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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.

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.