One of the most revolutionary Swedenborgian concepts for us to embrace….

April 20th, 2018

Emanuel Swedenborg wrote…

Anyone who lives a life of love for others knows everything there is to know about a life of faith.” (Secrets of Heaven, 1798)

That is revolutionary stuff.

What does it mean for me as a Pastor?

  1. The goal of Sundays, small groups, and service is to help people become more loving
  2. We must care for each other, for the planet, for the less fortunate.  “Care” is a primary metric.
  3. Faith must move from historical faith to living faith.  Living faith arrives when the heart comes center, and love then gains its own wisdom
  4. Repentance means ridding ourselves, with God’s help, from what gets in the way of being loving

Of course I want to have a conversation with God and His Word in its many forms.  AND, most importantly, I want to listen with all that I am to the conversation people are having with God.  Their conversation will be different from mine.  It will be beautiful.

What a blessing to discover what people already know of God.  What a grace, as a church, as we share together what other people are doing in the world.

“Solving interesting problems is the best work we can do.”

April 9th, 2018

I love the line from Seth Godin, “Solving interesting problems is the best work we can do.”  I would add “And building is the best legacy we can leave.”

We live in a culture that appears to have shifted its focus from building things to being entertained by things.  And churches are here to build things!

We face many interesting problems to solve.

  1. What does it look like to serve people in this era of rapid change?
  2. How do we create a viable in-person community when Sundays are no longer a sacred space but a space in which churches compete with hockey, soccer, travel, and online options from Joel Osteen to Rick Warren to Andy Stanley to Joyce Meyer?
  3. How do churches create a rhythm of sustainability?
  4. How do we remain focused outward, embodying the deeply-sourced acceptance latent in the Swedenborgian idea that “the multiplicity of heaven is indescribable.”

These are very real questions.  And the most interesting problem to me is this… How do we embrace and embody the Christian message, seeking to humbly serve God and others as best we can as God gives us to see it?

There are practical questions.  And there are missional questions. Both are interesting.  Both important.  The New Church perspective … solve the big one first and allow the answers to the other questions grow from that place.

Every time we gather on a Sunday, every time we serve together, every time we connect it is an attempt to answer those most interesting questions.  Living our way to the answers we seek.

The ever-present invitation remains this … Solve the interesting problems.  And build.

Hope Restored

April 8th, 2018

Five stories of hope over the past week…

  1. We planted our Easter Flowers, collected just a week ago, at Interfaith Housing Alliance,  a local homeless shelter. The director proudly showed Angela where the flowers from last year’s planting were coming up.
  2. Harry died at 90.  His last Christmas toy/ present to his two sons? Drones.
  3. In preparing for Minwah’s funeral, a loving wife and mother of two adult sons, her younger son chuckled at the memory at debating with his mother what they would listen to on the way to school – a local FM music channel or “Hooked on Phonics.”
  4. Doing work in a hotel, hearing the cleaner enter the room next year, and talk online to a toddler grandchild while he cleaned the room.  I could not understand a word they said but the joyous tone said it all.
  5. Officiating at our oldest son’s wedding. Seeing a few days later, his wife honored by a local hospital as Julie BLAIR.
All of it Holy.
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Somehow that holiness and hopefulness connect.
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Maybe this is how.  Maybe we can learn learn to see it is all as holy. Even in the broken places, where we travel often, there is always a preciousness hidden somewhere.  In the husbands tears. In the family’s connection.  In the toddler’s laughter.  In the son’s pride.  In memory.
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Holy, holy, holy.
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And hope restored, at least in part, at least for today.
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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.