Archive for January, 2012

Google and God

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

A problem – many confuse taste with mission.   Many of those currently engaged in churches see taste and mission as one and the same.  If a given church matches their tastes, specifically in terms of demographics, music and liturgy (style of service) then that church is doing its mission, God’s work.

And yet mission lies in a deeper place than taste.  Mission connects us far more closely to the heart of God than individual taste, creating a living link to the famous passage in Matthew.    “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:37-40  Restated, God appears little concerned with taste but deeply concerned with mission.

Anchoring our spiritual life on taste anchors our spiritual life, in turn, on our own desires and judgments – not the soft ground where God’s grace transforms.

That soft ground of mission based Christianity is a doing place.  It is a place of action, a place of angels!  ”Hidden deep within the desires of every angel’s heart is the current that draws his or her mind to do something.  In that the mind finds peace….   (Emanuel Swedenborg, True Christianity)

The mission is the place to be.  Tastes?  Yes they will be different, and in reality, the sooner I think we put them aside to allow for the ascendancy of Mission, the more we will find the the humble place where God can do His best work.  Google and God!  What appears different – as we see God – is very much the same.

 

44 Catholic Elementary School and 4 High Schools Closing

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

Working in the church world is terrifying.  For many – parishonier, priest, pastor, teacher, student – these are tumultuous times.   Evidence abounds – from the closing of many local Catholic churches and schools (Link) to the struggles within this denomination and its flag ship schools. So how is it that we move forward?

We start with a candid acknowledgement of what is.  In the book “Good to Great”, Jim Collins wrote of the “Stockdale Paradox.”  To restate the paradox, it is the ability to (a) candidly acknowledge the brutal facts and (b) maintain hope.  From a spiritual perspective, it is the prophetic imagination which is able to live in both of those worlds.

And what “is” – the brutal facts –  is that fact that a model of church that many of those reading this blog grew up in is unraveling.  There is less interest in and financial support for traditional churches and schools. This is arguably part of a growing apathy around the topic of “church” evident in America today.  (A recent survey listed 15% of Americans as having no religious affiliation.  In 1951 that number was 1%.)

So where does one go?  I believe a starting point is simply repentance – candidly acknowledging that church and religious education are irrelevant to many because we as the church body have made it so.   The author Donald Miller, author of “Blue Like Jazz”, got that and in an evangelization effort on the campus of Reed College set up a confession booth not to hear confessions but to make them, to apologize on behalf of Christianity for all the misguided ways in which church as an institution hurt others.

What are the sins we need to confess?

  1. Church has become far too synonymous with politics.
  2. Church has largely disengaged from the world and its problems
  3. Church has become more concerned with theological correctness than healing (Water or grape juice at the holy supper anyone?)
  4. Clergy often view themselves as detached resident experts vs. fellow travelers
Summarized maybe we have made church more “a museum for Saints than a hospital for Sinners.”
What then is the way out?  We start with “unlearning” and then move to “radical.”  These words by the Richard Rohr get right to it.  ”Enlightenment is not about knowing as much as it is about unknowing; it is not so much learning as unlearning. It is more about entering a vast mystery than arriving at a mental certitude. Enlightenment knows that grace is everywhere, and the only reasonable response is a grateful heart and the acknowledgment that there is more depth and meaning to everything. A too quick and easy answer is invariably a wrong one.”
What we “know” then – which is our past experience – maybe one of our biggest blocks.  The quick and easy answer I see many churches trying is to simply try to work at the failing system better.  So we work at preaching and teaching better but it is within an unraveling system.    All that needs “unlearned.”  And that unlearning starts with a painful question we prayerfully must ask God, “How do we serve others?”
Off course you read and think – “painful”?  what is that about?  Service is easy.  My answer – NO.  Because if you really want to ask that question it means you give up that church or school is for us or for our kids.  It is for others.
And that is radical – radical in the true meaning of the word – a word which means “roots.”  The disciples thankfully never thought of the very first Christian “church” as being about them and their needs. It then gets us back to ancient future Christianity – the core of the New Church message, a world in which if we do the work, getting ourselves out of the way, the blessings as Emanuel Swedenborg phrased it, can spread “contagiously.”  What we most need are the guts to both honor the past and let it go.  Then we can start the wonderful journey of living the question!
And there is interest folks in that question.  There is reason for hope as we turn around.  People have an innate, God given desire to know more of God, to experience God, to engage His Word and Work in all its various forms.  These challenging times are painful, true, but also a necessary winnowing as we get back to what Christianity can be, redefining and refining its meaning for this generation.  The work of repentance is good work.   It is good work because that is where hope lies.

The Singing Started at 5:45

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

The singing started at 5:45.  It went through the set up for the meal.  It lasted as we served the guests – a group of homeless families and individuals in Pottstown. The singing ended as we broke for clean up.  I find myself singing, waiting for a woman in charge of salad to dole out a blob of Italian dressing onto the styrphome plate I held, a plate filed with lettuce and shaved carrots.  She sings too.   The plate from her, to me, to the guest.

That was last night.  Just one night.

The Adkins, Scott, Karl, Angela, Pat, Bryn, Tom. Others.  Other Pastors.  Other churches.  A mom, Penn State class of ’89. with two teen age sons.  She cried.  One person I did not net meet.

The instruction. Pastor Abu Bradley with his son and daughter in tow: “Lets pray.  These are guests.  Do not eat until they eat.  Clear their plates.  Ask them if they want seconds.  Children get served first.  Sit with guests.  Smile.  Free flu shots in the other room.  Who wants to watch the restrooms?  I want to make sure our guests even have a good experience there. Thank you.  Lets pray.”  A buffet line, serve-yourself, makes so much more sense but it doesn’t.  Life is not serve-yourself.

