Posts Tagged ‘Surrender’

Church as an Invitation not an Institution

Friday, August 21st, 2015

We live in an era popularized by the phrase “spiritual but not religious.”  I imagine for many the connotation is a movement away from institutional forms of religion to more personalized, individualized, customized views of religion devoid of the demands of formalized faith.

And I would kindly offer … maybe church is, at its best, more than just an institution.  Maybe it is as well an invitation.

How to differentiate between institution and invitation?  Maybe this … institutions can often tend to embrace begrudged compliance.  Invitations can often tend to embrace a freely offered surrender.

I worry … for me … that if I went full bore to “spiritual but not religious” I would miss the invitation, I would forgo the surrender, so prone are we to get trapped in self-referenced “what feels good”, “what feels right.” What feels good, what feels right?  Meat and beer and football and sex.  Left to our own devises, the centers of the universe.

My hope is to heed the invitation and surrender.  To surrender to something more freeing, far greater than the cramped horizons of my personal compulsions.  Church is an invitation to do just that.

And the best churches?  They are institutions centered on that very invitation.   A radical welcome home. A surrender to something far greater than me.



Two Faced. Who Me?

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

Two faced.  Who me? Yes you.  And me.

The human condition always presents a mixed bag.  As a private school administrator, I took a group of secondary school males on an overnight to a local camp.  We invited a World War II vet and a recovering drug addict in to speak to the boys on courage.  Their presentations were remarkable.  Within hours however all that was forgotten as the police brought brought a number of boys to camp after they had  decided on a late night streaking excursion through a neighboring housing development.  Two faced, blessed and broken, saints and sinners.

The “sinner” part of us is driven by compulsions.  As New Church theology phrases it, that part grows from a desperate love anchored to the urges of selfishness and materialism.  From that place, we easily rationalize any number of misguided behaviors, remaining wholly convinced that such a life is the only life, and that if we lose it we face obliteration. (Secrets of Heaven, #1740)

But there is another place – the “saint” – in us as well, a place settled beneath the compulsions of the outer man, a place deeply and eternally connected with God.  For humanity, “… our inner self is the Lord’s possession, and so far as anything of their own (ego) does not get in way …. their inner self belongs to God and in fact is God.”  (Secrets of Heaven, #1745)

So the way out of it is simply  a letting go.  As the author Anne Voscamp phrased it, “the most freeing place for a soul is in the abandonment to the will of God.”


Letting Go

Friday, August 31st, 2012

There are few more powerful spiritual tools than “repentance.”  Going back to the Greek word “metanoia”, it means essentially to turn around, to change one’s mind.  That turning entails a candid self appraisal – “rigorous honesty” as it is phrased in 12 Step Circles – that then opens to a humble willingness to turn over to God those things that keep us from His more immediate presence.

That “letting go” is cathartic.  It includes letting go of enthrallment with physical pleasure, as well as “emotions and factual knowledge.”  (Heavenly Secret, 1412)   Understand, we are not talking here of embracing an ascetic lifestyle, devoid of pleasure, emotions, and knowledge.  We are talking of an engaged lifestyle devoid of enslaving attachment to pleasure, emotions, and knowledge.  It is life placed in an open field.

Yesterday, a friend shared how tiresome her daughter’s attachment to drama had become.  That is exactly what the above is talking about!   Give up the binding attachment to the emotion of being “wounded”, give up the binding attachment to the  ”knowledge” of what motivated the supposed transgressor, and an “open field” appears.  But that is hard work. Who wants to give that up?  Before you know we will actually find ourselves forgiving others!

And the fact is we can’t give up those attachments through an act of heroic self will.  What we can do is prayerfully offer our best intention to God and let Him do His work.  And we will blessedly “turn.” Our mind will change as we let go.

We only can pray for what we have experienced

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Here is a unique thought around prayer:

“God seems to plant within us the desire  to pray for what God already wants to give us, and even better, God has already begun to give to us!  We are always just seconding the motion, but the first motion is always and forever God’s.  The fact that you prayed a all means God just started giving to you a second ago.”

I read these words after an early morning walk east down Arch street in Philadelphia.  Looking at the buildings and the city starting to awaken, the words of a theologian whose name escapes me rang true.  ”If God could have saved man without Creation, He would never have made Creation.”   I think the same holds true for our lives – our individual lives are the ONLY means of salvation, of creating a new person.  Discovering that creation is one of the utmost joys of lifes and one of life’s most difficult journeys.

For me, over this past week, much of that struggle has been around how do I pray for NewChurch LIVE, for this church?  To pray to be Andy Stanley and North Point – peerless preaching, huge numbers, immense energy – appears egotistical and self serving.  To not pray is patently a cop out.  So what does one pray for especially when it is something so important?

The prayer then ends up being one of wishing God’s blessing on this endeavor – that we reach and serve countless folks.  Hopefully in saying it I do not limit God to numbers – a capitalist habit of answering “how many?” that often does not belong as central to conversations around mission.   But I do believe the intention to humbly serve behind a prayer for growth is maybe the best spirit of prayer, right now, that I can offer.

