To winnow is to free grain from the lighter particles of chaff, dirt, etc. A simple form of winnowing is to throw grain into the air and allow the wind or a forced currant of air to blow away impurities.
Ed Groff in his speech at New Perspectives on Faith brought stocks of grain to the podium with him to introduce the winnowing of ideas. Parts of almost every book or lecture should be “blown away” or disregarded so that worthy ideas can be recognized and retained.
This reminds me of the major winnowing that I enjoyed with youthful cousins on the hill where my Uncle Walter and Aunt Ada and their children lived and farmed. We called it the threshing day. Yellow-ripe sheaves of wheat were hauled by the wagon load from the fields to the threshing machine temporarily installed in the barn. The machine was powered by a steam engine attached by a belt pulley.
Sheaves of wheat were fed into the machine. Winnowing took place inside the machine. Unseen, the grain was separated from its wrappers. Clean grain poured-out and was into bags and weighed. I remember it well because we children could chew a handful of the fresh grain until it became gum-like dough. That was fun.
Then the chaff and straw were blown out by a blower onto a stack to be used as feed or bedding for the animals in the barn. As the straw left the machine the wind continued the separating process. It caught the chaff and blew it from the straw and piled it somewhat like drifts of snow. I remember running and jumping in the chaff with the other kids. That was fun, too.
But the major purpose of the exercise was to preserve the grain to be used as an ingredient of the grain mixture to be fed to animals during the winter season.
Ed Groff as a sacred humanist encouraged us to carefully winnow kernels of truth from every thing we are exposed to, including the ancient writings of all religions. l would add that we should winnow radio and television programs as well. Groff’s lecture is worth reading and listening to, available at the New Perspectives website.