Archive for October, 2010


Friday, October 29th, 2010

We recently completed the work on the series “UTurn.” It is easy to think of that in rather simplistic terms – the epiphany, the immediate realization of the reality of all life – leads to the immediate “UTurn.” That seldom occurs though. For most, UTurns are gradual.

Striking to consider that in the first 1,000 years of Christianity, Cathedrals incorporated Labyrinths into their architecture.  These were not mazes per se but winding paths all within a circle.

Labyrinth at Chartres

Miraculous!  How many “UTurns” can you count? Why was this image seen as so central to the Christian message?   What was it supposed to be telling us? What are the implications of it today?  Can such an image build compassion, for ourselves and for others?  What does it say about the mind of God?  What does it say about Divine Providence?

From the Directors of The Academy in Manayunk

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

To all who shared your thoughts with us after the service:

The song from the Broadway play Wicked really speaks to the feeling we came away with from your service.  People come into our lives for a reason…..and we find that we have been changed for good.  Our daughters changed our lives for good in the most positive of ways.  They are the true pearls of our lives along with our sons who have supported them and our loving husbands.  After the service you shared your experiences of raising children with learning differences and some of you shared your personal experience as an adult who continues to work hard to overcome reading and writing challenges. Your stories touched us.

As we write this message to all of you, we are on our way to present at the International Dyslexia Association Conference  in Phoenix (IDA).  It is our mission at AIM~Academy In Manayunk in Philadelphia to share with other teachers, parents, and professionals all that we have learned along the path of our journey with our daughters, Colleen and Morgan.  Our staff will be sharing best practices in reading and writing while also sharing the unique partnership that AIM shares with Saint Joseph’s University called the Teacher Scholar program where recent graduates complete a year-long teacher residency program at AIM while learning the latest research-best practices and assessments in learning disabilities.  The conference will reach out to over 1500 professionals.

We want to share the next leg of our journey and ask you to join us in conversation as to how we can make a greater difference in our region.  Those of you who heard our story on Sunday know that we started in a little school building in Philadelphia with just 24 children.  Today, we have 145 students with our first graduating class slated for June, 2012.  We have outgrown our two rented parochial schools for our children and hope to move into a facility in Conshohocken on River Road called River Park 2 (link virtual tour).  There is much to be done and our capital campaign will determine if our dreams will come true. We are clearly excited for our children and their families as we would have room to grow our school to 250 children.  Utilizing our Lab School model, the goal is to establish an AIM Institute for Learning and Research where our children will thrive and grow and where university interns, student teachers and teacher residents can learn side-by-side with our talented teachers.  We plan to expand our teacher training programs.  Last year AIM provided 500 teachers with courses in reading, writing, math and language development.

We were so moved by the Producing Pearls program that we would welcome the opportunity to reach out to your community to build linkages with Bryn Athyn College and your students.  For every child who cannot read, it diminishes our society.   Every day in our country, 7000 students drop out of school.  We can make a difference if we work together to share our talents and our passion.

If you would like to reach out to us to begin a dialogue about how we can work together or bring these best practices to educators and parents in your area, please let us know.  Our plans for the future include putting more and more of our trainings on-line including developing research-based videos for parents.  You can contact us at our email addresses: Pat Roberts ( and Nancy Blair (  Our website at has information about our school, tutoring center, and our training center.  We look forward to sharing our news from time to time on your facebook page as we continue our journey to improving education for all children, our radiant pearls.

The Hole: Observations from a Parishoner

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Thanks for the great message today.  I really enjoyed the mixed service, the guests, and the message.  I chuckled when you said we all looked silly out there…we did, but I know that you can’t see us either, smile.  I could certainly relate to the hole or holes.  I have spent my entire life trying to fill a hole.  Fortunately the hole or holes have gotten way, way, way smaller and fewer and I continue to find better ways to fill them but there seems to be one, that in the one you spoke of, that one so deep, right to the heart and soul of our very essence and being.  I loved the hole piece as a porthole, a conduit, for our true selves to get out – now there’s a positive spin!  hmmm.…

As someone in recovery, I finally understand what peole in recovery in 12 step rooms mean when they say they are a “grateful recovering _________”.  I get that.  It is my addictions and destructive/compulsive behaviors that brought me back to the Lord.  So I am grateful.  Ii is truly my addictions and compulsions that have brought God into my heart and life.  I loved how the hole turned into “Okay”.  It is okay.  With God, it will be okay.  It has been since early summer, in a meditation …, my grandparents, my Angels, came to me as I reached out to them in my relapse and they told me “Everything is going to be okay.”  It was a spiritual awakening for me.  A calmness came over me.  I was able to surrender at a deeper level after that.

