Archive for August, 2012

Letting Go

Friday, August 31st, 2012

There are few more powerful spiritual tools than “repentance.”  Going back to the Greek word “metanoia”, it means essentially to turn around, to change one’s mind.  That turning entails a candid self appraisal – “rigorous honesty” as it is phrased in 12 Step Circles – that then opens to a humble willingness to turn over to God those things that keep us from His more immediate presence.

That “letting go” is cathartic.  It includes letting go of enthrallment with physical pleasure, as well as “emotions and factual knowledge.”  (Heavenly Secret, 1412)   Understand, we are not talking here of embracing an ascetic lifestyle, devoid of pleasure, emotions, and knowledge.  We are talking of an engaged lifestyle devoid of enslaving attachment to pleasure, emotions, and knowledge.  It is life placed in an open field.

Yesterday, a friend shared how tiresome her daughter’s attachment to drama had become.  That is exactly what the above is talking about!   Give up the binding attachment to the emotion of being “wounded”, give up the binding attachment to the  ”knowledge” of what motivated the supposed transgressor, and an “open field” appears.  But that is hard work. Who wants to give that up?  Before you know we will actually find ourselves forgiving others!

And the fact is we can’t give up those attachments through an act of heroic self will.  What we can do is prayerfully offer our best intention to God and let Him do His work.  And we will blessedly “turn.” Our mind will change as we let go.

Joyously Dangerous

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

My friend James shared this quote from Dorothy Sayles:

“Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as “a bad press.” We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine — “dull dogma,” as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man — and the dogma is the drama… This is the dogma we find so dull — this terrifying drama of which God is the victim and the hero. If this is dull, then what, in Heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore — on the contrary; they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certifying Him “meek and mild,” and recommended Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggested a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand.”

Having just finished two books – “The Underground Church” and “Christianity After Religion” – with a similar message, it seems opportune to talk about just what it means to be, as a church, joyously dangerous.

What is it to be joyously dangerous as a church?  It means …

Seeing Church in a new way 

From a New Church perspective we are churches both individually and corporately.  As a body, we gather around creation, expression, and practice.  Church, as one individual put it, should be a yoga studio, not solely a lecture hall, more of a table than a pulpit.

Embracing Engaged Creativity 

Churches and individuals face a relatively stark dilemma – do we spend our time and energy on entertainment or do we spend it on engaged creativity?  That is uncomfortable.  We live in a time where it is so easy to frankly do nothing.  Last night, it took 5 requests to get my son off of YouTube.  And, candidly, I am no different than my son.  What if entertainment and engaged creativity actually were opposites?

Drawing alongside of suffering

Christian churches originally were founded not, interestingly around scripture, creeds, or institutional structures.  (There were no such things for several hundred years).   They were founded around a shared sense of purpose, much of entailed finding God not in power but in powerlessness.  In a pluralistic world, a religion is largely judged by the benefits it brings to its non-members.

Saying the hard thing

There is great agony in speaking to the silences that are hard to break.  In speaking into them, to use Rohr’s words, the call is not necessarily about establishing one certain answer but about taking the questions seriously.  Example abound.  Christ’s clearest call was to follow a model centered on the path of compassion, non-violence, taking care of the poor, pushing aside self- centered need for power, pride and possessions. How do we live those clear calls? He said little to nothing about worship forms, homosexuality, or second marriages.  New Church theology supports that same approach.

Speaking to what the Word clearly speaks to is hard for me at times because it runs counter to my interests.  And maybe that is the point.

Speaking the comforting thing

Many first search for church because life has fallen on hard times.  We need to speak works of comfort constantly to serve those who need held.  That does not take a “menu” of the “right things to say.”  It takes phone messages, texts, and email with simple messages of daily connection and hope.

Allowing the Word to actually change our wallets

We don’t obsess about money and funding at NewChurch LIVE.  We have been incredibly blessed through the support of the congregation, the General Church of the New Jerusalem, as well as Foundation support.  And, moving forward, it is important to note, this work does not “come on the cheap.”  I wonder – I mean it as a question for which I don’t have an answer – can we take church seriously without letting it impact our wallet?  We tithe because we do support the mission and program of NewChurch LIVE but more importantly, it is a real and concrete way of letting the mission shape behavior.   There are many ways to do that – tithing being one – and it is a conversation worth having.

