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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.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Flooded Prairie

I've been in a few of the congregations that have been flooded out in the "Midwest" as the media calls it...(we folks up here know that as the southern prairie, as we tend to be defined by the land we live on rather than the cities that dominate our "national culture.")...and that is the point here--we live ON the land, as if we are renting it or borrowing it, but we certainly don't own it other than the fences we put around our 40 acres and goats...(Black Angus, whatever...)
As my prayers go out to the people in Iowa, I'm reminded how all this talk of prayer, liturgy, the Bible, and stuff has an effect on how I live...
You see, the result of prayer is not more prayer, the result of liturgy is not more liturgy, the result of reading the Bible is not more reading of the Bible...the "results" (such as they are, and I use the term loosely, so don't get too worked up about the phrase) bear fruit (a better theological metaphor, yes?) in the love I reside IN. Yes, I live ON land, and reside IN love...
If my love for God, my neighbor, or even myself does not increase, get activated, "bear fruit" in some way, then the prayers, liturgy, etc. not been as efficacious as they had hoped...
I imagine that within the next few months I will find my way down to a congregation or two in that part of of the prairie to help out somehow...
Here, as you no doubt have noticed, is where we run into a bit of a problem however. In order to "bear fruit" we often use prayer, liturgy, reading the Bible as talismans to bless our fruitfulness. (in other words, we become supertitious rather than religious...this is dangerous.) So, for example, if I want to be helpful to the folks in Iowa, I use the practices of my faith to help navigate the course...but notice it's what "I" want...(even something postive like this) rather than what God wants...(I hope--at least some of the time--God and I are in congruence!) Rather, the point of prayer, liturgy, etc., is for me to discern what God wants...
Here's a story about that...as a young boy I was out on opening fishing day on Mille Lacs lake in Minnesota. Sunday came around, and most of my fishing camp went to a local church for worship...when I asked why they responded "So God will help us catch more fish." Really? The whole point of surrending to the God of the Universe is so that you get more fish than you already have? Is the point of liturgy to help us win? Win what? Better view from six feet under? So, I have come to realize that I will probably help out in Iowa not because I want to (it's looking like as I discern this stuff that it will cut into my pheasant hunting this Fall...), but because God is inviting me to help out...I'm OK with that...but to be honest, I never saw it coming...(I've never really thought about this kind of stuff before, but I hope this means my faith is growing!) So, why do I pray? Why do I worship? Why do I read scripture? If the last few weeks are any indication, it looks like I do these things so that I can discover what I'm supposed to do...and maybe discover who I really am...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

We "is" the Church!

A pastor once joked to me that he really liked the church, except for the people...Over the years ministry can be a bit wearing on the soul, I guess...
There is little doubt that Chrisianity--as a religion--believes in community...even more it believes that people are created communally as well...Think of the story of the creation of Eve in the Bible...Adam is not complete until Eve arrives...(which is also a souce of many jokes...except the one about men not asking for directions...that's a genetic thing)...You cannot do Christianity alone, it must be lived communally.
At this point, I'm wondering what the relationship is between 2 persons in community? Does it change when a third person is added? (C.S.Pierce, a rather under appreciated philosopher in my book, had this concept of "thirdness," which I've always found somewhat helpful in thinking about these kinds of questions.) What are the rules and roles for persons within community, and how should they be defined?
Unfortunately, most congregations (a religious form of "community") tend to define their roles and rules by something OTHER than the Bible or Christian faith. For example,many congregations hold meetings run by Robert's Rules of Order, which definitely seems to run counter to the thought of someone like Isaiah, or, even, John Calvin, the French reformer who is defined by "order." There are some questions of Christian faith that are not able to be voted upon, so beware of the congregation run by rules of order rather than faith...
The rules of Christianity spring from God, whether formally like the 10 Commandments, or through mercy and forgiveness, such as an informal loving of your neighbor. Now whether your image of God is a law-giver (do this or die!) or of a loving parent (I love you, but don't do that again!), or even of a benevolent care-giver (That's all right, I love you!) who you are and how you behave stems from your relationship with God. That's as it should be...
So when people tell me that I'm not a good Christian because I believe sexual miniorities should have full rights and privileges in congregations, I am not worried (and at this point in my life not even angry, rather, I look forward to talking about it)... I say my belief comes from a reading of scripture, and an understanding of God as a thrice-diversified being, who seeks the inclusion of all the cosmos into God's own life...The rule comes from my reading of scripture, from my living in the faith for these past forty-five years...I do understand that not everyone has the same image of God that I do, and for some, their image of God does not let them believe as I do about such things...But the point is NOT to deny the church because we don't agree...
Rather, we affirm the church because we do not aree...Living in Christ is not about agreement, but about living together in spite of our differences...We "is" the Church, because "we" is me in relation to everyone else...

