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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Iacocca and bishop hypothetical conversation #2

Let’s pick up our hypothetical conversation between Iacocca and the bishop.

We left off, last time, with Iacocca telling the bishop that ‘the train had left the track’ based on his assessment of the ‘10% more people and 15% more money’ in his charge to the diocese.

Bishop: I have reflected for some time on your observation last time, and I think there are many issues that warrant further exploration. First, all business people, and especially those like you at the top of the corporate ladder, are deeply conscious of the cost of operating any enterprise, including the church. We have buildings that are in some cases, historic, and they need constant refurbishing, new heating systems, more recently air conditioning systems. Many also need re-pointing given that concrete that held bricks or blocks together to form their walls has dried and eroded, rendering them, in some places, unsafe, unless they are restored. There are new meeting rooms, offices that need furnishings; some of our sanctuaries, in fact, have been neglected for too long and have experienced damage from water in their basements, so we have had to install “French drains’ to protect the stability of the structure, as well as the environment inside. As you also know, professional salaries keep rising, even though those in the church have historically been among the lowest in the country. We do not specifically ‘sell’ a product for which we generate a profit, based on our costs of production; we rely on the continued allegiance of parishioners, some of whose families have been attending a particular parish for generations, and have even made those parishes beneficiaries in their wills. So, there is both a marketing and what we call outreach or evangelizing, some call it proselytizing, a process by whatever name, on which we have to rely in order to remain viable. So, we have to keep our ears and eyes open to the wishes of our parishioners, who themselves, are comparing their experiences in our churches with their neighbours who attend different churches in the area. And, for example, there has been a trend, recently, to more contemporary musical liturgies, and away from those old ‘chestnut’ hymns we all sang in our youth. Also, there has been a significant impetus to make church more ‘friendly’ and less formal and less rigid, in both the liturgies and in the messages of our clergy. And, while we have long-term parishioners in most churches, as compared with some of your auto customers, who might purchase only a single vehicle from your company and then move on to another auto company, we have to continue to attract new young families to our pews, committees and choirs, as well as our church education programs. Volunteers comprise the beating heart of any parish, and their generosity includes time, skills and financial support. And at any time when a  person or a family experiences something they find uncomfortable, they are very likely to find another parish (and take their cheque book with them), whether within our denomination or not. And while they must sound like a whining and a dark assessment of our fiscal needs, these aspects of our ecclesial responsibilities are always present in our individual and our organizational minds and spirit.

The message of the gospel, however, of a life saved in and through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ following the Crucifixion, is a message that has brought hope and joy to millions around the world for centuries. And we have special holy days, like Christmas and Easter, Pentecost, and rites of initiation like Baptism, Marriage, The Penitential, and Funerals, all of them including highly inspirational themes, music and the basic and energizing shared experience of community, ideally a fellowship, that has been uplifting many for a long time.

Iacocca: I am humbled by your clear and hard-headed assessment of the fiscal needs of your church, one that is shared and supported by a variety of clergy among an even wider range of lay people. In that light, managing and even more importantly, leading such a diverse and disparate organization without many of the sanctions and carrots that we have come to deploy, really classical conditioning, in the corporate sector, has to be a task that challenges even the most dedicated, creative and courageous of men and women. From the outside, with all due respect, bishop, however, I note that those profit and loss statements on which we in the corporate world depend, seem less than appropriate from the perspective of the purpose and meaning of the church. It seems to me that the Christian faith has effectively been turned into just another “transactional” proposition. If I surrender my life to Jesus, and accept Him as my personal “Saviour”, whatever that in itself might mean to me and to anyone else who has given the notion much time and prayer, then I am promised something like an “eternal life” in Heaven, as my reward. And while that core nugget may not contain all of the overtones of high liturgies, and inspirational hymns and vocal solos by highly trained musicians, and it may also not give full expression to the contemporary music, or the ‘relatability’ and likeability of each clergy, it appears to me to be a fundamental form of another classical conditioning. From a merely lay person’s perspective, why would God want or need to make a bargain with His people, even having extended, according to the little theology I have read, a personal will to make the choice. And then, we are intended to add the notion that we are not save by our own “goodness” or holiness, but by the grace of God, another way of saying to many of us less nuanced in our theological and spiritual grasp of the ephemeral aspects of our relationship with God. And from my outsider’s perch, I consider such intimate and complex and subtle and nuanced notions about the foundational aspects of how Christians are to approach God, not only is my comprehension fragmented, but so is my attitude to the whole enterprise of how the church practices the faith.

We see large buildings and even larger investment portfolios, and robed clergy somberly conducting liturgies that ‘sanctify’ our babies as children of God, in their infancy, and then confirm their membership in the church in and through confirmation, then the church sanctifies their marriage in and through holy vows, and then essentially abandons most if not all of them to whatever kind of life they might choose….that is until and unless they might seek out a church funeral on their death. If God is love, and understanding and comfort and calm when the winds on the seas of life become turbulent, as they will for all of us at some time(s), do you actually think and believe that the church, as it is currently operating, is fulfilling the basic message of the gospel in providing deep and profound insight and care when it is most needed, especially, if the leadership announces that the goal for the next year is 10% more bums in pews and 15% more cash in the plates. What has happened to the notion that religion is a deeply engaging, highly reflective and soul-cleansing kind of process that, because I am a child of God, made in God’s image (however that phrase is to be interpreted) I am seeking such eternal values as truth, love, forgiveness and compassion and empathy, in the Christian definition of agape, love for one another? And my experience, and those of many others of my acquaintance, is that, among church goers there is considerable friction, tension, petty squabbles and an ocean of both gossip and vindictiveness or revenge. There is, at least from my observation and experience, more venom flowing under those pews, and around those altars than among the corporate board rooms in corporate executive suites, although we have more than our share as well. While I have considerable respect for what the church is trying to be in a secular culture that worships money and status and power, as a  potential antidote to that obsessive-compulsive drive, I fear that, perhaps in order to be considered “normal” the church has fallen into the same short-sighted, myopic and self-centred chasm of the fear of failure from which no clergy or bishop can or will recover.

