Archive for October, 2012

The Community God Builds In Our Hearts

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

We certainly hope and pray everyone made it through the storm.  What a night.   A lot of cleanup today as we work at restoring lives to a more normal pattern.

And maybe we can all take a moment to recognize the community that God is building in our hearts.  Events like we are in the midst of are such stark reminders aren’t they – reminders of what actually matters, what is real.  Many moments spoke to that reality over the past days. One such moment was simple – watching our family camped out in the living room yesterday reading, content and happy just to be in one another’s company.

Now admittedly we did not end up with a tree through our living room.  We lost a rental house once to a hurricane and we know that shifts the whole perspective in a different direction.  That being said, there is a rough beauty as we weather storms together.  Press down disruptively here on the comforts and normalcy of life, and it appears almost inevitable that the human spirit, breathed into by God, rises in a new way, ever so briefly, before settling back down into “pattern” but in that rising a great light does shine.

Moving Beyond Meaness

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

Years ago I remember listening to the Christian activist Shaine Claiborne.  He offered that one could be completely “right” and completely “mean” at the same time – an unfortunate confluence that effectively canceled any “rightness” to be had.  Theologian Emanuel Swedenborg cited the same principle, writing in the 1700′s that “… a life of religious devotion without a life of kindness is not a spiritual life.”

A sobering fact for life for me since entering ministry has been witnessing the amount of meanness embedded in Christianity – New Church and otherwise – at this day.  Those who struggle with faith appear often far more kind and willing to engage in an open ended conversation than those who wrap themselves in the assuredness of having all answers for all things and therefore having all judgement about all things!

Faith needs to be able to move beyond that assuredness and the meanness I believe it spawns.  That does not mean embracing nihilism or relativism.  It means embracing kindness and faith in a fashion safely comfortable with the grey areas of life.

We need to look clearly for the direction God is pointing us in – the arrow in the leaves so to speak.  That arrow will ALWAYS point towards a loving kindess and the softness of heart that moves up beyond the petty meanness, rationalizations, and smugness of our outer selves.

 

Spectacular but Empty

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

We value the spectacular. We value the novel, the thrilling.  Much of what we value however is endlessly empty.  But there are choices.

I love the words in 1 Peter 2 where the author writes of the living Stone that is God, and how we are small stones, in His very image and likeness. As such, as figurative “stones,” we will at times be …

  1. “A precious cornerstone”
  2. “The stone which the builders rejected”
  3. “A stone that makes men to stumble”
The very blessing and disruption does not come from aggression or from the spectacular but from the simple acts of good that in turn “silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”   In its own understated way, that is actually spectacular but it is no longer empty!

 

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The Attack on Malala Yousafzai

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

Many of us are aware of the attempted assassination of Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani teenager who spoke out for the educational rights of girls in her country.  Shot in the head by Taliban terrorists, she is currently undergoing treatment in Europe.

 

Reading her story leaves one with a great sense of awe at her courage. This morning, I re-read the words from New Testament letter of James that seem to so neatly capture her life.  It is the God-given command to “humbly accept the word planted in you that can save you.”  (James 1:21)  This is someone who came into her voice – the word planted in her – at a very young age. Unfortunately that voice ran counter to other voices – voices of misogyny, fundamentalism, and cruelty.  Such is our life when we are stirred by God in such a way that we become “dangerous.” As one author noted, “After any “raising up” of our True Selves, we will no longer fit into many groups, even much of religious society, which is often obsessed with and yet indulgent of the False Self, because that is all it knows.”

And that is why we need to continually press the forces of darkness that would strangle that very word/ Word.  We can do that in big ways and small.  A simple story of the way forward …. A few nights ago my wife and I were at a local church taking a course on money management. I introduced myself to the pastor after the program, asking him if he ever rented his building. He said he felt strongly that the building was God’s, not his, so of course they were open to others using the facility. That is not the reaction many places of worship have – including many that I grew up in and have been part of.  In that small comment by the Pastor, – a reaching on his part – speaks to a bigger, more loving picture beyond the tribalism that often passes for “faith” today, a tribalism, in its extreme, that nearly killed Malala Yousafzai.

 

“Faith does not effect salvation unless love is present.”

Arcana Coelestia 369 Emanuel Swedenborg

First Quarter at NewChurch LIVE

Friday, October 19th, 2012

First Quarter Blurb

It was an exceptionally strong first quarter, growing Sunday attendance by 13% and online plays by 15%.  We are rapidly reaching a “breaking” point.  The breaking is NOT about crisis.  It is about clarity around several simple facts and the opportunity to move forward they present.

  1. We put together a pastor-centered model that served us well and grew us to this point.
  2. We are outgrowing that model.
  3. Time to begin working on a new small group/ Meta Church model.

The new model will serve us in three ways, (1) enabling us to better serve our mission, (2) to grow our local congregation, (3) and to reach financial self-sufficiency in the next two years.

We are getting started in earnest.  So what will the changes look like?  Some things will remain the same like the Sunday service, KidsLIVE etc…  What will change will be what happens after Sunday.  Specifically, we will be re-gearing our small group program.  This will take some work, some courage, and a lot of commitment. And it will be a fun!  In the end, we will have positioned ourselves to better connect and serve others.

