Archive for the ‘Small Groups’ Category

Issues We Must Wrestle With

Friday, June 29th, 2018

There are a number of hot-button issues, issues calling for the church’s attentiveness. Here are three I have been thinking a great deal about.

  1. Separation of Immigrant Families
  2. Deficit Spending
  3. Environmental degradation/ Global Warming

I start here with what I imagine to be a critical point … simply mentioning these issues is not taking a political side.  If churches have nothing to say about such issues however, we miss a huge opportunity.  What is that opportunity?

To start, the opportunity is not about the church pronouncing a definitive answer on each issue.  However churches are uniquely positioned to offer a perspective on “first things first”, one that invites further engaged (not enraged!) dialog and active involvement from all sides, and yet remains true to the Christian message as a “3rd way” between poles.  That is the opportunity.
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And what might be germane from that Christian message, now several thousand years old?
  1. We must forever and always protect the most vulnerable in society
  2. We must value our planet and the blessings it brings
  3. We must be good stewards of our resources, taking the long term view, seeking to share and serve
  4. We must witness to the inherent dignity in all of God’s people
Compass points obviously.  But compass points that lead us home.
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Church is never about purely private salvation.  It is about all of us … about a family, a community, a nation, a world, each caring for the other.
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How do we empower ourselves? A surprising answer….

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018
There is always this question about empowerment. How do we become empowered human beings?
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I love Sam Wells’ surprising answer.
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We empower ourselves when we come to see ourselves as “a sinner who can be forgiven, rather than a victim who can protest.”
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What a surprise!
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Follow the surprise …. In your most treasured relationship, how well does it work to see yourself as a victim limited to protest?  Versus the flip… in your most treasured relationship, how well does it work to see yourself as human being, warts and all, in need of forgiveness, in need of grace, in need of kindness?
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I would argue, when we place ourselves in the role of flawed humanity … blessed and broken… we place ourselves closer to our true selves and closer to God.   We become, in a word, empowered.  The edges soften and the heart grows.
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A stark choice maybe. A marriage of two individuals who each clutch tightly to playing the victim role has neither joy nor a future.  A marriage of two individuals who correctly see themselves as flawed human beings has embedded deeply within the relationship the lasting seeds of joy and of a future.
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Living with all that is Unresolved

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

We have to learn to live with all that is unresolved.  From Fr. Richard Rohr…

If you are to live on this earth, you cannot bypass the necessary tension of holding contraries and inconsistencies together. Daily ordinary experiences will teach you nonduality in a way that is no longer theoretical or abstract. It becomes obvious in everything and everybody, every idea and every event, almost hidden in plain sight. Everything created is mortal and limited and, if you look long enough, paradoxical. By paradox, I mean something that initially looks contradictory or impossible, but in a different frame or at a different level is in fact deeply true.

It is indeed a necessary tension, a tension where faith grows and deepens.

So language shifts to “I can’t solve this”.  ”I don’t know”.

I do know this though … “Be still and know that I am God.”

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.  Rilke

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That Simple and That Hard

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017

That Simple and That Hard
A group of dads at NewChurch LIVE gather once a month for dinner. Simple conversation. Simple connection. And a very real question at last night’s dinner, “Where are you struggling as a parent?”

Like most of what I experience as a Pastor, hard to capture in words what slowly unfolds when people gather and share. Not about work. Not about sports. But about life. About what is around our core. About what we treasure most. And about where the pain lies.

A brotherhood there in that sharing. A sisterhood I am sure if it were moms. A fellowship of co-travelers on the Journey.

Taking the time to gather and allow the unfolding connections to happen. Well, with a smile for those wanting that kind of connection, it is that simple and that hard.

Life will forever tell us there is not time. Ghosts will assuredly tell us we are indeed all alone. Self doubt will convince us we have nothing to share.

The experience of a gathering, a dinner, breaking bread, speaks a very different story.

And it is a far better story because it is shared!

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!

 

Why Small Groups Matter

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

As we move into November, our small group and its fall “Living Gratefully” campaign is winding down.  What a blessing “Living Gratefully” has been.

Why are small groups so valuable?

  1. They create a “family” of sorts, made of up of a wide variety of ages and perspectives who can all share around the adventures of life.  Just in our group the ages ranged from 20 to 69.
  2. They allow people new to the congregation a simple mechanism to connect with others in meaningful ways.  In our overall fall campaign for example, 7 of the 10 groups were led by people relatively new to our church.
  3. They capture the lived experience of faith. Within the group there are those falling in love, those losing loved ones, those restlessly searching for purpose, and those calmly resting in times of deep peace.  And each of those is looking to God for help.  Each of those belongs.
  4. They allow for leadership from the bottom up vs. the top down.  I grew up in an era where small groups were really doctrinal classes led by a Pastor.  Great value there.  And it is a different era, one in which we can celebrate people’s willingness to lead in things spiritual.
I love this piece of New Church theology…
… all the life a person has come from God by way of communities. (Secrets of Heaven 8794)
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I have found that to be blessedly true.

