SuperFriends - Part 1

Any of you remember the SuperFriends? (Come on, Lowell - I know you're out there!)

Remember the Justice League? All those superheroes joining forces to fight evil in bigger and better ways than any one of them could do on their own?

It was one of my favorite cartoons back in the day.

So I've been teaching on and talking about epistemology alot lately here at Camp Kivu. (Hang with me - this isn't bait and switch - we'll get back to the SuperFriends. The connection with epistemology is quite powerful and could change your life if you let it!)

Those of you who've been in my classes know that I believe epistemology - the "study of knowledge" - to be the basis upon which we build our entire lives.

What you think of the past, present and future - what you think of God - what you think of yourself and those around you - how you approach "truth"... All of it is affected by what you think you can know, how you think you know and what you expect out of "knowledge".

So, I can't think of anything more important to talk about.

In this article I'll contrast two epistemologies - two ways of looking at "truths" outside ourselves. Then I'll look at how our choice of epistemology affects how we relate to others, and how we lead the teams, the businesses, the ministries and the families that God has entrusted us to.

The first "view of knowledge" I'll deal with here is the Modernist view (or the Positivist view, for you philosophers). The Modernist/Positivist believes that "the truth is out there", that it is concrete and objective, and that he can discover it and know it completely.

She may have to experiment to find it, or he may choose just to "feel it" - but either way, the Modernist believes he or she has found the absolute, objective truth - forsaking all other views. For the strict Modernist - anyone that disagrees with her is either misinformed or just plain stupid.

The Modernist view was quite popular during the Industrial Revolution all the way up to the 1970s or so. Modernists thought that science and technology would revolutionize the world, and that problems such as war, famine, racism, imperialism and poverty would melt away as "the truth" was found through scientific experimentation or contemplation.

Modernism gave way to Postmodernism in the popular culture during the 1970s or so, and is still the dominant mindset today. The Postmodern (or Phenomenalist for you philosophers) epistemology holds that there is no truth "out there". In fact, the Postmodern says that whatever we think is true is merely a reflection of ourselves - of our own biases and upbringing.

So the Postmodern mind believes that truth (if it even exists) is not absolute, nor concrete, nor is it "knowable". Rather, for the strict Postmodernist - all we can really know is that we exist, and that we "sense things" outside ourselves. For the strict Postmodernist - anyone that disagrees with him is merely exercising the right to exist and to believe their own reality - which, to them, is a good thing.

Now - what, you ask, does Modernism and Postmodernism have to do with the SuperFriends?

Well, here goes...

Modernism created heroes like Wyatt Earp, John Wayne and Dirty Harry. These guys were self-made, independent and larger-than-life. If you got in their way - God help you. Because they knew the truth, and they were gonna make the world in their own image.

Modernist heroes didn't care about the opinions of those around them. Why? Because they were the experts. They had everything they needed in themselves - why ask for help?

The SuperFriends were different, though - weren't they? Look at how they all came together at the Justice League headquarters. Look at how they viewed themselves as equals - how they deferred to one another - how they recognized each others' strengths and how they did their best to make up for each others' weaknesses.

The SuperFriends are a Postmodern construct, my friends.

Each member of the SuperFriends let go of the need to be the center of attention. They dropped the arrogant notion that they "had the truth" in favor of a more humble approach that valued the viewpoints of the others.

Was Batman still one tough hombre? You bet. Did Wonder Woman still have her own unique contribution to make to the team? Yes sir.

What about Superman? Wasn't he still the strongest? Yep. But did he use that strength to dominate the others? Nope. Wouldn't have been the SuperFriends if he did.

What, you ask, does this have to do with you and me?

Well, I've adopted a different epistemology than either Modernism or Postmodernism - but that's a story for another day. But in this discussion, I must admit that I appreciate the SuperFriends contribution of Postmodernism.

You know, I'm so sick (and I bet you are too) of the preachers, CEOs, evangelists, entrepreneurs, youth leaders, businessmen and "visionary leaders" that are so fond of themselves they can hardly stand it.

