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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.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Greed is going to get you

The other night at dinner my daughter asked Chris is she had ever taken a "sabbatical?" She had not. And probably never will. Let me tell you how I have experienced sabbaticals among pastors recently. First, some history. It is a recent phenomenon that pastors take three months once every six-years to "rest and recharge" your batteries for ministry. And many have. In fact, there are institutions willing to support people who wish to take sabbaticals, and there is a sense where it makes sense.

Imagine you are a pastor all by yourself in a congregation in a small town somewhere in Arizona. Every day you have to be available for your congregation and the community should an emergency arise. You can go to the big town of Phoenix, but could you visit Aunt Myrtle at the big hospital while you're there? You can take a vacation, but if the Council President dies you'd come back to do the funeral wouldn't you? Hi Pastor, I know it's late, but my daughter just got arrested for meth possession, and could you see her at the jail? After six years of that, a three month sabbatical seems like a good idea.

(I remember once when I was a solo pastor, and someone tried to sell me a timeshare condo. After laying out my schedule of the previous two years, she said, "This would be stupid for you to do. Here's your free meal and show tickets." We were in Reno, NV. Good luck trying to find two weeks in a row where a pastor can be gone in a year.)

So although there are legitimate reasons for some pastors to have sabbaticals, I've never had one, and neither has Chris. In my case, I don't stay around in one place long enough to accrue a sabbatical, and I get time off every time I switch a congregation, in many cases. Part of the reason I want to be a regular interim pastor is precisely so that I can set my own schedule. Because I set my own schedule, I don't get into those jams that our mythical Arizona pastor gets into.

You see, in my case, while I might visit Aunt Myrtle, I probably live in Phoenix and commute to the small town. I don't have to take time out of a special day with my family to make a visit, I can just do it on my way home from work. And, yes, I won't be back should the Council President die while I'm on vacation. I will make arrangements for another pastor to do the funeral. (If the Council President really wants me to do the funeral, he or she will wait to die until I return. Remember, I don't know these people, I'm just filling in for a while.) I would still go visit the daughter, some things we just do...

The main reason I will probably never have a sabbatical is that I just don't want to get too greedy. I mean, if I'm pastoring so much that I think I need a break, I'm probably doing the pastoring all wrong. Pastors have the greatest call in the world, and there is no theoretical reason why we should ever need a break for three months from it. Rest and recharging is part of the call of being a pastor. Not once every six years for three months, but every day, every week, every year. Not just vacation but prayer and retreat, study and worship. These are the ways to reconnect a ministry rubbed down to its nub.

Daily prayer, weekly worship, visits to friends will have to suffice for my sabbatical. Maybe some day I will actually retire, and get three months off. But I'll probably get hit by a bus and die two days into it...and then it will be a good thing that I did not wait to rest and recharge.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Receiving the Little Children

That sermon is one that I actually like. I hope it makes some sense to you. I do wonder why we obsess about divorce so much, when we seem to care so little for the kids? I applaud all the judges, social workers, counselors, and others who seek to make life bearable for children of divorce. Thank you.

Too often we want to make the Kingdom of God something that God owes us. Something that we deserve. I wonder why we have this attitude? What is it about us that we want to subsume than which is clearly outside of our control into something we control? It's a mystery to me...but we do.

I do believe Jesus of Nazareth knew more about us and our proclivities to control more than even we do--and we act on those proclivities all the time, he never did it appears. But somehow he found it within his relationship to God to make forgiveness even more expansive than our need to control. And he gives that gift to us. Amazing.

Here's some Swedish soul-music to cap off this post. My grandmother used to hum this tune to me when I was a child...she knew how to receive children.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Setting aside freedom for the greater good

In this country I am free to own guns and I do. I've hunted with all but one of them, and at one time or another they have helped put meat on my table. Deer, pheasants, grouse, turkeys, rabbits, geese, and ducks have been part of my diet because of the guns I own. Elk has not, sadly, but that is not the fault of the gun--that's all on the hunter. I have no trouble with guns, as I have been around them all my life, but I am willing to give up my guns for a greater good.

