Thursday, May 20, 2010

Differentiating Left & Right

A leader must separate his or her own emotional being from that of his or her followers while still remaing connected. Vision is basically an emotional rather than a cerebral phenomenon, depending more on a leader's capacity to deal with anxiety than his or her professional training or degree. A leader needs the capacity not only to accept the solitariness that comes with the territory, but also to come to love it.
Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix

One of my new hobbies is to spend 45 minutes on an elliptical machine with its own personal television. I plug my headphones in and go back and forth from channel 46 (Fox News) and channel 43 (MSNBC). I try to catch the 6pm PST matchup: Hannity versus Maddow. This makes for great entertainment and I find myself shaking my head at both while I eagerly change the channel to hear what piece of well-scripted shrapnel is launched from the other host. I'm head-shaking not only because of the Red-Bull-induced tone and hype and the desperate need to find something to talk about in the 24-hour-news-cycle, but because Americans, by and large, actually eat this shit up. It doesn't just give them something to talk about. It soothes them. It gives them security (others think the same way I do!) and certainty (it must be true since he's on TV!). Both of these establishment media options play off the ongoing liberal-conservative battle for hearts, minds and souls that America identifies with. EasyYolk seeks to transcend this bogus polarity.

However, one of our readers recently assessed our political bias with this rather blunt sigh: "I see a leftist agenda at every turn." We understand that, especially in our current political context, this is a common analysis of where EasyYolk is coming from. After all, the creators/contributors of EasyYolk were both raised in politically conservative homes and churches and found our own diverse fundamentalist-Christian-exit-strategies. Early on, we were trained to sniff out "liberal strands" of thought and amputate them so we know where a lot of our readers are coming from. Now, we can see all too clearly the strategies used on the right to defeat any argument by stamping it with "liberal." In this post, we'd like to sincerely and respectfully posit that a key component to our mission is to reject the ordinary "red state/blue state" obsession that the mainstream media has marketed to perfection in the past decade and to reimagine a more truthful, honest and authentic "Christian" political option. This, we believe, is far from a "liberal agenda."
The Legendary psychologist and rabbi Edwin Friedman spent his life studying how human beings play out the patterns learned in their primary emotional unit: the family of their youth. The unique roles, rules and boundaries (or lack thereof) of our families socially form us. In this developmental environment we learn how to cope with the chronic anxiety that, Friedman proposed, has become the major issue in the United States today. In his work on family systems and leadership, he identifies three key components to what he calls an "imaginatively gridlocked system"--a marriage, family, organization or an entire nation imprisoned in false assumptions:

1. An unending treadmill of trying harder;
2. Looking for answers rather than reframing questions; and
3. Either/or thinking that creates false dichotomies.

EasyYolk believes that that the US is stuck in both theological and political gridlock. Ever since the Federalists duked it out with the Anti-Federalists in the early days of the Republic, we've continued to be a two-party system that seems to be getting more and more polarized, especially with mass media catering to this paradigm. But this dualism has become exacerbated by the choose-your-own-adventure of cable political news options. The road to more civilized and effective solutions to our nation's problems is not by "trying harder" in either conservative or liberal camp, but instead, by intentionally thinking more creatively and boldly in order to reframe the political (and theological) questions we are asking. After all, when we ask the wrong questions, we'll inevitably get the wrong answers. We have hope that many Americans are beating back apathy and cynicism as they yearn for another paradigm to live out the deepest questions of our lives.

Because EasyYolk is "post-conservative" and because we live in Orange County, a hotbed of political conservativism (an interesting combination of both business and social conservative varieties), we are placed in a position where we are consistently responding to the traditional "red state" perspective and perhaps our greatest challenge is with how conservatives frame political issues. In addition, many of our friends and family within our social networks happen to be formed by a conservative Evangelical brand of Christianity (these conversation partners are easy to identify because they usually call themselves "just Christian" or "nondenominational Christian"). Because the substance and framing of our theo-political perspective is quite different than the standard conservative rhetoric, we are then placed, by these conversation partners, into the box aptly labeled "liberal." If there are only two choices and we do not fit the "conservative" platform, so goes the logic, then EasyYolk must be "liberal." Yet we refuse to be locked into a litmus test that embraces "dichotomies" with virtually scripted "answers." Here's a sampling of what we see as deeply flawed political gridlock:

-On the abortion issue: are you "pro-life" (conservative) or "pro-choice" (liberal)?

