Just open your eyes and realize the way it's always been
Just open your mind and you will find
The way it's always been,
Just open your heart
And that's a start
--Lyrics by Thomas Edge of the Moody Blues, from the song, "Balance"
from the album, "A Question of Balance," released in 1970
(the full song, "Balance" can be heard on the above YouTube link)
Unquestionably, for me, one of the greatest rock groups in history is The Moody Blues. I own every album (CD) they have made, and I go back to them on a regular basis. Their music is a bend of classic rock and philosophical and mystical lyrics. There is a lot to be pondered in their music. Truth is, what they have to say is probably even more relevant in our contemporary culture.
Growing up as a post-WWII Baby Boomer, I was taught to think for myself and focus on "doing better than my parents." I'm not sure how often Dad said to me something like, "You need to stay focused, work hard, and get a college degree..." What came out of the 1950s and 60s was a fast growing individualism that doubled-down on the 19th century image of the "rugged frontier individualist."
Of course, we valued cultural community. It was necessary to have a team that would get to the moon before the Russians. Being on a team most always means being in some kind of competition with another team. That's fine for sports or friendly games. However, we have taken the competitive role to extremes. Competition, as we now "play" it, means that someone has to win, and someone has to lose. It means that someonw has to be right, and someone has to be wrong. Teams now generally reflect a group of people who are close enough in what they think and believe, that the individual can feel safe, justified and protected in that particular shell of "herding instinct."
What I just said is not universally the case...just predominantly so. Even in the institutional religious sector, we are a group of individualists herding together under a certain banner. We are production and quantity oriented. There are parishes in the Episcopal Church, for instance, where new parishioners are interviewed (yes, interviewed) by the priest or lay leaders to see if their way of thinking and believing "fit in with who we are." Folks have come into every parish, where I have been Rector, with stories of how they were either kindly or sternly told, "You will be happier in another parish." That is a kind of individualism that sociologists call the "group ego."
After four years of college and receiving my B.A. degree, I did something many college graduates would not do. I enlisted in the United States Navy. Now, let me be assure you, this was not my idea. I had shifted my entire lifepath from science/medicine to being a Priest in the Episcopal Church. I was made a Postulant (first stage in the process) in April 1972 in the Diocese of Central Florida. The Bishop of that diocese, at that time, was William Hopkins Folwell.
During a conference with Bishop Folwell in April 1972, he reflected that he was sympathetic with my views on the Vietnam War (I was very much all about getting out of there...immediately). He listened, with patience, to my carefully crafted reasons for where I found myself in life at that moment.
Then, without so much as a warning shot, he fired this at me: "Fred, if you are to be ordained a priest and be responsible for the spiritual well-being of a congregation of any size, you will encounter many ways of interpreting scripture and doing theology. You will have to learn how to hold in balance a diverse gathering of people...coming from all different backgrounds and viewpoints...all wanting to experience God's Love." Then, after a long pause, he added, "You need time to gain the ability and resources to create such a balance. I suggest you spend some time in the military."
It's a long story regarding what happened over the next 3 weeks. Short version: I told Bishop Folwell he was crazy...for which he forgave me as being a "passionate moment of surprise and indiscretion." I found out I could get a commission in the U.S. Navy and work in the surface intelligence field, but the time of getting into OCS, completing the training process for the specialty rating, and required time of active duty would put me out at around 1979. Bishop Folwell wanted me out of seminary at that time. It was then he suggested I enlist. I was stunned! For a second time I told him, "You really are crazy!" He simply held up two fingers, smiled and said, "Don't let the third finger appear."
I did the research and found out how I could move through an enlistment period that would combine 3 years active duty and three years reserve duty...during which I would go to seminary to earn the Master's degree required for ordination. He immediately concurred, and my "fate" was immediately sealed. I was going to boot camp.
In Recruit Training Duty (boot camp), I was placed in a training company comprised of 76 people. Two of us were college graduates, three others had 2 years of college. The rest were high school graduates, with exception of 2 drop-outs. I was 21 years old. Only two others were that age. The average age was 19. We were White, African American, Latino, Native American (2) and Asian (1). There were conservative, liberal, "I don't give a shit" and some who were still trying to figure all that out. Most were from working class and middle class families. A small group were from white collar families. Most were escaping being drafted into the Army by joining the Navy. Only 14 of us enlisted without pressure of draft (I was under a different kind of pressure...non sequitur to the blend of folks).
