Resist the Drama Triangle! - Vince Brackett

Last in the series: Leap of Faith 2016

Speaker's Notes



A while back I got involved writing a column for a blog that was billed as “productive conversations about the intersection of faith and the secular world”

  • It was great fun!

  • I loved getting a chance to be in conversation with others who, for example, saw faith and science as partners, not enemies

  • Or who wanted to build bridges in the model of Jesus, rather than erect walls between religious and nonreligious peoples


So my friend Dave, who was the moderator of this blog, has this super thoughtful friend, a secular-Jewish woman, and he pitches to her getting involved in the blog

  • The goal is to offer religious and nonreligious Americans a place to connect, Dave tells her.

  • And she's entirely intrigued...


“BUT,” she says...


“Those religious people worry me. They’re trying to take over the country. We nonreligious people are under constant assault by them.”


You know, Dave responds, did she realize that the religious people he talked to felt very much the same about her and her friends—that they were the ones trying to take over the country?


“But how could they possibly feel that way?” she asked genuinely confused. “My friends and I are such nice people!”


Fascinating, right?!

  • Both sides of the religious and non religious divide feel under attack from the other side, and worried about other side taking over society...

  • On both sides, the story they tell about themselves in relation to the other is the same

  • Kinda makes you want to get everyone in one room and just say: “Guys, real talk time… seriously!"


Divides like this in our world, where both sides understand themselves as under attack from the other side, can often play out in far more high stakes ways

  • We Chicagoans know this full-well right now after the attempted Trump rally at UIC

  • It can feel like no amount of real talk will build genuine understanding across that divide


Or, what about on a more interpersonal level?

  • Doesn’t this tell the story of many of the conflicts in our families or marriages or work relationships?

  • Both sides understand themselves as under attack from the other side


I’m wondering this morning: what do we do about this!?

  • It is a phenomenon that happens all the time, in seemingly every walk of life


Well, you may know, BLV has been marking the historic church season of Lent (the 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday) with a series of talks and experiences encouraging us to pray a heck of a lot for connection in the midst of contentiousness, like these sorts of divides I mention

  • We’ve called it our "Leap of Faith” for Lent 2016

  • Because the idea is for as many of us in this community as possible choosing to sacrifice some time every day (and we want to acknowledge, in the busy-ness and stress of urban American life, time IS a sacrifice)...

  • To pray for spiritual help, miraculous help even, for people in our city and in each of our lives to experience connection instead of just contentiousness

  • Jesus explained prayer of this type to his disciples saying that he gives any person who wishes to follow him “spiritual authority”

    • As if to say, for every ill or challenge in our world or in our lives, consider the spiritual realities “below the surface”

    • While we certainly want to be tackling any such challenges at eye level, prayer is how you catackle what is unseen below the surface

    • Perhaps our prayers are not just “thinking nice thoughts”… perhaps they have actual power (or authority) to impact the spiritual side of things

  • Side note: we have one week left in this Prayer experiment, and if you’ve been participating, can I quickly encourage you (if you haven’t already done so) to share your Big Ask (the thing you’re praying for in your own life) with a friend here at BLV?

    • Share how it’s going trying to pray regularly, share any encouragements or discouragements along the way

    • There is no right or wrong thing to share, it’s just good to share!

    • Connecting with relating to other people about our spirituality (our joys and struggles) is usually the best stepping stone to any of us connecting with and relating to God

    • The more we build up experience engaging at that level with people, the more primed we are to perceive God engaging us at that level


Well, bringing our Leap of Faith series in for a landing this morning, again I ask...

  • What do we do in these all-too-common situations where both sides of a divide feel under attack from the other side?

  • Whether we’re talking about societal divides, or divides in our own every-day life...


For a suggestion, I want to look at a couple of the traditional scriptures from the Bible for the final week of Lent

  • Today is Palm Sunday

    • When churches have historically marked the beginning of the final chapter of Jesus’ life before he was crucified — he entered Jerusalem, with his disciples staging a sort-of kingly arrival laying out their cloaks and palm branches

    • So we’re going to look at the account of this from the Gospel of Luke

  • And this Friday is Good Friday

    • When churches remember the betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion of Jesus

    • We’ll also look at the account of this from the Gospel of Luke


As I read these scriptures, here’s what I want us to try to do...

  • Imagine yourself as someone in these scenes, observing Jesus

  • In contrast to the “under attack from the other side” self-understanding we often take, ask yourself:

    • What appears to be Jesus’ self-understanding?

