Monday, October 20, 2014

Following the 10th Armored Division (2) - Some Back Story

This is part two of a series that, over the next year, will follow my father's 10th Armored Division in World War II seventy years ago. While we are still in the month before they entered battle, let me give you some of the back story of the division.



It was created in 1942 in the months after Pearl Harbor. The United States was finally in the war but without a broad-based and large enough military. In fact it was only through the first peace-time draft in history the previous two years that gave the foundation for what would become a huge fighting force. New armies and divisions were being created as long-range planning developed in Washington for a war across both oceans very far from home. The 10th Armored was officially activated on July 15, 1942.


My dad had been drafted in early 1941 and was put into the reserves in late 1941 or early 1942 after his initial active service training. Then, on July 25, 1942 he got his notice to return to service. A week later, August 6 he left his home in northern Pennsylvania for New Cumberland where his reserves met. Another nine days and he was called up and left for Georgia, arriving at Fort Benning on August 20. He was now with the medical battalion assigned to the 10th Armored, most likely the 80th Medical Battalion.

When the 10th was created the new commander, Major General Paul Newgarden held a competition to give the unit a nickname. They took the name “The Tiger Division” and lived up to the name for the next three years. Newgarden, it is reported, was a strong leader with a sense of pride in unit identity and the importance of teamwork. His initial work in forming the 10th was given a lot of credit from the troops when they reached battle.

The Tiger Division’s shoulder patch was the standard patch for
armored divisions, simply adding the number “10” on the top of the triangle. The top third of the patch was yellow that stood for the cavalry. At the beginning of the war the cavalry had been reorganized, mechanized and given armor. The lower left third was blue for the infantry and the lower right, red for artillery. The tank tracks signified the mobility of the division, the cannon was for firepower and the lightning for their speed of attack. All together the colors and symbols showed their teamwork.

For the next year, Lester Nichols, author of the 10th’s history, Impact, writes, the
training was especially rugged. There was the Tiger Camp with its night problems, forced marches, endurance tests, 'dry runs' and firing problems. (What the medical battalions did then isn’t reported in the book. I will write more about the medical department in the war later.)
In that first year I know my dad had two furloughs home. The first was from January 28 to February 11, 1943 and the second in the spring when he made it back north for two weeks in late May.

In late June the Division packs up and leaves Fort Benning, Georgia for maneuver training in Tennessee. There, Nichols reports, that the maneuvers were
the scene of combat with chiggers, choking dust, sleepless nights, sore backs and aching feet. As always, the ‘enemy’ was constantly pursued. The battle umpires, too, were on hand to declare tank, track and truck ‘knocked out’ by a hidden ‘enemy’ anti-tank crew.
The first week of September 1943 and the 10th moved to its new home. They left Tennessee and settle at Camp Gordon near Augusta, Georgia. Here they would continue to train, grow and develop into a highly effective unit for the battles that lay ahead.
Note: Some information in these posts comes from a combination of books as well as personal effects of my father’s family. Most notably is the book, Impact, The Battle Story of General S. Patton’s Spearhead Tenth Armored Division in Europe in World War II, by Lester M. Nichols (1954).

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Just Thinking

When working on some of genealogical research the other week I had one of those moments when the world made a little bit of a shift. It comes with just a simple questions:

Why do almost exclusively self-identify with the "family" of our birth surname?
I was looking at my family tree and realized that just three generations back (my great-grandparents) I can potentially find as many as eight surnames and the one more generation (great-great grandparents) there would be sixteen. Does that mean I am as much a Klein and a Keller and a Freighley and a Ritchie as a Lehman? Then, by marriage I am also related to another whole set of family names on my wife's side. But without confusing it too much, just sticking with my direct ancestors, who am I?

This made me think back to a part of the Race exhibit that was here in Rochester a few years ago that was originally developed by the Science Museum of Minnesota. The basic point of it was that, at the very heart of who we are, we really are mutts. We are a mixture of ethnic, national, religious and probably racial parts. Genetic research is showing this truth at an even deeper level.


