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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am a pastor, teacher, educator, who likes to read and talk and live theology. I am actively searching for ways to live missionally and participate in the life and being of the Triune God. I look forward to conversations which challenge and engage the ideas I present, and although I think they are pretty good...everything can be improved (well,...except maybe heaven.) I have an MDiv from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and a PhD in Systematic Theology from Luther Seminary, St.Paul, MN. Hook me up on email or leave a comment. I look forward to our conversations.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Get the "Led" Out

The other night I found myself in a small crowded bar in Midtown Omaha to hear a band called "The Firm" Go ahead and check the link. I'll wait.

(Waiting.)

(Waiting.)

(Waiting.)

Done? No, not that "Firm." Now, I knew that going in because I know one of the guitarists of the band I went to hear. Sadly, he is not Jimmy Page.

I remember as a kid being fascinated by the guitar of Jimmy Page in a band he was cruising around with called "Led Zeppelin." You may have heard of them back in the day. They are kind of famous...

As a kid learning to play the guitar, I never tried to style myself after Page, in part because I never really understood what he was doing (to be honest, I still don't). But those sounds were fascinating to hear. There is something that he can make a guitar do that sounds, to borrow a phrase from Bob Dylan, like "a fire crying in the sun." (Someday I'll write about Bob Dylan too, as he's also kind of famous.) It's a pretty distinctive sound, and most guitar players I've met over the years know when they hear Jimmy Page. Here's a song I've always liked called "When the Levee Breaks." It was great being a kid in the 1970s.

As I was listening to The Firm in Omaha the other night there were lots of kids from the 1970s (and the 1960s too.) We were all there to hear some songs from our childhood and to forget for awhile the adulthood we seemed to have attained with no effort at all, and no skill other than to survive. But I still remember the kid who listened to Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and all the others who provided the soundtrack of my life. And I wondered what title or label would be on my life?

You can't copyright titles and such, and every city probably has a band named "The Firm." (I hope they all know the irony, however.) They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but you can't also judge it on its initial response. Life is most acutely judged in the fullness of time. As I was sitting there listening to Beatles' covers, who knew "Strawberry Fields" would last?

I am writing this post on the day after Robin Williams died. I remember watching him on "Happy Days" helping Fonzie set Milwaukee right. I was probably 15 years old. I saw him live in concert in 2002 where he was 30 feet away from me at the old Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis. I laughed a lot that night. To judge someone like him on just one or two years of his career, or one or two events out of his life does a huge injustice to the world we all live in. A person's life is more than just moments strung together, but rather a series of ups, downs, and plateaus that roll on until our last hour is strutted on the stage.

Jesus of Nazareth was a guy whose life, in total, meant more than just the moments he spent. Although many people seemed to appreciate those moments (especially the ones he reportedly healed), 2000 years after his death it's the whole scope of his life that brings reality to bear. How do you appreciate the moments in your life? How do the more worse moments of your life get "forgotten?" How are the better ones "remembered?" No matter how long our lives, no matter how many good or bad moments we squeeze into that life, the labels, the titles, the signs do not define us. What defines us is the lives we've lived, the people we've loved, and the memories we share. That's life. (Thanks Frank. Oh, and he's pretty famous too.)

May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What a difference a couple of months make...

Here is a picture of my garden on June 9.  Here is my garden yesterday.

  What a difference a couple of months can make!

My bean trellis is pretty much covered in beans. You can see the corners of it. There are 20 pieces of rope hanging down, and every single one has a vine or two creeping up it.

The tomatoes? Those little bushes on the left side of the June picture are the bushes I am taking the August picture over. The wooden stake holding up the tomatoes are 6-footers. In the far back, those long things with yellow on the top are 15-foot sunflowers. And and although you can't see them in this picture, I have cucumbers all over the place.

I remember when I was planting the garden and wondering if anything would grow this year? I guess I have my answer. But now, as I contemplate the upcoming harvest (I hope), I wonder how does all this food get here? I mean, I already have put up 12 quarts of pickles. We've had a few tomatoes (I still have a couple of bags of last year's in the freezer!), and I've already cut down my oregano 3 times. As Clayton Chapman, owner of the Grey Plume restaurant  and neighbor encouraged me "Keep making that marinara!" Olive Garden doesn't use that much oregano in a year!

But there was no food there 2 months ago. Think how important food is, and the miracle that is a backyard garden. What I don't understand is why everyone doesn't have some version of a backyard garden? Granted, you may not be the world's greatest gardener, but it sure is amazing what happens...dirt, water, nutrients, and sunshine make a cucumber or a bean or a strawberry (my strawberries get eaten by birds before I can get them even pink--I am going to get one though, even if I have to get up at 4 in the morning!) and those become sustenance in my life.