Living the little stuff

It is so easy to allow such an endeavor to overwhelm. But what if God placed this church and us as individuals in touch already with the worlds we are to heal?  What if we followed Mother Theresa’s famous words that “We can do no great things.  All we can are small things with great love.”  What if we took Swedenborg at his word that we start working on our spiritual lives by simply not doing the wrong thing and instead finding ways to serve ever widening communities?  The big stuff always starts with little stuff, and practiced over time, actually will make us more than a little dangerous!

 

 


Adventurer

Monday, August 27th, 2012

Where is heaven? It is where people who do “what is good for the sake of the neighbor or God” are. (Heavenly Secrets, 9210) In the New Church, we hold heaven then as a present/ future concept. Yes there is a heaven as in life after death. And yes there is heavenly life in this life. We can discover, at a soul level, here and now what we live then and there.

That discovery carries necessary creative tensions … risks … a promise and a price.   There is breath, in and out. Working on the inside. Working on the outside. Building a core integrity as best we can.  Serving those outside ourselves.  Quiet moments of introspection.  Anxious moments of reaching.  Reading.  Speaking.  Prayer.  Dialogue. A willingness to pull right alongside suffering as well as the opportunity to celebrate blessing with joy.

We often mistakenly think that this path is a nailed down/ locked down thing.  It is not.  There is a fluidity to it.  I love Rohr’s words, “I don’t think the important thing is to be certain about answers nearly as much as being serious about the questions.”

It is all largely a big question.  I don’t see that per se as an existential crisis.  Hopefully we can move beyond that to where I believe Christ’s wants us, asking “How can we serve?” “How can we grow?”  ”How can I let go and allow God to do His work?”  ”Who is in my life that needs help, today?”

This takes courage, the courage of the conviction that you have been entrusted with something important that will be graced with God’s quiet voice calling you to be bold about what you do.  That “something important” is your life.

I love what one volunteer said.  He believes God’s first, smiling question as we wake to our new life will be “So tell me, what did you learn?” Such is the life of an adventurer!

Two weather fronts collide

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

Churches face a call – a call to have something to say.  That is not easy.  And I for one certainly would prefer, many days, to have nothing to say!

In offering words, we are tasked with being loving, bold, and clear.  We are tasked with saying it with words and actions.  We are tasked with making such offerings from a spirit of grace and reconciliation not bombast or hubris.  We are asked to be joyously dangerous!

Some days, I feel woefully under-equipped to do any of it.

And then God offers His notoriously not-so-subtle wakeup calls.  Reading on the Air Force’s website that the Reaper drone employs “… a unique capability to autonomously execute the kill chain” was one such moment.

Those words chill.  The role of church is not to direct votes a certain direction, nor to become captured by easily demarcated political poles of right or left.  We have to find the humility and courage to consistently follow Christ’s “Third Way.”  And so trying to find that neither-nor ground of the Third Way, and speak boldly from that place at the same time, I struggle deeply and painfully with someone using such chilling words to reference the efficacy of the Reaper’s “kill chain.”   I think Christ would have something to say.  And I think he would say it to all sides and to all of us.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”  (Matt. 23:23)

Those words are not soft and are frankly more easily left unsaid.  But I do believe, despite all my immense fears and anxieties, that we are called to say something as a church.   At times weather fronts do collide.

 

Death of the Religious Instinct

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Christ never commands us to worship Him.  His command, “Follow Me.”  That is frankly a crazy truth we have long since left behind.  The implications of those first two sentences remain immense.

Imagine this.  Here is the oft-told story of the rich young men.  Having done everything right, he asks Christ, essentially, what more do I need to do.  Christ’s reply – Sell it all. Give the proceeds to the poor.  Follow me.  In churches what would our response have been?  In Catholic churches – “Do these sacraments.”  In Protestant churches – “Take this class, get baptized, read this creed.”  Among agnostics – “Do what feels right.”   Can we see how revolutionary an answer Christ’s really was, an answer that said “Get Rid Of, Give, Follow?”

