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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.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Money and Churches

I have lost count over the years how many people say some variation of this line to me: "My church always seems to talk about money. I don't like that." This issue seems to have been around since Jesus told the "rich, young ruler" to "sell all he had," and he didn't want to, so he left. This time of year, as most congregations finally have enough money to pay bills, is a good time to review the basics of money management for congregations.

First, learn to add. According to Bob Sullivan of the "Red Tape Chronicles" (one of my favorite blogs, see redtape.msnbc.com) only one in 15 Americans knows how to add well enough to pay the check at a restaurant. Time and time gain I hear congregations imploring people to give 10% (traditionally a tithe for Christians), and offering absolutely nothing to help people know what 10% is. Hence, most congregants don't (literally "can't) give 10%, and the vicious cycle continues. If Sullivan's information is correct (and it comes from our US Dept. of Education), most congregations would improve their stewardship immensely if they did nothing else but offer math classes and financial help to people. I'm guessing some of those 14 who can't do math would actually give 10% if they knew how much that was.

Second, talk about what money "is," not what money does. Nowadays it is very popular to rail against "consumerism" in Christian churches. So I will go to a congregation that implores me to abandon consumerism, but then in asking for money shows me what money can do. How is that not consumerism? Showing me what my money does (feeding the hungry, housing the poor, contributing to "intangiable spiritual benefits") is no different than the millions of advertisements and commercials I see each day of my life. To rail against consumerism and then use consumerism's most potant weapon (advertising) is the height of hypocrisy in my book, and people should abandon congregations for that move. (Admittedly, there are many Christians congregations that are fully aware and embracing of their consumeristic tendencies, and they will advertise away...)

Talking about what money "is" gets to the heart of what Jesus seems to be doing with money in his world. It is, at best, a symbol of power, but whose power? The one who makes the money or the one who makes possible the making of money? Congregations which talk about money in a way that lifts up what God does in the world in order to make money possible seem to be getting at the heart of the matter.

Prairie Table Ministries gets by on the generous donations of many people and other congregations. We thank the ELCA and the Department of Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission for a major funding grant; Faith Lutheran Church, Bismarck, ND for money to help pay insurance, Western North Dakota Synod of the ELCA for adminstrative support, Legacy (formerly First) United Methodist Church, Bismarck, ND for space to gather, and for the countless people who offer time and energy to our community. Like most, I suppose, we don't have as much money as we want, but we seem to have all we need...didn't Jesus say that? Happy New Year, may wealth and prosperity...sorry...may God's vision be your guide.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Incarnation

I've always liked that Bethlehem means "house of bread" in Hebrew. (Learning that almost made my years of Hebrew wothwhile...and that includes passing out during a final exam once!) There's something about having the Christ child born in a town named for "bread" that is wildly comforting out here on the prairie.

And, as you know, we make a big deal about tables, and out here in the prairie there is no table more important than a kitchen table. Out here, if there is a dining room table, we bring the cookware out on it, and make it a kitchen table...we love kitchen tables that much. At the kitchen table, of course, you get all the dinner preparations. And this time of year is famous for its dinners...

And this little baby in a manger is born into a world that likes dinner. Unlike gods, we humans have to eat (and, as Homer constantly reminds us in his stories, we are "slaves to the belly.") And God, in this case, arrives into our world as the food we eat. Partaking precisely in the gracious love of a God willing to live and be as one of us, we participate in the reality of God's eternity. This comes about, as we on the prairie are fond of saying, not because we participate in eternity, but because we eat the bread; that is, the body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

And this time of year we take that metaphor all the back to the beginning of our Lord and Savior's days on this planet, back to his birth in a manger (the table of cattle), back to the "house of bread," Bethlehem. Christ-mass (another meal term) celebrates a God who holds nothing back...a God who longs for human hope, human possibility to live and eat in the kingdom, not only here in history, but in eternity as well. MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Caramel Apples and the Christ-Child in a Manger

I love the taste of caramel apples. I cannot stand to eat them. I remember as a child losing a tooth in a caramel apple once, getting all sticky from them, sometimes dropping the caramel, even having the apple fall off the stick. About 30 years ago I swore off caramel apples...but I still like the taste.

I was reminded of this as someone gave me a caramel apple-flavored candy recently. I REALLY like that taste combination! I had a shot of "caramel apple," a home-made North Dakota concoction that tasted just like a caramel apple...you couldn't even taste the Everclear...I like the taste even then...But they are so hard to eat in their traditional caramel-dipped, apple-on-a-stick form...too bad.

I wonder if this isn't how we feel about God sometimes? We like God and everything, but God is just so hard to understand and handle, so hard to appreciate, that we don't even bother with God for most things. We like it when people take our God and make it palatable by giving us sentimental "bookstores" that pander to the taste without the effort or work to understand the "peace," "joy," "hope," or "love" that are stenciled on porcelained figurines. Just like I like the caramel apple taste, but won't eat the caramel apple, a lot of people seem to like God, but won't try to take God in all of God's power and shame on the cross...

But then along comes Christmas, and we domesticate God once again, this time trapped in a baby, bawling in a manger, with a mother asking why didn't anyone bring us a crib? Christmas loses itself in the cheap commercialization of "Reason for the Season" signs, and huge stars and Christmas trees perched high atop businesses who just want to "witness." It's just candy, just a liqueur posing as the real thing...and it has no more to do with God than the chemically-contrived tastes mimicing apples dipped in caramel have to do with the real thing.

Just before I sat done to write this I resolved to make a caramel apple this Christmas...I will even make my own caramel (it's not too hard, I've done it before...I even add some cayenne pepper to it for a little "zing.") My hope is as well that I can do the same for God...and take in all that God is, no matter how much the struggle, so that the taste remains with me forever. Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Family and Friends sharing plan

This is the time of year to eat sweets. We host two open houses a year: one in June, one in December. People like to bring food to share (we are Prairie TABLE, after all), and our Summer solstice party gets a lot of salads, and a couple of pans of bars. The Winter solstice party, on the other hand, brings out the cookies, candies, fudge, cakes, pies, and you-name-it concoctions of traditional ethnic Christmas recipes. (My hunting friends also bring along a sausage or two...) I love both of them, but I find it curious that when our days are short (we are getting about 8 hours of sunlight a day this time of year) we eat sugar, and when our days are long (we get about 16 hours of sunlight in June) we eat salad. As I said...curious...

Although we love to celebrate the joy of Christmas, it can be a melancholy time for many, especially those who have lost loved ones, or those for whom someone will not be around, possibly for the first time. It's been seven years since Chris and I and the girls have celebrated Christmas with any of our family...and we haven't been with Chris' family for probably twenty years. (Not that we haven't been well-taken care of by an adopted family or two, so don't feel sad for us, we have it made...all the benefits and no in-laws!) But we see all the marketing and publicity for family this time of year, and it really doesn't do too much for us.

Family for us isn't as much a question of blood these days as it is a question of sharing. We receive so many warm wishes and thoughts, so many gracious offers and invitations, that we are overwhelmed most of the time. I suspect this is a little different than what Jesus had to go through on those first years of his life...I suspect he was part of a large and intricate set of family relationships that shared out of blood and out of necessity. But when his life was over, at his cross were his mother and one of his friends...all the shining stars, holy nights, shepherds watching, angels caroling, and cattle lowing were all gone...there were no magi, gifts, or silent nights...I can imagine for Mary that first Christmas must have seemed so long ago that day...

But her Son didn't leave her bereft...he turned to his friend, and gave him his mother to be his mother, and he turned to his mother, and gave her his friend as her son...talk about a Christmas gift...on that day the man fulfilled what the little baby promised...we are all in this together as children of God.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Food, Thanksgiving, and Detroit, Michigan

Did you know the city of Detroit has no grocery store chains or big-box stores that sell groceries? ZERO! (see the on-line magazine Guernica, August 2009 for details of a new use for a city.) Detroit has about 300,000 people, and they are no more closer to a grocery store than the folks in a town like Dar Es Salaam. In other words, if you live in Detroit, you might as well be in a third world country. (But a country that would have a world champion professional hockey team, as well as three other professional sports teams, and be the home to one of the largest employers in the world--GM.) But you wouldn't have a grocery store nearby.

When you think of places that don't have food for thanksgiving, do you think of Detroit, Michigan, USA? When you think of places that don't have enough quality food (like fresh meats and vegetables) are you thinking of the neighborhoods around the Joe Lewis arena? I know I don't. I remember when we lived on the south side of Chicago, and we would drive 10 miles one way to get to a grocery store. (We had local coops and such, but gas was cheaper than milk in those days, and money was scarce.) But at least we had a grocery store. I'm not sure I can wrap my mind around something like this. Detroit? No grocery stores? Really?

Food is important, and at Prairie Table, as our name implies, food is what gathers us. The celestial food of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, but such a food only makes sense if the food that nourishes our bodies is part of the equation. Jesus of Nazareth spent a lot of his time feeding people, and of the stories we have about him the food ones are some of the most memorable. Once, for example, he fed 5000 men, plus the women and children, when all he and his friends had to share was five loaves of bread and a couple of dried fish. We're not sure how everyone "was satisfied" as the story goes, but I'm willing to bet it involved someone sharing something somewhere somehow. Maybe that's why we give thanks to God this time of year, not because we have stuff, but because God shared with us the food and drink of life: God's own son. And that's true even for the folks in Detroit, although with no grocery stores nearby, I wouldn't blame them if such a gift is tough to receive.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Thanksgiving Break

DUE TO THE THANKSGIVING HOLIDAY, PRAIRIE TABLE MINISTRIES WILL NOT HAVE SOUP AND BIBLE OR LATENITE WORSHIP THIS WEEK. HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!

