Two Kinds of Ego Response


Fritz Kunkel

Fritz Kunkel believed there were two kinds of ego responses. The first, the response the ego makes out of its egocentricity, is “characterized by inflexibility, panic, defensiveness, rage, and sterility.” In contrast, the creative ego response is a response “that is exactly appropriate to the kind of situation with which the person is faced. It cannot be stylized or characterized because the creative Ego response is always unique and one-of-a-kind.”

John Sanford, Fritz Kunkel: Selected Writings.


Fritz Kunkel believed there were two kinds of ego responses. The first, the response the ego makes out of its egocentricity, is “characterized by inflexibility, panic, defensiveness, rage, and sterility.” In contrast, the creative ego response is a response “that is exactly appropriate to the kind of situation with which the person is faced. It cannot be stylized or characterized because the creative Ego response is always unique and one-of-a-kind.”

John Sanford, Fritz Kunkel: Selected Writings.



Saint John’s, Memphis, Tennessee
October 16, 2016



The Unjust Judge


In the Gospel reading from Luke’s Gospel, we hear the story of the persistent widow who pestered the judge who finally gave her justice to get rid of her. Does that mean that God is like a crooked judge? I don’t think so. Does it mean that we should pester God like a poor widow? No, The point is that God is NOT like the crooked judge and that those who call on God do not have to pester God into doing anything. God is always more ready to answer than we are to call.

Perseverance: continued patient effort. Perseverance is a frequent theme in the Lord’s teaching. We think of perseverance regarding our continuing to pray and to continue following our Lord to the place where he has gone. That is certainly true, but I submit to you and me that what is more extraordinary is God’s perseverance – the Holy Ones continued patient effort! Nowhere is this more dynamic more clearly revealed than in the life of Jacob.

We have the key part of Jacob’s story in today’s first reading from Genesis. But first, let me bring us review the story up to this point. Abraham’s son, Isaac, married Rebecca, the daughter of Abraham’s brother. Rebecca and Isaac had twin boys: Esau and Jacob. The boys struggled in the womb and Esau was born first with the hand of his twin firmly around his ankle. Therefore the second twin was named Jacob or heel-grabber.

The boys grew up to be very different men. Esau was a big hairy guy who liked to hunt and to be out in the field. I’m sure that he had a gun rack or maybe an arrow rack in the back of his chariot. He was sort of a Bubba, and his daddy liked him a lot. Jacob was more of a homebody, and he liked to cook and hang around the tent with his momma. Needless to say, she liked him a lot.

Jacob was a schemer and Esau was a bubba so one day when Esau came in from hunting and was famished he sold Jacob his birthright for a mess of lentils. And then Rebecca hatched a scheme to get Isaac to give Jacob the blessing that rightly belonged to Esau. Isaac was almost blind so when he asked Esau to get him a mess of venison she went into action. She made up a goat stew that would pass for venison, and she put the hairy skins on Jacob’s smooth arms, and so the old man gave Esau’s blessing to Jacob. When Esau learned what had happened, he threatened to kill Jacob. So Jacob skipped town and went to live with Rebecca’s brother, Laban.

Now Laban was even better at scheming than Jacob. Jacob may have been good as a schemer, but Uncle Laban was a master of the art of using people and getting the better deal at someone’s expense. To make a long story short, Jacob fell in love with Rachel, Laban’s second daughter. So he married her. But on the wedding night, Laban slipped the eldest daughter, Leah into the marriage bed. And Jacob in his haste didn’t know until morning that he had married the wrong sister. Leah was the sloe-eyed one. We don’t know what that means exactly, but you can count on the fact that it was no compliment. Maybe she had glasses that looked like the bottom of a coke bottle. At any rate for seven additional years, he was already signed up for seven years to marry the first daughter. So fourteen years became twenty-one by the time Jacob had worked off the flocks Uncle Laban “gave” him.

Then it was finally time to go home and face the music. So that brings us to the reading for today. Jacob sent word to Esau that he is coming home. The messenger tells him that Bubba is coming to meet him accompanied by 400 men. Jacob is terrified. He divided his company into two groups so that at least one group would likely get away if Esau attacks them. That night he got up and crossed the Jabbok River. He sent both groups on ahead, and he is left alone.

