One thing we can do this Thanksgiving…

November 14th, 2018

What is one thing we can do to have a great Thanksgiving?

Several years ago I read a study by Facebook on which holidays were the happiest as measured by the words people used on that particular day. The run away winner … Thanksgiving.

Why is that?  I wrote to a friend recently…

One thought … the biggest “head bully” we deal with is something along the lines of “I am not enough.”   Hell does a number on us with that particular question.  We start comparing our lives to others and it gets REALLY tough.  The best way out – crazy – is to work on not comparing.  The best way out is gratitude … and that is FAR harder than it sounds.

Gratitude is work.  A discipline as we move past “I am not enough.” Easy to think, mistakenly, the discipline of gratitude centers on comparing our lives to others, enumerating in our minds the ways in which we find our lives more blessed than others.

So possibly the one thing we can this do Thanksgiving is to drop the comparisons and learn to sit in gratitude just as gratitude.  Gratitude unadorned.  Gratitude not based on comparison.  Gratitude just as seeing the blessing.

I love how one author phrased it with a smile…

This Thanksgiving, may the exercise of gratitude leave us slightly (and wonderfully) stunned!

Who is the Enemy?

November 6th, 2018

Who is the Enemy?

The enemy simply put is hate.

As we close one of the most contentious elections in US history it is important to remember the above.

The enemy is not the right.  I know a bunch of them.  Good people.

The enemy is not the left.  I know a bunch of them.  Good people.

The enemy is hate.  And I can honestly say I never met a hate that I liked or that I would invite over for dinner!

A recent article spelled it out with amazing clarity.  The author’s point….  For much of US history we have shared, between right and left, a Venn diagram of sorts, one where differences were differences but there remained a clear articulation of the center where ideals overlapped.  The center, at times of test, held, granted with several obvious exceptions.

That center feels far more tenuous these days.  It feels some days as if the two circles have pulled so far apart that the overlap no longer exists.

A drumbeat you will hear from me frequently over the coming months is that that is why church matter.  Churches can help to remind us of the places where the circles overlap.  Churches can help us remember that love and its expression through civil dialog must come first.  Churches can help us remember, that this, yes this person (s) who drives me crazy much of the time this election season is beloved by God and is our sister or brother in Christ, in the Lord.  While we may never attend a political rally together, we can attend church together, pray together, sing together, eat donuts togethers, sit in a small group together, and serve together.

Churches do not line up neatly or purely on the right or left.  They are the Third Way.

Our hope then?  That the spirit infused throughout that particular Third Way approach brings us back to what we share, brings us back to what we hope, brings us back to the critical work of building community where we listen to each other once again.

Please. Build with us.

MLK titled the construction project well … “The Beloved Community.”

And we see that Beloved Community everywhere.  And we hope to build, with blessed and broken tools, our little bit of it.

In Our Several Exhaustions We Are Invited to Rethink

September 11th, 2018

Rev. Walter Breuggeman can turn a phrase, writing recently that,  ”in our several exhaustions we are invited to rethink.”

Many of us struggle with and struggle through several exhaustions

  1. Relationships that feel strained and heavy
  2. Financial worries for our own households and the households of those we love
  3. Worries around college funding, retirement … an ever growing list of needs
  4. Efforts to help the institutions that we love and cherish that often fall short of the results we desire

The list of exhaustions goes on.  And so does the invitation to rethink.

We can rethink our lives.  We can rethink our worlds.

Exhaustion pushes us there.  “I can’t God.  But You can.”  The simplest of surrenders.

Church focuses largely on that rethinking. Big hint … “rethinking” is what the word “repentance” actually means.

So rethink with me for a minute….

Rethink a life not without all the challenges we currently face but a life where we have rethought how to face those challenges. 

That rethinking is about connection and joy and support and courage.

That type of rethinking can be found in small groups.

We simply are not made, are not created to do this journey of life alone.  We are made, we are created to do this journey together. That is why my dear friends I would urge you to join a small group at NewChurch LIVE as we launch our cornerstone fall series, “5 Things God Wants For Your Family”, on September 23rd. 

