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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.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Greetings from chilly St. Paul

You would think for someone who was raised in this frigid weather that I would be more at peace with it. I am not. I really detest taking a walk, and not enjoying any part of it because it is too cold or too windy or too icy...perhaps I am getting a bit cantakerous in my old age...

Met a guy tonight who was tested by my friend as to what I do. I answered "preacher." He said, "what kind?" and I responded "Lutheran." Then he stood up approached me straight on and said, "Good. As long as you are not one of them Catholics." As he sat back down, I asked him why he didn't care for the Catholics much. His response? "Too many hypocrites!"

Now, I am pretty sure that Roman Catholics are no more or less hypocritical than other denominations of Christians, but for this young man it seemed they had a corner on the market. But people often charge Christians, Roman Catholics and otherwise, with hypocrisy.

At Prairie Table we put a high premium on integrity, or for the younger folks, authenticity. Many of us who call Prairie Table our congregational home have been burned by Christian hypocrisy, and at times have even been hypocrites...we know of what we speak.

So as cold as this St. Paul weather is, it is not as cold as the disgust I heard in that gentleman's voice. That was cold. And at some point, if we are ever going to reach this man with a gospel of love and authenticity, we are going to have to not be hypcocrites as well. Talk about chills...imagine a world where people trust each other enough to live out their lives in honesty and truth...a world, in short, without hypocrites...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Training Missional Leaders

The intern Living Water Lutheran Church shares with First Lutheran Church in Mandan comes from a seminary in Iowa. Last week, in the earthquake in Haiti, she lost a friend who died there. Like her, he was a student at the seminary, and like her, he just wanted to help people find their way with God...unfortunately, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and now he is no longer with us. With Trisha (our intern) and the entire community of Wartburg Seminary, and all who do ministry in perilous places like Haiti, we grieve the passing of Ben Larson. Requiescat in pace.

Learning to be a missional leader is not easy. Unlike the seminary programs of old...well there is no "program" for mission. Mission is about following God into the world, in places like Haiti or Detroit or Charlotte and living with what is there, and sharing the grace that is there, and counteracting the negative forces there. You cannot learn stuff like that from books...I know, I've tried, and I've read many books, and as important as they are, they cannot stop a bleeding heart or a broken promise...

If you are interested in God I invite you to start ministering wherever and whenever you are...I think of the guy who started the poker league I am in, who sees getting together with friends once a month as about the most important thing a guy can do...we have a mix of young and old, some like me with kids the age of the youngest players, and we share tales of child-raising, being a guy, and living honorably in the world...and we play poker...ostensibly to give our hands something to do.

I think of the young woman who has not had too much in this world, and every day is a battle for her sanity, and to keep her son, and who through all the struggles manages to be kind and polite, and even gentle to those who come to her for help...amazing how one so wounded can be so gracious...

I think of my intern, given all the confusions and busyness that surrounds her life, and yet she finds a way to remember the passing of a friend, and the grief of his now widowed wife, another friend of hers. Ministry happens in places such as this, in times such as these, by these kinds of people whom God calls to live and love without fear, without counting the cost, without worrying about "how it looks" to the superficial people of the world.

All my students have, and do, impress me on a regular basis...not because they are always great students, but because they are great people...they love God, and they want to share that love...all the teaching and training in the world can't give you that...that kind of love comes only from God. It is a blessing to have such people in my life. Thank you.

Drunkards: musings on 1 Corinthians 6

According to the Bible, drunkards aren't getting anywhere fast with God. Apparently, being an alcoholic is not on the list of acceptable behaviors with God. But, what--exactly--is a "drunkard?"

According to my pocket Oxford English dictionary, to be "drunk" is to be rendered incapable by alcohol. A "drunkard" then is someone who is rendered incapable habitually. This is why I love words. Because "drunk" is a verb, and "alcohol" is a noun, what God prohibits is the verb, the doing, not the being. In other words you can't "do" drunk, but you can be a "drunk." What the Bible suggests God doesn't like is not "who you are," but rather what you "do." In this case, drink to incapacity on a regular basis.

When we call someone an "alcoholic," we are naming their identity on the basis of the adjective (derived from the noun "alcohol"), and not their behavior. When we call someone a "drunkard," we are describing their behavior without tapping into their identity. Linguistically, a person could be an "alcoholic", but if they never drink they could never be a "drunkard." Conversely, you could be a "drunkard' even if you are not an alcoholic. (Although, this is hard ot imagine, as anyone who would keep drinking would seem to be both an alcoholic and a drunkard.)

Now, I know this is why most of us do not do philosophy or theology, however, we need to know what God is against here: God doesn't want us to hurt ourselves or our neighbors (asuming drunkards imperil us...and MADD and other groups attest to that), so this behavior is not condoned. No matter who does it--alcoholic or not. The prime motivation God seeks from humanity is to take care of each other and the world, as God takes care of us. The Bible assumes it's tough to take care of things if you are always drunk, that is, a "drunkard."

Now, lest we get too cocky because we do not drink to drunkard-status, remember Jesus says that the sin that wounds is not what we do, but what we are...namely, lusters of the heart...Because our identity betrays our idolatry, what we do is a bit of a shadow when it comes to sin...because the "sinning" has been done long before we "do" anything. And what regulates our behavior then is not whether it is sinful or not, but whether it helps or imperils our neighbors and ourselves or not. So a "drunkard" doesn't drive not because that is a sin, but because that imperils him or herself and their neighbors.

So as 2010 rolls by and we struggle with questions of who we are and what we do, resolutions we keep or ignore, we could do worst than to remember then to think of others rather than to obsess over who we are. As God's children, our questions of identity are never in doubt...but what we do????

Monday, January 4, 2010

Table Fellowship and the Failure of Sacrifice

On reading a great book by S. Mark Heim, Saved From Sacrifice: a theology of the cross, (Eerdmanns, 2006) I was struck by his idea that Christians no longer use sacrifice to form community. According to Heim, Holy Communion (eucharist, the Lord's Supper, et al.) is not a reenactment of Christ's final meal, and therefore not also a version of the supper as a sacrifice. Rather, he argues, Christians no longer use sacrifice (since Christ made sacrifice useless for Christians with his resurrection), but rather seek other ways to bind themselves together rather than scapegoating a victim (the purpose of sacrifice is to bind together a community by scapegoating someone so the rest of us can feel good about ourselves and our community.)

Although he has no way of knowing this (I don't believe I have ever met him, but my memory fades on things like this...) Prairie Table gathers together around Holy Communion, but as "community" not as sacrifice. In other words, our table fellowship is in honor of our relationship we have to God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, and we believe God is creating that community, not only when we celebrate the eucharist, but when we gather together to sing, pray, or talk too. By virute of making and gathering community through celebrating the relationship we share with the Triune God, and not through the sacrifice of God for us, we have become one of those communities whom Heim says are "saved from sacrifice." That is, we do not need to sacrifice ourselves in order to have a relationship with God.

This is huge for many reasons, and those who see Jesus' action on the cross primarily as a sacrifice for human sin, will have huge problems with this idea. But at Prairie Table we came to this position not from theologically parsing atonement theory (what we are talking about here), but from the simple human craving and desire to connect with others and God around a meal...namely, the meal God invites to at the Lord's table. (At Prairie Table we do not have an "altar," needless to say, because we have nothing to sacrifice on it.)

Maybe in two thousand years this idea may take hold on the "regular" Christian imagination, but for now we at Prairie Table are keenly aware that we are bound together, not by the blood of God, but by the love of God, a God who loves us so much that he bleeds...and it is the loving, not the bleeding, not the sacrificing that saves us...