Statement by Wayne Plumstead, United Methodist Minister and Aesthetic Realism Consultant
At the time I began my study of Aesthetic Realism I had discontinued my studies for the ministry. I had wanted to be a minister most of my life, but at seminary I increasingly felt that the scornful attitude I had toward other people, and my apathy and indifference toward the world, if not my outright disdain for it, were becoming steeper day by day. I felt as if I was a fraud in wanting to become a minister.
Studying Aesthetic Realism put my life on a completely different highway. While there are many details, the essential thing I learned is that my care for religion and desire to become a clergyman came from the deepest and most beautiful thing in me: my hope to like and respect the world. What I was learning encouraged me to return to seminary and complete my studies. I graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1974 with a Master of Divinity degree, and since that time have been privileged to serve pastorates in five different New Jersey communities. Since 1973, I have also been privileged to be part of the teaching faculty at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation.
It is without doubt that my Aesthetic Realism education has made me a more effective and useful minister of Christ. Each church I have served has experienced growth. And my colleagues and superiors in the United Methodist Church have recognized the value of my Aesthetic Realism education in many ways across the years.
For example, in 1994, I was invited to be one of eight pastors nationwide to give a presentation at a Think Tank conference in San Antonio, Texas called to assist national church staff in developing effective strategies for congregations in transitional communities. I spoke about the Aesthetic Realism principles that had enabled me to successfully meet the challenge of developing multi-ethnic congregations. And, after 9/11, the United Methodist Publishing House printed an article written by me in the national magazine sent to all clergy in our denomination about what I had learned from Aesthetic Realism that helped me to minister effectively in the aftermath of that terrible tragedy.
As to the lie about families. As a pastor I have seen conflict in families and I know how often misunderstandings and hurt feelings lead to disruption in the fabric of family life. There are all sorts of reasons for ill will in the family and it is an absurdity that a few persons have tried to perpetuate the lie that Aesthetic Realism in any way hurts the family and blame it for difficulties among family members. It has been my experience that Aesthetic Realism encourages nothing but good will among family members.
When I met Aesthetic Realism in 1971, my father and I, who had never been close, were not even on speaking terms. One of the things I will be forever grateful for is the kind and persistent way my Aesthetic Realism consultants, and later Eli Siegel and Ellen Reiss, encouraged me to see my father’s feelings as real and to have good will for him. Today my Dad and I are very close and see each other often. I cherish the relationship that we have and that would never have been possible were it not for my study of Aesthetic Realism. In 1976 my father wrote a letter of gratitude to Eli Siegel in which he said: “Thank you for giving me back my son.”
The lie about shunning people. A related lie is that students of Aesthetic Realism are encouraged to shun people who discontinue their study of it. What a lie! Such a thing would be directly contrary to the good will for the world and every person in it that Aesthetic Realism is based upon. It is also contrary to my convictions as a Christian.
My mother-in-law and father-in-law once studied Aesthetic Realism in consultations but no longer do so. My wife and I are in frequent contact with them and we have vacationed together several times. Both my sister-in-law and brother-in-law studied with Eli Siegel years ago. My wife and I are on friendly terms with them both and, in fact, when my sister-in-law and her family visited New York from their home in North Carolina last year, they stayed in our home. This past summer, when my sister-in-law and her children visited New York, we went to a New York Yankees game together. I certainly don’t shun people who no longer study Aesthetic Realism, nor am I aware of any colleagues who do.
The absurd lie about vacations. Another lie a few persons tell about Aesthetic Realism—which I find absurd and outrageous—is that persons who study Aesthetic Realism can’t take vacations. That is certainly news to me. My wife and I have traveled extensively all over the United States—from Maine to California, from Arizona to Florida—and have also traveled abroad.
The lie about walking distance. I have lived in New Jersey my entire life, which is not exactly “within walking distance” of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, as I understand some of its detractors claim students of Aesthetic Realism are required to do. My wife and I also own a vacation home at some distance from Manhattan and we enjoy spending time there. We also own a co-op apartment in Manhattan (not within walking distance of the Foundation), which my wife used for her convenience during the week when she was teaching in a New York City high school. Since her retirement, we have rented out that apartment. Meanwhile, as I said, I live in New Jersey and always have.
On the death of Eli Siegel. A final misrepresentation I want to refute here is the manner in which those attempting to discredit Eli Siegel have portrayed his death. The twist they give to it could only have been conceived by persons with a malevolent purpose. The events that led to his dying have long been knowledge in the public realm, because Ellen Reiss has described them, often in detail, in the journal The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known at least once every year since 1987!
As a minister of the gospel I have been in the position to see many persons who are terminally ill and in unbearable physical distress. It is not death they fear; in fact, they have often told me that death seems to be a kind and friendly thought to them. What they find intolerable is endless suffering with no hope for a better quality of life, and the loss of their dignity and usefulness.
At the time of Eli Siegel’s death, I had been studying Aesthetic Realism for eight years. I saw much of what he had to endure. In 1978, when he was 76 years old, Eli Siegel had surgery for a prostate condition which had a devastating effect on him. After the surgery, Mr. Siegel was never the same again physically. One of things he felt is that he had lost the use of his feet. While I can testify that his mind was as great as ever, I can also attest that his body caused him unbearable agony. With the quality of his life forever compromised, in a pain that is almost impossible for those of us who have blessedly not had to endure it to comprehend, and confronted by a future that had in it only more of the same, Mr. Siegel made a rational and I believe courageous decision
to bring his life to a peaceful and dignified end. I don't think anyone has the right to stand in judgment of that difficult and highly personal decision, forged in the crucible of excruciating circumstances, as a way of trying to cheapen and falsify the soundness and beauty of his entire life's work. It was a noble death and I only hope that when I die I can die with half as much grace and confidence in reality as he did. To treat that death as brutishly and cavalierly as the attackers of Aesthetic Realism do for their own ulterior motives is one of the cruelest things I know.