Oh God of 2nd Chances & New Beginnings, here I am for ACT3

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“How is retirement?” “It’s going very well, strange but fine,” is my usual reply.  A common line is you look like you have really lost some weight?”  After the third time, I latched onto, what is now, a standard response, “Oh,  I am at least a thousand people lighter.” My cardiologist was thrilled that I had retired.  All the numbers speak to my body being thrilled as well.  Sleeping in on Sunday, an activity known in Alabama as “attending Bed-springs Baptist” has aroused no guilt.  We did make it to Easter Day, let the record show.

I have devoted a lot of time getting my new office up and running.  The car no longer automatically heads west from Shepherd Lane.  Now it heads East instead, which is the direction of enlightenment.  Now what?

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After a very helpful pep talk from an old and valued friend, this is now my practice. Most days,  I drive to 1049 Cresthaven Road, Memphis, TN 38119 and there I go to work.  What is my work?  At present,  I’m diving deeper into Bowen Theory than I have ever done before.  The Triangle is the object of my quest.  I shall understand that little beast if God is gracious.  The Triangle is the basic molecule of relationships.  It consists of three people or two people and an issue.  Triangles are also very fluid moving such that two points are in and one is out.

But suppose, one wanted to grow oneself up, while calming oneself down?  What if one decided to take maximum responsibility for ones own self, focusing on one own functioning?  Bowen called that Differentiation or more precisely, taking up the work of  “Differentiating a Self.”  Trust me if you should truly entertain such a notion for even half a day, everyone in the primary triangles you inhabit will know.  In addition, if you should take up this “self to differ” the reaction will be progressive and predictable.

It will develop on this wise: 1. “You are wrong”; 2. “Change back”; and 3. “If you do not, these are the consequences” [Bowen, 1978, pp. 216]

Hell hath no fury like you arouse when you fool with someone’s heirloom triangle!  Some of them have been around for eons.  Remember,  when someone leaves or dies, people are standing line to take the vacancy.

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This is the view as I write, not bad.

How is retirement?  Well,  I’m lighter, but not sure what else, just now… I live in hope, in spite of the facts.

April 5, 2018, John Sewell ACT3 1049 Cresthaven Road, Memphis, TN 38119

 

What I hope ALL Christians Learn by Following Jesus.

• The supernatural is real
• Take up Nondual thinking
• Thinking Systemically (Bowen Theory)
• To follow Jesus is to serve
• Difference between job and work
• Regardless of the event, first ask, “How is my functioning contributing
to this situation?”
• Suffering is the promise life always keeps
• God knows the outcome. God does not choose the outcome. That’s your
job.
• Judge not! I mean literally mean, Judge not at all.
• Become Biblically literate
• Journaling is essential if you mean to grow in soul.
• More Orthopraxy not more Orthodoxy
• Practice Constant Prayer (literally)
• Honesty is more important than religious talk
• Tithing as a way of life.
• It’s hard to go back to plowing when you just ate your ox!
• Faith not certainty

Godspeed Brother!

Joe Orgill

It was a brutally cold December weekend, unusually so, for Memphis Tennessee. At St. John’s we canceled the 8:00 AM’s holy Eucharist that morning so that our staff would not have to be out quite so early. So about 9 o’clock or so the choirs were upstairs preparing for the service. Eucharistic ministers and acolytes checking the readings into whether or not there that they had found the right pages. Altar Guild was going to and fro adding a bit of water to the flowers, while the first arriving ushers stacked service bulletins by every entrance.

Coming from my office to the church, the elevator doors opened revealing a man sitting on a bench by the Bride’s Room. He clutched a steaming cup of coffee in both hands. Not knowing him, I introduced myself. He said his name was Kirby (not his name). Later I heard the back story.

Kirby had literally found no room in the inn in downtown Memphis. Turned away from the last available shelter he began to walk east. He walked all night, realizing that to sit down to rest was to tempt death. So he kept walking. About 9 o’clock on that Sunday morning he was walking up Central Avenue and apparently the first place he had found people stirring was St. John’s. Trying the door he found it unlocked. Hearing sounds upstairs, he followed the sounds and discovered the choir rehearsing. The organist choirmaster, Dr. Ward, realizing that he was dangerously chilled, got him some coffee and settled him on the bench by the elevator. It was there that Deacon Emma spied Kirby and invited him to church. Kirby settled in a pew, say 10 rows back. A parish family was seated in the pew behind him. At the conclusion of the Eucharist, the husband asked Kirby, “Man, do you have a coat?” The answer, no. That man took off his own elegantly,  fine overcoat and put it on Kirby and they parted ways. That man was Joe Orgill, laid to rest with his ancestors today in Bolivar TN.

