“Where we stumble there is where our treasure is.”
“To be alive spiritually man must have union with God and be conscious of it. Apart from this union his religious life will be an empty drudgery, a mere imitation of true spirituality.”
Alan Watts – Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion [pg. 70]
Just what state of being are we baptizing Lucy Barboro Champbliss? Just why are we doing this? Let me begin with our natural state.
In 1996, Lyall Watson published a fascinating book entitled Dark Nature, A Natural History of Evil, [p. 54ff.]
“THERE ARE SEVERAL GENETIC INSTRUCTIONS WHICH SEEM TO BE COMMON TO ALL LIFE:
• BE NASTY TO OUTSIDERS: We are afraid of strangers. We are afraid even when the newcomer has done us no harm. “Who is your family?” “Who were you before you married?” “You don’t talk like you all are from around these parts!”
• BE NICE TO INSIDERS: We are nice to those who are part of us, even when they are really trouble and difficult. Why? “Because blood is thicker than water.” “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” It is really hard to get into most human institutions if those already on the inside do not invite us in.
• CHEAT WHENEVER POSSIBLE: This is the basis of everything from card games to tax evasion. (April 15 is our national day of wailing and gnashing of teeth.) It comes naturally. We hear all sorts of reasons for cheating: “Everybody is doing it.” “I didn’t think that it really mattered?” “Do it if you can get away with it.” “It’s a matter of national security.”
As Vladimir Lenin once said, “What is mine is mine and what is yours is negotiable.”
The great Anglican liturgist, Dom Gregory Dix once wrote, “It is the heart and core of ‘the Gospel’ that something drastic has to be done about brokenness and sin, and that what I cannot do God has done.”
In today’s first reading from Acts we find ACTS 2:42 Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Life among the Believers 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Let me point out that if this is normative for the Community of Faith, there are NO CLERGY. Yes, Apostles but then everyone is supposed to be “fully loaded and ready to move out,” which is the meaning of the Word Apostle. In a sense everyone who witnessed the ministry, passion and resurrection of Jesus was an Apostle with the Twelve having a special role in terms of message.
We have idealized this period ever since: Our baptismal creeds picks this up. What a wonderful place, wouldn’t you love to have been there? How long do you suppose it was before someone ripped the bloom off the bush? It was just about nine months, just long enough for mischief to be brought to full term. Acts 6ff [pg. 1266 in Pew bible]
In the first century women and children depended on the income of a man in order to survive. If the husband died, then the family was in desperate straits. This being the case there is a lot widow and orphan talk in scripture. The Greek part of the community felt that their widows were discriminated against. So the dissatisfaction grew and the Greek communicants began to complain loudly, “our widows are being ignored by the Church meals on wheels.” They came and told the Apostles. The Apostles said we can’t do it all and we must be about prayer and serving the word not waiting tables or literally “Keeping Accounts”. Choose seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom. We’ll appoint them.” And they did. They were called Deacons, a name that comes from the word: doulos or servant. They chose Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, etc. Prayed, laid hands on them . . . and put them to work. Notice that the names of those chosen to be deacon were Greek names. Apparently that management technique is ancient. Put those who complain in charge of the problem. “You are empowered now go do it.” These are the first clergy. Bishops in the earliest days were selected from the College of Deacons.
Over the first five hundred years the Church in the Roman Empire developed the model that is still dominant in the West. From the 6th Century on the Western Culture was Christian. That model continues to this day: Building – People – clergy. Clergy were put in place to act as “professional Christians” so nobody else need bother.
- Lay People get serious about their faith and folk assumed what? Off to Seminary with you. Why, only professional Christians bother with all that.
- “O John, we hired you to do that.”
This is not working and it is not true. I am here to be your Coach not your surrogate nor your truant officer. I am a player coach. I’m playing because I’m baptized. I’m ordained to Coach. This is my part of the re-inventing process we call SOULWorks.
