Archive for May, 2014

Estimate: Over 6,000 churches will close this year

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

That statistic should not surprise.  It no doubt elicits a reaction ….

  1. Churches are closing because people are lazy
  2. Churches are closing because Pastor’s don’t get it
  3. Churches are closing because they don’t stand for anything any more
  4. Churches are closing because they take a stand on everything
  5. Churches are closing because they are out of step with culture
  6. Churches are closing because they march lock step with culture

And here is one different perspective.  Churches are closing.  Period.  And our role is not to excessively worry about churches closing or seek fast ways to attach blame for their failure, which, in the end always seem to leave us on the right side and others on the wrong.  Our role is to serve the suffering of the world with the invaluable gifts we have been given.  “Church” then settles into the heart and the hands.  “Church” is more than an institution for public worship.  It is in a certain sense not an institution at all.  It is, as Henry James noted, divine life in mankind.

Organizations like churches are important.  They give us an invaluable tool for collecting resources and support and connection.  Through worship, they settle our hearts into the humble place where humanity flourishes and hopes arise.  And from there with resources, support and connection in hand, we draw alongside of suffering, hand in hand with God, and we build the church.

 

“Collectors of injustice who nurture their own wounded narcissism”

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Elliot Rodger, 22, shocked many in California in a recent killing spree that left 6 dead.  His video manifesto is chilling.  ”You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me. But I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice, a crime.”

These words deeply disturb.  These words reminded us that humanity does indeed posses a dark side, a side we are neither comfortable or called to talk about.  And where does that dark side thrive?  Where people “collect injustices”, then cultivate those injustices in a locked story of “us” or “me” against “them”, and in so doing exaggerate their own “wounded narcissism” with disastrous consequences.

As a pastor, I feel called to say a solution exists.  A solution exists.  And a solution doesn’t.  Our job is take on the sacrificial work of love and compassion in the face of world’s suffering.  And to say that in so doing, the recent events like that in California will be eliminated or ‘solved’ would be to present a false hope.  These events occur.  They have throughout history.  People are free actors and as such can choose light or they can choose dark.

The best I think we can offer one another is a call for re-commitment, again and again, to the work of Christian love even in the face of unimaginable darkness.

Reclaiming a thing for all nations

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

If one follows Christianity, much of how it is portrayed follows its record of attempting to pin down moral certitudes, creating a world around those knowns that actively excludes the other.   A recent article in the New York Times wrote of Bryan College in that vein ….

Since Bryan College’s founding in 1930, its statement of belief, which professors have to sign as part of their employment contracts, included a 41-word section summing up the institution’s conservative views on creation and evolution, including the statement: “The origin of man was by fiat of God.” But in February, college officials decided that professors had to agree to an additional clarification declaring that Adam and Eve “are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life-forms.”

The college clearly holds to a literalistic view of the Bible, one that eschews evolution.

Despite my disagreements, Bryan College has the right to do that very thing.  As a matter of fact I would argue that we are healthier for the courage of institutions who willingly take reasonable stands to protect their identity even if that identity sets them against the broader culture.

Where I struggle is how the New York Times article progressed, referencing how this tension inherent between science and religion evidenced at Bryn College is one Christianity wrestles with, creating a clear implication that this tension remains a Christian issue vs. a Bryan College issue.  To that I strongly disagree.  I am Christian.  Science and religion, in my faith tradition, work not as foils but as partners.  I believe science is the voice of God in the same way that scripture is.   As I understand it, the World and the Word then both speak. The issue is Bryan College’s, not Christianity’s.

Christianity, at its best, is to be an open place for all nations. Countless Christians work in that direction, the direction of a faith not bent on proselytizing but on humbling serving the suffering of the world.  And very little is written or said there, and the conversation remains diminished.

And there is a much more wonderful conversation to be had.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 John 4: 19-21)

Someone Free for God’s Way in the World

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

Astonishing still to read the words of Isaiah, words thousands of years old, that speak a vision of all nations.  Not tribal.  Not geographic.  All.

