The Ignorance of Our Own Ignorance (348)

God is not counting on us to keep ourselves stupid, closed off to the complexity of the world we’re in.
David Dark in his book, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything

We must remember that we are not God.
Vaclav Havel

David Dark is a questioner, an embracer of uncertainty, and his wonderful book helps us question everything from our religion and passions to our media choices and use of language. He sees our questions and uncertainties, not as signs we lack core convictions or beliefs, but as indicators of our dependency on God alone, which lead to our humility before the One who created us and more wonderfully redeemed us in Jesus Christ. Uncertainty is a good thing. If it doesn’t lead us to a detached irony or a caustic nihilism, then uncertainty helps us question our assumptions about ourselves and the world. A healthy questioning of things makes us work harder to see things more clearly and understand things more deeply. It can help us avoid overly simplistic answers to questions that are truly complex. Even questioning God is healthy. The Prophets of the Old Testament did it regularly as did the Psalmist. Anyone who believes questioning God would somehow diminish God must believe in a pretty scrawny, petty God.

There are few things of which we can be certain. At best, we can listen, learn, and form good judgments about what “is” based on the collective wisdom of smart people who’ve studied a question for a lot longer than we have. In other words, we must grant the premise that there are indeed people who are, on certain subjects, likely smarter than us. That humility appears to be in short supply these days as we grow in the ignorance of our own ignorance, mistaking our passions for what they clearly are not: objective truth, even when the preponderance of data tells us otherwise. We feel something should be true, so it must be. There’s a truthiness to it (thank you, Stephen Colbert).

As I write this, we’re waiting to learn (from really smart people) the path of Hurricane Irma, mere days after witnessing the destructive power of Hurricane Harvey. Climate scientists, many who are Nobel Laureates (really smart people), have been telling us for over a generation now that our human activity, particularly the burning of carbon, is changing the climate, heating the oceans and raising their level, and creating a greater likelihood for more extreme weather, like the kind we’re now seeing. It’s appropriate for us to question their conclusions about climate change. They don’t mind. In fact, they welcome it since they have the preponderance of the scientific evidence on their side. Thus, it’s perfectly fine to be “climate change skeptics;” to question scientific models and their conclusions. But at some point, humility must lead us to conclude that if these smart people have been researching this for a generation and 95% of them warn that we must limit the human activity that’s contributing to climate change, then we must humbly admit that they’re right and then do something about it.

So, I must then ask: when did we stop listening to smart people? When did we begin to glory in our own ignorance, even seeing it as a virtue?

+Scott

 

Nuclear Weapons Lead to a Devil’s Bargain (367)

There is no need to insist that in a world where another Hitler is very possible the mere existence of nuclear weapons constitutes the most tragic and serious problem that the human race has ever had to contend with. Indeed, the atmosphere of hatred, suspicion and tension in which we all live is precisely what is needed to produce Hitlers.
– Thomas Merton, writing on February 6, 1962

The monk, Thomas Merton, wrote these prescient words 55 years ago. They’re as relevant today as they were then. From the tradition of our Christian Faith, there’s no possible moral justification for the use of nuclear weapons. By the consequences they produce, the use of nuclear weapons is immoral and any nation who would use them would be guilty of shocking immorality. One only need to look at the devastating, long-term aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagaski to confirm that historic truth.

And yet, some who claim the moral “high ground” argue their use is defensible using what’s classically known as the “Just War Doctrine.” Put forth first by St Augustine and then later elaborated by St Thomas Aquinas, this Doctrine has served as the Church’s moral guide for centuries. The Doctrine’s concluding admonition is this: “the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.” Using nuclear weapons, as the clear evidence of history has shown, certainly produces “evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.”

What complicates this (there’s always a complication, isn’t there?) is that we live in a non-Christian world. Until the last century, the western world still held to some semblance of Christian morality, but that’s no longer the case. Even as wars were fought in those years, there was some sense of moral accountability; that some things were simply beyond the pale; that there were some things moral agents should never do. That means it would be a mistake for those of us who attend ourselves to the way of Jesus to assume the war practices of any government today are automatically congruent with the Christian faith. While in some cases they might well be, we should never be “blank check” Christians or assume something must be “moral” because we’re the ones doing it.

