He saw this in 1947!

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AlanWatts“To be alive spiritually man must have union with God and be conscious of it. Apart from this union his religious life will be an empty drudgery, a mere imitation of true spirituality.”

Alan Watts – Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion [pg. 70]

The Radical Living Middle

 A Christianity which is not basically mystical must become either a political ideology or a mindless fundamentalism.

Alan Watts – Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion.

I became an Anglican almost four decades ago because of the tradition’s high tolerance for ambiguity.  To my dismay, even Anglicans, when confronted with the paralyzing anxiety of our time, have polarized.

8310~Protect-Me-Jesus-Posters

The left has become political ideology.  The siren of our present time,  whispers that all boundaries are evil.  Openness is the cry of our time.  What my progressive relatives fail to see is the distinction between barrier and boundary.  It is the difference between a castle wall and the membrane of a single cell.  The cell wall, if I remember from ancient junior high science,  is a semi-permeable membrane.  Substance flow in and out as may be.  The cell wall is there not to keep “stuff” out so much as to promote the integrity of the organism!

The family on the right have descended into mindless fundamentalism.  Now mind you,  it is more sophisticated  than your garden variety, but it is mindless nevertheless. Rabbi Friedman used to warn us not mistake mental activity for thinking. There is a longing for the golden age of purity (a time that likely never existed).  In this Episcopal Church my right wing brethren have withdrawn into sanctuaries of purity in the geography of certainty.   The castle wall around the body ecclesiastical is a barrier to further contamination and thinking.

Both extremes have something to say. Both extremes say it.  Nobody hears the useful ideas because the noise is too great. Closing our eyes, while sticking our fingers in our ears and singing “our old familiar fight song” may take us to our happy place; there is, unfortunately, no joy in the morning when we awaken from our hang over after a night drinking from the fire hose of pernicious rhetoric

I refuse to give up tolerance for ambiguity.  The truth is discovered by pulling the extremes toward the middle and living in the tension of the competing forces.  Fr. Hubbell, Chaplain at University of Kentucky in the 1970s said,

Linda S. Fitz Gibbon_Turn the Other Cheek

Turn the Other Cheek – Linda S. Fitz Gibbon

Trying to stand in the middle of the road is a good place to be run over.

I admit looking in the mirror at the tire prints on my soul from time to time.  But in all truth,  I do not know where else to stand.

In hope, in spite of the facts.

©John W. Sewell

Second Sunday of Christmas

Jan 3, 2016 – Saint John’s Episcopal Church – Memphis, Tennessee

©John W. Sewell

At the end of the day they discovered Jesus missing

Today, we read the only story  in the canonical Gospels of Jesus between Christmas Eve and His baptism.Jesus stayed behind. Discovered he was not with Uncle Cleopas & Aunt Mary. (It takes a Village). Mary & Joseph turned in haste to find their son.

Meanwhile, Jesus was drawn to his home place, the Temple of the Living God, he learned to call Abba, Father. There he found the Elders of Israel debating like a meeting of the Supreme Court.

Jesus in Temple

James Tissot

Suppose this kid finds his way into the inner sanctum of the Court and asked the Justices a question that went to the very root of the question they were debating. They would begin to ask him questions, the matter at hand forgotten, as they marveled and whisper among themselves, “Chief Justice matter,” there. Jesus asked questions, endless penetrating, perceptive and prescient, such that the scholars of Israel may have never asked.

Three days his parents looked.  Note three prophetic days here at the beginning in Jerusalem. In twenty-one years falls three days, mysterious days of resurrection will occur. But not yet.

Meanwhile Mary and Joseph have looked high and low for Jesus and just when his mother was afraid she would see his picture on a milk carton, there he was in the Temple carrying on with the fathers of Israel and holding own, mind you.

william-holman-hunt-the-finding-of-the-saviour-in-the-temple

Jesus in the Temple – William Holman Hunt

How could you scare us like this? “I had to be about my father’s business,” Joe! What can you say to that? They went on home.

About this story, Saint Jerome wrote, “Jesus advanced in wisdom and grace, as his humanity was taught by his divinity.” Even Jesus had to learn the language of his Soul!

That being so, how can we not do the same? Morton Kelsey, in his book, Encounter With God, gives us some hints. He says:

1. ACT AS IF THE SPIRITUAL REALMS EXISTS.

Is there a supernatural that exists beyond our four senses? Most Christians in the country live functionally denying that such exists.

Question; “How many of you had a supernatural experience since Christmas?

