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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.

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.