The Antidote To Ignorance

By Charles Fick

I keep coming back to this sentence from ­Humilitas by John Dickson.  He says, “Expertise could legitimately be described as uncovering the depths of my ignorance.” (p. 54)

In my ethnic journey as a privileged white male I’ve come to realize that I’m not very good at admitting my own ignorance.  I want to project strength, competence, and intelligence.  My arrogance and pride often convince me that I know much more than I do.  Some have even gone so far as to applaud their ignorance.  Arrogance of ignorance is a thing now.  Ignorance is bliss, right?

Arrogance of ignorance

is a thing now. 

Ignorance is bliss, right?


On the contrary, ignorance is dangerous; and ignorance of your own ignorance is very dangerous.  Ignorance of others’ ignorance can also be dangerous, especially when combined with a semi-anonymous social media communication method.  I see this daily in my Facebook feed.  Ignorance combined with arrogance has led to…quite a mess.  It’s gotten pretty ugly out there on the interwebs.

It’s much easier to point out ignorance in others, especially if you consider yourself a “woke” white person like me.  Moral superiority is a powerful drug for the ego.  The election of such a morally flawed President as Donald Trump only adds fuel to the fire.  This is a recipe for relational disasters, and I’ve had a few.

But lately I’ve been weighed down by how much I don’t know and how hard it is to grasp the truth of things that are happening.  It’s really difficult to sort through the piles of biased propaganda and biased news left and right to ascertain what is actually going on.

The possibility of believing lies, repeating them and basing our actions on them is very real.  The miscommunications keep piling up and anger begins to boil inside me.  Arrogance of ignorance is exhausting.  I lament the ignorance in me.  I lament the ignorance of white supremacy.  I lament the ignorance of history.  I’m so so tired of ignorance.  Tired of my own, and especially tired of others’ ignorance.

So how do we invite our “un-woke” brothers and sisters to join us on this journey that we are on?  How do we fight this ignorance?  I’d like to suggest these three action steps that I hope to make myself in the days and weeks ahead:

  1. Fight ignorance with relationships.  Get to know them deeply.  Ask lots of questions.  Learn from them.  Have them introduce you to their friends and introduce them to your friends.  They need to know you and you need to know them.  We all need to know more people who are not like us who can begin to fill in the blank spaces is our knowledge, correct some misconceptions and just maybe open our eyes to our blind spots and prejudices.
  2. Fight ignorance by telling your story.  Tell the stories of your journey face to face.  Politics is contentious.  Ideologies conflict.  But stories?  No one can argue with your story.  My own ethnic journey was blissfully ignorant until I moved to Atlanta in 2001 for Mission Year.  My whole purpose for being there was to love my neighbors and I quickly figured out that meant listening to their stories.  Their stories changed me.  Your story can change others too.
  3. Fight ignorance with the truth, gently.  Read and discuss a book on the history of racism, white supremacy, oppression, inequality, injustice, slavery, poverty, civil rights, reconciliation…  Or take a class with them on one of these topics.  I thought slavery wasn’t that bad until I read The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass for an Africana Studies class at Cornell.  I’ve been reading books like it ever since.

Ignorance is not bliss.  Ignorance is darkness.  Every time I connect with a person who is different from me I see a flicker of hope.  Every time I share a story from my ethnic journey with a friend the world seems a bit brighter.  Every time I share the truth in love, the light shines forth.  The antidote to ignorance is the light of the truth.

Gone to Waukesha

I need to say goodbye for a season; I’m not sure how long. I was praying and searching for a new church call, and have become an Intentional Interim Pastor…. this is the person who serves a church between settled pastors to help the community be intentional about their transition, and future mission. I wanted to do this kind of ministry partly because the Church (in it’s largest sense, of everybody following Jesus in community) is changing in history-making ways. I believe that Christian communities between settled ministries, are more open to thinking about change, and discerning what God is doing. Then recently, God opened the door for me to serve a very large and lovely Lutheran church in Waukesha county. Wisconsin is a swing state.

Unless you’re from Wisconsin, you may not know this: Dane County (where I live) is the most liberal county in the state. My new church is in Waukesha County – the home of Paul Ryan, Scott Walker and perhaps the most conservative county in the state. Madison (where I live) is multicultural, has enormous race-class divides and rapidly increasing religious diversity… four mosques (two mostly African), several kinds of Hindu temples, a Sikh temple, dozens of Buddhist groups, and six Jewish communities. Waukesha county is 93.3% white, more in the area surrounding my new church. So I’m driving from one world into another. Yet I’m clear that God took me there, to serve these mostly upper middle class white folks, as their temporary Senior Pastor. Which does mean, learning to love more.

