Surviving the Holidays!

three_eggs

Sometimes I think that the only thing worse than being an orphan is having a family! An orphan thinks, “If I only had a family.”  The rest of us know it is more complicated, especially at holidays.  So Happy Thanksgiving, beloved!

I came across Ed Friedman’s remarks on living with teenagers in my files and this is applicable  for all relationships on this first Thanksgiving since the elections.

Edwin Friedman on Teens

helicopter-parents

1. “How are you?”

Stop asking the kid anything about themselves. That shows you are thinking about them. Only give answers up to the limit of their questions and show no more interest or so. It may take six months of non-pursuit for them to turn. [Ed also said that if you stopped thinking about someone they would know it.]

Thinking egg broken

2. Don’t make rules about things you can’t enforce.

helicopter-parents-4

3. Don’t let them be intrusive into your space.

“Get out of the way to let them grow. Don’t let their growth overgrow you. Define yourself constantly. Don’t focus on the kid. Don’t focus on the congregation. They need you more than you need them. Put the responsibility of the relationship on them rather than on us. Consistency is only possible when we focus on ourselves.”

JWS

Lenten Meditation

Monday of Lent I – March 10, 2014

The Garden of Eden - Thomas Cole

The Garden of Eden – Thomas Cole

 Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

The mischief began early.  Eve and Adam, unlike many newlyweds, lived in a new planned neighborhood called Eden. (It was a family development). The rent was reasonable; all they had to do was look after the place which practically ran itself.

Naturally there were covenants; the prime one was a prohibition of picking the fruit on the specimen trees in the common land. Rumor had it that at least one of them was poisonous. They decided not to even touch it let alone eat the fruit.

Having put a fence around the God’s probation (He never said not to touch but that may have been wise). We must learn that good intentions are no guarantee of righteousness, temptation being what it is. But, I get ahead of myself.

Ed Friedman, my teacher, used to warn us by saying, “When things are going really well, look out!” Our language warns us of the danger, “leave well-enough alone”; pride goes before a fall (or in this case THE fall); know when to hold ‘em and when fold ‘em.

Lord, today remind me when I need to watch out. Amen. ©

Come Home, stop, All is forgiven, stop.

I have a hunch that the only thing worse than being a orphan is having a family!  I know, that is a very dark thing to say… I also know from living my own life, observing as many as four generations of a family in a congregation and studying the dynamics of  Family Systems that all families are troubled.  Anxiety rising past the threshold  of tolerance  often produces “cut-off.”

Greg Spalenka
Greg Spalenka
“The concept of emotional cutoff describes people managing their unresolved emotional issues with parents, siblings, and other family members by reducing or totally cutting off emotional contact with them. Emotional contact can be reduced by people moving away from their families and rarely going home, or it can be reduced by people staying in physical contact with their families but avoiding sensitive issues. Relationships may look “better” if people cutoff to manage them, but the problems are dormant and not resolved.”
(Bowen Family Center http://www.thebowencenter.org/pages/conceptec.html)

Rabbi Edwin Friedman said many times, “People who are cut off, particularly from their family of origin do not heal.”  That being the case he said the bridging cutoff boosted the immune system.  He encouraged clergy to work to overcome cut-off in their own family in service to their own health as well the healing of  their people.

Luid de Morales

Luis de Morales

A useful question of Scripture is, “Where does my story intersect THE story?”  One of the ancient practices is the Cycle of the Liturgical Year.  The season preceding the Twelve Days of Christmas is Advent.  It is a time to watch and wait.  It is a time to be pregnant with Mary (and Elizabeth).  It is time to pay careful attention to dreams, the inner life, with Joseph. Above all we await the coming of the child Jesus, Emmanuel: God with us.

When Ralph Waldo Emerson was dying, the story goes, his aunt exhorted him to make peace with God to which he replied, “I was not aware that we had quarreled.”  His aunt’s response is, so far as I know, unreported. My answer to Ralph Waldo, is a quote from Isaiah the Prophet (9:2), “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”

Jesus is the gate of heaven and sits in figure made from the overlap of two circles representing heaven and earth.

