Faith Matters: Talking Horses

The first time I took my daughters horseback riding, I had a full-blown conversation with a horse. My girls were in the arena riding around and I was in the barn checking out the other horses. That is when I came across a beautiful Morgan horse. I approached the animal and said, “Hey.” She didn’t respond. So, naturally, I carried on the conversation.

I asked how she was; she didn’t answer.

I told her how I was; she didn’t answer.

So, I shared some pleasantries and irrelevant updates – I rambled on – and then I said, “Quite a world we’re living in, huh?”

And the horse said, “That’s an understatement.”

Confused by the sudden outburst after so much silence, I said, “What!?”

And the horse said again, “That’s. An. Understatement.”

At that point in the conversation, the horse became quite loquacious and I just stood there silently. That is, until its owner stood up and revealed that she had been behind the animal listening silently for the past few minutes while I made a fool of myself talking to an unresponsive beast.

After the tension broke and my ears returned to a normal color, I said shyly, “I didn’t see you there.”

The horse’s owner said, “Obviously.”

In 1999 Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons published the “invisible gorilla” study. In this study they were able to demonstrate how fixing one’s attention to a particular thing limits what one is able to otherwise perceive. They asked participants to count the passes basketball players made in a gym and had a person in a gorilla suit walk in, beat their chest, and walk out. At the conclusion of the study, only half of the participants who were counting passes noticed the gorilla. In the end, they proved: half of the time, we only see what we’re looking for.

It is undeniable and understandable that this pandemic has stolen our attention. Beyond that, we have had our attention diverted to political drama and hyped up “news.” Our focus has been so fixed of late that you can’t help but wonder what we’ve missed or who we have missed. I can’t help but wonder what we have overlooked and what opportunities have been squandered.

In just a few weeks as we begin another Lenten season, we are called to widen our perspective. Instead of only noticing the horse in the room OR ignoring the gorilla in the gym, we are invited to find ways to safely and responsibly see the whole picture (instead of just focusing on calamity and catastrophe).

In Lent, the ministry of Jesus always serves to widen perspective. He discovers those pushed to the outskirts. He seeks those who’ve been cast out. He touches the unclean. He finds the lost. He notices the unnoticeable. And he encourages us to do the same.

And so, we ask: who has been pushed to the outskirts? Who has been cast out? Who has been deemed unclean? Who have we lost? Whom do we fail to notice? In short, what have we missed?

May those questions inspire us to stop talking to horses and start conversations with each other. And may those conversations mend our fractured society, bind up the broken, and provide the healing and hope we so desperately need.

When I go to the barn I still talk to horses, but now I talk to people too. We talk about life and death, joy and sorrow, what’s working and what’s hard. There’s no question, people are much better conversationalists.


For more inspiration and insights from Pastor Scott and Pastor Shawn’s past columns, please visit and click on the Faith Matters page. The Jamestown Gazette is proud to present our county’s most creative and original writers for your enjoyment and enlightenment.

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Pastor Shawn is a 2010 graduate of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina, and he began his call at Hope Lutheran Church, Arcade NY that summer. While he spent four years learning and serving churches in South and North Carolina, as a Jamestown, NY native, Western New York has always been home. He is glad to be here. Pastor Shawn and his wife Carol Hannon met while attending SUNY Geneseo in the mid-2000s. They have enjoyed making their home together in Arcade with their daughters Quinn and Perry.   Pastor Shawn has a background in youth and outdoor ministry. He is a former camper and staff person at Lake Chautauqua Lutheran Center in Bemus Point, NY. He has also served camps in urban settings and oversees in Madagascar. In seminary he was recognized for gifts in Greek and New Testament, and in his senior year was recognized with awards in both Preaching and Biblical Studies. Pastor Shawn continues to emphasize the youth in his ministry, but not simply because they are the future church, but because they are the church of today.  He also enjoys working on service projects, and takes the role of planning meaningful and engaging worship seriously.  He loves helping people find ways to put their passion and energy to work making their community and other people’s worlds a better place. When he is not working at church, Shawn enjoys remodeling and construction projects around his family’s home.  But as busy as he gets, PS always has time for a quick nine (okay, 18) on the golf course. He enjoys playing sports of all kinds and fiddling with his guitar.