Patterns

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 130; 148, Hosea 13:9-16, Acts 28:1-16, Luke 9:28-36


The human mind is wired to recognize patterns – visual, behavioral, and temporal. This trait is a survival mechanism: breaks from expected patterns alert us to potential danger. Now that most of us no longer need to detect predators on the savanna, our brains still want to impose patterns – that is, a sense of order – onto the thinPattgs we observe, regardless of whether it actually makes sense to do so.

The ship that was taking Paul to Rome ran aground on the island of Malta. The inhabitants offered hospitality to the stranded crew. As the new friends huddled around a fire on a rainy night, a viper which had been nesting beneath the fire tried to escape the heat by biting Paul’s hand. Paul shook it off into the flames, but the Maltese whispered: “This man must be a murderer; though he has escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.” When Paul suffered no ill effects, they reversed their decision and declared him a God.

Confirmation bias – a warped adaptation of pattern recognition – is the habit of interpreting events to support what you already want to believe. The Maltese wanted to believe only the guilty were punished, so the bite indicated evil … until it didn’t, and they created an outlandish excuse that supported their assumptions. Religious and political affiliations virtually require confirmation bias to survive, though the threats they perceive are not physical, but ideological.

A sneaky byproduct of our environment, confirmation bias is much easier to recognize in others than in ourselves. We all would rather feel safe than threatened, so we are not inclined to question false but comforting assurances. Simply put, we like to be right.

Faith, however, does not need to be right. Instead of twisting truth to fit our preconceptions, it frees us up to meet the world as it is, because we trust that however the world is put together, God did it and is fully present in it. We can see the patterns behind the mere shadows of patterns, the ebb and flow of the Spirit through our world.

Comfort: Faith will get you through difficult truths.

Challenge: Pick a topic you feel strongly about. Speak with someone or read something that represents the other side. Try to find common ground based in truth.

Prayer: God of truth and wisdom, may my opinions be humble and my thoughts pointed toward you. Amen.

Discussion: Where might your blind spots be?

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