Archive for November, 2011

Can you see the 11 Point Buck?

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

Walking through a local water shed recently, I stopped to take a moment to look out into the woods to a creek beyond.  A hawk was in a tree.  And there strolling through the woods was an 11 point buck (male deer).  For those not raised in countryside of Western Pennsylvania, that is a BIG deer, a patriarch, a trophy.  Can you see the buck in the photo?

I saw the buck plain and clear.  Snapped numerous photos.  Went home.  Downloaded the photos and realized it is almost impossible for someone looking at the photograph to see the deer.

Being a church trying to struggle forward in fits and starts with a new paradigm within its denominational setting is similar. It is hard to get others to see it.  It is hard to “show”, hard to explain.  And yet it is there.

“Church” is moving far beyond buildings and denominational labels.  In a recent interview with George Barna, Barna spoke of a new generation far more interested in being the church than going to church.  He noted some statistics that point to this demographic shift.  In 2000, 60 to 65% of people experienced/ expressed their spirituality through conventional church environments.  5% gained that experience through other small groups – i.e. 12 Steps Programs, Mother’s Groups, as well as 5% who experienced it via the media.  By 2025, if current trends hold, 30 – 35% of people will experience/ express their spirituality through conventional church environments.  30 – 35% will express it through alternative small groups and another 30% will experience it via the media.

Do you see it?  Can you see the figurative buck in the photo in terms of a new vision for church?

See right there imbedded within those demographic shifts  could be our call to serve as a church.  For example, look at our ministries.  Currently Strength, Women’s Ministry, and A Course in Miracles are all hosted by NCL but not created or run by NCL.  We have folks who attend these programs who do not and may never attend a Sunday Service.  A second example are our online programs.  More people join us online than in person.  For the vast majority, they tune it, watch parts of services, and then move on.  Are they forming small groups?  Sharing links?  Probably and we will never know the full extent of sharing.

I think as well to the Wedding Ministry.  Last week I officiated at a 4th funeral that grew out of the wedding ministry.  That would have been unthinkable 10 years ago because a pastor served his congregation, not those outside of it. That to me now sounds deeply archaic.  I think pastors will serve wider and wider audiences many of whom will not be directly involved in the church.  The definition of congregations is widening dramatically.

What then of the Sunday service?  Of the institutional church know as NCL?  Those will be critical I believe in the same way the “hub” of  a wheel is significant.  Those elements will collect and equip a “core” that in turn will help grow other new and exciting ministries.  And for those of us who constitute that core, we will be called to take a deep service orientation towards our work.  If we focus myopically on attendance as the sole barometer of performance of bring people in vs. us serving out, we will miss the very point of how we are trying to serve.  What we will need is to be willing to dedicate time, treasure, and talent to creating that strong “hub” or “core” that in turn will allow us to better serve God going forward in this new and exciting era.   Christian New Church theology calls us there – a foundational belief in spiritual freedom shaped around core principles, and a profound respect for the individual’s spiritual journey.

Look at God’s Word from Isaiah:

“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.  What kind of house will you build for me?  Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?”

He is speaking to a rather expansive view of the Church!

 

 

 

Memorial Service for Ronald Anthony Scholer

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

Memorial Service for Ronald Anthony Scholer
November 23rd, 2011

We gather here to remember Ronald Anthony Scholer’s life. And what a life it was. I enjoyed his son Frank’s remark that “One picture, and you would know my dad.” So what would those pictures be?

Picture one would be a wedding photo with Dorothy. They met in a rather unique fashion. Dorothy was a witness to an accident and that is how they met. Not quite sure how he pulled it off – but in less than 3 months they were married. Speaking to Ron’s power of persuasion – I can only imagine what Dorothy’s conversation with her parents was like on that matter! Marriage was important. They created a marriage of 40 years reflective of what marriage should be like – simple things – dinner, little walks, holding hands, with love at the core. Friends shared in that love through games of cards and double dates.

