Delicious Heresies or Junk Food for the Soul.

DaVinciCode

NOTE:  In 2003 I gave a talk at Saint Johns Memphis, Tennessee about the DaVinci Code the page turner by Dan Brown.  The piece below explains the adventure.  I came across this on the internet recently and thought it might be worth sharing.

I wrote this in 2006

Dear Friends

Below is an article I wrote for ExploreFaith.org. It remains topical two and a half years later.  Three years ago this November a quote from an interview I gave about the Da Vinci Code published in the Commercial Appeal was subsequently quoted by Dan Brown on his website, DanBrown.com. This citation opened a “minor career” on matters Da Vinci. Calls have come from La Monde Magazine, Paris, France, The Guardian, Sidney, Australia and even talk radio in Sacramento, California.  Now the movie is about to be released and I have agreed to respond to questions from the Commercial Appeal readers.  All this says a great deal less about my “authority” than about the ubiquitous nature of the Internet. Below you will find an article I wrote for the web page, Exploring Faith.  It continues to reflect my sense of the Da Vinci Code phenomena.

In November (2003) I led three conversations about issues raised in The Da Vinci Code. Months earlier, while browsing in a bookstore, the cover of the novel caught my eye, and because I have a long fascination with Leonardo (he is never called Da Vinci), I bought the book to read as a diversion. I found nothing new there, but it was a good page-turner.

DaVinciCode 2

Then something interesting happened. People old and young, male and female, began to ask me could it be true, as the Code contends, that Jesus and Mary of Magdala were married and perhaps even had a child. This and other questions continued through the summer with such frequency that I realized that this book provided a teachable moment.

I prepared to have a conversation about the book with interested members of the congregation I serve. A press release was sent to the local newspaper and I was asked for an interview. The resulting lead article once again indicated a high level of interest, but the turnout the night of our first gathering was completely unexpected: Six hundred people packed the pews.

What is it about Dan Brown’s novel that enticed hundreds of people into church for a conversation? When questioned by a reporter about why I thought so many people were reading this book, I replied, “It is filled with delicious Christian heresies.” Did Jesus marry Mary from Magdala and have genetic descendants? However intriguing the notion there seems to be no compelling evidence that Jesus married at all.jesus-magdalene

The idea has prompted people to ask, “What am I to believe and why?” That is a very valid and enduring question. Toward the end of that first meeting a woman stood up and said, “We are here tonight because we are searching.” One of the challenges for the searcher is the interpretation of discovery. What does a new idea or experience I have encountered mean? Is it true? If it is true how is it true? If it is true how does it apply to my life?

In an age of anxiety it is tempting to reach for certainty. If we can be certain then we can be safe. If we are safe then we are in control. However, certainty is illusionary. There is no certainty. In fact certainty is contradictory to faith. As Allen Jones, Dean of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, puts it, “The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty.”

For me at least, notions that promise certainty are suspect. For Christians faith is the posture in the face of mystery. What God has revealed in Christ Jesus is a mystery. How could the birth of one man in one moment of history make a difference for all people at all times within history? Many have found this preposterous. And yet that is the core belief of classical Christianity.

What is there to find that is unique about the classical Christian understanding of Jesus? Over centuries Christians came to believe that Jesus is fully human and fully god. I believe that he is. That is an act of faith for me but increasingly I suspect that it is true because it is not the easy way out.

Humanity likes the quick fix, the black or white option—clear cut and simple. Heresy, from the word, “to choose,” is the tendency to choose a part of a notion and carry it to a logical conclusion, thereby ignoring the complexity and richness of the fuller reality.

N Frye

Northrop Frye

As Northrop Frye writes in his book Anatomy of Criticism, “… the full metaphorical statement ‘Christ is God and Man’ is orthodox, and the Arian (the belief that Jesus was not god but the highest creation of God) and Docetic (Jesus only appeared to be god but was in fact only a virtual god) statements in terms of simile or likeness (are) condemned as heretical.” The heresy is to not be willing to live with the tension of the paradox, but rather to want reality easily understandable.

The Da Vinci Code introduces many people to the fact that there were many exotic flowers in the early garden of Christianity. There are many reasons that they didn’t become the dominant form of Christianity. In some cases they couldn’t compete in the marketplace of ideas and in others they were eradicated by the political power of the state allied with the church. The church has not always covered itself in glory by mercy and justice.

