December 12, 2007

I’m bringing some of Schnarch’s discussion over her from Unsolicited Advice WP because this nicely dovetails into some discussions we’ve had here and there.

As I said before, much of Schnarch’s view of marriage and sexuality takes on some very spiritual dimensions. Differentiation happens to match up to where I am in one aspect of my relationship. Like much of Schnarch’s perspective, it flies in the face of conventional understanding.

If you think of a relationship as a continuum with total disengagement on one end and emotional fusion on the other, differentiation would be in the center. It has some things in common with an independent-dependent continuum where interdependence is the center spot.

So I’m going to attempt to describe my understanding of differentiation as it applies to one area where Arwyn and I have had to adjust. Namely within the context of our church affiliation and involvement.

We both began attending the Methodist church soon after moving to this area. We had gone to and visited other churches, but this one seemed like a good fit. But over time, it seemed to fit less and less. Five years ago, I actually visited several other churches in the area, looking for something different. I was looking for a church with a purer Biblical orthodoxy than that manifested by the Methodists. In Georgia, it’s pretty difficult to swing a dead cat without hitting a Baptist church, so I visited a few in the area. No I didn’t visit any of the poison-drinking, snake-handling sort but stuck to fairly conservative brands. What I found was fairly consistent: people going to a meeting on Sunday morning, doing a few activities during the week and then doing whatever they want the rest of the time. I think I was hungering for a more holistic experience not unlike some groups I had experience earlier and the intentional communities Emily and Desmond have described.

Arwyn also wanted more but had even less of an idea of what to look for than I did. Her religious background was pretty much from a Lutheran-type background before becoming a Methodist. She does want more knowledge and grounding in the Bible and get closer to Christ. To be sure, our goals were not incompatible. We both wanted a more fulfilling relationship with Jesus Christ and other believers. Does that sound too radical?

After looking around, I decided to keep my involvement with my current church and work on deepening my relationships and involvement there. Arwyn, while involved, never really bonded in as much as I did with other couples our age. She felt like an outsider and her engagement with others became less. She was involved with the kids and their programs and activities, but nothing with other adults.

In October of 2006, Arwyn decided to make a move. She had spoken to a couple other moms about this other church that was big and growing, growing growing. It was the one I’ve been calling Saddleback East but it could also be called Willow Creek South. She felt this is where God wanted her, and would not be convinced otherwise. For a few months, she sort of straddled between the two as the boys were involved in the Methodist children’s choir and programs, but by January of 2007, she had disengaged the boys and was going to Saddleback almost full time.

I continued to attend and teach at the Methodist church, but was very distressed by Arwyn’s seemingly unilateral move. It was seemingly a move away from me as well as the church. So I had a choice to make.

1. I could continue to do my own thing at the Methodist church

2. I could join her church

3. We could look for a 3rd church.

My attitude was basically one of resentment. I didn’t feel God calling me out. But I was willing to go in order to keep the family intact. Option #3 was never a serious option as Arwyn was so convinced this was the church for her.

I chose option #2 back in March. I began attending services with her and we actually began trying to start a small group. The small group effort was disastrous as while everyone seemed to think they needed to be a part of it, no one wanted to actually do the simplest of things to build a connection. Stuff like emailing, talking and staying in touch throughout the week, in addition to regular church meetings. The thing just disintegrated because no one would commit. Everyone wanted to be fed without doing any feeding. Yeah, the flock can be amazingly stupid. But they’ve been conditioned to be that way by the blind guides who are in turn pressured to give people what they want which is a sort of Twinkie religion. It feels pretty tasty but is actually pretty empty.

Arwyn got baptized into the church back in March. That baptism more resembled running cattle through a dip tank than consecrating and celebrating a decision made for Christ. I attended the new member class and got the low down on membership requirements. After learning their basic theology, beliefs, practices and culture, I decided that I could not do it. I could not join this group and maintain my integrity.

And this is where we get back to Schnarch’s idea of differentiation. When a couple becomes emotionally fused, any change one person makes necessarily changes the other person’s position and challenges his/her integrity.

If I would have stayed in that church, I would have had to sacrifice my integrity which would have created a butt load of resentment. Insisting on Arwyn to go to my choice of church would have forced her to sacrifice her supposedly divinely inspired move and thus challenged her own integrity.

I went back to the Methodist church, but I was not the same as when I left. I began re examining church, worship, spirituality and how we do all these things. I knew something was wrong, and it was bigger than any single denomination or even nondenominational churches. God had showed me something important through Saddleback East and the small group experience. It was not that people did not want to connect, but they had no idea of how to do it. They were so used to going to the over-sized feed trough every Sunday and having the pastor feed them they and had no idea how to do it themselves. They had become totally domesticated and not in a good way. We aren’t designed to have our needs met by one person, not to mention the same person. We are designed to feed one another according to the gifts distributed amongst each other. We don’t all have the same gifts and neither does anyone have all the gifts. And the fact is that Saddleback East is the Methodist church’s main competitor. Given the pressures exerted by members departing to go there (Arwyn’s departure sent a few waves of its own) it’s not surprising they felt the need to adopt many Church Growth Movement (CGM) tactics, programs and practices.

This is where I depart from Bill Hybels, who prescribes training people to be “self-feeders.” That’s as disastrous as having a rationed feeding trough! No, people need to be rewired into feeding each other. This not only has the Christian community meeting its own needs but enables it to fulfill its apostolic mission to meet the needs of others and spread the gospel.

Getting back to differentiation…

It took some time, but I’ve gradually come ’round to not seeing Arwyn’s move to another church as being a threat to our family, our marriage or my own spirituality. What happens there really isn’t what I would call quality family time. The kids are dropped off to their place and you go to worship which consists of everyone facing the front, singing and listening. I suppose there could be some hand holding in there between couples. That would be nice. But it really isn’t family time, per se. We aren’t even all in the same room!

In the Methodist church, the family does sit together for a time, but that often involves as much of a struggle as anything else as the kids always fidget and bug each other and a fight can easily ensue. Not that I don’t value teaching kids to sit down and shut up, but it is distracting trying to make sure your own kids are not the ones distracting everyone else.

Arwyn and I actually talk more now than when we were attending the same place. We compare and review and retell the lesson of the day and then discuss. And the kids engage in what they learned. That’s more quality than anything else.

There’s a lot of confusion and ASSumptions about where I am as far as Christian community. I am still part of my group in the Methodist church. While I’m not tithing, as such, I am contributing to many missions in the UMC such as the children’s home and committee on relief. I engage with our adult Sunday school, but not the main worship service. If others choose to do that, I’m not threatened, although the reverse may not be true.

Yeah, the disapproval and rebuking are all done in the name of love…

Please. Go sell crazy somewhere else, as we’re all stocked up here! Guilt mongering and threatening are not loving acts. They are a failure to properly differentiate. Differentiation involves allowing people to go and do where they need without feeling threatened and without delivering threats. Differentiation is not “I gotta be me” either. It does involve taking a hard look at ones own integrity and loving freely without becoming so fused that one becomes incapable of standing alone when it is necessary. And sometimes standing alone is necessary if for no other reason than figuring out where you are without criticism, threats, fear, guilt and all the other tools used to control and subjugate others. Direction is welcome. Tales of personal experiences are very welcome. Busting me down without knowing all the facts or caring about them is not necessary. Differentiation does necessarily involve relationship with others; else it wouldn’t be an issue at all! Properly differentiating involves being a more complete person so that loving can occur more completely.