March 31 – April 2, 2011: Eastern Mennonite University
This conference provided the time and space to hear voices in the fields of attachment research, brain imaging, theory of mind, and theology present reflections that only further support what Saint Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Rome. Essentially, creation reflects the power and attributes of God (Rom. 1:20). We heard from Sue Johnson about how conflicts within couples are really crises in attachment—put another way, they are cries for connection. Dan Siegel demonstrated how the mind has a penchant and need for connection both within and between brains. James Coan revealed particularly exciting brain imaging data, demonstrating that humans engage stressful situations much more effectively when in the presence of someone we trust than when alone. This data also suggests that a healthier paradigm for understanding the most basic human functional unit is not the isolated individual, but a connected group of two or more.
Concluding the conference, John Paul Lederach drew together what others had shared, exhibiting how these principles can be carried out in practical peace-building efforts; and Nancey Murphy called the participants to see how theology both reflects and can be energized by these emerging research findings. In the middle of these plenary sessions, I had the privilege of speaking in one of about twenty breakout sessions to about seventy attendees on the subject of sin and redemption. Given the nature of the conference, these weren’t words often spoken, and yet when understood in light of the science being presented, their weight seems to be all that much more heavy. For when we encounter brain MRI data that suggests that brains function under stress better when with other brains, it only reinforces what the Genesis account tells: that, as beings created in God’s image, our “imaging” reflects an “us” and an “our”, not a “me” and a “my” (Gen. 1:24); and that being alone is not a good thing (Gen 2:18).
We also explored how the toxic rupture of relationships, especially as they are subjected to the influence of both subtle and overwhelming shame, are the outcome of our tendency to choose things over God and people, isolating coping strategies over connecting relationships, all of which mirrors the drama of Genesis chapters 3 and 4. But then…Jesus. We discussed how he breaks through all of our most desperate insecure attachments. We saw how resurrection—a real event in history—changes all the rules about that very history. Not unlike—but beyond in its scope—earned secure attachment, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection resoundingly announces that God is on the move to reclaim people not only to himself, but to each other, breaking down all barriers that were erected in that beautiful, fateful garden, and opening our eyes once again to the reality of how we were created to live—not as individual units, isolated and ashamed, but reconciled, via Jesus’ mediation, to live out the dream of creation. If “making sense of our lives” leads to secure attachment, we who follow Jesus believe that ultimately, that sense is made in him.
Speaking of attachment. Talking about Jesus. What a great conversation.