Archive for February, 2014

Generousity as a Path To Spiritual Knowledge

Friday, February 28th, 2014

Generosity is a path to spiritual knowledge.  Some days I wonder if it is the path. From New Church religious canon ….

All people who do what is good as a religious practice – not only Christians but non-Christians – are accepted and adopted by the Lord after they die.  The Lord says “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.  I was a stranger and you took me in.  I was naked and you clothed me.  I was sick and you visited me.  As much as you did this to one of the least of my people, you did it to me.  (Matthew 25)” (True Christianity 536)

So clear. Those I find most inspiring inevitably do not have solo thoughts articulated in a vacuum around the spiritual life but they instead have a lived moral experience shaped with God’s grace around those thoughts.  And maybe, just maybe, the experience comes first a lot of the time.

Marching or Dancing?

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

What is the role of a church?  Teaching people how to march or teaching them how to dance?  The answer is simple to state and at the same time incredibly complex.  The answer is dance.

We struggle in that arena.  Arguably the mother of dance in the United States, Martha Graham, captured the spiritual journey with these moving words, “The athletes of God wrestled and grew strong.  They choose and they acted.”  But we prefer the known synchronicity of the march, of the enforced unity, of the stamping of feet, all in unison.

I think TS Eliot had it right … in the end, there is only the dance.

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 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.

Speaking Past the Question

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

Judaism at the time of Christ orbited around concepts of righteousness.  Those codes, taking the form of 613 laws, covered the gambit from justice and the priesthood to sexual ethics.  That legalistic approach actually represents a distinct contribution to world history, directly supporting a pillar of modern day culture … the rule of law.

And like everything, even the “law” can become emphasized to the point where the function of the law as a guarantor of  human freedom and the common good lies forgotten and the law becomes an end to itself.

In steps Christ.

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:34-40)

Brilliant theology.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted, Christ in these words speaks past the question as posed by his detractors.  “He seems to speak past the question, but in this very act he completely addresses the questioner.”  In so doing, he “throws out all the distinctions that the Pharisees strive to work out so conscientiously.”  What remains is grace.  And an incredible answer.

 

Westboro Baptist and The Students of Missouri

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Michael Sam of the University of Missouri recently set off a flurry of media coverage when he announced he was gay.  Nothing unusual in that announcement except that Michael Sam is one of the top players in one of the top football conferences, the SEC, in the country.  He is expected to be a high NFL draft pick.  And how do we react to those kinds of announcements?

Westboro Baptist took one tact, sending a small group of protestors to the Missouri Campus.  The photo captures the Westboro baptist position well.

Many students at Missouri took a different approach.  Creating a human shield around the Westboro protestors, they sought to support their hero with human “A Wall of Love.”

Important to note, this is not a battle pitting the Christians of Westboro Baptist against the non-Christians student body at the University of Missouri.  No doubt, being a bible-belt college, the vast majority of the several thousand student who gathered to support Sam are indeed Christians as well, coming from a wide variety of denominations.  So the two photos represent two different views of Christianity.

Faced with those two worlds of the protestors and the students what do we choose?   There are stands to take.  There are times to share what we think God is teaching about sexuality.  And the most important stand is Christ’s core teaching.   A teaching that moves us ever further … it takes us away from the angry reactions of Westboro Baptist, to the wall of love created by the students, to the circle of love that is able to take the hardest stand of all … compassion across the board.  God everywhere in everyone.   That is the kingdom.  That becomes, as Emanuel Swedenborg held it, the kingdom of “…mutual love in which alone is peace.”

Blessings on Valentine’s Day! (And some thoughts on marriage)

Friday, February 14th, 2014

We wish all of you a blessed Valentine’s Day!

As a Pastor, and as someone married for 26 years, I have experienced large parts of the journey of marriage, the good, the bad and the ugly.  Since ordination, I have walked those very same steps with many couples, from joyous weddings, through painful challenges, even through divorce.   I remember officiating at a wedding and noting in the charge that marriage moves through seasons, one of which will be not feeling in love.  The bride very quietly whispered to her groom, “That won’t be me.”  I would imagine, with a smile, all these years later she no doubt would change what she said.

So what can remain the same in the often tumultuous reality of marriage?