And the wildlife! Rabbits run around my yard (but I grow food rabbits don't like but I do--like cucumbers, this keep my frustration with them at a low level), I have birds by the hundreds, butterflies, bees, wasps (the good kind that eat mosquitoes. Note: I have never even seen a mosquito in my backyard. It's August 5.), spiders, probably snakes (I say "probably" because I haven't seen one since I've started gardening, but I don't have any mice, voles, shrews, or other pesky rodents, so somebody's doing something!). It is a small little ecosystem that swirls around the back yard. The lone turkey wandering around last Spring was a bit of a surprise.

All this comes about in time. St. Augustine once remarked that he knew what time was until you asked him to explain it. How true! Time is the complex of reality that demarcates our existence.(Those of you philosophically inclined can work on that sentence.) I get older, but two months doesn't produce such monumental changes to me as it does to my garden which is, not aging, but growing.

I think it's funny that for years Christian congregations have had as slogans and statements phrases like "Growing in Christ." "Growing in faith." "Growing Disciples." Now those same congregations are complaining that all their members are old. What--exactly--did you expect? Aging in Christ. Aging in faith. Aging Disciples. I hope people get older in those processes. Who cares if a congregation gets old and goes to harvest? Isn't that what we're supposed to do? Isn't that why we were planted in the first place? Growing is just another word for getting older. If you don't want to get older, don't make "growing" one of your core values...jeesshh...relax, God's not troubled by aging and harvest, why are you?

Here's the same angle of the picture I took in June. Tell me, is God amazing or what? 
May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Hanging Out

Early on in my ministry career, I heard the advice (from Henri Nouwen, I believe) that "interruptions were my ministry." Consequently, I've never felt that a hugely packed calendar of events and meetings defined what God called me to do. I am called to conversations, and sometimes they can be scheduled, and sometimes they can't.

For example, I've never really minded "meetings" as long as I got to set the agenda. A meeting, for me, is conversation about something...meetings that only meet to set up more meetings or to prove that one person is a more accomplished Christian than another make we want to put a pencil in my eye. A scheduled meeting can be a good thing or a bad thing, an unscheduled one is usually a disaster.

Catching up with people in their lives, however, is just the opposite. When I was first in ministry, I would schedule visits to people's homes, and they were so bad as to be painful. Here's a secret: people lie to pastors; especially if they know we're coming over. Everything is always so much worse or so much better when you tell a pastor something. I would sit in people's homes and look at the sparkling clean floors, still wet from Pine-Sol, and kids wearing clothes they hadn't even seen since Easter, and yet, everything is fine, everything is OK, and the world spins rightly on its axis.

But catch that same family at a grocery store or in the parking lot at school, and you see pain at children frustrated with parents, parents unable to cope with other parents, people stressed over money they don't have, and everyone pissed off at the government. Where are the clean floors and freshly ironed clothes? In the scrapheap of failed dreams and forgotten goals.

So nowadays I just hang out and listen. Sometimes people know I am a pastor, and I always tell people I am if they ask what I do. I've got no secrets. Plus, to be honest, most people have never met a pastor before, and some are genuinely curious about how I make a living. I try not to schedule too many meetings unless there's something to talk about that needs some serious conversation. I try to be more of a help than a hindrance.

I have never really had to prove myself in order to justify my existence. I am pretty comfortable being who I am. I am not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and I don't consider myself "complete" or "with it" in any sense. I really like to hang out, talk and tell stories, and be part of the world.

I remember my college roommate really questioning how I could be pastor back when I started seminary. I learned one thing from that conversation that I have never forgotten and every day remind myself: my ministry will be defined by God, not by people. The only person I am trying to impress with my ministry is God. If others like it, or learn from it, or get support from it, or a kind word or prayer from it--great! But I do it for God, and in that way I do it for me.

So anytime you want to hang out, just let me know. Maybe we can schedule something? :)

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Blues, BBQ, and Blood

I am a product of the blues. This kind of blues  (actually Johnny Lang is too good looking to have the blues) But who doesn't love that song?

And when you're my size, you are also often the product of BBQ. Stuff like this  To me, there is nothing better than a grill full of meat.

But really I am a product of my mom and dad. I am their blood. 

Lots goes into making a person, from the music that underlays the soundtrack of their life; to the food one prefers that keeps one going, to the families that got one started and accompany one on the journey. But I wonder if the most important thing, even more important than music (doubtful), food (probably), and family (certainly) is the friends we make along the way?