And failure is defined in so many different ways: a legacy of sermons considered too long and boring by a majority of a congregation, a personality who is dour and reflective, even worse scholarly, an inappropriate relationship, a distant and off-putting reserved clergy, for decades anyone who was gay or lesbian, and they are still blocked from serving as clergy in many churches….I am now, and have often wondered, what kind of formation is considered both appropriate and sufficiently rigorous and is conducted in order to prepare clergy for what seems to me to be an impossible vocation. No doubt, there is a scrupulous and critical examination of the moral propriety of the person’s life, thereby putting, for example, divorcees, gays, former prisoners, labourers, and former alcoholics and/or drug addicts out of the running even for consideration, when many of those men and women would have contributed many of the very attitudes, skills, empathy and understanding that is supposed to be at the heart of the Christian message.

I have rambled on for far too long. I need to be quiet and listen carefully to your response.

Bishop: I am a little overwhelmed but all of what you have said. I think we can set aside the initial question of the need to pay the bills, for a starter. Let’s try to focus on the theological and the spiritual aspects of your concerns. I will grant you that we in our church have been too highly focused on and dependent on the skill of reading, as books have become central to our worship and that leaves many out in the cold if they are not comfortable with words, images, symbols and poetry. In fact, one of the most difficult objectives of any clergy is to help men and women open to the beauty, and the symbolic and the poetic nature of the language of scripture and potentially also of worship, prayer and one’s relationship with and to God. While I rarely get an opportunity to discuss this aspect of the faith, from my own perspective, I have held for many years, the notion that much of the narrative both of the life of Jesus in the gospels and of the writings of the prophets and the disciples as both a literal and a metaphorical aspect, and needs an imagination and a courage and a vulnerability to begin to enter into the fullness of many of those images. We are living in an age when the language of the marketplace is almost exclusively literal, and the reading of poetry has fallen into a small minority even in the church. Personal political and social power of status and honour and personal wealth in the culture has taken on a new and I would suggest, somewhat more dangerous, value especially among the young, along with the rising tide of adulation for academic pursuits in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (for the majority) at the expense of literature and the arts, the churches generally have witnessed a steep decline both in memberships and in revenues. I do not doubt that some of these social and cultural developments are linked in some way(s) to the erosion of the ecclesial institutions, except for the mega-churches. And that is a topic that irritates like a virulent burr in the shoes and in the minds and hearts of many who have studied and prepared for the ministry vocation. And we can return to these reflections next time. I deeply appreciate the opportunity to be part of this conversation with you and look forward to our next meeting.


Friday, June 24, 2022

Dog-paddling a little further into the waters of archetypal psyhchology #2

Dog paddling a little further into “spirit v soul” as conceived by archetypal psychology

This process of swimming in the waters of a new approach to a deeply embedded approach to psychology (empirical, ego-centred, “reality driven, and expecting fundamental transformation) , while slow and plodding, like the dog-paddle,  is awkward and inelegant also like the dog-paddle, and also somewhat tiring as well as trying.

Here is another of Hillman’s thoughts from “Archetypal Psychology,  A Brief Account, that flips much conventional thought and perception on its ear:

“For archetypal psychology, ‘fantasy’ and ‘reality’ change places and values. First, they are no longer opposed. Second, fantasy in never merely mentally subjective but is always being enacted and embodied…..Third, whatever is physically or literally ‘real’ is always also a fantasy image. Thus the world of so-called hard factual reality is always also the display of a specifically shaped fantasy, as if to say, along with Wallace Stevens, the American philosopher-poet of imagination on who(m) archetypal psychology often draws, there is always ‘a poem at the heart of things….Jung stated the same idea: ‘The psyche creates reality everyday. The only expression I can say for this activity is fantasy. And he takes the word ‘fantasy’ from poetic usage. (p. 23)

Before we move to consider “soul” and “spirit”, let’s pause with the above quote. While we are all sentient beings (able to perceive or feel things) and based on the MBTI (Myers Briggs) test with all of its critics, some 73% of all people score as primarily “sensate” humans, (perceiving of and perceived by the senses), generally we all live in, and conduct our affairs on the bases of what our senses are “telling” us. We learn about ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ when, at two years, we discover the temperature at or near the stove, or the fireplace, or perhaps the bonfire at the campsite. Our eyes, ears, fingers, nerves, nose are all ‘naturally’ receiving information about the situations we are in, and almost simultaneously, we are ‘making sense’ of those perceptions. What we do not talk about, (and many would likely deny or resist any move to open those discussions) are those things behind, below, above, outside of, the images that travel in and through our physical senses and are thereby somewhat ethereal and abstract and ill-defined, as compared with those images of what we call “reality”. It is these 'images' that dance in and through our fantasy, to borrow Jung's word.

At the same time, we live in a culture that strives to discern (and also apparently to resist) the difference between what we call facts and what we call lies. And in that process, those things that we regard as lies are usually relegated to words like ‘fantasy’. This word, fantasy, is also used in discussions about visions of space, of pre-historic monsters, and then it morphs into words and concepts like ‘demonic, satanic, the underworld, purgatory, Hades, horror movies, Hell, and similar concepts from literature, and the world of the bizarre, the unnatural, the unbelievable, the inconceivable, the imposter, the impossible etc.

We have seemed, certainly over the last few years in North America, (especially the U.S.A.), to have struggled with whom and what to believe. And, of course, we have all made choices that have deposited specific names in each column: liars and truth-tellers. At the same time, we all know that such a binary dichotomy, applied to individual human beings, is both incomplete and foggy at best and we all, perhaps secretly, wonder why that is.