At Saint John’s we have actively and consciously for the past five years been growing ourselves up and calming ourselves down. We took surveys that told us where we are on the journey to union with Christ. We’ve developed initiatives: Bible Challenge (Bibles in Pews), Ancient Practices, SOULWorks Weekends #7 in September.
We are in transition. Going forward there will be many, many, more lay-people in active ministry than clergy. All Christians are in ministry. You will be in places I’ll not be. You have influence that I lack.
What we are called to and what we are baptizing Lucy into is un-natural in this fallen world. We are called to live above our unconscious animal nature What the Church was dealing with then and has struggled with ever since is the simple fact that being Christian runs against what comes naturally for humanity. Rising above the animal toward the Angels of our better nature is an un-natural act!
France’s Cardinal Suhard, “To be a witness is being a living mystery; it means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”
PALM SUNDAY MARTYRDOM IN ALEXANDRIA AT SAINT MARK’S CATHEDERAL
Twelve seconds of silence is an awkward eternity on television. Amr Adeeb, perhaps the most prominent talk show host in Egypt, leaned forward as he searched for a response. “The Copts of Egypt … are made of … steel!” he finally uttered. Moments earlier, Adeeb was watching a colleague in a simple home in Alexandria speak with the widow of Naseem Faheem, the guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in the seaside Mediterranean city. On Palm Sunday, the guard had redirected a suicide bomber through the perimeter metal detector, where the terrorist detonated. Likely the first to die in the blast, Faheem saved the lives of dozens inside the church. “I’m not angry at the one who did this,” said his wife, children by her side. “I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’ “‘You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of.’” Stunned, Adeeb stammered about Copts bearing atrocities over hundreds of years, but couldn’t escape the central scandal. “How great is this forgiveness you have!” his voice cracked. “If it were my father, I could never say this. But this is their faith and religious conviction.” Millions marveled with him across the airwaves of Egypt.
This is the un-natural life of one who is in Christ. This un-natural life of grace is ours in Christ Jesus. I am committed during these last years as your Rector to accept what is mine in Baptism so that you will do the same. What might happen in Memphis if we each become the living mystery that makes no sense without the resurrection? I’m not sure, but I’d sure like to see it, just once. Amen
February 12, 2017
John W. Sewell
MATTHEW 5: 21-24, 27-30, 33-37
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. † 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
The Trouble begins and ends with freedom. Freedom is an aspect of creation. Our elder brothers in faith, the Jews, call this TZIMTZUM (Contraction). God chose to no longer be all there was and contracted to make room for creation to have its appointed degrees of freedom.
Jesus: “You have heard…. But I’m here to tell you.” I have come not to abrogate the law, I’ve come to fulfill the law! Or, “I have come to fill the law full!” Full of What? John says that the word became flesh and came and dwelt among, “full of Grace and Truth.” This grace and truth went all the way through Jesus. There was nothing else to find in him except more grace and truth!
The law filled full of grace and truth just as our Lord is full of grace and truth. In other words, God does not act in a contradictory manner. And of course we too are called to not act in a contradictory manner. That is the goal of the Christian life, that our insides will match up with our outsides.
In the Gospel we hear Jesus tell us that obedience must become internal if it is to bring authentic life. The Gospel is troubling. Not only are Christians not to do certain things, apparently they are not even to want to do them. Grace and truth must become our automatic unthinking response.
This is troubling because most of us have a Zoo on our insides. We can be of several opinions at the same time, with thoughts and feelings coming and going constantly. The question is what do we do with this? We have this ideal that we so far from attaining. So how do we then live, this being the human condition?
Christians have always felt tension between the inner and outer life. In the third century one of the Desert Fathers, Evagrius Ponticus, wrote about this very issue. Evagrius contends that the arch-enemy of the soul is in practice a certain kind of thought, which he called logismos. I am much indebted to Simon Tugwell’s book: “The Way of Imperfection”, for his discussion of Evagrius.
