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Coach’s Corner

Published on June 29, 2017 by in Coach's Corner

A question of belonging

Dear friends,

During the second half of last year we had a resident at Parkview for almost the entire time.  Then for the first seven months of this year it was back to the old way of doing things. I don’t know about you, but that felt a bit ‘retro’ to me. So with others at Parkview I am excited about welcoming Chelsea Page, our new resident at Parkview on August 1, just as we are starting our Hawaiian Sundays. She is another bright young woman, but with a different theological perspective than Chakrita’s. I think that diversity is good. Chelsea is a thoughtful person who integrates a deep Christian spirituality with a consistent commitment to making the world a more just place.  She is from the Bay Area and received her Bachelor of Arts in Peace and Conflict Studies at UC Berkeley.  This is an interdisciplinary social science major with focus on conflict resolution, international development and human rights. There she received the Peace and Conflict Studies Departmental Award for Service.  Although Chelsea grew up Roman Catholic, she finished a MA in Theological Studies at an Episcopal Divinity School where she received the Alison Cheek Prize for activism and scholarship focused on ending oppression in the church and the wider society. Most recently she finished a Certificate of Advanced Professional Studies at the Pacific School of Religion. It is a Certificate of studies for parish ministry to extend a MA degree into a Masters of Divinity-equivalent, under direction of the United Church of Christ Committee on Ministry. She has been working as Director of Catherine’s Retreat House, a Catholic Worker Farm and at a retreat center for low-income persons living with HIV/AIDS in San Francisco. Chelsea has managed a House of Hospitality for people experiencing homelessness in Albuquerque, NM, coordinating food distribution and networking with faith communities. After college she served as coordinator of Nevada Desert Experience where her job responsibilities included organizing interfaith events in Las Vegas, NV in resistance to nuclear testing. Chelsea is finishing up her internship as intern at Skyland Community Church in the foothills. Chelsea and her husband Marcus have a farm in the foothills where, among other things, they tend to a group of goats. I can’t wait to hear a sermon on how to deal with goats!

As I received the notes from May Lee and Jerry Champa of the second coordinating group meeting at Parkview, it occurred that the people who attended that meeting have something in common with Chelsea: they are from diverse faith backgrounds: Episcopal, Baptist, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Buddhist. God has brought all of them to Parkview because of a reason. Somehow they have found or are in the process of finding with us a spiritual home. It is interesting that most people who come to Parkview do not have that many questions about Presbyterian theology, but more how about how things are organized, how a newcomer can join things and how things get done etc. It can be a bit confusing. As a coordinating group (which is open for anyone to join to think about and plan events) they now help shape that thinking.  Again for Chelsea it is a similar experience.  She now has to figure out one more denomination. I commend her for taking the initiative, at her own cost, of doing an online course on Presbyterian ‘polity’ through Dubuque Theological Seminary in Iowa this summer. So she will be shoring up my memory on those issues!

Underneath the question of how we are organized as a Presbyterian congregation and the question of how to be spiritual and the issue of the diversity of our various church experiences lies the bigger question of whether and how we belong. Can we belong to this group of believers in Jesus the Christ and beyond that: do we belong to God and how?  This period at Parkview will be a time for Chelsea to discern whether she will truly become an ordained pastor in the UCC.  As a congregation we have the vital honor of assisting her in determining that. May we make her feel she belongs and may God bless our ministry together. See you in church. Aart

 
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Reflection June 18

Published on June 29, 2017 by in Reflections

Genesis 9:22, 23; Matthew 9:36; Luke 15:31,32

Coming to terms with “Dad”

We have just heard the song “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens (Tea for the Tillerman, Coqueiro Verde Records). The two people take turns speaking or singing.  The father wants the boy to relax, to take it easy, even though that may not come naturally at this time.  The son just wants to get out, frustrated as he is about the father’s unwillingness to understand him:” From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen” and “All the times that I cried keeping all the things I knew inside, it’s hard, but it’s harder to ignore it.” In some ways it’s an easy transition from the father figure in the song to the father figure in the parable of the Prodigal Son.  The young son wants to leave and experience the world, asks for hi inheritance and squanders it.  The father welcomes him home with a feast, upsetting the faithful son in the process. We could imagine the father in the son doing the same, although he may not be quite so forgiving.  Then there is the reference to a drunk, naked Noah who gets covered up by his sons in Genesis so his “nakedness” will not be seen.  Noah of course is a towering figure in their lives.