I found a great friend, now about 27 years ago, who is without a doubt the single most important influence on who I am and what I do. I have friends, many of you gentle readers, whom I've known for years. I have new friends that keep my interested and entertained these days too. I am proud of my friends, and glad to be known by them.

I still peruse Facebook to look at pictures and to keep up with the "news." I love seeing what my friends are up to, and in some cases I am amazed they are my friends because they do such amazing things. Do I actually know (or in some cases, did know) someone who can do such amazing things? I know my Facebook "friends" are just a drop in the bucket to all the wonderful people I've been able to come across the last 50 years. So many...so many people I owe a debt of gratitude for showing me a trick, or keeping me alive, or helping me avoid disaster...so many friends over the years.

A lot goes into the making of a person. But when I die I don't want to be remembered by the food I ate, or the music I preferred, or even the family from which I came...I want to be remembered by all the people who have been a part, if even for one night, of my life.

So who makes you? Who are your friends? Who have been your companions? In the days we have, may God bless us with many friendships, new, re-newed, or even re-made. According to most traditions, the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, never married. Didn't care much for his birth family. And ate whatever was set in front of him. (Sadly, he lived before Robert Johnson could bring music to a new level.) But the guy had friends...in fact, all the stories we have about him are stories told by his friends. No one, and I mean no one, made friends like this dude. Christianity isn't a religion, it's just a bunch of friends on a way...and I am thankful so many of you join with me.

May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Wedding Season

This is the season of weddings. In fact, my own anniversary is just a couple days away. Weddings can, and do, happen all across the calendar, but summer seems to bring out the marriage impulse in people.

And it's not just people getting married for the first time. Sure, there are plenty of first-time brides who are dreaming of big summer weddings, and countless groomsmen who are dreading wearing black tuxedos on humid 90 degree days, but even people marrying later in life, after a first spouse has died or been divorced, seem to want to get married this time of year. Marriage is an interesting institution.

A few years ago I sat down and estimated about how many marriage ceremonies I had performed over the years. I've had a couple of years where I have done 30, and one of 42 (personal record, 2004. And a nod to Congress and President George W. Bush who started a war and called up countless young men and women who got married before being deployed. I did 73 marriages, 60 of them involving service men and women, in the first 18 months of the Iraq war.) I am somewhere around 350 weddings I bet.

There was one day--July 7, 2007 (07/07/07) that I did 4 weddings. That too is my personal daily record. Now, I am not trying to be brave here, and I don't imagine I am anywhere near the "Most Weddings done All-Time" by a preacher. I'm just saying that I have seen my fair share of weddings. (Sadly, I have not been able to perform a wedding for any gay or lesbian couples. This is not right, and the world will be a better place when we have marriage equality.)

I'd also say that maybe only 2/3 of those weddings have been in churches. I have done weddings in Legion Halls, boats, bars, restaurants, backyards, golf-courses, pastures, cornfields (with standing corn), my office (this one is becoming more and more popular), living rooms, a pool, and the ocean, to name a few...I'm doing one next month in a historical village, fortunately, I don't have to dress in costume.

I've had brides in dresses costing thousands of dollars, and one who got hers the day before at a Goodwill for 10 bucks. (Her wedding cake was also made from Rice Krispie treats.) I've seen grooms in everything from shorts and flip-flops to jeans and cowboy hats to Armani tuxedos. (That was me.) Although I probably haven't seen everything, I've seen a lot. Except for one thing...

I've never seen someone not get married. (True, one time the bride was 30 minutes late, but her limo died, and she had to walk the last mile in 100 degree Chicago heat. I wish cell phones were invented back then, as the groom was freaking out a bit.) Everyone has always gone through with it. I've signed the licenses, I've blessed the rings, I've encouraged to the couples to kiss. Every single time they have gone through with it. Even if they knew they were getting divorced on Monday, they went through with it. (I don't know that has happened, but how would I know?)

And that interests me because it seems to imply that people find something valuable in those weddings. Maybe it's love? Maybe it's sex? Maybe it's family (whatever shape and size that might mean)? Maybe it's God? It could be commitment...it could be faithfulness...it could be happiness...(brings to mind the Stanley Hauewas joke: Christians have to love one another, even if they are married.)

I don't know what it is about weddings, but I think they are a time for us to be at our best as people, trying to figure out what we have in common, how we are related, and partying on someone else's dime. Whether there is a patina of religion on the wedding or not (and obviously I don't care if there is or not), I am sure God is smiling at most weddings. Weddings don't satisfy some rule that God has about sex or love; weddings aren't for moralists to preach about things they do not understand; weddings are about love and sharing it. Nothing more, nothing less. And if you find someone you can do that with on a regular basis...why wouldn't God smile? Why wouldn't you?

May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.