Who Am I?

January 9th, 2018

Most of us I imagine struggle with the concept of identity, struggle with the pressing question of “Who Am I?”

Do we have times where we are sure of identity, firmly planted in a life-giving sense of who we are?  Absolutely.

And yet for many those moments are fleeting, giving way to worry and painful uncertainty.

Deitrich Bonoeffer spoke to those sentiments from a Gestapo prison in Nazi Germany.  And found relief.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

 

Committing to “One More Place At The Table”

January 2nd, 2018

Thinking towards commitment this year and this commitment is one that strikes me as so important to live into…

There will always be one more place the table.

Starting this coming Sunday at 10:30 AM, that will be our first series for NewChurch LIVE of 2018.  And maybe it should hold a primary spot in our hearts as well.

It means a simple revolution, one in which we remember people are not interruptions.

From Father Gregory Boyle….

Gratitude keeps you anchored in the present moment, and we’re saved in the present moment, so I think that’s an essential place to be situated all the time. In being eternally grateful. Delighting…is kind of the flip side of that. That’s the action verb.

It’s being attentive to who’s in front of you.

Somehow transforming interruptions into great adventures. This place [Homeboy Industries] is packed with interruptions. If you can correctly consider them then suddenly they become adventures that are delightful as opposed to things that pull you from your tasks.

So who are we going to gratefully welcome to the table in 2018?  What interruptions can we open to?

There is nothing easy in this per se.  But what joy!

That space is my commitment for 2018.

And imagine, my dear friends, a church where new people feel as soon as they enter … “It was like they were waiting for me all along”, a space where there was always one more place at the table.

One simple question to ask yourself this New Year’s Eve

December 28th, 2017

New Year’s Resolutions are notoriously short lived.

And maybe pointless.

Maybe 2018 could be different … an opportunity to re-orient our lives that bring both more meaning and joy.

To make it different, imagine a subtle shift in questions from “What should I do?” to “What can I offer the world?”

“What can I offer the world?” captures a big old humble question.  I know what I would prefer to offer the world, in my own illusory head – self gifts of imagined value to my ego but of little substantive value to others. Singing a solo, dunking a basketball top that list.

Beneath that however lies a quieter voice, a quieter call to offer grace, peace, and love to the suffering out there in the world.

From that place, “What should I do?” becomes a great deal more clear.

The Lord neither shatters your illusions not stifles your desires. Instead he bends them toward truth and good.  Emanuel Swedenborg

This year, maybe a new focus for all us, a focus on one question, “What can I offer the world?”

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Shine: A Written Christmas Sermon

December 24th, 2017

One of the most beautiful blessings in the Bible runs thousands of years old.

May the Lord bless you and keep you.  May the Lord cause his face to shine upon you and be gracious until you.  May the Lord life up his countenance upon you and bring you peace.

Called the “Levitical Blessing”, I love this blessing for many reasons.  Its rhythm. Its cadence.  And the word “shine.”

The blessing fits well with Christmas.

I imagine my personal favorites of the Advent story – the shepherds – knowing, deeply what “shine” means.

There was a great deal “shining” that night.  A star. An angel.  A “heavenly host.”

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them

And there was this… two parents. A manger. An infant.

Did the baby Lord “shine”?  Yes.  All babies do.  The experience of those shepherds, catching just a glimpse of that baby … holding the prophecy in their hearts … maybe hearing that ancient blessing … maybe hearing the words again anew “May the Lord cause his face to shine upon you.”  Brings tears if we ease ourselves into that place and that time.

From a New Church perspective, life and its greatest perfection is, surprisingly, not thinking. It is perceiving truth in the light of truth.  Hard to imagine a more wondrous light than that night, Christmas Eve.  That light, that night, was not then a thought per se, or an argument, or a proposal of some sort.  It was an infant.  A shining face.  Somehow the truth more perceived than understood.

And how must the shepherds have left that place? That manager in Bethlehem?

Maybe with an acknowledgement of God written on their hearts, now inside of everything they did and said.  The amulet, the Levitical blessing, figuratively no longer on the outside but forged as one with  the best God-given intentions of their hearts. Shining.

And maybe they came to know what it was like to “shine.”

Imagine how the story grows from that point in time on.  Not just Christmas but THE STORY.

A simple example.  An ancient story of God giving his people “manna” in the wilderness to feed them in a time of desperation and despair.   And then Jesus, in a story cast thousands of years later, giving his people “bread and fish” in the wilderness … a never ending abundance.  Christmas is that bridge as it were between the two stories, a bridge between a detached, caring, and apparently often angry God to a Light, God incarnate, God with us, God for us, in flesh and blood, offering very real gifts.  And a model: “…this is the way. Walk in it.

So the story no doubt grew for these shepherds as well.

The Lord enlivens what we know by bringing Goodwill into it. True Christianity 249

Goodwill.  The angels proclamation that night, “Peace on Earth.  Good will to humanity” no doubt became ever more true.

A goodwill growing in their hearts.

  1. Goodwill as a “loving desire to ACT”
  2. Goodwill that passionately wants only “what is best for others.”
  3. Goodwill working itself into all the varied forms of how we serve God and others. (TCR, 388, 408 392)
A goodwill that drives faith.
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And where does this all end up?  Well, we shine.
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Not a light of our ego or our ideas or our plans. But a light born of Christ.  Shining through us.  A light falling on us and others, gentle and generous.
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The Difference Between Sports and Church

December 20th, 2017

I love sports.  Plain and simple.  Love them. Love them. Love them.

