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.
“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
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.
EPIPHANY 4, January 28, 2018 – Saint John’s Memphis, Tennessee 20111
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,
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. .
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.
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
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.
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.
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. .
- 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.
- 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 –
- 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 …
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.”
John W. Sewell+
August 8, 2016 – Saint John’s Episcopal Church – Memphis, Tennessee – John Sewell
We come to do what Christians do each time they gather.
We come to tell the story.
We come to calm the fear within us.
We come to speak of the hope that is within us.
We come to Celebrate: Interpret, to make sense of. We do that in the context of the Good News of Jesus the Christ. We come to celebrate the life and home going of LEWIS MADISON (BIG DADDY) JONES, JR.
I am rarely presumptuous enough to hazard a guess at what God is thinking. I work for him but I am rarely taken into his confidence. But today, I know Phyllis that you and Lewis kept your vows to each other, as the Book of Common Prayer has it, “Until you were parted by death.” I know that pleased God. Well done.
THE READINGS FOR TODAY SPEAK TO THE STORY WE SHARE,
THE FEAR IN OUR HEARTS AND THE HOPE THAT IS WITHIN US.
We hear first from the words of the Prophet Isaiah who proclaimed, “On this mountain the Lord of Hosts will make feast FOR ALL PEOPLES, a feast of rich food, well-aged wines, full of fat [that was back when fat was still good news], well-aged wines strained clear.
If you recall Jesus produced excellent vintage himself at that wedding in Cana). The marriage feast of the Lamb in Revelation is the consummation of Isaiah, the party planner prophet.
God is throwing a party, a gathering intended for all peoples. God gives us bread to nourish our bodies and wine to make our hearts glad. It is God who throws the party. There and then, God will shallow up death forever and wipe away the tears from all faces. This is the salvation he promises to all peoples. Salvation is a party with God as the host.
The Eucharist carried to the dying has a special name – Viaticum, which literally means “food for the journey” a little something to “tide you over” until you arrive at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. A few days ago, I went out to Collierville, taking Viaticum. Around Lewis’ bed we made Communion together. It was a moment of deep and precious intimacy for Lewis, his family, his dog…
It is altogether appropriate we gather this afternoon to say our prayers for Lewis and that we do so as we celebrate this Eucharist together.
Hear again the words of Paul to the Christians in Rome, “For I am persuaded (not wishful thinking but the thought of one who has lived into the comfort of God’s love) that neither death, nor life, nor angels, not principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other else in all creation shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Be not afraid, for Jesus has overcome death, hell and the grave. Which brings us to hope that in within us.
As Our Lord said to his disciples on Easter afternoon:
“Let not your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so I would have told you. I go and prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you I will come again and take you to myself that where I am there you may be also…”
We have come as far as we can go with Lewis Madison Jones, Jr. His soul has gone to God and his body today goes to the University making a final contribution to cancer research.
Fritz Kunkel wrote once, “Losing one we love to death always means the possibility of a new contact with the beyond, and of a new turning away from the past toward the future.” This statement while true, is in danger of amounting to nothing more than fluffy nothingness straight from a writer’s desk at Hallmark cards. What turns this existential cotton candy into nourishment is suffering.
Spiritual growth comes through suffering. This is not something we have a choice about. Suffering is the promise that life always keeps. Lewis had more than a passing acquaintance with suffering, especially in the last year.
Wendell Berry, writes of the essential “aloneness” of the human experience embedded in entering the big woods:
Always in big woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feeling of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is the ancient fear of the unknown,
You are undertaking the first experience, not of the place, but of yourself in that place. It is an experience of our essential loneliness, for nobody can discover the world for anybody else. It is only after we have discovered it for ourselves that it becomes a common ground and a common bond, and we cease to be alone.
And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground of our feet, and learn to be at home.
If we live long enough our world will be reduced to the dimensions of a bed. It was there, in a hospital bed that Lewis began his greatest adventure, and his final pilgrimage was not of miles to Jerusalem but inches into eternity.
