Jesus, the mystic

Jesus holy spirit
Image by Gerd Altmann || CC0

‘Divine darkness’ [cont.]

Last week we began unpacking the history of the way of negation (apophatic way). We began with Pseudo-Dionysius (5th or 6th century C.E.) and the image of ‘Divine darkness.’ Prior still, Gregory of Nyssa (c.335-c.395 C.E.) was perhaps the earliest Christian proponent of apophatic theology, and though he never used the term ‘mystical,’ he’s widely regarded as the founder of mystical theology. 

Reaching even farther back in the West we find Plotinus (203-270 C.E.) mystically reimagining Plato. Proclus (412-485 C.E.), by systematizing Plotinus’ thinking (Neoplatonism), actually laid the philosophical foundation for Pseudo-Denys to begin a formal stream of Christian negative theology.

In the East, perhaps the earliest written expression of apophatic thought is found in a foundational Taoist text, Tao Te Ching, attributed to Lao Tzu (6th century B.C.E.). The text begins,

“Even the finest teaching is not the Tao itself. Even the finest name is insufficient to define it. Without words, the Tao can be experienced, and without a name, it can be known.”

Pseudo-Dionysius’ “One” from, The Divine Names, rhymes with Lao Tzu’s, “Tao.”


Lao Tzu Riding_an_Ox
Lao Tsu riding an ox

Radical negation

Meister Eckhart (c. 1260c. 1329) continued in the stream of apophatic mysticism pioneered by Pseudo Dionysius, albeit taking it to far greater extremes of negation. Eckhart indicated his radical commitment to having empty hands and mind arguing that the apophatic spiritual journey leads past even the Persons of the Trinity. In sermon number forty-eight, Eckhart wrote that the mystical path journeys:

“….into the simple ground, into the quiet desert, into which distinction never gazed, not the Father, nor the Son, nor the Holy Spirit.”

In his negative theology, Eckhart attempts to clear existence away saving only a space for the (unqualified) Divine Image to occupy. There was nothing esoteric about Eckhart’s mysticism as he preached it in worship to all. His attempt to reconcile God’s Transcendence and God’s Immanence resulted only in dynamic tensionas any dualism is limited to do.

The Cloud of Unknowing (fourteenth century) [TCoU](anonymous author) belongs with Eckhart and Pseudo-Dionysius in the more radical branch of apophatic theology. However,  TCoU, like Saint John of the Cross, is quite practical in distinction to the earlier more theoretical forms, and is more of a mash-upadding Bernard (Love mysticism), Ruusbroec (Trinitarian mysticism). TCoU‘s design is to help spiritual pilgrims find modes of contemplation that are not bound by the limitations of discursive meditation. TCoU inverts the legacy understanding that love is the result of mystical contemplation. Rather  contemplation is the result of love/desire for the Divine (“blind stirrings” from God).

Not too difficult to imagine from where the ‘cloud’ imagery was drawn. (e.g.Psalm 97.2; Mark 9.7)   




“as one having authority”

In a nighttime conversation (John 3.1-12) with Nicodemus, an influential religious leader, Jesus said (verse 11), “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.”

We, also, recall that Jesus garnered astonishment, regard and favor from the people for teaching ‘as one having authority’ [cf. Mark 1.22; Luke 4.22; Matthew 7.28-9]. These scripture texts describe Jesus’ teaching as drawing on immediate experience and not the dogmatic words of tradition, as did the “scribes.” The power of Jesus’ mystical way of teaching that is, drawing on the immediate experience of those he taughtstruck fear in the hearts of the religious leaders/authorities [Mark 3.6]. Because of its populist power, one might argue it’s this mystical aspect of Jesus’ prophetic ministry that really got him killed [Mark 12.1; Mark 12.12]. Allow me to demonstrate how mystical prophetic teaching works. Please imagine you’re an audience member as you watch this brief video:



