This past week I worked down at Dumas Bay Centre in Federal Way as one of the trainers at the College for Congregational Development. This is a program for lay and clergy leaders created by the tenth rector of St. Paul’s, and currently led by a priest who was lifted up for ordination by this parish. The newly called eleventh rector of St. Paul’s is a graduate, and has gone on to begin similar programs in the Diocese of Oregon. Church leaders go to the College to learn about organization development, leadership, group dynamics, and conflict resolution. Then they design projects to do back home to improve the health of their congregations.
This past week we spent a lot of time on the Myers-Briggs Typology Indicator, a tool that helps you discern how you prefer to gather information, make decisions, and relate to the world around you. If you’ve heard of the words ‘introvert’ and ‘extravert,’ then you’ve heard of the Myers-Briggs. It’s a good tool not only for self-understanding, but to learn how work teams can be more effective, how individuals can behave more skillfully in a conflict, and how all of us can learn a lot by doing things we don’t necessarily prefer to do.
And the Myers-Briggs also has a lot to say about how we act on a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. The basic pattern is this: if you on a good day are a serene, contemplative mystic, on a bad day you flip out, you lose your cool, and then feel mortified by your outburst. Or if you on a good day are an outgoing person who builds people up with your skillful enthusiasm, on a bad day you flip in, fuming or sulking or worrying off in a corner about the problems (or imagined problems) of your life.
In Myers-Briggs language, this is called “the Grip.” On a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, the theory says, many of us are gripped by our worst instincts, gripped by our smallest selves, and we act accordingly. It’s not pretty. It’s often triggered by fatigue, high stress, having to do a lot of things we don’t like to do, the trauma of upsetting events, or simply our failure to take good care of ourselves. Sometimes, all that adversity just puts us in the Grip, and that’s when we feel and say and do a lot of unconscious, upsetting things.
There is no one we encounter in our scriptures who would understand themselves or their world in this way, since they all lived and died centuries before we gained these kinds of psychological perspectives, but it’s still useful to look at today’s scripture through the lens of Myers-Briggs, and ask the question, are these poor people in the Grip? And if they are, where is God in all of this, and is there a way out?
Today we find Job recoiling from God’s booming voice, God’s anger that Job would presume to question God about the suffering and injustice Job has endured, and I wonder: is God in the Grip? In any case, after God’s thunderous rebuke, Job pulls out of his Grip and places his trust in God’s mercy, letting go of the expectation that God’s mercy will ensure a long, healthy, successful life. Job comes to his senses, he ‘un-Grips,’ if you will, and he accepts not just the fact that he will never live in a safe and certain world, but the comforting fact that God will be with him in this unsafe, unpredictable, heartbreaking world.
Then the scene changes for us, and we are on a boat in the night, hearing the wind whipping us around in a chaotic, terrifying sea storm. We then see Jesus in the back of our boat, sleeping peacefully while everyone else frantically tries to cope with the crisis. Finally, one of us wakes Jesus up to ask for help, but can’t help sounding more than a little resentful: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?!” I hear that and I think, yeah, right?! Does our Teacher care that we are so frail, and so frightened?
This storm raging around us—does our Teacher care that we are perishing?
In the middle of what we might like to think is an enlightened era in U.S. history, when open, overt racism is supposed to be a distant memory, we are now watching in terror and outrage as lynchings return to the news: a racist gunman slips into a prayer circle and shoots to kill. One of his victims was Susie Jackson, 87 years old, who lived through Jim Crow and the civil rights movement, and lived to see a Black man elected president, only to lose her life in a way not that different than she might have nine decades ago.
And then we heard about another hate crime, though you’d be forgiven if in the routine chaos of our world newsfeed you missed it: a religious-extremist group torched a section of the building complex of the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes near the Sea of Galilee, the very sea where Jesus’ boat was tossed in the windstorm. I visited this church a few weeks ago as part of a delegation of Christian and Jewish faith leaders. It rests on a quiet, green, peaceful slope of a hill where Jesus may have fed the multitude. The birdsongs are incredible, even in the hot, sleepy hours of mid-afternoon. And so we see this week—and really, this has been a fairly standard news week—that a windstorm of hatred and violence continues to rage, crossing the boundary of the sea, moving dangerously over the rolling countryside.
These events could drive almost anyone into the Grip. They could cause us to freeze up, to flip out, and maybe just check out with exhaustion and futile outrage. The stories keep coming, and the dull stress of futility and anguish becomes chronic.
Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? That could be one expression of our lament during this fraught time. We can sometimes be like the sailors in today’s psalm, their "hearts melting because of their peril."
But there may be a way out, or a healthy, conscious way in. There may be a way for us to respond better to the windstorm around us, to engage it seriously, to not shrink from our task, and not be daunted by the enormity of it. There may be a way for us, like Job, to accept that life in our time is often traumatic and terrifying, but also accept that God is here with us as we cope with it.
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” a disciple asked Jesus while they tried to wake him. He had been sleeping, impossibly, in the back of the boat. I would like to look at this scene in two ways. First, imagine that it is all happening inside the heart and mind of one person: the sleeping leader, the frantic fishermen, the creaking boat tossing in the raging sea—it is all happening within each one of us. It is our Grip experience, and our attempt to come out of it. When the wind rages within us, can we rouse our Teacher into wakefulness? Can we regain consciousness, the consciousness of our best selves?
The second way to see it is more communal, more about our relationships, yours and mine, with one another, with those we love, with those we don’t love, and with those who are different from us. In the chaos of the windstorm, can all of us rouse a kind of collective consciousness? Can we awaken the best within our common life together?
When I come out of my Grip, I wake up. I remember who I am on a good day, when the seas are calm. I remember what I’m good at doing, how I relate to you, how I live ethically and peacefully alongside you as your brother. The trick is gaining this ability to be my best self even as the seas are raging. For that, I need you. I need to awaken you, and be awakened by you.You and I, we need to practice this. We need to come to this Table and return to the storm of our world with the calm strength of the One who did not leave his friends abandoned in the boat.
A friend of mine opened this idea up for me this past week. I was sharing with him how I sometimes feel so afraid, so lost, as if the other—the Other with a capital O—the other person I need is not there, is sleeping in the back of the boat. My friend said that when we do wake up and hold each other, you and I, we are really just revealing to one another that God is here, and that it is God who is doing the holding.
And so we confront the hard question: do we not care that innocents are perishing? Do we not care that the storm rages around us? We do care, but it is painful to be conscious, to awaken our best selves, to stay awake and responsive to the typhoon that seems to be destroying us all.
But if we do wake up, if we hold our neighbor who rouses us from the sleep of complacency and cynicism, if we allow ourselves to be awakened in this way, if we imitate St. Paul and allow “no restriction in our affections, and open wide our hearts,” we will not be alone. It is God who is doing the holding, God who is present with us in this storm—this storm that is still raging wildly around and within us.
Wake up. Will you wake up? We need you.