You know the type. They're the "transformational leaders" that (although they often can't think their way out of a wet paper bag) expect you to devote your life to making their visions into reality. They're narcissistic, self-centered egoists with a thinly-veiled desire to rule the world. They think they hold "the truth" that you only wish you could have.

One of my favorite oldtime preachers spoke of these people as having "I" trouble. In other words, everything that comes out of their mouths is "I did this", or "I think that". I, I, I, I....

The problem with the Modernist narcissistic egocentric leader is this. They'll never get nearly as far with nearly as much impact while cultivating nearly as many new leaders as will the SuperFriends.

For you see, the ultimate goal of the SuperFriends is to identify, train and enable more leaders - to share in an ever-growing pie that involves everyone's strengths. The goal of the Modernist narcissistic egocentric leader, on the other hand, is to maintain her own power at the cost of all others.

So, watch out for the Modernist approach in the leaders you're following, and most importantly, watch out for it in yourself.

When I grow up - I aspire to the SuperFriends approach. I want to trust others, to value their strengths and help minimize their weaknesses with my strengths as they do the same for my weaknesses.

I want to share in an ever-growing pie as we continually identify, train and enable more leaders to go and do what God has uniquely made them to do.

Whaddya think?


Dustin said...

I didnt really grow up watching the show; it was out there, but I preferred the Batman cartoon by himself (he looked cooler in his own cartoon then with the superfriends). But, I certainly appreciate this approach and I appreciate that others who have mentored me have also valued this approach. Things could have turned out different for me if they had not.

By the way, Heather and I have been rock climbing twice at the Bridge and it is creating some opportunities to make some friends. I have also had the opportunity to use my computer skills to make friends. It is amazing how these things were not available to me just months ago. I am glad that I have started to expand my risk tolerance, it gives God more options to use me!

Mike Aleckson said...

So the bridge is open now? Is the center pillar open? If so - it's game-on for the fall!

And yes, Dustin - isn't it cool how your horizons have expanded? Excellent!

tucker932 said...

Super Friends!!!

Yes this is great. I have to agree with Dustin on this one. The whole campy version of the DC Comic Book Pantheon wasn't the generation x version of these guys that i'm used too.

When these guys faced the undead brute Solomon Grundy. Or the Megalomaniac Lex Luthor it was these guys team work that saved the innocents. Sure Superman can tear apart steel like a paper shredder, but how do you do that and not hurt innocent bystanders. Thats where the team work paid off.

It would be interesting to look at today's version of these heroes. Things have grown quite a bit darker in the last thirty years.

Speedy-Green Arrow's side kick was a junky.

Jason Todd, or Robin died from several blows to the head from a crow bar wielding Joker.

Superman died once, but resurrected Hallelujah

Batman is currently dead.

Martian Manhunter died.

Aquaman has disapeared as well.

Currently in Gotham City theres a Lesbian whose become Batwoman

One of the Green Lanterns Kyle Rayner's girlfriend was brutally murdered and found in his refidgerator.

Marvel Comics is a mess too by the way. Marvel has guys like, Iron Man, Spider Man, Wolverine, Captain America...R.I.P.

The list goes on and on. Not to take away from the beautiful example of the Super Friends. I wish it was still like that though. Wonder Woman landing in her Invisible Jet to arrive at the Hall of Justice.

Mike Aleckson said...


You bring up an interesting point. The GenX version of the Justice League paints the superheroes as all fundamentally flawed in some way - yet still with their superpowers.

The X-Men, the Fantastic Four, all of these... Flawed - sometimes tragically so.

This is the philosophical result of deconstructionism - the postmodern breaking-down of controlling stories like the superhero.


Joel said...

The thoughts from a transitionary modernist mind...

All right man, you've definitely shaken my "absolutely right" opinion on ministry with the concept of the super friends. Recently being in Taiwan, the first church that we attended I just about killed myself after 2 weeks when the Pastors took over all ministry within the church after being gone for a year... Luckily, we've found a different one.

I still haven't worked everything through in my mind, though, with the super friends and here are two different problems, somewhat related, that I can't get through yet.

A main under pinning that I think makes the idea of the super friends and the "post modern" generation work so efffectively is the idea that this generation wants to contribute to something.

