Posts Tagged ‘Martin Luther King’

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.


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.
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.
There is no “vote.”  These are the changes that are shaping not just the New Church but Christianity as a whole in North America.
Which brings me to Martin Luther King Day weekend.
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.
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.
It started over lunch months ago, an initial meeting that led to a planning team.  12 people.  A good number!
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 ….
The speakers spoke.
The teens performed.
We gathered after for fellowship and care packages.
We traveled to Kensington and served.
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.
And this is what I think…
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.
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.
Not done perfectly.  Never done easily.  But just simply done.

Allowing Christ To Make a Claim On Us

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

An incredibly powerful picture.  One tide breaking against another.  Look at the hands….

And why?  Why were they able to stand there – hands where they were – knowing that what they feared would happen did?

I wonder if this is why … because they understood.  Christ had made a claim on their lives. And they listened.

And it was not the claim of anger.  Not the claim of fear, of “states rights,” of historical memories tight like traps.  It was the claim of love, mutual love. One language … “the common good of all.”  Courage.

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)

Christianity at its worse. Christianity at its best.

Friday, April 26th, 2013

This photo so clearly shows Christianity at its worse … a burnt KKK cross … and Christianity at its best … MLK gently removing it.


As Christians, we need to be aware of both legacies.  The Cross burning legacy knows a long history … the Inquisition, Slavery, Segregation, Apartheid, Westboro Baptist and “God hates fags.” It is ugly, judgmental, self righteous, violent, argumentative.  Its danger stems largely from  the religious language it employs as a patina to cover over ego, an ego more concerned with rightness than with compassion, with rules more than grace.  It burns crosses in yards in Jesus’ name …..

That is why I think it so necessary that Christ embodied God’s life … that Christ was the very incarnation of It.  One cannot looks at the actions of Christ and see Him ever burning anything, ever proclaiming “God hates ….”, ever targeting an outlier group.   The group clearly most likely to feel His upset and disappointment were actually not the outliers but those comfortably in positions of powers.  Those who saw themselves as guardians of righteousness were quickly and disruptively called to question that very paradigm.

Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. (Matt. 23)

Maybe it is time for us to pull, figuratively, a few burning crosses out of yards, not to fashion them in turn into our own swords, but as a way to stand witness to Christianity as God intended.

Frank Meeink: A Recovering Skinheads Journey Away From Hate

Friday, January 18th, 2013

Want to get ready for Martin Luther King Day?  Take a look.

More Devoted To Order Than To Justice

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

There are several must reads I think for everyone that call us on our stuff.  One such must-read is Martin Luther King’s “Letters from  Birmingham Jail.” (Link)  In it King offered this exceptionally well crafted critique, a critique that consistently calls me on my shortcomings as a Pastor.

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.

There are so many areas where a desire for “order” trumps a desire for “justice.”  Christ’s call however is incarnational and therefore a permission of sorts to courageously serve a Master different from “order.”   Just start with King’s “Big Three” – Racism, Poverty, and Militarism.  Those are not about creating a partisan church.  They are an impetus for us to speak out from the better angels of our nature in ways that inspire a return, incarnational in itself,  … about working and struggling with hands pressed into this earth to create what King so beautifully phrased … “the beloved community.”


What Did I Forget?

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Great joy Sunday in celebrating Rev. Martin Luther King’s legacy.  At times, in reading a bible narrative it is hard not to scream “Look!”   Yesterday was much that way.  Look at Acts 2.  Do we notice the three references of amazement  as astonished listeners from many lands note they were hearing the disciples speak in their own language?  Do we notice as well the cynical few who failed to get “it”, who never heard, readily dismissing the words of the disciples as the words of drunks?  I love the New Church language that what the above all references is our sacred fire – the passion we all carry around what we know to be true.

And what we know to be true, our sacred fire, is often buried, softened, and narcotized by the culture find ourselves.  Buried so deep in fact that we no longer “know it” until the prophetic wakes us from our sleep.

One part of King’s genius was in pushing through those layers to get at the bed rock of the human heart, a heart that does want to feel, a heart that does want to live, a heart that is built for compassion, not hate.  Hands that want to build.  A head no longer satisfied with theological conjecture about God but yearning to know God.  His “I have a dream” speech spoke directly to what we all knew and know and yet had forgotten.

That waking will put us at odds with culture.  We will, to many, appear drunk.  King was a “beautiful fool.”  Our lives, if we choose to allow ourselves to fall deeper into “what we really know,”  will appear “foolish” as well.  How can they not?   But what beauty …!

Isaiah 61
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners, [fn1]
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.