How do we love God?

April 13th, 2016

Loving God, at one level is incredibly esoteric. “Wu Wu” stuff as my friend would say.  How do we love something that often appears to our dim human eyes distant, disembodied, contentious even?

Emanuel Swedenborg offered this:

Loving God “does not mean loving God for the image he projects but loving the good that comes from him.  Loving the good is intending and doing it.” (Heaven and Hell, 15)

Restated, there are these good things that come from God – the good stuff – the good stuff often even in the midst of the hard stuff.  God’s love made real into the world. Seen, heard, witnessed, experienced, shared.

Our job – to love God.  Which means placing our intention behind that good stuff and DOING IT.

In ways hard to describe that aligns our best intentions with God’s loving intentions.  Or more accurately, it uncovers in our soul those loving intentions gifted from God – God’s and ours at the same time.

We can see that all over.  A recent story featured the photograph below of a group of fast food workers joining a woman in prayer who had shared with the cashier that just a few hours before she had lost her husband.   Humanity at its best.  God’s loving work among us and through us. A picture that answers in some small way, “How do we love God?”

 

 

 

The Allergic Reaction to the Word “Sin”

April 12th, 2016

Many struggle with the word “sin” a word often drawing an immediate connection with the word “guilt.” Raised in cultures steeped in those two descriptors, descriptors used to capture what some churches see as the generalized plight of humanity, many simply choose to leave church altogether.

So how can we hold “sin” in a healthy way?  An important question because there is indeed such a thing as sin.  People do do horrible things to others ranging from abuse to terrorism. So we have to talk about it.  The question becomes how.

Alan Mann offers some interesting perspectives, ones closely aligned with New Church theology.

From his perspective, while the word “sin” clearly creates an often negative reaction, we almost all universally share a sense of estrangement, a sense, a knowledge that we are failing to live fully into the lives God intended for us.

Life is relational.  Loving God and loving others functioning one and the same.  So sin is relational.  Sin is what obscures and damages relationships with God and with others.   Those damaged relationships feed very readily into those feelings of a core estrangement, a sense of lostness.

Christianity offers a way out.  Not in terms of transaction where Christ becomes the sacrifice for all sin.  Instead in terms of seeing in Christ, God incarnate – as the human embodiment of the Divine – seeing God in a focused way that we can in our small and broken ways emulate. A loving, functional model we can follow in that search to come into our fullest humanity, living life as God truly intended.   That comes right back to this key bit – Christ does not ask us to worship him but instead asks us to follow him.

Healing and reconciliation can occur there – in the following – remembering that the issue is always with us, not with God. We are forgiven instantly by God.  Our role however is to “come right” in ourselves, to live more fully into the lives we were intended to live, regaining a sense of inner coherence in our lives, one married to the best angels of our nature.

God’s help in this endeavor is His spirit moving among us and through us. “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)  Spirit and Breath – the same words speaking to that amazing movement God in our journey.

Wisdom then comes to be “written not on our memories but on [our] lives.” (Divine Love and Wisdom, 427)

All of this leads to a different view of  the word “sin.”  It does not leave the word devoid of meaning.  What it adds to the word is a context – a context of sin clear about the fallen parts of our nature that harm others and, at the same time, a context embedded in healing, embedded in a sense of humble empowerment, of grace.

 

 

Loss

April 7th, 2016

Loss often sneaks up on us. “Out of nowhere” as Dr. Dan Gottlieb put it … that “Out of nowhere” we all come to regard with dread.

And this is what I know….

Life fills with “thin places” as the ancient Celts put it, places where the spiritual world and natural world work themselves together in tangible, knowable moments.  Death of those we love places us there – right there – in thin places.

Nothing easy in that place, filled as it is with sadness and grief.

But somehow we find each other there. We see each other.  Reminded again of how deeply our loves matter, each to the other.  Woven together.  It is not a way out of the pain. But a way forward with it.

 

To be there differently

March 30th, 2016

Much of Christianity, in ways hard to grasp, asks us to allow in the suffering of others. To permit their suffering access into the tidy arrangements of our lives and in so doing allowing us “to be there differently.”

The recent bombing in Lahore bring that great unsettling truth to mind. A suicide bomber attacking a family carnival. Over 70 killed, Over 200 injured. Such events should matter.

The attack itself is hard to imagine.  Hard to imagine someone so tragically warped by a misguided view of God they would purposefully kill innocent families in the name of faith. Hard to imagine the shattering loss those families must feel.  Hard to imagine those traumatized children who experienced that bombing and survived.  What cracked imprint will that event leave in shaping their future lives?

So what can we do?  Maybe for now, we can simply let that suffering into our hearts.  Allow it purchase.  Not to immobilize us with fear or worry. But to humbly say yes to God – a brokenhearted God –  in new ways.  Ways born of suffering.

“To say yes … is not withdrawal from the struggles of the world.  But it is to be there differently.” (Walter Breuggemann)

 

 

 

Gathering and Things Larger Than Us

March 25th, 2016

We gathered last night, Thursday, to celebrate what is known traditionally in Christian circles as “The Last Supper.”  It is a simple sacrament, often called “Holy Supper” or “Communion”, that marks Christ’s last meal with his followers before his death at the hands of the Romans.

It is a very contemplative, prayerful, blessed time.

So we gathered.  We shared the hardness of recent goodbyes. Many tears. Many laughs. We read from Scripture. We prayed.  We asked for prayers. And we were blessed.

These moments are “perfect” in ways that are challenging to capture in words.  Constant reminders of the power of connection, joyous reminders of things larger than us.

