Archive for September, 2012

“Faith is truth acknowledged in the heart.”

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Emanuel Swedenborg wrote these words to get to a critical piece of Christian theology.  Faith is not, as we often treat it, a matter of intellectual consent or agreement.  It is a matter of the heart.  Truth, in the New Church, we believe should come to be known by the life within it.  (Secrets of Heaven, 1496)  That makes the marker of truth not the tight intellectual proposition the Western mind favors, but a matter of alignment with the greatest God given loves humanity can exercise.

As a matter of the heart, that turns faith away from certainty.  Likewise, it turns it towards an active stance of loving action.  As James 2 phrases it, “Faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, dead…. Show your faith by what you do.”  Faith and possibility then go hand-in-hand.

Taking the Bible Very Seriously, Not Literally

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

We are called to take the Bible very seriously but not literally.

In the Western mind, a mind dominated by facts and argument, that is challenging to grasp.  We often approach God’s Word with those exacting lenses, believing that if not every bit of it holds literally true, the Bible can then be dismissed in its entirety.

However the Bible from the very start was written poetically.  It speaks of Adam and Eve giving birth to two sons, Cain and Abel, who then marry.  That progression defies logic, i.e. if the first human beings gave birth to the next two, where did those wives come from?

Traditionally, Christianity has been very comfortable with a more poetic reading of the Bible.  Look at the 4 Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Each is a slightly different account of Christ’s life.  Their inclusion in the canon clearly speaks to a people comfortable with “knowledge in the round.”  They did not need one definitive account of His life.  Somehow they knew God was bigger was that.  The New Church is part of the heritage.

Holding the Bible poetically is the path of most resistance.  It is easy on one hand to dismiss the Bible in its entirety.  It is every bit as easy to hide in the literal words as a fundamentalist.  Both are simple “either/ or” solutions.  What God asks however is for us to inhabit the text, to live in it, to wrestle with it, to challenge it, to be challenged by it.   That is not easy but it engages us in an incredible spiritual conversation thousands of years old, opening us to blessings all around.



Two Minute Sunday Sermon: Silences that are hard to break

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

Ice Sheets Melting

Friday, September 21st, 2012

Data around the melting of Arctic ice is profoundly unsettling.  The summer’s low dipped to an ice coverage of the Arctic ocean of 24%.  In the 1970′s that number was around 50%.  This will have profound effects on the earth’s climate given, that as one scientist noted, “The Artic is the earth’s air  conditioner.”

As a pastor, there are areas where we are called to draw attention.  Taking care of the planet, sustainability, is a spiritual concept.  We are driven in our culture but an unquestioned bias toward “more”, at times driven, at least in my life,  by what New Church theology tags as self-centeredness and materialism.   It is much easier for all of us to indulge these more crass loves rather than fight them.  Important to note, the cultural systems within which we live will not call us to task.  Case in point – there appears to be great effort going towards exploiting now accessible resources in the Arctic as well as using now open sea channels.  A recent article in the New York times noted, “Some scientists think the Arctic Ocean could be largely free of summer ice as soon as 2020. But governments have not responded to the change with any greater urgency about limiting greenhouse emissions. To the contrary, their main response has been to plan of exploitation of newly accessible minerals in the Arctic, including drilling for more oil.”  I am frankly left unsure what to say.

As spiritual people, there is need to as best we can shake off the narcotizing effects of our own short term economic interests and speak with hope for a new world, for a change in systems in which the rush is towards things far different than exploitation.

Nagging Prayer

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

A powerful parable in the New Testament reads of a widow pleading before a judge for justice.  As a non-person – the plight of widows at the that time – her appeals met with repeated rejection.  But she persevered, nagging and nagging for justice until the judge relents.  Jesus uses this story to burrow towards a profound question, “When the Son of Humanity comes, will he find faith?”  Will God find faith?  The obvious connotation is that those who “nag” for justice actually are those among whom God finds faith.

And that is not to say that the nagging is the shrill, cynical skeptic for whom nothing ever suffices.  Quite the opposite.  The “nag” are the people of hope.  They are those who passionately believe that the world can be better and that buried deep in all our souls lies an embedded desire to be “called out” towards these acts of Justice.  Such people are part of God’s justice, forgiveness, and homecoming.  Such people may appear as “nags” about conspicuous consumption, the environment, the death penalty, but we need to hear in that nagging, regardless of our individual positions, a song of hope for the world.   Read Wendell Barry or Mary Oliver if you want to “nagged” in the poetic spirit of hope!

How big is that dream?

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

How big is that dream?  God asks us to dream, to wonder, to even at times stand in simple awe of the world arounds us.