An end and a beginning

The last week was a little strange for me as I started by leaving for Minneapolis to be at the funeral of my best friend's, and longest friend, mother. I did not have a lot of aunts and uncles around when I was growing up, and Barb was often an adult who offered advice and humor (mainly sarcasm, as we were teenage boys) to our schemes and plans. The week ended, however, with another friend getting married, and a party in which the couple seemed genuinely happy. Like most of life...we just trundle on...

I ran into a woman though who wondered if I was worried about the end of the world. A new movie has come out in which the world is supposed to end in 2012. (Just my luck...right when the kids all leave the house, God ends the world.) But I don't really worry about that though. Here's why.

First, our own unique worlds can end at any time...an ill-timed step off a curb, and the bus becomes the last thing you catch...an inadequately masticated piece of beef, and the taste of death is upon you...in general, death does not worry me. But the main reason I do not worry much about death--my own or the world's--is because I realize my life is not mine to own. God made me, God owns me, and God has to deal with me. (Not easy, as my children can attest to.)

Because my life is in God's hands, its length and vivacity are not concerns of mine. God is good enough for me in this life, and God will be good enough for me in the next. (Thank you for that Joe Sittler.) So I enjoy as much of this world as I can...whether it's a good bourbon, or a healthy hour of exercise with Chris, or even a planning meeting with a council...we try to enjoy the beauty, and serve the people, and the world around us.

I can't remember my beginning much...and who will I tell about my end? I figure if anybody knows that, it would be the guy who died on a cross 2000 years ago just so questions like that can be answered...because the purpose of life is not to worry about death and destruction, but to live...at the beginning and all the way until the end.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Asking the Obvious Question

I can remember the day as if it happened just yesterday...

My colleague and I went to lunch at Pizza Hut. Of all the times we went to breakfast or lunch, this is the only time we ever went to a Pizza Hut. So we are sitting in the booth, and the waitress comes over to take our order. Mike, looking up from the menu, asks her, "Do you ever get to church?"
The woman looks down at him, and smiles back, "No, not too much anymore. I used to go when I was young, but not since then."
I was struck by her response, so I asked the obvious question, "If I may ask, how old are you now?"
"19."
Mike handed her his card, and said, "We'll have a large pepperoni, and you should stop by our church some Sunday. We try to have fun."

Since that lunch about 19 years ago, I have always tried to remember to ask the obvious question when meeting people for the first time. My brother's wife ("What do you see in him?"); potential employers ("What do you want me to do?"); potential employees ("What are you good at?"); my daughters' friends ("Did you know I know a lot of cops in town?"). And, of course, when I find myself meeting new people I usually get around to asking if they've been to church recently. The age question is optional.

One of the things I've always appreciated about Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, is his penchant for not being embarrassed at asking obvious questions... Who touched me? Do you want to be healed? Why are you coming to me at night like a bandit?... Unless he was completely obtuse, he must have known those answers long before he asked the question...yet, he asked, and somehow people trusted and befriended him. Maybe that's the secret to relationships, the power of relationships...to ask the obvious question...not because you need to know the answer...but just to show you care.

Monday, November 9, 2009

"She put in all she had..."

Now, one might think from the title, that this going to be a story about poker...an "all-in" bet of sorts...but those who know their Bible, know something else about this phrase...and it just so happened that I saw it once...long ago...in a big-city congregation I once served...

Another pastor and I rotated preaching on Sundays every other week...she was one of the most gifted preachers I've ever had the pleasure to hear...and her words at times were some of the most poetic musings on life and God...but it was my turn to preach, and I looked up and saw a few rows back from the front a friend of mine who was visiting that day. He had recently received a promotion at his law firm, and we were going to have breakfast after worship...on him. (He did get the big raise after all!)

Now, sitting next to him was a woman whom I knew pretty well. She had been a widow for these last twenty years, and she was a retired school teacher, and her health was not so good anymore (she has since died.) Anyhow, the worship service went as planned, and my friend joined me in my office as I was arranging things for the week, and Chris and the girls were getting their coats. He leaned into me and said, "You know Scott, I got kind of embarrassed at church this morning."
"Why? Did you forget to cross yourself during the benediction or something?" (With many Lutherans that's always a hit-and-miss type thing.)
"No. It was during your offering. All I had was 20s."
"OK." (Nothing to get too committed to here, I had two daughters and was starting a family, all I had in my wallet was debt.)
"Well, I gave you a twenty, but I felt embarrassed, so I kind of slipped it under the other envelopes."
"Why, be embarrassed about a twenty?"
"Well, it's sort of over kill, isn't it?"
Here's where it gets interesting. You see, unless you make less than $200 a week, $20 isn't overkill. It's average. "Did you see the woman sitting next to you?"
"Yes," he said, and by my tone I'm pretty certain he knew he was in for a lecture. (I am known for that.)
"Well, I know for a fact that she's eighty-six, retired school teacher, and that every week she puts a $100 bill in the offering plate. I'm sure when she saw your twenty, she wasn't embarrassed for you, she probably felt sorry for you, and if she was stronger she'd have probably invited you to lunch because you obviously couldn't afford it."
My friend nodded, and in apology reminded Chris, and me, and the girls that lunch was on him. As we entered the restaurant, I whispered to the girls to be sure and order dessert...

Living with the God of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit is not about how much money but about how much heart you have...and as I learned long ago from Maybelle, in the end it's only your heart that matters to God.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Aspired Life

Last week Paul Manz died. Unless you are hooked into the highly specialized field of Church music, the name nor the man might not mean much to you. But he did mean something to me. In the course of a half-hour, he once taught me what it meant to praise God. Not bad, as I had a whole bunch of other teachers over the years try to teach me that, and they were not as successful. Here's how it went...

We gathered that day for class in the Board Room of the seminary, usually reserved for meetings telling us future pastors how to behave. As we entered, Paul Manz sat at the grand piano in the middle of the room. By this time in his career Dr. Manz was already a famous church musician, composer, and conductor of sacred chorale and organ music, and as Church Musicians go, he was about at the top in Chicago in those days. But most importantly...he was rather vertically challenged.

It was always interesting to be in a conversation with Dr. Manz because for all his energy and passion, he was never the tallest, even though he was often the highest respected, person in the group. So there he was, legs dangling from the piano bench, and inviting us with almost Jim Carrey-like enthusiasm to have a seat around the piano. He began to play one of his compositions, and a few of my classmates who knew the piece started singing along. (It wasn't Bob Dylan or Van Morrision, so I was not privy to the lyrics...not that I ever understand lyrics from Dylan or Morrision!) After a few minutes of explaining music to me, he taught us a hymn, entitled "It Happened on that Fateful Night" set to the tune of "Bourbon." (And yes, that is part of the reason this is one of my favorite hymns, Dr. Manz nonewithstanding.)

What I learned that afternoon about choral music and hymnody changed how I listen to every piece of music, from Morrison and Dylan to the Eagles to Frank Sinatra. Because music is not just about what it does to the listener or the musician, what it means to the writer or the composer, music is about what it aspires to...lifting the troubled soul, celebrating another year in a life, caressing a grieving heart, connecting a melancholic spirit in the presence of God...those are the gifts of music...and I learned that from Dr. Manz.

Thank you, Dr. Manz, and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. Requiescat in pace.

Monday, October 26, 2009

After almost a month away...

Did you miss me? I thought not...



I hit a huge writer's block, which shouldn't make a difference in the world of blogging, but for me it did...Granted, I had a lot of pressing things, but still...I've let the swine flu "emergency" slip by with nary a word of sarcasm...(OK, tell me this...if we all know that using that "sanitizer" stuff just makes for stronger strains of flu bugs, how is using tons of that stuff supposed to help in the long run? We need a little dirt on our lives to make things sutainable!)



Anyhow, I've spent the last month talking MISSION MISSION MISSION! We research it at the seminary where I teach, we are training seven congregations up here in Western North Dakota about it, and we are using the Eagles to help us see how God as it work in the world in our LateNite Worship at PTM. Now, there is not a lot of agreement on what "mission" is, but there are some signposts that the people I've run across recently seem to use. (We use them here at PTM too, but perhaps that's why I hang out with these people?)

But yesterday traveling along the coast of Maine, I found myself in York Harbor. If there is a more perfect Maine coastal town, I'd want to see it. There, in front of the lighthouse, a young couple was being married. (Now, marriages are part of my business as a pastor, so I was interested!) A couple of people wandered around taking pictures, a minister was standing there talking as the breeze blew his silver hair all over the place, and the couple was smiling ravenously at each other. The other 150 people at this park were just doing their own things. Painting pictures, taking pictures, snuggling with a lover against the sea breeze...What caught my attention was just how run-of-the-mill this was. No one, except the couple, seemed to care that a wedding was taking place. People were polite and all, avoiding getting in the way of pictures and whatnot, but no one seemed interested, and the couple did not seem interested in having us be interested in something as significant in taking on a life-partner. (I understand this may be an example of the famous New England taciturness, but really...)

So I left the park knowing there was another married couple in the world, but the people of world did not seem to care...that's why our time together at Prairie Table can be so important...we are a group of people committed to caring about couples, about important events in people's lives, about the stuff we most of the time just walk by. I hope everyone who reads this has a group of people who care about them, and for whom he or she cares about. If you don't, and you're near Bismarck, feel free to drop by, and meet some folks who may just be, down the road, taking pictures of your next big event.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What's a Heaven for?

