With this post, I begin a sub-series about connection within the series on relational spirituality. I may end up doing another category on connection before it's over. Connection is such a buzz word these days. But I want to focus in on the feminist scholars, psychotherapists, writers, theorists who have been so much a part of the relational revolution in psychology and relationships: The Stone Center Community. Some of these names like Carol Gilligan (her writings were critiqued by the authors of Same Difference.) and Jean Baker Miller may be already known to you. This group of women (and men) have produced these books We Have to Talk: Healing Dialogues Between Men and Women by Samuel Shen and Janet Surrey, The Complexity of Connection ed. by Judith Jordan, Maureen Walker, and Linda Hartling, How Connections Heal: Stories from Relational-Cultural Therapy by Maureen Walker and Wendy Rosen, The Healing Connection by Jean Baker Miller and Irene Pierce Stiver, Women's Growth in Connection Judith Jordan, Alexandra Kaplan, Jean Baker Miller, Irene Stiver, and Janet Surrey, and This Changes Everything by Christina Robb. In the words of Mary Pipher (author of Reviving Ophelia) these women were a "group of feminist academics who changed the world one research paper at a time." As a man, I have found most of these works to be engaging, stimulating, thought provoking, and illuminating. For you male blog readers, I invite you to come along and enjoy the ride.
In my blog title is a quote from one of the pioneers, Jean Baker Miller. The quote comes from We Have to Talk. It is found in the section, "The Question Mothers Always Ask: 'What Can I do About My Son?" Back in the 50's influential psychologists encouraged mothers not to hold on to their sons--there was this theory that too much of a mother connection encouraged sons to be weak or they could turn out to be homosexuals. The question raised in this context of the book is "Can you get 'too close' to your son?" Assuming you have been reading my last few posts, this question quite naturally pops up with entrenched psychoanalytical theories of separation, individuation, independence, etc. Miller is quoted in response, "You can never have too much of a good connection."
First of all, what's your reaction to that statement? I would like to broaden it out to not just sons and mothers, but to other relationships, as well. It seems to me that Scripture itself acknowledges the significant emotional depth in relationships and friendships: "Some companions are only good for idle talk, but a friend may stick closer than a brother" ( Prov. 18:24 That phrase "stick closer" comes from the same word family as word "clung" we looked at in Ruth's passionate clinging to Naomi).
Can we never have enough of a good connection in relationships with spouse? Children? Relatives? Friends? Friendships between men and women?
Let's look at some basics on their groundbreaking connection model:
1. Human connection, not individual autonomy, is at the center of a healthy psychological growth.
That's the first one. This is utterly so radical from the autonomous separated self situated in psychoanalytic theory and pop psychology. I came across this striking observation by theologian David Cunningham in an article published in the Toronto Journal of Theology. He lists several Christian theologians who were writing on the Trinity. However, he noted, "Although most writiers believe that the doctrine of the Trinity can act as a hedge against the individualism and privatization that so thoroughly dominate the post/modern culture, they continue to employ language that is easily co-opted into that very individualistic framework. We have become so convinced that we are, first and foremost, individuals--and that only later do we come into relationships--that we find it difficult to image how 'relationality' can describe anything other than contingent moments of communication among otherwise discreet individuals." Cunningham suggests that "The rise of the self" has resulted in the "glorification of the isolated individual." He adds "Our culture is profoundly anti-Trinitarian. At every level, through practically every system and structure, we are discouraged from allowing our lives to become too tightly intertwined with the lives of others." Cunningham, by the way, is not a part of the feminist Stone Center Group.
He's professor of theology at Seabury-Western. He has a rich essay on the Trinity in The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology.
While I don't agree with the feminist theory that human connection (leaving out the Trinity) is the center of healthy psychological growth by any means, I am at one with them when they observe human autonomy is not at the center. A secular anthropological approach to relationality and connection falls short does it not, for we are "connected, historical, sexual, bodyspirits in communion with each other and God" (James Olthuis). I would say communion/connectedness with God and others is at the center of healthy spiritual and psychological growth.
That being said, I find good insights from these feminists, for their model comports much stronger with a Trinitarian model of relationality than the individualistic model of spirituality. It seems to me we Evangelicals have so privatized spirituality in recent decades, with an individualistic emphasis on "quiet time" and listening to God as the heart and core of evangelical spirituality. We do need good models of relational spirituality and relational spiritual formation.
2. In addition to the "I" and "you," there is a third element in human experience called the "we." This "we"--the connection, or the relationship--has qualities of its own that can be described and developed."
I like that. Do we westerners have problems in affirming the "we" in our relationships beyond the marriage? The "I/you" of psychoanalytic posturing in marriages, therapy, friendships, partnerships, etc. needs reframing.
3. Psychological development is shaped by our experiences of connection and disconnection in relationships and the meanings we construct around these. These experiences in relationships are shaped in turn by personal, familial, and cultural forces.
4. Male and female relational development is shaped differently, along different pathways. In Western culture women have 'carried' the responsibility for relationships and for fostering the development of others.
Shem and Surrey note "the distortion of girl's relational voice at adolescence in dominant, mainstream culture." They observe "Boy's relational voice, too, has been denied and distorted in the dominant culture."
They note that many popular messages by professional scholars have been both to men and women, "we all might as well accept the barrier between men and women and figure out how to live respectfully side by side." They note many have sounded the message that our gender differences are "biologically determined, 'instinctive,' basically unchangeable." They assert "We reject this pessimistic view." In their vision of connection:
"It is essential for both men and women to move out of a sense of personal deficiency, pathology, or blame--we are all (hear that men?) called on to participate in this cultural transformation of relationship."