Self-limitation for the Sake of Others

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In the late 1970’s I attended a Symposium at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky.  It was titled, From Under Our Rubble, in response to a series of essays by Russian thinkers, From Under the Rubble, edited by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.  My wife and a friend, Mark Vaughn attended as the house-guests of Father Henry Parker, the Chaplain of Berea. It was a glittering assembly of thinkers.  Dr. Elton Trueblood, weighty friend of the Quakers was chaplain. The Right Reverend Stephen Neill, architect of the Church of South India preached.  The Rev. Father Ramzi Malek O.P. led prayer and taught of the soul. His brother, Charles Malek, was once President of the United Nations General Assembly.  One of the leaders of the Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C., whose name I cannot recall, spoke on ministry.  These stand out in my memory.  These men and women caught my imagination as speakers,  I knew Elton and Henry as friends.  Over forty years later,  I cannot calculate the influence they exerted on my Christian development.  I am grateful, simply grateful.  Mark and I have remained friends of soul all these decades and I am grateful beyond measure for his counsel and companionship on the way.

About thirty years ago,  I came across my first copy of From Under the Rubble in an antique mall in Birmingham AL.  I have had several copies since, usually they become gifts for others.  Among first rate essays, one of them has shaped me for the journey. It is Repentance and Self-limitation in the Life of Nations by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.  It was here that I first encountered the notion of “self-limitation.”  I rather like Rabbi Friedman’s term “self-regulation” better, but nevertheless, it was there that I began the contemplation that discovered Tzimtzum in mystical Judaism.

“After repentance, and once we renounce the use of force, self-limitation comes into its own as the most natural principle to live by. Repentance creates the atmosphere for self-limitation.” A page later he writes, “After the Western Idea of unlimited freedom, after the Marxist concept of freedom as acceptance of the yoke of necessity — here is the true Christian definition of freedom. Freedom is self-restriction! Restriction of the self for the sake of others.”

There you have it.  I have never been the same since that day.

 As the author points out, “once understood and adopted, this principle diverts us – as individuals, in all forms of association, societies and nations – from outward to inward development, thereby giving us greater spiritual depth.

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Faith from Under the Rubble – Uri Andreyev

I came across this painting on the internet this afternoon and its title prompted my detour through the 1970’s.  Memories are powerful, especially when they serve to keep us humble.   The day will come when people will scrap the graffiti of tribal war paint from the faces of our common humanity and discover again the face of the Son of God, hidden as always among us.

Until that day,  I live in hope, in spite of the facts.

John W. Sewell ©

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

Data is a Form of Substance Abuse

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For some time I have been struck by the marvels and perils of the Internet. There is an amazing amount of information out there. On a daily basis I feel not just bombarded with but torpedoed by data. There is simply not enough time to read everything that demands my attention. I feel more inadequate than ever. My late teacher, Edwin Friedman used to say, “That in the late Twentieth Century data was a form of substance abuse.” People are treating information like any other addictive substance. When anxiety rises anxiety is bound by looking for more data. We read data and momentarily feel ok. Soon anxiety rises and the cycle begins again.

Friedman also said that there was a desperate search for data and technique supporting the notion that if people just knew enough and had the right technique they could do anything. But that is not true. The organizing principle of Western culture is found, for good or ill, in Genesis chapter 3. Regardless of how much Eve and Adam. To overcome the gaps, between why and why not.

Since then, [an abandoned project] Mr. Eco’s enthusiasm for the marvels of the Internet has been somewhat tamed. Now he finds himself pressing for ways to teach young people how to control the flood of information available on it before it overwhelms them. ”The problem with the Internet is that it gives you everything, reliable material and crazy material,” he said. ”So the problem becomes, how do you discriminate? The function of memory is not only to preserve, but also to throw away. If you remembered everything from your entire life, you would be sick.”