Jesus joins heaven and earth

Matthew the Evangelist picks up the melody, “The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.’ (4:16). This is that for which we waited. Now Heaven is joined to Earth and Earth to Heaven.  I other words, in Jesus the cutoff between God and humanity is bridged.  This great universal theological truth is for the healing of our story, here – now – in real time.  The immune system of all creation is quickened that healing will break out among the nations and indeed the whole of creation. JWS

What did we learn at Thanksgiving that will get us Through Christmas?

holydays

The Holy Days are coming, those occasions that by the rhythm of once a year but all our lives mark the seasons of living.  We live in a country that has the double whammy of Thanksgiving followed a month later by Christmas. We have double helpings of feasting and double visits from family. One raises our cholesterol and the other our anxiety. 

gI_SFPBookCover3Da.jpg I have learned that while the Holy Days are Holy they are not always happy.  In fact I am convinced, particularly this time of year,  that only orphans think that having a family would solve all their problems, the rest of us know better.  How to survive the Holy Days?  I suggest that you might want to read (or go back and read) Screamfree Parenting. “Ah,” you say, “It’s not my children that are the problem.”  To which I say, “Take out the word parent and put in living.”

Screamfree is a way of thinking that focuses on our own functioning rather than the functioning of others.  To prepare for the Holy Days, we might ask ourselves some of the following questions. On Thanksgiving and Christmas when families gather:

 Who will experience the most anxiety and who the least?

  • What amount of “space” is between me and the family? Am I stuck or cut-off?
  • How much energy is spent on the  “issues” of being together?
  • How do you stay “loose” in the family so that you can risk being an adult?
  • How can I plan ahead so that I know what I will do/be when the family member begins doing what he/she “always does.”
  • How can I define myself, sometimes by keeping my mouth shut?
  • How can I focus on the reasons that I love my family even while being with them?
  • Can I go into “research mode” and seek to learn from my family, resisting the temptation to give advice and fix them?

The country is anxious, states, cities, neighborhoods are anxious. How to do non-anxious-presencedeal with this anxiety during the most anxious time of the year?  As my teacher, Ed Friedman, used to say that, “consistency is only possible when we Focus on our own functioning.  Breathing in and breathing out is a good focus when anxiety rises. Getting more oxygen aids thinking and breathing may be the only thing that we can control. Stick to the facts not what we think they meant by the words they spoke. If things get more than we can take find an excuse to take a walk or visit a sick friend and then come back later. If you are out of town, hotel rooms are neutral.

Now I will see if I can take my own advice.  In addition to the national and religious holy days we also have the annual parish meeting on this coming Sunday, December 8th.  Please come and join us as we take council in this annual gathering of the parish. 

Let’s focus on the things that matter so that we are not distracted and miss them.

Peace, John+

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

Breathing In and Out: Toward a Real Spirituality

It’s about breathing. Dr. Helen Barnes (a hero of mine) when asked what she was going to do when confronted with the results of a catastrophic event replied, “I going to breath in and I’m going breath out.” If the goal of the Christian journey is union/oneness with God and sin/alienation is what separates us from God, then a foundational issue is how do we face reality, the totality of reality? Humans use rationalization, denial, avoidance and other strategies to format reality to fit our needs and wants.

What is God’s will for humanity? I believe that God intends humans to mature. Maturity comes from facing challenge. Whatever moves us away from reality toward unreality is not Christian spirituality. I think often of the remarks of the late Dr. Edwin Friedman on the nature of idolatry.

“The problem with the worship of idols is not the actual worship but what that worship denies. Idolatry in any age and in any form is always the false promise of immediate security,the pretense of certainty at the expense of the more painful experience of the growth that can only come by facing challenge. Taken out its primitive context, idolatry has many forms, from substance abuse to bend others to our own will, to the panicky search for the right answer. Always, however, it denigrates the power of a human being to cope with reality, always it goes in the direction of reducing one’s threshold for enduring pain, always it dilutes the resolve to develop the emotional stamina to manage crisis, and therefore it always denies the spark of the divine.”

We are called to move into the future in faith, breathing in and breathing out, learning from our experiences, developing stamina along the way that leads to the maturity of our souls.

JWS