In this interview, Justin Douglas talks about how certain moments of deconstruction shaped his life to become a pastor who has built an inclusive church and community. Furthermore, he talks about the role self-sacrificial love in the world today, how artificial intelligence is one of the most important issues the church should pay attention to and explains the concept of centered set and bounded set.
About Justin Douglas
Justin Douglas is Lead Pastor of The Belong Collective – an inclusive Jesus-shaped church and community. He enjoys challenging the status quo and bridging gaps existing in our world by creating more spaces of acceptance and belonging.
Video Excerpts From the Podcast
Self-Sacrificial Love Is What We Are Made For
Why He Became a Pastor
On Artificial Intelligence and What it Means for Us and Church
Turning Points in his Life
Why Church Should Be An Inclusivee Place
Explaining Centered Set vs. Bounded Set
Transcript of the Interview with Pastor Justin Douglas
This text has been auto-transcripted. Please excuse mistakes.
Xerxes Voshmgir: Welcome to Challenging ParadigmX. I am Xerxes Voshmgir and in my podcast. I interview people who challenged the status quo. Today I would like to make an announcement before I introduce my guest. I’ve published my podcast two weeks ago and today I’m happy to announce that my podcast is listed in the top podcasts in the science section and some countries. I would like to thank my listeners for the support. Today my guest is pastor Justin Douglas. I came across Justin’s TEDx talk and I was very inspired by speech and his vision.
Justin is not the usual pastor. He has tattoos and earrings and makes music.
Justin has built an inclusive church and community where it doesn’t matter what your ethnicity is, which sexual orientation you have, or even if you’re atheist or have another belief.
In this interview, we’ll talk about his personal background and how some moments of deconstruction have had a major impact on his life. We talk about artificial intelligence from the Bible’s perspective and what he thinks about artificial intelligence. And about community and communication in our times . And the concept of bounded set and centered set. Justin has built his church around centered set. If you want to find out more about that, watch his TEDx talk and listen to these episodes. Stay tuned.
Hi, my name is Xerxes and I’m here today with Justin how you’re doing?
Justin Douglas: Good. How are you.
Xerxes Voshmgir: I’m fine. I’m great actually. So, I watched your TEDx talk. I was really inspired and that’s why I wanted to have you on my show and: Please just start off telling everyone, who are you and what do you do?
Justin Douglas: My name is Justin Douglas. I’m lead pastor of a church community called the Belonged Collective, and we are in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania area. And I also have a podcast called Beyond Boundaries..
Xerxes Voshmgir: So, Justin why do you do what you do? What drives you towards what you do?
Justin Douglas: That’s a good question. I became a pastor because I love serving people, I love journeying with people through the highs of life and even through the lows of life. that’s kind of been a privilege I’ve had as a pastor to do that. And, like challenging the status quo in a lot of ways pushing boundaries in and not in a negative way, but more in a way of saying: How could we innovate? How can we, include more people, pushing to the margins, I guess. Marginalized especially! And so that’s kind of, I guess, my calling in some ways, or what I would say I’m passionate about.
Xerxes Voshmgir: Did you always wanted to become a pastor or was there like a stage in your life where it just… how did it happen basically, or what was, what’s behind
Justin Douglas: I don’t know, I guess, I wanted to probably be a musician., I play music., I write music and sing and stuff like that. So I liked that a lot, but I also did that in church growing up and was exposed to opportunities to lead in the church from a young age and so when it came to both of those realities, doors just opened for me to be a pastor. And, I walked through that. So, yeah.
Xerxes Voshmgir: Did you have like along this path, somehow some type of like turning point in your life where things opened up or where you personally have changed, maybe push your boundaries or…
Justin Douglas: Definitely, definitely. I’ve had a number of those situations in my life. call it kind of moments of deconstruction, like maybe you’ve been handed a certain way of believing or a certain way of seeing the world and, you’ve constructed that or, people have handed that to you and it’s kind of what you’ve built off of. And you get some new information, or you have an experience, or you hear someone’s story and it begins to kind of challenge, what you’ve constructed, and you have to maybe begin to deconstruct that and build something new. So I can think of like a couple instances where that deconstruction has happened in my life.
One, one was I moved to Boston for a season of my life I realized how much I had to learn about injustice in the world, especially for minorities. lived in a community a African-American or Dominican-American – people of color – and so I was the minority living in that community and began to be in relationship with a lot of minorities.
And it challenged a lot of the stereotypes that I had been handed growing up in what probably was the inverse of that and 97% white community. so, that experience and seeing some of the challenges that, people faced that I was never aware of, really opened my mind to see things a little differentl around issues of race. And ultimately then it just sparked my desire to become more educated. And I would say I’m still on that journey even though it’s been. You know, 10 plus years since I lived in Boston. that experience opened me up to begin building something different and go down a different journey.
