Archive for January, 2016

BEING the Church

Friday, January 29th, 2016

BEING the Church.  Not debating.  Not arguing. Not “sorting” who are the “ins” and who are the “outs.”

Living as we were intended from creation to be – forms of love, wisdom, mercy, forgiveness.

Living it.  Literally inhabiting it.  The church as a building whose walls stretch everywhere.

Beautiful.  And that is the New Church view of church. Not faith alone. But a lived experience of God’s presence.

Thank you Mary and Kelly for sharing that light in Kensington this week.

Beautiful!

 

Family, Faith And An Atypical Answer

Thursday, January 21st, 2016

We often understandably conflate the terms “family” and “faith.”  And the two obviously share so much.  Family very often becomes the loving, caring seedbed as it were where faith takes root. For me that was true.  Parents who showed us not only active faith but a great deal of curiosity as well. That faith somehow mattered in the arc of life.

They did that through quieter commitments – an hour long ride to church in Pittsburgh several times a month, prayers over dinner, questions.  Quiet rhythms. That simple.  And that profound.

And Christ warns several times in the New Testament warns of identifying too closely with family.  Not the typical answer we might think.

A powerful scene.  Talking to a group, someone enters to tell Jesus his mother and brothers are waiting for him outside.  Christ responds ….

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matt. 12:48-50)

In today’s world those words shock.  And only imagine how much more they would have shocked the listeners in a culture where family ties were not only a matter of affection but a matter of deep, unwavering obligation, beyond what maybe we can grasp today.

What was the point?

The point Christ calls to here is this – first things first.  And that first things must at appropriate times trump family loyalties.

Imagine it this way.  We have all witnessed and/ or participated in family systems where co-dependency reigns.  Where the family unit, as one author phrased it, becomes “an undifferentiated ego mass.”  Where loyalty simply to one another becomes the one and only over-riding virtue. Those systems, as we all well know, are suffocatingly unhealthy.

And yet to take it one level further, the conversation here is not binary.  It is easy to say if family then is no longer #1 so to speak, then God is, cleaving a very satisfactory but false split between the two.  That “splitting” is how the ego works – “If it isn’t this, it must only be that.”  ”Family” OR “faith.”

The reality is that loyalty to the higher virtues Christ spoke of do not in any way pull away from family.  Those re-prioritized values actually meaningfully and tenderly return us to our families.  But this time grounded.  This time anchored deeply into the transcendent values that bring life and promote care.  A wider, transformational loyalty.

I hope so very deeply that our five wonderful children will always take care of each other.  The best way I imagine to pass that on to them is by passing on a legacy of connection, a connection to God through loving service into the world that started at home.  A first things first that maybe holds all things.  That started some place.  But thankfully doesn’t end there.

 

 

One Big Warning, Often Missed….

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

I remember years ago, in elementary school years, a pastor posing the question, “What is the unforgivable sin?”  Pretty heady talk right.  The question was not posed in a mean way.  Nothing scolding about it.  Just a question from a kind pastor.

After fielding a series of flubbing answers from the kids, the pastor noted one sin.  One unforgivable sin.  That sin … “speaking against the Holy Spirit.”  And it is there, clearly listed in the Gospel of Matthew.

Now of course we can read those lines in Matthew as agreeable, reading it with the righteous scorn of a fundamentalist more interested in pointing out God’s wrath than God’s mercy and applaud the rectitude of it all. Or we can take the time ask, what is the warning here?

And here is the warning.  And it is a big one.  Often missed…

Jesus knew their [the priests] thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

“Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.  (Matt. 12:25-32)

The warning starts here…

It begins with who Christ is addressing.  And that group was the clergy at that time in that place.  Religious professionals.  The righteous. The pious.  The pure.  Who most often got it wrong.

And then what Christ is addressing.   What Christ is addressing is their accusation that he is able to heal because his power was demonic – the reference to “Beelzebul.” Not from God.  Allied instead with the devil.

And finally how Christ answers their accusation.  Here … BEAUTIFUL theology.  When Christ responds “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven”, he is saying this.  ”You can speak out against me.  That is forgiven.  But you can’t speak against the spirit of healing that frees others.  That is not forgivable.”

And it isn’t.  Not because God can’t forgive it because God does forgive it.  But because we deeply wound our spirits when we cynically pull into doubt the whole spirit of healing.  Rake that spirit, tear it apart in others and its miraculous work, and we rapidly pull ourselves away from the healing spirit that can heal our lives.  Punished by that sin, not for that sin. In that sense … unforgiven.

So that healing spirit – the Holy Spirit – will move where it will.  As Christ notes, it moves like the wind. Our job is not to judge it and its gentle work of healing as it winds around lives and lives of others. Our job – to celebrate it.

 

Theory to Practice: Reflections from a trip to California and Martin Luther King Day.

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

Last week began with a trip to California.  Joined by a group of pastors, organized by my dear friend David Lindrooth, we gathered to talk about growth.  About the New Church movement.  About church in the coming years.

 

The two main presenters, Mac Frazier and Ethan McCardell walked us through a list of lessons learned, one set from an Austin congregation no longer financially viable, the other from a small congregation seeking to serve in Seattle.

And what of those lessons?  What had these two talented pastors learned?

