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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.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Seeing Jesus

I saw Jesus of Nazareth once. In the reflection of a plane window. He looked like this.   I was pretty sure at the time that Jack Daniel's had more to do with me seeing Jesus, than with Jesus wanting to be seen by me.

Little did I know at the time, traveling back to Texas after the death of my grandfather, that within a year I'd be in a seminary, and within 4 years I'd be the pastor at a congregation where they had a copy of that picture on the kid's Sunday School door.

I've learned since that night on the plane that Christ, the only "begotten of the Creator/ Father", assumed the flesh and became the guy whom we know as Jesus of Nazareth. I'm comfortable with that, but I do wonder: did Jesus know he was the Christ of God, and if so, when? I know when the Bible wants us to know, but I still wonder...

Such musings leave open the perennial question of why God became human at all? I don't read much religious journalism these days, because what passes as "theology" really isn't theology. It uses some theological words like "love," or "faith," or "hope," but to be theology--at some level and I don't really care how high or low you go--you have to talk about God.

For example, I often read and hear people say, "If you want to be a true Christian, you should act like Jesus did." That is not theology. It's got some Christian theological words like "true," "Christian," and "Jesus," but it doesn't tell you anything about God. For example, why does God want Christians? Why would God care if there are Christians at all in the world, much less "true" ones? And what about Jesus' and his actions are salutary to God? I mean, are you talking about being nice to people or are you talking about this?  It's tough to sign up people to be Christians, even true ones, if you're asking them to get up on a cross and die? The devil's in the details, as they say.

So when you see Jesus, whom do you see? These days, I see Jesus Christ all over the place. In the people of the little congregation I am at, and how they seek to see God in serving food and clothes to those in need. I see Jesus Christ in the young people who are looking for anything to help them make sense of a world that has gone bat-shit crazy in their eyes? I see Jesus Christ in my mom who just lost her husband. So where are you seeing Jesus Christ these days?

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day

 Well there he is. Icon-style. Perhaps he did indeed save civilization as Thomas Cahill suggests?

Of course, today is really about this.  How can we get an entire culture shrunk to colored beer and a shot of Guiness? Amazing what marketing can do to anything.

Chris has a parishioner whose brother died the other day. The brother was 52. I will be 52 this year. This could be my last St Patrick's Day celebration. (I have long since given up having a Gustavus Adolphus Day or even a Dag Hammarskold Day for MY heritage. Besides all our food is white, and we drink vodka. Boring.)

I know St. Patrick is way more than a green river, a parade, corned beef, and green beer. I know he is about the love God has for people of all kinds, about love for the land and its animals, about freeing us from fears that strike us in the tall grass (that's the snake thing), and about loving to read. I get that.

But there's something about being with a bunch of people, Irish for a day, who seem to think there is something to celebrate? They may be wrong, but is that so bad? Maybe our commercialized St. Patrick's Day celebrations are no longer about the saint who brought us closer to God in his life and work, and more about the "patrick" who happens to be a chance to drink beer? Patrick being an "Irish" name and all...

Many of you who read this no longer drink alcohol. Days like this use to be a high point for you, and now they are not so important, and maybe not so "fun?" Perhaps my sober alcoholic friends can keep alive what the day really should be about: living and loving God and God's people in a vibrant and fecund world? As you know, you can do that without drinking green beer...in fact, --almost assuredly--you can do it better.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Asking a Good Question


              

"How can these things be?"
          Nicodemus to Jesus of Nazareth


A long time ago I realized I was way more interested in the questions than the answers. In fact, nowadays, I find most answers boring and trivial. But I am still energized by questions.

Many people struggle with asking a good question. A lot of people succeed in finding answers, and some answers are even good...though not many. I can pinpoint the exact conversation I was having where I realized that questions interested me way more than answers. Her name is Terri, and we worked together over summers helping Lutheran congregations develop youth ministries and programs. Our first time together we were talking, and she said, "I don't know why I'm telling you all this? Aren't you bored?" Those aren't real good questions. The first one is not really a question for me, but really for her? Why was she telling me her life story? Perhaps she needed to pursue that...(by the way, she was an intelligent, thoughtful woman, and I am sure she did pursue that question.) The second question has an out for the answerer: you can say yes or no. Any question that has a yes or no possibility is not the best kind of question. (They are helpful questions, such as "Am I on the right road to...?)

