Posts Tagged ‘Service’

Kensington in the Snow

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

Fr. Gregory Boyle offered a wonderful short story.

In his cramped LA office, rushing to prepare for a noon baptism, a heroin addict stumbled in asking to meet.  As  Mother Theresa would say, ‘God in God’s most distressing disguises.’

Initially annoyed, initially rushing towards the logical “I don’t have time for this”, Fr. Boyle settled, opened his heart to hear her, and offered this line about that experience.

“I had almost forgotten.  People are not interruptions.”

It is easy to forget people.

We live in world readily consumed with algorithms, busyness masquerading as effectiveness, thinness as connection.  Ministry is no different.  The pressing demands of running a church easily trump the more important work of being the church.  In other words, it is easy to forget and far easier to forget those broken. Easier to forget those who are already largely forgotten.

That is why Mary is one of my heroes.  She reminds me every few weeks, “What date works to got to Kensington?”, a place where we pass out lunches and visit with the homeless and addicted.

Even in winter.  Even in snow.

People are not interruptions.



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.

Marketing a Church

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

Is it possible to “market” a church?  Unsure. What I imagine is this….

We need to create churches that are worth talking about

Much of what people talk about in churches is, frankly, not worth talking about.  If conversation tends towards carpeting, music, “good” sermon/ “bad” sermon, who-is-doing-what-with-whom, I think we miss it.  Those conversations, tintilating as they are, will ulitmately fail to inspire growth though they will inspire gossip.

And a blessing … there are countless things so very bright and worthwhile to allow on “center stage” in terms of the great coversation to be had by a church. Mission, purpose, questions around faith and culture, pain, birth and death.

We need to serve our wider communities self sacrificially and with contagious generosity. 

The above … the best “marketing” there is provided we serve cleanly without a “so that we grow” agenda.

There must be a word out there for the opposite of entropy – where things fly apart.  A word to describe the fall of a church where things fly apart because they collapse in.  As New Church theology notes again, and again, and again, when charity/ service takes a back seat to other concerns we pull ourselves from the blessed order that will in the long run not only be our redemption but our joy.

Let it all go

“Caring and not caring.”  ”Pray like it all depends on God and work like it all depends on you.” A hard balancing but churches can do it.  Just work THERE. Right THERE. Pouring our lives into love and service sacrificially. And God will bless it. Sometimes in ways we anticipate. Most often in ways we don’t. So in the end, when we have faithfully done what was ours to do, let it all go.


The Connectedness of All Things

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

A beautiful vision for the world is the ancient Christian image of a Grand Human.

 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:4)

Emanuel Swedenborg expanded on that idea, noting how all of heaven could be pictured that way. In Heaven, he held, “mutual love makes all angels into something like a single human being.”  (Secrets of Heaven 1013).  Beautiful.

That connectedness is so much what we struggle for in Christianity. It requires what Dorothy called a “gesture upward” to the poor and suffering.

And any struggle “for” will be accompanied by a struggle “with.”  That struggle “with” is born of our never ceasing endeavor to critique vs. serve.

I wonder more and more if we can only give energy to one or the other. Restated, we can either spend our life’s energy on “critique” or “service.” And obviously my “vote” is for “serve!”  (Movie fact … the critic in the hit movie Ratatouille was named “Ego.”  That should make us giggle.)

Find your “little Calcutta” as Mother Theresa put it, and serve there.  Find a “church”, however that may look for you, that supports that journey.  And a church that joins together in a community that hopefully – and paradoxically – helps you be more than just you.  That pulls you sacrificially outward into a broader universe of meaning.  Not by judging “worthiness.”  But by a candid acknowledgement that we all are pretty darn broken and we need one another and God.

The connectedness of all things.

A Life of Giving and the Stories We Don’t Hear

Sunday, November 9th, 2014

Read “Doing Good in Harm’s Way.”  It covers simple testimony … the testimony, the living witness of those medical professionals who travel to Africa to fight Ebola.  And look at the groups they represent.

Most of those groups … Christian.  Not a big deal about it.  Not that that foundation makes them better than other groups like “Doctor’s Without Borders” who do AMAZING work.

But it does speak to witness.  It does speak to people willing to live quietly and courageously the higher purpose of Christ.

We wrestle with even that idea … the word “Christian” largely toxic.  The non-profit featured in the article, “SIM”, described generically in the article as “Serving In Mission.”  One would not know they were Christian unless one clicked their homepage.   Same with “Samaritans Purse.”  Same with “The Healy Foundation.”  The word “Christian” … mentioned once in the article.

Christianity is not the point.  Service to those in need is.  Words from Dr. Rick Sacra of SIM, about why he traveled to Africa, a place where he eventually contracted Ebola….

 ”If I can do something about that, I feel that’s my God-given responsibility to take care of my neighbor.”

