Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

So Many Thoughts

Written by: on April 17, 2015

All semester I have been looking at this book, sitting on my shelf, thinking to myself, “That looks like fun.” In just writing that, I confess that there is a bit of a nerd in my soul. (And there I just used that word “soul”. What is the soul anyway? But I digress …) Raeper and Edwards’ A Brief Guide to Ideas [1] is a crash course, cliff notes version of every major philosophical thought over the past 2500 years. From Socrates to Carl Rogers, Raeper and Edwards provide a brief history of each named thinker, and a quick summary, complete with bullet points, of their primary ideas.

Ideas. So many ideas. Who is God? Is there a God? How do we know what we know? Who is man? What is the purpose of man? What is truth?

Raeper and Edwards state in their introduction that philosophy, which they define as “the love of wisdom”, [2] is about more than how we think and what we think, but that it is about how we live. “What we think is true affects our view of ourselves and how we treat people and the world.” [3]

I teach my students one of my mantras: if you understand how a person thinks, their behavior makes sense. This is the last week of classes at Concordia, and today my students in my Spiritual and Cultural Diversity Skills class presented their final projects. They worked in partners to create digital stories about an important part of their identity; something that they would want people to know about them that might help others to understand them more. The twist was that each partner was to tell the other person’s story. My goal was to provide an opportunity for each student to try and capture the other person’s thoughts, feelings and experience.

The results were amazing. I was entirely impressed with both the quality of the work and the insight that they showed. Each video was just three to five minutes. At the end of the class we discussed the experience. Time and again students would say, “Now I understand. Now I get why different people act the way they do.”

Indeed, our worldview informs how we live. But where does this worldview come from? As I read Raeper and Edwards book, at times I would stop as my brain would start to get clogged up with too many ideas, and I would think to myself that these people think too much. They make it too complicated. In my simple mind, I often see the ideas expressed in various theories and philosophical arguments as statements of the obvious; that someone simply put into words what is already known. But even that is a controversial statement and it reflects my own understanding of the world.

As I read, I started thinking about my philosophy, and the things that I think are true. It became clear to me that my whole perspective starts with a single point that guides everything else: God. That fact alone separates me from those who do not believe in God as I do. Yet even among those who believe in a different idea of God will share common ideas with me. As I re-read Plato’s story of the cave, in which people sat in a dark cave staring at the walls, which were backlit, and only saw shadows, I was reminded of what Paul wrote 500 years later. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” (I Corinthians 13:12) Across time, across cultures, across religions, still we often find common ground.

Raeper and Edwards write about western philosophy. They don’t begin to address the many other global and cultural views of wisdom and how we live. Even in spite of this, in the discussion of the postmodern world in which we now live, they address the great challenges of such a pluralistic society. Throughout most of human history, thoughts trickled down slowly from the privileged to the commoners. Today, in our world of information technology and immediate access, information flows out more like a tidal wave. It can be overwhelming and many people struggle to find and anchor, to make sense of it all.

Almost of necessity, meaning is discerned in local contexts alone, as claims of universal truths are almost habitually treated as suspect. Meaning becomes marked by enormous diversity and contingency… Yet in reality there is a danger that the market itself becomes the greatest reality for the growing number in our society, especially in the middle classes, who no longer have a rootedness in tradition or an old-style meta-narrative to make sense of their lives. Consumer choice is often whimsical, unstructured and unplanned… This diversity reveals an underlying desire – a need – to believe in something. [4]

It is in this point that I find more hope than despair. It would perhaps take a whole book to explain my thoughts along these lines. Indeed, I have struggled to squeeze out a sense of coherence in this brief blog. I would posit that in spite of the global diversity (not just western) and in spite of the volume of philosophical ideas, there remain some common ground points among people. My worldview that God exists informs this idea (He said that He would write His law upon our hearts). But even aside from this, I believe that people who don’t believe in God would struggle to disprove these ground points. I think that:

• people desire peace;
• they long for meaningful connection with other people;
• we know what love is and desire more of it;
• we have a sense of good and evil.

Of course arguments can be made against these points, and I think that these could be countered, but here there is neither the space nor time. And of course, some of these ideas may be lived out in different ways based on the context of the culture. But it is our common experience, our ground points as I have called them, that allows us to create meaningful dialogue. This is what allows us to see the other.

[1] William Raeper and Linda Edwards, A Brief Guide to Ideas, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997.
[2] Ibid, 14.
[3] Ibid, 11.
[4] Ibid, 335.

About the Author

Julie Dodge

Julie loves coffee and warm summer days. She is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Concordia University, Portland, a consultant for non-profit organizations, and a leader at The Trinity Project.