Notice, the speaker in the video (educator and activist, Jane Elliot) makes appeals to no authority save one. She makes no appeal to history, law, or to the academy (and the corresponding authority that attends its myriad disciplines, e.g., scientific research, etc.). Similarly, (except for her final question) Elliot makes no appeal for a warrant of authority from ethics, justice, morality, or religion. Elliot’s prophetic words are offered as a mystic would teach in that she draws her warrant for authority from within the experience of the hearers in her audience. I learned the hard way using this video in a local church. Speaking the truth in love through this immediate/intimate channel is capable of generating powerful populist identification, and, in Jesus’ case, even violent responses from prevailing aristocratic powers. Jesus experience with the ruling powers of his time (e.g., his condemnation/crucifixion) bears witness to the potency of prophetic vision offered through a mystical mode of teaching (over mere religious fiat).

Looking ahead

Next time, mysticism, scripture, and we’ll begin our look at (positive) cataphatic forms of mysticism.

Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?

Note: This blog page has outlined Spiral DynamicsIntroduction (June 30, 2018), first in series (July 1, 2018).


SD Worldview Color Key

Jesus holy spirit

Divine darkness

Peace - Image by Johannes Plenio
Image by Johannes Plenio || CC0

“Divine darkness!” Um, what? 

‘Divine darkness?’ I used that image last week (The point of peace) and offered a quote from Bede Griffiths to help illustrate. But what does the expression indicate? This week we’ll begin unpacking the history of just what that phrase means. We’ll see that far from some ethereal, esoteric, altered-state woo-woo, rather, mysticism is quite practical and immediately accessible.

You are a mystic! Everyone is a mystic. It’s just that rarely has anyone ever told us that, much less, taught us how to awaken to our intrinsic connection with the Divine. I note: Please see the daily meditation of Franciscan monk, Friar Richard Rohr (here: CAC); of late he’s been teaching on the mysticism topic specifically (week one summary here) (and week two summery here).


Image by Susan Cipriano || CC0

The earliest use of the term mystical was offered by Pseudo-Dionysius (5th or 6th century CE) [also denoted as Pseudo-Denys]. He first wrote of ‘divine darkness’ in The Mystical Theology. Chapter One begins with poetry:

What is the divine darkness?

Trinity!! … where the mysteries of God’s Word lie simple, absolute and unchangeable in the brilliant darkness of a hidden silence. … Amid the wholly unsensed and unseen they completely fill our sightless minds with treasures beyond all beauty.

“Darkness.” “Hidden silence.” Sightless minds.” Pseudo-Dionysius’ way of negation shows that union with the Divine involves laying every thing, thought, and image aside and approaching the majesty of G-d with hands and minds that are absolutely empty of all things, material and non-material. Pseudo-Denys invites us to think of a sculptor removing everything but the desired form, e.g., the Divine. 

In a profound sense, mysticism is an intuitive manner of reverse engineering. Action, contemplation, and the practices of mystical spirituality lead the pilgrim to the goal of union of the soul in Love with the Divine. [Spoiler alert], the rich spiritual irony is, you are already in union with the Divine. You always have been and always will bealways already.


Saint John of the Cross
Statue of Saint John of the Cross || CC BY 2.0

Carmelite friar, priest, and mystical Doctor of the Church, Saint John of the Cross [SJotC] (1542-1591) expounded beautifully on divine darkness. Drawing on the negative theology stream of Pseudo-Denys, SJotC charted the course to Divine union in Love with God.

Last week I quoted Bede Griffiths as he was talking about transcending sense and reason in one’s spiritual approach to G-d. SJotC‘s, The Dark Night of the Soul [TDNotS] is mystical poetry and its exposition. The first stanza of TDNofS poetically grounds Griffiths’ claim:

On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings—oh, happy chance!—
I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.

‘On a dark night, … My house now being at rest.” and “Divine darkness.” “…transcending sense and reason in one’s spiritual approach.” Union by way of negation.