Another piece of the reality also goes to what portion of who I am is what national background. I know there are Ukrainians and Germans, Scottish and English back there. Because of ghettos in the Ukraine before 1900, that may be the greatest part of my heritage. Yet all these years I identified as of German background. And, since the Germans arrived here at least 80 years before the Ukrainians, that also makes me American, since here is where I was born. As were members of my family back at least five generations.

Maybe, then, for me it's time to even drop the hyphenated ethnicity and just be American.

See what I mean when I say it caused a slight seismic shift of self-identity.

Which brought me back to a discussion some of us were having on an ethics meeting about diversity. We finally got to the idea of self-identity. Different people talked about different ways of doing that. It struck me at that moment that my cultural identity is as much 60s Hippie Radical as it is a German-American or whatever. In fact, maybe even more so. A great deal of that ethnic identity has broken down in my life.

That wasn't true of my family. But perhaps being part of a religiously mixed marriage of the 40s and 50s helped move me the way I have.

So that's where it has taken me today. I look forward to the day when these issues are resolved in favor of being part of the one and only human race and where nationality is truly as a citizen of the world trying to keep our world from falling apart.

I think know that's what John Lennon was singing about.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Be In Love- Playing for Change

I was doing some surfing of videos from the great folk at Playing for Change and came across one from 2012 that I hadn't seen. The Maine Academy of Modern Music put this one together for Playing for Change day. It's fun. Enjoy.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Reflecting on Mission

Last Sunday was Mission Festival at a local church. I went to hear what the speaker- a dynamic young man with the Board of World Mission had to say and to worship in support of the ideal of missions. Mission Festivals have been a significant part of the life of the Moravian Church (and others) for a long time. The Moravians were the first Protestant missionaries, sending the first workers to the West Indies in the early 1730s. They went to share the Gospel with the slaves, not a particularly popular thing among the slave owners. The first missionary even went so far as to proclaim that he would become a slave if he had to in order to share the Gospel with them.

When I became a Christian at age 15 it was through a mission-oriented Baptist congregation. There was a mission training facility a few miles up the road and one of the sons of the congregation was a mission worker through them. Every year or so he would come home on furlough and share his work with the congregation which was giving him financial support. In addition we would regularly get letters from him outlining what he was doing. This was out version of the Mission Festival and always was moving and exciting to me.

So it should come as little surprise to anyone (but me, of course) that when I found a denomination that I felt called to be part of and to be ordained in, the Moravian Church, mission pioneers, was where I settled. I have been part of the church now for over 43 years, forty of those as an ordained pastor. Mission work has, of course, changed and, in reality, expanded to something I find even more exciting than I did back in my high school years. Mission has become far more than the sharing of the words and promise of the Gospel. It is now sharing the heart, life, healing, and soul of the Gospel where it needs to be shared.

This, too, was part of the early Moravian mission work and there are many stories about care and concern beyond simply converting the unbelievers. But it has been the changes in world cultures, technology and the self-understanding of the church that has made the biggest impact, taking the basic understanding of mission into more than it ever was.

One of the ways I understood this was to begin with the people at home and introduce them to mission as something THEY do, something they are engaged in. It becomes, at that point, a combined educational and missional experience. I first learned this through a Lutheran Church in Greenwich Village when I was doing an internship in Bethlehem, PA. The church in New York would bring youth from outside the city into the Village for a weekend of what the city was about. They had a mission to runaways and, in those days of the early 70s that was significant. It was quite an experience. When I moved to my first Moravian congregation, I signed up to take a group. Later we went to another Moravian Church on Staten Island to experience the city and its potential for mission.

You see what I learned at Operation Eyeopener was that when you enter New York City you are simply placing a big magnifying glass over the problems and needs. The same problems and needs are to be found in your local community. Once you can begin to see them, you can begin to minister to them. To me that was an essential and basic understanding of what the Christian Church is to be. Without that, we are nothing but a country club. (I do have a way of exaggerating for emphasis.) A few years later I moved to Wisconsin where a “mission trip” movement was beginning at the church I was called to serve. The day I was installed as pastor, one of the members was in Alaska on a mission trip. The point was not lost.

