Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Theory to Practice: Reflections from a trip to California and Martin Luther King Day.

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

Last week began with a trip to California.  Joined by a group of pastors, organized by my dear friend David Lindrooth, we gathered to talk about growth.  About the New Church movement.  About church in the coming years.

 

The two main presenters, Mac Frazier and Ethan McCardell walked us through a list of lessons learned, one set from an Austin congregation no longer financially viable, the other from a small congregation seeking to serve in Seattle.

And what of those lessons?  What had these two talented pastors learned?

  1. The Pastor-centric model is shifting
  2. A new, more engaging era of dialogic preaching, empowered lay-led teams and co-creation of churches is unfolding
  3. A continued call back to the deep Christian roots of a loving God and caring service towards others – the two Great Commandments – which is the theological underpinnings of these changes
  4. A refocus on shared messages and an inclusion of all voices that will draw various factions together, shoulder-to-shoulder, focused on a common cause.
I found myself again and again nodding in silent agreement.
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We can argue – and many do – about the nature of these changes.  About the theology around these changes.  And we can at times -mistakenly I believe – speak then as if we possess a “vote” on these shifts.
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There is no “vote.”  These are the changes that are shaping not just the New Church but Christianity as a whole in North America.
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Which brings me to Martin Luther King Day weekend.
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The week in California ended in this … a weekend where the theory we talked about all week was lived out by this congregation.  Theory to Practice.
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This weekend was not pastor stuff. Not a grand strategic plan.  Not the last word on church growth.  Not drawing battle lines either.  It was a lived experience.
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It started over lunch months ago, an initial meeting that led to a planning team.  12 people.  A good number!
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The team’s ideas for the service…
  1. A Sunday service with speakers who could speak to “The Beloved Community” – Randy Gyllenhaal and Jessica Craft.
  2. A Sunday service with music that included teens musicians from “Rock To The Future”, an inspiring non-profit in Kensington that serves students through music, academic support, and college placement.
  3. Following the service, a time to collect in fellowship over lunch and create small care packages to be handed out to those in need
  4. And Monday, Martin Luther King Day, a trip down to “Rock To The Future” to serve
And this is what happened ….
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The speakers spoke.
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The teens performed.
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We gathered after for fellowship and care packages.
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We traveled to Kensington and served.
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And this what someone said about just one element of the weekend but that could be said of the whole thing…
No words, just tears when’s came into the New Church Live offices this morning to set up for the ‪#‎blessingsbags‬ such generosity, and more donations on the way. Never have I felt more a part of the ‪#‎BelovedCommunity‬.
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And this is what I think…
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Someone in California noted how we lack a predictable, replicable system of church growth.  Good point.  And I wonder more and more if there even is a system.
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Maybe instead there is just a simple, stripped down commitment to settle in on loving communities and opening the space.  To open the space where churches join/ support/ promote the lived experience of God in many forms.
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Not done perfectly.  Never done easily.  But just simply done.

What we may have no time for….

Friday, January 8th, 2016

Wheaton College has begun termination proceedings against Professor Larycia Hawkins following her controversial Facebook post holding that Christians and Muslims worshiped the same God.  Wheaton College issued this statement…

Dr. Hawkins’s administrative leave resulted from theological statements that seemed inconsistent with Wheaton College’s doctrinal convictions…While Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, we believe there are fundamental differences between the two faiths, including what they teach about God’s revelation to humanity, the nature of God, the path to salvation, and the life of prayer.

My thought as a pastor is that we simply don’t have time for these kinds of debates.  While I fully acknowledge that private colleges have not only a right but a duty to abide by their founding principles, I personally find these types of actions tiresome.

Christ spent precious little time debating belief systems while he walked this earth. Time was spent, for the most part, connecting, teaching, and healing.  Far from creating small enclaves of doctrinal purity built on principles of exclusion, Christ embraced an incredibly wide cross section of humanity – Romans, Greeks, and Jews of all stripes and classes.  That radical hospitality was a defining characteristic of fledgling Christianity as it found legs and grew throughout the Middle East.

Wheaton College can of course make a decision for themselves and can terminate a professor whom they consider heretical.  And there needs to be a more sobering awareness that such actions color all of Christianity, reinforcing yet again a view of Christianity as a faith for a select view, a chosen people, set apart from others.  A modern day sectarianism that I believe dangerous.