Jesus didn’t say you can’t serve God and the evil one. No, he said, you can’t serve God and money. Lewis worked for mammon, but he didn’t sell out to it. With the unique candor of the dying, he said he never sold his soul for a markup of bonds. He arrived at the end, with his soul in hand. He was glad he could say his soul was his own and now it is God’s. Each of us owe God ONE soul
Big Daddy Jones was a tough man. He was a high school hall of fame football player, played for The University of Memphis. He learned out to take a hit. He told me the story of teaching Patrick to take a hit. I won’t go into details, but it involved the back yard, a mattress, a football and Lewis. Patrick learned to take a hit, and I daresay, he learned to love a hit. It is safe to say that no football came near Patrick that he didn’t try to catch. Also, he learned to never give up, not ever. Even with numerous opponents hanging on for dear life, Patrick was headed downfield always toward the goal line with Lewis cheering on the sidelines. That’s not a bad way to remember him.
Lewis has joined that great company that cannot be numbered who believed in the Word Made Flesh. He has entered into the great story of Scripture. Near the end of the last chapter of the last book of the whole sweep of salvation history, we see the end and we like it. What do we see? The New Jerusalem has come down out of heaven. When we are able to take a peek at the wonders of it all, we see our old friend, The Tree of Life, standing by the water that springs up into everlasting salvation. There are also other old friends, twelve trees each bear its fruit for one of the months and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. We are home and never even knew it. The place of leaving as well as the place of returning is one.
No longer, will we be bound by time/space and we shall see the Lamb that was slain. Having had all tears wiped away, we will get on with the business of worshiping the Holy One and that I’m reassured will never get old at all.
Angels, Evangelists/Creatures and Elders, myriads and myriads and myriads to the seventh power of tenors, basses, baritones, mezzo-sopranos, counter-tenors, altos of every timbre, coloratura sopranos joined by boys with their particularly other-worldly tone, joined by those who are tone-deaf with tin ears, and too scared to try: all of them every last one: all singing just as loud as they can and perhaps on that day any who want to can sing all parts of the chord at the same time and praise God, no one sings flat. Everything from Organs and Calliopes to brasses of every possible metal and size, joined by woodwinds both great and small, accompanied by drums of all nations and persuasions, lift their voices and sing as one, on that day, that great day.
And how could they not? For death, that dominates everything from actuarial tables to crop rotation; that with its bosom buddies, plague, famine, joined in our time by true believers, whose creed is death and worship murder. Death & company have stalked our ancestors and will our descendants on this planet from beginning to end, is defeated, and swallowed up by victory.
That has been true since that day, in one particular place in a small province of an ancient empire, the rumor of which has passed generation by generation to this day and beyond till Jesus comes. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!
We shall take our seat with the great crowd of witnesses, Big Daddy Lewis among them. Let us comfort ourselves with the hope of the resurrection. To him be glory, now and forever. Amen
Note: This statement went out this afternoon to the Saint John’s Community. I thought to share it here.
I spoke last Monday night (July 25th) at a city-wide gathering of Memphis clergy, our third meeting since the “Black Lives Matter” protest on the Mississippi River bridge (I-40) on July 11, 2016. We have come together to pray, to fast, and to create common purpose in bridging the divides in this city. I spoke without notes, but I’ve written down the essence of what I said.
Have you noticed that Christendom is over? The culture of the West is severed from the Christen Gospel and for the first time since the Fifth Century we are no longer the dominant culture in the West.
That being the case, how do we live? I believe that we must be friends by choice, we must proclaim the essential faith and we must wash the world’s feet.
1. We must be FRIENDS BY CHOICE
We must be friends, not because of this or any coming crisis. We must be friends regardless of the boundaries of race, creed, culture or polity. When Christianity was the dominant culture in the West, we had endless arguments over almost everything. Arguments over matters of doctrine and practice for five hundred years are now luxuries we can no longer afford. The people in the street neither understand nor care about these issues. Continuing these controversies is like having an argument over what brand of hardware is on your front door while your house is on fire!Let us choose to be friends and all else will follow.
2. We must proclaim an ESSENTIAL FAITH
How do we come to a genuine consensus on the essential Gospel of Jesus Christ? Just before Christianity became the dominant culture of the West, in the fifth Century, Saint Vincent of Lerins said the Church should follow universality, antiquity, and consent in what we believe.
“Moreover, …all possible care must be taken that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.”
–St. Vincent of Lerins. The Commonitory of St. Vincent of Lerins (p. 7). Veritatis Splendor Publications. Kindle Edition.
It doesn’t mean that we will not believe many things that differ but that all these doctrines and dogmas are not ESSENTIAL!