Heaven as the grand banquet to which all are invited.    Jordan, 7, loves the Steelers.  So do I.  Lynne worries about her son.  So do I.  ”We” – a bunch of “beautiful fools” – I love that line Ray.  There is grace in all things.

 

 

What Did I Forget?

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Great joy Sunday in celebrating Rev. Martin Luther King’s legacy.  At times, in reading a bible narrative it is hard not to scream “Look!”   Yesterday was much that way.  Look at Acts 2.  Do we notice the three references of amazement  as astonished listeners from many lands note they were hearing the disciples speak in their own language?  Do we notice as well the cynical few who failed to get “it”, who never heard, readily dismissing the words of the disciples as the words of drunks?  I love the New Church language that what the above all references is our sacred fire – the passion we all carry around what we know to be true.

And what we know to be true, our sacred fire, is often buried, softened, and narcotized by the culture find ourselves.  Buried so deep in fact that we no longer “know it” until the prophetic wakes us from our sleep.

One part of King’s genius was in pushing through those layers to get at the bed rock of the human heart, a heart that does want to feel, a heart that does want to live, a heart that is built for compassion, not hate.  Hands that want to build.  A head no longer satisfied with theological conjecture about God but yearning to know God.  His “I have a dream” speech spoke directly to what we all knew and know and yet had forgotten.

That waking will put us at odds with culture.  We will, to many, appear drunk.  King was a “beautiful fool.”  Our lives, if we choose to allow ourselves to fall deeper into “what we really know,”  will appear “foolish” as well.  How can they not?   But what beauty …!

Isaiah 61
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners, [fn1]
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.

 

When you figure out what is important, you will realize you have just time to accomplish it.

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

We awaken at different times.  In this denomination, the “Second Coming” we hold to be deeply personal – a “Second Coming” that is not a physical return of Christ but in a rebirth of God into our lives, a rebirth where we open our eyes for a second time.

Our lives desperately need that second opening.  We are so bloody self obsessed!  One friend told a rather pointed joke.  ”So this guy demands of God proof of God’s existence. God responded somewhat perplexed, ‘I thought creation was enough.’”  I certainly have been in that place and find myself in that place still, a place where  all the beauty around me lies unseen as I obsessively stare into the mirror, caught in the narcissistic hell of painting my own self portrait again and again.

Thankfully, that particular approach to life inevitably fails.  I know as a Pastor, that is why I am far more relieved when someone calls in tears than in almost any other emotion.  I know when they “break” and gaze up and beyond the canvas of their thoughts and feelings they will see – and experience – a grace and beauty beyond words.  Then we see what is important and we realize we have just enough time to accomplish it.

And There Is More

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

“This sort of feeling has been growing stronger in me: a hint of eternity steals through the smallest daily activities and perceptions. I am not alone in my tiredness or sickness or fears, but at one with millions of others from many centuries, and it is all part of life.”

In the life of faith, we are consistently presented with the premise … “and there is more ….”  Every “eureka”, every “I get it now”, every insight is met with another portal.  I see the “picture” and then witness it slowly dissolve, becoming a window of something beyond.  As the authored noted, it is hints of eternity stealing through the smallest activities and perceptions.

And how different church becomes and faith becomes when held this way.  There is a human natural tendency to nail it down, to place church and faith within four walls, under prescribed times and set sacraments.  And yet even those in the end will be shot through with eternity, with a limitlessness, with an invitation to more movement.

Allowing the Work to Gather Us

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

Writing here on the first day of 2012, I am thinking of the blessing in allowing the work to gather us.  Maybe our corporate New Year’s Resolution?

Much of life is the pivot toward gathering around the Work, written eloquently of here by Richard Rohr:

The Christian life is a matter of becoming who we already are, and allthat we truly are! Can you imagine that? Is the seed already within you—of all that God wants you to be? Do you already know at some level who you authentically are? Are you willing to pay the price? Even the mistrust of others? Could that be what we mean by having a unique “soul”? Most saints thus described the path as much more unlearningthan learning. There are so many illusions and lies that we must all unlearn. And one of the last illusions to die is that we are that different or that separate, and finally we are all one and amazingly the same. Differentiation seems to precede union and communion, for some strange reason.

As he notes, it is the True Self in God coming alive.  And there is a cost.  Are we willing to pay the price?  In a culture that worships the private, the individual, and the inviolate sanctity of personal thoughts and opinions – which are very good, to a point – the price is obvious.  We may in the end be called to give up those vary things that got to that point, to the “pivot.”  ”Unlearning” carries a cost.

As the New Church theologian Emanuel Swedenborg put it, our task then is straightforward in this great “unlearning.”

Abstain from evil, and do what is good, and believe in the Lord with your whole heart and your whole soul, and the Lord will love you and give you love for what you do and faith in what you believe. Then you will do what is good because of love, and you will believe because you have faith, which is confidence.  And if you persevere like this a reciprocal partnership [with God and others] will develop and become permanent.  That is salvation itself and eternal life.   

To get our selves out of the way, we need to allow the Work to gather us.  What is the Work?  It is the work of compassion, love, service, sharing, teaching, reaching, stretching.  If you put that all into one word it would be “church”, not in an institution of orthodoxy but as a living, breathing universal BEING.

So for 2012, lets allow the work to gather us!