I have forgotten where I first read this,
“Sometimes I pray to the god of False Hope that his Love Brigade doesn’t draft me up for service, Again.”
How often have I been drafted by the brigade, willingly believing the propaganda of the quick fix, the effortless relationship and the inevitability of progress? When I am unwilling to do the hard work or in case of resurrection to have the work done to me, I am high-jacked, not just by the bad but often by the good rather than the best – Grant O Lord that I not “settle for” the first available, whatever that might be.
“How is retirement?” “It’s going very well, strange but fine,” is my usual reply. A common line is you look like you have really lost some weight?” After the third time, I latched onto, what is now, a standard response, “Oh, I am at least a thousand people lighter.” My cardiologist was thrilled that I had retired. All the numbers speak to my body being thrilled as well. Sleeping in on Sunday, an activity known in Alabama as “attending Bed-springs Baptist” has aroused no guilt. We did make it to Easter Day, let the record show.
I have devoted a lot of time getting my new office up and running. The car no longer automatically heads west from Shepherd Lane. Now it heads East instead, which is the direction of enlightenment. Now what?
After a very helpful pep talk from an old and valued friend, this is now my practice. Most days, I drive to 1049 Cresthaven Road, Memphis, TN 38119 and there I go to work. What is my work? At present, I’m diving deeper into Bowen Theory than I have ever done before. The Triangle is the object of my quest. I shall understand that little beast if God is gracious. The Triangle is the basic molecule of relationships. It consists of three people or two people and an issue. Triangles are also very fluid moving such that two points are in and one is out.
But suppose, one wanted to grow oneself up, while calming oneself down? What if one decided to take maximum responsibility for ones own self, focusing on one own functioning? Bowen called that Differentiation or more precisely, taking up the work of “Differentiating a Self.” Trust me if you should truly entertain such a notion for even half a day, everyone in the primary triangles you inhabit will know. In addition, if you should take up this “self to differ” the reaction will be progressive and predictable.
It will develop on this wise: 1. “You are wrong”; 2. “Change back”; and 3. “If you do not, these are the consequences” [Bowen, 1978, pp. 216]
Hell hath no fury like you arouse when you fool with someone’s heirloom triangle! Some of them have been around for eons. Remember, when someone leaves or dies, people are standing line to take the vacancy.
How is retirement? Well, I’m lighter, but not sure what else, just now… I live in hope, in spite of the facts.
April 5, 2018, John Sewell ACT3 1049 Cresthaven Road, Memphis, TN 38119
• The supernatural is real
• Take up Nondual thinking
• Thinking Systemically (Bowen Theory)
• To follow Jesus is to serve
• Difference between job and work
• Regardless of the event, first ask, “How is my functioning contributing
to this situation?”
• Suffering is the promise life always keeps
• God knows the outcome. God does not choose the outcome. That’s your
• Judge not! I mean literally mean, Judge not at all.
• Become Biblically literate
• Journaling is essential if you mean to grow in soul.
• More Orthopraxy not more Orthodoxy
• Practice Constant Prayer (literally)
• Honesty is more important than religious talk
• Tithing as a way of life.
• It’s hard to go back to plowing when you just ate your ox!
• Faith not certainty
I have a shelf in my library where reside the volumes that speak most deeply to my soul with the sustained whispering that great writing gives . One volume is The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America by David Whyte. I have returned yet again to this wisdom from the Yorkshire poet.
Chapter two is a treatment, an exegesis almost, of Beowulf.
The mythologist Joseph Campbell used to say that if you do not come to know the deeper mythic resonances that make up your life, the mythic resonances will simply rise up and take you over. If you do not live out your place in the mythic pattern consciously, the myth will simply live you, against your will. Beowulf is welcomed by Hrothgar, and that night lies in wait for Grendel with his men inside Herot, Hrothgar’s great hall. Sure enough, in the ensuing fight, Beowulf mortally wounds Grendel, who then staggers back to die in the mere. That night there is tremendous feasting and gift-giving. The problem, it seems, has been solved in one swift movement. But that night, as Beowulf sleeps with his men in a different hall, something else comes from the swamp to Herot, fights off the best warriors, and retreats with its human victim: Grendel’s mother.
The message in this portion of the poem is unsparing. It is not the thing you fear that you must deal with, it is the mother of the thing you fear. The very thing that has given birth to the nightmare.
Here it is. I am afraid that I will not be enough. What man is not? What is the mother of my fear of inadequacy? Why, not to be enough and in the end to not be AT ALL! Yup, you got it! Not wonder we are willing to loiter along the the lakefront, the edge of the mere! We would do almost anything to avoid plunging headfirst into the dark waters of the unconscious where the shadow knows and as Whyte writes, “men pray for dry feet.”
Yet, we are unsatisfied circling the lake. We look deep into the water, seeing our reflection in the surface, telling ourselves that, Yes, we will sign up to be the latest narcissist falling in love with our own reflection on the surface of the liquid before us. Anything to avoid falling headlong into our destiny, the soul-work that awaits us all.
