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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, June 30, 2014

You May Be an Introvert if...

At dinner last night, one of my companions remarked that she likes cemeteries. "Cemeteries are a great place for introverts," she said. I leaned over to Chris and said, "Introverts: we like people only if they're dead." 

Now introverts, people who gain energy by being in smaller groups of people, or even by being with themselves, are often contrasted with extroverts, those who gain energy by being in larger groups of people. Like most polarities, people need both, although some tend to live closer to one pole rather than the other. So, imagine you are going to a State Fair: does thinking about all the people make you excited or make you tired? If you're like me, you get excited, but then I am an extrovert. 

Over the years I've slowly morphed from being an introvert to an extroverted personality. By the time I finished my dissertation, I was done being introverted. I would do anything to break out of a library after that! Of course, I grew up where hibernation was the main winter activity, and I look forward to the day I can move back into my mother's house in Florida. I need to be around people these days, the more the merrier.

But, I still have my garden...I still read my books...I still write a blog...like I said, they are polarities. (Remember: polarities are both needed for an object to cohere. Without both the object collapses--literally vanishes. It's not a "one or the other," but rather a "both and" type thing.)

So how about you? Where do you get your energy from? Are you morphing one way to the other, or have you been pretty consistent over the years? Jesus of Nazareth is the perfect example of what I am talking about. He spent a great deal of time alone, or with a small group of people; however, he seemed to derive great energy from being in crowds. But they are different types of energy.

The energy you receive from attending to your spirit and the Spirit of God moves like waves of light, like some spiritual aurora borealis  that connects you to the deepest realities of life. Somehow that energy flows back and forth from God into a beautiful creation that is you. It is the deep power that cannot be tamed, but only surfed and looked at in awe and silence.

The energy we receive from others,  from engaging with compassion and love in the lives of your neighbors, moves in us like particles of light.  bursting upon the scene, demanding attention, and offering the sweet balm of relief and forgiveness. This energy is intense and passionate and often short-lived.

Regardless of how you energize primarily in your life, it seems a balance should be in order. It seems like God made us this way. Maybe you like cemeteries, maybe you don't, but I know you can often find me at the bar...I like people too, most of them-- when they are alive.

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

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Bible is Neither Right nor Wrong

Ok, so there's this article by Marcus Borg.

 I agree with all of what he says about the Bible, and progressives (although I am not too concerned with agreeing with progressives), except for one thing. Every now and then he talk about the Bible as "wrong." I am mystified how you can use that word when talking about a book. How is a book "wrong?" How is it "right?" What is going on here?

He seems to be concerned that wrongness and rightness are part of the equation for the Bible's value to people who read it or find inspiration from it. I understand that there are Christians for whom the Bible is "right" whenever the Bible speaks, but the Bible can no more be "right" about something than it can be "wrong" about something. To talk about the Bible as right or wrong gives it an ethical character that far exceeds its writers' intentions. And, if you hold that the Bible is written by God, (something many Christians also hold) to call the Bible right or wrong actually removes God from the equation in which you find rightness and wrongness. If you supplant the Bible's verdict upon a situation, a person, or an event, you've effectively removed God's verdict from there, even if you claim God "wrote" the Bible. But I digress...

I get that Dr. Borg wants to use the word "wrong" for its polemical overtones. I see that, but I think he encourages people to continue to think that "right" and "wrong" are acceptable descriptors of the Bible, and they are not. They never can be without destroying the integrity of the God who gives us the Bible. In this case, whatever you believe about the inspiration of the Bible and its relationship to God, to ascribe right and wrong to it is to deny God's authority to claim right and wrong. And do you really want to replace God with the Bible?

My grandfather loved the Bible. He often chided me for not taking the Bible literally. But when he was a week away from his death, he said to me, "Scottie, (only my grandma and grandpa ever call me that), whatever God has for me next, I am ready." My grandfather placed his future with God, not the Bible. Whenever you talk about wrong and right, you are placing your future into the hands of that who imparts the verdict...and you're telling me, as a believing Christian, that you'd rather place your trust in a book rather than the God you believe in? What kind of Christian is that?

I would prefer we stop using words like "right" or "wrong" not because we don't have confidence in what is wrong or right, but because we have trust in God to make the wrong right, and if necessary, the right wrong.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Monday, June 23, 2014

I May Have Been Speeding

When you own this  there is always a chance you may be speeding.

So I was going to church the other day, riding along the interstate (no stoplights, which annoy me), and since I'm in the far left lane passing everyone (why is it no one drives the speed limit, I wonder to myself?) when all of a sudden a motorcycle roars by me on the right. No big deal, except the guy was riding a wheelie down the highway! Going faster than me, with t-shirt and jeans (he had a helmet), no handed (he's riding a wheelie what's the point?), steering by leaning, he finally drops down as the highway bends, and he vanishes into the muggy Omaha night. I have to say, that's not for me...but it was pretty cool.

(Yes, I wanted to take a picture, but I was driving...maybe he took a selfie? He wasn't using his hands for anything else.)