I would say the other thing that challenged me was when I was a youth pastor – so I was pastoring high school students – and a highschooler walked in my office and told me that they were gay. And, I had been handed one way of seeing that, by my faith community. And seeing, you know, having this experience and journeying with that student through that opened me up to a different way of, of even approaching that particular, you know, subject and sexuality in general. And again, opened me up to, to try and to become more informed, trying to understand, trying to figure out how to compassionately journey with a student who can’t even tell their parents that they’re having these feelings, but, needs to tell somebody and they chose to tell me.
And so, that’s, those are some moments that I think on my journey opened me up and now I think. I’m at the place to where like: I want to live and enough humility that I’m open to whatever might need to be deconstructed that I firmly believe right now. Does that make sense? so,
Xerxes Voshmgir: Absolutely.
Justin Douglas: So that’s a little bit of my journey.
Xerxes Voshmgir: So, how would you say these experiences impacted your life and the way and what you’re doing right now.
Justin Douglas: Well, I would say, both have deeply impacted my life. The way I relate to people, but then when I think about my church and my podcast, for example, one of the things that’s interesting in my particular field of being a pastor is: The issue of sexuality is very polarizing in religion right now in general
but in Christianity and especially evangelical Christianity it’s really polarizing. And, in the last couple of years, I’ve come to the conclusion that through, through so many relationships with friends that I’ve had and people that I’ve pastored that are part of the LGBT community that I feel like the church should be an inclusive place for them and be, because I’ve come to that conclusion
It challenged some of the connections that I had and the connections even our church had. And so that was a transition. So I would say: Not all change comes without cost! And so that’s been an interesting reality that meant a job shift for me. In changing, our churches name, location, having to move into a new season, a season of building, you know, from the ground up.
So that’s been nine months now since that kind of transition occurred. And I think it’s been, it’s been a challenge definitely but I’ll think back to even that first student that came out to me, again, we’re talking 10 years ago, it started me on a journey on a course that opened me up to listening to people, quite honestly, to just being willing to like empathize with others circumstances and consider if there might be a different way of approaching some of the tough topics and tough realities that we’re working through in my particular field, the church, you know? And that’s led me to kind of a vision for a church that can be more inclusive, which I think we need more, spiritually inclusive places in our world today.
Xerxes Voshmgir: What are the major paradigms that need to be challenged? In church, in the world, in life, in business?
Justin Douglas: Well, I think as humans, the paradigm shift that I’m most interested in is it looks like: To love in the way of self sacrificial love. I think we are built and designed for that kind of love. There’s something about a story that can move us in a way that like nothing else can, which typically is when we hear or see or know someone who has sacrificed something personally out of a love for someone else.
Especially, when they could have totally gone the other way and it would have then like, no one would have blamed them for not making the sacrifice. Does that make sense? When people laid down something of, of theirs for someone else, I don’t know that there’s anything more beautiful in our world when that happens.
And, I mean, I look to Jesus as a model for that and I see that in the life of Jesus and the ministry of Jesus. But you certainly have all kinds of other leaders about history, even throughout – I mean – I think of American history, Martin Luther King Jr. – like, I mean – I think of Gandhi, for example – like there’s all kinds of different people we can look to who loved and self-sacrificial ways and ultimately that type of love leaves a legacy. And so, The problem in our world is that we’re inherently selfish and everything seems to be, working torward us being selfish. Like the amount of things that are advertised to us are all about us and all about us feeling better about ourselves or getting something that we want or we need or convincing us that what we want is what we need.
And, so: What are the things that are going to ground us back to self-sacrificial love in every moment of every day and recognizing that that’s the way we’re meant to live and ultimately will leave a legacy. I’m very interested in that paradigm shift. I’m very interested in that. What I would guess I would call like, it’s a disruptive energy in our world because in a good way, it’s disrupting in a good way.
so like what rhythms, what practices can help bring that to the forefront when maybe we’re driving down the road and someone cuts us off in, the first thing we want to do is curse at them. Like, how do we begin to realize that? How do we begin to maybe import empathy into that? Maybe we consider that person and what they might be going through.
It can be so hard in our world to do that, to pause. But, interested in, championing that in every single form, for every single person because I think that builds a more beautiful world. And ultimately, I think that is the center of what Jesus was all about.
How about you? I’m interested in hearing about you on that one.
Like what do you think on that as an innovator as well. Yeah, the paradigms and what you see even in people in spirituality. I’d be interested.
Xerxes Voshmgir: Well, basically what I believe in is that we are right now in this stage of humanity where we get majorly challenged by two things. One is the environment. I always compare it to being like our body, the earth being our body. And then there’s another major challenge I believe.
I’m interested in what your take is on what I’m saying now and that being of: Artificial intelligence that we actually – well, I mean, some people say, well, definitely it cannot have consciousness – and I think it’s really a matter of spiritual leaders to talk about these issues because I don’t think that businessmen or politicians and talk about this issue but these are the people who decide actually what’s going on with artificial intelligence. And I’m personally not saying that artificial intelligence will be able to create consciousness, but what I’m saying is, if it can, if it does, and just the question if it can or does, is actually a question that challenges us on the level of mind and is a crisis for humans:
What does it mean to be human? If there might be an intelligence that is much, much more advanced ours and might, create consciousness. So, what I believe is really, the paradigms that we need to challenge is: when it comes to the economy: How we run the economy, how we keep our body healthy, and when it comes to spirituality, what does it really mean to be human in the dawn of a time where there might be a conscious artificial intelligence. And of course, I mean, I personally believe the thing that makes us human is the ability to have empathy and love. And, at least for the moment, we believe that artificial intelligence cannot create that, that trait.