My neighbor Julie stopped me on my way to the mailbox. How come heaven is so kitchy? (I'm not actually sure how to spell what she said.) What do you mean, I asked?
"Well," she said, as she leaned on her rake, "every time I see or hear something about heaven it's so trite or old-fashioned. It's like all our ideas about heaven are stuck in 1842. They just are so stupid."
"Are you suggesting we should have some pictures of Ipods and some stories about heaven with people driving around in hybrids?"
"Yeah," she jumped in, "anything that would make heaven someplace I might actually want to be a part of. Every time I see or hear about heaven it's so old-fashioned, with lots of stupid pictures about angels and harps, and old Norman Rockwell pictures hanging on the gates. It's just dumb."
Now, Julie, who is a graphic designer for one of our local companies, is big about design. Her house is beautifully decorated, and what she does to her yard--unbelievable! I can see where she is coming from, as every time I hear something about heaven it is usually a bit...dated, shall we say?
"I suppose. Heaven is to be something we strive for. It should be about our wildest dream, our most hoped for ambitions. Heaven is about the best God makes us, the best God calls us to live." I put the mail under my arm, and started for the door.
Julie started pulling some thatched grass from her boulevard. "Just remember Scott," she called after me, "Best has never been the same from year."
And, if that's true, then neither is heaven.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Few Thoughts on "the Christians"

I had barely gotten settled onto the barstool, when Gar, my favorite bartender, challenged me with a question. "How come Christians are so angry these days," he asked? "What makes you folks so pissed off?" (Sorry for the language, but Gar is a bartender...)
That is an interesting question...
First, are Christians angry these days? I suppose some are always angry, as Christians are people, and people are always in conflict one way or another. I asked Gar what he was talking about.
"Well," he said, "some guy came in here last night saying if we didn't stop sinning we would all go to hell. And he wasn't pleasant about it."
I can imagine anyone who walks into a bar shouting for the sinning to stop, and invoking hell on the sinners might not be a pleasant person. "But that happens all the time, why did it bother you so much last night? As opposed to the other 1000 times?" (Gar's bar is located within 300 yards of four different Christian churches. He gets this every now and then.)
"I don't know, Scott. He seemed so self-righteous about it. It just ticked me off."
"So really," I mused, "it's the self-righteous thing you noticed, not his anger?"
"I guess."
Here's a way that you can tell Christians apart: any Christian will tell you if we don't change our ways things are going to get worse...but the real Christians are the ones who while saying that know THEY are the ones who are sinning--- just by saying that. (In most of Christian scripture, judging fellow humans is sinning...judging is God's prerogative only. By the way, me using the word "real" in the last sentence makes me a sinner...but you already knew that.)
I smiled over at Gar, and started texting. "Who you texting," he asked?
"My insurance agent. Apparently, there's gonna be a fire."

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Day at the Renaissance Festival

Have you ever been to a Renaissance Festival? Either it makes sense to you or it does not. Basically, for those who have not experienced one, a Ren Fest is street theater where anyone who walks through the gate is a player on the stage...even if the stage is 80 acres. I've been going to them for years, since my college was about 30 miles from a large one located south of Minneapolis, MN. A lot of my friends from college and high school worked the Festival, and so I would go to hassle them...and to meet girls.
When we moved back to Minnesota after living in Chicago, (Chris and I once went to one in Wisconsin while in the Windy City), we started bringing our girls, and they are addicted to the Renaissance Festival. Now, every year about this time, Rachel, Maddy, one of their friends and I pile into my truck and drive down there for a day (this is a seven-hour one-way committment) just to be part of the show...

I don't go to the Ren Fest for the history (there is very little, and what there is provides fodder for jokes. Shakespeare is the bathroom tissue of Ren Fest street theater.) I don't go for the art, pottery, or wooden bowls. I do like the honey there though (and speaking of honeys, for those of you who are single, the Ren Fest is a feast!) There is little sanitation, although the "Men Only" bathrooms gives males in our society an unique sense of entitlement, and the food is a constipatory nightmare...especially for those post-forty. (To note: this year I had, in order: a orange glazed chicken breast on a croissant with coffee for breakfast, a beer, a falafel sandwich and diet coke for lunch, a bread bowl beef stew for second lunch, a beer, some honey mead and chicken wings for a snack, and a beer. Even with the falafel I am still not regular...) I go to the Renaissance Festival to see something unique...and I saw it this year. Aske me about Johnny Phoenix or the Tortuga Twins sometime...preferably with no children around.

That uniqueness is what we Christians call "revelation." As God revealed God's own self in a bush to Moses or on the cross of Jesus, those "revelations" speak about who God is, and what God invites us to do. But you can't plan a revelation anymore than I could plan to see female pirates dressed in pink and black plaid mini-skirts, or belly dancers in chain-mail lingerie.

For Christians, the revelations of God speak to a larger purpose, to a broader vision, and to being part of a larger plan than our own usually mundane, pedantic lives that seem to trap us in futility. Jesus, as the revelation of God, gives us a broader vision to be part of, a larger world to walk around in, and more people to wonder at...which, like those of us at the Renaisance Festival, is all we could ask for.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What is the Purpose of "Scripture?"

(I know a lot of my blogs recently have dealt with reading...but it's what I do, and people have questions...especially if they have never thought about reading. Apologies for those who want to hear about something else.)

I wrote last week that "Scripture has not convinced me..." and people asked me what I meant. What I mean is that what I read in the Holy Bible does not seem to indicate to me that gay sex goes against God's will for humanity. Scripture has not made its case. It is too ambiguous on one hand, (anything against gay sex in the New Testament); and, fulfilled by Christ on the other hand (i.e., Older Testament). Since the only argument I have heard against gay sex is that it is against the will of God according to scripture, and since I'm not convinced by scripture on this topic, I have no reason not to accept gay and lesbian people who may have gay sex. (I assume gay and lesbian people have gay sex, but it is only an assumption...I have no empirical proof.) I have heard from many people who do not agree with me on this, but I have found something interesting in these conversations. I've gotten into the habit of asking this question of my Christian brother and sisters: If gay sex wasn't mentioned in Romans 1, would you still disapprove of it?

The purpose of Scripture, it seems to me, is to expose our relationship with God, and for Christians, how that relationship feeds into our relationships with the rest of the world. So scripture carrying the story of a God whose love runs so deep as to die on a cross for its profundity exposes the ambiguity of the loves which dominate my life. A scripture that reveals an insistent exposing of greed at the expense of community questions the excesses of my life. Scripture does nothing for me in this regard to gay sex...(the people mentioned in the Bible who practice gay sex have no relationship with God...God has given them up...the gay Christians I know have actually been claimed by God in baptism...what does gay sex mean in this case?...Hence, the ambiguity I mentioned above.)

I pray that when I read scripture I am open to how God (not the Bible, please notice) is around me, by me, with me as I walk and journey through life. I am a Christian because of what God does and did as a First Century Jew...Scripture is just a way to remind me of that...not because it is "true," but because it is the only place where that story is told.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Some Possible Responses to an Impossible Situation

You may have heard that the denomination Prairie Table Ministries is part of (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America-ELCA) recently discerned that gay and lesbians who are sexually active can, in certain circumstances, be rostered leaders (usually pastors) in congregations. As with this issue nationally, irrespective of religious concerns, this is not unanimously accepted. There are many people who believe sexually active gays and lesbians are behaving contrary to the way God wants them to behave, and so gays and lesbians have been denied, up until now, to be leaders AND sexually active.

There are a couple of things that have to be said, sort of to clear the deck, before I can go much farther on why or how my denomination came to this decision...
* Throughout most of its history, and even now, the Christian Church has not dealt with homosexuality in any positive ways. The most common response the Church does is sort of a "Don't ask, don't tell" type policy. The worst, at least for homosexuals, is ex-communication and death.
*The ELCA currently allows gays and lesbians to serve in congregations. They just cannot be sexually active. This is true for single, heterosexuals as well. They can serve congregations but they cannot be sexually active. (The biggest difference, of course, is that in 44 states of the Union a heterosexual can get married if they wish to be sexually active. Such an option is not available to homosexuals in most states.)

That is the current situation in which these decisions were made. So the decisions allowed us to expand out current policy to include as rostered leaders gays and lesbians in a committed relationship. ("Committed relationship" is language we use because in most states gays and lesbians cannot be "married," and for some reason we didn't want to use the phrase "sexually active." Although, that IS what we are talking about. In my experience people who do not like homosexuals do not like them because they are loving, trusting, caring, generous, or creative...they do not like how gays and lesbians have sex. It's the sex that's wrong.)

Because for some it is the "sex" that is wrong, anybody who practices that kind of "sex" is wrong, regardless of how loving, caring, creative, tender, judicial, or perfect a Christian leader they are. God in this case is against sex that is not a man and a woman...and there is no way to get around that.

Yet, that is precisely what it seems that my ELCA denomination did...I will not pretend to analyze all 550 people as to how and why they voted to break with long-standing tradition in Christianity in order to allow gays and lesbians to be leaders AND sexually active...but I can tell you why I don't have a problem with this...

First,I don't think "gay sex" goes against God's will for humanity or creation. I know that sex is powerful, almost drug-like, and that like anything if it gets obsessive it takes you away from the wholeness God intends for you...but if it's the only sex you have once, twice, three times a week (or for those in a committed relationship once, twice, three times a year)...you're probably OK. Scripture has never convinced me that gay sex runs contrary to God's will...mostly, because Jesus never seemed to address the issue...but then again, did anyone ever ask him? (I can just imagine, say, Philip going to Jesus and saying, "What do you think about what those women in the hovel over by the well are doing for sex?" "Shsss," Jesus says, "Don't talk about that. And John, don't write that down!")

