Your Blog Steward

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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. 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.

Monday, October 20, 2014

I like new things

It took me a while to realize that I liked new things. In college, for example, my friends often joked that I never read a book published after 1800. (Which is not true as Soren Kierkegaard's Present Age is the first book of philosophy I ever read, and that was published in 1832. So there!)

I still use a Blackberry.(Think about that for a minute. Did you even know they were still in business?) I drive my cars until there is at least 200,000 miles on them. I have sweaters older than my children. And worn-out and well-used is my favorite patina on furniture. 

I remember a line from one of John Gardner's stories that went something like the heavier something is, the more real it is, the more you can trust it. It's not a hard and fast rule, but in general I hate plastic things. (Plastic dishes and cutlery are an abomination. There is simply no reason to destroy the planet to have your food be delivered on plastic. Paper, yes? Plastic, no.) So I like heavy. old things.

The other day I discovered the wireless mouse I use for this computer is nine years old. I've had three computers but only mouse. (That Microsoft makes a good mouse I guess.) I know the young kids nowadays use the touch-screen and the IPaddy and the Siri-thingy phone, but not me. Just an old PC laptop with a mouse that pretends to be an Energizer bunny.

Suffice it to say I love old things...which is why it is weird to realize I like new things.

All my old stuff--at one time--was new.

I'm off to work with a new group of people. I like that. I like meeting new people. I get to work in a new system. I like trying to figure out systems. I get a new office chair. I get a new set of keys. I get a new commute. (This one has pheasants along the way. Although my old commute once had a turkey in the middle of the road.) I like all that newness.

Over the years as I've read about Jesus of Nazareth, I've often wondered if he was an old soul in a new environment or a new soul in an old environment? Was he telling people something new or something old? In the words of one of my former seminary colleagues, "How new is new?"

I disdain labels. But I wonder about the ideas which propel our actions. I often wonder if they are new or old? I wonder if my idea is something that's already been tried and done, or, if, the idea is rather novel and as yet untested?

Maybe that is why Jesus of Nazareth died on a cross? Not to complete something old, but rather to test something new? Maybe he died to free us from the old stuff so we can entertain the new? Maybe he died to reveal that death (the oldest story of all) is but the beginning of life (the newest story of all)? Maybe we like new, not because it is new but because it reminds us of how powerful the old is?

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The end of the beginning is the beginning of the end

Because time is experienced both as a cycle ( seasons, birth-childhood-adulthood-death) and as a line (2014, 2015, 2016 ad infinitum) we often get confused whether we should be happy about something or sad. For example, take my 49th birthday--please, take it away. On the one hand, I should be happy I got to 49, and all the wonderful things (like seeing my children mature into adults) that came along the way. That is getting to see my 49 years as a cycle, and getting to enjoy the benefits that 49 years of living brings.

But--on the other hand--I was getting old. There were some things I could no longer do as well, and some not at all. Choices I made earlier effected my days, and led me down one path or another, and the die was cast. When viewed this way, my 49th birthday is seen as a line, and those "glory days" of my youth are long since past. (Here's Springsteen's "Glory Days" because I know you've got it stuck in your mind now. I'll wait while you listen.)




Did you notice how young the Boss and the E Street Band looked? Is that time as a circle or a line?

So I am finishing up my ministry with one congregation and getting ready to go to work with another. So I start over asking the same questions I asked last year. but to a whole new group of different people, and I expect I will get different answers. So it will be the same, but different. It makes you wonder if anything can truly be different? Truly be so unique as to change the world?

In history it has happened once, and that once is so clouded and scarred over with the tissue of human ambiguity that no one is exactly sure of the details. But once a man died and rose the Christ of God. Once upon a time "God died" (Martin Luther) and the cycles and timelines of life were changed. No longer was death the final chapter in a person's life, but rather it now extended into life everlasting. No longer were the days filled with stultifying boredom and sameness, but now each breath was charged with hope and possibility. Our experience of time no longer defined the experience of living.

The other day at lunch my server had this tatoo: dum spiro  spero. (She had it in English, "While I breathe, I hope." And to her credit she knew the Latin too. There's something cool about having a waitress who knows Cicero.)  I think that's what God wants us to know about time...that life is measured in the living not the dying. It;s measured in the hoping not the fretting. In the breathing...

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

God is the Subject of the Sentence

Over the years I have developed a rather simple way to know if I am interested in reading about what you have to say about God, the Bible, Church, worship, faith, religion, and stuff like that. I look for sentences that have God as the subject,

To remind us of our grammar, here is an example: God is love. (God is the subject of that sentence.) Many people who write about religion these days are fond of making God the object of that sentence: Love is God. I am not interested much in what "love" is, but I am interested in who God "is." So for me, if you can make God the subject of your sentences, you have a much better chance of me reading your stuff or listening to you speak.

Of course. it is hard to write and speak about God, and that's why I assume so few people do it. I mean, how do you talk about "God" in any way that is meaningful or useful or even entertaining? (This is the main reason I cannot stand to listen to Christian pop radio and praise music. They tell me nothing about God, but only about people who like to worship God. And apparently, people who like to worship have trouble doing so, but they really, really, really want God to love them anyhow. Good for them.)

Many of my friends who write about religion for a living and profession are not immune from putting God as the object of sentences rather than the subject. Glance at any page of religion on a website, and you will find much about what people have to do to get their act together to be better Christians, but very little about what God is doing these days. And naturally, when someone does get around to talking about what God is doing, God is smiting some "enemy" or perceived ill in the world. If we used the writers of Christian religion on the internet as an itinerary of God's day it would be something like: listen to people whine but love them anyway, and destroy my enemies (preferably before lunch, if you can squeeze it in O Might Preserver of all things I like!)

I'm still waiting for the Christian theologian who has the guts to write like Etta James sang. There's nothing wrong with writing about people, but it's not theology. Theology is writing about God. And to do that God has to be the subject of sentence every now and then. God changes lives. God lives with us, tabernacles with us, and opens our hearts to love. Jesus of Nazareth died and was resurrected to free us from the traps we place ourselves in almost every moment of our lives. The Spirit of God seeks to move us into ever-widening circles of grace. God does amazing things.

And people? It seems we have a couple of options--we can laugh or we can cry. Here's Etta James.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.