Tony Bradley: Four Worlds in One Life

“A vocation is always a call from a social reality that is deemed greater than the mere individual self…a call may be a course of action in a struggle for an inclusive social good, as invariants of the ‘activist’ life.  The call is to participate in social movements working to reconstruct society in a way that better serves its members.  Or again, the call may be to a mode of daily life that enriches otherwise mundane activities”.

Cycles of vocation

The idea of calling – especially for those who have accepted a role involving the pursuit of social transformation – rarely proceeds in the sort of smooth linear progression that might be interpreted from many models of social change.  As Matthew Fox has observed,

“Leadership…calls on the strength and wisdom of the ancestors as it operates as a cyclical, not a linear, process.  It requires spiritual practices, including vision quests, rites of passage and deep grieving”.

It may be noted that Fox presents his reading of vocation in a four-fold way.  This is by no means accidental.   Through his exhaustive research into the lives of Christian mystics Fox concluded that there are four paths to the vocation of leadership, through what he calls ‘creation spirituality’. These are the Via Positiva, Via Negativa, Via Creativa and Via Transformativa.  This pattern of stages, forming the core aspect of the human psyche, as a fundamental structure of consciousness, was termed the ‘quaternity archetype’ by C G Jung.

In presenting life journeys in this way Fox adopts an indigenous, cyclical understanding, recognising that we weave our ways through life, as might be represented in Celtic Christian knot-work or Islamic calligraphy.  There may be progression, but it often happens as we return to earlier stages, at regular points, before ‘moving-on’.    As we might seek to identify both the specificity of practices and the cyclical dynamics out of which my (or anyone else’s) vocation has emerged, it is important to recognise certain features.

‘Inner calling’ and ‘outer challenge’ don’t link in a pattern of causation.  They are more akin to a dialectic and reciprocal inter-dependence.  Call and challenge are mutually conditioned by the dynamics of context and cycle.  As such, reflecting on my own pattern of personal transformation I have discovered a cyclical process that had been working its way, in respect of my engagement in community transformation in Liverpool, over forty years.

 Community Grounding: in my Liverpool home

My early life was spent in a cyclic journey around University cities in England, as my father took us from our home in Liverpool, to postgraduate work in Bristol, his first lecturing job in Exeter and thence to Cambridge, where he lectured in criminology, until his premature death, at the age of 39.  After that, my mother moved us back to Liverpool, in something of a poor state and to one of the most deprived inner-city neighbourhoods in Britain, Liverpool 8.  It was the area that became famous in 1981 for the so-called Toxteth Riots, when the city reached boiling-point as a result of the perceived racist targeting of black youths, under the police policy, in Margaret Thatcher’s first Government, of ‘stop-and-search’.

But it was there as a teenager that I had my first brush with ‘community development’ work.  It was 1972 and that phrase had not percolated into the popular consciousness, although it would post the Toxteth Riots, a decade later, through the Conservative patrician politician Michael Heseltine.  He had become Secretary of State for the Environment and, following the riots, commissioned Britain’s first series of Community Development Projects (CDPs).  And, in the most unlikely conjoining Heseltine had fallen in love with Liverpool and its people, at a time when Thatcher’s Chancellor of the Exchequer had sent a private memo to the prime Minister saying, “Let Liverpool rot”.

For me, however, my experience, as a teenager, was to work with one of the most inspirational, tireless and committed people, one Des McConachie.  His name is all but forgotten in Liverpool, as I discovered thirty-five years later.  But Des had founded the Shelter Neighbourhood Action Project (SNAP) in Granby Ward, Liverpool 8, as a housing and urban regeneration project.  It was transformative for the area, the people and, for me and the other volunteers, who learned the power of concerted action to change lives by helping local people to help themselves.  Des wrote up his experiences, quietly, to Government and was instrumental in helping to frame Heseltine’s plan.

Then, more than three decades later, I returned to the city and was asked to do a series of short radio broadcasts for BBC Radio Merseyside, about a Scouse kid returning home.  In the second of these I mentioned Des by name.  A few days later I received a phone call from an octogenarian with a frail voice.  I wondered who it was.  The voice said “You spoke about SNAP and Des McConachie on the radio the other day.  I haven’t heard his name mentioned in many years”.  I was intrigued.  “Who is this calling?” I asked.  “My name is Des McConachie”.  And I heard his voice cracking with emotion and imagined the tears rolling down his cheeks.  I had not forgotten his inspirational work nor his pivotal role in transforming British community development practice.

