When you think of love, you probably don’t think of fear, yet The Rev. Ed Bacon said he’s battled love and fear his entire life.
“I was raised in a culture of fear,” Bacon said. His father, a Baptist minister in Georgia, preached hell and damnation. “A version of God that I heard preached about from my father’s pulpit was one who was wrathful, punitive and condemning. Even today, to be an American means that we are blessed in many ways, but there are businesses that make money by making people afraid.”
Bacon said he realized 30 years ago that he had an issue with fear. “I also realized that perfect love casts out fear. The words “fear not” are used 365 times in the Bible.”
Following in his father’s footsteps, Bacon became a Baptist minister. He joined the Episcopal Church and became a priest. From 1989 to 1995, he was dean of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral, in Jackson. “I spent six glorious years there with my wife, Hope, and our two children, who attended high school at St. Andrews Episcopal School. We lived in Woodland Hills, and I have to say that was one of the most glorious times of our lives.”
For the past 18 years, Bacon has served as rector at the 4,000-member All Saints Church in Pasadena, Calif. His first book, 8 Habits of Love: Open Your Heart, Open Your Mind was released in September to critical acclaim.
He came to write his book in an unusual way. “I had been a panelist on the ‘Spirituality 101' segment of the Oprah Winfrey Show’s ‘Living Your Best Life’ series, and the other panelists all had books. Oprah asked me about my book, and I told her I didn’t have one. She told me I needed to get writing!”
Bacon took Winfrey’s urging to heart and realized that all his studying, learning and research had pointed him in the direction of the habits of love. “God’s love is imaginative and creative; God, who is Love, is also Creator. God’s image is in us (the book of Genesis), and God’s light is in us (John’s gospel); therefore, when we access God’s image and light within us, we are accessing God’s creative and imaginative energies or spirit within us,” Bacon explains.
He believes that wherever God’s spirit is, there is love, imagination and creativity, and that, he posits, is the nature of the Divine Presence.
“I had a mentor, Dr. Ed Friedman, a rabbi with whom I studied for 10 years. He argued that anxiety is what kills families and makes life difficult. He says, ‘the biggest obstruction to leadership is fear.’ I have learned over the years that to be the imaginative, creative creatures God wants us to be, we must regulate chronic anxiety and live in the house of love instead of the house of fear.
“The pernicious nature of a fear-based life is that it literally has our brains functioning at their ‘downstairs level,’ the lowest level of our triune brain the part that we share with reptiles the part where we literally cannot think but can only calculate whether we should fight or flee. So, when I am fear-based, I am only reacting to actual or imagined threats and making fight or flight calculations. No matter how intelligent and well educated I am, when I am in a reactive or reptilian mode, I am not accessing all that intelligence and education in the service of creative thought. I am purely at the service of limited reptilian choices.”
Bacon continues, “Where this plays into 8 Habits of Love is that those habits literally can emancipate me to function with my ‘upstairs brain’ or my higher two levels of the triune brain the mammalian brain (where I have thoughts and feelings of compassion and care for the young and play) and then the highest brain, the brain where I can innovate and create new solutions to intractable problems.
“I have made every effort on my part to live love, breathe love and not be reptilian or reactive. That’s the passion and energy that led me to write the book.”
Bacon’s book is written as a guide, of sorts, to take the reader on a life-changing journey toward self-discovery, creativity and healing. “By celebrating and sharing the love inside us, we can free ourselves from the fear, anger and sadness that cause so much suffering. Albert Einstein said, ‘you cannnot solve problems with the same consciousness that caused them. We have to go to a different place in our brain, if we want to survive.’ God guarantees us that if we go to that place, we can be imaginative and creative beyond belief. This can help us as a human family.”
True stories are scattered throughout the book to demonstrate more clearly each of the eight habits of love Bacon outlines. Those habits include the Habit of Love, Habit of Generosity, Habit of Truth, Habit of Candor, Habit of Play, Habit of Forgiveness, Habit of Compassion and the Habit of Community.
Bacon encourages readers to live their lives with open hearts. To do so allows us to be instruments of peace, reconciliation and justice. “With this book, I am seeking to meet you exactly where you already are in your life and offer resources so you may find your own answers to questions such as: How do I live the most meaningful life I possibly can? What does that life look like for me? How do I find the voice of courageous creativity within me and trust that voice in the face of harsh realities that swirl around me and around those for whom I care?”
The reaction to Bacon’s book has been “amazing.” He said that sales have been wonderful, and he’s getting positive feedback in ways he had not imagined. “The book has been taught already in a university setting by a professor of sociology in Chicago, and I’ve been asked to lecture there. It’s being discussed in small study groups, and I’m hearing of husbands and wives who are reading and discussing it together.”
Bacon has spent a lifetime reading and studying the works of others, including spiritual works and works on brain science, which have helped him develop his personal philosophy of living a life based in love, not fear. “It’s research I’ve done for my own life, over a very long period of time, beginning with Bible study when I was a Baptist.” Bacon said he enjoys reading deeply into primary resources then seeing the synthesis of the work come together as a solid idea.
There are goals for more books in the future. “Once you’ve written one book, you’ve developed a team,” Bacon explained. “My team has plans for a devotional book, centered around the eight habits of love, as well as a book for kids, teens and parents. These are ancient habits, not unique to Christianity. I’d also like to write a book that ties all the habits to the world’s different religions, because they really are universal to us all.” A study guide is also being developed.
Bacon continues to be involved with Winfrey’s company. For 18 months, he was the host of Oprah’s Radio Soul Series, and those programs are now running as re-runs; he has written for O Magazine, and currently writes for www.oprah.com. His writings have also recently appeared in the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, as well as his own web-site, www.8habitsoflove.com.
Bacon returned to Jackson last November for the first time in 18 years. “I preached at St. Andrew’s and did a book-signing at Lemuria, where we sold out of books! That was a real tonic for the soul.” Joe Hickman, manager at Lemuria, says, “We have overcome those stocking issues and have plenty of copies on hand now.”
Published by Grand Central Life and Style, a division of the Hatchett Book Group, “8 Habits of Love” has been endorsed by clergymen and columnists, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu. “Ed Bacon’s book has left me tingling with excitement. Living the habits of love he describes seems difficult at first, but then he offers real-life examples of people doing just that, and what seemed far too idealistic begins to seem doable, even by the likes of me,” Tutu wrote.