And if Richard Rohr’s words cited above are right, that prayer is God’s prayer, AND we have actually started to experience it.  How else would we know what we are praying for?  That does not mean we will inevitably hit our objectives and goals.  There no doubt will be many, many necessary failures leading this group in unanticipated directions.  But can we surrender up our view of how things must play out and allow God to do His work?  Knowing that our prayers, at their best are his prayers too?  Knowing that the only way there is this journey, as it is, right now, here today?

Above all else, avoid success

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Thomas Merton famously wrote, “”Be anything you want. Be madmen, drunks, and bastards of every shape and form. But at all costs avoid one thing: success.”

One must smile at the sentiment behind his words.  Success does truly dull us to so much, leaving us feeling smug and self assured in a way that cuts off the possibility of reflection and growth.  ”Success” at the spiritual journey appears far different however than more contemporary forms for success.

Spiritual “success” as I witness with those with whom I work pastorally often include …

  1. Surrender: The surrender is of a different ilk than the royal ego – the “I” deciding to surrender something.  Surrender is not chosen.  It is forced.  There is no “choice” involved because the individual ego is “defeated.”  All that is left is presence.  As one clergy friend, who had suffered painful loss said, “I know I am just along for the ride.”  That is surrender, said by her with a grin.
  2. An Irrefutable and Uncomfortable Call: This one brings a smile to my face – a large smile – because who wants THAT!  It is fun watching the contortions of “should I” or “shouldn’t I” when, if those questions are asked in a spiritual environment, the answer has already been given. It just remains to be lived into.
  3. Loneliness: The call is a solitary one, adding color to Jesus’s comments about “leaving family.”  Not many join that journey early.  Not many speak of it to others.   I hear often universal expressions of loneliness.
  4. Peaceful, Quiet Joy: And undergirding all the above is the Gospel – the “good news.”  The peaceful quiet joy may not always be present but I am left hearing it spoken of frequently.  ”I was sitting by water and I felt a peace I have never felt before” one courageous woman wrote.  Another spoke of her dedication to Taize services and contemplative prayer – and their “intoxicating” impact.  A third struggled to find any words, saying only that she somehow knew I “would understand.”  And I do!
And what can a Pastor offer?  Really just a simple “yes.”

Facing What You Absolutely Cannot Overcome

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Evil is illusion.  It has no “reality” per se in much the same way that darkness is nothing in and of itself but instead is the absence of light.   That being said, boy, at times it sure feels powerful, often overwhelmingly so.

So what can we do?

Maybe we start from the counter-intuitive notion that facing evil for which we have no defense, may in its own way be perfect.  Our evils, as a starting point, are perfectly attuned to our own weakness.  Restated, we don’t face the evils for which we have the strength to overcome.  Their pain is perfectly attuned to our sensitivities, their threat perfectly menaces what we value most.  They grow organically right out of the most uniquely debased parts of our particular beings.

Maybe “we can’t/ I can’t” is then the perfect blessing, something those involved in the 12 Step program have known for decades.  And another form of surrender is important beyond the surrender to powerlessness and to God.  After surrendering to God, we have to surrender to another.  Surrender to the powerlessness, surrender to God, surrender to another.

This is a hard surrender to speak of.   Surrendering in this regard is fraught with serious challenges, surrendering to the wrong person being chief among them.   The wrong person is one who points to him or herself as the “answer.”  It is the person with whom co-dependent attachments readily form.

The right person is a fellow traveler.  It is a person who regards themselves with the healthy and helpful humility that allows the spacious God needs to accomplish His aims.

Evil must exist within darkness and secrecy.  Shining the light of our own powerlessness, of God’s love and wisdom, and of a trusted fellow traveler on that evil over which we have no power inevitably leads us away from evil simply by seeing the evil for what it is in a way that stresses rigorous honesty as well as accountability.  From those lights we see truth, we know power.  We also settle deeply into the love that is the Divine.  As the book “Heaven and Hell” phrases it, “Love is what is receptive of every heavenly quality — that is, of peace, intelligence, wisdom, and happiness. Love is receptive of everything that is in harmony with it.”

Is it possble to live an “unsurrendered” life as a Christian?

Monday, July 12th, 2010

The short answer – no.

A remarkable piece of Christianity is the concept that we must surrender our lives up. It is a surrendering however to God in a way that helps us to uncover our true selves.

It is so easy though to play with faith. We live in a culture that worships the individual. And of course, that is a source of strength in many instances – loosing ourselves to a “system” is Orwellian.

But there are limits. As Tutu said, thankfully there really is not a “self-made man.” We are where we are by the grace of others and the grace of God. None of us got here “alone.”

A hope – that Christianity rediscovers its heart. We have played such games with faith. Games that include the view of a Church as a club, as a “golden ticket.”

Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the door to protest the Pope’s use of indulgences. Emanuel Swedenborg, the New Church’s Martin Luther, figuratively nailed progressive Christian principles to the door of the Protestant Church to protest the concept of salvation by faith alone. Faith needs trust, compassion, kindness, service to be real. It is far more than belief.

Recapturing the heart requires surrender.