Three years later I arranged a trip of about 15 youth and adults to travel east from Wisconsin to New York City where the denomination had a food program for the homeless and were about to open housing for older people who had been homeless. We raised the money and traveled by train in what may have been one of the first such mission trips from the Western District. Others began to organize trips for adults to Central America and the West Indies. It took off- and hasn’t stopped.

There was some initial push-back from others, though not usually from the congregation itself. Other pastors would periodically say that we shouldn’t be spending the money that way or that it wasn’t really mission. We were simply doing tourism. While there is some truth in that, it is as much educational as it is mission so that when we got home we were more mission-aware. Adults or youth would invariably comment that they were touched, moved, changed by the experiences. Interestingly some of those clergy who raised concerns would later go on their own mission trips and become convinced of the importance and power of the experience.

As a result of some major work in the Southern Province along with a number of lay people from the Western District the whole mission trip experience expanded in the 90s and 2000s to include a number of different opportunities. Some of us even began to also take youth to places like the West Indies, Jamaica, or Native American reservations. Friendships were made, rebuilding work was done, mission was expanded.

I thought of all those things last Sunday listening to the next generation of mission leadership challenging us to keep our vision. The work of the church – what we call “mission”- is alive and well. It is just as essential as it ever has been. No, it is not always bringing people to Jesus. It is often more like taking Jesus to them.

I am excited for the future of the mission of the church. The “church” is at a time of change and uncertainty. Politics and fundamentalism have combined forces in our world to distort the message of Jesus into something I don’t believe Jesus would recognize. It is not a triumphalist attitude that mission work promotes. It is just the opposite. It is like the first Moravian missionary, willing to become a slave in order to share the Gospel.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Get Moving

Was out walking at Whitewater State Park last week. Looking down before I took a step I saw this little guy moving along. So I watched him for a few moments.

  

Made me think of a joke I've heard around recently:
What did the snail say when it got on the back of turtle?
"Wheee!"

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Another Mid-Week Swing

Came across this video last week. It is a compilation of swing dancing videos put to the music of "Hooked On Swing" by Larry Elgart from 1982. This was a medley of swing jazz hits: "In the Mood"; "Cherokee"; "American Patrol"; "Sing, Sing, Sing"; "Don't Be That Way"; "Little Brown Jug"; "Opus #1"; "Zing Went the Strings of My Heart"; and "String of Pearls". What I find amazing is how well the producer of this video did at keeping the dance videos in time with the music. I know, this isn't a great piece of music in and of itself, but it is fun to listen to- and then go back and find the originals.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Colors- Wild and Subtle - Fungus, et. al. Edition


It was a cloudy kind of day on Sunday when I went to Whitewater Park. I did get some good overall pictures, but I focused a little more on the little things. Fungus, mushrooms, lichen, moss- that kind of thing. Again, the sharp colors or the more subtle ones combine on the fall forest floor for interesting patterns. I am always amazed at how the colors merge, blend and contrast depending on the area of focus and depth of focus.





What continues to amaze me, even more than the colors and contrasts is a technical item. The camera on my iPhone 4s produces such good pictures. The next two of the mushrooms from underneath were taken with the iPhone. It is light, compact and has a decent lens for the more wide-angle shots. I do not even use the wide to normal angle lens on my Nikon and rely on the iPhone for the general shots or when I get down on my knees and try to get pictures like the next two.






Monday, October 13, 2014

Following the 10th Armored Division

It was seventy years ago that World War II had taken on a new and final dimension. After the D-Day invasion in June, the United States began to move troops into battle. They had been building up the forces since the attack on Pearl Harbor. Soldiers, techs, infantry, medics and all others had been in training across the country. New units, new divisions were created and filled with personnel.