Friends, we deal with different characters and situation in the two passages and the song. All three have to do with fathers and all three deal with children having to come to terms with their fathers.  All children have to do that at one point or another: deal with “Dad.”  We all at one point or another have our “Daddy” issues.  For some of us it may the inability to connect with our father on an emotional level. There is a kind of distance perhaps.  Others have to deal with the reality that they never had much of a father to begin with. Others may be very happy with and grateful for the father they have or had, but maybe they are still trying to please him, “make him proud,” so to say.

It has been almost forty years since I lost my father.  That’s a lot longer than I knew him.  I can’t say he left a lot of unresolved issues, just a lot of conversations we weren’t able to have.  But even if the relationship is not that big of a problem, we still have to process it. For sons and daughters that will be a different experience.  It is necessary for us to mature well.  Also, it is necessary for us in how we deal with God.  Now you know I have been trying to nudge you away from the ancient concept of God as “Father,” as God does not have a gender, but our culture still has a long way to go in the area. Calling God “parent” may help quite a bit, but we can still think of a parent as male especially if that parent is God.  Calling God “mother” can resolve a lot of problems for us, but who’s to say we don’t have “mommy” issues?

John Cobb is a slight man in his eighties or even nineties.  He grew up partially in Japan as the son of Methodist missionaries and he has written about Buddhism and Christianity.  John Cobb is one of the most Christian men I have ever known. He was my professor of theology at Claremont.  I almost knocked him over catching a football once and I could have done serious damage to him. He just smiled.  In class I would nod off and he would just smile.  He moved into communal living with students and young teachers because he believed in it, even though he was a Southern gentleman who was way too private for that. For many years he dealt with a wife with Alzheimer’s disease.  He is one of the leading Christian voices in the climate change debate.  Although he is a liberal theologian who is very supportive of feminism his last book was about “Abba,” not the Swedish pop group in loud clothes, but Abba, the word for “Dad” Jesus used to address God. To my surprise Cobb argues that we should keep thinking of God as father, because of the intimacy of thinking of God as “Daddy.” An interesting point, because if we cannot be intimate we God, how can our faith be satisfying or meaningful?  And this especially a problem that men have.  We have been taught not to be emotionally close to another man.  In the promo of Cobb’s book, he writes:” The church has emphasized ideas about God that have marginalized Jesus’ understanding of his spiritual Father, his Abba. We commonly think of God as a demanding lawgiver and judge, an omnipotent ruler, or an ultimate philosophical principle. None of these works well today.” (Jesus’ Abba, The God who has not failed. Fortress Press, 2016).

Friends, where are you with Abba, dad, daddy, father, whatever that means to you?  I recommend you figure that out, for when you hear “Heavenly Father,” what you think or feel most likely will have something to do with how you will receive those words. May Abba be with you and give you peace!

 
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Reflection June 11

Published on June 29, 2017 by in Reflections

Genesis 1:1,2; Matthew 28:18,19

Probing the Mystery

Imagine wanting to imagine God.  What would God be like? I think we have all done some of that.  Humanity has done this since the beginning of time.  Here are some of the things we would expect of a being we would want to call God.  You would want God to be strong, you would want God to be kind and just and merciful and you would want God to be there for you. In millennia’s past peoples found it hard to see God just one being. It was as if the divine task just was too big for one God. So it was for the Greeks and Romans.  There was a god of love, a god of creation, a god of war etc.  They just had different names for them. The ancient Hindus saw God as atman as one origin and being, but there were still many: gods, Vishnu, Hindu, Shiva, Hanuman, Ganesh. Traditional Southern Buddhism and Japanese Zen avoid the idea of God or gods but gods are part of Chinese and other Northern forms of Buddhism.  What all these religions all understood is that God is so much greater than the ability of humans to explain God.  Our thoughts and our language cannot contain God. That is why in the English language we still talk about God as “He.” So our understanding of God is always going to limited and incomplete.  The Bible shows us a lot, but even there we have to read between the lines and also remember that although the texts are inspired they were still written down by human beings centuries before printing presses. Today is Trinity Sunday so we are talking about that difficult concept of God again: “Father/Parent, Son and Holy Spirit, Three-in-One.  There are different ways to explain the Trinity, as various theologians have shown.  Today I want to explain the concept with the words Power, Love and Presence.

