Archive for March, 2013

Bold, Believable, and Disciplined

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

Organizations need to cast visions that are bold, believable and then execute forward movement with discipline.

What is bold and believable about a Christian vision?

The bold and believable does not lie in some trump card possessed by the few who profess.  It lies instead in the emancipation – that God created humanity to flourish.  To flourish … not suffer, or wine, or complain, or kill, or ache.  It is a flourishing that calls us into new ways of being, consistently whispering “There is more than THIS.”  Bold and believable!

That flourishing does not come from stuff.  It does not come from shrill prophesying and bullying from pulpits.  Flourishing does not come from moralizing that places God within small boxes of “do’s” and “don’ts” or knowing the “right” position on homosexuality or abortion.  Neither does flourishing grow from individual license to follow all compulsions regardless of the impact on others.   As Anne Lamott put it, You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

Forms of hatred, separation, division … oppose what flourishes … opposite a bold and believable vision.   Not much bold and believable about hate, religion-as-test, or sloppiness.  We flourish in a disciplined life navigated by love. Can we say, as this life ends, “I gave it a good squeeze?”

“Church” and the new call toward Humanity

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Churches do not exist in a cultural vacuum.  They become pivots of a sort, “pivots” where God’s Word, parishioners’ needs, service into the world all gather etc…all coalesce.  And the water all those swim in, so to speak, is culture.

It is then of course no surprise that as past cultural truisms fade churches seismographically register those tremors.  Such is true with economic changes as well.   While a “we are above that” attitude draws a certain admiration to the defiance, it is unwise to think that “religion” and “culture” face one another in a state of perpetual war … South Korea and the North. As New Church theology points out God presents us with two complimentary pillars of truth … the Word and the World.  Welcome to synthesis!

There is much to be said for what the world is teaching us now.  And what the shifts we currently observe will bring us to.   Seth Godin, a popular blogger, pointed out that much of what this new era will search for is humanity.

HUMANITY: We don’t worship industrial the way we used to. We seek out human originality and caring instead. When price and availability are no longer sufficient advantages (because everything is available and the price is no longer news), then what we are drawn to is the vulnerability and transparency that bring us together, that turn the “other” into one of us.

For a long time to come the masses will still clamor for cheap and obvious and reliable. But the people you seek to lead, the people who are helping to define the next thing and the interesting frontier, these people want your humanity, not your discounts.

The service church can provide into that space is remarkable!  We just keep looking deeper.

I Think We Are All Insane Sometimes

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

In this particular faith, we regard evil as frankly, insane.  And we can glorify in the very insanity, finding great satisfaction in what Emanuel Swedenborg phrased as the “insanities of evil.”

Paul, in writing the book  of Romans shortly after Christ’s death pointed to the same dynamic. “For what I want to do, I do not do.  And what I hate to do, I do.”  (Romans 7:15)  I get it!

Sunday afternoon filled with numerous meetings, appointments etc…. As 5:00 neared and the final meeting ended, I looked forward to joining the service team cooking at The Opportunity House in Reading.  And then I made the fateful decision to check email one last time.

What I found were a few “dings” out on a clergy list serve targeting some the positions taken by myself and as a result NewChurch LIVE.  Though unfortunate, criticisms as such are nothing new or different but simply part of the terrain in trying new ways of doing church while at the same time hoping to maintain a tight tie to the core of this wonderful theology.

So I did the logical thing.  I sat in my office, alone, for 20 minutes, stewing over the injustice of it all.  What I failed to do was get in the car and join in serving the homeless.  Simply put, I chose to stay in the crap of my own head …. resentments, judgements and all.  I chose the insanity of evil.  Is there anything more ridiculously insane than that kind of choice?  Freedom asks, “Resent or service sir”  My response … “Thank for the options.  I choose resentment thank you.”  I become 2.

I dont’ wear the above heavily but with a smile because that IS what I do.  And it is why God is patient and loving and kind and forever opens the option of doing it differently next time.




