Updated: Mar 16, 2021
This morning I listened to an episode of "Learning How to See" by Brian McLaren and Jacqui Lewis, with Richard Rohr. I really recommend this podcast - you'll find it wherever you listen to podcasts, or through the Center for Action and Contemplation at https://cac.org.
The podcast explores 13 different types of bias. We all have them, and what Rev. McLaren, Rev. Dr. Lewis and Fr. Rohr ask us to do is explore ourselves to determine our own biases. In this episode, "Seeing Doubt, Contemplation and Action," Rev. McLaren mentions the story of the blind man by the side of the road who cries out for mercy. Jesus asks what he wants and he says, "I want to see!"
I found the story in Mark 10:46-52 (NIV):
46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
I have always read this story imagining a man with diseased eyes, perhaps wearing the ancient version of dark glasses, who wants to be able to see colors, the sky, the grass, the faces of those he loves, and to be able to do productive work again. Today, I heard it very differently.
Today, I prayed that I might be able to see. And then thought, "Ummm - maybe I don't want to see." But yes, I do want to see - if God will help me to a) see; b) be brave and c) face what I need to face.
When I said, "Rabbi, I want to see," I mean that I want to see what my biases are and where they might be impeding my ability to see God in others, to have empathy for their situations, and to do the work God calls me to do. I want to see the humanity in each person I encounter, whether face to face or from a distance. Whether the person is someone I see or people I will never meet.
Brian McLaren describes 13 types of bias - he jokes that he chose to start each type with the letter c to make them easier to remember. I actually found this very helpful!
The 13 types of bias described and explored in the podcast are :
1. Confirmation bias: we like information that supports what we already believe to be true.
2. Complexity bias: we prefer a simple lie to a complex truth
3. Community bias: we find it extremely difficult to accept truths that might put us outside of our groups
4. Complimentary bias: we'll accept an alternate truth more readily if it is delivered kindly
5. Contact bias: we don't understand people we never encounter
6. Conservative/liberal bias: enough said
7. Consciousness bias: we see and understand based on our cognitive maturity
8. Competency bias: we tend to think we are much better at things than we really are
9. Confidence bias: if a liar is confident, we will believe that person before we believe someone who is less confident and telling the truth.
10. Conspiracy bias: if we feel shame we look for information that confirms us as the hero or the victim, never the villain, in our story
11. Comfort/complacency/convenience bias: we want to be happy so look for information that isn't uncomfortable
12. Catastrophe bias: we believe things that happen catastrophically (Texas winter storm) but not that happen gradually (climate change)
13. Cash bias: don't try to mess with our livelihoods!
I pray that I will see what I don't want to see. I pray for the wisdom to do my best to understand situations from both sides, and to admit when I am not able to do so because I don't have the experience or the education (I'm thinking of economics here!). I pray for the strength and patience to try to learn things I don't understand. I pray that I will find people who will help me understand.
I pray for the confidence to venture outside of my comfort zone to meet people who are not like me. I pray for critical thinking skills so I can recognize when something doesn't ring true.
I pray that I will be able to see myself as I really am - beauty and warts, strengths and weaknesses, biases and empathy.
I pray for the strength and wisdom to acknowledge when I am at fault and take necessary steps to rectify bad situations that I have caused. To repent and apologize as necessary.
I pray that I will find the confidence to step outside of my comfort zone, and to put into practice my belief that I have more than I need while others have less, and to make that right.
I pray for the wisdom to recognize change as it happens, and for the grace to listen to experts who know more than I do. I pray for the strength to do what I need to do.
I pray for the generosity to share my resources, and to be willing to sacrifice for the benefit of others.
Lord, I want to see!
There is another part to this story that I never really recognized until this morning. I read the story using the lectio divina contemplative practice. If you aren't familiar with lectio divina, you can learn more at Lectio Divina: A Beginner's Guide | Busted Halo. Here are the steps:
Lectio: Read the passage
Meditatio: Reflect on what you just read
As I read and reflected this morning, I found myself focusing on the crowd. Remember, Jesus was walking near Jericho and was surrounded by a large crowd. As Bartimaeus - the blind man - called out for help and mercy, the crowd told him to be quiet. "Silence!"
One of the "least of these," (Matthew 25:40) cries out, and the powerful majority tells him to be quiet.
How many times are we the powerful majority and don't stop to think about who we are shushing? As a woman, I have been shushed plenty of times. It is so pervasive I find myself apologizing for sharing an idea or thought. (Sorry! Maybe it's just me. See?) Lord, I want to see!
How are we shushing people of color? We match the Black Lives Matter movement with one called Blue Lives Matter. Of course all lives matter - but in our shushing we deny the cry that black lives have NOT always mattered. Native peoples have been betrayed over and over again, and we still expect them to take us at our word. Asian people are just beginning to find their voices and to acknowledge that they, too, have been mistreated and overlooked. Lord, I want to see!
How about the LGBTQ community? We insist that marriage is between a man and a woman, and don't consider the pain of two consenting adults who love each other and have been denied the ability to share in the joys, intimacies, and civil benefits of marriage. We insist that the Bible says it is wrong without trying to understand what, exactly, the Biblical writers were objecting to (hint: not consensual loving partnerships). We insist that trans people use the bathroom of the gender they were assigned at birth. Have we listened to what happens to them in those bathrooms and why they want to use their preferred bathroom? Have we tried to understand what it is like to identify as the gender you are not assigned? Lord, I want to see!
It is expensive and inconvenient to accommodate the disabled, but isn't that what we are called to do? Healing doesn't just mean a restoration to hale and hearty vitality. Healing might mean mean the ability to live one's best life while being differently abled. Jesus healed everyone, but we know that not all diseases and infirmities can be cured. Lord, I want to see!
And I just want to say here that I am trying to be thoughtful with my words but I am so afraid that I am going to offend someone - and if I do, please let me know, correct me, and accept my sincerest apology. Lord, I want to see!
I think many of us put ourselves in the story as casual onlookers - we watch Jesus restore sight to blind Bartimaeus. But I think we should put ourselves in the story as Bartimaeus and ask for the restoration of our sight, even if we can see colors, and faces, and words, and television. Lord, restore our sight so that we might see what You see - the humanity in each person, the beauty of creation, the goodness of everything and everyone that You have created.
Then I think we should put ourselves in the crowd, shouting at a disabled man to BE QUIET! Where in our day to day lives are we shouting that, and to whom? Lord, help us to see where we are complicit in bigotry, hatred, and lies, and give us the strength to make things right.
And then, let us be bold enough to try to walk in Jesus' shoes and discern where we, too, can be instruments of God's healing. Lord, we thank you for the healing that You continue to do. May we be open to it.
Lord, help me see!
Image. "Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil." Design Business Council. Hear_No_Evil_See_No_Evil_Speak_No_Evil.jpg (1000×361) (designbusinesscouncil.com). Accessed February 21, 2021.
Manneh, Elizabeth. "Lectio Divina: A Beginner's Guide." Busted Halo. March 28, 2020. Lectio Divina: A Beginner's Guide | Busted Halo. Accessed February 21, 2021.
McLaren, Brian, Jacqui Lewis and Richard Rohr. "Seeing Doubt, Contemplation and Action." Learning How to See, episode 6. Podcast. November 9, 2020. Accessed February 21, 2021.
McLaren, Brian, Jacqui Lewis and Richard Rohr. "Why Can't We See?" Learning How to See, episode 1. Podcast. October 5, 2020. Accessed February 21, 2021.