Breaking Bias

Breaking bias

Full Definition of BIAS

1
:  a line diagonal to the grain of a fabric; especially :  a line at a 45 degree angle to the selvage often utilized in the cutting of garments for smoother fit
a :  bent, tendency

b :  an inclination of temperament or outlook; especially :  a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment :  prejudice

 

c :  an instance of such prejudice

d (1) :  deviation of the expected value of a statistical estimate from the quantity it estimates (2) :  systematic error introduced into sampling or testing by selecting or encouraging one outcome or answer over others

4
a :  a voltage applied to a device (as a transistor control electrode) to establish a reference level for operation

b :  a high-frequency voltage combined with an audio signal to reduce distortion in tape recording

It seemed timely to post about bias because of the turmoil that is going on in Ferguson right now, that and a tortured call from my eldest son at 4 in the morning who, while trying to be the voice of fact and reason, was obliterated by a friend who challenged him as a privileged white person with deep racial overtones.  Understandably,  he is nothing like that, we didn’t raise him that way, but upsetting nonetheless.  It isn’t always helpful in the face of such raw emotion to be challenged on the lack of factual information.  Ferguson triggered a  powder keg of emotions that have been festering for a long time .  Justifiable or not, this kind of raw emotionally charged situation, already escalated by a media that capitalizes on frenzied, angry incitement and violence, has to be approached with the delicacy of a political surgeon, and not by online postings that polarize the situation further.  The horrible events that happened that day were so entrenched in a long history that none of us were directly involved in and can ever know accurately.  Telling someone in the throws of that kind of emotion to calm down or keep a level head, no matter how well intended, never sits well.

All of us are bias.  It is the inevitable result of a solitary perspective.  It isn’t necessarily a bad thing…just a simple truth.  But to perpetuate that singular perspective by insulating yourself with only those who think like you do is how situations in Ferguson get out of control.  I’ve always told my children that true empathy must be rooted in caring for another plus factual information about something you’re not directly involved in because it will give you the necessary tools to help more effectively.  I had a great Evidence prof in law school that hammered that notion home: if information presented does not lead to the truth of the matter at hand, it should be excluded.  It is also why we don’t watch Fox news or MSNBC at my house…they are too biased, and often irreverently so.  I’m sure that will get me in trouble with some, but hey…I’m one of those fools who actually believes that the truth will set me free.

I don’t know how to solve the problems in Ferguson, it’s horrifying to watch and so beyond my wheelhouse of experience that it feels almost impossible to find the truth I desperately need to broaden my perspective.  Everywhere I turn I see bias that distorts whatever truth may exist out there.  That isn’t an excuse to forgo any conversation, because while I may never know what really happened there, I do know that addressing issues dealing with race, violence, police mistrust and the questionable way this whole crisis was handled have to be part of the solution.  I won’t say that level heads must prevail because that would be my bias…but I will say for those of us on the outside who cannot offer any solutions at this point, we should shut up and listen more, that would certainly go along way for the people of Ferguson.

 

Powerless, Part 1

stone to breadI’ve been thinking a lot about power these days and how deeply I think it is misunderstood.  When I am feeling most vulnerable and powerless, I look to my greatest role model, Jesus.   In chapter four of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus has been in the desert without food for forty days and at this very vulnerable point the Devil comes to tempt him.  Initially, the Devil goes right to the heart of the matter, Jesus’ physical needs and tempts him to use his power for personal gain, to turn a stone to bread and satiate his hunger.  He refuses, and replies that we cannot live by bread alone.   It is a choice between the discomfort of hunger, to which he in his heart knew to be temporary, and satiate a desire to show off his power over nature.  That, to me anyway, is a pivotal point.  He could have begun his ministry with pomp and circumstance of showing off the power to bend everything to his will and be glorified.  But he didn’t.  He chose to live and walk as a man, and never use his power for personal gain.  Just because he could didn’t mean he should.

When I think of my own hunger, it manifests in many different kinds of deprivations, all that create discomfort.  Recognizing that weakness is when I doubt and lose faith and look to try to get rid of the discomfort the easiest way possible, is the exact moment to reject these inclinations and follow Jesus’ lead.  If I want to live like Jesus did, I must believe that these weaknesses are only temporary, and choosing be uncomfortable or embarrassed in this moment forces me to access my own true source of power, and satiate my spiritual hunger first.  While that may soothe me spiritually and philosophically, I also know what it feels like to be in the presence of someone who plays on a weakness and dares me to prove that I’m not by a show of force.  It is tempting to prove to them that I’m not what they say I am and at the same time punish them for exposing and taunting me about it.  I’ve fallen into that temptation many times in the past and have used power just to prove I have it.  I can truthfully say that I only felt weak afterwards.  Avoiding that temptation to prove yourself to someone and to stand tall and not accept the bait is and always will be the greatest show of strength.

