Richard Beck's Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality
is definitely one of my top books of the year--especially as one considers it from the angle of deep friendships between men and women. I blogged a little about it here and Richard interacted with my blog piece, here .
Richard thoughtfully interacted with the theory of "healthy boundaries" from an insider's perspective (social psychology). I greatly admired his boldness as Richard clearly articulated his doubts about healthy boundaries both in his book and in his blog.
To speak critically of "healthy boundaries" is almost to speak in an unrecognized foreign language or almost commit interpersonal-psychological treason--theoretically speaking. The therapeutic culture has clearly permeated interpersonal relationships in the world and among Christians. Theologians, pastors, Christian leaders all have common language of what is "healthy" in regard to emotional, cognitive, and relational boundaries.
The "theory" of healthy boundaries has empowered so many women in a man's world for just one important example as well as many others so it may be around a long time.
However, I still want to affirm that Richard is onto something when he addresses all the oneness passages in the New Testament--oneness that speaks of profound union or communion with one's neighbor (male or female). There is a profound, sacrificial love in which one loses one's "self" (one's own life or situation in the world) for the sake of the other. After Richard considers certain ways in which a parent sacrificially loves their child, he notes, "In all this we see how our notions of selfhood become intertwined and fused with the other to the point where the well-being of the other is how I define my selfhood!"
Again Richard brings us back to Jesus: "What is radical about the call of Jesus is that he extends this love not to just children and family but to the entire world, friends and enemies alike."
How does a person speak of a wholesome, deep union-love for one's child, spouse, and/or friend? Another professional in the field of psychology, popular author and psychotherapist, Stephanie Dowrick, states it this way: "Love connects us powerfully and it takes us way beyond our usual understandings of connection. "Connection" shes says, "already implies separation. Love transcends separation" (Seeking the Sacred).
Jean Vanier although he uses the term "fusion" the way most psychotherapists use it (and something to avoid) still has a deep understanding that we have all been called to communion, deep unity of others. And this is, no doubt what Richard sees too.
I'm not sure where this leaves us. But I do believe there are deep levels of selfhood in which we leave behind to love our spouses well, to love our children well, and to love our neighbor/friend well. This was called communion in stories of love (marriage, family, friendship, or enemies) before the advent of modern psychotherapy.
Perhaps one of the most beautiful things Richard's book calls us to, is to rethink boundaries of impurity ("disgust")for the sake of love and union.
That makes it one of my books of the year.