I mean this was impressive. He was almost vertical to the highway. He was literally standing straight up, and it looked like a unicycle going down the road...and the first thing I thought of? "Wow! If he falls that's gonna be gross." (I have officially turned into my mother.)

So this guy got me thinking about what it means to "live." Is living about finding what makes you feel alive? Or, is it about surviving day-to-day on the hope that every now and then something exciting will come your way? Or even, it might be about avoiding excitement at all costs, as that often leads to messes on the side of the road...better to drive the Toyota Camry at a reasonable speed so as not to take chances? What are the reasons you feel alive?

We're coming up on family reunion time. A lot of people find family as a reason for feeling alive. Some people find their work or career as a reason to feel alive. What makes me feel alive is meeting new people, hearing new stories, finding new roads to ride. What makes me feel most alive is that around the next corner, the next year, the next line at the grocery store may be my next favorite conversation. I am fascinated with the new and the next. Curiously, this does not apply to technology as all my friends who chide me for my Blackberry remind me...

He was just a guy driving his motorcycle down the road--albeit in a rather novel and dangerous way--but I was glad to be on the road to see it. Didn't change my life, didn't cause me to reconsider the Camaro for a Buell, or even make me wistfully remember my younger days...No, it was just a cool reminder that there's lots of ways to live, lots of ways to feel alive, and lots of reasons why priests should always be at random spots ready to administer last rites...you never know when God's going to need you...or who's going to pass you on the right.

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

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Fathers' Day with No Father

Yesterday I celebrated my first Fathers' Day without a father. I don't recall my dad ever making too big a deal out of Fathers' Day. I remember buying some gifts that said "No. 1 Dad!" or some such thing, and we probably had grilled meats, but mostly it was just another day. I would call him, though, these last years we lived in separate states, but that was about it.

Yesterday wasn't all that much different than most Fathers' Days (we don't do gifts much anymore, we seemed to have gotten out of the habit for all holidays), so I preached, worked in the garden, Maddy called and we talked soccer, and Rachel and I watched "Game of Thrones." Great Father-Daughter bonding that show! It's like going to the Renaissance Festival except with all the gory violence and misogyny to pick your way around...

And a Dad died on the show last night...and that's where the story gets interesting. First off, I love this show  I watch it twice every Sunday because I want to try and figure it out. (I haven't read the books, and have made plans to do so after the TV show ends. Although I do read one internet blog "Ask the Maester" on Grantland which explains what happened the night before using the books as a guide. You might say I have a bit of an addiction.) But anyhow, a couple of weeks ago, I had a dream...

One of the characters (my second favorite) Tyrion  has just had his "champion" Oberyn Martell lose a battle to "The Mountain," and was sentenced by his father to die. It's somewhat complicated to explain, but this is not the first time the father, Tywinn, has been cruel to his son. In fact, it seems like he's cruel to his son on just about every episode. Guy's a putz...but with power and money.

That night, after Tyrion is sentenced to death, I dreamed that Tyrion and I were trying to repair a dirt road that was constantly being washed out by rain, and we could never get very far along before all our work was washed away. We were heading to a big house (a colonial with big arches on the front porch--I think it was the house the Barkleys lived in in the "Big Valley" TV show.) Anyhow, all of a sudden, my dad (he died this past January) shows up and says "Guys, over here." And he leads us on a path we hadn't seen towards the house. As we are walking along, Tyrion points to my dad and says, "I never had one of these." I woke up immediately and realized how the show had to end this season. Because, you see, although Tyrion was a son, Tywinn had never been a "father." In order for Tyrion (and the show) to have made sense this season, Tyrion would have to kill the man who made him a "son." He would have to kill his father.

But it was just a dream. Chris actually thought Tyrion's brother Jaimie would kill Tywinn, and others, who hadn't read the books, thought that way as well. Those I'd talked to who have read the books (remember: possible addiction) would just nod and say stuff like "interesting." Anyhow, last night Tyrion killed Tywinn.
And also even more interestingly, throughout their last conversation, Tywinn always claimed Tyrion as his son, but never once did he claim to be his "father." As he tried and pleaded for his life never once did he say, "I'm your father." (Compare this to the famous Star Wars reveal where Darth Vader claims his role as "father.") Because he never was Tryrion's father. As Tyrion said in my dream, "I never had one of these." The "these" was a dad. And I had a great one. And in "Game of Thrones" Tyrion never had one at all.

What I learned from my Dad was that being a Father did not mean having a son or daughter. Being a Father means helping your children to be the people God invites them to be. A Father is all about guiding and leading a child to be kind, hopeful, generous, beautiful, trusting, honorable, noble, and loving. I know my Dad tried to show me down paths like these...I can only hope to find those paths. And those are the paths I want for my daughters, and when I look at them, I realize the biggest difference between my dad and me...I have much better children to work with than he did. 

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.


Monday, June 9, 2014

Gardening; Or, How I am Living into Middle Age

One of the more famous novels of France ends with this line "That is very well put, said Candide, but we must cultivate our garden." (Voltaire's Candide) Little did I know when I first read that line 30 years ago I would be living into it. But now, entering the middle of my life, I love my garden.

