Data is a Form of Substance Abuse

AA

For some time I have been struck by the marvels and perils of the Internet. There is an amazing amount of information out there. On a daily basis I feel not just bombarded with but torpedoed by data. There is simply not enough time to read everything that demands my attention. I feel more inadequate than ever. My late teacher, Edwin Friedman used to say, “That in the late Twentieth Century data was a form of substance abuse.” People are treating information like any other addictive substance. When anxiety rises anxiety is bound by looking for more data. We read data and momentarily feel ok. Soon anxiety rises and the cycle begins again.

Friedman also said that there was a desperate search for data and technique supporting the notion that if people just knew enough and had the right technique they could do anything. But that is not true. The organizing principle of Western culture is found, for good or ill, in Genesis chapter 3. Regardless of how much Eve and Adam. To overcome the gaps, between why and why not.

Since then, [an abandoned project] Mr. Eco’s enthusiasm for the marvels of the Internet has been somewhat tamed. Now he finds himself pressing for ways to teach young people how to control the flood of information available on it before it overwhelms them. ”The problem with the Internet is that it gives you everything, reliable material and crazy material,” he said. ”So the problem becomes, how do you discriminate? The function of memory is not only to preserve, but also to throw away. If you remembered everything from your entire life, you would be sick.”

He likes to compare the computer (he has eight) to the car (he has two): both are tools that people must first be taught how to use. ”We invented the car, and it made it easier for us to crash and die,” he said. ”If I gave a car to my grandfather, he would die in five minutes, while I have grown up slowly to accept speed.” A Lover of Literary Puzzles by CELESTINE BOHLEN Published: October 19, 2002 How does an existing organization get un-stuck? Professor Sherry Turkle at MIT, on the Technology Channel once said “It is not a question about what technology is doing for us but what technology is doing to us!” She goes on to say that the first thing that people used to look for was meaning but that is not longer the case. Now the first thing people look for is mechanism. Mechanism sounds suspiciously like technique fueled by data.

The Big Book of Alcoholics declares, those who will not recover are those who are “constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.”

ACT3? What is ACT3?

1049 Chresthaven street view

ACT3, 1049 Cresthaven Road, Memphis, Tennessee ACT3Memphis@gmail.com

Two Octobers ago I was in Washington DC at a conference honoring, my teacher, the late Rabbi Edwin Friedman my teacher. As I sat there and the voice in my head I have known for 47 years said, “John, Today begins the Third Act of your life.” Nothing more. For a year I pondered, finally realizing that my work here was the end of ACT2. Last Wednesday I stepped down from my job as Rector. I did not step down from my work: The Cure of Souls. Stephanie Brown and I with the help of many are founding a new Non-profit, called  ACT3, Cresthaven Road 38119.

Sant Vincent of Lerins

Universality – Antiquity – Consensus

What is ACT3?  I begin with a confession of belief.  My deepest held value is faith in Jesus the Christ.  Having spent four decades moving through the various permutations, polities, styles and whatever of God’s church,  I today affirm my adherence to the Counsel  of Saint Vincent of Lirens when he said, “That a Christian should believe in what all Christians, at all times and in all places have agreed upon.”

I close this act with a thankful heart and a sign of relief.   Increasingly, I understand the hopefulness that my late spiritual father, Bishop Furman Stough longed when he often said with the twinkle in his eye, “I am grateful there will be no church in heaven.” Amen, preach it brother.  I end ACT2 with gratitude for those who have helped me along in the faith and a sigh relief that I managed to get through 36 years oversleeping only once on Sunday.

ACT2 was largely formed by teaching and thinking of  Dr. Murray Bowen, founder of the Georgetown Family Center in Washington DC, and the natural systems theory that bears his name.  I studied at the feet of Rabbi Edwin Freidman, the second most important rabbi in Christian History, at least for Anglicans.  Marilyn and I were sent to hear Ed lecture, as we prepared to marry over 31 years ago.

Through the workings of the Holy Spirit, the Ether and The Good Ole Boy & Girl club we call Episcopal Church, I began to make my way to Bethesda and under the influence the most brilliant mind I personally have ever met.

