The 1949 movie, Adventure In Baltimore, is about the family and parish of an Episcopal rector in 1905 North Baltimore, Maryland. Robert Young plays Dr. Sheldon and a teenage Shirley Temple is his free spirited oldest daughter Dinah. The interaction among Dr. Sheldon, Dinah, their family (mother/wife, two sons and another daughter), the senior warden and vestry, and the various members of the congregation gives concrete examples of the eight concepts of Bowen Family Systems Theory. Furthermore, the movie offers lessons in dealing with anxiety in a congregation and the dangers of the scapegoat mechanism in church conflict.
The title, Adventure in Baltimore, minimizes the real issue explored by the movie. A better title might be Getting Into Good Trouble. Clergy spouses and children are rarely prepared to recognize and effectively handle the problems that arise from the promise made at a priestly ordination to “do your best to pattern your life and that of your family in accordance with the teachings of Christ, so that they maybe a wholesome example to your people.”
The theological issues involved in mining this movie begin by asking: What does it mean for a church institutional system to expect that the non-ordained members of a clergy family “be adorned with all Christian virtues” and that the ordained person “do his or her best to pattern his or her life and that of his or her family in accordance with the teachings of Christ, so that they maybe a wholesome example to his or her people.” In other words, what standard would God expect of a person or persons drawn into the life of an ordained person by marriage or birth to uphold. Is this standard any different for non-ordained people who have a family and have chosen to pattern their lives in accordance with the teachings of Christ? What, then, does it mean for anyone to be “adorned with all Christian virtues?” Is our ecclesiology one where the priest (and by extension the priest’s family) be the people who should be the wholesome example or should such an expectation be placed on all who are baptized?
My hope is that the responses that form the conversation about this movie will illuminate Bowen Family Systems as well as Girard’s Scapegoat concept.
1. Differentiation of Self (Scale of Differentiation)
3. Nuclear Family Emotional System
4. Family Projection Process
5. Multigenerational Transmission Process
6. Sibling Position
7. Emotional Cutoff
8. Emotional Process in Society (Societal Regression)
9. Anxiety in a Congregation
10. The Scapegoat Mechanism in church conflict
You can engage the content of this movie through the questions I posed on my Workshop page.
Find more information about my thinking concerning Adventure in Baltimore here.