About Gordon C. Stewart

I've always liked quiet. And, like most people, I've experienced the world's madness. "Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness" (Wipf and Stock Publishers, Jan. 2017) distills 47 years of experiencing stillness and madness as a campus minister and Presbyterian pastor (IL, WI, NY, OH, and MN), poverty criminal law firm executive director, and social commentator. Our dog Barclay reminds me to calm down and be much more still than I would be without him.

BLIND BIASES 4

Coming to the End – – A Word of Thanks

All good thing come to an end, they say. Harry Strong’s series on biases is one of them. Thank you, my old friend, for introducing us to Brian McLaren’s framework and the building blocks of a more honest, compassionate, and useful way to identify and seek understanding of our own biases and the those biases of relatives, friends, and, “dare I say it?,” threats and enemies. Harry’s series led me to reflect on belly-buttons. Every human being has a belly-button! — Gordon

Blind Biases 4 by friend and colleague Harry Strong

“People can’t see what they can’t see.”

Brian mclaren

Quick Review.  Brian D. McLaren has identified thirteen (13) Biases which partially explain why we see thing so differently from one another: Confirmation Bias; Complexity Bias; Community Bias; Complementarity Bias; Competency Bias; Consciousness Bias; Comfort or Complacency Bias; Conservative/Liberal Bias; and Confidence Bias; Catastrophic or Normalcy Bias; Contact Bias; Ca$h Bia$; and Conspiracy Bias. [1]  All of these can dramatically impact our views of life and the world.

An Email from Mitch

As our Blind Bias “class” draws to a close I’d like to share with you an email I received recently from my friend, Mitch.  He wrote this: 

“I am at a loss as to how to bridge the gap to a better understanding between myself (and MY strongly held political positions) and my friends (and THEIR strongly held political positions) when our positions on critical issues are at such opposite poles of the political spectrum.  I am finding it is putting a real cramp on what used to be casual and friendly conversations among us.  I AM SURE my opinions are right.  But when I come down off of that perch of righteousness – I have to concede that JUST MAYBE if I learn to be a better listener JUST PERHAPS my friend is not my enemy – but an ally.  If we work TOGETHER (the hard part indeed) we can identify how to move forward in ways that promote understanding of the importance of each person’s position to each individual yet the need to accommodate at least a little bit of the other person’s position so the greater good is achieved.  My challenge is I am not yet that person and I would welcome learning how to become better at achieving that goal.”

email from Mitch

Frankly, it was Mitch’s honest and vulnerable testimony that motivated me to read Brian McLaren’s e-book. [1]  

Shifting Attention

As Brian McLaren shifts our attention from Recognizing Biases to Overcoming Biases, he offers this disclaimer regarding the above quotation which introduced each of the first three “classes” we’ve shared together:  “When I said earlier ‘People can’t see what they can’t see …,’ I was telling the truth, but not the whole truth.  Here’s how that sentence should be completed to be more fair and full: ‘People can’t see what they can’t see unless someone helps them see it.’”  To that end, McLaren offers the following recommendations:

Five Ways We Can Help Others to See What They Can’t See

SURPRISE PEOPLE WITH WHO YOU ARE.  Show kindness, empathy, curiosity, fairness, acceptance, patience, decency, boldness, and humility.  Put understanding and acceptance before agreement, making it safe for people to confront their biases.  Tell stories about times when you failed to face your biases and misconceptions.  Demonstrate fairness by admitting (and addressing) the downsides of your position and the upsides (as well as the downsides) of other positions.  Seek to win friends instead of arguments, since people would rather learn from friends than critics, opponents, or enemies.  People will not believe your message until they find you, the messenger, believable.  In the last analysis, what we are communicates far more eloquently than anything we say or do. — Stephen Covey

SHOW BEFORE YOU TELL.  Use experiential learning (field trips, introductions to “the other,” immersive artistic experiences, simulations, demonstrations, learning games, etc.) whenever possible, helping people step into the shoes of others and see from new vantage points, and following up the experience with honest reflection and conversation.

KEEP IT SIMPLE AND DOABLE.  Whenever possible, find one simple point of agreement or make one simple proposal for consideration or offer one simple, doable, immediate step that can be taken in the right direction, followed by questions and conversation.

CONNECT EMOTIONALLY.  If a person is afraid or angry, don’t shame them or tell them not to feel as they do.  Instead, try to understand their emotion, and then convey, with emotion, that you can see why they feel as they do.

EXPECT THIS TO BE HARD.  Remember that the human brain is structured for safety, efficiency, ease, and comfort, so biases are working against accepting messages that are perceived as unfamiliar, complicated, dangerous, inconvenient, or uncomfortable.  Don’t expect people to be other than human.  Show patience and persistence.  And take advantage of research to help you learn what is most likely to work. [1] 

Where Do We Go From Here?

