The Volcano in Your Backyard: The Micro-Worldview of a Honeymoon from Hell

Part 6 in series Finding God in Hollywood: Soul-Nourishing Practices in a Soul-Deadening World

No one plans on a volcanic eruption in their own backyard, but it isn’t as uncommon as one might think. Not when there are so many unseen forces at work in the depths of our worldview.

by Gary David Stratton • Senior Editor

Volcán de Parícutin at the height of its eruption.
Volcán de Parícutin at the height of its eruption.

It was a perfect winter’s day in central Mexico. The skies were clear and the temperatures cool. As Dionisio and Paula Pulido labored side-by-side in their cornfield, they could never have imagined the horror about to erupt between them.

When Dionisio first heard the unusual rumblings, he glanced at the sunny skies and reassured his wife, “It must be thunder from a distant storm.” When they felt the first tremors, they laughed again and joked, “Who’s afraid of a little earthquake?”

It was a strategy that nearly cost them their lives.

Little did they know that deep beneath the unsuspecting couple a massive magma dome was slowly pushing a conduit of molten rock directly towards their farm. Only when the tremors became nearly constant and strong enough to cause nearby trees to sway did Dionisio and Paula suddenly realize something was seriously amiss. Transfixed by the movement of the trees, they looked up just in time to see the ground in front of them suddenly swell 10 feet in the air and crack open like an egg. Smoke and volcanic ash poured out of the crack with a hiss and the foul smell of sulfur. Dionisio and Paula ran for the local village Parícutin for help.

By the time they returned with their friends the next day the build up of ash and lava had created a giant cinder cone.  Scientists rushed from around the world to witness the birth of the massive Volcán de Parícutin. In less than a year, the Pulido’s once tranquil cornfield towered 1,500 feet over the Mexican countryside burying two towns in a massive lava flow nearly ten miles in diameter.

Volcanic Honeymoon

It was a perfect summer day in Saint Tropez . The azure waters beckoned Kevin and Jeannie[1] on the first morning of their Mediterranean honeymoon. Jeannie had always dreamed of spending the first week of her marriage on the French Riviera and the travel site made their romantic hotel look almost too-good-to-be-true. So it came as quite a shock when they quickly realized that the travel site had failed to mention that their hotel faced one of the most famous nude beaches in the world.

Saint Tropez Beach: The perfect destination spot for a worldview volcano.
Saint Tropez: The perfect destination spot for a worldview volcanic eruption.

Kevin immediately suggested they find another location, but Jeannie was determined to live out her fantasy honeymoon. A little too determined, Kevin thought. Like rumblings of distant thunder out of clear blue sky, both lovers felt the unusual tremors in their relationship, but nothing could have prepared them for the volcano about to erupt between them.

Kevin’s own life story had prepared him for this very moment… or so he thought.  He had grown up in a family that rarely spoke of negative emotions (even when it was obvious someone was hurting.) He had learned the value of striving to make a hurting person happy without directly engaging their pain. Kevin reassured himself, “She’s just uncomfortable with her own body.” So for the rest of the day, while they kept their clothes on (thank you!), Kevin carefully kept his eyes on Jeannie and never missed an opportunity to tell her how beautiful she was.

It was a strategy that nearly cost them their marriage.

Rather than making things better, Kevin's 'Avoider' Strategy only contributed to the eruption that followed.
Rather than making things better, Kevin’s ‘Avoider’ Strategy only contributed to the eruption that followed.

Little did they know that deep beneath their relationship, the hidden story of Jeannie’s abuse at the hands of a neighbor (long repressed by Jeannie) had created a massive magma dome of pain that was slowly pushing a conduit of molten mistrust toward the unsuspecting couple. Without realizing it, Kevin had hit upon the exact strategy of flattery and professed affection Jeannie’s neighbor had used to lure her into abuse. As the day wore on, Jeannie strove to stifle a rising sense of inexplicable panic as she bristled at Kevin’s every affirming word and stiffened at his every touch.

It was only a matter of time before the eruption broke the surface. That night the lovemaking that had been so simple and easy the evening before suddenly felt like an unspeakable horror to Jeannie. When Kevin initiated a tender embrace, Jeannie’s soul cracked wide open as a decade of hissing ash and lava came pouring out.

