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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.

Monday, May 26, 2014

A Black Lab and the Festival of Homiletics

Yesterday, after worship, I drove 120 miles round trip to deliver a dog to his owner. He is a black lab named Rex, and he looks kind of like this.  I don't know if he'd ever ridden in a Camaro before, but he did not seem impressed.

You might ask why I did this? Because I am a parish pastor. These are the kind of "things" pastors do on their jobs. You might think pastors preach or teach; maybe you think they run a small non-profit; maybe you believe pastors don't do much at all (certainly if you use me as the paradigm that one is in play.) But most parish pastors try to help out their parishioners in their lives, doing whatever they can to help build the trustworthy world God invites us to share. Yesterday, that meant, at least for this parish pastor, a trip to Lincoln and a car ride with a pretty dog.

Because the dog's owner had an unfortunate experience (she was carjacked, with her and her friend in the car), Rex found himself 60 miles from home sharing a house with four smaller dogs, that apparently did not let him sleep much. With all the drama around that situation of the owner, no one had the time or a vehicle to rescue Rex. This is why God makes pastors. All we have is time, and we usually have a vehicle (although again, don't judge most pastors by my vehicle. Most of my colleagues are way more sensible than me. I love showing you pictures of my car.)
  You're welcome.

 So there I was off to Lincoln to retrieve a cherished pet for a traumatized owner. I don't know, did I help make the world a better place? I think so.

Last week, I was at the Festival of Homiletics (study of preaching) in Minneapolis, and there were a lot of pastors there too. They had taken the week to come listen to preaching and learn about preaching so they could be better preachers. From what I saw and heard, there was a lot of good preaching for them to learn from and study. But in order to come learn about preaching they had to take a week off from picking up dogs, going to meetings, sitting by sick people in the hospital, going to jails, having coffee with the farmers busily planting this time of year, or any of the 1000s of others things God has asked those pastors to do.

Most of those pastors sitting in the pews listening to the "famous" preachers (one, Barbara Brown Taylor was just named to Time Magazine's Top 100 most influential people) will never be remembered for their preaching. They might not be remembered for much at all. But if they are remembered it's because they were there when someone needed them to help build a trustworthy world. Most people, when they tell me stories about pastors they've known, remember the times he or she was around when no one else would or could be. The pastor was the first one into the intensive after the car accident...the pastor was the one who prayed when grandma was dying...the pastor was the one who helped our son find his purpose in life...the pastor was the one who told us God loved our child even though she is gay...People remember pastors because they are around, not because they preach.

As someone who teaches pastors how to preach better, you might think I'd have a higher regard for preaching. I do, but preaching only matters if it's in service to God building a trustworthy world, and to build a trustworthy world is to make friends and be around when they need help. So, I made a new friend yesterday. He's about 60 pounds, he's single, and he's the nicest of dogs, and his name is Rex. For him, the ride home to be with loved ones was the best preaching he'd ever heard. And he got there in style!!!
 (bonus picture)

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Why is racism still a "thing?"

I have been alive for over 50 years. I can remember my brother getting in trouble in the 2nd grade (!) for using racial slang for one of his friends...that was close to 40 years ago. Forty years! And still some dude like Donald Sterling of the NBA thinks he can be exonerated for his racism? Why? What makes him so special? Is he too dumb to learn new ways of thinking and speaking? Why should he be excused for his racism, especially since in his case it seems like it's part of his life-time commitment to making money? Why should he be more privileged than my brother 40 years ago was?

Then you have this group of University of North Dakota students who think it's fun to make fun of another race, because they are young and drunk? How is that an excuse for demeaning people? When alcoholism is your excuse for racism, you've probably hit rock-bottom, and should seek help. I just don't get why we think racism can be a thing? I've listened to many try to explain to me why the N-word is ok for some people to use. I'm sure some people don't care about its use, but you have to admit it's a bit problematic for our society...

I don't want to live in a world where people can be made fun of for things they have little or no control over in their lives. I tell stories for a living. Sometimes they can even be humorous (I tried for "funny," once; I failed.) But how "humorous" is it to blame someone or notice something ironic from someone who had little choice in the matter? That's not humor, that's mean. To make a joke because of someone's heritage or skin color or mental or physical development is not to make a joke, but rather to make our world a little worse-off.

So just stop it with the mean humor. Stop it not because you want to, or need to, or because some "law" tells you to--stop it because you want to live in a world where humor comes not from the genetics we're born with, but from the craziness we use our genetics to try and battle this thing called "life." I don't want to live in a world where the Donald Sterlings (currently our racist du jour) get to set the agenda (even in their own kitchens. Private racism is worse than public racism in this sense.) I want to live in a world where people are treated with respect and dignity no matter how God and genetics made them. I want us all to flourish...even Donald Sterling...but it's hard when people like Donald Sterling don't want all of us to flourish. I wish flourishing was a "thing" we all wanted for all of us.

