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Unity Brings Strength, Healing, and Renewal

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Unity Brings Strength, Healing, and Renewal: before this blog was called “Why Do You Always Want to Get Close?”

Ordinarily I would write in my personal diary, but I guess I’ll just write with others in mind, so that others can also benefit from my thoughts. I was reading about the Red Cloud School in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where I sometimes send small donations. The superintendent of schools was being interviewed in their newsletter and was talking about how his office was 90 miles away from some of the schools, but that they were getting Macintosh computers, which would make their dialogue better.[1]

The human power they need in a troubled reservation, such as they have, requires a way of getting close, that e-mails, Skype, and other computer communication will not be able to provide. I remember Nora asking me, “Why do you always want to get close?” This morning the reason suddenly occurred to me.

It took a long time. She may have asked me that question twenty-five years ago. Of course, I am the eleventh child of sixteen and I remember the feeling of being one with a family. Reading psychology, some people’s comfort zones are more distant than others. Perhaps with unresolved emotional attachment issues, I want to fuse with another person, because I could not tolerate emotional separation. There is a chart in a book I just recently read that compares (when together) of being connected with each other versus being enmeshed, feeling alone versus isolated, and differentiated maturely versus fused with another person. [2] Feeling that kind of insecurity, delayed the insight I had this morning. Was I just a person who wanted to fuse with another person, because I could not mature myself and differentiate into a sound individual?

Two thoughts: the one from this morning and the second that just occurred to me. We need to get inside each other spiritually, because there is power in there comparable to nuclear fission or fusion. Way back in college when I was trying to write scientific poetry, I wrote: the way the smashed atom releases power, the broken Christ releases love. Love =[E=mc2]2 .  Secondly, a citation from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin has always guided me: “True unity differentiates, it does not confound.” [3] Enmeshment and immature fusion that avoids healthy individuation is like the conformity and uniformity that Teilhard compares with true unity. When everyone wants to be the same on the outside, it can be called conformity or uniformity. In my New England up-bringing, I had teachers who were non-conformists. One, for example, instead of reading from the Bible for mornings exercises, read from Darwin’s The Origin of Species. Non-conformists felt that to join a group meant to sacrifice their individuality. But when soldiers wear uniforms they march in step and are trained to kill and no one can tell where their heart might be, that is, the center of their responsible and human life-loving self. True unity means that your hearts become one, so that in that oneness you trust each other and remain trustworthy for each other. With this inner unity or oneness, persons gain freedom and they can become as different as they want to be, but outwardly. Internally they have become one heart and one soul.

When the Native American, Bob Brave Heart Sr. talked of the incredible distances involved in the Red Cloud School from his office and his hoped for computer solution, I again thought of my experience of striving for unity with the staff, teachers and directors of my vacation church schools and day camps. Following the thirty-some-odd programs Les Schulz did in Cincinnati, I directed 14 in Coney Island and three in Oakland, CA. We would begin with a leadership training laboratory that lasted a week. It was not merely a matter of my wanting to get close to people. I became insecure, because I thought I might just be trying to get back my large family and the wonderful experience of growing up in it.

But now I realize that was not the case, except for my insecurities about it. The idea was to achieve a greater approximation of unity – others might call it team-building. But I think on a religious level. Christ said, “Amen, amen” – he started his words the way we end ours in a prayer – “I tell you, if two or three of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am among them” (Matthew 18:19-20). Now that is a promise we can trust and rely on. The only problem is that it is so difficult to become one. I used to despair during the training sessions. Friday would come around and I would say, “I don’t believe that we’ve gotten off first base and I was at least hoping for a double or triple. The kids that are coming to us need us to hit a home run!” But there was always so much resistance to getting closer to each other, that we would have to make do with the shoddy relationships we shared with each other.