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?  Yes.  I believe they do.  That however is not the last word on the topic.  The last word is this … next Monday, Rev. Martin Luther King Day, we travel to Kensington to serve.  To serve those in need. Interested?  Join us. That is what Christians do. What good people of many faiths and beliefs do as well.  Serving one God.

Thanksgiving When It Is Hard

Saturday, November 28th, 2015

Thanksgiving, when it is hard.  What do we do?

Some years.  Some years are simply loss.

Maybe one idea.

Christianity is a story not an answer.  

Sometimes that story shines, shines beyond what we can contain, what we can hold.  Gives easy rise to abundance and gratitude. And other times, the story is hard.  Painful to beyond painful.  And what we mistakenly try to do, often well intentioned, is to give others “the answer.”

My son, a first responder, spoke to me this Thanksgiving of loss.  The death of a 3 year old.   Still can’t shake it.  Sees a young child in a Walmart and he returns to to that farm.  And that loss.  There are no words.  None.  Nothing shiny and bright there.  My heart breaks hearing his broken.

And I know when its time … and that time maybe months, maybe years in the future, maybe decades … my son and I will talk of stories. We will talk of loss and suffering.  And maybe there grows a crack in that suffering as we come to speak of redemption. Of life continued. Of goodness, and people, and love, of the humane tissue stitched together in spite of the dark.  Of Easter.

I am thankful for my loving, tender son.  I am thankful for a story.  Even when life is hard.

What is a “Christian”?

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

What a question!  Serving dinner recently at a homeless shelter, a man turned from his table and asked me.  One answer from Matthew 25…

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40  “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

I mean that is pretty disarmingly simple.

Many define Christianity differently, as being baptized, meeting sacraments, taking Communion. Yet Christ baptized no one that we read of in the New Testament.  He never commanded seriatim the full list of the many sacraments we align religion with.  He does not command Communion but instead offers it.

And it is not to say those things are wrong or mistaken. They are powerful.  Important. Clearly inspired. Cleary carriers of the Divine. But not the litmus test.

The litmus test – simpler and more challenging … what are you doing for those who suffer?

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Urgency and the Perfect Storm

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

“Humanity has the ability to work together in builidng our common home … As Christians inspired by this certainty we wish to committ ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home.” (Pope Francis)

Urgency in those words.  Hope there as well.  It is why untold millions are moved by his words.

And my hope … that his visit to the US becomes a wake up call.

Asleep, we face a perfect storm.  Actually two storms, each tracking to a collision point.

Storm one – cultural.  Storm two – church.

The cultural storm continues to increasingly value more and more entertainment over engagement, consumption over stewardship, auditing over partnering, a shallow glance at life vs. a deeply engaged work at it.  Individualism and entertainment at all costs.

Storm two is church, church as a corporate force in the US.  Many churches fall into a consumer model that asks little of congregants except to be entertained.  Other churches double down on what was.  Failing to engage.  Picking up war-like paradigms of standing for the truth no matter the cost, a “standing” far divorced from “doing.”

Place those two storms together.  And there is … nothing.  A storm of nothing.  Shallow culture.  Irrelevant churches. And a certain thing dies.

What dies is the beautiful, powerful immagination of Christianity.  The part that gave rise to countless hospitals and schools. The part that founded the Salvation Army.  The YMCA.  The YWCA.  Homeless shelters. The Catholic Worker.  St. Francis Inn.  Sunday Morning Breakfast Rescue Mission, Habitat for Humanity.

All the above flowering from imagination … “the ability to work together in builidng our common home.”

An imagination to not just talk about the church but instead the endeavor to BE the church.

My prayer … that Pope Francis rekindles that imagination.   That we all find that spark again.

 

Scandal and Ashley Madison

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

Hard to miss all the attention around Ashley Madison. A website catering to those searching to have an extra-marriatal affair, it hosted 10′s of millions of subscribers.  Recently, following a massive computer security breach, the personal data of those subscribers was made public.

To give an idea of the breadth of the websites reach, every zip code in the US with the exception of 3 were represented in the clientel.

I imagine a conversation must start with this.  Adultery is bad.  A sin.  And why?  Because we were created a certain way.  And that certain way appears to function best married to one.  A concrete love.  Committed. Blessed and broken. Where we can learn and grow.  Working over the decades to learn how to love unconditionally. That seems, plainly, to be God’s plan.