He likes to compare the computer (he has eight) to the car (he has two): both are tools that people must first be taught how to use. ”We invented the car, and it made it easier for us to crash and die,” he said. ”If I gave a car to my grandfather, he would die in five minutes, while I have grown up slowly to accept speed.” A Lover of Literary Puzzles by CELESTINE BOHLEN Published: October 19, 2002 How does an existing organization get un-stuck? Professor Sherry Turkle at MIT, on the Technology Channel once said “It is not a question about what technology is doing for us but what technology is doing to us!” She goes on to say that the first thing that people used to look for was meaning but that is not longer the case. Now the first thing people look for is mechanism. Mechanism sounds suspiciously like technique fueled by data.

The Big Book of Alcoholics declares, those who will not recover are those who are “constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.”

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

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“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?

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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

 

What I hope ALL Christians Learn by Following Jesus.

• The supernatural is real
• Take up Nondual thinking
• Thinking Systemically (Bowen Theory)
• To follow Jesus is to serve
• Difference between job and work
• Regardless of the event, first ask, “How is my functioning contributing
to this situation?”
• Suffering is the promise life always keeps
• God knows the outcome. God does not choose the outcome. That’s your
job.
• Judge not! I mean literally mean, Judge not at all.
• Become Biblically literate
• Journaling is essential if you mean to grow in soul.
• More Orthopraxy not more Orthodoxy
• Practice Constant Prayer (literally)
• Honesty is more important than religious talk
• Tithing as a way of life.
• It’s hard to go back to plowing when you just ate your ox!
• Faith not certainty

Nine Characteristics of the Mystical Experience

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Every person’s mystical experience varies in length and intensity. Have you had a mystical experience? Here are a few defining characteristics:

1. Conscious Unity

The boundaries of where you perceive your individual consciousness and identity (ego) to begin and end vanish. Instead you’re left with a boundless and infinite union with all that is around you.

2. There Is No Time or Space

With a lack of a definable identity or spatial recognition, your sense of time feels infinite. You go from perceiving time from moment-to-moment as a static individual, to perceiving it as a stream of eternal present moments.
Without time space is endless.

Because your sense of identity is gone, your ability to separate “your” (now non-existent) surroundings into individual “spatial” elements also disappears.

3. Objective Reality

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Without a discernible identity comes a sense of greater “objectivity” as though you’re experiencing a much more intricate and profound reality. Everything doesn’t just feel perfect, everything “is” innately perfect.

4. Gratitude

Much of your ecstatic feeling comes from an immense sense of gratitude. This gratitude is an overwhelming sense of awe at “your” (now non-existent) insignificance in comparison to the vastness of existence.

5. Life Is Seen As Sacred

In fact, your sense of gratitude is so vast that you feel almost undeserving of having the opportunity to experience such a miracle. You develop a new sense of respect for the sacredness of life that allows you to be here.+

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6. You Understand Paradox

Our sense of self or identity creates duality in our perception of reality (“I” am separate from “That”). However, the moment this separation disappears, you’re left with a non-dual reality which your intellect finds paradoxical in comparison to what it is accustomed to.

 

7. The Experience Is Indescribable

The overwhelming magnitude of emotions and intuitive understanding you embody makes the attempt to even describe it feel limited by language and insulting to the depth of the experience.

8. The Experience Is Temporary

The very nature of a mystical experience is its transience. Eventually you end up returning back to your habitual way of life, but the experience changes something deep inside.

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9. The Experience Is Life-Changing

After experiencing such a state, suddenly death isn’t as scary as it used to be, and the beliefs or ambitions that you once held to be so important immediately lose their meaning. In fact, the mystical experience often awakens a thirst to try to bring as much of that experience back into our regular day-to-day lives as possible.

The Mystical Experience Is Only A Taste

There’s a useful term in the Christian doctrine known as “Grace.” This word basically means that we receive mercy and love from the divine because it wants us to have it, not because we have done anything to deserve it.