So, yeah, that’s very condensed what I, what I believe.
Justin Douglas: Yeah, no, that’s good. I think, I think you’re onto it. I think creation care is what I would call, it really matters. Like how we care for God’s creation, how we care for this world. Like we only have one, like, so we really need to take care of it. And, I think there’s a lot of change that has to happen in that.
. Some people say it’s too late. Some people say there’s still a chance to kinda write some of the wrongs, whatever’s happening. I’m not a scientist, so I don’t know, but I do know that it’s not good and we need to consider all the remedies that are out there to, to help with. Our, our world, you know, and, and again, there’s a lot of scientists who have a lot of great ideas and, and hopefully some of those can be put into place.
When it comes to artificial intelligence. I’m very interested in that conversation. I actually did have the whole podcast episode, I think it was episode number 10 of my podcasts where we kind of talked a little bit about that. I talked with a doctor about that. the thing I’m interested in on that is, is two fold that I think I’ll speak to my profession, the church, and pastors. I think it’s going to affect us in a lot of ways: One, the reason you’re asking, which is: how does this effect how we view consciousness? How does this effect what we think in that particular area? And especially when we begin to merge with technology, I mean, we already have in a lot of way – if you’re, if you’re someone who, you know, as an amputee, for example, you may have access to certain technologies, that would have then SciFi 50 years ago. so we’ve already merged with technology and then you can even argue everyone’s merged with technology and that we always have our phones with us. It’s just a matter of time before they become like implanted in some way to where we’ll never lose them. Some people are going to be very uncomfortable with that transition, but I think you’d be ignorant to believe that that transition isn’t going to fast approaching like, we are going to merge at some point. I’m wearing AirPods in my ears. How much easier to implant something that’s standardized – and you know, like, I’m not saying that’s the good thing. I’m not saying I support that idea, I’m just saying it’s, it’s coming. It has to, it’s, it’s the, it’s the, you know, the, the reality is that we were, we always are seeking convenience.
And so. So at some point we’re going to sit to have that. And that’s going, I think, to be a conversation in some ways spiritually because, I like to say, as humans sometimes we need to disconnect to reconnect. , And I guess what I mean by that is like, we are, of the dirt and from the dirt maybe as the way of saying it, and that we, we need to reconnect us to something that grounds us.
Like, and technology doesn’t always do that. And so as spiritual beings, again, I believe we are inherently spiritual beings. Like, how will we be able to disconnect when, when technology becomes a part of us in a way that is really incredibly difficult to disconnect, or maybe even impossible to disconnect.
These are important questions and. We should answer to them, not from a position of fear – which I think the church typically does – the church typically answers questions like that from a position of fear. And then they’re like: “Stay away from it. Don’t do it!” And it all becomes about the prohibition of technology.
“Stay away! Don’t do it! It’s bad! It’s evil” And I think we need to be thinking differently! I think we need to be thinking about: Why people will say, yes to this and how we can integrate spirituality within it – maybe – how we can ensure that these new pathways of consciousness not that necessarily AI is going to provide us that, but that we will be in some ways merging with that technology
or at least associating with it very closely, consistently that we need to be thinking about how we integrate our spiritual essence with that. Right? so that should be something the church should be legitimately thinking about. It should be one of the top three problems we’re thinking about in the church.
And the truth is, is like, I don’t know many pastors or people in the church who are legitimately giving this time and thought, and the truth is, I think it’s going to already be too late by the time they actually even start considering ways in which, that can happen. So I’m not. In some ways, like Elon Musk would say about artificial intelligence.
I’m not super confident that like by the time we get there, we’re going to have much of, I guess, the grid in place. Like, it’s almost, I think, going to be the wild, wild West in some ways by the time that – like, like – he gives a great analogy of how, when it comes to like cars for example: It’s not until a certain amount of people die –
does that make sense? – It’s not until a certain amount of people died that we decided seatbelts were something that were necessary, you know? And with artificial intelligence, I feel like we’re not going to actually address the problems we need to address until we’ve seen them long enough. And by that point, and I just wonder if that’ll be too, the cat will be just too far out of the bag.
Does that make sense? For us to consider that? And, and that’s unfortunate. Another way I think it’s deeply going to impact the church. And I mean, you can stop me if you have other questions, but what one other way, I think it’s deeply, it’s deeply gonna impact the church is: The church is usually at the forefront of ministries of compassion.
