Your Blog Steward

My photo
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, November 26, 2008

A Day with the Kiwanis

I had a rather interesting invitation yesterday, as I was the guest speaker at the Kiwanis lunch. (They made a scholarship donation in my name--thank you for that Kiwanis.) As it is approaching Thanksgiving they asked if I could speak on thankfulness or something like that. As I got to thinking about thankfulness and stuff, it occurred to me that most of the "stuff" in my life, while appreciated, is not high on my thankfulness scale. For example, I love indoor plumbing, but am I thankful for it??? I appreciate my home, but am I thankful for it? I suppose, in a truly grateful lifestyle, one would be thankful for such things, as they are blessings from God. But in the end, I could only generate enough energy to be thankful for the many people who have been blessings in my life. My parents, my grandparents, my wife, my kids, teachers, colleagues, students, friends...it just goes on and on and on...
I don't know if such a thing is good or bad, but I did appreciate the opportunity to reflect on the people who have meant so much to me over the years. For those who have heard me preach, you've heard many stories about these people in my life...people are the only way I orient myself to God, to the world, and even to myself. I'm horrible about keeping in contact with people after I move away, and I wish I could be better, but I am not...there are so many people I can remember whom I no longer even know where they are or how they are doing...
I remember about ten years ago a retired guy, on explaining why he was able to do things, said, "everyone's always busy, that's never an excuse." At the time I thought he was talking about priorities: how are you going to prioritize what you are going to do? And that may be what he meant...but now I see it less as priorities and more as appreciation...what or who are you going to appreciate with your time available? So many people I've met over my life deserve appreciation by someone, and I pray they have it...
I'm thankful the Kiwanis invited me to be with them yesterday, it gave me a chance to appreciate again some important people in my life...and of all the blessings from God I have received over the years, it's the people I appreciate most. Thank you. Or, as we like to say around this time of year...Happy thanks-giving.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Can you "decide" to love?

I woke up one day thirty years ago intent on finding a girlfriend. What I found instead was something much more interesting...You see, some of the girls just struck me the wrong way. I couldn't explain it, I couldn't think about it, "it" (whatever that is for a 15 year old boy) just wasn't there for some of the girls I talked to that day. But for some "it" was there, and "it" wasn't the girls I thought I would like. No matter how atractive I found them, how sparkiling their personality, I just couldn't bring myself to ask them out...and that night I got to thinking: can I "decide" to love someone?
Now I want to answer that question with a big YES! I want to say that I can decide to love someone, I want to say that I can apply rational principles, common sense, enlightened self-interest, history and tradition, and everything else that goes into a decision in order to love someone. The world works better if I answer yes to that question. If I answer yes than I can think about controlling love, maniplating love, following the rules of love, and even playing the game of love...because love is something "I" can decide for. I decide who to give flowers to, who to invite for dinner, who to listen to Van Morrison with and share a nice bottle of Pinot Noir. The power of our world rests on the illusion that we can answer "Yes" to the question of deciding who to love....
Unfortunately, experience led me in a different direction. In short, I have to answer "No" to the question of deciding who to love. This is not good. This means love is out of my control. This means I have little say in who receives my emotions, my money, and my love. This means all the stuff that we think we have "to do" for love is really just emotional kickback to a powerful surge outside of us. I don't know why looking at my newborn daughters I felt differently than looking at other babies. I don't know why my heart aches when my wife walks into a room. (Sinatra called it some enchanted evening, but he was drinking...) I don't know why, and I don't really have a lot of control over it (I can control my responses, but that's not what I'm talking about.) I don't know why I love the people I do, but I do, and the list is long, and growing longer every day. God has blessed me by putting people in my life that I love (and some I've even learned to love...like my brother!), and the choices I have about them are pretty slim.
For those wondering, this does include Jesus...but in my tradition we have saying that I "cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him. but instead the Holy Spirit has called me," and that probably means you can't decide to love Jesus either. The Holy Spirit will call you, and the love will come, but it's probably not your decision...sorry...because I know you want the responsibility...but we can't have it as that's not how God's love works. It's free, and it's not our decision.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

