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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. 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.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Worship and the Church

Sorry for the delay on this week's post...these Monday holidays will probably get me every time...

For many Christians worship is church. The Orthodox understand that the eucharist (holy communion) literally creates the church here on earth, as a foretaste of heaven to come. But even the most radical Free churchers (those who hold to little more than a shared faith system without the rituals, polities, and procedures of most) see worship as integral to church. So it seems silly to try and start a community, especially a church, without centering it on worship. But this is precisely the road Prairie Table is trying to take. What if you started with a community that eventually got around to worshiping?

Now, many who read this blog are vested in worshiping communities. They have loaded their careers up front to make worship their understanding of church, and to step outside that would leave them feeling abandoned, not only in terms of their skills and talents, but by God's own life and being. So, this approach is not for everyone, and I should confess that I too feel at a loss to contradict almost everything I ever learned in seminary, and most of my ministry career. I pretty much know what we can't do, but what CAN do?????? Mystery upon mystery

Prairie Table is not about proving their is a new way to worship God, but rather a new way to be together as God's children. For example, Prairie Table does not require that one adhere to one way to look at the cross or the other...the cross means what it means as God has invited all of us to carry ours, and to trust in Jesus as he bore his...but we all have to center our lives in Christ's cross and resurrection...Too often congregations use worship as the way to define who we are, rather than to see that worship defines who we believe God is (this is why congregations have to work hard to avoid sexist language for God, unless they believe God is sexist...) At Prairie Table we believe God is primarily about making, re-creating, and sustaining authentic community with God, with each other, and with our own selves. Therefore, any worship we do should reflect that somehow. Even better, it should witness and participate in that community...now that's worship.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Awaiting the Festival of Homiletics

Here at Luther Seminary, St.Paul, MN I am waiting for a festival of preaching to begin in a few hours over in Minneapolis, MN. I was thinking about preaching the other day, not only because it is my job, nor because I'm at this festival, but rather because a friend sent me an essay which he wrote on Cormac McCarthy, and the movie done recently from one of his novels, "No Country for Old Men."
His premise, and one argued well, is that our American culture is flawed in its relentless pursuit of "mammon." Since "mammon" is a theological term, we have here a theological argument. In short, do we seek wealth (the usual synonym for mammon) at the expense of everything else? At some level this seems true...consider...
*Health Care...people are checked out of hospitals, not on the basis of wellness, but on the affordibility of care...
*Energy...alternative energy sources are often not considered on the basis of cost and profitability...rather than environmental protection. (Even now my beloved Rocky Mountain Elk are losing out to energy companies and their need to drill for oil rather than build windmills or solar towers...a tower may ruin a landscape view, but it has much less destruction of the land in the short and long run.)
I have no desire to run out a longer list, but it does seem that mammon is the primary motive and reason for many of our decisions these days....
So our Christian heritage runs against this stream...In Scripture it seems that Jesus never considered the cost of anything to be a motive to act or not act. In fact, if the story of the temple tax is to be believed, he is downright dismissive of money and its effects. So how does the Church respond to this? There is a lot of money in churches, and a lot more to be made.
But here's the thing...Christianity can never be about the money...it can be about faith, people, love, hope, or anything but money...You know in scripture we're reminded that the "love" of money (mammon, wealth, etc.) is the root of all evil. It's the idolatry, not the money, that's the problem...
So that's what we're about...where's your focus? Where's your power come from? As Christians, we hold that God died, and somehow that cross has to be your energy, your faith, your love. That's tough sometimes because who wants to die...? But without it, who wants to live? I wonder if that preaches?

Monday, May 12, 2008

What do we mean by "emerging" church?

