Archive for October, 2011

One of the Most Moving Events (We Hear) is Holy Supper. Who knew?

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

New Church theology captures an “ancient-future” view of Christianity.  Restated, it captures a view of Christianity that in many ways pulls us back to the roots of the Christian tradition.  Those roots are often not what we think of as “Christian” today – a heavy emphasis on ‘saving’ an individual through a declaration of belief in the atonement of Christ’s sacrifice to take on the sin of world and assuage the wrath of the Father.    What it is, as I see it, is a return to the two Great Commandments – Loving God and Loving Others.  To pose a simple question, if it was all a “belief” game, as much of modern Christianity presupposes, why would Jesus, God incarnate, have bothered to walk the earth?  Why model a life if the only thing that matter is belief?

He obviously had His purposes in choosing to live on this earth, one of which was to show us how to live.  In modeling a loving life that gives true, deep, everlasting joy, He modeled partnership.  ”God’s divine love had no other purpose in creating the world than to unite humankind to Himself, unite Himself to humankind, and live with us in partnership.”  (Emanuel Swedenborg)

And how do we celebrate that partnership?  Holy Supper, also called “Communion” or the “Eucharist.”

This past fall we hosted 5 Open Houses.  We heard several times the impact that our previous Holy Supper services had on people.  So what exactly is “Holy Supper?’

The night before Christ’s death on the Cross at the hands of the Romans, he gathered his 12 disciples (followers) and partook in the Jewish tradition of the Passover meal.  At the end of the meal, he spoke of the bread (figuratively his flesh) and the wine (figuratively his blood).  They then shared bread and wine.

Christians throughout history in turn celebrate this event by partaking in bread and wine as part of the holy supper.  The first Christians actually held it daily.  It is then one of the most holy acts of worships, bringing together the three universal elements of the church – God, good will (Bread), and faith (Wine).  Maybe another way to explain those elements – God, kindness, and trust.  It is ancient-future sacrament – something old and continually new, celebrating what is and calling us to what can be.

Now there is something to celebrate!  (Those who partake in the Holy Supper are called “Celebrants.”)   In the Greek of the New Testament the term “Eucharisteo,” from which we get “Eucharist” or “Holy Supper,” meant “… to be grateful, feel thankful.”

And part of the celebration is gathering together.  It is about the “We” not just the “Me.”  In likening it to a dinner party, Swedenborg held that one of the goals was “friendship.”  We actively present ourselves to God, aware of our failings, aware of the promise of life – His love and His faith – coming into our core.  We do that together but that is how we do it, how we do life – together.

So we hope you join us sometime for Holy Supper.  You might be surprised about what this ancient-future sacrament can do!  God does want to have adventures with us.

God is more for you than you are for yourself

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

God is more for us more than we are for ourselves.  Absolutely true.  Our greatest task in some sense is then becoming what from our very creation He intended us to be.

Deeply imbedded within all is that “Spark.”  Circumstances, situations, challenges often conspire to keep it “hidden” as it were for long stretches of our life.  But it is most definitely there.  And hopefully over time, in this life, we wake more and more to it.

I am not “for” myself when I allow my life to be dominated by fear, by anxiety, by doubt.  Fear, anxiety, doubt vote against life.  That of course does not mean the answer is an oversized ego hell bent on domination and control.  The answer is a self that has given over “self” to God, seeking to follow His will, His way, which in turn will always lead us right back to who we actually, truly are.  We are after all weird, independent, and hopefully the right kind of proud.

Working Through The Passing Of Someone Young

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

This has been a challenging week as members of our congregation here and abroad have faced losing dear friends or members of their family who passed away before what could be called “their time.”  I actually just returned from one funeral in New Jersey and will attend another Thursday night.

Hard stuff.  No way around it.

And the logical and predictable question is why?  In an era when faith is often held onto tentatively, these events can be incredibly destructive, leaving a hole that never really heals.  Talk of “silver linings” and “they were more needed in heaven” tends to ring hollow.  So what is one to do?

Give Up Trying to Understand It:

I don’t see these events as understandable.  They don’t make “sense” from a rational perspective.  Christ as I understand it never asks us to make sense of it, to figure it out.  I know for me, at the untimely passing of my dear friend Matt, the best I could do was get clear that cancer killed him, not God.

Give Into Faith:

Giving into faith is not a intellectual assent. It is something far more profound.  It is a simple trust yielding to a gentle wisdom that there is a bigger picture.  As Richard Rohr noted, the question is constantly put before us: “Is God to be trusted?” That is the great question that the human race at the most basic level is asking. We hear Jesus continuing to ever more resoundingly answer, “Yes, God is on your side. Yes, God is more for you than you are for yourself.”

