The Immaturity Problem

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Decisions in a society focused on youth culture pose a special problem because of the refusal of many to shoulder responsibility for their actions. As mentioned previously, in an ideal world we would approach important decisions as well-informed adults who understand our own weaknesses and consider carefully the options presented to us, taking our time to consult with our mentors, friends, and family and being devoid of dysfunctions, like mental illness or drug use. Even in the absence of external manipulation, youth culture undermines decision-making out of ignorance, impatience, and unwillingness to rectify obvious dysfunction.

The Designated Adult

Families and organizations manage to survive in this environment, not by encouraging greater rationality, but by weakly tolerating a few designated adults who tirelessly attempt to hold things together while many others simply party on. Family systems theory refers to this phenomena as overfunctioning (Friedman 1985, 210-212). Gilbert (2006, 17) notes that the overfunctioning individual usually pairs up with an underfunctioning individual to form one functioning person out of two.

In a church context, a pastor may be hired to rescue the congregation from a decline in membership only to find that members refuse to accept the new members that the pastor welcomes into the church. Churches of this sort may go through a series of pastors and eventually close their doors because the members refuse to adapt to and accept the changing demographics of their community. Parents unwilling or unable to practice “tough love” may find themselves saddled with caring for children that fail to launch and for grandchildren engendered by the same.

The One-off Solution

Postmodern culture encourages this behavior by refusing to insist that participants hold an internally consistent set of values and preferring one-off solutions.

Probably the most obvious example of this problem arises with the American drug culture that arises, in part, as the dark side of the propensity of Americans to place too high a value of an unsustainable work ethic. When attempts to compete in this unsustainable work culture fail, recreational drug use spirals into addiction and destroys any possibility of further advance in one’s career. At the heart of the problem is the attempt to live a licentious lifestyle alongside of a career that requires exacting personal discipline.

In this example, recreational drug use is proffered as a one-off solution to the problem of stress. Instead, of living a balanced lifestyle with time devoted both to work and self-care, the worker self-medicates and skips the trip to the gym or the family outing. Drug use starts out as the solution to the problem of stress through self-medication, not perceived as a problem in itself.[1] This confusion between problem and solution can lead to addiction, but—more to the point—it began by trying to find a one-off solution to the problem of stress, rather than mitigating the stress itself.

When the usual pattern of problem solving is to seek a one-off solution—looking for a pill to solve our health problem—we are less likely to perceive the spiritual problem that may be behind many of life’s challenges.

More than the Usual Background Noise

Every age has had its distractions. The postmodern era stands out because the volume of the background noise has been turned up significantly while the usual institutions—family, church, community—for dealing with it have been seriously weakened. It is now up to the individual to turn off the cell phone, computer, and other media or, alternatively, screen the massive amount of information available for specific information of use in making decisions. Meanwhile, the pace of life and work has accelerated rendering this filtering process for the conscientious decision maker more difficult.

But not everyone steps up to this challenge.

Presented with an overstimulating environment, many people opt simply to check out, self-medicate, or insulate themselves with white noise—the omnipresent headset, the television never turned off, or refusing to leave their rooms or other comforting environments. This latter option functions much like rumination that keeps the individual from reflecting on their daily challenges as they obsess about events in the past, especially past trauma. The individual who ruminates (or employs white noise) essentially refuses to think about current decisions and, as a consequence, frustrates their own maturing process becoming developmentally impaired.

Decisions in a Sub-Optimal Decision Environment

The problem of relying on designated adults, rather than aspiring to maturity, and habit of seeking one-off solutions both undermine the decision environment that many people face in the postmodern era. Many people reach the age of consent or of legal maturity well before they are able to function as self-reliant adults leaving them unable to make good decisions, vulnerable to manipulation, and unable to advance spiritually.

References

Clinebell Jr, Howard J. 1978. Understanding and Counseling the Alcoholic Through Religion and Psychology (Orig. Pub. 1956) Nashville: Abingdon.

Friedman, Edwin H. 1985. Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue. New York: Guilford Press.

Gilbert, Roberta M. 2006. The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory: A New Way of Thinking about the Individual and the Group. Front Royal (VA): Leading Systems Press.

Footnotes

[1] Clinebell (1978, 19) observes: “Does the person’s drinking frequently or continuously interfere with his social relations, his role in the family, his job, his finances, or his health? If so, the changes are that that person is an alcoholic or on the verge of becoming one.”