It may sound like an ask to “do one more thing” and if you are feeling exhausted that certainly lacks appeal.  But it is not really “one more thing.”  It is about a way of seeing.  A way of a connected holding of life that somehow leaves us a bit lighter, a bit more resilient, a bit more in touch with God.  In all my years, I have NEVER heard someone come out of small group saying “That was exhausting!”

We are offering groups Sundays after church and groups Monday through Thursdays in the evening for this 5 week program.  And enrolling is easy….

  1. Come to church this Sunday or on the 23rd to enroll at a signup tables in the lobby OR….
  2. Email angela.cooper@newchurchlive.tv and let her know the night that works best for you.

To close, I imagine you like me feel some exhaustion in your life.  So get some rest.  And consider what the opportunity to rethink might just be!

Not about Shaming or Lock-step Agreement but about Goodwill

July 12th, 2018

There are many days where I yearn to totally unplug, to disconnect, to go back to the time before social media existed.

Where ideology trumps facts, where outrage outraces reasoned discourse, where hurt feelings gain more oxygen than loving compassion, it can feel rather hopeless at times to believe that the art of real conversation is not forever lost.

But we choose right.  We can choose how much to engage or not.  How to converse. Powerful words from Seth Godin…

Shaming a person is a senseless shortcut. When we say to someone, “you’re never going to amount to anything,” when we act like we want to lock them up and throw away the key, when we conflate the behavior with the human–we’ve hurt everyone. We’ve killed dreams, eliminated possibility and broken any chance for a connection.

The alternative is to be really clear about which behavior crossed the line. To correct that behavior at the very same time we open the door for our fellow citizen to become the sort of person we’d like to engage with.

That is what many of us desire I imagine … an “opening” where the others (or ourselves) are given the space to become the sort of person we would like to engage with.

An unfolding conversation then, not about shaming or lock-step agreement, but about goodwill.


				

Issues We Must Wrestle With

June 29th, 2018

There are a number of hot-button issues, issues calling for the church’s attentiveness. Here are three I have been thinking a great deal about.

  1. Separation of Immigrant Families
  2. Deficit Spending
  3. Environmental degradation/ Global Warming

I start here with what I imagine to be a critical point … simply mentioning these issues is not taking a political side.  If churches have nothing to say about such issues however, we miss a huge opportunity.  What is that opportunity?

To start, the opportunity is not about the church pronouncing a definitive answer on each issue.  However churches are uniquely positioned to offer a perspective on “first things first”, one that invites further engaged (not enraged!) dialog and active involvement from all sides, and yet remains true to the Christian message as a “3rd way” between poles.  That is the opportunity.
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And what might be germane from that Christian message, now several thousand years old?
  1. We must forever and always protect the most vulnerable in society
  2. We must value our planet and the blessings it brings
  3. We must be good stewards of our resources, taking the long term view, seeking to share and serve
  4. We must witness to the inherent dignity in all of God’s people
Compass points obviously.  But compass points that lead us home.
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Church is never about purely private salvation.  It is about all of us … about a family, a community, a nation, a world, each caring for the other.
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When Does Peace Come?

May 30th, 2018

Some words sound like what they are.  The word “shalom”, Hebrew for “peace”, is one such word.

How is it that we find peace?  How is it that we find shalom?

One way to hold it is that peace will come when our external circumstances change.  Peace, in other words, arrives when we finally have more money or more time or a more amenable partner. But that kind of peace rarely comes.  We either fail to attain those goals or we attain those goals, only to still find ourselves still anxious.

Peace comes, quite simply, when we decide it does.

As part of this job, I have been honored to meet some real heroes, people whose life story many would characterize as horrific.  Matt Pennington who lost a leg in Iraq, Eva Korr who survived the Holocaust, Kevin Hines who attempted suicide, Scarlett Lewis who lost her son Jesse at Sandy Hook. Despite unspeakable tragedy, all of them carry a palpable peace about their lives. I think they are there because they traveled through the fire and came out the other end with a choice, a choice they made in the direction of forgiveness and love.

New Church theology puts it beautifully … God does not rest until love takes the lead. When love takes the lead, regardless of life’s circumstance, we find peace. Shalom.

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God Way Beyond Words

May 25th, 2018

We come, over our lives, to experience God often out beyond language.

