Archive for November, 2015

Thanksgiving When It Is Hard

Saturday, November 28th, 2015

Thanksgiving, when it is hard.  What do we do?

Some years.  Some years are simply loss.

Maybe one idea.

Christianity is a story not an answer.  

Sometimes that story shines, shines beyond what we can contain, what we can hold.  Gives easy rise to abundance and gratitude. And other times, the story is hard.  Painful to beyond painful.  And what we mistakenly try to do, often well intentioned, is to give others “the answer.”

My son, a first responder, spoke to me this Thanksgiving of loss.  The death of a 3 year old.   Still can’t shake it.  Sees a young child in a Walmart and he returns to to that farm.  And that loss.  There are no words.  None.  Nothing shiny and bright there.  My heart breaks hearing his broken.

And I know when its time … and that time maybe months, maybe years in the future, maybe decades … my son and I will talk of stories. We will talk of loss and suffering.  And maybe there grows a crack in that suffering as we come to speak of redemption. Of life continued. Of goodness, and people, and love, of the humane tissue stitched together in spite of the dark.  Of Easter.

I am thankful for my loving, tender son.  I am thankful for a story.  Even when life is hard.

Things Are Going To Change

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

One author put it simply … if things are not going to change, don’t bother considering alternatives.  If things are, however, going to change, consider alternatives.

Smart to bet on things changing.

Churches have to walk towards that storm, that change.  Toward it.  Not away from it.  Not yelling at it. Not silent in the face of it. Towards it.

And that might just take two things that need one.  The two things … (1) Parishoners willing to ask the dramatically unsettling questions that flip them from consumers of church to partners in building a kinder world. (2) Pastors willing to step up, plant a flag, step back and say “go.”

The one thing then the two need?  Both desperately need God and the then unfolding courage that comes from a vision beyond our reach.

What is a “Christian”?

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

What a question!  Serving dinner recently at a homeless shelter, a man turned from his table and asked me.  One answer from Matthew 25…

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35  For 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 invited me in, 36  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40  “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

I mean that is pretty disarmingly simple.

Many define Christianity differently, as being baptized, meeting sacraments, taking Communion. Yet Christ baptized no one that we read of in the New Testament.  He never commanded seriatim the full list of the many sacraments we align religion with.  He does not command Communion but instead offers it.

And it is not to say those things are wrong or mistaken. They are powerful.  Important. Clearly inspired. Cleary carriers of the Divine. But not the litmus test.

The litmus test – simpler and more challenging … what are you doing for those who suffer?

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The Aftermath of the Bombings in Beruit and Paris Last Week

Monday, November 16th, 2015

We worked hard to capture some sort of message, for Sunday, moving forward after the bombings in Beirut and Paris last week.  As a pastor … challenging to offer words given the deep strains of grief and fear so many of us share after events like these.

The final point, one worthy of consideration … we must embrace a theology of vulnerability and see humanity.

That sounds odd but I think that is Christ’s message in times of such fear.  Our vulnerability in some miraculous way pulls us down into a shared humanity. I think of how easy it was to share stories with strangers on 9/11, how easy to hug friends after Newtown.  The list goes on.  And with each … our vulnerabiliy opens up to our humanity.  The two intertwine.  A miracle.

The opposites works as well.  As we faultingly strive to create lives that are invulnerable, totally secure, impervious to change and challenge, we pull ourselves further from our own humanity and from the humanity we share with others. Such is one of the inborn fault lines within religious fundamentalism/ extremism.  Fundamentalism thrives in certainty, inflexibility, and a supposed invulnerability to question or challenge that makes it all the more dangerous because with those go humanity.

Fear at some point becomes a choice.  And so does love.  So does compassion. Even when our hearts are broken.

 

 

Trends

Friday, November 6th, 2015

I love this simple concept … while events gain our attention, trends remain far more significant.  So what are the trends with church for the next 10 years?  One guess…

Many churches will continue to decline in numbers and donations.

This is a sad one.  Many churches, contemporary and traditional, progressive and conservative, will continue to struggle.  Congregations under a certain number may no longer remain financially viable.   There is currently no data that I am aware of that sheds a positive light on this trend.

One fear may be this … declining churches can become hostile churches. Reactionary. Misplacing understandable grief around decline with a rage directed out at broader culture and others. This could in turn lead to a denominational “doubling down” as it were.

One can see that in the current challenges in the Catholic church where Pope Francis noted his concern around “the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the churches teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families.”

For churches to remain viable, they will need a a focused mission, a deliberate dedication to service.

And not everything is doom-and-gloom.  The future while uncertain is paradoxically hopeful as well.

There will always be a space for Christianity. While Christianity clearly will no longer remain a cultural “given” as the question shifts from “Where do you go to Church? to “Do you go to Church?”  it will still exist and will thrive in pockets.  I believe New Church Christianity will find a thriving place there as well.

Those thriving pockets I imagine will be centered around churches and groups steeped in a deep missional focus.  The broad color of that mission will center on Christianity’s heartsong … expanding the circles of compassion in loving service to the other and the sacraments that support that mission, i.e. the archain disciples of Communion etc….  As Emanuel Swedenborg phrased it, “Religion is of life and the life of religion is to do good.” A place where love of God and love the neighbor work functionally as one.

That missional focus creates great leeway in terms of belief and individual perspective.  That fits well with current desires for non-authoritative, non-exclusive truth claims offered with a humility of presentation and clear valuing around freedom of movement while at the same time finding a concrete centering on sacred texts.

It is movement from church in the age of belief to church in the age of service.

More congregants will join online than in person for Sunday Services

The internet remains a game changer.  Some predict the end of the Sunday service, a demise to be replaced by online content and small groups. For some that may indeed be true. However there will always be space for the traditional Sunday gathering.

What I imagine will most likely evolve is a hybrid model combining both inperson and online audiences.  Small groups obviously play a critical here as well given their ability to serve both audiences.

At NewChurch LIVE in two short years we have seen a dramtic shift.  Two years ago 9.6% of our Sunday attendees joined us live via a simulcast.  That percent has grown dramatically, now reaching 24%. And there no signs of that trend ending. Important to note those tuning in come from remote locations yet also many local families who tire at the idea of pushing the kids out to the door to church and prefer instead to watch at home.

One can legitimatly grieve what may be a loss of community in the name of convenience but I believe this is trend to be embraced not refuted.

So what could NewChurch LIVE look like in 10 years?

  1. Sunday: An inperson service, bringing together a wide variety voices – male and female, multigenerational, multiethnic – that combined with our LiveStream audience tops 1,000 each week with the majority watching online
  2. Small Groups: A thriving small group program made up of numerous small group structures, durations, themes etc…..
  3. Service: A “hub” in which we facilitate, support, and connect with numerous non-profits allied to our layity’s interests.
And these are all best guesses.  What I know in these uncertain times … remain true to the mission of humble service.  And God will lead us in the rest.
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