Beauty and the Poster Said “Coy”

September 30th, 2014

I get it ….

Simplicity.

Awareness.

Beauty.

These take fearlessness. (Seth Godin)

It is hard to be plain.  Being direct … a challenge.  I heard a handicapped comedian, who between twitches and laughs, share profoundly that if social media was around when she was a teen she never would have found the strength to be a comedian.  Heartbreaking and true.  Say what we know to be true … simplicity, awareness, beauty … and a slicing will occur.    Despite the good, despite the health of the body entire, cutting hurts.

It takes then great courage to share our truth as God gives us to see it.  But that truth we know.  It may be the only thing we truly know.  Because it is God’s movement in us.

So the beautiful mother, Kim, spoke to resilience, 85 appointments a year, and “you just do it.”  The brave husband, Rick – quiet courage – spoke of his beloved wife, “She can never fail us and we will never leave her side.”  And the delight of Tryn, that even in the darkness of Alzheimer’s, deep inside, “They are still there.”

All them sharing simplicity, awareness, beauty and in so doing, sharing fearlessness of a sort I can watch but not who I am yet.  A silent and profound witness that God is there.

Kim’s daughter put it so well.  On her poster, held up at the end of church, her 12 year old brother’s name, Coy.  The caregiver she wanted to honor.   Coy cried.  A large truth was spoken with a poster using one word … in all its simplicity, beauty, and awareness. Amen.

Sometimes God is so clear….

September 24th, 2014

We live in a world where we scan more than read.  So here is one to read.  Written in a book from the Bible, Isaiah, chapter 58, written several thousand years ago, it speaks to a new form of worship….

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousnessa] will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Emanuel Swedenborg, writing in the 1700′s follows the cue.  “A religion is valued more for its goodwill and faith, not for the rituals that accompany them.”  True Christianity, 660.

Beautiful words.  Plain.  And oh so clear.

Walking Up to The Edge of Our Life’s Purpose

September 23rd, 2014

How do we walk up to the edge of our life’s purpose?

A challenging question.

It means danger … leaving the center to find the Center.

And to take that walk?  It means sacrifice.

“When sacrifice is removed from the equation, an unpromising future of sterile self regard is what remains.” (Elizabeth Scalia)

Sacrifice opens us up to what is difficult.  It opens us to what matters.  It opens us to what is Us.  It pulls us to the edge. Well beyond the “sterile self regard” we trap ourselves in.

Sacrifice in the end, beyond the mistaken gray “bread and water” connotations of confinement, says maybe one thing very loud … WELCOME.

A four letter word with three letters … S I N

September 17th, 2014

Oh goodness do I hate that word.  It immediately conjures up images … images of finger wagging, scolding, shame.

And maybe that is on me.  And not on that word.

Sin can be see in one of two ways.

  1. One way begins with judgment of other.  Then loops up to condemnation.  And eventually rests in damnation.
  2. The other begins with judgment of self.  That loops up into restoration.  And eventually rests in salvation.

I strongly suggest if the three letter word of “sin” is a four letter word to you, take a look at the possibility and promise of living the second perspective.  There is an honesty there, an accountability, a humility we all need.  And there is hope.

Sin in the end is a word for those things that break relationships … “The evil that is sinful is simply evil against our neighbor” (Emanuel Swedenborg).   Sin hurts.  It hurts us.  It hurts others.  God does not.   When we come to terms with sin, no matter how many letters we use to spell it, relationships are restored.

Thoughts on Walking Through a Graveyard

September 16th, 2014

I love old churches.  Given the choice between a new building, shiny, and an old church with wood and leaks I would take the latter and appreciate the former.   And I love that old churches place themselves – surrounded by graveyards.

Not some dark fascination with the macabre, those graveyards remind in some subtle way, or maybe not subtle, the place of those well worn houses of worship.   Their business … about the business of life, the entirety.  A place of life, death, resurrection, hope, sadness, joy, God, humanity.   Grounds reflected that.  Parishioners walked it.

The one where I stopped I saw from the road numerous times.  Ancient, small, stone, slate roof.  Beautiful.  Old grave makers … too old to read; for a church built in 1722 not a surprise.  Even remembrances of those passed carved right into the stone of the church itself.

And think, 100′s of years.  People walking to church. Sundays. Baptisms, Funerals, Weddings.  All winding to tall wood doors through a path where they saw no doubt family and friends, deceased, “At Rest”, “Gone Home.”  Nothing sad there.  Maybe a melancholy joy.  A reminder time is short.  Live deeply.  A labyrinth as beautiful and profound as Chartres.

Important Trends in Churches Today

September 14th, 2014

A recent study, “Changing American Congregations: Findings from the Third Wave of the National Congregations Study,” points to some fascinating developments in the religious landscape of the United States.  These demographic trends are important to note given that in a sense, these are the waters in which we swim.  And with all trends, important to note, they are not “forever” and “always” but instead present us with a snap shot of “now.”

