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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.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

We're better than this...

I go away for a month, and social media seems a little crazy, What's worse, is that people who use social media to live their life, make it even crazier. Donald Trump? Every time he appears in a feed or a post or a commercial (I've been in Iowa recently) I move on. I don't bother. His track record is being an arrogant and greedy man, and I assume he wants to be a politician only to rob me. Why would I listen to a robber? I'm better than that.

We're blaming refugees because we don't want to admit our fear. Or, if we admit our fear, it is now acceptable to become xenophobic rather than deal with the fear. Seriously, does the Statue of Liberty mean anything at all? Didn't people learn in school that the whole point of the United States of America is to be a tossed salad of ethnicities, colors, genders, (we added that one recently), religions, politics, and philosophies? (I was going to add economic systems, but if Bernie Sanders is considered a "socialist" then we have totally bought into liberal capitalism. Economically, the only difference between Trump and Sanders is that one emphasizes the "liberal" and the other the "capitalism," but it's the same theory and system for each one. Neither one wants the government to own General Motors or Berkshire Hathaway.) So in our fear we blame the most recent for our fears, and so Arabs of all types are the scapegoat. We're better than this.

Perhaps you've heard the story of the Garden of Eden, and its two human inhabitants, Adam and Eve. Throughout centuries (and the written story is at least 4000 years old) this story has founded three major religions, and countless imaginations on the complexity of human interaction with other humans, nature, and the Divine. I won't go into too many details here, but there's something you have to know about the story, and I think it will help us see through the idiocy that is wandering through the social media these days. Adam and Eve were free to do anything they wanted in the garden--except eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  According to the story, anything else was permitted.

Now Nietzsche (see more) rightly saw that we must go beyond good and evil in order to accept the humanity we have been given. How's that going for you? BUT, what even a great reader like Nietzsche doesn't deal with is the obvious freedom Adam and Eve DO NOT choose. That is, rather than exercising their freedom, they choose to disobey the one rule they have been given. From this we understand that we would rather do something negative to ourselves to prove our freedom rather than exercise our freedom to gain greater humanity; or, in some cases, any humanity. You see, in order to gain more freedom, gain more humanity Adam and Even could have exercised the freedom they were given by the Divine and just left the garden. They were created for more than that. They could have said, "We're better than this. How about we leave and see what else we can be or do?"

And we are better than the xenophobic fear-mongering that seems to be all the rage these days. Here's the secret: we are all refugees on this planet. We are all better than this. Do you think God made you so you could sit around and watch Netflix? That that's why you were birthed? Did the Divine breathe life into you so you could sit around and listen to idiots pontificate about who's got the best ideas to keep the poor poor, and the wealthy wealthy? Come one friends, we're better than this.

My advice, if you're afraid or refugees or dying or whatever, it to walk out of the garden and see what's on the other side of the fence? (Or wall, as the case may be...) We are created free, and let us not choose the links and pages of slavery to destroy the gift of our humanity. In our tradition, we have a saying that goes, "though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil." And don't forget, in order for that sentence to be true, we have to walk. We're better than this. Let's walk.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Greed is going to get you

The other night at dinner my daughter asked Chris is she had ever taken a "sabbatical?" She had not. And probably never will. Let me tell you how I have experienced sabbaticals among pastors recently. First, some history. It is a recent phenomenon that pastors take three months once every six-years to "rest and recharge" your batteries for ministry. And many have. In fact, there are institutions willing to support people who wish to take sabbaticals, and there is a sense where it makes sense.

Imagine you are a pastor all by yourself in a congregation in a small town somewhere in Arizona. Every day you have to be available for your congregation and the community should an emergency arise. You can go to the big town of Phoenix, but could you visit Aunt Myrtle at the big hospital while you're there? You can take a vacation, but if the Council President dies you'd come back to do the funeral wouldn't you? Hi Pastor, I know it's late, but my daughter just got arrested for meth possession, and could you see her at the jail? After six years of that, a three month sabbatical seems like a good idea.

(I remember once when I was a solo pastor, and someone tried to sell me a timeshare condo. After laying out my schedule of the previous two years, she said, "This would be stupid for you to do. Here's your free meal and show tickets." We were in Reno, NV. Good luck trying to find two weeks in a row where a pastor can be gone in a year.)

So although there are legitimate reasons for some pastors to have sabbaticals, I've never had one, and neither has Chris. In my case, I don't stay around in one place long enough to accrue a sabbatical, and I get time off every time I switch a congregation, in many cases. Part of the reason I want to be a regular interim pastor is precisely so that I can set my own schedule. Because I set my own schedule, I don't get into those jams that our mythical Arizona pastor gets into.

You see, in my case, while I might visit Aunt Myrtle, I probably live in Phoenix and commute to the small town. I don't have to take time out of a special day with my family to make a visit, I can just do it on my way home from work. And, yes, I won't be back should the Council President die while I'm on vacation. I will make arrangements for another pastor to do the funeral. (If the Council President really wants me to do the funeral, he or she will wait to die until I return. Remember, I don't know these people, I'm just filling in for a while.) I would still go visit the daughter, some things we just do...

The main reason I will probably never have a sabbatical is that I just don't want to get too greedy. I mean, if I'm pastoring so much that I think I need a break, I'm probably doing the pastoring all wrong. Pastors have the greatest call in the world, and there is no theoretical reason why we should ever need a break for three months from it. Rest and recharging is part of the call of being a pastor. Not once every six years for three months, but every day, every week, every year. Not just vacation but prayer and retreat, study and worship. These are the ways to reconnect a ministry rubbed down to its nub.

