they are above average. Even I know that is a mathematical impossibility. It also describes how most people who know nothing about a subject, know that they know nothing but when they learn a little bit they begin to believe they are experts. There is a term they use for this particular aspect, the peak of Mt Stupidity. It’s not a place you should want to go, and certainly not where you should want to stay but unfortunately most people (as quantified in the study) actually do seem to want to. Just follow all the discussions and debates on Facebook and Twitter on just about any subject. It’s so easy when we see or hear things, especially when they come from a trusted source, to believe them, and once we’ve believed something it’s very hard to change our minds. We doubt the words of experts when they contradict the words of people we know.

And when we pass the information on, we do it as irrefutable fact, when it’s little more than gossip. I must admit, that I too, can be very adamantly wrong. Sometimes it seems that there is an inverse relationship between how intelligent or profile that some one is and how intelligent or proficient thy try to appear. While I know it’s not completely contextual, I love what it says in Proverbs 18:17 “In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines.”

My son in law, knowing how I feel about this sent me a link to a YouTube video the a while ago. I’ve copied it here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y50i1bI2uN4&feature=share It really describes the effect, and the origin of the study quite well.

There is a Hawaiian saying I heard recently that has to do with gourds that are used as canteens.  It seems that the ones with the least water in them make the most noise. Similarly I’ve heard that politics and religion are like a swimming pool, most of the noise comes from the shallow end.

Many very bright people climb Mt stupidity. They may be legitimate experts in one field, or even multiple fields, but for some reason it makes them feel they are experts in every field.  To quote one of my earlier blog posts, unfortunately I need to admit that sometimes I’m that guy.

There is a simple way to make your way down from the Mountain. it is a willingness to listen, to learn, and to change. Everyone you meet knows something that you don’t, and the more I know, the more I know how little I know.

Sometimes when we make our way down the mountain it’s possible to end up with a feeling of imposter syndrome. This also is mentioned in the video. Often people that are near the top of the spectrum, those who have climbed down from the mountain or managed to avoid climbing it in the first place, will under estimate their knowledge. It can be very easy then to remain silent in an attempt to keep the peace, when you should speak up.

And Dunning-Kruger is not limited to individuals. Mob mentality can exacerbate errors. This can be applied to the entire human species, from the first incident with the tree in the garden of eden where we thought we could be like God, to the building of the Tower of Babel where we thought we could be like God, to today where we are constantly making godlike, life and death decisions. We are so worried about saving face and appearing stupid that we cannot admit our errors.

Friends

If the friend of my friend becomes my friend, and the enemy of my friend becomes my enemy, what happens if I have two friends who share an acquaintance who is the friend of one and the enemy of the other?  Do I now have three friends, or only two (and which two) or has it dropped to one?  There would appear to be some tension here, and no easy answer. Perhaps that is because I am actually starting with the wrong question. Much of the answer lies outside of me. Here are people that I call friends and there are people I don’t. Friendship is something other than acquaintance. Friends require a point of common interest. In his book “The Four Loves” C.S. Lewis writes something to the effect of , that if we share a passion, we can be friends, even if we disagree on the details. Two people who love hockey can be friends, even if they support different teams. Of course, the more passions you have in common, the easier it is to become friends.

So whether the third person becomes my friend will depend largely on what common interests we have – the first of course being our mutual friend who is really just a point of introduction. I do need to get to know this person, and perhaps I will gain a new friend. This triad friendship can be even deeper than the friendship with either of the individuals. Referring back to Lewis, when Charles Williams, who was one of the other Inklings, and arguably his best friend died, Lewis said that it was as if something was missing from each of their common friends as well.

Now suppose my other old friend, the one to whom my new friend is an enemy were to discover my new friendship. This is inevitable, for there should not be secrets between friends. They may come to me with a feeling of betrayal. How could I do this to them? We were friends first. I can explain how my new friend became my friend, and I can try to determine the root of the enmity. Was it a philosophical or dogmatic issue, a past slight, a character flaw (real or perceived) or just a matter of clashing personalities.  Ultimately, whether my old friend can accept my new friend and remain my friend is up to them.  Sometimes the deeper the love, the deeper the sense of betrayal.