One of these was the 10th Armored Division which was created in 1942 and assigned to the Third Army, General George Patton's Army. Their timeline for their first two years was:

  • Fort Benning GA - 15 Jul 42 to 21 Jun 1943
  • Tennessee Maneuver Area - 24 Jun 1943 to 2 Sep 1943
  • Camp Gordon, GA - 3 Sep 1943 to 3 Sep 1944
  • Camp Shanks, NY - 4 Sep 1944 to  11 Sep 1944
  • NYPOE (SS Sea Owl) 12 Sep 1944 to 23 Sep 1944
This was my father's division. He was a Tec 5, a non-commissioned officer as a medical corpsman. He was assigned to the medical battalion of the 10th Armored. Seventy years ago this week he was in France getting final training and doing all they could to be ready for battle.

I have been working on a family history that describes some of what was happening in those days. Part of the World War II story that unfolded between October 1944 and VE Day in May 1945 involved some of the fiercest fighting and greatest losses of the war. I will be doing some posting here on what was happening with my Dad's division in Europe in 1944.

While it now feels like somewhat ancient history, for me and my generation, it is recent events. It is what made our parents' generation into what we now call the Greatest Generation. Perhaps it has taken me all these 66 years of my life to begin to understand what that means. I am humbled by it and am just here to tell part- a very small part of that story.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Making Music

I got into a conversation with another musician last week. It started when I asked some people to tell me about what spiritual means to them. One of the people smiled and said, "Playing music!" We then talked about different ways that works. For me, I said, it is usually when a group I am in plays in public- a performance. I can't even begin to describe what that means. I play in a couple concert bands, a brass quintet, and a big band group. I can get bored sometimes with rehearsing. [Do we have to play that song again? Don't we know it good enough?] I can get tired of the same old, same old. [How many times do we have to play "In the Mood"?]

Then we get to the gig. It can be a dance, a concert, a recital or playing at a senior living center. The drummer kicks off the beat, the director gives the downbeat or the lead trumpet nods the tempo. My mind goes into gear. We play. It makes sense. This is why we practice. This is why we rehearse. This is why I do lip slurs or scales to keep my lip in shape. It's about the music that moves out of us and into the world around us. It's about he music that we translate from those black dots on the white page into a classic like "In the Mood" or a concert version of "Stars and Stripes Forever" or the quintet playing Gabrielli. The child in the first row begins to dance, the woman in the wheelchair sways back and forth, the audience smiles at a familiar song, or someone hears a 400 year old melody that moves them.

The connection is made and we play. What a moment, or better series of moments. Every now and then it doesn't work. Sometimes the audience doesn't get it. They may sit there with detached interest. Or, and this has happened, we are too far away from the audience and can't get the feedback.

It is a relationship and I love it.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Colors- Subtle and Wild (2)


Whitewater State Park, MN
October 10, 2014

This one has both subtle and wild colors.
What a beauty of a day it was.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Always Old- Always New

A recent discovery in Spain gives us another image of Christ.

This is a portion of a communion platter (paten) uncovered by archaeologists in Spain. What struck many people was the fact that this image, thought to be one of the oldest ever discovered, shows him with no beard and short hair.

It was found in southern Spain and the archaeologists estimate it to be from the 4th Century. In terms of Christian history it raises a question on the traditional date that Christianity came to Spain which has been thought to be the 5th Century. But more interesting to many is the beardless, close-cropped hair of the Savior. All of the previously discovered images of Christ from the 4th Century have depicted him with beard and long hair. This picture more closely resembles images from the Catacombs in Rome.




The recovered plate is in remarkably good condition. The researchers have managed to piece together 81% of the original. This picture shows a drawing of it with the missing pieces in white.


The other two people in the image are thought to be Peter and Paul and is to be an image in the afterlife.


What strikes me is not those specifics, although they are interesting, but rather the long line of continuity that these represent. We are talking 17 centuries of history having occurred between then and now. Yet, we still have some of the understandings and practices from that time. We have changed them significantly, of course. We have different understandings of the world (and the Word!). But we share a basic common faith in Jesus Christ. No modern Christian would mistake who is at the center of the picture.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Checking on the Aliens and Others

When in doubt about what to write- and life is kind of ho-hum- what better place to look than sources of odd news, like a UPI Page.

