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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am a pastor, teacher, educator, who lives theology. I am actively searching for ways to participate in the life and being of the God of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. I cherish 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. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment. I look forward to our conversations.

Monday, January 12, 2015

So you don't go to church...I'm not sure God's too concerned.

Facebook tells me I have 283 friends. (That includes--at least--one bar no longer in business.) All my friends know I am a pastor and work for God and congregations. But not all my friends go to church. Some aren't interested. Some aren't Christian. Some don't believe. Some believe, but don't really like to go to church. My friends, it turns out, do not have to go to church in order to be my friends. When it comes to friendship, going to church is not the defining characteristic.

What if friendship with Jesus also does not have going to church as a defining characteristic? Now, I know there are a lot of people who make a lot of money from people who go to church, and I am sure they want to convince people that Jesus "really wants you to go to church" because that keeps their business going. But, if all you want is friendship with Jesus, going to church may not be a requirement for that friendship.

 So we are in another run of "why people DON"T go to church" times, and everyone seems to know why people don't go to church. It's the music is too boring. (Lame, more like it.) The preaching too disconnected from....(insert favorite pop pysch term here). Pastors don't get out of their offices enough. (Or they spend too much time on Facebook and not in the office). People don't like to be told what to do. The reasons are endless for why people don't go to church. The interesting question is rather: why does anyone GO to church?

I mean, why are there countless Christian congregations across this country that have lots of old people who attend them? What do Senior Citizens get out of church that younger folks don't even try for in their experience? I did my first work with a Christian congregation in 1982. The pastor told me then that they had too many old people and not enough young people. Guess what? The congregation is still around, and according to their records, they have about the same amount of people in worship in 2014 as they did in 1982. (For those math-challenged that's 32 years.) Am I to believe the 70 year olds from 1982 are the 102 year olds in 2014? There may be a few, but they didn't all make it. So where were all the 70 year olds back in 1982? How did they get to this congregation in 2014?

People go to church for one reason, and one reason only (admittedly there are variations on this theme): people go to church to connect with someone or something Holy. It may be God, it may be a religious leader, it may be music, it may a liturgy, it may be a book. Doesn't matter, it's why people go to church. Congregations are where humans connect with the divine, connect with the Holy.

So, if you go to church where do you find the Holy? For those of you who don't go to church, where do you find the Holy? For those of you who don't care, why don't you care about the Holy? Relating to the Holy is not a skill of youth. It takes patience, wisdom, and the ability to live outside of your own ego (not traits generally associated with youth--and youth who do those things are often called "Old Souls" for a reason.)

So if people aren't going to your church it's because they don't find the Holy there. Is your congregation connecting with the Holy? How and why and where and when? Maybe you connect with the Holy in a way most others do not? Maybe you have a very specific way of connecting to the Holy and others can't track that way? And there are always people who don't have the time, effort, or desire to connect with the Holy no matter how your congregation does it. But the reason people don't come to your church is that they don't find a way to connect with the Holy there.

(I remember a man who told me he couldn't worship at our congregation because we took God seriously. He told me he couldn't risk it that God might take us seriously too, and he'd have to sell his yacht. He wasn't ready for that just yet.) Come all without. Come all within!

When I work with congregations we do not spend one minute of our time worrying or wondering why people don't come to our church. Rather, we spend out time focusing on why we do come, and how we can share that with others. Focusing on why you actually show up at church is way more beneficial than wondering about those who don't.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A New Year. Happy New Year!

2014. A year of interesting things...
     --my dad died in January. I miss him every day. I never went more than a week or two talking to my dad (even if I had to call collect--do we do collect calls anymore?) and now it's almost been a year. Wow. I love you dad.  (and mom too!)

--Chris and I got snowed OUT of Minnesota. That's right, it snowed so hard in Iowa that we couldn't get to Minnesota...that is how January 2014 ended.

--I got to spend a wonderful year with the folks of Shepherd of the Hills, Omaha, NE. Our Easter worship was so inspiring. May God bless their future. 

                            --this summer I got to grow a sunflower (first time ever), and started on rhubarb and strawberry beds...for the pie of course! 

--I met Don Henley in September, and talked to him about raising kids and church.

         ---in the Fall I got to go to LA (Hollywood) to pick up Maddy and move her back with us. Chris Pine bumped my shoulder at The Pikey. I should have sued. Here's a complimentary Chris Pine photo.  (Yes, he plays James Tiberius Kirk.)

--started up with a new congregation in Blair, NE called First Lutheran Church. They are an excellent group of people, and I look forward to many good times with them. 

In 2015 I am scheduled to be a grandfather...

Even more amazing is how the years seem to blur as so many people run in and out of my life. (besides, Mr. Henley and Mr. Pine.) The Spirit of God blows across time like one of those North Dakota tumbleweeds used to blow across my yard. It just keeps going and going and going.