What’s also clear, is that there are good kind and gracious people following Jesus, in my new church, and they voted in a variety of ways. (This is not what my Madison friends think.) But we pray, together, for God’s mission, for justice, for social concerns, as well as for the usual ways we humans suffer – sickness, death, unemployment, need. We pray, together, and we sing, together… both historical hymns from northern Europe (I am really growing in my grasp of Scandinavian hymnody) but also contemporary multicultural worship music, accompanied by drums or jazz piano. One parishioner told me she felt uncomfortable – I asked “cultural appropriation?” and she said, maybe. Another told me, he loved the movie shown about the poorest zip code in Wisconsin, in Milwaukee… and he wondered, “why it is, that liberals think conservatives don’t care about poor people?” My new church gives away a lot of money to poor people, in Waukesha county, Milwaukee, El Salvador and Tanzania, among other places.
So I need to take a break, mostly because I’m working very long hours, and commuting two hours a day. But also, because I believe when God puts us in new places, as Christians, and as missionaries, it’s good to learn, and pray, and reflect, before writing and speaking. I wish you all well, and I know that the Holy Spirit is inexorably at work. Look me up on FB if you want to connect.

Direct or Indirect, Part 2: What is the best way to resolve conflict?

Growing up, my parents developed the “I don’t like it” conflict-resolution style for our family of five. When anyone in the family said these 4 magic words, you had to stop the offending behavior. “I don’t like you poking me.” Boom! You had to cease and desist immediately, or face much worse consequences. “I don’t like it” was direct, clear, and left very little room for confusion about what you meant. This worked well for all types of overt, irritating behaviors: unwanted kicking, wrestling, stealing each other’s stuff, entering one another’s rooms uninvited, etc. However, it did not help with interpersonal pain or disappointments. “I don’t like you ignoring me?” “I don’t like you being aloof?” “I don’t like how you break trust with me?” These words never came out of our mouths.

Then I got to college. In InterVarsity, we had direct ways of resolving conflict. We loved to teach Matthew 18: 15-20. There is a proper way and order to go about conflict resolution, and it is directly from Jesus’ mouth after all. This was not one way to resolve conflict, but rather it was THE “biblical model.” Go directly to them first. Be direct. Then involve others second if one-on-one doesn’t work. Go public third. This became my conflict resolution grid, my mandate. The only way to resolve things. Except I was not good at it. In this grid, if you are articulate about your feelings and quick on your feet, you would always win. You could always get me to feel guilty and admit that it was all my fault. (I was ill-equipped to articulate my feelings of pain, confusion, disappointment, regret, shame, anger, etc.) Our “Direct InterVarsity” way of resolving conflict favored certain personality types and was very awkward for others. Don’t worry…I intentionally applied myself and I got better at these difficult, direct conversations. But it took years of hard work.

There are many styles of conflict resolution. Some people freely express lots of emotion, others show almost no emotion at all. Some express anger, others think that expressing anger is a sin. Some are succinct, others want to keep talking for hours. Geography certainly shapes your approach, as you’re your family of origin, and Meyers-Briggs (and other) personality types. And culture shapes how we do conflict, often more than we think. I think of these as different ends of a spectrum. We have preferences as to where sit on the direct/indirect spectrum, for example, but we also can learn to slide up and down depending on your context, audience, etc. I prefer to say “direct/indirect” rather than Asian/white because I have some white friends who are very indirect, and I have some Asian friends who are super direct. I also have had uncomfortably direct conflict resolution with African American friends. I thought I was direct until those experiences. I had to learn to go their direction. That story will wait for another time.

Indirect conflict resolution is also in the Bible, it turns out. Think about Esau and Jacob in Genesis 32. Jacob had previously stolen Esau’s inheritance, which is a pretty wicked thing to do. If anyone needed the Matthew 18 step-by-step process of conflict resolution, these brothers did. But that is not how they reconciled. Jacob sends gifts, God seems to work, they embrace. They are reconciled, more or less, and they did not even mention the earlier egregious sin.