And what better way to start than with the old standard aliens:

UFO conference suggests Bigfoot could be an alien
The Mutual UFO Network's annual convention in Pittsburgh will include discussion of whether mythological creature Bigfoot might be a visitor from space.
Maybe that will finally get Sasquatch to come out of hiding to clear his reputation.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Then there is the bastion of correct information, the public library, that sometimes isn't:
'We confirm things' Latin slogan confirmed wrong
"We confirm things twice" slogan engraved in Latin on the wall at the Moorestown Township Library in New Jersey actually translates to, "we second guess all."
The first clue that something might be wrong was the strange, untranslateable Chinese character tattoo on the reference librarian.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
In the "It Had To Happen" category:
'Spreadable beer' brings booze flavor to crackers
Birra Spalmabile, or "spreadable beer," allows ale fans to bring their favorite flavor to appetizers with a product made from 40 percent beer.
At least you can tell the police officer, "I wasn't drinking and driving!"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Finally:
100 pairs of pants rip at Chinese military event
A military reserve training event in China was marked by the simultaneous failure of more than 100 pairs of pants when reservists were ordered to sit down
"Made In China!"

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Mid-Week Swing

Time for some big band swing. The Glenn Miller Orchestra and Tuxedo Junction. Watch 'em swing, move around and play without music.




From Wikipedia:
It is co-written by Birmingham, Alabama composer Erskine Hawkins and saxophonist and arranger Bill Johnson. Julian Dash is also credited for the music. The song is about a jazz and blues club in the Birmingham, Alabama suburb of Ensley. The area is referred to as "Tuxedo Junction", even though the building is called the "Nixon Building" (built in 1922). This is due to the location of a streetcar crossing at Tuxedo Park, hence "Tuxedo Junction". The Erskine Hawkins Orchestra took it to #7 in 1939 after having used it as their sign-off at the Savoy Ballroom. Glenn Miller took it all the way to #1 in 1940.
Listen for the point when the possibility of two streetcars meet at the junction.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The Tipping Point

It would appear that yesterday's non-decision by the US Supreme Court may be the tipping point on same-gender marriage in the United States. Talk about a quick turn-around over a very short period of time! One activist commented on the news last evening that it is almost like whiplash!

Even four or five years ago, it would have been impossible to believe that such a sea-change would occur within such a time frame. yet it has. There was of course, the obvious cause of the Supreme Court finding that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. That opened the door. But still- this fast?

I think the reasons have just as much to do with two things.

First, the speed at which information changes and doubles is amazing. More people are more aware more quickly than at any time in history. The 24/7 news cycle helps, but it is just as much the very existence of so much raw data available to more people. Over the past few years more people have become more aware of the arguments for- and against- the right to get married. The information showed that more people than had been thought to approve, did approve. More people learned that the discussion was no longer in the closets of America- it was on the Main Streets and offices and factories and in our church pews.

Which leads to the second thing that I think has happened. More people have come out of the closet and more people know more people who are openly gay. Guess what? They are neighbors, friends, co-workers and children. I may have told this story before, but it is worth repeating if I did. Sometime about 25 years ago I was at a church camp where we raised the issue of acceptance of gay young people. Those who opposed what some of us were saying would get angry at us when we raised stories of real people being hurt and pushed aside simply because they were gay. We were challenged not to make it a personal issue. We were talking about sin. Don't confuse the issue with real life people.

In these last 25 years more people are willing to see the gay people in their midst and discover that they are just like anybody else. What they want is the equality of marriage and to have their love recognized by the powers that be and the world in general.

Today there are now 30 states where same-gender marriage is legal. For today the argument is moot.

At last!