Hillman addresses this conundrum:

Human awareness fails in its comprehension not because of original sin or personal neurosis or because of the obstinacy of the objective world to which we are supposedly opposed. Human awareness fails, according to the psychology based on soul, because the soul’s metaphorical nature has a suicidal necessity, an underworld affiliation, a morbism, a destiny different from dayworld claims—which makes the psyche fundamentally unable to submit to the hubris of an egocentric notion of subjectivity as achievement, defined as cognition, connation, intention, perception and so forth. (Hillman, op. cit. p.21-22)

For many months, I have held a secret ‘notion’ that the former president of the United States has a deep, unconscious, and incorrigible death-wish, in psychology named, “Thanatos, the death drive”. Freud conceived that people typically channel this death drive outward as aggression toward others. Some, similarly, can direct the drive inward resulting in self-harm or suicide. Hillman seems to be discerning a  different path, not an either/or of inward or outward direction of this death drive, but rather embedding it in the “soul” ‘as metaphor, “describing how the soul acts…transposing meaning and releasing interior buried significance. Whatever is heard with the ear of soul reverberates with under-and-overtones. The perspective darkens with a deeper light. But this metaphorical perspective also kills; it brings about the death of naïve realism, naturalism, and literal understanding. The relation of soul to death-a theme running all thought archetypal psychology- is thus a function of the psyche’s metaphorical activity. The metaphorical mode does not speak in declarative statements or explain in clear contrasts. It delivers all things in their shadows. So, its perspective defeats any heroic attempt to gain a firm grip on phenomena; instead, the metaphorical mode of soul is ‘elusive, allusive, illusive’ undermining the very definition of consciousness and intentionality and is history as development. (Ibid, p.21)

Naturally, these “over-or-under-tones” are emerging, erupting, flowing, like underground springs from the imagination and Hillman is attempting to render what seems like a universal process and experience as a psychological perspective that stretches the elastic/rubber/declarative theories of both Freud and Jung. And in the process, Hillman (et al) are also building bridges both between the senses and  the images, the present and the past and the future, the higher and better angels and the darker instincts of our human complexities. There is a marked distinction and challenge to what has become the ubiquitous psycho-pathologizing in our contemporary world, (e.g. my projection of a Thanatos onto the former president, as compared with the narcissism, egomania, Napoleonic complex etc. labels that have come from various other observers) and how archetypal psychology might consider the previous administration.

The notion of seeming to be in control of events, situations, developments, and the stories and issues embedded in those scenarios, is directly challenged by archetypal psychology. And it is the challenge to the hubris (as well as the inevitable psychology and trauma of failure) that seems cogent to the arguments for archetypal psychology.

“Thus, this sense of weakness, inferiority, mortification, masochism, darkness and failure is inherent to the mode of metaphor itself which defeats conscious understanding as a control over phenomena. Metaphor, as the soul’s mode of logos (in Jungian psychology the principle of reason adn judgement), ultimately results in  that abandonment to the given which approximates mysticism….As Freud and Jung both attempted to discover the fundamental ‘mistake’ in Western culture was to resolve the misery of man trapped in the decline of the West, so archetypal psychology specifies this mistake as loss of soul which further identifies will loss of images and the imaginal sense. The result has been the intensification of subjectivity, showing both in the self-enclosed egocentricity and the hyperactivism, of life-fanatacism, of Western consciousness which has lost its relation with death and the underworld…..As the metaphorical perspective gives new animation to soul, so too it re-vitalizes areas that had been assumed not ensouled and not psychological; the events of the body and medicine, the ecolgical world, the man-made phenomena of architecture and transportation, education, food, bureaucratic language and systems….The metaphorical perspective which revisions worldly phenomena as images can find ‘sense and passion’ where the Cartesian mind sees the mere extension of de-souled insensate objects .In this way, the poetic basis of mind takes psychology out of the confines of laboratory and consulting room, and even beyond the personal subjectivity of the human person, into a psychology of things as objectification of images with interiority, things as the display of fantasy. (Ibid. 22-23)

Imagine a perspective that helps to dissipate that ego-driven obsession with success and its concomitant, the trauma of failing to achieve that brass ring, as the final judgement of our personal timelines, to be supplemented by the fullness of the interiority of each thing and each experience, seen from the perspective of a universe in which various myths and gods and goddesses are inherent to our lives.

And that inheritance is neither necessarily willed, nor programmed, nor can it be. Nor can whatever happens ever be surgically excised from its mythic echoes, those over-and-undertones that can only be mined in and through the imagination. And those previously “enshackelling” and absolute judgements of others, based on their own literalisms, symptom-adherence, and perhaps even the unconscious lack of awareness of the poetic mind’s capacity to see a fuller and more life-giving picture, paradoxically because it refuses to deny, or to eliminate, or to rule out the question of how the image relates to one’s own mortality.

Unconsciously, I have always felt more comfortable in preparing for and conducting those liturgies that honoured the lives of the deceased. For a long time, I considered my own comfort level somewhat grotesque and morose, perhaps even a little too close to death, morbid even. And yet, I never considered that I was being seduced by the fear or the finality of our fatenor did I consider myself burdened with a death wish. And being raised in a church in which the judgement day was imaged as the sword of Damocles when we would all be divided into those “permitted” into heaven or “sentenced” to Hell, I have to confess that the absoluteness of that histrionic “act of God” never sat well in either my mind or my conscience or my soul.

There has also always been a kind of scepticism in my attitude about the “correctness” (not merely politically but also professionally, parentally, medically, legally and even theologically and  scientifically) that attends the “rhetoric of order, number, knowledge permanency, and self-efensive logic” all of which Hillman lays at the feet of the word and concept “spirit”, as compared with the soul. The monotheism, orthodoxy, ultimacy and heroism that attends “spirit” as “superior” and thereby worthy of each and every  student that ever passed through my classroom, and daughter who is/was part of my family, seemed always only a part of the whole of something less easily contained by the language and the perspective and the perceptions of our persons adn our senses and logic and rationality.

Hillman further elucidates: “The distinction between soul and spirit further guards against psychological therapy  becoming confused  with spiritual discipline—whether Eastern of Western—and gives yet another reason for archetypal psychology to eschew (deliberately avoid, abstain from) borrowings from meditative techniques and/or operant conditioning, both of which conceptualize psychic events in spiritual terms. (Ibid p 25-26)

Much of what passes as pastoral care in contemporary churches, at least in North America, attempts to find an intellectual, as well as a spiritual congruity with those terms of meditation and operant conditioning, as a way of ‘shining light’ into the darkness of many parishioners’ ‘dark nights of the soul’…as the tradition has it.