Secondly, communities have a need for authentic leaders. People need leaders they can relate to...leaders who can make them see the larger picture, and in this case, who and what God calls them to do and be...Here's the thing: can you be authentic if you spend most of your time hiding or ignoring your sexuality? We have a congregation out here on the prairie who a few years ago had to have their pastor leave because he was sexually active with his partner, and he didn't want to lie to his congregation. The congregation loved their pastor, even when they found out he was gay, and they petitioned our ELCA to let him stay...but he could not. So, rather than leave his partner (we do not have gay marriage out here in North Dakota), he left the congregation, he left the ELCA, and he is now a pastor in the UCC, who have allowed sexually active gays and lesbians in committed relationships to be pastors for the last decade or so...So I say let's drag sexuality out of the closet and into the world...Oh, wait...Hugh Hefner did that sixty years ago??? Well, better late than never, I guess...

I imagine one of the most effective congregations the ELCA could have would be one where the congregation is pro-gay and the leader is not, or vice versa. Imagine how closely they'd have to work together in order to keep each other accountable? They wouldn't be able to assume anything, they would be in open communication (not hostility I hope), and they would be required to admit on a daily basis that agreement between congregation and leaders on sexuality is NOT a requirement for ministry and mission in the kingdom of God. What a great congregation that could be.

Enough for now...there's lots of talk already, and I want to listen to questions and concerns people have. Perhaps, I will offer some more thoughts later from what I've heard. I know there are many who may read this who do not agree with me on gay sex...but I trust that our agreement in the Christ of God, Jesus of Nazareth, as our savior far outweighs any differences we may have. Blessings.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Debt,Tithing, and Generosity

Recently, (August 14, 2009) I read an article in the on-line magazine Slate which debated whether it is better to pay off debt faster by no longer tithing to a church. Now, the article was not a theological article, it was about money management, but I found the author's response to "Debbie" interesting. Basically, while admitting that "Debbie" and her husband would no doubt pay off their debt faster by using the money from their tithe, the author advised Debbie to consider what benefits she received from the tithe. Cost-Benefit analysis is the standard fare of money managers and their on-line articles, but a theological point should be made as well. This is where I might offer a suggestion or two.

First, what is the problem with "debt?" Most of us consider debt a problem because it limits our options in the present or future; that is, money we spend on debt cannot be used for food today or food tomorrow. So regardless of obligation, there are quality of life questions that enter into our understanding of debt. Many of us avoid debt simply because it limits our ability to live well in the future...the present is how most of us got into debt in the first place. (One of my favorite people says that if she could ban one thing in the world it would be giving college students credit cards!)

Although tithing may have "intangible, spiritual benefits" most people tithe out of a committment or, in reality, a relationship. As someone who garners most of his income from those who tithe (or at least give charitably), I have found that the relationship I have with someone is a better indicator of those "ISB"s than anything else. And here's something to know: any generosity I show is often matched by others. It's like paying for dinner with your best friends...each passes and each pays with the event, sometime you pay sometimes she pays, and accounting is not kept. (I suspect that relationships in which we keep accounts are probably not our most fun or favorite relationships.) So in reality what religion cultivates is not money management, nor, obedience to a tithe...no...we cultivate relationships...

We're not Don Corleone here, holding favors as a substitute for relationships, but rather trusting that if we take care of some now, they will take care of us later...in this case...with debt, it's now our turn to take care of that credit card company that took care of us when we "needed" a new TV, a new transmission, food for the week, or that get-away to the Berkshires...Sounds weird to think of it that way, but a relationship is a relationship, even with a bank or card service company...(don't get me started on the interest...perhaps we should learn to pick better friends??)

But regardless of whether you use your money to pay down debt or to tithe or some combination of both, the question pressing on us at Prairie Table is whether this is going to affect our generosity or not? Can you be generous and pay off debt? Or, can you only be generous when you give away your money as in a tithe? How does your generosity affect other parts of your life, like how you spend your time, or how you treat others? It seems to me that Christ came into this world to celebrate generous and courageous people. People who would take risks...people not afraid to let debt affect their relationships with others...people who understood that money, in the end, is not God's way. So if you tithe (10% traditionally for Christians) or give charitably, do not forget to be generous as well. And if you are generous to the point of bankruptcy, well...maybe that day of Jubilee will come when debts are to be forgiven...after all, Christ died a beggar...to my mind the most generous one the world has ever seen.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Trundling On...

It has been a hard week up here on the prairie...we've had a lot of death recently, and sometimes she just catches up to you...and time has come...and gone...in a heartbeat.
I had a funeral for a woman whose cancer ravaged her body in a few short months...requiescat in pace. A young man committed suicide, and left three small children...there are no words for that pain...a man younger than me had a cancer that took his life in eight days... 8!....Who comprehends at such speeds?...Another young man, twenty years younger than me, loses his life in a car accident...is there no justice?
So we have struggled a bit to find solid footing amidst all this death...but somehow, as our thoughts turn to the Fall harvest, the ending of a productive time, we sing and dance a tune of hope...how? Why?
At some level it may be a coping mechanism to believe there is more to life than meets the living...maybe it's an illusion so grand as to be a facade (pick all the rock album titles in that line!)...but maybe...and this is a big maybe...it is true...on some level at least...that God who yearns for life, yearns for beauty, yearns for us...and that longing does not die just because we do...because the yearning comes from a God who lives...a God who aches for us to live too...and who aches when our hearts ache...when we trundle on...in a world where friends die...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Taking What the world hates

In a world created by God, (a key point to understanding Christianity by the way. I am one of those who believes God redeems the world so that God can create the world), you have to take the good and the bad...and most of us struggle with this at some level...no one wants the unwanted, the folks left by society at the side of the road...they are clearly wrong, right? That's why we left them behind? But for us Christians the world is not so simple...

Christianity gets itself into a lot of trouble by taking on unpopular people...(and we should always be about people, not "issues," but we often forget that point)...We befriend those who have taken advantage of us, our friends, our neighbors...not even because we want to or even because we have to...mostly I think it is because we know that but for some lucky bounces our way (a good parent, a trusting friend, a faithful partner, a loving child) we too would be on the outside looking in...We want to attribute any success we have to hard work, dedication, intelligence, pluck, whatnot...but the reality is such that we are all always just a heartbeat away...it was true when we were three, when we were thirty, and will always be so...(I've yet to do a funeral for someone alive!)

Our God blushes with the splendor of a good Chianti, urges us to heights of trust and discovery, calms us with whispers of promise and tomorrow...is it enough in a world of brutal hunger, devastating cruelty, pervasive cynicism, and distrust? Perhaps not...but it is all we have...the open hands of a loving God.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hanging Out with People NOT Like You

It is a truth universally acknowledged that we like to hang out with people who are like us. It just makes things easier. The other night I was with a group of people 25 years younger than me, and it was not easy. First, cultural references are completely different. I could not make the young men grasp just how much Farrah Fawcett changed TV...they only watch TV shows where women are in bikinis...they found her hair distracting...and the music? Don't even get me started! I refuse to succumb to the idea that you can jump on the Bob Dylan bandwagon just because they sang "Blowin' in the Wind" on "That 70s Show!" No. One must earn one's Dylan appreciation through patient listening, and often asking "What was that he said?"..."Blonde on Blonde" is not a porno site on the web...people really!

So for two hours or so I just sort of sat back and listened to the world pass me by. The ten or so young people I met that evening will be the cornerstone of our little city, the engines of commerce, and the deliverers of our goods and services...I'm OK with that. You see, one of the things I've learned from Jesus Christ is that the future is never too much to get worried about...precisely because that is where Jesus came from...The kingdom of God not only is the future of this world it is the home of Jesus of Nazareth...(He was truly a dual citizen.) So I don't mind hanging out with the future...it doesn't frighten me...the past is really not worth saving (why I can never be a "conserve-"ative)...That's why I like to hang out with people who are not like me...they force me to trust my God...and I got to listen to the Kings of Leon...they're not Dylan...and that's sort of the point.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Mission is the mother of all theology!

The nineteenth Century German theologian Martin Kahler is the author of the title of this post. As old as the quotation is, it still has traction for me these days. However you wish to define "mission," the importance of the concept cannot be underestimated. Mission is what God is and by extension what we are about as God's people. How are we stewards of that ministry?



Mission is the sending promise of God into our world, and for Christians most notably in the sending of Jesus Christ as the savior of that promise. The question always is, in one form or another, how are we that promise in the world? Perhaps a story...a young woman lives her life trying to "figure it out." What she means by that, we all know...how do I fit in? What are my gifts? Where are my passions directed? What are my interests? These questions are all fine and important but there are others as well...like... Who do I connect with and why? Where do I discover acceptance and hope? How do my days sustain the planet? My family, My friends? My self? (And for the theologically inclined: My God?)

I have the privilege to be part of a world that allows me to sit around and help people parse out the knots and tangles of our lives...I am graced by the generosity of so many to be able to talk with and walk with people as they discover the promise we all have from God...My mission, such as it is, is to be that ambassador of reconciliation, not only between people and God, but people and people, and even a person and his or her own self...Living that mission empowers me..."mothers" me so to speak so that I have the courage necessary to start up a conversation with a stranger, to accept the quirky on its own terms, and to be so bold as to suggest another, still more excellent way...the way of forgiveness, love, and promise...the way...of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Can Jesus Help?

