Archive for August, 2010

Being a Christian does not mean burning the Koran

Friday, August 27th, 2010

It is always empowering to read an article about those who truly practice Christianity.  It is sad to read articles about those who in misguided ways do damage to the essential message of Christ.  Rev. Terry Jones, a pastor who is gaining some notoriety for his commitment to burn the Koran on 9/11, is an example of someone whose words damage that essential message of unconditional love.

One can view scripture in many ways.  One can create a loving, merciful compassionate God.  One can create an angry, vengeful God as well.  I recall listening to the authors of the “Left Behind” series as they discussed their view of a “slaughtering Jesus.”  Still a head-scratcher for me.

I believe deeply that is why Jesus living on this earth is so critical,  why the concept of the Divine Human is central to Christian New Church theology.  One simply cannot find the cruel Jesus in the New Testament.  This is Man who never carried a sword.  This is a Man who never set aside a foreign faith system as being “of the devil.”  This is a Man who quietly talked the crowd into putting down stones ready to be cast at a sinner, not a demagogue inciting the crowd to pick up stones in vengeful hate.

One can takes words out of context to cobble together an angry Jesus.  What one cannot do is look at the context of His entire life – words and actions – and come up with anything but a deeply loving merciful God.  This is not a God who burns Korans.  There are rooms for grey at times.  In other areas of our life there are not.  This is one of the later. Being a Christian does not mean burning the Koran.

Dig one deep well. Not many shallow ones. (Gandhi)

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Faith is often an intensely person experience.  It also atrophies when undertaken as a purely solo flight.

One can absolutely count on a formal church letting one down.  Imperfect human beings – including you and me – populate all religious institutions.

This makes it hard to stick with a formal religious organization.  The disappointments will come making it hard to take root in one place long enough to “dig one well deep.”

So why “stick”?  Because we need that deep well.  Because part of the digging is moving through the inevitable disappointments that all man-made institutions give rise to.  Because one deep well might not seem that important in times of plenty but is critical in times of drought.

This is part of why faith is so deeply counter-cultural.  We play by a “winner’s script” in which we often give the rather trite advice, when faced with disappointments, to do “what you feel like doing.”  I am a big advocate for feelings, for emotions.  I also cringe when I hear that advice being glibly dispensed.  I work with people all the time who suffer from wounds because they or someone they know did what they “felt like doing.”

Maybe that is again the power of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.  Jesus was asking His 12 disciples – dig one deep well.  Don’t be afraid.  Stick with your feelings and move through them.  There is a spring – eternal water – for those who can remain in one place long enough to dig.

How do people know if you are Christian?

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

How do people know if you are a Christian?  Most of us, who count ourselves Christian, immediately reply, “Because I believe that …”  We complete the sentence with our particular spin on Christian dogma.

In so answering we miss Christ’s essential message.  Christianity, as Christ lived it, clearly held to certain theological perspectives but He never defined His ministry that way.  He defined His ministry with ortho-praxis (right action) vs. ortho-doxy (right thought).

Sadly, even within New Church Christianity we define ourselves more often by our doctrinal perspectives than by our impact on the world.  Imagine if we were every bit as much moved by the unfolding disaster in flood ravaged Pakistan as we are about internal concern around forms of ecclesiastical governance.  Even if all the governance issues were “solved” would we be then living a truly exemplary Christian life?  Doubtful.

We often I fear confuse ends and means.  Why did God give us doctrine?  To allow us clarity of thought.  What is clarity of thought?  Clarity of thought is the bringing of consequential faith to the world in ways that heal, not divide.

We can do better.  The world groans for answers, the world groans to touch the face of God.  If what Christians offer is a highly politicized view of faith, we simply have missed the boat.  Who wants to be part of that?  What part of us enjoys that form of drama?  How does that grow the consequential faith that Jesus calls us to?  How is that the second coming in our hearts and minds?  Drama may be entertaining.  It is consequential – just not the consequential we might want or that God calls us to.

How do people know if you are Christian?  They know it by how you live – which is good news and bad.

These are God’s gifts. Lets start there.

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Important to “right size” ourselves in relation to God.  Given our humanity and western minds, it is easy to think that of course the answer must be bi-nary, an either or.  Either we are all powerful, it is all about us, or we are nothing, completely passive beings given to life.

What if we “rightsized” ourselves through the simple concept that these are God’s gifts.  Lets start there.  I imagine many of us have experienced the unexpected gift – the $50.00 tucked in a birthday card.  Do we “worry” about that $50.00?  Do we spend ours thinking of how to preserve it, how to make it grow?  Do we spend a great deal of time obsessing about that gift reflects us?  Probably not.  Most I imagine think about how to use it.  That is where gift leads us.

There is a way in which when I look at my God-given gifts, if I hold them as gifts, that my clutching ego at least for a moment lets go and allows thoughts about how to use what I have been gifted in.  It is my job to employ it.  This is the New Church concept centered around “as of self.”  I do it “as of self” knowing it is a God given gift, knowing it is not mine.

What is possessively “mine” tends to be used for less than altruistic purposes.  What is God’s I can freely offer because that gift is beyond my own need for credit or blame.