Image by Bouf16 || CC0

Spiritual currency 

I’ve written previously that Mystical = Experiential. The currency of mysticism is experience. This key distinction stands in stark contrast with what is generally more conventional, dogmatic, institutionally religious approaches to spirituality. In a time when our cultural zeitgeist’s reliance on institutional dogma and religious (and all) authority is in disfavor/decline, and lived experience is taken as more genuine and authentic, the institutional church must take note. In the words (with regard to being Christian) of a well renowned twentieth century mystical theologian:

“In the days ahead, you will either be a mystic (one who has experienced God for real) or nothing at all.” —Karl Rahner

Educator and church leader, Leonard Sweet, has offered a relevant acronym regarding our times: E.P.I.C., with the ‘E‘ signifying we are now very ‘experiential’ oriented, and the “P” to remind us of our  ‘participatory’ nature. The zeitgeist has also been referred to as V.U.C.A.—that is, volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous. (here

“The crises we find ourselves in as a species require that as a species we shake up all our institutions—including our religious ones—and reinvent them. Change is necessary for our survival, and we often turn to the mystics at critical times like this.” —Matthew Fox (here)


next week
Image by Gerd Altmann || CC0

Looking ahead

Next time we will continue unpacking ‘divine darkness’ through consideration of other renowned mystics who have lived and written, from within their contexts, about their journeys with G-d. We will also see that not all mystics take the (apophatic) way of negation. We’ll begin to explore the myriad other ways that mystics describe their paths to the experience of union in Love with the Divine. Finally, and most significantly, we’ll begin a brief examination of how the Bible and Jesus fit into mystical spirituality.

Next week: “Jesus, the mystic.”

Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?

Note: This blog page has outlined Spiral Dynamics, introduction (June 30, 2018), first in series (July 1, 2018).


SD Worldview Color Key






The point of peace



‘Peace,’ a feature of the Divine … 

In the Center for Action and Contemplation daily meditation published on July 29, Friar Rohr relates the teaching of Life School faculty member, Dr. Barbara Holmes. Writing about “God’s Abiding Presence,” Rohr quotes at length from Holmes’ book, Joy Unspeakable [Fortress Press, 2nd ed. (2017)]:

Holiness is a concept that makes ordinary people nervous. . . . The holiness that Jesus describes has less to do with pious character traits and more to do with the hosting of God’s abiding presence. It is not effort but invitation that opens the human spirit to the possibility that God may sojourn with us.

While often misunderstood as moral purity, actually, ‘holiness’ is Christian discipleship jargon for wholeness, that is, not-two (both/and). Rohr continues quoting Holmes’ Divine union by “invitation” thought:

The human task is threefold.

  • First, the human spirit must connect to the eternal by turning toward God’s immanence and ineffability with yearning.
  • Second, each person must explore the inner reality of his or her humanity facing unmet potential and catastrophic failure with unmitigated honesty and grace.
  • Finally, each one of us must face the unlovable neighbor, the enemy outside of our embrace, and the shadow skulking in the recesses of our own hearts. Only then can we declare God’s perplexing and unlikely peace on earth.


Point of peace


“…God’s perplexing and unlikely peace on earth.”

It’s not a question of G-d’s Immanence, G-d is Present. How do I know? My own experience has shown me. Then, too, my experience is affirmed by the Divine-immanence recounted in the Christmas narrative (G-d Emmanuel), the consistent witness of the Holy Spirit, as well as the writings of many mystics down through the ages. 

The pertinent question is: are we conscious of G-d’s Presence?

Clare Graves/Spiral Dynamics [SD] worldviews aside, is the reality of G-d’s Immanence an ordinary part of your consciousness? If so, then you know that offering a coherent witness and testimony as to G-d’s Presence with language (or nondiscursive means) is no mean feat. 


Say I Am You


[SD] Excursus

In Graves’ and SD developmental terms, the first point in Holmes’ ‘three-fold task’ finds a spiritual grounding for a developmental corollary: e.g., the opening of (exiting) RED [CP] to (entering) Blue [dq] note: this introduces here a more nuanced way to distinguish a specific developmental stage.