Palm Sunday: The Epic Fail

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

Palm Sunday in the traditional Christian calendar becomes a time of great celebration.  It marks Christ’s final entry into Jerusalem, the center of His religious faith as well as the center of political and economic might in Judea.  As He rode into the city, He was met with adoring crowds, waving palms, exclaiming “Hosannah”, and laying clothing down on this path as a sign of reverential joy.

Yet it was an epic fail.

Their raucous welcome grew not from the humility of Immanuel … God with us … but from the hubris of seeing a king now arrived to free the oppressed from the Roman occupation of Judea.  Seeing Christ as warrior, as a god of vengeance, a political kingmaker of this world.  That was the celebration.

Christ’s reaction to all this … He cried!  He cried not from joy at a broad recognition that had long alluded Him but at the failures of a recognition that was all wrong, pointed to the kingdoms of this world not the kingdom of the next.  He cried, lamenting “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes.”

Sometimes celebration can be an epic fail.  Many within that cheering throng … and this is a sobering realization … within a week were calling for his death.


Control Freak

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

We often flail about, experimenting with fulfillment found through one of three “Programs for Happiness.”

  1. Control
  2. Approval
  3. Security/ Safety
Such a desperate search, despite moments of respite, fails, and often fails with a dramatic unsettling.  But like addicts, we return to the failed programs, believing in that failed mythology that “this time” … “with just a little more” … “done just a little longer” … we will finally claim the control, approval, and security justly ours.
But, it doesn’t happen.
Something can open.  (Welcome to Spring!)  Takes work.  ”The hardest battle of all is with our love of being in control because of our sense of self-importance.  If we overcome this, we have no trouble overcoming our other evil loves, because that is the head of them all.”  (Heavenly Secrets 147)
Such work leads to a program for happiness evidenced not by a flailing but a by a peaceful settling …. God.  A loving God, guarding our freedom.  A loving God unable to look at us in any way but the way of love.  A loving God offering a security within his arms far different and richer than the world ever could.

Pope Francis, Rob Bell and hope for New Church Christianity

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

In the world of pastors, last week witnessed several fascinating events.

Pope Francis continued his obvious push as an advocate of lifestyle Christianity aligned to the needs to the poor.  Rob Bell, acclaimed author of “Love Wins”, in a well publicized interview preceding his most recent book, argued for Christianity to evolve largely along the same lines.  Fascinating. A Catholic.  An Evangelical.  Both calling for a radical reclaiming of a Christianity pulled back into its roots.   One could apply Richard Rohr’s words for the Pope to both actually …  ”this man is about lifestyle Christianity more than perpetual doctrinal food fights, which bear so little real fruit anyway.”

Listen to Rob Bell’s words as well. “I think we are witnessing the death of a particular subculture that doesn’t work. I think there is a very narrow, politically intertwined, culturally ghettoized, Evangelical subculture that was told “we’re gonna change the thing” and they haven’t. And they actually have turned away lots of people. And I think that when you’re in a part of a subculture that is dying, you make a lot more noise because it’s very painful. You sort of die or you adapt. And if you adapt, it means you have to come face to face with some of the ways we’ve talked about God, which don’t actually shape people into more loving, compassionate people. And we have supported policies and ways of viewing the world that are actually destructive. And we’ve done it in the name of God and we need to repent.”

Re-read those words as a Catholic.  I know and work and with many Catholics.  Don’t they ring true for Catholicism as well?  Re-read those words as member of the New Church.  I at least get a ringing in my ears!

What was immensely refreshing to me was hearing commentators note the consistent murmur from the disaffected that they would be willing to give Catholicism “one more try” if Pope Francis’ vision of simplicity, humility and generosity holds true.  I imagine many lapsed Protestants feel the same on hearing Bell’s words.

Hope.  This is a message of the universal Church, a Christianity spread over denominational lines, tied by hearts in the mystery that is Christ’s loving kindness lived into this world.