The Immaturity Problem

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/2BKihbl

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Silk Shares Wisdom About Relationships

Silk_review_07302016Danny Silk. 2013. Keep Your Love On: Connection, Communication, and Boundaries. Sacramento: Loving On Purpose[1] (publisher).

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The intrusion of technology into our lives has increased the time spent interacting with machines and reduced the time spent interacting with people. Because developing healthy relationships take time, the reallocation of time away from development of healthy relationships has contributed to declining civility and increasing violence, both at home and in public places. Against this rather bleak environment, an emerging role for the church in these postmodern times has been to teach the basic relational and social skills that can no longer be assumed to exist: enter Danny Silk.

In his book, Keep Your Love On, Danny Silk starts by writing:

“I wrote this book to help people build, strengthen, and heal their relational connections.” (11)

Silk sees three themes as components of healthy relationships—connection, communication, and setting boundaries (12)—and he structures his book around these three themes. Let me turn to each of these themes in turn.

Connection. Silk starts his discussion of connection by distinguishing powerful people from powerless people, writing:

“You need to be a powerful person. Powerful people take responsibility for their lives and choices. Powerful people choose who they want to be with, what they are going to pursue in life, and how they are going to go after it.” (20)

Being powerful is important in relationship because:

“A healthy, lasting relationship can only be built between two people who choose one another and take full responsibility for that choice.” (20)

Powerless people are driven by fear and anxiety in making choices and look to other people to fill in for their perceived lack of power (21-24); powerful people realize that they can only control themselves and do not look to others to solve their problems (25). Consequently, it is powerless people who feel a need to role-play as victims, villains, or rescuers (23), because these roles focus on sharing power that powerless people feel they lack, as Silk writes:

“Powerless people use various tactics, such as getting upset, withdrawing, nagging, ridiculing, pouting, crying, or getting angry, to pressure, manipulate, and punishing one another into keeping their pact” [in being victims, villains, or rescuers] (24).

Real love is a challenge for powerless people because being deeply insecure in themselves they approach relationships as consumers (21) who have trouble being full partners in relationships … Obviously, a lot more can be said about the subject of connection and relationships.

Communication. Silk sees communication as a transaction between the inner and outer life, citing Jesus:

“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45 ESV; 81)

Silk sees powerful people insisting on assertive communication where: “My thoughts, feelings, and needs matter and so do yours” (86), not motivated by fear. Powerless people are governed by fear, trying “to hide what is really going on inside” (81), not able or willing to communicate on an equal basis. Instead, powerless people adopt a passive communication style (you matter, I don’t), an aggressive style (I matter, you don’t), or a passive aggressive style (you matter, but not really) (82-84).

Silk offers some helpful advice on dealing with these three powerless, communication styles:

“A powerful assertive communicator responds to a passive person with, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ They respond to an aggressive person with, ‘I can only talk with you when you decide to be respectful.’ And they respond to a passive aggressive person with, ‘We can talk later when you choose to be responsible and tell me what is really going on.’” (87)

Clearly, not everyone starts out as an assertive communicator—Silk himself admits that he started out as a passive communicator married to an aggressive communicator. Because he had to learn to be an assertive communicator paying attention to the needs of others, there is hope for the rest of us.

Boundaries. Silk begins his discussion of boundaries by observing:

“…not everyone should have the same access to you. You are responsible to manage different levels of intimacy, responsibilities, influence, and trust with people in your life.” (124)

Silk starts by recounting several stories about Christians who did not understand this issue of levels of intimacy and counters these stories by observing that “Jesus prioritized certain relationships over others”, as in (most intimate) =>God the Father=>John=>Peter, James, and John=> the twelve disciples=>other disciples=>spectators=>everyone else (125).  He goes on to state:

“I love lots of people through my ministry. I counsel them, pray with them, laugh with them, and cry with them. But that’s it. They don’t get the bulk of my time, attention, or money. They don’t get to know my heart and influence my decisions. After our few hours together, I leave those people at church and go home to my family and close friends.” 128-129)

This insight into Silk’s own relationships might come as a shock to many Christians who have trouble establishing such priorities and maintaining them, especially Silk’s comment about the “God-spot” (126), reserved only for God—not spouse, not work, not kids, not political causes, and so on. You get the idea—if not, remember how the Ten Commandments start out:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exod 20:2-6)

Danny Silk’s book, Keep Your Love On, is an important resource for church groups, readable, and interesting. Before I had finished the first 20 pages, I started thinking of all the people that I would like to share this book with, especially newlyweds and family members. Read it; discuss it; share it. You will be glad that you did.