Panicked and confused, Jeannie turned to her own pet strategy for surviving childhood. She had learned the value of being the perfect “good girl” in order to maintain order in her chaotic inner life.  So she willed her way through the rest of the evening like the perfect Christian wife striving to cover up her lack of emotional participation.

Jeannie's life strategy of maintaining 'perfection' now included her personal checklist for being the perfect Christian wife.
Jeannie’s life strategy of maintaining ‘perfection’ now included her personal checklist for being the perfect Christian wife.

Her strategy was nearly as damaging as Kevin’s.  While he was incapable of addressing it, her dissociation was obvious to him. Fearing she was pulling away, Kevin began redoubling the very strategy that was driving Jeannie away until all hope of physical or emotional intimacy was lost.

By the end of their week in “paradise,” the build up of ash and lava had created a cinder cone over 1500 feet high between them. Within a year, Kevin and Jeannie’s once tranquil relationship was buried in a massive lava flow of pain and rejection neither ever saw coming.

How could they? It erupted from much too deep in their worldview for either of them to detect.

Micro-Worldviews

While we inherit much of our worldview from the macro-worldview of our parents, family, church and society there is more to us than the cultural patterns we’ve assimilated. Our highly individualized personality traits and life experiences foster a unique micro-worldview that often causes us to interpret events and make decisions very differently than anyone around us.

Worldview Volcano

Even children who grow up in the same household often end up with radically different worldviews due to the differences in their birth order, family system, and personal experiences outside the home.  Like the layers of a volcano, the Story of our life events, family system, and key relationships (Level 1) often lead to a highly personalized Value and Belief System (Level 2), which in turn gives rise to unique personal Strategies, Rules and Roles (Level 3) that erupt in our lives in our Behaviors and Actions (Level 1).  (See, Casablanca and the Four Levels of Worldview.) [2]

In Kevin and Jeannie’s case, their Christian macro-worldview was no match for the more powerful and personal micro-worldviews formed in their childhood experiences. While both of their parents had strong marriages, and their church’s premarital classes and mentoring had taught them the Christian macro-worldview for building a healthy marriage, there were altogether different stories shaping their marriage.

Intellectually, Jeannie knew Kevin was not an abuser. In fact, she didn’t even consciously remember the abuse. Yet, emotionally, she knew something was wrong. Intellectually, Kevin knew that Jeannie wasn’t reacting to him. Emotionally, he couldn’t help feeling rejected.

Of course, this only increased Jeannie’s sense of self-hatred.  She had built her life around being a “perfect Christian.” Now, she couldn’t even be a decent wife. And of course, Kevin had to ‘fix’ everything not by asking, “What’s wrong?”, but by desperately attempting to alter Jeannie’s emotions. The story, values and belief system, and strategies of their personal micro-worldview was short-circuiting their every attempt to live out the Christian marriage macro-worldview they professed. And Kevin and Jeannie are not alone.

While their eruption may be more extreme than others, it is a reality faced by nearly everyone on earth.

Here’s why?

Next: Gut-Level Knowledge: Micro-worldviews, Attachment Theory and the Enneagram

[1] Not their real names.

[2] What I am calling the ‘Story’ level of worldview here, is what philosopher James K. A. Smith refers to as the ‘pre-worldview’ level of ‘social Imaginary.’  “The social imaginary’ is an affective, noncognitive understanding of the world. It is described as an imaginary (rather than a theory) because it is fueled by the stuff of the imagination rather than the intellect: it is made up of, and embedded in, stories, narratives, myths, and icons. These visions capture our hearts and imaginations by “lining” our imagination, as it were— providing us with frameworks of “meaning” by which we make sense of our world and our calling in it. An irreducible understanding of the world resides in our intuitive, precognitive grasp of these stories. Desiring the Kingdom (Cultural Liturgies): Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Publishing Group, 2009), p. 68.

 

The Spiritual Lives of Christian College Students, by Todd W. Hall, PhD

An introduction to five-part series based upon Todd’s five-year research project on the spirituality of students at Christian colleges.

The data from more than 3,000 Christian college students across the United States and Canada provides a fascinating snapshot of how students are doing spiritually.

by Todd W. Hall, PhD

One of the most important goals of Christian colleges and universities is to help students grow spiritually and develop their character. Likewise, one of the biggest challenges universities like Biola face is evaluating how we are doing in this area. In fact, secular accrediting agencies have begun asking such schools for evidence that they are assessing and improving student spiritual development, since it is a core part of our mission.