Jesus didn’t talk much about friends, at least not in what was recorded.  He talked about neighbours (whom we are to love) and he talked about enemies (whom we are to love) and in the parable of the Good Samaritan he demonstrated that the enemy and the neighbour are often the same person.  There is a bit in John 15 where he calls the disciples friends and defines that friendship as following his commands and being willing to lay down one’s life (as he is). Not that we are to judge the quality of our friendships by whether our friends follow our commands, we aren’t Jesus.

I am a person who doesn’t cultivate a lot of friendships. I’m truly surprised when people want to spend time with me. I’m happiest in the company of a few, and am quite content to just be by myself. Perhaps that could change. As Jr Asparagus sings “we could have lunch. I’ll share my Jello”.

Passports, shots, and masks, oh my

A year and a half in, and so far I’ve not commented on anything covid19 related. Although it has certainly been one of the top stories globally in that time, I just haven’t felt the need. I’ve been fairly patient, even if occasionally disgusted as people argue about masks, shutdowns, quarantines, vaccines, and even the seriousness of the virus itself. I’ve even adjusted my opinion on some things. Some of the things I’ve heard expressed in the past few days though have brought me closer to the end of my rope.

One of the problems is that there is no way to log what doesn’t happen. It is impossible to directly quantify the efficacy of safety measures, vaccines, etc. If we are taking measures to reduce cases, there is no way to tell how many cases would have occurred if we hadn’t taken those measures. I see some of the projections as excessively pessimistic, but even if they are 50% out they are scary. What we need to do though is look backwards to look forwards.  We need to look at trends over time.

Let’s start with the efficacy of masks and hand washing.

There was a lot of talk in early 2020 of how COVID 19 was ‘just the flu’. It is related but significantly more dangerous. In the 2019-2020 flu season there were just over 55,000 cases reported to Canadian hospitals and 6900 deaths. In the 2020-2021 flu season the were only 66 cases as reported in a March 31st CTV news article. Since covid started, there have been 1.5 million cases of covid and 27,000 related deaths.  This is with enhanced hygiene- masks, sanitization, etc.  We cannot say how many of the people who caught and/or died from covid would have died from flu in a normal year, but I think we can positively state that the measures taken have virtually eliminated flu this year and without these measures, covid would have been much worse. 

What about the efficacy of vaccines?

The past couple of weeks have seen a dramatic spike in covid cases, mostly the delta variant.  This has happened since we started removing restrictions on gathering and mask wearing. The restrictions were being eased because most people were being vaccinated. We know that vaccines aren’t 100% effective. When the first tests were done on the covid vaccines and they were approved for emergency use, we were told that the efficacy varied between 65% for the single dose and 90-95% for the best double dose. Some people who got them might still get sick. But they still had a much lower chance of getting sick than if they didn’t take the vaccine at all.  The numbers lately seem to bear this out. In BC, roughy 82% of eligible persons have their first dose and roughly 75% have their second. If vaccines didn’t work, you would expect that of the cases reported this week, only 25% of the people contracting covid would have been unvaccinated. In reality it’s closer to 71% unvaccinated and only 10% fully vaccinated. I know there are other factors including where the cases are occurring and the social practices of many of those who are being infected, but I think the efficacy of the vaccine is still pretty clear.

The comment has been made that vaccines cause variants. The fact that the variants are first appearing in the regions that are least vaccinated and the fact you’ve never heard of polio delta, or smallpox lambda pretty well put that to rest.

Now, vaccine passports and/or mandatory vaccinations.

I am in favour of one and opposed to the other. Many jurisdictions are either considering or implementing some sort of vaccine passport, a record that limits what you can do and where you can go unless you have been vaccinated. Some have compared this to the Holocaust. I don’t even think elastigirl (think The Incredibles) can stretch that far. You really can’t compare a planned genocide with attempts to save lives.

What’s wrong with a vaccine passport?  For many years you have needed proof of certain vaccinations to go to some international destinations. We are not far removed from needing a vaccination record to attend school. Many of the vaccines were administered in the school.

In most of North America I can’t smoke indoors in a public place. This is because it was determined that the health risk to the non smoker was greater than the right of the smoker. We still allow people to smoke (thanks to the tobacco lobby) and there is a risk of second hand smoke causing health problems to non smokers, but there isn’t a third hand smoke problem.