“Mystical.”  Nothing detached here, nothing disembodied here, but an attempt to find a word that captures what is beyond words, the root of “mystic” going back to the Greek word for closing your lips.

We KNOW this.  That much of God lies joyously beyond words.

Two evenings ago, on one side of the porch donations for Stenton Family Manor homeless shelter, all organized by Lee.  On the other side a small offering of food to go to Prevention Point for an evening meal, all organized by Mary. That is an experience of God beyond words.

Maybe the stories of love-in-action, shared in community, are the closest words we are given.  And all that brings a smile!

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Adventures in Missing the Point… and Finding It Again

May 15th, 2018

It is forever easy to miss the point.

As a Pastor, personally, missing the point happens when I value study over relationships, a packed house on Sunday over service with those who suffer, my insights over the lived word of the congregation.

Study, full Sunday services, and personal insights are wonderful things.  And they place second to relationships, service, and an honoring of the lived experience of others.

Keeping to the right metrics is challenging. Relationships, service, welcoming other voices becomes messy, lacking edges, embracing discomfort, requiring trust, opening the field as it were where God can do His work.

And with the right metrics, with that mess, comes a much better adventure!

 

The Need to Invite: Thoughts from Rev. Mac Frazier

April 25th, 2018

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.” (Mat. 22:8-10)

The theme of invitations occurs frequently in the Word of the Lord. Sometimes, it is the Lord inviting His people to follow Him. At other times, it is the Lord instructing His people to go out and invite new people. One particular kind of invitation that happens repeatedly is an invitation to a feast.

A feast is a gathering in which people come together to eat and drink with one another, but also to enjoy one another’s company and conversation. At it’s best, a feast is a party in which people grow closer to one another while learning from one another’s perspectives and from one another’s wisdom from experience, while also enjoying nourishing and delightful food and drink. A perfect feast is an event that nourishes both the body and the soul of all who attend.

Feasts in the Word (as in life today) are often held to celebrate some important event, either to commemorate something important from the past (e.g. holy day feasts) or to kick off something wonderful and new (like at a wedding). The greatest of all feasts in the Word is the sharing of the last Passover meal among the disciples, which we commemorate in the church every time we celebrate Holy Supper.

Given all that can be said of feasts, it is not hard to see how a feast in the Word is also a symbol of a key function of the Lord’s kingdom—both of heaven and of the church. Whenever we gather together to worship, to serve others, or to support one another, we are participating in a spiritual feasts.

And feasts don’t work if you don’t invite anyone to come. A party without invitations is a sad affair. But whom should we invite?

Repeatedly, in the Lord’s Word, we are taught that it is not enough to just invite those we are already close with, nor is it good to invite with the idea of benefiting oneself. Rather, we are to go out and invite people who are in need of help, who are outside of our inner circle of comfort, and to do so in a way that focuses on their benefit, not ours.

Friends, there will eventually be no Glenview New Church if we do not get our heads around the idea that it is our responsibility to invite new people in. We can handle some of the “inviting” through things like paid advertising, signs out on the road, and other such impersonal, institutional means. But in the end, the invitations that work the best are the personal ones. A sign, a website, an advertisement—these can’t really communicate love the way a one-on-one conversation can.

Break out of your comfort zone. Try inviting someone.

“But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” (Luke 14:13-14)

- Mac Frazier

One of the most revolutionary Swedenborgian concepts for us to embrace….

April 20th, 2018

Emanuel Swedenborg wrote…

Anyone who lives a life of love for others knows everything there is to know about a life of faith.” (Secrets of Heaven, 1798)

That is revolutionary stuff.

What does it mean for me as a Pastor?

  1. The goal of Sundays, small groups, and service is to help people become more loving
  2. We must care for each other, for the planet, for the less fortunate.  “Care” is a primary metric.
  3. Faith must move from historical faith to living faith.  Living faith arrives when the heart comes center, and love then gains its own wisdom
  4. Repentance means ridding ourselves, with God’s help, from what gets in the way of being loving

Of course I want to have a conversation with God and His Word in its many forms.  AND, most importantly, I want to listen with all that I am to the conversation people are having with God.  Their conversation will be different from mine.  It will be beautiful.

What a blessing to discover what people already know of God.  What a grace, as a church, as we share together what other people are doing in the world.