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. Let's imagine a creative future with God and each other together. 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, November 21, 2013

Thanksgiving at Prairie Table

Probably no holiday more captures the essence of how I see Prairie Table than Thanksgiving. In my dreams, this is what I envision
 Look at that table! What's not to like? Good, sturdy, mission-style design, a turkey (my favorite protein), and too many side dishes to note. Wow!

Somewhere on that table is God too...because here's what Thanksgiving looks like in the Christian tradition
 The biggest difference? Where's the food? In Christian understandings of thanksgiving, the food is secondary to the presence of God amidst the people of God. At its best, Prairie Table has the food, the people, and Jesus Christ.

Of course, our consumer-crazy society has decided to make Thanksgiving just another shopping day. As greed is completely corrosive and pervasive, this was only inevitable. As my grandfather used to say, "never underestimate the power of greed." (Grandpa was a salesman.) My other grandpa used to tell me--long before Emeril Lagasse made is famous--that "bacon makes everything better." (He worked for Amour meats.)

So this Thanksgiving I hope there are people around your table. I hope there is food. And I trust the presence of God will be there. Somewhere amongst all the laughing, the stories, the cranberries, the turkey, the ham, the Packers and the Lions, the looking forward to Christmas, I hope your Thanksgiving is blessed. After all, that is why we live at the table of our Lord.

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

You Can't "Be" a Christian by "Doing"

The works righteousness is getting a bit out-of-hand. You can't "do" yourself into being a Christian. you just can't. You can't help enough people, give enough food, be compassionate enough, there is nothing you can do to be a Christian.

Now, what people usually tell me is that "What I do is more important to my faith than what I believe." No it isn't. Just a simple test: do you give away all your money? If the answer is no clearly you don't do Christianity very well. And if you try, but fail, well, then who really cares?

If you say "Jesus cares if I try," then note that you believe Jesus doesn't judge you on what you "do" but rather on what you "try" which is another word for "believe." You just told me what you believe isn't as important as what you do, but then you say that Jesus judges you on what you believe rather than what you actually do, especially when you fail. I'm confused.

I think this is the biggest problem with people--well-intentioned as they may be--who believe that what you do is more important to Jesus than what you believe. As if somehow doing the stuff Jesus did is more valuable to Jesus than believing in God as the creator of all reality and living as if it is so. (I am not denying there is a relationship between what we believe and what we do because we believe something; nor, am I suggesting what what we do has nothing to do with what we believe--but I am saying that you cannot throw believing under the bus because you "believe" the things you do are more valuable because you do them.)

Some guy wrote an article I read recently where he claimed he didn't want to be judged on what he believed, but rather on what he was doing a a father, spouse, and Roman Catholic who was at a Jewish seder meal his wife was conducting. That is fine for Jesus. Jesus can judge him as a father, spouse, Roman Catholic married to a Jewish rabbi at a seder meal...but what are we supposed to do with that? I mean, I'm not Jesus, so why is he there? What is he "doing" there?

Is he Jewish because he does "Jewish" things? Or, is he a Roman Catholic Christian playing at being a Jew? I know he wanted to be judged a a father and spouse, but why go to a seder meal, even if your wife is presiding? Is the only way to be a supportive spouse in this instance to show up at the meal and let Jesus sort out the questions of integrity and honesty? The problem with judging peoples' faith in what they do is that there are often more options than what they have done.

For example, imagine a young woman, recently married, whose new husband is abusive? Should she be judged by Jesus that she is squandering her talents by trying to stay married to this imperfect guy? How should we judge her? Is she a victim? A Co-dependent? How many beatings does she have to endure before her belief can be activated that she is better than this (even if there is nothing she has done to prove this), and she can get out of the relationship? Being judged only on what you "do" is often only reserved for those fortunate enough to ignore suffering.

There is no doubt that we can cry "Peace,peace when there is no peace." Our beliefs cannot save us from actions that destroy God's world. But actions alone may not be enough either. Because whether we "believe' or whether we "do" our salvation is a gift from God regardless of what we believe and do. Now, there may be things God prefers over others...but why should one list over another be preferred by us?

This is the argument all the Christian leaders and writers and bloggers must be making if they want to convince anyone that Christianity has a place in the future of the world. What benefits comes from living and being free from the bondage to death? How is the world better if love generates our future, not hatred and fear? Unless you can explain what difference Jesus makes in your life, what's the point of saying Jesus makes a difference in your life? (and that's usually belief, not doing...sorry.)

