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

Monday, 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.