So, deep breath!  Are we willing to move beyond appreciating McLaren’s analysis of our Biases to the more important and challenging phase of trying to make some changes in our own lives and the lives of others?  That is the $64,000 question, isn’t it?  What is our next step?  I guess we’ll each have to answer that question for ourselves.

My Next Steps

I’ll tell you my next steps.  First, I’m going to send a copy of Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself) to Mitch for a Thanksgiving present.  Second, I’m going to invite my neighbor, Larry, over to the house for an adult beverage.  (Some of you will recall Larry from my Blind Bias 2 post.  Remember, Larry told me: “I’m not biased or prejudiced about anything.  I have my opinions and my perspectives, but I try to be as objective as possible about everything.”)  I’ll tell Larry about how hard it was for me to overcome the racism implanted in me as a child by my Uncle Herb who lived on Chicago’s south side and every Thanksgiving would rail against the encroaching “African Americans” (not Uncle Herb’s words) who were destroying the value of his home.  I’ll ask Larry if he ever had to unlearn anything.  I’ll listen.  Then, Larry may need a second drink, because next I’m giving him a copy of McLaren’s book as well.  Baby steps, I know.  I pledge to continue “working the program.”  

Thanks so very much for the privilege of your company during our time with Brian McLaren.

Whatever your next steps, may they be grounded in listening, leveling, and loving.  Harry

[1] Brian McLaren, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself) (Self-published: 2019), e-book. 

Blind Biases 3

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Third of the four-part series Blind Biases” by Harry L. Strong

“People can’t see what they can’t see.”

— Brian McLaren

Catching Up to Lean Forward

Today we turn to the final four (4) of thirteen (13) biases identified by author, activist, and public theologian, Brian D. McLaren, which, McLaren believes, contribute significantly to the hatred, hostility, and polarization that pervades so much of our nation and world today.  Previously, we have noted nine (9) additional biases that McLaren suspects explain partially why we see things so differently from one another.  These include Confirmation Bias; Complexity Bias; Community Bias; Complementarity Bias; Competency Bias; Consciousness Bias; Comfort or Complacency Bias; Conservative/Liberal Bias; and Confidence Bias.  To glean a more thorough understanding of what these biases entail and how they create stumbling blocks to healthy communication and understanding among people with conflicting opinions, the reference appears below to Brian McLaren’s e-book, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself).  So, what are four other biases that can dramatically impact our views of life and the world?  McLaren cites these:

Catastrophe or Normalcy Bias: I remember dramatic catastrophes but don’t notice gradual decline (or improvement).

Contact Bias: When I don’t have intense and sustained personal contact with “the other,” my prejudices and false assumptions go unchallenged.

Ca$h Bia$: It’s hard for me to see something when my way of making a living requires me not to see it.

Conspiracy Bias: Under stress or shame, our brains are attracted to stories that relieve us, exonerate us, or portray us as innocent victims of malicious conspirators. [1]

A Window and a Mirror

Did any one of these prompt you to think to yourself: “Oops!  ‘Never thought about that before, but that sounds like ME!”  If you identified one (or more) of those biases in yourself, good for you!  Give yourself a pat on the back for your openness and your vulnerability!  That’s one of the reasons McLaren published his e-book in the first place – so readers like us (you and I) would see our reflection in a mirror and ask: “OK, so now what?  Now that I’ve acknowledged this blind spot, how can I do something about it?  What can I do to change my perspective?”  The other reason McLaren believed his literary venture had some merit was so he could inspire folks like us to recognize biases in others who may not view the world the same way we do AND to motivate us to take the courageous step of looking out our window and reaching out to our sisters and brothers in pursuit of understanding and healing.

Contact Bias: Guilty as Charged

If you zeroed in on “Contact Bias” the way I did, perhaps that’s already occurred to you.  When I was serving as a pastor in a university community like Ames, Iowa, or State College, Pennsylvania, or in an urban setting like Trenton, New Jersey, or Memphis, Tennessee, daily I found myself encountering people who were not like me in appearance, heritage, values, economic status, lifestyle, faith perspective, and a myriad other ways.  Now, living in a golf course community in a town of 20,000 on the western slope of Colorado, hard as it is to hear: “When I don’t have intense and sustained personal contact with ‘the other,’ my prejudices and false assumptions go unchallenged.”  Contact bias: guilty as charged.

So, if like me, you’ve identified Contact Bias as one likely impediment to your ability to understand and appreciate why other people may see things differently than you do, what can we (you and I) do about it? Fortunately, our instructor/mentor, Brian McLaren, can help.  His e-book is not just an academic analysis of our polarization plight.  Brian offers us some very practical bridge-building guidelines, at least one for each of the thirteen (13) biases he identifies.  What does he suggest related to Contact Bias?