What I found in my active duty experience was very different from what I had thought and believed about the "military complex" as a college student. I found all kinds of people working together to make a system combat ready. Some of my best friends in those years were people with whom I might have never thought to associate myself otherwise. We were a diversity within a unity. It was not perfect by any means, but there was a harmony and balance I had not seen anywhere else up to that point.
Hegelian Dialectic (a philosophical model) is depicted as a loose spiral, where the beginning point represents a way of thinking (thesis), the point where the spiral curves upward is another way of thinking (antithesis), and the point above the beginning of the spiral is a new way of thinking that incorporates the best of the other two (synthesis). This synthesis, then, becomes a new thesis for the next phase of evolving thought and resulting action. My way of "doing business" has been a form of Hegelian Dialectic for at least 35 years. For those who keep notes on schools of philosophy and theology, I am also Aristotelian, a Thomist (Thomas Aquinas), Rahnerian (Karl Rahner) and Jungian (Carl Jung).
Immediately upon locating myself, as I did above, those who read this and work in the same areas I have worked will quickly try to "pigeon hole" me into a particular category of priest, partisan or citizen. What if I added to the mix that I have experience I value in Charismatic Renewal, read a lot of N.T. Wright, Karl Barth, John Macquarrie, Plato and Abraham Maslow (the latter being the focus of my final undergraduate research for my BA in Psychology)? Now, that muddies the waters a bit. Some of those would appear to a number of my colleagues as being "oppositional" to how I described myself. Truth is, I am grounded in the former and do work in all the former and latter.
"For the good of the Service" is a quiet motto for all branches of the military. One goes where one's skills will be needed and put to use...where one will fit into the working team of that command. In the Church, it is a little different. A Priest in the Episcopal Church will be called based upon both experience and skill sets needed for a parish. However, one is not entering a "command team." One is entering a diverse community that functions intermittently.
The real question in community is: What meets the needs of the largest number of people within this community? It is never about "my way or the highway." It is not about forging a diverse group into a single minded entity. If it is, then we are seriously playing a dangerous game. We are creating a "cult of the personality"... one based upon the ego and mindset of the leader...the consummate individualist (if they are thinking this way).
St. Paul was aware of how diversity becomes unity. He used the human body as an example. "If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where it is needed.....For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of.?" (1 Corinthians 12:18 and 19)
It is interesting that many of my generation came together in the 1960s to engage societal change but then dissipated to engage in forging individual lives. Now, our generation is in large measure responsible for the rancor and paralysis of our socio-political environment. This is not a universal comment, but it reflects our current cultural "temperature" pretty well I think.
There isn't one. We are in a flow that is one that cannot be stopped. It can be altered or shifted, but it cannot stop. What I have learned in my own process is only a moment of reflection. It will shift as I move forward. If I believed that I simply must "take my medicine, exercise and eat sensibly," I would be stuck in a condition that would ultimately deteriorate. Where is the antithesis to that particular thesis?
My new journey is, in fact, an antithesis. It is an invitation for my bodily system -- made up of a huge diversity of cells that do thousands of different functions -- to engage in a systemically balanced kind of harmony. It is dependent on my mental, emotional and spiritual leadership. That leadership working in its harmony will make appropriate choices "for the best good of the whole."
Unless something radical happens in the next day or so, this is my last reflection in this series. I have moved through nine days and ending the detox period tomorrow. My body is coming into some new synthesis and balance. Like St. Paul, I trust the balance and integrity of body can reflect the balance and integrity of relationships external to the body. It is why we have been placed here, I believe ... to learn how to function in harmony and balance as a whole people.
- Fasting Blood Glucose: 88. I am now running a daily average of 89 --- well within the range of normal fasting blood sugar.
- Weight: 232. I have lost 9 lbs. in 9 days. As the glycogen stored in liver and muscle "fat" cells continues to be burned, the weight will come off. When I shift to fat burning, it will slow. According to the docs, my best weight will be 215.
- Blood Pressure: 134/73. I had a chat with my cardiologist's nurse this morning (in her office). They are not momentarily concerned with this. They want some numbers after I take medication in the mornings. I am doing it immediately upon awakening...before medication. Okay, we'll see.
Since I have shared this journey...partly as a way of holding myself accountable and partly because it is community, and we all deal with these same issues...I will provide periodic updates via this blog. No long postings with reflective theology or philosophy. Just the facts.
Love and Blessings,