Archive for the ‘Small Groups’ Category

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.

 

First Quarter at NewChurch LIVE

Friday, October 19th, 2012

First Quarter Blurb

It was an exceptionally strong first quarter, growing Sunday attendance by 13% and online plays by 15%.  We are rapidly reaching a “breaking” point.  The breaking is NOT about crisis.  It is about clarity around several simple facts and the opportunity to move forward they present.

  1. We put together a pastor-centered model that served us well and grew us to this point.
  2. We are outgrowing that model.
  3. Time to begin working on a new small group/ Meta Church model.

The new model will serve us in three ways, (1) enabling us to better serve our mission, (2) to grow our local congregation, (3) and to reach financial self-sufficiency in the next two years.

We are getting started in earnest.  So what will the changes look like?  Some things will remain the same like the Sunday service, KidsLIVE etc…  What will change will be what happens after Sunday.  Specifically, we will be re-gearing our small group program.  This will take some work, some courage, and a lot of commitment. And it will be a fun!  In the end, we will have positioned ourselves to better connect and serve others.

These words of Richard Rohr get right to it:

All of Jesus’ guidance for ministry, his seeming “tips for the road,” are very concrete and interpersonal. They are all about putting people in touch with specific people, and especially with people’s pain. Person-to-person is the way the Gospel was originally communicated. Person-in-love-with-person, person-respecting-person, person-forgiving-person, person-touching-person, person-crying-with-person, person-hugging-person, person-hurting-person: that’s where the Divine Presence is so beautifully revealed. And from the concrete and personal it universalizes! What is true here and now is true everywhere and always.

I am confident this unfolding new direction will help us humbly cooperate with God in doing just that!

Find A Way Out

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Idolatry traps us – often very subtly.

Emanuel Swedenborg conjectured … “There are three forms of idolatry.  This first is love of ourselves, the second is love of worldly advantages, and the third is sensual pleasure.” In other words we can choose to worship ourselves, our stuff, or our pleasures. And that is why the experience of God, on the other hand, can be so deeply freeing.

See worship of God lacks a possessive “urge” to it.  God does not endeavor to “own” humanity.  He is not feverishly clutching for souls.  He endeavors, passionately but with the utmost deference to our free will, to liberate humanity.  Not a closed hand but an open hand.  Restated, the three forms of idolatry listed above pull us more and more down the rabbit hole of narcissism.  God pulls us more and more out of the rabbit hole and into the expansive path of connectedness.  Worship of God then, rightly held, opens us more to the wonder surrounding us. Not a place devoid of suffering, but a place where even that suffering in part forms a matrix from which we grow.

The 19th of June

Monday, June 18th, 2012

The 19th day of June is a yearly celebration in traditional New Church congregations. What is it?

As a day, its roots go back to theologian Emanuel Swedenborg’s notation that on that date, in 1770, a spiritual event occurred – one with great spiritual symbolism.  On that date, Swedenborg held that the 12 disciples of the New Testament regathered to again proclaim the message that the Lord God Savior Jesus Christ reigns.  The message they had lived on this earth was again claimed but this time in heaven.

Just hold the core of that statement for a moment.  What it means is that the New Church proclaims that Christ is alive and active in the world, and ours is to celebrate this living reality.   Was Swedenborg really given to see those things?  That is for the individual to decide but just “test drive” the message for the moment.

What the message means is that the anticipated “Second Coming of Christ” has occurred through the understanding of the real heart and soul of the bible – a testimony centered on love.  This what Swedenborg wrote of.  That Second Coming, is not, from a New Church perspective, just “good news” (Gospel) for Christians but for all faiths given the strong teachings in this church that any form of faith, if lived sincerely, draws one to heaven. The New Church then, in a sense, is just one of many facets of this “Second Coming”, an event far more about the gift of spiritual freedom than of dogmatic pietism squashed into an assembly of “The Elect.”  Saying “Christ reigns” from a New Church angle is like saying “All are blessed.”

And that salvation entails taking on the work as individuals and institutions of continual self-critique and self-renewal, aka “resurrection.”  Paradoxically, this in turn only works as we do the work of faith – the not to do list and the to do list.   Individuals and institutions, including churches themselves, can become self-centered.  Faith is about moving beyond those imprisoning constructs and moving towards agape forms of love – agape as in “self-sacrificing.”   We do that through the rigorous honesty of self-critique and the loving service foundational to self-renewal.