So, for example:

  • PURPLE/red [BO/cp] = exiting/overwrought PURPLE2nd stage: human-bond, tribal values
  • Red [cp] entering/naive Red, 3rd stage: ego, power values
  • Red [CP] = mature Red, 3rd stage: ego, power values
  • RED/blue [CP/dq] = exiting/overwrought RED, 3rd stage: ego, power values
  • Blue [dq] = entering/naive Blue, 4th stage: order values
  • Blue [DQ] = mature Blue, 4th stage: order values
  • BLUE/orange [DQ/er] = exiting/overwrought BLUE, 4th stage: order values

“Overwrought RED” is an apt description of the individual’s realization of the limits of the individual. “…turning toward God’s immanence and ineffability with yearning,” describes, in spiritual terms, an opening to human development beyond an exclusively self-referential values system. Not nearly as poetic as the mystics, yet a basic grasp of SD language and the RED to Blue developmental transformation (in spiritual terms: conversion) does offer a dynamic point for Spirit, Graves, and SD to meet narratively.




Images of non-duality

Objectivity and subjectivity are not-two.

Heaven and earth are not-two.

The sacred and profane are not-two.

I’ve previously related my möbius way of describing the non-duality of Reality, that is, seeing through the not-twoness of interior/exterior perspectives (e.g., the co-emergent dynamic of subjectivity and objectivity). Similarly, all dualities are a construct, a differentiation of language, especially the sacred/profane division. Our (quadrant) holism mnemonic helps us keep these concurrent, dynamic relationships top of mind.


Quadrant model


Intersection of soul and Spirit 

Holmes is arguing that union with G-d and peace are found in the honest reckoning and holistic embrace of both our light and our shadow. Recall, Saint Paul reminds us: “we live and move and have our being” in G-d [cf. Acts 17.28]. I am taking the human ‘soul’ to be that aspect of a person that integrates body, mind and spirit (good and bad) in relation to Spirit.  The human soul is the point of human/Divine interface. A visualization:


Intersection diagram 4


Divine darkness

In The Marriage of East and West, Bede Griffiths writes:

There is no objective world outside us as opposed to a subjective world within. There is one Reality, which manifests itself objectively outside us and subjectivity within, but which itself is beyond the distinction of subject and object, and is known when the human mind transcends both sense (by which we perceive the ‘outside’ world) and reason (by which we conceive the mental world of science and philosophy) and discovers the Reality itself, which is both being and consciousness in an indivisible unity. (pg. 24)


Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?

Note: This blog page has outlined Spiral Dynamics.


SD Worldview Color Key



Trump’s ‘American jeremiad’

group psychology
Image by Gerd Altmann

Paradox (number 43)

My understanding is that randomness exists, but is a subset of Providence. Yeah, the only way to visualize such a thought is with the lens of paradox. I only raise this point because Providence was at work in my experience this week.




I stumbled upon a fascinating Scientific American [SA] article this week, “Trump’s Appeal: What Psychology Tells Us,” published March, 2017. I’m grateful to have the insights the article offersbetter late than never.

So, while you may have seen this SA article previously, perhaps long ago, Providence didn’t tee it up for me till this week. Please bear with me as I share some of the authors’ insights. I hope I can tempt you to read the article

In-groups and out-groups

With many others, I’ve previously observed that Trump’s big picture political-framing is a partisan us vs. them motif. Specifically, it’s an in-group vs. out-group vision. Trump’s pre-candidate parlance on these two groups in general had been: winners and losers (read: rich and not-rich).



An “American jeremiad”

The notion of an “American jeremiad” (cf. Bercovitch) as the core of Trump’s stump-speech rhetoric is intriguingand like many obvious things, plain once pointed out. This key insightillustrated by a fascinating unpacking of how a MAGA Rally works to create identitystruck me as very significant. In the SA article, Stephen D. Reicher and S. Alexander Haslam define Trump’s ‘American jeremiad’ as:

By definition, this form of rhetoric extols the notion that America has an exceptional mission in the world but is falling short and therefore needs to change to fulfill its original vision. What distinguished Trump’s version from the original Puritan one is, first, that the failings are a matter of power and wealth rather than of moral purpose and, second, that they are caused by the depredations of others rather than the weaknesses of the in-group (that is, his supporters).