Not sure? Afraid to say? Not sure you would know one if you had it? All over town in every church, if I asked that question, people would look at me like I’m crazy, even though the scripture readings for these Twelve Days of Christmas assume the spiritual realm exists!

Studies show that people outside the Church desperately want to experience God. They don’t come looking in the Church because they’ll not meet God there. People are leaving because they have not experienced God.

alan_watts_painting_by_mrhazard-d31txui

At least we can cease from the interminable sermonizing … and tell the people in human speech as distinct from theological algebra, that the Church is where one comes to find union with God. [63] Behold the Spirit – Alan Watts

2. BEGIN ONE’S PILGRIM WITH SERIOUS PURPOSE.

A parish suddenly found itself with an infestation of mice. They were everywhere. One day the altar guild opened the drawer in the sacristy where the fair (translated: beautiful and very expensive) linen was stored finding that not only had mice invaded the holy place, but they had eaten holes all over the formerly fair linen, contaminated the drawer by their very presence.

The last violation was that about a half-dozen were still in the drawer finishing the job, because “muridae mus musculus” is nothing if not through. The startled mice leapt from the drawer scattering handmaidens of the Lord in every direction.

What had been annoying was now war! They looked for anything short of the nuclear option to get rid of them? After many suggestions, they asked the rector. He was then 40 years in service, “Oh that’s easy enough.

We’ll confirm them and we’ll never see them again.”

You got to show up, and keep on showing up.

3. BE AS HONEST WITH ONESELF AS POSSIBLE

We must be honest before we are able to face and grow through many things. Honesty in our affairs is hard enough, but honesty to ourselves in ourselves is rare as well as hard as we prefer to trust ourselves and suspect others. We must be right.

4. BEGIN SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES

a. Keep a journal – 3 pages before we get honest.
b. Keep records of dreams. God still speaks to us from our unconscious.
c. Read and study the spiritual life.
d. Pray, experiment with prayer. Impression – speak to that one. Go another way.
e. Find a spiritual mentor.

merton

“A spiritual mentor wants to know our inmost self, our real self. He wants to know us not as we are in the eyes 0f men, or even as we are in our own eyes, but as we are in the eyes of God. He wants to know the inmost truth of our vocation, the action of grace in our souls. His mentorship is nothing more than a way of leading us to see and obey our real mentor – the Holy Spirit that is hidden in the depths of our soul.” Thomas Merton – Spiritual Direction & Meditation

5. SEEK GOD.

It is important to become as open to God as we know how and then expect him to meet us. As Scripture states if we draw near to God, will draw near to us!!”

The-Youth-of-Our-Lord-John-Herbert

The Youth of Our Lord – John Herbert

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” Luke 2 : 5 2

2016 is our year to grow up and calm down in the power of the Spirit. We too must increase in wisdom and in years: in Divine and human favor. God by the Holy Spirit will make it so. Amen.

Things I’ve Been Chewing On Since Pentecost

Mentoring as Cure of Souls

 Down deep, men and women began/begin to feel a yearning to be connected with others in a way that didn’t rely on a cable, keyboard, or cell tower.

MentoringThe September 2005 special edition of Newsweek’s “Spirituality in America” sums up our spiritual hunger very well: “Today, then, the real spiritual quest is not to put another conservative on the Supreme Court, or to get creation science into the schools. If you experience God directly, your faith is not going to hinge on whether natural selection could have produced the flagellum of a bacterium. If you feel God within you, then the important question is settled; the rest is details.” Again…  David Stoddard.

A Christianity which is not basically mystical must become either a political ideology or a mindless fundamentalism. Watts, Alan W.. Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion.

This is exactly the situation in the second decade of the 21th Century. On the left the Church is political ideology and the right is brain dead fundamentalism. Betwixt and between these camps of true believers lies the company of the beleaguered.

Many do not know that before he was a Buddhist  Master,  Alan was Father Watts, Episcopal chaplain at Northwestern University,  Evanston, Ill.  The following long quote is from Behold the Spirit, a work that I consider a classic.  His critique of the present condition of the Christian Church in America was made in 1947.  The man was a prophet. Perhaps if anyone had listened he might well remained a Christian.