So, for example, our church, partners with an organization that works in Harrisburg to serve the homeless in Harrisburg. And so we’re serving people who are who are poor, who are, you know, without food, without shelter. And we’re seeking to help bring hope and and hopefully some semblance of dignity into their lives.
And that I think most churches are working in some capacity to do that kind of compassion ministry. Well, one of the things I think artificial intelligence may very well do is put a lot of people out of work, create a lot of situations where you’re going to have individuals who, maybe, once we’re able to have an income, but now that particular job has been handed over to a computer or to a robot or you know, whatever.
And, it could in essence, create mass poverty, if not done well, I guess would be a little way of saying it. Or if we don’t create some solutions, like I know there’s some people who were saying a UBI – universal basic income – is something we need to be considering. I know in the States that’s been talked about a little bit, and we may be really far off and need for something like that, but, I think it could very well transformed the church as
, those needs become larger within our communities because more people are out of work or more people are barely getting by. It could also transform the churches, like mobilization toward those compassion ministries and that’s something we should be thinking about how we do that with, you know, how we potentially can expand those programs or be ready to expand if necessary. So I know I said a lot, but that’s some of what I think about when I think about artificial intelligence affecting, you know, the church is especially.
Xerxes Voshmgir: Yeah, that’s very interesting. That’s very interesting. And, I would like to ask you, like from how you understand the Bible and what, the technological developments we’re facing now, what’s your interpretation on the spiritual level that we are facing, basically? Is there any hint in that Bible that, how to deal with this particular situation?
It won’t talk about artificial intelligence, but they might talk about situations that are a challenge like this, a challenge to spirituality, in general. So what’s your take from your perspective.
Justin Douglas: Yeah, so I’m kind of. when it comes to the Bible, I would simply say, I think the Bible should be read and understood as literature that at a time and place and that was ultimately I’m speaking to that time and that place. So we should not read the Bible. literally we should read it literately
that, that the Bible is literature and should be understood as such. And that just to be clear, that doesn’t remove the power of the text. That doesn’t remove the inspiration of the text in my mind. It just puts the text in its right place to be best understood. And so that’s how I read the Bible.
Now when you, the question you asked, some people would immediately go to like the book of revelation and begin like pulling out passages and connecting it to the end of the world, right? Now, I hear that a lot in, in Christian circles. The struggle is that particular book is Jewish apocalyptic literature, of which we only have a few books that really fall under that category.
And they were largely coded messages that we’re trying to communicate, usually like a revolutionary idea of follow Jesus through the persecution that you’re going through. And so in the sense of a revelation, there’s a lot of symbolism that seems to be pointing toward Nero. Christians were very persecuted at that time under emperor Nero, and following the lamb of Jesus at the, you know, the lamb being the model of Jesus, self sacrificial love, you know, back to that. I’m following that. Even in the midst of deeper persecution and even martyrdom.
So, I don’t necessarily look at the book of revelation as this book that’s full of prophecies, if we could just understand it. But what I do think is unique and interesting is when we look at the whole Bible, we have one particular story that maybe is helpful when we think about innovation.
And that story, I think would be the tower of Babel. So the tower of Babel story bricks begin to be built. It seems like maybe for the first time in human history, or at least for the first time that these particular individuals history, they discover bricks and they’re able to build. And, ultimately with that technology, they determined that they want to be like, God.
And so they begin to build this, this tower to heaven. Does that make sense? And, with ultimately this idea of holding this power in a way that would make them like God or like gods. And that did not end well for those individuals in that story. The story goes that
they were all speaking one language and then they began to speak different languages and not be able to understand and coordinate with one another to be able to continue to build that tower. Now, whether that story is an allegory for technology and for our man’s desire to be God or be like God, the story I think shares a lot about what do we do with new technologies.
Do we take these bricks and do we try to use them in a way to make ourselves like gods, to make ourself like God, to take, to take power and to put our, – to take our place, place on a throne? Or do we begin to think about how we use technology to serve other people, and to provide something for others?
I think that story can teach us a lot and what typically is the downfall when technology is used in a way of simply growing our own power, amassing our own wealth. These are all things that I think are important things to consider when it comes to new technologies of any kind, but certainly artificial intelligence, because if there’s anything that’s going to convince us, we can be like God,
it’s something like artificial intelligence, right? Like that, that will convince us. We can create, and I do believe we’re created to create in the Genesis story we are made in the image of God and ultimately the image of God, his creator, like God, is creating. And, and God is creative and you’re doing a podcast, which is a creative endeavor and . we’re created to be creative. So it’s not negative that we create. The question is how responsible are we for what we create and ultimatively the ramifications that will have on humanity, and I would say artificial intelligence could very well have some negative while also positive. Thinking about the outcomes of that, even in the midst of our, creations. So…
Xerxes Voshmgir: That was very deep and insightful, so, yeah.
You talked in your TEDx talk, about “bounded set” and tell us, tell us about this concept
I’ve had this feeling of, you’re onto something but then at the same time, I’m not sure if I really understood it perfectly.
