Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky

Bishop of Shanghai, 1906

Every October 15th, my mind turns to this odd little man,  a Polish Jew, converted to Christianity, becoming in due season, the Anglican Bishop of Shanghai.  The years of life spent at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston,  IL  I sat opposite his grace’s stained glass window for at least three services a day.

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We remember him because of the extreme example of the work of the Spirit was done in and through him.  He was fully paralyzed expect for minor use of one hand.  With that limitation also came, as he said, “patience, otherwise I would never have sat and translated the Scriptures into Mandarin Chinese.  And indeed this thing came to pass and we are amazed not for his stamina but for his interpretation of his circumstances. JWS

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

Justin Welby 3_0 What advice might you give to a local parish or other group that’s trying to discern where its call is?

First of all, just because you can’t do everything, it doesn’t mean you should do nothing at all. There’s a sort of a sense (that says), “I can’t solve the problem of world poverty and inequality, so I won’t do anything.” Do what you can. Not what you can’t. That comes out of prayer. So for a local church community, pray. Start with prayer about your local community. Contemplate, listen in silence. Allow the spirit of God to speak, and look and see what happens.

Secondly, be outward looking and engaged and take risks. Take risks, but risks that are based out of a life of prayer in your community. We are based in a relationship of love for Jesus Christ, so start with what we know and see what he calls us to do.

Excerpt from an interview with The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury – Trinity News, Trinity Wall Street

Deliver us, O Lord, From the Peril of Invincible Ignorance

Sometimes it's best not to know

“The unconscious comes to the aid of the conscious ego when it is grappling with a task that is beyond its capacity.” Anthony Stevens from Private Myths

What help could come our way if we were willing to pay attention to our dreams and visions. The resolute determination to avoid a meaningful connection between the inside and outside of our being almost rises to the level of what the Roman Church calls “Invincible ignorance” — the ultimately fatal decision to not accept the truth.

However, in the past year I have been in sustained conversations with men who are working with their dreams and I observe the amazing change in them as them as they take seriously this communication. I have observed one fellow getting “unstuck” in his career as he listened to the coaching of his sleeping dreams. He had never considered such work, but now calls me with reports of his nocturnal adventures.

I am more convinced than ever that soul work is the principal task of priests & deacons in parishes. It requires vigilance not to succumb to the tyranny of the immediate, losing focus on the essential task at hand. The institution of the church no doubt needs maintaining but only when that maintenance supports the Cure of Souls, as the ministry of the Church. So long as Church leaders, lay and clergy, keep that in mind the institution thrives and souls are augmented.

As Saint John writes in Third John chapter one verse two, “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” (KJV)

Even as your soul prospers, what if our life reflected the health of our soul? Would it look like Dorian Gray’s portrait? Some of the problems of life do not depend on our personal functioning. Other people’s choices can make a difference in the prosperity or famine of one’s life. However much of our dis-ease comes from within and Jesus warned when he said that what defines comes from within not what sort of food that is eaten.

John Sewell 2010©

Feast of Saint Hubert


hubertus
Patron of Hunters & Dogs
October 26, 2014

Hubert (657 – 727 AD)  was the self-absorbed heir of the Duchy of Aquitaine in the 600’s. He was obsessed with hunting and went every day. Hubert could not restrain himself even in Lent continuing the chase during the forty days of self-denial. He crossed the line when he when he chased an enormous stag on Good Friday. With his dogs in full cry he pursued the deer – only to have the animal stop and turn. In the stags antlers was a crucifix – and the animal spoke said essentially, “Hubert if you don’t get your act together you are going to Hell!”

This young man got more than he expected on that Good Friday hunt. He became a priest and then a bishop and followed Jesus as a hunter of Men.

Jame Tissot  "And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright." (Genesis 25:30-31)

James Tissot
“And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright.” (Genesis 25:30-31)

In the OT reading, Isaac and Rebecca had twin sons, Esau and Jacob:
Esau was a hairy man’s man – a mighty hunter – a Bubba – with gun-racks (or in this case bow-racks) on his chariot.

Jacob was a momma’s boy – staying at home reading cook books, while there is nothing wrong with cooking and many of the great chefs are male, the little brother has not yet begun to move from the nurture of childhood into the journey toward man-hood.

Esau and Jacob are the twin issues of men not leaving home and not growing up AND leaving home but not growing up either.

Esau comes home down and very hungry from a hunt having bagged nothing. Jacob has cooked up a pot of red lentils which must have smelled better than I imagine, so he says he’s dying can he have some of the, literally, red-red stuff. Jacob says sure big brother, it’s yours if you will give me the birth-right making me the eldest of the two of us and the heir. So Bubba did it despising his birth-right.