  • And in contrast to the “they’re trying to take over” understanding of “the other side” we often take, ask yourself:

    • What appears to be Jesus’ understanding of those who are against him?




37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:


38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”


“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”


39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”


40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”


41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.”


Alright… and now fast forwarding to the events later that week for Jesus...




47b A crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”


49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.


51 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.



  • What appears to be Jesus’ self-understanding?

  • What appears to be Jesus’ understanding of those who are against him?


Here’s what I’m struck by:

  • In the first passage, I’m struck by Jesus weeping over those who are against him

    • It’s so much easier to direct indignence or anger at those on an opposing side… but Jesus appears to me to be in touch with something deeper in him than indignence or anger: sadness

  • In the second passage, I’m struck by how Jesus dials down his followers’ zeal (even though it was on his own behalf)

    • He seems not to have any need for his status to be defended or for his ego to be propped up… his followers obviously felt those needs, but not him

  • Jesus it seems is operating at a higher level than most of us tend to operate on

    • One in which he feels no need to cast himself in the role of “under attack” and others in the role of “attacker”

      • Talk about at peace and secure-in-oneself, right?

    • And, as a result, Jesus’ behavior and in-the-moment choices in these accounts are nothing short of inspiring, right?

      • It makes me think of college students during the civil rights movement of the 1960s

      • Training themselves through simulated brutality so they might have the strength to NOT respond in kind when they were verbally and physically abused during sit-ins

    • Something in the human soul is irresistibly drawn to stories of such genuinely heroic acts

      • They inspire us in a way that feels like: this is how life is meant to be lived


There's an idea from modern psychology that really captures for me what Jesus does here...


The idea is called "resist the drama triangle"

  • It looks like this: imagine any problem in your life is a triangle, and all of your thoughts and feelings about that problem are in the middle of the triangle

    • The three points of the triangles are like three different magnetic poles drawing our thoughts and feelings toward them

    • Each point represents a different role in which we might cast people involved in our problem

      • Villain (or Persecutor)

      • Victim

      • Rescuer

  • So, for example, say Kyle pokes fun at my pants in his opening welcome this morning, and as I’m coming up to start my talk I begin to feel insecure about my pants choice this morning (maybe this was too bold a style choice… I mean… is the church ready for this jelly?... You know… I don’t think they’re ready for this jelly)

    • So I’m facing a problem and I need to do something about it

    • According to the drama triangle, a big temptation for me would be to cast the roles of villain, victim, or rescuer

      • Kyle as villain

      • Me as victim

      • Perhaps you all as rescuer - like I passive aggressively try to win you all to my side, so that I feel justified in my anger at Kyle for poking fun at me

  • The encouragement is to “resist” the drama triangle

    • Because the three points have a magnetic pull!  They are tempting!

  • They each promise a surge of energy

    • If Kyle is a villain, then I’m fighting evil!

    • If I’m a victim, there’s energy there too, right? -- I am a victim, so I am warranted to do whatever needs to be done by any means necessary!

    • Or if you’re a rescuer, than you’re Batman! Say it to yourself like Christian Bale “I’m Batman”... energizing, right?

  • But, aside from a momentary feeling of being energizing, these roles are entirely unproductive to addressing actual problems

    • They only inflame drama… Hence the name: the drama triangle

    • Addressing the actual problem for me would be going to Kyle and expressing: my feelings were hurt after you were talking about my pants


OK, Kyle making fun of my pants is a silly example… but seriously, I find this profound


Essentially, I think we read today about Jesus Resisting the Drama Triangle

  • He knows he is in the final chapter of his life, and in time God reveals to him in prayer that that will include betrayal and pain and death.

  • How tempting it must have been for him to cast the roles of villain, victim, and rescuer.

  • But instead of inflaming drama, Jesus responds to his circumstance with grace, acceptance, humility, love (even of his enemy)...

  • So much more attractive and life-giving than the drama and posturing we’re all so used to, right?!


Here's the key question I think: How is Jesus able to do it?  How is he able to resist the drama triangle?

  • Say we are bought in on this… Like I said, something in our soul is just grabbed by Jesus’ example…

  • Do we just have to suck it up and operate on that higher Jesus-level?

  • Do we just have to get our act together already?

