Ferguson and Third Ways

November 26th, 2014

Following the exoneration of Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson last night, over 20 businesses were burned as the area yet again experienced a spasm of violence.

In times like this, so so many questions rise to the fore.  Questions of race (Michael Brown was black, the officer white), economic inequality, law enforcement, the judicial system… the list goes on.  Critically important questions.

And I have no idea.  No idea how to wrestle with these questions.  No idea on how to converse in ways that bring more healing and justice and peace.   What I know is that there are third ways.  God always opens third ways.  Not through miracles and incantation but through work, patient and loving work that comes when we reach the end of our resources.   A space where we no longer talk past each other but talk to each other, humble enough to know all we don’t know.

The Real Work by Wendell Barry 

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

The Genius of “The Next Right Thing”

November 25th, 2014

Fear can become pervasive.  Fear remains largely immune from facts, data, knowledge.  What fear carries no immunity from is loving, open relationship.

There lies the genius of the beautiful words from the 12 Step Tradition … one must simply do “The Next Right Thing.”  In times of fear, paralyzed, unsure … do the next right thing.  Very simple.  Very powerful.

Life then becomes, despite complex circumstances and context, blessedly simple, drawing us away from fear and into relationship.

“You have reached wisdom when you no longer have any concern about understanding what is true and good, but are motivated by and living what is true and good; for this is wisdom.” Arcana Coelestia 10225 Emanuel Swedenborg

“Unto Thine Own Self Be True” … or maybe not.

November 21st, 2014

Polonius, in the Shakespearean play “Hamlet”, utters the words we know so well, “Unto Thine Own Self Be True.” Schools have used  these words as a motto for shaping young minds. Countless individuals employ these words as a mantra to craft their lives.

But is it true?  Does life’s primary task come down to “Unto thine own self be true”?

Shakespeare thought not. Polonius is generally regarded as wrong in every judgment he makes over the course of the play.  The line uttered by a fool not by a seer.

There is more to “us” than “ourselves” – might that be what Shakespeare is driving at?  Left to that “self”, if it is our false self, we maroon our lives quickly in a dark space guided only by our own frenetic compulsions and accompanying judgments… a false, dingy and shallow freedom.

There remains space for a different prayer to God, as one author noted, “May I see what I do. May I do it differently. May I make this a way of life.”

Where does prayer come from?

November 20th, 2014

Where does prayer comes from?

For many, prayer is at times a rather dry exercise of hollow incantations.  Words lacking meaning.  Lacking soul.  And then there are other moments of prayer.  Where prayer is who we are … entire bodies and lives a prayer … “My legs were praying” as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel put it as he marched with Martin Luther King in Selma Alabama.

Where does that kind of prayer arise?  From movement.  From soul.  From God.  From within.

“Prayer comes from truth inside you, and you are continually at prayer when you live according to that truth.” Apocalypse Explained 493 Emanuel Swedenborg

Such prayer then is not a prayer for a thing per se.  (And a thing prayer often is often not more than a pleading with an imagined god of conditional love.)  It is prayer as a motion towards the Divine that grows from where we are, who we are.

Success and Health – Finding the Right Measures for A Church

November 14th, 2014

“There is a more descriptive and theologically accurate word than success in describing what we’re after, health.” (J.R. Briggs)

How a church measures itself forms, arguably, a subtle yet powerful message about what church and religion as a whole are to value.  Briggs’ quote above bores right into that insight.

Success in much of our culture becomes carefully aligned with quantitative results. Nothing wrong there.  I prefer to drive cars with dashboards.

And there is another measure maybe all the more important … health.  We prefer to be in a “healthy” car, driven in a healthy way, with healthy passengers.  Dashboards are great.  But they are never the point.

What are then the measures of health in a church?

In this denomination it comes to a rather simple premise.  Do we place love and humble service in the first place or do we reserve that spot for truth, for doctrine and their sidekicks … order, control, power, rightness.    In the New Church this is not a choice between polarities.  It is a decision of incarnation, a decision of living into - living into a set of priorities we feel will bring God’s light more fruitfully into the world.   Not an “either, or” but a “both, and.”  Again, dashboards … all for them. And there remains a bigger picture.

Restated, church bell towers needs bells, not just clocks. What is the “bell that rings?”  Is it a ringing that resonates with God’s movement around us?  Or is it just way to tell time?

A Life of Giving and the Stories We Don’t Hear

November 9th, 2014

Read “Doing Good in Harm’s Way.”  It covers simple testimony … the testimony, the living witness of those medical professionals who travel to Africa to fight Ebola.  And look at the groups they represent.

Most of those groups … Christian.  Not a big deal about it.  Not that that foundation makes them better than other groups like “Doctor’s Without Borders” who do AMAZING work.

But it does speak to witness.  It does speak to people willing to live quietly and courageously the higher purpose of Christ.

We wrestle with even that idea … the word “Christian” largely toxic.  The non-profit featured in the article, “SIM”, described generically in the article as “Serving In Mission.”  One would not know they were Christian unless one clicked their homepage.   Same with “Samaritans Purse.”  Same with “The Healy Foundation.”  The word “Christian” … mentioned once in the article.