Monday, October 06, 2014

Colors - Subtle and Wild


Looking north toward the southern end of the
Pine Creek Gorge 
in northern Pennsylvania.
October 2003

Fall gets me thinking about colors and all the ways they show up in our world. More colors will becoming through the month. I thought I might as well start with a picture of the stomping grounds where I grew up.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Reading Diaries

As part of some of the writing I have been doing, my research (real research) has included reading my grandmother's diaries that I have available. I never knew my father's mother since she died about 7 months before I was born. Her diaries don't give me much information about her. In fact, most days what she has to say is quite normal. She usually writes about what time she got up, who she might have visited, who she wrote a letter to or who sent her one. Very seldom does the entry exceed three sentences. She is so good and short comments that she used the same book for 1944 and 1945.

But the years that I have diaries for are significant years: 1940, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945.

World War II.

My dad was in that war. He went to training in Georgia where he met and married my mother, spent a year in Europe, was involved in the Battle of the Bulge and came home with his "war bride." Bits and pieces of family history as well as the world of the 1940s are there. In all those years she and others often went to "the show," which is the movies, of course. Only one is mentioned by name: Gone With the Wind. She talks about every family member going to see it and whether they liked it. (They all did.) Once in a while she comments about listening to FDR or baseball or football games on the radio. She mentions going to "the schoolhouse" to get her ration books along with the comings and goings of different family members.

The first time I read through these it was with a kind of detached interest. Then her words began to transport me back those 70+ years in a house that I knew intimately- it was my grandfather's house that had been in the family for around 60 years when my brother and I sold it in the early 70s. I know what the view is from the front window and what what the rooms contained. One of them was mine when I was home from college.

Then I could begin to sense the emotions in these brief comments. She was often lonesome and feeling poorly. At first it sounds like she is a sickly person, unable to do much. Then you read more closely- she is taking care of things. She does cooking and baking, painting and wallpapering. She goes downtown (about 8 blocks) and works in the yard. She visits friends to play cards, plays bingo and notes how many games she won, goes to the "democrat meeting" and "the club."

I realized that she was, as she said, lonesome, but she was not helpless. She was clearly a strong and independent woman. She had little choice at that point. Her husband, my grandfather, one year younger than her, was still working on the railroad and often away from home. He was in his mid- to late 60s, just like her. None of her three children were home most of the 40s and she was sick, although I haven't been able to find out what her issues were.

I can imagine her wandering around that big house on Allegheny St., keeping busy, wondering what was happening to her much-loved children. She was constantly writing letters and getting them. I have a hunch she probably also sat there by the big front window watching the people who walked by, knowing most, if not all of them, by name.

This is a whole new set of eyes for me to be seeing. I think I understand her daughter, my aunt who became my brother's and my guardian when our parents became ill and then died. And, perhaps if I can look a little more deeply, I will probably see more about myself as well.

As we get further into this year we will be having the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge of WW II. I am reading about it and trying to decipher what it might have been like for my dad, a medic, to be in that horrific time. Putting this all together is exciting for one who never knew my parents as an adult. As I reach my late 60s, well past the age either of my parents, these are interesting things to be learning.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Baseball Overdose

It is October. October is a time for overdosing on baseball before the winter winds and drifting snows cover the greens of summer. I haven't had a lot of chances so far, but tonight is amazing. As I write this the score is tied between the Giants and the Nationals. It is the top of the 17th inning!. That is almost two solid games in one. Right now it is close to 5 hours and 45 minutes into the game.

The score is 1-1. That means it has been a pitchers' duel. It was 1-0 in the top of the 9th when the Giants tied it.

The announcers are getting giddy. They have no idea what to say.

It is now going to the bottom of the 17th inning. Meanwhile, out in Los Angeles it is the bottom of the 5th inning. That was the game I was starting to watch when I realized the other was in extra innings.

Pitchers' duels are boring to watch- yet actually quite exciting. Watching some incredible pitches that are swung at and missed; called strikes that are argued about- and get people ejected from the game. You know that any single mistake by the pitcher- a pitch that gets away, an error on an outfielder- could end the game in an instant. So you sit entranced.

The wonders of baseball. I love it.

By the way, the game is now the longest game (by time) in post-season history- over six hours.

