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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.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Post-Election Requiem

If you didn't realize it before the election, I hope you realize it now: the United States is a racist, homophobic, misogynistic country, and there's no use pretending anymore that it is not. We're still a great country, but the veil has been lifted. I've known this for a long time, and I always appreciated the veneer of civility that we would use to try and make our virulent hatreds a little less controlling. But the law cannot change the hearts of people. The Apostle Paul knew it, Martin Luther knew it, and now we know it. Law can keep us civil, but it cannot erase sin.

There are a lot of people, of course, that want law to erase sin. Their cause is admirable, as law has been about the only thing in the last 4000 years that has kept us civil. And the more civil we got, the more we stretched the law and its limits in hopes of erasing sin. But the law cannot do that, and sin always wins against the law. Even if it takes a long time...sin wins that battle eventually.

And if you've tried to make sense how the fraud Trump became President-Elect, you realize it's a lot like trying to put a square peg in a round hole--it just doesn't fit know matter what angle you try. That's how sin works. It ignores the rule of law, so that law is powerless to defend ITSELF against sin. What sin attacks is law, and sin always finds a way to work that law cannot go. And sin wins.

Image result for pantocrator  In the Christian tradition we hold that only one thing defeats sin, death, and the devil, and that is the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Or, in a catchier, post-election slogan, what we call the Word of God. The love of God, unlike the law, does not play by regular rules. The love of God is based on God's love for every single person, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and all the rest; the love of God is for every man, woman, trans, no matter how young or old; the love of God is for every person, regardless of the color of your skin. The love of God is for all people, no exceptions. Only that love has the power to defeat sin.

I want to live in that love, don't you? Don't you want to live with people you can trust? Don't you want to work with people who care? Don't you want to be celebrating with people who know joy? Wouldn't you want to grieve with people who know despair?

To live in that love, it seems to me, means we have to start loving those everyone tells us not to love. Otherwise, how will you be able to trust them? We might start celebrating with those whom we don't know, or else how will you know their joy? We need to grieve with those who weep, or we fail to know their despair. And, here's the funny thing about that love, it will allow people to trust, celebrate, and despair with you  as well.
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The fraud Trump cannot take away that love from you. He can kill you for it, but a lot of people have died for that love. But know this, because God's love cannot be defeated by sin, death, or the devil, every time we die for it, love wins. I am sad that people will have to die for God's love to win, and I have arrived at the conclusion that I may very well be one of them. So be it. If God's love is good enough for me in this world, God's love will be good enough for me in the next.

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

Here for the Oppressed

This year marks the 25th anniversary of my ordination to the office of Pastor. It seems rather strange to think it’s been that long, and recently the time has seemed to go by even faster. I suppose, as my daughter once noted, “we’ll just move to Florida and die.” Anything’s possible.

Here’s what I’ve seen change in the 25 years since I’ve been ordained, in no particular order of importance; nor, really, without judgement or critique. I am part of all these changes obviously (no matter how slight the impact upon me personally), and some fit me better than others…

…worship has really changed. I started one of the first alternative church bands of the ELCA back in 1990, and every week we got visitors saying they wanted to go back to their congregations and try it. When I started I never saw a drum set in a church, now I can’t find a church without one. Worship has a wide variety of music, prayers, spiritual practices, and venues and times and we’re all over the place. If you’re in an area with a lot of ELCA congregations, you could probably go to worship seven days a week. (I mean, 10 years ago I started a congregation where worship was on Thursday night, and we didn’t have any music at all! The drums stayed silent.)Image result for drum kit

…leadership has changed. My colleagues, for one thing, are a lot younger than me, but as the Call Committee can attest, there aren’t as many of them. The ELCA currently has only 6 pastors for every 10 calls, and many congregations go years waiting for one. This has asked many people to take on the role of leadership, of learning and training to pastor people, and I for one, think this makes us a stronger church. I used to say at one congregation I served that I wanted to be known as they “guy they let preach once in a while,” when asked what I did there.

…competition has increased. What I mean by this is that when I first got ordained there wasn’t a lot you could do on Sundays besides church. Texas still had “Blue laws” when I was in graduate school (1986), and you either went to church or had your neighbors asking why didn’t you? Now, there is a lot to do besides church, and many of the benefits of church are now offered by others. When I was starting out, the only way to help out Haiti in a hurricane was through a religious charity. Now there are non-profits dedicated ONLY to that work. Habitat for Humanity used to be about building homes, not about donating lumber or money for supplies. Everywhere the church once was the “only game in town,” is now an metropolis filled with people who want to help. Image result for elca world hunger

This year has tried the souls of many. Many are still in fear that who they are is a crime. Women, people of color, sexual minorities, workers without a safety net all have reason to fear based on the rhetoric that echoed throughout our land. But we are here for the oppressed. God loves those the world loves the least. As Jesus Christ said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5.3) That hasn’t changed.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.