Evagrius Ponticus set for himself the task of detailing the different traps and temptations that can distort understanding by imposing on the mind some false perspective. These logismos are thoughts that bewilder and befog the mind so that slowly, bit by bit, we drift away into a world of self-destructive fantasy. Logismos involves choosing to see the bad — bad in the sense of “unreal,” not fitting reality. Logismos destroy proper perspective on the world and thus prevent us from concentrating on the actual reality of our life, leading us further and further from our actual condition, making us try to solve problems that have not yet arisen and need never arise.
Evagrius says that there are EIGHT categories of these thought-traps. The seven deadly sins grow from his work.
1. GLUTTONY: not over-eating as harmful as that may be. The essence of the problem is anxiety about one’s health. The ‘thought’ of gluttony goes like this, “Imagine that you are going to get ill, and then you won’t have medicine, your doctor will be out of town… Then the ‘thought’ calls to mind other people who gotten ill from various diseases which we might catch.
Notice that the heart of the temptation is a train of thought leading us further and further away from our actual condition, making us solve problems which have not yet arisen and need never arise.
2. FORNICATION: Again it is a matter of allowing our fantasies to run away with us. The ‘thought’ of fornication fills our minds with desire for ‘a variety of bodies” (notice how abstract it all is). This is not a matter of a real relationship with a real human being. A real relationship which goes wrong does far less damage than these purely imaginary entanglement.
3. AVARICE: the love of money. The essential problem is one of futile planning for an unreal future. This ‘thought’ says, “you are going to live into a terrible old age, in which all sorts of dreadful things happen. You will poor and have to be dependent on others. Here we are preoccupied with what does not yet exist, with hopes and fears, with imaginary or future things.What we ought to do of course, is have faith in God and leave the future to him.
4. ENVY: involves obsessing about the past. A haunting remembrance of “the old days” as those “happy days” now gone and never to return. Much of the pain of spiritual suffering comes from wallowing in wishes and fantasies of things being other than the way they are.
The difference between Psychosis and Neurosis:
Psychosis is: 1 + 1 = 7.
Neurosis: 1 +1 = 2, but I won’t have it!
It is a real trap that thought.
5. ANGER: not the emotion but a clinging to the resentment that refuses forgiveness. Evagrius as an example, offers the experience of obsession with someone who has wronged us, the situation of being “unable to think about anything else.” Such fixations can ruin our health, As always, the trouble comes from failing to see the real issue. After all, if someone has wronged us, our Christian duty is simply to forgive them, and that should be the end of it. Anger, which is inevitable, is not to be squandered by focusing attention on the wrongs of others; rather, it should be directed at our own faults, and especially at how we have wronged others, thus moving us to make amends, to do something kind even for the people who have offended us.
6. ACEDIA: Listlessness: This is a condition in which we cannot settle down to do anything; nothing appeals to us, nothing engages our interest. The day seems eighty hours long. … Everything that we have to do goes sour on us. The “thought-trap” is self-pity and the temptation is, of course, to make us abandon our course, thinking that the spiritual life is really beyond us anyway. Again the problem is not being in reality.
7& 8 VAINGLORY/PRIDE:
7. Vainglory: daydreaming about our own magnificence and imagined glory.
8. Pride consists in supposing that we can do anything without the help of God, it is to claim to be God.
What do we do with these thought traps by which we get trapped into pointless and irrational reactions.
The first step is that we should come to be aware of the situation and bring some order into our lives.
- For example, the ‘thought’ will come to us that we are entitled to be annoyed at somebody. If we succumb to this, then we shall devote our attention to the thought of the person with whom we are annoyed. What is needed is to focus attention on the fact that we are annoyed.
- Instead of seeing some other human being angrily, we turn our attention to see our own anger.
- We can then begin to fight against it. And at first we may have to use any device we can think of…
- Most essentially we need to reclaim anger for its proper purpose. It is always a waste of good anger to get annoyed with other human beings.
