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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.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Health care and healthy living

I went to an event last evening on why our health care in this country is not working. Let us be clear about what is not working...that's the problem, isn't it? Everybody has complaints about the "system" but nobody knows what the problem is. Doctors believe it is too much regulation and bureacracy (probably right), patients believe it is too much waiting around and inattention and certainly bureacracy...and the people who provide the products fear of losing money when the patents run out...

Last night's speaker believes that eliminating government from the health care equation will solve most of the problems...and as a theologian I think he is not going to be happy if he gets his way...because the problem with health care in the USA is not "government," the problem is money. There is a reason the Christian church has in its canon the line "the love of money is the root of all evil." When there are problems with health care in this country it is because people (patients, doctors, bureaucrats, etc.) love money more than health.

What I heard from the speaker last night was not how to fix "health care" but how to "finance" health care equitably (which is surely a good thing if health care is about money). But-and this is key--the Christian church has a bit of ambiguity in this area. There are tens of stories of Jesus of Nazareth providing health care, but there is no story about him getting paid for it. Whether his patients were rich or poor, not once do we have Jesus getting a check for his work...although a dinner and bed was probably thrown into the deal. If we were to draw conclusions about health care using Jesus of Nazareth as our guide we would be left with two:
1) it takes God to heal
2) it's free
Now, most health care folks would agree with #1 because they've seen that in action. The mystery of life amazes, and whether one posits a creator or not, it is amazing the even a simple paper cut heals on its own...

It's #2 (as usual) that is harder to pass...For some reason we believe health care should cost money like buying a chair or a socket wrench...My goal is to die before I have to use our health care system...and it is not because I do not "like" our health care system--but rather I wish to live as long as possible in whatever health I have. I can't eat foods I used to be able to eat, I cannot move as fast as I once did (which was never very fast anyhow), I ache more, and I need more rest. But healthy living at 50 is not the same as it was when I was 20. Health changes, just like everything else...

As a pastor I have seen lives extended and nurtured by health care, including my own children and wife, my own family and countless friends...and there is huge cost involved and I am blessed to be able to celebrate their lives...but we have another line in our scripture too: "What does it profit you to gain the whole world if you lose your soul?" Healthy living isn't always possible and for many they never had a chance...but I will say this whatever health they have, whatever living they have is as valuable as anything the health care system fixes, repairs, or palliates...healthy living isn't defined by your body in the Christian church-it's defined by your faith in God, your neighbor, and yourself...and that's why Jesus could heal for free...it was never about the money--it was always about God.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Welcome from Omaha

As a species, I believe humanity is the most adaptable creature God has made, and to prove a point, I am going to adapt to Omaha, NE as my new home for the next chapter of my life. Here are some things I believe will be different from my time in Bismarck, Minneapolis, Chicago, Austin, and any other place I've lived over the years.

New Heights of HUMIDITY (I did not say "humility", as some things never change!) Even though Chicago and Minneapolis could be humid, Omaha seems to relish in high humidity...this may slow me doooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooown aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa biiiiiiiiiiiiiiit. Myb nt.

People. This will be new after 8 years in North Dakota. The greater Omaha area has almost exactly twice as any people as the entire state of North Dakota, keeping North Dakota still as the smallest city I have ever lived in. Fortunately, I like people, and now there are so many more choices....I am excited for all this new folks stuff.

Traffic. This comes with the people, but if I ever had to wait through 2 left turn lights in Bismarck I ran it...now, this is a regular occurrence in Omaha...the Camaro is sad.

Churches. My God (literally) there are a boatload of Christian churches in this town. God is very popular down here it seems. I hope this doesn't translate into a lot of work for me...working will ruin my retirement.

But God's continual looking out for me doesn't change no matter where I live. The freedom to live in Christ perdures thoughout time and space, and I trust in the Holy Spirit to get me through...as I sit in my air-conditioned car, watching all these people make left turns in front of me going to church...welcome to Omaha.

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

Sunday, August 14, 2011

For Sale: A Christian Lifestyle

The Crystal Catheral (home to Robert Schuller and the "Hour of Power" ministries) is going to be purchased soon, possibly by the Roman Catholic Church for the mere price of 52 million dollars and change. In my 20 years of ministry I haven't even come close to spending 2 million dollars for ministry, so the number is a bit off-putting for me. But I can say I am not surprised.

