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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, September 22, 2015

A Papal Visit

The Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Francis I, begins his visit to the United States today. This is big religious news. Many people wonder why it is news?

First, the Pope is, technically, a Head of State. Vatican City is its own political entity, even though it is nestled tightly in the middle of Rome, Italy's largest city. So in this case the Pope might not be more different than any Prime Minister or President of any other country. The Pope is charged with making political statements. (Many people in our country get confused about this issue, and think the Pope should stay out of politics. But really, how many heads of state do you know of that stay out of politics? The Pope is a politician.)

Secondly, the Pope represents about 120 million Americans, roughly a third of us, in some way as a spiritual guide. He is the head of the Roman Catholic Church, although, as with all leaders, his followers have varying levels of commitment. There are quite a few Roman Catholics who do not care, in fact, may not even know, that the Pope is making a visit here. On the other hand, there are quite a few Roman Catholics who are pumped up to have the leader of their faith visit here. The travails of leadership...Image result for pope francis

For me, the Pope will get me to read a few more articles on the web about his speeches and his ideas and proposals for his people. I have a lot to do while the Pope is here, and I don't think I'll have time to fit him into my schedule. (Unless one of the papal emissaries wishes to come to Blair and teach Confirmation for me so I could go hear the Pope.) I am glad he's here, to keep things honest so to speak, but his visit is not going to change my routine at all.

Since a Pope (Leo X) ex-communicated my hero Martin Luther, I'm not a huge supporter of the idea of "pope." I understand that every group can use a leader, but I'm not too big on the way power has coalesced into the papal office over the past centuries. The doctrine of papal infallibility ratified in 1870 at Vatican I is a complete mystery to me. Why would anyone want to be infallible at any level? What's the point? I find great consolation that the actual men elected Pope have never used the doctrine. I am sure the Popes, like most of us, find such a idea inconceivable in conjunction with a doctrine of free will.

This particular Pope seems a bit more in tune with our world. Although as a scientist, he drives all the people who do not believe in science nuts. (I don't really understand how people cannot "believe" in science. I understand you don't want all decisions made by science, but it's not like gravity or electro-magnetism is going to go away anytime soon. Deal with it.) This Pope seems to respect women a bit more than others; he really wants to see people act differently in respect to our climate; and he does not seem afraid to put forth bold proposals in order to make his points. He also seems very personable, and that goes a long way these days...just ask his predecessor, Benedict XVI who had the personality of Roquefort cheese.

No matter how good or bad this Pope this, he cannot live my life for me or for anyone else. My faith rests in the relationship God has established with me in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. No matter how life goes for me, that faith cannot be taken. It might be lost, misplaced, or forgotten, but it can't be taken because it is not mine. It's for me, but it's not by me. Faith is the regal relationship I have with God, and nobody, not even the Pope, can change that.

My your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Theology and Culture

I am a Lutheran Christian. To remind how us how English grammar works, in that sentence "Lutheran" (an adjective) modifies the word "Christian" (object). In other words, there are other kinds of Christians besides Lutheran ones. But I am not of those types.



I have lots of friends that are other types of Christians. Some have denominational labels, such as my Missouri Synod Lutheran friends, or even my Roman Catholic friends. Some of my Christian friends define themselves by political labels, such as Progressive Christians or Conservative Christians. Others use their self identity to understand their Christianity, such as my Gay Christian friends or my Social Justice Christian friends. And--of course, you can mix and match as many adjectives as you can find, such as my United Church of Christ, Gay, Low-Church, Social Activist Christian friend. But I am just a Lutheran, although to be fair I am mostly affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America branch of Lutheran. The ELCA is a denomination of Christianity.   Image result for elca

And according to recent studies my denomination is the least diversified denomination in the United States. We are almost exclusively white, middle class, and well-educated. And many people in my denomination are worried about this. They seeks ways to integrate other people of color into our whiteness. They seek ways to incorporate people of poverty into our middle class-ness. But what we don't seek, and what I think makes a huge difference in why are are so white and middle class, is ways to be un-educated. Our focus on education naturally leads to places of power, wealth, and exclusivity. In other words, as long as we remain committed to education we will probably remain middle class, and mostly white.

But here's the thing: to be a "Lutheran" Christian is to be committed to education, especially academic education. Martin Luther was a college professor. He held a doctorate in Philosophy and Theology. His writing on Christianity is some the densest theological work in the history of Christianity. And to grasp his understanding of Christianity, and how to best live in the love of God in Christ Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, often requires some serious thought. Just going out and helping your neighbor by serving in a soup kitchen will not help you understand Martin Luther, but it will help you work on your Christian love.

The theology of Lutheran Christians takes a while to "get." One of my professors of Luther used to say, "You can't be Lutheran usually until you're 30. You haven't suffered enough." And he wasn't talking about suffering the pain of discrimination, or racism or sexism. He was talking the suffering that comes from trusting all that you are to a God who dies. And although there is a promised future after death, for Lutheran Christians that doesn't mean you get it automatically.

That doesn't always work for people who are starving. Or people who are subjected to harassment. Or people who are killed for being a darker skin. To say that "God is probably going to help you, at least, that's what God promised" is not always the most comforting or motivating of words.

So, to my bothers and sisters in Lutheranism, keep the faith (and as Lutheran, of course, by that we mean the "regal relationship" (Joseph Sittler) granted us by God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Nothing is simple in our tradition.). We might not ever be the most diverse group of Christians, but that doesn't mean we can't try and help other Christians out in their struggles. Sola gratia.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

PS: Here's a sermon for you in a Lutheran Christian style.