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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, December 24, 2010

A Magnificat of our own...

I like the sound of that phrase...(I heard it somewhere, but it has been a long time, and the memory fades)

The word (magnificat) is a Latin word that starts out Mary's song about her pregnancy with the Savior. She says, in English, "My soul magnifies the Lord..." We often do not think of our "souls" this way, and quite a few people don't even believe in a "soul." Well, not only do I believe that we have "souls," but that other than food, drink, and good conversation nothing else matters. The state of your soul is the most important status update...

And Mary's "magnifies" God. What?? Doesn't "magnify" mean to make something bigger, to bring it into sharper focus, to intensify whatever or whomever is being magnified? How does Mary's soul make God bigger? How does Mary's soul intensify God? Whatever could the poet possibly mean? (I need my John Ciardi now folks!) How does Mary's soul bring God into sharper focus? I am befuddled...holey moley something is going on here in this birth of Christ thing I just do not understand...

Could it be that God--the creator of all, the Progenitor of Christ--seeks completion in humanity? That is, without humanity the will of God stands unfinished? Humanity, and all it brings with it, including its "soul" accomplishes for God what is the purpose of everything (including the fish!)? This is too hard to believe...yet, there it is...a young, teenage girl, pregnant in the most mysterious of ways actually makes God clearer with her soul...(at least we now know why she is a Saint). Could we dare receive God in the same way? Could we too make God clearer with our souls? Is Mary a singular of this God-activity; or, is she our prototype?

This time of year I want to believe she is our prototype...that God blesses us all to make God clearer to the world through our souls...That is, the Son frees us all to be vulnerable, scared-yet- trusting teenagers when it comes to the gifts of God...and our souls live in that trust to magnify God. Merry Christmas!!

May your tablesbe full, and your conversations be true.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas traditions

When our oldest daughter had just turned one, my wife and decided to move (actually, I got a job...which I try not to do too often.) So on the day after Thanksgiving we bundled up ourselves, including the new toddler, and went and bought a live Christmas tree for our new house.

Both of us had experience with live Christmas trees, but in the last years of our lives we usually used the artificial variety...so this was our first live Christmas tree as parents, and we were excited. So we bought a tree that we thought would fit into the space we had set aside in our living room. Since the ceiling was only 7 ft,we concentrated on not getting one too tall, and as we tied the tree to the top of our truck, we were very happy at our purchase. Christmas would have a grand tree!

Of course, it was too tall, so after much trimming on the trunk and a few lower branches, we just were able to squeeze it into the room, and scrunch the angel on top, as her (0r his, you can never really tell with angels) halo nestled against the popcorn ceiling. And the tree fell over...
So, we adjusted a few screws, reset the tree in the stand...and it fell over again...and again...and again...and after 30 minutes it was pretty clear that this tree was a bit too crooked to stand by itself. On to the baling wire!

Drilling a screw into the wall, and using baling wire, we were able to rope the tree into a semi-vertical position, that once the lights and ornaments were on it gave the tree a reasonable facsimilie of a Christmas tradition...And then the branches thawed and fell open and open and open so that we had about 2 feet of space between the end of the branches and the kitchen counter...and did I mention we had a toddler? After this we put the kid to bed...

My wife came down, looked at the tree tied to the wall, branches spreading out across the entire living room floor, a couple of boxes of ornaments scattered on the floor (compliments of our daughter's budding organizational sklls), and me drinking a beer already exhausted with Christmas..."Who died, and made us the adults," she asked?

I am happy to report that 20 Christmases later we have succeeded in maintaining a Christmas tree...although we went totally artificial in 1996...but this year...No tree...the tradition is on hiatus. We have three households now, and we will be graced if we can all get together for even a few days around Christmas. (As both my wife and I work on Christmas Eve and often Christmas Day, celebrating on the actual days of Christmas is often not an option.) But the tradition of the tree has never been about the tree...it's always been a sign of us taking care of our daughters, taking care of each other, remembering who takes care of us...And we may not have a tree this year to help us with that remembering, but we are forever grateful for our love together as "adults," and for the kids who let us be their parents...and for the the God of love who just lets us be.

May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Melancholic season

The sun is blindingly white off the hoarfrost of the trees, and without a cloud in the sky the blue seems to stretch to eternity...who could be sad in such a place?

Well, I could, and a few others too I imagine (those with Seasonal Affective Disorder will find little to cheer about in a winter trapped indoors), and whether it is a full-blown case of the blues, or just the general ennui that comes from living in an extreme climate (and really, even if climate change is something we just noticed, who doesn't live in extreme places anymore? Weather sucks everywhere...well, except maybe Hawaii, but then it never changes much...and who wants that?)

But what makes a place a "place," what makes a house a "home," for example...has more to do with memory and the people in your life than we imagine...So when I say I was happy in Walt Disney World, what I mean was that the place (WDW) provided me the time and space to spend with my kids at an age when they were still charming...and did not cost as much. (Little did I know at the time!)

I ran into a guy at the gym the other day who recognized me as the pastor who confirmed him eight years ago...and I remembered his "place" (I always asked the kids--who were sophomores in high school--what their favorite place was.), and his place was "Flathead Lake" in Glacier Park. He was amazed that I remembered, and I was amazed that it was still his favorite place...but then, why wouldn't it be? If you have a spot where all your friends, your family, the good things that happened to you occur...why would you forget it? You may add others to it over the years (he is still young), but it will never vanish as your "spot."

I wonder sometimes if Jesus ever asked his mom and dad about his birthplace? How did it happen again, Dad? Why were we in Bethlehem? What was mom doing with all the angels and shepherds? I mean it would seem that such a place would be forever remembered fondly...yet, of all the things he talked about, he never talked about that...so maybe it wasn't his favorite place...maybe we'll never know his favorite place...but we know our favorite place of his: here, with us, in the water, in the bread, in the wine, and in the words...Never sad no matter how painful--because we have the memory and his person in every place. And who can be sad when Jesus is around?

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Honor of Humanity!

Perhaps the grossest lie ever told about Christianity is summed up in this quip:
"I'm only human."

Most people when they utter that phrase use it in a deprecatory sense, as if being human is a bad thing, or an incomplete thing, or something that isn't the best. People may believe that, but it certainly isn't Christian...I don't know what it is...but it is wrong.

God does not want us to ever apologize for our humanity. The "only" is a slap in the face to the God who created us. God doesn't create "only" humans, God creates humans who are known and loved by God, and however they are created or however their creation turns out to be it is that humanity that God made...not some version that "doesn't quite have it yet." When we denigrate our humanity and the created humanness we have we are denying that God created us in the first place...or, that God is not very good at this "creating" thing...especially when it comes to humans! (Although platypuses may want to weigh in on this argument too.)

According to Genesis and the Gospel of John, it is an HONOR to be created human, and when we accept that honor we live the lives God has made for us...when we do not accept that honor, when we say things like "I'm only human," or "God isn't finished with me yet. Be patient," we make a mockery of God's creation--namely, ourselves.

So this Christmas-time celebrate that God became HUMAN...not because it wasn't "perfect" or because God wanted us to get it right this time...but rather because God loves humanity and humans, and it is an honor to be a human...people with names like Char, Bev, Elmer, John, Sherri, Chris, Kevin, and you and all the other six billion of us..."and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." What an honor!

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

And now we have winter...

The wind has turned here on the prairie, and the snow has arrived...probably for good. Of course, this kind of weather keeps us all honest...and for some the annual question of "Why do I live here?" raises its spectre again.

We are in the midst of transition up here, as my wife moves to Omaha, NE, and I begin the process of moving and packing the home to join her later next summer...It is weird knowing you are going to move...but really can't do much about it now, but have to wait awhile...and there is a A LOT of fun to still be had up here...I mean seven months can be an entire football season (although the way the Minnesota Vikings are playing these days seven months can be eternity of hell!) So I am trying to keep a positive attitude here while my thoughts and hopes every now and then stray to places a little warmer (at least I hope Omaha is warmer...it has to be, right?)

I have always taken solace in the transitions that Jesus made as my hope and future, and in the freedom to live we have received from the forgiveness of his death and resurrection...so in that freedom I will seek out my next "call." (Call is Christian lingo for "stuff God wants me to do.") So, my immediate future is filled with some prayer, my friends, and a lot a fun...WHERE that happens,and WHAT that is...well, that is yet to be decided. Keep me in your prayers. May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hello Paul Ricouer!

Every now and then somebody comes up to me and tells me they have "decided" to follow Jesus. For many people this "decision" to follow Jesus is the beginning of a faith journey...and if that is what it is, I am OK with that...but for others it is the end of a faith journey...that is, once you have "decided" to follow Jesus there is nothing else left for faith to do...and that is not good.

And here's why: if your decision to follow Jesus comes at the end of a faith journey, you are going to miss out on all the power and beauty following Jesus can bring to your life...you will turn out to be some sort of mannequin-like believer who can only parrot and enable someone else to take control of your life...in short, you sacrifice the freedom you have received in Jesus Christ to follow some preacher demi-god who thinks he or she knows how to be a Christian. Not a good trade ever...because the freedom is God's and you give it up for security and shelter rather than trusting in God.

