Interdependence, by Mike Finch

Yesterday, I was teaching my organizational communication class, and we were going through the “main characteristics of systems theory”. There are eight main characteristics (that I won’t bore you with), but one of them stood out to me, as it really had several Christian truths embedded in it. The characteristic was ”interdependence.”

Interdependence means, “every part of the system has an effect on every other part of the system, and changing one part of the system will result in a change in another part of the system.” So it first means that we are in “systems,” and then second means that we impact the other members of the systems we are in.

So why does being a part of a system matter in terms of my faith? Well, we are a part of something that is more than even just the sum of its parts; we are the body of Christ. But we have an individual faith – a personal relationship with Christ? Right? And we often feel that we are alone in this world, right?

Well, in a very real sense, there is a gulf between us and the people around us that we are constantly trying, so imperfectly, to bridge. That is a part of the human condition – we are discreet entities that can only imperfectly communicate with the world around us through words and other methods (we have a lot of them these days with smart phones and digital media!). So yes, in one sense, we are separated, and can only communicate using imperfect tools. We are individuals, and we have a personal relationship with Christ separate from everyone else. True.

But while we are individual entities, and we might feel alone sometimes, we are not alone. We are in relationship with numerous other individuals within systems – and what we do affects the systems, and what others do in the systems affects us.

Why does this matter? Well, first, living in a system means you have community. Acts 2:42-47 discusses some of what it means to be in community. You work together! Often, people focus on this from the position of need, but really, we can look at this from the position of, “what do I have to give?”

This world has so much need – how can we give to one another? How can we share what we have to bless each other? How can I see the need in another and help to meet it? Not, “I have this need and they need to give me what they have because they are in community with me” – that’s not trusting God – but, “here’s what I have Lord, how can I use this for the benefit of my community?” (And when we have needs, we share that as well, not with an attitude of expectation, but with an attitude of gratitude). But we are in community! People care about us and we care about them!

So why would I want this? Well, living in a system means you matter! What you do is important. You affect those around you. 1 Corinthians 12:14-21 says that we not only have important functions within the system, but without each of our unique gifts, the rest of the body misses out on something. If you are they eye, and you decide not to be in the system, we all go a bit blind! If you are the foot, we all walk with a limp!

But Church is so full of hypocrites. I’ll just do it on my own, as I have a personal relationship with God, right? Well, sure, we’re all hypocrites. Peter denied Christ. Peter was a hypocrite. So, the rock on which God built the church, Peter, was a hypocrite. I think recognizing hypocrisy is really the first step in understanding our flawed nature! So you see hypocrites? Good! Now you know that you can join the system – with your hypocrisy – and we’ll all work at becoming more like Christ one step at a time. 

The last part of this idea of interdependence that really stuck out to me was that the concept is sometimes called, “constraints.” Why would interdependence be called “constraints,” and why, for the love of God, would I ever want to be constrained? I want to be FREE! Right? We’re Americans! Free!

Well, think about it. If you want to be rich, what are you doing? You are constraining yourself. You must work. You must save. You must be responsible for the things you have. The wealthier you are, the more restrained you are in many ways!

Let’s be more specific. I am a Lee professor. This is a great job, but it is full of constraints. I must, well, first, work! I must restrain my time. I must dress a certain way (it’s not too bad, but I need to at least look professorial!). I must hold to certain character standards. I had to go to school for seven extra years. Etc. etc. etc. There are many constraints! Now, what do I get for living within these constraints? I have a gratifying job that is fulfilling. I get paid! I am respected as a professor. I have a greater level of influence. I have connections. I get to work in a Christian environment. I have a great office. The list goes on and on and on.

Family. Children. Constraints. But every constraint gives you something in return.

Every time you do anything of significance, it will “constrain” you somehow. But the constraint, the responsibility, brings significance.

Now, in terms of significance, I think that Connie, the woman who cleans my floor in the Communication Arts building, or Barbara who cleaned the PCSU where my last office was (I miss her!), is just as significant as I am. They are indispensable parts of the mission of Lee. Without them, that community would walk with a limp. They don’t get the respect they deserve, but they are indispensable. Eternally, the last will be first and the first last, so never despise what might be perceived as a “lesser” part! Every single part is significant. We each need each other. The same is true in the church. The pastor might be the one getting the attention, but the stooped and quiet elderly woman who keeps to herself in the back row and is limited by painful arthritis, her contribution of prayer to the system is eternally significant.

Interdependence. Constraints. Community. Significance. You matter! Thank you for being the part that I cannot be. Together, we can be more than the sum of our parts!