Justin Douglas: Yeah, no, it’s, it’s, it’s a hard concept to really put into a Ted talk because you have a limited period of time. You have to get people’s attention, and then you have to explain what I think is, in a lot of ways, a simple system, but it’s also complex when you start to put it into play. Right?
Xerxes Voshmgir: Let me maybe tell you: I think my problem is that I, I think I do understand it, but then when I start thinking about, situations, I quickly get to the point where I get back to the bounded set. You know? So I think I’m centered set and then I see how suddenly I’m in bounded set again, but just please start to explain so people know what we are talking about.
Justin Douglas: sure, so I would actually echo exactly what you just said. bounded set tends to be our default. And just so everybody understands bounded set, and you can watch the Ted talk if you’d like. it’s called “Beyond Boundaries” you just google “Beyond Boundaries” and my name Justin Douglas and you’ll find it if you want to watch that.
But the bounded set is just this idea that most communities, and I, and I, again, as a pastor, I’ll speak as a pastor, but you could apply this to a private school, a government, you can apply it to whatever. But, but communities organize typically around their values, beliefs, you know, in church, dogma, theology, whatever it would be.
And you create a boundary. A circle that is around your group that defines in a lot of ways, who you are, what you’re about and it lets people know the boxes they have to check to get in. And it lets people know that if they uncheck the boxes, they’re going to be kicked out. In a lot of ways we’re tribal beings.
It describes the, identifying factors of the tribe and what makes you part of the tribe or out of the tribe. Now bounded set is not always unhealthy. I think that’s important to, to reference that. Like, we need boundaries in some places. So usually the rub that I get is that, For example, if you go to Harvard, you’re part of a bounded set.
You are going to Harvard. There are people that aren’t like that is a boundary right there. You, you applied, you got in, others didn’t. but that’s not inherently negative when it becomes negative is if for some reason you aren’t going to Harvard because of the color of your skin. Now we have a problem!
Does that make sense? Like now when we have a reason you’re outside that ultimately is unhealthy and unhelpful. And I would say throughout church history, again, I’m speaking to my particular circle, like we’ve operated in bounded set in some very unhealthy ways and unhelpful, like unhelpful ways as well.
And my vision is that we would consider what it would look like to have a centered set model. And so the centered set says, here’s what we’re all aiming for, here’s like the target that that we’re all going for. And that would be your values, your beliefs share all of that, right? But everyone’s invited to participate and moving that direction.
You know, one of the things about bounded set, an example that I like to use is that myself and another pastor on our staff at the time, we did actually have a conversation about racism, and we had asked an individual in our community to be on the panel for that. And that individual was not a follower of Jesus.
And that wasn’t a problem for us. Like we, we were fine with them being on the panel that we were going to have about racism. They were someone in our community that we deeply respected and felt like we wanted their voice to be heard at this thing that we are sponsoring, our church sponsoring. And, so we asked them and like a week later we were sitting and talking with them and the individual said, I just really feel
like, God is calling me to do this, and I’ve been praying about it and for us, we were like: “What? Like you don’t pray, like you’ve told us you don’t pray!” Like this, this, and that was a celebration for us. A moment of celebration because we felt like we had had a small part in connecting them to some movement that was happening in their life spiritually.
Something that was moving them closer to the center. Had we been bought into bounded set, we would have never seen that and we would have never celebrated it. Because ultimately the only thing you celebrate in bound it is when someone comes over the boundary. And this person hadn’t come over the boundary of a typical Christian tradition, right?
But what they had done open to something even open to prayer. And that was something that we really celebrated the movement that they were making towards. God in some way, right? I think, I think the church needs to become more open in the sense of, of centered set so that we can journey with people right where they are instead of expecting them to come all the way up to the boundary, cross the boundary before we ever get to know them in a real, true, intimate way.
That to me is the vision I have for the church and I look centered set falls apart in a lot of ways – just like any system, you can break it down and share all the reasons it won’t work – but what I do think it helps us do is shift our thinking and our paradigm to at least acknowledge when we’re operating and bounded set and when we’re operating and centered set and how we should be operating and whether or not it’s loving or not.
Does that make sense? Like again, boundaries. Are in some ways necessary or just part of human, the human experience. But they don’t always have to be an often we create boundaries around what we’re afraid of before we ever understand it. And so it can be a mechanism that insulates us from, from the experiences of others.
And so we have to be conscious and aware of how we use bounded set. And I think centered set gives us more open spirit and more open platform to experience, the journeys of about others and consider what they need, where they’re at.
Xerxes Voshmgir: Okay. All right.
Justin Douglas: Does that help a little bit?
Xerxes Voshmgir: Yeah, but still have some questions around that: So, in centered set I define a value or goal. I think you said in the TEDx talk: “Who are we and what values are in center?” is that correct in this way?
Justin Douglas: Yeah, sure!
Xerxes Voshmgir: So like the question that arose for me was: Okay, but once we define that, doesn’t it somehow become similar to bounded set?