So what makes faith fun for those who "decide" for Jesus at the beginning of a faith journey (to my reformed brothers and sisters for whom any talk of "decision" rankles; please note: freedom at some point, somewhere, seems to require assent...and that is all I mean by using "decide") is precisely why we keep the freedom we have received from God in Christ Jesus through the power of the Spirit: freedom! For freedom Christ has set us free, says St. Paul...Free to be here and now and enjoying the gifts of God's creation and our agency (think of beer, perhaps, or maybe another of God's gifts such as roses). Free to be "not-tied-down-by-our-past" (oftentimes we call this forgiveness!) Free to trust others even if we disagree and do not understand (we call this our community...and communities that trust understand that even in disagreement we can be united--think of Congress!) And finally, Free to explore, because we have no limits to our freedom (this is what we usually mean by freedom...that is, we are not shackled to time and place).

So, enjoy the freedom Christ has given you in this assent to faith...and may your tables be full and your conversations be true.

(Oh, and I call this a "Paul Ricouer"--who was one of my teacher's teachers, and who always reminds of what is important in my faith in God through the Word.)

Monday, November 8, 2010

All Saints' Retrospective

Last year I had the unique opportunity to be with a 20 year old woman who asked me where the word "Christmas" came from? As I approach this upcoming Christmas season, I can only wonder what will come across my wanderings this year.

Gregg Easterbrook, author and columnist of TMQ on ESPN.com, has a section of his column called "Christmas creep." He asks his readers to note when retail stores start putting out products and advertisements for "Christmas." Usually late June, early July has a few "Christmas" decorations around. I keep putting "Christmas" in quotations because it is not Christ's-mass that is being marketed, but rather a banal, consumerified holiday season. Tinsel and ribbons at Target or Walmart in August have as much to do with Jesus' birth and God's love as Satan himself--they are in the story, but they have clearly missed the point!

Since we can no longer count on Christmas to be religious--we lost it being Christian a long time ago--I am wondering if we could keep "All Saints' Day" (November 1) as a Christian holiday? This day has the fortune of coming right after Halloween--which really hasn't ever been a "religious" holiday--so maybe there is a chance for this to not be co-opted by our atavistic consumerism? I mean, it has dead people, babies, people who are healthy, people who are not, good people, not-so-good people, and even a chance for heaven...All-in-all All Saints' Day seems to have some stuff going for it...

Of course, we would have to pay attention to Jesus--and this is where we lose people every time--we would need to see this holiday as the promise of life through death, and living with God as a way of being in this world rather than waiting until some "next" one. We would have to see that all are saints--even the ones who sin--and that sainthood is a gift from a God on a cross rather than an accomplishment of people like us who put him there...

It's been a week since All Saints' Day, and unlike Halloween, I don't have any leftover candy or decorations to take down...and that is the saddest part of the story...if not for all the saints, it is sad for me. May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Reformation Reminder

Central to Martin Luther's (him of the Renaissance age, or "Reformation" as theologians call it)understanding of sin was the idea of it curving into ourselves. Sin is always an ever tightening circle of death that seeks always to enclose and entrap us in smaller and smaller areas of life. Sin contracts into each of us until we are left only with our own selves, and it is tough to defeat despair if you are all alone! Jesus Christ breaks those chains which constrict us, and in our new-found freedom life and all its infiinte possibilities are opened to us to live. Freedom in Christ is that ever-expanding reach that embraces the farthest corners of the universe (if there is such a thing as a "corner" in our universe...but no matter where it is God won't stop reaching outward.)

This frustrates me to no end when I visit or hear about most Christian congregations. Almost to the one, every single congregation starts and stops its ministry at its front door...and even those that encourage, chastise, maniupulate, or invite to ministry outside those doors often fail...although there are a precious few which may succeed...In other words, congregations are enclosed in sin, bound by their own front doors, and the freedom they have received in Christ goes for nothing...very sad...

Part of the reason I no longer serve congregations with their own buildings is because if we at Prairie Table are going to be bound by sin; well, we are going to be bound by something other than our front door! I know most--if not all--of my ordained colleagues would gladly give up trying to coddle and encourage people to be "little Christs" to each other so that they could actually do the priesthood of all believers to which we have been called. But since most of my colleagues have buildings, and the buildings have front doors, they spend their time trapped in the sin from which they have been freed--trust me--that gets frustrating, and I am completely sympathetic to colleagues that leave the ordained ministry to do something useful with their lives--you go! And to those who stay in the ordained ministry...you are always in my prayers...I know how tough it is no matter how high the high...

So at Prairie Table we are not too big on "doors." There are no rules of engagement, there are no admittance requirements, no thoughts about who is "in" or who is "out." We have all kinds of crazy here...Our sin is out there, encompassed by our own human frailty and failure, but redeemed by a God who never stops expanding, never stops creating, never stops making things new...thanks be to God! May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Some Personal Thoughts and Reflections on Prairie Table (or: What's a Blog For?)

When people first talked about Prairie Table (it had no name then), I heard stuff like this:

"What kind of church is it going to be?"
"What kind of people are you hoping to get?"
"How far away will it be from my church?" (Usually only asked by other pastors)
"Are you going to go knocking on doors to get people?"

And I got tired...very tired, and had no interest in doing a new mission start in Bismarck.

But some people wanted to see a mission here, the ELCA was willing to give it a nice chunk of change to get started, and people seemed tolerant, if not exactly excited to have a new mission in a place where not much had changed in 20 years for the Lutheran church. So we gave it a go...but we had some rules...and this is where it got interesting.

First Rule: No attractional ministry allowed! We would do nothing on a corporate level to try and attract people to the congregation. The congregation would grow only as people encouraged and invited others into the community. No ads, no publicity, no nothing that said "Come be like us!" We would reach out to people in need, but never try to attract others to us...

Second Rule: Everything is free, and no fundraisers will be allowed. Needless to say, Prairie Table is a month-to-month adventure in trying to stay solvent, but I've been able to be paid for the past couple of years, so, something works as people donate to a way of living with God rather than a place where God does "business." And thanks to all the folks (over 100 different contributors over the years) who have believed in the people of God here at Prairie Table.

Third Rule: Unless people are talking and listening we don't really have church. Everything we do is designed to get people talking about what God may or may not be doing in the world.

As I think about it, these might not be "rules" as much as they are reminders of how God creates, redeems, and sustains us in this life. We are attracted to God, God does not attract us (as St. Augustine said so nicely, "our hearts are restless Lord until they rest in you.")...God is free, Jesus frees us, and the Spirit empowers us to live freely...and talking and listening, well as Terry said once a while ago, "everybody likes to talk," and we could all stand to listen a little more.

May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

You can't believe in Jesus as the Son of God just because you want to

One of the cornerstone Bible verses from my tradition is from the Gospel of John where Jesus of Nazareth says, "...you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (8.32) And a lot of people struggle with that...for example:

A young man came to me the other day and wondered what I do (as a missionary whose "church" is primarily on-line, I often wonder what I do too, so I don't begrudge the question), and how can I help people "believe in Jesus?" Now that question can take a couple of angles: First, does a person wonder who Jesus was, what kind of stuff did he do and say, and it is a question of knowledge. So, to "know" the truth in this sense is to pick up some facts and details about the life of a guy who lived and died a couple of thousand years ago? Or, secondly, and this is where the young man was heading, is "believing" more of an existential thing, where one's life and future after death (we call that salvation in our world) are on the line? In this case there is nothing I can do but pray...nothing I can say, teach, exemplify, witness to, or even participate in will EVER make a difference for somebody to know Jesus in this way...this is completely a gift of the Holy Spirit, and to my mind anyone who argues differently believes more in the power of people than the power of God...and as a theologian I always default to God (it's sort of the job).

This is a good thing, however, as the pressure is off me and onto God to free people to "believe in Jesus." I can witness to the freedom I have in Jesus as the Christ of God, participate with others in this freedom, and even teach about it...but I cannot give it...that is for God and God only. And here's what makes this even more difficult...any person who might want it (i.e., to believe in Jesus) cannot just take it...cannot just wake up and grab it like a late-nite burrito at Taco Bell...since it is a gift from God, no matter how much you want it, you have to wait for it to be given...

I do believe God gives this belief (we call it "faith") all the time, however, we receive it ONLY when we are ready...and some may be ready at 4 or 40 or two breaths before they die...doesn't matter...because once you are free, you are free...you have received (or you "know" in this sense)--the truth. May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Monday, October 11, 2010

In, with, under, and against

Congregations are interesting pieces of social culture...on the one had they are products of the culture and community in which they reside...but a huge part of that identity is to be loyal to God (rather than the surrounding culture) so that a great many Christian congregations actually flow AGAINST the culture from which it is constituted. (In truth, many Christian congregations believe they are constituted by God, not by their surrounding culture, and for that reason they are often "called" to be against their culture.) And this is what makes congregations so interesting.

The culture's story, such as it is in the USA these days, is often in flux, and even more so one can choose one's dominant cultural story with relative ease. It might be more accurate these days to talk of "cultures" in the USA rather than one, single, dominant, cultural story that tries to encompass everything. (This is one of the unique pieces of being the USA. For years the dominant cultural story assumed it included everybody, and therefore everybody was part of the dominant culture...of course, as people such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Gloria Stenheim, and others pointed out 40 years ago, the dominant culture was rather exclusive, and did not include everybody...but now that things have gotten topsy-turvy, trying to actually include everybody leads to no one dominant cultural story, and even less cultural coinherence.)

And if there are multiple cultural stories that make up the USA, it stands to reason there are multiple Christian congregations that both arise from one cultural story, and even can be opposed to another cultural story, within the same traditions, histories, and families. Because you can have--for example--families in which various members vote Democrat and others in the family vote Republican--you can have congregations in which some would lean one way, and others would lean the opposite--and in every case it would be possible to find in each congregation people who vote against the dominant story...as I said, congregations are interesting.