-On immigration: are you for securing the borders and deporting the "criminals" (conservative) or amnesty (liberal)?

-On "suspected terrorists": are you for getting answers by any means necessary and military tribunals (conservative) or giving full rights and civilian courts (liberal)?

-On faith and politics: do you believe that the US is a Christian nation (conservative) or that all religious talk should be banned from the public square (liberal)?

-On economic policy: are you for stimulating growth through lower taxes (conservative) or through government spending (liberal)?

-On climate change: are you compelled that global warming is not proven, and perhaps a hoax, and therefore not a priority (conservative) or for increased government regulation to minimize carbon pollution (liberal)?

These samples, and virtually every other issue in our world, get locked into this gridlock. Americans--sincere, yet busy, distracted and simple-minded--choose one side and accept the whole package without any critical thought or nuance. In fact, we seem to be a people who have become experts at resisting nuance. And, following Friedman, we believe this is deeply psychological. EasyYolk, on the other hand, proposes a 4-fold lens to view political issues more honestly and thoroughly:

1. We represent a spiritual-political movement that vigilantly promotes LIFE

In the womb, from the bomb and in the slum, God cares about all of creation, from humanity to plants to every creature on every hill. We are finding more and more that this life-stance often confronts "the bottom line" head on. Sometimes, we need to intellegently regulate the marketplace in order to protect vulnerable and oppressed life.

2. We represent a spiritual-political movement that vigilantly promotes limiting the POWERS

Like Jesus, we go to battle with forms of government, media, business and, yes, religion that go beyond their God-ordained vocations. When these powers seek more and more power, they become god-like, a form of idolatry that inevitably leads to the de-humanization and destruction of our world. With the Tea Party movement, we say "amen" to less taxes on the poor and middle class, as well as lowering the national debt, and with the anti-war movement, we say "amen" to less spending and power for the "military-industrial complex" (so coined by GOP President Eisenhower).

3. We represent a spiritual-political movement that vigilantly promotes "The Other"

Some people, in different pockets of our globe, hate the United States of America, not because of our freedoms and our Christianity, but because we have used these freedoms and faith to grow our wealth at the expense of others. We have systemically dominated "the other," both at home and abroad. The immigrant, the homosexual and the Muslim often attest to the stripping away of rights and dignity under the guise of security, sanctity or suspicion. These are not the marks of a country that believes in the humane treatment of all God's children. We need a new brand of diplomacy and a new definition of patriotism.

4. We represent a spiritual-political movement that vigilantly promotes FAITH as a vital contributor to democratic living

Various faith movements and organizations have led the charge during this 200+ year American experiment. The sick have been healed, racial minorities and women have been given rights, diseases have been cured and children have been educated and protected when religious communities have thrived. Faith should be encouraged and freed to do what it does best: join God in the redemption of the world.

These dialogical "entry points" help build consensus and focus our efforts. We believe they reflect the best of biblical interpretation and confront the worst strands that world history has offered humanity.

Unfortunately, both sides (liberal and conservative) take on the simple script that our media-of-choice feed us. Conservative Christians virtually all accept a narrative that glorifies the completely unregulated free market as the equal opportunity provider. What about poverty, you may ask? They quote Jesus: "the poor will always be among you." What about government intervention, you may ask? They say, "Jesus preached personal responsibility, hard work and individual charitable giving. He didn't say a thing about government."

On the other side, liberal mainline Christians tend towards a narrative of massive government intervention on behalf of the oppressed, poor and marginalized, protecting them from greedy and neglecting elites. They quote Matthew 25 as their proof-text: it's all about "the least of these." And what about the most controversial question of our day? "Jesus never said anything about gays and lesbians." Our culture is just a ping-pong match of competing bumper stickers that are all half-truths responding to cleverly framed questions.

Theologically, we are post-fundamentalist. We do not subscribe to "inerrancy" or "infallibility" doctrines of the Bible. We do not believe that the Bible is a truth encyclopedia of self-evident principles, systematically and formulaically quoted for simple answers to all of life's complex questions. We understand biblical authority more like an actor approaches an Oscar-winning Script. There must be room in God's Word for interpretation and imaginative performance in all our diverse contexts. Contradictions and inaccuracies cannot simply be explained away (as they are on this site: "solely because of the intricacies of Bible translation"). But the inerrancy of the Bible, as modern fundamentalists understand it, is about 150 years young (as are Left Behind notions of "the Rapture"). Over this past century, the Bible became a point of argumentation between fundamentalists ("who take the Bible seriously") and liberals (who are a bit more laissez-faire about authoritative truth).