- Instead we should turn our anger against the thoughts. …
- In this way we shall be using anger in accordance with its true nature, to clear a way thorough the thoughts which swarm all around us, so that we can gradually come to a clearer perception of what it is all about.
- All knowledge is characterized by clarity. What we need is to get clear and then make choices accordingly.
As Tugwell says, “The desired goal of this whole exercise is a state in which we are no longer at the mercy of inappropriate reactions. And this is a profound state of balance and harmony.” We are called to see ourselves in the proper perspective. “Pay attention to yourself!” The emphasis on honest self-knowledge. How to we foster this honesty?
1. Practice self-observation, what is going on here?
Not just from my perspective, but from the other persons?
2. Pay attention to our sleeping dreams. Dreams do not lie.
they tell you the truth. Twelve Step groups know how true this is. We cannot make on our own.
Ernest Kurtz writes, “As our vision of the world changes from a strictly self-centered view point in which feelings are in control to an other-oriented perspective in which “feeling good” flows from “being good,” we begin to see how we are connected with other realities and especially with other people. Most important, the tradition of spirituality suggests, we come to see that the criterion of spirituality is not subjective feeling but the reality of our “relationships with others, the reality of community.
This week we will have chances to watch what is going on in us and around us. Let us experiment with the Grace that God gives us to get beyond the ‘thoughts’ that beset us. Amen.
5 February 2017
John W Sewell
On this Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany we continue the theme of the light of Christ going into the world. We who are in Christ are called to be salt/light.
Salt/Light are valued for their effects: by what they do.
Salt: preserves, stimulates, smarts if it touches a wound, and heals.
Light: illuminates, enables sight, stimulates, and heals.
Jesus says that those who follow him are to be like salt and light. But if Christians have lost their saltiness they are of no use. It is like lighting a lamp and putting it under a basket. It is of no use.
Our Christianity is authenticated by our functioning, by what our lives reveal us doing. How salty we are or how brightly our light shines indicates where we are in our CONVERSION. he word “conversion” means “to turn toward”. This is the opposite of aversion: “to turn away from.” Conversion is the movement toward God, the overcoming of our separateness from Him. Our movement toward God is our response to His movement toward us in His son: Jesus the Christ. Conversion may be an event from time to time, but each event is part of a process. Conversion is a journey. Every day we are in a posture of conversion or aversion toward God.
Where does conversion take place? Cultural anthropologists talk about the place deep within each of us where the essence of “US” lives. It is that part we have been aware of all our lives as “US”. It is that part of us that does not age and is surprised to look in the mirror and realize that we are aging.
The late Joseph Campbell once said, “I don’t feel like an old man. I feel like a young man with something terribly wrong with him.”
There are Four Layers of “meaning” that make up a human being: Layer I being closest to the “US” of our essence.
Layer I: Symbols: the cross, the cup, water, bread. [This past week a group of girls from Independent Presbyterian church, one of our sister denominations, visited Saint John’s to see the murals and to talk about symbols, why? Because we live surrounded the symbols, myths and stories of our faith: these are images and stories that tell us who we are, speaking to the deep ideas, mother, father, hero, lover.] We forget just how blessed we are to have these displayed for us to live with and our unconscious to draw on.
Layer II: Customs, values: Christmas, Easter. Family Values: Right and wrong, being kind to people and animals. Jesus is a wonderful fellow and teacher. It’s a good thing for children to be in Church so they will learn values. Recently I had what my friend Walton Griffin calls a dinosaur moment when at young adult bible study – I quoted Archie Bunker and nobody in the room knew who he was… going back even further I quote Little Abner who said, “goodness is better than badness because it’s nicer.” That’s Layer II.
Layer III: Moveable features: That western people wear pants (first men, now women) That might change if we lived somewhere else; particularly if winters were all like the one we are living through.
