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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Monday, June 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?