15 responses to “So Many Thoughts”

  1. Ashley Goad says:

    Julie, I long to be in your class, but I’ve told you that time and again. I started thinking about…what if I gave your project to our mission teams? What if their purpose was to get to know our partners in ministry so well that they came home and told their stories, just like your students with their final projects? They could even be paired up, one-on-one. I continue to struggle with the Western Christian mindset of our church members wanting to “go and do” instead of “go and be.” This would be a tangible “project” for them… Not only would it seek to build relationship, but it would fulfill a sense of purpose. Would that take away the authentic growth of the relationship between our team and our partners? Hmmm… Something to think about anyway…

    • Julie Dodge says:

      Ashley – that would be an interesting project, indeed. If you were interested in having your teams do something like this, or even to use digital stories to tell their own story of change, I’d be happy to share resources that I have gathered to help my students do this.

  2. Julie…
    The insight to guide your class into reflecting about themselves and to communicate that understanding to others is so well conceived. Brilliant.

    You mentioned (perhaps tongue in cheek, but perhaps not) that it might take a whole book to explain your thinking may just mean that it is a book for you to write (at some point since you are probably a little busy at the moment!).

    Reading your post I think I recognize something that I completely missed because I wasn’t looking for it. You mentioned the flood of information we have available to us today. We do struggle to make sense of it and so we seem to orient to what we did know (or at least what we think we knew). The gift of Raeper and Edwards is that they provide a line to hold onto to help us recognize the flow of philosophy – how we have thought and what we are thinking so that we might be able to ask pertinent questions. And if not questions as you have done to find the common ground so that we might seek together.

    • Julie Dodge says:

      Carol –

      I don’t think I have that book in me 🙂 But who know. I appreciate your words of encouragement.

      Raeper and Edwards do indeed provide a unique, thorough, and semi-concise guide of western thought to help guide us. But I don’t know how many non-nerds want to read such a thing. In our information society, it seems more people are trained to follow sound bites, three minute videos, and one page summaries far more than reading a whole book. So perhaps the follow up to Raeper and Edwards work would be to pare it down into bite sized morsels in a blog or something of that nature? Something to think about…

  3. Deve Persad says:

    Julie, I appreciate the way in which you’ve reflected this reading through your class and your own thoughts. In a very similar way, Mitch also asks the questions around a deluge of information available to us in these times. I appreciate your four ground points very much. I think they can be very helpful in a world of extreme choice and divergent ideals. One of my mantras is: “There is only one road to God and that’s through Jesus; however Jesus appears on many roads.” Your ground points remind me of 4 of those roads upon which the entry ways to the Gospel and the Kingdom of God can be found. The challenge really is to consider how our lives reflect those principles. Thanks for the challenge.

    • Julie Dodge says:

      Thank you Deve. You always provide such great feedback followed with more thoughts to consider. My ground points were inspired in part by Leymah Gbowee’s work in the Liberian peace movement. The country had been in turmoil and civil war for decades. She knew that in order to promote change, she had to land on something that wasn’t about politics. government structures, or economics. All that was far too controversial. So they landed on one thing upon which no one could disagree: Peace. The Women’s Peace Movement then led the way through peace talks and negotiations to bring peace for the first time in decades. She just looked for the common ground. I have come to think that this strategy can be quite helpful in many points of conflict. Of course we have difference, but upon what can we agree? Those are the things to which I’ve started to pay attention.

  4. Julie,

    Your post are always good, but they keep getting better and better. Both last week’s and this week’s are absolutely outstanding. Thank you for sharing your honesty and your wisdom.

    I especially love your four “ground points” and think you are spot on here! Yes, “people desire peace; they long for meaningful connection with other people; we know what love is and desire more of it; we have a sense of good and evil.” Yes, these are great topics for conversation. I appreciate your sharing these here. I will steal these and use them with my students — being sure to give you credit — I assure you.

    Thanks again for more grist for the mill. You always make me think and smile.

    • Julie Dodge says:

      Ahh Bill, you are far too kind. You can steal my stuff any time! I think the whole point of this for me as a teacher is to share information that others can use. So take it, expand on it, and insert yourself 🙂

  5. You are correct Julie. In our CQ workshop I say a statement that is very similar to what you say here. “We cannot know our how until we know their why.” Why do people act certain ways? Why do they believe the things that they believe? What is their underline cultural value that we may not yet understand? The answer to these questions help us understand their why and then allow us to understand how we are to respond.

