Archive for the ‘Service’ Category

A Deep Conversation With Willy

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

When we travel to cook I know something.  I know I will go reluctantly.  I know I will arrive nervous.  I know I will then leave joyous having witnessed a greater something than me, even than us.  And I know I will leave having had at least one conversation I was supposed to have.

Willy was the conversation I was supposed to have.  Born in Puerto Rico, living in Reading at a homeless shelter, Willy founds shoes, donated shoes, part of the clothing drive the congregation put together.  Conversation started around shoes.  “Worth a $100.00″ he said.  Might be right.  A prayer of thanks for the person who gave them.

And then we talked.  A long conversation.  Part way through, with a smile, Willy leans in with “Chuck you are going to be alright.”   Out of the blue.  Striking the core of incessant, chattering worries.  Did I say anything that helped him?  That connected?  Probably not.  But God had us there.  In that place.  Front Street in Reading.  63 year old Puerto Rican cook.  49 years old Irish pastor.   “Not as many … but as one.” (Divine Love and Wisdom, 22)

Seeing A Sermon. Hearing a Sermon.

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

Read yesterday, “I would prefer to SEE a sermon instead of just hearing a sermon.”  And then traveled to the Kensington section of Philly, “The Badlands” as they are known locally, to serve at the St. Francis Inn, a homeless shelter.   We served.  8 of us.

There is so much one could say.  My job .. to buss tables.  Clearing and cleaning up as several hundred folks moved through to a dinner of goulash, rolls, chips, and milk – strawberry, low fat, whole.  And in the middle – not a surprise – holding a tray, some tears.  There were kids.  Lots of kids.  Liam, 8 months, and others.  Barry.  Grey head of hair. Lots of smile.  The same name as my favorite uncle.

And much of formal church structures, for me, mired, at larger denominational levels in tired debates so far removed from this … from people, from suffering.  Pope Francis said good shepherds, good priests, must “smell of sheep,”  must pick up the ‘scent’ of those they serve.  Father Bill serving up the goulash did.  Tatalia, volunteering there for a year, did.   Those mired, tired debates that seek to hold women from ordination, or parse down small definitions of this word or that into an exactitude I wonder if was ever intended, don’t smell of sheep to me.

Does our life break open, our soul finally crackle with light, as we confront sin or suffering? 

I tire quickly of private morality and the games it plays under the guise of “God said.”  Of church as just that, nothing more. Church is infinitely more.. hearing sermons… the best of which are SEEN.  “Religion is of life.  And the life of religion is to do what is good.”

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!



Compulsions vs. Intentions

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

A vast gulf separates “compulsion” from “intention.”

Our compulsions are born from pleasure centers.  Growing out of self-centeredness, compulsions tend to be known by the fevered neediness that drives us to choose paths that become increasingly irrational and increasingly destructive.  Compulsions fail to see the bigger picture beyond hedonistic survival and thrills.

Most people, particularly young people, have no knowledge that the purpose of their life is union with Divine Reality. They have been told that the purpose of life is to get a degree and make money and have kids and die. That’s the narrowed-down secular understanding of reality, which is de facto followed by many Christians. Most are no longer connected to the perennial philosophy, and just waste time fighting their own religion. This is not wisdom at all—it is low-level survival. We’re now living in a largely survival mode in most Western cultures. No wonder so many of our kids turn to drugs, drink, and promiscuous sex, because there’s nothing else that’s very exciting or very true.  Fr. Richard Rohr

The counter to it is understanding and cultivating intention.  Our intention is often the foil for compulsion.  Most of us (all maybe) hold within ourselves a deeply embedded desire to serve, to help, to live a life of self-less purpose.  This occurs when “our love for ourselves becomes a love of service … our love of power for our own sake becomes a love of power for the sake of service…. Goodness and service are the same things.”  DP 233

I think Swedenborg nailed it when he wrote that our job to deliver to life our best intentions on God’s behalf.  Service is the glue.  So thank you to those willing to live out of intention, an intention to draw alongside suffering and serve those in need.


Thinking of my buddy Matt Kuhl

Monday, April 9th, 2012

Today with the tragedy unfolding around two Philadelphia firefighters who lost their lives in an early morning blaze, my dear friend Matt is on my mind. Several years ago Matt was diagnosed with liver cancer, a disease which claimed his life, leaving behind an incredible wife and 5 amazing children. Often in the intervening years when events happen that call my attention to the preciousness of life, my thoughts go to Matt.