AlanWattsFr. Watts continues,  “Naturally, institutional Christianity will, in its present form, continue to supply the demand which remains for a monarchical religion. But a considerable number of ministers and even congregations—not to mention millions of reasonably intelligent young people—realize that churches must “put up or shut up,” and that the chief business of religious facilities and assemblies is to provide a social milieu for religious experience. This is no mere matter of changing the externals—of having rock bands instead of organs and Kyrie eleison set to jazz, nor even of turning churches into social service centers with the idea that t*his would be practicing Christianity seven days a week instead of just talking it on Sundays. Continue reading

Easter Day 2015

Paschal (Easter) Candle - Chapel of the Cross, Madison, Mississippi

Paschal (Easter) Candle – Chapel of the Cross, Madison, Mississippi

On Thursdays since last Labor Day, my SOULWorks Group has volunteered at Manna House, a place of radical hospitality at Cleveland and Jefferson. There street folk can shower, get clean clothes and several cups of the strongest coffee in Memphis, Tennessee. I have many new friends there. I have yet to hear anyone complain about their lot. Actually, “I woke up this morning and I’m glad to be moving, today,” is the most common remark. I now know both coming and going a profound truth. Namely, having little doesn’t necessarily produce bitterness any more than having everything necessarily produces gratitude.

A young man there is tormented by voices in his head. That’s an irony as his name is Emmanuel, “God with us.” Every time I meet him, it is for the first time. He looks carefully, quizzically at my face and I introduce myself (again). Recently, I learned that his mother comes there most every day. She stands and looks at him, he looks back, but he never knows her. Yet she comes. That’s what mothers do. What she feels, she has never said.

Presentation in Temple

Presentation in Temple

Certainly Jesus knew his mother that Friday morning, as they began to crucify him. Perhaps, amnesia would have been a kindness. She stood looking up, he looking down and their eyes met. I’ve often wondered if Simeon’s words echoed in Mary’s memory that Friday noon. He had snatched Jesus from her arms over thirty years earlier, announcing to anyone who would stop and listen that this one was Messiah! His parting line, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed,” gained strangling clarity as she stood in the mid-day sun.

That strangling clarity is exactly what we avoid knowing and especially feeling. No avoidance can protect us. It is futile. It is futile because in the deepest place in our souls, we know: Suffering is the promise life always keeps. Suffering is the promise life always keeps. Never achieving your dream Suffering is the promise life always keeps Achieving your dream, only to discover it was unworthy Suffering is the promise life always keeps Marrying and family Suffering is the promise life always keeps Unwed and solitary Suffering is the promise life always keeps In spite of our ego’s best laid plans, promoting our terminal uniqueness. Regardless our wealth, family, ethnicity, race, nationality, or zip code It is a true saying and worthy of all to be received, that all humans are more alike than we are different! Therefore, beloved… Suffering is the promise life always keeps

1 AVOIDANCE OF PAIN – PURSUIT OF POWER

The unfortunate incident in the Garden of Eden never tells how evil began. The fall of Eve &  Adam explains how humanity go entangled with evil and sin. Sin and its consequences, suffering and death is lot of all humanity just as sure as sparks fly upward. We cannot not assume that all people that have ever lived on this green Earth felt joy. We can assume that every person who has ever taken breath on this green Earth has experienced pain. The strategy for avoiding pain and sorrow, loss and suffering has always been power. We have pursued power, to protect ourselves from pain. The exercise of force, can in fact, keep many species of wolves away from our proverbial doors. ‘

But then, because power is addictive in itself, we pursue it for its own sake. Naturally, as with any competition, where everybody is driving and finally diving for the prize, there must a winner and lots of losers.

How many remember who won the final-four last year? How many remember the third runner up? How many remember last year’s runner up.

Winners are empowered and losers are not. But even the winners are empowered for a short time before it all begins again. On and on it goes. As it has ever since Cain lost God’s regard that time and enraged at his loss of power, murdered his brother Abel.

Regardless then we lose or win, we have the same fear: having enough, or not being enough or, finally not being at all, that twists us into perverse caricatures of what a human should be. There we will always trust our own ego above all others and distrust anyone else.

Power has been our strategy, Control is our universal policy. We have consoled ourselves with the idea that if we worked hard enough, learned enough built technology powerful we could in our way finally achieve what our distant ancestors could not achieve that time with the tower.

Truly it is true that never in the history of our race have so many had so much for such a long time. We split the atom looking for power, last century and we found it. The irony is that while splitting the atom produced power beyond imagination, the bitter irony is that nuclear energy is lethal. Our will to power is lethal such that it will cost us our souls. The Gospel revealed by God in Christ is that something is terribly wrong in the human heart – and before the foundation of the world, God set out to do something about it.

2 THE BIZARRE OPTION

Of course no one got what God was about. That has been clear since, the Evil One gave Jesus advice on how to get the Kingdom underway that time in the Wilderness. The disciples didn’t get it either, nor his family or the priests, scribes, Romans of every station and power. And frankly, few have ever “gotten it”! Why was that? God’s plan was so outrageous, so clever that we marvel today at the elegant equation of grave. God’s secret weapon was humility.