Thus, Christians can’t assume that a leader of any government will follow our morality when it comes to nuclear weapons, the use of which produces a consequence so obscene as to render it morally intolerable. And as Merton suggests above, Christians must work to lessen “the atmosphere of hatred, suspicion, and tension in which we live” because that’s the very climate in which fascism thrives. When fear is ginned up and exploited, people are encouraged to abandon their Christian morality in favor of following false prophets who promise that they alone can offer us safety and protection. When such promises are accepted, they almost always produce a bargain with the Devil.

As Christians, staying passive and silent when any leader suggests that the use of nuclear weapons is a morally right thing to do, makes us complicit in the guilt of a potential, unspeakable crime against humanity. May God have mercy upon us all.

+Scott

 

Racism, Uncomplicated, Racists: Complicated (346)

 

Old man, take a look at my life, I’m a lot like you.
– Neil Young

I loved my grandfather. He taught me how to fire a rifle safely and accurately. He taught me how to mix mortar with just the right consistency, not too wet, but wet enough to make it sticky and hold together. He taught me how to “butter” a brick, put it in place, and use the heel of the trowel to tap the brick this way and that, so it would be plumb on the line. He was ever so patient. I never recall a time when he even raised his voice to me. Whenever I got into trouble with my parents and he was nearby, he’d look at me, wink and smile, and then I had the sense everything would be all right.

My grandfather also was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. When I was six years old, sitting on the back stoop of his house on Glenview Avenue in Cincinnati, Ohio, he gave me a Klan pamphlet, and he told me that since I now knew how to read, I should read something important and useful. It was his effort to teach me something else, something much less edifying than how to “butter” a brick; something evil, something repugnant to God and the world God so loved.

No person’s life, however, can be easily explained or neatly pigeon-holed. These days we’re so quick to judge others and label them in a way that allows us to place them simplistically into the “evil” category. Human beings are much more complicated and messy than such simplicity justifies. Although I know very little about him, James Fields the young man who drove his car into a crowd of my former neighbors in Charlottesville, killing one and wounding many more, apparently grew up being fed a diet of racism. That diet was nurtured and supplemented by certain twisted people in his life who took the place of his deceased father.

I’m not asking anyone to absolve James Fields for his heinous act or his abhorrent I lours to give. It comes from God alone. Neither am I excusing anyone’s racist behavior. No just and compassionate society can long tolerate such hate and prejudice. But I am suggesting that we all humbly take a step back from our self-righteousness. I’ve heard many white folk recently congratulate themselves on how they’ve overcome their racism (some actually claim they never even had any). They’re now completely free of it, they say. Their inability to reflect honestly on their lives is quite astonishing to me. No person I’ve ever known has achieved such moral purity as to make that claim honestly.

“Old man, take a look at my life, I’m a lot like you.” People who knew him tell me that I remind them of my grandfather. I guess they’re right, at least in terms of our physical likeness. Am I a lot like that old man? Truth be told, the answer is both yes and no. It’s complicated. Was my grandfather an evil man? No, not entirely. Did he hold evil views that were morally repugnant and broke God’s heart? Yes, he did. And he, just like the rest of us, will always stand in the need of the grace and mercy given us by Jesus Christ.

+Scott

 

Heart-sick, Not Surprised (345)

If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.
President Lyndon B. Johnson

‘Cause everybody’s gotta have somebody to look down on; 
Who they can feel better than at any time they please
Kris Kristofferson, Jesus Was a Capricorn

Shocked, but not surprised was my reaction upon hearing the news of what happened in Charlottesville this past weekend. Having lived there for five years, I knew all the parks and streets mentioned in the news. Kelly and I used to take our then young children to play in one of the parks where many of the white supremacists gathered late Saturday. It was right next to the mission church I served. I’m heart-sick and disgusted, but I’m not surprised. This “dog whistling racism” has been emerging for some time now as a replacement for the old Jim Crow. The rise of the so-called “alt-right” in some people’s minds has legitimized what most people (we presumed) thought were by now abhorrent beliefs and behaviors. With their Hitler salutes, proclamations of white racial superiority, and hate-filled xenophobia, they’ve recently found a welcome refuge in too many main-stream political conversations.

