Archive for the ‘Small Groups’ Category

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?
I love Sam Wells’ surprising answer.
We empower ourselves when we come to see ourselves as “a sinner who can be forgiven, rather than a victim who can protest.”
What a surprise!
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?
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.
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.

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


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.



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)
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.

Memorial Service for Ian Haney

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

Memorial Service for Ian Haney
December 1st, 2012
Bryn Athyn, PA.

There is life as it is and there is life as we desire it to be. The life we live here and now is both and broken and blessed, filled with the noise of our addictions and compulsions as well as the beautiful stillness of a God-given core filled with joy, connection, with peace. Life as we desire it to be grows from the core though it is a place often lost tragically for a time to the noise. That core is who, in the end, we really are. Who we truly are. Who we will truly become as this life fades, the noise stills, and the next life opens.

All of us here are aware of the tragic circumstances around Ian’s passing. He struggled with addiction and the addiction – that dreadful noise – created immense pain for Ian, for his family, and for others who deeply loved him. That addiction eventually led to his death. While it is important to note it, it is not what we are here to remember. We are here to remember Ian.

John Donne phrased it so well when he wrote of death, saying,
“Death be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful for
thou art not so.” “Thou art not so” – brave lines to place in front of death. Death in the end has nothing to be proud of here because Ian left us memories, a legacy of sorts. His life was much more, so much more than an addiction. And what is it that Ian leaves as a legacy, as a lived experience to those with whom he shared life?

First is his deep love of his family – his parents Rob and Mary, his brother Rob, and his sister Eileen. As many of you know, Ian tattoed on his chest a beautiful picture of that very connection. It was of a hand with 4 birds – one for each member of his family – supporting it. The birds supported the hand. The hand supported the birds. Underneath was the phrase, “believe that you have it and you do.”

I am sure if Ian was here today he would of course want for you four to know that he oh so wished for just one more fishing trip, just one more time surfing, just one more trip to Wallmart, just one more phone call to check in. Maybe even squeezing a final trip to Wawa. And he would especially want you to know this …. He knows, in ways beyond words, that you never gave up on him. Four birds … he always believed that he had that. And he did.

And there were other things he would want us all to know as well. First, as noted, is love. A second one is simply the gift of time. While notoriously a skinflint, a bargain hunter, he was never “cheap” with his time. And such gifts, as time, point us to what matters, what is important – the simplicity of being a good person, holding others with loving accountability – as his father noted, giving us “a leveling effect on all our pious bullshit.”

And a third is the gift of resiliency. Ian was incredibly resilient. That could be seen with his struggles in formal schooling. This was a man who learned far better with his hands than with the skills of an academic. As he noted in elementary school, his favorite school day would be “8 hours of recess with lunch in the middle.” But he made it through and even harbored plans to maybe sometime pursue a degree in engineering.

His battle with addiction shows that same resiliency. Yes the addiction did claim his life – an addiction that was crippling. But it did not do so without a fight. Many times, he felt he finally turned the corner. For periods of time he did. His last extended period of sobriety was as his beloved sister-in-law Jamie put it, a very good time, a real gift to all those around him. He accomplished THAT.

Gifts noted above – love, the simple connection of time, and resiliency – are actually the very core we spoke of at the beginning of the service. They are Ian as he truly is. They are Ian without the painful noise of addiction. They are the Ian we glimpsed. They are Ian at peace, at rest in the joy of his true self – made in the image and likeness of God.

Those gifts are what God will gently cultivate and bring to new and abundant life as Ian awakens to heaven. They will help him become the man those of you here saw, however fleetingly. They will help him to come home.

See “Death be not proud.” Death in the face of love, connection, and resiliency means very little though the pain of separation is indeed great, even overwhelming at times. God’s promise, a gentle holding of heaven, a promise maybe only our soul knows, is quietly sure. “God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev. 21:4)

We will smile at memories of a young man and bowling shoes. Of a young man who somehow enjoyed the combination of ramen noodles and Dooritoes. We will mourn a son, a brother, a friend who left us way before his time leaving a hole that will go unfilled.

I close with this story from his sister Eileen. “When Ian was about 3 or 4 the three of us were home together while my mom was at work. We never had a fence around our backyard until Ian came along- he just couldn’t resist the temptation to go on unsupervised outings.

That day he was playing out back, Rob was watching a movie, and I was on the phone. I looked out the window to check on him and the yard was strangely still. By the time I got outside the gate was open and he was gone. Rob and I panicked- Rob got on his bike and took off down the street to look for him. I started running the other way- I found Ian about a half block away, leisurely walking on the sidewalk pushing his play lawnmower. I was upset with him because I had been so scared something happened (you know the feeling)- I yelled “what are you doing out here?!?!” to which he calmly replied “I’m cutting the grass” and looked at me like I was a lunatic.

Though we only had him for a very brief time, he’s left us with a lifetime’s worth of memories- in just 20 years I think he lived more than some people do in 70 years!”

That is Ian’s life beyond the yard, outside the fence! And we know what Ian would most want us to know now, on this early leaving. He would say, as he often did, “I love you” and “Thanks.” Thanks for standing by him and with him in his triumphs and his struggles. Thanks for sharing life with him. Thanks for never giving up. You are a testimony to his love and to a life, with its flaws, well lived.