Right now, according to the reports I hear, Christians all across the political spectrum are re-evaluating their orientations towards "the Bible" (the liberals) and "the poor" (the conservatives). It is always good I suppose to evaluate one's relationships to the two great commandments (to love God and love your neighbor.)
One of the things we've discovered at Prairie Table is that community takes time, and most often involves someone sacrificing their self-dignity in order to get the conversation rolling. But notice what happens if you make the commitment to this: you are going to get uncomfortable at some point. Someone at the table will not agree with you, and now what are going to do? Translate that experience out over a week, month, year, and soon you discover that disagreements are pretty much all we have in common. So whether liberals at Riverside in Manhattan wonder about how much Bible you need or conservatives in Orange County about how to engage the poor everyone of them will be uncomfortable at some point, if not all the time if our experience is paradigmatic...
For us the discomfort we experience is only understood and lived through because we trust our neighbors and take heart from a God who once wandered around in the same spot: Jesus. When we read stories about Jesus we find that he was probably always talking to someone who made him uncomfortable...always talking with a God who couldn't be pinned down...always trying to make community.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Mid-Summer Hiatus--July 15-23, 2009!

Prairie Table Ministries will be on a mid-summer break (bowing to our Scandnavian MidSommer heritage?) from July 15-23.

Ministries will resume their regualr schedules July 29th and 30th!

Learn lots, have fun, and stay in touch.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tables and Talking: The Heart of Prairie Table Ministries

A book that is hugely seminal in my theology and thinking Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America has the line: "Neither the structures nor the theology of our established Western traditional churches is missional." (p.5) What was so important to me in this--at the time--in early 1998--was the part about "theology." I already knew the structures were hopeless (if you've ever tried to decide anything in a congregation with Robert's Rules of Order you know how bad the structures were for mission and God), but the theology piece was new. How could the church have lost its "theology," that is, how it thinks and acts in relationship to the God of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit? Isn't "theology" always just there, so to speak, how did the congregations I grew up in lose this?

Let me illustrate one difference, and perhaps how this theology could have been lost. It is clear that the 1950s in this country (the ten years after WWII) were an aberration for Christian congregations. People were pouring into congregations in unprecedented numbers, and ministry programs that didn't even exist starting showing up. (Youth ministry, for example.) It took people to run those ministries, and so leaders of ministries began to be seen as administrators of programs. Well, you administrate enough programs, and the next thing you know, leadership is no longer about bringing the message of God to people, but rather ministry leadership is about running programs for congregations. By the time the 1980s had rolled around, and those programs were no longer needed, the "structures and theology" were lost for being missional for God in the world.

When I think about things for us to talk about a Prairie Table I go way back into Christian history. I go 100, 200, 500 2000! years back to get to a point where missional theology was not lost. We don't have the structures to worry about...we have no programs, and groups are pretty flexible...so we talk. Surprisingly, the Christian church has always excelled at talking. The stories of the earliest congregations are stories about people talking. And the talking (theology) has always led to doing God's work in and for the world (the structures). We have been talking now for a while, and we have a bunch of tables...which may be all the structure we ever get. For the next year we will seek to live out of those tables as missionaries, so that the talking can continue, and so that we can participate in the life and being of God.

Monday, June 29, 2009

My Parents got a cell phone! My daughters are ecstatic!

This past Saturday my parents got their first cell phone. While not unheard of for Senior adults to have cell phones, my parents were a bit lagging on this piece of technology. (No doubt my father thought they were just a "fad," and would be out of style by now.) While my parents are just learning how to program speed dial numbers, my teenage daughters have had cell phones for years. (In North Dakota, teens can drive legally at 14...cell phones come early out here.) On top of this rather blessed event of connectedness in our family, comes a study that says the youngest and oldest of our generations are more at opposite ends than ever...that is, whatever my parents are about my daughters are about the exact opposite...(I didn't really need a study for this...I just needed a family dinner. When my oldest daughter was 12 she called her grandparents "Amish," because of their refusal to get a computer...I can't wait until my folks get broadband!)

Of course, church consultants like to say that local congregations are the last places in this country where 4 generations can gather together on a regular basis...although in my experience this is not true. (Large congregations tend to be segregated by age...every age group gets its own minister, and smaller congregations tend towards homogeneity by virtue of the fact that young people often do not show up...so many congregations--although they have the potential to bridge generations--do not, but rather exacerabate the problem with specialized programming and generation-based worship.) But even if congregations do have multiple generations in their mix, what do they do to help them live together? (I remember one time in a congregation I served I wanted to do a video history so that we could begin to work on this issue...it was not well-received. The history would be one generation, the video another.)

At Prairie Table we have the option of being a bit mingled, although we too often succumb to generation "tables." Every now and then we get a mix, and the stories are great, and the generations learn a bit about some of the folks in other groups. At Prairie Table we'd like to see all gaps lessened, age, sex, gender, race, everything that culture wants to divide we want to unify. (Not "unite," we're not building a coalition here.) We take seriously that God wants us all to be one, but not by erasing our differences, but rather in sharing them, and just maybe, we'll get one group to learn how to text on their new phones...and another how to quilt...but whether you text or quilt, you're connecting, and that's what God is all about...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Generosity of Reading

I remember a few years ago when I discovered that the philosopher Paul Ricoeur had died. I felt a sadness that transcended the miles. (He died in his native France.) Now, I never met Dr. Ricoeur, but I had to deal with him all the time because he was my teachers' teacher. (Looking at my bookshelf right now, I realize only Paul Tillich and Martin Luther take up more space. Interesting. I hadn't realized that...)

Anyhow, Ricouer encouraged us to bring a "second naivete" to our reading, and this includes reading the Bible. Although there is a lot to this, one characteristic I would like to highlight is the generosity such a reading position generates. If you approach a story, parable, poem, or chronicle of the Bible with the awe and wonder of a child, of someone for whom the Bible is a place to live within rather than something to critique from the outside, you bring with you a generous spirit. For example...

In reading the story of Cain and Abel you find a world where things are ambiguous and confusing. Why does God like Abel's gift more than Cain's? Why is this the story told about them? Where does Cain's wife come from? There are lots of questions a critical reader can ask. But what about the world in front of that story? That world that draws you into it, as a child might be drawn into the closet of Narnia? (Don't think C.S. Lewis didn't know his literary theory!) Perhaps you might set this aside, in what S.T. Coleridge might call a "suspension of disbelief," and accept the story for what it does to you?

Do you want to call that brother or sister and tell them you love them? Do you want to hide from the accusations that perhaps you did not take care of your family? Do you want to die because there is no hope anyhow...until God marks you as one of God's own...Do you want to give up on a God who is so arbitrary?

It seems to me that the Bible only makes sense as we are shaped by the God whose story it tells. Are we open to God's mercy? God's judgement? Are willing to let hospitality and graciousness guide our days over the legal and deterministic operations of culture and nature? Reading in this way does not dominate a story, poem, parable, or chronicle...reading in this way accepts the generosity God has shown humanity throughout the ages, throughout all people, and even throughout you...Our prayer at Prairie Table is that God's generosity not only finds us, but defines us in all we read...and all we do.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

On reading the New York Times

Every now and then I buy a New York Times and read it page-by-page. (I realize the way the newspaper industry is going these days, I may have to find a new hobby.) So the front page is about the new Roman Catholic Bishop, and some of his struggles. One is the closing of local parishes in and around New York City. In congregations there are not enough people to keep them viable, and in places like Manhattan, it would be more profitable to sell the property than to keep the community. It seems some of the parishes don't want to close, and so people worship on the sidewalks, and hold prayer vigils for the churches, hoping the diocese won't close their community. OK...sign of the times.

However, a couple of pages later there is an op-ed piece by a young, former ad executive who lives in Manhattan, who laments that since she has lost her job she has no one to talk with anymore. She even rents space in a "pretend" office in order to get some camaraderie into her life. OK...sign of the times number 2.

If I get this right, here's my summary: you have one group of New Yorkers saying "Don't close our community, just because there are no people," and across the street you have people saying "If we only had a community..." Really? No one in New York City can figure this out? No one cares enough about the irony to do anything about it? Where is "Sister Mary Clarence" when you need her? One of the things we try to do at Prairie Table is provide the community and the people with a place to gather...a place to connect...a place for camaraderie. Unlike many other churches we do not make you worship God to connect with people, but rather use our connections with people to worship God. We may close Prairie Table someday, but our camaraderie will live on, not only with each other, but most importantly with our God.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What does it mean to "read" the Bible?

I suppose there are as many ways to read the Bible as there are people who read it. Reading is a personal experience, involving one's history and learning, and since everyone pretty much has an unique history, the reading experience is often unique too. Most of the time that does not bother us. When we read a classic work of literature like Whitman's Leaves of Grass, we often want to hear how other people experience that work. Even reading the newspaper or a website becomes more interesting when others notice details and connections we may have missed. But somehow...for some...when it comes to the Bible we want everyone to agree that a passage only means one thing. We want to point to some literal or allegorical meaning that a Bible text is about this or that, and any other interpretation is twisting scripture to fit our purposes, or a rationalization, or an uninformed view.

The question that interests me is why do we all have to agree on what a particular Bible passage means? What does it matter if we do not agree? Is God threatened by a diversity of intepretation? Does the death of Jesus have less power because we intepret its story in various ways? Is the Spirit in danger of losing track of people who do not get the Bible one way or another? I find this push for a singular meaning in the reading of scripture to be baffling...What is the point? I cannot believe that a God who died in order to deliver on a promise to humanity to live forever is befuddled by a plurality of interpretation of that event...or any of the stories or events that lead up to and from it...