All that notwithstanding I think the principle reason that classical Christianity endures to the present is the fact that the easy way was not the way chosen. The fact that the church chose the way of paradox and ambiguity as the most authentic way to live in the mystery of God revealed in Christ is the most telling reason for the enduring power of its life and message. Even in the church there is a desire for certainty. That is the human condition. The courage to face paradox is the most authentic expression of the Christian life. I believe that this is the life for which people unconsciously search. That is why I suspect that six hundred people showed up on a Wednesday night to talk about a novel.

Now the movie opens and questions abound.  I don’t think that this novel threatens anything. It’s existence provides a teachable moment and as Christians we should be in words of the Apostle Peter be prepared to give an accounting for the hope that is in us (I Peter 3:15). We must be about the business of our Lord and the culture is prepared to talk. That’s a good thing.

In hope, in spite of the facts.

John Sewell

EASTER DAY

March 21, 2019

tissot angels at tomb

Empty Tomb – James Tissot

JOHN 20:  Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you keeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Resurrection Never Crossed our Minds.

Resurrection never crossed Mary’s mind in the dark deserted streets.  The garden, very near the skull shaped hill, where, Jesus was hoisted on a rough-hewn cross, splinters  the size of the nails in his feet.  She barely remembered walking from the cross, walking beside Joseph, an aristocrat, whose generosity saved Jesus from a common grave. Joined by Nicodemus, a Senator, they, their aides and servants, carried the dead weight through gathering dusk across the manicured lawns to Joseph’s new tomb.

She shifted the heavy jar of myrrh in her arms. Myrrh’s complex earthy scent, hinting of foreign lands, was universally used at burial. Its strong odor was useful at such times.

Smell, evokes the most vivid memories.  Ever after, the faintest whiff and Mary was in the garden, the stars, dimming at the hint of dawn in the East.

The men had carefully rolled the round stone into its slot across the entrance.  She saw them do it.  There is a dark hole where the tan stone should be.  His body, limbs out of socket, limp as a worn-out rag, covered with blood, was gone. The great stone rolled aside, witness to the absence of tortured remains. She hurdled heedless of feet in the dawn to warn his men that some ghoulish mischief had befallen his body. Romans do not disturb the dead.  Nor, Jews, usually. Who would rob a grave on Passover?

Resurrection never crossed the minds of the men huddled by the fire, hiding from the mighty whose henchmen might be searching at that very moment.  They flinched at the door knock.

james-tissot-st-peter-and-st-john-run-to-the-tomb-illustration-for-the-life-of-christ-c-1886-94

John & Peter run to the Tomb – James Tissot

Resurrection never crossed the minds of the two as they left the others walking quickly, suddenly running like school boys;  John, the younger by over a decade ran as the young run sprinting ahead only to wait, a quick glance, hesitating, while Peter, as Peter would, barged right in.  John followed.  The burial clothes of thin linen bands, wrapped in haste; adequately, were quickly finished before Passover sundown.

The burial clothes were more than there; they lay as if Jesus simply vanished, evaporated rising right through them as they collapsed neatly onto themselves in a way, not to be faked.  Oddly, the head cloth neatly folded lay near the wrappings, testifying to subtle divine presence.

Resurrection did cross John’s mind and he believed.   Suddenly, hideous events on Friday were made new sense, aroused suspicions of glory and strange saying of Jesus were strange no more.  His absence translated by hope become coherent to ears that listen, ears that hear.  They departed slowly, thoughtfully – wondering if this meant what they thought it meant, unsure but with small bright potential joy in their hearts where before was only despair.

A movement peripheral, a man, [only a gardener would stir so early,]. Passing through the hedge, Mary, voice breaking inquired of grave-robbers … “Mary,” and she knew his voice; it was he, the one who said his sheep know my voice, and saying her name called her clear as ever.   Resignation fell away, not as amnesia forgets, but remembering with power a greater vision, redeemed by holy intervention.

 

She grabbed him, weak with vertigo of deep grief leaping into singular joy in a single bound. Gently, he loosed her hands, telling her he had not yet ascended to his Father; an entirely different order of homecoming, embraced by the peculiar, mystical love of the Godhead.

 She must let him go, not for loss this time but for gain, gain for all, for all time.  The spare, precise truth, brought Mary and all who will ever believe to his God and their God and his Father and their Father.