Christianity is not the point.  Service to those in need is.  Words from Dr. Rick Sacra of SIM, about why he traveled to Africa, a place where he eventually contracted Ebola….

 ”If I can do something about that, I feel that’s my God-given responsibility to take care of my neighbor.”

This world is better for those like Dr. Sacra who take their Christian faith beyond faith-as- belief and exercise it into faith-as-life.  I wish we could say that more.

What are the three gifts of Opportunity Makers? Thoughts on one picture. Seven Words.

November 7th, 2014

In a recent TED talk by Kare Anderson, she noted that Opportunity Makers carry three traits…

  1. Opportunity-makers keep honing their top strength and they become pattern seekers.
  2. They get involved in different worlds than their worlds so they’re trusted and they can see those patterns
  3. They communicate to connect around sweet spots of shared interest.
A beautiful list.  And the list is more than a guarded skill set available solely to a narrow slice of humanity innately gifted with the right code, temperament, cognitive gifts and outlook to practice it.  There is something, frankly, angelic about it as corny as that sounds.  What else would angels or angels-among-us want to create than opportunities for others?  So heaven, maybe, is then this cosmic opportunity making matrix, out of which eternity springs along with the joy and passion of lives fully engaged.
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And so thoughts on a picture, posted below. 8 of us.  Working at St. Francis Inn serving the homeless dinner.  Opportunity Makers.  Mary runs our small groups with Rob.  Bob and Kelly are thinking of how to run a summer retreat for teens to work repairing homes in Appalachia.  Lisa, art teacher, works with kids to see bigger worlds filled with beautiful expression. Walt created the whole opportunity … responsible us even being there.  The dude even drove!   Isaiah, in high school, a spark showing through as he talks about Cinema.   And Dave’s passion, sharing the church, supporting pastors who struggle and move and work in days blessed and broken.
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And the 7 words?  ”I did not know any of them.”  With the exception of Dave, 5 years ago I did not know one single person in that picture.  Amazing what happens when you hang out with 7 Opportunity Makers!
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Reclaiming The Grand Narative

November 5th, 2014

Election season ended.  Data collection drives much of elections and most everything else these days.

We divide … into groups … which are then divided into sub groups … which are then divided sub-sub-groups ad infinitum.  Each gets its own “message”, slick, packaged, engineered to appeal.  What gets lost?  The Grand Narrative.  The big picture, the greater story, the common good.  We are left with this …

Instead of inner-directed leaders driven by their own beliefs, [we] become outer- directed people-pleasers driven by incomplete numbers.

That sits as a quiet threat to social fabric.  “All politics is local” … true.  But it is becoming more and more “All politics is personal.”  Hard to move beyond self-absorption in that world.

Faith.  Religion.  Church.  Spirituality.  God.  Pick the word that word that works for you but the above is a call I believe to recapture those Grand Narratives that faith clearly speaks to.  Those stories of self-sacrifice. Love. Suffering. Redemption.  The Common Good. What is actually bigger and more important than you, than me.  What lies beyond the tyranny of “preference.”

Lets not get lost in the numbers.  If there is a place to get lost, lets loose ourselves in the Story.

Threshold Wisdom and 11 Words: Thoughts Around the End of Life

November 4th, 2014

This fall quietly unfolded as a season of loss for several families close to my heart.  What can we offer at times like this?  What?

I believe the preciousness in these moments comes from what Rachel Naomi Remen referred to as “threshold wisdom”, wisdom we only glean from the edges of life.  Defined simply … “A whole lot less matters and what matters matters a whole lot more.”  And what then “matters”?  Maybe these 11 words from one of the fore-bearers of the hospice movement captures it best…

  1. Please forgive me
  2. I forgive you
  3. Thank you
  4. I love you
If we can somehow live closely into each phrase, as best we can, we can die well.   At times these words are silent.  At times they lie under the surface. But they can still be spoken, as best we can, even in a a season of loss.

Fundamentalism and Ways Forward

November 2nd, 2014

Fundamentalism thrives on several conditions…

  1. Obsessive Rightness
  2. Violence
  3. A concept of an avenging God
Mix those into a culture where basic needs go unmet, where diminished trust of institutions as upholders of basic law and order predominate, where youth no longer see brighter futures than they currently see in their diminished circumstances, where older generations, unsure and worried, fail to speak, and fundamentalism will rear its head.
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Fundamentalism then creates a twisted offering … an offering of certainty, predictability, clear lines, clear targets, clear belonging, and clear un-belonging.
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That is what we face largely in this day and age, a challenge not limited just to the Middle East, but very much a challenge of Christianity and other faiths and secular organizations as well.
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It cannot be said often enough … change must, and can only begin with us. Where lies the anger in our hearts, the “fundamentalist” waiting for battle? Where do we fail to live into solutions of gentleness, kindness, touch as individuals and institutions?  Where do we “circle the wagons” and fail to humbly reach out to the margins?  Where do we fail to speak and fail to act?  ”The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.”
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