In the SA article the authors observe that Trump’s Rally stump-speech is composed of three main components:

  • The first asserted that America, once great, is now weak and repeatedly humiliated by others. Thus, in the speech that announced his candidacy, given at Trump Tower in New York City on June 16, 2015, he asserted “Our country is in serious trouble. We don’t have victories anymore. We used to have victories, but we don’t have them. When was the last time anybody saw us beating, let’s say, China in a trade deal? They kill us.” 

  • The second element was that America’s decline was framed as resulting from the actions of its enemies. … More important, though, the argument went on to assert that these external enemies thrive only because of the actions of many enemies within. [e.g., politicians, lobbyists, the media, etc.] 

  • After identifying the problem and its cause, the third part of Trump’s argument went on to identify the all-important solution: himself. Throughout his speeches, Trump insisted that he is not like other politicians. He knows how to make a deal. He insisted that he has been so successful and become so rich that he cannot be bought.

The article finely nuances MAGA’s in-group/out-group dynamics. The key piece: The external enemy only thrives because of the enemies within. Historically, an external national enemy served to unite the people. Trump’s move uses the in-group/out-group dynamics to betray/exclude/demonize certain communities [e.g., immigrants, religious minorities, politicians, lobbyists, the media, etc.] and serves to divide Americans.

For Trump’s citizens-first MAGA campaign, he appropriated a nostalgia for a by-gone era of America (pre-1960sthe rights decade) and leveraged it to provide identity (read: status as an in-group member, e.g., Trump supporter) to those who, for economic and cultural reasons, perceived a loss of status for themselves and a loss of their preferences for society. From the SA article:

In simple terms, a Trump rally was a dramatic enactment of a specific vision of America. It enacted how Trump and his followers would like America to be. In a phrase, it was an identity festival that embodied a politics of hope.


naleck || CC BY 2.0

I  never dreamed I’d be making this comparison, but while the Grateful Dead and Donald Trump are mostly polar opposites, they are both identity entrepreneurs. With peace, love, and music, the Dead created a cultural space and a peopleDeadheads. With an American jeremiad, the depredations of an external enemy (aided by internal enemies), and Trump himself as the only solution, Trump created a cultural space and a peopleMAGAheads.

Oops, I’m out of space. See the SA article (here) for the deeper significance of crowd size, and other insights. 

Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?

Note: This blog page has outlined Spiral DynamicsI used a serial format, introduction (June 30), first in series (July 1).

social media share tools meme

Bonus video:



SD Worldview Color Key




Is the POTUS a racist?

Racism - even half dozen

An even half dozen…

Striking how often the issues of racism and white supremacy have been the focus of my weekly blog posts over the past year. Today’s post makes seven of fifty-five (12.72%).

Cf. archive: “Like a rainbow;” “Gag on political speech” (subhead); “Beauty and protest?” “He took a knee;” “White privilege” (subhead); “Relentless is changeI note the ‘Relentless is change’ piece did begin to take up the question from today’s title.

To ask, ‘Are you [singular] a racist?’ is a question aimed exclusively at the upper-left quadrant [UL] as designated by our holism mnemonic. Access to subjective space is through self-reporting. 


Quadrant model


So, are our Life Conditions [LCs], and present political climate, the explanation for the regular appearance of these issues? Or, is this frequency a function of something going on inside of me? Likely some of both.

Earlier this year, in “Relentless is change,” I sidled up to the question raised in this week’s title. I’m writing again on it this week to apply our new holism tool [quadrant mnemonic] with respect to President Trump and his recent ‘go back from where you came’ comments. Make no mistake, Trump’s remarks here are seen by many people as explicitly racist. ‘Go back from where you came’ is a fearful, hateful trope that most oppressed minorities have heard whenever they were making strides toward inclusion and justice. Perhaps even more disheartening this time was the response Trump supporters offered at a MAGA Rally in North Carolina on Wednesday this past week:



