Archive for August, 2012

Where Are You? Where Is Your Brother?

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Genesis, the first book of the bible, begins with imagery of a paradisiacal garden that in the end is lost due to human folly and hubris.  In a sense it is lost twice.

The first time occurs when Adam and Eve, the metaphorical ancestors of all humanity, eat from the one tree in the Garden they are told not to eat from, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, a tree they mistakenly believed would make them as gods. Banished from the Garden of Eden, they give birth to two sons, Cain and Abel.  Cain slays Abel – and the garden is lost, figuratively, yet again.

What is God’s reaction to both of these events?  Both Adam and later his son Cain are asked questions.  To Adam, then hiding in the garden after having eaten the forbidden fruit of that tree, the question is “Where are you?’  To Cain, following the murder of his brother, God asks, “Where is your brother?”

These questions, core to the human experience.  ”Where are you?”  ”Where is your brother (or sister)?”  They weave together the need for individual accountability, introspection,  disciplined responsibility with service, love, extroverted gifting of self to other.  And how should we answer?  Maybe to the question “Where are you?”  we can reply as the young prophet Samuel eagerly did “Here I am Lord.”  And maybe to the second, we can answer, “Right here beside me.”

They are questions we need to allow God to ask us constantly.

Failing

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

I love this photo of a US Gymnast receiving her Silver medal. Big surprise – she was favored for the gold!

The picture leaves you torn doesn’t it. Part feels compassion for someone whose life dream, so close to realization, fell away at the last moment. And another I imagine wonders “How about a little perspective? Second in the WORLD is not bad news.”

Failure is part of life.  We need structures around us to protect us from certain failures.  What we don’t need however is a padded room that keeps from failure.  Some words to think about …

In order to construct our life’s container we all need some help from “the perennial tradition” that has held up over time. We cannot each start at zero, entirely on our own. Life is far too short, and there are plenty of mistakes we do not need to make—and some that we need to make. We are parts of social and family ecosystems that are rightly structured to keep us from falling, but also, more importantly, to show us how to fall and also how to learn from that very falling.  

We are not helping our children by always preventing them from what might be necessary falling, because we learn how to recover from falling by falling! It is precisely by falling off the bike many times that you eventually learn what the balance feels like. Those who have never allowed themselves to fall are actually off balance, while not realizing it at all. That is why they are so hard to live with. Please think about that for a while.

Grinding Stones

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

On a recent trip West, to my home town, we visited McConnell’s Mill.  There lying a distance from the old mill, were several disguarded grinding stones. Powered by the creek running past the mill, these old stones had ground wheat/ grain for years long gone.  They had done their job serving both farmers and families.

It brings to mind a passage from the Gospel of John.  Christ offered the words “I tell you that unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” … challenging words, a “hard saying” as it were, and a hope filled one.

Life presents us with numerous “deaths.”   Problems are not conquered as much as they switched out, one for another.  Life often appears to grind us down.  Like the stones,  fate presents as rather rudimentary – an uncaring, unattached set of stones there to simply grind away anything placed between the two of them.  In speaking to a friend recently who is facing a troubled economic future, one can hear the grinding wheels spinning.  I believe we have all been in that place.

Christ was clear on that fact – “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!”  To me, what His words mean, is that yes, there are times when we are “ground down” so to speak.  There is little pleasant or happy about those moments … moments that are unavoidable in this life. From that point what we need to ask is, what is it that is getting “ground?’  What is the part that is being stripped away?  And what is the part, that maybe, just maybe is being born, processed or planted?

Nuns on the Bus

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

It is worthwhile to follow the current conversation taking place within the Catholic church, a conversation between the Vatican and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a professional organization for Catholic nuns.  The LCWR was recently censured by the Vatican for its stance around several issues pertaining to exclusion of women from the clergy, sexuality, and the use of birth control.   The formal Vatican response has been to place the group under the direction of 3 American bishops who will work “educating” the sisters and bringing the group in line with central church authority.

The reaction of the LCWR is deeply instructive, in my humble opinion, about how to dissent in the right way while still remaining part of a church you love.   I love the image of “Nuns on the Bus”, a tour designed to help women religious to speak their truth.  It is a great picture but there is more to it than just a bus.

One must deeply admire the over-riding goal with which these Sisters approach this issue. While formally deciding this week that they were not going to adhere to the Vatican’s directives, they clearly held that their heartfelt desire was for reconciliation.   Here is part of their resolution, passed at the end of their 3 day conference …  It is an example of loving people do.

Utilizing a three-day process of sustained prayer and dialogue, the assembly participants considered various responses to the CDF report, with the goal of deciding together on next best steps for the conference following the assembly. Recognizing that this is a time of historic challenge for the church and for LCWR, the participants expressed the hope of maintaining LCWR’s official role representing US women religious in the Catholic Church. While acknowledging deep disappointment with the CDF report, the members proclaimed their intention to use this opportunity to explain to church leaders LCWR’s mission, values, and operating principles.

The members charged the LCWR officers with beginning a conversation with Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, the apostolic delegate appointed by CDF to oversee LCWR. Their expectation is that open and honest dialogue may lead not only to increasing understanding between the church leadership and women religious, but also to creating more possibilities for the laity and, particularly for women, to have a voice in the church.