I believe that I speak for all of us when I state that this is, in point of fact, exactly what we are not looking for!

As Woody Allen once said, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment.”

3 KILLING DEATH BY DEATH

John Behr, the Dean of Saint Vladimir’s Russian Orthodox Seminary, succinctly states Jesus’ counter-intuitive strategy of “surrendering to win,” in his recent book, Becoming Human, (I’m borrowing several passages)

  • “Christ does not show himself to be God by being “almighty,” as we tend to think of this. As moving mountains, throwing lightning bolts and so on – It is rather by the all-too-human act of dying, in the particular manner that he dies.“ BH [21]
  •  Death is, in point of fact, the only thing that men and women have in common from the beginning of the world onwards, throughout all regions and cultures of the world.
  • And thus Christ reveals what it is to be God through the only thing that we have in common. He does this not simply by dying –, he does it by the way that he has died.
  • Had Christ revealed what it is to be God in any other way – for example:
    •  by being rich and powerful (reflecting our own desires),
    •  by being poor and outcast (as we might conclude by the special place the poor have in the heart of God.)
  • Any such option will have excluded some people: for those who do not fit any such group would have had no part in him.
  • Alternatively, if it were simply because he was human, like us, that he died, but because he is also God he is able to get himself of the grave that would have been great for him, but would not really have helped others.  It is rather because he conquers death by his death that he enables all men and women also to use their own mortality to come to life in him. BH [23]
Victor Safonkin

Victor Safonkin

      Ironically, it is precisely where the world detects the most obvious example of weakness— the cross— that God triumphs over sin and death at the peak of their most deadly power. Here’s the irony: Just where the highest and holiest victim of truly undeserved suffering cries out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” victory over sin and death is taking place. This the foolishness and weakness that trump the wisdom and power of the ages! Horton, Michael S. – A Place for Weakness: Preparing Yourself for Suffering (p. 28y).

4 ALL WE NEED DO IS BE DEAD.

You do know we are all going to die? Is this not incredible? The only thing we have to do is be dead! We begin to die by repenting.

I have told this story before in this. What I lose in novelty, let me take up by way of testimony. I want to tell you of the day that the truth the way down is the way up became more than theology, more than abstraction, a nice idea but unrealistic. It happened on this wise… 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 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.

The death of Jesus shows us what an authentic human being looks like AND the death of Jesus releases grace, the energy, to get over ourselves and our ego. I see this power at work in lives of people every day.

Every day, Alcoholics Anonymous teaches me that what can never be done with white-knuckled will power, happens whenever any of us finally take our hands off the steering wheel, raise them in the air and surrender to the power of Christ’s death.

  • In that moment we die in the death of Christ.
  • In that moment we also rise with Christ in his resurrection.

What one repents of is sin, but sin is understood as ‘a matter of trying to block the activity of God, which entrails some curtailing of human freedom. [106] The Necessary Unity of Opposites: The Thinking of Northrop Frye – Brian Russell Graham

We first give up blocking God • We limit our ego • We take up freedom

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “here is the true Christian definition of freedom. Freedom is self-limitation: self-limitation for the sake of others.”

From Under the Rubble; Repentance and self-limitation in the lives of nations.

We are free, beloved, we are free to limit ourselves for the sake of others. Brothers and Sisters of the household of faith, I say to you this Easter day, self-limitation is true freedom.

  • The ‘particular manner’ in which Jesus died was exactly self-limitation for the sake of others.
  • And by exercising this true freedom, by pursuing humility instead of power, his suffering was transformed into salvation.
  • And now we, on this Easter Day, praise him in celebration of the downward trail he blazed.
  • We follow the way Jesus, the Christ leads by limiting ourselves, for the sake of others,
  • We do this in faith that in humility, our suffering, too, is transformed into salvation.

TO HIM, BE GLORY NOW AND FOREVER.

Alleluia, Alleluia – Christ is Risen – The Lord is risen indeed Alleluia, Alleluia

Lent IV

“It’s snakes, why does it have to be snakes?” Indiana Jones

It is a true saying and worthy of all people to be received, that When 2 or 3 are gathered together, someone is always complaining

The Brazen Serpent - James Tissot

The Brazen Serpent – James Tissot

The children of Israel (note they were never called the adults of Israel) are complaining about, you guessed it, the food. They got really personal about it too, doubting God and sassing Moses.

