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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.

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...