Earlier this month I had opportunity to meet Tod Bolsinger, author of Canoeing the Mountains. He addressed a group of pastors throughout the day and then joined some of us around the table that evening. (Kudos to Bob and Heather for hosting and bringing the brisket). The conversation was stimulating, Bolsinger is the kind of guy that is fun to hang out with. We discussed church and education and conflict and future projects and brisket among other things.
Something we did not talk about at length is systemic thought. However, in his book he demonstrates an obvious interest in systems. He quotes people like Donella H. Meadows and Edwin H. Friedman who write about such thinking. He warns us that to fail to see the systemic relationship between all living things is to miss out on most of what happens around us. He wants us to know that every part of the system affects every other part.
He borrows from the field of physics (Systemic thought crosses disciplines). The emotional field in a system is like gravity. Once relationships are formed, the pull of the relationship becomes more powerful than the individual. A reminder that relationships are more important than any one person in the system. Wendell Berry goes so far to say this about community, “to speak of the health of an isolated individual is a contradiction in terms.”
Bolsinger rightly brings this thinking to church. The church is a living system in relationship with God to accomplish God’s mission in the world so loved by God. Therefore, church is more than a simple collection of people. It is a network of interdependent relationships that share in the mission of God. This ought to be expected since even the Trinity is “best understood as a relationship of distinct persons who share one essence.”
I wish we would have had more time to talk. Canoeing with Bolsinger is surely a systemic adventure.