No matter what cultural story dominates a congregation, the healthiest congregations I have experienced understand that God's story drives the congregation and its people. In this way, God is in, with, under, and against a congregation as they are God's bread in a hungry world. Because when someone is dying from lonliness, or suffering from depression, or addicting themselves from fear or ennui, God feeds them with the life-giving food of Christian community. Even the worst Christian community can feed somebody...and on their good days...they probably do. May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Social Network

One of my pastor friends was chided by one of his parishioners who said to me, "He has to get off the computer and get out and meet the people." Now, this parishioner is almost 80 years old, and what he missed about the computer was--of course--that my colleague was meeting people...just not the ones at the corner cafe, but the people who use the computer. The computer, thanks to Mark Zuckerberg and others, is now a social network. Who knew?

It is a different social network to be sure from the corner cafe and Starbucks that were all the rage just a few years ago, but people are meeting me all the same on Facebook. The other night as Chris and I were relaxing in front of a fire and watching the North Dakota day turn to night it was great, and you cannot put a premium on that type of intimate, face-to-face relationship. But not all my relationships have to be that way...and the Facebook ones, as public and "un-intimate"as they are, are just different...but they are still valuable, and they still have importance even if others do not think so...

I believe God is about relationships no matter how they happen or where they occur. We are created in and for relationship, and as I have written before the solitary human is no human at all...Whether you call the relationships you are in marriages, families, colleagues, small groups, churches, bowling leagues, drama troupes, facebook pages, or choirs...we are made to live and be together...

Think of the resurrection of Jesus--not as God's forgiveness of human sin--but rather as God re-making God by incorporating Jesus, now as the Christ, into the life and being of all that God is...this is what Prairie Table means by being stewards of the "mysteries of God." We will never be sure of all of who and what God is, but we take care of that mystery wherever we find it...at home, at work, at the cafe, or even at the computer...and just as deepest relationships survive multiple locales, we must remember that Jesus Christ survives them too...may your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Story for the Ages

I run into a lot of people who know a little bit about the Bible...and in most cases they have little use for it, or for the Christian Church that purports to be about it...and I also run into a few people who know little or nothing about the Bible, and--irony of ironies--these people are often very faithful Christians...(all of which goes to show you that you don't need to know how to read in order to be a Christian...in fact, that may be a detriment!)

Christianity as a religion does not really need a Bible, but it does need a story--and the most popular Christian story is something like this: God made a perfect world, humans screwed it up, God re-made it by sending Jesus to die for humans who screw it up, and now humans should try harder not to screw it up again...at this point some Christians add "if you do a good job you can go some place nice named heaven." As a religion goes that story works, but of course, it is not from the Bible.

The story of the Bible is a whole different one than the popular Christian one (no matter how much money or energy some folks put into making it the same), and the story of the Bible is a story for the ages. Because you see the Bible, as the promise of God about the freedon given in Jesus Christ through the mutual consolations and conversations of people in the Spirit, has no quick "summary-like" statements because it always addresses the reader (hearer) where they are in life and the world. And since we are often different, the Bible speaks different things in order to keep God's promise to us...because for the Bible it's the God who promises that makes the story, not the story that makes the god...and for those of us who trust in God that makes all the difference in the world. May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Strange Workings of Baptism

A few years ago I found myself in Phoneix, AZ in February with other theologians and pastors from across the country. We had some free time one afternoon, and I wanted to avail myself of the heated pool at the hotel...all my friends declined to join me as the air temp was only 62 degrees. My friends from places like AZ, CA, GA, and TX all thought I was nuts for even considering it...but when you're from North Dakota, you have a partly sunny day, a heated pool, and any temp above 32, you call it a beach day! So, in this huge, heated pool, complete with little islands of trees and flowers scattered throughout the pool, I swam.

But I did not swim alone...because on the other side of the pool I could see another man paddling about from island to island as I was...finally, after about thirty minutes, and countless sarcastic comments from my friends walking by...I ran into the other guy at the island in the very middle of the pool. I said hi, he said, hi...and I commented on the nice pool. Yeah, he said, I like it too. I told him where I come from this is a summer day, and I couldn't imagine why more people aren't swimming...he asked where I was from...I told him "Bismarck, North Dakota." Where are you from, I asked? He looked at me and said, "Valley City." (Valley City, North Dakota is 140 miles east of Bismarck.) And his former neighbor in Valley City was now my neighbor in Bismarck...I kid you not.

Have you ever had one of those weird encounters where you meet someone you know, or you share something in common with someone, in the least likely of places? Isn't that strange how that happens?

In Christianity we hold that we are related to all Christians through baptism, so, in some ways it isn't strange to meet a brother or a sister in Christ just about anywhere...but unless we live that relationship, trust those people we meet, or risk reaching out to the stranger, we will just pass like "two ships in the night..."Christ has connected us to way more people than we realize or than we utilize in our lives...but that water of baptism--like the warm water in the pool in AZ--brings together people in ways we often cannot imagine. May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

Question for the week: Do you have a "chance" encounter story you can share?

Monday, September 20, 2010

I think its about forgiveness...

...even if you don't love me anymore. (Don Henley)

If I had to take one line about what is Christianity from a recent song, poem, novel, or writing, I would take that one from Don Henley. He has captured as well as anyone--including people like Peter, Paul, Augustine, Calvin, Luther, and even me (well, you know?) what God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit has accomplished in redeeming humanity and all of creation for life.

Central to the notion of who God is is forgiveness...we often fail at love, peace, patience, etc., and forgiveness is the power that propels us through those failures so that life can be lived...Henley hit upon this (albeit in a love song), and without this desire to forgive--Christianity--and God's own self--cease to exist.

BUT, the forgiveness is not dependent upon love. And this is where Henley is brilliant, and so different, from most of us. Most of us believe we have to love somebody or something before we can forgive. Henley points out this is is not so. For example, God does not have to love us in order to forgive us, but because God forgives us we can be loved by God. So when two brothers are fighting it is not LOVE that establishes their relationship, but their forgiveness that satisfies their love.

If Henley is correct (and the Bible seems to suggest he is) if you want to have a better day you will have to forgive somebody...somebody you probably do not love. The cross of Jesus reminds us of one thing: it is the forgiveness, not the love, that makes all the difference in the world.

Question for the week: what one line of recent composition seems to best sum up the Christian faith, or God in Christ Jesus in the power of the Spirit, for you?
May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

Monday, September 13, 2010

What's up with music in worship?

Yesterday I spent some time worshiping with a community here in Omaha, NE that used a jazz quartet for its worship music leaders. It was fun, and good...and I'm wondering why I don't see more of that? In other words, why is music a) so important to worship; and b) not adequately done (specially in places where it is considered important?) Here are some worship music experiences I remember...

in 1991 hearing a young man perform "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" as the prelude to his grandmother's funeral (she was 94, and would have been in her sixties when Dylan wrote that song...I had trouble believing she was a fan.)

in 1993 joining a band for worship in Lockport, IL where the oldest member was 17, and trading guitar riffs and bass runs during the offertory music (young or newer musicians are my exception to the "adequate" rule...in their case I advocate full-bore experimentation!)

in 1995 learning a wonderful new liturgy on the organ from a gifted musician (Frank Stoldt), and being able to hear for the first time people actually enjoying praise to God

in 1999 having a congregation learn music in order to experience liturgy without words and notes having to be available to participate (this should be the goal of all worship...why is it a requirement to be able to read in order to worship in so many congregations? If you are a worship leader ask yourself this question: if someone can't read, could they get something out of this worship?)

in 2003 being exposed to another gifted leader (Craig Schweitzer) who is able to bring musical subtlety into worship (Craig is being ordained as a pastor in a few days, and I wish him godspeed)

in 2008 having the current musicians sing and play songs they like (hence our Prairie Table months of Eagles and Beatles tunes last year), and what a diference that makes in learning how to share passions...

There has been-- in my almost 20 years of ministry now-- a lot of good music, some great, some absolutely sublime...and some...well, not-so-much. To all the musicians, leaders, planners, and congregations who have made worship a key part of my life, I thank you, and pray for your continued ministry...as a famous church musician often noted soli Deo gloria!

And what are some of your memories of music and worship in your life?

Monday, September 6, 2010

From Personality to Community

It's been awhile since I reached into my books for a blog topic, but I am haunted (again) by a phrase from Cornel West in his book The American Evasion of Philosophy (University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), in which describing the mind of culture in this country he wrote of this "hotel civilization" (a phrase he borrowed from Henry James,) as it "has yielded an indigenous mode of thought that subordinates...community to personality..." In other words, because we live in the USA it's more about "me" than it is about "us."

My two years of working with people through Prairie Table Ministries has shown me the numbing truth of West's perception...our way of THINKING, not just how we act or behave, is dominated by our subordination of community to our own personalities. I have had people tell me, with no sense of irony or shame, these things:
* I don't get what you do, but it doesn't bother me that you do it
* We don't agree on this issue so I guess we cannot be friends anymore
* I tried that once, but it didn't work for me so I gave it up
* You folks can do that, but I am not a joiner
Every single one of those statements presuppoes the dominance of personality (of the individual, as I take West to mean) over and above anything the community may have to offer. Now most communities, such as Prairie Table Ministries, will survive such mind-sets--however, the mind-set of the personality (individual) over-and-above community distorts what "community" is... that is, the community is seen wrongly not because the person has seen it, but rather because the person cannot put aside the "personality dominance" in order to see the community accurately.