The God that inspires me strives for beauty...for the power to live and die in a gracious breath...the God that inspires me stretches my mind beyond the pain to the grace of a relationship unfetterred by human chains...The God of the cross, crying for the love of people, inspires me to use my imagination, to seek the unfound, to discover the hidden, and to search for all that is possible...As the poet Robert Browning remarked, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, else what's a heaven for?" Or, even reading?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

In Seattle no rain, just Beauty

I just spent 8 days in Seattle, WA. It never rained...it was only cloudy for a couple of hours total...We spent four glorious days on Useless Bay on Whidbey Island (thank you to Catherine and her friends)...three days wandering around downtown Seattle at the Northwest Folklife Festival (there were more people there than we have in our State!)...no rain...just beauty.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the rain of our lives that we ignore the beauty...rain itself is beautiful...but sometimes it's just rain...We've all heard some version of "stop and smell the roses" on our busy journeys of life...but they are busy...they are journeys...and travel requires some vigilance, and good weather always helps...no rain, just beauty.

At Prairie Table Ministries our tables along the way of someone's spiritual journey are a respite from the bad weather, the storms, the rain, the incessant heat that overpowers our desire, and saps our energy and strength...we try and pause for the beauty...a lyric of music, a wisp of scripture, a smile, a handshake, a listening ear...the beauty of the handiwork of God.

Many of us at PTM have been involved in congregations and church work for most of our lives...the other half...not so much...But a good conversation hears grace from one voice and promise from the other...no rain, just beauty...

If only we could we would always live in the garden...clean, fresh, open, and embracing...the garden wet with rain...promising beauty.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Table Along the Way

Wow! PTM was invited to a meeting last month in which we were encouraged to be part of a new "Mission Table." This Mission Table is part of a new way to bring missional outreach into our area of the world. I couldn't say no.

So we are sitting there trying to think of biblical and theological metaphors for using table ministry...wait for it... wait..............................there you go. After I'd referred them back to all the blogs on this site, I started to rattle off a few other things I haven't gotten around to writing yet. One of the folks stopped me, and said..."Listen, Scott, we just heard about this "table thing" five minutes ago. You've had two years!" So I went and got a coffee...

Actually I have been using table imagery for ministry pretty much ever since I started. In our tradition we have two sacraments (baptism and communion), and I always gravitated more to the communion side for its sociological and relational aspects. Communion clearly involves other people than you and God, baptism is not necessarily that way...Anyway, for whatever reason, communion has always been central to my ministry and theology...(it is no coincidence that I wrote on the Greek Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas for my dissertation...his major work is called "Being and Communion.") Since I have been so captivated by communion, I have thought about tables and how God uses them for us for a long time. Way more than 2 years!

One of my favorite metaphors was taught to me by my teacher Patrick Keifert. (If you have never met this guy, you really should. He's brilliant.) Anyhow, he suggested once that a metaphor for congregations could be a "table along the way." That is, congregations could be a resting point or theological guidepost for people on a spiritual journey. You wouldn't stay at this congregation for your whole journey with God, but the congregation would provide a place for you at a certain stage in your journey. Prairie Table is very much a "table along the way."

At PTM we do not expect everyone to be part of our conversations and ministries forever. We are built to have short-term relationships. (There is a core of us who are addicted to conversation and God, but we realize most have the sense to get out and do ministry.) So you might only be with PTM for a year or so...maybe less, maybe only 2 or 3 weeks...but that's OK. You might be a member of another congregation...that's OK, we don't have membership, so there is no conflict of interest...You might be searching for an established congregation...(we don't really work for those folks...some people just need a bit more structure)...But if you need a place to discern where you are in your journey with God, we are there for you. You need some communion with others who are struggling with their faith...we're here...You need some people who will pray with you, celebrate with you, mourn with you in a time of crisis...we are here...At PTM we are just a table along the way...Your way...God's table...and our blessing to be part of that journey.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A New Focus for Prairie Congregations

Pretty much any book or article you read these days about Christian congregations begins with how things have changed over the years...and how congregations have either adapted or not. The ones that have adapted or are in the process are very excited about their future...those that have not...well, not so much "happy" about the future...
Such a situation leads one to believe that you have to change in order to have a happy future...and, since many congregations and their people do not wish to change (surprisingly, for many this is a theological virtue), well, you get the picture...

**A note on the theological virtue of staying the course past irrelevancy into the grave: A man whose job it was to teach people to program computers told me he liked his church to stay the same all the time because he needed something in his life that never changed. God, he decided, was the immovable first mover, therefore, no change! I believe there are many people who believe God does not change--which by the way is not Biblical in any form. In the Bible, God keeps promises, and some people interpret that to mean God doesn't change...God changes all the time, that's how God is able to never break a promise...Anyhow, since many people believe God doesn't change, to risk change in your faith life, or to accept change in your local congregation is tantamount to denying God, and most people don't want to risk that...Hence, for reasons of salvation, most people don't like to change their religious practices...this is why the church is always a conserving institution.

So what is a congregation out here on the prairie to do? Since we want the best for our kids we get them out of the small towns we are in as soon as possible...we would like them to come back...but, we understand there are more options to life in places with more than 300 people. So we just keep going through the same old, same old, believing there is no use in complaining because no one would listen to us anyhow...Like lighthouses made irrelevant by GPS technology, the congregations of the prairie will suffer a similar fate...except for one difference...God is not done with the prairie...

If God is not done with the prairie (and do we imagine God is sitting in a boardroom in heaven saying, who needs the prairie? Meadowlarks don't vote, and grass doesn't pay taxes. Let it sit!), then how can the congregations on the prairie be done? I think the green revolution has something to say here. What if the ministry of a prairie congregation was not directed to the people who lived throughout its region? (remember, in North Dakota, we have counties that have less than 3000 people! Take that you urbanites with your 5000 household apartment complexes.) What if the ministry was directed towards the land, not the people? What if congregations saw their primary ministry as stewardship of the land rather than an ad-hoc social fellowship or service agency? What would it mean for congregations to be responsible to how God wants to serve the prairie grass rather than the prairie people? This idea is pretty radical, but it has one outstanding feature to commend it...people would matter again.

In my experience with many prairie congregations the people matter only as much as they contribute to the survival and maintence of the congregation. What if they mattered as they contributed to the survival and maintenance of the land? Does God want large-scale hog farms? Is the world better if we drill for oil in the Bakken shale? These are legitimate and important questions that congregations that see their ministry primarily to the land would have to deal with. (And, as a theologian I have no preconceived answers to these types of questions, but they should be asked somewhere other than this blog!) People would matter as stewards of land rather than as caretakers of buildings...and maybe people would get energy and hope from sun and crops? I don't know...

Us congregations on the prairie need to re-think a lot of things, and perhaps the first thing we should ask is: why would God want us here? And...since we have more prairie than people, just maybe...the answer is there.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

We finally get to Love

The final prime value we mutually agreed upon for Prairie Table is "love." Now, no one word has received more attention, thought, and creativity than that word...ever. This blog can only add to the confusion if it tried...so we'll leave it undefined for now...But the interesting question is why would a group of people, who have only been living and working together for about nine months, discern that God calls forth "love" from this community? What is it about love that keeps Christians searching for it? (Even in a church basement with a bunch of strangers on a windy evening in April!)



I wonder if we search for love because we rarely experience it or, more frequently, are never sure we participate in it? I suppose this is a variation of Augustine's phrase "Our hearts are restless Lord, until they rest in thee." There is a certain "restless-ness" to love that continually pushes and pulls on the soul-strings of our lives...the rhythm of our hearts beats like drums, with words of love flowing off our tongues (thank you Rod Stewart!)...but there's a fleetingness to love, an illusion of profundity that vanishes into broken promises, failed relationships, and frustrating ambiguity...



So we seek it out wherever and whenever we can...maybe like my 20-30 year old friends at bars and clubs searching for one whom love can shine on or through...maybe like my 40-50 years old friends searching for ever new ways for love to spring forth from long-time companions...or even my friends over 50 (I'm sure I have them, but all my senior friends seem so young!)...who search for love that will last 'til the end of time...



I have been blessed over my life to love many people and to have many people love me back...some relationships have been for only minutes...others a lifetime...and what astounds me still to this day is how there is always room for more love...our capacity to love (at least to this point in my life) seems limitless...just the other day I was thanking a friend (he's a long-distance runner) who spurred me on a few months ago to increase my exercise routine...he was shocked...why would you listen to me, he asked? I figured you weren't lying to me, and it turns out you were right...Now, that kind of love that looks out for a neighbor rarely makes headlines, plots of movies or vampire novels...but it is the love that weaves the fabric of our lives...it is the love that comes from a God who so loved the world...and even died...so that love does not.



No wonder we all agreed on "love." In the end, it's all we are...

Monday, May 4, 2009

Authenticity and Integrity

The second value of our community that we discerned together came about in a rather unique way. Our two tables, mutually cooperating and in friendly competition, came up with almost an unanimous selection: authenticity for one group, integrity for the other. They are, of course, two sides of the same coin. Whether you prefer to describe the value as "authenticity" or "integrity" probably has to do more about when you were in second grade than anything else. However, for Prairie Table, the value carries a lot of meaning...