By way of analogy Edwin Friedman was Mark to Murray Bowen’s Peter. Neither of them was the savior, but they knew his message in and out.  The theory that bears Dr. Bowen’s name is also called Family Systems Theory.

Murray said, “A self is only possible in the presence of other protoplasm.”  Therefore self is relational not solitary. All living things have a strong impulse to join, herd, tribe.  At the same time there is an impulse to be and I.  The tension between The We and I. pulling and pushing, Bowen defined as “chronic anxiety.”

Failure of Nerve

When anxiety is low most people muddle through.  As anxiety rises soon the maturity or lack thereof began to sabotage functioning. High chronic anxiety marked by extreme polarization of our country is sobering evidence of the dangers of immaturity.  If this thinking interests you read Ed’s book, Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.  If you want to talk about it,  shoot me a line.

I want to spend the balance of my working life, coaching, teaching and focusing on issues of systems from a Bowen perspective.

John Sewell

 

The Shrewd Manager or Getting Unstuck

PROPER 20C – SEPTEMBER 18, 2016 – SAINT JOHN’S EPISCOPAL – MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE

shrewd-manager2

The manager was never sure who turned him in. But somehow the master got wind of his little “on the side” business deals and called him on the carpet. The boss said that an outside accountant was auditing the books and just as soon as the report came and he knew the bottom line of the manager ‘s malfeasance: he was out on his ear. Back in his office, the manager thought to himself, “Self, what will I do, I’m too puny to dig and too proud to beg.” Then it hit him. He would fix things so he would have a few friends when he needed references.

Now, let me pause in our story for an infomercial on stuckness. We have all experienced being stuck – when the way we have always done something no longer works. Paralysis strikes individuals, institutions and nations. What happens when things get stuck?

PEOPLE KEEP TRYING HARDER BUT WITH NO NEW RESULTS.

There is a treadmill effect of trying harder. No one changes perspective or direction; they just keep trying harder. A bird will see its reflection in the window and spend hours bouncing off the window in the vain attempt to get at the other bird. Trying harder will not get you unstuck.

PEOPLE KEEP TRYING TO FIND NEW ANSWERS TO OLD QUESTIONS INSTEAD OF CHANGING THE QUESTION. Questions are perceptions. How you phrase a question determines the range of possible solutions. For example, you put a person on the witness stand and say, “now answer yes or no, do you still beat your spouse.” If indeed you do not and have never beaten your wife or husband, the question won’t let you get at the truth.

WHAT ARE NEEDED NEW QUESTIONS.   Perhaps that is why the Gospels rarely show Jesus answering people’s questions.  He usually asked another question.

PEOPLE GET POLARIZED.  They only see utter black and pure white. Things are really great or just shy of a disaster. Not only are there extremes but also there are many options in between. Polarization keeps people from coming up with new possibilities.

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Stuck systems get un-stuck via adventure!

In 1492 Columbus sailed west, in order to arrive in the east. On his way to China, he bumped into the Americas. The moral of that story being, “What you find may be more valuable than what you were looking for.”

NOW BACK TO OUR STORY. THE MACHIAVELLIAN MANAGER GETS UNSTUCK.
1. He doesn’t keep doing the same thing, only harder. He does a new thing.
2. He does not look for new answers to old questions; he asks a new question.
3. He’s too puny dig and too proud to bet, but between those extremes are lots of options.

Since on one knows he is about to be fired he calls in the accounts receivable and says to the first, “How much do you owe my master?” The answer, “a hundred jugs of olive oil.” The manager said, “Take your bill, sit down quickly and make it fifty.” He has another account mark his hundred containers of wheat down to eighty. What is he doing?

shrewd-manager

In that culture, a manager did not earn a salary for running the estate, and so, when he agreed to lend on his master’s goods, he had been paid in kind, correspondingly increasing the amount of the bill. Fearing for his future the manager cuts his markup and reduces the receipts to their amount. While he had previously inflated the bills to enrich himself, now, he sacrifices his markups. By giving up what was ill-gotten, he made an investment in good will in the community without costing the master anything. At any rate, when he heard what the manager had done, the master commended him for his shrewdness or prudence. His adventure got him unstuck!

This parable is disturbing which is what a parable is supposed to do. A parable is designed to create distance and provokes thought. Parables challenge one’s sense of the proper hierarchy of things.