Beyond Myopia (Nearsightedness)

Diagram of Myopia (Nearsightedness)

McLaren points us to Jesus and his intentional, unique way of reaching out to the other, including the other at the table, and putting the other in the spotlight by giving the other a voice.

We may protest: “But how does that help us when there are so few “others” in our geographical area?”  

I think McLaren might say something like this: “Maybe you need to reassess your definition of “others.”  The conflicts that plague our nation are not all related to racial ethnic, socio-economic, or religious differences.  No matter how homogeneous you may think your community is, topics like vaccinations, masking, gun control, individual rights vs. the common good, states’ rights vs. federal mandates are just a few of the issues that are traumatizing and polarizing our nation these days.  No matter how isolated and insulated you think you are where you live, what if you were to broaden your horizons a bit by exploring books, magazines, websites, blogs, news channels, and other venues that are outside your community?  

Remember that Community Bias? “It’s almost impossible to see what our community doesn’t, can’t, or won’t see.”  “Community” can refer to like-minded folks as well as to geography.  Nobody said it was going to be easy, but, one-on-one or in small groups, you can humanize the other by giving people with diverse opinions a spotlight and a voice.  Be intentional about trying to facilitate understanding and deeper relationships.  Again, like Jesus, engage people in storytelling and active, conscious listening.”

Sneak Peak

Wouldn’t it be great if we could conclude our consideration of Blind Biases by identifying Five Ways We Can Help Others to See What They Can’t See?  Guess what?  Brian McLaren can make that happen!  I look forward to getting together with you one more time for Blind Biases 4.  Meanwhile, let’s reflect on these wise words from Stephen Covey (which McLaren quotes in his chapter on Contact Bias): “When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it.  That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.”  Harry

)[1] Brian McLaren, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself), Self-published: 2019), e-book.

BLIND BIASES 2

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Second in a four-part series on BLIND BIASES 2 by Harry L. Strong

If you joined me for “Biases 1,” welcome back!

If you didn’t, you may be wondering: “So then, why should I keep reading?

Not a Problem. Let me “catch you up” in a hurry.

“People can’t see what they can’t see.”  Brian D. McLaren

Catching Up

Author, activist, and public theologian Brian D. McLaren has created a remarkably helpful way of assisting us in understanding what makes us see things so differently from one another.  McLaren has identified thirteen (13) biases that contribute to the way people view life and the world and lead them to such polarizing conclusions from one another.  For our convenience, he has managed to categorize them, each beginning with the letter “C.”  

Previously, we took a quick look at how McLaren labels Biases 1 through 5: Confirmation Bias; Complexity Bias; Community Bias; Complementarity Bias; & Competency Bias.  In a moment we’ll consider Biases 6-9.  I’ll choose one and tell you what I learned about myself as I considered my own reflection in my “Bias Mirror.”  Then, if you so choose, you may do the same.  Chances are, we’ll be much more charitable and effective in inviting another into a conversation about why we view a topic so differently if we’ve tried to remove our own “blinders” first.

A Conversation with Larry

But before I share with you Brian’s second set of Biases, let me tell you about a brief conversation I had with a neighbor last week.  While I was out walking my dog, I ran into Larry who asked me what I’d been up to lately.  I told him I was writing a series of articles about “Biases.”  Can you guess what he said next?  “I’m not biased or prejudiced about anything.  I have my opinions and my perspectives, but I try to be as objective as possible about everything!”

I don’t think Larry is alone.  I’m guessing most folks become defensive if someone insinuates they are biased or prejudiced.  The conversation prompted me to come home and “ask Mr. Webster” [1} how he would define all four of Larry’s words.  Here’s what I learned:

Bias: “a mental leaning or inclination; partiality; bent.”

Prejudice: “a judgment or opinion formed before the facts are known (or in disregard of facts that contradict it); preconceived idea, favorable, or, more usually, unfavorable; unreasonable bias.”

Opinion: “a belief not based on absolute certainty or positive knowledge but on what seems true, valid, or probable to one’s own mind.”

Perspective: “a specific point of view in understanding or judging things or events, especially one that shows them in their true relations to one another.”

Fascinating!  I couldn’t help but notice the phrase “unreasonable bias” in the definition of prejudice.  That would seem to suggest that there IS such a thing as reasonable bias.”  Granted, most of us, as we ponder our conclusions about life and the world, are far more comfortable with the less judgmental and less inflammatory terms “opinion” and “perspective.”