Partly, I was not mature enough and I did not have the skill-set to bring about more unity. Amateur teachers were often better than professional teachers we hired for our little school. The professionals already had hardened hearts and they were not about to grow. The question: how can we bring up these rough kids, if we have a staff that does not dare to bring anything up? One professional teacher was stuck on oppressive rules and could only think of ways to punish the children. Bringing it up made her miss the next day and made all the staff turn on me and say that I was not firm enough with the children. They were right. But the challenge was for me to grow – to get through the pain involved in becoming more firm and not such a bleeding heart, and her softening her heart and having some human feelings, some compassion and understanding for the children in her class. We would take them all to a swimming pool and three quarters of her children could not go into the pool because they were being punished. I asked the girls what they had done. In the bus they were trying to figure out where babies came from and she heard them talking!

In Cincinnati I learned a whole new vocabulary: what was the place someone was hung-up? What were each person’s hang-ups? Could we bring up an observation about another staff member? Was the person too up-tight? I later called “bringing something up” leveling with each other, using Virginia’s Satir’s Peoplemaking.[4] Some people could not handle any criticism and some could not handle any affection or love and some could not handle one or the other. Thus we talked about our growing edge. Where did we need to grow? When the vacation church school and day camp was going right, you could feel  yourself grow. Not only could a wound in the soul be uncovered and treated lovingly, but someone who could not bear an affectionate compliment was also listened to and attended with all empathy we could muster. Pastor Schulz had two beautiful daughters, who said, “Who needs a fuzzy?” It meant that they would give you a big hug. I was much too shy to ask for it. But it was incredible how we could all become aware of each other’s growing edges and could try to find ways to help each other face and work with them. It was the work of the soul.

When I spoke of the broken Christ and the smashed atom, I experienced that in the Cincinnati leadership training labs. Sometimes it seemed like a rock had hit the group and everyone split off in a different direction. A couple of sessions followed with insurmountable resistance. Then a reconciliation took place that overwhelmed us. The junior counselors were not with us; only the senior staff experienced these difficult sessions. When we came down to the junior staff and held hands in prayer,  all the junior staff burst into tears. But we entered a power of life, love, and renewal that was overwhelming. I could deal with a 14 year old who would fight me and bite me, if he could. We had rough kids and we could draw the line and set limits and they could not play one member of the staff off against the other. We had achieved an approximation of unity in the tough life forces of the inner city that could turn children around.

How can we bring them up if we can’t bring something up? How can teachers teach if they have forgotten what it is like to learn? You look at a computer and say, “It’s impossible for me to learn how to use that!” You muster your courage and learn one thing after another. How can we help others grow and mature, if we are unwilling to do so ourselves? With brave hearts, when two or three are gathered together, and move into greater approximations of unity, Christ sets to work setting miraculous personal learning and growth afoot. When our program was going right, you could feel yourself grow.

[1] “The Road Ahead: a Q&A with Bob Braveheart SR.,” Red Cloud Country, Vol. 4 Issue 1 (Summer 2012). See

[2] See Ronald W. Richardson, Creating a Healthier Church: Family Systems Theory, Leadership, and Congregational Life, (Minneapolis: Fortress press, 1196), pages 66ff. and 101ff. Richardson cites a funny story about porcupines in a very cold winter wanting to get close together for their body warmth, but having to stay away just the right distance not to stick each other with their needles. (p. 66)

[3] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Future of Man, (New York: Harper Torch Books, 1964), page 55: “the coming together of separate elements does nothing to eliminate their differences. On the contrary, it exalts them. In every practical sphere true union (that is to say, synthesis) does not confound; it differentiates.” Then page 265: “totalisation by its nature does not merely differentiate but personalizes what it unites.” And on page 316: “Must I again repeat the truth, of universal application, that if it be properly ordered union does not confound but differentiates?”

[4]Virginia Satir, Peoplemaking, (Palo Alto, California: Science and Behavior Books, Inc., 1972).


Written by peterkrey

September 1, 2012 at 9:27 pm

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