The Family Diagram as a Tool

            I started attending Clergy Clinic in Family Emotional Process in 2012 led by staff at the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center. As a participant, I learned about Murray Bowen’s Family Systems’ Theory and began the work of exploring my family of origin.

            One assignment that is given to clergy clinic participants is to construct a family diagram. A family diagram is a graphic representation of family members and their relationships over at least three generations. It is different from a family tree because it includes more than just basic facts of our family. It also includes information about the kinds of relationships that exist between family members.

            Victoria Harrison shares in her book The Family Diagram & Family Research “Developing a family diagram with facts about the functioning of the family over generations is one way to transform the way one thinks about the family and human nature. It is a cure, of sorts, for simplistic cause-and-effect thinking and for blaming or diagnosing individuals…It is a tool for seeing the family as an emotional system, for recognizing patterns of reactivity that govern the lives of family members, and for observing the family as it adapts to circumstances of life. It is a tool for working on differentiation of self.”

            As Devon Miller shared in his blog post “The Art of Peacemaking”, one tool in our LMPC toolchest is Family Systems Theory. One concept of that theory is Differentiation of Self. As we lead churches through conflict mediation, we are aware that our level of maturity and functioning—differentiation of self—impacts the process. One way of understanding differentiation of self is to create a family diagram. A family diagram helps us to explore what our particular relationship patterns are within the family. It helps us see our part of the emotional process, and especially the patterns we use particularly when we experience increased anxiety. These patterns are deeply ingrained in us and will surface automatically in our relationships with family members and others outside the family. Once we become aware of our automatic reactions, we can try and modify them to help us grow into maturity. As we work on our own differentiation of self, we become better equipped for the task of peacemaking.

            The Family Diagram is a tool for working on differentiation of self which assists us in bringing our best selves to the mediation table. There are helpful resources we use to create family diagrams. One resource is the book The Family Diagram and Family Research which I quote in this post. There are also several software programs. One program we recommend exploring is GenoPro:          

            Ideally, people will make use of these resources while coaching with someone who has training in Bowen Family Systems’ Theory. We invite you to contact us at Lombard Mennonite Peace Center if you are interested in us assisting you with this work.

Tammy Martens

The Art of Peacemaking

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

– Matthew 5:9

Back in the 1960s, the psychologist Abraham Maslow famously wrote, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it is a nail.”

Over the past thirty years I’ve earned most of my living working as a cabinetmaker—first in a furniture factory, then for a contractor, and the last twenty years in a little shop in my backyard. Over the years I have assembled a collection of tools to fit my craft. I often tell people that if you walk into my shop, you will surely wonder how I build my cabinets with the meager collection of tools I have sitting around. Missing are the large power planers, sanders, jointers, and saws which other cabinetmakers might depend upon. I have chosen my tools carefully, mostly hand tools with a few select power tools that make my line of work easier.

I have kept my focus narrow—mostly built-in cabinetry and some furniture—and, thus, have been able to limit the amount of power tools that could clutter my shop. My tools are my friends, my companions in the shop. I know exactly where to reach for them to complete the task that sits in front of me. My tools seldom fail me unless I fail to care for them. I constantly take time out to hone the edges of my chisels and planes to make my work easier and more precise.

This blog is about the finer points of being a peacemaker. Peacemakers have their own set of tools they rely on, unique to the work in which they are involved. An activist protesting the war in Afghanistan has a different set of tools than the negotiator working with two disputants in a civil case. A young student fresh out of college working overseas as a Peace Corps volunteer is given a different set of tools than those a therapist working at salvaging a young couples marriage will rely on.

Over the years, Lombard Mennonite Peace Center has assembled its own set of tools based on our particular work of focusing primarily on connections within the church setting. It may be helping two congregants restore a fractured relationship; helping a congregation work through a potentially volatile decision; or helping a congregation navigate tensions between the minister and the congregation. With that in mind, it makes sense that the tools in our toolkit are designed specifically to help reconnect and restore fractured relationships.

Our tool chest includes Family Systems theory, restorative conversations, ethnography, intercultural competency, poetics, interpersonal mediation skills, sociology, and more—all from a strong biblical foundation. Our list of tools changes and evolves as the world and church encounters new circumstances.

Join us as we hone our tools and share with you the finer points of the art of peacemaking in our world!

Devon Miller

No Stomach for Change

What should churches do now that Covid is relatively over, and things are moving back together? If you answered that question by saying, “What my church really needs to do is . . . (fill in the blank),” I would encourage you to step back and think about that action just a little more.   

The Lombard Mennonite Peace Center staff has been heavily engaged with church leaders regarding post-Covid Christianity, the loss of membership and the changing landscape of church in America. As consultants who seek to design processes to resolve conflict, restore relationships, and find win/win solutions for congregations having difficulty moving forward together as a unified body, we face these questions. Church boards are wrestling with the new reality, wrestling with priorities regarding worship services, youth programming, finding volunteers, and, in it all, wrestling with one another. Some are keenly intent on recreating the past; others are keen to get busy and create the future. 

Tensions are running high. When such churches contact us and request we design a process to to get them unified and get them moving, after an initial assessment, I find myself giving a response that is not always well-received. I don’t think a congregational engagement process would be a good process to undertake at this time,” and I offer this analogy: 

Imagine, if you will, a family on a chartered boat out on Lake Michigan. Things start out well, but later on a cold front moves in and the wind picks up. The water grows choppy, and whitecaps appear. The boat heaves and falls and rolls from swell to swell. Soon everyone is feeling sick, very sick, hurling sick; the coolers of sandwiches and drinks go untouched. The boat finally makes its way back to harbor, and the family gathers its gear, disembarks and slowly makes it way to the parking lot. The ride home is slow and quiet.  

The sense I want to convey is the tenuous nature of a seasick stomach, cautious and protective, extremely wary of any triggering episode that might set it off. The stomach must be still; it cannot be pushed or cajoled and it can’t be ignored. The system shuts down and needs time to quietly reset.  

Anxiety is a great driver of hypervigilance and action. Church leaders have every reason to be concerned about their ministries and their churches, and the desire to get them up, or get them back, is normal. But church leaders are also stewards of congregational health, and sometimes leaders need to pause and wait. Is now the right time for this?   

Coming out of Covid, we are all a little disoriented and unable to focus on the horizon. Churches, in particular, have been hit hard and are nauseous, deeply fatigued, and sad. Churches are not ready for a rollercoaster ride of anything.  

We all must do what we can, where we can, but we must also be cognizant that the sheep are woozy. What can the church stomach at this time? Maybe a slow, quiet ride together is about all it can manage.  

Jay Wittmeyer