Aurore de la Morinerie-Nicolas Thers-Aurelia Fronty-Stephan Laplanche-Fabian Negrin-Claude Gastine "Dessine moi la bible" Texte Claude Helft -Illustrations Aurore de la Morinerie-Nicolas Thers-Aurelia Fronty-Stephan Laplanche-Fabian Negrin-Claude Gastine-

On the way to Uncle Laban, Jacob had slept in the open alone like this night by the Jabbok. He had dreamed on that earlier night of a great ladder that stretched from heaven to earth. Angels were ascending and descending on that ladder. God spoke to Jacob and told him that he would go with him and that he would bring him home again.

Up to this time, gods were localized. If you moved from one place to another, you had to change gods like you have to change addresses. This is an innovation in the god business. Yahweh is not limited by the zip code! I will go with you, and I will bring you back again. So now over twenty years later Jacob is on the verge of returning home. And it was then that it happened. There on the river bank, (Note that crossing rivers symbolize the overcoming of an important personal threshold of experience.) in the night a being suddenly leaped on him. The literal words in the text say, “And there was one.” Some kind of seeming adversary grabbed Jacob. Jacob wrestles all night long. We never really know what the “one” is. Is it God? An angel? Does Jacob wrestle with himself? Today would we call it wrestling with our shadow? Or is it Esau or Esau’s angel that he wrestles with in a prelude to their match on the morrow?

They wrestled until daybreak. The “one” saw that he could not overpower Jacob, so he pressed Jacob’s hamstring so that he was injured.
The “one” said, “let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But he replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
He asked, ‘What is your name?”
He replied, “Jacob.”
He replied, “No longer will they say your name is Jacob, but rather Israel, for you have contended with the Lord and with men and have prevailed.”
Then Jacob asked, “Pray tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” And he blessed him there.


The Sun shined as he passed Peniel and he limped on his thigh

This wound is a wound of the spirit as well as the hamstring. It is the sort of wound that you can never be the same again after it. This is what happened to Jacob. This is what happens to all of us in time. All of us are like Jacob. We are all egocentric, or in other words, we want to be the center of the world

Jacob called that place, “Peniel, for I have seen the Lord, face-to-face and my soul has been saved.”

John Sanford says that there are three basic experiences can break down this diseased ego: 1. suffering, 2. coming to care for someone other than ourselves, & 3. the recognition of a power greater than our own will is at work in our lives.

Notice that Jacob does suffer as a result of his choices. Uncle Laban uses him, and that produces suffering. He came to care deeply for Rachel and now by the River Jabbok, which is a pun in Hebrew with the word wrestle, he encounters a power greater than himself. He limps into the future, but he limps with a new name. He is no longer, Jacob/heel grabber, but Israel.

God promises us that he will go with us wherever we go. God promises to bring us back to the land of promise. And many times we will not see God’s hand at work in the world around us, but He is there.

“Elie Wiesel wrote as about Jacob’s encounter with the angel: “Jacob has just understood a fundamental truth: God is in man, even in suffering, even in misfortune, even in evil. God is everywhere. In every being. God does not wait for man at the end of the road, the termination of exile; He accompanies him there. More than that: He is the road, He is the exile. God holds both ends of the rope. He is present in every extremity, He is every limit. He is part of Jacob as He is part of Esau.”

The late Elie Wiesel is correct as a Jewish elder brother that God is in man, even in suffering, misfortune, even in evil. We adopted children of Abraham; We do not have to go looking for God. God came looking for us. We believe that God revealed himself most accurately in the person of his son, Jesus the Christ. Regardless of what happens – Regardless of what we do or where we go God in Christ Jesus is there with us. We meet the risen Jesus tonight here in this communion. Let us bring all our suffering; let us bring those who we love; let us bring all that we are and all that we are not and present them to the One who created us. Remember the words of his son, “I’ll never leave you or forsake you.”

Ego pain is growing pain.