When discussing the death of a clergy by suicide at the altar, in Lent, with a parish two years into its grieving process, who had not had opportunity to grieve either formally or informally, I noted that the word betrayal was central to their shared experience, as one of the significant complications of the death. That image of betrayal, however, could not be restricted to the single act of one man; it had to be evoked as part of the way to ‘see’ and to be seen from that image. And from that perspective, each of us now had opportunity to consider “our own betrayer” as part of the path forward. This seems to be one of the ways in which 'being seen by and held by the image of betrayal' might become evident, from an archetypal psychology perspective.

Immediately upon learning of the content of our discussion, the presiding bishop raged, calling the conversation “evil” and declaring that it must be discontinued. Was his 'spirit/ unsettled by the 'soul' of the conversation? It was only after two-plus years, that he perceived the conversation, never an act of therapy, to have had a salutary impact on those attending, and on the parish itself. 

Perhaps, our death-denying, often death-defying, notion of how life is to be lived in North America, would benefit from a somewhat radical notion of seeing “things” with soul from the ‘eyes’ of both soul and soul-making….

D’ya think?....just perhaps, but not absolutely….eh? 

Editor's note: please accept my apoligies for the plethora of typo's in the first edition. I hope the copy is more easily read and reflected upon now.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Listening in to a hypothetical conversation between a bishop and Iacocca...

 In an opinion piece for CBC today, June 21, 2022, entitled, “Canada is hooked on real estate. It needs a detox’, Toronto lawyer Mark Morris, writes:

“Western economies used to produce products and later on, services. Those products and services created enduring value, jobs and above all, innovation. But we in Canada have not engaged in such projects of late. Instead, we have experienced a lost decade—a decade where a significant amount of available capital and innovation of available capital and innovation has turned to constructing glass buildings in the sky.”

Also, within the last few days, the CEO of a group alphabetized as CTREIT, Kevin Salsberg, was reported to have answered an interviewer’s question about REIT’s role in the Canadian housing shortage and perceived crisis in that medium and low-income Canadians are increasingly unable to acquire affordable housing. He spoke words to this effect:

We are in the business of making profit; you can’t expect us to solve Canada’s social ills.

Sadly, the reporter did not provide a legitimate follow-up question:

While you are in the business of making profit, as we would all agree, do you and your company have or share any responsibility for creating some of Canada’s social ills?

Lawyer Mark Morris articulates a truth about the fixation on real estate, as a generator of profit, without many of the hassles attendant on more complex, and more service-oriented business operations. However, his argument, sadly, is only one highly instrumental aspect of the underlying problem. As far back as 1986, (as recounted earlier in a piece in this space), Lee Iacocca wrote a letter to the presidents of both Yale and Harvard universities, detailing his professional difficulty in attracting their brightest graduates into the auto industry. Both presidents replied to the effect that their schools had been teaching the wrong stuff to their undergraduates. It was clear to the auto executive that Wall Street was like a magnet to these bright minds, immediately following graduation, as “it” and the financial services sector offered the most obvious and most predictable and most efficacious pathway to financial success. The auto industry could not compete.

Derivatives, and a near economic crash and multiple up’s and down’s in the financial markets later by some thirty-plus years later, we note that the pattern of those choices by those “bright” graduates to the “golden ring,” however that ring is conceived by individuals, has overtaken not only many of the brightest graduates on both sides of the 49th parallel, but in many places around the world. The acquisition of personal wealth, the commodification of everything and the equation that makes all of these gears in the economic/financial machine grind smoothly, transactionalism, itself, an excuse for turning all of us into either or both consumer or seller of both things and services/skills are now impaling at least North American culture, including the universities which have morphed into little more than technical training institutes, fixated on providing graduates with the most efficacious and predictable pathway to financial success, as part of their recruiting foundation, serving the explicit needs of business, corporations and the pursuit of both personal and corporate profit.

As Iacocca noted in his memoir, “Straight Talk”, when he went into the business world, while profit was an important aspect of the corporation’s raison d’etre, it was not the only goal. The provision of goods and services, the support of workers and their families, and the general contribution to the public interest were also high on the agenda of boards and executives in those corporate suites. I was privileged to have a family dentist for nigh on half a century who, after being invited to join his roommate in college in a dental practice following graduation, turned the invitation down with words to this effect:

I’m sorry, “X”, but it is clear that you are committed to making as much money as you can from your practice, while that is not my primary goal. I do not believe that our visions of a dental practice are compatible. Consequently, I will not be joining you in your offer.

When an ecclesial bishop defines his “charge” to his diocese as “10 percent more people and 15 percent more revenue,” (also previously noted in this space) as his definition of the spiritual goals of his episcopate, in 1998, we already know that the train of social and economic and political balance and sustainability has gone off the track. Conflating the church’s mission with the terms and goals that would be held in high regard at a General Motors Annual General Meeting of Shareholders, is not only suspect of such leadership. It is also a significant signal that even the pursuit of things spiritual and ethical and moral and the very institution that has for centuries been held to count for those balancing influences, under the rubric and the tutelage of pilgrims, scholars, liturgists and pastors has slipped into the ship of state, not only from the perspective of institutional need for funds and social respectability, but also from the perspective of how it measures itself and its ‘success’ both of the career of the bishop and also of the practice of ministry of those hundreds of men and women toiling under such a myopic if not actually blind leadership.

Can we even imagine a conversation between Iacocca and our episcopal bishop?

Iacocca: What do you mean by reducing your episcopate to one of dollars and numbers of seats in pews when, over the centuries, spiritual monks and pilgrims and members of the religious have dedicated their lives to the search for God and not the limited interests of those of us who attempt to steer large for-profit corporations by both providing goods and services while attaining reasonable profits?

Bishop: Well, I was merely attempting to bring a metaphor of common conventional understanding to the discussion of how our church might grow. The metaphor did not exclude the pursuit of a legitimate search for God, in and through the guidance of the holy scriptures, the weekly liturgy, the traditions of the church, and the individual human experience of both the laity and the clergy. It was a very focused metaphor, relying on the premise that regardless of the orientation of both clergy and laity either to a more liberal or a more conservative theology, most people would be able to connect with and resonate with the metaphor.

