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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, March 28, 2011

Teams vs. Stars

If you are like me, and have only a casual interest in college basketball until the time for the NCAA Basketball Tournament (March Madness), it is quite fun to pick which teams will win versus which stars will shine. Let me explain my theory: There are two types of successful college basketball teams (this only applies to college hoops), and each do pretty well in the tourney. The first kind of team is dominated by top-flight talent, usually very young, and usually destined for the NBA pro game. A great player, say Dwayne Wade or Carmelo Anthony and even a Jonny Flynn (all right, maybe a stretch, but he's a beloved Timberwolf!), can take a mediocre program and make it great. The other kind of team plays together for a few years, has a coach who trusts players, and most of the folks won't ever play in the NBA. For years Duke University epitomized this type of team, but now there are a lot of good, young coaches and players playing for teams like Butler and Virginia Commonwealth University who can compete in one game showdowns.

As I looked at the games, and scanned headlines about the teams, I did pretty well this year, all things considered. I have UConn because they have the superstar, a kid named Kemba Walker. I went with North Carolina rather than Kentucky--I backed the wrong superstar...should have taken UK's. I had the other Richmond, VA team (literally Richmond), but I'm counting it as a win that VCU (also in Richmond) made it. I mean, who thought the city of Richmond, VA would have the most teams in the final 16? I almost picked Butler, but I underestimated their coach...I will not make that mistake again. Good coaching means way more in college basketball than in almost any other sport. Anyhow...it's pretty easy to predict who's going to win in college basketball: you just take great stars and even greater teams. For the record, great stars tend to be champions...look for UConn to win it all.

Which brings me to the Bible, and specifically Moses. According to the Bible the most famous Jewish leader ever died, and no one knows where he is buried..."to this day." Moses was a great star, he won the championship of his day--defeating Pharoah and his army, with a lot of help from Yahweh and other friends. But in the end the Bible is always about the team. Whether Jewish or Christian, as important as individuals may be, what they do for the rest of us is more important than anything they do for themselves. I mean, Jesus the Christ, perhaps the most famous human who ever lived, did little for himself other than die...but look what that did for us? His resurrection made us all brothers and sisters, it made us...a team.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Hallelujah

It seems like I have been praying for the safe return of soldiers forever. I think from the minute I was ordained in 1991 our country went to war, and we have been in a state of battle pretty much ever since...I have no problems praying for soldiers and for peace...but I wish it would end...

Every now and then I pray for some young person who has ended their life by their own hand. Always a sad time to see families and friends of suicide victims who not only mourn their loss, but mourn their failure to help or be part of a better solution...even if there never was a choice in the ending...a broken heart doesn't always see clearly.

My prayers are for the aging, especially those who experience their world at pace so fast and so out-of-control that they wonder in fear at things they were able in former times to conquer and survive...how disconcerting it can be to sit and watch a lifetime of effort and achievement be mutated and changed without so much as a nod to its provenance and history...

At times I pray for those in relationships that cannot bear the fruit of dreams held tightly against a heaving chest...how can a man or a woman or a family or a congregation measure up to the dreams of youngsters clutching teddy bears and awaiting the dawn? Who can compete against not only the perfect, but the icon of a world in which we do not live?

I always pray for death...not that it comes...but that we see it for what it is: a rest stop on a journey given by God to each of us to live, and live forever in Jesus Christ...that death--the death of a life well lived to that point--is a gift itself...not because we die nobly or in the arms of God, but rather because in dying we see sorrow for what it really is...the connective hallelujah of our lives together on earth.

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

Monday, March 14, 2011

"Poor" Rob Bell, Hell, and "universalism"

The title of this post is beyond ironic...Rob Bell is no more in need of a defense of an idea like God's love "wins," than God needs me to help with traffic...and universalism is a made up heresy that weak-faith Christians developed years ago to make things easier on themselves...and hell? Well, I do believe in hell I guess--it's just that I am not sure anyone is there, except maybe the Caretaker.

I find Christians that have faith only because they fear hell to be a bit weak...
I find Christians who believe and construct "either/ors" in order to stay believing to be weak..
I find Christians who can't handle--even as only an intellectual construct--the idea that God might love everything God creates to be silly...

