Archive for November, 2010

Emergent Christianity

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Emergent Christianity is a fascinating movement occurring in Christendom.  The name grows out of the belief that a re-focusing on the core of the Christian message “emerging.”  This emergence is not marked by sectarian or doctrinal divides but a by a deep agreement on what matters most.  Swedenborgian thought clearly saw this as key to Christianity as well as well as other denominations: “The Lord’s Church is not in this particular location or in that, but, it resides wherever people lead lives in keeping with the commandments.”

Listed below are several key components.  This movement is well attuned to New Church theology.

Less Appeal of Biblical Literalism:  This trend should be regarded as extremely favorable to the New Church.   Individuals moving from a literal-factual orientation to the Bible to an orientation that is far more comfortable seeing the Bible as historical-metaphorical. [1]

a.     In 1963, 65% of Americans reported believing in the literal letter of the Bible

b.     By 2001, only 21% reported the same.

Focus on here-and-now of service vs. then-and-there of salvation: More Christians appear to be focused on the here-and-now of transformative Christianity that calls them to a more hands-on relationship with God and others vs. an individual approach focused solely on Sunday church attendance and personal salvation.

a.     Don’t want body of belief but a way of salvation/ healing.   Not about set of propositions about ultimate reality but showing a way, a life that fixes the problems that they see.  Therefore about “living out” Christianity.

Christ as Model vs. Christ as Salvation:

a.     Christ as teacher, example, master and we are to be disciples.  Therefore imitate the example of Christ.

Increased interest in Spiritual Disciplines and Sacraments: In NCL this trend while anecdotal is very interesting.

a.     Large Interest in the broader culture around spiritual disciplines Yoga, Meditation, the study of Buddhism, books like “The Secret” etc…

b.     Clear interest in the sacraments of Marriage and Baptism

c.      Clear interest in the spiritual disciplines of Meditation and the 12 Steps as measured by our two most successful small group programs

As these concepts gain mainstream acceptance, it should be a fun decade ahead!

[1] Borg, Marcus J. “The Heart of Christianity”, Harpers, 2003

Rummage Sale

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

Phylis Tickle in a recent podcast commented on the current historical period as being a “Rummage Sale.”  We are in “cleaning out” time, a time when many, many things are up for question, are open for evaluation.  What do we sell?  What do we keep?  We do we re-purpose?

In the late 1990′s, much was made of the “end of history.”  Liberal Western capitalist democracy was seen ascendant, victorious almost given the fall of Eastern Bloc.  There remained no truly viable “challenge” to the Western world view.  Amazing in a way to see where we are currently – 15 years later – where so many ideas are open to question.  Even look at our idea of market economics within the current economic crisis.  Given the excesses of Wall Street that fed into the “Great Recession” clearly even the idea of totally unregulated markets holding the key for society’s advancement is open for revision.  Hence the “rummage sale.”

The New Church, as is true for many (all?) other denominations is experiencing those very same cultural forces, forces that place what was a “tradition” into the market place of ideas where it must compete with many other allegiances.  As with all rummage sales, it is about cleaning out everything – the house, the attic, the basement – looking at the debris of life and choosing what stays and what goes.

It is easy to regard this societal shift as negative, as directly oppositional to the very concept of “Church.”  The Christian New Church perspective however reassures us that “rummage sales” are healthy.  Emanuel Swedenborg clearly saw that the world was not – in the 1700′s – or in the future, moving towards a homogeneous society.

The New Church then is not a promise of Christianity triumphant.  It is a promise of perspective – of being able to approach faith free from many of the trappings of traditional Christian religious order while being increasingly free to experience the deeper, transformative heart of the Christian faith.

As Swedenborg predicted, in the future, the existence of different denominations is to continue.  Variety absolutely would remain perfection.  This is the doctrinal absolute that we often miss.  Swedenborgian thought is NOT a perspective that narrows the church experience into a myopic trouping of set, creed-orientated faith statements.  It is actually an expansive perspective that holds all faiths as having value and utility for those who sincerely practice them.

