Kent’s March TrUUmpet

Posted by Kent Matthies on March 23, 2016 at 11:00am

Dear Friends,

My gratitude abounds for February Study Leave.  Thanks to everyone who worked to afford me the opportunity to take a full month of study, reflection and creativity.

During time away from my regular duties I went deeper into sustaining activities.  For example, a colleague guided me a new practice called Heart Math.  This primarily self-guided meditation brings many short and long term benefits for resiliency of the body, mind and spirit.

I took numerous walks in the woods and got down on my yoga mat with regularity.

I was excited to take time to figure out what I wanted to read and then to actually read it.  Here are some of the wonderful books I read.  I finished one novel, “The Elegance of a Hedgehog” by French author Muriel Barbery.  “Hedgehog” portrays a brilliant concierge in a high-end Paris apartment complex.  Navigating drudgery imposed by a thoughtless society and finding intelligent, interesting friends, this delightful concierge grabbed my attention.

Next I ate up the novel: “A Strangeness in My Mind”, by Turkish author Orhan Pamuk.   Protagonist Melvut comes to Istanbul during early boom years having left a dirt-poor farming community.  With a family tree that needs constant refreshing of my memory, this epic story spans many generations, cultural changes and songs of the Turkish people.

I frolicked through a number of books about preaching and sermon anthologies: “Transforming the Stone” by Lutheran Minister, Barbara Lundblad, “The Haunt of Grace”, by Methodist Minister, Ted Loder, “The Holy Spirit and Preaching” by Pentecostal Minister, James Forbes, “The Abundance of Our Faith” by Unitarian Universalist Ministers (yes I read them) Sweetser and Milnor, and “Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln”, by Republican (yes I read them) speech writer, James Humes.

The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wider, by Erin Blakemore explores female fiction authors and their characters.  Offering timeless lessons of joy and resiliency this is a good book to pick up any day you need a boost.

The book I found most compelling and challenging was “Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People.”  I am preaching two sermons in a row on this book in April (10 & 17).   I invite everyone to read some or all this book.  If you read along we can all discuss.  If you don’t have time or inclination the sermons will absolutely be for you as well!

Two highly impressive psychologists, Mahzarin R Banaji and Anthony G Greenwald, wrote “Blind Spot”.  The authors have worked for decades in the fields of consciousness, memory, and cognitive capacities.  With significant helpful research and analysis they argue we humans act like sponges – rather than plastic capsules – with the prejudices and stereotypes in society.  We absorb biases, which often lead to erroneous assumptions and pursuant actions.  It is nearly impossible to assess others in fair and accurate ways.

Here is the good news!  The authors don’t beat you up.  They actually provide solace.  As a straight, white man who likes football and hamburgers I apply hidden biases to straight, white men who like football and hamburgers.  I also apply hidden biases to gay, black women who like gardening and Mozart.  We are truly all in this together.

More good news: these hidden biases are not all bad.  The age-old example is true.  It is good to assume danger seeing a big bear wandering 15 feet away from you in the woods.  But that is a rather simplistic example.  If as individuals and communities we work together we can figure out how our cognitive capacities and behaviors can improve our collective quality of life.  We can also reduce the number of times we harm each other and ourselves.  These changes are needed and possible at the individual and largest institutional levels.  Sounds like a concept worthy of faith!
I have been SO VERY delighted to be back “in the saddle” since March 1st.  Our 150thAnniversary Dinner, honoring of the memorial to the lost (gun violence victims) and Community Day were all examples of how tremendously blessed I feel to be part of USG!  See you soon.

Love, Kent

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