A Middle Space In Building Churches That Is Almost Impossible To Speak Of

March 20th, 2015

There is a middle space in churches that is almost impossible to speak of.  Why an impossibility?  Because in speaking both sides, right and left, will find cause for offense.  And that is both the genius and the dizzying riddle of Christianity.  A third way constantly calling us out of our misaligned binary bent to sort life into this “box” or that “box” and calling into surrender deeply down into love. That surrendered spaces lies between two poles.

Pole #1:

One pole holds all things relative.  A Gnosticism of sorts.  Where every individual is captain and commander, each a final arbitrator of all truth. As Pope Francis phrased it, “…a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience to console and enlighten but ultimately keeps us imprisoned by our own thoughts and feelings.”

I read recently read a review of a book written by a woman unhappy in her marriage.  Her quest for fulfillment became sexual experimentation in all its forms outside of her marriage.  The reviewer, in her closing comment, made a salient point … where do we cross over from “finding ourselves” to increasingly damaging forms “self absorption”?  A good question that we should all in turn answer.

Easy to think of the author’s quest as just her quest.  And in a sense it is.  We muddy waters quickly when we seek to legislate private sexual morality.  However hard to imagine that life as healthy.  Hard to imagine concepts of “family” or “commitment” or “fidelity” or “common good” alive within that particular lifestyle choice.

Pole #2:

And the other pole is, to quote Pope Francis again, “a supposed soundness of doctrine [that] leads to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism whereby instead of evangelizing one analyzes and classifies others … exhausts energy in inspecting and verifying.”

This position … clearly intent on “inspecting and verifying.”  Here we fall in love with church ins-and-outs, not God.  There are refreshing few in formal church circles with whom true dialog is possible.  Just dialog.  Many more are interested in defending their view of Christianity.  Conversion.  Argumentation.  As Seth Godin phrased it … “The narcissism of small differences” … where we pull up differences instead of celebrating common themes.

The Middle Space:

Swedenborgian theology clearly speaks to a third way, as does all enlightened faith, all parts of the church universal.  That third way …. a deft centering on key concepts and teachings – compass points as it were.  A clear call to live them out into the world.  And a deep surrender to the “self-evidencing reason of love.”

And what would that theology offer to the author noted above?  That there is a joy, and a freedom, and a liberation.  A place for one’s soul.  A shining place of deep abiding peace. Heaven. Beyond our worries and concerns and compulsions.  One where our true selves come to life once we open to centering our lives on the better angles of our nature.  A place where God seeks to be as we are opened to the overwhelming miracle of that Presence.

Same facts, different experience. On purpose.

March 5th, 2015

Powerful concept shared by Seth Godin, words guided directly to our freedom of choice…

Same facts, different experience. On purpose.

As a pastor, the overwhelming prayers I am asked to join do not focus on health, or jobs, or even necessarily relationships.  While people ask frequently for these types of joined prayers, the prayer that comes up, repeatedly, is a prayer for peace.

Prayers for peace exhibit a deep knowledge I believe. They seem to acknowledge that there is little in life we truly control.  And, paradoxically there is much in life we truly control.  Maybe this … we control little in the way of events.  We control much in the way of our perspective on those events.

And when we work hard at the humble task of seeing, however dimly, with God’s eyes, eyes more like a child than our own, often … same facts, different experience, on purpose.

 

The Holy and the Ordinary

March 4th, 2015

With the Easter season starting, I struggle with how to capture its brilliance for those just starting to touch Christianity.   I have heard people say that the miracle is Christ’s resurrection from the dead… that that is the point.  Maybe so.  Others speak of themes more transcendent, more theological … the very saving of mankind.  Maybe so.

Not that these perspectives are without merit.  They are.  They contain great, overarching truth.  But the original 12 disciples did not choose to give their lives to follow Christ because of them.  These events undoubtedly reinforced their call but Easter followed their decision to give their lives in service to the world Christ spoke to.

So how to speak to it all in ways that we can see, really see the miracle?

The miracle for me pulls back to this thread.  At Christmas, we hear of “Immanuel, “God with us.”  At Easter we see “Immanuel”, “God with us.”  A God with us in celebration, gathered around a Passover table, gently washing the disciples feet as a sign of how we are to live and lead.  A God with us in fear and devastating loss, so clearly offering a final judgment on mankind with words beyond what we could ever utter, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.”  A God with us in resurrection, in life born anew with the simple call to “Rejoice.”

Somewhere, “God with us”, calls to this.. that Christ is the marriage of the Divine and the Human.  God with skin on.  The Holy and the Ordinary.  A Humanity at its God-intended best.   A model worthy of following in our own broken ways.  God with us.

Love and Security

February 24th, 2015

Love and security … the same or not?

We know loves importance ….

Love is our vital core. We grow warm because of its presence, and cold because of its absence, and when it is completely gone, we die. (Heaven and Hell 14, Emanuel Swedenborg)

And we know how when love is present, we can settle into a peace, a miraculous peace, a vital core, a peace which as Christ says “passes all understanding.”  It feels secure there.

But there is another security that love is not.  That security remains needy, self serving and clutching.  Churches must work in the space that questions that type of security.

I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out in the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.  I do not want to a Church concerned with being at the center and which then ends up being caught in a web of obsessions and procedures…. More than our fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within  structures which give a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits that make us feel safe…..

 

Allowing Christ To Make a Claim On Us

February 18th, 2015

An incredibly powerful picture.  One tide breaking against another.  Look at the hands….

And why?  Why were they able to stand there – hands where they were – knowing that what they feared would happen did?

I wonder if this is why … because they understood.  Christ had made a claim on their lives. And they listened.