So easy to neuter that message, sterilizing it into simple dogmatic pronouncements.  It is easier to battle over being right than it is to get off our behinds and follow.  The need to be right is largely the death of the religious/ spiritual instinct even though it may appear deeply “religious!”  It is our death, amen.

 

Bonhoeffer’s words strike right at the practical side of that “death.”  ”On the ministry of listening: The first service that one owes to others in community consists in listening to them. Just as love for God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives His Word but also lends us His ear. …Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and, in the end, there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words.”

In closing, New Church theology, for me, is a reminder to “Get Rid Of, Give, Follow.”   This church is about those roots, not approached with a spirit of righteous certitude, but with a spirit of shared love and connection. Emanuel Swedenborg saw it – was given to see it so vividly that he put down the tools of science, picked up a pen, and gave his later years to repositioning the Christian message away from the hierarchical, judgmental, “head” church so embedded in Western culture.  The movement was to an engaged church, focused on useful service of God and others, the message underlying that mission found the poetic beauty of the Word.

The highest form of worship then, in not so many words, is following Christ’s model.

 

 

 

 

Find A Way Out

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Idolatry traps us – often very subtly.

Emanuel Swedenborg conjectured … “There are three forms of idolatry.  This first is love of ourselves, the second is love of worldly advantages, and the third is sensual pleasure.” In other words we can choose to worship ourselves, our stuff, or our pleasures. And that is why the experience of God, on the other hand, can be so deeply freeing.

See worship of God lacks a possessive “urge” to it.  God does not endeavor to “own” humanity.  He is not feverishly clutching for souls.  He endeavors, passionately but with the utmost deference to our free will, to liberate humanity.  Not a closed hand but an open hand.  Restated, the three forms of idolatry listed above pull us more and more down the rabbit hole of narcissism.  God pulls us more and more out of the rabbit hole and into the expansive path of connectedness.  Worship of God then, rightly held, opens us more to the wonder surrounding us. Not a place devoid of suffering, but a place where even that suffering in part forms a matrix from which we grow.

Please parents …..

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

This week a group of Israeli teenagers, including a 13 year old female, beat an Arab youth unconscious on a Jerusalem street.  The same day, another group attacked an Arab taxi in Israel, throwing a firebomb through the vehicle’s window.

It was interesting reading the legitimately concerned reaction in Israel as citizens expressed worry about their own form of homegrown terrorism.  One commenter offered this insight.“This is directly tied to national fundamentalism that is the same as the rhetoric of neo-Nazis, Taliban and K.K.K.,” Mr. Aloni said. “This comes from an entire culture that has been escalating toward an open and blunt language based on us being the chosen people who are allowed to do whatever we like.”

Such attacks, as he saw it, were an inevitable and logical outgrowth of escalating intolerance.  Given the saber rattling around what appears to be a fall attack on Iran, he is correct.  Just last week, I read an article in the same paper of a hero’s welcome accorded to 100 some odd young Americans returning to Israel to enlist in the Israeli army for the upcoming showdown with Iran over the development of atomic weapons.

Shame on Israel right.   Easy for a Pastor in the states to point to the Middle East in condescending judgment about how wrong they are as the cycle of violence churns, and churns, and churns.  Were it that easy to press the issue “out there.”  But the fact is it is “in here.”  So the shame is rightly on us, me included.

Thomas Merton famously wrote how the “sane ones” are the most dangerous.   Sanity without a moral compass endangers our soul. Much of violence is “sane” in the simple math of retribution and protection.  We live a sail in dangerous waters.  And where is the voice for the evolution of the human soul?  Nothing soft about stands around non-violence.  God’s call: “Blessed are the peacemakers.”  God’s gifts: Not “a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, love, and self discipline.”  (2 Timothy 1:7)

Goal

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Our goal in life is critical.  New Church theology phrases it this way, “God regards nothing in us but our goal … no matter our thoughts our deeds … as long as the PURPOSE is good, these things are all good.  Whatever we aim at is our actual life.”  (Heavenly Secrets #1317)

These “goals” are born of the hearts intention not the head’s invention, making it important and freeing to know that our work is to settle our intention on loving others.  That is enough work for this life and will make everything interesting!  Don’t be surprised as those goals unfold and grow in often times joyously disruptive ways. As Richard Rohr notes….

