Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

Solving Problems vs. the Search for Scapegoats

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

I loved a recent article by Kelly Oliver. In that article she shared a significant point…

… outrage, censoring and public shaming has begun to replace critique, disagreement and debate.

Much of that outrage, censoring and public shaming stems from a human propensity to scapegoat vs. a disciplined dedication to solving problems.  I might capture the scapegoating view this way, “If the problem is “out there”, my only option, given I can do nothing about it, is outrage.”

And yet, as Christians, we are asked to engage.  The whole concept of “incarnation” is based on engagement, on the spiritual joined to the natural, realized in the here and now, “As in heaven, so upon the earth.”

For those in the New Church, that embodiment runs from the high and mighty endeavors of our lives to the mundane and simple.  Integrity.

Maybe this… maybe we are here, as a church, to be a place where we can recapture a sober yet powerful approach to solving problems.  Doing so of course means embracing the discomfort of “critique, disagreement, and debate.”  And it means also embracing this simple Swedenborgian concept … that love in action is what remains.  Somehow those two combine … the work AND the hope.

Nothing easy there.  But it sure beats scapegoating where nothing happens because the fault always outside our power to be agents of change as God gives us to see it.

What can you do?  Join us.  That simple.

Forgiveness? Las Vegas?

Monday, October 2nd, 2017

We awoke today to the heart breaking news around Las Vegas. Tragic. Senseless.

It is hard to hold.

And how does forgiveness fit in? How can we start on that path when an event so raw and unnerving leaves us reeling?

The answer simply is that I don’t know.

I imagine however, from a Christian perspective, the best we can do starts small with grieving the loss. Moves to helping in the ways we feel God is calling us to help. And connecting as best we can with those we love … a reminder of the deep preciousness of life.

As Christians, our God is not a God of vengeance. Our God is a God who faces the very worse of humanity, as seen in the story of Easter crucifixion, with the fragility we can so readily connect with at times like these, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” as well the very best of God-given depth we can connect with captured in these words, “God forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”

Both doubt and forgiveness, part of the Easter crucifixion story.

Doubt and forgiveness, part of our story too.

And as Anne Lamott so poignantly reminds us, that despite all the darkness in the world, grace will always bat last.

That I know to be true.

 

Christianity and the Art of Hospitality

Thursday, August 31st, 2017

So maybe the Christian message, in one simple form, can be heard as this … In coming to understand God’s love for us, we work as best we can to reflect or share that love using Christ as a model.

And that life does give a model, a clear model.  And key to it … the art of hospitality.

That hospitality in turn may possibly be the most radical of Christian practices.

The challenge is straightforward…

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you  (Matt. 5:44)

And the practices are very real, brought together in Communion and Christ washing the feet of this 12 closest followers.

Table fellowship.  Service. With those we like and with those we don’t. With those similar to us and those not. With saints and with sinners.

There is no “out” in this for liberals.  There is no “out” in this for conservatives. There is no place for cynicism.  No place for anger.

All there is is an “us” and moving forward, as best we can, in the challenging spirit of love and reconciliation.

More Than Just Nice

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

The journey of church and spirituality is long.  As one author phrased it…

Eventually there comes a gathering discontent and a quiet, inner disappointment.  Leaders look up and find themselves somehow stuck in the same routine of mediocre niceness that never seems to get to the radical drama, adventure, desperate passion, and glorious power depicted in the Scripture.  Earnest, gifted, mature Christians – we feel like we are all dressed up with nowhere to go.

A beautiful line.

And how then do we continue to move beyond “mediocre niceness”?

To answer the question, as a Pastor, it seems an immense difference in calling to say we are to be the church vs. we are to build a church.

To be the church pushes us, edges us forward.  Pushes us beyond the comforts of  Sunday.  Anchors us “out there.”  Builds clarity around God’s words, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.”   Builds movement.  Grows a missional awareness both for individuals and for the corporate church.

And on gaining clarity about what it is to be the church, it comes back around, and we have a far clearer idea how to build a church, a church now more than just nice but actually courageous!

 

 

Church in North America is Changing Much Faster Than We Think

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

Church in North America is changing much faster than we think.

And there are two common, understandable reactions to change…

  1. A withdrawal, a fatigue sets in and we quit
  2. A panic, a fear sets in and we double down seeking to rediscover the illusive golden era, to return to how things were in the face of challenges around how things are.
Neither works terribly well.
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And an uncomfortable truth here …. there are beautiful opportunities ahead of us but those opportunities will be cut short if we – and here I speak mostly to religious professionals – continue to see our only options as #1 or #2, in other words, if we continue to see our only options as being to quit or to be angry.   
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There are many other options beyond apathy or anger, and they seem to come down to this …. love those in front of us as best we can in our own flawed ways, creating communities that God would recognize, and believe what we know to be true… that something new is forever being born.  Slowly.  Painfully.  And filled with new life.
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Pray for the eyes to see it and you will see it everywhere!
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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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How Faith Might Open….

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

Faith, from a New Church perspective, grows in three very simple ways.

  1. We turn to God:  Important to note, either great suffering or great love will push that shift
  2. We seek to learn: In that humble place we are really open to hear.  To hear what God offers through His Word.  To hear what God offers through those around us as well as through our own experiences and perceptions.
  3. We live what we learn:  We take that “turning” and that “learning” and we practice.  The discipline of practice, of doing, of taking action.  Recipe to Meal.  Playbook to Game.  (True Christianity 347)
And that growth, that opening unfolds for all eternity. That is heaven.  That is joy.  That is true Discovery writ large.
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God forever winds the pieces together, creating a “chord” as Emanuel Swedenborg phrases it, where each “strand” of the three reinforces the whole.
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Maybe all three then become Discovery.  Maybe all three, together, give us a unique voice as our faith opens.
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And as faith opens, expect …
  1. How one holds church to open
  2. How one hears scripture to open
  3. How one prays to open
  4. How one serves to open
  5. How one holds God to open
… a beautiful Adventure continues!
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Sometimes, we need to take a deep breath and decide to do it again, better

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

The numbers at NewChurch LIVE over the past 8 years….