Resurrection had never crossed Mary’s mind until, she met Resurrection face to face.

And it was ENOUGH!

Resurrection never crossed our minds in the tyranny of the immediate. I-phones, e-mails, constant litter of data: important to nobody but forwarded by somebody to everybody.

Resurrection never crossed our minds in the routine of sameness, body tired, minds fuzzy with the demands of a new day, while the old day, its red-flagged emails, all caps, shouting, invades the new day.

Resurrection never crossed our minds even in the Week Holy, as the world continued, the  relentless, urgency of the trivial, blotting out the ultimate, flattening all affect into numbness.

The Resurrection

Resurrection – James Tissot

We slouch into our several pews late, tired, distracted, our minds arriving minutes after our bodies dropped into a seat. Today the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox, the Queen of Feasts: This EASTER lies at the end of a long relay race beginning on that Eighth day of the Week, the day Mary went early in the dark; John and Peter came and went and Mary loitering near the cave met Jesus alive, [changed but somehow the same] – full of resurrection.

Resurrection never crossed our minds when Meister Eckhart said that the savior’s birth is always happening. But if it happens not in us what does it profit? What matters is that he be born in us.

Resurrection never crossed our minds until we, too long removed from that day encounter him who was absent then, only to be fully present for all time. Sometime, somewhere, when we finally hit the wall that defeats the best moves of our egos — when we find something we cannot fix, there

we will meet Jesus and Resurrection will finally cross our minds and he will not only be born in us but resurrected as well…

and it will be ENOUGH!

May that same resurrection cross your minds and give you new life.

In the name of the father, son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

John Sewell

HOLY SATURDAY

April 20, 2019

tomb

Matthew 27; 57-66

Verses 57-61   When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph,

Joseph of ari

Joseph of Arimathea

who was also a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him.

59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

 

A cadence is a stopping place in a piece of music. There is a full cadence at the end. The movement of the chords tells our ear that the end is come. There is also a plagal cadence.  Basically it states that the end is coming but not just yet. We are half way home and rest before moving on.  In Western music the piece moves to the and with a full cadence says, “Done, over, finished” and every ear agrees it is so.

By that rude definition, Holy Saturday is a plagal cadence. The awful Friday finally ended.  Jesus is mercifully beyond pain.  Sometimes contrary to our deepest hope, we are glad that someone is dead.  If for no other reason than an ending of suffering.

Jan Henyk de Rosen - Joseph of Arimethea

Jospeh of Arimathea Chapel, Washington National Cathederal – Jan Henyk de Rosen

 Joseph from Arimathea, a wealthy aristocratic disciple came forward and did for Jesus, what perhaps no other follower could have done that day.  His connections opened the Governor’s door and Pilate released Jesus’ body for burial.  Joseph cared for our Lord’s body tenderly, spared no expense and contributed his own, just finished mausoleum as a burial place.  Having accomplished his mission, rolling the great stone into place, he went away. There was nothing else he could do. The gang of Mary’s, led by the one from Magdala,  sat down keeping vigil, as if by staying it would not final. It is a way of facing loss in increments rather than being overwhelmed by the flood at high tide.

What seemed a final cadence to everyone that Saturday, was in fact a plagal cadence instead.  The end was coming but not yet. When it did come it was a symphonic glory.  Let us watch, wait and faint not.   Despair says, “God can do nothing.”  Tis not so. God will act.  Wait and pray.

In hope, in spite of the facts. John

A 100 Years on no one was ever arrested.

I promised some I would download this sermon on my blog. So here it is. I recount the story of the lynching of Ell Persons on May 22, 1917 in Memphis TN.  Listen, as I recount those events and speak to the hope that is in us.

May 21, 2017 “The Lynching of Ell Persons”

May 21st, 2017
The Rev. John W. Sewell
Beloved, this must never happen again.  In the name of God the Holy One, it must not happen again.
John

Oh God of 2nd Chances & New Beginnings, here I am for ACT3

IMG_6060

“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?

IMG_6063

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.

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This is the view as I write, not bad.

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

 

ACT3? What is ACT3?

1049 Chresthaven street view

ACT3, 1049 Cresthaven Road, Memphis, Tennessee ACT3Memphis@gmail.com

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.

Sant Vincent of Lerins

Universality – Antiquity – Consensus

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.”

Failure of Nerve

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.

