Archive for the ‘interdependence’ Tag

Superman Complex   6 comments

SI grew up believing that I was superhuman, that I could and should have every quality admired in others.  After all, my grandfather’s biography was titled “Always in Triumph,” and I was cut from the same cloth.  So I inherited a Supersaint cape, but not the genes, expectations without the abilities.  Every attribute in others turned into a goal for me, and every weakness of mine must be muscled into a strength.  Without asking how a basketball player would fare in a saddle or why marathoners and sprinters had such different builds, I was determined to be a complete spiritual athlete, equally good at figure skating and weight-lifting.

different-racesI did not realize that my qualities as a gift to the church were unique, that my strengths supplied the lack in others’ weaknesses and that their gifts filled in for my inadequacies.  None of us were designed to do it all, but rather each is to be a vital member of a team, offering his unique perspectives, abilities, and traits.  Someone who is good at sympathizing is shaped differently from someone who is good at challenging.  The cheerful and friendly are not usually given to reflection and quiet.  Often we assume that maturing makes us all alike, good at all aspects of spirituality.  But if each of us is designed uniquely, becoming more mature may well make us more distinct, though each a beautiful aspect of God’s character.

We are God’s orchestra, and the drums are not in competition with the flutes or the trombones fighting the violins.  Each has its own music.  We can delight in one another’s contributions and seek to find the flow of harmony in concert.  I can be inspired by their dedication and enthusiasm, discipline and creativity because we have the same values and shared goals, but my score is my own.  May I take satisfaction and pleasure in the instrument God designed me to be.

be yourself


Posted January 30, 2014 by janathangrace in thoughts

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The Universe Where Forgiveness Lives   2 comments

Forgiveness Part I: Framework

world puzzleForgiveness is a small portion of how I respond to others when I am hurt, and this in turn is a small part of the much bigger framework of human relationships.  To understand any piece of this jigsaw puzzle requires me to know its connection to the other pieces and to have a general grasp of the whole.  So let’s peek at the box top.

This is a profoundly social cosmos. A profoundly conversational cosmos. In a social cosmos, a talking cosmos, a muttering, whispering, singing, wooing, and order-shouting cosmos, relationships count. Things can’t exist without each other. And the ways things relate to each other can make them radically different from their fellow things.  –Howard Bloom, The God Problem

Everything from the dance of electrons and protons to the gravitational pull of the Milky Way finds its place in the universe by its connection to other things.  As part of this social cosmos, we humans are profoundly shaped by our relationships–our families and communities and cultures.  We largely understand ourselves and our place in this world based on the input we get from others.  This is both wonderful and awful, for our greatest joys come from love and belonging but our worst wounds come from separation and rejection.

broken love

We don’t really have much choice about this fundamental social reality.  We can’t invent our own language and still hope for connection.  We speak our mother’s tongue or stay mute.  In the same way, our thoughts and actions are channeled by the perspectives of our families and cultures.  Our whole world is organized and explained to us from one specific vantage point so that even to argue with it, we have to speak from that context.  We can’t disagree with our English-speaking mom in Hindi. We are inextricably tied to our relational ecosystem.  We may be able to switch contexts, but we always have a context, and we always crate our past along with us (ask any married couple).

webLife is a web of relationships, and so to discover who I am in distinction from others, I must understand them and how I relate to them.  I soon realize that although there are individual strands in this system, they’re all interconnected.  When I put my hand on any one relational dynamic all the rest vibrate.  Anger is connected to shame and fear, shame impacts perspective and motivation, motivation informs decisions, focus, resources, and a hundred other elements.  It is not only that I am connected to my brother, but that I am tied to him in a thousand complex ways.  Each interaction sets the web twitching, and before I respond, it is best to understand myself and my brother and the relational dynamics between us.  I should not have a default response, not even forgiveness.  Trying to fix every problem with forgiveness is like repairing a house with just a saw.

Little Miracles for Black Mondays   5 comments

Berly was having a black day this morning, remembering some very painful experiences in her last work place.  I sat and listened and asked questions.  Her sharing gave me a new perspective of my own struggles over the years because of my time in India.  I had no solutions, but just listening and accepting her thoughts and feelings picked up her spirits and enabled her to deal with some of the detritus from that time.  Some time later I was feeling emotionally fatigued, it seemed that life had no purpose and that nothing could change it.  I shared my sense of hopelessness, and simply interacting about it with Kimberly lifted the heaviest part of that weight.  We are continually amazed at how just sharing our feelings with an accepting person, who shares empathy rather than advice, does a work of healing in our souls.  Since nothing is actually ‘fixed’ and often no new insight is shed, it always suprises us to feel the relief, like little miracles that have no rational explanation.  Real Grace.

Posted June 18, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal

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Redefining Normal   Leave a comment

A blog post well worth reading:

My son Cade is a survivor.

To Cade and the Eight Percent

Eleven years ago this week, Rebekah and I celebrated the birth of our first-born. Despite his Down syndrome diagnosis, we were overjoyed to welcome this new life into our family.

But not everyone welcomes children like Cade.

