Archive for June, 2013

Third Way Christianity

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

One of the many beauties of the Gospel is Christ’s consistent call to the Third Way, a previously unconsidered third alternative between the polarities of Liberal and Conservative.  One author, in speaking to that challenge especially as it relates to the more liberal wing of Christianity recently wrote …

It’s hard to build excitement for your vision of progressive Christianity when the vibe is ironic, cynical, intellectualized or coolly detached. It’s hard to build excitement for your vision of progressive Christianity when you are being paradoxical, post-modern, or deconstructive. It’s hard to build excitement for your vision of progressive Christianity when it often reduces to liberal humanism, existentialism, functional atheism or simply voting for Democrats.

Basically, I think progressive Christianity struggles because it often fails to give people a real, honest-to-God, bible-thumping fight. More precisely, progressive Christianity has a lot of fight in it, but it has often struggled to articulate that fight in robustly biblical ways. (Let alone the major problem of progressive Christians being too reactionary, focusing much of their fight against conservative Christians.)

So the goal is to find that robust biblical language around which we can articulate a re-imagined world that cuts between the polarities of left and right.  Such an articulation considers many necessities including the necessity of appropriate self critique as well as appropriate critique of systemic failures.  No one then gets “off the hook.”  We are all in it.  All responsible at both and individual and corporate level.  That I believe will lead us to the kind of Christianity that gives opportunity.  As Seth Godin phrased it, “The opportunity is to actually create something that people choose to talk about.”

That cannot be done in isolation.  It takes community.  There is no “lone wolf” here given how prone we are to make salvation a purely private and thence self-absorbed affair.  As Emanuel Swedenborg noted, “along with that love comes wisdom about how to involve others” in that building.  (True Christianity 661)  Salvation, which could be read in many ways “freedom”, occurs in relationship.  Churches, I hope, can find their way back to the third way.

 

 

The Religious Practice of the New Church

Friday, June 21st, 2013

What is your religious practice?  For many of us, we employ formalized church answers … Sunday worship, prayer, alms, participation in rituals/ sacraments.  They are typical answers because there is life and grace there.  And there are other atypical answers to round out the concept of practice.   Such answers grow from the position that “a religion is valued for its goodwill and faith, not for the rituals that accompany them.”  (True Christianity, 660)

Practice as seeking value in goodwill and faith.   Goodwill meaning loving kindness.  Faith meaning trust.  So we are then to practice holding loving kindness and trust as more defining of church than ritual.

“The new church unites faith in the Lord with goodwill toward our neighbor as two things that are inseparable; this is the nature of its religious practice,” (True Christianity, 647)

Not that that practice is easy!  But that practice pulls us away from the more shallow definitions of religion-as-ritual, definitions that feed “worship wars” and endless confrontations around the “hot button” issue of the day like homosexuality.  We find it easier, I fear, to bring enraged indignation to human sexuality than we do to birth loving kindness and trust into a world so sorely in need of both.  I don’t see that as saying that choices around sexuality are unimportant.  I do see it as saying, approach those questions with loving kindness and trust.

Cronuts

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

Who doesn’t love a “Cronut” … a mix of croissant and donut?  And why didn’t anyone think of it before?

I believe God firmly centers in creativity.  Art from DeVinci to Beethoven, up until just a few centuries ago, echoed that basic orientation.  Now “art” and “religion” rarely share the same sentence.  And that is our loss.

Art and creativity are not necessarily always about a radical remaking of reality.  They are I would argue more about taking the simple, known parts of the world … i.e. a croissant and donut … and then in turn re-imaging how they fit.

Churches are called on to the same … take the mundane and reconfigure it in life giving ways.  That is the genius of Christ’s sermons, filled as they are with simple references to sheep, lilies, seeds all now bowing to the instructive force of God’s broader world – a life giving reconfiguration.

Where churches and individuals get stuck at times is around what psychologist Daniel Kahneman phrased “a focusing illusion.”  These illusions are not from ill intent.  However they hobble us in unforeseen ways.  As the author describes it…

The focusing illusion [is] an automatic psychological move that substitutes an easier question for a more difficult one when the difficult question has no immediate or obvious answer.

What are those “easier questions” we are tempted to substitute for the harder ones?  Some possible examples… “How do we bring in new people in?” (versus “How do we reach out and serve?”)  ”Have you noticed how much better we are doing than that other church?”  (versus, “How do we align ourselves better with what God is calling us to do?”)  “When will you start a program to ______?”  (versus “How I do create a team to move this project forward?)

When we start asking the harder questions, we actually find ourselves more creative, more aligned, more empowered, and less fearful!  Welcome Cronuts.

 

 

Waiting to be Picked. Wishing to Choose.

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

We all want to be picked, to be chosen. We all wish, as well, to choose. There is validity there, coming round to Christ’s words, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit–fruit that will last.”  (John 15:16)  We are all chosen. Every one of the 7 billion souls.  But do we all “choose?”

That choosing is not about a faith call per se.  I see God’s call much more concerned with being awake … or not.  The awake people I know seem to be ever so completely present not only in their own skins but in their own lives, and as well completely present out to and in to the world around them.

What does it look like to make that kind of choice?  I imagine the words of TS Elliot speak far more clearly to it than I ever could hope.

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,
Erhebung without motion, concentration
Without elimination, both a new world
And the old made explicit, understood

We will be  asked to that dance of course.  And what will we choose?

 

Money and choice is what you want if you haven’t found something better to want.

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

Try this on. “Money and choice is what you want if you haven’t found something better to want.”   Our job as a church is to live in such a way that we create a living testimony that there are better things to want than solely money and choice.

Our culture is saturated however with the message that money and choice are it … the ultimate cultural achievements, what we are all to ‘want.’  And many of us are good at the game. I have made plenty of money in my life.  It has created a situation where my children in turn have access to educational opportunities and personal connections that clearly give them a leg up in continuing to write a “winner’s script.”   Is that wrong for our 5 kids to have those advantages?  Not necessarily.  After all, dis-advantaging your children is hardly good parenting either.   But it is only good within definitive limits.

What matters, I believe, is can we continually form our lives into a message that there is more to want than just money and choice?  Do our children know that?  In an era with fewer limits and few guarantees, I believe that knowledge is critical.

That something ‘more’ that I pray they want is not just knowledge per se of a religious nature (what many churches mistakenly believe their mission is).  It is living witness in which we draw alongside of suffering and create the human connectedness that is God’s ideal for us. Micah got it right ….

 ”He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you … But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah)

Do I want my children to suffer?  No.  (Though they will).  Do I want them to draw alongside of suffering?  Yes.  (And this will be their heart choice)  And that in the end, I pray, will right-size money and choice.