Home-grown terrorist groups, which, let’s not fool ourselves, these white supremacists are, were removed from the “terrorist watch list” this February, even though there have been over 30 terrorist attacks by these groups since 2001. During that time, twice as many people have been killed by these groups than by any other religious or ethnic group. Their removal from the “terrorist watch list” clearly has emboldened them.

I’ve seen other white people look uncomfortable upon seeing who these messengers of hate and white supremacy are, while also slowing nodding affirming heads to much of their political message. So, I must ask: Can we really separate the message from the messengers? If a person’s views on current issues facing our society are the same as David Duke’s or Richard Spencer’s, then what does it say about that person’s real convictions? Can they honestly state it’s just a coincidence that they agree with much of the alt-right’s political agenda, but, you know, just not all that hate stuff?

I understand why some white people are angry for being excluded from the prosperity others experience. I grew up in Appalachia where life’s always been hard, and good, safe jobs have never been plentiful. But anger at Jews, African-Americans, and Latinos is misplaced. They’re simply the people white supremacists blame for problems caused by the economic and cultural changes we’re experiencing. They’re just emotionally and politically “picking their pockets.” It’s time for white people to look in the mirror and tell ourselves the truth. We don’t have a problem with religious or ethnic minorities in our culture. We have a white person problem. And white people, especially those of us who call ourselves by the name of Christ, must be determined and truthful enough to fix it.

+Scott

 

Summer Holiday with John Prine (344)

The eCrozier is taking its regularly scheduled summer holiday. While on holiday, it will travel with me to two bishop consecrations, the first this weekend in North Carolina, and then next weekend in Puerto Rico. It will then join me and Kelly on a brief holiday in Dublin (Ireland, not Georgia, although I enjoy visiting Dublin, Georgia as well!). It will resume its regular publication later this summer when it starts making sense again. Just like us all, it really needs a holiday.

Until then, I leave you with the wisdom of John Prine in his song, “Some Humans Ain’t Human.” Mr. Prine is a keen observer of the human condition. He’s also baptized and confirmed in The Episcopal Church, though it might have been awhile since he’s been in church! You can hear and see his humorous account of how he was baptized and confirmed by going to this link

It’ll be worth the brief four minutes of your time.

Let’s all pray to God that our humanity will show itself humanely in this world.

+Scott

Some humans ain’t human, Some people ain’t kind
You open up their hearts, And here’s what you’ll find
A few frozen pizzas, Some ice cubes with hair
A broken Popsicle, You don’t want to go there

Some humans ain’t human, Though they walk like we do
They live and they breathe, Just to turn the old screw
They screw you when you’re sleeping, They try to screw you blind
Some humans ain’t human, Some people ain’t kind 

You might go to church, And sit down in a pew
Those humans who ain’t human, Could be sittin’ right next to you
They talk about your family, They talk about your clothes
When they don’t know their own ass, From their own elbows

Some humans ain’t human, Some people ain’t kind
They lie through their teeth, With their head up their behind
You open up their hearts, And here’s what you’ll find
Some humans ain’t human, Some people ain’t kind

 

 

My Hope for Hunter Greene (343)

Hunter Greene was the second pick by our beloved Cincinnati Reds in this year’s Major League Baseball draft. He can pitch a baseball over 100 miles/hour. But he also can hit and play the field. Baseball scouts say he fields the shortstop position with the smooth grace of someone like Derek Jeter. At the plate, his power and hand-to-eye coordination remind people of the legendary Henry Aaron. He may someday be better than anyone who has ever played the game. And, by the way, Hunter Greene is only 17 years-old.

Once again, our sports culture is having their way with a young man, heaping hopes and expectations on him unfairly in a way that’s sure to disappoint. What happens if Hunter Greene turns out to be just a good Major League Baseball player? Let’s say he plays seven or eight years, has a decent won-loss record pitching, maybe in one of those years he even leads the league in wins and makes the All-Star team. Right there, that would be better than 99.9% of those who have ever played the game. But that wouldn’t be enough for our sports culture. The hype is too great. He can’t just have an average career in the future. Anything less than being one of the greatest will be deemed as him not living up to his potential. Articles will be written about “the disappointing career of Hunter Greene.” I remind you, Hunter Greene is just 17 years-old.