Picture two would be a photograph of him with Frank, Brian, and Jaclyn. Each of the three felt he loved them no matter what and held a strong desire for them to be happy, even to the point of worry, at times worrying too much. Being a parent is an incredible gift but when children grow to be adult friends – real friends, deep friends – the gift is ever wider. That connection in itself was built one snapshot at a time – from a Phillies game, another fishing, a third a stroll, a fourth around a campfire. In speaking to his kids it is striking how each very special and very loved each felt in their dad’s eyes. A best friend. A cheerleader. A confidant. A dad.

Picture three would be the grandkids. Keith and Brittany. Riley and Cole. Abby. It is may be the hardest part for me to speak of because again and again people spoke of how much he truly loved them with all his heart. Your poppop loved each of you deeply. His greatest pride and interest in many ways was you. His passing does not change that.

And what would picture four be? It can only be one thing – dinner with all of you. It was interesting hearing again and again about food. It was not about an organic dish from Whole Foods but about FOOD – German, Comfort Food, Vegetables (not so much).

The math appears rather simple. As far as I can figure Ron held a 4 fold multiplier in his head. If four people were coming over, that meant cooking for 16. If six were coming, that would have meant 24. Following that rule, I shudder to think of how much food he would have prepared for this group!

And what do these four snapshots create? They create a mosaic of life well lived –a wonderful banquet, an incredible picnic, grill and all.

There is this wonderful story of gathering for a meal in the New Testament where Christ gathers his followers, His disciples, for a last meal before His passing – a very human mosaic of sorts. He begins by telling the 12 how much joy it brings Him to gather with them – to share a meal. He then gives thanks for life, breaks bread, shares wine. That is the Eucharist.

The word Eucharist means to “give thanks.” It is wrapped around a root word that means “Joy” and “Grace.” It is a giving thanks and a call. A well-lived life like Ron’s is the same. His life – all life –  is something to be deeply grateful for and to hear as a call. Granted it is hard to hold it that way when the pain of passing is absolutely real and crushingly present. And maybe, just maybe, we can pause in that journey through grief to smile at the little piece of light that we can hold.

And the call I think, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, is this – be all eye and see slowly. Be all eye – yes see the grief, feel the loss. And see what else is there – a man who did it really well, who may not have cured cancer or made millions but who mattered. A man who took great care – care of his family and friends – a man who relished that role. And see slowly – take time to move away from living as an emergency and see slowly enough to witness the grace around you. To see his life and imagine his legacy inspiring yours. The breakings in life are loud and demanding of attention. The blessings are most often quiet and almost hidden in plain sight. We have to them see slowly.

And if we can do those two – being all eye and seeing slowly – we can learn to break ourselves open and pour ourselves out in the lives where we find ourselves – the very core of Eucharist, of giving thanks, of the call of a life well lived, of joining together in a meal of gratitude. People who are able to do that, like Ron, show up as Husbands, Fathers, Grandfathers, and Friends. (with a lot of food and a smile)

Ron right now is waking to a new life. The snapshots of this life remain strongly with him. The life he is moving into is one in which the best parts of him will grow stronger and stronger, and the weaker parts like stubbornness move more and more into the background. He will not – cannot – forget you because all of you are engraved by love on his life. In heaven, as in all places where we are joyously engaged, time is of no import. In a blink, you will see him again.

And how will you see him? Probably pulling up in a Ford. Checking in. Inviting you over. And when you arrive, way too much food and a look from your husband, your dad, your grandfather, your brother, your friend that says very simply how much he loves you and how joyous he is to have you home. And in that moment, you see Ron – all – in one picture.

The Hope To Which We Are Called

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

As we enter Thanksgiving, much leaves me in awe at the incredible blessings with which life abounds. The challenge is that problems/ angst/ stress remain loud. Blessings, like God, are still and quiet.

There are of the course the material parts of life to be thankful for.  With NewChurch LIVE I am thankful for the overwhelming generosity of donors, the clear vision of leaders,  the work of paid and volunteer team members, a continued tradition of inspiring music, amazing congregants here and scattered across the country.

