Futuristguy’s Field Guides — Essentials Tutorials #1 and #2

In 2007, I started a phase of research writing that required me to process deeply my multiple experiences of spiritual abuse. Half a dozen situations with malgnant people and toxic organizations had eaten up nearly 20 years of my then 35 years in churches and ministries.

As I detailed what I’d experienced and began analyzing them, I started seeing that some of these situations did not fit what seemed to be the usual pattern. In fact, some had more in common with global societies and intense subjects I had been studying, some of them since the 1980s. The footprint of some abusive systems I’d experienced was more control by compliance to rules and regulations (like the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc). Some exerted control by chaos where nothing was predictable (like the Chinese Cultural Revolution). Some had especially charismatic leaders who could convince you of just about anything (like Jim Jones with The Peoples Temple). And some functioned off of competition among leaders and/or members (like how Hitler treated the top leaders in his regime).

I started seeing other patterns, and also pathways that led from small-scale situations and organizations all the way to large-scale “industrial complexes” and totalitarian societies. So it wasn’t just all about individual bullies. Some had more elements of institutions. Still others had elements of ideology (like Apartheid, and racism in America). All of this, combined with my work and volunteer experiences with non-profits regularly since the early 1970s, forged in me a systems perspective on forms of abuse and societal oppression.

Now that the first Field Guide in my “Do Good Plus Do No Harm” training series is due to be released this summer, I thought I would introduce the material by boiling down key points into an “Essentials” series of tutorials. To keep it as short as possible, I worked in PowerPoint instead of in Word and limited myself to about 10 slides per tutorial. I found this process forced me to focus on what is most important.

See what you think of this experiment — I’d appreciate your feedback! There are 20 slides total in Essentials #1 and #2, plus a Review/Preview slide at the end. I’ve numbered the slides for easier reference, in case you have comments on particular topics or certain slides.

And for those who prefer “long form” reads, I give links to some articles most relevant to Essentials #1 and #2 at the bottom of this post.

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Tentative Tutorials in Series 1:

  • Essentials #1 Three core individual freedoms, drawn from global sources.
  • Essentials #2 The road to institutionalization via reversing of our freedoms.
  • Essentials #3 Increasingly restrictive individual conditioning.
  • Essentials #4 Increasingly restrictive institutional control.
  • Essentials #5 What this looks like in a “totalist psychology” social control by ideological conformity, including four variations on total control organizations/societies.

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Essentials Slide 01

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Continue reading


May Day 2018: If April Showers Bring May Flowers, What Do May Flowers Bring?

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viola flowers (c) Maksim Shebeko, Fotolia #112358669. Licensed to Brad Sargent.

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The old riddle goes, “If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?”

The answer, of course, is: *Pilgrims!*

But where I grew up, May Day – May 1st – was when we delivered small baskets of flowers to neighbors who were older like the Neckstads and Mrs. Salmon and Mrs. Perry, our teachers from school and Sunday School, and family friends like the McCartneys and Vances and Olsens.

Sometimes we’d labor the whole week before to make the flowers and baskets ourselves. Our craft table would be strewn with construction paper and pipe cleaners and crayolas, scissors and tape and glue. Maybe the “basket” would actually be a sort of easy-to-make cone, for a cornucopia of construction paper flowers. Or it might be a more elaborate holder, woven from long strips of craft paper.

Sometimes we’d put a real live potted pansy or marigold in a basket we’d made, or curl a cone and fill it with a tied-up bunch of snipped-off violets or posies. Of course, getting real flowers meant a field trip to The Greenhouse …

It was only a few blocks away from us, at the end of the wide gravel road in front of our house. If the weather was nice enough, Mom would walk with all three of us kids the four blocks down at the end of our street. There at The Greenhouse, we’d each get to choose a small potted plant or two to give as May Day gifts.

And, oh! What a wondrous but mysterious place The Greenhouse was to me as a pre-schooler! It just felt magical, before I even had words to describe how and why. Now I know it was because it was a completely different world apart from all I was used to.

The quality of light was different, from steamed-up windows and frosted glass everywhere. And the cool, misty air from hoses and spray bottles and water drippers. And old wooden tables in really long rows, with all kinds of shelves and cans and bags and pots and plants on top and underneath them. And the most amazing fragrance – a mixture of shredded bark and sharp stemmy “green,” humid dirt but that’s not really mud, floral and citrus and bubblegum sweet. The entire place was a marvel: so much to look over, sniff at, dig into!

