Welcome to the new web home for Entos Press and “Community of Promise: The Untold Story of Moses.” I have included e-book versions of the novel in epub and mobi formats as well as the physical books that have been available for sale all along.
You might have noticed that I have not published a blog post since last May. Most of my writing during the summer was on my next novel, “The Wisdom Weaver.” I’m about half-way through the first draft. During the Fall, I was teaching three sections of Psychology of Personal Growth at a local community college for three days a week. The other two days were taken up with my counseling practice. I also taught a course for ministers during three Saturdays, and went to Riverside Church in NYC to co-lead a weekend workshop about the intentional community where I live. There was just no time (or psychic space) to blog.
Anyway, I’m back and will make a good-faith effort to write meaningful posts on a regular basis. Thanks for your patience and for your future interest.
“The Promised Land is within and among us.”
As I look at the political events and reactions from the last few days, it appears to me that fear and reactivity are, as always, narrowing people’s perspectives. I have certainly felt the pressure to narrow my own to fear and disgust. I can’t let myself stay there, though. Broadened perspective is necessary for us to move forward purposefully and ethically.
Healthy perspective comes not from our answers, but from the quality of the questions we ask. So a part of gaining perspective is working hard to get to the most useful questions. If we ask superficial questions, we will be left with a superficial understanding. For example, many Democrats are asking “What went wrong?” implying that some strategic mistake brought about this outcome, and if we only had not made the mistake, all would be well. This is a superficial question. Before going on, I confess to being horrified and terrified by a Trump presidency. I could easily be carried by those emotions to scream abuse at the other side. It would not be wise, however to allow those perfectly understandable emotions to get in the way of a deeper look into the situation affecting us all.
I am trying to unearth some broader questions that can be useful, perhaps even necessary, as we look for a way forward. Here is an example of how I try to identify a deeper question. I saw a meme a couple of weeks ago that equated Donald Trump’s political positions with the temptations that Satan offered to Jesus.
When I excavate that deeper question, I notice that Satan’s temptations are actually embedded in values that are generally accepted in our culture. I would suggest that it is not only Trump, but our entire political system, that tempts people with similar satanic promises. So what are these temptations, and what do they have to do with us? Simply described, the temptations include power, safety, comfort, and status. Wait a minute! Aren’t those exactly the values that we have been taught are the basis for healthy social functioning? Aren’t those the promises that come from most politicians?
It would be easy at this point to throw out this whole line of thinking because it seems to lead to ridiculous (anti-American?) conclusions. Any line of thinking can appear ridiculous if the question behind it is inadequate. My concern as not whether these are useful values. Clearly they can be. For me, a more useful question is about why and how power, safety, comfort, and status might function as temptations?
In the context of Christian theology, how do these four perfectly reasonable values serve to distract from the mission Jesus found himself called to? One way to frame an answer is for us to ask what it costs, in the broadest sense of that word, to achieve power, safety, comfort and status. For the sake of brevity, I am only going to deal with one of these: power. I make the assumption that the definition of power that our culture accepts is central to our difficulties. We believe that having power is the means by which we exercise freedom. We believe that the only way to feel safe is by having power over others. We believe that without power we can’t be comfortable, and we believe that the only real way we have to measure our status (or national greatness) is by how much power (money) we have to direct or influence others.
There are two features of the way our culture understands power that must be challenged:
- Power is a “zero-sum” commodity.
- And power is primarily understood as individuals or groups influencing or being influenced.
If there is a limit to the amount of power available, then any power gained by one individual or group must be taken from others. “Zero-sum” means that there is no change in the total amount. It follows, then, that any change in the distribution of power generates the two-sided coin of entitlement/fear. If your “side wins” you increase your sense entitlement and the other side becomes more afraid. If the other side wins, they get more entitlement and you get to be more afraid. From this perspective, absolutely nothing fundamental has changed. There has simply been a redistribution of entitlement and fear. It further follows that fear focusses on the danger emanating from the other side rather than the validity of one’s own beliefs.
