This podcast is the second in a series of autobiographical reflection on life as a theological pilgrimage.
Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), 49 brief (two to four page) essays on faith and life; host of Views from the Edge; Brooklyn Park, MN.
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. 
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)
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.”
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
) Brian McLaren, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself), Self-published: 2019), e-book.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks for dropping by Views from the Edge,
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.
It’s Christmas Eve 2020. The issues have not changed much in the last seven years. The gospel is like that! Economics and politics are spiritual matters. I’m no longer in the pulpit, but, thanks to the generous people of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, some of the sermons are preserved.
A Sermon: It’s All There in the Christmas Story
May you find confidence in the light, walk in the light, and hold to the good,
Grace and Peace,
Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN December 24, 2020.
Pardon, please, the posting of an old sermon. It’s the best I can do this morning.
With “thanks, thanks, and ever thanks” to the gentle people of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN — Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), a collection of 49 brief reflections written from inside the furnace of the refiner’s fire; Chaska, MN, July 25, 2020.
This Christmas we share a chapter from Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock) first aired on MPR’s “All Things Considered” during the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Today there is no Occupy Wall Street. There are no tents. No camps. No protests. But Mary, and the hope she sings in her Magnificat, will never goes away.
Mary of Occupy
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. - Gospel of Luke 1:53-55
in other cultures, and other times, the young woman would be called a peasant. But here and now, she is a protester, one of a dwindling number of ragged young people on the government plaza. She moves among the occupier sleeping bags and protest signs in the cold of winter, singing her song of hope and joy.
She makes no demands, which is confusing to some. Hers is a different way: a bold announcement that the old order, symbolized by Wall Street, is already finished. Her purity and her message are impervious to the game of demand-and-response that serves only to tweak and tinker with the old system of greed and financial violence.
She simply affirms the great new thing that will come to pass. to her it is more real than much of what she sees.
A song like hers is being sung this season in churches through- out the world. The song rejoices in a new world order about to be born. The “same old, same old” world, the one defined by who’s up and who’s down, by social pride and social humiliation, by the overfed and underfed, by extremes of extravagant wealth and pov- erty—that world is over. The mountains of greed are brought down and the pits of desperation are raised up to the plain.
The song celebrated in churches is the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, a composition of the Gospel of luke. it has special meaning to Christians who believe that Mary bore in her womb the savior of us all. But the Luke story also serves as a metaphor for the compassionate character of a new society about to be born.
“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” sings this peasant girl living in the time of the Roman empire’s foreign occupation. She is full of the One who “has scattered the proud in the imaginations of their hearts,” who “has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up those of low degree,” the leveling God of mercy and justice.
Imagine for a moment an opera house. At one end of the stage stands Mary, the voice of prophetic madness, her tender voice softly rejoicing in the hope growing inside her. At the other end stands a massive chorus, in tuxedos and gowns, thundering its hymn of praise for the market, for its grandeur, for the preservation of the status quo.
“He has filled the hungry with good things,” the girl sings, “and the rich he has sent empty away.” Her voice cannot compete in volume. But in its clarity, it drowns out the mighty chorus.
As Mary’s song is read in churches this Sunday, some anonymous girl will slip unnoticed into the back pew. She will listen to the reading of luke’s Magnificat, and she will hope, like Mary, that the world will hear the message.
- Except “Mary of Occupy” from Still! Departure from Collective Madness, p. 128-9.
Merry Christmas from Views from the Edge.
- Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska MN, Dec. 25, 2019