Five Trends:

  1. More ethnic diversity
  2. More acceptance of gays and lesbians
  3. Increasingly informal worship
  4. Declining size (but not from the perspective of the average attendee),
  5. Declining denominational affiliation

Involvement:

  1. Most congregations remain small, with 90% having 350 or fewer people
  2. The median number of people involved in any way in the average church dropped from 150 in 1998 and 2006 to 135 in 2012
  3. The median number of regular participants declined from 80 in 1998 to 75 in 2006, and to 70 in 2012
  4. The median attendance at the main worship service was 70 in 1998, 65 in 2006, and only 60 in 2012
  5. The congregation attended by the average person was larger in 2012 than it was in the earliest time measured (The average church is smaller. The average attendee goes to a larger church)
  6. The median of regularly participating adults in the average person’s congregation increased from 275 in 1998 to 280 in 2006, and increased again to 301 in 2012.
  7. This is because the churchgoing population has become more concentrated in larger congregations, an important trend in the social organization of American religion worship styles, declining size (but not from the perspective of the average attendee), and declining denominational affiliation

What does this mean for us at NCL?

  1. We are well positioned in many ways.
  2. Our congregation clearly reflects many of the trends noted above
  3. In one sense we are a big church with over 350 “members”, clearly in the top 10% nationwide.
  4. In another sense we are small.  Our attendance average of 210 puts on the bottom of that top 10%

And our job … keep loving people, keep loving God, taking note of the numbers and trends but not being slave to them.

And a blessing ….

September 12th, 2014

My life fills with doubts and worries and the occasional “knowledge” that it is all going to hell-in-a-hand basket.  And God I think smiles and gently, graciously blesses me not with answers but with people.

Blessed Wednesday night by Mary, Rob, Bob, John.  Blessed Thursday by Singhe, Tamar, Theresa, Roger, Chris, and Pete.  Blessed always by my family and those I work with.

And I want to pause … share about Thursday just a minute.

See that day is the day we meet, the Sermon Writing Team and I.  And it is is a miracle.  A “golden goose.”  The age spreads from 20 something to 70. College to retirement.  The gender … how it should be, how it must be … balanced.  Very different people. Very much the same.

We cried a lot yesterday.  9/11.  The tragedy and the healing.  The unity of man and God.  God’s greatest dream, “that they may be one”, the same as our deepest dream.

And we experienced a blessing … not with answers, but with people.

 

PLEASE don’t ever say, “Because the Bible Said.”

September 10th, 2014

We live in bridge times.  Many but not all of use were born into some knowledge of the Bible-the stories, the themes, the Book.  And increasingly those assumptions around biblical literacy are inaccurate.  Likewise the starting point that the Bible is somehow inerrant falls most often on deaf ears these days.

So please, if your interest lies in growing and sharing Christianity, please don’t ever say “Because the Bible said.”  That will appeal to an increasingly narrow and often more fundamentalist slice of the broader population.  And (this pastor says with a bit of trepidation) it might be a very good thing that that line no longer works.

The original 12 disciples who followed Christ did not do so because he was a great author.  They followed him because he said “Follow me.”  They did and their lives grew from death to resurrection in a few short years.

The 100′s who made up the first Christian churches did not even have the New Testament. Yes they held letters floating around as well as oral traditions describing  the life of Christ.  But they did not a have a book they called “The Bible.”  Most could not even read or write.  What they held, what they hosted in their hearts, was “The Way.”

“The Way” was how Christians first described themselves.  This opening movement centered on living communities of love, sharing, humility.  Such communities, revolutionary then, revolutionary now.  Such communities virally grew the church from 100′s to millions.  And no one was exclaiming “Because the Bible said.”  Their pronouncements were their lives.

The does not mean to stop reading the Bible.  In the New Church we believe strongly that reading the Word critically serves both humanity and heaven … that it forms a newer bridge between God and humankind.  And we read it to wrestle with faith and expand our understanding of God.  Not to craft pronouncements that prove others wrong and prove ourselves right.

It is about living “The Way.”

 

And there are days I don’t quite know what to write

September 9th, 2014

And there are days I don’t quite know what to write.  And that is true some days, not because of depletion or depression or a sullen refusal to share nicely.  That silence grows from the subtle awareness that life is all so grand and beautiful and filled with awe.  That words won’t do.  You take a picture of the full moon on your iPhone and it just does not quite capture what you know to be true.  That the moon was beautiful and silver and painted the grass and the Cathedral … all too much.  And did I ever so badly want to capture it.  But no picture. And no words quite do.

Last night we talked about clothing for the homeless.  Two women and myself, all preachers and pastors.  And they said “Lets do it October 26th.”  Excusing myself momentarily, I scurried upstairs, a quick retreat to my 3rd floor office, to gain a hurried peak at what the sermon calendar held that week.  No joke … “For I was naked and you clothed me.”  God again, like the moon.  And I try to write about it but the words … well they lack.

It was a good night.

At What Mile Do Most People Quit the Marathon?

September 5th, 2014

At what mile do most people people quit the Marathon?

Mile 20.  4/5′s of the way through.

What does that say?

I think a lot.

But it misses one point.

All those who never started.