We require anyone who wants to drive a car on a public road to pass some tests and prove their competence. An incompetent driver is a risk to themselves and to others around them.  Like smoking though, the damage ends at one degree of separation. We don’t allow someone to drive when they are impaired by alcohol, or anything else as that increases the risk of an accident . The biggest difference between a virus and the smoking or driving examples I just gave is that a virus can be transmitted through several degrees of separation. You can pass it to me and I can pass it to a coworker who could pass it to a parent, before you even know you have it.

Driving a car is voluntary. Smoking is voluntary. Going out to a movie or a restaurant is voluntary. Taking the vaccine should be optional, but I don’t know why anyone who could receive the vaccine would refuse to. Rules to do these things should not be an issue. We can’t just have vax and non vax sections either. That is like having a peeing and non peeing section of a public swimming pool. I’m sure that with technology there would be a way of creating a vaccine card that would indicate to a health professional if you are truly exempt, and not give any indication of that to the restaurant host.   We need to protect those who are unable to help them selves.

The approach of the BC government and public health officer since last March has been to treat us as adults, try to educate us, and expect us to make good decisions.  For the most part we did well. Lately, when the restrictions were eased we started to act like children and needed to be brought under a tighter umbrella again

I want to love my neighbour and not do anything that would put them at risk. I am proud to say that I got my vaccine – both doses

Words

“What are words for, when no one listens anymore?”  This line is from a 1982 song by the group Missing Persons. I love words.  I love the sounds as they roll off my lips in speech, especially as I try to form foreign words that aren’t familiar to me. I love the fact that I can put seemingly random marks on paper and someone can translate my thoughts from them. My mom says that as a child I was always looking for paper for writing, never drawing.  Reading is still one of my favourite pastimes.

A lot of people feel that they have something to say and want to share it. You only need to look at the proliferation of podcasts, blogs (like this one) and self published books. Some people do have a lot to say. Some say it. Some don’t. And some say more. But we need to be careful with words, as beautiful as they are. There is a quote I heard several years ago, attributed to various people, including Abraham Lincoln that goes; “it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” While it is somewhat humourous, I think there is some truth to it. Whenever I have a presentation to do, I try to script my words very carefully and follow it exactly so I say exactly what I want to say and nothing more or less.

A couple of years ago I heard Bruxy say in a podcast the “words are empty vessels that we fill with meaning”. The meaning that is put into the word by the speaker can be totally different than the meaning that is put into it by the hearer.

Unless the speaker and the hearer (or the writer and the reader) are of exactly the same mind, or at least very close to it, what is heard can be radically different from what is said. Whatever I write or say will be understood as it was intended by some, misunderstood by some, and potentially offensive to others. No matter how carefully I craft my words, there is room for misinterpretation. What may seam innocuous to the speaker could be hurtful to the hearer. Something said in jest could be heard as serious and then amplified.

While words can be balms, they can be more often weapons. For the most part we believe what we say. There are exceptions. I recently heard John Mark Comer say on a podcast I was listening to that “speech is a means of controlling others’ thoughts”. Sometimes we don’t even realize it, but other times this can be done very intentionally in what we call gaslighting, when we are intentionally turning our lies into someone else’s truths.

Then there is punctuation. I think I’ve mentioned before that I am still a fan of the Oxford comma; the one that comes before ‘and’ in a long list. It must be used correctly though, lest we become like the panda that eats, shoots, and leaves, rather than eats shoots and leaves. Punctuation can be difficult to convey in the spoken word though. You cannot speak quotation marks. On the latest Needtobreathe album there is a song that goes “I’d say God I’m only human, you’d say that’s what I’m here for”. There are two ways to hear that and the difference would be quotations around “that’s what I’m here for”. Is God saying that I can be ‘only human’ because he’s there do be God? Or am I hearing that it’s my job to be human, it’s what I’m here for. The difference is subtle but real. I can be, or I must be.

And words change meanings over time. Consider the word church. Many people now would understand it to mean the physical building where Christians meet, but historically it’s meant the people, no matter where they met. Or ‘quick’. There is a book by Louis L’amour titled ‘The Quick and the Dead’. Since it’s a western, I’m sure most people would relate ‘quick’ to the speed of your gun hand. I know I did. If you aren’t quick, you are dead. The phrase comes from the Bible though, specifically 1 Peter 4:9 in the King James translation where ‘quick’ means living.

Another one is disillusion. I had a negative connotation of that word, but it simply means to lose your illusions and aren’t the illusions the bad things and the departures from reality? Just thinking out loud. How do you feel about words? What are they for? Are we just speaking into the void?