Esau could read the signs in the field but he could not discern the signs in his own life, does not connect to the deepest issues of his heart. In this we, especially men, are the sons of Esau who sell our treasure without considering its value.

The twin’s grand-father, Abraham, was a great hunter. Although there is no mention of his hunting game – he stalked a greater prize – a country promised by God and left everything behind to go and hunt the place that God promised. By faith he left home not knowing where he was going – and he went

Faith is the evidence of things not seen – Abraham is the type of this for believers ever since – today the religions count him as their spiritual ancestor. Abraham is the grand-father of hunters and from him the lore and the art of spiritual hunting is our legacy and our inheritance.

emblemWhat are we hunting when we go hunting and who is hunting us when we go hunting? Hunting is a metaphor for growing up and going on adventure – the goal being maturity and wholeness.

Jesus is God’s best and most complete attempt to come and hunt so that we and all who have ever lived and ever will live may be saved. After all, he said he came to seek and to save that which was lost. He of course tended to bring them back alive as he told the fishermen by the lake, “come and follow me and I will make you fishers of men;” of course he could just as easily told a party of hunters to follow him and he would make them hunters of men.

This hunting metaphor becomes the metaphor of evangelism. While hunting and feeding on the animal becomes the language of sacrament, “behold the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world” AND Jesus’ admonition, “eat my body and drink my blood” has been practiced by Christians ever since. In matters of faith as in nutrition you are what you eat.

Zacchaeus

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is passing through Jericho, the oldest continuous human settlement on the planet. Here the trade routes from Africa, Asia and Europe intersect. And wherever the trade goes the tax-collector follows.

Rome said, “Come and follow me and I will make your taxers of men.” Tax-collecting was a franchise with a stated amount required by the state, whatever else the tax-man could squeeze out of the traffic was his to keep; and trust me they could squeeze quite a lot – Zacchaeus was the head-taxer and therefore filthy rich.

He goes out to see Jesus and he is a little man so the crowd no doubt made sure he couldn’t see (the sort of petty revenge taken by the weak on the powerful). But Zac didn’t get where he was because of his dignity or passivity so he shinnied up a sycamore tree. As Jesus came along he looked up and realized that he has treed something or this case someone.

Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, come on down, I’m inviting myself and a bunch of my closest friends to lunch.” The text doesn’t record the reaction of Mrs. Zacchaeus when her husband showed up with all those strangers.

After lunch, Zacchaeus – I will give half of all I have to the poor and if I have defrauded anyone [of course he had], I will pay them four times as much. You see that when you are hunted and treed by Jesus things change, they change for the better and they they change in a hurry.

In 1492 Columbus set sail to the west to find the orient only to run into the Americas, and in that case for the explorer, as the tax-collector in Jericho, what he found turned out to be better than what he was looking for.

The Vision of Saint Hubert - Jan Brueghel - after Rubens

The Vision of Saint Hubert – Jan Brueghel – after Rubens

Saint Hubert heard the call of God and laid down his bow and took the hunt for souls, even as Jesus called the disciples. Let us seek God knowing that we find be found by Him and know that he sent his Son so that we might be…

…brought back alive – in fact more alive than we have ever been before – to have life and that life abundantly; may that be the ultimate concern of all hunting. In the name of God… Amen

January 26, 2009

National Baptist Evangelical Life and Soul Sav...

National Baptist Evangelical Life and Soul Saving Assembly of the U.S.A. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The journey is easier at the beginning and the end than the middle when we are far from home and home. As I approach old age I find it hard to remember a time when ministry did not inhabit a large space in my inner life.  I was baptized at eight scared into the Kingdom at a Baptist revival. But that was only the outer thing, the thing that hooked my fear and plunged me into the fishpond at the White place almost fifty years ago.  It was at the same farm that as a three year old I sat in great-aunt Myrtie’s lap on the bank of Anderson creek as my parents were baptized down in the pool formed by a gravel bank.

 Thought some might doubt it, I remember it clearly. Like a scene from a movie people were standing and sitting by the water. The grass was green in the way it is in the South before being scorched by the August Sun.  Folk went down into the water lost and came up found. I’ve learned since then that found takes a long time. The pilgrimage to God is rarely dramatic it is mostly as an old timer in AA says, “the inevitability of gradualness.”