“The second half of the spiritual life, you are not making choices as much as you are being guided, taught, and led—which leads to “choiceless choices”: these are the things you cannot not do because of what you have become; things you do not need to do because they are just not yours to do; and things you absolutely must do because they are your destiny and your deepest desire. Your driving motives are no longer money, success, or the approval of others. You have found your sacred dance.

Now your only specialness is in being absolutely ordinary and even “choiceless,” beyond the strong opinions, needs, preferences, and demands of your first half of life. You do not need your “visions” anymore; you are happily participating in God’s vision for you. . . . Our dreams of our early years have morphed into Someone Else’s dream for us.”

How do we hold on?

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

Faced as we all are with times that challenge, how is it that we hold on awaiting for things to shift?

It is the experienced union with God that will in the end shift things.  That runs counter to the idea of “circumstance based happiness.”  While we may need to take a hard look and make hard decisions about the circumstances of our lives, even re-arranging the furniture, as it were, such rearrangements rarely of themselves bring lasting change, lasting joy. What does is the lived experienced of connectedness with God and allowing that foundational connectedness to pull us at the time out into connectedness with others.   From there, with our ego quiescent, we have nothing to defend or protect.  We are “safe” then anywhere.  We have arrived “home.”

 

 

Christianity was not born a religion but a collection of hearts on fire. (Robin Meyers)

Friday, August 17th, 2012

I am often embarrassed.  Embarrassed frankly to share what I think God is really asking of us.  And so I am working, with halting steps, at no longer being embarrassed at speaking with an unbiased voice.  So what is it that continually needs to be said, that might in fact be embarrassing?  So here it is in the form of questions ….

Are we ready to move from worshiping Christ and all the edifices that prop that worship up, to following Christ and taking on all the disruptive discomfort that entails?  Are we ready to move forward without the well versed and well defended certainties of fundamentalist dogma but with the joyful, holy foolishness of hearts on fire tied together not with a forced uniformity of superficial belief but with a deeply shared spirit of loving service?

“God is present with us the moment we start to love the neighbor.”  (Emmanuel Swedenborg)

What does a church like that look like?  I hope you are smiling when you start to picture it (as well as a little scared)!

It puts us all on the hook.  ”I am spiritual but not religious.”  I am embarrassed to say that, nope, doesn’t matter. You are on the hook.  ”We go to Church every Sunday”  or “We never go to Church.”  I am embarrassed to say that, nope, doesn’t matter. You are on the hook. “Religion really hurt me.”  I am embarrassed to say that, nope, doesn’t matter. You are on the hook. (and I am sorry that religion hurt you) “I am part of NewChurch LIVE”  I am embarrassed to say that, nope, doesn’t matter. You are especially on the hook!  Christ insists that everyone he met do something and change.  Now that is embarrassing.

 

Here it is folks, a combination of thoughts from several authors: The purpose of church is to undo our lives.  It is to create in those present the feeling that the more that one trusts in the basic equation that to lose one’s life (read ego) is to gain one’s life, the more obligated we feel to let go of the mirage of self- sufficiency.  Me, Myself and I is the unholy trinity.  Looking out for number one is the anti-gospel. Enough is not enough will ultimately be enough to do us all in.   War and violence, with rare, rare exception is sin.  Homosexuality, unaddressed by Christ, is not the litmus test of “Christianity.”  First and second marriages are beautiful.   Tithing (giving 10% of the one’s income to support the church’s program) is a way of ensuring that we acknowledge that none of this can be had “on the cheap” and that changing our wallets changes our hearts.   Women can preach – well.  Please do SOMETHING – find a need in the church or outside of it and fill it.  If you are here to observe, that is ok, for awhile.  If you want to serve, welcome aboard.  If a pastor doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable and doesn’t get you questioning some of your allegiances, find a pastor that does.

Here we go!