Take, for example, the line that someone said to me about not agreeing, so we cannot be friends...that understanding completely misunderstands "community" which, by definition in the Christian faith, is a group of people who do not agree! It does not take long at a Bible study at Prairie Table to realize we do not all agree, yet, somehow, we are all in this together...and we wouldn't be together at all if we needed agreement on everything...(to be fair, at PTM we do all agree Jesus is the Christ, but I bet there are a few differing ways to explain that too!)...Your friends are not necessarily the ones who agree with you, but rather are in community with you, even if you disagree...

The sign of a friend is not that we share convictions, but rather we challenge convictions our friends have...And in this way community is built in spite of the personalities (individuals) involved. For too long we have replaced agreement in personality with the cross of Jesus as the definition of human community (that is, the Church). The cross of Jesus as the Christ of God in the power of the Holy Spirit challenges each and every one of us to live a life of obdience to a God beyond our understanding and control...and we will not agree on how to do that simply because we are all created a little bit differently...but even so...we are all in this venture we call "life" together. A summary for Prairie Table comes from something the Apostle Paul wrote 1950 years ago, "Consider us...stewards of God's mysteries..." We may never understand why we are all in this together, (it is a mystery) but to refuse community because we do not agree, or understand it , or see it, or whatever is to miss the point of why God put us (not me) here in the first place.

May your conversations be true, and your tables be full.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Leadership: Art or Craft?

Jesus of Nazareth once said, "Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division." (Luke 12.51, NRSV) Those are probably the most true words he ever spoke...at least if we are looking at the empirical evidence we have from his followers over the past 2000 years...there are divisions of Christians everywhere, and very little peace. I guess when you speak as many words as he did you have to be right sometimes?

But--Christian division aside--(and this is not a big deal for me as I figure God will get it all sorted out at the end) what the verse does pose is a question of leadership. (As I teach leadership within Luther Seminary's Congregational Mission and Leadership program...check it out...Luthersem.edu...I ponder leadership questions a lot). The question is: how do you lead amidst division rather than peace? In other words, how do you lead in conflict, or as my colleagues at Church Innovations like to say: when congregations fight?

People who believe leadership is a craft, that is, leadership is something that can be learned and practiced, leading amidst conflict is an important skill-set to master. But here is the thing...conflict poses winners and losers, and leadership in a congregational setting that seeks to mete out merits and punishments based on who wins and who loses is bound to make most of the other words Jesus said (the ones I didn't quote) even more troubling to believe. If you can learn to "manage" conflict (and "manage" and all its cognates I wish could never be spoken of when it comes to Christian leadership) somehow you can minimalize loss and damage, and maximize opportunity...and this seems about as unChristian as any leadership style could emulate.

Since we probably cannot learn to lead during conflict, it has to be something innate, or an "art" as it is called aesthetically, we now run into a bit of a problem describing all the different ways people lead in conflict, and trying to find anything we can learn from their experiences...they all are so idiosynchratic and personal or even genetic perhaps that what chance does the poor pastor have if she isn't of this cloth? If leadership is art, and you are leading outside the borders of your usual canvas...uh oh...

Well this is where the words of Jesus I quoted above can be the gospel...because you see maybe we were never meant to live without conflict? Maybe in the grand scheme of what God calls us to do or who God calls us to be we are meant to struggle a lot...either in one way because people divide against us, or in the other as we divide against them? Maybe the chimera is peace?

Leadership is never about bringing peace--regardless of whether you think of it as an art or a craft--leadership is about surviving division, and about acknowledging the God of the cross that makes the survival possible.

May your conversations be true and your tables be full. Peace.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sometimes It's tough to be Christian

Did you know there is a chapel in the Pentagon building that has worship five days a week, and allows Muslims to use it as well? Do you remember that on September 11, 2001, the Pentagon, as well as the World Trade Center was bombed by terrorists? If the Pentagon is OK with Muslims worshiping in the very BUILDING that was bombed, why should folks in New York City be concerned if a mosque is built a few blocks away from "ground zero?"

I understand that the furor over this building of a mosque near where many people lost their lives uncessarily to the hate of terrorists is mostly emotional, and generated by those with political agendas...however, as a theologian I can say this with some certainly--there will never be healing for anyone in this event until a mosque (or something like it) is allowed to be part of the conversation...until we realize in our hearts--not just our heads--that people who take their religion to an extreme in order to terrorize others cannot take away our faith in God--there can never be healing...never.

Martin Luther once noted that each of us have an "inner" and an "outer" Christian faith. And what happens to our "outer" faith (the faith we have on display for ourselves and each other, like how we worship, pray, serve our neighbors, deal with tragedy, celebrate moments...) does not affect our "inner" faith (the faith given to us by God). And here is why: nobody can take away what God has given you...that is, the inner faith you have received comes from God, and no one, not even your own doubts or fears, can take that away from you...only God can...and that IS something to worry about...

So if something challenges your "outer" faith, it is simply that: a challenge...but it cannot take away from you what God has given you...so relax...your faith is in the hands of God...and even if God is a God of law and punishment (and the evidence is still not in on that completely...), until God tells you your inner faith is gone you are good. It is never easy to forgive someone...but that is precisely why it is so tough to be a Christian. Anybody can try to be good and follow the rules, but to forgive? Well, in our tradition that takes God. Specifically a God from the cross in the resurrected power of the Spirit...and if we are willing to put our God near a cross, we can probably allow a mosque near ground zero.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Summertime Wrap-up

A lot has happened at Prairie Table over the past few months, and with so many people traveling and being away, it is a wonder we ever stay connected at all...Here's some of the conversations that have happened around the table, and we look forward to another year of gathering together!

...the first part of June we had our annual Western North Dakota Synod Assembly out in Dickinson, and we had some great conversations about the future of the Church in our part of the world. As good Christians, convinced of the truth of the witness of our Lutheran tradition that grace precedes everything, we discovered that our communities of faith are often the last places standing where people can gather together to have meaningful conversations...Homes, cafes, and bars can also "solve all the problems of the world," but a Christian congregation leads in actually solving the problem rather than just talking about it.

...in July we heard stories from our ecumenical partners the Presbyterians, the Moravians, others about how Church is going in their part of the world. Many congregations struggle with doing God's work rather than just "keeping the doors open," and many leaders and pastors are frustrated that people will not nor cannot change...but there is a determination on the part of many to see the Church through this malaise of modernity that is the Church in America these days, and to pray and work for a missional life in the being of God in the world.

...In August we talked with Katie Narum Miyamoto about the Church in Japan, and how different it is to be a minority as a Christian rather than a majority as we are here in the USA. We continue to appreciate people such as Katie for keeping us aware of so many of the wonderous things God's love does in places where we do not often get to go...what a blessing to see God at work.

...And now we come to today, and into the future...and we wonder what it will bring for Prairie Table? We celebrated our second anniversary this past June, and it is amazing that we have been able to keep going for even that long...Sometimes you have to wonder what God is doing--especially when I am often the one in charge!?!?!?! As always, I give thanks for the many people who gather to converse around the tables of PTM. What a joy to hear the stories, to laugh, to cry, and pray over the grace God showers us with each and every day...

...I am thinking of a tag line for my posts--sort of an homage to Garrison Keillor I suppose--but how do you like this? May your conversations be true, and your tables be full...peace.

Monday, August 9, 2010

"Big Tent Christianity" and Prairie Table

(This blog is part of the "Big Tent Christianity" event to be held in Raleigh, NC next month. Please see bigtentchristianity.com for more information. ed.)



I am very supportive of the energy surrounding this event to bring about new ideas and ways of being and becoming the church. Such a desire to bring together Christians from battling each other to battling the evils of destruction and disintegration is always to be commended, and I am glad to be even a small whisper of a much larger conversation. One of the charges we are asked to blog about for this event is "What does it (big tent Christianity) look like in your context?" and I want to take that question up this week. I want to answer, in a beginning sort of way, what "big tent Christianity" looks like up here in North Dakota through the fellowship of people at Prairie Table.



Prairie Table and the "big tent" metaphor have one attribute we share, and a major one that we do not share...I will begin with our commonality. Both the "big tent" metaphor and Prairie Table agree that whatever the church is to be or become it will be moveable. That is, Church is not a permanent thing. Church has no stone walls, no buildings, no programs, no committees, no budgets, no anything that is usually associated with "church" these days. Places may have those kinds of things, and they may be ministry centers, social services agencies, ritual re-enactors, or whatnot, but they are not Church...maybe they are playing at "church," but they are not Church.



Because the metaphor of a tent is provisional, temporary, portable, and moveable, there must be an assumption of "big tent" Christianity that the Church is provisional, temporary, portable, and moveable too...and we at Prairie Table really agree with that. (See "A Table Along the Way," May 19, 2009) Prairie Table is a way of being Christian community that is provisional, temporary, portable, and moveable...and this is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because our relationships with each other and with God through Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit go with us wherever we go. Right now, we gather in Bismarck, ND...but who is to say we will be there tomorrow, or next week, or even next year? As God calls us, not only into ministry around us, but also into the great globe itself, we take the relationships we have nurtured around the table with us, and set up our "tents" or "tables" wherever we happen to be. God loves us in our provisionality, our temporariness, our portability, and our movement...but we do not. And this brings us to the curse.

