Your Blog Steward

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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 God in Jesus Christ with the power of the Holy Spirit. I like to help congregations and people grow in their faith, and I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination.. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Reformation reminder

“A Living church of the dead, not a dead church of the living”
                                                                           Jaroslav Pelikan

I remember when my teacher first shared this idea with me from his teacher. It’s not only catchy, but it reveals a deeply hidden truth that often can get forgotten in congregations: we are here now. A congregation can get so caught up with its past that it is dead to today. What happened in the past becomes more important than living today. The other side of the coin, naturally, is that the past is completely forgotten, and with unstable foundations and dreams of opaque shade, the living today becomes fraught with nervousness and tension. No one knows where we are from or where we are headed to, and things get tense.

Congregations become dead, or seem dead to others, when they are not living in the “now.” Living today. Informed by a past, and guided by a future, congregations live best when they take seriously the realities of today. 500 years ago, when Martin Luther offered this advice, the congregations that began living in “today” became what you and I know as the Reformation. Celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation is not a remembrance of days past, but rather guidance for the present day.

Luther is dead, but many of his ideas might bear great fruit in 2017 and beyond. For example, Luther believed that God’s grace was stronger than all that “sin, death, and the devil” could muster to the battle. Therefore, he didn’t care about the devil. He assumed the devil would always try to sway him away from Jesus, and after a while he just got bored and tired of the devil. What if we treated all the negativity heaped upon us, not as something we must overcome, but rather as stuff that is finally only in the hands of Jesus, and pretty boring to us? What if, instead of worrying about something, we turn it over to Jesus, ignore the devil’s prodding us to worry, and get on with helping our neighbors, friends, and enemies?

Such an idea was fairly radical in Luther’s time, and maybe even more so today? Can the church of “now and today” even imagine Jesus Christ might save a situation? Would we be willing to lose, to go bankrupt, and to suffer loss of privilege, if that is what it takes to be a “living church?” Remember this little nugget about the Reformation as we celebrate its heritage and importance in the next year: we remember Luther not because he won, but because he lost. And God turned that loss into 500 years of witness to the gospel.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

I wonder...

There is this guy running for President who says the craziest things. I wonder what would happen if nobody heard him anymore? I mean, what would happen? Let's say a major TV network like ABC said "We're not going to have anymore stories about him." What would happen?

A couple things would happen for sure. Advertisers that want to sell things to people who  "like" this guy, would not advertise on ABC anymore. But most products that people buy are bought by all kinds of people, and so you'd miss out on selling to those who "don't like" guy and are still (or even now, as it would be in my case as I have watched nothing on ABC for 20 years other than ESPN related things) watching. Some would opt out, but not all I am sure. So advertising revenue for ABC would be down. How much? That's an open question...

Secondly, this guy would start railing against ABC for being "unfair." Note: he can be unfair, but no one else can. Unless he owns part of ABC (a distinct possibility, but then it might be some other network or news source that would have to boycott him anyway), ABC could tell him to suck it up, and start saying things less stupid if he wants them to pay attention. But he would be mad, and he seems to carry grudges...oh well, these are the choices our hypothetical ABC executives would have made.

Because the danger of this guy is not what he says, but what others don't tell us about our reality or our world because they are too busy telling us about him. In other words, what are we missing because we're spending so much time on this "American Idiot?" (apologies to Billie Joe Armstrong) I wonder what kind of world we would have if we just didn't listen to such people as this candidate? I wonder if the world would be safer? It would certainly be cleaner...

There is a lot of hopelessness out in my neighborhood, and it is brought about by an almost pathological focus on issues far outside of one person's control. We can't "control" terrorism, misogyny, racism, poverty, or wealth inequality, but that's what we hear about so the world seems so hopeless.

I wonder if we thought about the stuff we could control, would a sense of hope be possible? An alcoholic can't stop drinking, but they can not have the next drink. A white person can't stop racism, but they can turn down the next offer they receive because they are white. In other neighborhoods, not mine maybe, there is some real hopelessness. I mean, if you're being shot at just because you are black, there' not a lot of hope for change...unless the people doing the shooting stop shooting. I wonder what that world would be like?