The Crystal Cathedral exemplies a type of ministry that no longer gets at what it means to be "Christian" in "America" anymore. Aynthing the CC and its ministries are about is part of an America that no longer exists. As Gibson Winter noted fifty(50!!!!) years ago, the suburban captivity of the Church probably cannot last. Mainly, as he noted, because the suburban American lifestyle cannot last. The Church that puts all its ministry eggs into the suburban basket is going to find itself in trouble, and the Crystal Cathedral and its problems are just the largest example of a change that has been happening over the past decade or so in suburban ministries across the country.

Prairie Table Ministries began because we knew the suburban lifestyle Christianity exemplified by the Crystal Cathedral wasn't working for us...based on programs, hierarchies of power, and a focus on self-help religion rather than incarnational Christianity was exactly the kinds of ministries we were not connecting to...so we started Prairie Table. We wanted to be about God, and have people we know journey with us...we wanted to be authentic, and not find ourselves compromised in faith in order to support a building or program...we wanted the love of God to influence how we behaved and believed, and we sought out ways to search scripture and ourselves for clues to that love...

It's precisely because of ministries like Prairie Table that the Crystal Cathedral no longer can sustain its ministries...but I read Gibson Winter 30 years ago, went to Chicago and studied under his students, and I've always believed he was right...so--unlike the folks at the Crystal Cathedral--I've had 30 years to get ready for its sale. And Prairie Table works--not because it's based on a Christian lifestyle---but because it trusts in God, and God alone.

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

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Sunday Morning Comin' Down

For most of my adult life Sunday mornings have been the most hectic days of the week...and I realize that is in stark contrast to many people, and certainly the people of TV and advertising for whom Sunday mornings are idyllic brunches, coffee, and a leisurely read newspaper. Not so for pastors...we're more like pro football players for whom Sunday mornings are preparations, final touches, reviews of plans before a game (worship service in pastors' cases) begins.

But I have just two Sundays left in Bismarck, and today a nice fog has rolled in...which means cooler weather which means Fall is coming which means hunting season in almost here. But this Sunday has a certain relaxedness to it even though I leave for church in a few minutes...Almost everything I own that I care about can fit into my new Camaro...I thought I would need a truck, but it turns out I don't...I don't care about enough stuff to fill a truck (and--yes--I have room in the car for my wife...geesh!!)

I cannot believe how much I've seen and learned about our God from the people up here in North Dakota...it has been a true blessing to meet people like Jay, Jean, Laura, and Laine who put me up eight years ago. People like Laurie, Tom, Erin, Beth, Monroe, Mark, Duane, Chris, Trisha, Tim, and all the others who made working so fun. People like Bruce L, Bob, Ron, and Bruce K, Jen, Josie, Amber, and Claire who kept me sane while the world spun out of control...countless parishioners and folks who made their lives available to me in hospitals, congregations, bars, restaurants, gas stations, stores, and wherever so I could see God at work in the world. All the folks like Jerry and Marla, Bob and Nancy, Steve and Max, Gary--even John, Jim, Marci, Evelyn, Ron and Darlene, Bob and Joanne, Marv and Lois, Bev, Con and Gen, the sisters and their families, Shirley and Mike, Jerry and Char, Dick and Marilyn who supported me in prayer and money over the years. Amazing to see God in action through them.

There are way too many people to name them all, and I am sure some will be forgotten, and I hope many can be remembered. Well...it's almost time for church...although we've been doing thatever since I landed in this town...thanks to everyone.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Freedom from the cross...for the world

Continuing my never-ending saga of transition from Bismarck to Omaha, I had an interesting conversation with one of my movers (the folks who move our stuff). Turns out he lives in Omaha...turns out he grew up in Omaha...turns out it's too hot for him in Omaha, so he wants to move to Colorado or something to go fishing...turns out he gave me the history of Omaha in the 20 minutes we wandered around going through stuff to be moved.

Now this is not your official Omaha history. This is the history that comes from living within its circle for 35 years. History that comes with a son, history that comes from parents, history that comes from hard work, sweat, and the determination to do things right.

And this kind of history needs a cross of Christ to make sense...it's not going to be all the glitz and glamour, the wealth and stuff you hear about from the Chamber of Commerce...no--this history is built on the backs of folks taking things step-by-step with suffering and toil as your companion for most of the years.

So isn't it good to know there's a God who not only understands suffering and loss, but in the resurrection of Jesus gives the world a way to see that death is not the end of a relationship with God? From the cross we receive a freedom to live...in, with, under, and for the world (and even against it sometimes.)