Can we not let him just be a high school senior where his own teachers are not asking him for his autograph (it’s happening)? Joon Lee, a staff writer for Bleacher Report, quoted Hunter Greene in a recent interview as saying: “I definitely feel like an adult 24/7. It’s hard to be in the moment because everything is happening so fast, and I’m so young. It’s hard to slow down because everything is moving so fast. I have something way bigger going on than all these other people,” referring to his high school classmates. His best friend (and high school catcher), nicknamed “Boogie,” says: “He knows he can’t make everyone happy,” Boogie says, “but he wants to feel like he at least tried.”

I hope he stops trying right now to make everyone happy or to prove all the hype is justified. The weight of expectations from scouts, the media, his teachers, his friends, his family, and yes, our beloved Reds, isn’t only unfair to the young man, it’s potentially a crushing diabolical force. The judgment of others never ends, especially in sports. No matter what he achieves on the baseball diamond, there will always be someone who says: “He didn’t live up to expectations. He was no Sandy Koufax. He was no Bob Gibson.” That’ll be the voice of the Evil One, Old Uncle Screwtape, who sows the seeds of failure and unworthiness in us all.

None of us lives up to expectation. We’ve all earned the right to fail and just be human. And God has provided for our human failure by his crucified atonement of the world. We need to redefine what success and failure means. My prayer for Hunter Greene is that he grows up learning to love and be loved; that he can learn to be compassionate and merciful to himself and to others, and that’ll be enough. It won’t be enough for the insatiable judgment of the world, but it’ll be enough for the God who created him and who more wonderfully redeemed him in Jesus Christ.

Scott+

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Hot Dogs and Healthcare (342)

When we talk about eating a hot dog, what we usually mean is that we’re not going to just eat a hot dog. We’re going to eat a hot dog…on a bun. But we don’t usually add the word “bun” when we describe eating a hot dog, because in a way, it’s merely the gratuitous delivery device by which we eat the hot dog. To be sure, most people like the bun as well, but the bun isn’t the hot dog. I guess some folk just eat a hot dog bun, but I don’t know any folk like that, at least not among true hot dog lovers like me.

A hot dog in its bun comes to mind as I follow the current debate over the recently proposed health care legislation. The proposed legislation isn’t really about “health care.” That’s just the bun. It’s about a massive tax cut for wealthy persons and corporations that will redistribute wealth from the poor to the rich. That’s the real hot dog here. The Joint Committee on Taxation, a nonpartisan committee of Congress assisting both parties on tax legislation, estimates that over the next ten years the legislation will redistribute one trillion dollars from health coverage for the bottom fifty percent of the population to give a tax cut to the top two percent.

Since the proposed legislation must be revenue neutral (due to the rules of the byzantine “reconciliation process”), where will that redistributed wealth come from to cover this enormous tax cut for the top two percent of the population? It will come from massive cuts to the Medicaid program, which provides health care to the poor, the disabled, and the elderly, who need it for nursing home and home care services (my daddy receives it now that he’s depleted most of his other assets). It’s Robin Hood in reverse. It’s a huge wealth redistribution (hot dog) masquerading as health care legislation (bun). It’s a punishment of the poor for being poor and thus for not being able to afford to buy health insurance.

Do those supporting this legislation think that, if passed, the poor, the disabled, and the elderly will stop needing health care simply because they can no longer afford to pay for it? How naïve! They will delay getting care until their situations are chronic or they won’t get health care at all. Estimates are that if over 20 million people lose health insurance coverage it will cause over 24,000 persons/year to die needlessly simply because they have no insurance. We end up paying for these costs one way or another.

This ought not to be a partisan issue among the political parties, but it’s become so. It’s become about which party will “win this fight.” I have no affection for either political party. They both seem to care more about “winning” than they do about caring “for the least of these who are members of [Jesus’] family” (Matthew 25:40). This or any healthcare legislation should be judged on its morality concerning the poor, not on its political expediency and certainly not on how much money politicians can redistribute to the rich. How we treat one another in this country when we need health care shouldn’t be about which party wins the day. Even hot dog lovers like me know that hot dogs aren’t a very healthy food. And when they’re in the form of a tax cut for the wealthy, they can really be unhealthy for “the least of these” among us.