Nicodemus is my 2nd favorite character in the Bible because he asks a good question. "How" and "Why" questions are where all the fun is in asking questions. The question Nicodemus asks takes a whole lifetime to answer. How do you measure the worth of a person? You can't until they are dead. Do you really want to peak at your life while you're in middle school?

In the charming little movie "I Love You, Beth Cooper" Beth tells her suitor that her high school graduation is the peak of her life. She knows life will never be better for her than it was in high school where she was popular, beautiful, and on top of the world. She is sad, wistful, and trying to to tell her nerdy friend that he, unlike her, has a great life a head of him.  Of course, we hope that life isn't over for Beth, but there is a sense that sometimes we forget that life can't be judged until it is over.

Jesus of Nazareth not only knew that, but he lived it. And his answer to Nicodemus' wonderful question is a life filled with compassion, love, hope, and promise for everyone he meets. That makes Nicodemus' question valuable not only to him, but also to Jesus. Jesus seems to glimpse from that question that whatever is going on between God and humanity cannot be answered in being born again or other such nonsense. It can only be answered in living a lifetime of love. If you're going to live in the light, you love in the light. The only legitimate answer to the question is to live in the love God has for the cosmos.

We used to ask the girls on their way home from school if they heard any good questions that day? Those were great conversations. Great times. What are the questions that move you? What are the questions that show you how to live in the love of God?

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


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Fasting on Ash Wednesday

Like night, as I was watching Kevin Spacey on "House of Cards," I had a couple of Girl Scout Thin Mints. They are the last food I will eat for the next 24 hours.  Somehow I have managed to maintain the last vestige of my orthodox Christian piety, and I will fast (not eat food) on Ash Wednesday. So today, when I woke up, I wished I'd had a burger instead of a thin mint...

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent for Christians. Growing up, Ash Wednesday was a big deal. We'd go to church, pray a lot, and not eat (well, when we were really young, we'd eat.) Somehow it was supposed to remind us of how fragile life is, and what our basic carbon life-form is capable of doing (or not doing, as it may be.) So today, I will eat nothing... 

I fast these days almost because I have to fast as there is so much food around me. I live in an oasis of food, and compared to most of the world, mid-town Omaha may be one of the great food oases of all. We have top-flight restaurants, three different kinds of grocery stores, pubs, diners, ethnic food markets, and even a couple of fast-food joints, coffee shops that sell pastries, and a BBQ joint all within 2 miles of me. To not eat around here is to be the rudest of neighbors...

I don't fast on Ash Wednesday for my health. Since I do regulate my health by my diet, not eating does have a cleansing-type effect for me, and that should be good. The extra water I'll drink also probably won't hurt. I also don't fast on Ash Wednesday for solidarity with those who do not have enough food to eat. I understand there is more than enough food for everyone; yet, some get none or very little. As a species we stand condemned on that alone...it is our constant sorrow and shame. But I don't fast for that.

I also don't fast because Jesus did. (I know, you thought I was going to say the opposite. PSYCH!) You know, Jesus fasted before he began his ministry, and it's part of our understanding of who he is. This ring any bells?  Thank you Wilhelm Dafoe for reminding us of how depressing not eating can be. But I don't not eat because Jesus fasted.

I fast to remind myself that I love myself. So often I think so little of how I use or don't use my body. What diseases, dirt, danger, and neglect I often subject my ""body" to in the course of a day. Slam my finger? Shake it off. Run out to the truck without a coat? Tough it out. Not exercise? Hey, don't I have a 5 Guys gift card somewhere??? Today, I am trying to love my body a little more, and giving it a rest from eating and processing food is my gift to myself...In the same way I give myself a break, I hope to also give all those I meet today a break. To not stress them out...to not force them to choose..to be a constant friend and companion rather than enemy or overlord...and then, maybe I can move on to God? That might be a big stretch, but if I can give God a break, and love God rather than hate God today, I will have accomplished a true fast.

The morning is young...and I have to get to the gym.

May your tables be full (maybe not today, though), and your conversations be true.