Transitioning into relationships….
One of the interesting things about being a college director, or the “pastor” of college students is that they are in the midst of a huge transitions in life. This is not the only stage or time in life where transition occurs, but it is one of the most obvious. The move from high school to college, often away from home, with entirely new communities, new cities, etc. And while they are in college, they are trying to attain skills, abilities and more to transition into young adulthood, into a new career, and possibly into a marriage, and sometimes kids early on. The 17-23 age range that most of my students fall into is filled with transition. Add to this the new fields of study that identify new groups of development and transition such as emerging adulthood and the The Twixters. Transitioning abounds in life, and very dramatically in the college years.
What is interesting to me as the college director, is that my life is constantly transitioning as well. I think some would hope and expect that the “pastor”/director would be stable in the sense that transitioning was over for a while, and all the answers could come forth, so that the students could be properly guided into the right places. But I am finding more and more that the leader of a group is constantly in transition, often mirroring that of the congregation. And I think this is a good thing. I think it is a good thing to constantly be asking the questions that need to be asked, and to wrestle with the things that need to be wrestled with.
As I head into this new school year as the college director, I find myself in my own transition as I am going back to grad school again, but this time to work on the MFT at Fuller Theological Seminary. I am hoping, and believe that it will be, a good compliment to my M.Div. that I received at Fuller in 2003.
Prior to going back to school, I started reading, as you know (since I can’t stop talking about it), Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology, by Eugene Peterson.
Peterson’s thoughts have been taking me down a different road then I have traveled before, and I am finding myself in a transition point. A transition mainly, from thinking about God in only abstract terms, which is so easy to do when one has gone through seminary, or Bible college, or just loves to read and identify with God on an intellectual level…to a more relational one. I know a lot of info about God. But that is entirely different than really knowing God, and interacting with Him on a relational level. Peterson has been showing me these things, and I am beginning to understand the necessity of our spiritual lives being grounded in community and in relationships, rather than intellecutal and abstract places, which we love to do. Relationships are slow, hard work, full of ups and downs. And we would prefer efficiency and impersonal means, because it is easier to get things done if you take out the relationship. It is easier to be in community if you don’t have to deal with the relationships; it is easier to be in community if you can just put people in groups and refer to them in impersonal terms. And it’s easier to deal with God when we objectify Him in simply intellectual ways; we love talking about God’s attributes, and impersonalizing Him in that way, because it is much more difficult to really wrestle in relationship with God. God transcends our theories and ideas. He definitely shows us who He is, but to simply say, this is all God is, and He can’t operate out of these boxes, is to depersonalize Him. That’s an easier God to work with then the God I see the people of Israel in the OT, and the people in the NT working with.
It’s like me thinking I new all about marriage because I had read the books, talked to people, knew the theories, etc…but wow, what a difference it was to then enter into a marriage relationship with another person. People and relationships don’t operate strictly in the depersonalized and theoretical ways that we talk about them.
Peterson goes on to say this:
What is dangerous is not ideas but the academic mind that abstracts both things and people from particular relationships into concepts. And what is dangerous is not programs but the programmatic mind that routinely sets aside the personal in order to more efficiently achieve an impersonal cause. These are not only dangerous but sacrilegious, for it is precisely relational particularities and personal intimacies that are at the center of our God-given, Holy Spirit-formed identities as the beloved who are commanded to love. (pp.314)
Peterson writes beautifully on the relationality of community, and how community is reflective of the relationality between the Trinity: between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is a relationship that exists between the Trinity that cannot be reduced to programs and theories. We try to do that, but to do so would really take out the mystery of the relationship that exists in both unity and particularity. The Trinity is a perfect relationship, and human relationships and community can only hope to be a glimmer of what takes place between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But as people that are made in the image of God, we bear a resemblance, and inherit the importance of relationships. Our being, our life is grounded in relationships, and it is grounded in community where relationships exist. Not in ivory towers and textbooks and philosophical and theological theories…though they can point to what exists in relationship, they can never be a substitute for relationships. “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness..’” (Gen.1:26). We see the existence of relationship in the Godhead at our creation.
Peterson’s book has been highly influential in helping me understand the importance of relationship and community. So I was very excited when I began my Child and Family Development class this week, and as I began to peruse the texts for reading. All of the texts deal with relationship; deal with particularities of relationship, and not abstract ideas. Most of the texts use the model of the relationality of the Trinity as a basis for looking at human community.
My students love being in relationship, and they know that it is hard work. They know when we are trying to replace relationships with quick fixes, and programmatic solutions, that depersonalize the people in the process, and throw abstraction onto our relationships with God. As the church here at Bel Air Presbyterian Church grows, and as our own college community, The Quest grows, we are wrestling with how to be in relationship with one another; a process that is slow and hard, and is not always the easiest solution to growth in numbers.
My training in theology was most often very abstract as we learned to study Greek, Hebrew, systematics and more, often removed from relationship. But being in ministry has shown me what it means to take the tools that I acquired and to put them to the hard, slow work in ministry. And as I begin this program in Marriage and Family, I am more fully understanding the importance of relationality in our communities.
There is very rich reading in this area of study, and there are some amazing books, by some amazing theologians. Here is the reading list for my class, and some are more theological in nature than others, but they all point towards the importance of relationship, which I found was something that was often missing in my “strict” theological training.
Autonomy and Relatedness in Cultural Context: Implications for Self and Family, by C. Kagiticibasi (class handout)