Your Blog Steward

My photo
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, July 26, 2011

Having a party

The other day as I pulled up into my usual parking area at my regular hangout, one of the newer cooks was taking a cigarette break. As I got out of my car he nodded towards it, "Nice," he said. I nodded thanks and asked him his name (after all, it seems like a good idea to be on a first name basis with the guy who will cook most of your food)? He told me, and then asked if I was the owner of his new place of employment? No, I said. "Oh," he mused,"you just like to party." I laughed and we walked in together as new friends.

I do like to party. Now, I am not of the celebrity party status, but there is nothing better than a good old fashioned party, and I believe congregations should be known as party houses as much as anything. Parties that are available to everyone and free are about the greatest witness to the love of God I know.

When did church lose its identity as a party place? Why are we so serious about stuff all the time? Why don't we relax at church, unwind, have a few beers or whatever and share in life? Why isn't that known as church? We've lost a lot of our understanding of a God who is life when we refuse to let life into our churches and congregations.

Every now and then a well-intentioned person will tell me a church has to be "run like a business." Why? Why can't a church be run like a party? Why does a church have to have a budget or balanced books or marketing schemes? Why can't a church just have some attendants, some cooks, some stewards, a few musicians and storytellers and call it a day?

Parties raise money (ask any organization that does banquets as fundraisers or any high school graduate), so I am not thinking we lose much if we shift our congregational identity to a party house from a boring house of serious folk.

Now, of course, if you are a regular participant in the life of a local congregation you already think of your place as a party house. You have dinners, potlucks, coffee and cookies after worship, all kinds of celebrations...but the people I meet--like my cook--don't think of it that way. Why not?

Why do people think of church as boring, serious, and staid when the people in it generally have fun (or try to have fun?) Other than the booze (and up here at least all parties have booze it seems...there is something interesting about that for another blog) why don't parties at your local church generate the same raves as a band at your local bar? Why isn't worshiping God as exciting as listening to music in a dark room. (We don't allow smoking indoors here anymore, so, there are no "smoke-filled blues clubs" up here.) How come when Christians celebrate the God of Christ Jesus whose death and resurrection in the power of the Spirit brings freedom and life to all who encounter it, people think we are boring? Or, at least, that we don't know how to "party?"

We have a real image problem folks...because no one ever chastised Jesus for being "too serious." In fact, they thought he partied too much...

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

Monday, July 25, 2011

Near the end

Within three weeks I will no longer be a permanent resident of Bismarck, ND. It is strange to reflect on the past eight years that I have been up here. In some ways it seems so long ago, but yet; in other ways, it was almost yesterday. tempus fugit.

I've met so many people up here I've since lost count...and I'm still meeting more every day. Just the other day a person I've come to know only over the past couple of months when hearing I am leaving for Omaha said, "But I just got to meet you!" A gentle man, and one I will probably remember for a long time.

I started out here living in the basement of one of my parishioners (don't feel bad, it was a really big, well decorated basement with my own big screen TV!) I got a nice house--recently sold it to a nice young couple--and now I'm living out of the Camaro for a few days. Time circles famously...

So what will I remember from these past 8 years? The wind for sure. The patience of most of the people...it's almost legendary in some cases. The laughter, and the way so many people worked positive ministry with me. God has shown me some of the best people I have EVER met up here in North Dakota...I have been blessed.

Our dog Minnie died last winter, and with Maddy graduated I am left alone up here to tidy up some loose before I rejoin Chris in Omaha. And the blog will continue...my table's just moving about 600 miles south on the prairie...

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Religious prejudice in the USA

Because I am a known Christian (one of the characteristics of being a pastor), I get to experience religious "prejudice" every now and then. What I mean by "prejudice" is that people pre-judge me based on what they think they know about my religion. Some people, for example, think anyone who believes in God is an idiot. When they find out I am a Christian they therefore think I am an idiot--based solely on the fact that I believe in God, not whether they think I am an actual idiot or not. (Although I probably am an idiot, I prefer to think of myself as a "fool.")

So these people then hold me to certain beliefs I don't have because they know other Christians (sometimes only characterizations of Christians) that hold those beliefs. A classic case is "free will." I don't believe humans have free will, and if we do, we always choose wrong anyhow, so what's the sense in calling it "free?" I do not mind being lumped in with all the Christians of the world, past and present, there is as much good as bad to it, and I do believe in God's love for the world through the power of the Holy Spirit in the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. I can't choose my relatives! But I don't necessarily believe everything my relatives believe.

Sometimes the prejudice (pre-judging) works the other way too. Sometimes people believe things about me positively without looking at me. So people assume I am honest, trustworthy, patient, faithful, and all other kinds of noble stuff when I am never that...Most of the time I don't know what I am doing, and what I am doing I do because it seems fun or interesting, but I am not trying to behave my way into heaven.

One of my favorite professors years ago once said he was no more prejudiced, biased, racist, or sexist than anyone, and that we all are those things at some level. I think that's still true...so I try to keep my prejudging to a minimum, and try not to worry too much about my failures in being the "perfect" Christian in someone else's mind...I'll try to love God, and I'll look for my neighbor to be better, richer, stronger, and healthier than me...that's just the kind of Christian I am.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence and being Exceptional

Well, it's the Fourth of July and time for my annual blog on politics--theologically considered. (This is different from what politicians do who give us theology-politically considered.)

So the United States of America is "exceptional." And I suppose from some historical perspective that is true, as there is a lot that is from the USA that is rather exceptional. But how much difference does it make for our freedom today? On the one hand, you are still guaranteed freedoms in this country you can get in few places. To gather with people for religious reasons, to write and speak publicly, and to be able to participate in government with only limited restrictions. And granted, in most cases, these freedoms exist only in ideas; although, if you look at the trajectory of the leader of this "exceptionalism" stuff, one Ms. Sarah Palin, you can see that she did not start out very high on the political tree. She grew and morphed her way to the characterization of politician that she is now, but she was never the wealthiest or the smartest person in the room...but she believes so now-- "Exceptionalism" at its best.

But most people want to say the USA is exceptional for more than just being the breeding grounds for people like Sarah Palin, and that is where things get interesting. Because in order to do that you have to argue that the USA is not like any other empire has, is, or ever will be...and that argument gets tougher and tougher to make each day. We have a horrible war in our past, slavery and segregation, dimissal of women and their rights over their bodies, rapacious greed of land and natural resources (remember the buffalo?), and the list could go on...And there is also no doubt that we have exceptional people still making lemonade from our collective lemons (look at the buffalo--if you've ever seen one alive in its native ecosystem know that 100 years nobody thought you would! Somebody did something right somewhare.) And it's precisely the exceptional people that make the USA "exceptional."

This is rather akin to what Jesus of Nazareth used to say about his Jewish faith. Even though "salvation comes from the Jews" (exceptionalism par excellence), Jesus understood that is was only individual men and women (and as it turned out mostly women) who would bear that burden. When salvation happens it doesn't come from some Jewish "center of faith", but rather from the love and grace of a Jewish man or a Jewish woman...and, since Jesus of Nazareth's resurrection, from the love and grace of a Christian man or woman.

You have heard me argue on this blog for the past three years about the importance of community--and in a world where the individual stomps on the community, I will always issue that clarion call of collective living together in God's world. However, we must remember the pendulum will swing the other way, and the tromping of individual gifts and talents for the security of the community can never be tolerated, else what was the cross of JESUS for?

It is a balance, and that is why one day out of 365 I give thanks to God for being individual and being exceptional (warts and all)--just like you are, gentle reader. Happy Independence Day!

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.