I want the mass shootings to stop. (The mass killings will not stop, but I at least want them to happen without guns.) I want the shootings to stop, and the only way to do that is to eliminate the things that shoot, namely, the guns. Yes, the criminals are going to run rampant as armies masquerading as police forces no longer have guns to stop them. Yes, the unregulated black-market for guns will just make things more dangerous when guns are used. Yes, the pent up anger of people will just be exacerbated when guns are taken away. (I truly believe that if we try to take away guns at any level, mass shootings and assassinations will increase by a lot. If you think the mass shootings are bad now, wait until we try to take away people's guns.)

But we created this mess, so we have to die for this mess. Granted, the people who started this mess are too old to matter much these days. Every citizen immigrant, non-documented alien, and visitor of or to the United States since World War I had a part in this mess. And now some of us are just going to have to die if it's every going to be better for my grandson and his generation.

I'll do as many funerals as I can before someone has to do mine. I just hope people see that doing the right thing comes at a cost of all you hold dear; in my case, my freedom. I have to lay aside my freedom so down the road my grandson can be free--maybe.

My proposal is simple: make it illegal to do anything with guns: make them, buy, own, collect them, build them, store them, Any and everything. If you want to hunt, get a crossbow. We'll go all Games of Thrones for 30 years. After 30 years, revisit the situation. Start all over. But at least we had 30 years of trying to stop the insanity. Oh, and make the punishment for getting caught with anything but a picture of gun, 30 years of working in the smelters that melt the guns so we can use the steel and plastic to repair the schools and post offices we've shot up over the past 200 years.

I know most people cannot join me in this because you cannot trust anybody. I have friends, who the only reason why they feel safe at all, is because they have access to a gun. I have other friends who have never even touched a gun in their lives. We've had 200 years of owning guns, with even gun owners not feeling safe; how about we try 30 years of not-owning guns and seeing how it goes?

By the way, if you're angry at this, or disappointed in me, know that I am disappointed in myself too. I wish I didn't have to give up my guns so kids don't go shooting up schools and churches. But I can't think of anything else that might work--in the long rung. Remember, a lot of people will die until the guns are gone. You can kill me first if you have to, but just do me one favor after you've shot me: prove me wrong, and don't kill again.

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

Thursday, October 1, 2015

They Call Me "Mister" missional

I got in on the missional church movement before it was cool, and I'm still in now that everyone thinks it's a joke. I came at missional church as a theologian, and it provides me with the best way to elucidate what I consider to be the most important theological point:Image result for missional church

OUR MISSIONAL GOD HAS A CHURCH. It is not "the missional church has a God." Mission is an attribute of God, (Bosch), and congregations are missional only if they live out and participate in the missional nature of God. This distinction is huge, and makes quite a bit of difference in how and why congregations go about doing ministry.

Congregations want to "own" ministries. People within congregations want to control ministries. This is getting the order exactly wrong. God owns the ministries, and we should strive to give control away from the work we do. We should be striving to set people free to live their own lives, and to participate freely in the life and being of the Triune God. The minute we think God needs us to do something, we are in trouble.Image result for trinity god

And whether we say it so overtly or not, many of our activities seem to indicate we do believe God needs us to do it. If it wasn't for us, God's mission wouldn't get done. This is non-missional thinking.

Missional thinking is to understand that God loves us, and wants us to participate freely in what God is about in our particular corner of the sky. Missional work is discerning, praying, reading, and helping when invited by God. Sometimes it takes a lot of time to pray and discern before we comprehend the invitation!

So I'll probably be "missional" until I die...but if God is good enough for me in this life, I'm sure God'll be good enough for me in the next.Image result for tombstones

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

A Reflection on How Theology does matter...eventually

It is quite common in certain circles these days to say that as long as we act together, we can believe whatever we want. And we don't have to agree on all our beliefs in order to work together. That is certainly true...until it's not.