I have abstained from binging and purging since then, so by the grace of God it has been just over 4 months now, free from the bondage of those insane eating behaviors.  My recovery is far from perfect, but now, when I slip or mess up, I tell myself and my sponsor and God, well, that’s not okay, but that’s okay. And when I’m in a bad place and  I’m not okay,  that’s okay….

So I loved that message.

Thoughts from a Teacher of Special Needs Students

Monday, October 25th, 2010

In all my 19 years of teaching, I am always amazed at the things I learn from my children and their families.  It has been quite a journey that I believe has made me stronger in every aspect of my life.  Through my interactions with my students, I have learned to be a little more patient, a little more open-minded and a little more flexible. Even though I have my ways of doing things, there ARE other ways to accomplish a task…I’ve been a little more humbled.  I’ve learned to be a little less judgmental and to be more accepting.  I’ve also learned how to love a little more, to laugh a little more and even to cry more openly…I’ve learned to live in the moment.

Do I get frustrated?  Absolutely!  There are days when I want to scream and pull my hair out…my patience has been tested to the limit.  I then ask myself, “Why am I doing this?  I can’t do this anymore!”  No sooner do those words leave my lips when something AMAZING happens…a non-verbal child begins making tons of great sounds while playing…a little girl who is unaware of most things in her environment makes eye contact with you from across the room, walks to you and reaches up for a hug.  It’s moments like these that touch my heart forever.

Not everyday will be easy.  One of the toughest things and perhaps something that holds us back is our expectations…we all have expectations for ourselves, our children and of people and events in our lives.  Our expectations may not always be met and that is such a difficult thing to deal with…the disappointment, the let down, the anger and the frustration.  But if we continue to live our lives in the disappointment, sadness, anger and frustration of that moment, we are missing out on all the little, amazing moments that occur around us each day…we are missing out on life, missing out on our children.

To live your life through the eyes of a child is to rediscover the world, to relive the wonder and awe all around us…it really is discovery.  What an awesome journey to take with you child!  The road may not always be easy but well worth the effort to be there…really be there with our children.

Just remember that we ALL have greatness.  We are NOT our flaws.  No matter our age, shape, size abilities or challenges, we have greatness.  So our job is not to wonder “what if” in terms of what you don’t have but rather to wonder “what if” in terms of what could be.

Loving Atheist Friends

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

I work with a lot of folks who are trying to reconnect with faith, having given it up for dead, others who never had it and now are finding it, and those who remain atheist yet really love the community aspects of NewChurch LIVE and involve themselves for that reason.  I love the mix.

Rumi’s quote that there is a field beyond right and wrong and “I will meet you there”  carries a great deal of wisdom.  I think we do faith a disservice by making it solely about “belief.”  Always incredible, as a Swedenborgian, to consider that the biggest threat before us is not atheism but believers who keep their faith as a “head only” thing, aka “faith alone.”

What does this mean to me?  Justice – my best understanding is that justice is the divine design and our job is to find those areas that have fallen out of that design and bring them back into congruity with it.  (almost direct quotes)  Yet faith, as I experience it, gets boiled down to questions of gender and sexuality.  I witness huge amounts of energy expended debating homosexuality, the role of sex etc…..   Not that these are unimportant topics to discuss but the bulk – as in 99.99% of Jesus’ message is somewhere else – and that 99.99% is not about “belief.”   (Example … what is the #1 command in the bible according to the # of times it is said?  “Fear not” – speaking to the dangers of fear and the chaos it creates.  When was the last time you heard that topic on a talk show?)

