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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What Are Families Searching For?

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

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

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.

Who Am I?

January 9th, 2018

Most of us I imagine struggle with the concept of identity, struggle with the pressing question of “Who Am I?”

Do we have times where we are sure of identity, firmly planted in a life-giving sense of who we are?  Absolutely.

And yet for many those moments are fleeting, giving way to worry and painful uncertainty.

Deitrich Bonoeffer spoke to those sentiments from a Gestapo prison in Nazi Germany.  And found relief.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

 

Committing to “One More Place At The Table”

January 2nd, 2018

Thinking towards commitment this year and this commitment is one that strikes me as so important to live into…

There will always be one more place the table.

Starting this coming Sunday at 10:30 AM, that will be our first series for NewChurch LIVE of 2018.  And maybe it should hold a primary spot in our hearts as well.

It means a simple revolution, one in which we remember people are not interruptions.

From Father Gregory Boyle….

Gratitude keeps you anchored in the present moment, and we’re saved in the present moment, so I think that’s an essential place to be situated all the time. In being eternally grateful. Delighting…is kind of the flip side of that. That’s the action verb.

It’s being attentive to who’s in front of you.

Somehow transforming interruptions into great adventures. This place [Homeboy Industries] is packed with interruptions. If you can correctly consider them then suddenly they become adventures that are delightful as opposed to things that pull you from your tasks.

So who are we going to gratefully welcome to the table in 2018?  What interruptions can we open to?

There is nothing easy in this per se.  But what joy!

That space is my commitment for 2018.

And imagine, my dear friends, a church where new people feel as soon as they enter … “It was like they were waiting for me all along”, a space where there was always one more place at the table.

One simple question to ask yourself this New Year’s Eve

December 28th, 2017

New Year’s Resolutions are notoriously short lived.

And maybe pointless.

Maybe 2018 could be different … an opportunity to re-orient our lives that bring both more meaning and joy.

To make it different, imagine a subtle shift in questions from “What should I do?” to “What can I offer the world?”

“What can I offer the world?” captures a big old humble question.  I know what I would prefer to offer the world, in my own illusory head – self gifts of imagined value to my ego but of little substantive value to others. Singing a solo, dunking a basketball top that list.

Beneath that however lies a quieter voice, a quieter call to offer grace, peace, and love to the suffering out there in the world.

From that place, “What should I do?” becomes a great deal more clear.

The Lord neither shatters your illusions not stifles your desires. Instead he bends them toward truth and good.  Emanuel Swedenborg

This year, maybe a new focus for all us, a focus on one question, “What can I offer the world?”

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Shine: A Written Christmas Sermon

December 24th, 2017

One of the most beautiful blessings in the Bible runs thousands of years old.

May the Lord bless you and keep you.  May the Lord cause his face to shine upon you and be gracious until you.  May the Lord life up his countenance upon you and bring you peace.

Called the “Levitical Blessing”, I love this blessing for many reasons.  Its rhythm. Its cadence.  And the word “shine.”

The blessing fits well with Christmas.

I imagine my personal favorites of the Advent story – the shepherds – knowing, deeply what “shine” means.

There was a great deal “shining” that night.  A star. An angel.  A “heavenly host.”

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them

And there was this… two parents. A manger. An infant.

Did the baby Lord “shine”?  Yes.  All babies do.  The experience of those shepherds, catching just a glimpse of that baby … holding the prophecy in their hearts … maybe hearing that ancient blessing … maybe hearing the words again anew “May the Lord cause his face to shine upon you.”  Brings tears if we ease ourselves into that place and that time.

From a New Church perspective, life and its greatest perfection is, surprisingly, not thinking. It is perceiving truth in the light of truth.  Hard to imagine a more wondrous light than that night, Christmas Eve.  That light, that night, was not then a thought per se, or an argument, or a proposal of some sort.  It was an infant.  A shining face.  Somehow the truth more perceived than understood.

And how must the shepherds have left that place? That manager in Bethlehem?

Maybe with an acknowledgement of God written on their hearts, now inside of everything they did and said.  The amulet, the Levitical blessing, figuratively no longer on the outside but forged as one with  the best God-given intentions of their hearts. Shining.

And maybe they came to know what it was like to “shine.”

Imagine how the story grows from that point in time on.  Not just Christmas but THE STORY.

A simple example.  An ancient story of God giving his people “manna” in the wilderness to feed them in a time of desperation and despair.   And then Jesus, in a story cast thousands of years later, giving his people “bread and fish” in the wilderness … a never ending abundance.  Christmas is that bridge as it were between the two stories, a bridge between a detached, caring, and apparently often angry God to a Light, God incarnate, God with us, God for us, in flesh and blood, offering very real gifts.  And a model: “…this is the way. Walk in it.

So the story no doubt grew for these shepherds as well.

The Lord enlivens what we know by bringing Goodwill into it. True Christianity 249

Goodwill.  The angels proclamation that night, “Peace on Earth.  Good will to humanity” no doubt became ever more true.

A goodwill growing in their hearts.

  1. Goodwill as a “loving desire to ACT”
  2. Goodwill that passionately wants only “what is best for others.”
  3. Goodwill working itself into all the varied forms of how we serve God and others. (TCR, 388, 408 392)
A goodwill that drives faith.
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And where does this all end up?  Well, we shine.
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Not a light of our ego or our ideas or our plans. But a light born of Christ.  Shining through us.  A light falling on us and others, gentle and generous.
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