I think this is what can remain the same …

  1. We are always free to offer our best intentions on God’s behalf.  My intentions are more often than not, to put it kindly, limited.  But my best God-given intentions, often buried beneath my own hurts and neediness, are there.  God is the one who reminds me those best of intentions hold the most significant offerings I can bring to our marriage.
  2. We are always free to ask God’s help and the help of others in finding perspective.  There is a way in which when we can step back, problems, even dire ones, gain more manageable proportions.  We need others, not others who will agree with us no matter what, but others who will help us develop the more rounded, less harsh perspective within which marriage thrives.
  3. We are always free to love.  Some days that freedom looks like a non-reaction.  Other days it looks like forgiveness.  Some days a gift.  Other days passion.  But while I may not be able to choose feeling in love, I am always free to choose whether or not to be loving.

Our endeavor towards these three things is imperfect at best.  But that is why marriage presents us with the incredible opportunity to grow … to grow as individuals and to grow together.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Christ and Suffering

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

The question of suffering is critical to the question of what it means to live a Christian life.

We start from a simple premise, that as Peter Kreeft noted, Christ’s way is showing us a way into suffering, not a way out of it.   We enter into suffering/ we are confronted by suffering through sin in the world.  And that sin is far different than merely movement away from right behavior.  The sin Christ consistently confronted was the sin … and here is where the axis turns … where we refused to address the suffering of the world.   We hear echoes of that even in the Old Testament where God identifies the sin of Sodom … “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” (Ez. 19)  That fatal arrogance earned the city’s destruction.

Salvation as a concept then focuses far more on action into that suffering than on a passive belief structure.  From a Swedenborgian perspective, it is why Faith and Life cannot be divided.  It is where we move, as Victor Frankl, Holocaust survivor, phrases it, from asking  “Life, what is your meaning?” to realizing that life is asking us “What is your meaning?”  We move from putting God on the hook so to speak to explain the suffering of the world to seeing God actually placing us on the hook, with responsibility to address that same suffering.

Don’t allow your religion or your church to let you off the hook.

 

 

 

Finding the Will of God

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

I grew in this profession of ministry with a foot firmly in the camp of morality; that ministry and morality were synonymous.  The two unarguably combine in wondrous ways.  And yet the marriage of morality and ministry, if it fails to expand, threatens to squeeze down faith into a very shrill, cramped space more concerned with judgment and social order than with grace.

Deitrich Bonhoeffer phrased it thus.  “Those who wish even to focus on the problem of a Christian ethic are faced with an outrageous demand – that from the outset they must give up, as inappropriate to this topic, the very two questions that led them to deal with the ethical problem: ‘How can I be good?’ and ‘How can I so something good?’  Instead they must ask the wholly other, completely different question: what is the will of God?  This demand is radical precisely because it presupposes a decision about ultimate reality, that is, a decision of faith.”

There is nothing easy in occupying the evolved space Bonhoeffer noted, one where morality clearly incorporates and joins with a primary concern centered on the will of God.  It literally cost Bonhoeffer his life.  Such a space, only discovered in silence, becomes a space of call and thus a space of unfolding courage.

We discover God’s will where we are.  God’s will is our life.  As Emanuel Swedenborg noted again and again … God is all powerful, all present, and all knowing.  And yet God’s will is more than our individual self-satisfied homeostasis.  God’s will vibrates through our lives as that nudge, gentle and not, to center our lives in peace and reach.

 

One word that is hard to say … “SIN”

Friday, February 7th, 2014

We live in an age when the entire context of “sin” is difficult to discuss.  As a pastor, as that word “sin” leaves my mouth I shudder a silent prayer that it be heard aright, not heard as a judgment or condemnation but heard as commentary that parts of us are indeed fallen.    The commentary is not one of insiders of purity vs. outsiders of filth but of unity, that idea that we all are frankly jerks in parts of lives, sinners as it were.  And that not to acknowledge such a candid baseline is in fact to place us outside of the human condition.  We are sinners.  We are saints.  From that place we are one.

So we acknowledge the fallen parts of our fragile nature.  We celebrate as well the arenas of gift, breath, and grace.  The wheel turns and we march on.

Key, key, key to acknowledge that in our Christian New Church understanding of sin, we acknowledged an elemental truth to the reality of it all.  That reality is this … We are not punished for sin.  We are punished by sin.   Every foible I had or have in my life I get the opportunity to play to the end, to play to the hilt, to drive that plane right into the ground.  God will not stop me outside the gentle reminders that there is a different way, His gentle way.   And I get that choice, in my powerlessness, in my sin.