Breaking it down…


Quadrant model 4


The sin of racism is native to the ‘intentional’ (upper left quadrant [UL]). By ‘sin of racism’ I mean the subjective, willful, intentional, open ascent to an ideology of racial supremacy [LL]. The original sin of racism is native to the lower right quadrant [LR]. By ‘original sin of racism’ I mean the objective, structural and institutional residue of the ‘sin of racism’ expressed by our forebears. For example, “go back from where you came” resonates powerfully and painfully as it is already resident in the right quadrants of most people; that is, objective memories of individuals as well as in collective consciousness objectively expressed in history and structural residue, e.g., LR, systems, and institutions (systemic white supremacy). 


discrimination sized

Overt expressions of racism are objective and thus appear in the right hand quadrants of our mnemonic. A person (or group) may openly, objectively express blatant racist speech/behavior and, yet, still deny being racist‘dog-whistling’ and so forth. The only way we can be certain that any person is indeed a racist is if they voluntarily report their interior reality, e.g., zealously proclaim their willful intention to be openly racist. This assumes the person is fully aware of their drives and does not account for unconscious racial bias. While shocking to many folks, David Duke, Richard Spencer, et al., proudly admit they’re militant white supremacists. In May I wrote:

President Trump and Rep. King are both in the category of those who’d never admit being racist. In what seems like affirmation by a kind of reverse projection—the loud and zealous voices of Duke, Spencer, et al.—do we have a new warrant on calling out our leaders’ speech/actions? Does the enthusiastic reaction to Trump by society’s out, openly racist voices provide a reliable, visible witness to his overt, if unadmitted, racism? Is Trump racist because openly racist folks say so?

David Duke tweet


So, “Is the POTUS a racist?”

Does it matter if Trump is ‘a racist’ in the intentional, UL quadrant, David Duke is a racist sense? Certainty on that would require an admission. What if we allow “there’s not a racist bone…” in Trump’s body? What if we grant that Trump is just cynically manipulating racial dimensions of politics, is that any less indecent? Even if the benefit of the doubt were given, and the ‘go back from where you came’ trope isn’t really racist in Trump’s usage as his defenders argue; even if, as Lindsey Graham cynically says, the president is using it as a throwback to the “America, love it or leave it” sentiment of the Nixon era.* Does it matter if Trump’s cynical intention is only race-baiting and exploiting white-identity politics to help stoke the energy and emotion of the nationalistic ‘us vs. them‘ dynamic that he’s been developing? 

*We recall, war-hawks used the phrase as a mantra during the Vietnam era to ‘other’ political demonstrators and war protesters to stifle dissent.

It’s crucially important we remember the inherent combustibility of this kind of environment. We do well to remember our dark history at Kent State, and the dangers that attend a hyped-up, us vs. them political climate. “Tin solders and Nixon’s coming … four dead in Ohio.”


political exclamation

Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?

Note: This blog page has outlined Spiral Dynamics, a complex developmental anthropologyI used a serial format, introduction (June 30), first in series (July 1).

social media share tools meme

SD Worldview Color Key

Racism - even half dozen

Ending homelessness possible

Ground and Space Series – Exalt (144″×72″) ||  Jane Booth Studio

Final reprise: Media Rule of Thumb

In the first three parts of this mini-series (first, second, third) we’ve looked at a simple way to first become aware, and then to challenge the selective focus and blatant partiality so often present in our current news and media climate. A three-step heuristic consisting of:

  • Step One: Identify the source (author, publisher, [and promotion interests])
  • Step Two: Identify values systems in play (Gravesian worldviews)

SD Worldview Color Key

  • Step Three: Holistic perspective top-of-mind (quadrant mnemonic)

Quadrant model 4


“I didn’t do it!”

