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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.

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Prayer for Falstaff

Most books on prayer bore the shit out of me.

Most people, it seems in my rather limited sample, who write on prayer tend to see prayer as a way to be quiet, move away from the noise of life; prayer is seen as some kind of intra-personal communication with God that involves a lot of listening. I can read about 4 pages of that.

Even worse, when it comes to prayer, most of the advice borders on the same. Get away from the busy-ness/business of life, find a quiet spot, turn off the iTunes, and listen for God. Nope, not me. My grandfather, for example, could spend the first half-hour of a day in silence listening for God, meditating upon scripture, and praying. I read Aldo Leopold. (It was the only book my grandpa had besides the Bible.)

It seems that when we get to thinking about spirituality these days, we are immediately connected up with the quiet, contemplative life that leads us away from the drudgery and noise of our current condition. I am not interested in that kind of spirituality. I am not interested in a spirituality that leads me away from life, but rather one that leads me into life. Consequently, it has never made sense to me that I should find my energy for my spiritual life outside of the places where I find the Spirit. I don't find the Spirit on a mountain or a hill or a garden. I rarely see God in a place like this  I usually am asking, "Where are the elk?"

Here's where I get my energy  So it seems to me that if I am going to find a way to reconnect to God, I should go to a place like this. Because that's where I find it best to participate with God. My spirituality does not remove myself from crowds, music, stimulation, and conversation, but drives me deeper into it.

A lot of "spiritual-talk" these days sounds like a cross between Yoga, a fitness workout, an audiogram, and a nap. But after 40 years of trying--the quiet, contemplative, pristine environments that lead many to God, a sense of purpose and meaning, and a re-connection to the energy of life, leads me to a bar.(I am not advocating one must do one OR the other, we're talking about preferences here, and the quiet, contemplative spirituality that seems all the rage these days must work for some people...just not me. It frustrates me that people even want to turn my bars into places where we can "talk about important stuff," "share our stories," and "be spiritual and pray amidst the chaos." No thanks. I want a lot of drums, and a decent bass.)

I am like Shakespeare's Falstaff "Thou knowest in the state of innocency Adam fell, and what should poor Jack Falstaff do in the days of villiany?" In other words, if Adam couldn't have a spiritual life in the Garden of Eden, what chance do you and I have in a world of iPhones, shopping malls, Obamacare, Harley Davidsons, the NFL, Chippendales, Las Vegas, and whatever else you call "villany" these days? Rather than suggest that we "unplug," or "get away from it all," I might suggest just the opposite.

If you want your life to "slow down," have meaning, or connect up with God jump right into it. Plug into the very energy you want to be a part of as you walk with God. It might not be quiet, but if we're paying attention we just might hear what God's doing. I always find it interesting that people think of Jesus of Nazareth as some mystic who prayed alone on mountains. He may have a few times, but the people who told his stories, the people who found in him the energy of God, you know what stories they told about him? That's right, not the ones on mountain, but the ones in the bars, the ones of the streets, the ones at the dinner tables, the ones where the people were. The energy of this Jesus guy wasn't seen when he was alone, but rather, when he was surrounded by the noise and throng of God's people. What's your preferred spiritual place?

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

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

It's Not Magic, it's a relationship

(This blog is written as part of Darkwood Brew's series "Busy: Restoring Connection to an Unhurried God." Check out Darkwoodbrew.org for more great blogs and worship resources. ed.)

How to connect, or re-connect, to God? For most of its history, Christianity has offered two main ways to connect to God: the Word and the Sacraments.

The Word has two main meanings: In the first and primary instance it is Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God. So, for Christians we connect to God in, with, under, and even sometimes against, Jesus the Christ. The meaning of The Word expands to all that puts us in touch with Jesus the Christ. Prayer, meditation, reading the Bible, and serving our neighbors in love are all ways that The Word (Jesus the Christ) connects us to God.

For most people, "the Word" is reduced to the Bible, but that's not the main use of the phrase in classic Christianity.  The Bible is important as a way to connect with God, but the Bible never supplants Jesus the Christ as the connection to God.

The second major way Christians have connected with God over the past two thousand years is through the sacraments. Different versions of Christians have different numbers of sacraments, and different ways of understanding how God and humanity connect in sacraments, but--in general--sacraments connect us up with God.

For example, let's take the sacrament of baptism. Baptism connects us up with God. (Some people believe you can be connected to God only IF you are baptized, but for most Christians that is too narrow of a definition of God. A healthy percentage of Christians believe one is connected to God through God's creation of you, and baptism is a sign of God's enduring promise to love you forever.) So that when someone is baptized in a font of water  they reconnect with God, as God promises through the Word--Jesus the Christ--to love the baptized person forever, even if they die. So a sacrament, in this case baptism, becomes a sign of God's promise to love you.

Nowadays, of course, such ways to re-connect with God seem controlling, manipulative, and silly. How can drops of water, or even a bath, restore a relationship to the creative power and energy of the universe? How can words written thousands of years ago, filled with misogyny, hatred, ignorance, and pettiness reconnect one to a God of love and peace? Even more so, both the Word and the Sacraments have been co-opted by patriarchal, prejudiced, and elitist Christians so that unless one bows and acquiesces to their self-inflated egos one cannot partake of the Word or Sacraments to re-connect with God. And that would all be true if the Word and the Sacraments are magic--but they are not.

The Word and the Sacraments are all about our relationship with God. They are not magic tricks we use to "get busy" with God. Rather, they are the promises of God to always be be busy in, with, under, and even sometimes against us. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ is promise that life with God and the creative and energetic power of God does not stop with our finitude. The sacraments are signs that God connects with us.

Because, you see, that's what's so amazing to me: I assume every human wants to be connected to God--but why,--Why?--does God want to be connected to us? That we even have Jesus the Christ in our lives, that we even have something such as baptism to remind us of God's love for us is the greatest mystery of all. I understand we want to reconnect with God, but what impresses me most is why God wants to re-connect with us?

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