These words of Richard Rohr get right to it:

All of Jesus’ guidance for ministry, his seeming “tips for the road,” are very concrete and interpersonal. They are all about putting people in touch with specific people, and especially with people’s pain. Person-to-person is the way the Gospel was originally communicated. Person-in-love-with-person, person-respecting-person, person-forgiving-person, person-touching-person, person-crying-with-person, person-hugging-person, person-hurting-person: that’s where the Divine Presence is so beautifully revealed. And from the concrete and personal it universalizes! What is true here and now is true everywhere and always.

I am confident this unfolding new direction will help us humbly cooperate with God in doing just that!

Wanting to be Superman

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

We all harbor a desire to be superman/ woman.  Not an easy role to fill within the times we live, times that appear to be a time of deconstruction, of the tide going out, not coming in.

And yet that may be the very time to start the superhero journey!  Here I am not talking of muscular Christianity centered on the “health and wealth” gospel but the more real stuff that holds the fire starter of hope unattached to the accumulation of stuff we so often confuse with happiness and purpose.

And how might we start that journey?  Maybe by exercising the courage it takes to connect vs. the judgments we make to correct.  That connection is not within our social strata but a connectedness that readily travels to all extremes.  Churches are unique in that way.  Within NewChurch LIVE we host highly successful business people as well as those struggling to make ends meet.  That is one of the many blessings of church. As those artificial material delineations disappear we focus on the unifying nature of the spirit – on what we truly bring to the table – our underlying and blessed God given humanity.

From there, maybe we can invite superman/ woman to play!

Living Safe in Low Gear

Friday, October 12th, 2012

These words by Walter Brueggemann tell much of our story.  We prefer too often “living safe in low gear.”

Easy of course to cite our penchant for grotesque over accumulation of “stuff” as evidence of our misplaced desire to build “safe harbor.”  However, the same must be said of many intellectual pursuits, where we likewise purse a cognitive form of “grotesque accumulation” in our desire to be certain and right.  That is not the role of education or knowledge which in truth must be an opening instead of a closing, a shifting actually away from from living safe and instead shifting into a higher gear.

I love these words of a former student, Alison Massey: “…instilling the passion and desire for education and critical thinking [is vital] when it comes to such important issues and life in general. While some people think a college education is just a means to an end, I see it as an opening of more doors than I can ever imagine. I hope to instill this in my girls and encourage all people to open those doors for their kids by exposing them to books, the arts, and education in general so we can ensure the next generation find more values in these things instead of reality, garbage, fast food entertainment.“ Unfortunately education can increasingly become about “reality, garbage, fast food entertainment.”  Restated it more open job placement than opening of minds.

And that is our choice.  We can choose an education that closes us in, shuts us down.  Or we can choose an education that welcomes, paradoxically, a great unknowing, cognitive dissonance, a search blessed by God. That does not mean a search without knowns but a search with knowns aligned closely around cores of love, compassion, service.  Such a search is rigorous, demanding, uncertain, and in the end joyously blessed!

Motorcycle Accident on I 95

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

Last night, traveling home from a wedding, I passed a fatal motorcycle accident on I 95. Many of us have passed those scenes several times in our life. I arrived home filled with that sinking, unsettled feeling such moments bring.

There are several images in my head, one of which I want to share. It is the image of a SUV, parked deliberately across traffic to protect the cyclist who lay on the pavement. It was one of many vehicles that stopped to give help before the emergency crews arrived.

This morning … deeply sad for the family of the man who lost his life in the accident. Deeply appreciative that there are so many people in the world who reach out to others in times of distress.  Life is indeed very small and very precious.

The Crazy Danger of Escapism

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Rob Bell tells a funny story of a man coming up to him after a service proclaiming that the Bible stands for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.  The man’s point was that faith is about departing from the world not engaging in the world.  That type of escapism is a dangerous misuse of faith.

New Church theology holds that“The life that leads to heaven is not one of withdrawal from the world but of a life in the world. ” (Heaven and Hell 535)  Conscience, in part shaped by the wonderful confluence of God’s Word and our life experiences, gives birth in turn to the gift of love for others, a love that implants us firmly in a grounded here and now.

We often harbor the concept that a spiritual life is looking up.  It may just be the opposite, looking dow, a way to climb down the ladder, not go up!

Kindness is not what most people think of when they think of Christians

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

For Sixteen- to 29-year-olds, the five top words associated with the word “Christian” are anti-homosexual, judgmental, hypocritical, too political, and boring.  Ouch!  It is an ouch because it is hard to disagree.  That is often how “Christianity” appears.  And, it is time to get back to a different version of  a loving Christianity  - to the core of Christianity.

Emanuel Swedenborg, writing in 1700′s, hits on a simple key. “You continually pray when you are living a life of kindness, although not with your mouth yet with your heart. That which you love is continually in your thoughts, even when you are unconscious of it.” (Apocalypse Explained 325)  Kindness then is a prayer.  Hatred then is not.  As Shaine Claiborn observed, mean people are often right, but when you are mean, you’re wrong.

I tire of those Christians as well as others, including atheists, who speak in ways that frankly are mean spirited believing somehow that it can be justified because they are serving a higher cause, a higher purpose.  Kindness is what opens the soul and opens us to others.  Being mean, not so much.  Meanness takes the fun out of life.