Nor was this a singular moment of cyclical serendipity.  I have experienced many such incidents of worlds colliding in time; what Jung referred to as ‘synchronicity’.  From Liverpool I had gone to London University to study environmental science and, later, rural sociology, going on to engage in academic research.  At one point in my early research career, in 1979, I visited Exeter University and met with John Dunford, one of the lecturers there.  When I sat in a chair in the Department of Agricultural Economics, I saw him go white as a sheet.  I was told that I was sitting in the exact same chair at the same desk in Exeter, which my father had occupied some 20 years earlier.  I had had no prior idea about my dad even being in that Department, as I’d been very young.  But it alerted me to the fact that we do not always choose our own paths, even if we consider ourselves to be ‘free agents’.  As such, I suspect that a considerable part of my early vision was shaped by the interventions of others in my formation.

My parents were both active Socialists, involved in the British Labour Party, especially through its CPGB roots, the Trades Union Movement and WEA.  My mother had worked as a secretary in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War.  My father had been an active kibbutzim member in Israel, during the period of the partition of Palestine and formation of the nation-state of Israel, in 1948.  They had met in Liverpool, grounding me in that community.  With this background it was hard not to be committed to social justice and an improvement of the conditions of the working class in Britain, even if I’d chosen a more entrepreneurial route to achieving this burning desire.

Emerging Pilgrimium: the psychic road to personal integration

In order to delve deeper into the way in which my inner, burning desire had been shaped it is worth a brief reflection on the more formal process of my professional development.

After my first research projects I worked for the UK Dept of Environment, on their Deprivation and Welfare in Rural Areas reports, with Brian P McLoughlin.  The vision for transformed communities continued to burn within me, always ‘local’ [1].  But, the concern for local social change was scarcely credible for me, if I hadn’t, as a prior experience, undergone a significant inner transformation, that could pave the way for an outer manifestation of a changed set of relationships.  As such, it was at the time of my research for the DoE that I began to see some of the core connections that it is possible to read from the hierarchy of functions pattern in a Jungian type profile.

At the heart of Jung’s theory of personality is the axiom that each of us changes over time.  We are not a static ‘type’ but a dynamic flux of relationships between the functions we express.  It is even possible that our core type profile may change at the margins, although it is much more common that we each learn how to display different ‘faces’ as we grow.  Often these are because we have shifted to a different life stage and, consequently, have reached a point of enantiodromia, where a previously unconscious aspect of our psyche surfaces.

My ENTJ type of that time, in the 1980s, was unconsciously searching for its shadow introverted feelings (Fi) side to surface.  Jung seemed to consider that the different functions within the dynamic hierarchy were most likely to emerge at certain significant life transitions.  Whilst the dominant function would most likely rule in childhood, adolescence could offer a point of emergence for the auxiliary function, in this case, introverted intuition (Ni).  Throughout my teenage years I kept on attempting to write.  But it wasn’t until I reached University that I discovered that I could write poetry and drama.  Even so, although I had some small amateur plays staged, it wouldn’t be for another thirty years before I had my first major professional theatrical production, as a playwright.

In mid-life there is a time for integrating some of the tertiary function and I discovered a need to play golf and go mountain climbing, two obviously extraverted sensing function expressions.  But, at the point that is often called the ‘mid-life crisis’ I found that I was suddenly attracted to examining my own feelings, a side of my life that I’d always been deeply suspicious of hitherto.

We can fast forward a few years to the period of young adulthood.  I had been ordained as an Anglican priest, after a few years working in a University department, at exactly the point that Levinson suggests for Transition, aged 30.  But what connected each period of ministry – in locations as diverse as down-market seaside Essex, Coventry city centre, or well-healed, leafy English suburban Warwickshire – was my significant engagement with supporting community transformation, which Levinson refers to as ‘orientation’.

In Southend-on-Sea this had been through the local homelessness centre.  Coventry saw my involvement in inter-church work, networking with several hundred other leaders, to establish a broad movement for trans-denominational education, training and Christian mobilisation.  Additionally, I had worked strenuously – at some times alongside the current Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Revd Justin Welby and Canon Andrew White, the well-known ‘Vicar of Baghdad’ – in reconciliation work, in areas of Israel-Palestine, most notably with the establishment of a new school in Beit Jala, Bethlehem, through Coventry Cathedral’s Cross of Nails community.  Then, in my final parish – before a life-changing event in 2004 – we had established two social enterprises in our small Warwickshire village, one as a Fairtrade café-shop and distribution centre, the other as a children’s nursery.  Again, the vocation to community development was reflected both in the regular pattern of pastoral and teaching ministry and in the specific projects that I gave my energies to.