EasyYolk is determined to find the Truth about God's created world in Scripture--as we also factor in the role that interpretation plays--as well as experience, social-scientific reasoning, and the 2000-year tradition of the church (for better or worse). But we also affirm that the Bible does not clearly answer all of life's questions. That doesn't mean the Bible is lacking. It's just not the sort of text that fundamentalist Christians have made it out to be. In short, we take the Bible very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that when our conservative brothers and sisters quote Jesus ("the poor will always be among us") to "get the government off their backs," we intend to critically engage with that proof-text, pointing out that Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 15 where God explains to the nation of Israel that they must prioritize taking care of the poor and, in fact, the poor will always be among them due to their own unfaithfulness. Economic systems impoverish people. God taught this to the nation of Israel and Jesus taught it to his disciples

EasyYolk is a spiritual path that takes the Bible and the real problems in our world more seriously, passionately, humbly and complexly. We attempt to take a position that Friedman, and his mentor Murray Bowen, calls "differentiated." This is a challenging goal that resists the natural "herding" instinct that soothes our battle with chronic anxiety. The "emotional reactivity" coming from traditional "conservatives" (a supermajority of our readers and the single largest ideological group in America: 40% to 21% for liberals) can certainly be seen and heard while they read our posts, echoing their sources, whether Limbaugh, Beck, O'Reilly, Hannity, Will, Steyn, Palin or their friends, family members and fellow church congregants who, through a strange sort of osmosis, get their talking points from the top. And, yes, we see this from folks on the left (but not as much due to numbers) who are "fused" with Moore, Stewart, Olbermann, Maddow and Maher (we're not saying that the substance of "right" and "left" are equal and opposite mirrors of each other, but their tone certainly is--more on that in a later post).

We are committed to what the late Senator Paul Wellstone called "the politics of conviction." We will do whatever it takes to speak the truth in love, gentleness and humility (that's right, sometimes we are wrong). Real change will come when others sign on to honest dialogue (which requires listening), creative thinking, biblical scholarship, social-scientific reasoning and a rigorous self-assessment that analyzes how one's own political bias serves one's own financial, social and, yes, psychological agenda.

Claiming that someone is a "liberal" just because she does not meet the dominant definition of a "conservative" makes as much sense as assuming someone is a USC Trojan fan just because he does not root for the UCLA Bruins. With a little help and hard work, we'll all find God's team: the Kansas Jayhawks. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, there are other options. Can I get an "amen?"

--Theological Autopilot


  1. i was tempted to go for a full on "amen"!...but, regrettably, i just couldn't quite spit it out due to a couple of points that i'll get to later.

    first...i appreciate the post and explanation of the blog perspective. easy yolk (what i've read anyway) promotes a thoughtful and respectful discussion...adjectives desperately missing in today's "let ME finish" debate.

    i also am disenchanted with a system that broadly labels an individual's thoughts as conservative or liberal leaving no room for the in between. to me, the "if not conservative, then liberal" (and vice versa) proof is used as a safeharbor from the choppier seas of discussing something new. perhaps the EY (do you mind if i call it that?) should come up with a new label..."Conseberal". 5 letters from each..."fair and balanced" ;)

    Moving on to some contested points. The post references the "protection of vulnerable and oppressed life"...a viewpoint that i believe all thoughtful Christians give credence to. Where I believe i may disagree with the EY is on the instrument and strategy to go about this protection. The EY suggests "intelligent regulation", the capitalist in me shutters at the word "regulation" and admittedly this is part of my bias...but is the EY suggesting government and bureaucrats are capable of such a thing as intelligence?

    To empower and rely on the government for "intelligence" is to prepare for disappointment in my opinion. Quasi government agencies (Fannie/Freddie) got us into our current economic mess with there lack of regulation in the residential housing market. Albeit there lack of regulation was meant to protect and assist the oppressed and vulnerable. Loans for all they mandated..."can't afford it? history of never paying your bills? worries!...Uncle Sam (Fannie/Freddie) has got your back!" Good intentions of the government looking out for the litle guy...bad result.

    Naturally, given power, the pendulum will kneejerk swing the other direction and bluntly apply a myriad of regulation resulting in an equal set of unintended consequences and less investment/more stagnation. The wealthy feel a little pinch but whenever possible pass on the real pain to there lower and middle income employees through firings, reduction in benefits, and other creative means (wealthy people are generally good at maneuvering). Good intentions of the government looking out for the little guy...bad result.