A Faith Amidst Changing Times

March 15th, 2016

There are few who write so well of changing times as Walter Breuggemann. In re-reading some of his material there is an uncomfortable foreshadowing around our current challenges….

We are witnessing the demise of patterns of power and patterns of meaning that have been seen as eternal….. There is a deep loss [then] among us that gives way to deep anxiety and that produces deep resentment…. The outcome is a fearful hollowness at the center.

Striking, accurate lines.

And yet we shrink from candid talk of either this deep sense of loss or of the impending newness and the challenging arrangements it may herald.  What we tend to focus on is scapegoating, fear mongering, moralizing.  None of which I would argue will ever feel quite right given their grounding in anxious, pervasive fear and a mistaken certainty.

So churches, maybe be this … maybe speak to this…. Re-imagination.  Shared horizons.  A third way navigating forward and between anger and apathy. A cosmic statement of “being for” – FOR some thing.  For love and service and humanity. “Away from hard, dismissive indifference to compassion.”  It is the way, I believe, modeled by Christ.   Followed by many.

Finding faith amidst changing times by simply living it.

A Fusion of Horizons

March 8th, 2016

The softer, more powerful Christian spirituality that can come to color worlds is, as one author phrased it, “a fusion of horizons.”

A fusion as in something we all look towards, shoulder to shoulder.  A direction.  A horizon. A journey. One that implies movement, hope and blessing. One concerned about the other as well.

What flips here is movement away from a need for control centered on our own myopic self absorption. What grows is “a love of service not for the sake of ourselves but for the common good.” (Divine Love and Wisdom, 424)

That is actually a very, VERY soft place.

 

A Bigger Story

March 4th, 2016

Our dominant narrative tends towards three things… (Walter Breuggemann)

  1. Self Invention
  2. Competitive Productivity
  3. Self Sufficiency
Christian narrative – far different. An “alternative practice of reality” in which we agree to actually hurt, to actually sacrifice, to experience re-aligned joy and purpose, to meaningfully connect one with another outside of the normal confines of ordinary life, to serve.  A call to new horizons and new possibilities growing, with love and care, among us.
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To that constant drumbeat of “more”, a simple counter, beautiful, restful “enough.”

The Storm

February 25th, 2016

We have devised many ways to push past the challenges of life. But storms…

… the storm is not so easy. The storm produces a more elemental anxiety, a sense of deep anxiety because you cannot touch it anywhere or handle it or measure it or hold it. (Walter Breuggemann)

And much feels like a storm to me.  Striking yesterday to read this post by Father James Martin

Over the past week I’ve posted pieces on Justice Antonin Scalia, Sister Helen Prejean and Father Michael Pfleger, each of which has received an avalanche of hateful ad hominem comments. (E.g., and I quote, “I hope he fries in hell,” “She’s not even a real sister” and “He is a disgrace to the priesthood.”) Needless to say, you should feel free to disagree with any of these people, and with me too, but not to spew hate. And, by the way, comments like these are not only hateful, but usually banal. So unoriginal. And I often wonder if these people would have the guts to say these things if they weren’t hidden behind fake FB profiles, or had to say them to their faces. So I have a new rule: If you post any hateful comments (and I don’t mean disagreement, which is fine, but truly hateful talk) you’ll be not only deleted but permanently banned. I’ve been doing that for the past few days anyway. Because it’s pretty clear to me that people who do it once, do it over and over. I have zero time for hate.

I applaud his comments. The storm does feel so much larger. Politcal conversations more shrill and vindictive.  More talk of “battle lines being drawn.”  More disasterously easy divisions between “this” OR “that.”  Simply put, more hateful, apparently caught between between secular self-indulgence and frightened moralism.

That simply is not where Christianity moves.  Our shared movement is one of a peculiar, reaching orientation towards the other, towards peace, towards forgiveness and mercy and humility.

When does it change? When we decide it does. That simple. And that difficult.

 

Forgiveness: A Guest Blog By Chris Dunn

February 18th, 2016

On Forgiveness________

I’ve often contemplated Alexander Pope’s quote, “to err is human, to forgive: divine.” What an authentic description of the often raw, tragic and beautiful state of our relationships. “To err” really is human, and if you’re like me, it happens more than you’d like to admit. Yet in our shortcomings we are called to a deeper, more profound place: forgiveness. This isn’t just about forgiving the sins of others, but forgiving ourselves as well. That’s divine. That is the way.

I met Holocaust survivor Eva Kor several times, only after her story of radical forgiveness transformed me. There was a chapter of my life marred by intense pain, darkness and disdain for others who wronged me. Each day that went by was another opportunity to crawl deeper into the abyss, further down the hole. And then on one particular morning, my life changed forever. Through a church sermon I learned that there was a path out of this despair, and directly towards healing. That pastor recalled the life of a Holocaust survivor that decided to forgive the Nazis, thus breaking free from the agonizing shackles of victimhood. This was my clarion call.

 

Desmond Tutu once said that “until we can forgive the person who has harmed us, that person will hold the keys to our happiness.” This has nothing to do with the other individual(s), and everything to do with ourselves. Perhaps the most essential aspect of that choice is its holiness. Absolutely no one can take away your freedom to forgive. To heal. That is a sacred gift you always possess. Divine.

If you’re struggling to either forgive another or forgive yourself, I want you to know that you’re not alone. That pain is woven into the fabric of the human experience. Yet there is a way to move forward. There is hope. It starts with a simple willingness to shed that pain, followed by the acceptance that in forgiving we take back control of our lives.

Here is the link to view Eva’s testimony on radical forgiveness.

http://livestream.com/newchurchlive/events/4749739