Toorak Uniting Church

Previous Page

Next Page

The goodness of God inspires to dismantle the "Third-space"

John 14: 1 – 14
Rev. Vladimir Korotkov
22 May 2011

1. Last week we heard the story about how Rose and the kids in her neighbourhood reacted to the overgrown garden and the darkened house of their unseen and unknown neighbour, Mr Wintergarten.1 To deal with their anxieties and fears, they created scary stories about him: that he is mean, has a dog like a wolf, a saltwater crocodile, and the worst thing, he eats kids!

Such an imaginative construction illustrates our human capacity to construct truth and knowledge about the stranger. It produces a "third space" that divides two different communities. The kids internalise and overcook the ingredients of this "third space", and it makes them anxious about any form of contact with this fearful stranger.

2. Today we accompanied Rose and the other kids along with her mum on their courageous journey to make contact with Mr Wintergarten, and hopefully to retrieve their football. Rose is still obsessed with her fantasy images of him as a child-eating stranger. Nothing external confirms this fear. Yet, first impressions are what they always are, as Mr Wintegarten is gruff and defensive of his own space in the presence of this unknown, little stranger.

This encounter of anxious strangers activates something new and different, "something he had not done in years... [he] opened his curtains." He stands up and moves! Colours and light spread through his dark room, and he gazes beyond his seclusion to connect with his neighbours as they walk out through his gate. And, then, he walks outside, talks to his dog, plays with a football and interacts with the neighbourhood kids.

This meeting and his movement, a transformative journey, symbolises in psychoanalytic terms the "working-through" of unconscious thoughts and meaning systems, memories, and feelings: The dimensions of the Third-Space. A "working-through", not in a consulting room, but in courageous interactions with others in everyday life. Eric Santner in On the Psychotheology of Every day Life describes this "working-through" as the

"process of traversing and dismantling defensive fantasies, the structured undeadness that keeps us from opening to the midst of life and the neighbour/stranger who dwells there with us."2

Mr Wintergaten is drawn out of his own inner Third-Space discourse into the world, as the stranger within himself enters into "attentiveness and curiosity about the world".3

Without this meeting of strangers, of two communities, each as anxious and fearful of as the other, this miracle of shared relationship between anxious trangers, play and a world full of colour and light would never have happened!

3. This simple children's story seeks to entice its readers into an ethic of participating and interacting in everyday life where strangers who initially are fearful of each other meet and form significant relationships.

Eric Santner boldly suggests that God is the name for the pressure to be alive in the world. And he does this by reinterpreting Freud. Santner writes that while Freud made negative assessments of religion, and that in a great measure he was correct where it disempowered people and cultures, psychoanalysis in its best practice and theory does have a spiritual dimension.4 Santner writes of his authorial intent:

For in the view I am distilling from the work of Freud and Rosenzweig, God is above all the name for the pressure to be alive to the world, to open to the too much pressure generated in large measure by the uncanny presence of my neighbour. The peculiar paradox in all this is that in our everyday life we are for the most part not open to this presence, to our being in the "midst of life.5

4. In our scripture reading, John 14: 1-14, Jesus prepares his community for change with the words, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.

As Bruce Epperly writes:

[With these words In John 14] Jesus asserts that theological reflection is holistic and relational. It presents a vision of the world that enables us to trust God's presence in our lives, especially in challenging situations. It also affirms that God is the source of protection as well as possibility. Belief is not merely the assent to certain statements about God's nature, but a relationship with the One who has both the love and resourcefulness to respond to our needs. Belief is relational...6

This relational belief is to express itself in relationality with the whole of life. When John's Jesus says, "There are many rooms in my Parent's house", the Greek word for rooms is monai, meaning "habitations". As John Petty informs us,

Monai actually means a temporary resting place for a traveller. It was associated with caravans. In those days, [some people] would go ahead of the caravan to "prepare a place" so that when the caravan arrived there, the camp ground had been prepared, the water supply located, and food prepared. The travellers in the caravan would have a place of comfort to spend the night.
Monai is less about ... the hereafter, in a house separate from the people you can't stand, and more about welcome, hospitality, and community for people travelling on a journey.7

So this image informs us that to follow Jesus today as "the way, the truth and the life" is not about creating exclusive, segregated Christian communities. It is to interact with other human beings, particularly strangers of varied or of no faith, and thereto discover new ways of being human and people of faith.

Our reading is a creative narrative or discourse that enable us to process the disabling Third-Space discourses that keep us separated from others who are different to us.

Yet, the process of change is always involves looking awry, observing our personal and community habits and contradictions. Which means recognising and dealing with complexity.

5. Observe habits and contradictions with generosity and courage; be continual learners in personal awareness and development.

I just want to make a few points this morning, and develop them in creative ways over coming Sundays.

Only a generous, loving spirit, heart and mind can begin to deal honestly with the realities of our contradictions. But this is not enough!

As the social psychologists Robert Fahey and Lisa Laskow Lahey write in their book, Immunity to Change, individual beliefs and the collective mindsets of our groups create natural and powerful immunity to change.

Change does not fail to occur because of insincerity. The heart patient is not insincere about his wish to keep living, even as he reaches for another cigarette. Change fails to occur because we mean both things. It fails to occur because we are a living contradiction.... with one foot on the [accelerator] and one foot on the brake".8

We are beings of contradiction: We keep our foot on the brake, we resist something while announcing we want the opposite! Why? Kegan and Lahey suggest it's because we are a mental, emotional and physical ecology, a complex, intricate survival system, that functions as an immune system to make us who we are, to protect us and to control anxiety and fear. And to keep things going the safe, same way! How do we change then? James Flaherty emphatically says: habits are so deeply set in our muscles, minds and hearts that "simply telling people how to change rarely works, and why making a resolution ... to change has the same low degree of success."9

Accepting and living with complexity is vital for change. Complexity is really about the relationship or gap between the complexity of the world and our own complexity of mind andfeelings.10 The challenge is how to develop a complexity of mind in the face of the complexity of the world! Kegan and Lahey suggest this is called an adaptive solution! This requires a new means of perceiving and thinking. The challenge is: how to make changes – in yourself and your community/organisation –enabled by developing greater mental complexity.