Iacocca: And yet, can you see what message your metaphor sends to those not in the room when you delivered your charge? It says to many, including me, that the church has fallen prey to the language, and the mind-set, and the attitudes and the processes of the for-profit corporation. Your dependence on benefactors through the collection plate, in terms of dollars, cannot supercede, even and especially from the mouths of church hierarchy, the reliance of the culture, including its economic and its political and intellectual aspects and personnel and practices on the church’s prophetic voice amid the cacophony of the money-changers. Was it not Jesus himself, who angrily turned over the tables in the temple in a white-hot wave of anger, while turning them out of the temple? And, by your words, have you not risked bringing those money-changers right back into your temples of worship, as those effectively in charge? Of course, you may have theologically disciplined clergy, who are attempting to bring the “word of God” into the pulpit and thereby the pews and to the people sitting there. However, your message denotes and connotes a highly sophisticated marketing approach to your operation and leadership. Do you indeed and in fact rank your clergy on the basis of how much money and how many bums are in pews as your criteria for promotions?

Bishop: Well……it is true that we have to have some manner of determining the effectiveness of individual clergy if we are going to find appropriate assignments for their skills and talents, in order to fit them with congregations who might work with them. And one of the ways to discern their effectiveness is by the numbers; you know, the numbers don’t lie. So, that is an integral component of any assessment of clergy value and appropriateness for advancement.

Iacocca: That response is far more frightening than even I would have expected prior to this conversation. I know that fiscal statements of revenue and expenses have to show more black than red, in order for the enterprise to continue to operate. And yet, I also know, from both a spiritual/theological/psychological perspective that optimism and hope, allegedly the two values most valued after agape love, are highly instrumental in generating altruism and unselfishness and beneficience…those values that will determine the dollars that arrive in the church coffers. And those values, far from stemming from and being birthed from a corporate, business and profit-seeking agenda, originate in a perception and a vision of something far more important, higher, if you like, on the scale of what w humans aspire to….I think the colloquial phrase from my church experience is “seeking to be closer to God”…..Politicians use the phrase, “belonging and serving something larger than ourselves”….and if serving God is not part of that, then we are collectively diminishing ourselves and God by setting our sights so low, as percentage increases of people and dollars. Don’t you agree?

Bishop: I never expected to be on the receiving end of a lecture on theology from a corporate tycoon like you. However, your words and your thoughts and your perceptions and values are striking me in a way that I could not and would not have happened if one of my advisors had been speaking. I am aware that there is considerable pressure from many quarters to “prove” myself as bishop of this diocese. There are many members of the laity who have extremely high standards themselves, in their private lives, and extend, perhaps you could say, project those standards onto their bishop and church. It is an establishment church, and the establishment here are very conscious of, and also conscientious about, their own reputation as part of this diocese. I know that my episcopate will last only a few years, and I am determined to leave a legacy of success when I leave. And that kind of focus is instrumental in my decision-making.

Iacocca: I heard from one of the parishioners in your diocese that Jesus was the best salesman in history, as if to honour and pay obeisance to that aspect of His life and reality. And, as I am in the business of “selling” in all of its many intricate, complex and unsavoury aspects, I have spent a considerable time reflecting on that statement. I never actually considered Jesus as a model for the specific act of “selling” all through my training and practice in school and in business. I learned and how to investigate and to interpret what the market wanted. I learned that people do not often tell those intent on digging up public opinion their deepest truth, and that, in order to appeal to their base instincts, anyone has to take into account many variables that do not easily submit to empirical evidence standards. Feelings of consumers, we find, although very hard to approximate, are a driving force in those ready and willing to write cheques for vehicles. And, if I may take a moment of pride here, I would like to say something about the driving forces that resulted in the Ford Company’s design of the original Mustang. We knew that there were many, mostly men, although some women too, who would like to be seen and seated in a driving machine that was different, exciting, somewhat racy, a little futuristic and also, and this was one of the hardest things, affordable. Of course, the results, both initially and over time, have far exceeded our highest projections and, for me and for Ford, that has been a feather in both of our caps. Now, why have I raised this analogy?
It seems to be that the human relationship/connection to the Almighty has some elements that overlap this narrative. The notion of being different, exciting, inspiring, and even a little radical, all features embodied in the Mustang, are symbols of some of the same experiences you and your clergy and laity are seeking, whether or not you give those words to the journey or not. Ford company did not design and produce that vehicle from scarcity; it produced it from a sense of abundance, of talent, of raw materials, of market potential, of artistic and creative imagination and of a need to bring us all to the same page of wonderment and pride.

And while a car is not a symbol of either God or Heaven, nor even a spiritual life of fulfillment, reflection, serenity and inner peace, nor of personal retreats and silences, of prayer and reading of the most intimate spiritual reflections, for example of people like Hildegard of Bingen, in the 12th century. Considered a sick child, she was placed in the care of a Benedictine nun at eight years of age, became a Benedictine nun herself and through a strong dedication to the Holy Spirit attracted others and eventually established a new Benedictine House, as she believed, in answer to a divine command. For us Catholics, Bishop, we revere and learn about such examples of Christian devotion to God, to the Holy Spirit and to the attitudes and lifestyle that sustains and supports that devotion. She did not ‘sell’ those others; she simply lived her life, humbly and quietly and reverentially and that example inspired and stirred others to follow in her manner. It is not only the church that is in danger of losing its way in the cacophony and the whirlwind of public adulation for material success. Our company, too, is unable to attract the brightest graduates from the best universities, many of whom are choosing Wall Street and financial success, rather than something less “glitzy” like the auto industry.

So, when you articulate your diocesan goals and objectives in the very terms I have used for our investors and our board of directors, I know that the train we are both travelling is off the track.

I also see that the clock has run overtime scheduled for this conversation. Perhaps, you would reflect on what we have said, and we could return to our conversation.

Bishop: Sounds like a reasonable plan to me.

To be continued……

Monday, June 20, 2022

Reflecting on being a responsible citizen in a suspect public square

 There are times when the welter of the weight of international evidence of war, famine, drought, fires, floods and nuclear tests and threats is simply too much. It is too much for each individual, not to mention too much for any single group or organization. And, in this cultural climate, we all feed dispossessed, emasculated (even females), alienated, ostracised and abused by the sheer weight of the despair and our impotence in attempting or even considering trying to make a difference, even leave a mark on the molasses of that culture.

