Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

“Wholeness” or “Totalisms”

One of my favorite authors is Richard Cartwright Austin. He’s a favorite because there are three roles that have defined his life: pastor – author – environmentalist. Since these are right up near the top in my own life and calling as well, I’ve read his 4 books series on environmentalism (available in our own Bethany library by the way). In book 2, he spends some time developing Erik Erikson’s distinction between wholeness and totalism. It’s an important distinction, especially for we who lead. Inviting people to wholeness means that we’re inviting people to continual growth and transformation. Whole people have boundaries, yes; but they’re also paradoxically permeable. They’re open to transformation and change. Whole people have a general sense that interactions with the other (other person, other ideas, other culture, other religion, other environment) have something to offer in our ongoing maturing process. There’s also a generally strong enough sense of self that the whole person also feels they have something to give. It’s a trusting way of living that hearkens back to infancy and early childhood, or would if one was blessed with parents who nurtured and imparted this sense of trust and wholeness. Maybe that’s part of what Jesus meant when he spoke of being ‘born again’ – after all, he said elsewhere that what’s needed is the faith of child.

In contrast to this, those who never received a sense of wholeness, who never learned to trust, become vulnerable to those who offer totalisms. To quote Richard: “When a sense of personhood is based on totalisms, identification with a race, a group, or an idea is complete, yet it is anxious." In such a state, every answer is black and white – every person is clearly in or out, and the leader is teaching people to know with certain who’s who so that they can assure themselves of being ‘in’. Richard goes on to point out that those who have grown up in the midst of either personal family, or collective social crisis, are far more vulnerable to ‘totalisms’ as they provide a sense of security and belonging unavailable to anyone who considers him/herself still in the process of growth.

Church leaders are especially in danger of creating a culture of totalisms, rather than inviting people to wholeness, but a quick survey of Jesus’ life reveals that the thing he most forcefully opposed during his days was the ‘totalism’ of the Pharisees. They’d stopped learning, stopped growing, and had become nothing more than defenders of turf. I’d suggest that anyone who wants to really follow Jesus needs to make peace with this reality: I’ll never be finished growing and learning. This is liberating because it offers the perspective that what God is asking of me, above all else, is discerning responsiveness to revelation – not anxious cloistering, away from all potential pollutants.

In closing, I’ll just point out that any flag, any symbol, any church logo, can quickly become a dangerous ‘totalism’ if its leaders aren’t vigilant in their commitment to wholeness.

I wonder what you think… what are the dangers of Erikson’s invitation to ‘wholeness’? What do you this is true about it? What should we who lead be doing to avoid ‘totalisms’ while still declaring truth?


At 4/4/07 21:09, Anonymous Donte Quinine said...

Dangers of wholeness-
"I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready." 1 Cor. 3:2

The danger of wholeness is that it could adversely impact the faith of young or immature believers. Someone who is new to faith might not understand the complexities of wholeness. They may not be capable of navagating through and making sense of all of the nuances of the "others." Wholeness is solid food that may be most useful for mature beleivers.

At 7/4/07 22:27, Blogger ryan said...

I think this danger is very real and should receive our careful thought and attention. As I live with 48 other college guys I continually interact with those who are all over the map believers, law driven believers, free spirited believers, etc.

Paul lays it out clearly in Romans 14 to accept him who's faith is "weak," or young, or who is needing milk rather than solid food. The challenge is figuring out how to continue to grow in wholeness in experiencing Christ while loving my brothers and not causing them to choke on solid food...I long to enjoy the solid food that not long ago stuck in my throat, while loving and caring for those who define food differently.


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