And there is something more for which I am thankful.  In Ephesians 1, we read these words by one of the founders of the Christian Church, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you.”  I am thankful for the Hope to which we are called.

You know, why else do this, build this church thing, unless in some way we were all called to a unique hope.  Words around that probably of necessity fail.  But maybe the concept points to a deeper heart motivation, a deeper “knowing” that resonates with a Heart far larger than this particular church.

I don’t believe we start the journey “knowing” what exactly that hope is.  I do believe we touch it – glancing blows here and there – as we seek to serve.  This mirror’s God’s spirit, a spirit that fails to arrive in a mechanistic, prescribed fashion.  As Christ noted, spirit like the wind, blows where it will and we are not (thankfully!) given to control it.

What we are given is the ability to respond to it, to acknowledge, and allow spirit to accomplish, over time, its works of shaping our lives.

The hope at the Heart of what we are doing is a loving world, one in which selfless endeavor finds itself transcendent over the fevered pursuit of “stuff” and “accomplishment.”   The heart of stone becoming the heart of flesh.  The hope of heaven becoming the hope of the world.  Christ born anew into the world as Spirit, as Hope.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

 

One of a 1000 Gifts – Women’s Ministry

Friday, November 18th, 2011

In the midst of our Thanksgiving series – “1,000 Gifts” – one that I have been thinking about today is the gift of Women’s Ministry.  In today’s Christian world, women make up the majority of involved members.  One study cited that the average congregation in the US is divided 61% female, 39% male.  One cannot fight demographics.  For NewChurch LIVE the breakdown if we use our 1215 Facebook fans as a sample is 60% female, 40% male.

What are the gifts so readily observable in NewChurch LIVE of our Women’s Ministry?

  1. Monthly vesper programs designed to specifically serve women
  2. Leadership in the life giving work of various committees and ministries
  3. Leadership in service work
  4. Invaluable input in shaping the Sunday message

Without the work of Angela, Shada, Ruth, Katie, Jessica …. (and the list goes on and on!) we would NOT exist as a church.  With their work we become a church of outward looking richness and depth.

It saddens me then to hear of lock tight arguments around women filling in lock tight fashion one particular role and men another.  Of course each gender is unique and brings special gifts and talents as noted numerous places in New Church theology.  And, that being said, we are all whole individually.  We are all human.  We all bring humanity to life.  That is why the concept, made famous in the movies of “you complete me” is so patently silly.   A “sweet addition”, yes.  A “completion”, no.

With gender issues we can start there, which is in effect a big “yes.”  Or we can start with “defending the borders” – replacing that “yes” with a defensive “no.”

At one time, I resigned from Seminary over this issue.  Someone posted in a public space a commentary on how the increase in female clergy directly fed the rise of homosexuality.   I found that to be deeply offensive on many levels.  I returned because maybe I grew up a bit and realized that was one opinion and the beautiful Christian message at the heart of the New Church was more important than my own snobbish righteous indignation.

There remains a great deal of tension around the issue of gender roles.  In many Christian churches that plays out in terms of ordained clergy.   There are strong arguments for women’s ordination.  My recommendation if you enjoy deep theology would be to read what was offered by a former Bishop in the New Church, Rev. Louis King, as well as from one of my favorite Pastors, Rev. David Roth.  On a personal level, I side definitively with their well thought out positions.  And, I fully respect that the current church body does not hold the same opinion and therefore at this time does not ordain women.

My hope, again personal, is that that time comes.  And my hope is that women continue to offer their incredible gifts to God, to the world, and to this church. My hope for men is the same.  And underneath is a belief that if we offer gifts unique to our genders and also gifts unique to our humanity we will add immeasurably to this wonderful tapestry of life.   That is a grand YES!