Reading the above, shows clearly what a Christian response looks like to issues such as those mentioned above. (1) Unwavering commitment to Truth (2) Invitation for dialog (3) Maintaining Hope (4) Prayer.  While at times we are all tempted “to take our toys and go play somewhere else” this response is frankly, the real deal and demonstrates more courage than simply ending formal ties with the Catholic church in an abrupt, vengeful manner.

A fascinating (and relieving!) part of the commentary from the LCWR’s President, Pat Farrell, was that “Dialogue on doctrine is not going to be our starting point.”  This statement clearly points appropriately to one of the most grievous falsities on which conversations like this involving clergy often start – “The doctrine says ….”  And there the conversation ends.  It is over, done, kaput.  Truth claims without deference to dialog and a loving willingness to LISTEN are no longer truth claims.  That is why in New Church circles we so clearly hold that “Doctrine divides.  Charity unites.”

Imagine a conversation starting from “What a does a loving church look like?  Act like?  Serve like?”   Imagine a conversation with women’s voices. These nuns are giving us and all of Christendom a living example.

 

When was the last time church was “dangerous?”

Saturday, August 11th, 2012

We simply don’t think of church as dangerous.  Often the connotation is the opposite – safe, secure, comfortable, knowing.

Yet when church is no longer “dangerous” maybe in fact it is a marker we have slid slowly away from the Christian call to partner as servants in building a lovingly impactful relationship with the wider world. Such agape relationships are by their nature disruptive because they are no longer self-centered, self- congratulatory, or self- promoting. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor who died fighting Hitler in Nazi Germany, said the surest sign the church in Germany was dead was that is had nothing to say about the war or the treatment of the Jews. The church in Germany, during WW II, was therefore neither dangerous or disruptive.

And, important to note, a dangerous church should bring a smile because it calls us to be who we truly are and who truly – from our deepest spiritual nature – desire to become!  Richard Rohr: “If you’re living from the true self, you’re going to live from connection and communion with God, with everyone, with everything. You’re not going to be judging, dismissing, or complaining, even in your mind. Such people change the world.”  Bonhoeffer, by all accounts, found a place of joy and peace as life raced towards a close in 1944, 1945.

In that journey there is a necessary tension between religious structures and the work of the spirit.  We can live, healthy, in the midst of that tension.  Sunset and sunrise is a beautiful time!

Almost anything can become a god

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Almost anything can become a god.   That is why the first commandment in the Old Testament stated clearly – “You shall have no other gods before My face.”  Our faith clearly centers itself in that same warning.  “…any person or thing that is loved above all things, becomes a god, and is divine.”  (True Christianity)

It is hard to keep perspective around this simple concept.  God does not demand 24/7 attention.   God is not “needy.” He is not a struggling co-dependant searching for constant attention.  God is giving and in that giving, actually a rather quiet presence.

So how do we keep the find the right degree of attentiveness?

First, be aware of obsession and compulsion (including religious!).   Freedom fails to grow where obsession and compulsion take deep, binding root.  Obsession and compulsion – the not to do list.

Second be aware of the need for quiet.  As I grow older, the more I feel pulled to the concept that God’s voice most often shows as luminescent silence.  It is not the silence of “Hello is anyone out there?”  It is the silence of our souls, deeply anchored in God, but now free from the trappings and clutching and control born of our ego.

Reminding Ourselves a Million Times – It is NOT about us

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Just finished, “Who Stole My Church?” An autobiographic account written by Gordon MacDonald, it traces his congregation’s journey through change. The core change, as is true for churches (and lives) is the flip from it being about “us” to being about “them.”

A blessing of starting a new church, i.e. NewChurch LIVE, is that we never had a multi-generational culture to work through.  Our efforts – creating from the bottom up.   Simply put, no one within NCL thankfully ever said, “But that is not the way we did it.”  However that does not mean that we won’t face those issues in the future.  Someone will eventually say those very words!  (and it may be me in which case re-send me this blog:))

We received this email yesterday from New Mexico.   It reads ….

First, we would like to thank you for making your services available to us online.  They have led to much understanding and growth for us personally and inspired us to want to share the same type of services with our community.

We are trying to grow our shrinking New Church Circle in Albuquerque, NM.  We are in need of materials.  Our current plan for 2012-2013 is to project New Church Live Services and the wonderful music of your band to see if we can get more people involved.

The email on went to outline the ways in which they hope to leverage our services online.  See right there folks is a need.  It is a need beyond “us.”  It is about “them.”   It is about sharing a language as we seek to find ways to humbly take part in a reinvention of “church” for a new generation.   A wonderful world of promise!  And here is the caution, as Emanuel Swedenborg phrased it, about what creates detours on that journey.

“When we adopt our own welfare as the goal, God cannot be present.  Our self-absorbtion pushes Him away [as] we deflect and divert to ourselves the common good of society, the common good of the church, and even the Lord’s kingdom, treating them as if they exist for our own sake.”  (Heavenly Secrets 1316) 

That journey to the common good then takes patience and self-sacrifice.  We need to be willing to give to it – our time, talent, and treasure.  But don’t question the need.  At the Ronald McDonald House two nights ago I met a volunteer named Jeff, a man who lost a daughter to cancer at age 6.  He leaned across the counter with an unsettling certaintude, looked me in the eye, and said, ” We need more churches like NewChurch LIVE.”  If we can keep from letting that turn us back into a concern just about us, we will really be able to serve the world.  The tide has not come in yet.  But keep focused and keep clear about that this is all about.  Keep pointed to the “other.”