  • I mean, if I'm inspired, maybe that keeps me going for a bit

  • But eventually the reality will face me: this is hard


When my wife Keziah and I were in conflict the other week over a plan that fell through

  • In my mind, I was the victim, and she was the villain…

  • And a big problem for me is that I often take on the role of rescuer too

  • If you want to foster some bitterness toward other people in your life, do like I do sometimes and take on yourself BOTH the role of victim AND rescuer - THAT, my friends, will make you bitter


Or what about when some system in our consumerist society ends up leaving us feeling like we got the short end of the stick?

  • Last week it was my frustration with Comcast

  • When I’m thinking clearly I can say: of course these systems aren’t perfect… there’s no reason to be so worked up… hashtag first world problems, right?

  • BUT in the day-to-day grind of life, a long customer service call, or a case of not what getting what I expected… and suddenly the drama triangle has me

  • Because I, like so many of us in America, believe in a deep way that the customer is always right

  • So if I’m told I’m not right, I’m a victim!

  • And I need to prove to this customer service agent or this government office clerk that I’m a victim


Or I was in conversation with an extended family member recently who holds different political positions than I do

  • I realize looking back I was treating them arrogantly the whole time… pretending not to care… avoiding eye contact… looking for reasons to escape the interaction

  • Regardless of the content of our conversation, regardless of whether or not I agreed with what was being said, I was dismissive of an attempt my family member was making to connect with me

  • Because, in my mind, I was understanding my side as rescuer, and their side as villain




How is Jesus able to resist the drama triangle?"

  • The answer I think lies in the model and teaching he championed throughout his life:

  • Jesus is able to do it because he had fostered in his life a fuel source so rich, he didn't need to entertain the empty promises of the drama triangle's energy sources

  • His security, his ok-ness, his self-esteem, his hope for a happy future (come what may) was based in his continued experience that God would never fail to be good to him

    • As St. Paul would later put into words: that nothing could separate him from the love of God


Jesus didn't have to convince others he was under attack, he didn't have to elevate himself, and he didn't have to demonize anyone...

  • Because he was at peace already, he was in balance already, he was okay already.

  • Jesus’ inspiring actions were NOT the result of superhuman will-power to resist the drama triangle

    • It was because he had spent time receiving all the affirmation and love and care and hope he most deeply needed from God - through a lifestyle shot through with prayer and community

    • Jesus in fact thoughtfully avoided any notion of being considered superhuman, his goal was to be the most “human” human to ever live… to show humanity the fullest way to live

  • Participants in the 60s civil rights sit-ins were able to resist the Drama Triangle even as they experienced the height of cruelty NOT because of superhuman will-power

    • They were able to do it because they had spent time encouraging, supporting, training one another… they intentionally and wisely went into those sit-in experiences with fuel tanks filled up ahead of time

    • They knew full well that they never could have done it had they just tried to show up and “be non-violent”

    • Not superhumans! Far from it... College students!

    • Normal humans tapping into better resources than the fleeting promises of the Drama Triangle.


In the contentiousness of American society today, where both sides of any given divide feel “under attack” by the other side…

  • We need regular, everyday, normal humans (like us) to tap into such resources

  • To find a higher-level of peace, balance, ok-ness than we might think is possible

  • If you, like me, feel grieved by the gaps between religious and nonreligious, democrat and republican, conservative and liberal, majority and minority, anglo and people of color…

    • Standing for connection across these very real gaps will require major resources from you and me… it is not a comfortable effort

    • We need to know how and where to fuel up

  • Jesus’ life mission was to demonstrate that there is a good God who wants to offer this fuel

  • And the way this God does this is to give us directly all the affirmation, the love, the care, the hope we could ever need, so that we don’t need to resort to drama to try and grab at such things ourselves


Well I wonder how that proposition of receiving directly from God hits each of you?

  • Maybe you aren’t sure you’ve ever really experienced what I’m describing… you’re curious about it… but a little skeptical… or maybe a lot skeptical… like you’ve been hurt in church settings in the past

    • If that’s you, in a moment I would love to pray for you

    • That’s actually a perfectly wonderful space to be in… you don’t have to work yourself up into anything you’re not already feeling

    • Because this isn’t really something any of us do… it is something God unto us

  • Or maybe you aren’t sure you’ve ever really experienced what I’m describing because faith has always felt more like a resolve you had to come to or a conviction you had to courageously live up to

    • But you’re longing for this more peaceful sounding experience I’m talking about

    • I’d also like to pray for those of you in a moment

  • Or maybe what I’m describing sounds familiar to you.

    • And in that case in a moment I would love to pray for you too… my guess is that you, like me, are not superhuman, and your need for continued experience of God’s goodness never goes away


So… Stand with me. Let me pray for us...