Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

A Dangerous Place for People and for Churches

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

We live in an era where much of what we did doesn’t work.  And more disruption appears right around the corner.

Just this morning, watched a demonstration of robotic arms leaning over a stove preparing a programmed gourmet dinner.

For some the above is a sign of progress.  For others, a portent of fear.

Churches are the same.  Increasingly access to church and messaging is virtually frictionless. 24/7.  What does that mean for Sundays? For the older art of Pastoring? For community? For the very real work of financial sustainability?

There are dangers engendered by these seismic shifts.

One to speak to very clearly that Ross Douthout penned…

The satisfaction of self-righteousness as a compensation for the lack of success

I am unsure and anxious about how to navigate the future unfolding before us.  And what I know is that the temporarily satisfying burn of an angry self-righteousness will be not be the answer.  Failing churches, for example, can either breed inflamed zealots sure the world has done them wrong or humble servants aware of the fragility of all human endeavors.  My vote remains with the latter!

We will be in need of compassion not anger in the decades ahead.

New and Unimagined

Sunday, March 25th, 2018

One of the harder challenges I struggle with might just be this…

Accepting that the spiritual endeavor towards freedom is to free both captive and captor.

The journey. in ways painfully hard to articulate, frees both “us” and “them”, captive and captor.

I recently reading a book on Martin Luther King Jr., and, unbeknownst to me, he nearly died in 1958 when he was stabbed in New York City by Izola Curry.  A photo from that day shows the knife still protruding from his chest…

 

Hard to imagine.  And his response to the unprovoked attack was forgiveness, communicating to others his desire to not press charges.

The scars healed from the delicate surgery that saved his life that day.  Healed – and this brings a smile – in the form of a cross on his chest.

King took Christianity seriously, not piously or righteously.  He took it as a humbling model of self-giving love, not as a way to judge or condemn.

He saw in it a lived way, new and unimagined, to set both captive and captor free.

Imagining Faithfully Together

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

I remain more and more convinced that there is no such things as private salvation.  The oxymoron of the “self-made man or woman” is indeed a oxymoron.  Salvation only occurs together.

The word “together” calls us out of privatized faith.  The meta-narrative of scripture paints a clear and lucid picture of “together.” The Old Testament centers on a tribe.  The New Testament centers on disciples.  The epistles center on the church.  New Church theology centers on community.

There is of course private work.  And there is of course public work.  The inner and the outer.  But both the inner and the outer still lie under the umbrella of “together.”

And imagine this… imagine we could hold church not as something we individually do or experience or celebrate.  But if instead we could hold church as something of necessity we must do together as a tribe, as disciples, as a church, as community.

No one experiences heaven alone.

That is a very good thing!

Life is Beautiful. Life is Hard.

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

We just know this, that life is beautiful and that life is hard.

The fruit of life, as it were, at times looks looks deeply appealing.  Other times, that fruit is a bitter pill.  Two fruits. One life.

I want to understand it.  I want to control it.  I want to pick. A want a life with all of one.  None of the other. Or at least if the other has to happen, let it happen quickly and then yield new, more blessed horizons.  A Super Bowl victory at the end of an injury plagued season. That is what I want, or at least what I am willing to agree to.

But that is not life.  Life somehow actually rests eternally on a “both”, on an “and.”

From the Holocaust diary of Etty Hilensaum, written in a Jewish ghetto awaiting deportation to Auschwitz…

I can sit for hours and know everything and bear everything and grow stronger in the bearing of it, and at the same time feel sure that life is beautiful and worth living and meaningful.  Despite everything.  

What do you love?

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018

Love is the underlying reality of our life.

And our loves, from a New Church perspective, arrange themselves in a beautiful hierarchy, one love giving rise to a myriad of others.

There is of course that one love, that primary place where our heart comes alive.  It is where our best, noblest, and truest intentions lie.

That primary love, blessed, points away from self absorption, and instead points towards God and towards others.

So imagine we grow to the point where we actually celebrate – CELEBRATE – the many forms of love in the world.  The breathtaking variety.  The passion – each one.  The “best intention” at their core.

My heaven will be different from yours, because what I deeply love differs from what you deeply love.  And I wonder if what all of heaven shares is this… celebration.  Celebration of the gifts.

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Convenience is not Happiness

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

“Convenience is not happiness”  Many of you emailed or talked about that concept after Sunday’s service.  And it is big one!