McLaren’s Biases Six through Nine

            I’ve likely devoted far too much time to this little grammar-aside.  Let’s invite Brian McLaren back to the lectern to tell us about Biases 6 through 9 that he has identified.

Consciousness Bias: Some things simply can’t be seen from where I am right now.  But if I keep growing, maturing, and developing, someday I will be able to see what is now inaccessible to me.

Comfort or Complacency Bias: I prefer not to have my comfort disturbed.

Conservative/Liberal Bias: I lean toward nurturing fairness and kindness, or towards strictly enforcing purity, loyalty, liberty, and authority, as an expression of my political identity.

Confidence Bias: I am attracted to confidence, even if it is false.  I often prefer the bold lie to the hesitant truth. [2]

            I’m choosing to confess what I perceive to be the most potentially controversial and explosive bias of the four: Conservative/Liberal Bias.  I concede, without apology, that I bring a “Liberal Bias” to my keyboard.  Having said that, I want to underscore McLaren’s phrase “lean toward.”  (Remember, Mr. Webster used the same term.)  To quote my neighbor, Larry, in trying to be “as objective as possible,” the Conservative/Liberal Bias definition may seem to imply that if I champion fairness and kindness, I discount, purity, loyalty, liberty, and authority OR that if I focus my attention on purity, loyalty, liberty, and authority, I’m unfair and unkind!  Remember, McLaren is about building bridges, not walls!   He clarifies this point in Chapter 24 on Conservative/Liberal Bias, when he discusses how Jesus might have wrestled with this issue:  “Jesus neither absolutized nor ignored the four primarily conservative moral values, but instead, he included them and integrated them with the values of fairness and kindness, or justice and compassion … all in service of love.” 

            It’s BOTH/AND – not EITHER/OR!  Again, it’s “lean toward.”  It’s a matter of “where do you put the accent?” 

My Conservative/Liberal Bias

I spend a lot more time viewing CNN and MSNBC than I do watching Fox News or the 700 Club.  I subscribe to Christian Century and Sojourners.  I do not subscribe to Christianity Today or Christian Living.  I realize that puts me at odds with a number of my sisters and brothers in the evangelical Christian community as well as those in the Republican Party.  It also means that many of them have access to “opinions” and “perspectives” that I do not.  If, bravely and vulnerably, we risk entering into a conversation with one another to try to build a bridge of understanding, I won’t say neither of us is “playing with a full deck,” but we definitely are not “playing with the same deck.”

Invitation to Lean Forward

            If you’re willing and able to spend the time, would you please take one more look at those above Biases (Consciousness; Comfort or Complacency; Conservative/Liberal; and Confidence Bias) and then ask yourself: “Does that sound like me?”  The next step is even harder.  In quest of peace and understanding, would you be willing to share what you learned with someone you know who may not view the world quite the same way that you do?

            If not, maybe one of McLaren’s “final four” Biases might be easier to address.  Could we make a date to sit down together again in Blind Biases 3?  Harry

——————————————

[1] Webster’s New World College Dictionary: Third Edition; Macmillan USA, 1997.

[2] Brian McLaren, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself) (Self-published: 2019), e-book. 

Blind Biases #1

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A four part series and the author

Most of us are having a hard time talking with people on the other side of fence from us. A conversation with classmate, colleague, and friend Harry Strong led to this series on Blind Biases. Thanks to Harry for his willingness to do what I could not. — Gordon

Harry L. Strong is a retired Presbyterian Church USA pastor, originally from Chicago. Over the past 50 years, since his graduation from Blackburn College and
McCormick Theological Seminary, he has served congregations in Iowa, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Colorado. Harry and his wife, Anna, currently make their home in Montrose, Colorado.



BLIND BIASES #1

“People can’t see what they can’t see.”  Brian D. McLaren

Former English teacher, pastor and current author, activist, and public theologian, Brian D. McLaren, has created a thoughtful and remarkably helpful way of assisting us in understanding what makes us see things so differently from one another. Given the intensity of hatred, hostility, and violence in our society today, rarely have such tools for bridge-building and healing been so desperately needed.  

A Time-Machine Vexation

Perhaps if we had a time machine to take us back to the 1860s, we would be able to observe a similar, or even greater, degree of polarization among the citizens of our nation; however, since none of us was alive during the “Civil War” (or what the Confederacy called the “War of Northern Aggression”), our current divisions provide ample evidence of the need for increased understanding and reconciliation.

Come to think of it, those two different ways of labeling our mid-19th century national conflict (Civil War vs. War of Northern Aggression) provide an ideal opportunity for me to reintroduce Brian McLaren, because those “different ways of seeing” what happened in The United States of America between 1861 and 1865 illustrate our “biases.”