I certainly have witnessed people living this “Second Coming” including many who would not define themselves as “Christian” or “New Church” in the tradition sense.  The sign of the Second Coming really are changes in our own hearts – not “end times” or the ceasing of history.  That breaking open of the world anew is an individual endeavor true but one we can support and celebrate as a Church.  The 19th of June is good time to celebrate it!

“‘Hope’ never adds up but the blessings do.” Anne Voscamp

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

I enjoy this line from Anne Voscamp’s book “1000 Blessings.” So many of my hopes are attached to the word “more.” I hope for “more” of this, or that – relationship or stuff – believing that in “more” I will finally discover “enough.” That kind of hope is actually hopeless.  Like the millionaire who cooks the books for that extra shot of money, I find myself addicted to the femoral “hope” of attaining “more,” and that “more” will mean I am “complete.”

My Prayer:  I am nothing without you God.  I am nothing without what You already placed in my life – today, this Sunday morning – which in the end is enough – blessings and breaking.  

I can strive but let that striving Lord be from service, be from love, be from a giving that does not care about receiving but only in the Gift. 

What does “regeneration” mean?

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Dear Pastor Chuck,

I’m new to the New Church and have heard the term regeneration mentioned in a number of services.  Can you explain what that means in relation to New Church theology?

“Regeneration” means “recreation.”  We believe spiritual growth follows three steps. “Regeneration” is the third.  The first step is “repentance”, a word meaning to “change one’s mind.”  We look to look at our lives and rethink, reconsider, asking God to help us formulate a “not to do” list to get our own blocks born of selfishness out of the way as well as a “to do” list that helps us to reach out to others.

Then Step Two kicks in – reformation.  Reformation means to “restructure.”  If we stay in our head, we will miss it.  We need to bring head, heart, and hands together.  We do that as we re-form our lives, a.k.a. reformation.  The alcoholic needs to stop going to bars.  The porn addict needs to stop looking at porn. The angry parent needs to stop getting mad. Of course we will fail often in this endeavor.  Our job is to keep picking ourselves up, asking God’s help, and moving on.  This where New Church influenced like 12 step programs can be particularly helpful.

And then we arrive at the final step – “Regeneration.”  This is where God re-creates us, giving us a new heart of “flesh” instead of “stone” as the Old Testament puts it. We awake to the wonder of life.  We awake to love and service in a new way.  We know heaven, a knowledge we can have in this life.


Dangers of Christian Fundamentalism

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

The pictures from the recent shooting/ bombing in Norway are simply heartbreaking.  The grief over so much senseless violence is hard to even hold.  Our hearts go out to all who were lost.

It also brings great sadness to know that the phrase “fundamentalist Christian” in our cultural carries with it a connotation of a warrior like Christianity that can arguably give rise to such senselessness.  If Jesus is held as a religious zealot asking for “war” against those from other cultures and against perceived “threats” to cultural homogeneity, such events are predictable.  This appears to have been a least part of the assassin’s motivation.  It is a motivation not far different from al Queda.

“The Norwegian man charged Saturday with a pair of attacks in Oslo that killed at least 92 people left behind a detailed manifesto outlining his preparations and calling for a Christian war to defend Europe against the threat of Muslim domination, according to Norwegian and American officials familiar with the investigation….  Like Mr. Breivik’s manuscript, the major Qaeda declarations have detailed accounts of the Crusades, a pronounced sense of historical grievance and calls for apocalyptic warfare to defeat the religious and cultural enemy.”

And clearly, nothing could be further from the Christian message, message in which Jesus NEVER took up a sword, a world in which Jesus CONSISTENTLY crossed cultural barriers, and a world in which the primary call was to LOVE and COMPASSION.  And that is where our heart must rest, in that Christianity.  The warrior stuff is simply dangerous crap peddled by those who seek to cloak megalomania in a religious patina.  It is easy to hold it as harmless, a difference of opinion as it were, but it is perspective that carries with it the danger of heartrending consequences.

How A Friend and Visitor Sees The New Church

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

My friend Matt Stromberg recently wrote and posted a paper he authored on “What is the New Church?”  I posted it below.  Matt is a thorough scholar and a good guy.  Thanks to all of you have who made him feel so welcome when he visited NewChurch LIVE.

