David Brooks on Why He Has Become More Religiously Inclined

January 18th, 2017

I’ve become much more religiously inclined. And that’s, I think, for three things.

First, for an awareness of one’s moral mediocrity. For example, you meet these people who radiate an inner light. And I was in Frederick, Maryland, I don’t know how many years ago, and I ran into these ladies. There were probably 30 of them, aged 50 to 80, who teach immigrants English and then how to read it. And I walk into the room, and they just radiate patience and goodness, Dorothy Day directness, just that calmness. They didn’t know me from Adam, but they made me feel funnier and smarter and special, and they just had that — they radiated that light. I remember thinking, “I’ve achieved way more career success than I ever thought I would, but I don’t have that.”

Second, would be the experience of grace. And the story I tell about that — these are just exemplar stories, but I have a million of them. I was driving home from the NewsHour about 10 years ago, and I pull into my driveway, and it’s 7:30 at night, but it’s summer, so it’s still light out. My kids, who are then 12, 9, and 4, were in the backyard kicking a supermarket ball up in the air. And they were running across the yard, chasing down this ball, tumbling all over each other, laughing, giggling, sort of shouting with joy. And I pull up into the driveway, and I see into the backyard. I get confronted with this tableau of perfect family happiness…..

…and so I just sit there staring at it through the windshield. And it’s one of those moments where reality sort of spills outside its boundaries, and time and life are sort of suspended, and you become aware of a happiness that you don’t deserve, which is grace. When that happens, your soul swells up a little, and you want to be worthy of that happiness. And it’s just a moment when the soul is swelling.

And then lately — one experience is love, deep love. And the nice thing — Christian Wiman, who is a poet I’ve quoted in your presence before says, “Love is always on the move. It’s never content to just love one thing.” So you want to love the person, you want to love — but then your flesh sort of gets opened up, exposing soft flesh below, and you realize your riches are not in yourself, and that sort of desire and even awareness of a fusion at that deep level sort of changes your view.

So when you go through these experiences, theology begins to make sense because it speaks spiritually, emotionally, and morally. So it’s not like I read it because I’m suddenly — well, it’s not an academic enterprise; it’s the way to see the world. And so it’s become an explanatory tool as much as anything else.

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What is “saving faith” in the New Church?

January 13th, 2017

Much of Christian theology concerns itself with the question of salvation.

How does the New Church hold salvation? How do we hold “saving faith”?

Saving faith is found in people whose lives are devoted to doing what is good, people who in other words are devoted to caring … [so] wherever good actions are being done from a caring heart is where the church will be found. (NJHD, 121)

Put simply, our role then … to humbly seek God’s help in pushing aside our ego, our self centeredness, our cravings, our narcissism, our materialism – no easy task.  And then to serve.

This “pushing side” and “reaching out” become then a united endeavor, each “movement” informing and shaping the other, an endeavor where deep love, in the end, wins.

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Clarity in a Divisive Time

January 11th, 2017

Important to find clarity in a divisive time.

New Church theology is fascinating in many regards. One perspective of particular interest are the warnings held by Emanuel Swedenborg about why churches fail….

“Every church begins with a focus on caring, but in the course of time turns….” (NJHD 246)

And in times that can feel so divisive, it is easy to simply turn away. To stop caring. To move to a privatized faith. And mistakenly call that privatized faith “clarity,” when the reality actually is that privatized faith can become an easy screen for complacency.

We are blessed by such a deeply caring congregation, one I believe that holds privatized faith in the right place. Complacency … not the issue today!

And yet, we all need continual reminders about the goals of caring. What, then, can a caring church contribute to?

Enter Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s concept of the “Beloved Community.”

I love preaching on this topic because it readily gives words to a “compelling why” engraved on our hearts. It is the resonance in King’s speech, “I have a Dream.” It is the heart of the Bible’s words where we see the promise and “welcome it from a distance.”

It is where we seek reconciliation, not victory.