Authenticity is more of an active verb, a word you can do something with and actually do. You can "authenticate" something (I'm reading Dan Brown's Angels and Demons again in preparation for the movie coming out soon. There's lots of authenticating going on there.) When you authenticate someone or something you are trying to establish its genuineness, its trustworthiness. Authenticity is the activity of being genuine and trustworthy. For those of you who have been in second grade in the last 30 years or so, you recongize this as THE most important value we have ever been taught. (I did 2nd grade in 1970!!) No matter who you were, you had to be genuine, had to be "true," had to be authentic. Not surprisingly then, authenticity becomes a prime value for the younger folks at Prairie Table.

However, at Prairie Table we also have a few folks that went to second grade even earlier in the 20th Century...now those teachers taught the same value, but they called it "integrity." Integrity is a characteristic, and as such it is a bit more passive and quiet about its trustworthiness and genuineness than authenticity, but it gets at the same thing: what makes someone honest? Genuine? Trustworthy?

In terms of God this becomes quite an interesting dichotomy...Jesus is "the real thing" (to borrow a 70s slogan of authenticity), while for others he is the embodiment of the way to God (that is, he has integrity, to borrow from the 1940s theology of Karl Barth)...and in each case Jesus is the trustworthy friend (integrity) or guide (authenticity) to life with God and God's creation...Now you can begin to see why this value is so important to us at Prairie Table...

It not only functions as a prime sociological value (we pretty much assume everyone is going to be honest in their sharing...except for my constant jokes...such as they are...), but authenticity and integrity are prime theological values we hold for God. So we worship God because we see God as the authentic one or as the one with integrity...but in each case God is the one who is trustworthy, genuine, "true" for all of us...and we hold to that value so that we too might receive the benefits of such a life...and note this: we don't receive the value because we hold to it, or even because we want it...we receive authenticity and integrity because it is given to us by a God who is authentic and the very body, crucified as it is, of integrity...

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Family Supper

Last night at our Thursday Late Nite worship we were able to discern a few values that God has brought into our community. Here's what so astounded me about what the Holy Spirit was able to accomplish last evening: 21 people, in fifteen-twenty minutes were able to agree on three values for our community...Amazing! (I've known four people to spend an hour trying to decide where to eat lunch.) Interestingly, even though they were able to speak of three values, taking into consideration the thoughts and experiences of each of us..."cooperation" was not one of the values. (This leads me to believe there are two kinds of values latent in every community: one kind, I'll call the "centering" values, are those that center a community, and gather it in a particular time and place. The second set, I'll call them "operational" are values that arise from the practices of the community. "Cooperation" in this case is an operational value. What we were discerning was "centering" values.)
In my experience, most congregations spend little time on centering values. What usually happens is that some creed, liturgy, list of fundamentals or something carries these values for congregations. However, no creed, liturgy, or list of anything is value-free. Therefore, the values espoused by most congregations are so culturally-laden and context-driven that they speak more about the congregation's agenda than the value itself. What I mean by this can be seen in a value we discerned last night: "Family."
For most congregations, family carries with it the cultural overtones of USA in the 21st Century. That is, most Christian groups that espouse family, have as a value a CERTAIN kind of family. The generous congregations amongst us, allow for different kinds of families, but nonetheless, the value is often not "family," but the "certain kind" of family. What is ironic is that they claim to have "family values" without actually valuing "family."
"Family," for Prairie Table is not just a Dad, a Mom, and 2 kids, but rather a value. How family is a value is precisely what makes Mom, Dad, and the kids irrelevant to family as a value. That is, what makes "family" is trust, cooperation, listening, patience, love, care, and concern, etc. Because for Prairie Table "family" is a communal virtue (a nod to our Roman Catholic readers, and Thomists everywhere), it is irrelevant to us what the family looks like. So, for example, the single people could affirm the value without demeaning their familial status. The married heterosexuals could affirm the value without glorifying their current familial status. And although last night we did not have any non-traditional families who regularly worship with us, if they carry the value of family they are part of our community. Remember, we seek family as a "value," not a set of "values" based on a certain kind of family. If a group of people, gathering around love, trust, cooperation, mutual accountability, etc, participate with Prairie Table, that group demonstrates family as a value.
Because Prairie Table does not make someone fit into a certain kind of family in order to be part of Prairie Table; Prairie Table can hold family as a value without reducing it to a liturgy or list of "things we believe." Because, as astute readers already have discerned, "family" is just another word for "relationship." That is, relationships that are filled with trust, cooperation, love, care, concern, mutual accountability, etc. is "family." Prairie Table is always about relationships, and last night the Spirit of God proved it to us again...it's almost as if we were family.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Power of Doubt, the Power of the Cross

This Easter I learned something new from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: only the humble conquer death...which is good for me because I am not a big fan of death...I know I am going to die, but I find obessing about it a bit distasteful...so I am trying to avoid death for a while at least...
I've lived long enough to know that trying to keep God up in heaven, and us humans down here is a sure way to keep the devil winning...Jesus taking on human death, even death on a cross, stopped the devil in his tracks...(Once, as the devil now knows how to build on that hubris too, and witness all the ones crying God's Word Alone!! From which they mean God is up in heaven and us humans are down here, and if we would do what the God up in heaven would have us do...the world would be a better place...and now you see why the devil laughs. Ha!)
Does it bother you, dear reader, to speak of the devil as if the devil really exists? Is the devil like Santa, a nice Christian fiction that keeps the kids entertained, but certainly not for us adults? Is the devil like evil...so bad you can't even mention it? Wasn't it old Screwtape who thought his greatest trick was getting people to believe the devil doesn't exist? (I really don't know...and what blogger actually researches? Put the answer in the comment section, if you know.)
OK...so we have a Christ freed from history....(this is the power of the Spirit)...but a Christ firmly entrenched in history....(this is the power of the Cross)...and we have our human culpability to distrust everything...(this is the power of doubt)...and the pride to pretend we don't.
DOUBT, n. & v. 1. a feeling of uncertainty, an undecided state of mind. 2. an inclination to disbelieve. 3. an uncertain state of things. 4. a lack of full proof. (v). 1. feel uncertain. 2. hesitate to believe. 3. feel uncertain or undecided. (Thanks Oxford!)
No wonder so many Christians fear "doubt." Our salvation is in jeopardy! Our decision might be seen as wishy-washy, and God will spit us out...we must not doubt! We must be certain! We must die!!!!!!
Doubt is not the issue with Christian belief...any Christian without doubt is not much of a Christian...Any Christian who claims to "know for certain" what God has revealed reveals their lunacy more than God's revelation...Doubt is the freedom to live...freedom to risk what is not certain for what is...Doubt is to undecide to live for the other rather than your own personal needs and gains...Doubt is to grant the other the freedom to be right...and you wrong...and you OK with that...For me, if you don't doubt God there is no point in being certain about anything else...except one thing: the cross.
Be certain that Jesus died on it. Be certain that you will die too...(hopefully not on a cross...) Because in the history of the world as I know it, the cross of Christ is the only thing that makes the doubt bearable...the only power that conquers doubt...A God who gets out of heaven to die like us...down in the world of doubt and the devil.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Name is Just an E-mail Address with Ancestory

Over the years we have received an almost universal query when we give our e-mail address: huh?

It has suffered the slings and arrows of derision... as well as blank stares... and cursors that won't cooperate (She says over the phone, "That's "B" "E"?--"NO! "T, as in tough, not "B" as in bodacious!" I reply.) But once you know our e-mail address, you know our e-mail address.
We've had this address for over 17 years now, and although our host servers have changed, every time we've ever asked for this address it's been granted immediately. (I know few of you believe that.) So why change? Long-time e-mail friends have come to expect the non-sensical, sequential, but middling address to be stuck forever in their contacts, and which they have to block as junk mail.

***Historical Note***When first choosing e-mail addresses we were advised that they were to be kept anonymous and opaque so that the technology could not infiltrate your life. Twitter that!

So the "teal" comes from the color of a car we had, and my favorite color, especially when the blue is highlighted in it. It's also my favorite duck...I'm not kidding, I have a favorite species of duck, and if you've ever eaten teal as opposed to other ducks, you will know why...both the green-wing and blue-wing (they are the common ones around our area) are beautiful creations of God. So...color...duck...beauty...first part done.

The "456" is because "123" seemed presumptuous. "789" seemed defeatist, and we're theologians...and theologians always have a hard time with "first" and "last." I mean, the last are first, and the first are last, but sometimes when you're last, it seems like first, and sometimes when you're first you're so lonely as to be last...and Jesus never mentions the middle. So...we played it safe. "456" might not get the best seats, but we won't be in Standing Room Only either. (Granted, there's always a chance for an obstructed view up there in heaven, but you tend to get more leg room with those seats, and you're usually closer to the bathrooms...) Second part done.

And there you have it: teal456@... is our address. And to all our friends who have by-passed decent drinking games in order to ponder what the TEAL "realy means"...it's just a color...or a duck...it does not stand for "Theologian Extrodinaire At Leisure," nor "Theology Excepted, Alcohol Lives!" nor my personal favorite, e-mailed back to me years ago by a mortgage banker who was Jewish and had to type in my mortage application the place I worked (Resurrection) 1000 times, and every time he mistyped it, explaining that the word is not familiar to him... who suggested "Torah Enough. AL"
(For those wondering, I took "AL" to be a shortening of God's name from El Shaddai...either that or it's God's nickname on the bowling team...)

