In our already splintered America, the last thing we needed was something else to divide us, but that is what we got. Solar power has come to our rural neighborhood. Or rather, solar power wants to come to our neighborhood.
Some of us in the neighborhood want solar power and some of us do not. More precisely, some of us want it and some of us want very much not to have it. Signs have appeared up and down our road, most opposing the massive solar farm but others supporting it.
My wife and I take a two-mile walk each morning along our country roads, so we walk by many signs. On a recent walk, I noticed that the signs opposing solar power were all standing where they had been placed, but more than half of the pro-solar signs were lying on the ground. It appeared that there was some mischief at work.
But then I remembered the strong winds we’d had. Perhaps it was the wind that knocked the signs down. But why, reason countered, would it knock down only the pro-solar signs and leave the rest standing?
I could imagine teenage boys from families that rail against solar paneled farm fields, driving down the road late at night, plucking up the opposition’s signs. That would explain why more than half of the pro-solar signs were down while all the anti-solar signs remained standing.
I was sure I had found the solution to the mystery. But, as in almost every Agatha Christie novel I have ever read, there was something I had overlooked. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the wire-framed base on one of the pro-solar signs was squared at the bottom. That is, rather than two wire stakes pushed deeply into the ground, the wire was bent at 90-degree angles to form a box-like bottom.
I have never seen a yard sign constructed like this. My guess is that a provider attached the signboard to the wrong end of the frame, placing it over the wire stakes that were meant to be pushed into the ground. That would explain why only these signs were upended by the strong winds of the past week.
This may or may not be the solution to the mystery. There could easily be other details I have overlooked. This is always the situation, not only in the case of the displaced yard signs but in all of life’s mysteries.
Evidence gathering is therefore of great importance. But it is possible to gather only the evidence that reinforces a view already held and disregard all the rest. This has certainly happened in America’s politics and in its response to the pandemic. The fact that search engines like Google prioritize results based on previous searches only exacerbates the problem.
Gathering evidence to learn the truth rather than to reinforce a position requires humility, which is why pride militates against real learning and therefore against truth. Humility is the key to learning, which may explain why children are so much better at it than adults.
It is not only politics and pandemics that require careful, humble thinking. So do relationships. Relationships are often derailed by assumptions that become convictions based on faulty evidence. How many friendships have floundered and marriages failed because one person looked, and of course found, evidence to support a flawed conclusion.
This is also true in matters of faith. I have spent my adult life studying the Bible. After decades of insight and even delight, one of the most important things I have learned is that there is much more to learn. Professor N. T. Wright, one of the world’s best known biblical scholars, routinely tells his students, “Ten percent of what I am about to tell you is wrong. I just don’t know which ten percent that is.” That kind of attitude – treasuring what we have learned yet eager to learn more – is crucial. Research conducted by the Canadian Bible Society reveals that, for many people, Bible reading only reinforces already-held positions. Something more is needed: an inquiring mind, a humble attitude, conversations with others and, most importantly, a willingness to act on what one learns.
(First published by Gannett.)