Having recently retired as Rector of Saint John’s, I did not have the privilege of preaching today at his funeral. I regret that I could not tell the story of that day when the Kingdom of God came near us on a frigid Sunday morning. We live in an age of malignant narcissism fueled by greed, self-entitlement and hubris. I will testify that such was not the case with my friend Joe Orgill, III. He would not approve my telling this story, I ask his forgiveness.

In the March issue of Harper’s, Rebecca Solnit explored the relationship between empathy and power. She turned to psychologist Dacher Keltner’s study of the rare proximity of empathy and power.

While people usually gain power through traits and actions that advance the interests of other, such as empathy, collaboration, openness, fairness, and sharing; when they start to feel powerful or enjoy a position of power or enjoy a position of privilege, those qualities began to fade. The powerful are more likely that other people to engage in rude, selfish, and unethical behavior.

Joe was acquainted with power, wielding some, more than some. Yet the atrophy of morals and soul, pixelated by power, was not his lot. I can testify that I was in a place just yesterday where the staff knew Joe well. Their unanimous chorus was sorrow at the passing of such a good man. The waiters, ushers, servers of this world always know the truth about such things.

Godspeed brother. I rejoice to know you. I count it my honor to be your priest. You brother, practiced Christianity, day in and out, year by year.  I testify that on a very cold day, when you gave Kirby your coat, you did what Jesus would have done had he been in church that morning. But, then Jesus didn’t need to be incarnated that morning because Joe Orgill, III was here and the Kingdom of God was manifested among us.

Rest brother, we’ll meet again.

John W. Sewell

Please Remember

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Parting Aphorisms and Smartass Sayings

  1. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly
  2. Salvation is a gift requiring response
  3. The Christian life is like driving a car on ice. The automatic non-thinking reaction is not the thing to do.
  4. Dissecting a frog is instructive but aft wards it will not hop!
  5.  In matters of faith and nutrition, you are what you eat.
  6.  Ministry is like being pecked to death by a flock of small ducks
  7. Every expression of Christianity has an inner inarticulate essence and a cultural manifestation. – Rev Stephen Parsons
  8.  Don’t collect so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire. – Wendell Berry
  9.  If you want a huge funeral die young and tragically. If you live to old and it rains there will be nobody there.

Lucy Rives Williford 2016 -2017

REQUIEM EUCHARIST
March 8, 2017
Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Memphis Tennessee 38111

Judson Williford Lucy

Judson Williford shows off Lucy to the All Saint’s Sunday congregation

Today we come doing the three things Christians always do when they gather: To tell the story; to calm our fears and to speak to the hope that is in us.

I baptized Lucy last November in the company of several babies and little children. There is no rubric/stage direction that children having been baptized are to be returned to their parents. I’ve resisted the temptation to take them all home. I baptized Lucy into the household faith. I didn’t know baptize her with her family name because beginning then her last name from them, unspoken though implied was Christian. And so it remains.

You had so many plans for her! Of course you did, how could you not? Our pain today is that those plans are now mementos. There are so many things that will not happen.

She will never know how really cruel humans can be. She will never know the pain of sustained hunger, nor will she ever experience poverty of body, mind or spirit. She will never grow old and infirm. She lived among for just shy one cycle of the sun round this globe and has reached union with Christ before the age of one. Lucy was vivacious, already the apple of many an eye. Lucy was graced with beauty, a keen mind, a happy spirit. She was endowed with most every gift, save one: TIME.

Let me be as clear as I can beloved. This was not God’s will, not his intention. God created all things with degrees of freedom. Things fall down but not up. It doesn’t matter how many friends you have on Facebook (5000 is the max. I believe), whether you tweet, twit or twitter with millions hanging on every word and your opinions go viral on YouTube; Even endowed with all gifts so than you can move mountains, should you stumble off the roof a feather bed will not appear between you and the ground just because people like you (or not). Something did not function properly within its degrees of freedom last Saturday morning. We are left powerless in its wake. Likely nothing would have changed the trajectory, although, you will question yourself for evermore.

