People are Like Cells

12700366375_b4cb45c263Over the weekend, Nashotah House hosted a Family Systems Symposium. Our teacher, Dr. David Lee Jones, a Nashotah House affiliate professor in pastoral theology, led us through Bowen Theory in lectures, personal stories, video clips, and case study examples. Dr. Jones – soft spoken and kind – possesses an incredibly creative, humorous, and engaging teaching style.  He brings many years of experience to the table as a pastor, counselor, and teacher. His lectures were lively because they were so infused with real life stories from his past. I laughed quite a bit through the weekend, and at a couple points, had to hold back tears.

Bowen Theory is based not on psychology, but on cell biology. In the 1950s psychiatrist Murray Bowen, began to notice that humans developed much like cells matured. A mature (differentiated) cell has a balanced porosity – it can absorb the right amount of nutrients as well as excrete the appropriate amount of waste.  The nucleus and membrane function properly, working together to create equilibrium. Looking at cellular development, Bowen learned a great deal about how human systems (like the family) work. To function healthily, persons need to possess a “separate connectedness” just like cells. Like humans, if one cell begins to overfunction, another will underfunction and an unhealthy imbalance will occur. The theory is about how to mature in human relationships by looking at oneself and one’s functional role in situations of tension.

Bowen Theory is non-diagnostic. The approach is inward. I don’t try to analyze and assess other persons in the conflict. I look at my response to the situation, my disposition. One major facet of the theory is to maintain a non-reactive presence in the face of anxiety, conflict, or adversity. Dr. Jones gave the example of being like a duck. In a conflict, your “feet” may be kicking like crazy under the water, but you can choose to glide along the surface with grace and ease. The approach is not to necessarily extinguish anxiety, but to deal with it in a non-reactive way.12700576263_58547c0d38

Over the weekend, we discussed the theory mostly in the context of parochial situations. Since Dr. Jones does a lot of interim pastoring and intervention work with churches, his insight is astounding. Participants couldn’t get enough of his lecturing. He could’ve kept going right through the scheduled lunch break and I don’t know if anyone would’ve complained.

The takeaway from this kind of symposium is invaluable. In one weekend, I got such a better grasp of how human beings (myself included) function in situations of conflict and anxiety, and how to approach and diffuse those situations by paying attention to yourself rather than pointing the finger at others. As Dr. Jones commented, Family Systems Theory is a way of being, not doing. I am convinced that the information and training I received in the course of two days will forever impact my life and future ministry. These small symposiums are a gem. I’m awaiting the House to announce what’s next…








About nashotahhouse

Located in Nashotah, Wisconsin, Nashotah House Theological Seminary is the oldest institute of higher education in the state of Wisconsin. Founded in 1842 by a Missionary Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Nashotah House belongs to the Anglican tradition of worship, theology and spirituality. That is, Nashotah House traces her roots to the Church of England and locates herself within the worldwide Anglican Communion. Comprehending the fundamental disciplines of Holy Scripture, Theology, Church History, Spirituality and Pastoral Ministry, the curriculum at Nashotah House not only roots our students in the ancient wisdom of the Church, it prepares and empowers them to communicate the Gospel to the world today.