Archive for May, 2012

The Proclamation

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

The Proclamation of Christianity is the Kingdom – here and now. It is not the church.  It is not afterlife.  It is not moralism or theological debate or sacrament. While all these have their place, they are not and never were the point.  The point was the Kingdom- not the figurative Jerusalem evacuated to space but the settling of the Kingdom onto this earth.

The legacy of the Kingdom tales through the Old Testament.  Read these words from Jeremiah 9: 23: 24.

Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, or the strong man boast of his strength, or the rich man boast of his riches….
… he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindnessjustice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.

The conflicted heart of God holds up for our observation in words thousands of years old two conflicting triads – one ours’ and one God’s – wisdom, strength, and riches in opposition to kindness, justice, and righteousness.

The Kingdom is the Proclamation.  It is a Proclamation that finds itself more comfortable with poetry and sacrifice than with tight theological rationalizations and formulas that all too often partake of our own intellectual puffery vs. God’s call. It is wearisome to talk about.  And we all fall so ready for it – for talking about.  How many times however have we met or talked or written even and left that event – whatever that event might have been – and from that place furthered the triad of the Kingdom – kindness, justice, and righteousness?   If we are candid, the times are painfully few.  Read the lines – knowing God is not knowing about.  It is knowing kindness, justice, and righteousness.

The More We Love The Less We “Know”

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

The ground in which Faith takes root is one of two.  Faith either plants itself in love/ belonging, growing from there, or it plants itself in knowledge/ belief, and grows from that place.  This dichotomy is apparent throughout the spiritual landscape – both in ourselves and our institutions.  And often, important to note the two “grounds” are blended.

The issue of the ground in which we choose to plant is so small thing.  Faith that grows from love has a quality of grace and humble “unknowing” to it that is attractive but frustratingly hard to articulate.  As the Gospel of John poetically notes, “The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”  (The words for “wind” and “Spirit” are interchangeable.)  Conversely, Faith that grows from knowledge develops a hard edged certainty to it, a “knowing” that is comforting and readily codified.   That latter tends to be heard well, heard strongly in never ceasing argumentation and debate among those who “know” exactly as matters stand.

We are all so uncomfortable with “the wind” or “the Spirit” I think, regardless of an orientation more toward love or more towards knowledge.  The Spirit is a disquieting force – so disquieting I will even pretend to pay it no mind as I gather my agenda for what love looks like.  Wind rustles the leaves.  It spreads seeds.  It drives the waves.   And it makes a complete mess of the well set picnic table of paper cups, juice, styrofoam plates and plastic silverware.  It makes the natives restless!

We all seem to stop short of really allowing the wind to have at us.  Of course there are those issues of great import and impassioned attention similar to the issue of same-sex marriage today.  Issues like that are important but it seems we never quite let the Spirit go all the way.  We arrest it, myopically focusing all our moral attentiveness solely on one issue believing its resolution to be the resolution, essential saying “the wind blows only here.”  But that is never the case. Slavery gave way to Suffrage which gave way to Civil Rights which will give way in turn to ….  God’s cause is beyond one issue but encompasses the whole shebang – the totality of LIFE.

In this denomination we speak of looking at the “mysteries of faith.”  I think that points towards speech willing to address “the paradoxes of faith” – of not always needing the well coiffed answer but being comfortable with the Wind.

The Scary Lion King Voice: Fundamentalism that cuts both ways

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Most of us have a “scary” voice, a Lion King voice.  I certainly do.  The voice keeps me in a sense “safe” because it keeps me “right.”  I know the triggers all too well given that I rehearse my responses to perceived criticism daily, specifically criticisms directed at what I believe to be the work of church.

I know there is a tad bit of that “voice” that is even necessary given the tumult of the times in which we live.  But only a “tad”  - an amount far less than the roaring monologue we often would choose to unleash if given our way.

Where is this voice for you?  The scary voice, the one used to “frighten” and “prove”?  The one which after we roar, we look to friends with the question, “Was that good?”  ”Did I sound scary enough?”

We have to wonder more and more how good any of that voice is.  The Third Way is so difficult to write about because it is not a solution but it is the solution. Cutting between the easy division of “liberal” and “conservative” it neither supplies “Safety” or “rightness.”  And I do think more and more it is one of the prized discoveries God places before before us.  Read this powerful reflection from Richard Rohr.

At this time in history, the contemporary choice offered most Americans is between unstable correctness (liberals) and stable illusion (conservatives)! What a choice! It has little to do with real transformation in either case. How different from the radical orthodoxy of T. S. Eliot, who can say in Little Gidding,

You are not here to verify, 
Instruct yourself or inform curiosity 
Or carry report. You are here to kneel . . . .

There is a third way, and it probably is a way of “kneeling.” Most people would just call it “wisdom.” It demands a transformation of consciousness and a move beyond the dualistic win/lose mind of both liberals and conservatives. An authentic God encounter is the quickest and truest path to such wisdom, which is always non-dual consciousness and does not take useless sides on non-essential issues.

Neither expelling nor excluding (conservative temptation), nor perfect explaining (liberal temptation) is our task. True participation in God liberates us from our control towers and for the compelling and overarching vision of the Reign of God—where there are no liberals or conservatives. Here, the paradoxes—life and death, success and failure, loyalty to what is and risk for what needs to be—do not fight with one another, but lie in an endless embrace. We must penetrate behind them both—into the Mystery that bears them both. This is contemplation in action. 