We can achieve this by developing a visible mental map revealing invisible dynamics - exposing elements of the Third Space we construct within ourselves: This helps us see, 1. How things are at the moment, 2. Why they are this way, and 3. What will actually need to change.

In a case study in this book, Peter, a CEO of a large financial service hired Kegan & Lahey as consultants to assist a review in the organisation of their personal and community immunity to change maps. Their immunity to change maps were set out in four columns with input from each other. That is: 1. our visible commitments, 2. our obstructive behaviours that work against our values and goals, 3. our hidden competing commitments, and 4. our hidden basic assumptions. As you can read in the table below, Peter's personal and group learning evolved as he saw his own contradictions. He desired values and outcomes were for him to be more receptive, flexible and open; yet his behaviour expressed opposite actions;

Peter’s (CEO) Immunity to Change Map
How he is preventing the very changes he really desires to make
Visible commitments / values
(Behavioural goals)
Doing/not doing instead
(Behaviour contradicts goals)
Hidden competing commitments
(competes with stated goals)
Big assumptions
The "one-big-thing"
  • Be more receptive to new ideas
  • Be more flexible to roles, responsibilities
  • Be more open to delegating, supporting new lines of authority
  • Was unreceptive to new ideas
  • Did not ask open-ended questions or seek the opinions of others often enough
  • Expected other to depend on him
  • Too quick to offer his opinion when others were not asking for it!
  • To have things done my way
  • To experience myself as having a direct impact
  • To feel the pride of ownership
  • To preserve my sense of myself as super problem solver, the one who knows best, the one who is in control
  • Intense need to control
  • View of himself as the one who knows best
  • Assuming that I will not be deeply satisfied unless I am the hero and super solver

Ron’s (CCO) Immunity to Change Map
How he is preventing the very changes he really desires to make
Visible commitments / values
(Behavioural goals)
Doing/not doing instead
(Behaviour contradicts goals)
Hidden competing commitments
Big assumptions
The "one-big-thing"
  • Be more forceful & direct communicator
  • Be more effective decision maker with exec leaders
  • Less seeking of approval & support of his boss
  • Not being direct
  • Over-checking in, over-consulting so as to reduce negative reactions
  • Trying to please everyone, especially his leader/CEO (My boss is an abuser & I like it!)
  • Overly tuned in to leader’s point of view
  • To be well-liked in community
  • To maintain the high regard of his leader/CEO
  • To experience the pleasure of a tight pilot/co-pilot relationship with CEO versus the pain of pulling in different directions
  • A self that derives deep satisfaction from alignment
  • Intense need to be liked
  • View of himself as "serve & obey"
  • I am a failure if I am not highly regarded
  • Mangages constant anxiety about keeping relationships at all costs

And he observed through others that he harboured hidden competing commitments: he wanted to have things done his way! Beneath all of this was his one big thing, his big assumption: an intense need to control, to be the one who knows, and to be the hero!

When all the executives had developed maps of their immune systems, they recognised how their own immunity was protecting them from some form of dread or anxiety.11 The members of the executive had known each other for years, but through this brave process they were coming to know each other in a new way. It made them all feel very vulnerable to engage in this self-assessment process.

Peter's and his COO (Chief Operating Officer), Ron, had worked together for 15 years. Ron's one big assumption was "the need to please". When they all shared their maps with each other, Peter on hearing Ron's immunity map said to him: I'm an abuser and you like it!" ... They laughed, but then Peter responded:

This is very counterproductive. We really do need to change this behaviour... We kind of knew this, deep down inside, that this kind of dance was going on, but we never had the language for it. We probably never had the courage to really sit down and face it directly, and the "one-big-thing" approach ... gave us a structure and the language, the ability to address this in a way that was seen as positive and not simply a personal attack. "(69) The work that we did really provided a common language for us all to talk about the challenges of personal development.

... to be able to talk about the issues that were important to us ... to talk about how we'd try and change behaviour individually and collectively, and why!

Change requires ongoing observation of our contradictions, uncovering contradictory values and behaviours underlying our stated values, creating a safe, supportive and challenging situation with others to gradually let go of old habits. We can change, no matter what age we are, neuro science has given evidence of the plasticity of the brain and the ability to learn to be different.

But it requires "developing a whole new appreciation of human courage. Courage involves the ability to take action and carry on even when we are afraid."12

The words of Jesus invite us to face the fear and the anxiety of complexity and ongoing change, knowing the goodness of God works with us to dismantle whatever keeps us from the way, the truth and the life of God and the world.

1Bob Graham, Rose meets Mr Wintergarten.
2Eric Santner, On the Psychotheology of Every day Life, 23.
3Santner, 17.
4Santner, 9.
5Santner, 9.
6Commentary by Bruce G. Epperly,
7John Petty,
8 Kegan & Lahey, Immunity to Change, 38.
9 James Flaherty, Coaching, 53.
10 Kegan & Lahey, 32.
11 Kegan & Lahey, 65.
12 Kegan & Lahey, 47.

© Rev. Vladimir Korotkov, 2011

Comments or suggestions on this page appreciated by email, Thanks.