  1. The Pastor-centric model is shifting
  2. A new, more engaging era of dialogic preaching, empowered lay-led teams and co-creation of churches is unfolding
  3. A continued call back to the deep Christian roots of a loving God and caring service towards others – the two Great Commandments – which is the theological underpinnings of these changes
  4. A refocus on shared messages and an inclusion of all voices that will draw various factions together, shoulder-to-shoulder, focused on a common cause.
I found myself again and again nodding in silent agreement.
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We can argue – and many do – about the nature of these changes.  About the theology around these changes.  And we can at times -mistakenly I believe – speak then as if we possess a “vote” on these shifts.
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There is no “vote.”  These are the changes that are shaping not just the New Church but Christianity as a whole in North America.
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Which brings me to Martin Luther King Day weekend.
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The week in California ended in this … a weekend where the theory we talked about all week was lived out by this congregation.  Theory to Practice.
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This weekend was not pastor stuff. Not a grand strategic plan.  Not the last word on church growth.  Not drawing battle lines either.  It was a lived experience.
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It started over lunch months ago, an initial meeting that led to a planning team.  12 people.  A good number!
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The team’s ideas for the service…
  1. A Sunday service with speakers who could speak to “The Beloved Community” – Randy Gyllenhaal and Jessica Craft.
  2. A Sunday service with music that included teens musicians from “Rock To The Future”, an inspiring non-profit in Kensington that serves students through music, academic support, and college placement.
  3. Following the service, a time to collect in fellowship over lunch and create small care packages to be handed out to those in need
  4. And Monday, Martin Luther King Day, a trip down to “Rock To The Future” to serve
And this is what happened ….
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The speakers spoke.
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The teens performed.
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We gathered after for fellowship and care packages.
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We traveled to Kensington and served.
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And this what someone said about just one element of the weekend but that could be said of the whole thing…
No words, just tears when’s came into the New Church Live offices this morning to set up for the ‪#‎blessingsbags‬ such generosity, and more donations on the way. Never have I felt more a part of the ‪#‎BelovedCommunity‬.
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And this is what I think…
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Someone in California noted how we lack a predictable, replicable system of church growth.  Good point.  And I wonder more and more if there even is a system.
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Maybe instead there is just a simple, stripped down commitment to settle in on loving communities and opening the space.  To open the space where churches join/ support/ promote the lived experience of God in many forms.
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Not done perfectly.  Never done easily.  But just simply done.

What we may have no time for….

Friday, January 8th, 2016

Wheaton College has begun termination proceedings against Professor Larycia Hawkins following her controversial Facebook post holding that Christians and Muslims worshiped the same God.  Wheaton College issued this statement…

Dr. Hawkins’s administrative leave resulted from theological statements that seemed inconsistent with Wheaton College’s doctrinal convictions…While Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, we believe there are fundamental differences between the two faiths, including what they teach about God’s revelation to humanity, the nature of God, the path to salvation, and the life of prayer.

My thought as a pastor is that we simply don’t have time for these kinds of debates.  While I fully acknowledge that private colleges have not only a right but a duty to abide by their founding principles, I personally find these types of actions tiresome.

Christ spent precious little time debating belief systems while he walked this earth. Time was spent, for the most part, connecting, teaching, and healing.  Far from creating small enclaves of doctrinal purity built on principles of exclusion, Christ embraced an incredibly wide cross section of humanity – Romans, Greeks, and Jews of all stripes and classes.  That radical hospitality was a defining characteristic of fledgling Christianity as it found legs and grew throughout the Middle East.

Wheaton College can of course make a decision for themselves and can terminate a professor whom they consider heretical.  And there needs to be a more sobering awareness that such actions color all of Christianity, reinforcing yet again a view of Christianity as a faith for a select view, a chosen people, set apart from others.  A modern day sectarianism that I believe dangerous.

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?  Yes.  I believe they do.  That however is not the last word on the topic.  The last word is this … next Monday, Rev. Martin Luther King Day, we travel to Kensington to serve.  To serve those in need. Interested?  Join us. That is what Christians do. What good people of many faiths and beliefs do as well.  Serving one God.

Imaginatively Different

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

Sometimes the most basic and transparently self evident ideas are the ones least preached on.

So here, one foundational idea….

There is no place for combining religions and violence. Religions must seek a world that is imaginatively different.  That is our cherished role.   One that even the most enlightened elements of liberal, market driven Western democracy cannot supply.

As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth put it…

What the secularists forgot is that Homo sapiens is the meaning-seeking animal. If there is one thing the great institutions of the modern world do not do, it is to provide meaning. Science tells us how but not why. Technology gives us power but cannot guide us as to how to use that power. The market gives us choices but leaves us uninstructed as to how to make those choices. The liberal democratic state gives us freedom to live as we choose but refuses, on principle, to guide us as to how to choose.

Science, technology, the free market and the liberal democratic state have enabled us to reach unprecedented achievements in knowledge, freedom, life expectancy and affluence. They are among the greatest achievements of human civilization and are to be defended and cherished.

But they do not answer the three questions that every reflective individual will ask at some time in his or her life: Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live? The result is that the 21st century has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning.

“Meaning” is our task and no small one. “Meaning” leads to a world imaginatively different.