25 “Cues” For The Week That Will Come When You Hear “I just….”

April 20th, 2015

God speaks.  Speaks all the time.  Rarely in the form of the clouds parting and visions of light but often in quieter forms of simple conversation.  This week that means paying attention, paying attention to God’s voice in the voice of others.  It might well come in the form of a quiet request for connection, at times of joy or times of grief, with the words “I just….”

  1. I just can’t handle what is going on in my life.  I need a break.
  2. I just had a baby
  3. I’m just concerned.  I know I will miss this congregation if we move out of state
  4. I just lost my job
  5. I just want some balance in my life
  6. I just miss my child
  7. I just feel like I am done
  8. I just want to feel SOMETHING
  9. I just feel so alone
  10. I just want to be a good person, can’t do it any more, appreciate everything I have, want to find peace within myself, learn to love myself.
  11. I just can’t hold on anymore
  12. I just had a good day
  13. I just like Pizza (:-))
  14. I just want peace
  15. I just feel helpless
  16. I just need a hug
  17. I just need a break
  18. I just want to know why
  19. I just want to know how
  20. I just don’t know how to do this
  21. I just wanted to help
  22. I just need somebody to talk to
  23. I just had hip surgery
  24. I just lost my dad
  25. I just got married
Hear these words.  Pay attention to the clues.  Be the church!

Monica Lewinsky Has Something Important To Say

April 17th, 2015

Monica Lewinsky has something important to say.

We live in an era where technology and the human proclivity to simple cruelty have combined in ways overtly toxic.  And we get to choose differently.

That choice clearly carries with it spiritual overtones as we seek to find ways to love, as we seek ways to embody mercy. That bedrock level of mercy must be the “vital essence” of all truth, the vital core of all we do.  Why?  Because….

If divine truth were all there was, not a soul could be saved, since eternal truths damn everyone to hell.  Divine benevolence, which is merciful, lifts everyone from hell to heaven.  (Secrets of Heaven 1728)

So take a look at her TED Talk.

Have a conversation.  Pass it on.

Grace For The Season We Are In

April 14th, 2015

Thinking much about Peace. How do we discover, uncover, live in Peace?  I love the idea in the midst of broken lives somehow we can find “the grace of the season we are in.”  That peace is discovering grace in that season, whatever season that might be.

Weeks fill this way … moments of deep blessings.  A new baby arrives.  A couple calls about a wedding. A son texts a message of sweet connection. And weeks fill this way… moments of deep breaking.  Someone dies.  A couple calls about divorce.  A daughter texts a message of broken heart.

And if I am honest, I am addicted to one season, and one season alone. Summer.  I crave clear skies and warmth and relaxation. Away.  Away from it all.  Loving only in bounty.  And that is not the truth of human experience, your’s or mine.   Nor is it as much a gift as I would imagine.

All truth is a paradox. Life is a precious unfathomably beautiful gift; and it is impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. It has been a very bad match for those of us who were born extremely sensitive. It is so hard and weird that we wonder if we are being punked. And it filled with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together. (Anne Lamott)

So the journey is to find the God given grace in the season we are in.  That I imagine is more than the silver lining.  More than the “one good thing.”  More than is the glass half full or half empty.  It is grace. In every moment.  God’s good gift.  Sweet and vulnerable.  And somehow always pointing to love.

Always Suffering. Always Winning

April 10th, 2015

Always suffering.  Always winning.  Two “always” that maybe, in some way, form a key to understanding the Christian life.

It is a life of suffering.  Hard for it not to be.  The call is – really is – to place ourselves as outliers within the broader culture. Not as warriors against common culture but, as Shane Claiborne phrased it, as “a peculiar alternative” to common culture.  ”In the world but not of the world.” That means placing ourselves away from the comfort and self-reinforcing walls we tend to erect in our pursuit of what is safe, what is secure. And placing our full and undefended lives in areas of need.

