Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Networks of Self


What I have come to believe is that we are so much more complicated than any one theory about human nature. We “contain multitudes” as Walt Whitman observed, and within those multitudes is the very essence of what makes any of us a person. While we know that our history is not our destiny, we do know that our history, our context if you will, plays a large part in how we see the world. I agree with Anais Ain that “we see the world not as it is, but as we are.”

But who are we? We are our history, our family (or decidedly not our family as the case may be), our genes, and perhaps, our souls. What I do believe is that we are also the networks we keep. So much of the acrimony in American public life can be attributed to the networks we restrict our world too. This is why social media can be so insidious; if we only spend time with those who think like us, the algorithms of digital platforms will feed us only more of the same.

The social scientist Kathleen Wallace makes a compelling case that who we are as a person is actually the accumulation of the networks we keep.  In her book The Network Self: Relation, Process and Personal Identity, she challenges the belief that we are separate from the world we are engaged in. In her words: “Rather than an underlying, unchanging substance that acquires and loses properties, we’re making a paradigm shift to seeing the self as a process, as a cumulative network with a changeable integrity.”

The most important realization I see with this way of looking at ourselves is that we can transform our identity through the networks we keep and the networks we seek to better our lives. While we are all flawed and broken people in one sense, we can be better people in another by surrounding ourselves with people who are also seeking transformation. That transformation can take the place of something as baseline as our sanity or as far reaching as lasting social change.

The point is that we do have a choice to be around those who can make us better people. That includes this congregation. I have seen amazing transformations happen right before my eyes among those who find their way to us.  Such networks can lead to a better future beyond whatever past we have suffered from. In Dr. Wallace’s words:

“Some responsibilities might be inherited, though many are chosen. That’s part of the fabric of living with others. Selves are not only ‘networked’, that is, in social networks, but are themselves networks. By embracing the complexity and fluidity of selves, we come to a better understanding of who we are and how to live well with ourselves and with one another.”

With Grace and Grit, John

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Stories of Logos and Mythos


Stories are essential to our identity as meaning makers. Its stories, poetry (a kind of story telling) and the images they invoke that ground us in a reality. We live the stories of our lives as a script with a beginning, middle and an end, even if certain parts of that story are painful. Ask anyone what they think about a certain situation, and while we might rationalize and analyze what is happening around us, ultimately it’s a story that brings the point home. Philosophers almost always illustrate a point by using “armchair experiment”; an imaginative story that invites you in to the idea.

In our post-modern age we often measure the efficacy of a truth by how well that truth relates to our sense of reality. This use of reason, first postulated by Plato and his student Aristotle, is known in as Logos, or knowledge from reason. Logos is at the heart of the scientific and intellectual tradition in the West. It is central to how decide what is real and what is not.

And yet, Mythos, or myth telling is, I believe, an equally valid way to make meaning. Myths are often viewed as not true from the viewpoint of reason. However, a myth is a way of telling the truth through the vehicle of a story. When the ancient Greeks, acted out the myths of Gods and Humans on the stage they were participating in a truth telling beyond the reality most lived. Tragedies and comedies are a reminder of the deeper meanings we live for; that despite all that befalls us – disease, lost relationships, death and heartbreak – we are here to love and serve. Tears and laughter are two sides of the essential impulse to live, to remind ourselves to we live out our days with as much vivre and compassion as possible.

Logos and Mythos are two sides to the same coin: each calling us into the world with the whole of our being. I, for one, believe that we can embrace both. I close with this reminder from Mary Oliver:

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things. – Wild Geese

Yours Always,  Rev. John

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Journey to Becoming

Minister Message

Journey to Becoming

We are in the midst of Holy Week in the Christian Calendar. The week commemorates the journey Jesus took from his home in Galilee into the Jerusalem during the festival of Passover. As so often happens the Christian story of Easter runs parallel to the Jewish Festival of Passover.

Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday which was last Sunday. Borrowing imagery from the Hebrew text of Zachariah (9:9), Jesus comes to Jerusalem to fulfill the prophecy that the Messiah will herald the coming Kingdom of God riding on an ass. As we explored last  week Jesus is widely believed to be the one who would save the Hebrews from the Romans. They stand out waving palm fronds as if to hail a new King. But Jesus comes not as a king but as a sacrifice according to Christian teaching.

On Holy Monday Jesus enterd the temple and clears it of money changers, proclaiming a new kingdom is at hand. On Tuesday Jesus is said to have told his disciples that his death is imminent and with it to prepare for the Kingdom of God to arrive on earth.

Spy Wednesday is said to be the day when Judas made a deal with the Jewish authorities to turn Jesus over to the Romans. It is believed that Jesus knew of Judas’ betrayal and that he now had a spy in the midst of his disciples.

On Maundy Thursday Jesus and his disciples sit  down to the Last Supper wherein he proclaimed the Eucharist; that the bread shall be his body and the wine shall be his blood. It was a somber affair as Jesus proclaimed that he would be betrayed and that even his closest disciple Peter would deny him three times. This is also the time when Jesus washed the feet of all his disciples to model servant leadership in the days after he was gone.

Good Friday is anything but good other than it sets the stage for his resurrection on Easter Sunday. This is the day Jesus was arrested, tried and condemned to death by crucifixion. By that evening, Jesus was dead and laid in a tomb. Black Saturday was the time of waiting. A vigil was kept in the dark, as the tomb is dark as those who remain wait for his resurrection.

Easter Sunday, the stone is rolled away from the Tomb and Jesus is gone, risen to God. This is the story which defines the heart of Christianity. Jesus died for our sins and is now at the right hand of God.

In many ways this journey from peasant to messiah to the Son of God is a story of becoming. It could mirror our lives as well. All of us have had high hopes for our future, perhaps even a dream of greatness. Those in their twenties and thirties are often consumed with pursuing this dream, starting careers and families and imaging how their lives will be. But as with all dreams, reality sets in; we realize that there are limits to what we can do. Raising a family is harder than we imagined. Relationships seem wrought with troubles. We march into the future but we soon realize that we are not as royal as we once thought we were.

And then comes the hard work of mid-life, the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of our lives. Here we began to realize that we are not satisfied with the material world, we search for meaning that goes beyond the tables of money we see before us. We may also imagine our own mortality for the first time as we find ourselves facing health issues or children (or elderly parents) that have issues we couldn’t imagine. This can be like falling into the valley of trouble, and we yearn to find our way out again.

By late mid-life, you climb out of the valley towards a second mountain, you struggle through your Good Friday towards a new day. This is the real resurrection that we all go through. As David Brooks in his book The Second Mountain puts it “You don’t climb the second mountain the way you climb the first mountain. You conquer your first mountain. You identify the summit, and you claw your way toward it. You are conquered by your second mountain. You surrender to some summons, and you do everything necessary to answer the call and address the problem or injustice that is in front of you. On the first mountain you tend to be ambitious, strategic, and independent. On the second mountain you tend to be relational, intimate, and relentless.”

Many of us are in the midst of this journey from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, especially in this pandemic. Some of us have lost loved ones, others are dealing with illness, and some of us are struggling to make ends meet. We are climbing out of the valley unto the second mountain, moving from our old life into a new life. Like Jesus, all of us are on the Journey to Becoming. Let us keep the hope of that rebirth before us.

With Grace and Grit,