Inside the Walls of Bias

Says McLaren:  

“People’s biases get in the way, surrounding them like a high wall, trapping them in ignorance, deception, and illusion.  No amount of reasoning and argument will get through to them, unless we first learn how to break down the walls of bias.”  

Brian McLaren, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself) (Self-published: 2019), e-book. 

McLaren has identified thirteen (13) biases that contribute to the way people view life and the world.  For our convenience, he has managed to categorize them, each beginning with the letter “C.”

A Window and a Mirror

Before I invite Brian to share these with us, I’d like to propose that we try to “look and listen” with a window in one hand and a mirror in the other. 

painting of woman looking at herself in a mirror

In other words, as we ponder these various biases that (other) people bring to their perspective on life and the world, let us be open, honest, and vulnerable enough to recognize that we do the same thing.

At the conclusion of this post, I have provided the reference to Brian McLaren’s e-book, Why Don’t They Get It?  Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself).  I highly recommend Brian’s book if you’d like to explore this topic at more depth!  Before he introduces the 13 biases, McLaren quotes these wise words from Francois Fenelon: “Nothing will make us so charitable and tender to the faults of others, as, by self-examination, thoroughly to know our own.”

As your host and guide for this blog and the three to follow, I pledge to try to remember that, and also to trust you with a few less-than-flattering discoveries that I have made about my own biases.  In so doing, perhaps, I’ll expose a reflection in your mirror that you had not previously considered.

Thirteen (13) biases seem a bit overwhelming, don’t they?  That’s why I’d like to distribute them over three separate posts, and then add a fourth and final piece to try to address what is probably the most important dimension of this subject: What issues do YOU care about?  Where do you want to make a positive difference?  Where do you want to help others “get it?”  And what are your next steps in quest of understanding and reconciliation?

Sounds ambitious, doesn’t it?  Indeed – but I hope it will be worth our time together. So – here are McLaren’s first five (5) biases.  Then, I’ll close with a personal note.

Introducing McLaren’s bias framework

Confirmation Bias: We judge new ideas based on the ease with which they fit in with and confirm the only standard we have: old ideas, old information, and trusted authorities.  As a result, our framing story, belief system, or paradigm excludes whatever doesn’t fit.

Complexity Bias: Our brains prefer a simple falsehood to a complex truth.

Community Bias: It’s almost impossible to see what our community doesn’t, can’t, or won’t see.

Complementarity Bias: If you are hostile to my ideas, I’ll be hostile to yours.  If you are curious and respectful toward my ideas, I’ll respond in kind.

Competency Bias: We don’t know how much (or little) we know because we don’t know how much (or little) others know.  In other words, incompetent people assume that most other people are about as incompetent as they are.  As a result, they underestimate their [own] incompetence, and consider themselves at least of average competence. [1]

            As promised, before we conclude our first “class” on Blind Biases, let me show you what I saw in MY Confirmation Bias mirror.  Soon I’ll be entering my 9th decade on this planet.  I’ve been an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church USA for over 5 of those decades, but I continue to read and learn and be challenged.  Almost daily, I’m introduced to new perspectives by names like Bass and Borg, Bourgeault and Delio, Greenway, Rohr, and Wilber, and others.  I confess the “new ideas” don’t always “fit in with and confirm” the ones I gleaned from many of my “trusted authorities,” professors, mentors, and role models.  Yes, I get it.  I can appreciate why my sisters and brothers frequently are confronted by new ideas that don’t confirm their “framing story” and that those ideas are jarring, troubling, offensive, and can evoke resistance and even hostility!

So, which form of “bias” do you choose to reflect on?  CONFIRMATION, or one of the others?  Remember, if you’d like a “sneak peek” at Biases 6-9, you can always access Brian’s e-book!  I’ll “see you” in Blind Biases 2. — Harry

[1] Brian McLaren, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself) (Self-published: 2019), e-book. 

Harry Strong, Montrose, CO, 11/26/2021

Views from the Edge Looking Ahead

Coming Next Week: What Makes Us Tick?

It takes me a long time to see more clearly. Views from the Edge has been around 10 years now! Do I continue? And, if I continue, why would I, and what would I do differently going forward? The last few years have forced me to look again at who I am, what I do, and why. You might say it’s a vocational thing.

I am not a pundit. Nor do I wish to be one, though I sound like one too often. So I said to myself, get back to doing what you do best. Speak from faith, but not to faith, as Eric Ringham of Minnesota Public Radio put it when All Things Considered was still airing guest commentaries. What did Erick mean? Take your faith with you into the public square, but write for everyone. Don’t write That’s the essential work of public theology and a public theologian.