I wonder about a lot as I live into another season of Easter here in the Church triumphant. Another season of love and hope, and being able to take risks because from death I've been set free! He is risen! Alleluia! (He is risen indeed!) The Christian faith puts all its hope-eggs into just one Easter basket, and so far that's been enough. And it probably will be enough forever...but I wonder, if the Son of Humanity were to return  would he find faith?

He probably would. But not in the media-saturated markets and minds of so many, but rather in the humble, simple folks who understand that there are many worse things than death, and everybody's dying. I wonder how that would go?

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Adding More Voices to the Conversation

Twitter turned 10 the other day. Image result for twitter logo Happy Birthday!

One thing has changed for sure in the advent of social media, of which Twitter is just one of many. The conversations of the world have been reduced to 140 characters. What we've discovered over the past 10-15 years is that most of the issues of the world cannot be resolved in 140 character comments or less. You cannot have justice of any kind in such a world of truncated conversations.

We tried to have those conversations on social media. Cannot be done. One Facebook group I belong to regularly limits who can respond in any given week. That is one way to hold the conversation so that many voices don't get drowned out by a few. Of course, in order for that kind of shared system to work, many must just "listen" (or more accurately, peruse.) That's not a strong suit for some people, usually the ones who dominate conversations.

What I've noticed is that who is asked to "listen" is often those whose predecessors didn't have to listen to anybody. So, your lot in the "ovarian lottery," a phrase financier Warren Buffet uses to describe where and whose your mothers' ovaries are is pretty important to how you experience life, might allow you to be a speaker, or a listener. Probably not both.

So how do you get more voices into the conversation these days? For one, people who have had their predecessors do all the talking have to not talk. (This is is difficult, because in essence it silences a voice. Just because Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Donald Trump are white males does not mean they speak for me as a white male. But if we're ever going to get anywhere I must be silent and smile wryly if people assume because I share some genetic equivalencies with them that I must think and believe like them. Such is my lot in the ovarian lottery.) But it also means that people whose historical voices have been muted and enslaved, must find the courage to speak. And that can't be easy either.

And we have to do this all in 140 characters or less.

My proposal is to make the table around which we speak large enough to include everyone. In my mind there is only one table that has that kind of capacity, the table of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, whose death and resurrection empowers, frees us, to have the courage to listen or to speak. (And at 140 characters it is an "either/or", there is no Kierkegaardian "both/and" available at 140 characters or less.) The table shows no partiality, which is tough for people who have historically experienced the table as showing ONLY partiality, especially to those baptized, but also including any particular ethnic, cultural, or social more that happened to be around at the time. But that doesn't seem to be the intent of the table...even if that is how it has been primarily interpreted for the past 2000 years. Those people were wrong about that.

God seems to want more than just one religion, and we've done a very poor job as Christians trying to understand that reality. God seems to want all voices at the table, and we've done a very poor job of that too. What hasn't been done poorly is imagining who this God is who desires all these voices, all these religions. Christianity has always had a strong minority voice that argues for a God capable of such diverse relationships; and ironically, in some cases, it comes from people in the most privileged, cloistered of our tradition. (I'm thinking here of someone like Karl Rahner.) The Triune God whom Christianity worships is God of multiple relationships. not only in how God experiences the world, but also as God's own life and being. Why a God of such plurality would desire unity of any kind at any level has never been adequately answered by ANY Christian theologian who advocates such a thing. EVER.

Maybe it can't be answered. (It's a mystery.) But saying that then means that those who advocate a God of plurality would NOT seek unity of any kind at any level are well within the Christian tradition to argue for a diverse and plural world. (It's a mystery.) And perhaps one way to get at exploring that diversity is to have historically muted voices be invited to start speaking. And those historically dominant voices to listen, even if we're not PRESENTLY dominant.

I assume there will come a time when someone "discovers" St. Augustine. and doesn't care that he was a male, or an African, or even a Christian, but does care that he wrote such a wonderful understanding of humanity that "our hearts are restless Lord until they rest in Thee." (They may not even care if he's translated into 16th Century English.) Because it is quite possible that Augustine discovered the one thing that does unite all of humanity, and indeed creation itself--a restlessness that is only satisfied in death. No matter who is talking. No matter who is listening.