Other than physical threat and personal loss, there are three important things we dread and hate as humans: one is feeling powerless, second is feeling unloved and third is feeling lonely.  The idea that we have no way to influence and change our own lives or the lives of others, the idea that no one cares about us and the idea that we are alone in the world are deeply upsetting to us.  Just experiencing one of those can make us completely miserable.  And we have all lived long enough to have an idea of what that feels like.   When things are going badly in our lives, when we see cruelty and injustice we believe God should eradicate, when we feel lost and alone, we can get deeply unhappy.

The Bible teaches us that God is powerful, that there is a power of creation.  It also teaches us about God’s undying and perfect love for us.   And, as we celebrated at Pentecost last week, the Bible teaches us that God is present with us as Holy Spirit.  All three of those ways God is at work involve one thing: energy.  When we have power, we can apply our energy in some away that we can use the energy of those below us to do things that will make a difference. When we have show love, we use the energy of compassion to make another human being or other human being feel cared for. When we are truly present with people, we use the energy of our bodies and our focus to make another person not feel alone or lonely.

But, friends, the energy of power, the energy of love and the energy of presence may all use and need energy, they are still separate things. You can have power without love, you can have love without any power to speak of, you can be present without significant love and without power.  One does not necessarily mean the other or demand the other.  However, when we use faith we can combine the three in one, we can connect the dots.  Now in Christian theology we believe that the most perfect power possible, the most perfect love possible and the most perfect presence possible are contained in one being, the One and only God, Three in One. Does it fully explain the mystery of God?  Of course not. God can never be held in something constructed by people as God is beyond explanation.

I don’t know if you ever heard of the expression:”Your God is too small.”  What this means is that people are talking about God as some vengeful, judging, destructive being who would like to do nothing more than punish us or a God who is ready push aside whole groups of people because of what their origin or whom they love.  Or even worse a God who condones killing innocents. We make God unattainable by making God small and petty just like we are at our worst.   That is why so many people do not fall I love with God, because we have trouble showing how big-hearted God is.

Friends, people need an answer and a remedy for their powerlessless, for their feeling unloved and for their loneliness.  May we offer them the one God of power, love and presence Who has room for all of us. May that give us solace.

 
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Reflection June 4

Published on June 29, 2017 by in Reflections

Genesis 11:7; Acts 2: 1-4

Holy Humility

I have watched very little tv television one the past three weeks or so. I would recommend it. But then one evening last week I was channel surfing for no particular reason and I found it overwhelming.  You should try it sometime. Flip channels not according to your interest of the ten or so networks you are most drawn to, but just from one to then next. It is a whole different experience: you find news channels bending the news to the liking of their targeted viewing audience, history channels that deal only with past military battles, channels that only show program where people are shooting each other, channels that have nothing but a bunch of overdressed women argue with each other over innocuous things. There are religious channels that are so polished with speakers I have never heard of preaching to an audience of thousands in some arena followed by a speaker of extreme politics who warn us of the World Court of Justice snatching you and me out of our beds. These are just a few examples. If you flip the channels in quick rotation it quickly adds up as a whole bunch of noise. Imagine someone who has been in seclusion or exile for twenty years turning on a television in this day and age. How profoundly alienating that would be! He or she would have no idea what the talk was all about. This made me think: how can we communicate our faith in a when media communication is so diffuse and fragmented? How can we discern the Holy Spirit speaking to us with all of that noise? My point today is that the key is humility.

Friends, in Acts faithful followers of Christ speaking different languages are gathered in a place where they hear the rushing of a mighty wind. It is a different kind of noise. I have always like the sound of a stiff wind, but then I have never been in a hurricane or a tornado fortunately. I would like avoid that. Wind as a whole clears the air. It also makes you feel humble in the presence of nature’s power.

