Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

Three Shifts That Are Changing Christianity

Friday, March 31st, 2017

Brian McLaren, in his most recent book “The Great Spiritual Migration”, noted three profound changes…

  1. Spiritually, growing numbers of Christians are moving away from defining themselves by lists of beliefs and toward a way of life defined by love
  2. Theologically, believers are increasingly rejecting the image of God as a violent Supreme Being and embracing the image of God as the renewing Spirit at work in our world for the common good
  3. Missionally, the faithful are identifying less with organized religion and more with organizing religion—spiritual activists dedicated to healing the planet, building peace, overcoming poverty and injustice, and collaborating with other faiths to ensure a better future for all of us.
Profound insights, insights that closely mirror New Church theology.  It echoes the Swedenborgian concept that Christianity must be a life-style faith lived out in loving relationship to others.  That God is all loving, period.  And that we must constantly focus on useful service versus trapping ourselves in the purely intellectual pursuits so much of church mires itself in.

What is the new invitation in this?

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

This era is a challenging one.  For many the God question is dead or dying.   For many others, the God question remains squeezed to the side of more appealing options, overstuffed schedules and frenetic lives.

The God question. The God question, for me, in 2017, no longer centers on “belief.”  The question now rests on action, on lifestyle, on peace, on sacred commitments – outside of my immediate desires – sacred commitments to join together with others, connecting in fellowship and addressing the suffering of the world in whatever small, humble ways we can.

So what is the new invitation in this?

Possibly the new invitation in this – to rediscover the rhythm of our souls, aligned with God.  To see in Christ a model of how maybe a new form of following arises.  A stewardship of a new spiritual creation and a stewardship of a new physical creation … soul meets God, meets planet, meets body, meets others, meets life.

Sacrifice part of it all.  Sacrifice … “to make sacred.”

Sacrifice on the path to joy!



Kensington in the Snow

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

Fr. Gregory Boyle offered a wonderful short story.

In his cramped LA office, rushing to prepare for a noon baptism, a heroin addict stumbled in asking to meet.  As  Mother Theresa would say, ‘God in God’s most distressing disguises.’

Initially annoyed, initially rushing towards the logical “I don’t have time for this”, Fr. Boyle settled, opened his heart to hear her, and offered this line about that experience.

“I had almost forgotten.  People are not interruptions.”

It is easy to forget people.

We live in world readily consumed with algorithms, busyness masquerading as effectiveness, thinness as connection.  Ministry is no different.  The pressing demands of running a church easily trump the more important work of being the church.  In other words, it is easy to forget and far easier to forget those broken. Easier to forget those who are already largely forgotten.

That is why Mary is one of my heroes.  She reminds me every few weeks, “What date works to got to Kensington?”, a place where we pass out lunches and visit with the homeless and addicted.

Even in winter.  Even in snow.

People are not interruptions.



So it is True?

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

We live in an age where the concept of “truth” is increasingly questioned in ways unimaginable a few decades go.  We truly are entering/ have entered a “post truth” era.

There are costs when all perspectives, however far fetched, are held as legitimate simply because someone holds them.  When all sources of news, of information become somehow equally valid.  When revelation, as it were, becomes a completely privatized, relativized affair.

For me, I enjoy my opinions frankly and I know enough to know I am often wrong, and therefore desperately need sources of truth outside of those cherished opinions.

For some things there are obviously many sides, many perspectives, many competing claims of truth as we see with the beautiful multitude of faith perspectives in the world.  For other arenas, like global warming, there are no legitimate counter facts.  Global warming is a fact, a truth.  How we handle it?  That is where a multitude of informed opinions can be brought to bear.

A cleaner division between truth and opinion remains worthy of deep human consideration.

Humility before the truth remains crucial to the human soul.


Interviewing the Loyal Soldier Within

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

We all host a loyal soldier.  A part of us that with great courage and fortitude has held on and defended cherished notions of meaning and belonging.  The “good girl”, the “good boy.”

And a time comes where that loyal soldier is threatened.  Where the cherished notions of meaning and belonging fall into question.

Those are hard times.  Incredibly hard times.  Where what worked no longer does.

A loyal spouse faces a wrenching divorce. A loyal employee laid off. A loyal church member seeing their church crumble.  A loyal parent facing the rejection of a grown child. The list goes on.

Maybe ask of that loyal soldier…

  1. Where did you come from?
  2. What’s your role in my life?
  3. What do you hope for?
  4. What are you most proud of?
  5. How did you give my life purpose?
Our loyal soldier is one of many trusted sources we hold inside. A felt presence. Not to be dismissed or fought.  To be embraced for its gifts.

And seen in this context – as a beautiful constant in one of God’s great movements in our lives…

From self control to self surrender 



Living in the Light

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

This is a “stretched” time. A time that feels uneasy, disjointed.  And a time with a choice.

Challenging.  How do we hold ourselves in a time when so much is up in the air? When the pace of change calls forward and the call for restraint calls back?

When the politics of the nation create a ceaseless drumbeat of worry and, miraculously, at the same in the public square, one easily finds shoots of hope.

So a choice here and that choice is to live in the light.

Light is not detached.  Not blind.  Light helps us see.  Illuminates.  Shows twisted facts and simple deceit for what they are.

And most importantly, somehow light carries hope.

Carries the promise of daybreak.  Of better times.  Clean. Clear.

Filled with love.  Able to navigate the dark.

We can walk through the darkest night with the radiant conviction that all things work together for the good.