A report of a shooting in an upscale, coiffed and preened and presumable affluent community just south of Birmingham Alabama, named Vistavia Hills, (Is the name from a Jane Austen novel?), at an Episcopal church, St. Stephens by name, in which two people were killed while engaged in a potluck supper, is, on one hand, just another in a long list of mass shootings that, like a weaponized pandemic, holds the nation hostage to its own rules, regulations and the attitudes and zealotry that clings to those attitudes and rules. From another perspective, it is also another incident that exposes and betrays the seemingly incontrovertible divide between those who ride the ‘highway’ of success, affluence, religious self-righteousness, and pride, and those whose lives confine them, if not to the literal “other side of the tracks”, certainly to a perceptual field of dispossession, alienation, anger and revenge. Are these shooters, mainly male, primarily full of shame at their lives and their persons and their prospects? Are they offended that others have climbed some sort of metaphorical ladder of social approbation, not to mention the insurance “policy” many of those achievers believe they have secured for an afterlife among streets paved with gold. We do not know the motive of this particular shooter; however, racism, and hate fused into a humanoid weapon (body-and-assault-rifle often) tell the story in too many of these shootings.

As a former Episcopal priest, who served in another American church, in a far different neighbourhood, on the western frontier where Smith and Wesson insured the pick-ups, whose rear windows were decorated by weapons on rifle racks, and where, on an especially warm sunny summer day, a former U.S. Marine who had boasted about serving in Viet Nam, without having set foot in that country, taunted his twelve-year-old daughter, asking her to watch as he aimed his rifle, ignoring her weeping and screaming protests, at a single sparrow sitting on a clothesline, and fired.

Whatever the lasting imprint on that girl’s mind and life of that incident, it has burned itself into this memory like a searing wood-burner into oak or pine, indelible and jagged and painful.

Naturally, we all have incidents that have seared themselves into our consciousness, perhaps even into our unconscious, that have shaped much of the manner/lens/expectation/attitude/even belief through which we encounter the world. That rifle shot was not the first, and it certainly is not the last such incident in this scribe’s life. Whether it encapsulated already forming perceptions seems more likely than not. It was another example of the abuse of power explicitly and incorrigibly before my eyes and ears. And that perception of abuse has been a central theme over the eight decades, not always or even predominantly aimed at this scribe, but evidenced in situations in which a far more empathic, compassionate and certainly ethical approach would have stood both the decision-makers and their “subjects” in far better stead.

Such incidents, as the shooting of the sparrow, while heinous and clearly avoidable, are only one kind of abuse of power that is blatant and extreme. Other situations see professionals abandoning their common sense role and responsibility as a way to avoid what appears to be ‘making a mistake’ and leaving the responsibility to the ‘expert’.

For example, a nonchalant recommendation of a home-nurse to have a surgical wound examined by the performing surgeon, only a few days after the surgery, motivated by the urge to ‘cover her/his ass’ in supervision where s/he is certain to be asked ‘did you recommend that the surgical site be seen by the surgeon? Illustrates the point. If that nurse believed s/he was not sure how serious were the symptoms in front of him/her, she could have recommended a visit to the family physician. However, many family physicians have surrendered their role and their responsibility to surgical patients after the specialist has performed the surgery. Decades ago, family physicians were evaluated by patients on their willingness to refer to a specialist, many of them preferring to ‘hold on’ to their patients, while others were open to the referral. Now, it seems the reverse is true: family physicians seem to do more referring to specialists that treating their patients. Those referrals and the welter of filling prescriptions seems, from the outside, to be their full-time job.

This last week we read, in The Star, of a deeply embedded practice in Ontario, centred around something referred to a MCR’s (Medical Condition Reports). In a piece by Robert Cribb and Declan Keogh, entitled, ‘You’re guilty until proven innocent;’ Doctors question Ontario’s automatic licence suspensions for drivers with certain medical conditions’, we read:

Ontario law requires doctors, burse practitioners and optometrists to report patients to the Ministry of Transportation ‘who have certain medical or visual conditions that may make it dangerous to drive’. Those conditions include uncontrolled substance use disorders where patients are non-compliant with treatment recommendations, some psychiatric afflictions, seizure-causing disorders, cognitive impairments, and other ‘hi8gh risk medical conditions.

There is little to no room for medical discretion in Ontario, where doctors could make a judgement, as there apparently is in other provinces such as Alberta. And yet, the “safety” on Ontario roads is not congruent with the tight-assed regulations in this province. Tight-assed regulations, without room for judgement, however, do not provide evidence of additional safety on the roads. Those who have cared for patients and families whose lives have been forever upended by unsafe drivers, for whatever reason, hold to the tight non-discretionary approach. On the other hand, some regard it as “guilty until proven innocent”. And the process of recovering one’s removed driving license is both costly, and clearly not always successful on appeal.

Reporting a rise in depression to the attending emergency room physician by an Ontario nursing student who was providing care for two adults in order to pay for her education, this nursing student was informed by the Ministry of Transportation that her license had been suspended. The student nurse was never told that her licence was about to be suspended, on the order of a doctor. And the reporting psychiatrist who submitted the MCR was not among those who treated her in hospital when she went to the Emergency Room. Working under considerable stress, while attempting to complete her fourth of five years of professional education, the nursing student was aghast, disappointed and despondent. For the ensuing months, prior to her recovery of her licence, she had to rely on others to drive her, including Uber and taxis mounting to a $1000 bill, and there is considerable justification for others to refrain from reporting such a condition as depression, given the way her case played out.

Of course, we all want safer roads, especially those insurance companies, renowned for their legal moat protecting them every which way but Sunday, from coming clean on a claim. And, there are clearly drivers who ought not to be behind the wheel, likely most of whom have never even considered reporting a medical or intellectual condition that might impair their ability to drive.