3. We must wash THE WORLD’S FEET
Americans love words. We talk a lot. Talk is not going to communicate what must be said. I’m an Anglican Christian, so my mind turns to sacraments and signs. What is a sacrament? What is a sign?
- SACRAMENT: “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” Sharing bread and wine (communion), pouring water (baptism), or holding hands while giving and receiving rings (matrimony).
- SIGN: “a symbol that transmits the very thing it symbolizes.” A five dollar paper bill represents and transmits five US dollars in currency.
We can’t have communion together easily as it is many fences around it. For five years as I’ve prayed, I have come to believe that what we must do is wash each other’s feet in public. Yes, I said, “We must wash each other’s feet in public.” Beyond that, we must wash the feet of anyone in our city that will allow us to wash their feet. It’s a bit humiliating to wash feet but it is more awkward to have your feet washed. We’ll simply choose to wash and be washed. What I can tell you is that when we make that choice, a mysterious intimacy washes the soles of feet, penetrating the souls of any who humble themselves, getting to know each other hand to foot.
As always, you can reach our clergy by phone (below) or by email. Our email addresses are listed on the website under About>Staff.
July 24, 2016
Lately, I have been listening to an audible book by Ryan Holiday, Ego is the Enemy
Ryan became breathtakingly successful in 2006, when at the age of 19, he became the youngest executive among Hollywood Talent Agents. By 25 he wrote a bestselling book, and a TV show was optioned, based on his story. He began to believe his own script, believing that he had produced all this in the power of his ego carefully editing out his own failures and mistakes. Then in 2014 his 3 mentors who meant everything to him each crashed and burned.
These were the people I had shaped my life around. The people I looked up to and trained under. Their stability— financially, emotionally, psychologically— was not just something I took for granted, it was central to my existence and self-worth. And yet, there they were, imploding right in front of me, one after another. The wheels were coming off, or so it felt. To go from wanting to be like someone your whole life to realizing you never want to be like him is a kind of whiplash that you can’t prepare for.
How did this come to pass? Ryan continues.
The ego we see most commonly goes by a more casual definition: an unhealthy belief in our own importance. Arrogance. Self-centered ambition. That’s the definition this book will use. It’s that petulant child inside every person, the one that chooses getting his or her way over anything or anyone else. The need to be better than, more than, recognized for, far past any reasonable utility— that’s ego. It’s the sense of superiority and certainty that exceeds the bounds of confidence and talent. It’s when the notion of ourselves and the world grows so inflated that it begins to distort the reality that surrounds us. When, as the football coach Bill Walsh explained, “self-confidence becomes arrogance, assertiveness becomes obstinacy, and self-assurance becomes reckless abandon.”
In this way, ego is the enemy of what you want and of what you have: Of mastering a craft. Of real creative insight. Of working well with others. Of building loyalty and support. Of longevity. Most of us aren’t “egomaniacs,” but ego is there at the root of almost every conceivable problem and obstacle, from why we can’t win to why we need to win all the time and at the expense of others. From why we don’t have what we want to why having what we want doesn’t seem to make us feel any better.
We think something else is to blame for our problems (most often, other people). Especially for successful people who can’t see what ego prevents them from doing because all they can see is what they’ve already done. With every ambition and goal we have— big or small— ego is there undermining us on the very journey we’ve put everything into pursuing.
Hang on to your egos, I’ll circle back in a few minutes.
Following Jesus must have been a heady experience. Most of the disciples were working class folk with a couple of exceptions, but even then there were no blue-bloods. Imagine how it was the first time Jesus sent them and others out in pairs and told him to get busy doing what they had seen him do all over Galilee. They proclaimed the Kingdom of God, they taught, they healed and they cast out evil spirits. Everybody thought they were pretty important (and so did they).
The wanted to be like Jesus for all the wrong reasons.
So his disciples watching this asked him to teach them to pray and. he taught them what is called the Lord’s Prayer.
I. THE LORD TEACHES HOW TO PRAY — OUR FATHER …
Robert Farrar Capon, “Parables of Grace” – “It begins, simply, “Father” a term of relationship which is natural rather than earned. Then Jesus tells the disciples and us to pray for the food they need for each day. Notice that nothing in the way of human achievement is requested. The heart of the prayer is, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive everyone indebted to us.” We receive forgiveness because Jesus died for our sins.