Spirituality can never be evaluated perfectly, but I believe we can obtain useful indicators of where people are in their spiritual development process. The whole issue of measuring spirituality is a complex one beyond the focus of this blog series, but I will address this in another blog post. Before we start measuring anything, however, we need a theologically and psychologically informed theory of spiritual maturity and development.

For the past 15 years, I have been working on such a model of spiritual development. The Reader’s Digest version is that theology, psychology and brain science are converging in suggesting that spiritual development is about loving relationships with God and others, and that relationships change our brain, soul, and ability to love. As author Robert Karen eloquently put it: “We are loved into loving.” I call this model “relational spirituality” (see articles on my relational spirituality model here).

This journey has led me to develop ways of measuring and assessing relational spirituality, which in turn led to the pursuit of research on the spirituality of students attending Christian colleges in the hopes of helping these colleges answer the crucial question: Are our students growing spiritually?

In 2003, I headed up a talented research team in launching of a large study designed to track the spiritual development of 500 Christian college students from freshman to senior year. Funded by The John Templeton Foundation and Biola University, the research involved in depth interviews and twice-a-year surveys about each student’s spiritual practices and relationship with God.

A year later, I began a second research project that allowed Christian colleges to measure 22 indicators of students’ spiritual lives using the Spiritual Transformation Inventory (STI) that I developed in the early stages of the longitudinal study. To date, more than 3,000 students from nearly 40 Christian colleges across the United States and Canada have participated. Together, the studies provide a fascinating snapshot of how students at Christian colleges are doing spiritually. And the results may surprise you.

Stay tuned for the next blog in the series as I offer the first of five brief reflections synthesized from five years of national data and the four-year longitudinal study.

Next: Christian College Students are Secure but Unpracticed Spiritually

Leading in a Dysfunctional System 3: Move Toward Your Strengths

Instead of allowing yourself to be pulled by the uncoordinated demands of a dysfunctional system, you need to push, gradually and incrementally, toward your strengths.

Part 3 in series: Leading in a Dysfunctional System.

by Todd W. Hall, PhD

This is the third entry in this series on leading in a dysfunctional system. Secure leaders make a conscious effort to move toward their strengths in spite of a dysfunctional system. Why? Because this is where you will create the most value for your organization, and secure leaders do what is best for the organization. A dysfunctional system (chaotic or rigid) doesn’t become healthier by itself. Secure leaders step up to the plate and create value even when other leaders or the organization don’t recognize that value. This moves the system in the direction of health.

First, what is a strength? A strength is not just an activity at which you excel. That’s certainly part of it, but it’s not the whole picture. When an activity is a strength for you, you will:

• Feel competent at it

• Feel compelled to start doing it

• Become immersed while doing it

• Feel fulfilled after doing it

Strengths, then, are activities you are naturally good at; but more than that, you feel compelled to engage in these activities. Instead of having to force yourself to start doing them, it’s just the opposite. You’ll find yourself engaging in these activities even when something else is a higher priority—call it “productive procrastination.” So you feel drawn to these activities before you start doing them. And once you start, you lose track of time because you become immersed in the activity. This experience is what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow.” When you experience flow in doing an activity, you easily focus because the activity is intrinsically enjoyable. When you’re done, you may feel physically tired, but you don’t feel emotionally drained; instead you feel a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. (See, How to Know You Belong in Hollywood: Creative Personalities Really are More Complex, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.)

For example, I enjoy teaching and speaking. When I am preparing to present a seminar on a topic I feel competent and interested in, I don’t have to force myself. I naturally gravitate toward spending time preparing. When I’m actually doing the presentation, I become immersed in a “flow” experience. It’s as if everything else fades away in the background and all my attention is focused on the presentation. After doing a presentation, or teaching a class, I am physically tired, but I feel emotionally invigorated.

So, how do you swim upstream in an unhealthy organization? As Marcus Buckingham puts it in Go Put Your Strengths to Work, you need to develop the “push” discipline. Instead of allowing yourself to be pulled by the uncoordinated demands of a dysfunctional system, you need to push, gradually and incrementally, toward your strengths.

Stay tuned for practical strategy #4: Push Toward Your Strengths.

Reflection: When do you experience flow?