Thought for 2019: Learning to Give in New Ways

December 31st, 2018

As 2018 draws to a close today, our thoughts inevitably turn to the year ahead.  And maybe we can hold, on this promising threshold, the beautifully disruptive challenge to learn to give in new ways in 2019.

For context: I struggle, as many people do, with the pressing question of “Am I doing enough?”  Most days, the answer is “no.”  We offer that answer of “no” and people tend to reply back with a loving but I believe ultimately misguided answer “Of course you are!”

That answer “Of course you are!”, though comforting and at times necessary, is not how the world gets better.  Not how we find or offer healing.  Not how we find each other again and again.

The answer of “No, I can do more” if held without guilt, or worry, but instead tenderly held with a smile around the knowing promise that we are presented in nearly every moment the blessed opportunity to choose love and connection, is actually a life giving answer,  focusing, opening us to the moment and away from the score card and the agenda of both misplaced and at times over emphasized self-care.

How do I give more in new ways IN THIS MOMENT?  Now there is a question!

That is not a frenetic, draining search.  It is, in a fascinating twist, a question of faith.  Can we have faith, in the year ahead, that God will place us in the worlds he intends us to heal?  When there, can we have the faith to live fully and completely, giving of ourselves?  Can we have faith in the gifts God will ALWAYS allow to flow, both directions?   Can we have faith, to learn new ways to give?

We can!  And every time we do, the light grows a bit brighter…



Letting the Gifts Flow….

December 18th, 2018

A few days ago, weariness stuck hard.  So many beautiful things over this Christmas Season.  And so much heartache and challenge as well.  The weariness there hits my soul.

And somehow that seems totally appropriate for the Christmas season.  So easy to think of the season as an easy rendition, repeated annually, of “Twas the Night Before Christmas”  but that is not where the biblical story actually starts.  The biblical story starts in far more challenging times than a warm house with children, asleep, awaiting Santa Clause.  It starts with a combination of a hoped-for promise, darkness, and waiting.

The waiting.  There is always this part of the spiritual journey.  This waiting.

The waiting reminds us that this journey with God is a long journey,  A beautiful journey.  And a journey that includes all the twists and turns of life, all the bumps and bruises.

And what then of our roles in waiting?  I think what we can do, simply, is to continue to work on being the gift as best we can.  Can we reach out in our weariness to another?  Can we reach out in our joy to another?  Can we reach?

After all, everyone except for King Herod is on the move at Christmas.  Wisemen, shepherds, Mary, Joseph … all on the move.

So this Christmas, keep moving.  Let Christ be born again in your heart. Let the gifts flow.  Let those gifts, in ways obviously imperfect yet forever blessed, move through you to others.

And have a Merry Christmas!!!!

I personally want to invite you to be part of the church….

December 6th, 2018

This time of year, many of us consider change.  What do we vaguely sense wanting to be born in our lives? Empowered by the simple acceptance of choice come 2019,  what do we want the year ahead to look? Some will consider “church” as part of the hoped-for changes in the year ahead.  That is the person I want to speak to. That is the person I want to invite to this church.

Fr. Richard Rohr captures the invitation so well…

I invite you to sink your roots deep in one place, in one particular tradition, even as you explore the wealth of wisdom to be found in other places. Otherwise you will get trapped in individualism and private superiority without any real testing laboratory in the ways of faith, hope, and practical love. Outside of a concrete community of relationships, you can imagine you are much more enlightened than you really are. Whatever tradition you claim, be open to letting it change you even as you challenge your church or community to also grow in maturity.  Fr. Richard Rohr

So why take up the invitation?

Church will change how you view connection

As Dorothy Day famously said, “We have all known the long loneliness.” Loneliness … a universal human experience. And we know as well, “… that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

We learn here about love, community and connection in a very different way.  Most of our relationships grow out of a relatively confined, narrow demographic band. But in church, the edges of that band expand. It expands, with love, across lines of race, age and socioeconomic status. Church, at its best, eliminates “they” or “them.” It becomes about “us.”

We will, over time, and with the difficult work of stretching our edges, come to know and yes, even to love, people well outside of whatever normal box we tend to traditionally pull our friends from.  And the enrichment in that place is so hard to capture to words

Maybe that is because church creates a new center, a “this-is-what-we-are-for” not commonly found in our broader culture. That is the beauty of New Church Christianity, a faith that at its best, asks us to of course harbor our own individual lives but at the same time to look out, to find brothers and sisters in a new kinship.

Join here and over the years you will make friends from backgrounds totally new to your experience. They will enrich your life in ways too vast to list. You will be better for knowing “them” and in creating a new “us.”

Church will change how you view service

We often confuse activity with effectiveness. We often conflate an opinion with an action. That is not church.

Church instead moves towards a grounded doing, towards a lived moral experience. A simple example: church is more than holding forth on the challenges of addiction. Church instead moves towards working with addicts. Just fill in the blank with cancer, domestic abuse, at-risk teens, foster children, homelessness etc… and you have what churches do.

Join here, and you will go to parts of Philly you have never traveled to before. You will work with others struggling with hope and at times despair through challenges beyond what you have experienced.

You will find in those places good people. Amazing people holding out as beacons of hope in the midst of great struggle. You will leave those places humbled to your core and knowing God in a new way.

Church will change how you see God.

What if this … what if the ultimate reality of life is that life is good and that love is the very foundation of it all. What if our role was to push our selfishness aside and, in the moment of self-forgetting, remember again what is ultimately true, what ultimately matters, what ultimately lasts?

What if God stands on our side?

Join here, and that is what you will hear preached and what you will see lived. You will not hear of a vindictive God, bent on wrath, a threatening “not one step more” God. You will hear of God’s love, of its “no matter what’ness.” You will hear of our need to do our work.

We don’t believe it is, to use a baseball analogy, the bottom of 9th with eternity hanging in the balance. We believe it is top of the 1st actually – and always will be – as we welcome the amazing opportunities in front of us to serve.

The Fine Print Is This

The fine print is simple. Church takes sacrifice, remembering that “to sacrifice” means “to make sacred.” So it takes a willing heart. It takes time. It is not a consumer activity nor is rewarding in the short term.

We are not a special club. We are not here for entertainment.  We are not here just for the weddings or funerals. We are here because we believe deeply in a way of life where we follow, in our own imperfect and halting way, Jesus’ model of how to live with an eye towards others and to the greatest God-given truths known to mankind.

Give the year ahead to church.



It will change your mind about what you value

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 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.
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.
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.

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.


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!