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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, December 28, 2011

Guns, Freedom, and the cross of Christ

I own guns. Enough of them so that I cover my whole immediate family with the national average. Since neither my wife or daughters use my guns--only one has ever even held one--it is safe to say they are "my" guns.

I once stayed at a friend's house. As he was giving me a quick tour I noticed there was a gun in every room. Living out in the country as he does, the ones by the doors seemed useful, but a bedroom loft? What gives with all the guns, I asked?

Well, my gun room is being remodeled, so I store them in unused corners. OK, I muse...really? Yeah, plus I figure anyone who comes into this house will know how to use a gun safely, so, what's the damage? I stare in utter amazment at a well-used .260 Browning. You mean, it's loaded too? Of course, what's the sense of having a gun if it's empty? There's no round in the chambers though, so make sure you cock it.

I do understand that not everyone is comfortable staying in such accomodations. And I do appreciate the multitude of friends I have who do not worry too much about whether I am liberal or not, even though I hunt and have guns. To be honest, many of my non-gun-owning friends are curious about and appreciative of guns, much as they would be if I took up stamp collecting or butterflies. Most people who don't own guns see them as potential death instruments, and most people who own guns see them as guarantors of freedom. And that is why "gun control" will always divide the USA.

Regardless of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, having a gun to protect yourself seems to work for most people. Crimes against women are the first things to decrease the minute you let women carry a gun, or even let would-be assaulters think they carry a gun. (interestingly, everyone knows that to be so statistically verifiable as to be a truism.) So whether the USA, your home or office, or even your car is being threatened you have the freedom to defend yourself, and a gun is the surest way we have of making a statement about that protection without having to actually use it. So when someone tries to control guns, it is seen by many as trying to take away freedom. And what politician, especially these days, wants to be seen as taking away your freedom? No matter how reasonable the argument, you can't take away someone's freedom just because a congresswoman got shot by someone with a gun. Freedom is dangerous on many levels, not the least of which is that some people don't want you to be free.

But I don't own guns for my sense of freedom. I own guns to kill creatures I eat. Simple as that. My guns are used for hunting, and they are locked away whenever I am not hunting or practing with them. My sense of freedom does not come from me being able to own a gun...it comes from something more profound. My freedom comes from love, specifically a love from God that dies (irony of ironies) so that I can live. The cross is the story of that love.

Because I believe in freedom, I will never try to take away someone's freedom by taking away their symbol of it...but I will always challenge people to find freedom in something other than fear, other than arrogance, other than hatred...to find freedom in love, to find freedom in God.

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What makes work "work?"

As I sit here beginning to write there are four men in the church parking lot ouside my window "working." They work for a crane service and are all involved in the process of putting shingles, scaffolding, and whatnot on the roof of the church. They are working. So am I, but there are differences.

First, all four of them are getting paid (I assume) to do their work. No one pays me to write this blog...in fact, when I suggested it once, the people who were paying me to do other things asked, with no hint of irony, "Why they would do that?" I suggested that people have been known to make a living writing, but to them this is not "church development." You now know why I no longer work for them.

Secondly, they are cold...it is 29 degrees outside...69 here in the house. I can see their breath from my window.

Thirdly, here's what the four are doing right now. One guy is manouvering the crane from the cab; guy # 2 is standing there watching him from the parking lot; guy # 3 is watching guy # 2; guy # 4 is watching from the roof. When the load needs to be engaged or disengaged, guy #s 2 and 4 hook and unhook...I have yet to even see guy # 3 move. But if we asked them if they went to "work" today, I am sure even guy # 3 would say yes...even if he hasn't done anything. (It is also quite possible that guy # 3 makes more money than the other three guys because he is in "management" or maybe even owns the company.) I am typing...but what I am really doing is thinking.

I get paid, not to drive cranes, hook or unhook material to cranes, or even manage crane operations...I get paid to think. For people who posit a dichotomy between thinking and doing, this is hard to understand. Most of us understand that we get paid to "do" something. Therefore, if "doing" is the opposite of "thinking," than someone who is thinking is--by definition--"doing" nothing. So, when someone like me gets paid to think, in that mindset, I am getting paid to "do" nothing. (Because thinking is doing nothing.)

Jesus seems to have understood that thinking and doing are not opposites. Whether Jesus understood that one could get paid for thinking I will not surmise, but he did seem to grasp that if you cannot think right you probably will not do right. To paraphrase Spike Lee, in order to do the right thing you must be thinking along the right way...