+Scott

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Louis C.K. and God’s Non-Reciprocal Grace

For my money, comedian Louis C.K. is the second greatest public theologian of this generation (Singer/Songwriter John Prine is the greatest). His comedic insights into the human condition on his TV shows and in his stand-up comedy unmasks much of the posing we do. He can be harsh in that unmasking, but he can also be vulnerable and remarkably insightful. In 2006-2007, he had a short-lived (unfortunately), 13-episode show called Lucky Louie. The conceit of the show was how he and his wife, Kim (played wonderfully by Pamela Adlon), navigated (or didn’t) their working-class jobs, their marriage, and parenting their young daughter. In an episode called Flowers for Kim, Louie and Kim arrange for their daughter to stay with friends for the weekend so they can rekindle their lost romance. With their daughter away, Louie comes home and bursts into the kitchen ready for romance. He tells Kim he has a present for her. She beams and then he unveils a bunch of red roses. Her face falls and the viewer can see her heart drop. She calmly reminds him that she’s never liked red roses, as she’s told him so many times before. And yet, he persists in getting her red roses. His mood now changes and he says: “Well, you can still thank me for giving you the roses. Why won’t you even thank me?” Her reply is “why should I thank you for giving me a gift you know I don’t like?” He feels he should be rewarded for having been gracious in giving her a gift. She contends he doesn’t listen to her or care about her feelings, what she likes and doesn’t like. Surely, all married persons can relate to this scene, painfully so.

The Rule of Reciprocity is a social norm we share. It basically says that when someone does something nice for us, we feel a social obligation to return the favor. Business marketers understand this social norm. They use it to convince potential customers to make purchases by offering them gifts or incentives to entice such purchases. We feel this norm on birthdays. If someone gives us a birthday gift, then we feel obligated to give them a gift on their birthday. But this Rule of Reciprocity causes havoc when we feel the other isn’t responding reciprocally. When we’re “tracking” on one another, we stay balanced emotionally in reciprocity. But when that goes awry and we “switch-track,” where we switch down a new track (“I expect to be thanked for giving you the red roses”) and the other person switches to an even newer and different track (“You don’t care about my feelings, what I like or don’t like”), then we experience a profound relationship disequilibrium. There’s a lack of reciprocity on a deep, subconscious level and a powerful, in-grained social norm is violated inside of us.

Our humanity is complex, isn’t it? The possibilities for misunderstanding, as the Bible might say, are “legion,” as we “switch-track” in our relationships leading to hurt feelings and, possibly, estrangement. Our expectation for reciprocity is so deep inside of us and when it doesn’t occur, we feel crossed and violated. That may be why we have such a hard time accepting the gift of God’s grace. Grace is the ultimate violation of the Rule of Reciprocity. With Grace, God gives us the gift of forgiveness and mercy for which we can never possibly reciprocate. God has acted non-reciprocally, and on some level, we may even be angry with God and outraged for this gift of pre-emptive Grace. This isn’t how we believe it should be. But, thank God, it’s how it is with God.

+Scott

 

Like me, you may be curious about what motivates us to do good for others. We’d all like to think we do so out of the goodness of our hearts, solely for the other. Christians, in particular, would like to think that our motives for helping others are driven primarily by our faith in God’s work through Jesus’ redemption of the world on the cross. I’d like to think that Christians are more generous in doing good for others than people who don’t have such faith convictions. Except, it’s not true. There’s no reliable data supporting such a claim. There’s only our desire to believe it to be true.

In their book, The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life, behavioral economists Uri Gneezy and John List delve deeply into what incentivizes our behavior. Through exhaustive field testing and research, they allow the data of human behavior to speak for itself rather than make assumptions about what should be. What they discovered makes me uncomfortable. I’d like to think that because Jesus has shown me undeserved mercy, I’d be more generous in showing mercy than others who don’t have such faith. This should also be true of my financial generosity, without having to experience some reciprocal good for myself. But it’s not true.