That somewhere else was what Rumi spoke of.  It is the appeal  of Dali Lama.  For me, it is where Swedenborg was pointing as well – to the deepest core of Christian messages which is taking care of each other – something far greater than belief, something that Jesus, even if one just holds Him as an amazing human sans any divinity, lived.

That is the common ground around which great things can be built.  Our world cries out, I think, for really looking at topics like Justice.  The atheist perspective is critical in that regard.  As one author put it, atheists help people (and have helped me) to get clear on the god not to believe in.   Compassionate belief centered on consequential faith may add something to the atheist perspective as well.

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

NewChurch LIVE Partnership Agreement

I  want to become a Partner in this Church.   As such I understand that the call to Partnership is sacred.   I understand it is sacred because it calls for certain levels of sacrifice.  That sacrifice must always be with an eye to the greater good, in a spirit of loving kindness towards God and my fellow humanity.

1.   Support the core Christian New Church mission of NewChurch LIVE as a vehicle for both serving broader communities and those who find a home in this congregation

2.   Volunteer time to support broader communities and NewChurch LIVE

3.   Develop a disciplined spiritual life through the work that leads to joy

4.   Financially support NewChurch LIVE in order to create a healthy church environment able to serve others



Memorial Service for Elsie Allen

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

We gather here today to celebrate the life of Elsie Kerth Allen, “Gram.”  Imagine for a moment the world that Elsie saw.  She was born at a time when Civil War veterans populated the area.  She grew up during World War I and was well along life’s journey during World War II.    She saw the “invention” of television, interstate highways, cell phones, and calculators.

Over those years certain things remained very important to her.  Graduating in 1932 from Ursinus College with a degree in education, teaching children obviously was a great joy to her, a means of authentic service.  Her true joy though centered on her family.

“Gram” deeply loved her husband Nels, son Tom, grandchildren and great children many of whom join us here today.  That love could be somewhat mischievous at times. Recently Elsie’s granddaughter applied for a position to work at Harrah’s and they called Elsie’s home.   Elsie later relayed to her granddaughter that they called her because she applied for the job too.

She loved smaller things as well. The dogs.  Chocolate.  Gin with a splash of water.  Volunteering at the library.  Plays and orchestra.  Watching the fireworks display from the backyard.

And, as is true with all human beings. Elsie was not without a more curmudgeonly side.   She was a not fan of change, bugs, winter, doors left open, interruption while watching Philly teams, or anything that blocked her view.  She also found the inevitable slowing down with age and the resulting limits on mobility to be hard.

And as is often true with those with streaks of being difficult, underneath lies a deep faith.  We began the service reading from her two favorite Psalms.  One spoke of the Lord as a Shepherd, the other the Lord as a keeper.  That deep channel of faith no doubt saw her through an incredibly long and productive life.

Imagine.  Imagine what Elsie is waking to right now.  No longer limited by a body slowed and constrained by age, she is returning to youth.  Maybe even returning to family and friends who passed before her.  Death is nothing more than a transition – from this life to the next.

In that life God – her Shepherd and Keeper – will seek to bless the truest of intentions Elsie knew in this life.  He will breathe life into her core desire to help, to serve, to protect, to love.  Those parts of Elsie’s life will know new life as Jesus gently centers her into the core of her true self, her true being.

And she will be with you, her beloved family.  Death is really a very thin place – the line between the world and heaven – a very thin place.  Our job is to welcome the best parts of her spirit into our lives – that thought will bring her presence.  God gave her to you because there were unique lessons He believed she could share.  He gave you to her for the exact same reason.  What are those valuable lessons for you?  Give life to them.   Give intention to them.

In that way maybe we come to understand that an incredible truth – one that can, thankfully, shatter the very illusions we toil under.  Death.  The truth is we are beyond death on this journey.   One of Elsie’s favorite quotes spoke to this using the words of the poet Robert Frost.  “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It goes on.”

So let our lives go on.  Let the sadness of this day remind us of the dearness with which we hold one another.  Let the joy of her memory remind us of what life can be.

