farewell chausble left behind
Growing Yourself Up & Calming Yourself Down
John Sewell

February 27, 2018

I retired 27 days ago from public ministry as a rector of a parish.

As I pass the end of public ministry, my pace slows. My hands sorts papers from forty year old files. I notice that I seldom say, “I might need that later.” Oh, I do not go empty handed into ACT3, but what I choose to carry with me are tools, reference and memories. I consider it fair trade the unconsidered energy of the sobriety of my youth. Today I sit amid the debris of five churches, sermons from twelve revolutions of the three year cycle of Eucharistic readings, the papers are dog eared, faded and fit for kindling, not much else. The impulse to be done and hurl the contents of boxes into the fires of Gehenna tempts me. Maybe tomorrow.

While it is the same old stuff of my life it is in a new place. For the first time since 2002, my office address has nothing to do with the consecrated ground of the tax-free institution called church. 1049 Cresthaven Road, Memphis, TN 38119 is my place now. It is a very nice thousand square feet with abundant windows and good lighting from sun and fixtures. From here we launch counter-offensives against chronic anxiety.


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.


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