These numbers are tremendously good.  They demonstrate growth.  A congregation willing to reach out.  The average church in the US draws 75 Sunday worshippers, a number we are well above.

And with those successes, we need to find ways to increase growth.  There is both a practical/ budgetary aspect to growth as well as an overwhelming call to our mission and that combination means finding ways to serve more people in the year ahead.

To accelerate growth…

  1. Summer: We are scaling back certain aspects of our Sunday services in order to free up more resources for connection with new parishioners.  That is part and parcel of the “Coffee Shop” approach.   Much of that scaling back on Sundays will continue into the school year.  Again the hope is to place more resources on connection versus the Sunday service.
  2. Calendaring: We are working hard to integrate our calendar more so that all the many things we offer are better organized
  3. Attendance: Our stress will be on in person attendance, holding that as the primary driver of growth in all the arenas we serve.  Our hope is to increase our in-person adult attendance at MPAC to 200.
  4. Volunteering: We will be stressing volunteering this fall.  We are BLESSED in this regard with a congregation that consistently steps up!
My personal goal is to increase our growth rate from 4.4% to 20%.
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For some, growth is understandably a concern.  A myopic focus on growth can distract from our mission of service.  We certainly are going to work hard to balance the practical need for growth with the mission of NCL.
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Sometimes, we need to take a deep breath and decide to do it again, better.

When Small Congregations Start To LiveStream….

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

We have effectively LiveStreamed for about 5 years.

NewChurch LIVE launched 8 years ago.  Since them the technology progressed by leaps and bounds to the point where it is close to 100% reliable … quite a sea change from when we started.

And as the technology has really come into its own, we have definitely learned some lessons worth sharing.

How You Plan Has To Change

  1. Planning has to be more “in the round”, taking in more voices.  We do that via a sermon writing team that meets once a week, logistically planning a service two weeks out.
  2. Macro planning has to begin further upstream.  A simple example… there are wonderful graphics and video resources out there but they are most fruitfully employed when we have time to find, categorize, and employ them.  Our sermon calendar then is usually planned 6 months out.
  3. Three of my favorite planning resources: Life Church, wimp.com, Wingclips

How You Market Has To Change

  1. We use social media to market.
  2. Some tools that have worked well: Creating Facebook “Events”, creating short trailers, many of which are freebees that we simply add our graphic to, as well as using Facebook “Live” the morning of a service

How You Preach Has To Change

  1. You can’t move as much.  We use three carpets on stage that are “pre-sighted” for cameras and lighting
  2. You have to use graphics.  We “switch” constantly between the pastor, text slides, videos, photographs etc….
  3. Engage your audience through welcoming them to text during the service

How People “Consume” Will Change

  1. Your online audience will quickly rival your in-person audience
  2. Most will watch on their phones or phones “mirrored” to a TV so I recommend getting an “app“.
  3. Some will watch Sunday.  Others will watch/ listen during the week.
  4. The downside: Our in-person attendance stagnated while our online grew. Also, many young families prefer the LiveStream because they don’t have to battle their kids to get them to church so expect your Sunday School program to decline.

Regardless of your size, you are already an online congregation.  Before someone visits, they have checked you out online.  Listened/ viewed something.  LiveStreaming is a logical next step.

LiveStreaming is not a panacea.  It solves some issues and creates others.  And the digital frontier is an area where we need to be present.

How to Read the Bible

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

The Bible does several things.  It is both normative, creating a touchstone, a canon, an inspired source. And it presents a trajectory, a movement in and out of light.

The Bible in essence then is a very human story, wrestling with faith.

So we don’t read the Word as a recipe.  Or as a history book.  It is collection of stories written over thousands of years that over time learned people, inspired by God, have collected and rightfully held as holy… this gift of God’s voice as best we can understand it.

We also see within those stories a deeper meaning, a way to see into a poetic sense beneath the words.

That allows us to hold even the harsh parts of the Bible as containing something of value.  And there are harsh parts, parts for example where God apparently commands destruction of subjugated peoples.  But in the New Church we hold that differently.  Destruction of enemy forces …. the need for us to fully uproot, as best we can, the evil in our lives.

Imagine for example an alcoholic, newly sober, who is sure they can just have one little drink.  Well, no go.  Even that little “tolerance” needs to be uprooted. Destroyed as it were.  That is the genius of Swedenbogian theology.

So we read the Word. Maybe not so much in search of answers as in search of Presence.  A holding of life in its blessings and breakings.  Life’s imperfections, in a fascinating way, both called to account and normalized, and placed in a sacred journey.

And the final word of Presence in the journey is love.

That means of course there is not, in the end, one way and only one way  to read the Bible.  We are unique forms of love, created by God.  Each of us.  And so, when it comes to the Word, each of us will have our own voice, our own loves, our own unique way of seeing.  The Bible is the place where we can all touch – a common touchstone – finding a way, in our own very human and broken manner,  for that life giving conversation with God and others to start.

“Every dogma can be explained in a 1000 different ways.  It is like a horn of plenty.  People take out of the dogma what ever is matched and suited to their character and use their particular gifts to explain it.” (True Christianity 154)

And always…. the conversation is good!!!!