The Third Sunday After Pentecost

 Saint John’s Episcopal Church,  Memphis, Tennessee,     June 8, 2016


In the Old Testament reading today,  David slipped on the banana peel of entitled rationalization, committed adultery with the wife of Uriah, a loyal officer of  the King’s Own Thirty. David compounded his sin of betrayal with murder.

Sin is a translation into English of several words in the original language.  The most common one is “missing the mark” a term from archery.

John Sanford writes, “If an archer hits the bulls-eye it implies consciousness, good aim, and steadfastness of character, for if the arrow does not find the mark it is the fault of the archer, not of the arrow.  It has to do with failing to act from one’s center, thus sinning against oneself. Wrong actions and attitudes spring from a wrong inner condition that causes us to ‘miss the mark’ in life.”

  • God created humans radically free; God respected himself and his creation and freedom is the result.
  • On the last day of creation, God pronounced that what was made was good, very, very good.
  • We are free to choose to be in relation with God or to reject that relationship.
  • Freedom brings complexity.
  • Thus, we have nearly an endless capacity to believe what we want to believe about almost anything.
  • Psychology calls that rationalization.

How do we know and when do we know it?

In 1955 Joseph Luff and Harry Ingham invented a model of human knowing that bears the merging of their first names and is know as the Johari Window.

Johari Window (002)

We have the part that is known to us AND to other people: general information that is common knowledge.

  1. We have that part to which we are blind: information others know that we do not know. We can be remarkably blind to our foibles. Dreams can sometimes give us clues into this blind part.
  2. We have that part which we keep hidden: information that we know but for various reasons keep from others. There is a lot of fear and shame in this area.
  3. There is that part that is unknown: information nobody has. This part is mysterious. We will never know everything is this part but some of it can be learned if we have the courage to do the work.

From this model, we realize that we are consciously working with about a quarter to a half of the information in our lives at any one time.  We get into conflict from time to time when people’s blind areas collide and neither person knows what is going on.

We also can “reason” ourselves almost anywhere

Subject:  Financial Advice in These Troubled Times

This is very important financial advice:  If you bought $1000 worth of Nortel stock one year ago (2008), it would now be worth $49.  If you bought $1000 worth of Budweiser (the beer, not the stock) one year ago, drank all the beer, and traded in the cans for the nickel/aluminum deposit, you would have $79.  It is therefore financially prudent in these troubled times to drink heavily and recycle.

This is the reasoning of someone who needs Alcoholics Anonymous

The antidote to self-rationalization is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit works in the windowpanes of the Johari Window.

The Very Reverend Alan Jones, Sometime Dean of Grace Cathedral has said,   “The Spirit works in the three open places of our lives: the risky, the unpredictable, and the areas over which we have no control.”

Keeping that in mind … consider the process of rationalization and sin in today’s scriptures.

Abel Pann Paintings

Abel Pann – The Young David

David, no longer young, mature face hinting of excess, stared out into the gathering dusk. Standing on the penthouse terrace of the palace royal, the evening breeze played with the famous royal curls, unthinned through faded more auburn than the glorious red of his youth.

The future was as bright as his hair the day the Prophet Samuel came to the House of Bread.  The strapping sons of Jesse, an impressive tribe, each bigger than the previous were presented to the Holy Man. He was impressed enough, who wouldn’t be, but he wasn’t seeing what he looked for…  Are these all your sons?  “Oh, well no, the youngest is minding my ewes, but he’s little.”   What God was looking for that day was obvious to the Holy One and his assigned “chooser” but no one else. David’s amazing and thoroughly romantic rise to the top began the moment the Prophet Sam’s holy anointing oil dripped off his curls.


David put his single malt on the balustrade, leaned across the railing, peering through the fading light, there she was,  a beautiful woman bathing on a nearby roof.  The King’s valet confirmed that the beauty was Bathsheba, wife of Uriah. Of Hittite origin, Uriah was an officer in David’s army and at present was with his unit  and away at the front in the most recent dust-up with the Ammonites.  His own regiment, The King’s Great Men,  were in the van of the siege of Rabban.

