What You Learn by Living (sometimes)

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ACT3 Memphis

November 30, 2019
John W. Sewell

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

In hope, in spite of the facts.

John Sewell+

When Reason Sleeps, Monsters Are Born.

Goya

“When Reason Sleeps, Monsters are Born” – Francisco Goya

Perusing Extremism, consider some of the following questions:

  • Is extremism concerned with the supremacy of one’s own group, or is it defined by hatred of the “other”?
  • Do extremists emerge on the scene suddenly, or do they evolve from mainstream movements?
  • Are they found only on the margins of society?
  • Is violence a necessary component of extremism?
  • How do extremists decide on their beliefs?
  • Are they rational?
  • How can we define extremism objectively when so many possible variations exist?

 

Berger, J. M. Extremism (MIT Press Essential Knowledge series). The MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

What is Old is New or What the hell?

Gasoline prices at Shell in Denver

Prices for the three grades of gasoline light up the pump at a Shell station Friday, May 25, 2020, in Memphis, Tennessee and over the United States

Marilyn, my beloved, just arrived home from her intermittent hunting and gathering safari, what used to be called “grocery shopping”.  She said, “What do you suppose gasoline cost just now?”  I shrugged,  no idea. “Sixty-eight cents a galleon!” I am 68 years old.  When I was 16, gasoline cost 15 – 20 cents per gallon.

In the year of the plague, we stand at threshold of a new world.  We can choose to embrace the ADVENTURE of life on this changing planet, making new economies such that the planet has no need to wipe out human  beings in order to survive in her orbit.

I vote for adventure, a new epoch of history that has clear skies over New Delhi. Fish swimming in the clear lagoons of Venice and the nations turn swords into hemostats that we may safely get off Mother Earth while we still are able. May Mother Earth recover and may the Kingdom of God come and increase.   To God be glory now and forever.

I live in hope in spite of the facts.

John Sewell

 

FRIDAY OF EASTER III

May 10, 2019

LUKE 24:28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

road-to-emmaus-michael-torevell

He took, blessed, broke and gave the bread.  There is no implication that we should bring a credit card or folding money.  This is free.  It’s on the house. Come on down and bring a buddy; there’s plenty.

Isaiah 55:1 Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Many years ago I came across this story. It’s like in an evacuation of a town, the beggars (read street people) are left behind. Everything is locked.  However, two men risk body and limb, going out to find food. They jimmied the lock on the back of the convenience store down the street, helping themselves to the food left behind. Satisfied, they loaded up food, drink and first-aid supplies, braving the conditions and return to the group. Why did they do that?  Later, one of them said, “We’re just beggar telling other beggars where to find food. We should have the manners to pass the bread.” It is so.

In hope, in spite of the facts.

John

 

THURSDAY OF EASTER II

May 2, 2019

Tissot Thomas

Thomas sees Jesus – Tissot

JOHN 20:24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Thomas was called the twin back then. Aside, nobody has a clue about the twin thing so beware of scholar’s theories. Aside over. He got past being called twin (almost nobody calls him that anymore), only receive, “doubting” in its place. Doubting Thomas is much worse than Thomas the Twin. Don’t you think?

In addition, he gets a bum rap as well, to this day. He went out Easter night. Why? Nobody knows. So supply your own notion, I do. Maybe he got sick of disciple’s paranoia, jumping at a log cracking in the fireplace. Perhaps, he got the short straw when they ran out of beer and was out getting a few cases to tide them over. He could have needed fresh air. We know he was out, period.

I ask you, why should he accept the word of this crowd given their state of mind? Add terror to grief and you get hallucinations, maybe? Thomas wanted to experience God directly, not hearsay. There’s a reason the courts are unimpressed by such. Who could blame him? I’ve noticed in the years of my ordained life, soon 37 years, a growing, progressive hunger of people to experience God for themselves.

I will tell you that for the thirty-seven years of this gig, one trend is that people want to experience God themselves.  Don’t settle for any secondhand edition it will not fix the slow leak in our souls.

In hope, in spite of the facts.

John Sewell

 

 

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TUESDAY OF EASTER II

April 30, 2019

JOHN   20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

I’m old enough to remember when Lyndon hiked up his hospital gown showing the press his incision from gall bladder surgery.  There was great consternation at the time. Alice Roosevelt Longworth (Teddy’s oldest) said she was grateful he wasn’t circumcised.  Be not afraid, I do not compare our Lord with Lyndon.

LBJ

However, some think the President was sending a message to Moscow that there was nothing wrong enough with him for them to be excited or worried.  I know, I know, cutting room floor. Hang on, go with me here.  Jesus showed the disciples that he is not merely spirit.  They could see his wounds (and touch them apparently).

Jesus clearly had essential continuity before and post resurrection.  He has the scars to show for it. In fact he will the only resident of heaven without a perfect body. I think, people will line up to see them, the bolder touch them, just to remember what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.

In hope, in spite of the facts.