The rummage sale is actually a time of great promise.

When Life Come Around Right

Friday, November 26th, 2010

The vast majority of folks who find “faith” as it were come to it slowly – a long process of ebb and flow.  Others on occasion are gifted with a moment in time when it all “clicks”, when it all falls together.  I think of Bill Wilson of “12 Step”/ Alcoholics Anonymous Fame who experienced the “God of the preachers” in a room “infused with light” – a fascinating account given Bill’s rather staid, pragmatic view of faith.

As a Pastor, one sees it all – the slow steady building as well as the “moment.”  Both are fun.  Both are true. Both are transformative.  Both leave me excitedly curious about the wonder of God’s plan and His movement in this life.

It seems what we do is just keep “spreading the seed” as the parable reads.  That “spreading” both internal and external.  Maybe we witness both of the above forms of growth and different points and times in our lives as well as in different areas.  Regardless – what a blessing!

The Core of Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

We grow into an orientation of gratitude.  I imagine there to be many ways to chart that course.  Maybe one way plays off  of our Thanksgiving theme this year.

Step One: What We Have

Children seem to start with simple orientation of a need to “have.”  As one author noted, there are basic needs – “havings” – safety, food etc….  What parent doesn’t remember the “snatching” stage.  From a Christian New Church perspective, important to note, that this may well be a necessary and formative stage in maturation.  It appears there is something in the human psyche that needs to “have.”

Step Two:  What We Have Is The Point

Step Two is when we become far more conscious of our “having” and that endeavor comes self consciously to center in our lives.  I know as a parent, this stage is the most difficult for me to witness my children go through.  Watching them scroll through the web or stroll through the mall in search of “stuff” that supports their identity as they see it is often painful.  And, it needs said, in our culture, one in which we often are define ourselves by what we have, this stage maybe is a necessity or at the least, unavoidable.  But don’t allow growth to get arrested here!

Step Three: What We Have To Give Is The Point

Step Three is when “To Give” arrives.  Identity moves from “out there” as defined by the “stuff” we have accumulated to the heart, to the soul.  We see our gifts as gifts of spirit and connection.  This gift what we have to give.   I am not sure we can arrive in this place without at least some orientation towards what is spiritual.  Maybe we don’t arrive here without a realization that Step One and Step Two somehow failed us.  And important to note that at this point a certain  self identity begins to rest deeply in our souls.  We may “have” a great deal of possessions or not.  That no longer is the point however.  The point is what we do have, we have our always had – a deep gift of a caring soul reaching out to God and reaching out to others.


Imagine the world created out of a belief that “What we have to give is the point.”  Really fun to think about!  Take time this Thanksgiving to have that conversation.  It certainly seems to orient one towards the holiday season and the deep spirit of humble gratitude that paves the way for Christmas.    New worlds get born from there!

What do you have to give?

Aggression, War, Violence

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Viewing the North Korean attack on a South Korean island this morning saddened me.  War and violence continue to be part and parcel of the human experience.

Important for us to remain mindful of the Christian call to a different way.  Jesus clearly said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”  Likewise the Old Testament spoke of the coming of God’s kingdom as being a time when men would “beat their swords into plowshares.”

War and nations function under a logic not far removed from the individual.  In the New York Times, a reporter noted that this provocation by the North followed a well rehearsed script – “…a pattern of aggressive actions by the secretive government when it feels under stress or threatened.”  Individuals often lash out when they feel under stress or threatened.  Nations and their leaders do the same.

This is where the Christian New Church path should give us pause.  Into that pause must come not only the words of Jesus but His actions.  As a church and a culture, we need to do the same, really looking towards arresting the insidious logic of aggression.

That is the work.  The Bible states it well … forging their swords into plowshares.   That takes fire, heat, shaping with a hammer – there is little “soft” in sticking to Christian roots.