An African-American President

Barack Obama ended his acceptance speech for the presidency of the United States of America this evening with the benediction that "God Bless America!" To be fair, Obama is such a confident orator (if I had his skills I could have been a preacher) that he probably didn't use the exclamation point...for him it was just a period.
But here it is, the point at which we as Americans get to see how well we do at living out our diversity. I don't really worry too much about that from Obama, as he is probably pretty use to it, but some of us do not have a lot of practice. I wonder if we will use race as the reason for why we do not trust Obama on a decision of his? I wonder if we will use race to critique his style, his family, or his demeanor? One thing I have learned from my African and Asian students over the years is that race is part of a person, but it is not everything of a person...as President-Elect Obama has shown in his drive for the Presidency of the USA, where change and ideas, not race, are his calling cards.
In some ways the USA gets to catch up with the Christian understanding of equality in front of Jesus Christ. Christians have as our calling to live free, without prejudice or bias, for all people who are freed in the cross of Christ. (At one time the Apostle Paul said there is no "male or female, slave or free, Jew or Greek.") Of course, the irony of ironies is that for some the USA is a "Christian nation," but they have never lived out that part of their Christianity which celebrates the freedom at the expense of self-protection. (One of the often unspoken fears about diversity is the apparent threat its makes to our self-security. Diversity does not threaten anyone's self, but it appears that way to some.)
So, with President-Elect Obama we get to live out a world where the freedom we have in Christ becomes the blessing we share with others. It is possible, although I'm not 100% convinced, that P-E Obama understands how God "blesses" America. If he's like me, he guesses that the blessing comes when Americans bless the world...not attack it, denigrate it, disrespect it, or trivialize it...but when we become a positive force for the life God has given the world in Jesus Christ. When we surrender so that others may live, others may receive blessing, when we carry a cross so that our lives show a greater world than we have ever imagined...well, then maybe God "blesses" America...and just maybe our faith is not in vain.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Voting and the Christian Faith

So tomorrow we vote...and it is the United States of America thing to do...but would Jesus vote? I'm not sure, as there really wasn't any chance for him to vote, and he certainly didn't live in a world that valued his opinions and rights just because he was part of the Roman Empire. So we vote, but should we--as Christians--vote? (As Citizens we should, and I will, and I hope all citizens of the USA do.) As Christians of the USA we vote, and as such we vote for those people who most reflect our values and opinions, and if our Christianity is important to us, then not too surprisingly we tend to vote for people who reflect our Christian values and opinions, no matter what they are. Since Christians are all over the value and opinion map, you can pretty much find a Christian who supports and espouses your view of Christianity...except maybe for the Mennonites, but then again, they are most likely to be the Christians that don't find voting particularly salutary.
The process of voting seems to be slightly non-Christian. I mean, voting has winners and losers. Christianity has firsts and lasts, but that's not the same as winners and losers. For example, when Christ says "the last shall be first, and the first shall be last" all of them, first and last and last first are included in the kingdom of God. There are in essence, no losers, just a question of who gets to eat first. Winners and losers exist in a world where some eat, and some don't, and that just doesn't seem to match up well with the stuff Jesus talked about for all of us. Voting, in and of itself, doesn't seem particularly Christian.
So on Wednesday there will be winners and losers. In our race for President one will get to keep avoiding his job as a Senator, and the other will go back to the Senate (as a loser). There will be people wearing shirts saying "Don't Blame Me! I wanted Ron Paul." (You could actually put anyone on that shirt, as my daughter did in 2004 when she made one that spoke for Hillary Clinton. Which, surprisingly, would be appropos this year as well.)
In a world where we vote because we're citizens rather than disciples of Christ is there anything to offer? It seems to me we can offer our communities an opportunity to steward God's mysteries rather than our personal values and opinions. As a leader of a Christian community, I assume most people don't hold the same values and opinions I do when it comes to things like citizenship. But when it comes to things like disicpleship, well, then we tend to be on the same page. We pray for the Spirit to help us discern, we look for the power of the cross to free us from despair, and we trust in the mercy of God for a gracious world. No real voting there, as when it comes to God, it's not a vote...it's an election, done by God, not by us.