Justin Douglas: Yeah. So any centered set can quickly become a bounded set. If those, if those values become things that keep other people out and you know, you just might have a bigger, a wider circle. Right. Which I think is – so, I think it’s important to say there are some healthier bounded sets and there are some really, really toxic founded sets.
It’s not that all bounded sets are bad. Again, you know, it’s not that they’re all bad, but what I what I would say, the way I would define it as yes, the center may be – so in our case – the Belonged Collective, the church that I’m a part of, we say: “The belong collective is a fully inclusive Jesus shaped community, practicing the way of love for the good of all.”
That is our center. So, everyone is invited to join in on that. Everyone! No one’s, no one’s left out on that. If you don’t identify with the idea of a church that’s inclusive, then you may not want to be a part of it, but we’re not telling you you can’t be here. That, does that make sense?
Because sometimes with bounded set, we’re saying: You don’t belong here. And with centered set, I think we’re inviting everyone, even when people who don’t agree with us. The differences is like if you come here and you don’t like it, you might not want to stay. we’re not going to change for you, but you’re not,
you don’t have to change for us to be here. Does that make sense? So we have, we’ve had people, we’ve had people attend our church, for example, that are atheists. They don’t believe in Jesus, but they’re like, I really love this community and you guys really love people. We’re not telling that person, they have to follow Jesus.
Now I’m going to tell you, I think following Jesus and the model of Jesus would be good for them, I think, I think that would be a great example for them, but ultimately, we’re not going to say until you make that decision, you can’t belong here. They can fully belong here. Like why, why can’t they be here?
So, I think that becomes a factor at least – and again, I’m applying this to church world – but I do think there are business models that are interesting too. When you think of a more, philanthropist model, like Tom’s Shoes, for example, where, you know, most shoe companies are in the business of a bottom line budget and making money
and that becomes the boundary that they define everything by all their values are about bottom line: Making money! Well, what if you flip that and you create a centered set model that is a compassionate model around solving a need in our world, and you’re inviting other people to participate in that.
Well, now it’s less about what you get and it’s more about what you give. And that’s the mind shift that I think is ultimately motivated by compassion and so, centered set tends to be motivated by compassion and by inclusion, including other people. So. I don’t, I don’t know. Whatever field you’re in, it’s probably going to apply different and you’re probably going to have to do some work to figure out exactly where you maybe need boundaries.
So an example is like, we need boundaries in church too. Like I’m not saying – so like w we have a kids ministry – if you’re a registered sex offender, you cannot serve in our kids’ ministry. That’s a boundary. Does that make sense? Like I’m not, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have some boundaries to protect because the scriptures tell us love, love protects.
Does that make sense? So we should be protecting and love too , the differences is though, are we protecting from a place of a fear that we have, that’s, that’s unfounded. So in, in my country’s history, we have a history of fear of African-Americans. And that motivated us towards some terrible things in our history, and in the church – terrible things. I think that was ultimately something that happened because we had a boundary that didn’t allow us to experience the humanity of one another and the fact that we were the same. And that’s where I think centered set doesn’t allow us to be comfortable with in our boundary. We have to get outside of it and we have to see others for who they are and then determine at that point whether or not we’re going to love or not. You know?
Xerxes Voshmgir: So in a way, it’s possible to say that bounded set is a lot about, creating and keeping up, dogmas. Not only in church, but you can have documents in anything. Whereas centered set
there is not necessarily dogma. There might be dogma around what the center is. but, not about how to approach the center basically.
Justin Douglas: So, the way of saying it that might be easiest is: You don’t have to believe the dogma of the community to be a part of the of the community.
Whereas in bounded set, you have to believe what everyone else believes to belong. Does that make sense? So, I think we’re living in a world of, tons and tons and tons of new ideas and beliefs and worldviews, and the idea that you and I, for example, would believe the same thing about any number of things, just seems silly. There’s too many options. There’s too many different beliefs. Why would we create a system where you and I have to believe the same to be in community with one another? Like I think there’s ways to be in community with people that you disagree with in a healthy way. And the truth is, is like our politics are revealing, I think, at least in American politics, are revealing the consequence of an idea that if I don’t believe like you about a certain problem in our world, then we just shouldn’t be friends anymore and we should cut each other off.
That’s very unhealthy. Cancel culture and canceling people, because they believe different than you. I think it’s very unhealthy. It typically. Does not work well for either side or for whatever you’re trying to do in the world. If you cancel somebody, it pushes them further into their corner if you’re trying to expose them to a more compassionate ethic. But then also it’s just not good for communities to think that we all have to believe the same. We all come from different experiences and different, you know, different fears that are often motivating our beliefs. and that. That’s important to acknowledge and affirm and then consider how we can do life together.
But it’s, we’re not going to get any closer to a solution if we keep dividing. Like that’s not going to bring us closer to a solution in the church, and it’s not going to bring us closer to a solution in government and ultimately as people, it’s not going to bring us closer together. And so I think what bounded set does is it forces the vision.
Whereas centered set is always championing how we can stay in community with one another despite our differences of belief. Does that make sense?