That is an ever new kind of clarity. One as ancient as humanity. One blessed by the poetic language of MLK. And one we celebrate Sunday and Monday.

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How do you find the right church?

December 26th, 2016

Not everyone searches longingly for the right church.  But if you are searching for the right church ….

There is no such thing!

Joining a church, as Rachel Held Evans put it, entails choosing “which hot mess you want to get involved in.”

Churches are a hot mess, no way around it.  And how could churches not be? Dedicated to higher purposes, churches will draw a far wider swath of humanity than we, in our little way, would ever see fit to call together.  Mixed races, mixed families, mixed financial situations, mixed perspectives … mixed up.  That encompasses “church.”

Church is simply not an idealized tribe.

Church is a collection of people – blessed and broken – doing their level best to love others, however imperfectly, and find God one flawed step at a time.

Find a church that gets that … and loves despite that … and lives towards higher purposes in light of that … and maybe that becomes the right church?

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Can Christianity Be Inclusive?

December 14th, 2016

This Christmas season, this question weighs heavily: “Can Christianity be inclusive?” Frankly Christianity in its many forms is largely – and often deservedly – not seen that way. Instead of inclusive, it is often viewed instead as clubbish, judgmental, set apart.

And yet this … the “good news” proclaimed in the Gospel is to be good news for “all nations.”  That remains the call.

What does it mean then to be “good news” to “all nations”?

Maybe this …. If Christianity is to be good news, it must be good news for everyone.

  1. Do our neighbors experience our churches as good news for the community where we serve?
  2. Do other nations feel a sense of relief when they think of this nation as being a largely Christian nation?
  3. Do other faith leaders in non-Christian houses of worship, as well as those with no faith, regard it as good news when they interact with their Christian neighbors?
  4. Do the poor, the suffering – widows and orphans as the Bible phrases it – experience in Christianity good news as they face a wide array of needs and challenges?
  5. If you are a Christian, do others experience “good news” when you enter a room?
And see it is not about delivering good news.  Not about a proclamation from on high. It is about being good news. A lived and largely unspoken proclamation. About living the message of a loving God who walks with all in blessings and brokenness.  A loving, presence-filled healing for us and for others.  Freed from agenda and judgment.  Willing to work.
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In other words … an inclusive Christianity. (To hear more … LINK)
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Not really getting it … and that is ok.

December 6th, 2016

We want to get “it.”  To understand life.  To be able to possess and offer the deep insight.  The truth.

But we are flawed.

Caught in our story, shaped by culture, molded by certain prejudices, we are in the end human.

The humility right there I believe critically forms us if we choose it.

The wisdom we do possess “are outward guises, appearances, of what is true and good… but if our lives focus on what is doing what is good the Lord adjusts them toward genuine truth.” (NJHD 21)

Goodness and truth … in the end … ONE.

Our efforts … in the end … imperfect, flawed, beautiful in God’s eyes.

Thomas Merton captured it well…

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” 

And this thing called “church”

November 10th, 2016

I don’t write particularly well but even with muddled language, I think, with a smile, that I carry strong convictions.

One such conviction is this thing called “church.”

The thought starts here…. What an election.  Many awoke yesterday distraught.  Other joyous.  As a Pastor, my role, is to with humility and tenderness, work with others in small ways to hold a space within this thing called church for both sides. And to hold with others and for others the lived Christian message, the lived Christian ideals.  Loving your neighbor, loving your enemy, caring, repentance, simplicity, contagious generosity, joy, servanthood.

The best of humanity and the best of Christianity joined hand-in-hand.

This thing called church can be that thing. Can be that third way.  That place, that institution, that movement, roots 1,000′s of years old. That place where the appearance of “very different” leans towards the deeper knowledge that “all are one.” That place where we LIVE it.  We don’t just post it or shout about it or demand it.  We LIVE it in the quieter, often overlooked folds of life.

Some days, candidly, I despair that this age of this thing called church has passed.  After all, as a quiet endeavor, we can’t compete with entertainment. With youth soccer. With individualism that enshrines personal choice over sacrificial living.

