08.1 Technologies of change: church
I want to paint a picture of how good a church can be. How it can be a technology of heart change.
Hello friends, I hope you have lovely plans for Thanksgiving. That you will be able to enjoy the incarnate grace of hospitality with your friends and family!
I’m excited to tell you about our matching fund drive. Several generous donors have pledged to match every dollar given to this fund by December 27th, up to $10,000! That means you can double the impact of your end-of-year gift!
You’re gifts are what keeps the doors of our “Inn” open. Your commitment to creating space to give the incarnate grace of hospitality to others is what keep us motivated. We are so grateful for you!
And now here’s the chapter:
“All this talk about therapy is just an excuse to hang out long enough for the relationship to do the healing.” – SEPI conference on Attachment and Relationships, 2002
“What is the state of affairs such that it is apt to say of a piece of bread, ‘This is the body of Christ’?” – Recent Philosophical Work on the Doctrine of the Eucharist, James M. Arcadi
A few chapters back I claimed that information doesn’t change me. Gathering and memorizing facts about God does little to change how I feel about him—does little to change my heart towards him. We need embodied experiences of God’s love to change.
Sadly, knowing the right facts about God without having the real experiences of God’s love can be very damaging. Let me explain.
We all learn to relate to others through our early relationships with our parents. The modern psychological study of “attachment” has shown that those early experiences with our parents have a huge influence on our ability to develop secure emotional bonds with others throughout our lives.
If we had parents who mostly responded to us with love and delight, we developed secure emotional bonds with them. We felt loved and safe, and could therefore experiment and grow more healthily. Later in life we are more likely to healthily embrace the complexity of relationships.
On the other hand, if our parents were more often distant, uncaring, or abusive, we grew up feeling unwanted and unsafe. This leads to several unhealthy patterns of relating later in life. Some isolate and avoid difficulty in relationships. Others anxiously fixate on relationships, desperately desiring approval and security, but always terrified of rejection. Lots of us do a combination of both.
The common thread is that our early relationships with our parents were not safe, and so we have learned different coping mechanisms for dealing with this pain.
And it is a serious pain! In fact, the need for secure relationships is a core human need. On the same level as food, water, and shelter—perhaps even more basic. Think about it, when you are three months old, having a loving caregiver is the only way to get food, water, and shelter. So the fear of being unwanted feels like an existential threat, because for those very formative years of our lives, it was an existential threat.
As attachment scientist Louis Cozolino says, “We are not the survival of the fittest, we are the survival of the nurtured.” Or in the words of Curt Thompson, a neuroscientist and psychiatrist, “We are born looking for someone looking for us, and we remain in this mode of searching for the rest of our lives.”1
And here’s the real kicker: because many of these powerful formative experiences with our parents happened before our brains developed any linguistic or analytical abilities, our memories and learned responses are mostly implicit. They live below the level of consciousness and inhabit our emotions and instinctive physical responses.
We automatically feel and respond with our healthy or unhealthy relational attachment strategies without thinking. And we will likely never even notice our feelings and patterns of relating unless someone from the outside calls our attention to them.
What does this all have to do with God, change, and church? Well, just as the attachment strategies I learned in childhood affect my ability to relate to other humans in adulthood, they also impact my ability to relate to God. I implicitly transfer what I learned through experience with my parents (and others) onto God.
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