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Rules and Identity: Part II–The Church

April 21, 2010

Yesterday, I discussed an article from K. Gillett and company in April 2009’s Journal of Marital and Family Therapy (p. 159-174); Gillett and his colleagues suggest that implicit family rules, messages that form from the ethics that the family unit and family members strive to accomplish, help create the identities of children. Generally speaking, families who express love and compassion towards one another shape secure, hospitable identities in their children, and families who express hostility and criticism towards one another shape confused, wounded identities. The authors explore the population of eating-disordered clients and determine that most of their families of origin had implicit rules of controlled, restricted, and/or critical patterns of communication, helping to create identities of self-doubt, which manifested in all-or-nothing behaviors such as extreme levels of conformity and perfection.

I want to juxtapose this article with Sunday’s discussion at Highland. We’re in a series about communicating with culture, and Richard Beck asked, using the second and third chapters of Revelation, “What would the angel to the Highland church say?”

Richard explains that one of the manifestations of spiritual warfare is how we respond to the implicit rules of society. For example, he discussed Highland’s response to its leadership’s study on women’s roles in the church; by the way, short version, between 6-8 years ago, Highland’s elders underwent an intensive study on the roles of women in the church assembly and concluded that they should have a more expanded role in corporate worship. Highland lost several hundred people within the next 12-18 months after that decision was made. Richard talked a bit about our nation’s consumer mentality and how that manifests itself in church shopping. He then noted, quite a few people who were opposed to this decision stayed at Highland anyway because they were committed to this family and its vision. “How un-American is that?” Richard pondered.

Richard’s wife, Jana, then spoke about a conversation she had with several people at last weekend’s family retreat. Jana talked about how often we is that we forget or don’t know people’s names and how that restricts us from creating community. We fear that people will perceive us as insensitive or arrogant, so instead of risking that, we avoid people whose names we don’t know/have forgotten all together. We also fear (sometimes justifiably) that someone will be offended if we say the wrong name or admit that we don’t know their name. Jana challenged us to boldly approach those whose names we don’t know and say some equivalent of, “I’m sorry, I’m absolutely terrible with names, please remind me yours,” and also to be gracious towards those who have forgotten/mis-said our names.

This may seem like a little thing, as Jana kept reminding us, but it’s not. For one thing, our names are a microcosm of our identity; a host of descriptors and traits (good and bad) accompany my name when it’s said. But more importantly, our church environment seems to place an expectation of personal holiness and perfection so that it’s taboo to make a mistake in church. I mean, we’re already evaluating the performance of the preacher, the quality of the praise team’s/worship band’s sound, right? (And let me say that there’s a difference between admitting past mistakes, through testimonies and whatnot, and making mistakes during corporate worship.) Going to someone and admit that you are currently forgetting a part of their identity, their name, and asking graciously for it is humbling. It’s counter-cultural. It goes against the implicit rules of the church and creates openness and community. It forms you spiritually.

So, in following yesterday’s questions, what are some implicit rules of the church that inhibits family communication and understanding?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Judy permalink
    April 21, 2010 11:23 am

    It’s humbling for a mother to see that the little boy to whom she taught the ABC’s is such a deep thinker!

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