Archive for January, 2013

Are there days when I am scared to be Pastor?

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

Are there days when I am scared to be a Pastor? Yes!

The old comforting formalities and known systems within which I grew and came to love God are sliding away ever so rapidly. This is the church where I grew up, adorned for a wedding …. LeRoi Road in Pittsburgh. The church is still there but looks worn to me now and yet still remains filled with the love of people and soft memories of family … Uncle Bill, Uncle Gils, the same altar where my parents married and at which I was baptized … “a block off the old chip” the pastor said.  That church may yet find a new way.



That new is as yet unknown, unseen, maybe sensed. Still love God … I know that! But the systems that once fed and protected and reassured are falling, passing quietly away so fast there are many days where footing is treacherous at best.  And for that I am sad.  There was nothing wrong or bad or evil there.  Loving intentions, dedication, commitment, and for some reason, those very things no longer call to many outside of a nostalgic stirring.

It is a time of relinquishing a world that has gone and finding a willingness towards reception of a world that is being given.  And what is our job there as preachers?

“And there in the midst of the yearning and the wonderment, stands the preacher – not a politician or an economist or an international negotiator. The preacher is one with words given, words other than her own. The question among us is, “What words have been given?” Surely the words that are given are roughly the same words that are always given, words of new possibility. The preacher’s words like the embodied Word refuse the confinement of modern rationality and dare to utter yet another word. The utterance is an assurance with a summons with it. It is a call for a new behavior and new horizon.”

Taking Mannequins Out of Windows: The Battle of Rules Vs. Grace

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

A recent article in the New York Times spoke of the “Modesty Squads” in certain Hasidic neighborhoods in NYC who have taken a form of vigilante justice on themselves in order to establish what they deem as “modesty” in their neighborhood.  These informal groups make no pretense of their agenda … to enforce through direct coercion the maintenance of what they hold as the proper standards of modesty, down to even asking several stores, with veiled threats just underneath the surface, to remove mannequins from their windows.

This is pat of the sad legacy of most faiths including Christianity  … a toxic element within bent on some sort of enforced purity that it mistakenly believes appeases God.  They act darkly, as one commenter noted, out of a a belief that they are “protecting God and have to do this kind of stuff, and that is sickening and gives us all a black eye.”  Such a faith is attractive to a certain type of marginalized outlier but proves to many, unfortunately, the very achilles heal and hypocrisy embedded in organized religion.  Religion is seen much more as “rules” than as “grace.”

And grace is where the power of faith, I would hold, lies.  In a recent survey, it was the top word people who like religion used to describe their faith.  Grace-in-action is captured in these moving words by Anne Voscamp.

That thundering question of Where is God?

Is best answered when the people of God offer a hand and whisper: Here I am.

That thundering question of Where is God?

Is best answered when the people of God tear everything else away and take the time to show it: Here’s His love for you – beating right here, right here in me, right here for you.

Such reaching moves lovingly away from rules to grace.

Evil vs. Normal

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Reading yesterday an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, I came across this beautiful line. “… the disquieting reality is that the conflict was between not good and evil, but good and normal. The brute racism that today seems like mass social insanity was a “way of life” practiced by ordinary “good” people.”   The concept that the battle lies not in the good vs. the evil but in the good vs. the normal deserves attention!

Normalcy held for centuries slavery was justified, even justified by the bible. Much of Christian apologetics for slavery arose from such renowned seminaries as those located at Harvard and Princeton.  And yet we look back on that time and the Civil Rights battle that ensued in the 1960′s …. just a few generations removed …. and see racism largely as a period of “mass social insanity.”

And what does normalcy hold as justified today that we will look back on …. a few generations removed ….and see in that same light?

I have hints about what those issues might be but not sure, predictive knowledge.   And this is what I think I know.  The role of a church is to continue to speak to the world and those marginalized in it.  The role of a church, prophetically, is to offer, as is often said, painful rebuke and unwavering hope, a critique that MUST start with healthy self criticism.  The role of a church is to consistently point towards love and the knowledge that grows from that place.  As Emanuel Swedenborg noted over 200 years ago, “Anyone who lives a life of love for others knows EVERYTHING there is to know about faith.”  (Heavenly Secrets 1798)  Amen to that brother!


Weaning Us From the Worry at the Center of Our Heart

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Worry inhabits most hearts.  And God’s loving endeavor is to wean us away from dangerous dependencies towards the state of peace that is heaven.   As one author noted, “All of the stories of healing and transformation, awareness and enlightenment that we find in the Bible come to people moving beyond the usual definitions of power (i.e., false power, temporary power, dominative power, cultural power) to discover their deeper soul and their true spiritual power.”

To do that takes a willingness to give up control.  The desire to control others is distinctly human.  The only viable exercise of “control”, if that is even the right word, must grow, New Church theology cautions us, from “love and mercy.’  (Secrets of Heaven 1755)

I am not exactly sure how to connect “fear” with “control” in a way that is erudite.  But doesn’t it just strike you that somehow if we allow God to pry from our hands the crazed need to control others and things that somehow fear would leave, would leave along with the white knuckled wrestling as God helps us to find our right sized soul?

The Beloved Community and a Future View of Church

Monday, January 21st, 2013

“The Beloved Community” is Martin Luther King’s vision of a functioning world in which reconciliation, redemption, creation all converge.  As King phrased it, “…the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”

His words echo a broader truth Emanuel Swedenborg spoke of when he talked of the New Church view of heaven, a view in which the addition of each unique individual adds to perfection, where joy and variety join, where each finds a unique individual place within a unique, distinct communities that functions lovingly within the larger contexts in which it is embedded….  The Grand Man which is the Beloved Community writ large.