We love to be "settled." We all seek one tap root some where, some place, some time...and the transitory nature of a "tent" or a "table," while exhilarating for a time, cannot last...so we seek refuge, comfort, and solace from the institutions of our lives...making "church" one of the biggest. It is interesting that the "big tent" conference draws from the revival heritage of Christianity in this country...and revivals are not designed to last, they are not designed to be permanent structures of church...and at Prairie Table we work from that same transitory nature of church. We use the "table" metaphor, not because we do not like tents, but because we focus on "how" God builds relationships with us, not "where" God builds relationships with us...And how, is around the table, the place where Jesus broke bread and his body so that we could fellowship with God...

But Prairie Table works a different angle than the "big tent" metaphor, and finally this difference makes all the difference in the world. You see, the "big tent" idea still wants to attract people inside, still wants to invite people into whatever Christianity is...that is, the metaphor still holds some kind of objectivist power image that whatever is in the tent is Christian and whatever is not in the tent is not...and Prairie Table fundementally disagrees with that idea. There is no tent big enough to hold the universe that God has made...and only if you want to use "big tent" as a substitute for heaven (and that carries a whole raft of philosophical and theological issues) could Prairie Table finally use the "big tent" metaphor...

You see, we don't invite people to the table...we bring the table out into the street...and that is a huge missional understanding of Church that goes in a far different direction than a "big tent" metaphor. We understand that God sends Jesus as the Christ and the Spirit into the world to incorporate us into the life and being of God...in our creation and finally in our redemption that comes from the cross of Jesus the Christ we are incorporated in the life and being of God-- brought to the table so to speak--wholly on the activity of God's grace coming to us, not we going to it. So that the table we set out in the street is but a shadow of the table God sets out for us in the resurrection of Jesus the Christ...we don't invite anyone to the table...we set it out so that any and everyone may eat and drink at the feast of our Lord. There is no "inside" or "outside" at the table (and since we use round tables there is no head or foot either)...everyone is at the table, everyone feasts on the grace of God...and it is God's battle with the forces of evil and destruction that we eat and drink to our salvation...not our battle that God stimulates us for with a shot of blood and a chip of body...Because God creates the world (we take that to mean universe) there is no place where God is not nor will not be...and a tent would at best be a protection from the elements, but it could never be a boundary to God's love and engagement with creation...the tables we set out have taken all the abuses and the abused the world can offer...but that is because they are God's tables, not ours. And there is no inside to which we gather, and no outside to which we exclude.

So we at Prairie Table will continue to work on bringing tables out into the world that God redeems in Christ. We will not get too concerned about the size of the tent...because you see...for us at Prairie Table, the only tent big enough would be one to cover the entire universe...and while we pray for the love and justice of the "Big Tent Christianity" conference to prevail, our belief is that we are only going to get there--one table at a time...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Polarities of Youth, part II

(please see last week's post for the introduction to this thought...ed.)

Whatever the term "postmodern" means, we believe it to mean something that "young" people are. As my experiences last week with a couple of young people showed, that is not always true. These two folks, engulfed in the contemporary world as much as any two youth, both displayed thoughts of mind that were much more "modern" than they maybe knew. If I could have told the young lady that the stuff she is talking about for Christianity is stuff that Jonathan Edwards would approve (but of course he would add his usual brilliant rhetoric and intellectual rigor. Edwards was a colonial preacher famous for many things, not the the least of which is the revival movement in Christianity some 300 years ago.) So she is hardly "post-modern" in her thinking, as much as other aspects of her life (driving, talking to me, and answering the phone all within thirty seconds) are very post modern.

Same is true for the young man who would rather protect trees than sit in church...this idea goes way back to the Romanticists and Transcendentalists of this country (in fact, this young man actually claimed that he was "probably a Transcendentalist." I could only agree) some 200 years ago. The polarities these two youths exhibited have been around for a long time, and in this sense are hardly new, much less "post-modern."

So when the old guy like me brings up the thoughts that Christianity is not how people feel about,or even comprehend, God; nor, is the object of worship a one-way street of obedience... but rather, that Christianity is a complex web of relationships that weave so tightly together as to be reality itself, and which constant struggles for freedom and power push the edges of the weave to ever and greater lengths...well, let us say that is a little too far past modernity for them to wholeheartedly agree...

But here is the thing: watching the marriage of the two people, both with previous families, children, and spouses in their memories, they participated in an ever growing expansion of life and relationship encompassed only by the grace of God...and then..witnessing the birth of new relationships (we call them "in-laws"), seeing joy and celebration authentically lived...these two young people knew that life was more than anyone...18th Century preacher, 19th Century philosopher...even their own selves could have imagined. And in that, they lived what Christianity has been saying all along: in Jesus Christ, all things are created new. (And how "post modern" is that? Well, we've been saying that...for 2000 years!)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Polarities of Youth

Last weekend I was involved in a wedding, and due to an automotive mishap found myself traveling across the prairies of North Dakota with a 24 year old bridesmaid for 4 hours. As she attends a Bible college in California, we had ample opportunity to discuss theology and religion. The trip was delightful, and I met an young woman dedicated to finding meaning and truth through a version of Christianity, which while I do not share with her, she is at least attempting to make her life congruent between her beliefs and her actions.

What was interesting in our conversations was her focus on a person's relationship with God to a point where almost nothing else entered into the picture. That is, she has a view of humanity that is very liberal, very modern, and very much unlike my own. She believes in the autonomous, self-determining individual unfettered by any law outside of God's rule (this is the liberal stuff with Christian seasoning, but she would fit right into the 18th century). Because of this world-view, she loses perspective on how wide the world is we live in, and what all the relationships we have do to impact who we are and what we do. So whether she was talking about marriage, heaven, hell, or even her own experiences, everything was filtered into the autonomous indiviuality in which God reserves the final right to judge. Creation, for example, was not even part of her understanding of what God spends a lot of time doing--and this while we were driving through some of the most beautiful country in the world! Since, in this mindset, everything is reduced to human capability, the deer, birds, trees, water, and the wind itself are at best decorations for a life lived following God's law. But as created beings of God, the deer or even the wind, don't have much to do in her world.

Now at the wedding the next day I meet the boyfriend of the photographer who is a 26 year old guy who admits to me, as we are standing around waiting for pictures to be finished, that he doesn't like church much. When I ask why, it is because, he says, I am more focused on keeping nature and trees healthy than my soul. Great. Another liberal. He, of course, takes the "liberal" that is much more bandied about as if we know what we are talking about when we use the word than my new friend from the Bible college, but they are both liberal. In his case, the liberalism comes from an understanding of the interconnectedness of life, but this time at the expense of human aggrandizement...that is, we have to take our autonomous, self-determing beings, and understand how we are all part of this world...and when churches don't do that, well, he finds his time better spent with those who do...

But you see, for being a Christian like me, neither pole of these young persons' world works for me, because I understand that I am affected by my context more than I can self-determine my life. In other words, there are just some things I cannot do. Neither one of these young people believe that...and it is not a question of age...it is a question of how you believe God lives and moves in the world...if God is living and moving...well, then, of course there are things you cannot do, even good things like helping a neighbor or being nice...and if God's presence creates a certain amount of ambiguity, well, then, of course, you will do things that you could not have predicted.

No doubt when I was younger I too lived with the ardent zeal of my youthful chaperone and wedding conversationalist...but if I left them with anything it was-- I hope, not a belittlement of their beliefs, but rather an example of how to expand your horizons to all that God has made...which is, I guess, what church is for. Church reminds we are not alone, nor in charge...which--when you get to be my age--is a good thing.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Truth and Meaning

A famous book sits on my shelf from a German philosopher entitled "Truth and Method." My teacher, Pat Keifert, teaches a course called "Truth and Meaning" these days...Whether method or meaning, truth still presides over the day...as the Gospel of John says it, "You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (8.32)

For many "truth" is a thing, a statistic, or a fact. That 2+2=4 is a "truth" for some people. For others it is a "truth" that the USA was designed by Christians of the 18th Century (and who happen, so it appears, to agree with Christians of the 21st Century--what luck!!!) However, for others "truth" is a bogey, a ghost, a pipe-dream, at best, and what we only can hope for is to have something "true" for me, and people like me...

"Truth" in the Gospel of John is nothing of the sort from the examples above. "Truth" is not a fact; nor, an hypothesis generated by wishful thinking. Nor is truth a dream or a ghost or phantasm of some kind...no, for the Gospel of John truth is a guy whom John calls "Jesus." And somehow, John argues in his story, if you know this guy you know the truth, and the truth then "makes you free." So, how to know this guy named Jesus? (This is the "meaning" part.)

You can read his story, and that is a start...but do you really know someone if you only read their story? Because I read a book about Thomas Jefferson does that mean I know Jefferson? Do I know him in the way John Adams or George Washington knew Thomas Jefferson? Not really, and so reading a story about Jesus is not knowing Jesus. In fact, in order to "know" someone in the way you know your parents or your spouse or your friends there is really only one way--you have to live with them, work with them, play with them, be with them, trust them, and hopefully they trust you. It is in the living where we perceive the knowing.

In order to "know" Jesus you have to live with him, and since he's alive (that's the purpose of the resurrection) in the Spirit we actually CAN live with him. But do we? Do we consult Jesus about anything in our lives? (Usually we call this prayer, but I often just ask him, as if he's sitting in the chair across from my desk...but I am a theologian, and I am weird.) It's not a question of asking What Would Jesus Do?, one of the most insipid slogans of all time from popular Christianity, but rather, what will you do with the advice or encouragement Jesus brings to you?