Let me clarify that I am not addressing the relative validity of one set of political ideas over another (as in Democratic vs. Republican ideas). Hopefully, thoughtful people examine their belief systems and try to adopt healthy ones. Still, if our basic understanding of power remains unchanged, real transformative change is unlikely, if not impossible. Something about rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic comes to mind.
I think transformation is only possible if we adopt a different understanding of power that is not individualistic and is not primarily adversarial. We must also identify neo-liberalism as the primary economic model that infects our entire system, regardless of political ideology. Neo-liberalism claims that competition is one of its central features. We have been taught to believe that competition is fundamentally good. However, competition is necessarily adversarial, meaning that we must have, or even create, enemies, and that defeating our enemies is somehow noble. Much of our social prejudice and inequality is based in this largely unexamined belief about competition. For a useful articulation of neo-liberalism and its effects, reference this April 2016 article from The Guardian, “Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems.” I encourage you to read it.
In short, neo-liberalism normalizes and even morally sanitizes the tyranny at the hand of those who win the economic game over the relatively powerless. In reality, almost everyone loses, including the planet that supports us all. A tiny handful of people experience temporary success, but they too will be destroyed by the devastation this economic belief system inevitably visits on the planet. I believe the world situation is just as dire as I have described.
We do have access to some transformational models that can help us evaluate and develop a healthier way forward:
- I mentioned the temptations above. What Satan tempted Jesus with was not primarily power, safety, comfort, and status. The nature of the temptations was really about individual rights and ownership, which could serve to legitimized a grossly unjust system. Because Jesus was talented and was likely to be seen as special, Satan offered him entitlement to special treatment. Satan tempted him to exploit his individualistic rights and opportunities apart from the needs of the community (that Jesus later calls the Realm of God). We can argue that throughout his ministry Jesus challenged the existing understanding of the law so that people could not use it as an excuse for exercising individual rights in a way that exploited others and destroyed relationship. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Care for the needs of the least entitled among us. These teachings from Jesus challenge our notion of power, and we cannot act on any of them if power is primarily individualistic and adversarial. We have been taught to fear powerlessness, but scripture says that only love conquers fear.
- Bernard Loomer has redefined power as being more about the growth and development of relationship than either giving or receiving influence. Real power is about empowerment. Under empowerment, the amount of real power grows – not a zero-sum game. And empowerment is not fundamentally adversarial, except that it mitigates against people using their entitlement to exploit one another. Loomer’s essay, “Two Concepts of Power,” can be found here.
- Similar to #2, true feminism is not about “uppity women” taking the power that rightly belongs to men (zero-sum). True feminism is about the growth of empowerment, and it is designed to reduce the amount of fear-generating adversarial competition.
We can learn from and make use of all of these.
I have been disturbed by how much American Christianity has been infected by neo-liberal values. One explanation for this is that one’s definition of power largely determines ones image of God. One of the historically fundamental qualities of God is omnipotence – that God is all powerful. If, however, we see power as primarily relational as opposed to individualistic and adversarial, then how we understand the divine is radically transformed. If God’s power is the “power-over” variety, then obedience – for the two-fold purpose of staying out of divine trouble and being granted temporal power – is the only way to feel safe. Anyone else’s empowerment is then seen as immoral, treasonous, and subject to punishment. But if God’s power is understood as the “empowerment, power-with” variety, then healthy community is valued for generating true safety (read salvation) for all.
In our individual rights and entitlement-based culture, only the illusion of safety is possible because it is always built on a foundation of fear. As with many addictions, it promises what it cannot ultimately deliver and keeps the addict hooked on superficial wishful thinking in the process.
By challenging our neo-liberal economic foundations, we are more able to articulate a system that sees all people and all life as inextricably connected, truly in this together. The resulting compassion, empowerment, and mutuality can stimulate healthy community and create increased safety for us all.
This is how I see it. I welcome your comments.