However, we must remember that the simple truth is it’s much easier to see problems in a partial, piecemeal fashion. Overall, it’s just easier to see the old homeless woman on the corner as the problem. Selective, partial reporting is able to shape public thinkingand, ultimately, policymostly by appealing to convenience (e.g., biased media shorthand) and emotion (guilt, fear, frustration). It’s much easier for Eric Johnson, and KOMO, to make the issue exclusively about 12,000* homeless people than to acknowledge the part the other two-point-two million people who live in Seattle and King County play in the dynamics of the Seattle situation. Seeing the issue of homelessness as a problem of both the one (~12,000 individual homeless persons) and the many (2.2 million King County residents) is the only known way to reconcile these two populations and this tragic lack of compassion in our very affluent society.

*  NOTE: This “12,000” figure is likely a serious underestimate (“off by 240%”?) because of the methodology used in making HUD’s Annual Point-in-Time Count, [cf. (here) (here) (here)] 

Avoidance by proxy

If your/my preferred media/information provider selectively excludes and overlooks half of the problem, then we’ll have little chance of reconciling this or any of our other seemingly intractable problems. Rather, the effect is to proxy responsibility away from the privileged. The selective way that our news/media systems report on problems like homelessness is the very root of the perception that these issues are intractable and cannot be reconciled—”That’s just the way it is, always has been, always will be.” Political tribes who have demonized their opposites feel strongly they have nothing to learn from the other’s perspective. When news and media monetize and profit greatly from polarizing division, society simply must become aware, intentional, and disciplined about keeping a holistic perspective top-of-mind.


“The Way Back,” painting on canvas (74″ x 68″) || Jane Booth Studio

Steps toward healing homelessness

In February of 2006 Malcolm Gladwell wrote a piece for the New Yorker entitled, “Million Dollar Murray.” NPR’s Scott Simon interviewed Gladwell about the piece and the problem of homelessness (here). Gladwell argues in very pragmatic terms and focuses on the cost of solutions. He shows the obvious, there is far less cost in simply getting the core/chronically-homeless persons off the streets by getting them an apartment and a case-manager to help them keep their lives on track than the astronomical costs involved in doing nothing. This is a very Orange [ER] values, bottom-line approach to a problem.

From strictly a cost-benefit perspective, it is impossible to deny the veracity of Gladwell’s claim. This approach also has the advantage of being very measurable in terms of efficacy. Obviously, however, the problem with this solution is more of an ethical one. This kind of plan seems unjust to people who work two or three jobs to pay for their own apartments. The question involves a balance between the interests of individuals and collectives. If the question of fairness is exclusively decided on the basis of individuals and personal responsibility, then, on face value, Gladwell’s plan is unjust. If, however, the question is decided more holistically, the social benefits gained by all helps re-frame fairness. 

Healing homelessness holistically…

After high school Rosanne Haggerty began working in a New York homeless shelter and became passionate about homelessness and solving the problem. Haggerty is now a world-renowned activist/advocate for the homeless who offers education and consultation to communities interested in taking a holistic approach to homelessness [see her TED video below].


Haggerty's Process meme


Malcolm Gladwell and Jacob Weisberg have formed a podcast enterprise, Pushkin Industries. A new podcast in collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation is called #Solvable. In this podcast series, problems that are regarded by most as intractable and unsolvable are considered and shown to actually be solvable. In the June 9th podcast, “Homelessness is #Solvable,” Gladwell interviews Haggerty and discovers homelessness is indeed a solvable problem. Haggerty’s “housing first” approach makes the individual homeless person the locus of the response, but does so in ways far more holistic than the upper-quadrants-only approach taken in the KOMO, “Seattle Is Dying,” documentary. Haggerty’s “by name, in real time” approach requires recognition, and integration, of the holistic nature of the problem, a problem of both the one, and, the many. The #Solvable podcast is well worth a listen!

Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?

Note: The blog has outlined Spiral DynamicsIntroduction (June 30, 2018), first in series (July 1, 2018).


Bonus Video

SD Worldview Color Key

Quadrant model


one And many

Image by James Wheeler || CC0

Mini-series continues…

Setting last week’s one-off anniversary edition aside, we’re presently in the midst of a mini-series [first, second] exploring a way toward a heuristic for discerning the meaning and veracity of news media and internet information.