These black-and-white-tight regulations (Ontario’s MCR’s for example), like minimum sentences for judges, have serious implications for the long-term in our culture. First there is the subservience to the political class who write and pass the most stringent kind of regulation, in their firm belief that such laws will appeal to their most conservative constituents. And then there is the issue of curtailing the professional judgement, discernment of the professionals to whom jurisdiction has been given. More than these implications, ordinary people, once they become familiar with the existence of, and the strait-jacketing regulations that bind them, those Medical Condition Reports, will think twice about disclosing their medical condition, and as a consequence, will refrain from seeking appropriate treatment. And that resistance to disclosure to medical professionals, to social workers, and even to other professional care-givers that leaves many of them operating in the dark, as to the full context of whatever situation they might be facing. The lives of both potential patients/clients and professionals are limited by such an unnecessary and unjustified kind of regime.

We live in an era in which human rights have risen to the top of the cultural, language and legal totem poles. And there is considerable justification for that elevation. However, we have to be careful that one set of ‘rights’ (highway safety, for example linked to insurance and police costs as well as political reputations of both individuals and parties) are not stamping on those rights of individuals to seek appropriate health care. 

Here are a few minimal suggestions:


Obviously, no report should be signed and submitted without the full disclosure that such action is being taken.  Also, there needs to be a clause in the MCR regulations that requires a medical professional who signs such a report, to at least have held a clinic visit with the subject patient. Perhaps, too, a second medical professional’s opinion would be warranted, and should the two medical professionals disagree, an ethics committee could have the authority to review the file, before any report is issued.

There is another implication of this kind of evidence of the potential relationship between the state (as in the health care system) and the general public. And it regards the linking of both the over-reporting on MCR’s, without oversight, and the under-engagement of that home-care nurse above, and the general practitioner, both of whom defer to the specialist. If the state is permitted to issue, and then to execute and to enforce the MCR, in such a cavalier manner, including the murky appeal process, then such a model establishes and reinforces that mind-set, now publicly endorsed, and embedded into the culture, that power-down, needs to be exercised in order to prevent potential accidents. And this principle has serious implications if and when it overrides such highly significant and relevant issues that are legitimately included in the phrase “patient care”….

The confidentiality of medical records is a deeply embedded principle with which most are comfortable. The risks to that principle’s erosion have risen with the onset of digital technology, even with the extra care taken by the technology professionals. However, in a period in history in which labels of especially psychiatric labels are thrown around, out of the mouths and pens of persons who have no legitimacy even to use those diagnostic labels, individual human lives are impacted daily by those making judgements about the “suitability” of individuals for specific assignments, based, not on the available evidence of competence, trustworthiness, and ethical standards, but on the glib and free application of a word, an adjective or perhaps a noun of a condition that the candidate does not represent, and the judge has no reason or justification for uttering.

And once uttered, such epithets cannot and will never be retracked, or erased from the ‘ether’ of public opinion. And reclamation of the damage often never ends, prior to the end of the person’s life. Impunity, however, for the person who utters such defamatory ‘judgement’ is both conventionally tolerated and even endorsed.

The task of being a sentient, responsible, collaborative and trusting citizen of the public square is growing not only more tense, and thereby more exhausting and anxiety-inducing; it is also generating a significant demographic of people who are losing, or already have lost, complete confidence that the system (public institutions and the people and the guidelines that pertain and prevail therein) is worthy of our trust and our support.

And, on that street lies danger!

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Trying to 'dog-paddle' our way into the waters of archetypal psychology...

 So much of our conversation, that does not focus on the pragmatics of daily chores or public issues, seems to be focused on our emotions. Those “feelings” that seem to be attached to each and every experience, without prompting, thought, or even reflection. I “feel” happy when my dog cocks her head while seeming to listen to my question about her need. I feel sad when I know someone has been disappointed with me over something I either failed to do or something I did in a way that did not meet their expectations. I feel disheartened that the world has seemed to slide/fall/drown in the morass of so many significant crises, none of which, either individually or certainly not collectives, seem to be addressethough everyone knows the modest steps that could and would provide some relief.

I feel invigorated when reflecting on the beauty of the sunrise over the mist blanketing the river. The day even takes on an “aura” of renewed invigorating life….and I deeply regret the many estranged people whom I have been a contributor to their absence, whether for a day or two, or for a lifetime. Are these multiple, often complex and even conflicting emotions “my” identity, and “my” personality, and “my” ego playing out against the landscape of the events and people whose paths cross mine?

Or, is there another way to see these highly ‘infectious’ and even more highly captivating topics of both conversation at the water cooler, in the family and especially in therapy?

What does Willian Blake mean by considering “feelings” to be “divine influxes” (that) accompany, qualify and energize images, as noted by James Hillman, in “Archetypal Psychology a Brief Account” (p. 48). Hillman continues:

They (emotions) are not merely personal but belong to imaginal reality, the reality of the image and help make the image felt as specific value. Feelings elaborate its complexity, and feelings are as complex as the image that contains them. Not images represent feelings, but feelings are inherent in images….(Quoting Patricia Berry, An approach to the Dream, 1974) Hillman writes: They (emotions) adhere or inhere to the image and may not be explicit at all…We cannot entertain any image in dreams, or poetry or painting, without experiencing an emotional quality presented by the image itself.” Hillman then continues: This further implies that any event experienced as an image is at once animated, emotionalized, and placed in the realm of value….The task of therapy is to return personal feelings (anxiety, desire, confusion, boredom, misery) to the specific images which hold them. Therapy attempts to individualize the face of each emotion: the body of desire, the face of fear, the situations of despair. Feelings are imagined into their details. (Hillman, op. cit. p. 480)

Hillman’s thought continues: any emotion not differentiated by a specific image is inchoate, common, and dumb, remaining both sentimentally personal and yet collectively unindividualized. (p.49)

It seems relevant to refer back to the notion of what an image is, from the perspective of Archetypal Psychology (from Hillman, op. cit. p 7)

As ‘not what one sees, but the way in which one sees,’ an image is given by the imagining perspective and can only be perceived by an act of imagining….

