Honoring the 50th Anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King’s Death

April 4th, 2018

So much I could say here.  I know, personally, that MLK’s message deepens with time.  Becomes more and more a miracle over the years.  And a call.

My favorite document … “Letters from a Birmingham Jail.”  Addressed to clergy, lines like those below are always cause for serious soul searching.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

So we honor this anniversary with a moment of thoughtful consideration of a life well lived and an ever-present, pregnant call towards a better world.

Cardinal Virtues

April 2nd, 2018

Christianity, historically, holds to four cardinal virtues.

  1. Fortitude
  2. Temperance
  3. Prudence
  4. Patience
And I love this little word play!  The word “cardinal” goes to the root “cardo” which means “hinge.”  These four cardinal virtues are “hinges” upon which the door of the spiritual life swings.
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The “hinge.” Not the destination.  The “hinge.” Part of the means.  Part of Jesus’ words, “Behold I stand at the door at knock.  If anyone hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them.”
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Much of religion confuses love of control vs. love of other people.  In much the same way, it is easy to center on the religious message in regards to moral virtue as the be all and end all of all spirituality. But it is not.  Moral virtue is a means to an end and the end is always, always love.
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The door matters.  And so do the hinges.  Both there to move us to where we deeply desire, in our souls, to be.
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A Dangerous Place for People and for Churches

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

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

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!

How do we empower ourselves? A surprising answer….

March 13th, 2018
There is always this question about empowerment. How do we become empowered human beings?
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I love Sam Wells’ surprising answer.
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We empower ourselves when we come to see ourselves as “a sinner who can be forgiven, rather than a victim who can protest.”
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What a surprise!
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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?
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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.
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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.
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Life is Beautiful. Life is Hard.

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?

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

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

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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