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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, 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.