May your table be full and your conversations be true.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A Quiet Spring

We have had a quiet first month of Spring down here on the prairie. It's been cold, at times, but generally a gentle Spring. It's funny, but we seem to be in a corner of the world where the weather is not much of an issue. Most days are between 50-80 degrees, we get some rain, we get some wind, we get a little snow (I had to shovel twice this past Winter!), and we get some sunshine. If you were going to use Omaha, NE as the example for climate change you would have a hard time convincing people that it is a dangerous thing.

Berkshire-Hathaway weekend has come and gone.  Now, Omaha is not the biggest city in the country, and when you get a bunch of wealthy people in town for a party, you tend to get a a lot of other people hanging around too. It's like Max Detweiler says in The Sound of Music, "I like rich people. I like how I live when I'm with rich people." So the bars and restaurants and filled with people paying with American Express Black Cards and worrying about share prices into the future. (One share this morning is $187, 375. What if you had a 100 of those?) But, to be honest, to have a bunch of retiring millionaires and billionaires wandering around town is not too hard on us...they're all in bed by ten.

So the Farmers' Markets are getting going as well. Our climate is still variable enough that we have growing seasons and fallow seasons. I remember working with community gardeners in San Antonio, TX, who are able to grow pretty much year-round. Up here we still have "winter."  This is always a great opportunity to meet new people, see the fecundity of God's flora, and to get fresh food into our diets. I hope you have a farmers' market in your area that you can support and be a part of the movement. (Chris and I always try to get as local as possible in all the we consume, except of course, my clothes, which tend to come from this guy . Maddy calls me a "logo whore." She's right.

The cardinals are back outside our bedroom window, and every morning they come out at 5:30 am to tell us they are awake. (Because of the way our house is built, their nest is literally only 8 feet from our bed. Our heads are closer to their nest than the bedroom door.) The grass is greening, and my neighbor already has his yard looking spotless, manicured, and perfect. He has a gift...

Well, I hope your Spring is gentle too. I hope it leads to a wild summer. I hope the blessings of this season carry on the whole year through.

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

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What Makes a Prayer a Prayer?

The US Supreme Court has really insulted religions this time. In ruling that a town can began its council meetings in prayer (always Christian prayer, but that's another issue), it gives the opinion that such an act is ceremonial. I'm pretty sure the God of Amos and Jesus of Nazareth would be OK if no prayers from that council were offered towards Them. A ceremonial "prayer" is no prayer at all. It's just a ceremony...

Prayer is a conversation. Prayer is a listening. Prayer is a sharing. Prayer is trying to be in relationship with God, not trying to grab a quick blessing for a sewer repair project. What that town council in Greece, New York fails to see is that when they talk those kind of words before a council meeting they are not praying to God, but rather trying to manipulate a political process. I think, that's what this article is about (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-schweitzer/the-supreme-court-rules-t_b_5268488.html). Mr. Schweitzer is not a theologian, so his argument is all about the politics...I'm interested in why these council people think God would care about their meeting?

God cares about the world, that is for sure.  But how does that mean that God cares about all the town council meetings held throughout the world, even the ones not invoking the name of God? Or, does God care only about the meetings that invoke the name of God? Or does God, like a busy "soccer mom," pick and choose what to pay attention to depending upon the schedule? What are you really saying if you think that invoking the presence of God is going to make a difference in your town council meeting? (In a backhanded slap, the US Supreme Court said, it makes no difference, it's just ceremonial.)

It seems to me that the only sure way God knows if the town council fulfills the will of God is if they fulfill the will of God. In other words, it's not the ceremonial words that allow the town council to participate in the mission of God for Greece, NY; it's the actions of the council that God judges on how well they participate in the world. So, for example, invoking Jesus' name, but not taking care of those outside of Christianity, probably won't mean God loves the council more. God may love them less for that kind of segregation.

Twenty years of having conversations about the place of LGBT persons in the Christian church has led me to believe that we have no idea what it means when we say "God creates the world." All the talk about gays and lesbians, just as the words the town council of Greece, NY has before its meetings, all fail to adequately understand what it means to say "God creates." For example, why are there Atheists in Greece, NY? Did God make them atheist? Christians, presumably the ones in Greece, NY (although I cannot say for sure) argue that No, God did not create them atheist. Atheists go against God, go against how they were made by God, and it is their culpability (usually called sin) that makes them atheistic. Possibly.

The other answer is: God made them atheist. This is the answer that is much more interesting. This answer to the question of God's creation, now goes to how we can learn to live together in spite of our differences. How can we share when we do not care? Or, how can we care when we do not share? Christians often use politics as a reason not to think about their relationship with God. What's so surprising is the US Supreme Court actually picked up on that, and said go right ahead...don't think about your relationship with God in actually prayer, just do ceremonies, and you'll feel better...you won't get better, but you'll feel better.

What makes prayer, prayer is the same thing that makes God, God: the inability to be captured in words.

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