And lead us not into trial (insert your most recent one here). Life is a web of trails and temptations, but only one of them can ever be fatal, and that is the temptation to think that by further, better, and more aggressive living that we can have life. But that will never work. If the world could have lived its way to salvation, it would have, long ago. The fact is that it can only die its way there, lose its way there. The precise temptation, therefore, into which we pray we will not be led, is the temptation to reject our saving death and try to proceed on our own living. Like the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, that is the one thing that cannot be forgiven, precisely because it is the refusal of the only box which forgiveness is ever delivered.”
II. THE SHAMELESS NEIGHBOR
To make his point about praying clearer, Jesus then tells a story: ”It’s like,” he said, “you are sound asleep in bed when the doorbell rings. You look at the clock and see that it is nearly 2:30 AM. Peeping through the curtain you see your college buddy, whom you have not seen in years standing at the door. He needs to spend the night and has not had a thing to eat all day. You’re glad to see him, but you have not gone to the grocer all week and all that is in the fridge is a head of dead lettuce and a bottle of good champagne.
What to do? “Well,” you think, “I could go next door to the neighbor.” So in your robe and bare feet you paddle over next-door and ring the bell. Your neighbor first doesn’t answer the door, no doubt hoping that you will go away.
So you lean into the doorbell and your neighbor’s sleepy and irritated voice comes on the intercom by the door. “What on earth do you want at this hour?” You explain your unexpected company. He says that this is not his problem, and furthermore his baby with the colic has just gone off to sleep in his bed and he doesn’t want to get up and wake the kid. Off goes the intercom. You STAND on the doorbell! If your neighbor will not get up because you and he are golfing buddies, he will get up and get you what you need because of, as the scripture puts it, your PERSISTENCE.
III. SHAMELESSNESS AS A VIRTUE.
The word persistence is not really the best translation. The better translation would be shamelessness or lack of shame.
Capon says, “What is this shamelessness but death to self? People who lead reasonable, respectable lives, who are preoccupied first and foremost with the endless struggle to think well of themselves – do not intrude upon their friend’s privacy at midnight. And why don’t they, because that would make them look bad. But if someone were dead to all that – if he could come to his friend’s house with nothing more than the confession that he was a total loss as a host (or anything else) – then precisely because of his shamelessness, his total lack of a self-regarding life, he would be raised out of that death by his rising friend.”
IV. ABRAHAM: A MODEL OF SHAMELESSNESS
In the reading from Genesis for today God tells Abraham that he is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness. This is a problem for Abraham because his nephew, Lot, lived there. “I’m going to nuke’em,” says God. Abraham said, “Suppose there were 50 righteous men in the twin cities? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be it from you! Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?” [Jews talk to God with an intimacy that few Christians ever muster]. God said, “If I find at Sodom 50 righteous, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.”
Abraham knew the twin cities so he thought to himself, “I’m not sure there are 50 righteous men in the city limits.” So he begins a shameless negotiation: “What if there are only 45 righteous?” God agrees; 40 – God agrees; 30 – God agrees; 20 – God agrees. “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more,” said Abraham peeping through his fingers, “If there are only 10 righteous men, will you not destroy it?” God agreed and went his way. (I wonder if God got out there before he gave away the farm.)
Just like the man caught at midnight without a thing to serve his buddy, Abraham is shameless. Why did Abraham risk such shameless behavior? Because he knew his God. As the Prayer Book puts it in the Rite One Eucharistic prayer, “You whose property is always to have mercy.” This merciful God is our Abba/Father.
V. GOD’S CALL TO SHAMELESSNESS?
We can define prayer as an endeavor to behold what is real.
That brothers and sisters is the only antidote to the Ego-centeredness we call sin.
What is real then to those who accept the good news of God in Christ? What is real is that Abraham and the man with the empty larder and, yes, we also are invited into a shameless and bold relationship with the Holy One of Israel.
Paul, writing the Christians at Colossae, spells out the invitation, “When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him though faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.”
We cannot make it on our own; therefore we are invited into a life of shameless reliance on God. God desires that we pray not to pester him into doing what he would not do unless we whine long enough. Our shameless – boldness rises from our being dead in ourselves and alive in the power of Jesus and his resurrection. It is a case of, as the Big Book of Alcoholic Anonymous puts it, surrendering to win. It is a matter of life and death that we learn that God really loves us. He promised that He would never abandon us or leave us.
Let’s live like it, maybe?
To him be glory, now and forever. Amen