The story in Genesis of the people building the tower of Babel. They wanted to show they were greater than God. They were on the same page. But then suddenly they could no longer understand each other. The building stopped. Pentecost does the opposite: it makes the people speaking different languages suddenly understand one spiritual language they receive: it is the language of the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost is the remedy to Babel. The power of this experience can only have filled the Christian disciples present with awe and humility in the witnessing of God’s power.

Friends, today the English language is becoming the language of the world. But this does not mean we are genuinely communicating with each other. We are all on our own channel. Pentecost reminds us that we need humility. Well, how can that humility take shape?

First, we can get out of the way. The Bible makes it very clear that God’s  Holy Spirit will work as it wishes where and when it wishes. It is important that we get out of the way.  After the Manchester massacre a few weeks ago, the singer Ariana Grande whom the victims had come to hear, issued a simple compassionate statement of horror. This prompted a positive editorial in the New York Times about the person Grande is. She is never on the news with bad behavior and seems to have no need for extreme media attention. Nevertheless she has 150 million social media followers. The author praised her for encouraging her teenage girl followers to good self-esteem.  In a sense she does what she is good at and then gets out of the way. She stayed out of the way of the care givers that came into action after the tragedy. Now I don’t know much about the singer, but the principle is good: we must do what we are best at as followers of Christ and get out the way of the Holy Spirit.

Second, we can let go of the credit. The work of the church is never about us. We are not in control of what happens to the church. We cannot take the credit for the good that happens in our congregation or because of our congregation. We are not responsible for the results of our ministry, only for the work that we do and the effort we put in. There are some churches these days that advertise themselves as “being spirit-filled.” I don’t know how you can say that. We are not in control of God’s Spirit.

Third, we can be humbly present, show up, be ready to listen to what the Holy Spirit calls us to. There is a popular song these days with the line “Holy Spirit you are welcome here.”That’s a good thought.

On vacation Carolyn and I found ourselves on a quiet beach and I decided to take a walk to the next beach. I saw that two young couples were already there. One couple was sitting down and relaxing and the other were locked in an embrace. I was going to make sure to stay out of their way. But then as I got closer, I saw the young man slide a ring on the young woman’s finger, with the expected excited reaction on the young woman’s  part. Something told me I should go over there and be the first to congratulate them. I told them I was a minister and offered to say a prayer for them. I also took twenty pictures of them and made them reenact the proposal for the camera.  It turned out they were church going people who saw my presence there as affirming and enhancing their story. They waved off my apology for invading their privacy. Now we could argue whether this has anything to do with the Holy Spirit. I do not presume to be the judge of that by any means, but it illustrates the point. We have to be humbly present when the Spirit calls. Then things can happen. May God’s Spirit work among us here.

 

 
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Coach’s Corner

Published on June 8, 2017 by in Coach's Corner

The leadership puzzle

We live in a time when there is a lot of focus on the different branches of government in our country.  How well will they each stand up and how well will our legal system work?

This is perhaps a good time to revisit how our congregation is organized and how leadership works.  The Presbyterian Church USA’s form of government is very similar to that of the US; in fact I have been told that it inspired the representative form of government of this country.  There is also separation of powers. The pastor operates a bit like the executive branch, but decision powers are mostly limited to the conduct of worship and pastoral care and routine issues. The difference is made up by the session and sometimes the congregation. The Session and the congregation function somewhat like the legislative branch if congregational policies are involved.  Any personal serious violations of church law/ code of conduct are usually referred to a commission of the Presbytery eventually, but legal issues with organizations outside the church might be handled by the trustees initially.

What about leadership? How does that work in our congregation?  There are a number of types of leadership that are commonly accepted. First there is laissez faire leadership where leaders “live and let live.” There is autocratic leadership where one person decides without checking the input of anyone else.  Next there is participative leadership which is based on input from the group.  Then there is transactional leadership which requires much supervision and rewards the completion of tasks. Finally there is transformational leadership which is dependent on clear communication and visibility.

In my opinion we come closest to participative leadership, because we do ask for input from the congregation for important decisions frequently and beyond what the congregation demands.  But not everything is group consensus based because we have the rules of the Book or Order of the PCUSA to follow in the way we organize our congregation. We cannot just suspend the Session for instance just because there is consensus to do so. I am sure that once in a while someone makes a decision without checking with the appropriate committee or the Session, but that does not make our leadership autocratic. We’ re relatively laid back as a congregation, but this does not mean that we are laissez-faire. Important decision are talked about and recorded. Transactional leadership seems to hit the mark with our residency program, but we do not have a bonus system. We try to communicate clearly and pretty much everything we do is visible, but I cannot judge to what degree our leadership is transformational. So much for all the types of leadership.