One email especially struck me.  It was from a dad with 3 small children.

I think there is going to be a problem with children who have been afforded on-demand TV to watch a favorite show or any song they want on iTunes.

I agree.  And therein lies a challenge.

The challenge is this I imagine.  We as adults have a foot in a passing world that was far less “convenient.”  Even play took time.  I grew up building damns across small streams, constructing hay forts with buddies, riding bikes, camping.  I even remember saving for months to purchases a prized b-b gun on lay-away.  Nothing “convenient” there.

Our children are coming of age largely outside of that paradigm.   They are raised within a simple and incessant message that convenience is the name of the game.

Maybe that is why churches often struggle in this day and age.  Putting aside the obvious truth that some of the struggles are of our own making, maybe another key to understanding the decline in churches in North America is that church simply is not convenient.

Church, at its best, asks of people to commit to the inconvenience of embracing a larger hope.

That struck me last night.  There is a monthly group at NCL made up of Dads in the Congregation.  In the final round, where everyone takes a turn offering a last word or reflection, one of the dads in the group simply said “I love you guys.”

His reflection came at the end of a group of guys, gathered in a circle, simply offering the gift of listening generously to one another for an hour and half.

Nothing “convenient” about it.  And nothing could bring more happiness.

Will our children ever know that slower, 90-minutes-in-a-circle world and the beauty of slowness it embraces?  I don’t know.

But as a church we must certainly try.

It Really Is That Big

Wednesday, February 7th, 2018

It really is that big.

Christianity is nothing less than a new way of living in the world.  A new being.

The challenge is straightforward and maybe has been for all time.  As the famed World War II General Omar Bradly put it…

We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. . . . Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.

That “way” breaks through with surprise in the face of those challenges.

Clearly centered on love, it is a love that does not rest in a pleasant detachment but a love that instead rests in an active engagement.   It is a love that challenges our cherished, foundational allegiances, calling us again into new circles outside our own.  It is a love that comforts, not with the false peace of inactivity but with the more paced peace of wonder, gratitude, calm, service and perspective.

I know I certainly loose the bigness of Christianity at times.  As one author noted, we start out as Pastors trying to serve a church and find ourselves needing to be businessmen growing an enterprise.

And then inevitably the “bigness” returns.  Simple reminders that in Christianity lies a tremendous almost unspeakable blessing.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Matt. 11:28-30)

The bigness and the beauty … hand in hand!

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What Are Families Searching For?

Friday, February 2nd, 2018

A really important question to answer is “What are families searching for?”

Over Christmas people offer “prayer cards” as a way to bring their deepest wishes into the Advent Season.  Alex Hanlon, a wonderful parishonier, took the prayer cards and did a word graph on them.  We wanted to see the themes.

It is a beautiful uncovering of what our souls yearn for, not just at Christmas I imagine, but any time of year.

Bringing Caring Into The World

Wednesday, January 31st, 2018

Our role, largely, is as conduits, bringing caring into the world.  That role entails a journey to the margins where need exists.  AND in journeying to those margins,  creating a new center there.

So the journey of caring is not a journey out to the margins and then a retreat back to the center.  It is instead a pilgrimage.  A journey of discovery.  A journey to a new home.  That I believe is largely the lived message of Christianity.

And Emanuel Swedenborg was emphatically clear … we ignore this journey, as churches, to our own detriment.

The end of a church comes when there is no faith because there is no caring.

The journey to the margins around an axis of caring takes many forms.  But all those varied forms share a constant … caregiving.

The margins, the call to caregiving, in truth, are never far from us.

The Challenge Over Fundamentalism

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

Fundamentalism can come to infect any faith.  From a recent book….

Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, defines fundamentalism “as the attempt to impose a single truth on a plural world.” In Karen Armstrong’s bestselling book, “The Battle for God,” she defines fundamentalism as “militant piety” with “no time for democracy, pluralism, religious tolerance, peacekeeping, free speech, or the separation of church and state.”

And therein lies a deep danger imbedded in fundamentalism.  That type of fundamentalist faith, that “militant piety”, can come to destroy the very thing it seeks to promote.

Faith in order to grow, paradoxically, takes faith.  It takes a faith in the form of trusting one another, a movement away from iron-clad certainty, a wiling openness to many perspectives, a faith that God speaks not in one voice but in one song with many parts. 

Our role?  To sing our part well.  And to listen.