In that spirit I will seek to speak aloud the faith that is in me, the faith the drives me into the public square. Guest commentator Harry Strong will look more closely at Brian McLaren’s work on biases. We promised readers a fuller review of McLaren’s 13 measures of bias ( one’s and others). My commentaries will speak aloud the faith that is in me and its relation to American culture, the Prosperity Gospel and QAnon.

Thanks for dropping by,

Gordon, Nov. 5, 2021

Rebranding Reality: Blackwater and Facebook

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Spider-Man

Elijah was Spider-Man this Halloween. No one was fooled. Everyone knows Spider-Man isn’t a four years-old and that Spider-Man exists only in the comics. As It turned out, Elijah’s head was too big for the mask! Elijah’s not the only one whose head is too big for its mask. Facebook is trick-or-treating with a new mask, hoping we won’t see or remember what’s under it.

Rebranding

Re-branding has a history. Not every company is as lucky as Apple. Who doesn’t like apples? Facebook’s new name — Meta — doesn’t change what’s under the mask any more than Xe Services changed Blackwater U.S.A two years after Blackwater “security” guards killed 17 un-armed Iraqi civilians and injured 20 more in Baghdad in 2007. When Blackwater changed its name to Xe in 2009, Views from the Edge highlighted the danger of a privately-owned standing army for-hire on American soil. Click here for the article re-published by Minnpost.com.

From Blackwater to Academi

Changing a name doesn’t change a thing. In 2011, Xe Services was rebranded “Academi”– a training center for military and police special operations. In 2014, Academi merged with Triple Canopy, a rival security company owned by the Constellis Group. But it was and still is a “private security company” of well-trained Army Special Operations personnel, Green Berets, Rangers, SEALs, MARSOC Critical Skills Operators, and other retired armed forces personnel, operating away from public scrutiny in the black waters of its 6,000-acre training ground in North Carolina.

From Facebook to Meta

The same is true of Facebook. Rebranded last week after a whistleblower exposed Facebook and the founder with an ego is too big to hide behind a mask, Facebook is still what it was before it re-presented itself as “Meta”. The rebranding doesn’t remove the spider or erase the algorithm spiderweb in which Facebook users are forever trapped. You can put a mask on a spider but it’s still a spider. In fact, it makes it worse. It “creates” a “metaverse” of “avatars,” and “afterparties” that bring users closer than we dared imagine. “Horrison” is the name of the new “Meta” platform.

Time will tell

If rebranding Blackwater as Academi and Facebook as Meta succeeds in fooling us, it will be because they know better than we how short the American memory is. The companies founded by Erik Prince and Mark Zuckerberg have placed their bets that the American public won’t remember what’s behind the masks. They believe we’re stupid. Only time will tell.



Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), November 2, 2020.

The Fanatical Situation

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Under the Fence: Everything Is Shaking

Everything is shaking. And it’s not because of the fence that now divides us. No matter how high the fence between Trump-ers and Never-Tump-ers, the earth shakes under the fence and on both sides of the fence. The ground itself is quivering, seizing, lurching, caving in on itself, like a sinkhole that stops traffic on a street we assumed to be secure. Everything is up-for-grabs.

Deeper and Wider than Politics

What haunts us across America is not primarily political. All politics rise from something deeper. Like oak trees and poison ivy, the shape and substance of what we see spring from depths we cannot see.

Photograph of Willem Zuurdeeg.

Dutch philosopher Willem Zuurdeeg, author of Man Before Chaos: Philosophy Is Born of a Cry, and An Analytical Philosophy of Religion (APR), uses a phrase that may seem strange.

Until we pause to think about it.

Search for solid ground

”The establishment of one’s existence is the background against which imperialistic and fanatical claims have to be understood.”

Zuurdeeg, An Analytical philosophy of religion, p. 89

To ‘establish’ one’s existence is to ‘secure’ it, to keep it from blowing away. We become fanatical and aggressive because we are insecure. We grab for something solid. When we feel the ground shaking, anxiety grabs for something solid. Something that will stay still. Everything is soul-sized. Something in us gasps at the knowledge of human frailty, our mortality, the inevitability of death. The gasps turn into grasps for a secure foothold.

Fanatical Zeal from Hidden Anxieties and Insecurity

Professor Zuurdeeg proposes that we speak of “fanatical claims” rather than “fanatics.” Like most books published in 1958, An Analytical Philosophy of Religion‘s speaks in the gender specific male pronouns. We cite the following paragraphs from page 81:

We have to say: The 'fanatical claimer' sees his own group as more than just a group. It is a fanum. The word "fanatic" is derived from the Latin fanaticus, and this word is related to fanum, a temple, a sanctuary. Fanaticus meant: first, pertaining to a temple; second, inspired by a divinity, especially with the meaning of a frantic zeal for such a divinity. We can say that for the fanatical claimer his group is such a fanum, a sanctuary, a privileged domain which relieves him of his hidden anxieties and insecurity. 