[1] http://www.LovingOnPurpose.com.

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Christ and Culture

Christ_culture_110132013By Stephen W. Hiemstra

At Pentecost the Holy Spirit speaks Gospel into culture.   And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to peak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:4 ESV).  Here the Holy Spirit communicates the Gospel among all people groups through languages that previously separated us under the curse of Babel (Genesis 11:7).  Language marks culture.  Much like Pentecost is God’s antidote to Babel, the Gospel is an antidote to culture.

To see this, define culture as the history of our collective decisions[1].  If we consistently made rational decisions based on complete information and an objective decision process, then cultural differences would not exist because we would all act the same.  We are not the same because we make poor decisions and base those decisions on prior experiences.  Consequently, as time passes our societal laws, customs, values, and morals (the lessons learned from our collective history) grow more and more unique.  And this uniqueness separates us from one another.

Because resources are limited and contested, bad decisions, which are more costly than good decisions, leave a larger cultural imprint.  Bad habits trump good ones.  Because pain screams while God whispers, culture can seem like the history of collective mistakes, griefs, shame, injustices, and pain.  Cultural isolation temporarily eases our pain as we look inward, but wounds not cleaned fester.  When the church acts as an instrument of the Holy Spirit, it amplifies God’s voice and speaks Gospel into the context of cultural pain[2].

Culture is to groups what personality is to individuals.  Personality is defined in habitual behavior.  When we tell our personal stories, these stories consist mostly of recounting our wounds, obsessions, injustices, and learning experiences.  It is the rare individual blessed only to recount mountain top experiences.  The ministries of presence, fellowship, and care allow us to amplify God’s voice, like the church more generally, in personal reflection.

What does the Gospel have to do with culture?  If culture is primarily the history of our collective mistakes, griefs, shame, pains, and injustices—in a word, sin, then confession and forgiveness of sin are redemptive and transformative.  Christ redeems us from the guilt of sin and the Holy Spirit transforms our lives abating sin’s pollution.  Our worldly cultures are sanctified.  So Apostle Paul can write:  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).   When the church speaks Gospel into culture, it becomes an instrument of Pentecost.

What if we cling to worldly cultures rather than sanctify them?  In effect, we are arguing that our personal and collective mistakes, griefs, shame, injustices, and pain count for more than Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  We are relishing our wounds or hiding behind them rather than submitting them to Christ.  Alternatively, Christ is seen as only human, but not divine.  When Paul prays for relief from a personal affliction, God responds:  My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).  When we hold worldly cultures close to our hearts, we frustrate Christ’s work of sanctification, grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), and yield to the itchy ears rather than proclaim the Gospel (2 Timothy 4:3).

What if we become prodigals—insisting on our inheritance without God’s truth and substituting worldly cultures for Christ and His sacrifice?  Think here of overtly idolatrous cultures, such as atheism or hedonism[3].  This is what Paul is talking about in Romans 1:24 when he talks about God giving them over to their shameful desires.  In this context, Paul takes up the mantle of a covenant lawsuit prophet evoking covenantal curses.  Rejecting the new covenant in Christ evokes the curse of law—reaping what we sow[4].  The Good News is that in Jesus Christ prodigals who return home and repent can be forgiven—not getting what we deserve.  The Apostle John writes:  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

At Pentecost we remember that Christ, not culture, is our true shelter from the storm.


[1]Jonathan Edwards (Freedom of the Will (1754). Vancouver:  Eremitical Press, 2009, p. 38) employs a similar starting point (a recursive decision process) in setting up a discussion of free will.

[2]Contextualization is actively studied in missionary circles.  For example, see,: James E. Plueddemann.  Leading Across Cultures:  Effective Ministry and Mission in the Global Church.  Downers Grove:  IVP Academic, 2009.

[3]Some view modernism from this perspective.  Nikita Khrushchev once said:   Gagarin flew into space, but didn’t see any god there (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuri_Gagarin).  Khrushchev apparently believed that the USSR had constructed a Tower of Babel.

[4]This is more than just a Pauline rant. The hermeneutic of the prodigal in Romans allows Paul to create space for the redemption of Jews who have rejected Christ (Romans 11:11).  Pentecost redeems worldly cultures, even Jewish culture.  Luke (12:10) and Mark (3:29) are less gracious and consider blaspheming the Holy Spirit (rejecting salvation through Christ) unforgiveable.

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