    I love that quote that you pulled out. In my post I gave a bit of a rant on the Facebook tsunami of trivia that we have to deal with on a daily basis. But in reality people do, in their deep areas of their life, desire and even need something to believe in. Our worldviews are so shaped by the historical precedents of the thought patterns of other individuals. We cannot separate ourselves in the west, from the thinkers that were detailed out in this book. On a daily basis we operate out of the worldviews that were constructed long before we came along. Like you, I would love to see a non-Westernview of what ideas shaped their culture and worldviews.

    In regards to your statement about seeing the other: this is what Dr. Livermoore often talks about. It is my hope that I can use cultural intelligence to better contextualize the gospel and gain better eyes to see and minister to the other. Thanks for your thoughts here Julie.

    • Julie Dodge says:

      Mitch –

      I’m told I need to read your post this week – which I will do right after I get done responding to the comments on mine.

      I think CQ has a lot of the same elements that I am focusing on with cultural empathy. I see this one skill as one of the primary breakdowns in cross cultural relationships (and perhaps others as well). Someone else does something, and we think to ourselves, “Well, I wouldn’t do that.” Which is a major block. The whole point is that the other person is not me. So of course they don’t act like me. So first, we need to recognize ourselves and identify when our own perspective is creating the block. But then we need to try to understand and see the other. I don’t think empathy is necessarily the “intuitive understanding of another person”, because my intuition is grounded in my history, my culture, my perspective. I define cultural empathy as trying to understand how another person thinks and feels given their context – culture, history, values and experiences. If we can try and get that, it starts to make sense.

      I can’t wait to see your dissertation product, Dr. Mitch!

  6. Michael Badriaki says:

    Dear Julie, I loved this post! Well done. Your write, “I teach my students one of my mantras: if you understand how a person thinks, their behavior makes sense.” Really refreshing indeed to know that a person and leader like you is taking the time to nurture your students in the ways of self-awareness and the need to love neighbor by way of knowing neighbor!
    You are spot on with the four states and how our lives impacted by them. Thank you so much for your commitment and care for the advancement of the combination of spirituality and cultural diversity in the academy.


    • Julie Dodge says:

      Thank you, Michael.

      Sometimes I think that all of our deep, philosophical thoughts, and various theories, are simply statements of what we already know. Wisdom. Experience. Whatever it is. We are simply putting to words what we seem to already know. I wrote that God writes His law on our hearts, and I believe that deep in our hearts we all know – across time and distance and culture – what is good. And I believe that is God working in us, even when we don’t recognize Him.

      Peace to you, my friend.

  7. John Woodward says:

    Julie, what a wonderful post. Thanks too for being so hopeful. First, I very much like your class assignment. What a brilliant idea, and so important for young people today, who think the world revolves around themselves and everyone thinks just like them! What a wonderful way to get them out of themselves and into the heart and mind of others! Second, I think you might have hit on the frustration Mitch has for our tweet and Facebook society: That lack of roots or meta-narrative that you suggest. Their lives are just a collage of random video clips and pithy statements, without any connection with any greater meaning or purpose. What I said to Mitch you also suggested, that “if you understand how a person thinks, their behavior makes sense.” I approached it from the opposite direction, that if you see how people behave you can discover a lot about what they are thinking! Either way, I think it is very true, and understanding this one point has helped me be a whole lot more understanding, slow to judge, and sympathetic for people, because you can understand that their behavior ultimately comes from deep-rooted ideas (about life, about themselves, about God). When you understand, it makes it easier to love them than be weirded-out by the behavior.

    As always, Julie, you insights are so helpful and encouraging. Thanks again for a great post!

    • Julie Dodge says:

      Such a thoughtful response, John. Thank you.

      Understanding people’s behavior and thinking is always a challenge. So often many people see another person and just take the behavior at face value. Rarer is the person who takes the time to pause and consider the other person. I have come to believe that most people want the best for themselves and for their families. But they may be faced with challenges that impede their “better behavior”. Maybe its a lack of skill, or lack of resources, or maybe its frustration with their circumstances. I think that a person’s worst behaviors are often fueled by their deepest fears or insecurities. Looking beyond the behavior can be a challenge for too many people. But I firmly believe that’s exactly what we need to do in order to love well and live well. I think it’s what Jesus did, and He’s a pretty good role model 🙂

  8. Clint Baldwin says:

    Julie, I love that in the engagement of a text that at first glance many people might suggest is a step-away from a more holistic, integrated life toward one that is more disembodied, decontextualized, etc. you instead lead with relationship.
    It is through relationship that you seek to find out how people think which leads to more and better relationship.
    May we all learn to better philosophize in the manner you share with us.

Leave a Reply