Talking with Angels?

June 25th, 2015
Abraham Lincoln, with the Civil War looming, offered these words in his first innagural address…
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”.
One must love his phrase … “touched … by the better angels of our nature.”
Emanuel Swedenborg wrote about that “touching” by the better angels of our nature.  For him, he found that connectivity centered in three “standards” he wrote of in “Secrets of Heaven” 1680.
    1. Offering our best intentions towards others

    2. Thinking only good thoughts about others

    3. Doing good things for others whenever we can
He believed that these “standards” connected us with angels.  With heaven. Live that way right.  Live that way and we experience heaven on earth, and we talk with angels not with human words but a love born of care.

New Times In the World of Church

June 23rd, 2015

Seth Godin:

Those critical choices you made then, they were based on what you knew about the world as it was.

But now, you know more and the world is different.

So why spend so much time defending those choices?

We don’t re-decide very often, which means that most of our time is spent doing, not choosing. And if the world isn’t changing (if you’re not changing) that doing makes a lot of sense.

The pain comes from falling in love with your status quo and living in fear of making another choice, a choice that might not work.

You might have been right then, but now isn’t then, it’s now.

If the world isn’t different, no need to make a new decision.

The only question, then, “is the world different now?”

Is the world different now?  Yes.  Is the hunger for purpose, for God, for meaning, for comfort, for growth different now?  No.

So change is coming.  And so is the continuity that makes faith faith.


What A Positive Outlook Can Do

June 18th, 2015

It is hard to remain positive.  In light of so much pain, so much chaos, pushing back away from frustration and dispare takes deliberate energy.

That is not to say life is without suffering and the grieving that attends it.  It is to say that context however … the holding as it were … is best embedded in light, not in darkness.  What do those positive emotions bring?

Positive emotions come down from heaven … from heavenly love … which brings life to everything that it touches. (Secrets of Heaven 1589)

We are pone, simply put, to distortions born of negativity. Distorting the world around us in stories that entrap others and entrap ourselves.  It is normal as a pastor to often work with two people in the same family or marriage, each with their own story, each completely believing in the rightness of their cause, and each in a sense then completely “right.”  Those distorions, merged with a negative outlook or “spin”, swirl together, reinforcing the dysfunctions that can quite literally blow relationships apart.

A positive outlook may not solve all the problems of the world.  But what it might just do is help us to change … to change our stories. We all could use a little more benefit of the doubt.  We all could use a smile.

What Am I learning in Kensington?

June 17th, 2015

Quite a journey over the past few years, undertaken with those far kinder and far gentler than I.  What have I learned in Kensington, the neighborhood where most of service has gone this past year?

There are worlds I know nothing of

I grew up rural.  I came of age, professionally suburban. White, upper middle class. Secure. Comfortable.  Issues, tensions around “enough” even though I had/ have plenty.  Far removed from worlds where hunger is real.  Where violence is epidemic.  Where hopelessness seems to hold sway.  And the separation?  A dozen miles or so.

Beneath appearances are people

Walk up to someone, anyone with a smile, some help, and they respond.  Tatoos and all.  They respond.  Consistent gratitude as if we can give them anything but just a nudge that others care.

Addiction is chronic, under-reported, and stigmatized

Less then 80 people a year are attacked by sharks.  In 10 weeks that many die of overdoses to say nothing of those lost to violence and suicide connected to addiction.  Which gets more press, more concern? Google “shark attack north carolina” then google “overdose in kensington.”

God is there

And God is there.  ”The Simple Way” makes sense.  ”St. Francis Inn” makes sense.  ”Angels-In-Motion” makes sense. Walking the Avenue makes sense. God is there.

Duggar, Hasert, Wehmeyer and the Ghost of Sexual Abuse

June 12th, 2015

It was recently made public that Josh Duggar, oldest son, one of 19 siblings, in the hit TLC show “19 and Counting” sexually abused several female members of his family as a young teen.

CNN then recently reported….

“Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert has pleaded not guilty to all charges related to lying to the FBI about $3.5 million he agreed to pay to an undisclosed subject to “cover up past misconduct.”

Hastert was arraigned in court in Chicago on Tuesday afternoon, amid reports he allegedly abused former students.”

And then Minneapolis….

On Friday, Ramsey County prosecutor John Choi leveled six counts at the archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. He accused it of encouraging, causing or contributing to the sexual abuse of three victims by a priest, Curtis Wehmeyer,  in 2010 and 2011.

Each count is a “gross misdemeanor,” and each carries a maximum of one year in prison and/or a $3,000 fine. The complaint focuses on abuse by former priest Curtis Wehmeyer, but it and an accompanying document say his case was just one of many that the archdiocese let slide.

These stories speak to a ghost of sexual abuse that travels through our culture. The impact is devasting, heartbreaking – often lasting quite literally a lifetime.

The fall from grace for those whom we judge should be “better” is dramatic. It makes for news that is hard to turn away from.

There is no way to excuse their actions.