Contrast the thought processes of a 1950's farmer and the average information laden teenager. The then farmer knew that he didn't have a clue about all that religious stuff and left it in the hands of a preacher.

But today anyone can, with a simple search on their blackberry, research any religious issue and can have a decent conversation over it.

So I see where you'd lose a postmoderner if you said that they'd have to sit in a pew for 10 years before they can get the "vision and know how" to "do" ministry. Honestly, I think there are times when a teenager has a better idea of whether or not what's happening in "church" is actually working or not.

But my concern is when does a super friend have the know how of their own powers to not do harm when they are trying to do good?

What if superman joined the superfriends when he was still developing and instead of helping out he accidently lazered off Batman's head because he hadn't learned yet how to control his powers?

(2nd thought that's somewhat connected) Greg Koukl says when talking with someone about contradictory issues there are three essential qualities. There's a combination of knowledge (understanding 'x') wisdom (able to communicte 'x' effectively) and character (the ability to use your strengh but not ram it up someone's keester just because you can).

In my limited experience in this model (it's still very revolutionary to most Christians that I know) some young "friends" join the team but they lack the "character" element that Koukl describes. They readily share their dissent with the current church model, but struggle with the answer. Yes they can show someone the final picture of what a revolutionized church would look like, but how do you get someone just to take the next step?

I think many people can be turned off to this model because they need time to work through the issues and they need someone who has worked through the issues to help guide them through.

So I think there are times when a young "superfriend" hurts the concept.

Like with your pagan co-workers. As soon as they find out that you're a Christian they're watching your every move to find something you do that contradicts what you believe. Not that it anyway changes reality, but it gives them an excuse to continue living with their head in the sand.

Modernist are looking not only at the message but the messenger so they can have an excuse to not deal with the issue.

Okay enough with my ramblings.

Obviously there's a learning curve and the budding superfriend would do his share of the work that is appropriate for him/her. (This is where, like you said, the superfriends know their strengths and their weaknesses and can look to the stronger friends for help).

Mike Aleckson said...

Excellent, Joel - thanks for the insight!

I think you're hitting on the issue of of strength and weakness. Of course, we all have both.

The main thing with SuperFriends is that we refuse to deal with each other primarily on the basis of weakness. Rather, we insist on dealing with each other on the basis of our strengths.

So, that means a few things. First, I refuse to manipulate my teammates with their weaknesses. I choose rather to engage them where they're strong.

Now that requires critical self-analysis on both our parts, and a healthy dose of humility as well.

Which leads to the second major point, which is this:

It's sad, but not everyone is SuperFriends material.

But that's not for the reasons most would think.

You're not disqualified from the circle of SuperFriends because you have a weakness. Or even because you have several.

If that were the case - none of us could play.

What disqualifies a person from the circle is the inability or unwillingess to critically analyze themself, and the lack of humility that inevitably results.

Imagine the following scenario:

A crime ring is being managed by a few of the wealthiest people in the city.

The SuperFriends discuss how to infiltrate the ring to determine who exactly is behind it. They decide to use their alter-egos as covers to gain more information before going in hard.

It's decided that Batman will infiltrate the group as Bruce Wayne. Bruce is the right persona to gain access to this elite group.

Imagine now that Spiderman refuses to realize that his alter-ego Peter Parker is just a college kid from a middle-class social status.

What if Spidey freaks, stomps his feet and cries foul? Worse yet, what if he blows the op because of his foolishness?

In that case, Spidey's issues include his lust for ultimate power, his inability to critically analyze his own strengths and weaknesses, and the resulting lack of humility.

All these factors would weigh into the decision by the rest of the SuperFriends to suspend his SuperFriends membership until Spidey gets his head on straight.

Ultimately, if Spidey refuses to self-analyze, to play on the basis of his strengths and ultimately to humble himself to his self-knowledge - well then - he's just not SuperFriends material.

Some of us just aren't willing to do what it takes to play on a high-performance team. We either want ultimate power, or we are unwilling to analyze ourselves and then live with that knowledge as a basis for improvement.

If that's true of me - I'm just not SuperFriends material...