In some ways this question is reminiscent of an Oxford Philosophy don of the mid-Twentieth century, but I'm finding it has some traction as a real question these days..."Emerging" seems to imply a process, a movement of some kind. Notice though that the movement (and surely movement is a pun, if not the most applicable description of everything that is the "emergent church") seems to be toward something, namely church. Emerging, like any good gerund, describes a kind of church...But what if you don't know what church is? Does "Emerging" give any clues to that?
Here we have something, at least if "emerging" is truly descriptive of church...What we have is a church that has as its key characteristic not an ethnicity (e.g., the Greek church); nor a theological tradition (e.g., the Methodist church); nor, even a theological motive (e.g., the Four-Square Gospel church); and not even, contrary to many hopes and dreams, a community value (e.g., Community church). Rather, the characteristic these groups adhere to is growing, emerging, processing...which brings to mind some interesting theological questions.
First, we can dispense with "emerging" as a synonym for "innovative." Congregations that do "emerging" things (candlelight services with coffee, for example) are not emergent congregations, bur rather innovative traditional ones.
To be "emerging" seems to imply that--at some level--everything you are today, everything you are doing today--will be different, gone, and maybe even forgotten tomorrow. The "emerging" congregation is the zenith of the temporal church. There's nothing built into the idea of "emerging" that speaks to eternity other than continuous "emerging." (Perhaps this is what Friedrich Nietzsche was hinting at--in a completely different context--with the idea of eternal recurrence?) Of course, if such a notion is true in an eternal sense, then the church has always been "emerging," and all those who have sought to stop the process at some point are going against the very nature of God.
Because-- and here is the kicker, that both the "emerging" church and "traditional" church have to deal with: at some level there is a deep and intricate relationship between the church and the life and being of God. The "emerging" church argues God is continually in process (and Alfred North Whitehead cheers!), while the traditional church argues God does not change much, if at all. Scripture seems pretty clear that God desires church this side of the eschaton (the last day of time as we know it--your theology lesson for the day!) We cannot dispense with church, no matter how much we want to, but what kind do we have? For this, we can thank the "emerging" church leaders and people for bringing to light an important discussion: does God change or not?
All other questions seem pretty tame compared to that one.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Prayer and "Openness to the Mystery"

It should come as no great shock, if you peruse these blogs, that "mystery"is the dominant metaphor I use for God...I've had experiences of God that defy rational explanation...I have heard God come from the most unlikely of people...like Geoffrey Rush's character in "Shakespeare in Love," I don't know how it works out, "It's a mystery."

So with that backdrop my reading this past week has gone into the deepest realms of the mysterious, if not the most difficult...First, I'm trying to read Cormac McCarthy, and he requires time and concentration...lots of it for me...Then I was reading some John D. Caputo (another Google possibility for the intellectually curious). He wrote in "Radical Hermeneutics" (Indiana University Press, 1987, p. 275)"To respect others is to come under their spell, to feel their influence, it is more like entering a field of energy than meeting up with another empirical object."

Although it was not his topic, such a phrase seems like a pretty good definition of prayer.
Like respecting others prayer is...coming under the spell, feeling God's influence...when you respect somebody else you allow them to influence parts of your life...you do things as they do...and prayer is doing things as God does. So how you understand God is how you live under God's influence. If you respect God as love ( a popular option), then God's love should influence you somehow...But notice that God is not some person telling you how to love; rather, God is the energy that frees you to love. God doesn't do the loving for you, but God frees you so that you can love your neighbor (just in case you didn't really want to!)...But if you respect God, the loving will come because you are in the energy field of God (who is love, right?)...

As much as respect is important for prayer, it becomes even more so when we talk about authentic community of any kind...and respect cannot be earned, it can only be given...(I know this flies in the face of most of our common thought, but think about someone like Hilary Clinton. Many people respect her, many do not...but notice she has only done what she has done...so why do some respect her and some do not? It's because whatever she does is not related to whether we respect her or not...even of you think it it, it isn't...we respect her or we do not because we are free to respect her or not...all our other ideas are just rationalizations of why we do or don't respect her, or somebody else, she's just a popular example these days)...so if a community has respect given to its people, the community will thrive, if not...........well, most of us know what happens then...

Prayer is the same way...if we are open to the mystery, then, we are open to respecting the Mystery...which is after all, not an object to be manipulated, but a presence to be lived in...Now, a God who conquers death, who gives that victory to regular ordinary folks like you and me...I don't know about you, but for me that's enough to at least listen every now and then...