This world is better for those like Dr. Sacra who take their Christian faith beyond faith-as- belief and exercise it into faith-as-life.  I wish we could say that more.

A Deep Conversation With Willy

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

When we travel to cook I know something.  I know I will go reluctantly.  I know I will arrive nervous.  I know I will then leave joyous having witnessed a greater something than me, even than us.  And I know I will leave having had at least one conversation I was supposed to have.

Willy was the conversation I was supposed to have.  Born in Puerto Rico, living in Reading at a homeless shelter, Willy founds shoes, donated shoes, part of the clothing drive the congregation put together.  Conversation started around shoes.  “Worth a $100.00″ he said.  Might be right.  A prayer of thanks for the person who gave them.

And then we talked.  A long conversation.  Part way through, with a smile, Willy leans in with “Chuck you are going to be alright.”   Out of the blue.  Striking the core of incessant, chattering worries.  Did I say anything that helped him?  That connected?  Probably not.  But God had us there.  In that place.  Front Street in Reading.  63 year old Puerto Rican cook.  49 years old Irish pastor.   “Not as many … but as one.” (Divine Love and Wisdom, 22)

Doing the Do

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Doing the Do.  Churches becoming “vessels through which compassion to the community flows.”  Simple.  Profound.

Listen to these pieces of New Church theology ….

Unless will and understanding … goodwill and faith devote themselves to involvement in works or deeds whenever possible, they are nothing…. People who put faith and goodwill together know what is good and are able to intend and do it, but not people who are devoted to faith apart from goodwill.  (Regeneration, pg. 96)

That word “devote” … a poignant word.  That word “nothing” … a rather unappealing alternative.

Strong language.


Seeing A Sermon. Hearing a Sermon.

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

Read yesterday, “I would prefer to SEE a sermon instead of just hearing a sermon.”  And then traveled to the Kensington section of Philly, “The Badlands” as they are known locally, to serve at the St. Francis Inn, a homeless shelter.   We served.  8 of us.

There is so much one could say.  My job .. to buss tables.  Clearing and cleaning up as several hundred folks moved through to a dinner of goulash, rolls, chips, and milk – strawberry, low fat, whole.  And in the middle – not a surprise – holding a tray, some tears.  There were kids.  Lots of kids.  Liam, 8 months, and others.  Barry.  Grey head of hair. Lots of smile.  The same name as my favorite uncle.

And much of formal church structures, for me, mired, at larger denominational levels in tired debates so far removed from this … from people, from suffering.  Pope Francis said good shepherds, good priests, must “smell of sheep,”  must pick up the ‘scent’ of those they serve.  Father Bill serving up the goulash did.  Tatalia, volunteering there for a year, did.   Those mired, tired debates that seek to hold women from ordination, or parse down small definitions of this word or that into an exactitude I wonder if was ever intended, don’t smell of sheep to me.

Does our life break open, our soul finally crackle with light, as we confront sin or suffering? 

I tire quickly of private morality and the games it plays under the guise of “God said.”  Of church as just that, nothing more. Church is infinitely more.. hearing sermons… the best of which are SEEN.  “Religion is of life.  And the life of religion is to do what is good.”

Sometimes God is so clear….

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

We live in a world where we scan more than read.  So here is one to read.  Written in a book from the Bible, Isaiah, chapter 58, written several thousand years ago, it speaks to a new form of worship….

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousnessa] will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Emanuel Swedenborg, writing in the 1700′s follows the cue.  “A religion is valued more for its goodwill and faith, not for the rituals that accompany them.”  True Christianity, 660.

Beautiful words.  Plain.  And oh so clear.

Building Open Christian Communities or Closed Christian Churches

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

Christianity is a communal endeavor, an endeavor to live not for ones self but for others.  What is holy is what is connected and open. Christianity is not then for the rugged individualist.  Christianity offers little as well for those who see in it a highly prescribed form of holiness … a closed system of righteousness.  What it offers to all is community, a functional definition of the word “community” readily substituted with the word “heaven.”

Communities form and the miracle of God’s spirit does its work.  But we, as human beings, largely fail to be content with just that.  We strive to formalize, codify, capture and tame (neuter?) the experience of God.   Instead of building open Christian communities we build closed churches. Christianity then morphs into Churchianity.

The loss in this downward progression from Community to Church are those whom we are called to serve … the suffering of the world.   There is little space or “band width” for the work of extending community to those in need when the work instead goes towards maintaining a church.

That is not to glibly pass over the need to maintain structures but that work must be done in the spirit of holding first things first.  A church is not created to serve itself and a closed community.  A church is created to be a matrix out of which the lived moral experience of flawed souls trying to live Christianity is drawn outward to touch the suffering of the world.  I live in deep gratitude for all those around me who live that very thing!