John

EASTER DAY

March 21, 2019

tissot angels at tomb

Empty Tomb – James Tissot

JOHN 20:  Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you keeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Resurrection Never Crossed our Minds.

Resurrection never crossed Mary’s mind in the dark deserted streets.  The garden, very near the skull shaped hill, where, Jesus was hoisted on a rough-hewn cross, splinters  the size of the nails in his feet.  She barely remembered walking from the cross, walking beside Joseph, an aristocrat, whose generosity saved Jesus from a common grave. Joined by Nicodemus, a Senator, they, their aides and servants, carried the dead weight through gathering dusk across the manicured lawns to Joseph’s new tomb.

She shifted the heavy jar of myrrh in her arms. Myrrh’s complex earthy scent, hinting of foreign lands, was universally used at burial. Its strong odor was useful at such times.

Smell, evokes the most vivid memories.  Ever after, the faintest whiff and Mary was in the garden, the stars, dimming at the hint of dawn in the East.

The men had carefully rolled the round stone into its slot across the entrance.  She saw them do it.  There is a dark hole where the tan stone should be.  His body, limbs out of socket, limp as a worn-out rag, covered with blood, was gone. The great stone rolled aside, witness to the absence of tortured remains. She hurdled heedless of feet in the dawn to warn his men that some ghoulish mischief had befallen his body. Romans do not disturb the dead.  Nor, Jews, usually. Who would rob a grave on Passover?

Resurrection never crossed the minds of the men huddled by the fire, hiding from the mighty whose henchmen might be searching at that very moment.  They flinched at the door knock.

james-tissot-st-peter-and-st-john-run-to-the-tomb-illustration-for-the-life-of-christ-c-1886-94

John & Peter run to the Tomb – James Tissot

Resurrection never crossed the minds of the two as they left the others walking quickly, suddenly running like school boys;  John, the younger by over a decade ran as the young run sprinting ahead only to wait, a quick glance, hesitating, while Peter, as Peter would, barged right in.  John followed.  The burial clothes of thin linen bands, wrapped in haste; adequately, were quickly finished before Passover sundown.

The burial clothes were more than there; they lay as if Jesus simply vanished, evaporated rising right through them as they collapsed neatly onto themselves in a way, not to be faked.  Oddly, the head cloth neatly folded lay near the wrappings, testifying to subtle divine presence.

Resurrection did cross John’s mind and he believed.   Suddenly, hideous events on Friday were made new sense, aroused suspicions of glory and strange saying of Jesus were strange no more.  His absence translated by hope become coherent to ears that listen, ears that hear.  They departed slowly, thoughtfully – wondering if this meant what they thought it meant, unsure but with small bright potential joy in their hearts where before was only despair.

A movement peripheral, a man, [only a gardener would stir so early,]. Passing through the hedge, Mary, voice breaking inquired of grave-robbers … “Mary,” and she knew his voice; it was he, the one who said his sheep know my voice, and saying her name called her clear as ever.   Resignation fell away, not as amnesia forgets, but remembering with power a greater vision, redeemed by holy intervention.

 

 

She grabbed him, weak with vertigo of deep grief leaping into singular joy in a single bound. Gently, he loosed her hands, telling her he had not yet ascended to his Father; an entirely different order of homecoming, embraced by the peculiar, mystical love of the Godhead.

 She must let him go, not for loss this time but for gain, gain for all, for all time.  The spare, precise truth, brought Mary and all who will ever believe to his God and their God and his Father and their Father.

Resurrection had never crossed Mary’s mind until, she met Resurrection face to face.

And it was ENOUGH!

Resurrection never crossed our minds in the tyranny of the immediate. I-phones, e-mails, constant litter of data: important to nobody but forwarded by somebody to everybody.

Resurrection never crossed our minds in the routine of sameness, body tired, minds fuzzy with the demands of a new day, while the old day, its red-flagged emails, all caps, shouting, invades the new day.

Resurrection never crossed our minds even in the Week Holy, as the world continued, the  relentless, urgency of the trivial, blotting out the ultimate, flattening all affect into numbness.

The Resurrection

Resurrection – James Tissot

We slouch into our several pews late, tired, distracted, our minds arriving minutes after our bodies dropped into a seat. Today the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox, the Queen of Feasts: This EASTER lies at the end of a long relay race beginning on that Eighth day of the Week, the day Mary went early in the dark; John and Peter came and went and Mary loitering near the cave met Jesus alive, [changed but somehow the same] – full of resurrection.

Resurrection never crossed our minds when Meister Eckhart said that the savior’s birth is always happening. But if it happens not in us what does it profit? What matters is that he be born in us.

Resurrection never crossed our minds until we, too long removed from that day encounter him who was absent then, only to be fully present for all time. Sometime, somewhere, when we finally hit the wall that defeats the best moves of our egos — when we find something we cannot fix, there

we will meet Jesus and Resurrection will finally cross our minds and he will not only be born in us but resurrected as well…

and it will be ENOUGH!

May that same resurrection cross your minds and give you new life.

In the name of the father, son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

John Sewell

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.