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

Thursday, March 3, 2016

50 years and just getting started

My favorite musician, by far and away, is Van Morrison. This guy. Image result for van morrison

I remember as a kid, I must have been 10 or so, and listening to Van the Man on midnight FM radio. His music was transcendent. (And remember how the DJs would just play an album? No commercials. No breaks. Just set the needle on the turntable and let the music play. Nowadays with our selections, our playlists, choosing our own sounds to hear, we don't get those surprises of the unknown next track. Find a way to listen to the album Tupelo Honey without interruption or commercial, on a bed, late at night. You will know love.) His sounds were not the sounds I heard the rest of the day. It was a true experience to heat Van Morrison after a day of school and all the noises that went into my day. His music was balm, his lyrics truth.

Over the years Van Morrison has written straight. I find his poetry, imaged with references to Blake, the Bible, Little Richard, and phrases that pepper our doldrums are turned by him into the brightest of music. Here's some phrase we use to talk about how boring, drab, unhappy, and empty our lives are that Mr. Morrison has turned into songs of wonder, hope, and love:
"Days like this"
                  "Keep it simple"
                                       "Bright side of the road"
                                                                 "Precious time"
                                                                                 "Have I told you lately"
He has a true gift.

Of course, like all artists, he has his own take on things that make for some truly other-worldly understandings.
"No Guru, No Method, No Teacher"
                                                            "Into the Mystic"
                                                                           "Celtic New Year"
                                                                                                 "Avalon Sunset"
A gift for melody, and an un-surpassed ear for rhythm and harmony.

I remember back in college whenever anyone wanted to hear Van Morrison that usually meant "Brown-Eyed Girl." I like the song, although Mr. Morrison is not too fond of it it seems, but it did make him kind of famous, so there's that...But there is so much more to his music than that classic. (As a side note, I once sang that song at a karaoke bar, and me and my friends drank free for the rest of the night. Who knew?)

I believe God gifts all of us in equal ways, although there are some gifts that certain contexts highlight over others, and certain personalities can take advantage of to make art. Van Morrison has the wonderful combination of God's gifts to him, his instincts and drive, his context and training, and timing that all go into one person being a Van Morrison making music rather than a George Morrison cleaning windows.

And what's true for Van Morrison is true for all of us. We have gifts from God, we have our instincts and drive, we have our contexts and locations, and timing creates for us our lives too. I think that is exactly why God gave you your gifts, to see what you'd become. You won't be Van Morrison, but you are you, and that's as precious to God as Mr. Morrison or anyone else. Jesus of Nazareth freed us in his resurrection to see that God's gifts are not a contest to win or survive, but rather to share and to celebrate. And Mr. Morrison has been doing that now for close to 50 years. How about joining him, and sharing yours too?

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

"stewards of the mysteries..."

What is a "steward?" Here is the most famous steward I know Image result for gopher love boat That's right--Gopher from The Love Boat was a steward. Stewards are basically people who take care of things, and in Gopher's case that was passengers on the ship. So, in the case of the phrase "stewards of God's mysteries," stewards take care of God's mysteries.

Unfortunately, in many congregations stewards is not a popular term. More often we want to use "disciple." I was once a "Discipleship Pastor" which was the most unfortunate title choice for a Lutheran pastor. Discipleship conjures up images of obedience, law, and regulation, and does nothing to open the mind and heart of ideas of growth, flourishing, and actively participating in the love of God from love. But so be was not my choice...and the position was not one of my best.

But "Stewardship Pastor" I could get into except for one big problem--everyone in congregations thinks of "stewardship" as raising money. That is too bad, as it could mean so much more. It could mean raising money, but it PRIMARILY means taking care of something in someone's place. As Douglas John Hall noted decades ago, this "truncated understanding" of stewardship is part of the reason we are in such a global crisis in regards to our environment. We need the broader definition of STEWARD.
 Image result for douglas john hall His book The Steward should be required reading for all of us Christians who profess to take care of anything. So what are some of the mysteries we could be stewarding? What could you be caretaking?
Image result for rocky mountain elk foundation    Image result for naacp Image result for marriage equality

Any and all of those mysteries could be stewarded....Plus plenty more

Stewards....plant...feed and nourish...walk with...journey,,, and embrace God's mysteries. Stewards are the lovers of the kingdom of God.

How do you steward? Whom do you steward? Where do you steward? (Let's make this verb catch on!)

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.