The manager is not praised in general but only for his “prudent actions.” The manager recognized the critical danger of the situation. He did not let things simply take their course, but boldly, resolutely and prudently moved to make a new life for himself. Jesus tells his listeners and us that we need to wake up and discern the real situation. Discern what is going on and take action.

In the past 15 years, stuckness has become a way of life. Since September 11, 2001, as a nation we feel stuck in a conflict that is disturbing, even terrifying. How do we function in a world of terror? People are stuck in their lives, marriages, careers, and families. Fear and paralysis are common. The challenge of this time demands wisdom and shrewdness.

There are two kinds of situations in life that I might call level I and level II.

1. A level I situation is one in which nothing we do will make a difference. The collapse of the Twin Towers of the Trade Center was a level I. If you were on the top floor of one of those buildings your personal maturity and wisdom made no difference to gravity.

2. A level II situation is one in which our response makes a crucial difference.

I trust you remember the old TV show MacGyver. Given the anxiety in the society, I’m not surprised a remake is about to launch on TV. In every episode, the hero, MacGyver, originally played by Richard Dean Anderson, now by Lucas Till, found himself in some scrape that appeared to be a level I situation. He would take a hairpin, the contents of his fountain pen and some aluminum foil and escape. The show was built on his response making all the difference. Most situations we encounter in life are level II. But all too often we go around mistaking level II for level I circumstances. Our response is crucial.

We must dig deep into our faith and find the resources to conquer fear. As our Lord once said, “Perfect (mature) love casts our fear.” As Christians, we believe that the worst things that happen to us are never the last things. For Jesus has overcome the world.

If we are shrewd, we recognize that our wealth cannot get us out of the last crisis. No, says Jesus, “read the signs and be shrewd. Don’t depend on money that is passing away. Rather rely on those things that do not pass away – love: God’s love for us and our love for each other. The resurrection of Jesus opens vast possibilities for because he overcame the ultimate level I situation: death.

Remember the way to get unstuck is an adventure. I believe that Jesus is saying something to us like, “Trust me. Come and follow me on the adventure of eternity. You may be scared, but you will not be bored. For I will never leave you or forsake you.” Our response here is crucial – will we accept the call of Jesus or not? It is up to us.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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.

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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

Benjamin Lane Carrick, Jr.

Note: Today I buried a fine young man full of grace and staggering potential.  His father found him dead when he did not arrive for dinner on Christmas Eve.  It has been a difficult week of inconsolable pain for the loss to his family but also to the human community.  I share with you the homily I preached this morning.  Have a purposeful new year.

©John W. Sewell

Lane Jr.

September 14, 1994 – December 24, 2015

December 31, 2016 ∞ Saint John’s Episcopal Church ∞ Memphis, Tennessee

Today we gather in this holy place to do what Christians always do when they gather:

• We come to tell the story,
• We come to quiet the fear in our hearts –
• And we come to speak to the hope that is in us.

WE COME TO TELL THE STORY

The story begins with Lane. It is the story of a son, brother, nephew, grandson and friend. Family, beloved that Lane loved with a clear and pure heart, not without a bit of cloudy haze from time to time, especially when he was in trouble usually because of a bone-headed immaturity. Then he was winsome, twinkle in the eyes, puppy dog eyes, inspiring if not at exactly forgiveness a weakening of the will bordering, at times, on indulgence, because he had no mean bones in his skeleton.

Lane loved his friends with joyful extravagance. There are friends of every sort crossing all the customary lines, constructed to keep people from reaching each other, race, class, economics, and sexual orientation. Let me modify, that he had no tolerance for bullies and was not a silent observer to such evil. He had learned early,

what I know to be true at 64, namely, that it is important to tell friends, especially the men in your life, that you love them.I ’m many of you squirmed at first or maybe always. But are you not glad this day for having those words? Remember that among yourselves. You need to hear it and you need to say it. Nothing takes its place.

Lane’s story merges with the big of story of the coming of Jesus among us, one of us, fully human that through his death and resurrection not only see authentic humanity (which is what God wants for us) but also by grace that we reach for that full, authentic humanity. But, I get ahead of myself,

I’ll come back to hope in a minute.

