Pause, Pray & Withdraw Projections

 

Twin Towers

Seventeen years ago, I turned, coffee cup in hand,  and witnessed the second plane crash into the Trade Center Towers in New York.  It is fair to say that the world has not been the same since that day.  I was almost half-way through my thirty-six year public ministry of Episcopal priest.  I have watched the cultures and peoples of this planet become more and more anxious caught between the twin imperatives of living things: Survival and Reproduction.  Also known as the force for individuality and togetherness.  These two, universal forces work on all protoplasm. The tension, even contradiction, between them Bowen termed, Chronic Anxiety.  This is the life force tuned to face challenge real or imagined.  No two systems react the same way facing the same challenge.

I began studying Dr. Bowen’s teachings over thirty years ago and had the privilege to sit at the feet of one of his students, Rabbi Edwin Friedman.  While this way of thinking is contrary to most of the thought in the marketplace of ideas in the West, I found it profoundly useful and have employed it ever since.  I believe this thinking is the reason Saint John’s Episcopal Church was voted one of the fifty best places to work in Memphis TN for five years in a row.

Emotional-relationships

It appears that chronic anxiety is at a historical high in the West.  Our country is badly polarized, such that we are almost incapable of communicating.  The gifts and skills for finding common ground for the good of all is not just out of fashion, it is on the extinction list of states of being.

Someone asked me recently what they should read and study about challenges of our common life on this planet.  First of all, let me be very clear, THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES! Trust no one who tells you that.  Trust no one who tells you to listen them and only them.  DON’T DO IT.  Also, all who claim to follow Jesus, must recognize and accept that racism, bigotry and such are not standards of measure AVAILABLE TO CHRISTIANS.  If that is one of your life tools, STOP IT.  We are called to love all equally for his sake.  There is not greater law than this.

John Sewell

The following is a modest annotated bibliography of books I consider of great value today.

  • Bronner, Stephen Eric, The Bigot: Why Prejudice Persists, Yale University Press, 2014. ISBN-13: 978-0300223842      New to me but very interesting. 
  • Edwin Friedman, Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.  Revised Edition, May 2017. ISBN-13: 978-1596272798  – Freidman died twenty years ago AND his critique is more accurate today than then.  I encourage any thinking and feeling person to read it. 
  • Hoffer, Eric. The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements  Harper and Bros. 1951.  The title of Hoffer’s opus entered the English lexicon defining extremists.  Every American adult should read it.
  • Papero, Daniel V., Bowen Family Systems Theory. Allyn and Bacon. 1990.  One of the best introductions to Systems Theory I know.

 

 

 

DIFFERENTATION

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.

JWS+

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