And faith is to be found at that heart level, in that reaching out one person to another.  I witnessed today a mom tenderly tucking a favorite jacket around her son as they prepared to close his casket.   That is an act of faith.  Sunday morning I witnessed stream of Seniors at a local school make their way to the home of a student to connect with one another following the passing of a beloved teacher.  That is an act of faith.  I communicated with a young mom who made sure to dole out extra kisses and love to her infant daughter and husband during her time of deep grief following the passing of a friend.  That is an act of faith.

Faith is not certainty. It is trust.  It is trust that we have access to a love that heals and binds and that we can freely share it, even in the depth of our own pain.  That love is God’s gift.  We may not be able to  answer in ways that satisfy the question, “Why do people die young?” But what it does answer is what God’s grace truly is – the rugged, courageous, indestructible love that underlies the depth of caring in the face of darkness.

On behalf of NewChurch LIVE, our thoughts and prayers are with Shanon, Michael, Harper, Jenny, Lasandra, Jason, Jaclyn, Wayne, Merrily, Riley, and Cole.  We wish you rest for your souls at this time of painful transition.   Bless you.

What Does Church Mean?

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

We hosted our first public baptisms last Sunday.  Brings to mind the blessings of what church can be.

We live in a world often characterized by deep loneliness and profound anxiety.  And what do most crave?  Connection, meaning, purpose – all of which in turn remedy the loneliness and anxiety we carry through our days. Church immerses us deeply into that world of connection, meaning and purpose centered around a loving God and a loving community reaching out to others.

I struggle with words around the above.  I don’t want to be heard in a light way.  There is a gravity to this that is important.  We often travel to those places of depth and we often, in turn, succumb to an overwhelming “attraction to our distractions.”  So we forgo involvement in deeper community to enjoy the rather fleeting and surface enjoyment of a distraction.

And while the enjoyment of a distraction is fine – I think of Penn State Football! – we must not confuse the distraction with life.  And as we immerse in real life, taking the time for deep community, we not only serve a profound need in ourselves but we also are able to serve others.   They need you, hands on their back, reminding them of the foundational truth – we are in this together.

Is Mitt Romney a Christian?

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

The burning political question this past week, “Is Mitt Romney a Christian?” (Romney is a Mormon).  This question and debate grew from those who have called Mormonism a “Cult” and “UnChristian.”

From CNN: “Bryan Fischer [director of the American Family Association] claimed that Mormons and Muslims have “a completely different definition of who Christ is” than the founding fathers did, and do not deserve First Amendment protections as a consequence. Without naming Fischer, Romney said those comments are out of bounds.”One of the speakers who will follow me today, has crossed that line,” Romney said. “Poisonous language does not advance our cause. It has never softened a single heart nor changed a single mind. The blessings of faith carry the responsibility of civil and respectful debate.”

From a  New Church perspective, what should we answer if asked “Is Mitt Romney a Christian?”  Well, here is how I would answer – “It is a non-starter as a question.”

It is a non-starter as a question because it is based on several faulty assumptions about faith.  What are those faulty assumptions?

Faulty Assumption I: Christianity is about prescribing to a particular, singular belief system that if one believes, they are “in” the club.

Christianity is not particular and singular, demanding a tightly scripted, rigorous uniformity of thought.  There are many branches of Christian thought and theology.  From the New Church, we believe that variety is actually of God’s plan.   Therefore any thought of one “in” group who really is in the club to the exclusion of others is arguably heretical.

Faulty Assumption II: The Founding Fathers were all Christians

I spent years teaching American History.  Religious discourse always interested me.  And, a simple reading of the Founding Fathers clearly shows a heterogeneous group very comfortable with NOT reaching agreement on prescriptive faith.  Thomas Jefferson, arguably the most famous of the group, clearly was not a Christian in any standard sense of the word.  He did have  a bible, one he cobbled together of his construction, including the stories of Jesus minus miracles. Benjamin Franklin likewise was far from conventional.   Given the current vitriol around faith and politics, the unconventional views of both of these men would have kept them out of elected office today I believe.

Faulty Assumption III: The Founding Fathers founded America as a Christian nation based on a particular, singular belief system

Inaccurate.  They saw in Europe a model where the linkage of Crown and Church was deadly and they fashioned a government that structurally would have no part of that system.  Does this mean these were a bunch of secular humanists out to remove the “opiate” of faith from the nation?  No – the vast majority of these men were clearly men who would define themselves as Christians and yet who were able to work within a context of many different Christian perspectives as well as humanist perspectives.  And lets not forget the influence of Quakers either, a group whose incredible tolerance and pacifism grew from holding as core the concept of God’s light in everyone.