I want the world to be different.  I want to be awake to it all.   I want “church” to be part of that as something positive, as a collecting point of sorts for those who feel driven to engage the world, mess and all.

Matt engaged life in a big way.  One story …. it deals with oil changes.  Matt found a local car wash that threw in the car wash for free if you had your oil changed there.  So Matt signed on.  After Matt’s funeral, two of the men who worked at the oil changing “station” shared how Matt would always bring them McDonald’s meals when he stopped by to have his oil changed.  Now knowing Matt, I wonder if the whole point for him was buying the guys the meal- the need for an oil change just being an excuse to do it.   Regardless – this story for me encapsulates Matt and his big hearted embrace of life.

And so with him in my mind we enter this weekend, a weekend of supporting “The Breathing Room Foundation”, a local non-profit supporting families with cancer.  I don’t want to use his memory as some rather limp attempt to get people to come to the events.  What I do want to do though is to say strongly that reaching out does matter.  That supporting groups that help families with cancer does matter.  I witnessed first hand what community support can do and continues to do in holding the Kuhl family.

I think “church” needs to take its rightful place.  It is too easy and sterile to seclude churches as silo-ed worship centers myopically focused on sculpted Sunday liturgy.  We are called to more.  We cannot serve families with cancer as effectively as groups like “The Breathing Room Foundation” but we can support the work of those organizations with our time, talent and treasure.

I bought 10 tickets to the Friday night benefit concert.  I am giving them out to some of the folks I know are struggling with cancer.  You could do the same.   You could also join us in serving those families through help with Spring Cleaning on Saturday morning.  And you could come to NewChurch LIVE on Sunday to hear Tyesha Love, a breast cancer survivor, speak about what courage really is.   You could do all those things and in the process maybe we then can reclaim a mission of being part of the healing of the brokenness of life.   This is about people, about that healing, about opportunity.  Join us.  TICKETS


Breathing Room Foundation

Tyesha Love

A Jumping Off Place

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

New Church theology holds many simply precious truths. One that struck me when I read it last week is the idea that salvation is “an ongoing act of creation.” Many see salvation as an act avoiding damnation. Salvation then is not about creating anything but far more about avoiding punishment.

But lets just think for a moment what that might mean to see salvation as a creative act – if that was our “jumping off place.”  Creation itself is about growth, reproduction, change, even adventure. Imagine those being the antonyms for “salvation”!

I feel in many ways my eyes opening wider and wider.  Now that is not about some grand pastoral insight – because we all know that is in short supply.  It is about eyes widening as I witness more and more people living into a church that is in itself a creative endeavor.  Just this week ….

Baseball: Angel gave Angela 3 Philly baseballs from the NLCS for me to give Brayden Walsh and his parents.  Brayden, as many of you are aware, is a young man battling some serious health issues.  Brayden’s comments to his mom, on receiving the gifts, was that he was never going to wash his hands again.  Beautiful stuff.  That gift was a a gift creation.

Roofs: Sam wanted to know the name of a pastor I referenced in a service, a pastor who moved from the Main Line to Kensington because that is where he felt could best use him.  Sam wants to get in touch with him so he can offer to repairs roofs for those in need for free.  Beautiful stuff.  That gift was a gift of creation.

Cleaning: Elizabeth would like to get a group together to help clean the office.  I am not sure how she knew it needed cleaning – alright actually I do know – because it is dirty.  Our office serves small groups, as well as a being our “home base” during the week.   So that helps all of us.  Beautiful stuff.  That gift was a gift of creation.

Tithing: From an online viewer in Canada, “We are committed to modeling a tithe and beyond….The Vision of sharing these beautiful truths through meaningful contacts with a world that so desperately needs them is just as compelling as the day we signed on to help build a better distribution network to share these precious truths with the world. With this in mind, we are committed to placing our modest gifts with those parts of our worldly organization dedicating themselves to expanding efforts to reach out to others.”   Beautiful stuff.  That gift was a gift creation.

So yes, salvation is an act of creation.  In our own way, lets be an act of creation as we join that wider project singing into our hearts.   What a great place to jump off from!