Daily prayer, weekly worship, visits to friends will have to suffice for my sabbatical. Maybe some day I will actually retire, and get three months off. But I'll probably get hit by a bus and die two days into it...and then it will be a good thing that I did not wait to rest and recharge.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Receiving the Little Children

That sermon is one that I actually like. I hope it makes some sense to you. I do wonder why we obsess about divorce so much, when we seem to care so little for the kids? I applaud all the judges, social workers, counselors, and others who seek to make life bearable for children of divorce. Thank you.

Too often we want to make the Kingdom of God something that God owes us. Something that we deserve. I wonder why we have this attitude? What is it about us that we want to subsume than which is clearly outside of our control into something we control? It's a mystery to me...but we do.

I do believe Jesus of Nazareth knew more about us and our proclivities to control more than even we do--and we act on those proclivities all the time, he never did it appears. But somehow he found it within his relationship to God to make forgiveness even more expansive than our need to control. And he gives that gift to us. Amazing.

Here's some Swedish soul-music to cap off this post. My grandmother used to hum this tune to me when I was a child...she knew how to receive children.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Setting aside freedom for the greater good

In this country I am free to own guns and I do. I've hunted with all but one of them, and at one time or another they have helped put meat on my table. Deer, pheasants, grouse, turkeys, rabbits, geese, and ducks have been part of my diet because of the guns I own. Elk has not, sadly, but that is not the fault of the gun--that's all on the hunter. I have no trouble with guns, as I have been around them all my life, but I am willing to give up my guns for a greater good.

I want the mass shootings to stop. (The mass killings will not stop, but I at least want them to happen without guns.) I want the shootings to stop, and the only way to do that is to eliminate the things that shoot, namely, the guns. Yes, the criminals are going to run rampant as armies masquerading as police forces no longer have guns to stop them. Yes, the unregulated black-market for guns will just make things more dangerous when guns are used. Yes, the pent up anger of people will just be exacerbated when guns are taken away. (I truly believe that if we try to take away guns at any level, mass shootings and assassinations will increase by a lot. If you think the mass shootings are bad now, wait until we try to take away people's guns.)

But we created this mess, so we have to die for this mess. Granted, the people who started this mess are too old to matter much these days. Every citizen immigrant, non-documented alien, and visitor of or to the United States since World War I had a part in this mess. And now some of us are just going to have to die if it's every going to be better for my grandson and his generation.

I'll do as many funerals as I can before someone has to do mine. I just hope people see that doing the right thing comes at a cost of all you hold dear; in my case, my freedom. I have to lay aside my freedom so down the road my grandson can be free--maybe.

My proposal is simple: make it illegal to do anything with guns: make them, buy, own, collect them, build them, store them, Any and everything. If you want to hunt, get a crossbow. We'll go all Games of Thrones for 30 years. After 30 years, revisit the situation. Start all over. But at least we had 30 years of trying to stop the insanity. Oh, and make the punishment for getting caught with anything but a picture of gun, 30 years of working in the smelters that melt the guns so we can use the steel and plastic to repair the schools and post offices we've shot up over the past 200 years.

I know most people cannot join me in this because you cannot trust anybody. I have friends, who the only reason why they feel safe at all, is because they have access to a gun. I have other friends who have never even touched a gun in their lives. We've had 200 years of owning guns, with even gun owners not feeling safe; how about we try 30 years of not-owning guns and seeing how it goes?

By the way, if you're angry at this, or disappointed in me, know that I am disappointed in myself too. I wish I didn't have to give up my guns so kids don't go shooting up schools and churches. But I can't think of anything else that might work--in the long rung. Remember, a lot of people will die until the guns are gone. You can kill me first if you have to, but just do me one favor after you've shot me: prove me wrong, and don't kill again.

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

Thursday, October 1, 2015

They Call Me "Mister" missional

I got in on the missional church movement before it was cool, and I'm still in now that everyone thinks it's a joke. I came at missional church as a theologian, and it provides me with the best way to elucidate what I consider to be the most important theological point:Image result for missional church

OUR MISSIONAL GOD HAS A CHURCH. It is not "the missional church has a God." Mission is an attribute of God, (Bosch), and congregations are missional only if they live out and participate in the missional nature of God. This distinction is huge, and makes quite a bit of difference in how and why congregations go about doing ministry.

Congregations want to "own" ministries. People within congregations want to control ministries. This is getting the order exactly wrong. God owns the ministries, and we should strive to give control away from the work we do. We should be striving to set people free to live their own lives, and to participate freely in the life and being of the Triune God. The minute we think God needs us to do something, we are in trouble.Image result for trinity god

And whether we say it so overtly or not, many of our activities seem to indicate we do believe God needs us to do it. If it wasn't for us, God's mission wouldn't get done. This is non-missional thinking.

Missional thinking is to understand that God loves us, and wants us to participate freely in what God is about in our particular corner of the sky. Missional work is discerning, praying, reading, and helping when invited by God. Sometimes it takes a lot of time to pray and discern before we comprehend the invitation!

So I'll probably be "missional" until I die...but if God is good enough for me in this life, I'm sure God'll be good enough for me in the next.Image result for tombstones

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.