    Bottom line...regulation is absolutely needed, but the current "get em" fervor I fear will only result in greater disappointment. In my opinion, government regulation, like all government legislation, is best when simple, powerful, and limited.

    Side note: I wish it didn't take me so long to write anything remotely intelligent!...I'm going on like 1 hour and 15 mins for a couple need to spell check words greater then 5 letters isn't helping.

    Regarding limiting the POWERS...i agree.

    Regarding promotion of "the OTHER"...I agree in part...but feel that the EY stance as I understand it promotes "the OTHER" while rarely promoting the United States. Certainly, the US has used its resources and wealth to provide foreign aid with an underlying self interest at heart. However, to mention this in a vacuum without some balance as to the generosity of the average American feels like an unbalanced take. Of the annual $130 Billion given by the US in foreign aid (by far #1 in the world) 79 percent came from private foundations, voluntary organizations, universities, religious organizations and individuals. Sources far less likely to have a "domination" agenda.

    overall, great post...enjoyed it and defintely got me thinking. i think we all can agree on one thing...God loves to say "Rock Chalk!"

  2. Coach Self, you may call us "the EY" anytime! We appreciate the time you put into this thoughtful, passionate & good-natured response. We may not see eye-to-eye on exactly how and how much the government regulates certain industries--from oil drilling to derivatives to racial discrimination to marginal tax rates--but when we do respectfully dialogue these specific intracacies in the months and years to come, we will help increase the national political IQ. As far as "promoting the US," the EY sees its role as prophetic. We love the US, but we love it too much to keep it the way it is. Just as Jeremiah and Isaiah loved their own nation of Israel, they spoke on behalf of God to call their people to greater national displays of justice, righteousness and humility. We humbly attempt to live out what OT scholar Walter Brueggemann calls "the prophetic imagination," an alternative consciousness, following the way of Jesus, that seeps from blog posts outward into our lives and beyond. Rock Chalk...

  3. Excellent, well-thought out and reflective. These systemic challenges will require this level of discussion (and deeper) across a broad segment of our population - one from which the media almost must be excluded due to it's "we show/tell what will most drive our selected audience to our 24 hour site". Dr. Kent Rhodes, Professor, Pepperdine University

  4. Tommy,

    It's to great to read your response to my second "essay prompt"! I appreciate your explanation of where you're coming from and why it would be easy for some to call you all "liberals" when the issues are far more complex. It's also great to see the comments from Bill Self above, who agreed and disagreed with you. Thanks for bringing a tone of generosity and clarity without being sentimental, a tone that seems to me to be patient and probing. You model the kind of patient, time-consuming listening that we need to learn to do.

    In that spirit, I do have just one concern: points #3 and #4 seem to be framed in such a way as to suggest that "the democratic project" is the "we" you all are seeking to serve. Your delineation of USA's enemies (homosexuals, immigrants, Muslims) is absolutely spot on; but if we are truly seeking a "prophetic" form of Xty--rather than a "more perfect union"--ought we rather to say that we should listen to our critics so that we can bear witness to the gospel more faithfully? In other words, points #3 and #4 sound a bit more like pluralist "other-love" in the name of getting along in the nation-state than an attempt to discern how these groups' critiques challenge us to more faithful witness to the gospel.

    What I'm getting at is that the liberalism I (as someone who is theologically “moderate,” politically “radical”) find dangerous is not the theological liberalism of a Schliermacher, but the politico-philosophical liberalism that says that anyone can come to the table, just so long as the nation-state is the one who gets to set its table, invite its guests, pour its wine, serve its food, etc. Isn’t it our first priority in listening to homosexuals who have been abused by church or nation, for example, to learn how to be more faithful to the gospel?

    In other words, I think I could give a full "amen" if #3 said that we ought to listen to others so we can bear more faithful witness, and #4 said that we are going to do the things mentioned there whether the state does them or not. This does not preclude us from speaking prophetically to the state but does ensure that we're clear that the church as Christ’s Body, not the state, is the “primary” means God has chosen to bring salvation to the world. (“Primary” is important because it doesn’t preclude God from using people outside the church.)

    Sorry for taking up so much space in critical reflection when I really enjoyed the post. Thanks for taking the time to write so thoughtfully and generously. You are a good conversation partner indeed!


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