“‘Hope’ never adds up but the blessings do.” Anne Voscamp

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

I enjoy this line from Anne Voscamp’s book “1000 Blessings.” So many of my hopes are attached to the word “more.” I hope for “more” of this, or that – relationship or stuff – believing that in “more” I will finally discover “enough.” That kind of hope is actually hopeless.  Like the millionaire who cooks the books for that extra shot of money, I find myself addicted to the femoral “hope” of attaining “more,” and that “more” will mean I am “complete.”

My Prayer:  I am nothing without you God.  I am nothing without what You already placed in my life – today, this Sunday morning – which in the end is enough – blessings and breaking.  

I can strive but let that striving Lord be from service, be from love, be from a giving that does not care about receiving but only in the Gift. 

Penn State: When Reputation trumps Practice.

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

For years I counted myself an avid Penn State fan.  I not only graduated from the University but remained a loyal fan for decades.  I truly believe that the endeavor to achieve “Success with Honor” – a byline for the football program – is core to living a life of higher purpose.

That made the recent scandal regarding sexual abuse of minors by the former Defensive Coordinator at Penn State, Jerry Sandusky, so disheartening.  Many parts are overwhelmingly distressing including the amount of “buck passing” that occurred.  In 2002, after Sandusky was caught in the act of sexually assaulting a 10 year old boy in the showers of the Penn State foortball locker room, the head coach, Joe Paterno, reported the incident to the AD, who reported it up the chain of command.  The credibility of the witnesses’ account led to the retired Sandusky being told he could no longer be with children on campus.  At no point were the (a) authorities notified or (b) the parents of the assaulted child notified. This highly limited decision was handed down despite the fact that the University’s own police force had investigated Sandusky in 1998 for a similar allegation.  His sexual proclivities were in fact so well known that even the non-profit founded by him to serve troubled young men – “The Second Mile” - banned him from working with children several years ago!

Reading the story, many, many folks followed a similar pattern of looking the other way.  Another child was assaulted at a local high school.  The parent notified the school which in turn gave the Sandusky the same punishment – he was not to be on high school’s campus.  Neither the parent or the school contacted the authorities.

The question remains, why?  Why do we prefer to often look the other way, a choice that often entails tragic results?

It is because for many the primary values are stability and safety.

We do not talk here of stability and safety in a broader sense of stability and safety for the sake of  the children.  We are talking of stability and safety in terms of the carefully crafted reputation at Penn State as an institution where things are done “right” and where values are held of the utmost importance, and where one can achieve “success with honor.”  The reputation around these markers became gods in and of themselves – idols zealously worshipped and protected. Restated the reputation became more important than the practice.

Hearing the comments defending the actions of the authorities at Penn State deeply troubles me because there appears to be real blindness.  To defend not telling authorities or parents because the alleged assault was not done by a current employee is frankly crazy.   The act occurred on campus, in a privaleged space that was only accessible via Sandusky’s ties as a former employee.  The act of banning Sandusky from being on campus in the company of children speaks to the fact that there was a real knowledge of what occurred.  We all carry a moral obligation to protect children.  As noted by Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan “Call the police immediately.  How difficult is that? It’s not a high standard.”

To close, yes at this point Sandusky is charged with crimes, not convicted.   Regardless however of the final legal verdict, a rather daunting moral verdict has been rendered – not rendered by a judge in a court of law but rendered by actions that put the pristine reputation of a University above the moral imperative of protecting defenseless children.

 

 

 

What Is Success?

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Critical question: What is Success?

It is interesting living in this culture because we frankly are a sports obsessed nation.  I would argue that much of our understanding of success gets tied back into athletics.  Athletics clearly can teach the right lessons and it can just as clearly teach the wrong lessons.

A few statistics that point to the challenges of equating athletic success in terms of “wins” and “losses” with success….

  1. Suicide Rate for Retired NFL Players is 6 times the national average
  2. Life expectancy for a NFL player who plays 4 years is 55 (CBS News)

Anecdotally, I hear from parents all the time – and I have experienced first hand – that the pressure continues to build in terms of athletic success and yet it appears very hard to step off the merry-go-round.  Spring seasons have try outs in the fall.  Travel teams are billed as the way to “keep up” and ensure that your son or daughter does not “fall behind.”  Every new piece of equipments is a “must have” in order to gain the competitive advantage.  (Underarmour touts that it’s new mouthpiece makes players faster and stronger.)   Parents spends thousands of dollars a year to secure a hoped for college scholarship worth a few thousand dollars.

