Pilgrim Notes

Reflections along the way.

Month: July 2004

Groups

We join groups for various reasons: to achieve a common purpose; for social outlets; nothing better to do. Once a part of a group, we define a part of ourselves in relation to that group. We may think about the ways the group is similar to our own beliefs and hopes or we may think about the ways the group differs from our own understanding of self. So in one way or another we may project identity into that group.

I have sometimes been reluctant to reveal my political affiliations or group affiliations because I preferred the person present to speak to me and not to their perceptions of any particular group. As soon as I say I’m a Democrat or I’m a Republican, the person present may attach certain filters to their perception of me. The only problem is that their understanding of the value and/or issues related to that particular group may differ vastly from the values/issues I attach to the group.

I find this also in religious circles. By indicating that I am a Christian, someone else may immediately attribute certain ideas to me that may not having anything to do with my identification as a Christian.

labels by provide some very limited indicators to other peopple about our interests or self-understanding, but they also almost always tend to distort.

As I watched the DNC convention last night, I thought about another way in which labels can potentially distort our personhood. When I accept a label, such as a political designation. Then I may make decisions based on the decisions of that group rather than my own true convictions. By joining the group, I may surround my decision-making capacity and choose instead to focus on arguments that make it easier for me to accept the ideas of the group at large. Whether it is the DNC, the GOP or some other group, I always risk exhanging my personal identification with an affiliation of affinity. In one sense, it easier. Most people are uncomfortable with ambiguity and would prefer to take a stand somewhere, anywhere: “You just tell me where.”

As we are learning to become persons, that is fully relational beings, we must find ways to hold the tension of particularity (a particular personal identity) and commonality or generality (the ability to be in relation with other particular persons). This is not so easy and our ever increasing stridency in the public arena highlights it.

Yet there is always hope. This is where a label with explanation might help. When I say I am a Christian, I am affirming the classic creeds (The Apostles Creed and The Nicene Creed). While these creeds are filled with ideas, one primary idea that is upheld by classic creedal Christianity is that ultimate reality is relational. Or that God is Triune. And yet there is one essence. There is one God or one essence and yet there are three persons. Thus particularity and unity are held in perfect harmony. So if I accept the label of Christianity, I am affirming a belief that the heart of this world is personal and relational: thus I do see hope for the possibility of relationship between persons.

Doug

Martin Buber

In the midst of this political frenzy, in the midst of our tribal arguments, we need someone to who can teach us to face one another and truly listen. If there ever was a day for the wisdom of Martin Buber it is now.

I’ve got this idea I’ve been toying with. Modernism developed certain meta-structures, which in turn helped reinforce it or bring cultural continuity. These meta-structures functioned like gatekeepers. They were the primary way information and ideas flowed into culture. The university would be a modernist meta-structure. The media is as well. Journalism as we know is a child of modernism and a servant of modernism.

But in the event of the collapse of modernism, these structures did not simply disappear. They still exist and while some even proclaim the death of modernism, they still function and were built on modernist principles. So they cannot easily adapt to this changing milieu.

Now there is a big debate is media liberal or conservative when the real answer is –it’s a modernist dinosaur. It never fully anticipated Drudge and the blog revolution, which challenges everything and no longer accepts the illusion of objectivity. Every story is always reflected through a particular lens. The post-modernist is always deconstructing reality trying to show the narratives and biases inherent in the structure.

So like good post-modernists, we deconstruct the modernist media: one group suggests it is liberal; another analyzing the same info concludes it is conservative or at least slanting away from liberalism.

In one sense, post-modernism could be the loss of this meta-structures–thus the world devolves (every so gradually or not) into tribalism. I think the blogs reveal our tribal tendencies. The question is: Can these tribes find a way to get along? Or do we descend into tribal war? I think it is far bigger than conservative vs liberal.

Each tribe tends to redefine language and symbols, thus cross-tribe communication is not always easy.

These are a few ideas I’ve been considering. I think this is another reason why relationship (and diversity) is so important. Also, this is why I think Buber’s ideas on the narrow ridge and dialogue are more important now than even when he wrote them.

Doug

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