It is no secret churches including the New Church face challenges unforeseen just a few years ago. And the reclaiming of the Beloved Community appears critical in facing those challenges together.  Why say this?  I offer this because the disagreements over worship forms, women’s ordination, second marriage, elements of the Holy Supper have degraded into waring camps where rightness now trumps reconciliation.  These very issues, deeply heated, at times might unfortunately masquerade as the work of the church at a moment when numbers are declining, missions are questioned, and longtime financial stability remains elusive. The weapons of choice in the debate are doctrinal “darts”, or as one theologian wrote of it “clerical condensation arrayed in pious words.”  Of that I am guilty.

The Beloved Community however is not another camp but an authentic alternative, a Third Way, a way of loving each other enough to see our way through the tension of disagreement, to value dialogue, to live in the mess as it were and forgo the quick solutions-by-proclamation.  This is not to say that such an approach as the Beloved Community “solves” these issues.  The beloved community does not solve any particular issue but it does create a container for the conversation.  Many of these issues are not going away.  As King noted, “The arc of the moral universe bends towards justice” and as such the idea we will arrive at a final answer on the hot button issues appears as misguided as the attempts to end the slavery question once and for all through the Northwest Ordinance, Missouri Compromise, Kansas-Nebraska act etc….   As a New Church pastor, I wonder if “the arc of the spiritual universe bends towards emancipation” and may work in the same way.

What could then be a loving framework for an evolving conversation?

Frank Meeink: A Recovering Skinheads Journey Away From Hate

Friday, January 18th, 2013

Want to get ready for Martin Luther King Day?  Take a look.

Two Faced. Who Me?

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

Two faced.  Who me? Yes you.  And me.

The human condition always presents a mixed bag.  As a private school administrator, I took a group of secondary school males on an overnight to a local camp.  We invited a World War II vet and a recovering drug addict in to speak to the boys on courage.  Their presentations were remarkable.  Within hours however all that was forgotten as the police brought brought a number of boys to camp after they had  decided on a late night streaking excursion through a neighboring housing development.  Two faced, blessed and broken, saints and sinners.

The “sinner” part of us is driven by compulsions.  As New Church theology phrases it, that part grows from a desperate love anchored to the urges of selfishness and materialism.  From that place, we easily rationalize any number of misguided behaviors, remaining wholly convinced that such a life is the only life, and that if we lose it we face obliteration. (Secrets of Heaven, #1740)

But there is another place – the “saint” – in us as well, a place settled beneath the compulsions of the outer man, a place deeply and eternally connected with God.  For humanity, “… our inner self is the Lord’s possession, and so far as anything of their own (ego) does not get in way …. their inner self belongs to God and in fact is God.”  (Secrets of Heaven, #1745)

So the way out of it is simply  a letting go.  As the author Anne Voscamp phrased it, “the most freeing place for a soul is in the abandonment to the will of God.”


Condemnation by Category

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

“Condemnation by category is the lowest form of hatred, for it is cold-hearted and abstract, lacking even the courage of a personal hatred. Categorical condemnation is the hatred of the mob. It makes cowards brave. And there is nothing more fearful than a religious mob, a mob overflowing with righteousness – as at the crucifixion and before and since. This can happen only after we have made a categorical refusal to kindness: to heretics, foreigners, enemies or any other group different from ourselves.” (Wendell Berry)

Some quotes are so true that don’t need a lot of adornment!  I love this one because it cuts to both sides of the divide.  Condemn others as a “Category” and we may well be functioning from a “categorical refusal to kindness.” where we refuse the “grafting of faith onto love.”  (Heavenly Secrets 1737)

Frank Meeink at NewChurch LIVE

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

Frank Meeink will be speaking at NewChurch LIVE on Saturday, January 13th, 10:30 AM, 800 Tomlinson Road in Bryn Athyn, PA. Take a listen to this selection on NPR’s “Fresh Air.”

This is an amazing speaker with an incredible story.  Join us!


How do we know when it is God moment?

Friday, January 11th, 2013

Discerning the voice of God is about a settling.  I remember in my younger years wanting to tell God stuff … which is fine.  I remember as well wanting God to tell me the future … which is fine.  And in some way hard to describe, in those fleeting and rarer moments of deeper prayer, I find a soul place where I want no-thing from God except His presence.  Those moments spread in expansive ways.  Richard Rohr, a far more skilled wordsmith than I put it this way.

Mystical moments may be described as a kind of emancipation. If it isn’t an experience of newfound freedom, I don’t think it is an authentic God experience. God is always bigger than you imagined or expected or even hoped for. When you see people going to church and becoming smaller instead of larger, you have every reason to question whether the practices or sermons or sacraments or liturgies are opening them to an authentic God experience.

On a practical level such experiences will feel like a new freedom to love, and you wonder where it comes from. Why do I have this new desire, this new capacity to love new people, to love the old people better, maybe to enter into some kind of new love for the world? I will find that even my thoughts are more immediately loving, patient, and compassionate.

Clearly, you are participating in a Love that’s being given to you. You are not creating this. You are not generating this. It is being generated through you and in you and for you. You are participating in something larger than yourself, and you are just allowing it and trusting it for the pure gift that it is.

Those moments are humbling.  Emanuel Swedenborg was clear – humility and narcissism cannot co-exist.  And maybe that is part of it – our “ego” even for a moment dies and we are born into something far larger.  Thank you God!