So, for me, Rob Bell can go on believing God's love wins out in the end, even if it's not perfect from our end...make another Nooma series brother!
I fully tolerate the idea and possibility that I might be wrong, and God might have a special "place" in hell for me...I am not going to stop believing in God's undying love for the stuff God makes just because I might wind up in hell...cowardice is the worst sin in my mind...
The way I understand some Chrsitians and their need to have a place like hell for those who are not believers: I think those Christians have a healthy doctrine of sin and a non-existent doctrine of creation...(which is a big problem because the Christian story starts with creation, not sin...they are in essence going against the very narrative of Christianity by believing in sin before creation.)
BUT ENOUGH!

Ponder instead this Lent the love of a God on a cross...a God whose outstretched arms embrace the very people crucifying him...stretching to embrace a world that antagonizes him...a world which "hates" him (at least according to John)...Isn't this why we believe in God? We believe because we want to measure up to the high standard of humanity to which God made us...we believe because we want to enjoy and steward a world God made of beauty, truth, and justice...we believe not so others can be ignored or degraded, but rather in our belief be strengethened, encouraged, and even believe themselves...sin is out there friends...but so is love...and which one do you want to win?

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

If the Church were Christian...

I am reading a fun book by a Quaker (who grew up a Roman Catholic) called If the Church were Christian: Rediscovering the values of Jesus (Philip Gulley, HarperOne: 2010). I say "fun" because I am always interested in the movements which seek to run counter to prevailing tradition, or "orthodoxy" as he calls it. I mean, the idea that the current state of the "Church" (or states of Congregations as I might call it) does not adequately meet the needs of God's people and the world is not really new. I mean, if Jesus had written a book like this he may well have titled it "If the Temple were Jewish: Rediscovering the values of LORD."

The Church, at least as reformers like Luther and Calvin understood, is always in need of reformation. The reason is not because God goes out of style or becomes irrelevant or something like that, but because people change. And the faster change goes, the slower the "Church" seems, and therefore the more it is in need of "rediscovering" what it is supposed to be about. It is not that a leader like Pr. Gulley does not need to write such a book, but he needs to write it every day if he is to be in the reforming tradition (at least the reforming tradition that raised me where baptism was seen as a daily occurrence because "life" is a daily onslaught.)

And in a roundabout way, this book reminded me of why I can never be a Quaker. (I will, however, become a Quaker if they ever get down to only 1 left because I believe in the tradition so much, even if it is not my first understanding of God's way.) As a Christian, and in this case one who claims a Lutheran heritage, I am less interested in what Jesus valued than what God values. (In that sentence, Jesus and God can be the same subject, but notice the tense of the verb "value.") In other words, what God wants "now," is more important to me than what Jesus wanted "then."

For me, what Jesus wanted was for us to live as humanly as we were created to be by the Lord of all creation. Now, in this way, this is what God values today; however, we are in a different world than Jesus was, and how we live out our created humanity differs from his. For example, what do we do with the knowledge that Japan may well be irreparably destroyed by the recent earthquakes and tsunamis? I can think of no story or teaching of Jesus that related to a world larger than 40 square miles...what does it mean to be a created human when you know about peoples' lives you have never met or never will? Jesus never answered this question; just as he never answered questions about Buddhism, weapons of mass destruction, exhorbitant interest rates, or hedge funds. (Granted he may have hinted around those last two, as he was always talking about money and economics.)*

So for me the important question is what does God prefer these days? Jesus can guide us, model us, free us, save us, redeem us, release us, (oh...you get the picture) but it is God who sets the mission. (I am one of those theologians who believes that God redeems the world in Christ so that creation can continue on.) So I don't need the Church to be Christian at all...I would like it to be Godly, which if Jesus is the Christ and he has anything to do with it, means it will be the most human place around.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

*One of the funniest things about Jesus always talking about money and economics is that the Church is always blasted when it does that, and is then in need of "reform." Really? How do you follow the values of Jesus unless you are talking about money, justice, and economics? People have to pull their heads out of the sand on this one.