Who wins? Check your local paper.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Bye, Bye- and Thanks for the Memories


The Minnesota Twins announced on Monday that manager Ron Gardenhire has been fired after another 90-loss season. He was manager for 13 years and led the team to 6 playoffs and one ALCS. It comes as no surprise to most Twins fans. Whatever magic there was in earlier years has been lost. But Gardy did a fine job and gave us some good memories.

We'll see what happens next.

Here are four pictures from a game on May 25, 2012 against Detroit when Gardy was, yes, tossed from the game.







Wednesday, October 01, 2014

A Video for October

War, war, and war. Then there are rumors of war and more war rumors. It's a tough world to live in.

The great people of Playing for Change are trying to make a difference. Here is a video from earlier this summer. After a month when war dominated us, try this on for size...


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Expert?

Some people I know were having a discussion recently about "experts." One said you should always trust experts. Another said that experts should perhaps not be trusted. All kinds of words and thoughts flew around. I pondered the discussion for a couple days and then did some digging on my thoughts.

I will admit a bias in my research. MY thoughts about experts would say that sometimes experts in the same field can be on completely polar opposites of the argument. Both are experts. Which one should be believed? The one with the greater credentials or the one with the better logic? Should we trust or question experts since they are not impartial? I did some checking and found some interesting thoughts. First, a generally agreeable definition from Wikipedia. (I know I should now be ignored since I quote Wikipedia. It is the most concise way of describing what I have found. Here goes. An expert is:

someone widely recognized as
  • a reliable source of technique or skill
  • whose faculty for judging or deciding
  • rightly, justly, or wisely is accorded
  • authority and status by
  • peers or the public
  • in a specific well-distinguished domain.
An expert, more generally, is a person with
  • extensive knowledge or ability based on
  • research, experience, or occupation
  • and in a particular area of study.
An expert can be believed, by virtue of
  • credential,
  • training,
  • education,
  • profession,
  • publication or
  • experience,
  • to have special knowledge of a subject beyond that of the average person
Fairly safe description I would say. There are specifics for experts in law, etc., but the general categorization seems on target.

Looking at the list above I could be officially considered an expert in certain fields, say chemical dependence counseling and addiction studies, preaching, Biblical interpretation. Perhaps we could add ethics and bio-ethics and spiritual development to the list. As an amateur I don't know whether I would be an expert, but certainly experienced enough to talk intelligently in such things as photography and a few other avocations.

But I do know beyond any shadow of doubt that some of my "expert opinions" on say Biblical interpretation would be strongly denied by others. There are other "experts" who have a completely different world-view and understanding of the role and place of the Bible than mine. They would no doubt even disqualify me as an "expert."
  • Which expert are you going to believe?

I also know that there are "experts" in the medical field who would also disagree with what I and my colleagues do in CD treatment. Some will deny that there is any need for a "spiritual awakening" in order to stay sober or that addiction is even a "disease."
  • Which expert are you going to call when you want information or opinions?
One other thought I had when working on this: We should not consider "pundits" as experts on just about anything. The track record of TV and print pundits is quite pathetic since most pundits give their "party line" based on nothing more than their admittedly slanted view of what is happening. The image of conservative pundits on Fox News in 2012 ranting that the statistical people had to be wrong when projecting Obama the winner (the first network to do so) is enough to remind us that pundits are biased.

I have no easy answer to how you choose which experts to choose to listen to. I think we would all be better off if we paid closer attention to things like credentials, training, history and a willingness to go beyond the "party line" when choosing our experts. That, and remembering that all experts are imperfect, will get us a lot further toward realistic ideas and directions.

But I still have to be cynical. For that let's look at some great American cynics and a respected scientist.

Back to Wikipedia...
Mark Twain defined an expert as "an ordinary fellow from another town".

Will Rogers described an expert as "A man fifty miles from home with a briefcase."

Danish scientist and Nobel laureate Niels Bohr defined an expert as "A person that has made every possible mistake within his or her field."

Oh, and let's not overlook Jesus: A prophet (expert?) is not without honor, except in his own country.