A Watershed Decision

Friday, June 26th, 2015

Today will be a day writen of in history books as the Supreme Court affirmed the right for same-sex marriage.

Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy wrote….

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were….. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

How will this decision be received?  By some it will be regarded as yet another sign of a land increasingly untethered from any moral bearings. For others it will be a cause to celebrate.

Many religious, driven by fear over others reactions, will understandably not speak to it one way or another.

But yet I think it prudent to speak.

Marriage is sacred.  And marriage between one man and one woman has long been held, very understandbly, as a core compact upon which healthy society rests.  New Church theology clearly and beautifully holds to that.

And we live in changing times. The reasoning behind this decision deserves our open attention because it is a reasoning based on thoughtfulness and compassion.

So maybe what we are called to is balance, a balance that see both, sees the clear Biblical teachings that hold that marriage is between one man and one woman. And clear canonical teachings as well that thought and truth, centered on love, evolve.  They unfold.

… whenever a doctrinal teaching rises out of a life of thoughtfulness it is the kind of teaching that belongs to faith. …. Anyone who lives a life of love for others knows everything there is to know about faith. Secrets of Heaven 1798

My hope is that denominations then that seek to hold to what they see as sacred truth and in so doing do not perform single-sex weddings can hold to that truth as they see it. And my hope is that denominations that seek to live into a more expansive view of marriage and family can do that as well.

There actually is room for both perspectives.  Room for considered, kind dialog between the camps.  This IS the law of the land now.  The legality is settled.  And to allow it to become one more issue over which divisiveness reigns would be unfortunate in a time that so badly calls for a considered sense of God’s life and love, a life and love that we all share.

Speaking Past the Question

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

Judaism at the time of Christ orbited around concepts of righteousness.  Those codes, taking the form of 613 laws, covered the gambit from justice and the priesthood to sexual ethics.  That legalistic approach actually represents a distinct contribution to world history, directly supporting a pillar of modern day culture … the rule of law.

And like everything, even the “law” can become emphasized to the point where the function of the law as a guarantor of  human freedom and the common good lies forgotten and the law becomes an end to itself.

In steps Christ.

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:34-40)

Brilliant theology.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted, Christ in these words speaks past the question as posed by his detractors.  “He seems to speak past the question, but in this very act he completely addresses the questioner.”  In so doing, he “throws out all the distinctions that the Pharisees strive to work out so conscientiously.”  What remains is grace.  And an incredible answer.

 

The Taliban Approach

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

Many of us carry anxiety with us around the current Federal Government shut down and the dangerously close proximity of default.

I labor as a pastor wondering what to write, what not to write, how to speak for the church without being political etc… Numerous loyalties swirl through my head.

So what do I know and what do I think God calls pastors to say?  I think what needs spoken to is the ugliness that fundamentalism in all its forms, political or religious, creates.  Such fundamentalism is the scorch-and-burn politics so rife in the metaphorical Taliban approach.    And I believe that fundamentalism is property of the right and the left.

The only way out of that dilema, that dividing of the field as it were, is vision.  ”Where there is no vision, the people perish.”  (Prov. 29:18)  That means where there is vision, the people come alive.  Where there is vision, we transcend fundamentalism.

None of that is easy.  Creating and then communicating vision is difficult.  Allowing the graceful space for self-generated buy-in is even more difficult.  Yet that is where the future lies.  The church’s role in that arena can settle into a unique space … except when we author the Taliban approach ourselves.

We are living, in the religious world, within that tension between fundamentalism on the one hand and on the other, the new forms being born.  Very interesting isn’t it to think that Pope Francis and 16-year-old child activist Malala Yousufzai essentially, underneath their specific agendas, so obviously carrying the same DNA forward.  Both are deservedly cast more and more into the role of our current moral thought leaders.  And they both speak to the freeing nature of a loving faith, not the fundamentalist nature of faith more interested in judgment than healing.

Their thought echoes the New Church perspective that God’s love in us grows as we grow to love ALL of God’s creation, every human being.   That vision extends us well beyond fundamentalism.  That vision, obviously, does not balance the budget, save Obama’care or make best friends of political enemies.  What it does do is point us to something higher than the petty camps we so readily divide into.  That is the space from which solutions grow.

Meeting Christ Christmas Eve

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

 ”Divine Revelation is not something you measure or critique. It is not an ideology but a Presence you intuit and meet! It is more Someone than something.”

Join us this Christmas Eve as we celebrate the Christmas story.  This is more than just a story, but a meeting of Someone, a meeting of God in His weakness and in His power.

Christmas Eve Service: 5:00 PM, 800 Tomlinson Road, Bryn Athyn, PA.