WE COME TO QUIET THE FEAR IN OUR HEARTS.

Our story fades into fear. There is a fear in our hearts. We are speechless with sadness, we are angry that such accidents happen. Why couldn’t Lane be more careful? His absence, his real absence is racking. We long to know if existence has meaning.We want things to mean something. Why did God do this? I don’t believe God did.

I believe that God made creation with certain degrees of freedom. In the mystical Jewish teaching, God chose to no longer be all that there is in order for creation to be genuinely free. God contracted, making room for creation. In that contraction, creation was made free.

God has made us for himself, our sacred text tells us that. Sacred texts of most of humanity tell us that.

God’s ultimate desire is for us to come to Him, how soon that happens is not of great import to God although it is of ultimate concern to us. – Reynolds Price

Of late, however, we began to see the trajectory of a good and loving man as Lane began to grow up, finding and doing a responsible job to the delight of his family and perhaps more importantly his boss.Nothing I say is a feather bed, nor an opiate of forgetfulness and there is not a quick fix.

What is happening in us regardless of how well we knew him is suffering. We know that through our bodies. All communication is through the matter of our bodies. What we know is that we hurt. Emotions too powerful to control have sprung a leak somewhere in our faces and water leaks out.

What is God’s will for us? My teacher, Rabbi Freedman put it simply, “God’s will is that we grow up!” How do we grow up? We grow up by facing challenge. Does God have to plan challenge? Of course not. The universe is rich with possibility, fruitful circumstance with perhaps infinite permutations. There is not conspiracy. Our choices are real ones. All choices are real ones, making real differences. We get no pass from mistake, accident or the choice of others. Gravity is unrelenting regardless of our virtue or how much we are loved. We quiet our fear by hope.

WE COME TO SPEAK TO THE HOPE THAT IS IN US.

We hear first from the words of the Prophet Isaiah who proclaimed, “On this mountain the Lord of Hosts will make feast FOR ALL PEOPLES, a feast of rich food, well-aged wines, full of fat [that was back when fat was still good news], well-aged wines strained clear. (Lane’s career was hospitality. See with me today: I suspect he has thrown himself into working the perpetual party of God’s intention. Think of choosing the wine. If you recall Jesus produced excellent vintage himself at that wedding in Cana). The marriage feast of the Lamb in Revelation is an echo of Isaiah’s party plan.

God is throwing a party, a gathering intended for all peoples. God gives us bread to nourish our bodies and wine to make our hearts glad. It is God who throws the party. Not only is God throwing a party, He will remove the disgrace of his people. And he will shallow up death forever and wipe away the tears from all faces. This is the salvation he promises to all peoples. Salvation is a party with God as the host.
This is the mystery of faith.

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.Unspoken but true is the fact that: We will die, We will rise and Christ will come again and we will be with him. Book of Common Prayer

As John wrote in his first Epistle,“We are all children of God, and yet it has not been revealed what we shall be; but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be in his likeness; for we shall see him as he is.” I John 3:

We shall be raised even as he was raised. We shall be in his likeness for we share a family resemblance.

John quotes in the 14th Chapter of his Gospel the words of Jesus, ” 1. Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. 4. And whither I go ye know… ” KJV

When we approach God’s house, filled with all amenities we can imagine and delights we cannot, we will see approaching, with a wide smile, Lane Carrick Jr. will welcome those he loved and loves eternally.  It would be difficult to know his as he, even now, is adorned with all the qualities God had in mind when he made him. It would unless we too will be in the same fullness of being.

Today we lay Lane’s bodily remains to rest in the Saint John’s Cemetery. The word cemetery is a Christian term. In the ancient world the term for a burial place was necropolis or city of the dead. The Christian hope of the resurrection produced a new term, cemetery, from the Greek word for sleep. Believers sleep in Christ for they are not dead forever, but sleep awaiting his call at the last day.

We part from Lane this day but as we travel to the same destination in due season we shall be reunited in that place where there is there is no sorrow nor sighs but life and that life everlasting.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Give Me an N!

You may have noticed in the last few days what appears to be an Arabic sign popping up all over the place.  I checked it out and immediately changed my profile picture on Facebook to this sign.  Why?