To know the truth in this sense is to know--that is "live with"--Jesus of Nazareth in your life. To invite him to your dinner, your sleeping, your parties, your griefs, your slightly sketchy business deals, or even your grossly in flagrante delicto (While the "crime is a-blazin'") situations. Truth in Christianity is not a fact, or an idea, or a morality or even an ethic: truth is living with a person, who, has the power...and the desire...to make us free. What more is there to know?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Spirit vs. Structure, part II

What kind of a congregation do you have if questions of structure take a back seat to questions of identity? Yesterday, I met with Bob Sanderson, president of Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, and he asked me about Prairie Table Ministries. It was a good conversation.

I reminded him first that what makes Prairie Table somewhat unique in the world of Christian congregations is that your identity as a Christian is the most important aspect of our groups. If you think of what makes a person a member of "X" congregation, most of the time questions of structure are used to delineate who is a member or not? Do they worship at a certain time and place in a certain way? Do they give money? Do they participate in the sacraments? These are all structural realities that assume an attendant faith. (That is, people who worship or give money or take sacraments actually believe in what they do--but it is the doing, not the believing, that qualifies membership.)

At Prairie Table, since we do not have membership, questions of structure do not delineate our congregations. Rather, it is the relationships you develop that provide whatever structure Prairie Table has, and therefore, those relationships become the reason why you participate in the ministries or not. For example, recently, a group of men have starting attending our "Soup and Bible" class on Wednesday afternoon. There are four of them, and as with everyone, they attend the class as time and providence permit...but just a couple of weeks ago there was just one guy there, and although he was not alone, he was the only one of this quartet there that day. As he left, he said to me, I'll have to call those guys and see what's up and why they weren't here. It is that kind of consideration of relationship that Prairie Table is looking for. People taking responsibility for their friends is all we are looking for out here...

Notice too--for those of you reading this who are pastors or leaders of congregations--the gentleman did not say "You Scott, as leader of this group, should take responsibility and call them, even though you may not know any one of their last names," but rather, he understood-even if instinctively-that these are his friends, and therefore, his responsibility. One of the most pervasive structures of Christian congregations is the "ordained" leader...and although important, at Prairie Table we believe "friends" are even moreso. And although friendship may seem an unique way to start a congregation, I am not wondering if it is the only way...as we all have a friend in Jesus.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Spirit vs. Structure

Readers of this blog with good memories will recall that I have dealt with today's topic before: spirit vs. structure when it comes to God and religion. Here is how I often encounter this question.

A person who goes to the congregation I used to serve runs into me at some event or place. They ask me what I am doing now, and I tell them...depending upon how much I perceive their interest to be...a bit about what we do at Prairie Table. Then they ask if we have a building or a flyer or how we organize stuff, and I tell them we don't do any of that...they then look at me kind of funny, nod their heads, and in good grace wish me well...before they can turn away I know, without a doubt, that even were they the greatest Christian in the world, Prairie Table Ministries would not work for them. You see, for some of the people I meet, God and religion needs "structure." At Prairie Table, we focus more on "spirit." And there is a huge chasm between structure-people and spirit-people, and even though my tradition tries to balance the two out as well as any religious tradition, at PTM we fall more and the "spirit" side of the gulf...and for Christians who stand on the other side we might as well be a different religion for as well as they comprehend us...(and to be fair, "spirit" folks don't do well with "structure" religion, but that is for another blog.)

Structure is how we know about religions...the buildings, the constitutions, the regularized patters of worship, leadership development, and all the other things that go into maintaining a structure are how many view religion. And that is fine, and for me this "old-school" (I was raised as a structure person) approach has many merits. But it is not what we do at Prairie Table Ministries...for us the"new-school" is to focus on the Spirit of Jesus Christ, and how that Spirit calls and guides us into the world, and into the mission God has for us in this time and place. So, structure, such as it is around Prairie Table is pretty minimal (It is not as if we do not have structure, we have some, but it is not what we focus on...just as the usual congregation, focused on structure, still tries to follow the Spirit.)

I believe it is legitimate to follow the Spirit over structure because no one has ever been saved by a structure (although I will admit is has helped guide people to better lives), and we always need to keep that in the forefront of our faith...all Christians are people of the Spirit, no matter how diverse (and sometimes polar opposite) their structures...And it is that unity we share in Christ Jesus that propels Prairie Table Ministries...blown by the breezes of the Spirit...into the many and various structures of the world.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Independence Day, christologically considered

As we roll around to another fourth of July celebration, freedom is in the air...TV commercials use our founding fathers and mothers as shills for buying beer or upgrading our automotive status...there are fireworks going off every night now (presumably testing for Sunday's all-out fete), and we find freedoms bandied about on everything from self-defeating behaviors to the right-to-bear arms. What a magical day the Fourth of July is!!

As a Christian, however, my freedom came long before Thomas Jefferson ever arrived on the scene. As someone who trusts God in the power of the Spirit of the resurrected Jesus, freedom for me happened on a day 2000 years ago or so as I was lifted from the burdens of sin to the freedom to be human. Independence day--for me and other Christians--is Easter, the day on which our freedom is confirmed in the breaking of the fear-chain of death. When you are no longer afraid of death, living in freedom is quite easy...of course, that "death" can be a big thing.

I just read that almost a 1/3 of all our medical expenses are spent on the last two months of peoples' lives, trying to keep living even though there is little chance for a "medical miracle." Now, in the cases of people who are willing to test for new treatments or drugs, perhaps there is some justification for hanging around (I mean, how can we know what the miracle drugs are if we never give them a chance to be miraculous?), but most of it just seems like a big fear of death. Most people are trapped in the idea that life is limited to what we experience here on earth, and they will do anything to keep that experience going...too bad in some cases.

But there are also folks who know death is here, and are just waiting to say goodbye. Again and again I come across people so near to death as to have Her sitting next to me, and still breath is drawn until the last of the children can say goodbye, or the trusting spouse promises to be OK. Amazingly, death in those situations is graced with love, with life, and a true independence...an independence not tied to childish beliefs in sentimental afterlifes of clouds and angels, but an independence of love, of trusting in God that even though we are no longer around to supervise life will go on...And every time someone impresses me with such strong--what word is there but "faith?"--I hear fireworks and bands and celebrations for the true independence that comes from a God who trusts and loves us. Happy Fourth of July!

Monday, June 21, 2010

So you want to defeat evil?

My children grew up with Harry Potter. Born just a few years before the books came out, they were learning to read at the right moment for this phenomenon. As parents we went to the midnight book parties with tons of five year olds running around in British academic robes while the parents wore plain old bathrobes and groggily charged $24.95 to their credit cards for the newest Potter release. We even had a Harry Potter birthday party once with over thirty kids running around our house playing an americanized version of Quidditch (which is just throwing stuff around a house until you break something!) Ah, those were the days....

Of course, the Potter-mania lasted almost ten years, and by the time the final book came out in print, Chris and I waited in line to buy it, while our children were at friend's houses and working, and couldn't be bothered with such a trivial errand. But we read all the books aloud, and the kids re-read them (our youngest still reads them), but we got every word out there at one time or another. (I always read Mad-Eye Moody with a Sean Connery accent, and I thought for sure he was going to be cast in that role...oh well, you know why I don't belong in Hollywood.)

A couple of weeks ago I was reflecting on the amount of time and money we spent on Harry Potter (and as my parents now live about one hour from the new Harry Potter theme-park I am sure we are not done yet). I wondered what I got from it all? Well, I got great family memories...the hours we spent together reading and watching Harry Potter are some of my favorite times as a family...but I also received a reminder about life, and especially about evil.

I am not impressed with evil much. If there are "Voldemorts" out there in the world, they do not scare me much as I know ultimately they will fail, and I always try to be about the ultimate. But I do realize there is evil, and in my job I get to see its consequences quite often. Lies, deceit, assault, even murder have been part of my job in the last few years, as I have walked with people down the dank corridors of life...but this is where Harry Potter blesses me...because you see, Harry Potter and his story (all seven books and eight movies to date) remind us that if you want to defeat evil you had best have some friends...because friends--and the love they share--are more powerful than even the greatest evil. As another book I read a lot--the Bible-- has it, no man has a greater gift than to lay his life down for his friends...because friends are the most important gift God ever gives us.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Very Interesting

I read a book by an author whom, it turns out, has very little in common with me. Usually we like to encounter people who are like us in some way...whether we meet them on the street or watch them on TV or read them in a book we want to have some kind of obvious, tangible connection. Well, this book Infidel by Aayan Hirsi Ali has no obvious connection to my life in any way.

She is a politician...I think politics is silly; she is a woman...although I like women, I am not one; she is from Somalia in Africa...I am from Minnesota in the USA; she was raised as a Muslim and is now an "atheist"...I was raised as a Christian and still am (although I must admit her atheism never sounds like a strict rejection of God, but rather of religious traditions...which a lot of Christians could claim too); she has a death threat against her...I am free from such constraint. (You want a fun Google search? Google this woman and read all the comments posted about her. Absolutely scary.)

But as different as we are, she did remind me of one thing on which we agree: if women are not free, neither is the society in which they live. This is so central to the Christian understanding of life that without it, you could not have Christianity. Any Christian tradition that does not accord full respect and freedom to women will fail...now I realize there are certain Christian traditions that do not accord to women the same freedoms they accord to men...in fact in the Christian scriptures there are even attempts to indoctrinate discrimination based on patriarchal arrogances...but they are minor and pale in number and vibrancy to the Christian scriptures that speak for the emancipation and freedom of women and men in Jesus Christ. I thank God for the women of faith who have walked in my journey with me...they have been a blessing.

