Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Today, during a generally productive day discussing congregational dynamics and the processes of change, we got into some family systems conversations.  I'd expected this, given how much the readings I needed to do played off of family systems therapy ideas.

Honestly, I like the idea of looking at a congregation through a systems lens.  That means considering it as not just a mishmosh of individuals, but as a dynamic and living system, in which the reactions of individuals don't just reflect them as existentially isolated beings, but reflect the array of relational inputs that form them.

That floats my boat, and it mirrors my theology of church.  You know, church being the Body of Christ and whatnot.

But today, we were talking about "triangles," one of the central concepts of family systems.  Meaning, A talks to B about C.  C talks with A about B.  Power shifts depending on the nature of alliances between the three.  The idea presented, and it was all over the books I read, is that human relationship dynamics are fundamentally triangular.  Or triads.  Or something like that.  And I just can't bring myself to glom on to it.

I've seen that sort of simplistic relationship dynamic, of course.  The little girls in my older son's four-year old preschool class related to each other in triangles.  Two girls would klatch, and exclude a third.  Five minutes later, four year old attention spans being what they are, the triangle would have shifted, and another girl would be sulking off in a corner.  It was a bit like the crap high school girls put each other through, only at the fluttery 20X fast forward speed at which preschoolers interact with the world.

Of course triangles can be found.  You can see triangles anywhere you go looking for them.  But ultimately, I find the idea that all human relationships can be understood through this lens to be too neat and tidy.  I tend to view human social systems as complex latticeworks of interrelationship.  Social networks are more like a neural network, in which the interconnections go deep and are many and varied.

This is, of course, far more complicated, and nearly impossible to present in chart or graph form.  Within that system, there are triangular formations, sure.  But if I and another person exist in relationship to a third, each of us bring into that relationship an entire array of other relations.  Those can be with mutual acquaintances, or with family, or with outside systems.  All of those impact how we will respond.  Getting all Pythagorean about human relationships just seems inadequate.

But as the class struggled to make this framework fit, I just kind of sat there and looked pensive.  I wasn't leading.  Let it go.  Sometimes, it's better to keep your own counsel. 

And blog about it later, of course.