Here we are at a place of choosing. We can choose helplessness or guilt. Please hear me here? The truth is that most of us would rather feel guilty than helpless. Last Saturday morning, you and soon the rest of us met the limits of human power. Immediately, we turned toward guilt, “If I had done this or that? I arrived at a home once on a similar mission, only to have a person confess to me, “You know John, we didn’t get to Easter Sunday this year.” I assured them that God was not taking attendance. Because, were that true the Churches would be filled every Sunday, including Easter Day. This did not happen because Judson has red hair. I promise. I had red hair myself once. It’s not true. If we turn in the driveway of guilt we will torment ourselves and those around us from now on.

No, today let us embrace the truth, we were powerless to keep this from happening. We have no defense in our helplessness. Just sit with that. Grieve that. In addition, this was not God’s will.

God didn’t plan it and is just as sad about it as we are because the Holy One’s heart breaks when ours break. What I can tell you is that Lucy is with Him and in eternity outside time and space she is all that God had in mind when he created her.

Let us go back though and see just what it was we did last November? Let us examine the implications of baptism for Lucy last Saturday and for us today.

For Christians there are two kinds of death: terminal death and Paschal (Easter death). In his Second Letter to the Christians in Corinth, Saint Paul reminds them and us to NOT LOSE HEART.

2 Corinthians 4:16 – 5:10 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling – if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord — for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil

The only thing that we can know for certain all people who have ever lived have in common is terminal, “dead as a doornail death.” At birth our outer nature begins Baptism does not inoculate us against mortality. Rather, it was into Paschal (Good Friday – Easter Resurrection), I baptized Lucy months ago. Lucy was baptized into the death of our Lord Jesus, not his terminal death, but his dying and rising death.

Jesus’ empty tomb was exactly what no one expected to find the midst of history. But, the deepest intuition of humanity since that day is that if it can happen once in history it can happen again. It is into this death that she was baptized, not only was she baptized into the Good Friday death of Jesus, but she was also baptized into his Easter Resurrection.

We made promises to support her in her life in Christ. Parents and god-parents promised to bring her up in the Christian faith and life. Many of you here today joined in that promise. Clearly, there was not much time for any of that. But hear me; baptism always says more about God than us. Lucy was endowed by God in baptism with all the grace there is in potential. Today outside time and space: all that grace is realized. Lucy, is exactly, fully, completely everything God had in mind when God the Holy Trinity thought her up not so long ago.

You must grieve Lucy. You must grieve but not with despair. Here the Words of our Lord, recorded by Saint John, the Patron of this House of Faith,

JOHN 14:1-6 Jesus said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me

Grieve, but not as people who have no hope. Hear me? Good. In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Surviving the Holidays!

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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

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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.]

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

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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

Oh to have a Mentor

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The mentee, too, serves an essential function for the mentor: By nurturing the younger person, the mentor keeps alive his own values and hopes, which helps him deal with his mortality and allows him to develop more “generative” parts of himself. Indeed, many men find the mentoring relationship at work allows them to heal some of the wounds of parenting; feeling frustrated with their own children, some men turn to their younger colleagues as “surrogate sons.”

Finding Our Fathers: How a Man’s Life Is Shaped by His Relationship with His Father – Samuel Osherson

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.

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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

“For most of my life my father was manifested by an absence.” From Being Flynn

Greg Spalenka

Greg Spalenka

A father passing by his son’s bedroom, was astonished to see the bed was nicely made, and that everything was picked up and tidy.  Then, he saw an envelope, propped up prominently on the pillow. It was addressed,

‘Dad.’

With the worst premonition, he opened the envelope and read the letter, with trembling hands.

Dear Dad,

It is with great regret and sorrow that I’m writing to you. I had to elope with my new girlfriend, because I wanted to avoid a scene with Mum and you.

I’ve been finding real passion with Stacy, and she is so nice, but I knew you would not approve of her, because of all her piercings’, tattoos, her tight Motorcycle clothes, and because she is so much older than I am.

But it’s not only the passion, Dad. She’s pregnant. Stacy said that we will be very happy. She owns a trailer in the woods, and has a stack of firewood for the whole winter. We share a dream of having many more children.

Stacy has opened my eyes to the fact that marijuana doesn’t, really hurt anyone. We’ll be growing it for ourselves, and trading it with  the other people in the commune, for all the cocaine and  ecstasy we want.

In the meantime, we’ll pray that science will find a cure for AIDS, so Stacy can get better. She sure deserves it!

Don’t worry Dad, I’m 15, and I know how to take care of myself. Someday, I’m sure we’ll be back to visit, so you can get to know  your many grandchildren.

Love, your son, Joshua.

P.S. Dad, none of the above is true. I’m over at Jason’s house.  I just wanted to remind you that there are worse things in life than the School report that’s on the kitchen table.

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

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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+