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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.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Faith is a relationship, not a belief...

I love watching "Real Time with Bill Maher." I like it best when it shoots for comedy rather than serious interpretation of political and social issues, but even that can entertain me for a while...and every now and then they talk about religion.

This gets funny because usually there are no "religious experts" at the table talking, so basically when the talk turns to religion you have four people giving opinions about stuff they don't really think about...and sometimes when there is a religious expert on the show, such as the brilliant theologian and activist Cornel West, (Google him, he wrote my favorite book of American philosophy)it gets downright comical as the three others try to tell the religious expert what religion is. (Fortunately they, and West especially, are good sports!)

The problem most critics of religion, and in this case they include Christianity, and often make no distinctions amongst Christians (as if our 2000 years of internecine wars and battles have made us more alike than different), but critics of religion often replace "faith" with "thinking," and that is wrong. The opposite of "faith" is not "thinking," "science," or "reason"; the opposite of faith is lonliness or alienation. In Chrisitanity "faith" is about relationships, not about believing. You can believe anything you want and still have faith in God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. And this is because your relationship to God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit comes from faith, not from what you "believe."

The one trick to getting Christianity is to remember that God doesn't care what you "believe." God cares about your faith--that is, the relationship God establishes with you in creation, the relationship God continues with you in the Spirit, and the relationship God continually remakes with you in Jesus Christ.

So the comics and thinkers on "Real Time" make fun of Christians for what they "believe," but Christians believe all sorts of things, not much differently than anybody else...but attacking what Christians believe does nothing to attack what makes Christianity the most powerful religion in the history of the world: a Christian's faith (relationship) with God, and God's faith (relationship) with Christians. I am not a Christian because I wanted to love and respect gay people, or I wanted to be a faithful husband, or a good father, or someone who cares for creation...I could do any of that without being a Christian--Christianity has no monopoly on morals and ethics--I am a Christian because I have faith that there is a God who loves me, who cares about me, and who wants to see me thrive...just as God desires that for you, and, ...for all of us, even someone like Bill Maher.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Boring church

As a kid I never minded going to church (which was good because my mom and grandmother were both church secretaries, so it's not like it was optional), but I knew all (and I mean all) of my friends thought it was "boring." And I wandered through years of ministry, always working with youth at some point, I heard that statement a lot. Church is boring.

But look at what your general teenager thinks is boring: everything that doesn't immediately relate to them. Church, school, whatever has the potential to be boring because youth are not sure how it fits into their identity...and church suffers because it is never about the kid...church is never about any of us, young or old, church is always about God, and what God does in the world. At some level everyone should be frustrated with going to church. I don't care if you're 7 or 70, at some point if it's not boring, it's probably not about God, and therefore it's probably not church. Boredom in church simply means God's telling you again what you already know, even if you haven't acted upon that knowledge recently.

Christianity is a fairly simple religion: it's about your relationship to God (or for the more progressive amongst my readers--the great mystery), and if you don't care about that relationship it is bound to be boring to be in a place that does nothing but try to encourage that relationship. For years I thought my response to "Church is boring" was to try and make it "EXCITING!" But I was wrong...

The response to "Church is boring" is to ask why you are bored with your relationship to God? Why does hearing about God's love bore you? Why does listening to music that celebrates that love bore you? Why does hearing stories about the love of God bore you? Why does being told you are loved by God bore you?

So if you are at church and it is boring, ask why? Ask it of your pastors why they look so bored? Don't they love God anymore either? Ask it of the kids...the parents...the senior adults...In fact, go be bored by church and then ask yourself why love is not enough for you? I bet from then on you won't have time to be bored anymore.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hip-Hop, Jesus Christ, and the Church

A few weeks ago I went to my first ever hip-hop concert...I was the oldest guy in the room of about 600 or so...fortunately, the group Atmosphere (made up of at least two guys in the same decade as me)supplied enough energy for all of us, and I got caught up in the music. After 2 hours of solid rapping and bass bombing, interspersed with really great piano and guitar riffs, the lead singer "Slug" shouted us to us: "Thank you for tonight! Since this is a close to church as I'm ever going to get Let's do one more!" (Or something to that effect...by then my ears were fried.)

And yes, that concert was church not only for Slug, but for all of us...and it was a worthy celebration of young people searching for that beat which will become the cornerstone of their lives..."Church" is often were you find such things, and in that sense this concert was "Church." On the following Sunday morning I found myself in a small, Lutheran church next to the University of Nebraska-Omaha where I was almost the YOUNGEST person in the room...and after an hour of robust hymn singing and contemplative prayer, interspersed with a few readings from the Bible and some good thoughts about God, I had another experience of "Church."

Now the concert and the Sunday morning worship were different in many ways, but similar in one important way--both celebrated being alive, and for the people who are part of each event God gets included in that "alive-ness." But there is one big difference...

The folks who worshiped at the altar of Christianity understand that they worship God all the time, not just when they are at the altar or in the church building. Their hour is spent thanking God for all the blessings of the week, imploring God to be more active in their world, or generally learning to live on this crazy globe...so this hour is one hour to specifically celebrate the other 167 hours of the week. The folks at the Lutheran church didn't need that hour of "church" to find meaning, purpose, energy, inspiration, or love in their lives...they already had that thanks to the God they worshiped on that worning. (this is one of the reasons I detest long worship services...if you're truly Christian you're worshiping all the time anyhow, why waste a good Sunday morning??)

But I wonder about the folks at the hip-hop concert? Will they go back to something completely different as their lives as students or bank tellers or paint salesmen (a friend I went with)? How does the church of hip-hop go from week to week, year to year, cradle to grave? I have no doubt God cares and cherishes for the people at the concert as much as God cares and cherishes for the people at the Lutheran congregation I was with...

The Christian faith worships a God who not only incarnates into history, but also uses that very history to transcend time...Jesus Christ is the name of that story,and in that we are always "in church", always "at worship", always in the presence of God no matter where we are: hip-hop concerts, Sunday morning worship, and all the other venues and times of our lives.

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