In my humble opinion, technology, while wonderful, has not necessarily made us safer.  There is a safety out there but it will not be arrived at through technology but through the redeployment of consequential faith.  As Deitrich Bonoeffer noted, “Peace is the great adventure.  It must be dared.”  My prayer is that the warring parties find peace, especially given the presence of nuclear arms on the Korean Peninsula.  My prayer is that there be a reflective moment to create a space where the crazed logic of “eye-for-an-eye” can be seen for what it is.  Peace in its deepest form is one of greatest blessings one can be thankful for. 

Getting Ready For Thanksgiving

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

This morning in getting ready for Church, I am sitting in my office thinking about what does it really take to get ready for Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving, in this denomination, is the very core of worship.  Why is that?  I think the process is two fold – a first step – awareness of what we have – followed by a second step – awareness of what we have to give.  That is something to come open to.  What is that you have …. to give.

Because we all do, we all harbor this “thing” that was the point of God creating us.  Often largely unknown, ignored, or unlived in this life it still stirs.   When we take moments to worship in the spirit of thanks and gratitude for the blessing, we can feel its gentle presence.  Why?  As Emanuel Swedenborg phrased it, “Because the divine nature intimately affects everything with good and with blessedness.”  (Heaven and Hell)

Last night I was able to witness one of those moments.  I was privileged to preside at a 50th Wedding Anniversary/ Renewal of vows. To watch Mary Ellen and Paul socializing after the service, “working the crowd” with obvious joy and gratitude for the gold that was their life, was to watch a prayer of Thanksgiving literally unfold on a beautiful night at Pen Ryn.  They are living in what they have and in what they have to give – to each other, to their family, to their community.

So getting ready this morning is about clarity – clarity about a very simple, very profound message.  What we have is nice.  What we have to give is the point.

We Do Care

Friday, November 19th, 2010

We do care.  People tend to have a deeply seeded sense of love and compassion.  Deep within, all of us – ALL of us -  lies a divine spark, a God given piece that remains with us through all eternity.  That piece reflects God – a God that, “… has compassion on everybody, loves everyone, and wishes to make everyone eternally happy.” (Heavenly Secrets, # 904).

Aligning our lives with that love is where challenges arise.  Likewise, when we do it, it is where life most breaks open.  I most enjoyed a TED talk by Jessica Jackley as she spoke about her journey from the Sunday School lessons of taking care of the poor to something far deeper – organized steps to do that in a way that aligned love and money.  She definitely lives that “spark”!

What she learned in the process of organizing her non-profit, Kiva, is that we do care and we do love.  Fear keeps many of us from always living into that care and love – fear of failure, fear of doing it wrong, fear of being taken advantage of.  What moves us through that fear are stories.

Stories – a point so true.  We thrive on stories.  As Rachel Naomi Remen noted in an NPR interview – at times we need them more than food.  Watching God settle into peoples’ souls, including mine, is known by story.  There is no other experience of it, no other communication of it.  And those stories move us beyond fear.  The fact is there are mechanics of growing a church, a church focused on service.  There are budgets, perspectives that at times challenge, projections not met, personality clashes – aka “the mess” that is life.  And there are the stories.  Stories upon story that speaks to the need to reach out, to connect, to find meaning.  The best of those are the ones that pull us in and then push us out.

Is Life About Salvation or the Finding the Will of God?

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

This question is key to the Christian life and the answer greatly informs the Christian New Church Perspective.

For many, the core of Christianity is individual salvation.  There are clear biblical teachings focused on that every message.  But those concepts need seasoned by a broader perspective.  Imagine that the salvation of the individual comprises the whole of the spiritual experience?  If the spiritual life, as it were, narrows in that direction, how does that shape our interactions with ourselves, with others, and with God?  The shape arguably would fall then along the lines of a “credit” and “debit” game.  In the myopic, self seeking introspection endemic to this approach we come to worship ourselves.  How can you become a tool for my salvation?  How can I earn enough “points” for God to love me?    God then functions merely as the accountant.  He joins others in becoming a bit player in our larger, self authored drama.