The dream is inspiration – in-spire – a root connected to spirit, breath, and wind.  And yet so easy to succumb to the mundane patter of “reality,” a reality that stomps loudly about the avoidance of anything dangerous or peculiar.   And dreams are just that – the real dreams – the dreams an authentic God humbly asks us to allow through our lives.  Such dreams are dangerous and they are peculiar.

It is the stuff from which movements are made, not movements as in “this is one for the history books” but movements as gentle, unabated, unbowed steps towards a world more deeped wedded to love and caring.  Not muscular Christianity but a Christianity of inspiration, willing to draw along side of life in its multitude of blessed and broken forms, in which we come to know, “It can never be said that heaven is outside anyone. It is within; because every angel accepts the heaven that is outside in keeping with the heaven that is within.”  (Heaven and Hell, 54)

Where is the fringe and what is the frontier?

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Change comes when we stand with one foot in the known and one in the unknown.  All in the known, a change looses any sense of urgency.  All in the unknown and we are a rudderless ship.  The spiritual life takes parts of the known and the unknown.

The times we find ourselves in are endlessly fascinating I think because it feels so much part of both, complete with the joyful anticipation and anxious dread such moments bring.  ”The Fringe”, spiritually, is movement away from the deep hierarchies of organized, institutional faith into flatter structures.  I don’t believe it to be a collapse narrative as one author phrased it.  But it is transformation narrative.

Denominational debates obsessed with theological correctness will look increasingly suffocating and out of touch.  Expect less and less involvement, tolerance and support from parishioners for partisanship within the church walls. Religions of movement – hopefully of which the New Church will be one – however will grow, all part of a meta narrative in which “What do you believe?” becomes increasingly displaced by “How do we serve?”  That very question places us out on the frontier, on that thin, anxious and playful edge between the known and the unknown.  A place to light a fire for others to follow.

Unrest in the Middle East

Friday, September 14th, 2012

The unrest in the Middle East continues to grow today, fanned by popular anger over a video that denigrated the prophet Mohammed.  How do we hold this?

It is sad when one reads – correctly – that the vengeful video that escalated into the unrest was partially the work of right wing Christians.  The sad part is that it is true – historical Christianity does carry within it an aberrant strain of violence, not only apparent in this incident but spread throughout history.  But that strain is our fault, not Christ’s.  It is indefensible. One could readily argue that Christ’s clearest message was indeed the opposite – non-violence.  The entire crucifixion narrative, captured at Easter, clearly portrays the redemptive nature of non-violence.  And yet, mankind will do with any religious message whatever they will.

Non of this excuses the virulent anti-Western sentiment apparent in much of the Middle East either.  It does not excuse in any way those who murdered the American ambassador to Libya.  We must call intolerance in any form darkness.  And as with all things spiritual, we must start with ourselves.

Hatred and judgement readily cascade downward into violence.  This is no small thing.  This is not “over there” or “among them.”  This is “here now” and “among us.”  What are we to do?  Pray.  Light a candle.  Gather in loving, diverse community. Care. Live our way into a new way of thinking.  The word “Christian” should mean far more than it does.

Mistakes are the Portals to Discovery

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

James Joyce penned these words. They are the words of mature faith.

Immature faith, from a New Church perspective, is faith focused on theological/ intellectual constructs divorced from loving service – charity as it were. As such, this type of faith is highly judgmental even though shallowly pious. Individuals then only notice the errors of others. “They want to examine and in fact judge everyone and crave nothing more than to find evil.” (Heavenly Secrets 1079)

Mature faith is guided by kindness. Spiritually mature people “hardly notice any evil in another but pay attention instead to everything good and true in others. When they find anything bad of false, they put a good interpretation on it. This is a characteristic of all angels.”

What does that in turn allow for? It allows for mistakes to become the portals to discovery.


Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Today marks another anniversary of a day we will not forget.

The thoughts for me are deeply mixed.  The first thoughts go clearly to those who lost their lives that day and in the days since at the hands of an inexcusable act  of violence directed against the United States that in turn spilled out across the Middle East. There simply are not words for it.  I remember reading day in and day out the New York Times obituaries of the deceased.  As the wonder of the people’s lives unfolded so did the sadness at seeing so much life snuffed out prematurely.

The other part yearns for the 9/12 world, a world we no longer speak of.  Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for the New York Times focusing on human rights, wrote in a column yesterday that, “One way or another, I fear that we may well end up at war with Iran in the next four years….”  It appeared as a throw away line in a long column.  With 10 years of war behind us and a future war looming ahead of us, when those who do write of 9/12 comment on the uneasy inevitability of another conflict, I am saddened.

I would love to hear a 9/12 voice … a growing chorus in this country and in the Middle East.  Will we rediscover, as humanity, the prophetic words of Isaiah for this generation, not as a saccharine sweet platitude but as an unsettling call?  ”God will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”  (Isaiah 2:4)  Hearing that call is hearing the call to hope.