Saturday, January 10, 2009

1.3 Systems Thinking

Donnella Meadows, systems thinker and founder of The Sustainability Institute, provides a concise definition of a system: “A system is an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized around some function or purpose.” (Meadows, 1998, p. 79) In considering women in the evangelical Christian church, the system is composed of the beliefs, practices, and the people that together form the religion. The parts of a system operate in relationships with each other to achieve a goal. Ervin Laszlo, a prominent systems writer and past president of the International Society for the Systems Sciences, describes that function in terms of values. “Values are goals which behavior strives to realize. Any activity which is oriented toward the accomplishment of some end is value-oriented activity.” (Laszlo, 1996, p. 78) The evangelical system is working together to embody the values of God’s truth and the good news of life in Christ.

However, a system is a collection of parts interacting with each other. It is not a single monolithic entity crossing the shortest distance to its goal. The multiple relationships wobble in and out of optimum performance of the system’s values as different parts change and influence the health of the whole. (O’Connor & McDermott, 1997, p. 27) “Feedback occurs when a change in one part of the system produces change in the whole system which ‘feed back’ through the systems and affect the original part again…. Negative feedback works to cancel out, or negate, changes.” (Kauffman, 1980, p. 20) Through a process of change and response, the system will correct itself to restore behavior in pursuit of the values.

Women’s experience of feeling “other” rather than part of the evangelical Christian whole is a manifestation of non-optimum performance. It represents a skewed relationship that undermines the values we are called to in the gospel. In particular, it is a digression from Jesus own engagement with women. This pattern creates a void where the insights and connections with women’s wisdom should be. Margaret Wheatley, a systems writer and consultant, suggests the following:

If a system is in trouble, this indicates that it lacks sufficient access to itself. It might be lacking information, it might have lost clarity about who it is, it might have troubled relationships, it might be ignoring those who have valuable insights. (Wheatley, 1999, p. 145)

I anticipate that by heeding feedback from women’s point of view we might move toward a more full articulation and practice of our sacred text and faith community. Incorporating the story as told by women recognizes a new significance of part of the whole Christian body. It will also support the church’s efforts to engage women with the gospel as women hear their own lives represented in the community’s self expression.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.