Joy Beyond Understanding

Friday, August 20th, 2010

The goal of faith, in a certain sense, is joy, hence the Gospel or “Good News.”  Good news does bring us joy.  That bringing of joy however occurs in a different way then we might expect.

When we sit with those in pain, we occupy a sacred place.  Part of that sacredness in my experience has been that in that silent place lies seeds of joy.

As one author noted, we live straddling the line of detachment and attachment.  Christianity is about attachment.  From a New Church perspective that means connecting with God by connecting down to the even mundane tasks before us.  In a sense then everything becomes sacramental.  Talk about attachment!  That being said, there must be a balance – living by one truth at the expense of more sophisticated, mature, rounded view is dangerous stuff.  Detachment brings about balance, allowing for a more rounded view to evolve.  How could we ever make a stand in our life without in a sense learning both the mystery of attachment and the mystery of detachment?

Sitting with those in pain demands that attachment and detachment.  The pulling in and the pushing out – the breath – all part of the dance.  Anger is met with remorse.  Saddness met with joy.  Despair with grace.

That is why joy is beyond understanding.  It is the richness of depth – of joy – that evolves from those who have walked that path.  Their joy is thick and tempered, buried in a deep loam rich with the smell of earth.

Trusting Those Who Have Faced It

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Simply put, I trust those who have faced serious challenges in life more than those who have not.  This statement is not a value judgment. Those who have not been pushed to various thresholds will be pushed there at some point.  Until that time, however, I really do put more trust in those who have come up against it.

Richard Rohr pointed this out. “You can’t know this merely by study or theology or religion, but only through painful encounters with the living God where you feel like you are dying and yet you do not die.  Then you experience another kind of life, another kind of freedom.”

As humans, I think on a certain level we intuitively know this.  In a way it is the very appeal of Christianity.  As one minister said, the suffering of Christ is what, for him, makes belief possible.  On another level, we do not believe that those who have led fallen lives have much to offer.  I know for myself to be true.  I spend endless amounts of time fishing about for the most comfortable, the least disruptive way forward.

From a New Church perspective, this process of “facing it” is called “vastation” in some of the older translations of New Church theology.  It is the trial by fire in which we feel we “are dying but do not die.”  Some of us face it here.  Others in the next life.

I have a dear friend.  Many broken relationships. Struggling with alcohol.  He is not sober.  He is not humble.  And if I was a betting man, he may end up being the most spiritual person I know.  I can see the light around the edges.

Toxic:

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

In October we are doing a series called “Toxic.” It focuses on handling the “Hazardous Materials” in our heads – thoughts and concepts that actually get in the way of connecting with God and with others.

Examples so far include being told “Don’t have too much hope.” Other examples were around overly idealistic views of life that left no room for making mistakes.

What would it be for you?

Strangers

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Ever feel like a stranger?  That feeling of being a stranger – being “estranged” – shows up in many arenas.

Today in discussing this topic, it was surprising to hear the universality of that experience.  AND, it shows up in places where one would not expect it.  For example, feeling like a stranger in a foreign land is easy to understand.  But, most of us go through times where we feel a stranger even within our own families.

What if that moment, that moment of being the “stranger” was the gift?  What if that were the place where spiritual growth started?

That is certainly what happened in the life of the Jewish patriarch Abraham, a man who felt like “a stranger in a strange land”, and who went on to become the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

I cannot explain the chemistry of this transformation, but those who have gone through know it to be true.

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

This past weekend we looked at baptism.  As a sacrament, it holds many “mysteries” of transformation. How is that an ancient ritual, 1,00′s of year old, can in any sense be “holy”?  In the fast paced world in which we live, how can it be “moving”?

I would love to be able to answer these questions and, I can’t.  What I know is that at a baptism I am left feeling that we are standing in a holy place, that we are a witness to a thing far larger than the actual moment.  There is little explaining the chemistry of the thing.

I woke this morning to read a deeply moving profile of the 10 Civilian Aid Workers killed in Afghanistan.  Many traveled to Afghanistan as part of they felt was their Christian ministry.  As one individual said, they traveled there not to be the “mouth” of Jesus but to be His “hands and feet.”  How do you put words there?  Read the article – I don’t know that we can.

What I do know is that people like those 10 make my sacrifices for a Christian life seem small.  What I know is that they underwent a “mystery of transformation” I can at best glimpse at this point in time in my life.

Who is the Devil?

Friday, August 6th, 2010

The “devil” is not a fallen arch-angel ruling over the minions of hell.  More accurate to think of the devil as obsessive self love.

In the New Church we do believe in a heaven and a hell – places where we make our eternal home, a decision we make based in turn on our character.

Individuals in hell are obsessed with evil and the resulting illusions.  Individuals in heaven are driven by desire to do what is good and resulting recognition of what is true.   Maybe that is why we can smile in a sense.  Yes, we harbor obsessive thoughts pointing towards a fallen self.  And, yes we likewise harbor a deep desire to live a life of service, meaning, and compassion.

My money is on God winning the day!