Therefore the key principle was separation of Church and State supported by guarantees of religious freedom.   Alex DeTocqueville in the 1830′s wrote that this separation would allow faith to flourish in the US and, that the combination of church and state in Europe would lead to its eventual demise – a prediction that has largely come true.

Close

The issue then is not “Is Mitt Romney a Christian or not?”  What I believe significant to ask, as it is to ask of anyone, is how does your faith inform your life, shape your decisions?   How does your view of God move you towards compassion? There is a Great Conversation!   Romney nailed it when he said “The blessings of faith carry the responsibility of civil and respectful debate.” I think that is what the Founding Fathers were attempting to create.

NewChurch LIVE will never advance a particular candidate or party.  Yet what we can do is simply state the principles that we believe will best serve the nation moving forward. “Civil and respectful debate” is one such worthy principle.

Is “The Market” the best way to organize community?

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Growing up in a highly entrepreneurial family, with both sets of grandparents and my parents having been self-employed, I have witnessed first hand the energy and creativity private enterprise can unleash.  It is a path that with a few different turns in life’s journey, that I may have chosen.

So I deeply respect those with that same entrepreneurial spirit.  It is “home” to me in many ways.

And being a pastor, it is important as well to share the limitations of a “market based” paradigm for the world.  Important to note, my parents went into business to serve others as well as realize their own creative passions.   So it is not about bashing private enterprise in any way. It is about saying that often, in living in a country dominated by markets, by private business, we can miss areas where the market actually fails our society.  That candid acknowledgement in turn is what will help us harness the best and mitigate the worst.

A case in point, is a recent article on the gas drilling in North Dakota.  With the current high price of crude, it makes financial sense for the drilling companies to (a) pump the oil out and (b) flare off the natural gas that comes to the surface with it as a cost saving measure, making more profit on oil extraction by eliminating the need to capture and pipe the natural gas.  The Market, as a coordinating mechanism, would say this is a logical decision because it yields higher profits.  But is it?  A few facts….

  1. 30% of Natural Gas extracted in North Dakota is flared off
  2. That totals 100,000,000 cubit cubit feet of gas per day
  3. Enough gas is flared off daily to heat up for 500,000 homes for a day
  4. The flaring adds 2,000,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per year

I find it hard to defend the above.  It shows a limit in terms of the ability of the market to be a coordinating mechanism in our world.  Jesus consistently asked people to consider a “third way.”  As human beings, we break the world all too readily into two parts – “in” and “out”, “right” and “wrong.”  Markets are “good” or “bad”, “job producing” or “corrupt.”

We are asked, in my humble opinion, to move the conversation into that “third way.”  How do we tap into the energy of private enterprise and at the same time ensure that we consistently hold ourselves and our conduct to be more than the “market?”  There needs to be a bigger frame. Christianity has much to say about what they framework can look like.  I know many incredibly talented entrepreneurs who get that picture.  Just wish they got it in North Dakota!

What does it take to take the plunge?

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Years ago, in reading an article on service, the former head of the Peace Corps was asked, “Why do most young people do service?”  His answer, “Because they were asked.”

So churches on occasion need to ask for people to consider baptism.  Why?

The answer is simple – commitment.

Commitment is an action, not an emotion.  We live within a culture that, at times for better and at times for worse, is tightly focused on “customers” and “customer satisfaction.”  That often plays poorly in the spiritual arena where gifts are gleaned over time and with work.

Baptism is a way of raising one’s hand, a way of saying “yes.”  It is then a commitment.   However it is not a commitment reached when all questions cease, all doubts and fears assuaged.  Baptism creates a committed platform from which to question, debate, dialog, engage fears, repent, hope, pray, heal.   Marriage is the same, enfolding a settled framework – a safe, secure space – within which the challenging and thrilling work of growth can occur.

As a Pastor, there is much I can tell you about faith, and infinitely more I can never tell you, so much frankly that will forever escape words.  Maybe that is why Jesus could only offer the words “Come and See” to the first disciples.  Last night for example, sitting in a living room at an Open House, looking at the wonderful there, all trying to do life together, to be a “community of the willing”, left me deeply moved and without words.  I suspect you know exactly what I mean – those moments when life is how it is intended to be, a life filled with connection and depth, hope and peace.

To advocate for baptism feels much the same. I cannot offer a “proof” or “promise.”  What I can offer is that often these events where we freely step into committed contexts larger than ourselves, offer gifts bigger than us, gifts that escape words, gifts of connection and depth.  A miracle in the making as we “take the plunge.”