I awoke at 7:41 am this past Saturday morning in order to attend a morning lecture on the subject of understanding incorporating the works of theologian Bernard Lonergan and philosopher Paul Ricoeur. Though I arrived with pretty low expectations and a medium chai latte, the morning proved to be a provocative one. I am going to be processing all that was brought up in the lecture/discussion for quite some time. Let me just mention one thing here: in the melange of Dr. James Pambrun's remarks about encounter, cognitional operations, epistemology, the multiplicity of symbols, and narrative, he lobbed in a few short sentences about bias.
Basically, he suggested that while bias can be one of the obstacles that keeps us from being open, from learning, and from maturing, it can also be a good thing. A good bias orients us toward something to such a degree that we become committed to it, are more receptive to it, and give a great deal of attention to it. In some way, this leaning into something (or someone) makes us belong to each other.
This week Dean and I have been talking about orientation quite a bit. Where are we looking? How are we positioning ourselves? What are we really trying to accomplish here? It is becoming clearer to me that often my goals are too small. I am task-oriented (forgive me). This means that I can put a lot of energy into accomplishing a challenging task, but be left with very little to show for it in the grand scheme of things. And by grand scheme I mean noble goals such as developing and sharing important life skills, growing in maturity, and demonstrating godly character (love, patience, forgiveness, all that easy stuff).
I am teaching a course in Christian Spirituality this term. I love it because I love the subject (and the students are pretty cool, too). During the course of the term, we are taking a brief look at 32 different figures throughout history in order to observe what Christian Spirituality (life by the Spirit) looks like. Fascinating stuff. The goal of the course is for students to develop an informed understanding of Christian Spirituality and be able to identify the values behind certain traditions. The goal is not for them to have a good time in class, not to think I am a cool teacher, not for them to get good grades, not even for me to come up with 13 awesome powerpoint presentations that mesmerise and astound. I could do all those things, but if the students have not come away with a good understanding of Christian Spirituality, then I have failed. I have become dis-oriented from my goal. I am not teaching; I am simply doing a few small tasks well, like making awesome powerpoint presentations.
Decisions are very much about orientation. Dean and I just planned a vacation. At first, my goal was to get away to a nice beach somewhere and not pay a lot of money for the privilege. But I realised that this goal was inadequate. It was not really about finding the best beach resort or the best deal or even getting a tan and drinking pina coladas. The goal (in the grand scheme of things) was for us to have a rest, a time for re-connection, a time to not only play, but to open ourselves more fully to God and to each other through a change of pace and letting go of burdens. We wanted to be healthier people in mind, body and spirit when we were done. Where we went became rather immaterial when I realized that, and the vacation plans fell into place very quickly because we were now looking at options that we would not have considered otherwise.
My bias still needs some work. Lately, I have been too biased toward doing the job right and getting the behaviour right. That's basically working to rule (a tactict to get someone to capitulate to your demands). Not good. Where I really want my bias to be is towards God's goodness and love. Yes, let me lean into the love of God, and then let me lovingly lean outward.
the photo: these trees on Mont Sourire are biased toward the sky.