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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.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Let's Say 2040

I've never really thought about what year I might die. I've often stated that I would be happy dying between my 75 and 80th years, and if so, that puts me right around 2040 for a year I might die. (Mind you, this is all speculation. I could die in 2016 or 2050, who knows?) But that's only 25 years from now, and this leads me to wonder about all kinds of things.

For example, my mother could still be alive 25 years from now. She would be a little over 100, but plenty of people of her generation will make that number. (As long as Medicare and Medicaid hold out.) My grandson would be 26, older than his mother is right now. My daughter will be the age I am as I am writing this post. Weird stuff like that.

But here's one: after the 2016 election, I'll only have to endure this process 5 more times before I die. Since we often elect incumbents, that means I really have only three more Presidents left to make fun of. I mean, the last three presidents have been pure comedic gold for preachers. President Bush was so incompetent that the jokes practically wrote themselves. President Clinton was competent, but his personal life was so much larger than reality that there was nothing off-limits for him. Jokes come easy when there are no boundaries. And President Obama? I mean, the guy is going to be known forever for health care. I saw a permanent sign on a medical clinic in Omaha the other day that said "We have Obamacare." Really? And we can't make a joke about this? Sadly, though, my days of Presidential comedy are down to three more players...and one might be Hillary Clinton. (Do not tease me.)

I saw Harold and Maude when I was 17. I have never wavered from my appreciation of Maude. Nor of Harold. Image result for harold and maude It never occurred to me that 80 years would be so difficult to get to, 35 years ago when I first saw that movie. Life is hard. Here's the story I use as to why I do not relish time beyond 2040.

When I was 47 years old, on a cold Winter's day in December in Mandan, North Dakota, our congregation celebrated the 94 birthday of our organist's father. It was 7 degrees below zero, and with the 20 mile and hour wind, the wind chill made it feel like 15 below. With the sun, it was a rather nice Sunday, all things considered. Anyhow, as I left worship that morning, Henry was under the hood of his Buick beating the battery with a wrench. (It works, trust me.) I turned to his daughter and said, "If I have to live another 47 years just so I can do that--kill me now." The guy was twice as old as me, and he was still beating car batteries to life in the frozen prairie. What--EXACTLY--is the point of living?

Everything seeks life because we are always in the process of dying. Jesus knew that. But rather than try and tell people how to LIVE, he showed us how to DIE. And in doing that he freed us to LIVE without fearing to DIE. The grace of God is not that we live (or survive some kind of tragedy in that sick, twisted, anti-Christian "there but for the grace of God..." bullshit we spout) or that we die, but rather that we live in love with all of creation, and not use a fear of death or dying as an excuse not to live in love. Whether I make it to 2040 or not, I do want to live in love...even if it kills me.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I wish all my readers a blessed 2016!Image result for happy new year I want to dream out 50 years from now to 2066. (The recent birth of my grandson has led my thoughts to wondering what the world will be like when he is my age.) I will be dead; I hope for about 25 years. (I just realized that it looks like I'll be dying around 2039 or so. Never thought of that before...maybe another blog post?)

Who knows what kind of world my young grandson will be a part of? Climate change is going to have a lot to say about that I am sure. Where he lives and how he lives depends completely upon whether life is available to him or not. My daughter, who is a true millennial, hasn't really contemplated her future, and she is still in shock that she has lived this long. But there is no reason to think the world will end just because the climate changes? But it will be a radically new world perhaps...

That's what is most interesting to me. Since I have no sentimentality (I have a former girlfriend who has patiently been waiting for 35 years for me to let her know when I get my first sentiment. Maybe next year, Carla.), I really don't care about whether things we currently find valuable are still in existence. Here's some things I hope aren't around in 50 years:
Professional Sports (what's the point?)
Air conditioning. (Henry Miller was right.)
Fruits and vegetables in alcohol (they're drinks, not salads)
War (seems like every list should have this one on it)
Homeland Security (greatest illusion ever accomplished by politicians. Clearly there is no such thing)

If we eliminated these things, the world would be a better place...let's start with the fruits and vegetables in alcohol.

Here's some things I hope are around in 50 years
Sustainable food and water for everyone (world hunger is the biggest problem we have)
Blues clubs (actually I want to see art everywhere celebrating creativity and freedom)
Total equality for all of God's people, (with distinctions based upon needs and desires of a sustainable world)
My grandson (and I will now let Carla know that she has to wait no longer.)

One thing I don't worry about 50 years from now is whether God will be around or not. God was here before the world, and I am sure God will be here after it too. That's the funny thing about the God of Jesus Christ--there is never any doubt that God is around this planet and universe doing things. But what is in doubt is whether humans will be around? That's why Jesus came to earth, not to teach us how to be God, but save us from ourselves, and our inability to trust our humanity and the gifts of love we have all been given. Do you trust yourself? What's your plan?

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

How do you know it's Christmas?

Image result for christmas tree

There are many things that signal Christmas for people. Maybe it's the carols echoing throughout the landscape? Maybe you know it's Christmas because it snows? (Less and less places for that these days.). Maybe it's nothing more than turning over the calendar to December? Maybe it's the Christmas displays in July at Target? For me, it's the Christmas tree.

