26 October 2013

What Now?

"Sign, sign everywhere a sign; Blocking up the scenery,
Breaking my mind.  Do this don't do that; can't you
read the sign?!"
--Words by Les Emmerson of the Five Man Electrical Band.
The group released the song in 1971 in the album, Good-byes and Butterflies
(NB:  The link above is filtered via Google Gmail and Norton scanned)

(Editorial Note:  This post began during the second week of October as a series of thoughts following two very good conversations with colleagues.  The final paragraphs of this post are also reflected in the work I published just ahead of this ... "Beyond Ideologies."  I apologize, in advance, for the repetition.  Also, I am publishing this just prior to suspending computer work for the coming nine days, while traveling)

Tom Brokaw authored the 2007 bestseller book, Boom!  Voices of the Sixties:  Personal Reflections on the '60s and Today.  It was a follow-up to his first social reflection, The Greatest Generation.  I read both books, because the complex global and social issues surrounding the Great Depression, WWII, post-war industrial/marketing shifts, Civil Rights, a series of shocking assassinations, and the Vietnam War changed the entire function of our culture...not to mention our standing in the emerging global community.  Plus (just to mention it), I like Tom Brokaw a lot.  He is an example of well balanced and thorough journalism.

I know I am a dreamer...and I know I am not the only one (to provide a twist of phrase from John Lennon...a musical voice of the Boomers).  I am a dreamer in both the psychological and mystagogical definition.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) classifies me as an INFP....Introvert, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving type.  Jungian typology seeks to help one understand how one engages internal and external realities.  There are four "spectra" in identifying types.

  1. Extrovert..........0..........Introvert
  2. Sensate.............0..........iNtuitive
  3. Thinking...........0..........Feeling
  4. Judging.............0..........Perceiving
The measure is how much energy is required for one to experience one or the other end of the spectrum from the zero, or center, point.  The MBTI was developed in the late 1940s and is one of the most realiable research and evaluative tools in the field of behavioral and analytical psychology.  Each person finds it more comfortable being somewhere on each spectrum.  There are sixteen possible combinations, and each of those combinations tells a descriptive story about how we tend to engage our realities.  

Without a painstaking exploration of each of the four spectra, I will simply summarize.  
  1. An extrovert is more comfortable and energized by being with others.  An introvert is more comfortable and energized by being more alone or in his/her own space (or with just a few others in "short spurts").
  2. A sensate person gains creative energy by engaging his/her senses and is, thus very pragmatic.  An intuitive person is energized by the "creative juices" of ideas, possibilities and insights.
  3. A thinking person relies upon concrete, logical and objective (outside) data in responding to others or reaching conclusions. A feeling person "goes from the gut" and processes data through the internal, emotive field.
  4. A judging person tends to go by stated or published standards and work at a pre-determined pace.  A perceiving person will often "read between the lines" to find alternative methods and works at a less planned pace to complete a task.
From the zero center, the spectrum goes to 49 on either end.  The higher the number, the more natural is the function described at the extreme of the spectrum.  I am a 37 on the Introvert side; 32 on the intuitive side; 22 on the Feeling side and 11 on the Perceiving side.  Thus, I am very introverted and intuitive; moderately emotive and lightly perceiving.  

Folks who have worked with me on a daily basis can see my "type" in action fairly easily.  If there was commotion in the outer offices, I would get up and shut my office door (true mark of an introvert).  Being highly intuitive is a good trait for a theologian/pastor/educator.  Since my first response is often "from the heart," dealing with conflict that directly involved me was always more painful than for a person who is a strong thinking type.  Because I am a "light" perceiver, I can work well at deadlines and can "think on my feet" in critical moments...thinking often "outside the box."  I tended to know the rules, but I also knew where they can be bent or stretched when necessary.

Mystagogy is the practice of what is called the "mystical arts."  Every kind of spiritual tradition has a mystical element.  It is the part that seeks the experiences of the deeper Presence.  The Christian tradition is replete with mystics:  John the Divine, Columba, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and the list goes on.  

My best kind of experience:  A week with a monastic community with four daily gatherings for the Prayer Offices and Eucharist:  mostly silence with reading, writing, contemplative prayer time: and several one-on-one chats with a spiritual director.  As a parish priest, doing that twice a year was pure fuel for doing my parochial work.  On a daily basis, spending an hour early in the morning -- half an hour with the Daily Office and a half hour of contemplative prayer -- has been a major part of my Rule of Life.

I share all this for a reason.  Now in my seventh decade of life (60s), I have been spending some time adjusting my journey and engaging the world in ways very different from the 33 years of being a parish priest.  As a "child of the 60s" my typology was well suited to imagining possibilities and dreaming of ways that humanity could be brought together in healing and creative modalities.  It is what shaped my character as an adult.

I read a recent Facebook quote from Billy Graham:  "'Hope and change' has become a cliche in our nation, and it is daunting to think that any American could 'hope' for 'change' from what God has blessed." (Newsmax.com, dtd 9 October2013, article/interview by David Patten, dtd 6 October 2013).

It may seem presumptuous of me to disagree with an American icon of civil religion, but I honestly do disagree...with vigor.  God has blessed our nation in any number of ways, but we risk grave moral error by making the "American experience" a mystagogy of its own.  We have made terrible errors in our history.  We, as a nation, have sinned boldly at times.  The framers of our Constitution did not, in large measure, use the bible as a founding tool...many of them were Deists or adherents of Rousseau's "noble savage" concept of civilized man (see The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, published in 1762, which was a foundation for both French and American revolutionary governmental platforms).  

What has made us a more Godly nation (if that is applicable as a title), is that we have had leaders, on all levels of societal life, who embodied hope and the possibilities for change.  It is what emancipated slaves, created opportunities for the common citizen to experience a safe environment and earn a living wage, placed all persons on equal terms and protected civil liberties.  Where God has been most present is when the Beatitudes have been best lived.  There is much discourse in our culture that flaunts the Great Commandment (Love God and Love Neighbor as we love Self...to summarize).  Yet, we continue to dream.  In our dreaming, we imagine a time when we might reconcile with those who were displaced by our ancestors' greed for land ownership...when we abused mystagogy by proclaiming that God had manifested a destiny for the European to conquer and own this land.  

This is not a sermon, but it is an extension of the feeling I had in the 1960s, when we were asked to dream big; when Martin Luther King shared a dream; when hopes long held became a true reality.  After the 1960s, other shifts happened, and the pragmatics of making a living narrowed our dreams to the scale of "me."  

As I was driving around on errands about three weeks ago, I was listening to a BBC broadcast on Sirius-XM radio.  A British journalist was interviewing a British economist.  Because I was driving, I cannot quote this exactly, but here is the gist:  The current shifts and rancor in American politics and social rhetoric might suggest that we...the rest of the world...are witnessing the beginnings of the breakdown of the Great American Experiment.  The United States has provided hope to many fledgling societies making their way toward equality and representation in a free, electoral government.  America, of the past 25 years has become quite ragged around the edges I do think.

The commentator said more, but, again, I was driving and had no way to capture what was about five to seven minutes of reflective Q/A format.  I present this as one aspect of how our society is being viewed from a distance by well educated and thoughtful folks.  

I am hopeful and, in my deepest times of reflective prayer, long for the kind of change that will bring wholeness and balance to what is a great experiment.  We will fail, if America itself becomes our definition of God rather than a society whose very heart is centered in Divine Love.  When balance is achieved, we will...in our diversity...with one voice...be able to proclaim that this grand experiment has, indeed, succeeded.

Love and Blessings!

Fr. Fred+

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