Xerxes Voshmgir: absolutely! I remember someone once said, I don’t know until when, maybe until the 90s, that in Washington the politicians most of the politicians would live in Washington. So, Republicans and Democrats often there would be friends and have dinner together and whatever, you know, and be part of the community there and, have personal relationships, no matter what the ideology was. And that this fact has changed over the course of the last 20 or 30 years. And because of that, there is much more separation and much more aggression between, ideological lines.
this came up now when you’re talking about and I think it’s like the same, same thing, same mechanism.
Justin Douglas: It seems, it seems like when, when we talked about technological advancement for artificial intelligence, I think the technical, technological advancement of social media has not helped how we see each other, how we communicate with each other, or how we remain, how we remain connected despite our differences.
Twitter being a limited amount of characteristics to communicate vastly complex ideas sometimes isn’t super helpful. When it comes to that Facebook the same, you know, a lot of times these can be places that, are working to cause divisions. And I would even say there’s a certain amount of artificial intelligence happening there in that the algorithms are sometimes built to breed discord, because when those arguments happen, fingers are typing, the platform’s getting used, the ads are being sold. And so there is also an incentive for those platforms to champion hot topics that are going to get people talking and frustrated and angry. And so, That’s, that’s definitely played a role in the fact that politicians that once could walk out of the governmental chambers and sit down for a meal and legitimately talk about their wife’s and kids and hopes and dreams and, you know, fears and, and have and be in relationship with one another, now it seems like everything they say is deeply personal toward one another and isn’t, in any way championing common humanity?
So, we need reform, I think, in every aspect of our life right now because we’re still reeling from the effects of, you could even argue the internet in general and how connected we are in this new age. And then also social media and it doesn’t seem like it’s any of, it’s getting less complex anytime soon, like it’s only going to grow in complexity. And so we need to be thinking about how we can remain connected despite the complexity and despite complexity of worldviews and differences of ideas to solve the problems of our day. We should still remain connected to one another despite that and that, that’s really hard. And, and I think centered set.
I don’t, I don’t really like systems systems die. Like centered set is just a system of thought that will die. It’s no – if it was the system that I thought was the best system ever and it was going to live forever or something, like, I’d be trying to write a book and sell a book and doing all kinds of things about it, you know, and like, yeah.
I think all it does is it helps us mentally make a shift. And how we approach people we disagree with and how we see them as part of our tribe, not another tribe. That I think is really important. especially in our world today.
Xerxes Voshmgir: Do you know the book tribal leadership? Have you read that?
Justin Douglas: Yes, I have
not read it, but I know it. Yes. Yes. it’s on my like list of things I need to read. Do you like it? Did you read it.
Xerxes Voshmgir: Yeah, I liked it. , I like the idea , I also read, Phil Jackson’s 11 Rings, also talks about this concept. Once Michael Jordan, changed his mindset from “I’m great and you are not”, which is like the third stage in tribal leadership, of five stages and then, what Phil Jackson says is once Michael Jordan was able to shift his mindset from, “I’m great and you are not” to “We are great and they are not.” They started winning championships. and then the final stage ist
“life is great.” – And we all together, we might compete, but it’s more for the fun or more for, you know, , get to a certain goal together. Although we have a , healthy type of competition. So that’s the highest stage. But what Phil Jackson said for example, is in basketball and sports in general, a team starts to win when there is no “I” in the team anymore.
Justin Douglas: Yeah, yeah. We see a lot in politics for example, of “We are great and they are not” in like Republicans or Democrats. Like our side’s great and their side’s awful. I think that, I think that, well, that’s better than a self centered. Just me the just about me. Does that make sense? It’s still can breed some pretty destructive stuff.
I think when we can come to that conclusion of we’re working together, we’re all moving together and there may be a need to it down and wrestle through our ideas and compete with the ideas together. We’re going to do that together. Not separate. Does that make sense? Not, we’re not going to devalue someone’s humanity because they have a different idea.
We’re not going to cancel somebody because they have a different idea. Now, an idea may be very destructive. And we need to call out that destructiveness. If it’s a bad idea or if it’s an idea that’s going to harm a lot of people. but ultimately that person probably came to that conclusion because of something within their world view or experience they were handed
that needs to be deconstructed and we should do the hard work of coming alongside them and helping them journey through what needs to be destructed, disrupted in their worldview that maybe has handed them a poor. outlook. And I know I had gracious people in my life who were willing to journey with me when I walked into those, you know, the streets of Boston, thinking that I knew everything, but really I knew nothing about racial issues in America.
Does that make sense? It took people who were gracious with me and those people easily could have just canceled me. And I don’t know what I would’ve done. I don’t think I would’ve learned some of the lessons I needed to learn had I just been shut off. And, so I, I think, that last stage you kind of talk about is really something that we need to be striving for.
That’s hard. It’s so much easier to say “We’re right, they’re wrong” and it’s that simple. It’s so much easier to say, I’m right and everyone else is wrong. It’s that simple. Like those are our kind of monkey brain goes that place. I think, you know what I mean? That reptilian brain, whatever you want to call it, like, we, that animal instinct that we kind of have to just make it simple and easy and, and be done with it and wash our hands and move on.