So they certainly had it coming when the serpents slivered into camp with their names written on them. Naturally, they came running for help, given the bite of consequences. They never seemed to “get it” or at least the crowd that exited Egypt never got it. That is why only two of that generation made it to the Promised Land. It took wandering in circles for forty years for them to die off. Their children were a hardier lot.

Hold that thought.

Seeing the cross coming and going and coming again.

28-serpentJesus seeing his passion coming picked the story of the serpent on the pole as a metaphor for his coming death. This is called the type. However, this is a type only because what Jesus saw the striking similarity of the upward movement of the serpent on a pole and his body on a cross.

This is called the Antitype. After Good Friday, the disciples saw the connection and realized that the incarnation (Jesus coming as a man) reflecting back and forth.

Over time, they realized the New Testament as it developed, was concealed in the Old Testament and the Old Testament was revealed in the New Testament.

This is reading
• “forward (New Testament)
• backward (Old Testament)
• forward” (New Testament again with greater insight.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Let’s examine two words that are often misunderstood.

  • Believe
    Belief is not an affirmation of facts and data.
    Belief here is internalizing the truth perceived, evidenced by the reordering of our loves.
  • Eternal Life
    Eternal life is not endless chronology. An old movie device for the passage of time was a calendar with leaves for each day set upon by a fan. The days flipped by and then moving faster and faster, years and decades. Calendar leaves blown by gale force winds in perpetuity is not eternal life.

Eternal life is the quality of time, transcending the clock.

As Robert Capon once put it, “Clock time is, “what time is it?” Eternal-life time is, “high time, what it time for is?”

The eternal is the quality of reality outside time and space. Since we have never been outside either, we cannot conceive it (yet).

Some people are incapable of going to hell, because they are living there already in this present time. In the same way, eternal life begins now.

Take heart. God is not like us!

Moses did not hoist the serpent in the wilderness to taunt the Children of Israel with the image of the punishment they had earned by doubting God and sassing Moses. That is not how God works. Moses, not being God, was tempted to go that route a few times, but was, to his credit, mostly restrained. The serpentine image was a sign of and a source of healing and salvation. All this when the Children of Israel clearly had it coming.

Raising the Cross - James Tissot

Raising the Cross – James Tissot

Jesus was not lifted up to shame or pronounce judgment on the sinful and uninformed there that Passover. No, so that everyone who accepts the improbable good news of saving from the pandemic of sin, always fatal. Bizarre as it seems it makes perfect sense with the mind of faith. Don’t just do something today, stand there. Gaze upon the inoculation from death.

Is this not wondrous, O my soul? Is this not wondrous, beloved to your soul?

How then should we live?

Salvation is the free gift of God to sinners; in Christ, man is given union with God even though he crucifies it. We are saved through faith in this gift, and through gratitude for it perform good works. Alan Watts – Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion (p. 198).

In this post-Christendom where we find ourselves, we no longer have the luxury of an unexamined and lazy spirituality. Now, we simply must know better. That being the case, let us live like it, being in constant prayer. What is ours in Christ Jesus is a gift. But finally it is a gift we must act on and live in. Lent will soon end. Easter is coming. When Saint Paul exhorts us to live in the power of the resurrection, it is not just a metaphor for moral living Life. Saint Paul means it literally. In this, we must be literalists!

Remember, Easter is coming. Amen

Is the a Fire Truck in the Neighborhood?

Christendom is dead. Even in the provinces, yea verily, even in Memphis on the Mississippi it is so. Reciprocity between Western Culture and the Church is over.

The arguments between Calvinists and Arminians [as a prime example] must cease. It is not that such distinctions have no meaning because they do. I hold opinions about these matters and that is unlikely to change. The difference is that the people in the street neither, understand these distinctions nor do they care.

house on fireThat being the case we have better things to do. Preoccupation with these contentions is like arguing about what hardware should be holding up the front door of a house that is on fire!   Alan Watts writing in 1947 gets to the point.

At least we can cease from the interminable sermonizing … and tell the people in human speech as distinct from theological algebra, that the Church is where one comes to find union with God. [63] BEHOLD THE SPIRIT – ALAN WATTS

“It is one thing to believe in the Incarnation as an historical event; it is another to understand, even intellectually what it means, and still another to experience the meaning in terms of everyday life and consciousness.”

                — Alan Watts – Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion [6]

“It is one thin…

Quote

“It is one thing to believe in the Incarnation as an historical event; it is another to understand, even intellectually what it means, and still another to experience the meaning in terms of everyday life and consciousness.”

Alan Watts – Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion [page 6]