In hisMarriage of Heaven and Hell the Poet William Blake asks, “How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way, Is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five?” Like so many others with a mystical bent, Blake sought to experience a world beyond the visible world known to our senses. In June of 1784, a group of intellectuals and spiritual seekers, seeking those same ends, gathered at Bell’s Book Store on South Third Street in Philadelphia to hear a lecture on “The Science of Correspondences.” Among those present were Benjamin Franklin and two other signers of the Declaration of Independence. The lecture explored the teachings of a scientist, mystic, and visionary named Emmanuel Swedenborg. Emmanuel Swedenborg, at the age of fifty-three, believed that he had received a visitation from the Lord Jesus Christ who opened to him the spiritual world.

Not only did Swedenborg discover that everything in the visible world corresponds to a spiritual reality, the doctrine of correspondence, but the interior, hidden sense of the scriptures was also revealed to him. According to Swedenborg the last judgement occurred in the spiritual world in 1757, not on May 21 2011 as believed by some today. The last judgement was followed by the long promised second coming of Christ. The second of coming of Christ was not a physical event, but the spiritual revelation of the interior meaning of God’s Word (discussed above.) Swedenborg, in his book True Christian Religion—one a many volumes of spiritual writings—spoke of a series of ecclesial dispensations, the Adamic, the Noahtic, the Israelitish and the Christian Church of the apostles. Swedenborg believed the revelation he received to mark the beginning of a new dispensation, the coming of a true Christian faith that would be the culmination of all of God’s work in the past. Swedenborg believed that Saint John’s vision of the New Jerusalem corresponded to this heavenly church, and so he spoke of it as The Church of the New Jerusalem. The New Jerusalem Church would finally unite the true and good and establish true charity. His belief was that it would bring the sad divisions within the church to an end establishing a unity based on love of God and neighbour. Swedenborg never sought to institute any outward organisation of the New Jerusalem Church himself.

An Anglican clergyman named John Clowes began to translate Swedenborg’s writings into English and distribute them in his native England. Clowes formed a society of fellow devotees of Swedenborg’s doctrine, but did not seek to break from the established church either. Another believer in Swedenborg’s doctrine, Robert Hindmarsh, was the first to precipitate a break with the established church and the form a separate body. It was James Glen, a convert to the New Church, who brought Swedenborg’s ideas to the United States. In fact Glen was the one who delivered the lecture at Bell’s Book Store in Philadelphia.

Perhaps no one else was more influential in the spread of Swedenborg’s theology in the United States, however, than a missionary named John Chapman. Chapman planted several nurseries of apple trees all across the nation. He also sowed the seeds of Emmanuel Swedenborg’s heavenly doctrine through distributing his writing everywhere he went. Chapman is immortalized in American folklore as “Johnny Appleseed.” Helen Keller was another outspoken advocate for Swedenborg’s doctrine. Keller was influential in spreading Swedenborgian ideas in later years. It was the group that first met at Bell’s bookstore in Philadelphia, however, that would become the beginning of the New Church’s presence in America. On Christmas day in 1815 the group was formally organized as “The First New Jerusalem Society in Philadelphia.” A dispute arose over the authority of Swedenborg’s writings in 1889 which resulted in a schism. One group remained in Philadelphia while the other moved to their new headquarters in Bryn Athyn, founding the Academy of the New Church, and building the beautiful Bryn Athyn Cathedral. The Bryn Athyn group goes by the name, The General Church of the New Jerusalem or simply the New Church.

The New Church’s faith is based on the Bible as illuminated by the revelations of Emmanuel Swedenborg. The New Church, although sharing much, also differs from orthodox Christianity in several key areas. New Church theology rejects the orthodox idea of the trinity as three persons and instead speaks of God as one person, Jesus Christ. What are thought of as distinct persons within orthodox Christianity, are believed by the New Church to be three attributes of the same God, a kind of modalism. The Father is the invisible, divine soul, the Son the visible embodiment of that soul, and the Holy Spirit the truth that flows to all people from the divine soul. God is deeply personal and intricately involved in every area of our lives.

The Bible, along with being a book of history, prophecies, etc also corresponds to Divine Truth, hidden in its symbolism. This Truth is consistent with reason and the external sense of the scriptures and can be used to help us live a life of usefulness to others. The Second Coming is the arrival of that spiritual vision within us. Angels are people who once lived lives like our own and chose a life of usefulness to others or charity, loving God and their neighbour. Every human being was created to be on a spiritual process preparing them for life in heaven. This process involves repentance from sin, prayer, avoiding evil, and living a new life. All people who strive to live a life of goodness, according to the truth within their own faith, will eventually reach Heaven. The New Church does not believe in a physical resurrection. They believe, that upon death, we will pass into the spiritual world where we will live a recognizably human life with the same gender, personality, and memories we had in this life. Hell is a place for those who have denied God and pursued lives of selfishness while heaven is a place where people joyfully serve one another in love.