It is life that is always winning as well.  Hard for it not to be.  The call is – really is – to accept that there is bigger plan beyond ours.  And rest there.  Rest in the peace that “passes all understanding”, a peace not based on circumstances but based on a soul-level, grounded peace that simply knows.  Knows God’s presence.  Knows God’s enduring love. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:23)

Words may well fall short in describing how suffering and peace come together.  Maybe all one can say is this … they do.  And that is the holiness of the struggle.

When the Days Are Dark

April 1st, 2015

There are some days of incredible darkness.  Many of us are both saddened and shocked by the losses in our local communities over the past week.  For those unaware, the losses are 3 deaths in less than 5 days.  While full details have not been released all are tragic in their own right.  Involving people who were not directly/ active members of our NewChurch LIVE congregation, they involved pe0ple with very close ties to many in our congregation and specifically to our sister church, the Bryn Athyn Church.

For those impacted, there is little in the way of words to offer at a time like this.  And it is important as Pastor to share some thoughts that will fall short but that are offered, however clumsily, with deep love for those struggling today.

Where is God in all of this?

Events like these are never God’s will. They run contrary to it.  And hell does gets its day on occasion where for reasons we will never fully understand anger, addiction, fear, overwhelm and run wild.  Our greatest and most terrifying gift is freedom and at times we use that freedom in ways that are incredibly damaging.

So God is not in the event per se.  Where God is is in the love, compassion, and support flowing out to all those impacted.  I firmly, to the deepest part of my soul, believe God’s heart is always the first to break.  His tears the first to flow. And our job is to join Him in “healing the brokenhearted and binding up their wounds” (Psalm 147) in our own limited yet beloved way.

So what can we do?

We can take care of each other and the impacted families.  That simple.  We can continually rededicate ourselves to the incredibly hard work of love and healing.

And as we take care of one another, consider ways of serving.  These heartbreaks are one of the universal conditions of our experience of this life.   As such, in face of calamity, it is a time to (a) draw in and (b) reach out.  That is God’s invitation and our responsibility.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
No hands but yours,
No feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which is to look out Christ’s compassion to the world;
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.

Closing Thoughts

In facing tragedies as a Pastor, I so very deeply wish there was a “list”, a prescriptive “list” of how to move through days of incredible darkness.  There is not.  Just some thoughts that might comfort in some way.  And a constant reminder, “When you find yourself in hell, keep going.”

For many, this IS our Easter.  Our time of unimaginable loss especially for the families of the deceased.  And with grace, and patience, God’s healing will find its way to us as we find our way home.

A Middle Space In Building Churches That Is Almost Impossible To Speak Of

March 20th, 2015

There is a middle space in churches that is almost impossible to speak of.  Why an impossibility?  Because in speaking both sides, right and left, will find cause for offense.  And that is both the genius and the dizzying riddle of Christianity.  A third way constantly calling us out of our misaligned binary bent to sort life into this “box” or that “box” and calling into surrender deeply down into love. That surrendered spaces lies between two poles.

Pole #1:

One pole holds all things relative.  A Gnosticism of sorts.  Where every individual is captain and commander, each a final arbitrator of all truth. As Pope Francis phrased it, “…a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience to console and enlighten but ultimately keeps us imprisoned by our own thoughts and feelings.”

I read recently read a review of a book written by a woman unhappy in her marriage.  Her quest for fulfillment became sexual experimentation in all its forms outside of her marriage.  The reviewer, in her closing comment, made a salient point … where do we cross over from “finding ourselves” to increasingly damaging forms “self absorption”?  A good question that we should all in turn answer.

Easy to think of the author’s quest as just her quest.  And in a sense it is.  We muddy waters quickly when we seek to legislate private sexual morality.  However hard to imagine that life as healthy.  Hard to imagine concepts of “family” or “commitment” or “fidelity” or “common good” alive within that particular lifestyle choice.

Pole #2:

And the other pole is, to quote Pope Francis again, “a supposed soundness of doctrine [that] leads to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism whereby instead of evangelizing one analyzes and classifies others … exhausts energy in inspecting and verifying.”

This position … clearly intent on “inspecting and verifying.”  Here we fall in love with church ins-and-outs, not God.  There are refreshing few in formal church circles with whom true dialog is possible.  Just dialog.  Many more are interested in defending their view of Christianity.  Conversion.  Argumentation.  As Seth Godin phrased it … “The narcissism of small differences” … where we pull up differences instead of celebrating common themes.

