As I sat in class, I heard again the words I have heard so often over the last 14 years, "Self-differentiation; knowledge of self; changing one's position in one's family of origin; changing one's position in a particular system; working on one's self to the point of not reacting to another's position; being able to state one's own position without trying to convince another of one's "rightness."
I started dabbling in Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST) while on internship. I read the book Generation to Generation by Rabbi Ed Friedman. I was hooked. BFST seemed to offer a different way of looking at things--a way separate from the left/right; Democrat/Republican; liberal/conservative way of thinking. It seemed to offer a path of transformation and leadership based, not on making people do something or convincing them right from wrong, but on the presence of a leader and being clearly defined in what one believes.
But there were several things which began rubbing me the wrong way over the years. There was a subtle but important thread which stated a leader concentrating on self-definition didn't worry about talking about what was right and what was wrong. Those things were evidence of someone who was not well differentiated. And I asked myself, "So we cannot call murder wrong?" BFST focused on what in a particular system led to murder and not the act of murder itself. While I do appreciate the powers at work that influence people, I simply cannot stop. I have to point out the wrongness of murder.
There was also a recent discovery as I read Luc Ferry's A Brief History of Thought. When I read Ferry's following words, I realized that BFST was really nothing new under the sun:
For the Stoics, the structure of the world--the cosmic order--is not merely magnificent, it is also comparable to a living being. The material world, the entire universe, fundamentally resembles a giant animal, of which each element--each organ--is conceived and adapted to the harmonious functioning of the whole. Each part, each member of this immense body, is perfectly in place and functions impeccably (although disasters do occur, they do not last for long and order is soon restored) in the most literal sense: without fault, and in harmony with the other parts...
For if nature as a whole is harmonious, then it can serve as a model for human conduct, and the order of things must be just and good...
(Kindle locations 322 and 367)
There is more that could be quoted, but one of the tenets of BFST is to look at nature; how nature operates at the systemic, cellular, and other biological levels and apply it to human relationships. BFST is essentially Stoic thought revisited!!!
Ah, but then there is the clincher, BFST's incessant call for self-definition; self-transformation; self-management. It believes human beings have the power to transform themselves by their own actions and thought processes. It teaches a person to put his or her trust in his or her own abilities--own ability to be non-anxious; own ability to be differentiated; own ability to stay connected; own ability to manage anxiety; own ability to retain clarity; etc. It's all about how a person handles and transforms his or her self.
This is in direct conflict with the nature of the Gospel!
Transformation does not occur in one's life because of one's own actions. If we could transform ourselves and could do a good job of it, self-help sections in bookstores wouldn't be so huge!
As Christians, we believe transformation comes from without. We believe and articulate that transformation comes from Jesus--from His actions as He lived the life we are called to live and died the death we deserved. This good news cuts into our hearts as we come to understand it and it grasps us. It alone challenges us and comforts us. It alone gives us the ability and strength to change.
Case in point. Yesterday, there was some discussion regarding the shrinking mainline church in relation to pastors and how pastors are paid. The suggestion was made that clergy might ought to think about finding employment outside their congregations so that "they are not trapped by those who pay their paychecks." "It would make things cleaner," was another argument.
I responded, "I disagree. I think, if we are indeed talking about emotional processes, money is just an symptom of a deeper problem. It wouldn't make things cleaner at all. It just depends upon where you put your trust. Do you put your trust in Jesus or do you put your trust in yourself and in your congregation?"
The Gospel brings us to the place where we put our trust in Jesus. We are able then to say what needs to be said. Might we get toasted by our congregations? Sure. Especially if we come across as self-centered and arrogant. However, the Gospel doesn't allow you to do that either. It humbles you, and so when you point out sin--that which is right and which is wrong--you are doing so as a sinner yourself; you are doing so who is under the same condemnation as those who are being called out. And so, you don't arrogantly go around telling people what to do, you humbly point out what God has done through Jesus and how we can be different by putting our trust in Him.
It all comes back to Jesus. At least for the Christian, it all comes back to Jesus and what He has done for us on the cross and in the resurrection. Change comes through this good news. Transformation comes through this good news. It comes from no other place.
And so, I say good by to an old friend at the end of this year's class period.
There are those who have remarked, "Rabbi Jesus saved my soul, but Rabbi Friedman saved my ass." Sorry, what Jesus did accomplishes both, we have just failed to see how.