“You [God] have been a refuge for the poor … a shelter from the storm….. On this mountain the Lord will prepare a feast of rich food for ALL peoples.”  (Isaiah 25:4-6)

And the world we live in remains far from “all.”  It remains divided, tribal.  Often even those who claim tolerance do so in a way that sounds frankly intolerant!

Given the above, the hope however remains.  God’s hope offers a loving vision of humanity’s flourishing, a place where we become “someone free for God’s way in the world.”  That is the resting for all nations.

 

 

Mother’s Day

Friday, May 9th, 2014

God frequently employs the image of a loving mother to help us understand God’s love. Christ did the same in very real world descriptions in which he literally compared his love for us to that of a mother hen brooding over her chicks. Even the word “mercy” in the Hebrew carries the meaning of “womb-like mother love.”  And maybe what those images drive at is grace, the grace a loving mother holds her child with.

To this day I can still call my mom and know everything is alright, that I will always have a “home”, and that somewhere somehow there is a person who sees me deeply not out of limitations but out of beauty!   So the concept of motherhood and spirituality are not far apart.  Mother’s eyes, God’s eyes, not far apart.  A different view of “parent” as a building from within versus a control from without….

God “justifies” (read: “validates”) creation not by parental punishment from without (which really changes nothing except perhaps behavior), but by positive enticement and transformation from within, which is surely a far greater victory and achievement of “justice” on God’s part. This concept of grace is first called mercy, or hesed in Hebrew, the ever-faithful, covenant-bound love of God. I would go so far as to call grace the primary revelation of the entire Bible.

So happy Mother’s Day to all!

Building Open Christian Communities or Closed Christian Churches

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

Christianity is a communal endeavor, an endeavor to live not for ones self but for others.  What is holy is what is connected and open. Christianity is not then for the rugged individualist.  Christianity offers little as well for those who see in it a highly prescribed form of holiness … a closed system of righteousness.  What it offers to all is community, a functional definition of the word “community” readily substituted with the word “heaven.”

Communities form and the miracle of God’s spirit does its work.  But we, as human beings, largely fail to be content with just that.  We strive to formalize, codify, capture and tame (neuter?) the experience of God.   Instead of building open Christian communities we build closed churches. Christianity then morphs into Churchianity.

The loss in this downward progression from Community to Church are those whom we are called to serve … the suffering of the world.   There is little space or “band width” for the work of extending community to those in need when the work instead goes towards maintaining a church.

That is not to glibly pass over the need to maintain structures but that work must be done in the spirit of holding first things first.  A church is not created to serve itself and a closed community.  A church is created to be a matrix out of which the lived moral experience of flawed souls trying to live Christianity is drawn outward to touch the suffering of the world.  I live in deep gratitude for all those around me who live that very thing!

 

 

Seventeen Definitions

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

We can list 17 definitions of love and yet fail to be loving.  Simple.  Profound.  There is the definition and there is the experience.  Which drives?  In terms of love, allowing the experience to drive the definition will serve far better than believing somehow that an intellectual mastery of the words somehow creates the experience.  As Emanuel Swedenborg noted we can’t be connected to God “…except by means of love and charity. Love is spiritual conjunction itself.”  (Heavenly Secrets 2349)

Living in a Connection Economy

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Economic shifts paralyze many of us with fear.  So many appear ominous.  The “security” of older generation is long gone.  What replaced those comfortable “knowns” of previous decades  is often times uncertain and challenging.  And at the same time, promising.

We live now within a connection economy. How do we prosper in that world?  Seth Godin ….

Enrich your world by creating value for others.

Enrich your health by walking twenty minutes a day.

Enrich your community by contributing to someone, without keeping score.

Enrich your relationships by saying what needs to be said.

Enrich your standing by trusting someone else.

Enrich your organization by doing more than you’re asked.

Enrich your skills by learning something new, something scary.

Enrich your productivity by rejecting false shortcuts.

Enrich your peace of mind by being trusted.

The connection economy pays dividends in ways that the industrial one rarely did.

And here is the smile … it is a world uniquely tailored for churches … provided we ask how to better connect, not how to  better control.