Various life circumstances came along, including a serious spinal problem and need to give up my role as a parish priest, which brought me into formal counseling and therapy.  In this situation the themes that had attracted me theoretically suddenly began to mean something to me at a deeply personal level.  Many friends commented on how I had changed, some with deeply anxious looks on their faces.  Whereas, for myself, I recognized that, much to my surprise, the Jungian principle of equivalence was actually taking shape in me before my very eyes!

There is within every ENTJ a latent introverted idealist (NiFi).  This developing contact with ‘the shadow side’ of the personality can come as something of a revelation.  For someone who is very good at seeing the big picture and acting decisively on it, discovering that empathy, compassion and being kind, even to oneself, are important aspects of life, is a shock.  But the introverted feelings function can readily team up with the introverted intuition in mid-life to condition a very different way of being.  And, of course, such changes are of profound spiritual significance in terms of the pathways of discipleship that we follow.

As I look back, I can see the transitions I’ve just described in alternative ways, if I choose to use the language of spirituality.  The very vocal and extraverted child, who converted from Judaism at the age of eight started to want to see the meaning in the Bible during his teenage years.  It wasn’t that I simply wanted to read the Bible, I wanted to know what it all meant.  The intuition side of the NT personality came strongly to the fore in my days at college.  The early experiences of a Jewish boy came back to the surface – almost visibly rising from my personal unconscious – as I learned to connect the symbols of Judaism with the message of Jesus Christ.

Navigating through a Personal Academy: Shaped for the Journey

Now, I can see that the Jungian principles behind the process of individuation are part of God’s work in shaping a vocation for the journey.  The Lord who knows me from the inside and who formed me in the womb was guiding my steps towards wholeness, shalom and realization of the archetypal self.  Even so, this raised within me, the further question: how does this connect to the person who was increasingly becoming focused on local social change and transformation?  What was taking place in me was a profound experience of communiversity academy, although I couldn’t name it as such, at the time.

My life experiences had helped to explain, at least to my satisfaction, something of the apparently contradictory teaching of the Second (New) Testament concerning my personal freedom (Galatians 2:4, 5:1, Colossians 2:6) and the predestination that I have in Christ (Romans 8:29-30, Ephesians 1:5-11).  Although God has chosen me in his image, with the personality and psyche that I have – which has a certain ideal destiny and path attached to it – the freedom that I display means that the precise road I follow will not perfectly mirror the divinely appointed path at every point.

I would need to change; to reflect within myself some of the transformations that I was longing to see in the objective world of my action research engagement.  The one could not take place without the other.  And, I needed to understand that this shaping was never a solitary and isolated process.  It was always a collaborative process with others, in an academy of the mind and spirit.

My wife Carol had a mature career as an intensive care nurse, and I had a reasonably successful career as a CofE minister. At the time, in 2004, there came a major moment for entering onto the Via Negativa, in Matthew Fox’s terms.  I had a serious spinal event that left me paralysed for a time, only partially recovering slowly over the next two years, at which point I was ‘invited’ to retire from practical ministry, on health grounds. Then, after moving home, family and life, across several hundred miles, I was remarkably healed.  Carol took on a new career, I set up my own business and was then ‘called’ back to the academy and our personal lives were turned upside-down, again.

The point of my recounting this aspect of my personal history is to emphasise the radical discontinuities – or recursions, as we describe them later – that frequently occur along the progressive route from vision to legacy.  This is why I find Fox’s cyclical model, of smaller cycles within larger ones, far more helpful than a linear model of sequential progression.   The re-emergence of my inner call to community transformation, within the context of a new academic and action-research career, in my mid-50s, was not an aberrant version of a linear progression.  It was more a natural consequence of a cyclical and technical interpretation of social structures that were currently taking place, linked to my own personal circumstances.

Effecting Co-Laboratory: the outcomes of four worlds in a single life

Taken together these experiences have resulted in a series of enterprises, innovations and experiments, shared with others, which, as we will see in these chapters lead towards an experience of co-laboratory effects.  I have seen these work out in community development, environmental social action, through my work as a writer/ producer in musical theatre and, most recently, in the early stage development of a communiversity in Liverpool.  So, strangely, or possibly not, I have found myself ‘returned to the place from which I first started’ and, as Eliot comments, in the Four Quartets, ‘seeing it, as if for the first time’.  This should not surprise me.  For all our lives are spent circling around the four worlds.  The questions are: how can we bring these circles together?  And what will it look like when we do?  One answer, which we explore in some depth in the pages that follow, is: the idea of a communiversity, as can be seen in the contents below.

[1] My first edited book (Bradley and Lowe, 1984), with Philip Lowe, was entitled Locality & Rurality – economy and society in rural regions.  My passion for localism remains undimmed.