Many people confuse having a mystical/spiritual experience with actually cultivating a spiritual life. To me, however, these experiences are brought by grace, but our appreciation of them is directly proportionate to our development of soulful maturity.

If the grace of a mystical experience is given to a 10 year old child, they will no doubt feel the experience but the degree in which they experience it will vary compared to someone who has undergone maturation; the deep exploration of their psyche, and who has learned to live life from the seat of their soul.

For the child it will be a great experience that will eventually fade and become a distant memory. But for the man who has dedicated his life to cultivating soulful maturity; to tilling the soil of his soul, this experience becomes the seed that is prepared to blossom. This might be the very tipping point that leads to the ultimate spiritual awakening.

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This is precisely why I emphasize so much the necessity of soulwork and the journey of soulful maturity. Without widening the gap through which we connect to Soul, the mystical experience has no deep long-lasting impact on us. But with it, we taste the fragrance and essence of eternity.

Lonerwolf website

The Mother of Your Fear

I have a shelf in my library where reside the volumes that speak most deeply to my soul with the sustained whispering that great writing gives .  One volume is The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America by David Whyte.  I have returned yet again to this wisdom from the Yorkshire poet.

Chapter two is a treatment, an exegesis almost, of Beowulf.

The mythologist Joseph Campbell used to say that if you do not come to know the deeper mythic resonances that make up your life, the mythic resonances will simply rise up and take you over. If you do not live out your place in the mythic pattern consciously, the myth will simply live you, against your will. Beowulf is welcomed by Hrothgar, and that night lies in wait for Grendel with his men inside Herot, Hrothgar’s great hall. Sure enough, in the ensuing fight, Beowulf mortally wounds Grendel, who then staggers back to die in the mere. That night there is tremendous feasting and gift-giving. The problem, it seems, has been solved in one swift movement. But that night, as Beowulf sleeps with his men in a different hall, something else comes from the swamp to Herot, fights off the best warriors, and retreats with its human victim: Grendel’s mother.

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The message in this portion of the poem is unsparing. It is not the thing you fear that you must deal with, it is the mother of the thing you fear. The very thing that has given birth to the nightmare.

Here it is.  I am afraid that I will not be enough.  What man is not?  What is the mother of my fear of inadequacy?  Why, not to be enough and in the end to not be AT ALL!  Yup, you got it!  Not wonder we are willing to loiter along the the lakefront, the edge of the mere!  We would do almost anything to avoid plunging headfirst into the dark waters of the unconscious where the shadow knows and as Whyte writes, “men pray for dry feet.”

Yet, we are unsatisfied circling the lake.  We look deep into the water, seeing our reflection in the surface, telling ourselves that, Yes, we will sign up to be the latest narcissist falling in love with our own reflection on the surface of the liquid before us.  Anything to avoid falling headlong into our destiny, the soul-work that awaits us all.

My wife gave me her first gift before our hearts ever spoke of marriage.  It is a framed prayer that has sat on a table in my library for about thirty years.  It says,  “Oh God of second chances and new beginnings, here I am again.”  And so I am.

JWS – March 5, 2018  10:20 PM

 

Tuesday – February 21, 2018

Cotton-Patch-Gospel

Mark does not tell us what happened to Jesus in the wilderness, only that the angels waited on him. In the Cotton Patch Gospels, (the Gospels recast in Georgia in the 1950’s), an angel arrived bearing a chili cheese dog for Jesus.

Each of us is driven into our wilderness, there we are tempted & there we are waited on by angels. We will face adversity, find subtle temptations and run into angels along our way. What angel (messenger) will bring us consolation today?  Wait, watch & enjoy! Thanks be to God.

Meditation – Monday in Lent I

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Temptations in San Marco, Venice

February 19, 2018

Mark does not tell us what happened to Jesus in the wilderness, only that he was tempted by Satan, not how the evil one did it. Temptations are tailor made for us. Perhaps an inventory of temptation and weak points is order. What are they (there is always more than one)? Foretold is forearmed.