I first visited Bryn Athyn on a glorious spring morning. I had Van Morrison’s Astrial Weeks on the radio. Morrison’s soulful, mystical music seemed the perfect soundtrack for a place with such a spiritual mystique about it. At the heart of Bryn Athyn is the astonishing Bryn Athyn Cathedral. I’ve never seen the great churches of Europe, but the Cathedral is among the most impressive houses of worship I’ve ever seen. The New Church presence in Bryn Athyn is ubiquitous, a kind of Salt Lake City for Swedenborgians (much smaller of coarse.) The concentration of New Church presence combined within a small town setting, gives one the impression of a very tight nit community.

The people of the New Church are a very warm a friendly group. They are also very devout, committed to Jesus Christ, and dedicated to walking out their faith in a practical and loving way. I was there to meet Chuck Blair, the very earnest senior pastor of New Church Live, for lunch. Everywhere we went friendly members of Chuck’s Church greeted us. Chuck and I had been exchanging emails for quite awhile and he invited me out to talk face to face. He explained to me that his own take on New Church theology was that it was all about “eye level Christianity.” How are we living our faith here and now? Swedenborg taught about a God whose central attribute was love, a love so great that he came to live among us. He also warned about the danger of separating faith from life. Swedenborg sought to reconnect the True (doctrine) and the Good (Charity.) In keeping with Swedenborg’s ideas, the vision of New Church Live is to be “a Monday morning church.” The focus is not just what happens on Sunday mornings but also on how the church’s members live out the gospel the rest of the week. Chuck and I both found deep resonance between this idea and the missional ethos of Biblical Seminary.

I also had the pleasure of worshiping at New Church Live on a Sunday. Chuck’s congregation is unique within the New Church. More traditional congregations, like the one who worships at the cathedral, have services very much reminiscent of a traditional Anglican service. There is a liturgy, a choir, hymns, and special vestments for the clergy. There are also readings from both the Old and New Testaments, the difference being that there is also a reading from the writings of Emmanuel Swedenborg. The Swedenborg reading is usually chosen to illuminate the other text. Also the New Testament readings do not include Acts or any of the epistles with the exception of Revelation. Although those books are held in esteem, they are not recognized as canonical or inspired in the same way.

New Church Live is much different. Services are held in a performing arts centre on the Campus of Bryn Athyn College. It is a casual and contemporary worship service similar to many evangelical churches. The staff, including greeters, AV techs, coffee servers etc all wear T-Shirts with the New Church Live logo emblazoned on the front. The church band sounds more like a bar band than your typical worship band. They tend to play secular, rock songs, but secular songs that have some kind of spiritual or religious content. On the Sunday that I visited, the band performed two reggae songs, one a Bob Marley tune and the other Jimmy Cliff’s wonderful interpretation of Psalm 137, By the Rivers of Babylon. They also played one of my favourite songs by one of my favourite artist, Bruce Cockburn’s All the Diamonds in This World.The music seems to be an effective way of connecting to people where they are. It is very accessible to a secular audience.

Chuck has a very welcoming a relational preaching style that is also very accessible. The service opened with a sneak preview of the upcoming sermon series titled “Love Wins.” The series will look at some of the ideas discussed in Rob Bell’s new book of the same title. The controversial trailer made by Bell to promote the book was projected on the screen and appeared to have a very favourable reception. Chuck told me that he is a big admirer of Bell and other teachers often associated with the emerging church. Bell’s book has stirred up a lot of interest in the New Church. Chuck sent me a link for a podcast on Oprah Winfrey’s website by popular television personality and physician Dr. Oz. Dr. Oz praised Bell’s book as highly compatible with New Church theology. This particular Sunday’s service was not part of the “Love Wins” series, however, but the final sermon in a series called “212.” The series is based on an illustration about the temperature at which water boils. At 211, water begins to bubble, but at 212 it begins to boil. The difference is a matter of one degree.