John Sewell

 

Leave Taking 2003 – 2017

EPIPHANY 4, January 28, 2018 – Saint John’s Memphis, Tennessee 20111

farewell me and m

I was warned in advance nobody can really prepare you for the circumstances you face in ministry. If they told you just wouldn’t believe it. In 1981 I left Seabury-Western with every intention of doing the sort of careful, appropriate liturgies Lee Mitchell trained me to do.  I was assigned 2 parishes 30 miles apart. One of them was Fort Payne, the seat of Knox County, Alabama.  There I became the deacon-in-charge of Saint Philips,

Saint Philips Fort Payne housed literally in a former school house, painted bright red, the flowers were red, and the dogwood was red. Even the newly minted deacon’s hair was red in those days, at any rate I set out to inflict on them everything I had ever thought about doing in ministry – all at once.  But then reality reared its head in the vineyard of the Lord. It came about on this wise…

The organist at Saint Philip’s was actually a Presbyterian elder who lived with his Momma and ran title searches for a living.  His name was Erskine Davenport (you can’t make this stuff up!)  Well I laid out the service and got the bulletin ready, we were singing some lovely hymns and it being Rite I, the Willan Mass setting that we all know and love.  We sang the Kyrie and that went pretty well.  Then we got to the Sanctus/Benedictus, I opened my mouth to sing and then I heard the entire congregation recite the Holy, Holy, Holy and I learned a lesson that day that has stood me in good stead all these 36 years.  You can’t sing what the organist can’t play!  [wait]  O and did I mention that Erskine had cerebral palsy?  I didn’t think so.  From that very first Sunday – we arrive at this very last Sunday a day of Farewell. .

18-01-28-Demoniac-in-Synagogue

Look at the Gospel reading for today:  MARK 1:21 They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching— with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Note that Jesus taught with authority not like the scribes.  Scribes – scholars who spoke with verbal footnotes, spouting bibliographies as they taught.  Jesus spoke from his core, his experience – his being one with the Father.  All he did in the flesh he accomplished through his obedient humanity.  So we’re not off the hook.  Then he did a little psychic housekeeping for a fellow on the back row.  His reputation got around in a hurry.  This is the Jesus we seek union with.  This is Jesus we must experience directly personally.

I grew up Southern Baptist and they taught me things: Principally Bible content and the inescapable reality that each of us owe God one soul.  However, I had an itch that was never scratched there.

Christ Church Albertville

Christ Church, Albertville AL.

chapel of cross

Chapel of the Cross, Madison, MS

Saint Luke Mountain Brook

Saint Luke’s, Mountain Brook, AL

High altar Saint John's

Saint John’s, Memphis, TN

I wandered the halls of John Wesley who taught me about life in the Spirit and came in due season to The Church of England.  Our practice of pulling the extremes toward the center is not easy, after all the middle of road is a good place to get run over. But at our best it a life-giving posture that most any Christian can practice

I get ahead of myself.   When I was a sophomore at The University of North Alabama, 47 years ago, I joined a Bible Study sponsored by The First Methodist Church of Tuscumbia.  There was a hunger among us, a kindredness, a growing belief and experience that God is real and that God can be experienced, directly.  In those days we thought nothing of praying all night.

One night in the manse of a Cumberland Presbyterian Preacher, the group prayed with me to contract, I’ve learned to call it.  Tzim Tzum, the Jews call it, to make room for the Holy Spirit – the third person of the Trinity- Karl Rahner called the Spirit: God penetrating history and existence – For God to have a freer hand, more room to operate, that I be more conscious of his call and that he have the option to call on me day or night and that what he had given me needed to be available to the Work of Christ in the World, God had first call on it.

Later that night, I drove home to the farm where four generations of Sewell’s have lived and went to bed.  The next morning when I awakened and was aware of being me in my body:  I found I was praying in the Spirit.  I have never been the same since.

That is not to say that “I and all I know from that day to this, lived happily ever after ever.  Almost 20 years ago I was hospitalized at Menninger Hospital for depression, later diagnosed as (type 2) Bi-Polar disease.

Thank you for taking a risk and hiring a crazy priest 15 years ago.  It has been intimated of late that perhaps “Poor Saint John’s can find a rector who doesn’t talk quite so much about Jesus.”  While intended as derision, I count it a badge of honor.   I’m asked what is the hardest part of this Job/Work?   Wanting so much more you than you have wanted for yourselves.