  • Step One: Identify the source
  • Step Two: Identify values systems in play
  • Step Three: Holistic perspective top-of-mind (quadrant mnemonic)…

Two weeks ago we left off with a beginning conversation regarding a quadrant mnemonic device. We started with a bit of unpacking in the upper left quadrant, the interior of the individual—subjective space.


Quadrant model


No one parachutes into human life—that is, no individual human (upper quadrants) arises in isolation from a social context of some kind (lower quadrants). These four aspects of human existence arise simultaneously, they are each a piece of a tetra-arising dynamic. Contemplation of this dynamic alone reveals the seamless (not-two) nature of reality. This understanding adds significantly in our our reckoning of a news/media heuristic. 


baby in a basket


An old story often told by preachers may well help us here right now. 

It seems a happy, loving community of people were having a picnic-cookout and family celebration in a nice clearing next to the river near their suburban homes. The river flowed right through the middle of their city. So busy with their family, friends, food, fun, and games, they almost did not notice a basket that came floating down the river toward their spot. Well, as it turned out, the basket had precious cargo indeed. There was a baby on board! Someone quickly swam out to retrieve the basket and brought the baby ashore into the loving care of the community. 

The games, fun, and food quickly resumed. However, it was not long before another baby-basket came floating down the river. Retrieval and rescue was again effected, and soon the festivities continued. However, alarmingly, it was not long before another basket came floating down the river. Again, rescue was made, and once more the festivities continued. 

This pattern repeated itself several times until finally someone had a flash of insight and said, “Rescuing these babies is simply the least we can do. Why don’t we do a little more and send a party up-stream to find out what’s causing these babies to float down the river? Where are they coming from, and why do they continue to keep coming?”

The story reveals the problem with partiality in the KOMO documentary on homelessness in Seattle (“Seattle Is Dying”) that we have been looking at in this mini-series. KOMO‘s reporting wants to see and treat the homeless person as the baby in a basket. In the documentary, the baby in the basket is the problem, we’ll deal with that. We’ll selectively focus on the individuals who are experiencing homelessness to the blind exclusion of where the baskets are coming from and why they keep coming down the river.


Quadrant model 4

Our quadrant mnemonic is very helpful in keeping a holistic perspective top of mind so that the kind of partiality we see in the KOMO documentary does not hamper or limit our understanding.

Obviously, homelessness is a form of suffering most directly felt by the individuals (and families of individuals) who experience it. However, individuals [upper quadrants] who are homeless do not parachute in. Rather, they arise and exist within social (cultural worldspaces) and societal contexts (structures and systems) [lower quadrants]. Focusing exclusively on reality through a partial framing blinds us to a holistic perspective.

Hyper emphasis

KOMO‘s Orange [ER] (merit) values’ over-emphasis on individuals does not end with the homeless in the documentary. The way the entire problem is presented is in the context of the individual. The documentary offers an appeal to housed individuals, and it examines how homeless persons adversely effect housed persons. In other words, the documentary presents the homeless person as an inconvenience problem for the housed individuale.g., the homeless are eyesores (guilt inducing) to the housed, and a damper on economic activity for housed individuals and the economic collectives they share. Sadly, it seems the (housed) privileged class has no real problem with the homeless until they become so numerous as to actually be visible and/or an obvious economic deterrent to the housed. The documentary’s story is the real problem of homelessness is not about the homeless. Rather, it’s largely about control policy, an appeal to housed individuals experiencing the problems and discomfort the homeless bring them.

Compassion is not intrinsically native to any particular values system, but possible with any worldview. In the case of KOMO‘s (Orange) documentary, compassion is selectively applied to the problem of homelessness.

Next week…

We’ll conclude this mini-series by finishing the discussion of our media heuristic. We’ll also discover that neither the Blue [DQ] (order/control) or the Green [FS] (justice/community) values systems separately have a solution to the seemingly intractable problem of homelessness. However, holistically homelessness is a solvable problem.

Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?

Note: The blog has outlined Spiral Dynamics, a complex developmental anthropologyIntroduction (June 30, 2018), first in series (July 1, 2018).

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