The fanatical Nazi is "the victorious German nation" (his fanum); the Orthodox Dutch Calvinist of the war against Spain (1568-1648) is the Chosen Nation, and is his God of Old Testament wrath. The fanatical claimer cannot permit his basic presuppositions to be questioned because such questioning would imply a doubting not only of these convictions but of the whole structure (his own person, his fanum, his God) cemented together by the process of identification.

-- An Analytical Philosophy of Religion, p.81

It is through the lens crafted in Zuurdeeg’s workshop that I have come to see the world. In the days following the 2020 election, stunned by the “alternative fact” alleging that the election was rigged and stolen, watching the mob storm the Capitol January 6, and hearing the deadly silence of the President of the United States of America betraying his oath of office to enjoy the show, I saw the frantic zeal of a fanum.

The Focus

But there is more. Drawing from French existentialist philosopher-playwright Gabriel Marcel‘s Man Against Mass Society (1952), Zuurdeeg expanded his analysis:

“Marcel justly points out that there is still another element in the convictional situation of the fanatical claimer, the focus. Marcel suggests that such a focus is an individual; and that is sometimes the case, as with Hitler or Stalin.” (APR, p. 81-2)

Photo of Gabriel Marcel (c. 1951)

America 2021

Everything is up-for grabs. The ground is shaking under our feet. We look for someplace solid, a sure foothold against the chaos. I see the world — or try to — in these terms. But the wise professor and the playwright-philosopher urge us to go deeper than what can be seen and managed, for we are “complex and ambiguous being(s)” who only know ourselves partially. “We are therefore not allowed to speak of a non-fanatical person.” (APR, 84). Although I think I know what Zuurdeeg and Marcel would say if they could see us now, they caution me that only a “fanatical claimer” is without doubt.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), 49 brief commentaries on faith and public life, Brooklyn Park, MN, October 20, 2021.

The Barbed-Wire Fence

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A Childhood Memory: Buddy and I

No fence divided the neighboring properties on Church Lane the day my family arrived in Broomall. The little girl next door and I quickly became playmates. We went back-and-forth with no thought of things like property lines. My yard was her yard; her yard was mine. Until the day the Singletons bought the property and she was gone.

Buddy Singleton was five years-old. So was I. Buddy and I soon became playmates. We played freely in each other’s yards. No one owns a tree. Buddy climbed our Red Maple, I climbed Buddy’s old Oak tree. Until the day the fence went up. Buddy could no longer get to me; I could not get to him. The gate locked Buddy in and kept me out.

Every day we talked through the chain link fence with the barbed wire at the top. “C’mon over,” said Buddy. The only way to “come over” was to climb the fence. So I did! Until my foot slipped near the top. The barbed wire punctured my left hand and left me hanging like a banana nor yet ripe for falling. My mother heard the screaming and lifted me from the fence. I still have the scar to prove it happened.

Photo by Kaique Rocha on Pexels.com

Then and Now

The fence that separates neighbors is higher now. Rarely do we we talk through the fence that separates us. We’ve learned to stay on our side of the fence. I no longer climb your Oak tree. You no longer climb my Red Maple. Neither of us invites the other to “c’mon over” and, if they do, we decline. Once you’ve hung from the barbed wire, you learn not to try it again. But the fence is not all barbed wire. It’s a chain-link fence. We can talk with each other through the fence without impaling ourselves, if we have the will to engage with the other. “The time for talking is past,” said an old friend. “I’m done! The time for thinking is over. You can’t talk to these people. It’s time for the barricades.”

The Barricades?

I know the feeling. But the time for talking is never over. The time for thinking is never over. However strongly I disagree with or despise the neighbor on the other side of the fence, however deeply I agree with Eugene Robinson’s question — “How dumb can a nation get and still survive?”(Washington Post, October 7, 2021) — as much as I want to back away from the fence to the club house in my Maple tree, something nags me to remember the commandment I prefer to ignore: to love my neighbor as myself. If I dare to look, I will find the enemy I despise inside myself.

Talking through the Chain-Links of the Barbed-Wire Fence

The time for contemplation and self-criticism is always now. It’s always time for thinking. It’s still the time for talking through the fence and trying to understand how and why people on opposite sides of the fence think, feel, and act as we do. Barbed-wire fences do not make good neighbors! “Something there is that doesn’t love a [fence].”

Brian Maclaren offers a way to talk through the openings if the chain-links fence.