So I read a book by a former Muslim politician who reminded me of a central tenent of my faith: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3.28) Thank you Ms. Hirsi Ali, although we share little in common, in some way I hope what we do share together makes for a better world.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

New neighbors?

We are getting our first taste of immigration up here in the North. This is not the Canadians coming down, but rather, people from across the country who are here to work. We have jobs, seemingly lots of them, although for most of them you are screened for drugs, and well...we have lots of jobs.

We ran into a guy who moved here from Georgia to work at a restaurant, and another who transferred here to work retail, and folks are too happy to have them. A friend of mine who hires for the local Sam's Club is always looking for people to work, and he is regularly short 5 people per shift.

So I read stories about how tough the job market is, how people are scrambling for anything, and I have 5 help wanted signs I can see from my window. I like this part of living here: the new people, the crowded streets--it is exciting, as the roads we have are found inadequate, and the habits and mores we have developed are found to be exclusive (and probably prejudiced too), and all in all the good old culture we have shared gets shaken up a bit.

I have been in this kind of transition before in other places like Chicago, IL or Austin, TX. Certain kinds of people dig in their heels, build huge walls and trenches, and refuse to acknowledge their changing reality. Others open up their arms and doors to folks who may not have anything in common with them, but they find the newness and energy exotic. As I watch my neighbors up and down the street deal with this change, you can tell who is who with relative ease...

They say the first century that Jesus lived in was also a time fo cultural change, as constantly expanding empires has reached the limits of their technology, and people were making do as the world got smaller and larger at the same time. Jesus, of course, did his part as well, trying to shake up the local Jewish culture and tradition...but he died for it...but he was part of it.

I don't know, and can't predict the future, but it does seem to me that a couple of things are going to be radically different in 2012 than they are even now in 2010. For one thing, this immigration is going to really heat up, as people who have stagnated over the past 10 years of economic uncertainty make the inevitable moves as time marches on...But even more so the world is not stopping...God continually grows and creates, redeems and blesses, so that life moves on whether we are ready for it or not...the internet allows me to believe I am relevant in New Zealand or wherever I am read...soon, I may have a neighbor from New Zealand...and that would be new...and not a little bit exciting.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Demon in my view

Those of you with a literary bent often recognize that the titles of my blog posts comes from pieces of literature or music. Today is no different, but that is because of a rather extraordinary experience I had the other night.

I was with a group of young people at one of Mandan's finer places where young people gather. Like most of the places it has a few pool tables,a couple of dart boards for leagues, a few poker tables, and one long bar. We were gathered at a table talking about the future and how life seems to have little meaning. (The oldest person there was 25...so nihilistic existentialism should be expected as the dominant philosophic theme...) Suddenly, without anything resembling a warning, one of the young men stands up--pushes himself away from the table and recites the poem "Alone" by Edgar Allen Poe. From memory. In its entirety. And all the guys playing pool, and the two teams of dart throwers all stopped and watched this young guy, recently moved here from Minnesota, perform this brief poem. (As I listened to him the only line I remembered from that poem is the last one about the cloud as a "demon in my view," I thought how I had not expected that as one of tonight's entertainment choices.)

As he finished and sat down, his girlfriend came over and hugged him and told him he was cute. He hung his head as she and her friends wandered over to another table. When he lifted his head, I asked him why he knew that poem. "A friend and I did it for our video production class." When was that? "My senior year." That was like what, five years ago, I said, why do you still remember it?

He looked at me as he took a swig from his bottle. "It meant something to me...it still does I guess." I smiled at him and nodded...yeah, I said, all the girlfriends in the world can't fill that need...He looked at me, and said, "you're lucky to be a pastor..." Why, I asked? "Well, you have someone who can fight the demon."

I have never thought of Jesus as much of a demon fighter, but he does keep me from being alone...and my young friend knows more about Poe, more about me, more about my God than I do. And as we sat there staring out into the crowded room, the silence we shared was answered prayer.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Early Morning Rain

The one song I sing more than any other is "Early Morning Rain." It's a Gordon Lightfoot song, but I first heard it decades ago by Peter, Paul, and Mary. I have loved it ever since I was a child. I don't know if I understood the song back then, but the haunting melody, and the lyrics just tender enough to evoke reality, have stayed with me through the years...

I've played the song a thousand ways, from country to R & B, and even its original folk-rock version...I've played it in a couple of different keys as my voice has changed over the years...I've fiddled with the lyrics as the Spirit has moved me...and I still love that song.

I guess it is my favorite song, although Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey" is what I always say when someone asks me that question...but I live with the early morning rain...I live with the dreams that haven't made it yet...with the people who have left, and whom I have left...but with no regrets...no sense of despair or frustration...just the calm accceptance that rain comes....

I know I didn't know much about that when I first learned the song...but forty years later...? Well, that's about the only thing I have learned...and the song is not a song of anger, but rather of a patient and enduring hope that arises from a dead guy who arose from the dead...I could write all day about this guy, about the love God promised me in his death and resurrection...but I won't...I'd best be on my way--in the early morning rain.

True artists

I meet a lot of people who remember the "glory days" of their youth. Now in their mid to late twenties (I know...for those of you over thirty don't even go there...) they remember and dream how their best years passed them by. Now, mired in the routines of jobs and child-raising, stuck near the bottom of our socio-economic scale here in Bismarck, these young men and women often look at me--twenty years their senior--as if I am a visitor from a strange planet.

But as we sit and talk, and I hear their stories--how a young dad took his daughter on her first motorcycle ride (mom lives in another town, but no doubt the story will get back to her...)--how a young musician wishes people wouldn't use DJs at weddings, or I hear a story about how life was so much easier back then, and how they wished they'd have stayed in school...the past coming roaring back for them, and smiles crease the corners of their hardened lives. But they are just memories...

John Dewey once wrote a line I have always loved: "Time and memory are true artists; they remold reality nearer to the heart's desire." When these young folks I meet get to be my age, I wonder how they will look back at this time? No doubt time and memory will still create worlds vastly different from the one we are in today with busted bar stools, a jukebox blaring out Snow Patrol and Keith Urban at regular intervals as two of the guys battle for jukebox predominance. Perhaps there will be no memory at all...just a blur from those days of nothing but work and child-raising.

Regardless of how reality is molded in later years, it will reflect our truer desires...our desire to love, to be loved, to have people care about us, to care about others...and if God finds grace for us to live long, may God also grant us time and memory so our heart might rest in Thee.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pulling Teeth

Tomorrow I lose one of my wisdom teeth...(since wisdom is not a quality I carry in surplus, this is a damaging blow.) Unlike many, I am able to keep my wisdom teeth, as they all came in pretty well, and I have had both the lower left, and tomorrow the upper left tooth removed as necessary. It will come as no suprise that I am not a fan of dentists...

You see, when I was about 10 I fell on some ice, and had a few of my teeth embedded into my skull up behind my nose...I don't remember much except people running around looking for my teeth (which, of course, my dentist found when he pulled them out from my nasal cavity.) I had dental surgery quite a lot in those years, and now, toothed with false teeth, I only make occassional appearances in dental offices. I even have insurance! I still don't go. I have friends who are dentists and hygenists--I don't go. Getting me to go to the dentist is like pulling teeth...and in irony of ironies...tomorrow I get to see just how apt the metaphor is.

Going to church can be like this for some people too. They had too much of it perhaps, or maybe a traumatic experience perhaps, and now they see no need to be part of a community unless it is really, really necessary...I get that. Prairie Table is often church for those who wouldn't ever set foot in a church. Some of our groups meet in a church basement, and some meet other places... Some people just cannot get themselves to a church building...much like I can pass dentist after dentist and never be tempted to stop in...

The cool thing about God, and here the dentist analogy might have to stop, is that God is not limited to church buildings. God is, can be, and even-- in some cases- promises to be in places besides church buildings. Not any old place has sanitized dental equipment...but any old place can gather the people of God into a church.

We have friends whose churches meet in Panera bread stores, local bars for Theology on Tap, and movie theaters, coffee shops, and sporting goods stores...and people go to those places who wouldn't normally go to church in a traditional church building...And God seems to be OK with that.

So I will enter a dental office, and hope not to lose my soul...because as Jesus of Nazareth asked so poignantly years ago, "What does it profit you to gain the whole world if you lose your soul?" As far as loss goes--I hope tomorrow it's just my tooth.

Monday, May 3, 2010

On the road...again?

The young man came up right to me and extended his hand. Hi, he said, I am a friend of hers...he indicated the woman I was talking to at the party. Now, I could tell by the woman's reaction that although they do indeed know each other, in her world, he was not exactly a "friend." I think "noxious toxin" would have elicited the same response for her...

Not wanting to be impolite, as the woman looked down to study her shoes, I asked why he was so chipper? I am driving to Georgia tomorrow! Really, I said, where are you going there? I don't know, he said, do you have any suggestions? (It just so happens that I do have suggestions, but gentle reader, you can see where my confusion rests--and it is not with me!)

You mean you have no destination? Right. Just traveling to travel? Yep. Too cold up here. (You can't blame anyone for that up here, as it is cold most of the time.) So, you're just going to drive to Georgia? Are you coming back? I hope not, he said!

I asked the obvious question: why Georgia? Do you have family or friends there? Nope, he sipped his beer, it's the only state that begins with a "G." (This is true, I thought to myself, it would have been a lot harder to choose "A" or "M.") At this the lady I was with raised her head...do you need any help packing, she asked?

He looked at her, studied her for a bit, tilting his head towards me, as if he was going to let me in on a secret...No, he said, I am just looking for a change, something new. I want to travel light. Now I leaned into him...

