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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.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Magnificat of our own...

I like the sound of that phrase...(I heard it somewhere, but it has been a long time, and the memory fades)

The word (magnificat) is a Latin word that starts out Mary's song about her pregnancy with the Savior. She says, in English, "My soul magnifies the Lord..." We often do not think of our "souls" this way, and quite a few people don't even believe in a "soul." Well, not only do I believe that we have "souls," but that other than food, drink, and good conversation nothing else matters. The state of your soul is the most important status update...

And Mary's "magnifies" God. What?? Doesn't "magnify" mean to make something bigger, to bring it into sharper focus, to intensify whatever or whomever is being magnified? How does Mary's soul make God bigger? How does Mary's soul intensify God? Whatever could the poet possibly mean? (I need my John Ciardi now folks!) How does Mary's soul bring God into sharper focus? I am befuddled...holey moley something is going on here in this birth of Christ thing I just do not understand...

Could it be that God--the creator of all, the Progenitor of Christ--seeks completion in humanity? That is, without humanity the will of God stands unfinished? Humanity, and all it brings with it, including its "soul" accomplishes for God what is the purpose of everything (including the fish!)? This is too hard to believe...yet, there it is...a young, teenage girl, pregnant in the most mysterious of ways actually makes God clearer with her soul...(at least we now know why she is a Saint). Could we dare receive God in the same way? Could we too make God clearer with our souls? Is Mary a singular of this God-activity; or, is she our prototype?

This time of year I want to believe she is our prototype...that God blesses us all to make God clearer to the world through our souls...That is, the Son frees us all to be vulnerable, scared-yet- trusting teenagers when it comes to the gifts of God...and our souls live in that trust to magnify God. Merry Christmas!!

May your tablesbe full, and your conversations be true.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas traditions

When our oldest daughter had just turned one, my wife and decided to move (actually, I got a job...which I try not to do too often.) So on the day after Thanksgiving we bundled up ourselves, including the new toddler, and went and bought a live Christmas tree for our new house.

Both of us had experience with live Christmas trees, but in the last years of our lives we usually used the artificial variety...so this was our first live Christmas tree as parents, and we were excited. So we bought a tree that we thought would fit into the space we had set aside in our living room. Since the ceiling was only 7 ft,we concentrated on not getting one too tall, and as we tied the tree to the top of our truck, we were very happy at our purchase. Christmas would have a grand tree!

Of course, it was too tall, so after much trimming on the trunk and a few lower branches, we just were able to squeeze it into the room, and scrunch the angel on top, as her (0r his, you can never really tell with angels) halo nestled against the popcorn ceiling. And the tree fell over...
So, we adjusted a few screws, reset the tree in the stand...and it fell over again...and again...and again...and after 30 minutes it was pretty clear that this tree was a bit too crooked to stand by itself. On to the baling wire!

Drilling a screw into the wall, and using baling wire, we were able to rope the tree into a semi-vertical position, that once the lights and ornaments were on it gave the tree a reasonable facsimilie of a Christmas tradition...And then the branches thawed and fell open and open and open so that we had about 2 feet of space between the end of the branches and the kitchen counter...and did I mention we had a toddler? After this we put the kid to bed...

My wife came down, looked at the tree tied to the wall, branches spreading out across the entire living room floor, a couple of boxes of ornaments scattered on the floor (compliments of our daughter's budding organizational sklls), and me drinking a beer already exhausted with Christmas..."Who died, and made us the adults," she asked?

I am happy to report that 20 Christmases later we have succeeded in maintaining a Christmas tree...although we went totally artificial in 1996...but this year...No tree...the tradition is on hiatus. We have three households now, and we will be graced if we can all get together for even a few days around Christmas. (As both my wife and I work on Christmas Eve and often Christmas Day, celebrating on the actual days of Christmas is often not an option.) But the tradition of the tree has never been about the tree...it's always been a sign of us taking care of our daughters, taking care of each other, remembering who takes care of us...And we may not have a tree this year to help us with that remembering, but we are forever grateful for our love together as "adults," and for the kids who let us be their parents...and for the the God of love who just lets us be.

May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Melancholic season

The sun is blindingly white off the hoarfrost of the trees, and without a cloud in the sky the blue seems to stretch to eternity...who could be sad in such a place?

Well, I could, and a few others too I imagine (those with Seasonal Affective Disorder will find little to cheer about in a winter trapped indoors), and whether it is a full-blown case of the blues, or just the general ennui that comes from living in an extreme climate (and really, even if climate change is something we just noticed, who doesn't live in extreme places anymore? Weather sucks everywhere...well, except maybe Hawaii, but then it never changes much...and who wants that?)

But what makes a place a "place," what makes a house a "home," for example...has more to do with memory and the people in your life than we imagine...So when I say I was happy in Walt Disney World, what I mean was that the place (WDW) provided me the time and space to spend with my kids at an age when they were still charming...and did not cost as much. (Little did I know at the time!)

I ran into a guy at the gym the other day who recognized me as the pastor who confirmed him eight years ago...and I remembered his "place" (I always asked the kids--who were sophomores in high school--what their favorite place was.), and his place was "Flathead Lake" in Glacier Park. He was amazed that I remembered, and I was amazed that it was still his favorite place...but then, why wouldn't it be? If you have a spot where all your friends, your family, the good things that happened to you occur...why would you forget it? You may add others to it over the years (he is still young), but it will never vanish as your "spot."

I wonder sometimes if Jesus ever asked his mom and dad about his birthplace? How did it happen again, Dad? Why were we in Bethlehem? What was mom doing with all the angels and shepherds? I mean it would seem that such a place would be forever remembered fondly...yet, of all the things he talked about, he never talked about that...so maybe it wasn't his favorite place...maybe we'll never know his favorite place...but we know our favorite place of his: here, with us, in the water, in the bread, in the wine, and in the words...Never sad no matter how painful--because we have the memory and his person in every place. And who can be sad when Jesus is around?

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.