And a warning appears to be prudent.  We need to be leary of the circus around such allegations. Public shaming is, simply put, dangerous business, even when it appears deserved.  It places problem “out there” and “over there” and becomes a convenient, alluring distraction from looking at our own lives and our own communities as we seek to become a healing presence in the world.

The ghost of sexual abuse is deep.  What happened in these three situations … horrific.   Healing comes from a true accounting legally and otherwise for the offenders as well as the best care available for the victims.  And we have our bit to play as well in creating a healing culture, a culture maybe a bit less sexualized, maybe a bit more protective of children.  Lets have that conversation as well.



A Third Way In Lost Times

June 12th, 2015

A faith born of love – the “gold standard” of the spiritual life, an amazing gift from God.

How do we know when our faith is born of love?  (From Secrets of Heaven 1072)

  1. We don’t debate religious truth but affirm it and corroborate it by/ through our life experiences
  2. We let go of what don’t get
  3. We come to understand that what we do get is extremely limited so know it is crazy to say something is untrue because we don’t grasp it

How do we know if we are coming from the opposite?  Coming from a faith divorced from love?

  1. We lack interest in anything besides arguing whether a thing is true and knowing exactly how matter stand.
These are pretty simple lists, speaking to a third way in lost times.  And it points to a task … Let go of the need to be right. Seek God in all things.  Learn to truly love and we find faith.

An Afternoon in Kensington

May 29th, 2015

“Tensions we manage.  Problems we solve.”  I don’t know there are that many problems we ever truly “solve.”  I do know there are ways to manage the many tensions we face both in ourselves and in our communities.

Spent a sunny, hot Wednesday afternoon with an incredible group.  Tagged along.  Their goal … to serve the addicted and homeless in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, arguably the most blighted and drug infested section of our city.   Not there to solve the problem.  But there to shed a bit of light in the form of small care bags, bottled water, sandwhiches, a kind word.  The kind of light Christ asks to walk in, asks us to offer.

Three “rules” for that walk…. (Secrets of Heaven 1844)

  1. Love God
  2. Love Others
  3. Oppose Hatred
Pretty simple.  And a profound way to move through life.

Work and Wait

May 21st, 2015

Perseverance.  A gift.

With all things we love, we can expect those very things to be attacked.  The greater the love, the greater the attack.  That I believe is why so many of us struggle in marriage and struggle with family.  Imagine it this way … hard to get upset about those things where we are at best indifferent.  Easy to get upset about things around which we care a great deal.

Enter perseverance.

Perseverance simply says “Stick with it.”  It calls us to trust in God’s bigger story, in God’s larger truth.  It moves us beyond the fog of emotion, distortion, anxiety, and obsessiveness and simply says “work” and “wait.”

Perseverance brings us home.

The Decline In Christianity And What We Can Do About It

May 15th, 2015

A recent study by the Pew Foundation noted a widely commented on phenomena – that Christianity is declining in the United States.

None of the results of the survey surprise.

So for those who find in Christianity a life giving faith, humbly pointing outward in service, embedded with the ability to not only transform lives but society, what is there to do?

Some would answer – time for church to change. Agreed.  There is much to change.  Andy Stanley’s poignant line, “Most churches are answering questions people are not asking” summarizes neatly the bedrock claim to change. Churches tend to wed themselves to a certain liturgical approach well divorced from the needs of the congregation.  That approach in turn becomes the reason d’etre for the church’s existence as it seeks to define itself not by its interface with the world but by its form of worship.  So churches and the pastors that lead them bear a degree of responsibility to change.

Others would answer – time for parishioners to change.  Time for us to reclaim that Christianity is a religion of service and of sacrifice.  Sacrifice is a hard claim given our cultural penchant for consumerism and a desired “ease-of-use” Christianity where there is little behind the curtain.  Where little is asked and the easiest way to build a church appears to be the greased and easy way of the prosperity gospel.  So parishioners bear a degree of responsibility to change.

And what would I answer?  What do I believe we can do?

Lets live it.  Lets live this faith.

If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. (Matt. 5:41)


Can we trust God?

May 14th, 2015

Obviously, the simply answer is “yes.”

But how?  What does trust look like?  How can we trust when much of our world and much of lives appears so deeply broken?

Maybe part of the answer is understanding trust differently.

Starts, possibly, with this.  Trusting and testing – two different things.  Trusting God is not a matter of laying out our “case” and seeing if God comes through.  That speaks too much of our agenda and leaves too little room for God’s.  It also makes God’s love a completely conditional endeavor.

Trusting is more then a matter of the heart.

Swedenborg, in writing of Christ, held that He completely trusted in an ultimate victory.  However that trust was not built on a case.   It was based on intention. The intention … “salvation of the entire human race … motivated by pure love.”  (Secrets of Heaven 1812)


So trust can be felt, trust can come come alive when we turn, when we recenter our lives around purposeful love.  Recenter our lives on extending care. Extending care out into the world.   A movement away from testing and towards trusting.

There is so much as a pastor for which there are no answers.  And even where answers fail, trust still lives.

 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5