Look, I told him, the road will have lots of new things, lots of stuff to keep you busy, and in Georgia you'll get your warmer weather...but the road you're going to travel needs someone who packs light...someone who can be open to the road, someone who can travel a blue highway without prejudice or fear...and from where I'm standing...your bags are hanging way too low...

His eyebrows scrunched together as he looked at me...and then his face opened into the realization of his plan...Safe travels, I said, and he thanked me, and walked away. If there's one thing I've learned on the road over the years...the heaviest bags we travel with are not the ones with zippers and buckles...the heaviest bag we travel with beats in our chests...and no road can bear some of those burdens...even in Georgia.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Kitchen Drama

My waitress welcomed me at my table with red eyes and a wry smile. She asked if I wanted anything to drink, and I asked if she had been crying. She nodded. Things weren't going well today at "the office," and she couldn't wait for her shift to be over. I know those days...

For those of us a bit more experienced than my 20 year-old waitress, we know life goes poorly more often than it goes well. In fact, most of life seems like brief respites of joy or relief sandwiched around hours of boredom and holding back tears...Work, as we joke in our Christian tradition, was meant to kill us...and over the past four thousand years or so we have a lot of evidence to back up that claim...but we all "work" for some reason, and some of the reasons are actually quite noble...

But no matter where we work or how we work or why we work, we all like to work with people who can appreciate our work, even if they cannot appreciate us...and when that doesn't happen? Well, you get waitresses who come to their tables having recently been crying about their work...

So as I fumbled around for a drink order (as if I do not know what I am going to have?), I related to my young server a story about two sisters: Mary and Martha. In our story, I said, Mary always seems like the girl who gets whatever she wants, and Martha has to do all the heavy lifting of life...picking up other's messes, catching things that have fallen through the cracks, always working in the kitchen...but here's the funny thing, the stories are always about Martha, Mary never gets to say a thing...I wonder why?

As she brought me my drink a few minutes later, she smiled at me and said she knew why Mary never said anything...I think--she said--she probably left the kitchen crying...Me too, I said, and in the stories her tears are the blessings of life. Thank you.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Are you kidding me?

The other day I found myself in an apartment that seemed pretty typical to me. It was leased by one person, but she had a friend and a cousin and her son who were pretty regular visitors, and there wasn't much "stuff" to take up space. It reminded me of my younger days when the furniture we owned consisted of a mattress, a 13 inch TV, and a box to put it on. (Of course, 25 years later, we have more stuff now...but I still miss the box!)

As the single moms talked in the hallway about how cute their kids are, as the guys from the upstairs apartments got ready for work, and the afternoon was humming along, I stepped into the kitchen of one apartment, and saw "the picture." This "picture" is famous in my world because we had a version of the same picture in our house when I was a kid. I remember studying that picture, running my hands over the outline of the figure in it, looking for details hidden in the crevasses of the painting. The "picture" is of Jesus, holding a lamp, opening the door of a garden gate.

So here I am, 47 years old, in a place so different from my childhood I can't even begin to illustrate it...and I am brought back to my teenage years, staring at a picture, wondering if life is even worth living...and it all floods back to me...a tear wells in my eye, a lump forms in my throat, and I am brought face-to-face with me and my God in the most unlikliest of places and circumstances. And although the picture doesn't change the reality of the situation, the leasee who lost her job, the 19 year old neighbor pregnant with her second child, the constant struggle to stay sober...all of it takes place under the watchful gaze of the coming Lord...

Because you see all along I assume when I am in places where I am stepping over beer cans, and wondering when the last time the garbage had been taken out, in places where 20 year old moms watch kids like I watch soap operas (I care, but I'm not sure why.) I can always trap myself into assuming that God forgot about this place. These folks are "lost," and God somehow doesn't ever want to see them have a dream realized, a hope come true, or even someone to tell them they are loved, with no strings attached.

In places such as that I pretty much assume the last person I'd see there was Jesus...and, of course, he's the first one I see. It shouldn't surprise me, as it's happened to me over and over and over these past 47 years...and all the stories we have about Jesus are like this too..where he's not with the popular, powerful, or rich, but with all the lonely and forgotten...but I was suprised--as usual- when the Lord shows up where I least expect him...and what changed was me, because that "picture" reminded me why I am here, in apartment buildings that seems "sketchy" even to the residents...I am here because that's where God is opening the door...and that pregnant mom, and board-shorted young man, and that young woman bleary-eyed at four in the afternoon...they are all part of Jesus...and on this day--at least--I am too.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Death of Liberal Arts and Life

Nancy Cook of Newsweek Magazine online did a nice article on the decline of liberal arts learning in the USA during this current recession. (See Jobbed: The Death of the Liberal Arts, April 5, 2010) So once again those seemingly "pie-in-the-sky" idealists are losing out to the hard core pragmatists who want to use higher education, not for education of the human life, but to get a job. As if that's what education is all about...going to work.

I've been reading about the death of humanites (in this case liberal arts) for over three decades. When I was in undergraduate school (majoring in English--a classic "liberal art"), I read a couple of dozen books on why I would never get a job in a world dominated by "supply-side" economics. I remember I told my advisor once, a great woman who specialized in 18th Century literature, that if I'd wanted a job, the last thing I would have done is go to college. College is all about avoiding work, not preparing for it.

The bigger issue for me is filtering "education" through ONLY an economic lens. Education is about sparking the human mind and soul to reaches and depths beond our imaginations. Browning's great line "to exceeds man's (sic) grasp, else what's a heaven for?" is the purpose and point of education for me. Or how about Jerome Lee's great line, "Do you ever think about the things you think about?" as a way to understand what education could be. To say that you have to learn to read or write or add in order to make money is to make a mockery of God's greatest creation: the human being. The human given a depth of passion, the human graced with a mind of nimbleness, the human bestowed with an honor and glory, "just a little lower than the angels" does not deseve to be a cog in a machine to grind us up for higher and higher percentages of productivity to the GNP.

So to all of you out there worried about jobs (and according to the article only 41% of people aged 18-29 have them, no doubt there's a lot of worry out there) remember this: to make things is not the same as having a job. To be creative is more important than to have toys that break...to love well is remembered long after the shine has faded from the coins and credit cards...

As it turns out, I bury a lot of people. And not a one of them was remembered because they made money (although they did, and some made quite a bit)...they were remembered because they were a friend, a dad, and even a colleague at work...but even--at work--they knew there was more to life than jobs...and that is why liberal arts is so important and will never go away...it is the way in which life is lived...even for those who have jobs.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Burials and Aging

Statistics indicate that as a society, on a whole, we are getting older. In fact, if not for immigrant groups to this country, we would be aging even faster. I partcipated in the funeral services of a 93 year old man yesterday...93! (If I were to live as long as him, I would be only half-done with my life...a terrifying thought to say the least!) Of course, as we get older our children become more precious...else this great globe will end, and we are such poor players that strut and fret our hour upon the stage and then are heard no more...(with apologies to Shakespeare.)

I wonder, for example, as I saw the kids running around the funeral home last night, as parents and elders grieved the loss of a good man, what it would have been like to not have them there? I think that would have been even sadder...to not have the future of our world running around playing hide-and-seek amidst the tears and tissues would have made for a much more depressing event...(and funerals are depressing enough, thank you.)

This leads me to believe that aging and mortality are not synonymous. That aging is life, and although things we may have been able to brush off when we were younger with age get a little more deadly, by and large, you can still have a pretty good life...even at 93 or beyond! So the burial will be interesting...

Because we hold that the grave cannot hold us forever...we have a life, a future, in the promise of a God who knows our name...and that can provide us courage. Courage for what? Well, for one thing,,,not to fear funerals and aging...because if God is good enough for us in this life,well, I figure God is good for us in the next.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Science, Religion, and Easter

I have spent the better part of my theological career dealing with "science." Ever since my days at seminary working for the Chicago Center for Science and Religion to recent work on conservation issues with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, I have found science, particularly as it relates to biology and ecology, to be very helpful in understanding the Bible. A recent book by a friend, William P. Brown, entitled "The Seven Pillars of Creation" got me to thinking about science and the Bible once again. And then Easter appeared on the calendar...

Easter is where the Christian religion and science often stop dating...it is the event in which both sides call off the romance, and decide to look for more compatible partners...Easter, you see, flies in the face of science. Easter proposes that the immutable law of death can be bypassed by the power of God...in other words, Jesus got up. Now, if the Christian religion would admit that Jesus wasn't really dead, or that some other shenanigan occurred back then, well, maybe science would go out for pizza one more time...but Christians tend not to relent on this issue. He was dead. He rose, and now he's not dead. And science shakes its head...

Basically, for those who believe in the resurrection of the dead, we go it alone...science, various other religions, and people of a more empirical bent, wish us bon voyage...(and sometimes good riddance!) What makes the Christian religion even more suspect is that not only did Jesus' resurrection controvert the law of science, but in the future that law will be broken for everyone who participates in God through Christ Jesus...that often becomes too much for the scientific mind to bear...So as Christians we walk this valley of the shadow of death, not because we understand death, but because we trust God to bring life again on the other side.

I know many scientists who are Christian, but that is precisely because at this point (Easter) they relinquish their science...and I know many scientists who are not Christian because they will not relinquish science...So Easter is an important day for both scientists and religious people because it tells us where we differ, and gives us a place to start our conversations...right in front of an empty tomb with the question being: "How--exactly--did it get that way?" Happy Easter!