But I also feel that God connects me to so many of you, both in real time, and on Facebook, and cherished memories. That is so cool that God puts no limits on friends...I feel more connected through the activities of God's Spirit than so many other things that try to connect me. Schools come and go (and I have graduated enough to earn a death by degrees.) Congregations come and go. Groups come and go...but friends remain. I picked up some good friends in 2014, and I got to relish in the lives of so many other good friends. It was a good year.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Rest in Peace Joe Cocker

Wow. I love Joe Cocker. I hope the music he sings now is as powerful as the music he left us. Here's link to the announcement of his death.

OK. Let's get something out of the way from the get-go: Joe Cocker was a singer. He took tunes others had written and made famous, and he made them famous again with his rendition. I mean, "Little Help From My Friends" didn't exactly keep the Beatles from rock-stardom, and the song made Cocker famous.

I remember as a kid staying up to watch the Midnight Special, and whenever Cocker appeared to be utterly amazed that this guy had a career in music. I mean, it was like you took the guy at your local bar who only sings when he's smashed and gave him a microphone. But man, did his songs rock...

Here's my favorite Cocker song: Leave your hat on. (Plus you get Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger. Never say I can't please an audience.) I do a kareoke version of his "Unchain My Heart" because it's just so fun. 

I guess this is just the first of many deaths I can expect over the next 10 years or so. Eventually, Clapton, Stewart, Morrison, Young, Henley, and even Dylan. Maybe the women will last longer? (You go, Chrissy Hynde!) Nobody lives forever, but I've been listening to Joe Cocker for 40 years, and it is weird, if nothing else, to think of him as dead. But he is...

In 48 hours I will be preaching to 400 people about a birth, about a baby whose death and resurrection changed the world. What changed was that forgiveness now becomes the centerpiece of life, rather than just an afterthought or decoration. Being able to forgive is the whole reason for learning to live. Joe Cocker provided a lot of music for me to think about in learning to forgive. May he rest in peace.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Twas the night before Christmas

and all through the house it was quiet. We live in a small house these days, and we keep the Christmas lights around the windows on all the time. So on Christmas Eve, with the tree lit up as well, our entire house is bathed in the glow of Christmas lights. We love our lights.       I'd say nowadays that Christmas lights are the most important decoration for me. Nothing beats a Christmas tree, but I wonder if I don't like those because they have the lights?
Christmas is all about the light. Jesus is the light of the world, and this makes some sense that the season is all about light, and lights. What intrigues me is how monochromatic "Jesus is the light of the world" is versus the various colors of the world. Jesus is often portrayed as a single flame of a candle, or as a white light, as if purity was his prime component. I see Jesus in many colors, and not just racial colors, but colors of life, colors of light.
Christmas is a time to remember that Jesus came for all of creation, not just humanity. The older I get the more I get frustrated with Jesus and his contemporary followers who are so fixated on Jesus as the light almost exclusively for humanity. As if the rest of creation needs no light.
You have heard me time and time again say that a Christian congregation that doesn't support the environment at or near the same level as it supports people has an interesting take of Jesus' salvation of the world.It only seems to be "world" if it has people in it. The polluted lakes and rivers of the world would beg to differ...Congregations need to find ways to help all of creation, not just the ones who walk and talk.
There is nothing better than a walk down a snow covered trail, just to see how many shades of white there are. Or, to come up on a field of powdery blue columbine with tan elk moving through. That color speaks of salvation too.
I hope you have a colorful Christmas. And an even more colorful life.
May your tables be full and your conversations be true.                                                                                                             

Monday, December 15, 2014

It's My Birthday...yay?

As we roll to the end of another calendar year, we come to my birthday. I guess I remember a few of them...but not really. I do remember I once had my birthday on the same day that my class had its Christmas party. (There was a time when public school classes had Christmas parties. Truly, for a kid, one of the great reasons to break down the wall of separation between church and state.) My favorite birthday gift was when my wife surprised me with a 12-string Alvarez guitar. That was cool. But those aren't a lot of memories for 50 plus years on the planet.

Because Jesus and I share the same birthday week it seems rather arrogant to insist on the importance of my natal star. Plus, I grew up in Minnesota. It was always dark, cold, and winter. Most of the time I'm so depressed on my birthday that I couldn't wish celebrating another hour, much less a year. Here's my favorite birthday song: In the Bleak Midwinter. And you think you have it bad. Thanks, James.

So what do you use your birthdays for? Are they for looking back? Or do you look to the future? Are they just an excuse to go out to dinner? A chance to get a present or take a trip? An opportunity to serve somewhere in your neighborhood? Without a doubt my favorite birthday was a few years ago when I celebrated with the folks of Prairie Table back in Bismarck. There were a lot of good friends there that night, we had a buffet, and people tried to outdo each other bringing me bottles of bourbon. Some of the friends of that night are no longer with us, but I remember that birthday best of all.

Today I am sitting in an office in a church in a town in a state that I'd never even heard of that night six years ago. (OK, I'd heard of Nebraska.) How weird to try and piece a life from that party to this desk...? Live is an amazing, wonderful mystery, and each year I am extremely grateful that I got to be a part of it. I wonder if Jesus ever thought about stuff like this? What was he grateful for in his life? I am extremely grateful  for the friends of I had then, and all the new ones I have met since. That's what birthdays are to me these days: remembering my friends. May your year be blessed as mine was.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.