No clue

It’s become quite clear to me that most people (and I will include myself) live quite insular in their thoughts. We really have no understanding of anyone else outside of a small group, and a lot of misunderstanding of people in that group. I touched on this briefly several years ago in a post called “You are unique. Get over it”.

Possibly the most famous example of this is Marie Antoinette‘s “Let them eat cake” when she was told that the peasants were revolting because they had no bread. I wouldn’t be surprised if this story is more anecdotal than factual, but it still makes a point. She had no clue about what was going on outside the palace.

We all have a tendency to compare ourselves to others, and the others that we are most frequently in contact with are the ones we compare ourselves to the most. But that puts blinders on us. If all we see are the people who are similar to us, we start to think that everyone is similar to us and will be surprised, and sometimes angry when we find out they aren’t. We don’t understand why they aren’t. We have no clue of what’s beyond the blinders.

This applies in all areas of life: where we live, where we work, where we play, where we worship; generally what we think and how we live. Except for the people we see on the news that we either envy, judge, or pity, and sometimes all three simultaneously, we start to assume that everyone is like us, similar in taste, in wealth, in education. Then we start to distrust those who aren’t like us.

Comparison in and of itself is not necessarily wrong. It can help us evaluate how we can improve as well as give us a realistic indication of what our limitations are. It can help us move toward what is admirable and away from what is not. We really need to be exposed to the full spectrum of humanity though for it to be valid. We need to acknowledge that there are others who are better than us at things and there are others who are not. There are others who have more than us and there are people who have less. We may not be where we think we are in the spectrum either. And we need to honour and be neither ashamed nor sycophantic when we encounter those who are better than us, and not be proud or disdainful when we encounter those who are not.

When we are only surrounded with people of the same socio-economic class, we start to think that it’s the most common, even if it’s far from it. When we are only surrounded with people who practice the same religion in the same way and using the same words that we do we start to think that we’ve got it exactly right and everything else is invalid. When we are surrounded exclusively with others of the same ethnicity, we start to see it as the normal one.

Intelligence deserves a full post of its own and it will get it when I address Dunning-Kruger soon, but for now, suffice it to say that while we consider ourselves high on the spectrum, and normal, the people we associate with are not far behind. We don’t see the spectrum as a bell curve so much as like a hockey stick. I do like to remind people, when they are shocked at the actions or words or understandings of others that even if we are barely above average intelligence that means 1/2 the people you meet will be less intelligent than you.

I suppose there are exceptions when we feel superior. On the game show “The Chase” a few weeks ago, when one of the contestants commented he was a member of Mensa, Ken Jennings quipped from the green room that the first rule of Mensa is that you must tell everyone you are a member. Mensa membership is the top 3% IQ. Sounds impressive, but based on global population, that limits membership to about 225,000,000 people.

How do we get a clue? I suppose we need to work at it. Read widely. Go to multiple sources for news. Listen to different voices. Expand our circles.

Favourite Music 2

In October 2011 I did a post of my favourite music; artists, albums, and songs. Since it’s 10 years now, I thought it would be a good time to revisit it to see what’s changed – and what hasn’t. My last few posts have been fairly heavy, so this was a chance to lighten it up a bit too.
The biggest change in music doesn’t show up on any of the lists, but directly affects all three of them. One word. Spotify. I listen to music a lot. 8-10 hours in a weekday while I’m working. I used to listen while driving too, but something else that has exploded in options and availability in the last 10 years is podcasts. That may be another post before long.
The daily mix suggestions have presented countless new (and new to me) artists. It’s also reminded me of old favourites and opened up complete artist’s catalogues to me. A lot of songs have been recorded in 10 years. Bands have dissolved and new ones have formed. New artists have appeared, some have retired, and unfortunately some have died.

A few comments before I get to the lists. Lyrics have always been important to me. The tune can be the hook, but without good lyrics, the hook can be barbless, and fall right out. There is something about protest songs that stirs my soul: Switchfoot’s Looking For America, Micah Bournes’ Just War Theory, and Johnny Cash’s album Bitter Tears are examples that don’t make top 10s but we’re close. This list, just like the previous, is subjective. I do not claim that any of these are “the best”. An individual can’t make that claim. I simply feel that these are the ones I like the most right now.

There were only three changes to the artist list. They were ones I just don’t listen to very much any more while their replacements are ones that I listen to over, and over.