Use the example of the local food pantry in our town, Joseph's Coat. Anyone can contribute to Joseph's Coat, and they will accept donations from anyone who wants to help. The same is true for the goods and services they provide; there is no litmus test of belief, sanity, or soberness in order to receive help from Joseph's Coat.

Because of that openness at Joseph's Coat almost every Christian congregation in the town helps out in one way or another. Even congregations that have dissension and anger towards other congregations can both be partners with Joseph's Coat. And it can be tempting to assume because such congregations can work together on Joseph's Coat that they must be pretty much the same, based on a limited sample of evidence. But, of course, all of the congregations are different. and about the only thing they actually do agree on is that Joseph's Coat is important.

This is where things get interesting: is the fact that so many congregations that disagree in so many ways can work together on a project like Joseph's Coat a trend towards the future or a statistical anomaly? Because here is the thing: Joseph's Coat would close were it not for the donations of the congregations. And, if all the people who believe in Joseph's Coat were to leave their congregations and make their community at Joseph's Coat a "congregation" of sorts; what would they do besides helping others? The minute they try to worship or teach all their differences would arise, and they'd have to go back to the very congregations they left. We need everybody to be free. And since everybody is free, we'll probably all be different.

"For freedom, Christ has set you free." Paul the Apostle wrote that in his letter to folks in Galatia, and that line has huge ramifications for why we need difference and diversity in our congregations and in our world. Freedom is different, depending on your context. But Christ is always pushing us to more and more freedom, not less and less. And one result of that freedom is that we will be different, as our contexts are different.

In my context, I am free to own a gun, but I am not free to drive as fast as I want in my Camaro (warning: bonus picture of my car below). In Germany, those freedoms are just the opposite. I can die by Smith and Wesson, they can die by Porsche.Image result for grey camaro 2011

Contrary to popular belief, beliefs do matter, and they will probably never go away. We will always strive for more and more freedom...that's why Christ set us free.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Sinners and Saints

What does it mean to you to be a “Lutheran?” For that matter, what does it matter to you to be a Christian? How can we begin to claim and articulate our identity as Christians, and as Lutheran Christians in today’s world?

There’s a lot to being a Christian, and Jesus the Christ (from which we get the name “Christian”) is core to our identity in this regard. But many people make Christianity more than Jesus the Christ. Many make the Bible or the Church or Morality or Liturgy our identity as being a Christian. But all Christians—at some level—seem to find God best revealed and/or expressed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God.

It’s when we start getting into the details of how we understand and live out the love of God in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit that we get down to our identity as “Lutheran.” Image result for saint and sinnerFor example, as Lutherans one thing we believe is that no one person is more holy than another, not even Martin Luther. All people are both saint and sinner at the same time, and because of this reality, no one of us can claim to be holier than any other. Not all Christians believe this, but if you do, you might be a Lutheran…

And you might be Lutheran if…you believe Holy Communion is the most important part of worship, but it’s OK to miss worship every now and then.

You might be a Lutheran if you think that thinking about your faith is not something trivial, but actually one of the better uses of living your faith.

You might be a Lutheran if you believe that God’s law is important, but God’s grace is even more important.

You might be a Lutheran if you see the Bible as God’s word telling us about the Word of God in Jesus Christ.

You might be a Lutheran if every time you talk about church, worship, the Bible, Sunday School, Confirmation, or music you like both the high-brow and the low-brow stuff. And you like to switch.

Image result for jelloYou might be a Lutheran if you know that cottage cheese can be added to Jell-O in order to make it “special.”

You might be a Lutheran if everything in your life is highly ambiguous, murky, and potentially filled with dread, but yet, you still get up in the morning and go about the business God has for you. With coffee. Lots of coffee.

If you’re Lutheran, although you don’t believe in luck…it never hurts to have good luck.

If you’re a Lutheran, paradox is true for just about everything except God’s love, Jesus’ death, and the Spirit’s empowerment of your life. And that’s enough for you. Most days.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.