Chuck presented the question of what it would take in our lives to have that extra bit that takes us from 211 to 212. The series worked out of the Biblical story of David, specifically his anointing by Samuel. This Sunday was focused on David’s well-known battle with Goliath. The exegesis of the scripture, in keeping with New Church principles, was allegorical. David could not defeat Goliath (read the obstacles in our own lives) by pretending to be someone he was not. Saul’s armour was ill fitting and heavy for David. Only by discovering his unique gifts, “God’s fingerprints,” symbolized by the five smooth stones, could David have victory. Like David, we should also discover God’s finger- prints within us, those strengths that are uniquely ours, and use them for the love of God and in usefulness to others. New Church theology teaches us to be angels in training, and angels always think in terms of opportunity to love God and others. With an angelic mindset, we must be constantly vigilant to find opportunities for useful service. We must not simply be content to allow God’s love to flow to us, but we must allow it to flowthrough us to those in need. If we try to keep the blessings of God for ourselves we will loose them. If we allow them to pass through us to others we will find that we are more truly blessed, because real blessing comes through being a blessing to others.

The more we allow ourselves to be useful in this way, the more we will find opportunities to be useful opening up to us. It takes more energy to go from 211 to 212 than in does to reach 211. That one degree extra requires the hardest push and we can easily get caught in the middle and never allow our lives to reach their boiling point. Chuck quoted from author Seth Godin, who writes in his book Linchpin about being an indispensible person, someone who really makes a difference. According to Godin, real change “…depends on motivated human beings selflessly contributing unasked for gifts.” Chuck left us with these thoughts, being a person that really makes a difference in the world requires that we make that extra push to be a 212 person. He said, “We are asked to use our own initiative on God’s behalf.” The service ended with prayer and invitation for people to come forward if they wanted prayer from Chuck or the assistant pastor.

After the service I was invited to join Pastor Chuck and some others at Betucci’s for lunch and fellowship. I had the opportunity to talk to other people about their faith and the New Church. One individual who joined us was Dave Fuller a medical doctor who was writing a book about Swedenborg and Osteopathic medicine. Dave believes in integrating spiritual practices and alternative medicine with modern medical practices, and works out of Holy Redeemer Medical Offices. He was a fascinating person and very helpful as he was extremely knowledgeable about New Church history and theology.

I also met an older couple that were converts to New Christianity from Catholicism. They spoke about how they never felt the spiritual nourishment they needed in any other church, and what an impact being a part of the New Church community has had on their lives and their relationship with God. What particularly attracted them was the openness and tolerance that the New Church has for other faiths. They first came to the church after their daughter planned to have her wedding in the Cathedral. Since then they have been very involved in the church both on Sunday mornings and also in midweek “Strength Groups.” Although their daughter’s engagement actually fell threw, they believe very strongly that God used those events to lead them to the New Church. Everyone I met was very friendly and extremely hospitable. They all encouraged me to come back another time.

My experience with the New Church has been extremely positive. Although I take strong exception to much of their doctrine, I continue to be impressed by their sincerity of devotion. It is humbling to see a friendliness, generosity, piety, and zeal for service that is often lacking in the more orthodox among a group that we would label heretical. I feel that I have made real friendships, especially with Pastor Chuck Blair, and I look forward to continuing my dialogue with the New Church.

Obstacle Course vs. Runway

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

Our view of God is central to our view of how the world works.

For some, the God of their understanding is an angry God, a God of vengeance, a God of conditional love.  The demands of that deity can appear like an obstacle course.  There are “cones” to touch, a course to be run, times and performances to be met.  God’s acceptance of us is based on the speed and accuracy with which we move through that course.  And don’t screw up!

This view holds true in many Christian circle.  God’s anger at the human race was appeased through the bloody sacrifice of His Son, Jesus.  We get “in”, we are “saved” through that sacrifice but only if we regard Jesus as our one, true personal savior.  Left out are all those who did not come to belief.  They are in turn “left behind” to live lives of eternal torment and punishment for non-belief regardless of anything they did.  The beautiful Buddhist?  Toast.   The Mormon who serves overseas?  Done.  The person who tries to live a loving life but can’t find a way to belief right now? Over.

This may appear as overstatements but the “Left Behind Series” has sold millions of books and comic books based on that very premise.

But what if God instead was unconditional in His love?  What if Jesus, not as the Son of God, but as the very Incarnation of God, came to earth to show us clearly how to love unconditionally?   What if the rules of life were there not an obstacle course but were crafted boundaries to form a runway what would allow us to take flight?  Sounds like “the fullness of joy!”