The Middle Space:

Swedenborgian theology clearly speaks to a third way, as does all enlightened faith, all parts of the church universal.  That third way …. a deft centering on key concepts and teachings – compass points as it were.  A clear call to live them out into the world.  And a deep surrender to the “self-evidencing reason of love.”

And what would that theology offer to the author noted above?  That there is a joy, and a freedom, and a liberation.  A place for one’s soul.  A shining place of deep abiding peace. Heaven. Beyond our worries and concerns and compulsions.  One where our true selves come to life once we open to centering our lives on the better angles of our nature.  A place where God seeks to be as we are opened to the overwhelming miracle of that Presence.

Same facts, different experience. On purpose.

March 5th, 2015

Powerful concept shared by Seth Godin, words guided directly to our freedom of choice…

Same facts, different experience. On purpose.

As a pastor, the overwhelming prayers I am asked to join do not focus on health, or jobs, or even necessarily relationships.  While people ask frequently for these types of joined prayers, the prayer that comes up, repeatedly, is a prayer for peace.

Prayers for peace exhibit a deep knowledge I believe. They seem to acknowledge that there is little in life we truly control.  And, paradoxically there is much in life we truly control.  Maybe this … we control little in the way of events.  We control much in the way of our perspective on those events.

And when we work hard at the humble task of seeing, however dimly, with God’s eyes, eyes more like a child than our own, often … same facts, different experience, on purpose.


The Holy and the Ordinary

March 4th, 2015

With the Easter season starting, I struggle with how to capture its brilliance for those just starting to touch Christianity.   I have heard people say that the miracle is Christ’s resurrection from the dead… that that is the point.  Maybe so.  Others speak of themes more transcendent, more theological … the very saving of mankind.  Maybe so.

Not that these perspectives are without merit.  They are.  They contain great, overarching truth.  But the original 12 disciples did not choose to give their lives to follow Christ because of them.  These events undoubtedly reinforced their call but Easter followed their decision to give their lives in service to the world Christ spoke to.

So how to speak to it all in ways that we can see, really see the miracle?

The miracle for me pulls back to this thread.  At Christmas, we hear of “Immanuel, “God with us.”  At Easter we see “Immanuel”, “God with us.”  A God with us in celebration, gathered around a Passover table, gently washing the disciples feet as a sign of how we are to live and lead.  A God with us in fear and devastating loss, so clearly offering a final judgment on mankind with words beyond what we could ever utter, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.”  A God with us in resurrection, in life born anew with the simple call to “Rejoice.”

Somewhere, “God with us”, calls to this.. that Christ is the marriage of the Divine and the Human.  God with skin on.  The Holy and the Ordinary.  A Humanity at its God-intended best.   A model worthy of following in our own broken ways.  God with us.

Love and Security

February 24th, 2015

Love and security … the same or not?

We know loves importance ….

Love is our vital core. We grow warm because of its presence, and cold because of its absence, and when it is completely gone, we die. (Heaven and Hell 14, Emanuel Swedenborg)

And we know how when love is present, we can settle into a peace, a miraculous peace, a vital core, a peace which as Christ says “passes all understanding.”  It feels secure there.

But there is another security that love is not.  That security remains needy, self serving and clutching.  Churches must work in the space that questions that type of security.

I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out in the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.  I do not want to a Church concerned with being at the center and which then ends up being caught in a web of obsessions and procedures…. More than our fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within  structures which give a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits that make us feel safe…..


Allowing Christ To Make a Claim On Us

February 18th, 2015

An incredibly powerful picture.  One tide breaking against another.  Look at the hands….

And why?  Why were they able to stand there – hands where they were – knowing that what they feared would happen did?

I wonder if this is why … because they understood.  Christ had made a claim on their lives. And they listened.

And it was not the claim of anger.  Not the claim of fear, of “states rights,” of historical memories tight like traps.  It was the claim of love, mutual love. One language … “the common good of all.”  Courage.

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)