First one believes images are hallucinations (things seen); then one recognizes them as acts of subjective imagining; but then, third, come the awareness that images are independent of subjectivity and even of the imagination itself and a mental activity. Images come and go, (as in dreams) at their own will, with their own rhythm, within their one fields of relations, undetermined by personal psychodynamics. In fact, images are the fundamentals which make the movements of psychodynamics possible. They claim reality, that is, authority, objectivity, and certainty. In this third recognition, the mind is in the imagination rather than the imagination in the mind. The noetic* and the imaginal no long.er opposed each other….Corbin attributes this recognition to the awakened heart as locus of imagining, a locus also familiar in the Western tradition of from Michelangelo’s imagine del cuor.# This interdependence of heart and image intimately ties the very basis of archetypal psychology with the phenomena of love. Corbin’s theory of creative imagination of the heart further implies for psychology that, when it bases itself in the image, it must at the same time recognize that imagination Is not merely a human faculty but is an activity of soul to which the human imagination bears witness. It is not we who imagine but we who area imagined. (Hillman, op, cit. p. 7-8)

An archetypal image operates like the original meaning of idea..not only ‘that which’ one sees but also that ‘by means of which’ one sees….An image termed archetypal is immediately valued as universal, trans-historical, basically profound, generative, highly intentional and necessary. (Ibid. p. 12-13)

If all of this reads like a dive into the “weeds” of abstractions, platonic ideals, and the esoteric aspect of the creative imagination, that is because to some extent it is. And a good part of my problem, and possibly others as well, is that we have been, like tea bags, steeped in a culture in which the abstract, the neotic, the poetic and the relationship of person to image has been “brewed” into us. That is, we are separate from, and also to varying degrees alienated from ourselves by having been taught to concentrate on what we were told is “objective reality” as opposed to “subjective reality” when, in fact, there may not be such a separation from a psychological perspective, especially an archetypal psychology perspective.

The fact that in some circles, archetypal psychology has been dismissed as outside the purview of pure science, and even verging into the world of the psychic cult, and then, as a consequence, been ascribed a similar reductionistic “diagnosis” as unable to be studied, or even intellectually considered as a discipline worthy of scholars.

Jung, Hillman and their ‘precursers and ancestors’ in this field are rarely considered appropriate for university curricula, especially Hillman. Just this week, in an email from a highly reputed Canadian scholar who focuses on the radical imagination, I read words and sentiments of “suspicion” about Hillman’s work, as proof of that scholar’s dedication and loyalty to his scholarly research. A couple of years ago, when I approached a faculty of education professor about the study of Hillman, I was dubbed ‘another similar to Jordan Peterson, the psychologist from U. of Toronto, whose writings have both inspired and outraged many around the world.

Trouble with all of this is that while an empirical, sentient and reproducible experimental science, and the frames of mind on which such scholarship is dependent, is eminently useful, honourable, and somewhat predictive of some aspects of our relationship to others, to nature and to anything remotely akin to a deity, or especially multiple deities, that process may not be the extent of either our human imagination, nor the limits of our capacity to envision ourselves in the universe.

If we were to begin our process from the imagination, the image itself, (as in the cliché ‘we think in pictures and not in words’)….then it may well be that the ‘image’ does indeed have us, for the moment, and the emotions that flow from that moment are just those ‘divine influxes’ (Blake) that provide the enrichment, the clothing, the aromas, the tastes and the fullness of the memory of that image. In other places, Hillman suggests that archetypal psychology begins in the “south” rather than in the “north” as if to say that our premises of our intellect are indeed ‘superceded’ not as more important, but rather as different as a starting place for our discovery both of self and our relationship to the universe.

If the ‘image’ has neither good or bad inherent qualities, but simply is, and if the image ‘has’ us in its ‘hand’ as it were, then we are in some somewhat fantastical way connected to and part of all others who too have been ‘in’ that image. Is that so fanciful as to warrant relegation to the “psychedelic” realm of the absurd, the bizaare, and the occult? Or, perhaps, rather, are those realms so dangerous and outside of our learned frame of reference of logic, and the extrinsic dimension of ourselves and each “other thing/person” that we have succumbed to the dominance of as single way of perceiving ourselves in the world, and the world itself.

If the image is not only an image in our imagination but a ‘way of seeing’ then whatever we are perceiving is also a lens through which we are engaged in that perception. If what we currently see in the world is an existential crisis, then we are also using that existential crisis as the lens through which we are perceiving the world. And if that sympathetic vibration between what we “see/perceive” and the “lens through which we are indeed “seeing/perceiving”, with all of the attendant emotions, and verbiage that comes with the fullness of that experience, are we not then far more intimately and profoundly engaged in a process that is part of the larger world of the creative imagination that has birthed, nurtured, wounded, murdered, caressed, loved, hated and alienated individuals forever.

Is it not then feasible to imagine that in a Christian church, for example, the act of the crucifixion of whatever/whomever is perceived as another ‘mythical savior’ would need to be hanged? And, is it not worth considering that we are all intimately and integrally and inescapably linked to other such archetypal narratives in which we find ourselves? And while the experience of those narratives preys on us as heavy and negative emotions, they also link us to a universe in which such images have been living, breathing vibrating and lashing through human psyches forever.

While this perspective, one in which I am trying to learn to “dog-paddle” (the first swimming stroke one learns), may demand a re-think, and a re-viewing, and a re-conceptualizing of who we are, where we are in the universe of both time and place and also which images are and have been ‘having’ us in their ‘hands’ ‘grip’ or ‘embrace’ much of those different ‘holdings’ in part dependent at least in part in how we perceive that moment, such a demand seems eminently worthy of our attention.

For example, the image of a deity or of multiple deities, as opposed to some anthropomorphism of a deity, is qualitatively different depending on the nature of the image, and its ‘hold’ on each of us. Beyond the boundaries of our logic, our definition of the nature around us, beyond time and place, beyond anything or anyone we might imagine, is it not possible that each of us carries, reconsiders, sets aside, picks up again, re-positions and then “repeats” such a process as the calendar of events, and people and successes and failures unfolds in the spaces where we live?

Next time, let’s take a reflective look as the difference between “spirit” and “soul” as archetypal psychology sees that difference.

 

*states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the s=discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain; and as a rule they carry with them a curious sense of authority (William James) Synonyms: cerebral, inner, intellectual, interior, internal, mental psychological, psychic.

#When the artist Michelangelo was crafting his masterpiece, David, he didn’t see a slab of stone. He chiseled what they call the imagine del cuore which means image of the heart. Michelangelo believed that the masterpiece was already inside of the stone. He just has to remove the excess to reveal it. (MadisonnJackson. wordpress.com)