Thinking, The Internet, Consensus, and Collective Consciousness
July 7, 2015
Recently I read an article that made reference to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s belief that technology would serve to connect people in a healthy way leading to a higher level of collective consciousness. The article got me thinking about how people tend to use the social media parts of the internet. Do Facebook, blogs and their comments, and Twitter connect people in a way that leads to a higher level of connectedness and consciousness?
Before we can answer that question, we need some sense of what a “higher consciousness” might look like. Here are a few factors to consider:
Higher consciousness gives us the means to recognize our connection with a living system – like with Gaia (the living earth) or even the Universe. This is by definition a spiritual connection that reminds us we are part of something larger than ourselves.
- Higher consciousness makes use of a diversity of people and ideas in a collaborative rather than competitive way.
- Higher consciousness accepts (perhaps avows) that life is fundamentally ambiguous. i.e. there can be no absolutely correct, one-sided answer to any of life’s questions.
- The goal of conversation and communication is to broaden perspective, not to argue about whose answer is correct. It is an additive process.
- Higher consciousness is neither monolithic nor totalitarian. Being of one mind does not mean that one set of beliefs is correct, thereby excluding all others.
- Higher consciousness allows us to address the purpose of life question in a collective way as well as in an individualistic way.
If we accept these principles and desire to evolve toward higher consciousness (a la Teilhard de Chardin), then how could we make use of our social media?
We would not vilify ideas—or the people who espouse them. Rather we would express respectful curiosity and invite elaboration.
- We would learn the difference between opinion and perspective. Much internet chatter takes the form of “My opinion must be correct and all other thoughts must be wrong (and the people who hold them are clearly stupid!) How about if we tried to learn and grow by saying, “This is how I see this issue, and here is the data that informs my perspective and the logic that leads me to my view.”
- Our ideas could be contributions to the learning process rather than being imposed on others.
- We would go to social media sites because we desire to learn more than to instruct.
- We would welcome new perspectives that broaden our views rather than insisting that our minds are already made up. New data and views would not then be seen as threats to our opinions.
- We would stop trying to discredit or eliminate those who see things differently, but we would be curious about how their views were formed.
- We would value convergence—coming together—to give us all broader perspectives, and we would understand that consensus comes from sharing perspectives, not discrediting competing ideas. Single minded agreement is not useful—sharing perspectives is.
- We would stop equating our ideas with our personhood, so conversations would not feel like fighting for our lives.
These thoughts come from my experience with a community consensus process. Our culture has taught me that I should be able to get my way if I am smart or forceful enough. Consensus teaches me that a community is capable of creating much healthier approaches to human problems—including mine. A consensus process can often identify and meet my needs better than if I just pursued my personal desires. Consensus does not merely select the best of the presented ideas or opinions; the process creates something new that no individual could have reached alone.
I would like to see the internet social media tools operate according to principles like these.
This is how I see it. What do you see from your perspective?
“The Promised Land is within and among us.”
Community of Promise
- The ability to gather relevant information
- The ability to acknowledge and accommodate competing values
- The ability to see the scope of a particular position (e.g. regarding longevity and geography)
- Problem solving is not the equivalent of thinking.
- How wants and needs affect conclusions
- Opinions and logical conclusions are not the same
- How honest are thinkers about their self interest ?
- How does your given moral framework affect your conclusions?
- What are the underlying metaphors representing “truth,” and how do they affect the validity of conclusions
- Recognizing that we seldom have enough information to generate completely true conclusions
- New information should lead to modification of our conclusions.
- “My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts”
- How emotionality (as distinguished from emotional experience) blocks the validity of conclusions
- What if I must be right?
- How credulous am I in collecting information?
- How much faith do I have in my conclusions even if they turn out to be uncomfortable (or “inconvenient”)?
Is it getting more difficult for you to watch the news? It is for me.
My problem is not that bad things happen in the world. Earthquakes, hurricanes, droughts, and collapsing economic systems are really old news. The record of history shows that such events have happened constantly somewhere in the world for millenia. My problem with the news today is the difficulty in finding any compelling or fundamentally hopeful vision through all the dust and smoke kicked up by present events. Yes, we hear about outpourings of generosity in response to disasters, and we hear about the resilience of the human spirit, but those expressions seem to deal with a relatively superficial morality. To my mind, such rhetorical flourishes don’t rise to the stature of truly hopeful vision.
