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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, 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.