Artists

  1. U2
  2. Needtobreathe
  3. Switchfoot
  4. Jason Isbell (solo and with The 400 Unit)
  5. REM
  6. Dire Straits / Mark Knopfler
  7. Tom Petty
  8. Johnny Cash
  9. Pink Floyd
  10. Waylon Jennings

There were only 3 changes to the album list too, and one of those was just a newer album from the same band. Another was an album recorded in 2020 from an artist I hadn’t heard of much before that and the third was an old favourite that I rediscovered. In the case of Reunions, I only recently started listening to the album as a whole when I noticed that I was liking over half the songs on it.

Albums

  1. Joshua Tree – U2
  2. Seconds of Pleasure – Rockpile
  3. Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd
  4. Hotel California – The Eagles
  5. American Idiot – Greenday
  6. Automatic for the People – REM
  7. Hello Hurricane – Switchfoot
  8. Seasons – Needtobreathe
  9. Reunions – Jason Isbell
  10. Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams – The Bodeans

Songs was a bit tougher. I mentioned previously how I had a hard time culling from over 50 down to the final 10. It was maybe a bit easier this time as I just wrote down what popped in to my head and then looked at the old list. There were only two that I felt needed to stay. Maybe I just needed to change it up a bit. I’m sure if I spent some time on it next week there would be further changes. It’s interesting that there is only on case where a favourite song is off a favourite album by a favourite artist. There are three where the favourite song is from a different album. There are also four cases where I don’t have a favourite album or song from a favourite artist.

Songs

  1. Solsbury Hill – Peter Gabriel
  2. Cough Syrup – Young the Giant
  3. Let the Day Begin – The Call
  4. What’s the Frequency Kenneth – REM
  5. White Man’s World – Jason Isbell
  6. Where the Streets Have No Name – U2
  7. Walking on Water – Needtobreathe
  8. If the House Burns Down Tonight – Switchfoot
  9. One Headlight – The Wallflowers
  10. Heathens – 21 Pilots

There you have it. Maybe in another 10 years I’ll do it again. I expect that there will be a lot of new things to consider.

O! Canada

This is a lament, as we approach Canada day (July 1) 2021.  Usually I join proudly in the celebration, wearing red, watching the fireworks and generally participating in the festivities. This year is a bit different. It’s hard. Of course the pandemic that’s been ongoing for the past year and a half has dampened everyone’s excitement, but it’s been the exposures in the past month of over a  thousand unmarked graves on the grounds of former Indian Residential Schools that has really made me think twice. Looking back though, I think this has been building for a few years already. Many municipalities, particularly those that are most directly impacted by the recent findings are choosing to forego celebrations, at least for this year.

There are calls from many indigenous persons right now to completely cancel the holiday. I’m not ready to go that far, but I have thought of wearing an orange shirt instead of red, for the same reason I have considered wearing a white poppy on Remembrance Day.

Let me be clear.  I love Canada.  I was born here 55 years ago and there is no country in the world in which I would rather live. The grass is not greener somewhere else.  The problem is that it’s not nearly as green here as it could be with some care.  It’s because I love it that I want to see it get better.

The fact that our government undertook a carefully calculated plan to eliminate an entire people group by forced assimilation regardless of casualties, not caring if they died in the process, is jarring. The fact that the task was joyfully taken on by the Christian church is gut wrenching. As Christ followers we have a responsibility to introduce people to Jesus, but as I read the other day, if it’s not with gentleness and respect, it’s not really Jesus we are introducing them to. We want to make excuses and justifications. Maybe there’s even some of that here.

I want to believe that most of the workers at the residential schools believed they were doing the right thing. I don’t want to believe it, but many likely thought their methods were the right ones too. Very likely it reflected the way they had been taught, with no sparing of the rod. There were exceptions on both extremes.  I’ve been hearing recently of a report that was done by an auditor that decried the conditions, but it was suppressed and he resigned – or was fired, depending on which story you read.  And there were some whose actions can only be described as evil. How many fell into each camp, I cannot say. The survivors can give us an idea – when their trauma will let them. I want to say that some death was inevitable in the earliest decades whether the schools existed or not. There was death in the settler communities as well.  There is no question though that the conditions caused many more deaths than would be considered acceptable in any other environment. In normal circumstances, a proper burial with a marked grave would have been the minimum and a return of the body to the family for culturally appropriate last rights would be better (but we were trying to remove the culture, weren’t we).  A midnight burial in an unmarked grave suggests something between contempt for the individual and a (sub)conscious knowledge that it was evil and needed to be hidden.