One of the scariest – and I say this knowing it will unsettle some – is how in this model we can practice a form of idolatry in which we hold “doctrine”, in and of itself, as “God.”  We then worship words and not God. The New Church is clarion clear – doctrine is a means to the end, not the end in itself.  And yet, we often slide this direction.  I certainly have at times in my life made the doctrine, the ideas as it were, the entire point.  Doctrine is not the point.  It is what doctrine points to that is the point.

Doctrine remains instructive, along with our own experience, in discovering the will of God.  Bonhoeffer’s words capture this well. “The will of God  is not a system of rules established from the outset.  And for this reason a person must forever re-examine what the will of God may be.  The will of God may lie deeply concealed beneath a great number of possibilities.”  That “digging” for God’s will is critical and makes legitimate self critique – i.e. repentance – come alive, moving it beyond merely accounting to discovery.

In that space, Jesus arrives.  He embodies the incarnate model of God’s will.  The Christian message then becomes able to move through the world, through, through our lives with the power that is its own – a power detached from the faith-alone salvation goal.    The message is not “come and be saved” but a message of this is the will of God, that “you love one another as I have loved you.”  This is where as well, the goal of Divine Providence rests – the goal of wholeness, “that what has been broken apart should become whole.”  Divine Providence, page 55.

Salvation as wholeness in settling our lives into the will of God


Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

One of the primary motivators of human behavior appears to be “safety.”

Safety is a key concern.  I want my children to feel “safe.”  I want our congregation to feel like a “safe haven.”  Small groups thrive when everyone feels “safe.”

And the pursuit of safety can be stifling when taken to an extreme.

It is interesting fodder to run an individual anxiety back through the wash so to speak to find what “safety” need was triggered.  I know much of my anxiety and compulsive thoughts grow from situations where I feel my safety threatened.  That threat is predominantly illusion – pure mental lower-self noise based on thoughts patterns that run quickly to the most catastrophic result (and important to note the most unlikely result!).  When my safety is threatened – “safety” as I define and perceive it – I visualize the place as being as unsafe as imaginable.

As is often noted, the most often given command in the Bible is “Fear Not.”  Hmm … an obvious connection to safety.  What if we exercised that command and our our thought pattern became …

  1. Here is the anxiety over “x”
  2. Note how it is attached to “safety”
  3. Prayerfully go to the place where you can acknowledge in stillness that you are already “safe” – to use the Daniel story – God closed the Lion’s mouths.
  4. From the safe place, either dismiss the concern or act on it from a centered, un-anxious place.

Maybe we eventually we get to the place where the starting point is #3  I think that was one of Jesus’ primary goals with the disciples and a key part to the “Good News” – the Good News that we are “safe” despite the world that swirls around us.

There is a deeper way of knowing than safety!

Constructing Life vs. Managing Life

Monday, November 15th, 2010

An author made the above point, one that is hard to refute.  His words are that it is easy to move life away from questions of how to construct life into questions of just how to manage life.  Absolutely spot on.

How much time do we really spend considering life in its complete fullness?  Do we often enough enter into the profound acknowledgment what we are actually co-creators of this life, this culture?

If we choose to look at these kinds of questions, I believe it dangerous to castigate “culture” as the enemy.  Culture is what culture is.  The “enemy” as it were is when we fail to recognize that it too is a human creation.

I think the Christian message is one that acknowledges culture and uses the symbols of culture but refuses to be merely window dressing for cultural apologetics.  Jesus consistently calls us to look with new eyes, to see differently – to stand aside from culture as we seek to construct life.

Christianity, as I understand it, is a learning, in part, of how to develop both deeper and newer ways of knowing as part of this construction project.  That is the power of parable – things are not what they appear.  There is always a deeper, more profound, and yes even more satisfactory way of seeing!