E-mail addresses, like the names we carry, all come from somewhere, and it's not so surprising that some of them are a bit wacked here and there...what is surprising is that God knows them all...whether colors, ducks, mortgage bankers or friends, God calls all of us by name.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Decline of Christianity in the USA

Jon Meacham of Newsweek has a pretty good article on some recent stats involving religious involvement in Christianity in the USA. Pretty much 25% of people, centered mostly in the Northwest and Northeast parts of this country have no interest in Christianity...Meacham concludes, and I think rightly, that America is finally starting to live out the dream Madison and Jefferson had for this country 200 years ago. Note that still 3 out of 4 people are Christian in this country, and that is no small percentage, however, at the rate of declination from the past 20 years, by the time I am dead (hopefully about 40 years from now) Christians should be in the minority in this country...
The question for us Christians is this: is this a good thing or a bad thing? Or, another way to ask this question, is it God's intention for everyone to be Christian? (Or, at least like Moses and other Jewish people have some kind of ancestral relationship to Christianity?) Is that really what God wants?...
One of the things I find interesting about Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, is that he had a large following, but they way he did it was so simple...he healed people, fed them when the were hungry, and had compassion for them, which many experienced in his stories and speeches...He never added any laws, rules, or regulations to his religious followers, but rather asked them to take seriously the ones they already had..."I have come to fulfill the law and the prophets, not abolish them..."
He didn't attract people through laws...he didn't do it through miracles and signs...(although many people wanted him to do it that way, and apparently thought he could)...yet when Christians today try to atttract people to Jesus we often choose laws, miracles, and signs...the very things HE rejected...
This is why ministries that seek to attract people to Jesus are ultimately doomed to fail...even if they "succeed" for a few years or even decades...they cannot sustain because they are not the way of God in Christ Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit...God calls people by mission not attraction...We are called to sustain and steward the world through mission, not manipulate it through attraction...
Congregations often get this wrong...They try to "attract" people to their ministries by being relevant, or offering something people "need" (like child care or events for senior adults)...they use worship to attract people rather than engage people...and that might work for a while. People might find that need useful...they might find that worship lively...they might find themselves discovering God as if for the first time...and those congregations might grow, but it cannot last because it is not the way of Christ, not the way of God and the Holy Spirit...
What Christians celebrate this week is a way of suffering (the via dolorosa, the "road of sadness.") But here's the thing...according to those recent polls most people don't want to celebrate sadness, don't want to acknowledge the truth of the cross, the power of suffering to transform death into life...so they don't...and Christianity declines...to me the amazing thing about the USA is not that there are less Christians than before, but that there are actually...
any at all...

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Gospel before the Law and sandbagging

In our never-ending quest to add to the theological knowledge of our readers, we present Karl Barth. (Admittedly, not a theologian I use a lot, but as he may have been the single most important theologian in the first half of the 20th Century, he should at least have a mention in one blog!) Anyhow, Barth is credited with switching the order of law and gospel to "gospel" and law, and for better or for worse we live in that legacy.
What this means for you and I is that God speaks a word of grace before God's law, and if you think about it, that makes sense. Creation itself is a gift (i.e., grace), and only after creation "is" can the law be offered. It just doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to make a law, and then make something that has to follow that law. So, we see where Barth was coming from on this idea....
But, and this is a pretty big "But," what if the laws were first? For example, what if gravity came before dinosaurs? (By the way, this is why Barth was not a big fan of natural theology, it could get in the way of hearing God's Word of grace.) That is, what if a law--say "To love your neighbor" comes before the neighbors who do the loving? Here's where Barth was smarter than us...
Barth saw a phrase like "To love your neighbor" as a gracious word, not a law word. We don't have to love our neighbors...it is not a law...we get to love our neighbors...it is grace. It is a gift to be able to love our neighbors...
Up here in Prairie Table land we have had a lot of opportunity recently to love our neighbors. The flooding (Bismarck was the place that used dynamite to blow up an "ice dam" on the Missouri river...great way to make national news...and Fargo keeps getting more and more snow on an already flooded river basin...) But people band together, love their neighbors, and help out as they can. We don't help out because we have to, but because we want to...that's grace, not law.
For example, a few of our senior adult couples, most of whom cannot shovel or sandbag much anymore, have opened their homes to extended relatives so they can have a place to stay. Some have put off a vacation, others, just gave them the keys to the house...again, not because we have to, but because we want to...
There is never a convenient time to have a natural disaster, but there is also never a more convenient time to show how much grace you have...and how little the law constricts your heart...The grace of God in Jesus Christ is all about outstretched arms and bleeding hearts...we call that love. We call that the gospel.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The "Bound Conscience"

The great sociologist Robert Bellah once wrote of Roger Williams, the Baptist churchman and founder of the state of Rhode Island that he was "a moral genius but he was a sociological catastrophe." When it comes to Christianity in this country, what Bellah said of Williams could be said of many. There's an old Baptist saying that you "Preach it down to two,and build your church from there." What Williams and that saying reflect is the idea that our freedom of religion can be so idiosyncratic as to be untenable for community. That is, we'd rather be right than in a community that does not completely agree with us. Although that's good for morality, as Bellah notes, when it comes to community that idea is a "catastrophe."
Such a conversation has come up in my Lutheran tradition as we debate how to be a community even though we disagree morally--and ethically I suppose, but that conversation has little debate. As a group we are trying out the idea of a "bound conscience," and this is truly American, somewhat Lutheran, and even possibly Christian. What the idea of a "bound conscience" is trying to suggest is that people have such fervently held beliefs that no amount of argument or conversation is going to change their mind. They would rather die.
In response to this some Lutherans (the ELCA) are trying to see if we can still be a community even though our "consciences" are "bound" to different ideals about God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, our Confessions, our Liturgy, our Heritage, and our way of living in the world. For those who believe it is precisely those things we have to agree on in order to be a community of faith, then this "bound conscience" idea is just silly. But what would it say of a community that had differing ways to read scripture and its confessions, differing ways to understand how the Triune God incarnates into reality, differing ways for worship and history to be lived out? It is a bold venture, and this branch of Christianity may break on the sheer novelty of the idea...but that remains to be seen.
The "bound" part of the "conscience" equation may need a bit of history in order to be intelligble. Martin Luther was famous in his time for advocating a free will in bondage. Now, of course, if you're in bondage it is tough to be free, but Luther argued precisely that free will was a great gift of God bound by human sin. In others, as I like to say, as a Lutheran I believe that I have free will and free choice, however, I am always going to choose wrong. The most important word there is "always." That is, any choice that I make is bound to be wrong (sorry for the pun), because I--not God--am making it. When I make a choice, it is free, but it is "bound" to sin. The reason it's bound to sin is because I made it, not God...(by the way, this is why most people are not followers of Luther. Most people believe they can make free choices that God will like. Luther had no such delusion.)
Now here's where Prairie Table comes into the picture. By inviting our people to have conversations about their faith we discover our "bound consciences." (That is, stuff we believe fervently.). Now, we may not have the political and economic power to change laws, to advocate for one cause or another, but we do live together in spite of our differences. Unlike Williams we might not be "moral geniuses," but we pray we aren't a "sociological catastrophe" either.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I love my mother, but...

Apparently a world-wide study was done recently that asked people to answer the above question. "I love my mother, but..." and it turns out there are some interesting differences in how people answer. Some people, usually us folks in the industrialized Western world answer that question in some form of "But she's so difficult." Others, mostly from the Pacific rim and other cultures tend to answer in some form of "But I can never repay her for all she has done." I'm not so interested in which culture answers what, but I am interested in the two major variety of responses.
The responses that indicate a love for a mother, but that somehow the mother is "difficult" to love is truly interesting for its complete self-centeredness. As if the person loving is doing OK, and it would be a better relationship if the other (in this case the mother) was better. In other words, any problems with my relationship with my mom is mostly my mother's fault.
The other response is precisely the opposite. That is, the mother is clearly worthy of love, and I am not able to love as she needs. In other words, any problems with my relationship with my mother is my fault, not my mother's. So which answer best describes your relationship with your mother? Or, as this is a blog on theology, how about God?
How would you answer this question: I love God, but...?

You can answer this just about anyway you want, and I suppose there are no right or wrong answers. You can use the comment section of this post to share your thoughts on the answers to this question.

For me, the answer to that question is rather simplistic....I love God, but I'm not sure why God loves me...

What you got?

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Day with the Youths (Yutes)

On Saturday the guys and I tried to catch up a bit on our church stuff by watching some movies about cathedrals and buildings and such...technical difficulties ensued, but we had a good time (well, I did, but teenagers at 9am on a Saturday is never a sure thing to gauge) You know, it took anywhere from 50-80-100 years or more to build some of those massive European cathedrals. (I shudder to think how long it took to make a pyramid!) Basically the first people who donated money to those buildings never got to see it completed...could you imagine that today? Yes, we'd like you to donate $1 million dollars for a cathedral, but you'll never actually get to sit in it, unless, you live a really, really, long time...
Of course, Prairie Table does not have a building (although we wouldn' be opposed to something permanent, just for the convenience of it all...ah, the slippery slope of convenience....next thing you know we'll be angling for comfort!), and the architecture of the internet is way beyond anything I could design...so with Prairie Table's mission you can get going right away (and for free...well, whatever your web-service costs...)
The mission of Prairie Table is to develop people in their faith formation so they can minister in God's world. The main formation is getting people to share and talk about their faith...which for some people is darn hard to do...Our weekly conversations around the table are just primers for the rest of the week, as we meet people, and offer the promise of love in God through Jesus Christ...
The youths, lounging around on the coaches watching "Luther" with Joseph Fiennes, probably missed that aspect of our time together, but they are young, and they will be afforded great opportunities to share God's love, with or without the cathedrals of our lives...