This was before the Baptist got “baptisteries” those walk-in bathtub artificial kind of “improvements” that keep us from nature and perhaps [they are unnatural which mates poorly with the] super-natural as well.  However well intended these innovations are, what is gained in convenience is lost in affect. There is something about inconvenience that is comforting in its discomfort.  Coming to God is not convenient.

I read today in Anglicans on line that a group of clergy, God help us, are bringing a resolution before the Synod of the Church of England that Easter be fixed on the same Sunday every year.  This is about as foolish a proposition as I’ve heard.  We will convenience ourselves into nothing at all. C. S. Lewis once said that “the Gospel can be of no concern. The Gospel can be of ultimate concern. The Gospel can never be of moderate concern.”  The convenience of moderation has the affect of warm water it is wet but not refreshing.

We cover the cross with so many layers that it is obscured from the casual observer. JWS

Overcoming the Split Between Fact and Value

One of the fates of spending six years and three denominations in theological education was to come to a place of not taking any point of view all that seriously as people seem largely to think in the style in vogue at the time they were schooled.

Reared in an evangelical (pre-fundamentalist) Baptist Church, I was impressed by the unconscious allegiance to the Gospel as we had received it.  The Bible spoke we believed to the real situation of people in their lives and that the text was reliable in how it spoke of God. It never occurred to us to think otherwise.  I was largely unaffected by the hermeneutic of suspicion, as it was called, seeing what I call a hermeneutic of hostility, a militant regard that the scripture speaks in a hopeless superstitious way, with a sort of arrogant assumption that we now had it right being post-enlightenment and all.

I also observed that the reactivity to this hostility was to retreat into a rigid, sterile fundamentalism.  The thinking of liberal Christianity is formed; best I can tell, around a commitment to the fruit of faith without regard for the vine that bore it.  Anglicans, especially American ones have spent the patrimony on a “feel-good,” hearty hospitality inviting people to a sacrament having form but little power. Actually, that is not true.  They invite people to the mass, denigrating it by discounting the very sacrament of hospitality, namely baptism. A priest colleague of mine once responded to my stated commitment to classical Christianity with a dismissive, “Oh, John, we are redefining everything.” What?

Or as a priest, who dabbled in ministry, said by way of invitation to a Jungian seminar, “All of you who like me, cross their fingers, when they say the creed, please come.”  The same cleric while teaching confirmation class told everyone to stand and as the Nicene creed was read aloud to sit when something they did not or could believe was read and promptly sat down as it was barely underway.  My reaction to that is that we do not judge the creed the creed judges us.

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Neither the extreme fundamentalism of the right or left has life in itself.  I found myself deeply attracted to the Anglican tradition.  The radical middle, pulling the extremes to the middle seemed good to me at the time and serves me still.   At the same time at the age of nineteen I had a life affirming charismatic experience in the 1970s again observing that while I counted that experience real and valid that the interpretation of that movement produced a “rigidity flexibility” (as Ed Friedman once put it.)  What I longed for was a way to make sense of what had happened to me so I searched for what I called a “religious psychology” seeking to understand why such a powerful and creative experience seemed to produce a neurotic state that in some cases left the person worse off than before. Embracing non-dual thinking, giving up the comfort of contradiction, all the while knowing that what we know is not all to be known will bring us closer to the Kingdom than all the certainty we could ever muster.

JWS

No Excuses for Missing Church

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September 8, 2013 228

I suppose one of the “advantages” of   The Anglican Church being a State Church is that people have incentive to show up on Sunday.  The consequences of missing church was greater than the mild em·bar·rass·ment…

noun: embarrassment
1.
a feeling of self-consciousness, shame, or awkwardness.
“I turned red with embarrassment”

synonyms:

mortification, humiliation, shame, shamefacedness, chagrin, awkwardness, self-consciousness, sheepishness, discomfort, discomfiture, discomposure, agitation, distress

…of running into the Rector that afternoon at lunch?

No Excuses for Missing Church

Three crucial aspects of spiritual growth in Episcopal Congregations

  • A more transforImagemative encounter with God, especially in our common prayer, our worship, and our engagement with Scripture.
  • A deeper life of discipleship, marked by personal spiritual practices that infuse all of life, not just time spent in a church building.
  • A more compelling orientation toward putting faith into action, specifically in service to those in need for justice & peace, with clear articulation of opportunities to do that.

From Lessons from Unlikely Sources: What a Market Research a Megachurch are teaching a few Episcopalians about Growing the Church – Jay Sidebotham The Anglican Digest 94.3  [496]

Canterbury Cathedral: West Front, Nave and Cen...