Celebrate Interdependence Day 2014!

7 Essential Books for Understanding Interdependence as Christians

I’ve recently read Fred Lehr’s book on Clergy Burnout.  What’s striking about this book is that he describes burnout not simply as function of unhealthy clergy, but as a codependent relationship between pastor(s) and laity. Congregations that expect their pastors to over-perform are often enabled to do less work than we have been called to do as members of Christ’s Body. Lehr also suggests that the journey from unhealthy congregations to healthy ones is marked by a shift in the clergy/laity relationship from codependency to interdependence.

One way of describing what John and I have offered in the Slow Church book is a vision of what it means for churches to mature as healthy, interdependent communities.  Recognizing the many ways that our deep brokenness as individuals, churches and societies is manifested in unhealthy congregations, we believe in God’s transforming power and in the possibility of cultivating congregations that are healthier for both pastors and laity.

Five years ago, as an alternative to the nationalism of the 4th of July and to the problematic concept of independence, Ragan Sutterfield, Brent Aldrich and myself, suggested that Christians should instead celebrate INTERdependence Day. I’m more convinced now than ever that we need to be guided by a vision of interdependence rather than one of independence. Our autonomy (and that’s what the American concept of independence has been reduced to), is literally killing us — breaking up our families, our neighborhoods, our churches, destroying the land, the water and the atmosphere.  We need a different way, and I am hopeful that churches are where we begin to demonstrate interdependence.

One of the most significant books in my theological formation was Madeleine L’Engle’s A Stone for a Pillow, which I probably read more than a dozen times over a period of about 5 years in my early twenties.  Her expansive depiction of God was immensely helpful to me, but even more, the eloquent way that she describes the interconnectedness of creation has stuck in my head all these years later.

The stars are often referred to in Genesis. El Shaddai took Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, out into the desert night to show him the stars and to make incredible promises. How glorious those stars must have been all those centuries ago when the planet was not circled by a corona of light form all our cities, by smog from our internal combustion engines. Jacob, lying on the ground, the stone under his head, would have seen the stars as we cann0t see them today … If we look at the makeup of the word disaster, dis-aster, we see dis, which means separation, and aster which means star.  So dis-aster is separation from the stars.  Such separation is dis-aster indeed.  When we are separated from the stars, the sea, each other, we are in danger of being separated from God. (17)


Sure, I want to be “good,” but can I consider myself “good” in a world where a small proportion of the people have too much to eat while the rest of the world is starving?  Where a small proportion of us live comfortably if not luxuriously, while the rest of the world is in favelas and barrios and ghettos or out on the streets?  Can I closet myself in “goodness” while there is injustice and prejudice and terrorism?

Perhaps I may not personally cheat the government, consider the poor expendable, murder, steal, mug or rape. Perhaps I may not use a knife with the intent to injure or kill. Perhaps I try to eat a diet suitable for a small planet.  But can I separate my own health from the rest of the world? my own good nutrition from the poor nutrition of billions?  my longing for peace from the warring in the Middle East or South America or Ireland or anywhere else at all?  In a universe where the lifting of the wings of a butterfly is felt across galaxies, I cannot isolate myself, because my separation may add to the starvation and the anger and the violence.

I am not burdening myself with a lot of guilts which are impossible for me to resolve. But to separate myself from the suffering of the world is dis-aster: If I call myself “good” is that not separation?  Jesus said: “Why do you call me good? Only my father is good.”  (52-53, emphasis added).

John and I are deeply convinced that our calling as churches is to bear witness to the interconnectedness of creation, and to the healing work that God is doing, mending the creation that has been — and continues to be — shattered by human rebellion, the kind of rebellion that goes against the very nature of creation, that believes that we can live autonomously.  Slow Church is our attempt to point churches in the direction of interdependence, to challenge ourselves and all of God’s people to seek to embody a different way: interdependence, not independence.

Celebrate INTERdependence Day this year, start reading the Slow Church book, or if you are reading it already, start discussing it with friends in your church, imagining together how you might live a more interdependent life, with one another and with your neighbors.  If you want some practical suggestions of how to start in this direction, check out the original list of ideas that Ragan, Brent and I compiled:

40 Ways to Celebrate Our Interdependence


IMAGE CREDIT: Creative Commons License via Wikimedia Commons


Ferguson and Our Broken Justice System
Scot McKnight – A Fellowship of Differents [Patheos Book Club]
Ken Wytsma – The Grand Paradox [Patheos Book Club]
Looking for Enemies
  • Bill Morgan

    this article is typical of liberal democratic theology. Interdependence was not what our forefathers had in mind when they formed this country. Educated democrats like Bill Ayers, etc. understand this and dislike the founders ideas and would much rather us be a socialistic country than a republic. There is a definite reason that
    thousands are fleeing to this country, and it is not because of our socialistic ideas.

    • erbks

      I bet you will be surprised to learn that I (the author of this piece) am neither liberal nor Democrat and that I think socialism is just as destructive as capitalism. I certainly agree that interdependence wasn’t what the founding fathers of the US had in mind, but I certainly am not of a mind to deify them. How well are the principles of the founding fathers working out for African-Americans or Native Americans?

      • Bill Morgan

        I don’t know how long this dialogue will continue, but if it does, it would be nice if i knew your first name, also. I seldom, rarely reply to any websites, but i really enjoy your book reviews.
        I am now 76 years old and have been around long enough to hear
        and somewhat understand your (and my) points of view.
        Whether we call it brainwashing or not, since the 1930s there has
        been a concerted effort to change the cultural and political independent mindset of the American public to a victim and dependency mindset–largely produced and developed by politicians in Washington (both Reps and Demos).
        Individuals and corporations in America give some 50-60 billion dollars every year voluntarily to local charities, in addition to the
        trillions they are forced to send to the federal government to either waste or spend for their re-elections. There are those that truly wish to destroy our capitalistic system. Should they succeed,
        unto which poor country south of us should they flee?
        I probably won’t keep up this dialogue, because I doubt it would
        be overly beneficial to either of us. Sincerely, bill morgan

        • erbks

          My name is Chris Smith (sorry, I didn’t include it in my previous reply, as I thought you would have seen that it is at the top of the post.)

          I agree that there are many messed-up things in our world, and that the answer is NOT to completely destroy systems that are in place. Rather, I’d love to see churches begin to embody alternative ways of being together (economies, etc).


          • Bill Morgan

            Dear Chris, Having read about your possible and numerous ministerial activities,
            I suspect you are an extremely busy person, and I don’t believe I should be taking up any more of your time by having you continually replying to my e-mails. I wish you well in all your worthy endeavors. Sincerely, bill morgan.
            Take care.