Some of my indirect friends prefer the approach of “I just stop talking and see if you notice.” If you care, you will ask about it. You will draw me out. I have tried using this approach in complicated team settings or with really angry people. It helps me avoid feeling like I have to win the verbal game. I just get quiet. It is a powerful new teaching for me.

I was talking to my new friend, Audrey Chan. She helped me understand “volume” in conflict. She might say to a white friend, “That interaction was a little awkward.” On a scale of 1 to 10, that sounds to my ears like volume level 2 in terms of how much she is bothered. But she means it at a 9. She does not want me to feel embarrassed about what I have done to her, so she understates the impact. I have to learn to turn that volume up for myself. “Doug, she is saying that was a little awkward. That probably means it was VERY awkward for her. Pay attention!”

She also explained there is apologizing for one’s intentions, and then there is apologizing for one’s impact upon another. We white people are much better at apologizing for my intentions, but we are very slow to apologize for our unintended impact upon others. If I didn’t mean to do that to you, then I played no role in it and there is nothing to apologize for.

Wrong! Like Audrey said, I need to pay attention to my intentions and also to my unintended impact on others. And sometimes gift-giving can replace words. Audrey said, “If someone leaves me bag of oranges by my front door, I know they have apologized.”

You and I have a style of resolving conflict. You may never have considered some important questions about that style:
What are the ways that I think that my way of resolving conflict is “normal?”

How do I expect that others will bring up issues with me if I have hurt them? How do I expect that the burden is on them if they have been hurt, versus the onus is on me to ask first?

When was the last time you apologized simply for your impact on someone (even though you had no intention of making them feel that way)?

Do you agree with my assertion that we white people tend to prefer to apologize for our intentions rather than for our unintended impact on people?

Christmas 2016: family discussion guide

Doug and I heard an extremely painful story from a friend about conflict in a white family over Thanksgiving.   In order to keep working at loving across differences, we want to share this from the Wisconsin Council of Churches:

“If your family is like most families, tensions can run high around the holidays with new stress, old arguments that still haven’t been resolved, and a few characters just to mix things up. This Christmas, those tensions might run even higher as people discuss the recent election. Rather than taking the bait and getting into arguments, why not try a different approach?

Discussion Questions and/or Responses:

If you were to design the perfect society, what would you want everyone to be able to experience?

Politics is about making our society livable and orderly. What things do you care most about that might make our society better?

It seems like this election really got under your skin. What are the most troubling aspects of the outcome in your opinion?

Some might argue that our politicians do best when we as communities are united in giving them clear directions about what we want. Those same people might argue that politicians are ineffective because they are getting such conflicting messages from their constituents. How might we try to build relationships to send more unified messages about what we need to our elected officials?

Even though people in our family might disagree about how to get to the goals, what goals for our family (society) do we all share?
How could we as a family build bridges with a broader network of people?

Imagine what life would be like if we made it our responsibility (and not politicians) to make our communities the way we want them to be. What would that look like?”

Going home for Thanksgiving after This Election?

It’s an understatement to say white folks were divided this election. So if your family is anything like mine, you’re going to face somebody at your table who voted for our President-elect, maybe because of abortion, or maybe because of their own bank accounts, or they like some things he said, or perhaps, they just ignored other things he said.

And you’re probably steamed, if you are a white person who wants to be in healthy mutually-respectful relationships with the rest of humanity. How do you get ready to go home for the holiday?

I heard some wisdom from an African prayer partner, and then the same story, from a Black preacher-activist I watch online. One time in the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible), Samuel came to God and was praying his heart out. He was in a lot of pain because he felt that his values were being violated and he felt rejected. I feel my values are being violated, this election cycle. The prophet Samuel was leading God’s people in a certain direction, and the people of God said no, they didn’t want a prophet, they wanted a King. And what God told Samuel was, these people haven’t rejected you, Samuel, they have rejected me. And they will pay the price of having a king – a king will tax them, and send their sons to war, and generally take advantage of them. Then God continued to be at work, with His or Her infinite creativity.

My prayer partner, and the preacher I follow both said, America wanted a king. And so God has given us a king, we’ll learn what it means to have a king…. what a king will cost us.

My thought for you, as you gather with your family for Thanksgiving is this. If you have white family and friends who voted for this political leader – they can’t vote away your values. God is still infinitely creative; still in charge, still redeeming and saving us all. You and I can walk into our dinner conversations with the decision to practice – and speak about – our value of respecting all races, respecting and including immigrants, finding some common ground with people who practice other faiths, and even, perhaps, some compassion for our family members who just voted for the winning candidate.