Then the election happens.  And people from many perspectives feel a call, a call to do something.  And what we can do this thing called church.

Church is neither pretty nor perfect.  Church is not always a place you will feel “fed.” It is not be easy or fun.  But I think we find this … a loving God.  An empowered way of moving towards the suffering of the world. Community. Our souls.

And this … HOPE.

Today that hope is Philly to serve dinner, food dropped off at the Ronald McDonald House, a coat drive for Reading Pa, small groups meeting to share in life’s breakings and blessings. And then Sunday… a grace filled time when we gather.  When we connect in this thing called church.

It is not for everybody.  I get that.  But if you are searching, after this election, for a place now to “do”, think about it.  Think about church.

 

 

Beyond the Politics of Outrage

November 3rd, 2016

How is church to fit into this week leading up to the election?

Maybe, humbly, there is a place for churches to be voice beyond the politics of outrage.

Yesterday, getting coffee, two pairs of people erupted in argument. One group, “Trump is the anti-Christ.”  The other group “See what Hillary has done to you!”  Both non-sensical. Both incredibly angry.

That type of outrage solves nothing, heals nothing, brings nothing.

What heals is love, care, compassion, listening, commitment.

I am so very sad by how much we are driven by outrage. By soundbites.  By 140 characters or less.

Churches have to stand up.  Not in a partisan way but as a calmly clear voice for a third way.  For a way to hold conversations.  For a way to move towards the suffering of the world. For a way to live in sacrificial, humbling commitments around love. For a way to simply be Christians…

… beyond the politics of outrage.

Thinking about Thinking in a New Way

October 27th, 2016

Thinking is our friend … and it isn’t.  Thinking is our friend when it helps us to serve wisely.  Thinking is not our friend when it is…

  1. Obsessive
  2. Compulsive
  3. Angry
  4. Self Justifying
  5. Self Loathing

Thinking can be … and consider this carefully … self-indulgent fantasy.

What if… what if we took time to choose?  Time to consider?  Time to get the choice? And here is the choice.  Am I thinking from fear or Am I thinking from love?

If we think from fear, fear will race out and grab all sorts of “evidence” to justify itself.  A sunny day becomes anything but.  An unnoticed comment becomes “evidence” of callous disregard.  An ask for help becomes “evidence” of nagging complaint.

If we think from love we will experience different outcomes even though life events may well remain largely unchanged. See love will find it own its “evidence” as well but this “evidence” more aligns with the simplest of all formulations: “These three things remain – faith, hope, and love.  And the greatest of these is love.”

Simple.  Please.  Lets all see each other from love.  Not from fear.

“Perfect love drives out fear.”  Thank you God!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is There Marriage In Heaven?

August 5th, 2016

I officiate at a lot of weddings.  A beautiful part of this work.  A marker of a young congregation.

And one thought – marriage can be an eternal blessing. It can last.  It is why we define marriage simply… two angels walking each other home.

That is not to sound cute.  A great deal of work there actually because it means we are called to make decisions with a much longer time frame than we usually do.

The concept of an eternal marriage – the broader concept of time – also provides room.  Room for growth.  Room for mistakes.  Room for change.

Does it mean that every marriage finds a renewed life in heaven? No.  Some marriages don’t. If partners are miserable, hard to see the blessing there.  However….

For people who desire true married love, the Lord provides a partner, and if they are not found in this life, He provides them in heaven. (Married Love 229)

That is beautiful.  There is indeed a “Happily Ever After.”  If not now, then.  And we can build it even in the storms of life.

Every human marriage has crisis times, moments of truth when one partner or both is tempted to give up.  Older married couples will admit that during these times they questioned the entire relationship.  Now, though, they retell the stories with humor and even nostalgia, for crises fit together into – indeed they helped form – a pattern of love and trust… The couple’s mutual response to stormy times was what gave their marriage its enduring strength. Phillip Yancy