Archive for April, 2014

Time and Touch MATTERS!

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

One of the easiest “touches” to loose track of is the personal one.  Listen to these words by Seth Godin ….

When you send a hand-written letter to your best friend on the occasion of her wedding, you don’t rush the note.

When a long-term patient needs to hear your plan on how she will beat the cancer you just found, you don’t rush the meeting.

When your best customer just discovered that his critical shipment is totally messed up, you don’t rush the phone call.

The problem is this: we’ve scaled the number of contacts, of patients, of Christmas card recipients, of Twitter followers, of email correspondents, of investors, of backers, of Kickstarter supporters, of readers, of correspondents, of co-workers, of… we’ve scaled it all.

And the one thing we can’t do is scale our ability to take time.

So, this year, when you sent out 500 cards, of course you didn’t take the time to handwrite each one with a personal note. How could you? And recently, when you sent a blast to 500 donors announcing a matching grant, you didn’t personalize each note and leave out the people you told personally, because, hey, it’s a huge list… how could you?

Treat different people differently. You decided to get bigger, but you won’t be able to treat everyone the way you used to. That was your decision, and it’s one of the costs of bigger.

Treating different people differently is the only way you’ve got to be able to take your time with the few, because, alas, you can no longer take your time with everyone. And if you can’t live with that, get smaller!

So the journey is to always get smaller.  Even as we get bigger as a congregation, we must constantly work at getting smaller.  How do we do that?  We make it personal.  We connect.  Not in the form of email blasts or a deluge of social media but in the quiet place of simple connect, the simple touch of reaching out to say “you matter.”   The lesson needs re-learned over and over again.  From a Christian perspective, people are not interruptions.



In baseball, what is the most important pitch?

Friday, April 25th, 2014

Baseball gets sliced countless ways … a statistician’s dream!  What is the most important pitch?  Here it is ….

If a pitcher can split one ball and one strike over the first two pitches, the third pitch becomes the most critical.  A strike on the third pitch, and batters only bat 179 the rest of the at bat.  A ball on the third pitch and they bat 255.  The third pitch, over the course of season and 100′s of batters becomes the most important.

Some wisdom there.  We often focus on the end, the “strike 3″, the final out, the close of the sale, the signing on the dotted line, but that actual critical turning lies further upstream.

So it is with churches and church work.

If we are to engage people in this wild and wonderful work of “church” – and I am talking of “work” that is far more than attendance – the wins come much further upstream.

So this weekend Zana and Ryan are traveling to NewChurch LIVE.  She emailed last night, “Ryan and I talked about it and we would love to meet with you on Sunday after church.  It will be our first time coming to your church.”  What should that third pitch look like?  Will you be the one that offers it?  That is not about a crass manipulation.  It is about us becoming aware of how a welcoming attitude delivered consistently serves.

Batter up!

Hopeful, Demanding, Dangerous and Healing

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Walter Brueggemann wrote this about church … it is something we move into that is “hopeful, and demanding, and dangerous and healing.”  And so it is.

Yet we seek church to be staid, and comfortable, and safe and pure.  And those it will not be.

Church may best serve as a source of disquiet, not a sense of righteous order brought to the disorder of the world but a source of creative disorder that humbly challenges the world with loving questions. “Why must it be like this?”  “What can we do?”

85% of the 385 most persistently poor counties in the United States are rural.  In one county, McDowell County in West Virginia, 46% of the children do not live with their biological parents.  That county ranks last and first …. lowest in the state with a median household income of $22,000.00 and ranks highest in the state for teenage obesity and teenage pregnancy.

Breaking that cycle has proven elusive for decades.  A culture of dependency, rampant drug abuse, poor schools, a lack of well paying jobs all contribute.  And kids, children, choose none of that.

Can churches answer there?  Yes.   A blessing in this congregation has been witnessing the outpouring of help for The Opportunity House in Reading.  Food, Blankets, Funds.  All done for a place an hour and half away.  All spurred by a simple fact … Reading was named the poorest city in the country 3 years ago.

With a smile I would like to offer … there might be a trip to McDowell Country West Virginia in our future!  Hopeful, Demanding, Dangerous, Healing.


Thoughts As We Enter Easter

Friday, April 18th, 2014

Take a minute to hold “Easter” …

We live life often like set of domoinoes … either “flipping” up or “crashing” down. Easter reminds us of one critical piece of life we often forget … we get to choose what stands and what falls.

Many of you hold wildly varied perspectives on faith, Christ and religion. With a smile I say that seems to be God’s plan! So beyond the story of Christ’s resurrection and the Christian faith is a simple story Christians and non-Christians can embrace. That is the story of dominoes, dominoes that actually did not fall.

