I know no one who is self-sustaining. Someone I don’t even know roasted and ground the coffee my wife had for breakfast today.

An army of people made the car I will drive to work.

An army of  farmers, clothiers, cooks, teachers, doctors, technicians and janitors and waiters prop up our everyday lives. We are pampered by chefs, mechanics and IT experts.

We say, “She lives alone,” but she or he doesn’t. We all live in clans.

And we always have. We come from people: spouses, parents, grandparents, siblings, uncles, cousins, nephews,  pet dogs and cats innumerable.  We inhabit the thundering herd of family, are run over by it and run over it repeatedly.

We say, “She’s single.” She’s not and he’s not.  She’s double; he’s triple. People surround her, in her apartment. People surround him, at work, on the street, on the TV.

Tonight I lie on my bed in my own private bedroom blogging, creating ideas for my people, all around me on the internet, my readers. I’m not alone, even when I am alone.  I  live in a house in a community, in a family, a member of a  tribe.  Recently I borrowed a wheel barrow, from my neighbor Ted.  Last night,  I called  my mom to chat. I dissolved into the safe, familiar niche of my own people. My people work hard; our unincorporated family concern is to care for hurting people with broken lives and we have too much stuff.

No one I know lives alone at Walden Pond. I ran into a teenager at Starbucks last week who had just moved back home. He was sick of stealing food from Ralphs and sleeping in an abandon Henry’s store. He had a moment of clarity, otherwise known as malnutrition, and he moved home. He is a social being with social needs and a social dysfunction.

We try to fix social dysfunction. We create schools and churches and counseling centers. We labor passionately  to enrich each other, but our work too often treats the member of the tribe as a solitary individual. The caregivers in our schools and churches are often blind to the social network students deeply inhabit. We see a student, before us, and think them autonomous. They are not. They have come to us from people, and they will go back to people and they come needy for  love and they come in conflict with parents and in flight from them and in a mad rush toward them all at once.

The drug addicted father who I  know has a family he buys drugs from down by the beach. The recovering drug addicted  has a family group he attends to help him not return to smoke and drop and swirl with his fellow users.

The woman who didn’t make it to work sane last week had a reason. She was emotionally beaten up in the car on the way to work by her mother.  She turned the car and took her mom home and came back to work crying. She didn’t  know what to do with this. Another older mom found her and cried with her in a side room. Mom to mom, they sat together with tears, trying to shore up the broken relational bridge back at home.

This is the deal. They come to us, to us who are teachers and counselors and pastors  pre-conflicted, mid-conflicted and post-traumatic conflicted, and we march them through math, reading,  science, theology and therapy as if they are solitary brains, thinking. They are not. They are conflicted brains thinking, conflicted with the thinking of ten to five hundred other voices.  They are communities of thought. They think like their parents did. They think like their friends do. They think in systematic, conventional, group-minded patterns.

Take the church, as a helping institution. At the  church, valuing the individual as we do, we rush into its practice of pedagogy in the darkest of unenlightened ways. We set up conventional structures — women’s ministry, children’s ministry, youth ministry, men’s ministry, young married ministry, singles ministry. And by these artificial constructs, we divide and disassociate. Each woman or man or child is treated only as a woman or man or child, not a husband or wife or girl friend or boyfriend or daughter or son or member of a work force or community. People live in teams, but we treat them like they are individuated sports heroes or like solo movie villains with no accomplices. People are best understood as  plural yet we keep trying to teach and heal them as solitary individuals.

Put plainly, the shocking thing about helping institutions is this: the people we serve live socially integrated, intergenerational lives and yet we keep putting them in age-graded, gender-specific,  discipline-generated cells where they get no help at all on how to go out and live in community.

The young mother needs the folkloric truths of the old mother and father.

The good, safe father needs to be the mentor to the young girl who doesn’t have a father.

The old man needs the comfort of a child.

The child struggling to read needs to be adopted by a new grandma who will read with her.

The young woman needs the young man to be her friend before he is her lover.

Our counsleors, pastors and teachers need the care of each other to understand how they are so similar to the people they are trying to help.

We live life mixed together, intergenerational not aged-graded,  more human than genderized,  social not individuated,  tribal and interdependent and integrated.

And so we need to be instructed, therapized and healed in social, collective and collaborative ways.

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