However, up until last year, I had not ever gardened, but there were reasons. First, my mom is a great gardener. Most of my life I lived off her gardens. And she never made me weed it! Then, with children, a dog, and a regular job, gardening was beyond my time. Pastors don't have summers "off." (Just because people stop attending worship in the summer does not mean congregations take them off. Ministry is just done with less people, but it is still done. 40 people volunteering at a pantry in January down to 10 people in July, but the pantry is still provided...hunger doesn't take vacations.) Now, with a less regular job (or, as my college roommate says, "How can I tell?"), the children off leading young adult lives, and my wife changing the world, I have time to garden. I see Candide's point.

My garden is very modest. In truth, I spend most of my time making dirt. We rent an urban house in Omaha, and the land has had 50 years of suburban living, and not much stewarding. So year by year I plan on converting this former "backyard" into a tiny urban farm. Now, it turns out, (and this should come as no shock to someone whose entire family has lived on the prairie for 200 years), that I seem to have a knack for gardening. Who knew?

For example, I grew these last year  Those are eggplants. The interesting thing is, I didn't plant eggplants last year. As Rachel said, (Rachel is my garden's design coordinator, seen here)  "You're so good at gardening you can grow things you didn't plant." Not really.

Here's the thing about gardening, and why it's working for me in my middle-age: it's all about letting things do what they're created to do. Plants want to grow, soil wants to nurture, and water wants to win (water always wins, even if it takes millions of years, the mountains erode.) Gardening is just letting things created live and flourish in a trustworthy environment. I try to keep my garden trustworthy for the plants, so they can do what they do...bear fruit.

What better metaphor (that old sneek Voltaire was onto something here) for a life winding its way towards an end? Many of you, gentle readers, have been taught and preached at by me for a long time now. Many of you are off to ministries and lives that provide people hope and promise, bring food, love, and compassion to brokenhearted souls. Some of you are artists extraordinaire, and the beauty you bring our world cannot be surpassed. Although many of us will never meet again except in these pages, I trust you're bearing the fruit God created you to bear.

That is my hope for everyone, that we steward the gardens God gives us. That we find ways to create trustworthy worlds where people can flourish and grow. Without a doubt, my favorite verse from the Bible is the one that adorns the top of this blog, "Consider us this way, servants of Christ, stewards of the mysteries of God." (1 Corinthians 4.1) And the older I get, the more I would like to be considered this way.

Here's what the garden looks like this morning. 

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

It's All About God

Every now and then someone will ask me why I don't put my blog on popular religious websites? The answer, truthfully, is that the popular religious websites are about just that: "popular religion." Well, I don't do "religion," and if you've ever read any of my blogs you know I don't do "popular." Most curators know this as well, and a couple of times that I have offered to write for them they have politely declined. But not talking about religion is hard for someone who writes blogs about God...they seem to go hand-in-hand.

And that's a problem for me. Now, there are some folks out there such as Lillian Daniel, who makes a strong claim that religion can help in our relationship with God. Check out this book   She's on track with something here, and I love her book, but we're coming at this from different angles.

I am afraid when people too closely equate God with a religion. What happens when God and religion get too closely intertwined is that people think God can only be found in religion, mostly, in the religion I believe in. So, God gets trapped in a "religion" box, in which God is understandable, accessible, and available only within that particular religion. All the rest go "God"-less, unless the God inside the religion box either is really nice, or really mean. Of course, that seems silly if you hold God created EVERYTHING, and when you get to this point, you become "spiritual, but not religious," and cause Ms. Daniel to sigh...

And as much as it might be helpful for spiritual people to have a relationship to a religion, I would prefer them to have a relationship with God. Over the years of being a pastor, I have discovered that most of us find it easier to have a relationship with a religion rather than with God. It's tangible. Religions have buildings, holidays, Sunday School programs, choirs, outreach committees, and people who believe. God only has faith.

And there is no contest when you ask a bunch of pragmatic, North American people which relationship they want to spend time with each year. There is so much more stuff to do with "religion." Faith...not so much. For example, when people think about switching houses of worship, they call if "church shopping." When you "church shop" you look for religious expressions that will likely fulfill your religious needs. You look for programs for children or senior adults, ministries that go beyond the doors of the church building, worship that doesn't bore you to death, sermons that make sense to you, and that's all the stuff of religion. (Note: I am thinking primarily of my Christian tradition, but I wonder if other faiths do not have the same issues?)

What if, instead of "church shopping," you went to "How does God express God's self in this neighborhood" shopping? What would it mean to be at a church where you were searching for God, and God's expressions of who God is in this part of the world? How would our religion change if God, not ourselves, was the reason we joined a congregation? In this way, wouldn't we be religious, not from some pre-conceived notion of religion, but rather from joining our relationship with God to our relationship with a neighborhood? What would that kind of religion look like? Would it be "religious" enough? More importantly, would such a religion would be spiritual enough for us...and for God?

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.