And it was not the claim of anger.  Not the claim of fear, of “states rights,” of historical memories tight like traps.  It was the claim of love, mutual love. One language … “the common good of all.”  Courage.

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)

Only Love Can Be Entrusted With Truth

February 11th, 2015

“Only love can be entrusted with truth.” Fr. Richard Rohr

Early Christian history – beautiful because it fills with all the very normal human foibles and contortions.  Not a sterile pile of sanctified brethren but a pile of simple humanity.  Loved by God.  Lurching their way forward one bad choice, then one redeemed choice at a time.

So we must smile at the story in Acts 15.   The belonging police issue an edict.  ”Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses you cannot be saved.”  (Act 15:1)  Boom.  Unequivocal.  Measurable. No doubts. So we need to smile, smile at the painfully recognizable human tendency to create forced barriers of entry – a figurative secret handshake only the “chosen” know.

Thankfully the redeeming words of those of who knew Christ won the day … “It is my judgement that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” (Act 15:19)  Not sure how they found such graceful words but there you have it … a simple statement.  A simple invitation. “Lets not make this thing hard”, an echo of Christ’s words, “For my yoke is easy and my burden light.”

Faith can become either.  Either a form of exclusion or a form of inclusion.  The former grows in places where love recedes.

The knowledge of spiritual and heavenly realities and even the mysteries of faith become nothing more than objects of memory when the people who are adept at them have no love for others. (Secrets of Heaven, 1197)

And there is a choice.  A choice to not make this thing hard … life is hard enough.  A sacrificial choice then to love.  A love that can be entrusted with the truth.

 

Living Patiently in a Construction Zone

February 5th, 2015

We give our hearts, often, to those things that are at best clunky and rude.  We give our hearts to work, to jobs, where yes we find joy but also frustration and fear.  We give our hearts to our beloveds, where yes we find love but also disappointment, vulnerability, loss.

And our ego would have us eagerly believe the long anticipated and well earned blessing is out there, somewhere else with someone else.   Then our hearts would be truly free.  Then at last we would be truly seen.

Something seems to say that is not how it works.  That maybe the universal addiction is the addiction to our own plans.

So there must be a newness, a new way of seeing, a new way to slip beneath the waves or above the clouds – take your pick.

Maybe we are to have, what one author called, a continued “lover’s quarrel” with life.   One where the commitment remains.  Where the commitment stays.  But where that commitment allows for that thing we must push against.  Welcomes it.  A life filled with events and people – “traffic” – that does not yield to our opinions, our plans, our relentless pushing this way or that.

Maybe there, in forced patience and surrender, we find the soft ground where faith grows.

Churches and the End of Geography

February 1st, 2015

Some thoughts from author Seth Godin …

Some of the most important inventions of the last hundred years:

Air conditioning–which made it possible to do productive work in any climate

Credit cards–which enabled transactions to take place at a distance

Television–which homogenized 150 world cultures into just a few

Federal Express and container ships–which made the transport of physical goods both dependable and insanely cheap

The internet–which moved information from one end of the world to the other as easily as across the room

Cell phones–which cut the wires

If you’re still betting on geography, on winning merely because you’re local, I hope you have a special case in mind.

It is hard to argue with Seth’s observations.  Churches need to be aware. We are intensely local bodies.  But that definition of “local” is changing rapidly and maybe irrevocably.   We are centered in Pennsylvania. And when I talk to those in Florida, they just don’t seem that far away.

 

Finding Meaning Outside of the Mall

January 28th, 2015

One veteran, returning from Iraq, wondered when did “America become a giant mall with a country attached.”  How did life in the military at times feel “holier” than the “gluttonous, oversexed, over-consuming, materialist home where we are too lazy to see our own faults?”

Ouch.

Good questions.  Painful.  Confrontative.  Good questions.

Part of me hates to even hear them.  Maybe because I know, at least in part, that they speak to an uncomfortable truth.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19-21)

I know,on most days, there is meaning in places other than the mall.

A Simple Story of Being Naked And Drunk

January 21st, 2015

A simple story from the Bible… not one of Noah and his Ark.  Not the nursery story of Noah leading the animals in two by two.  Not one of God’s eternal covenant with Noah, a covenant sealed by the beauty of a rainbow.  But this story of Noah … naked and drunk.

“And Noah drank some wine and become drunk, and was naked in the middle of the tent.”  (Gen. 9:21)

This is the genius of the Bible for me … no one perfect.  No one beyond reproach.  All flawed.  All loved.

And there is another story here … a story of forgiveness and kindness as two of Noah’s three sons cover their father’s nakedness, gently, and the story of a third brother  who only saw the naked drunk.

And in the midst of this story, our story.

The third brother, Ham, only able, with sneering contempt, to notice flaws. He pictures a cruel us.  Lacking “all kindness [they] radiate hatred from every pore.  They want to examine and in fact judge everyone, craving nothing more than to find evil, constantly bent on … condemning, punishing and torturing others.” (Secrets of Heaven 1079) A degraded faith, a faith catastrophically split from charity, a doctrinal paradigm corrupt and toxic.  A faith only concerned with “arguing whether a thing is true and knowing exactly how matters stand.”  (Secrets of Heaven 1072)   A view of faith that leads such people “to mock and broadcast the faults of others whenever the opportunity arrises.”

But the other two brothers?  Life there.

No interest in debate here but only interest in affirmation.   Interest not in flaws but in drawing attention to the good qualities all possess. “Whatever evil and falsity they may see, they excuse, and if they can, they work to correct it.” (Secrets of Heaven 1079)  Everything unseemly, bent to what is good.

A very modern story.  Blessed and broken as we all are.