Reflections on Another MLK Day, Past Posts for Mbird, Foxes vs. Hedgehogs, and a Partial Apology of Sorts

We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.

– Martin Luther King, Jr., “Beyond Vietnam”

Hey folks! I hope you all had a good long weekend (if it applies) and are generally doing well these days. I can’t believe we’ve finally reached the last full day of Trump’s tenure. As my wife put it, today is the last full day Americans will live without ever having had a female Vice President. Woot woot!

Anyway, I recently posted an article reflecting on this year’s MLK Day for Mockingbird—a faith-based blog I write for occasionally—and I wanted to go ahead and share that with you, and then share a few other thoughts I’ve been having about the direction of this blog. Here’s the link to that piece:

Normally, I post the rough drafts of my Mbird posts here first, but this time I just didn’t get around to it. Just in case anyone is interested, here also are the rest of my Mbird posts stretching back to 2014:

Looking back, I’m both proud and a little embarrassed about some of those posts. I always cringe a little when reading my old writing—and several of those pieces are clearly too long and a bit convoluted. But mainly I’m embarrassed because they all have such a prominent religious angle. They were written for a faith-based blog, so that shouldn’t be surprising, but it does feel like so much of what I write about at this point has that religious angle and there are things I worry about with being so explicit about my religious beliefs.

For starters, I worry about being associated with a religion that, while unimaginably diverse, has too often been co-opted by truly terrible people, both historically and recently. When I read stories about hateful religious zealots, like this one or this one, I’m probably even more appalled and disturbed than the average non-religious person. No matter the counterexamples I might dig up, that stuff tears me up! It doesn’t exactly shake my faith in God, Jesus, or even “church,” but it certainly shakes my faith in human beings, and often in religious identity itself or religious teaching, given how easily both can be twisted for evil.

Mainly, though, I worry about alienating non-religious or non-Christian friends and acquaintances, and thus simultaneously failing to reach people where they are and pigeonholing myself as a writer. I recognize that, at this point, I’ve already written too much about religious subjects on this blog to be able to pretend that it’s about much of anything else, but it’s an issue I’m still conflicted about. So part of me wants to apologize for being so “religious” in my writing. I hope I haven’t put too many folks off! It’s weird: I want to be open about my beliefs and share what really inspires me and what I’m really thinking about, but there’s this part of me that’s always doubting that approach and is more inclined to play my religious cards close to the vest in order to make my writing more broadly interesting and applicable. It’s an ongoing challenge. Sincere religiousity, after all, isn’t exactly in vogue among my fellow liberal elites. It’s jarring for me to talk about it so freely…

To some extent, I think this tension in myself is also the tension between so-called foxes and hedgehogs, that is, between two dominant ways of thinking and seeing the world. Here’s a quick summary from NPR:

The Greek poet Archilochus wrote, “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

There are many different interpretations of this parable, but psychologist Phil Tetlock sees it as a way of understanding two cognitive styles: Foxes have different strategies for different problems. They are comfortable with nuance; they can live with contradictions. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, focus on the big picture. They reduce every problem to one organizing principle.

I like to think I’m more of a fox, but the way I bring everything back to Christianity makes me think that I’m more of a hedgehog. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Someone like Fyodor Dostoyevsky, for example, was an obvious hedgehog—he had a clear moral/spiritual/aesthetic lens through which he interpreted everything. Stephen King might be another example. Perhaps Martin Luther King, Jr. too. I don’t really know. But still, that kind of thinking is definitely something I feel resistant to in principle.

Anyway, the fox-hedgehog balance is something I’m going to work on this year. I want to do both, if that’s possible. We’ll see. Happy Inauguration Eve folks.

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