Ancient Miracles Breaking Among Us

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

Ancient miracles break among us all the time. The most ancient of which might just be resurrection. Not necessarily talking hear of resurrection into life eternal – though one day I expect to be amazed there too – but amazement of resurrection here and now, life born here, life born now, in new and surprising ways.

I went to bed last night, an email in my head … a mother who years ago lost a son but has started a small group to support others through loss commenting on the “miracle in progress” … her status report on the group.

I woke to another mom’s email who comments “I am finding my way back.”

Those are each living in their own resurrection stories. Each in their own a testimony to life born anew. Each a testimony to the God we find not in argument, but in story.

“Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams”

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

“Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams,” as Dostoevsky famously phrased it.  Seems so appropriate as we approach Easter.

We live in a culture which easily slides into a neutrality bias, a “naive egalitarianism” as Kohlberg phrased it, in which all our ideas and beliefs secure equal merit.  Much of that propensity is frankly the work of religion which is too often seen as overly judgmental and harsh.  As the apostle Paul observed, we tend toward religiosity as “the law” and as such “faith has no value” which spawns a death as “the law brings wrath.”  (Romans 4:14)

Some ideas are just plain bad.  Extremes are easy – Nazism, bad idea.  Enron, bad idea. Others however are not so apparent.  Like the internal combustion engine … a mixed bag of positives and negatives.

Where we need clarity is around the simple concept in Dostoevsky’s quote as we parse through necessary weighings. Swedenborg held that “Love in action is what remains.”  Combined with”Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams” and we have something, a view of love not as soft nostalgia or as glitzy entertainment but love as a call that of course fulfills but at the same time challenges our comfort FIERCELY.  Can such a love comfort?


Imagine Christ’s perspective.  Easter.  Crucifixion.  Knowledge at the darkness and depravity in men.  And yet filled, yes with despair, but also with comfort.  ”The salvation of the human race was his only comfort, because he possessed divine, heavenly love and became divine, heavenly love itself…. Only this love aims to love everyone and finds satisfaction there.”  (Heavenly Secrets, 1865)


Thoughts on Disney

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

Leaving in the sun of Florida and arriving to the snow of Southeastern Pennsylvania, we returned recently from Disney.  Made possible by several years of planning and saving, this was THE trip … one our family long anticipated.  What a place to be.  Walking around the parks I imagined what if church were like this?  Would that be good, would that be bad?

The good, so apparent, was the simple fact that we were together.  In this hectic life, we cross paths intermittently.   I work long Sunday hours.  My wife works Saturdays.  Kids are in and out, sports, and friends and dances, and “I will back at 10:00.”  Connections usually tenuous, hurried, and on the way to something else. Five days … together … a miracle of sorts.

There is no doubt  Disney does Disney well.  Clean, bright, chipper.  Name tags with hometowns.  How can I help you?  Nemo, Pirates, Little Mermaid.  Asking anyone anything and getting an answer.

A dark side?

As in all things, yes.

At the end of popular rides … a gift shop whose foyer projected a picture display of frightened riders … your face posted to bring a smile and I imagine to slow you down enough to buy something.  And just outside kiosks with bottled water for $2.89.  And after seeing and hearing, impressively, about new ways to grow vegetables in the “Planet Earth” (I think) boat tour, eating food with plastic silverware.  6 of us.  3 meals a day.  For 5 days.  6x3x5=324  forks…spoons…knives …. plates … bottles/ cups all now secured safely from further use in a landfill.

And the end of one day, returning in a bus of white upper middle class “guests.”  And seeing 3 golf carts of hotel cleaning staff, “cast”, with nearly no white faces being ferried to their cars in the parking lot.

Now none I am sure is done intentionally. There is, I think, little ill will in any of the above.  It is an “is.” But it leaves one wanting to take a shower.  And realize the things we are so desperately in need of…

5 good days with most precious family

A sense of sacrifice.

A willingness to embrace inconvenience.

And maybe a caution that I hope church never becomes too much like Disney.