The harder work is the work that says, how do we stay in community with one another, amidst our differences. We need more communities like that and I call those inclusive communities. Like we need more inclusive communities and not… That will hopefully, hopefully bring us out of some of this negative tribalism we’ve seen.
Again, tribalism can be really good. Like, if you’re a junior high and you’re sitting at the lunch table all by yourself, that’s a hard place to be and that’s lonely. I would want that junior high, that 12 year old, that 13 year old to find their tribe. And it might be with the band and it might be with the basketball team and it might be with, you know, like any number of groups that they might find a connection with.
We need to have a connection with people that are similar to us or have similar interest as us. So again, tribalism is not always bad. It’s bad when it becomes, exclusionary. Then when it becomes “We’re better than you!” Like that, that really is when it becomes negative and we have an opportunity, I think, at this particular point in human history to look amidst the data even of just every day.
Like now we don’t have to go far back in human history. Like we can look at today’s data for how we’re talking to one another and be like: “Wow, we’ve really missed the mark on how to do this whole thing together.” And then take that and say: “Okay, so the only way this is going to happen is it starts with me. I have to show a different path to the people in my life.” Like, and if enough of us take that and begin to do that and love in a self sacrificial way, it could make a difference, you know?
Xerxes Voshmgir: Yeah, and I, I think really with the challenges we’re facing now in the world with, the climate crisis and the environmental crisis, it’s not just the climate. My take is the only solution is if we cooperate. I don’t think, other than that we’ll be able to manage the situation.
Justin Douglas: Especially because we’re so global now. It’s not just nations doing their own thing. Whatever, whatever China does is going to affect America. Whatever America does is gonna affect China, whatever, like and every other country in between. Like we, we have to like be working together. When we think about, our climate crisis, because if one country tries to change, like we’re connected now as a world in a way we’ve never been before and now the problems that used to be just a nation has to think about how to solve our problems that we even need to approach as
the world, like all of us have to come together. Humanity has to come together and think about how we’re going to approach some of these. And we have to, we have to do that with a level of humility to hear from other people that probably are going to, I mean, are going to have vastly different world’s views and experiences than us.
And again, how do we remain connected and open to hearing from one another amidst that? Yeah, that’s, that’s something that the centered set, I think provides a model for.
Xerxes Voshmgir: My final question, is really when you imagine yourself, on your deathbed and look back, to your life and what’s, when you look back, what’s the impacts that you want to have had in your lifetime?
Justin Douglas: Wow, that’s a, that’s a good question. You know, I think first and foremost, my impact starts with my family. I hope my, my wife and kids know and had felt my, my love for them. So I have three kids. So, assuming, I’m alive long enough to see this and my children are interested in having their own children I would love to even have a legacy with my grandchildren if I was so blessed. so, I think it starts there with, I would hope that I handed them a foundation of love in the way that they related to me, but then even in the way that they were inspired to relate to others. So that would probably be the first thing on my deathbed that I would want to be. And then I think secondly, that my legacy would be that I was not always right. I got it wrong a lot of the time. But ultimately, I loved people and I was always, working to champion love in my own life and in the communities that I was a part of and that people felt loved when they were in my presence.
That’s kind of my, my desire. Yeah, there’s a lot of accomplishments that I would love to have. I have goals. Don’t get me wrong, there is, I would like to write a book at some point. I would like to do certain things, you know, but I don’t know if I’m going to be like on my deathbed thinking about the book I wrote.
I think I’ll be thinking about the relationships I had with people and, and the moments that I journeyed with people who are going through the loss of a loved one, or the moments that I celebrated with a family when they just had their first kid, or the moments where I married a couple. You know what I mean?
Those are going to be the moments where I think I’ll have journeyed with people through their life in the way of love and inspired love and to grow in their life. And hopefully, hopefully that’ll have an impact in our world and in those particular individuals. And, that legacy will go on.
Xerxes Voshmgir: All right. Thank you very much. It was very beautiful to have
Justin Douglas: Yeah. Thank you!
Xerxes Voshmgir: Conversation with you! And, yeah. I hope to talk to you in the future even more.
Justin Douglas: It was great. Thank you!
Xerxes Voshmgir: Thank you for staying tuned for this edition of Challenging ParadigmX. If you liked this episode with Justin Douglas , feel free to share it with your community so his message gets spread even further. If you really liked this episode, please hit subscribe, give me a five star rating and I’d be very glad about a review. You can also support this podcast through Patrion. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me or right into the comments section. Next week we are up with Hauxita, a shaman or non-shaman.
Until then, I wish you a great week and say: Ciao!
Pastor Justin Douglas Links:
Personal Website: https://www.pastorjustindouglas.com/
Church Website: https://www.thebelongcollective.org/
TEDx Talk: https://youtu.be/bQGZ3Z2qYS0