This is why repentance is so important in the Christian tradition. Repentance is not changing from doing one thing to doing another--repentance is changing your thinking from one way to another way of thinking. So you "repent" not when you start "doing" something different, but when you start "thinking" that what you are doing is not God's preferred future for you, or the world, or your neighbor. And when you start thinking a diffrent way Jesus seems to assume you will start doing different things.

So "work" is not just about what you do...because guy # 3 still has not done much...but he might be thinking...and that's work too.

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

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Money, Work and Jesus

At some point your work has to take into account money. No matter how much your work is your avocation, no matter how you have arrived at what my pastor Eric Elnes calls your "sweet spot" (the place where your desires for God meet God's desires for you), most of us work for money.

Now, "money" means a couple of different things. First, for rich people, it is a thing until itself. (That is how and why they are rich, at least in terms of money.) For others, and this is the greater number I am sure, money is an intermediary goal to something else. This is why I am not rich, at least in terms of money. For me, money has no value except what it can get me. I don't want money just to have money, I want money so I can go to restaurants, or movies, or pay for my kid's college, or fix a broken furnance. This--to me--is the biggest difference between rich and not-rich people--rich like money as money, not as what kind of sense of security or self or communal improvement it might provide.

Jesus seems to have understood this distinction I am trying to make. He chides some rich people about how a widow who makes an offering of "all she had" impresses God more than someone who just gives "off-the-top." However, if you need to pay a mortgage, someone who gives you a couple thousand "extra" makes it easier to pay the mortage than someone who gives you all $4 in his wallet. But in the "It's the thought that counts" way of thinking, the all is more impressive than the some.

So why do we work? If we work for money we may have missed what God seems to call us to do in the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God. From the stories we have of Jesus' adulthood, he never worked, and he certainly seems to never have been compensated for anything. So why did he work? (Doing whatever he did--healing, teaching, managing.) Because he "loved" it? There's not a lot of evidence to suggest that. Because he wanted money (or the things money could get him)? Not a lot of evidence for that either.

Why else would we work if not for the money? Why would we work if not for the satisfaction we receive from it? Perhaps we jump a few decades to after the death of Jesus. Paul, a guy who really believed Jesus had it right about our relationship with God and with our world, said we do things "for the common good." Maybe we work, not because we love money, not because we love ourselves, but because we love our world...we love our neighbor? Maybe the reason why you work has nothing to do with "you", and everything to do with "us?"

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Jesus and work, part III (Money)

Most of us work because we need money. I remember a friend of mine who on quitting a job because of an idiot boss said to me, "You know, all I'll really miss is the money. Isn't that sad?" She was young, and hadn't yet started out on any quest for "vocation" (tomorrow's topic), so money was pretty much her only motivator to work. But even at the ripe old age of 23 she knew that was stupid.

If you only work for money it does not take long to NOT get out of bed in the morning. Money (and all that it buys or represents) is an insatiable goddess, and to follow her takes real dedication and shrewdness. Making money is never difficult--having work worth doing that you can get paid for? Priceless.

During a job transition someone will come into my office and say, "I want to find meaning in any new job I get." I usually nod in agreement. And the problem is??? "Well...I have bills to pay." From there we can go to work on how to best mesh our search for meaning with having enough for bills to pay.

It seems to me that is where God wants us to understand "work." Work is the way we express who we are in God's creation, and to find meaning, not just be a cog in a machine or a number on a roster. This is why "greed" has been a sin in the church for a long time. "Greed" replaces your search for who you are with money in the work equation. Greed, in other words, misdirects work away from you and into its results. So the "love" of money becomes the root of all evil, not money itself. Money is neutral, but the moment you make it a value, you slide away from working as who you are to working as being greedy.

The Occupy Wall Street movement interests me these days because you have people who are trying to right a balance somehow. They see the attainment and abuse of wealth as reason enough to sleep in a park. Jesus was a little more radical, he actually went and did a little damage to the operations of the wealth he thought was abusive, but the modern day protestors have hit on an important distinction. The seeking of wealth over and above being a part of God's creation destroys the communities we seek. (By the way, many wealthy know this, which is why they often seek shelter in communities of their own creation...it's nice to be rich.)

It is an American creed to be able to make as much money as you want...and that is fine...but it is not part of the Christian creed, and we should never forget the difference.

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