God’s love seeks our awakening.  True, since this awakening implies a kind of death to our exterior self, we will dread His coming in proportion as we are identified with this exterior self and attached to it.  But when we understand the dialectic of life and death we will learn to take the risks implied by faith, to make the choices that deliver us from our routine self and open to us the door of a new being, a new reality.  Thomas Merton

Falling Through Your Life Situation to Your Life

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

The false self – the ego, the proprium – is the tiny, petty, unconnected self.  And yet for most of us, we identify that as our true self.

The true self is far deeper.  It is our inmost, the place where God stores much of that Divine Spark that is His gift to us.

The journey to that place I read of many times growing up in the New Church.  It was a journey encapsulated in the admittedly awkward wording from Emanuel Swedenborg’s theological works – good from truth, then truth from good.  Later, the great wisdom in what is almost undecipherable words became apparent.

When young, we live largely in that false self.  We learn “stuff” and that “stuff” teaches us to care.  But do we actually “care”?  Usually not.  Usually here it remains at the pure theoretical.  When we do care, that care is very much driven by the false self for its own purposes.  Not that that is bad – it is a start.

But time wears on and God, in ways largely hidden from our view slowly flips the perspective.  Eventually our locus of control moves from our head to our heart.  At that point – truth from good – caring, loving kindness move our conscious mind, not vice versa. We move from knowing to care to caring and the knowing that comes from it. (Note, it is “knowing” that is far more intuitive, perceptive, far more even maybe mystical than what we previously experienced.)

That is where we fall through our life situation to our life to borrow the words of Eckhart Tolle.  The life situation holding the false self becomes just that.  We fall through the drama and frenentic pace of the false self attached to our life situation and fall into the solid ground of the true self – a place where God’s truth gives us the solid ground to stand upon regardless of external circumstances.  Here, no boundary needs “defended not abdicated.”

What the “Dark Night of the Soul” Reveals

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Many (all?) travel through what St. John of the Cross referred to as the “Dark Night of the Soul.”  What does that “night” accomplish?

I wonder at times if these dark nights are the only thing that actually will accomplish much in terms of starting us on the spiritual path.  That night clearly will show us, if we allow it, the thoughts, the attachments, the concepts that need to die for us to grow in a way that little else will.

Our limitations are perfectly camouflaged, perfectly blended with their surroundings.  We have cultivated them.  Many times they actually have served us well for an extended period of time.  Their death is painful, literally feeling like a part of us is dying, and in a sense it is.

That can be especially painful when a certain concept of God must go.  God is omnipotent – true – but as we grow we must develop a nuanced sense of what “all powerful” means.  To hold onto the concept of a muscular, all conquering, triumphal Christianity  might lead us to conclude that God is absent simply because we fail to see His actions as being in accord with our deepest desires.  Restated, from a New Church perspective, God’s goals are always eternal.  Clearly ours tend towards the more temporal – a very different agenda.  That means we must create space for a seemingly weak God, a weak and powerless Jesus, not fitting Himself to our temporal agenda, who acts quietly and with great patience, demonstrating a love that accepts life as-is and lives into life as-is always with an idea to what can be.  We simply lack the foresight to see it.  Our proper place then is the surrendered place of the dark night of the soul, trusting in the Knower.

Moments then of quiet desperation can in reality become turning points.

Facing What You Simply Cannot Overcome II

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Evil progresses in three stages.

  1. Ideation: A spark, an idea, happens somewhere, often unrelated to the actual problem. Ideation begets rationalization.
  2. Consideration: Now we enter a trouble zone where we begin to muse about what the evil is like/ feels like
  3. Action: Sunk here.  We simply give in.

By the time we reach #3 we are goners.  There is nothing more to be done here.  So where is the leverage?

The leverage is with stage #1.  This is where our spiritual work lies.  Can we look at the evil, the sin, the wrong and trace it back to its roots?  Can we see what gave rise to it?  Those apparently harmless thoughts can if entertained, flower in ways we would prefer they not.

Our mistakes run by rather well-rehearsed scripts.  Regeneration is about inviting God in as well as trusted others to actually interfere with those scripts, to interupt them.  We need to ask “script” questions.  What is the narrative that tends to start the story?  What is the scene we need for it to occur in?    What supporting role do others play?  Are we the lead actor? actress?

Trace it back.  Write a new script.