Direct or Indirect: Which communication style is better?

Growing up, I was not at all aware of my family’s directness in communicating about our needs and desires. It wasn’t until I made friends of other ethnicities, especially Asian friends, that my eyes began to open. Take that up 100 notches once I married Sandy, a Korean American.

Direct communication can be very helpful, given the context. And indirect communication can be equally helpful, given a different context. Let’s learn to assess the context, and then pick the kind of communication that serves those around us.

When we are eating with Sandy’s family, it is important to look around the table and see whose plate is getting empty. Others should offer seconds. In my family, if I want seconds and there is a little left on the serving dish, it is fine for me to take some.

Direct mindset: “I am still a little hungry. There is still some food left on the serving dish. I am going to help myself to some more.”
Indirect mindset: “Let me look around the table at other people’s plates. Whose plate is getting empty? I am going to offer them seconds. Someone will notice that my plate is getting empty, and they will offer me seconds.”

Direct mindset: “I’m going to grab a burger with my friend. I will announce this to my wife. If she wants a burger, she will ask me to get her one also.”
Indirect mindset: “Doug knows me and is aware of my needs and desires, just like I am aware of his. He knows that food is one of my love languages. Of course he will bring me home a burger. I don’t need to ask.”

Direct mindset: “I know what I would like to do today. It is up to me to tell others what my needs are.”
Indirect mindset: “I want to listen to my friends’ needs so that my desires do not overshadow theirs. Then together we can figure out what the best option is for lunch.”

Direct mindset: “It is important that I tell my team exactly where I stand on the issues we are discussing. I owe it to them to be clear about how on board I am.”
Indirect mindset: “I have some concerns about the things we are discussing, but I will wait to be called upon because I do not want to be disrespectful to our leader.”

I used to be confused by indirect communication. Instead of seeking to understand and empathize, I would use therapeutic language to explain why I was right and they were wrong. I would say, “I cannot be expected to read people’s minds. If they don’t say what they want, that is not my problem. Everyone is responsible to articulate their own needs.”

Jesus has humbled me since then. Love is more important to me than being right, on my good days.

Today I am grateful for the choice to be direct or indirect about my feelings, my needs, or my opinions, depending with whom I’m talking. I enjoy being able to be understated if I wish, or ask questions instead of just offering my opinion. And yet there are times when I am served by being direct and clear. I value both.

Within different ethnic groups, there are varying levels of direct and indirect communication. There are always individual exceptions to these trends. You can probably think of many. Also, within different regions of the U.S., the amount of directness (or what topics we are direct about) varies. The East Coast is different from the Midwest which is different from the South, etc.

When I  was growing up, I was encouraged to be direct about stating my needs, my preferences, and my desires. We practiced this regularly at the dinner table and in family meetings. But we were not direct about some of our deeper feelings. We did not talk about our sadness, our regrets, our loneliness, nor any sense of depression. (How about for you? What are you comfortable being direct about? And which topics do you prefer indirect or silent communication?)


(Thanks to Pat Li-Barbour, my collaborator for this post.)

Standing up to post-election bullies

Jesus taught us “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you… Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27-8, 31).

Both of Doug and I have heard personal stories of intensely racist and anti faith incidents after the election. We are preparing ourselves to intervene, to stand up for black and brown folks and those practicing other religions, who are being bullied. But in order to help calm the fear, and take such a radical counter-cultural stance following Jesus, we need to prepare ourselves and be calm ourselves…

Now that the election is over: here are some positive steps you can take if you are overwhelmed or feel afraid yourself:

-Self-Care – practice things that bring you sense of control of your life (cleaning, taking your dog for a walk, jogging, biking, cooking or baking or just being alone… you name it.) Be gentle, kind and forgiving to yourself. Offer yourself loving kindness. I find meditation helpful and if you need guidance and a companion to practice it let me know.

– Volunteer- there are many social justice organizations and groups healing society that need you and your time. Spend a minute looking around in your city or town.

– Give/Donate to a justice organization-this will give you the concrete sense of making changes you wish to see. Many organizations will be happy to receive it.

– Most of all live your values. Trust God. Prepare yourself to intervene and stand up for someone