We can’t change the past, but we need to wrestle with it and face it so that we can work toward a better future. We can’t erase history. We tried. It will come back to haunt us like the ghost of a child in an unmarked grave. The first step is acknowledgement. It’s just a step but without that, there can be nothing else. That’s actually the easy part. Reconciliation is the hard part. Maybe it’s realizing how hard that will be that prevents us taking the first step.

One of my favourite musical artists right now is Jason Isbell. The third verse and chorus of his song “White Man’s World” goes like this;

I’m a white man living on a white man’s street / I’ve got the bones of the red man under my feet / the highway runs through the burial ground / past oceans of cotton // There’s no such thing as someone else’s war / your creature comforts aren’t the only thing worth fighting for / you’re still breathing it’s not too late / we’re all carrying one big burden, sharing one fate.

While there are increasing calls to cancel Canada day, after all, Canada as a nation has only existed for 154 years and a celebration of ‘Canada’ ignores the existence of the people who were here for thousands of years before that, this nation still has a lot of promise. I choose to honour the day in celebration of the land that is much more than Canada, in full recognition of the atrocities of the past and with the hope that we can make the future better.

Lives Matter

All lives Matter.  Those words have often been said in reaction to Black Lives Matter protests.  They are often spoken as if by singling out one group as mattering, we were suggesting that others don’t. I admit that I have used those words myself, although never with that intent (at least not consciously).  The thing is, that both expressions are true and both need to be said.

Sometimes we need to look broadly outward at the big picture. Sometimes we need to focus in on specifics. Sometimes groups, subgroups, or individuals need to be highlighted and raised up, because they have been pushed down. When we say that Black Lives Matter, it needs to be said, precisely because we have acted like they don’t.

It’s often an act of violence that prompts someone to highlight a group in this way.  Sometimes it’s a whole unjust system. The individual cases the prompt Black Lives Matter statements are too numerous to mention. The history of murdered and missing indigenous women and girls throughout Canada and the US, and the legacy of the residential school system have prompted an increase of indigenous lives matter protests.

When a police officer is killed in the line of duty, it immediately and rightly prompts cries of blue lives matter.

When someone drives a car into a family of muslims, killing four of the five, it immediately and rightfully prompts cries of Muslim lives matter.

I’ve commented before that when you are in a position of power, at the top of the hill so to speak, any attempt by others to reach and join you is perceived as oppression to you. Elevating the downtrodden can feel like pulling me down from my perch. Perhaps there is some truth to that. Perhaps I need to be pulled down a bit. But losing some ground in the process of a marginalized person gaining it should not feel like reverse discrimination. Is that even a real term?  I suppose it could be, but again, if I am not including you as an equal, why should I expect you to include me?

Back to my opening statement; why does it seem that those who yell it the loudest tend to put those lives on a spectrum?  They all matter, but some more than others. The life of an unborn child matters  neither more, nor less than the life of that same child after birth, yet we used to bomb abortion clinics and provide little support for mother and child to ensure that child doesn’t end up in a position where we decide their life doesn’t matter any more. Lock them up and throw away the key. It seems that typically the same people who protest abortion are the ones who support capital punishment and excessive military. There is advocacy for euthanasia (more commonly termed now medical assistance in dying) but we try to hide and refuse to address the problem of suicide.  The past 18 months under the dark cloud of COVID has given us blinders. As the death toll goes up and down (and every one of those lives mattered) we’ve pushed aside concerns of the opioid crisis in which the death toll has only continued to rise (and every one of those lives mattered). There is no consistency.

And we hide behind ‘whataboutism’.  What about how China is dealing with the Uyghurs? What about ISIS?  What about _______?  What about it? The fact that atrocities happen in other lands and are committed by other people have no bearing. We should protest them, but we should make sure we are cleaning up our own house at the same time or our words have no weight.

Every death is tragic. Black Lives Matter. Blue lives matter. Indigenous lives matter. Muslim lives matter. Unborn lives matter. Elderly lives matter. Israeli lives matter. Palestinian lives matter. All lives matter.

