Good writing, with a strong point and with life oozing out.

On Beating the System(s)

September 1, 2006

We supplemented our weekly visit to The Greatest Pediatrician in The World today with a stop by our favorite Occupational Therapist. Cathy is cool as ever, and even more helpful than before. She’s given us a deeper keel for our recent challenges, and laid out some huge helps for going forward. Plus, she thinks Will is ‘really smart’ and ‘handsome’, and is aghast at Ella’s adorableness.

I was quite anxious about the visit, as I am growing weary of meeting with specialist after specialist, all of whom want to look into our life and habits and ideas and beliefs about our son. Everyone takes lots of notes, and gives lots of long looks, and writes reports and talks to other people about us. They suss us out, psychologize our situation, google research on the internet, and assign labels to our heartbreaks. I know that everyone wants to help, but welcoming people into our home and heads and hearts is leaving me a little overextended, I guess.

My fears were alleviated when I quickly got the sense that Cathy wasn’t looking to place us in some category, or pin some simplistic diagnosis to our chart. Instead, she started working with The Boy as she invited us to us talk about our experiences with him. Wave after wave of information flowed into her ears, and she asked occasional clarifying questions and made helpful comments along the way. She empathetically identified with our frustrations and offered some hope and levity where she could.

Instead of looking for an answer, or a diagnosis, or a place to fit us into the system, she was looking for – in her words—‘the story’. She wanted to hear all about everything: all of the pieces that fit together, and everything else, too. Isolated incidents, trends, theories, intuitions, suspicions, and whatever else we wanted to talk about. From this, she gleaned the bits that fit together the best, set the outliers aside for the time being, and constructed a narrative that best encompassed our experiences and their probable sources. So, no one cause, but rather several possible areas of concern that might cumulatively help our situation. A ‘story’ for us to try on, and live in for a while, and see if it helps us interpret our experience.

And when I should have been paying more attention, my suddenly lightened mind started ruminating about theology. About how for – at least the last several hundred years—theologians have been focused on systems, diagnosis, and problem-solving. Scholars take the narrative of the Bible and do their best to mine facts, figures, principles, truths, and ideas from the texts, and organize them into categories—God, history, humans, sin, salvation, Jesus, and so on. In fact, students of theology generally take at least one course in what is called ‘Systematic Theology’, where they look at these categories in turn to learn how to categorize their world and the people in it.

A famous wag once said that God’s word was made flesh in Jesus, and ever since, we’ve been trying to put it back into words. It occurred to me today that the Bible is a story which we’ve been given, and which we work hard to translate into a system—a nonlinear, non-narrative, propositional set of facts and ideas. Instead of leaving the disparate elements as-is, we tend to use the predominating ideas to interpret (or ignore!) the less dominant ones. So, for example, the famous tension between human choice and divine direction is not left to be a conundrum or a mystery—instead, theologians call us to choose sides, dig in, and argue with the other guys.

All of which– in the light of my day today—seems pretty heartless and misguided. Why not leave the story to be a story? It seems to be God’s preferred method of communication. If it’s good enough for him, why can’t we endure it? Besides, who wants to be categorized, systematized, and theologized?

What if we just left it as the story of a good God who creates a gorgeous world. Who creates people, too, to live in collaborative creativity, but who rather tend toward alienation from each other and their creator. A story of this God breaking through to communicate his hopes and dreams to these people throughout the ages, and who finally comes in flesh himself to show them how it’s done. What if it is a story of communities who gather themselves into this narrative, doing their best to live in cooperation with this God, which project continues even to this day?

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3 Responses to “On Beating the System(s)”

  1. sparksfly says:

    man, you are good at what you do.

  2. p says:

    sounds nice, but your sort of sweeping the ‘human condition’ under the rug…

  3. kate says:

    A story. I love it.

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