I knew I was getting old when I learned about 2 years ago that people were collecting, The Sayings and Aphorisms of Father John.  Let me share some of them with you this final time.  If it’s worth doing at all, it’s worth doing poorly.  We have low standards not no standards. Father Bronson Bryant, mentor and friend of my soul, said to me about 35 years ago, “Oh John, We are always prepared for God to do nothing.”

I’ve pondered what to say today.  Most of it comes from the last five years as the culture changed and the churches continue shrink.

Today, in Church and out of Church, there are thousands of souls who realize in varying degrees of clarity that what they want from religion is not a collection of doctrinal ritual symbols, nor a series of moral precepts. They want God himself, by whatever name he may be called; they want to be filled with his creative life and power; they want some conscious experience of being at one with Reality itself, so that their otherwise meaningless and ephemeral lives may acquire an eternal significance.

For hundreds of years Western man has been convinced that he could ultimately solve every one of his problems by doing something about it. It is a beneficial exercise in humility for him to come up against a problem about which he can actually do nothing. Yet the problem has to be solved. The situation would be maddening and impossible if that were all there is to it. But that is not all, because, as we have seen, mystical knowledge is something given to the soul by God, and there is a sense in which it is already being given to the soul—now and always.

In this same sense, God is the most obvious thing in the world, the most self-evident, and union with God is the primary and most unavoidable reality of our lives. Yet God is so obvious and so unavoidable and so close to us that we are not aware of him. To try to see God is like trying to look at your own eyes, for he is nearer to us than we are to ourselves.  Alan Watts

 “The Word is always being born, but if he is not born in me, of what use is that to me.”  — Meister Eckhart

frog 2

Forty-five years ago I dissected a frog. I say that not by way of confession but to examine a paradox.  As is common in secondary science curriculum, during a unit on anatomy one of the exercises involved dissecting something. At Lexington High School in Lexington Alabama, we were not so exalted as to warrant fetal pigs so we tackled the more prosaic amphibian. The lab reeked of thermaldohyde as we took up scalpels and performed exploratory surgery on the supine corpse.  The exercise was informative as to vascular systems and the ordering of bodily functions.  At the end of the smelly process by my station there was a small pile of frog parts.  I had learned a lot but the frog wouldn’t hop.

frog

What do it mean by this?  Experiencing God is the goal.  Learning facts about God, while useful, can never replace union with the Lord Jesus.  This brings me again to the knot I am worrying these days.  What is needed must move us beyond mere “frog data” to “frog hopping.”  How do we hop?  We take up those ancient practices that formed the first Christians in faith that the Holy Spirit that led them into truth will do the same for us.  But then I experienced the really of giving up ego control.

 

In the winter of 1978, I was driving on the Bluegrass Parkway in the central Kentucky. 1978 was a brutal winter over all this country. Snow was deep and the road icy and dangerous. I say that because I was literally had seen no other car for miles and hours. Well, I was doing pretty well, having experience in icy weather. That was when it happened. Suddenly, without warning the car began to spin 360° – as the landscape began to spin, time slowed & I thought, I hadn’t planned on this what and I going to do after the car turns upside down? My right foot and leg and already learned that slamming on the brake was a really bad idea. Steering wildly had no good outcome.

car on ice

Then I had that moment of clarity. A thought came to me, one so outrageous and counter-intuitive I would never have entertained had I any other option. But, I was flat out of options. There was simply nothing I could do to fix my problem. I could makes things worse but not better. I took my hands off the steering wheel, held them in mid-air. No longer in charge, having given up any power I had remaining was just along for the ride. The car righted itself. Now, I was headed in the wrong direction and grateful. What I learned that day in the frozen hills of Kentucky has served me well all these years and decades in two different centuries.

Dealing with matters of power and faith is like driving a car on ice. Doing what comes naturally, is almost always not the thing to do.

Let me share with you what I have learned the past 5-years of Renewal  Works –  On the National Episcopal News Feed on Friday, Jay Sidebotham described renewal works and spoke of  Saint John’s as an  example of what can happen when people experience God. .