Christ’s death on the cross, marked on Good Friday, was the culmination of years of unjust persecution at the hands of the Roman occupiers and religious authorities in ancient Israel. He was tried and executed in the most painful way known at that time … to languish, naked, nailed on a cross, a public humiliation of agonizingly slow death.

Imagine dominoes. Imagine them falling. And imagine, just before the final domino falls, someone says “Stop.” “The pain stops here.” “Revenge stops here.” “No more.” That is Christ on the cross where his plea is not for vengeance but “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” The cascading fall ends.

Christian or not, we can learn right at that place. What does it look like to give up vengeance in our lives … our marriages, our families, our communities, our nation, our world. Even in the face of shocking, unjust de-humanizing brutality can our words be for forgiveness and even hope?

And this is the miracle … they can!  Welcome to resurrection.

Reflection: A Day Spent Talking About Near Death Experiences

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

“Once you have one sincere moment of divine union, you will want to spend your time on the one thing necessary, which is to grow deeper and deeper in love every chance that you get. Talk to someone who has had a near-death, or nearing-death, experience. They all agree: It’s all about love. It’s all about union.” (Fr. Richard Rohr)  This core, so beautifully captured in Rohr’s words, is shared across many experiences, experiences from Christian mystics to those who underwent a near-death experience.  Welcome to what we heard this past Sunday!

Those experiences share general traits … it is all about love in the end, God is everywhere, we need not fear.   They vary a great deal in specifics.  As Emanuel Swedenborg noted in the book Heaven and Hell, “The heaven that is outside reflects the heaven that is within.”  So that wonderful variety, no doubt embedded in the very DNA of creation, serves us and God well.   Variety is perfection.

Much was striking on Sunday.  First, clearly there is a huge interest in these conversations around life after death.  Our morning service drew 362, one of largest crowds ever.  The evening event, featuring a talk by Dr. Eben Alexander, the NYT’s best selling author of “Proof of Heaven”, drew over 1,000.

The second thing striking to me personally was the profound impact of these types of experiences on the individuals who face them.  Much of life flashes by us as an often shallow listing of events and activities.  Near death experiences … not so much.  These experiences CHANGE people.  There is a softness, a joy, an enthusiasm for life that all the speakers in the morning and Dr. Alexander in the evening shared.   As Sgt. Matthew Pennington so beautifully phrased it…

“I know there is a purpose for my life greater than I can understand and comprehend, to spend the time lying on the desert floor [injured and dying] sensing the love of God and not wanting to live but having the foresight to know everything is going to be alright [and everything] is certainly divine in nature. I believe we all have a purpose while we are here, whether it is inspiring a stranger through an open act of kindness, guiding the father and mother-less, assisting those less fortunate than ourselves. Sure my life has not been easy I have been tested and have had my fair shares of passing and failing them, but through my trials I have grown to have compassion and understanding.”

And the third part that was striking was frankly a deep honoring, a deep pride that I am part of a church that comfortably and warmly entertains these conversations.  Truth can be either a point or a portal.  If we orient ourselves to truth as a point we all must agree on the one thing, on the one experience, leaving little room for dialog.  If we see truth as a portal however, our conversations open to much grander vistas.  As a New Church pastor, I believe that is the nature of true wisdom because it is the nature of true love.

Stephen Lis, Sgt. Matthew Pennington, Margaret Gladish, Dr. Erica Hyatt, and Dr. Eben Alexander all articulated different perspectives.  And all shared an experience of the heart of our Creator!

So thank you to everyone from the sponsors to the team members to the volunteers.  Sunday was a great blessing!

What is the litmus test of “Worship”?

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Just in a week’s time we have faced here at NCL as a community needs ranging from families in crisis, addiction, to catastrophic loss and health crises.   Throw in new small groups launching, a wedding, and a two baptisms and one can sense the richness, the dark and light of church.  And worship is not detached from those events, those needs.

Emanuel Swedenborg wrote that “essential divine worship in heaven does not consist in going to church regularly .. but in a life of love, thoughtfulness, and faith in keeping with the doctrines.” Formal worship is “worth doing” but essentially sterile if it remains detached from life. (Heaven and Hell, 222)  So life informs church and church informs life.  As such,worship focuses on life as its end, not on faith apart from life.

So what is that litmus test of worship in its expanded form?  What keeps worship connected to life and life connected to worship?

  1. Is it loving?
  2. Is it thoughtful?
  3. Is it in keeping with what God asks of us?
  4. Does it place the incarnation, Christ, the embodiment of God, at the core?

We don’t find that space playing by any of the rules we have played by before.  The rules shift.   Old ways, which served us well, will not get us there.  And the crazy part … expect language to fail more and more as we draw closer and closer to what matters.