It’s no secret. People with Down syndrome have been targeted for extinction. In November, the New York Post heralded The End of Down Syndrome and profiled a new, safer test for pre-natal detection. Before this test was available, 92% of Down syndrome diagnoses (and many times false diagnoses) resulted in the mothers choosing to terminate their pregnancies. With these new tests, some experts foretell the end of Downs.

Why the rush to rid the world of people like Cade?

Certainly, it isn’t because his disability physically threatens anyone. Rather, Down syndrome children pose adifferent kind of threat to society—the in your face reminder that our aspirations for “perfection” may be flawed. People like Cade disrupt normal. Whether it’s his insistence that everyone he says “hello” to on the busy streets of Manhattan respond in-kind or his unfiltered ability to hug a lonely, wheelchair-bound, homeless man without hesitation: people like Cade bring new dimension to what normal ought to be.

I’ve been encouraged to see several pop-culture venues putting on display just how normal children like Cade—and the surviving 8%—really are.

I was surprised and delighted when I opened a Nordstrom catalog a few months back and saw a young boy with Downs syndrome posing as a model for children’s clothes. No mention or special attribution was made of it. But there he was, hanging with a few other boys, included as one of the gang. The way things ought to be.

Then again, last month, dozens of major news outlets picked up this story line when the same young model was included in the latest Target ad campaign. One father and advocate, Rick Smith, took the story viral when he posted 5 Things Target Said Without Saying Anything on his blog.

Only two weeks ago on the popular show Glee, a sixteen-year old girl with Down syndrome was portrayed beautifully. Her character showed life as a high school teenager, a member of the cheerleading squad dealing with the pressures of modern teen life. During the episode, you could hear her internal thoughts playing out as the writers took a bold step forward in portraying how it might feel to walk in her shoes.

But these public displays of inclusion are only part of how we counter the extinction of those with Down syndrome.

Why do the majority of expectant parents determine not to carry these pregnancies to full term?

Fear.  [for the rest of this insightful article, connect to

Posted March 15, 2012 by janathangrace in Reading

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Bonhoeffer on Community   1 comment

In a Christian community everything depends upon whether each individual is an indispensable link in a chain.  Only when even the smallest link is securely interlocked is the chain unbreakable.  A community which allows unemployed members to exist within it will perish because of them.  It will be well, therefore, if every member receives a definite task to perform for the community, that he may know in hours of doubt that he, too, is not useless and unusable.  Every Christian community must realize that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak.  The elimination of the weak is the death of fellowship. (from Life Together p. 94)

In the current economic/political context I need to point out that “employment” is about one’s role in the body, not about earning a wage.

Posted October 11, 2011 by janathangrace in Reading

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I may have been more confusing than clarifying in my Response #4.  So I want a re-do (wish I could do that in life!).

I had very little understanding of legitimate relational boundaries for most of my life.  If two of us had conflicting needs, I thought I was responsible to deny my own and “consider others as more important than myself.”  Anything less was selfishness.  I also believed I was given more resources by God than others (after all, I came from McQuilkin stock, a line of highly honored preachers, missionaries, and college presidents), so the greater burden should rest on me.  This was the scaffolding for serious self-neglect.

If I starved myself to feed the hungry, I would die quickly, but when I starved myself emotionally, there was no such forced resolution… I kept living, breathing, and relating.  No matter how much I gave, I felt I was not giving enough.  So I pushed myself further and further until I nearly killed myself in India.  Self preservation was not in my DNA.  After all, I subscribed to the motto, “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.”

If I had the resources, and another had a need, I was obligated to meet that need.  I thought the only morally legitimate way to deny helping Bob was to help Bill instead.  To use my resources on myself was simply selfish.  It was not a true need of mine.  Christ was all I needed, and instead of receiving what he wished to give me, I became simply the channel for his giving to others, a teflon heart towards God’s grace.  I didn’t realize what harm I did myself and others by working out of a serious personal deficit.  I did not understand how healthy relationships worked.

Of course, the more I expected of myself, the more I expected of others… not as much as I would give, but still a fairly high standard.  When they did not give what they were “able” to give (in my estimate), I judged them as unspiritual, uncommitted, and selfish, and I resented having to make up for their slack.  Denying myself everything for others only worked if they denied things for me.

I was blind to the distinction between healthy and unhealthy giving.  That difference might best be illustrated with actual gifts, the kind with wrapping paper and bows.  There is quite a long list of unwritten, unspoken guidelines that must be followed in our society if we wish to be an acceptable member.  The one with more money may spend more; the amount of money or time spent is a reflection of how much the recipient is valued; gratitude must be expressed (whether or not the gift was a true expression of  love), often in writing; and the list goes on.  We speak of a  ‘gift exchange,’ a social arrangement which prescribes rules and follows social norms to avoid anyone giving too much or too little.  But the original meaning of “gift” (Charis in Greek) suggests something freely given out of love without thought of return.  Otherwise we are really talking about trading, a legitimate financial arrangement, but one that follows law, not love.