Over the years, different families operated The Greenhouse. But they all seemed to be people who were kind to us kids, and patient in helping us pick out our plants for May Day. After all, they offered so many choices – so many colors that only these greenhouse flowers seemed to have with bright yellows and oranges, blues and purples from light to deep, brick reds, magentas and maroons. How to choose when you have more flower colors than crayons?

But the people never seemed to be in a rush with us. It makes sense to me now. If you love plants and flowers, how can you not love people and their families?

And all this worked together to make May Day flowers after April showers one of the most special events of the year …

Domestic Violence, Ministry, and Controversy in Conservative Christianity: Some Historical Context and Perspective

This article also appears on Spiritual Sounding Board as a guest post.

Although I am known for my more recent research writings on spiritual abuse from a systemic perspective, I have also written and edited on other forms of abuse and violence since the 1980s.

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Contemporary Conservative Christianity

and Questions About Abuse

Contention over abuse and violence in Christian communities has heightened in the era of #metoo and #churchtoo. However, controversies over theology, advocacy, and actions have been with us for a very long time. Recently, comments on abuse made by Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, resurfaced and ignited a social media firestorm. Continue reading

Some Thoughts on Supposedly Feminist Men Who Reportedly Abuse/Harass Women

Today, The Wartburg Watch (TWW) published a post about the ongoing Willow Creek/Bill Hybels situation: Nancy Ortberg Claims She Endured an Unwanted Physical Encounter with Bill Hybels and Raises Some Serious Questions About His Behavior.

This is Dee Parsons’ seventh post on related topics. (See Resource Bibliography on Willow Creek Church Situation and Bill Hybels’ Reported Misconduct, which includes her prior posts and other key statements and analysis.) Near the conclusion of the article, she notes:

I am going to ask a hard question. Is it possible that Bill Hybels encouraged the leadership of women in order to increase his own access to women who admired him within the confines of church business, giving him plausible deniability? I do not know the answer to this question but red flags are waving up, down and all around this situation. (emphasis added)

I think this is a crucial question, and I appreciate that Dee has put it forward for consideration in abuse survivor communities. I’ve been thinking along similar lines for a few days, and had thought about writing an extended article, but I don’t have time available to develop it right now, due to other project deadlines. So, I decided to post this short form version with two key thoughts. Continue reading

Happy 15th Blogging Anniversary, Blue Moon Easter, April Fools Day, Plus Really Good News Day!

Who knew, today would be the convergence of all these momentous events – a huge, bright, full moon (which I saw when I woke up at 3:30 a.m.) on Easter morning – and the anniversary of the beginning of my blogging career on April 1st of 2003.

I specifically chose April Fools Day as the milestone moment to take up blogging. It just seemed right, especially after all the talk of paradox at the Wabi Sabi gathering. That “postmodern” ministry event emphasized the juxtaposition of young and old, fresh and practiced, broken and redeemed. It was a natural metaphor for so much of what I end up writing about: finding a redemptive edge in the midst of suffering.

If you’d like to read that post from 2003, I reblogged it on my 10th blogaversary in 2013: “The Frodo Syndrome: Overcoming Grief and Melancholia in the Modern-to-Postmodern Transition.”

I was 47 years old when I took up blogging. For more about the friends who pushed me to stop the talk and start to write, it’s here: “My 10th Blogiversary on April Fools’ Day 2013 – No Joke!

I’ve been writing for over 30 years, but this season of 15 years blogging has taken me in other directions as I learned to process publicly what I was experiencing and reflecting about in real time. My main blogs – futuristguy and beyondposthuman before that – have tracked my transitions from “emerging” ministry to missional, and from church planting to social entrepreneurship. They’ve also logged my long slog toward producing a series of four books on deconstructing systemic abuse and (re)constructing healthy organizational enterprises.

I thought it would make for an intriguing exercise to list what I think have been the five most memorable or important writings from this period. Here’s what I came up with: (1) The Pyramid of Abuse. (2) The Transformational Index. (3) Four Kinds of Control Cultures. (4) Six “S” Factors for Organizational Success. (5) Distinguishing between Systemic Abuse and Systemic Oppression.

1. The Pyramid of Abuse (first version in 2014, most recent version 2018, as I keep on learning!) captured my understanding of the different roles used in organizations that benefit a few people at the expense of the many, and the main kinds of tactics used to “overlord people.” I’ve gotten more positive feedback on this than anything else I’ve written, probably because a huge number of people have been victimized by bullying, abuse, and violence. Most recent version (2018):

2. The Transformational Index, on which I was a co-author with Shannon Hopkins and Andy Schofield. This is a tool for “measuring what matters” in qualitative impact from social transformation work.