When we go outside of the plan, hurt follows. Notice even our language.  We don’t often use the term “adultery.”  We say instead someone “cheated.” They were “unfaithful.”  I think those words are spot on … adultery is a “cheat”, a shortcut, a way of pulling faith in relationahip from a relationship.

And people do have affairs.  It happens.  People make mistakes.  Good people. Christ clearly shows a way forward.  A woman, caught literally in bed with her lover, is brought by a mob to Christ.  The mob seeking to stone her to death as Jewish law prescribed.  Christ gently rebukes the crowd “Let those without sin throw the first stone.”  Words that saved her from a horrendous death.  And then lovingly raises himeself up from the ground and offers…

Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,”Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

So the message is simple.  No condemning. No throwing stones. And please, no adultery.

This Weird Place

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

A recent article ended with these words…

Never before have we experienced a moment with so much public alienation and so much private, assertive, and fragmented self esteem.

I wish statements like that were not true.  And I suspect they are.

I experience a world where many of us run, happily, in our own direction. “Private, assertive, and fragmented.” Little in the way of ties. Even less in the way of commitment. In the race to catch up or measure up we fail to show up.

This giddy and shiny independence is way too enticing for the likes of me.  So that quieter sense of God, for me, pulls in and offers a movement of go “back to.”  Back to simpler commitments instead of the headlong rush to the next experience.

I wonder – an open question – if that is where the future of Christianity might just lie.

The Decline In Christianity And What We Can Do About It

Friday, May 15th, 2015

A recent study by the Pew Foundation noted a widely commented on phenomena – that Christianity is declining in the United States.

None of the results of the survey surprise.

So for those who find in Christianity a life giving faith, humbly pointing outward in service, embedded with the ability to not only transform lives but society, what is there to do?

Some would answer – time for church to change. Agreed.  There is much to change.  Andy Stanley’s poignant line, “Most churches are answering questions people are not asking” summarizes neatly the bedrock claim to change. Churches tend to wed themselves to a certain liturgical approach well divorced from the needs of the congregation.  That approach in turn becomes the reason d’etre for the church’s existence as it seeks to define itself not by its interface with the world but by its form of worship.  So churches and the pastors that lead them bear a degree of responsibility to change.

Others would answer – time for parishioners to change.  Time for us to reclaim that Christianity is a religion of service and of sacrifice.  Sacrifice is a hard claim given our cultural penchant for consumerism and a desired “ease-of-use” Christianity where there is little behind the curtain.  Where little is asked and the easiest way to build a church appears to be the greased and easy way of the prosperity gospel.  So parishioners bear a degree of responsibility to change.

And what would I answer?  What do I believe we can do?

Lets live it.  Lets live this faith.

If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. (Matt. 5:41)

 

What if it were really all that simple?

Friday, May 8th, 2015

How does God see different faiths?  The New Church perspective …

God does not differentiate religious movements by their doctrine … but by the way their members live what is taught.  All doctrine – if it is true doctrine – looks to a life of love as its fundamental principle.  What is the point of doctrine but to teach us how to be human?   [If we put] love for God and serving others as the chief concern of faith… one church would come out off all the different churches … and the Lord’s kingdom would come on earth. (Secrets of Heaven 1799)

What if it were really that simple?

Unrest in Baltimore and “Us”

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

Upsetting to watch the unrest in Baltimore. Hard to hold.  These events readily pit us against us.  The need for law and order.  The need for racial justice.  Are those demonstrating thugs or demonstrators?  Are the police oppressors or protectors? We line up very easily on either side of the divide, well armed with labels.

And I believe Christianity again and again calls for a third way, a place beyond simple labels, where we return to seeing each other again.  A way between the poles.  It is a way of gentleness and mercy.

My mercy will not withdraw from you, and the compact of my peace will not recede. (Isaiah 54:10)

Emanuel Swedenborg noted that this “mercy and the compact of peace are the Lord and everything he is.” (Secrets of Heaven, 666)

There is clearly, for the safety of all, a need to reclaim order in the streets of Baltimore. There is clearly a need to search candidly for truth in the death of Freddie Gray while held in police custody.  There is clearly a need for a broader conversation around why so many cities appear to be such tinderboxes.

And there is clearly a need to speak to mercy and to peace.  Without it, there is no “us.”