The Singing Started at 5:45

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

The singing started at 5:45.  It went through the set up for the meal.  It lasted as we served the guests – a group of homeless families and individuals in Pottstown. The singing ended as we broke for clean up.  I find myself singing, waiting for a woman in charge of salad to dole out a blob of Italian dressing onto the styrphome plate I held, a plate filed with lettuce and shaved carrots.  She sings too.   The plate from her, to me, to the guest.

That was last night.  Just one night.

The Adkins, Scott, Karl, Angela, Pat, Bryn, Tom. Others.  Other Pastors.  Other churches.  A mom, Penn State class of ’89. with two teen age sons.  She cried.  One person I did not net meet.

The instruction. Pastor Abu Bradley with his son and daughter in tow: “Lets pray.  These are guests.  Do not eat until they eat.  Clear their plates.  Ask them if they want seconds.  Children get served first.  Sit with guests.  Smile.  Free flu shots in the other room.  Who wants to watch the restrooms?  I want to make sure our guests even have a good experience there. Thank you.  Lets pray.”  A buffet line, serve-yourself, makes so much more sense but it doesn’t.  Life is not serve-yourself.

Heaven as the grand banquet to which all are invited.    Jordan, 7, loves the Steelers.  So do I.  Lynne worries about her son.  So do I.  ”We” – a bunch of “beautiful fools” – I love that line Ray.  There is grace in all things.



Moving Beyond a Church of Personal Salvation and Traveling to Reading Pennsylvania

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

“The Church of Personal Salvation” represents the Siren song of religious endeavor.  The focus centers on the individual – on my view, my perspective, my need to “feel” spiritual.   Very easy to do and a trap I believe most if not all people interested in the spiritual journey can quickly fall into.  I certainly have on more than one occasion.

The religious experience can intoxicate.  It readily lifts us to heights of beauty and grandeur.  And there lies the temptation.  The mountaintop experience, in isolation, may well be important as a centering, a grounding, a moment of inspiration but it is NOT the Christian life.   If we fall prey to seeing the mountaintop experience as the Christian life we readily turn to a “Church of Personal Salvation.”  We will then search for churches that fill that self absorbed need to feel good versus churches that call all of us to do good.  From a Biblical perspective, this may well explain that just as the crowds form and grow, and adulation swells we find Jesus in the New Testament often simply moving along, going on His way.

Are you aware the poorest city in the entire country, as measured by the percentage of citizens living beneath the poverty line exists approximately an hour from where NewChurch LIVE is headquartered?   Read the article.  Reading Pennsylvania just surpassed Flint Michigan.

So the question, is who will hear a call?  How can we serve?  Are you the person who wants to organize a coat drive, food drive, dinner at a homeless shelter?   Maybe you are.  God needs us and He needs us to get it is not about us.   Show us the way!

A New Church View of Leadership

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

What kind of leadership should we exercise?

From a Christian New Church perspective it begins with a first-things-first approach.  That means a focus on service, plain and simple.  Leadership is not about self engradizement, self esteem, self discovery.  It instead centers on serving God through serving others.

As we step out in service and step into leadership roles as a way to accomplish that end what will we find over time?  Simply put – joy.  As the New Church theologian Emanuel Swedenborg phrased it, that joy grows from “shared experiences with others.”  As we serve into those service oriented “activities we love, our love for them grows, and along with that love comes wisdom about how to involve others.” (True Christianity pg. 192)  A little taste of heaven!

How Do I Keep It Simple?

Friday, July 8th, 2011

From the book “True Christianity” Volume 2, pg. 23:

Friends, abstain from what is evil, and do what is good, and believe in the Lord with your whole heart and your whole soul; and He will give you love for what you do and faith in what you believe.

That is simple.  Often for me life chugs along and then I just hit patches where I feel unteathered, disconnected from God and other people. And at those time, a simple reminder of a simple truth brings me back to center.

What is powerful about this line from True Christianity is that it speaks of our need to follow the God of our understanding and how in doing that, God helps us to have faith (think “confidence”) in what we know and to have love at the core of what we do.  In other words, it is settling into our true selves.  Yes, there is a need there for an external form of revelation as it were – a rock “higher than I” as the New Testament would put it – to pull us out of our petty selves.  And, at the same time it focuses us back on our true selves in a healthy way – our informed perspective on the world, our enlightened view of God, our love.  Put your heart and soul into it and you get your heart and soul.