David summoned Bathsheba for a nightcap and they got acquainted such that she conceived a son by the King. Learning of the complication from Mrs. Uriah,  David sent for Uriah to report of the siege.  He came.  Uriah was one fine man.  Honest, honorable, loyal and faithful.  David planned for Uriah to come home, sleep with his wife and she would, in due season, bear him a child.

Men of David

Uriah refused to enjoy anything that his comrades back in the camp could not enjoy, so he stayed in the regimental barracks and did not go home. The next night David got him drunk, no luck.  The king instructed Joab, his commander at the front to order the charge and then fall back leaving the honest Hittite exposed to the accurate Ammonite bowman. The fallen hero was buried with full military pomp and circumstance.

Bathsheba mourns Uriah

The King married the grieving widow who bore a son to her rescuer.  There was a little wink, wink, nod, nod (there always is) but most just went on their business.  Uriah was in the top tier of  “good-guys” in Bible. David, whose  character is iffy, buried and married his indiscretions, put the whole sorted mess aside and moved on.

God, on the other hand,  was not amused! He sent Nathan the prophet with a story for David. A royal court was executive and judicial.  The King, sitting on his throne, listened to any and all who presented their petitions and cases. The arrival of the Prophet Nathan appeared, as he routinely must have done,  standing in the back  of the throne room.

Nathan Wm Hole


 The King was a good mood that day.  Word was the siege at Rabbah was entering the end stage and he might well be King of Rabbah any day now, so all was well with the world. Nathan came forward and asked for the King’s indulgence, but he had a story he thought the King needed to hear.  “Say on,” said David.  “Well,  it’s like this.  Sire,  if you will,  look with me through the window of imagination and hear the tale of a good man, poor but righteous.  There are few joys in the lives of the poor.  Even so,  this good man had bought a little ewe lamb.  She was the joy of his life, more daughter than anything else.  He doted on her and she sat at table when he ate and retired to his bed at the sleeping hour.

Nearly across the road there was a man,  rich with flocks and herds.  He lived lavishly, every meal was Thanksgiving Day and he never wore anything but the ultrafine Egyptian linen.  He paid little attention to anything other than the interests of his own ego, but he did notice his neighbor’s doting on his pet sheep.  It was a little excessive.  He offered to buy the animal,  offered a lot of money.  He didn’t want the lamb,  he just enjoyed fooling with the poor man.  His neighbor, though in need, never considered his extravagant offers as he loved the lamb more than life.

However, one day the rich man’s college room-mate came through town and stayed the night.  Deep in their cups,  the rich man told his buddy the story of the ridiculously poor man who wouldn’t part with his pet for any amount of money. The guest wanted to see this beauty and off they went.   No one really remembered what happened but before the whole sick episode was over,  the poor man’s lamb was dead and the buddies shared the lamb with mint sauce for dinner that evening.

Sorrow of david William Hole

David was livid!  At heart a good man,  he couldn’t bear to think of that man’s pet being snatched when the host had hundreds of his own.  “That Jerk deserves to die for that little stunt!  He should pay back at least by a factor of four,”  he shouted!  Nathan stalked up the first two steps toward the throne,  looking David straight in the eye, “the jerk is you, Majesty!” Suddenly,  the window of Nathan’s story became a mirror and David saw his reflection. It was ugly.

 If we are going to become whole as people and our church is going to be a healing community, then we must operate more and more in the open spaces. We are called to wholeness – to health. We must embrace the working of the Spirit in the unpredictable, risky and uncontrollable parts of our lives.

  • Insight and repentance are the best antidotes to the sin of self-deception.
  • We will be as open and honest with ourselves as we are able.
  • We will find someone who can trust to confide our hiddenness. That why the confessional is inviolate.
  • When we find this trustworthy person we allow them to share our blind side with us (in love). We can only this from someone who loves us.
  • We get in touch with our unconscious, by working with our dreams and by paying attention to the contents of the blind side.

The Church is to be a healing community. We are being healed and as we are healed the community is strengthened for its work. Let us pray that our blindness will decrease and our openness to God and each other will increase.  This is the resurrection working in us springing up to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.