Archive for September, 2012

Embracing the Right Kind of Pain

Monday, September 10th, 2012

Figuring out the right kind of pain to embrace is a challenging task, first made challenging by the fact few enjoy pain, and second made challenging by the need to differentiate between stupid pain and redemptive suffering.

One of the hardest challenges of pastoral leadership centers on the above.  Ministry – (and we are all called to it, ordained or not) – will pull us towards pain. There are certain areas where I find myself more clearly called, more definitively settled than before I was a pastor.  And that seems to be accompanied by a sober acceptance that in so doing, there will be pain – pain of disappointment, pain of disharmony, pain of lost connections. Not all is bleak however. Far from it. Immense joy is there as well … a more settled, smiling conviction that this is the path,  that there is no “unknowing” once we know.

That “knowing” is neither clairvoyance nor smug assuredness. At its rare and hopeful best it draws more from an unfolding, modest, faithful, grudging surrender – an embodied message we pass on more than a position or strategy we develop.

As one pastor phrased it, “Sometimes the difference between where you are and where God wants you to be is the pain that you are unwilling to endure … In fact, I will argue all day long that your potential in every area of your life is equal to the pain you are willing to endure.”

Choices towards growth and opening entail a commitment to lean into the pain so to speak.  Maybe that is why Christ so frequently warns us of the costs in following his model of drawing alongside suffering. And that is the only path towards a living church. Swedenborg warns again and again, failure of religion will not come from intellectual dissent but from a misplaced heart.   Getting our heart in the right place … our life’s work, pain included.

How Kids Raise Parents

Friday, September 7th, 2012

I listened to a wonderful sermon in which the pastor cited an author who wrote on how kids raise parents.  For those with kids, you gotta love that topic!

The author’s point was that children want two questions answered by parents.  Question One: Am I loved?  Question Two:  DO I get whatever I want?

The answer was straightforward.  Am I loved?  The answer should always be “yes.”  Do I get whatever I want?  The answer should be “no.”  That is key not only to our lives of child-rearing but to our spiritual lives as well. God clearly desires for us to know at a soul level that we are loved.  Likewise, with a far broader perspective than we can ever attain, God limits life in a certain way. Restated, no we do not get whatever we want.  There are, thankfully, limits.  Pain, fear, anxiety, numbness, loneliness are the costs as it were when we fall into the trap of getting “everything we want.”

Just ask any parent trying to raise a two year old,   Take that two year old into a store.  Tell them they can get anything they want.  By bedtime that night, not a pretty sight!  Want today to be ok?  Set up reminder that we are all loved, and we don’t get everything we want.


Some Days We Just Miss It!

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

There are days we just miss it, days known more for halting, stumbling humanness than for anything grandiose or athletic.  And God is there too.

I think it no small thing to always check ourselves against several benchmarks, one of the most important being “joy.”  Can we look at those “less than” moments with a sense of joy?  Can we smile?

We do a disservice to creation when we obsess on performance issues measured up against an  imagined perfection.  ”Perfection” is a mathematical concept not a human one.  That does not mean sloppiness ascends to the level of virtue.  It does mean however joy remains a mark of the spiritually mature, be that in moments of achievment or in moments/ days where we just plain miss.

Building and The Mall

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

Do we build churches inside or outside “The Mall?”

Building inside The Mall means building a church in culture.  As such we use cultural tools and language.  One wants an attractive storefront, easy paths in and around. Prepackaged merchandise displayed in appealing fashion.  It is about ease, about entry. Bright lighting. Individual contentment. Engagement with the comfortable and stimulating environment.  Financial support purchases a product.  The most important sign – to the restroom.  Closes at 5:00.

Building outside of The Mall means building a church outiside of culture.  As such, the tools and language are unique vis-a-vis common culture. One then builds a storefront that is attractive in terms of its challenge to the norm.  No merchandice exists per se.  What exists are workbenches, potter’s wheels, tools.  It is about converation, about dialog, about support. Engagement is with the work one hears and sees going on.  Financial support furthers the work.  The most important sign – right back into the world. Open 24/7.

One is religion. One is faith.


Two Types of Testimonies

Sunday, September 2nd, 2012

Often, asking a Christian for their spiritual “testimony” will lead to a response about a moment of unclouded belief or baptism in which a personal acceptance of Christ as Savior was had.  Ask a Quaker the same question, and one will hear of the the values around which their life is forged.  Such a testimony carries more a communal/ relational feel to it.

There is much to be said for the Quaker approach to testimony.  In Christian New Church theology we believe that when we die the big question is not “What did you believe?” but instead, “How did you live?”