How being disrupted can change our families, our cells, and our interior lives

Bowenian pyschotherapists have a concept called homeostasis. In my elementary understanding, homeostasis refers to a “normal” state of things, where routines, norms, and rituals are understood by members of a system. Those routines keep things safe and relatively predictable. For dysfunctional families, homeostasis perpetuates that norm. Sometimes a therapist achieves her goals by disrupting the homeostasis in a system, so that it might grow beyond its typical limitations and through its problems. The extent of my knowledge about that school of thought ends there, but you can see its evidence in everyday life: the Philadelphia Eagles recently tried to undergo some disruption by bringing on Chip Kelly; three years later he was fired and it was back to business as usual (but what a great day in free agency yesterday was!). With Trump surging, and Bernie upsetting Hillary, it seems like Americans are sick of the political homeostasis and are ready to change the established way of things. Sports and politics aside, I also notice how this basic idea manifests itself in a few ways in the life of a Christian.

circle of hope, churches in philadelphia, bernie sander, south jersey, church, love, Jesus, GodI think the most obvious one for the people in Circle of Hope is how we disrupted our homeostasis last year. A few of the big changes: last Ash Wednesday, Ben White was commissioned to lead the Marlton Pike congregation (by the way, naming it “Marlton Pike” was also a change, same with the rest of our sites); Nate Hulfish moved on from that assignment to found the central office known as the Hub. It is the “hub” of our operations. Later in the fall, Rachel Sensenig took over leading our largest and oldest congregation, which allowed Rod White to complete the new Circle Counseling project further down Broad Street and move into a reduced-time position called Development Pastor. Rachel and Ben’s new energy changed us and so did Rod’s focus on leadership development, and Nate’s on administration. Rachel and Ben’s new energy reinvigorated Joshua (the pastor stationed on Frankford Ave.) and I, and Rod and Nate allowed us all to focus more on the basic work that we do: making new disciples. Getting the pastors out of the middle of running the church also made room for the Leadership Team to keep emerging and developing. Though not without some difficulty (and we are still growing), I believe we transitioned through this disruption of our homeostasis rather well. (And I think it had more of a point than mere disruption too.) I believe that it will continue to improve and affect us.

Another area where the benefit of disruption can be seen is basic to the life of Circle of Hope: in our cells. I’ve written much more about the cell as a family system, so you can read that later if you want. But the basic idea is this: our cells grow like a family does and they go through a process “norming” too. It’s important for the health of the group to know there is some consistent and reliable patterns (time and place of meeting, for example). But sometimes that comfort can cause the group to stagnate, and cause its bad habits to take deeper root. When a leader tries to go grow her cell, it is met with natural and normal resistance, that period is called “storming.” Cells need to “storm” to multiply. Put another way, their homeostasis needs to be disrupted. It is a good kind of disruption, one that a leader anticipates and guides her group through.

Finally, for me, Lent has been a major disruption. As I told some friends recently, I look forward to the season because it is a scheduled disruption that can sometimes realign my spiritual life. Focusing on the meaning of suffering, which for me is often the result of a disruption to my seemingly well-managed homeostasis, is painful. Transitions are hard for me. I like to know the “political economy” of systems and figure out how I fit into them. So a spiritual disruption can be deeply confusing. Add to that that my baby came about three weeks earlier than we anticipated, and my scheduled Lenten disruption became a real spontaneous one. So for the last two weeks, I have been working from home. The biggest change, really, has been the time I’ve spent with my quickly growing three-year-old. The extra meals together, long and not rushed baths, trips to the park or to the museum, have been great. My relationship with her has deepened. And you know what? So has my relationship with God. This not scheduled “break” from the normal way of things grew me, deepened me, and changed me. It caused me to rely on him more than my schedule, more than routines, my plans.

It makes me think that perhaps a regular habit of spontaneous disruption (how’s that for an oxymoron? It’s about all the “J” in me can take) can be good for all of us. I suppose that’s one thing Lent is: a lengthy time to fast and walk with Jesus toward death. It can be wonderfully disruptive (I would add that all the liturgical seasons can fall into that category—contrasted with the appropriately titled “ordinary time”). So, let’s think about how to get disrupted. It could be as simple as reading a new book, watching a new TV show, waking up earlier, taking public transportation. But there’s more. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Take a personal retreat. Don’t do it on the weekend; take a few days off for it. Wander in the woods. Stay silent. Be in solitude. That alone for most of us is a disruption enough. It’s good to “reset” yourself. See if your refreshed body and soul doesn’t change your outlook on your regularly consistent life.
  • Try a fast. Lent is a good time for this. Remove something from your life that is a fixture and see how your perspective changes. I’ve been eating less in Lent—that means less cooking. Wow, that’s a big change for me. I’ve been known as a foodie. So not preparing my own food, in the heart of braising season, has been, and I’m embarrassed to admit this, a dilemma. I’m learning that my passions don’t have to be all of me.
  • Make a new friend. Go find someone new to get to know. Be committed to developing a relationship. See what you learn about yourself when you put yourself out there again. You might bring this person to your cell or to a Sunday meeting, sure. But you may also meet him or her there too. I don’t think we have many shortages of opportunities for that, so try that.

How’s the disruption going for you? Any thing you’d add to this list? Post in the comments and share if you feel moved.

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