3. Four Kinds of Control Cultures explores social control by compliance, chaos, charisma, or competition. Most of these are illustrated in a series I did on The Hunger Games, applying Robert Jay Lifton’s eight criteria of “totalist psychology” control cultures.

4. Six “S” for Organizational Success: (1) SAFE meeting ground that prevents a hostile work environment, (2) mission that is SUITABLE for the people actually involved as shareholders and stakeholders, (3) SCALE of operation that match the resources available in the setting, (4) SENSITIVE messaging that takes into account differences in processing due to learning styles and cultures, (5) methods that can SURVIVE global paradigm and cultural shifts that are beyond anyone’s control, and (6) SUSTAINABLE momentum for the organization to last beyond two generations.

5. The Pyramid of Abuse – “Layer 5” and Systemic Oppression. I haven’t posted on this yet, but have been doing the groundwork for years. The Pyramid of Abuse was about *insiders* in its system, while oppression involves *outsiders* from the Pyramid’s system. So, this is what helps understand dynamics where a system (such as oligarchy, patriarchy, racial segregation, or religious persecution) is rigged against large people groups and they are excluded from freedom and opportunity. I may post on this soon and if so, will add a link here.

Maybe you’ve found other things I’ve written that have been helpful or made an impression. If so, I’d love to know!

AND THE REALLY GOOD NEWS … it looks as if there’s FINALLY a go-live date for sales of Field Guide #1 in the Do Good Plus Do No Harm training series! If all goes well, the graphic design work will be done in June, with pre-sales starting shortly after, and sales website live in July. I hate that it’s taken so long to get this far, but I’ve done the best I could with no financial resources or stamina reserves to make it go any faster. Somehow, I suspect the timing will turn out providential. That just seems to be how the Lord often works …

Thanks for your encouragement along the way. And Happy Easter – He is risen!

Only an Independent Investigation Can Remove the Cloud of Suspicion Over Sovereign Grace Churches

Be respectful toward all people, because all bear the image of the Lord God who made us.

But do not be a “respecter of persons” – showing partiality for, or prejudice against – based on their race, gender, social class, wealth, family connections, or other status.

~ brad/futuristguy

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I originally posted this as a Twitter thread on March 10, 2018, about Sovereign Grace Churches (SGC) and its former version, Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM). What follows is a compilation of 15 tweets and related links in that thread, slightly edited for better readability.

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Here are some thoughts I’ve had on justifications for an independent/outside investigation in the case of Sovereign Grace, et al.

CONCLUSIONS: It IS needed, since partiality toward key players and against key victims has been spotlighted over the lengthy course of alleged failures of SGM/SGC leaders.

Their leaders’ and members’ critiques focus on abstractions of theology and polity, and negations of questioners, more than responding to the witnesses of concrete evidence and testimonies by those claiming to have been harmed.

So, if SGM/SGC wishes this perma-cloud of suspicion to be lifted, an independent investigation by a trusted external agency may be the only action that could do it. Otherwise, they should expect the Kingdom Klieg lights and national news spotlights to continue.

SOME DETAILS: The way I see it, there are at least four domains in which entities external to SGC/SGM, et al, legitimately hold authority over them. Continue reading

Remembering The White Rose

February 22nd. On this day 75 years ago, three members of the White Rose student resistance group were executed for opposing Nazism. Hans Scholl. Sophie Scholl. Christoph Probst.

I first learned about their courage 50 years ago, from a text my sister translated in her high school German class with Mr. Reid. The article had photos of White Rose members. So full of life – they seemed radiant, yet willingly risked all to stand against evil.

I wondered why.

By raising that question, they planted a seed in me to find out whys and wherefores of resistance, a course I’ve pursued 50 years.

The New York Times published an article by Richard Hurowitz on Remembering the White Rose. Here is a quote from it:

“They did not seek martyrdom in the name of any extraordinary idea,” Inge Scholl recalled in her memoir of her siblings and White Rose comrades. “They wanted to make it possible for people like you and me to live in a humane society.”

The sentiment makes me ponder:

What change-seeds do we plant?

What legacy do we leave for next generations?

How might our pursuit of hope, service, and justice affect the course of the future?

A quote I’ve pondered for the last 25 years continues to challenge me to keep those kinds of questions in mind:

In the long run, what counts is how the next generation thinks. How far new ideas permeate culture is not measured just by attitude change during one generation, but by what is taken for granted in the next. ~ Helen Haste

Perhaps I’ll have far greater understanding in another 25 years …