Grief

This post has been a long time in the works. It actually started a few years ago when my sister in law (my wife’s sister) passed away. Part of it was spoken at the cemetery. Part of this was added when a good friend died a few months ago. When my brother in law (my sister’s husband) died suddenly a couple months ago it seemed like a good time to try to fill it in and wrap it up.

 

The longer we live, the more we will experience the deaths of loved ones. Over the past 18 months, COVID has taken the lives of many people. But COVID has been hard on people who don’t have COVID. While I don’t have hard facts to support it, I believe the loneliness of enforced isolation has caused many people to lose their joy of living. It has prevented grandparents from meeting grandchildren. It has prevented us from embracing each other and sharing in each other’s griefs and joys. It’s changed the ways we can grieve.  

 

Around the same time this post started to form in my mind, an Orca mother off the British Columbia coast made global headlines when she carried the body of her dead calf around for 17 days.

 

More recently, unmarked graves of hundreds of children have been revealed on the sites of former Indian residential schools and boarding schools in the United States and Canada.

 

Grief is personal and individual. There is no one who can feel our pain for us.  Grief is shared and corporate. It is vital to come alongside the person who is grieving and join in their grief. I did not lose a loved one in the residential school system, but I am compelled to grieve alongside those who did. Grieving takes time, and since we are all different it takes a different amount of time for each of us.  It’s ok to grieve long (as the mother orca did), but it’s also ok to grieve short if that is your temperament. A shorter grief does not equate to a lesser love.

 

Everybody processes grief in different ways but what is important is that we do process it and don’t bottle it up. How we process it can be of benefit to others who are also grieving, but we can’t assume it will be. C.S.Lewis observed and wrote about his own grief in a semi-detached way. Thousands have processed their own grief through that.

 

Also around the time this started, Willie Nelson publicly expressed grief with his song “it’s not something you get over (but it’s something you get through)”.  They were words that resonated with our grief.

 

 While we can’t bear each other’s grief, we can share each other’s grief.

When someone is grieving, do we say the words that we imagine we would want to hear in the same circumstances?  Or do we say words just because we can’t bear the silence of someone else’s grief?  Or, in silence, do we allow ourselves, and them, to just be.

 

Jesus said that we are to mourn with those who mourn. Sometimes that is just to sit together in silence as Job’s friends did initially. Sometimes it’s to be a pair of ears, a pair of arms, and a shoulder. Sometimes it’s to shed tears along side. Sometimes, as in the Carolyn Arends song I was recently introduced to it’s to “cry for you”, to let you know that I know you are hurting, and I’m here if you need me.

 

In that we can be thankful that we have each other, and the bonds of family, and we can be thankful that we have Jesus.

 

We live in perishable bodies, but God has promised to clothe the perishable with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality through Christ’s own death (1 Corinthians 15:54).  This doesn’t relieve our grief, but it reminds us that the death of our mortal bodies is not the end of the story.

 

After all, while God has put eternity in our hearts, we are reminded by the words in 1 Corinthians 2:9 that no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”

 

Grief is hard. Sometimes the right word, or the right song (as noted above) comes along at just the right time and it softens it – a bit. We miss those who have gone ahead, and will continue to miss them, but we know that through Jesus we will see them again.

 

Below is a poem that I read at the graveside.

 

She is Gone; By David Harkins (with edits)

 

We can shed tears that she is gone

or we can smile because she has lived.

We can close our eyes and pray that she’ll come back

or we can open our eyes and see all she’s left.

Our hearts can be empty because we can’t see her

or we can be full of the love we shared.

We can turn our backs on tomorrow and live yesterday

or we can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.

We can remember her and only that she’s gone

or we can cherish her memory and let it live on.

We can cry and close our minds, be empty and turn our backs

or we can do what she’d want: smile, open our eyes, love, and go on.

My Evening Prayer

Now I lay me down to sleep

The troubles of the day are swirling in my head.

Thank you for the day that was

For all the work that was accomplished

Forgive me for the opportunities I missed

to glorify You in front of others

Grant me rest of body and mind

to prepare for the morning.

The Earth turns its back to the sum

The darkness is only broken by the lesser lights

The moon and the planets

which only reflect the sun as they travel through the sky

The distant stars – pinpricks that promise light and heat

but fail to provide

The world turns its back on the Son

Help me not to seek to be like the stars

relying on my own light

but like the moon to reflect Your light into the darkness.

until we turn to the Son again

For there was evening and it was followed by the morning.