People can’t see what they can’t see. Their biases get in the way, surrounding them like a high wall, trapping them in ignorance, deception, and illusion. No amount of reasoning and argument will get through to them, unless we first learn how to break down the walls of bias. . . .

Brian Mclaren, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself)
(Self-published: 2019), e-book.

To be continued with a look at Brian McLaren’s 13 walls of bias that shape how and why we see ourselves, each other, and the world at the barbed-wire fence.

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN, October 18, 2021.

What I was and am not; what I am and wasn’t

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This reflection is dated, but it still speaks for me with one huge exception. The 2020 election was still to come. There had been no “Stop the Steal,” no refusal to concede, no attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power, no January 6 attempted coup d’etat, no widespread threats and assaults against local school board members, etc.

TO SEE MORE CLEARLY

Seeing more clearly takes time. It takes experience. It demands patience — with myself and with others — and it takes courage. Courage to let go of ideas we took for granted: who we are, what we aspired to become, our place in the cosmos.

Paul Tillich knew about courage and patience. The first professor to be dismissed from his teaching position during the rise of the Third Reich, Tillich came to see faith as “the courage to be” — and “to be” means being in motion, growing, changing, dying, leaving parts of ourselves behind. Neither courage alone nor patience alone is the courage to be.

Which leads me back to where we began. If you now see homophobia, anti-Semitism, white nationalism, and climate change-denial as offensive, what do you do in relation to a homophobic anti-Semitic white nationalist climate change-denier?

SELF-KNOWLEDGE AND SELF-CRITICISM

I have never been a white nationalist. Neither have you, I suspect. But, looking back, I see that my classmates and I drank from the well of white nationalism. Every school day began with our hands over our hearts, facing the flag.

Photo of school children reciting the American Pledge of Allegiance.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Although we might have wondered why we were pledging allegiance to a piece of cloth, we didn’t give it much thought. We took it less as a statement of national aspiration than as a statement of national exceptionalism, a statement of fact.

But it wasn’t a fact. We learned that America was deeply divisible — between white western slave traders and the African men, women, and children they kidnapped, bought, and sold on the slave blocks; between the European settlers and the North American continent’s first people, cheated of their treaty rights, stripped of their land, religious practices, sovereignty, and civil rights; between professing Puritan Christians and the “witches” of Salem, burned at the stake as people “unfit for our society”; between the real Americans — the Christians — and the Christ-killers; between the straight majority and the LGBTQ minority who suffered alone in silence; between the landed aristocracy of the founding fathers and the laborers who bled picking cotton in the cotton fields in the south and worked without labor bargaining power and protections in the factories of the industrial north.

That was the “world” in which I lived, and that was the world that lived in me. As I continued through the years, I did my best to replace naïveté with consciousness, challenging the myth of American exceptionalism as a reformer, social critic, and activist.

I learned in time that unless I wanted to be a pompous ass, patience was required with others and with myself. “The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation” is the Bible’s version of Plutonium-239’s half-life of 24,000 years. It describes the toxic waste passed down river from one generation to the next.

BALANCING COURAGE AND PATIENCE

Nuclear waste doesn’t disappear. Neither does the sin of exceptionalism in its racial, economic, gender, religious, and national manifestations. The toxic waste of exceptionalism — the conviction that one’s nation, race, culture, creed, gender, class . . . or species . . . is the exception to history and nature — is the unacknowledged original sin we manage to make original every day by exalting ourselves over others and over nature itself.

FEMA photograph of helicopter fighting California forest fire.
FEMA photograph of helicopter over California forest fire.

CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE REPUBLIC

As the climate change clock ticks toward midnight, patience seems less of a virtue than courage acting now. We who pledged allegiance to the flag “and to the Republic for which it stands” are losing patience with each other. We are ‘indivisible’ only if we decide we are. If we and those we elect place our flawed understandings of our personal interests above our responsibility to honor and maintain the Republic, our not-so original original sin may be our last.

It takes courage to confess one’s participation in the evils we deplore. And it takes patience with those who seem to have logs in their eyes. “If we say we have no sin,” declared the minister Sunday mornings in the church of my childhood, “we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

The minister who invited us to own up to sins of omission and commission was the man I knew at home as Dad. I wonder what Dad would do if he could see us now.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Nov. 30, 2019.

Sermon — Touching the Light

A singular moment between 7 year-old Ben and his school bus driver, landscape artist J.R Hopkins (John), during the Sower Gallery‘s opening of John’s exhibit in Chaska, MN inspired Touching the Light.

Pre-Conditioned Perception: How do we see the world?

Thanks for dropping by Views from the Edge,

Gordon

Gordon C. Stewart, former pastor of Shepherd of the Hill in Chaska. MN and MPR guest commentator, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Brooklyn Park, MN, October 8, 2021.