And in this day and age, sports have slowly overtaken church as maybe the primary “third place” experience for families. (The other two places being “home” and “school.”)

Is that good or bad … I am not sure.  Certainly a good athletic experience teaches in ways church can’t.  But maybe the reverse is true as well.

One paradigm  goes back to the concept we can form two types of communities … a community of interests or a community of commitments.

A Community of Interests

  1. Formed largely around a desire for success and winning (For a team that never wins it is hard to have a “good” experience)
  2. Includes two parties (Me/ You or Us/ Them)
  3. Requires a connection with like motivated/ minded/ skilled individuals
  4. Requires an evolving mastery of a certain skill
  5. Requires sacrifice on many levels, in which “liking it” ties ultimately to a desired level of success

A Community of Commitments

  1. Formed largely around a desire for meaning and service (For a church that never conveys deeper meaning to life or service, it is hard to have a good experience)
  2. Includes three parties that eventually yield to ONE (Me/ You/ God or Us/ Them/ God which eventually yields ONE)
  3. Requires a connection with similarly committed individuals
  4. Requires a sharing of skills
  5. Requires sacrifice on many levels, in which “liking it” takes a second seat to a core commitment to “just do it.”

Both types of communities are incredibly valuable.  And it is not a binary choice where we must pick either a community of interest or a community of commitments.  Both dovetail in many wonderful ways.

The worry for me is that with social media, youth sports etc… the draw of impassioned communities of interest far outweighs, in this cultural era we live in, the sacrificial beauty of communities of commitment.

Maybe there is more space for “both-and.”

As a Pastor some days it is hard to move a conversation with myself and with others from “What are you interested in?” to “What are you willing to commit to?”

With a big smile, before I turn on ESPN, maybe we can find more interest in commitment.

 

Failure Matters

December 8th, 2017

In a challenging era of adaptive change, where the future of churches arguably relies on the increased growth of a service-oriented centeredness, community, curiosity, and experimentation as opposed to a solely Sunday-oriented theology, congregation, certainty, and tradition, we need to comfortably sit with this … that failure matters.

Working hard enough, embracing change, calling us all back both to the center of our faith and at the same time calling us out into the world … all this means we will fail.

Hopefully failing forward, and hopefully coming to embrace that “failure matters” because the mission matters enough for us to try hard enough that we will be met with failure time and time again.

Failure (and the fear of failure) gives you a chance to have a voice….

Because failure frightens people who care less than you do.

Seth Godin

On the other side of failures lies resilience and discovery.  A “stilling of the waters.”   A peace-filled voice saying in one of my favorite passages of scripture, “This is the Way.  Walk in it.”

Sometimes a Picture is Worth 1000 Words

December 5th, 2017

Sometimes a picture is actually worth a 1000 words.  This picture is…

This is Bill and Carol.  Married 50 years. Celebrating that threshold with friends and family at a church service in Sarver, Pennsylvania, my hometown.

I know this … that at the end of work done well, there is this preciousness, this realization of the very deep goodness of life.   And that “end of the work” circles right back into what is new and alive.

So we gathered that day.  We heard from Billy, from Hank, from Kate.  There was laughter and tears.  Cherished memories. A group blessing.  “All joy is a remembering.” And this sure was that.

How did Christianity Outlast the Roman Empire?

December 1st, 2017

A big question.

By the time of Christ’s death, his followers had been winnowed down, by some estimates, to around 125.

Yet that group grew.  Flourished. Not as revolutionaries and rebels in a military sense but as ambassadors.  Ambassadors to a new way of being.

How did Christianity Outlast the Roman Empire?

  1. Christians just kept telling a better story
  2. Christians just kept living a better story
That story starts at Christmas.
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What does gratitude actually DO?

November 20th, 2017

What Gratitude DOES….

As Thanksgiving approaches with all it deep feelings around gratitude, I have been thinking a great deal about two things.

First, how do we continue to speak to gratitude, to list our blessings, even the one’s that come in broken circumstances?

And second, if we can somehow attach our souls, open our souls to gratitude, how would we then live? In other words what does gratitude DO in our lives?

Imagine a Thanksgiving table…

  • Round I … what are you thankful for?
  • Round II … and what are going to do with that?

Gratitude is an emotion, true. But it is also an action. Powerful to witness those who feel that deep gratitude for the gifts life has to offer, and then in turn move that gratitude out there into the world in all kinds of life giving ways.

If I believe life is fundamentally good … even in the broken places.  If I notice the gifts … even when times appear dark.  Then maybe it is time, with a smile, and with my beloved, to ask what is it that gratitude DOES?

A thankful soul is a giving soul.

Caring vs. Outrage

November 10th, 2017

We are clearly called to care.   As Emanuel Swedenborg noted…

“All spiritual truths focus on caring as their fundamental principle and their aim. The teachings of the church are pointless unless they have caring as their goal…. Worshipping God means living a life of caring.”

And a fine point, a fine line exists between caring and outrage.

Outrage may move us to care.  But outrage is never an end in itself.

Outrage can never take the place of care and the healing actions we are called to take, actions that are the point of it all.

A long, angry tome of outrage on Facebook does little to move the world.  Love in action, however, does.