So how is the story of changing a stone to bread different from the wedding at Cana when Jesus was asked to change water into wine?  In transforming the water into wine, he did it as a sign of who he was.  In the desert, there was no one else there.  The true source of power isn’t being able to transform a stone into bread or water into wine, but to know the power exists within to do these things first.  Is it a subtle distinction?  I think so.  I really believe if Jesus would have allowed himself to be baited into making that bread, to prove himself, he would have lost it.  In Cana, he didn’t really need to prove anything, he didn’t really want to make that transformation either, because he questioned whether was ready.  He inevitably did it because his mother asked him to, that this was the moment to start his active ministry.    Knowing you have the power to do something and doing it to prove you have it…is a sign of weakness.  But using your power so do something and use it to bring others to a greater place is not.  I’m sure that choice was always on Jesus mind.  It isn’t always obvious if we use power to make ourselves look better or to help others.  I struggle with that choice as a parent all the time.  And in a time of muscle flexing and sand pissing…i.e., “my God is better than yours”, or “my political beliefs are right and yours are wrong”, or “Money buys power”  etc.etc., that struggle becomes all the more difficult. We all need to entertain the possibility in any power struggle whether or not we are taking the devils bait.

Agony

agony

I’ve been working on a dramatic piece called “Stations” about Jesus’ final walk to Golgotha for a while now, and it’s had many incarnations.  Lately, though, I keep coming back to the agony Jesus felt in the Garden of Gethsemane before the culmination of his great act of sacrifice.  How deep was the agony he felt that it would cause him to sweat blood, to panic so deeply, that even after all his miracles and raising Lazarus from the dead, he asked his Father to release him at the last-minute?  So, as I often do, I prayed to God for some insight into those few hours underneath the tree…and this is what came to mind.  Music is part of my process, and this piece in particular from Eric Whitacre peeled away much of what I was afraid to see, invoking such grief and deep emotion that I was almost too embarrassed to write this post.  So I add it as a context, while you read that hopefully it will add a dimension to my words.

I see a solitary figure under a tree, with sleeping men laying a short distance away.  His loneliness is palpable and He prays out to His Father for assistance and comfort.  An angel appears and quietly sits beside him, and I draw closer.  The solemnity of the angels’ presence is palpable, his tone somber as he speaks to Jesus.  What transpires between them is an understanding of what is about to happen in the next few days, that agony has begun.  The angel shows Jesus the sinfulness of humanity throughout the ages and his fury grows blinding hot, more than he ever did at the scribes and pharisees, or any other behavior we have witnessed thus far.  In his rage, he turns away and tells the angel that perhaps humanity is beyond saving.  The thought of sacrificing himself for such an abomination is unbearable to him.  The angel than takes his hand and shows him the victims of that sin…the beauty of God’s creation destroyed in the darkest and most heinous fashion and then racked in anger and despair he begs his Father to release him from drinking from this cup.

I try to empathize with Jesus, and though I haven’t seen all that the angel has shown him, I hope I have seen enough evil in my life to maybe create a speck of understanding.  Who would die for them?  The angel then turns to me and brings Jesus attention to where I am standing.  Up until this point I am an unknown presence, a simple voyeur watching a play.  As I am drawn in, fear wells up inside, I am exposed…in all my fallibility it is me that Jesus sees now in his deepest agony.  The angel points to me and says…”It is for her that you must bear this burden, so that she might live.”  Jesus turns to me and immediately the anguish in his face dissipates for a moment and he sees me, purely, flaws and all.  I am no longer an insignificant one of millions who is graced because of something that happened 2000 years ago.  I am removed from that safety of history and stand right before him, weak and pathetic.  Than angel wants me to be the reason that he follows through with what will be the most painful, demoralizing and fearful moments of his life.  Completely shocked and appalled and before I can run away to avoid the guilt of being the reason for his pain he turns to heaven and says “Father, let your will be done.”  He turns to me resolved and with such eyes of love that I fall on the ground weeping.  I scream at him, “Don’t make me the reason, I am not worth going through what you about to go through.”  I fall with the weight of this realization clear in my heart to the ground…the phrase “He died for my sins” blaring into my head, and I am unable in that raw moment to safely intellectualized anything.  My soul in broken, I see that now.

Jesus pulls me up, and the moment I look into his eyes, my burden is lifted and the weight of my sins are gone.  In an instant, I know that it wasn’t only just my face that he saw but every face seen singularly,  yet all at once.  His appearance becomes a bit heavier and darker and I understand the transference of my sins and all whose eyes he gazed upon has begun.  The aura of his purity is blackened…I know now that it will be easy for him to be handed over for crucifixion.  The blackness of our sin becomes like a cloak…hiding his true nature by reflecting back to those that gaze upon him their own sinfulness.  Magnified by a millennium of sin I see now how they can hate him.  Every Good Friday service, at the part in the story when the crowd screams “crucify him!”,  I am certain I would have stood up to the crowd and fought for him.  Now, seeing him with the weight of that darkness, I don’t think I could.  It is so easy to hate the sin worn by others, when we can’t see it in ourselves.

My once broken soul has been made whole by his sacrifice, the cloak of my sin is gone.  The light of his grace can shine unfettered and bring healing to the world.  It can shine through me if I choose to be his instrument of love and peace.  And as often as I may fail, this visit to the garden will inspire me to keep trying…every day until I die.