I don't mind if Roman Catholics go to seder meals, (I've been to a few myself), but it does seem to me that if going to one doesn't make you a better Roman Catholic (or whatever faith you have), you probably missed the point of the meal.

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

Monday, November 11, 2013

God and a wool sweater

I don't like scratchy clothes...unfortunately I live in climates that have many days like this

 consequently I have a lot a wool fabric.

But wool is scratchy (which I don't like), so I have solved this problem by having a few sweaters that are soft...but expensive.

I say this because most of my clothes come from this brand  and his stuff is not the cheapest. But the wool is not scratchy!

Because of this I have very few clothes...years ago I adopted the "new one in old one out, another given to charity" model of keeping my closet I don't have a lot of clothes. But every now and then I need a new sweater.

A few years ago my youngest daughter found ourselves in the Ralph Lauren store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. It was Super Bowl Sunday, there was a blizzard, and we wandered into the store for no good reason. Barreling through the doors, the six clerks were astounded that we were out on such a day. They asked if we were looking for anything "special?"

After a few jokes about Ralph Lauren watches for a couple thousand bucks, me asking "Who uses watches anymore?" and the clerk saying, "I'm sure we have an app for that!" I mentioned that I might not be able to afford anything in this store. The clerk scoffed. "I bet you we have something you can afford."

A half-hour later, after looking at  7 different shirts, I walked away with a traditional blue/green plaid shirt, with French cuffs for $17.90. And it was gift wrapped.  I reminded my daughter as we walked out of the store that money--unlike democracy--makes everybody equal.

Jesus and the cross makes everyone equal too. The big difference between Jesus and money is that money makes us equal when we're living, the cross when we're dead. This is the main reason why teenagers would rather go to the mall than to church. (I am not saying everyone has equal AMOUNTS of money. That would be stupid. I am saying that IF you have the money for something that something is available to you. But I only needed $17.90 for that Ralph Lauren shirt, and as long as I had that I could have that shirt. It didn't matter whether that was all the money I had, some of the money I had, or whatever, the money was what sold the shirt, not my status or personality.) And kids know this...

They know they can go to the mall and feel good because they can buy something that makes them happier, sexier, funnier, cooler, hipper, and more handsome. If they have the money they can buy whatever they want to feel now! Church, not so much...

Church is all about patience, waiting, watching, and wondering. In the eyes of God all are equal, but there is nothing you can buy, do, sell, or improve to validate that statement. It's only when you die--something teenagers don't really think will happen to them--that you see that statement is true. So nobody goes to church, and everybody goes to the "mall." (By mall I mean anything that you can buy to make you feel equal, if not superior, to the rest of the world.)

The Church has tried to counter this consumerist money mentality, but at best all we give people is a "bait and switch." We make promises on stuff we cannot deliver, and soon our newest program or idea sinks into debt, as people once again turn to that which truly makes them equal--money.

If--and when--this great capitalist, consumerist society we have collapses and there is nothing left of our great palaces and domes, our shiny cars are rusting on forgotten Hollywood backlots, and my clothes have been eaten away by moth and mildew, there will probably still be some Christians somewhere gathering together around the dying and offering a prayer to God in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit for eternal rest for their equal. Our lives will be validated not because we bought something, but rather because we received something...God's love.

The very love that makes us all equal not only when we are dead, but when we are living too. How do you celebrate being loved by God regardless of how much money you have?

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Why I Still Go to Church

I go to congregations to hear what God has been up to in the last few days...

I go to congregations to sing the old hymns I grew up with...

I go to congregations so I can get some communal silence to pray with others...

I go to congregations so I can be with friends and meet new people...

I go to congregations because I am fascinated to observe how they work internally... (This one is pretty much what a professor of "Congregational Mission and Leadership" does.)

I DON"T go to congregations to hear what the preacher has been up to the last few days...

I DON"T go to congregations to be entertained...

I DON"T go to congregations to hear how bad I am...(tell me something I don't know!)

I DON"T go to congregations to hear how many cool things Jesus did while he was alive...(bully for him! You go Son of God!)

I DON"T go to congregations because I "want" to...(notice the list above, that's not necessarily the most fun stuff I do in a week.)

So what's your list look like? Why do you go to church/congregations/worship? Why do you NOT go?

I'm going to say that if your answers involve the words: "boring," "irrelevant," and "stupid" for not going; and include the words "inspiring," "learning," or "exciting" for why you do go that you go or not mostly for yourself. That's ok, but that is not why God creates congregations. Please remember one thing about God's congregations: they are not for you, they are for us.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.