Friday, June 13, 2008

What is prayer?

Prayer seems to be something Christians do a lot of, and there are about as many ways to pray as there are Christians...but what actually is it? A theologian once said of Adam and Eve that whoever they were, they were the "first humanoids who prayed." (It was Robert Jenson, for those curious.) So let's take that as solid evidence that prayer is important not only to God, but to the entire human condition...in other words, we're probably built to pray...(I know, I know,...the Darwinists among us--myself included--struggle to make sense of phrases like "built to pray"...but truth is truth.)
So if we pray because that is what humans do, or are least created to be capable of doing prayer, it seems to me we should spend some time thinking about what it is, as well as what we do. (The books on prayer are legion--in fact, I'd be willing to bet that almost the first books made of any language are some kind of prayer book--even for those languages that don't have the concept of God--take that under consideration you Wittgensteinians!) Prayer is constitutive of the human condition for most Christians...therefore, it's as optional as drinking water, resting, or having sex...
So...do we pray as if God owes us something? Do we pray as if God forgot something (The great joke Tony Campolo tells of praying for Sister Bertha in the hospital, and God responding "That's where she is...I was wondering why I hadn't heard from her recently!") Do we pray because we are on the last string of the rope, and all other options are exhausted? What do we pray for? Why do we pray for it?
If the emergent church stuff speaks anything, it speaks a way of praying that is decidedly NOT about asking God for anything (even guidance), but rather praying as listening to see if God's about. Mother Teresa in an interview once was asked what she does when she prays. She responded, "I listen." The interviewer then asked, "Then what does God do?" "He listens too," she said. I love that story, as too often prayer is seen as an activity of doing rather than receiving, of trying to make something happen or be resolved rather than listening for the presence of God. To do in prayer is to listen, not to talk...
I've given up trying to say things during prayers...rather, I'm trying to encourage people to listen...just in case, at that very moment, God is speaking. If nothing else, it seems like good manners.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Liturgy and the Bible

This week I'm pondering a thought I read from the late Jaroslav Pelikan who noted that liturgy is trying to make contemporary the sacred text (that is, the Bible.) I like this for a couple of reasons...
First, I love to worship...I'm pretty sure that worship is how I got connected to my faith in Christ, and I know it's how I stay connected these days. Even when I'm up leading a liturgy (liturgy is the ingredients that make up worship), I still experience the mystery of God. I mean, it's hard to explain, but when you've heard a bunch of folks singing "This Little Light of Mine" with passion, it's tough not to get a teary eye or two. I love stopping myself in the middle of the Lord's Prayer to hear 100 people saying "trespasses," (because-- really, who uses that word anymore??). Worship and liturgy is fun for me...
Secondly, how is the Bible making sense for us these days? I mean, in our culture, for example, what does the word "divorce" mean? I challenge you to use "divorce" in a context other than marriage--tough to do; yet, it is a perfectly acceptable English word for break-up of ANY relationship. As when Kevin Garnett was "divorced" from the Timberwolves...(see, I told you it sounds stupid! Everyone knows he was traded!) So I'm going on the assumption that the Bible doesn't make too much sense for us anymore. (I'm watching Russell Crowe's "Master and Commander," and there's a subplot that one of the officers of the ship is cursing the entire crew with bad luck. Just like Jonah says one of the mates. They spend the rest of the time with this story telling us about Jonah--even going so far to have Crowe be handed a Bible opened to the book of Jonah after the officer has drowned himself. I love that kind of stuff in movies.)...Maybe liturgy can help make sense of the Bible--although story seems to be the preferred mode in the Bible itself.
Lastly, I'm looking forward to getting back into worship full bore. It's been about five years since I last was able to focus fully on worship in my life, and that's enough time to re-charge. Prairie Table is beginning to futz around with some worship stuff in one of our groups. If you're interested to see what we can come up with...we'll make sure people know when and where. See you around.