The sign is the letter N (nun)  in Arabic.  It is the first letter of the word Nazarene, the name by which Christians are known in the Middle East.  This letter has taken on sinister meaning as the forces of IS or ISIS mark people, property or chattel with an N meaning that the property or persons now belong to the ISIS.  Fellow Christians are given the ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a tax or die.  Many have taken a fourth option of fleeing for their lives.  The tax of Christians and Jews by Muslims is an ancient practice from the early days of Islam.  Check it out.  I am unaware that this is the practice of modern Islamic states but it has been a  teaching of the religion.

arabic nThis reflects the problem of fundamentalism. Fundamentalists of any variety have in common a desire to regain the golden age of their faith. For Muslims it is the seventh century for many Christians 1950, but be that as it may such golden ages never existed. These fanatics (check my posting from August 9th – The True Believer) are setting out to remake the Caliphate of the Seventh Century in the Twenty-first.  Pray God they fail. It will require someone stop them as they cannot be reasoned with by honorable men. .

I have learned in my long study of Family Systems Theory that what my teacher, Rabbi Friedman, said about such is painfully true. In systems thinking all living things composed of protoplasm organize themselves in the same ways.  What is true on a cellular level is metaphor for all other levels of living things. They will behave in predictable ways.  Ed Friedman labelled them pathogens.

  • Pathogens do not self-regulate
  • Since they do not self-regulate they ooze into their neighbors space
  • Also, since they do not self-regulate themselves they never learn from their experience
  • They do not have to be hostile in order to be malignant.  Oozing into others space is sufficient.
  • Pathogens achieve their conscious or unconscious effect because those around them allow them to ooze into the others space.  Remember Munich in 1939.

It really does not matter if we are talking about cancer cells,  packs of dogs or ISIS: they all function the same.  Something will have to be done about them for the cancer they represent in the body politic.

I invite you to wear, wave or affix the Arabic Letter N to Facebook, your lapel or the bill board down the street as a mark of solidarity with our fellow Christians.  If someone reading this is not a believer please do so because the weak and innocent should not be murdered, enslaved nor raped and tortured. Call on those who have power and the responsibility for leading nations to stop these fanatics before the region is in flames not only of churches but of everything in their path. For this is a Caliphate of Evil. Muslims who do not welcome them are destroyed as well. What I say is not about the content of their belief as it is a critique of their succumbing to ideology.  Succumbing always leads to trouble (Carl Jung).

The Holy Innocents

The Holy Innocents

Please join me all of you of good will in praying for these Christians and othersr, indeed all in danger on account of their faith. I propose the collect for Holy Innocents as a place to begin.

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of  ISIS [Bethlehem by King Herod.] Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

God grant us and to his whole world peace and the knowledge of His love for the doing of His will. . JWS

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What is Christian spirituality?

Dr. Helen Barnes

Dr. Helen Barnes

It is about breathing.  Dr. Helen Barnes, a woman of color, a pioneer in obstetrics in Mississippi,  when asked what she was going to do in response to a catastrophic event replied, “I’m going to breathe in and I’m going to breathe out.”

If the goal of the Christian journey is union/oneness with God and sin is that which separates humanity from God then one of the foundational issues for Christian spirituality is how to face reality – the totality of existence and what is real.  Human beings use denial, avoidance, rationalization and other mechanisms to format reality to fit what we long for or demand.

Edwin_FreidmanWhat is the will of God for humanity?  I think that God wants his creatures, particularly human beings to mature.  Maturity comes from facing challenge.  Whatever moves human away from reality and toward unreality is not Christian spirituality.  I think often of the following statement of the late Edwin Friedman on Idolatry.  He wrote,

“The problem with the worship of idols is not the actual worship but what that adoration 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 through facing challenge. Taken out of its primitive context, idolatry today has many forms, from substance abuse, to bending others to one’s 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 to endure pain, always it dilutes the resolve to develop the emotional stamina necessary for managing crisis, and therefore always it denies the spark of the divine.”

We are called to move into the future in faith, to learn wisdom from our experiences, developing stamina along the way that leads to the maturity of our souls.  That is the work of the Spirit and a gift of God.  It’s good news. Remember the words of Jesus, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”