Layer IV: Outer, superficial elements, fads, styles, bell-bottoms, Hula hoops, skinny jeans, mood rings, pet rocks, rubrics’ cube, poodle skirts, fiddleback chasubles, low hems, high hems and hardly any hem at all . The color of one’s wall, the kind of car one drives, keia pets the next great thing that will make you thin, rich and safe. The sort of “stuff” that fills our attics.
If we are not careful, we will mistake superficial change for conversion. Example: Fran Alexander watching the neighborhood boys signing the cross before taking free throws in the backyard, because one of the stars at North Carolina was Roman Catholic and signed the cross before he took a free throw.
Turning toward God must happen to the essence of our being in the depths of our souls.Jesus said, “Your righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees.” It is easier to be transformed at the outer layers.
Often well intention Western missionaries tried to make Westerners out of other nations, as if you could only be Christian if you were like us. The spread of that sort of cultural Christianity may in fact prevent the Gospel from touching people in deeper places. When Christianity is the dominant religion in the culture it is easy to lose our saltiness. Too much is taken for granted. Basic faith decisions about Jesus the Christ being Lord and Savior often do not get made or are simply made in a shallow way.
When the Gospel is proclaimed in a place for the first time a four Generation process is observed:
1. First generation of Christians: Being Christian is a choice. Christ is at the center of their lives and being. Light is bright – Salt is very salty.
2. Second generation: born into the Church. They make no particular decision about this themselves. The center of Christianity for this generation is jobs or tasks in the Church: working in the Church. The jobs become the center of faith and believing. Light continues to shine – Salt is still salty
3. Third generation: Occasional worship. The Christmas and Easter cycle becomes the center of their faith. They also appear for the birth, marriage, death cycle – the “Hatching, matching, dispatching” function of the Church. The light is dim and there is a low sodium diet.
4. Fourth generation: simply follow the crowd out of the Church and the faith altogether into the dark and is no longer salt at all.
What must happen for each of us is to meet God directly. God does not have grand-children. Why do we depend on hearing a story from another person about their religious experience. If you and I are inclined to meet God, let’s go and look him up and when we look God up we will learn that God has been looking for people since the Garden of Eden = and each of us since the day of our birth! That is what I want to be about and I suspect that you do too!!!
Virginia Owens – “The Total Image or Selling Jesus in the Modern Age” “A person, whether human or divine, cannot be known — as a person rather than an image except by immediate presence. If we want to project an image, either of Christians or the Church, we can do that by means of television, magazines, books, billboards, movies, bumper stickers, buttons, records, and posters. If we want people to know Christ, we must be there face-to-face, bearing Christ within us.”
There is a story about a man looking for God was dunked under the water in a pool by the old monk. As he was gasping for air, the monk asked him, “What were you thinking about when you were under the water?” “Air”, gasped the man. Then the monk said, “If you wanted to know God as much as you wanted air, you would know him.”
What generation are we? We are called to be transformed in the deep places of our beings: in the essence of the “US”. Nothing else will do, Nothing else will satisfy. Nothing else is light and salt. Let’s not settle for less. Amen.
Fritz Kunkel believed there were two kinds of ego responses. The first, the response the ego makes out of its egocentricity, is “characterized by inflexibility, panic, defensiveness, rage, and sterility.” In contrast, the creative ego response is a response “that is exactly appropriate to the kind of situation with which the person is faced. It cannot be stylized or characterized because the creative Ego response is always unique and one-of-a-kind.”
John Sanford, Fritz Kunkel: Selected Writings.
“I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.”
― Jean Vanier, Community And Growth
Someone asked me what was the most difficult part being a priest? I hadn’t really thought too much about it these past thirty-five years, so I had to ponder a moment. The one who asked opined that death and burial was the most difficult. That is true but not the answer. Then it came to me. The most difficult part of my work is to want so much more for people than they want for themselves. Yeah, that’s it.
We were not put here to have a good time and that’s what throws most of us, that sense that we all have an inalienable right to a good time.
”A Conversation with the Real Woody Allen” Rolling Stone, 1976