As long as everyone follows group expectations in an exchange, this arrangement works swimmingly, but once we try to move towards a gracious approach, one that does not include payback, the old rules do not apply.  If I must give everything to everyone without consideration for reciprocation, then I am in serious trouble if others do not do the same.  All my resources (whether time, money, emotional reserves, energy, etc.) will sooner or later be exhausted, and then I have nothing for myself or for others.  Without receiving adequate “reimbursement,” the system fails.  The path of grace seems unworkable unless everyone else is equally “gracious.”  Instead of being responsible for my own upkeep, they become responsible for me, and I for them.  I am at the mercy of the goodness of others… if they are not good enough, I cannot survive.  This sounds to me suspiciously like co-dependence rather than interdependence.  Am I not ultimately responsible for myself?

Response Part 3: Are Limitations Good?   4 comments

I agree with Elisabeth that “where I am weak is when I get to see God at work,” though I think it might be good to consider what this may or may not mean.  How does God work with or in spite of our weaknesses?  He can certainly override or bypass or compensate for our inbuilt weaknesses when he chooses, but I expect, like any other miracle, it is the exception rather than the rule for him to work contrary to the traits with which he uniquely designed each of us (and the circumstances by which he shaped us).  Not only the abilities, but the limitations he gives us are integral to our design, a key part of who we are.  A car is great for driving, but it is pretty bad at sailing.  If we make a car to also sail, those adaptations will hinder its ability to drive well, which is its true design. 

Allow me to get personal.  I was raised by a mother who was not time conscious and a father who was very time conscious.  This was the source of much contention, especially Sunday morning, and both my mom and dad agreed that the “right” way to be was prompt, which of course meant my mom was inadequate and my dad was adequate.  Dad was organized and Mom was disorganized; Dad planned out everything well in advance and Mom flew by the seat of the pants; Dad was very analytical and Mom was not.  We were taught by both parents that we should emulate our father in all these things, because this was godliness, and thus avoid the weaknesses of our mom.

Most of my life I fully believed this to be true.  My dad even taught a college ethics course that included a section on the moral necessity of being good stewards of our time.  The good ol’ American values of productivity and efficiency were apparently a fundamental part of God himself, handed down to us in his word.  The verses in the Bible about being punctual are fairly meager, so he used arguments such as the injury we did others by being late (“keeping them waiting”), which was both selfish and unthoughtful.  It is more the emphasis than the idea which became a real problem for me.  One could argue that good stewardship of the body requires daily bathing with soap for good health and so make showers a moral issue, but I don’t think I would go there with it.

It was decades later that I started to question this thinking.  I found that examples of godliness in Scripture seemed to have a very different perspective of time, one that did not include minute hands on sundials.  Jesus himself seemed to be much more God conscious and people conscious than time conscious, and he regularly chose to live by the former values at the expense of the last.

I don’t mean to suggest that punctuality is of no worth, but I wonder if it does not fall farther down the scale of true values than most white, middle class Americans would like to think.  I wonder if it is a constant source of judgment towards other cultures and people who value it much less.  Might our insistence on timeliness do more injury to individuals and relationships than our being more flexible with our schedules?  In fact, is too much of a need for promptness a weakness of another kind and is flexibility perhaps a strength?  Do we unnecessarily devalue the traits of some folks instead of appreciating their uniqueness and important contribution to perspectives, relationships and plans?

I find myself valuing strengths in others that I do not have.  But instead of simply being grateful for and blessed by their contribution to my life, I compare myself to them and challenge myself to be like them… and then judge myself for falling short.  I tell myself that I must be as organized, as gentle, as confident, as humble as they are.  These are all good things to work on, but things that do not come naturally to me as they do to others, and in fact, they usually have their own downside.  People who are temperamentally gentle often have a very hard time confronting others; Those who are typically confident tend to be less open to the perspectives of others.*

If I use a lot of energy trying to “fix” these weaknesses I attribute to myself, I not only make no room for others’ contributions to my life, but I end up undermining my own unique gifts.  Others become competitors to me instead of partners, and relationships suffer.  The differences between us that were meant to teach us, unite us and make us interdependent become the very things that drive wedges between us because I expect others to be like me and shame myself for not being like them.

Let's Work Together!


*Of course, we usually think of humility and gentleness as virtues (moral attributes which are acquired) and organization and confidence as character traits (nonmoral attributes which are given).  So for the purposes of this discussion, let us leave aside the “virtues” and think simply of “traits.”

We Cannot Be Whole Alone   1 comment

I love the picture of our interdependence expressed in this poem, though our need for others can also be a frightening thought.

Each lifetime is the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

For some there are more pieces.

For others the puzzle is more difficult to assemble.

Some seem to be born with a nearly complete puzzle.

And so it goes.

Souls going this way and that

Trying to assemble the myriad parts.

But know this. No one has within themselves

All the pieces to their puzzle . . .

Everyone carries with them at least one and probably

Many pieces to someone else’s puzzle.

Sometimes they know it.

Sometimes they don’t.

And when you present your piece…

To another, whether you know it or not,

Whether they know it or not,

You are a messenger from the Most High.

–Lawrence Kushner, Honey from the Rock

Posted July 12, 2011 by janathangrace in Poems

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