Rev. Martin Luther King

I was thinking yesterday about how much the mistaken work of church is applied towards judgement.  Applied to judging other and their behavior believing ‘thus is where holiness lies.’  But I don’t believe that any more.  My judgments of others leave my heart untouched.  Leave my heart untransformed.  Relationship, connection to those who suffer, who struggle – that is what changes the heart. Our opinions, righteously held, will never change us.  Lives lived together, in light, do.

That does not eliminate the hard conversation or the called-for stand.  It just says this … as best we can, lets stay in the light.

You want to see the light?  Here you go.  19 people talking. Listening.  Not broadcasting.  Beautiful!  19 people living in the light.




David Brooks on Why He Has Become More Religiously Inclined

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

I’ve become much more religiously inclined. And that’s, I think, for three things.

First, for an awareness of one’s moral mediocrity. For example, you meet these people who radiate an inner light. And I was in Frederick, Maryland, I don’t know how many years ago, and I ran into these ladies. There were probably 30 of them, aged 50 to 80, who teach immigrants English and then how to read it. And I walk into the room, and they just radiate patience and goodness, Dorothy Day directness, just that calmness. They didn’t know me from Adam, but they made me feel funnier and smarter and special, and they just had that — they radiated that light. I remember thinking, “I’ve achieved way more career success than I ever thought I would, but I don’t have that.”

Second, would be the experience of grace. And the story I tell about that — these are just exemplar stories, but I have a million of them. I was driving home from the NewsHour about 10 years ago, and I pull into my driveway, and it’s 7:30 at night, but it’s summer, so it’s still light out. My kids, who are then 12, 9, and 4, were in the backyard kicking a supermarket ball up in the air. And they were running across the yard, chasing down this ball, tumbling all over each other, laughing, giggling, sort of shouting with joy. And I pull up into the driveway, and I see into the backyard. I get confronted with this tableau of perfect family happiness…..

…and so I just sit there staring at it through the windshield. And it’s one of those moments where reality sort of spills outside its boundaries, and time and life are sort of suspended, and you become aware of a happiness that you don’t deserve, which is grace. When that happens, your soul swells up a little, and you want to be worthy of that happiness. And it’s just a moment when the soul is swelling.

And then lately — one experience is love, deep love. And the nice thing — Christian Wiman, who is a poet I’ve quoted in your presence before says, “Love is always on the move. It’s never content to just love one thing.” So you want to love the person, you want to love — but then your flesh sort of gets opened up, exposing soft flesh below, and you realize your riches are not in yourself, and that sort of desire and even awareness of a fusion at that deep level sort of changes your view.

So when you go through these experiences, theology begins to make sense because it speaks spiritually, emotionally, and morally. So it’s not like I read it because I’m suddenly — well, it’s not an academic enterprise; it’s the way to see the world. And so it’s become an explanatory tool as much as anything else.



What is “saving faith” in the New Church?

Friday, January 13th, 2017

Much of Christian theology concerns itself with the question of salvation.

How does the New Church hold salvation? How do we hold “saving faith”?

Saving faith is found in people whose lives are devoted to doing what is good, people who in other words are devoted to caring … [so] wherever good actions are being done from a caring heart is where the church will be found. (NJHD, 121)

Put simply, our role then … to humbly seek God’s help in pushing aside our ego, our self centeredness, our cravings, our narcissism, our materialism – no easy task.  And then to serve.

This “pushing side” and “reaching out” become then a united endeavor, each “movement” informing and shaping the other, an endeavor where deep love, in the end, wins.


Clarity in a Divisive Time

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Important to find clarity in a divisive time.

New Church theology is fascinating in many regards. One perspective of particular interest are the warnings held by Emanuel Swedenborg about why churches fail….

“Every church begins with a focus on caring, but in the course of time turns….” (NJHD 246)

And in times that can feel so divisive, it is easy to simply turn away. To stop caring. To move to a privatized faith. And mistakenly call that privatized faith “clarity,” when the reality actually is that privatized faith can become an easy screen for complacency.

We are blessed by such a deeply caring congregation, one I believe that holds privatized faith in the right place. Complacency … not the issue today!

And yet, we all need continual reminders about the goals of caring. What, then, can a caring church contribute to?

Enter Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s concept of the “Beloved Community.”

I love preaching on this topic because it readily gives words to a “compelling why” engraved on our hearts. It is the resonance in King’s speech, “I have a Dream.” It is the heart of the Bible’s words where we see the promise and “welcome it from a distance.”

It is where we seek reconciliation, not victory.

That is an ever new kind of clarity. One as ancient as humanity. One blessed by the poetic language of MLK. And one we celebrate Sunday and Monday.


How do you find the right church?

Monday, December 26th, 2016

Not everyone searches longingly for the right church.  But if you are searching for the right church ….

There is no such thing!

Joining a church, as Rachel Held Evans put it, entails choosing “which hot mess you want to get involved in.”

Churches are a hot mess, no way around it.  And how could churches not be? Dedicated to higher purposes, churches will draw a far wider swath of humanity than we, in our little way, would ever see fit to call together.  Mixed races, mixed families, mixed financial situations, mixed perspectives … mixed up.  That encompasses “church.”

Church is simply not an idealized tribe.

Church is a collection of people – blessed and broken – doing their level best to love others, however imperfectly, and find God one flawed step at a time.

Find a church that gets that … and loves despite that … and lives towards higher purposes in light of that … and maybe that becomes the right church?