I find myself feeling scared and then angry at the state of the world – not at the natural disasters; those will happen; but at the general lack of profound reflection about the quality of community we might be capable of creating for ourselves – the kind of community that can maintain resilience in the face of crisis. In my anger, it’s tempting to point fingers in an attempt to identify who is to blame for this mess. It is no real surprise that blaming never really works, though according to Family Systems Theory the tendency to cast anxious blame in the face of crisis is normal enough. I find myself wondering if the time has come for me to throw up my hands in despair? Shall I toss a lifetime of optimism into the dustbin where it can hobnob with the rest of life’s disasters? Certainly, that is one option. But before doing it, perhaps I should explore exactly what I would be throwing away with my optimism.
If I choose to remain optimistic, it is necessary to determine the direction of my optimism. I have to figure out what vision operates as the foundation for my hope. I am reminded of all the high school valedictory speeches over the years that have exhorted fresh-faced graduates to create “a better world in which to live.” (The grammar of that phrase has never sounded quite right.) Still, that concept intrigues me: A better world! A better world? Better, how?
What is the direction of “better?” And is it possible to couch such a direction in profoundly hopeful vision rather than stale political rhetoric?
Humanity has always created (or discovered) visions that have been adopted by diverse cultures, often articulated and promulgated by charismatic figures. Too often, the power of the leader overwhelms the vision itself, and if it is being promoted on behalf of those in power, the vision can obscure, if not obfuscate, the often greedy self interest of the promoters.
Given these questions, I find myself wondering what validates any particular vision. Are some visions, then, better than others, or do the visions that find practical success merely reap the benefit of more effective promotion? Perhaps in this postmodern world where everything is subject to deconstruction, the variety of visions can all find themselves in the proverbial column with the heading: “There’s no accounting for taste.” Can all of our visions be reduced to the most potent combination of cleverness, intimidation, and wishful thinking (sometimes referred to as “false hope”)? Or can we evaluate our visions with more depth and creativity than that. The rest of this essay looks at some potential evaluative measures for our visions.
Here are three:
- Does a vision deal with real people who face real life issues? Many of the visions that have emerged and held sway over the millenia have done so in conjunction with religion: “The Peaceable Kingdom,” and “The Promised Land” from Judaism; “The Kingdom (or Realm) of God” from Christianity; and “Nirvana” from Buddhism to name a few. Many visions are essentially worldly, some are otherworldly, and some don’t have a “world” view at all. How does “worldliness” affect the usefulness of our visions?
- How does the relationship of the individual to the collective affect the usefulness of the vision? Visions vary enormously in how they deal with the individual in relationship to the collective. At one extreme is the importance of the survival of the individual or immediate family at all costs. At the other end of the spectrum is the value of individual sacrifice on behalf of the greater (collective) good. Some visions connect the extremes by positing the notion that healthy individuals make healthy communities and healthy communities foster the growth and development of healthy individuals.
- How important is it for a vision to be “forward-looking?” Some visions look at potential well-being in the short term only, while others promote a deep concern for the future, “even to the seventh generation.”
Putting it all together, what vision(s) inform(s) your life and your economic, relational, and political stances? And if you find hope in your vision, what does it look like when you evaluate it by the above three criteria?
I would be interested in your answers to these questions, and I assume that others who read this blog would be interested as well.
I hope you will let us know what you think.
“The Promised Land is within and among us.”
Community of Promise
- Power, Individualism, and Community in a Neo-Liberal Economic System November 13, 2016
- Thinking, The Internet, Consensus, and Collective Consciousness July 7, 2015
- Welcome to My New Web and Blog Home December 31, 2011
- An IPPY for "Community of Promise" May 14, 2011
- The Effect of Ideology on Thinking April 29, 2011