My wife gave me her first gift before our hearts ever spoke of marriage. It is a framed prayer that has sat on a table in my library for about thirty years. It says, “Oh God of second chances and new beginnings, here I am again.” And so I am.
JWS – March 5, 2018 10:20 PM
Growing Yourself Up & Calming Yourself Down
February 27, 2018
I retired 27 days ago from public ministry as a rector of a parish.
As I pass the end of public ministry, my pace slows. My hands sorts papers from forty year old files. I notice that I seldom say, “I might need that later.” Oh, I do not go empty handed into ACT3, but what I choose to carry with me are tools, reference and memories. I consider it fair trade the unconsidered energy of the sobriety of my youth. Today I sit amid the debris of five churches, sermons from twelve revolutions of the three year cycle of Eucharistic readings, the papers are dog eared, faded and fit for kindling, not much else. The impulse to be done and hurl the contents of boxes into the fires of Gehenna tempts me. Maybe tomorrow.
While it is the same old stuff of my life it is in a new place. For the first time since 2002, my office address has nothing to do with the consecrated ground of the tax-free institution called church. 1049 Cresthaven Road, Memphis, TN 38119 is my place now. It is a very nice thousand square feet with abundant windows and good lighting from sun and fixtures. From here we launch counter-offensives against chronic anxiety.
The Late Bill Stough, Eighth Bishop of Alabama, used to say that outside the gates of Heaven there are huge trash cans with big signs beside them saying “DISCARD ALL TICKETS HERE!” Because you can’t get into heaven with a ticket. There are no tickets good enough to get us in. That’s not how you get in. In fact those tickets which we have spent our lives getting punched WILL KEEP US OUT IF WE INSIST ON PALMING THEM EARN OUR WAY IN! The tickets we have spent our very lives trying to get are as useless as lottery tickets the day after the winning ticket is drawn.
Of course, all humanity has won the lottery of God’s love. It’s rigged that way. All one need do it accept the gift of the already. I appreciate God’s folk who have given me taken my had, inviting me into the Household of God. Men like, Bill, who loitered by the door of the Kingdom to invite the unexpected wanderers into God’s house. He ordained me over 36 years ago setting me onto the way of a servant of God’s people. Having come to the end of that 2nd Act, I press on the ACT3!
Two Octobers ago I was in Washington DC at a conference honoring, my teacher, the late Rabbi Edwin Friedman my teacher. As I sat there and the voice in my head I have known for 47 years said, “John, Today begins the Third Act of your life.” Nothing more. For a year I pondered, finally realizing that my work here was the end of ACT2. Last Wednesday I stepped down from my job as Rector. I did not step down from my work: The Cure of Souls. Stephanie Brown and I with the help of many are founding a new Non-profit, called ACT3, Cresthaven Road 38119.
What is ACT3? I begin with a confession of belief. My deepest held value is faith in Jesus the Christ. Having spent four decades moving through the various permutations, polities, styles and whatever of God’s church, I today affirm my adherence to the Counsel of Saint Vincent of Lirens when he said, “That a Christian should believe in what all Christians, at all times and in all places have agreed upon.”
I close this act with a thankful heart and a sign of relief. Increasingly, I understand the hopefulness that my late spiritual father, Bishop Furman Stough longed when he often said with the twinkle in his eye, “I am grateful there will be no church in heaven.” Amen, preach it brother. I end ACT2 with gratitude for those who have helped me along in the faith and a sigh relief that I managed to get through 36 years oversleeping only once on Sunday.
ACT2 was largely formed by teaching and thinking of Dr. Murray Bowen, founder of the Georgetown Family Center in Washington DC, and the natural systems theory that bears his name. I studied at the feet of Rabbi Edwin Freidman, the second most important rabbi in Christian History, at least for Anglicans. Marilyn and I were sent to hear Ed lecture, as we prepared to marry over 31 years ago.
Through the workings of the Holy Spirit, the Ether and The Good Ole Boy & Girl club we call Episcopal Church, I began to make my way to Bethesda and under the influence the most brilliant mind I personally have ever met.
By way of analogy Edwin Friedman was Mark to Murray Bowen’s Peter. Neither of them was the savior, but they knew his message in and out. The theory that bears Dr. Bowen’s name is also called Family Systems Theory.
Murray said, “A self is only possible in the presence of other protoplasm.” Therefore self is relational not solitary. All living things have a strong impulse to join, herd, tribe. At the same time there is an impulse to be and I. The tension between The We and I. pulling and pushing, Bowen defined as “chronic anxiety.”
When anxiety is low most people muddle through. As anxiety rises soon the maturity or lack thereof began to sabotage functioning. High chronic anxiety marked by extreme polarization of our country is sobering evidence of the dangers of immaturity. If this thinking interests you read Ed’s book, Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. If you want to talk about it, shoot me a line.
I want to spend the balance of my working life, coaching, teaching and focusing on issues of systems from a Bowen perspective.