My opinion of Omaha didn't change much because I assumed such stories were there...I just didn't think I'd received confirmation of those assumptions while I was still in Bismarck.

The driver saw the booze we have sitting out (it can't be packed) and must be consumed by folks in Bismarck (strange but I have lots of volunteers for that project???), and he said, I want to go to your wife's church. He knows where it is... he said, and I said he and his son could always sit with me. After all, it's almost my first time there too.

I meant the church, I said...because we've both been to the cross a few times. Yeah, he nodded, that's for sure.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

On beginning again...

You would think at my age I wouldn't be starting all over again.

At least this was somewhat my choice, as Chris and I contemplated our future a couple of years ago, and realized starting over wouldn't be the worst thing...I feel badly for those my age who have to start over because their job has been downsized, or they have lost a life partner, or some other unforseen accident of life.

So it's on to meeting new people, and as leaders of communities this is easier for people like me and Chris than it is for others who find themselves plopped into the middle of a new city, a new world--and wonder who to trust or turn to?

I really wish I was better at staying in contact with people whom I've known over the years. My track record is not good for most I know. I don't know what it is...I get so caught up in living right now that I forget about my past (until I remember something for a sermon!). I am always pushing towards a future...and I guess I'm starting to realize there isn't as much future as there used to be when I was younger.

In theology we used to note the difference between those for whom the future was important to their understanding of God, and those for whom God is now became the dominant force. I am a theologian--and person as well--for whom the future has always been vitally important. Not because I didn't like today or care about today, but exactly the opposite.

Because I am having so much fun right now, because I enjoy my life a lot (even though the past eight months have not been my most fun separated from my wife), I can't wait to see what's going to happen next!! There is still so much I want to see--San Sebastian and Ireland--another Broadway play--Christmas Eve worship at St. John the Divine--I'd like to try and meet the Pope (don't ask...but suffice it to say that we probably don't agree)--I want to see my kids continue to travel these roads of life--I love hearing about my former youth group kids being parents, about former interns who are leading with the composure and skill I saw in their younger days--about students who are doing great things for God's church--all this makes me very happy.

So why not start over again? Some friends never get this, as that is not their goal in life--some are jealous that I get a reboot every seven to nine years--but most know that as my friend you are always part of my life. I remember you all, and I pray for you all, even if you haven't talked to me in decades. Because the unity we share in God is eternal--and we might not be together, but we are united in God's love-and that's why I can start over--because that love grounds me no matter where I am or who is with me--that love is all I need...well, that--and a great partner, wonderful friends, and a fast car.

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

Monday, August 1, 2011

Only two weeks left...

Two weeks from now I will be driving the Camaro down the road to be re-united with my wife of 23 years. We have lived apart for the past eight months...and I have not enjoyed it much.

We are one of those couples that rarely spend much time apart. Her friends are my friends and vice versa...except when I am traveling (and I do a lot of that) we are together. We often have lunch together...we work out together...we sleep together...(although she usually goes to bed about 3 am, and I get up at 5 am, so that is not very impressive.) I was legitimately curious how I would handle these last eight months of us being apart. I knew I could survive, but could I survive well????

As this blog may be read by younger folks, let us just say, in the words of Sam Cooke, "there were times I thought I wouldn't last for long...," but I am still here. God sent me some excellent people over the past 8 months to help me through, and some of them I owe my very life to no doubt. Long-time friends called and checked up on me, parishioners encouraged and supported me, new friends pulled me out of new troubles, and all the way down the line to today...where in two weeks this separation will be over.

I know many people (like our service men and women) find themselves separated from their lovers as well...and unlike me, there is way less certainty that they will be re-united. I don't know how they do it. It is a testament to God's spirit that we survive the alienation, the separation, the loss, the destruction of relationships that nurture us and help us grow. I think that's what the Psalmist meant when she sang we are created a "little lower than angels." Sometimes, there's just too much pain to live in heaven.

If you have loved ones somewhere away from you...I know how heavy the heart can weigh...and if you have a loved one near...I know how free the heart can play...

Paul wrote centuries ago that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord...not even, I discovered over the past 8 months, "separation." Thank God, he was right.

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


PS: Thoughts from the Prairie Table will continue on as a blog of theological discernment for me...just on the southern edge of the prairie rather than the northern edge where I am now in Bismarck. I look forward to starting over in Omaha, and seeing what God has in store for me. To finish Sam's line, "because now I know I can carry on...it's been a long time coming...but change is gonna come."