To me, the Christmas tree really tells me the Christmas season is upon me.

We set up our Christmas tree on the Thursday after Thanksgiving. It always stays up until the weekend after Epiphany. That usually gives me a good six weeks to stare and meditate with my Christmas tree. I look for the generalness of the tree, I don't really focus on ornaments or lights, but rather just take in the whole tree, and let it sort of settle in next to me.

In the early morning, long before anyone else even thinks about getting up, I take a cup of coffee, wander over to my chair, and just pray. I pray for people. I pray for events. I pray for good weather. Anything that comes my way. It's the best six weeks of the year.

So what gets you in the Christmas spirit? How do you know it's Christmas?

I think of that first Christmas, and how it just sort of happened. (In fact, in all probability, the story we have is a dramatic re-creation of the original event.) I mean, stuff that makes Christmas "Christmas" for people like presents, angels, music, shepherds, or a manger where just part of a birth, not a religious holiday celebration. Maybe Christmas just sneaks up on you like that?

Maybe nothing really speaks Christmas to you these days? A spouse has died. Children have left home. Parents are no longer able to create "Santa," and now the holiday is a hollow shell of happier days? Christmas is much more lonely than it used to be.

I think those lonely Christmases, although no one wants to be part of them, were much like the original Christmas. How lonely for Mary and Joseph? How lonely for the shepherds that they actually went looking for a baby in a manger, "just to see?" So, if you're lonely this Christmas please know that you have plenty of company. A lot of us are lonely on this day, in this season.

I do hope you all find some kind of Christmas love this season. I hope something brings a smile to your face. I hope someone has joined you in peace for the world? That is the point of the original Christmas, and all those up to today: that you are not alone, God is here. Right in the world. Right in the flesh to be with you all your days of life, and whatever comes after death. You are loved.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Pastor's Week (Christmas 2015 edition)

Image result for roast turkeyThis week is the best week to be a pastor. No doubt. We have worship galore. We have people generally happy, and although some people are pulling out their hair at all the details to be taken care of, we are all generally festive. Plus there's a lot of food. Like this little turkey.

I love turkey. But we're having roast beast this year. The Grinch, himself will carve it.

I love all the trappings of Christmas. Presents. Carols. Trees. Elves. Sleighs and Reindeer. Tinsel. Lights. Mangers. Ornaments. (my least favorite part, actually) Food. Drink. More food. (Also, as climate change has pretty much made Omaha a southern state weather-wise, I find I like snow. At least one day a year.)

Perhaps the most fun I have is meeting all the family who no longer live around here, but come home for the Holidays, and visit our congregation on Christmas Eve. How proud are the parents or the children to introduce me to their family. How great to see people actually caring for one another!

And then there is this--always--one family comes to me and wants to know if someone else needs a little help. There is a look of real longing, of real need to help someone. Whether they have sacrificed their own comfort or not, this family (and there is always at least one), truly wants to make a difference somehow.

Image result for celebrating the eucharist christmasAnd seeing that, I remember why I wanted to be a pastor in the first place. To be part of a world where people help rather than criticize; where people put the best constructions possible on the words and actions of others; and where faith is seen as a companion for a journey rather than a bullseye on a target. I got into ministry because I wanted to celebrate Holy Communion on Christmas Eve. I stay in ministry because people make me proud to tell the story of Jesus Christ, his birth, death, and resurrection, so that the world can participate in the wonder of the Christmas light. Jesus Christ, the light of the world made flesh.

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Same God, cruel war...

Today making the rounds of my social media is the story of a professor at a "Christian" college, that has been put on leave because she suggests that Christianity and Islam worship the same God. And, and probably the real reason why she is all over the news, she wants to wear a hajib (traditional head covering for Muslim women) in support of this idea. School administrators, willing to overlook all kinds of academic and intellectual difference, cannot abide by such a sartorial gauntlet being thrown. Welcome to a Christmas leave of absence Professor Hawkins.

Of course, if either Christianity and Islam is correct, the religions do worship the same God. Since each religion posits there is one God, and if there is indeed only one, then anyone who worships God--even polytheists--is worshiping the same God. Neither side of this debate can give too much on their monotheism, so at some level we should admit she is correct. I mean, really...

Now, of course, each side believes the other to be wrong, so, of course, it is a bit jarring to say both Christianity and Islam worship the same God. But why does a religion have to believe in its own exclusivity? Is there something intrinsic to religions that requires exclusive control of grace, truth, and God? As far as I learned from Christianity, Islam, and add Judaism to the mix as well, there is no need for such a belief. We do often believe that though...such is the pity.

But although we cannot agree on the idea that we might worship the same God, just differently, (or as Luther might have said in the case of Islam, somewhat mistakenly. Luther just couldn't believe that someone couldn't see the God who created the heavens and earth as the baby Jesus in a manger was Savior of the world. It's his blindspot. My apologies to Muslims who have suffered at the words of Lutheran theologians over of the years.) There is one thing all religions can agree on: war sucks.

And that's what makes this story about the young professor so damn vexing. People are dying. Christians, Muslims, Jews, every religion just about everywhere, and we're worried about a privileged professor in the USA getting paid for her beliefs. Keep your focus on where the people are dying. God does--no matter which one you believe.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.