  1. Saint John’s exists as a place to encounter God. Period. Nothing else. If people cannot find God here. It has no reason for being.  In the coming years more than one Episcopal Church in Memphis will fail.  It might be this one unless people find God consistently at 3245 Central Avenue.
  1. Clergy must re-invent themselves.I am not a professional Christian.  I cannot be Christian in your stead so you need not bother with it.  Only you can be a Christian for you.I am here, Bob is here, Dean is here next Sunday, to practice our own Christianity and Coach you in yours.

We are player-coaches not truant officers.

I have my job and my work.  My Job is to keep this place going, tend the functions, services.  My Work  is the Cure of Souls –

  1. Lay Ministry is the way forward. Lay initiation, lay leadership is the only way forward.  Now that Western Culture is no longer Christian Culture – leadership from above WILL NOT WORk!  Leadership from below will.  That is why we took up Renewalworks and invented SOULWorks these past five years.

Two Octobers ago I was in Washington DC at a memorial conference for 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.  On Wednesday I step down from my job as Rector.  I do 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, 1049 Cresthaven Road 38119. – Is my new laboratory of faith.  The moving van comes tomorrow.   I love you.  In the name of God …

Are We Awake Yet?

I and the Not I  A Study in the Development of Conscious   – M. Esther Harding

Biologists, who in attempting to discover the nature of consciousness in animals, found themselves obliged to recognize that each creature sees only what concerns himself; everything else he seems to be blind.

frog

 This reminds me of the saying, “A Frog can only see what he can eat.”

Human beings, having an animal and spiritual nature, given circumstance can descend to the level of a frog, who can only see what he can eat or by the spark of the divine rise to the occasion, limiting themselves for the sake of others.  JWS

The Holy Birth Cannot be Induced.

reliquary cross

The divine birth cannot be forced. You can only create the conditions for this birth to take place. How do you know if the new soul is born in you? The famous mystic Meister Eckhart wrote about this: Now you turn your face entirely to this birth. Yes, you will encounter this birth in everything you see and hear, whatever it is. You are like someone who looks for quite a while at the sun, and afterwards sees the image of the sun in whatever he looks at. As long as you do not seek and perceive God in everything, this birth has not yet occurred in you.

 

 

The Sunday After All Saints Day

All Saints – All Souls & The Communion of the Saints
November 6, 2016

All Saints on November 1 is the day of remembrance of all the saints, those whose lives display pronounced activity of the Holy Spirit, but who did not have a particular day set aside for them, there being only so many days after all. The next day is All Souls Day. What is the difference? On All Souls, we honor all the faithful dead of the Christian faith.

all-souls-day

On Wednesday, November 2, 2016, at ten minutes after noon a congregation gathered at the Saint John’s Cemetery to celebrate Eucharist. As traffic raced by on Central Avenue and planes roared overhead in the clear fall air folk joined saying their prayers and remembering the faithful departed.

The ancient Romans buried their dead outside their cities in necropolis (Greek) for cities of the dead. It was in such a place that Saint Peter was buried by the side of the road across the street from the Circus of Nero. This site lies beneath the Basilica of Saint Peter in Vatican City. We do not call our place of the dead a necropolis rather we use the word cemetery a word also coming from the Greek that means a place of sleep. The early Christians were making a theological distinction between those believed to be dead as a “doornail” and those who fell asleep in Christ in the hope of the resurrection and those who have no such belief.

Also, the Romans had a custom called a refrigerium, a memorial meal eaten at the graveside of the person that was replaced by the Eucharist over time in Christian practice. We gathered at Saint John’s Cemetery as heirs of hundreds of generations of Christians who had gone before us, who in their generation prayed for the dead who die in the Lord and who have in their time joined those who sleep awaiting the Lord’s return.

john-polkinghorne

I return again and gain to the eloquent words of John Polkinghorne in his book, Faith of a Physicist, “The resurrection of Jesus is the vindication of the hopes of humanity. We shall all die with our lives to a greater or lesser extent incomplete, unfulfilled, unhealed. Yet there is a profound and widespread human intuition that in the end, all will be will. … The resurrection of Jesus is the sign that such human hope is not delusory. …This is so because it is part of Christian understanding that what happened to Jesus within history is a foretaste and guarantee of what will await all of us beyond history, ‘For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be make alive,’ (I Cor. 15.22).

The proper preface for the dead at the Eucharist sums up the hope of all who believe, “Through Jesus Christ our Lord; who rose victorious from the dead and comforts us with the blessed hope of everlasting life. For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body lies in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens.”

Peace,
John W. Sewell+