The subtitle of their chapter on why people give to “good causes” tells it all: “Don’t Appeal to People’s Hearts: Appeal to Their Vanity.” While they don’t reference this in their book (but it’s consistent with their findings), I noticed this spring when Georgia Public Radio (GPB) was doing its semi-annual fund drive that the recurring tag line their on-air presenters were using was “Be a Public Radio Hero!” We’d all like to think ourselves heroic. “I could be a hero if I support GPB! I want to be a hero!” GPB was just appealing to my vanity. It worked. I upped my donation this year. “I’m a hero!”

Gneezy and List consistently show that the Church or other organizations that depend on people’s generosity to support their mission need to incentivize giving. Historically, the Church must’ve known this intuitively. After all, for centuries the Church financed much of its mission through indulgences, better known as “Get Out of Hell for a Price” cards. For a sizable gift, donors could ensure that they (and their loved ones) were prayed for, thus assuring that their souls were never (for the right price) in eternal peril. Now, that’s an incentive to give! But, thank God, we don’t offer indulgences any more. So, what motivates people to support the mission of the Church today? Do we really have to appeal to vanity and self-interest? I’d like to think that we don’t, but the data, as well as my own look in the mirror, tells me there’s truth there.

What hope then is there for us? Are we all just vain and selfish creatures? Well, yes, we all are, but that’s not all we are. We’re loved, forgiven, and redeemed vain and selfish creatures. God will use even the worst about us to work his grace in the world. Isn’t that what God did on the cross, use our shameful human proclivity for scapegoating and punishing to redeem us? God isn’t stumped by our vanity or our selfishness. Even when our motives to be generous aren’t pure, God will somehow still be glorified. Meditate on all that as we look forward to our stewardship campaigns this fall.

+Scott

 

Hearts Reconstructed (339)

What the heart desires, the will chooses, and the mind justifies
– attributed to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer

Oh boy, can our minds justify what our will chooses so we can get our heart’s desire! If that’s not self-evident by observing your own life and the lives of those around you, then I humbly suggest you’re not paying attention. Sin is the only tenet of the Christian faith that’s provable through basic human observation. It’s also being increasingly verified through social science. Social Scientists, however, don’t call it sin. They’ll often refer to it as a bias we humans have. And they can’t say for sure whether such bias is innate or culturally-conditioned. Either way, such biases are present in all of us.

Take, for example, something called Social Desirability Bias. In his book, Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, author Seth Stephens-Davidowitz uses aggregated data from Google searches to get past this bias. You see, in research done through surveys, even anonymous ones, we’ll lie when we answer questions. We’ll over-report that we engage in behavior our culture deems good and we’ll under-report our behavior that we think society frowns upon. But Google searches show what we really search for, revealing our true behavior and heart’s desire. Anglican moral theology just calls this concupiscence.

Then there’s Choice Supportive Bias, which I suffer from in the extreme. I’m loathe to admit I was wrong after I choose something. This bias is the tendency to justify a choice we make even after it’s patently obvious (maybe except to ourselves) that it was a poor choice. So, that shirt I bought turns out to not fit well at all and is ugly as can be. But I’m still going to wear it, downplaying its poor fit and ugliness, because I don’t want to admit I chose poorly. Over time, I’ll actually convince myself the shirt fits like a dream and is stylistically impeccable. Social Scientists call this a type of cognitive bias. The Christian tradition just calls it the sin of pride.

And then there’s Confirmation Bias where we only interpret, favor, or recall information that supports our already held conviction. Contrary to what we may think, such a bias isn’t a recent phenomenon caused by social media. We humans have suffered from this since our creation. Social Scientists have just now documented it as a universal bias we have. Our prejudices are like rats and our minds are like traps. Once they get in there, it’s hard to get them out. That’s why racism is such a powerful force. Once it becomes a mental construct, it’s continually reinforced in our racist mind. That’s why it’s rightly called “America’s Original Sin.”

Our biases simply betray the truth about ourselves. We might think our minds direct our wills, but they don’t. Our minds are captive to what our will wants, and our will itself is then held captive by what our heart desires. The spiritual medicine for this are hearts reconstructed by God’s grace where our hearts, marinated in such grace, learn to will virtues like love, compassion, and mercy. Only then do our minds begin to change.

+Scott