Spot on stuff.  New Church theology is cut right along those lines as well.  As Emanuel Swedenborg noted, “[The] pact is the Lord’s close connection with us through love or to put in another way, [it] is the presence of the Lord with us in love and charity. The Word calls the pact itself a pact of peace.  This is because peace symbolizes the Lord’s kingdom, and the Lord’s kingdom consists of mutual love that is the only thing that affords peace.”

Living into that place is hard because we are asked to give up being “right” and learn to just “kneel.”  Hard to do for the Lion King!



The Comparison Trap: A cucumber or a grape?

Friday, May 4th, 2012

Arguably the least talked about of the 10 commandments is to “not covet.” Given our culture, that should not surprise. Culturally, “coveting” or wanting what another possesses is a sentiment nourished in our culture.  I know even with our kids, I am far more prone when a son or daughter offers a remark tinged with jealously (most recently over where their friends had gone for spring break) to offer a simple “But look at all you have compared to most Americans.” What I fail to say,nicely, is “coveting is wrong.”  My preferred “exit” out of the comparison trap is simply to compare myself or my family circumstances with those less fortunate.  Crazy.   I am just as caught in the comparison trap as my kids.

This is no small thing.  Warning bells sound constantly about the dangers of coveting.  Coveting however is not a glamorous sin.  It makes no list of the “hot sins.” There are no 12 Step program to address it.  It is rarely if ever preached on.

I believe that is because it is so deeply engrained in our very being that even acknowledging it takes a perspective a rare view can muster.  I watched this video and smiled knowing we may have evolved in some ways, but certainly not in others.

Cucumbers and Grapes are humorous.  Junior Seau’s suicide not.  A 12 time all-pro in the NFL he committed suicide this week.  The average NFL retiree is 6 times more likely to commit suicide than the average American.  6 times.   How much of that is somehow connected to the comparison trap – to a reaching and stretching to what our culture deems as success only to reach that pinnacle and realize the superficial hollowness of it all?

I don’t know if those were Seau’s reasons for taking his own life.  But I do know that the comparison trap does lead people, as Thoreau famously said to “lives of quiet desperation” as they chase after a phantom – a “ranking” as it were where they are now “ok.”  There is no such ranking.   The settling is when we gain a glimpse that only our journey will get us there – only our journey – who we are, where we are – will get us there.


A Glass of Water: The Third Way and the issue of Sexual Orientation

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

I have immense admiration for a church by the name of “North Point” in Atlanta.  Several months ago their Pastor, Andy Stanley, shared the following story.

Andy was a new minister serving in his dad’s church.  With the annual Gay Pride Parade approaching, Andy’s father, knowing that the parade organizers had routed the parade right by his church, timing its arrival to the same time as church was to let out, decided to end church early.

The parishoners poured out at the close of church, believing that in so doing they would rob the parade organizers the supposed satisfaction of a confrontation with the congregation.  However, the parade had actually arrived early.

Andy watched the somewhat awkward stand off.  And then he noticed.  He noticed the church across the street.  The church across the street had a table set up with glasses of water for those in the parade.

That is the Third  Way.

We talked Sunday of the danger of dividing the world all too easily into “boxes.”  That most often is the self centered endeavor of the human ego.  As we discussed, the reality is that we carry those boxes around in what we judge their most useful form – ammunition boxes packed with rationalizations for our positions.  It is not a posture from which one listens but often only a position from which one attacks.  In the story above, Andy’s father had an “ammunition box” as did no doubt some of those in the parade.

But water is the “universal solvent.”  By sharing simple glasses of water the neighboring congregation was refusing to pick up the weapon of words.  Did that congregation have members opposed to homosexuality on moral grounds?  No doubt.  Did the parade likewise include those who held similar judgements about Christians?  No doubt.  But by that simple act of water, a Third Way was opened.  The confrontation of “either” “or” gave way to something more profound.

Religious movements, from a New Church perspective, can figuratively be seen as gardens, gardens judged in the end by their fruit, by what that produce – by the effect of love.    Religious movements – institutionally or individually – that close down conversation and simple human connection are not bearing useful fruit.  Religious movements that open conversation and connection – “Come let us reason together” – in their own very simple way make a profoundly courageous stand for the Third Way.

We are to make stands.  We are be firmly unwavering at times.  Our question is what does that look like for us?  I vote “water.”


You will only understand how much I love you when you have your own kids

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

We shared this story last Sunday.  A father told his 20 something son that, “You will only understand how much I love you when you have your own kids.”  It eventually clicked with this son who called him after spending an hour or so with his own newborn child sleeping on his chest.  ”Dad, I get it.”

So much the way God works is asking us to create and hold.  We are actually part of the creation process.  It is blessedly beyond our control but none of it happens without us either.  And we are asked in turn to “hold” the fruits of that creative endeavor in a nurturing way.

Maybe, just maybe then God says the same thing to us – that we will never understand how much He loves us until we hold those creations.  For some that maybe children.  For others it may it be nature.  For others it might be an endeavor to love that has taken shape and form.  For all, it is the holding of LIFE.