I am not disparaging this from a  distance.  I get it.  With my own children, I participate in the above.  We have rarely said “no” to any of the above.  And we need to acknowledge there is a cost.

The cost is the immersion in a cultural based on the endlessly frenzied pursuit of athletic success versus the pursuit of a settled soul that can leverage the best of athletics without the accompanying obsession.

And I say the above with some trepidation, worried it will be misunderstood.  I LOVE sports.  I played numerous sports.  Captained my high school’s football and lacrosse teams and played the later through my 20′s.  I coached at Youth, Junior Varsity and Varsity levels.  I witnessed numerous young men and women find in organized sports a sense of purpose, a sense of discipline and and sense of direction via athletics.  It no doubt “saved” lives in a certain sense.   I watch football every weekend!

And I need to clearly sound a note of caution.

As a Junior in high school, I was privileged to be a second stringer on a  football team that was unimaginably successful.  Quarterbacked by our very own assistant pastor, Barry Halterman, the team gave up ONE touchdown the entire season.  The star of the team was one of the most violent individuals I knew.  I remember numerous events even in practice where teammates were mocked or pummeled.  On one drill for an onside’s kick I recovered the ball and went to the ground, as we were taught.  Standing over me, he snarled “Good thing you got down” – clearly a threat to the violent end to the play that would have awaited me if I stood up.  And I wasn’t a tackling dummy – I was a decent player.  I can only imagine what life was like for those lower on the athletic food chain.

What never sat right and still does not sit right is the constant chatter that “sports teach us about life.”  Because here was the rub – this violent individual was wildly successful, receiving numerous accolades.  He was the model.  He was who we were supposed to be.  It was not an approach to “life” I thought much of then and I certainly think less of it now.

This individual clearly mellowed with the years.  And sports may well have been integral to that evolution. And lets sound a note of caution.  Life is not athletics. Life is life.  Athletics can support life, can teach us lessons about life.  But to say sports is life?  Problem.  And note, we may not say that but we may live it.

What then is success?

Success is the settled soul.  Success is the undoing of fear.  Success is the deep understanding of the moment.  Success is the development through spiritual practice of a connection with God that guides us in every moment of our thinking. Success is freedom from the limitation of our ego-driven will.   Success is actual “surrender” to a purpose larger than ourselves which is the only “currency” we bring to the next life.

Success is defined then in relation to our true, best selves, our relation with others, and our relation with the God of our understanding.  Hopefully you can read the above list of definitions and with ease connect the dots about what athletics, when held in perspective, can teach.   Discipline, teamwork, sacrifice, resiliency are all embedded in the above.

When I met with Vaughn Hebron, one word got right to the core.  In talking about success, Vaughn said it is “relationship.”  He said that the transportable value that flowed from the NCAA to the NFL to his business is “relationship.”   A great point!

Christ consistently used relevant cultural metaphors to bring His points home.  It was a agrarian society and so He used numerous agrarian references.  In today’s culture, athletics functions the same way.  We can talk of spiritual topics using athletics as the matrix.

And what is it that I think Christ would remind us?  I love this line from Matthew, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” The settled soul – that is success.

If we cultivate that settled place, we can handle far more calmly the ups and downs that are inevitably part of life’s journey.  And, ironically, the settled place can allow us to really launch ourselves passionately into LIFE!   Hell, from our theological perspective, is constantly telling us “Anything but THIS …. Anything but NOW.”  And success is now – in its blessings and breaking.  Life based on an endless, frenzied pursuit of athletic success, simply won’t get there and will burn itself out.  A deeper flame can light the way, allowing us, to use Kipling’s words, “to meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same.”