When I was thinking about this it occurred to me that in a congregation like ours, there are pieces of leadership.  Everybody has to feel responsible for something for the leadership to be participative and to get the most miles out of our ministry. Maybe leadership is like a mosaic in stained glass, different pieces of varying size, color and shapes that each of us brings to the community.  Whether this is in music, care of the sick, care of the young, care of the aging, care of the bereaved, care of the homeless, worship, fundraising, food preparation, social activities, administrative decision making and care of our physical and financial resources. As Ephesians 4:16 says about with Jesus Christ as the departure point:”from Whom the whole body joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” With leadership as a mosaic of different sized, shaped and colored pieces, light can fall in creative ways into the life of the church.

We live by God’s grace Who provides the light, but we each fill in the puzzle of stained glass. We determine how the light will fall. There has to be a certain freedom in that. What kind of piece of leadership do you feel called to provide so transformation can happen? Thank you for all you do. See you in church. Aart

 

 
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Reflection May 14

Published on June 8, 2017 by in Reflections

Acts 7:58, 8:1a, 9:4,15; II Corinthians 12:9

Dimensions of an apostle

We are not like the apostle, Paul. Practically everyone here would not be comfortable being called an apostle.  Our mind is on mother’s day and the emotions that brings out in us.  Yet in today’s lectionary reading the apostle Paul is not an apostle yet. In fact he is the opposite of an apostle.  He is a persecutor. This text catches Paul at his lowest moment morally.  He is instrumental in the killing of a blameless disciple.  What I want to focus on today is the reality of this one person being so different within the text of the Bible.  In all fairness, chances are that Saul, as he was called at this point, was very committed to the cause of religious purity. Chances are he didn’t go from being evil to angelic.  One thing that is constant about Saul/Paul is that he is always very committed to the principles of his faith.  But as we have seen in history committed people can lose their way, they can distorted.  Ben Ferencz was a 27 year prosecutor at the Nuremburg trials. He prosecuted not the extermination camp administrators, but the SSrs who killed Jewish men and women in cold blood on the streets of Russia and Ukraine. Ferencz says that a lot of those soldiers did not start out as savages, war made them savages.  Ferencz became an anti-war activist and was instrumental in the birth of the world court of justice.

Friends, Saul wasn’t a war criminal, but there was something of the savage in him.  But the story takes a positive turn just two chapters later in Acts.  Saul finds himself on the Damascus road; he is blinded and he hears Christ speak to him, wondering why Saul is persecuting Him. This is the turning point.  Saul becomes Paul who will eventually die in Rome as a persecuted Christian, suffering the fate of his own victims. This is one of the great transformations in human history.  But Paul is still Saul and Saul is still Paul.  He is still committed and his fervor for one cause becomes the fervor for another.  But what is different is his spiritual evolution, how Paul surrenders himself to the grace of God and how he overcomes his ego.  Our text in Second Corinthians shows us that Paul.  So here we have it, friends, three men in one, Saul who persecutes and condemns, Saul/Paul  who converts and Paul who humbles himself.

A few years ago there was a short Spanish film entitled “Aquel no era yo” or “that wasn’t me” about a child soldier in Africa who has to come to terms with his cruel past and learns to speak about it.  The film reminds us that people can be shaped to do terrible things under the influence of others they either trust or fear or both.  It is the Holy Spirit of Jesus that saves Paul from staying Saul.  Paul hints at his own suffering in his letters.  He speaks of the thorn in his flesh, some physical ailment it seems, but could it be that the thorn is his past?  Fascinating  thought.

Friends, we did not persecute or condemn like Paul.  We did not have his kind powerful conversion experience.  We will never reach the stunning wisdom, humility and willingness to sacrifice Paul has made.  But the dimensions of the apostle are also in us, just to letter extent.  We have a condemning, judging side; we have a part of us that can change from selfish and mean to compassionate and good, sometimes in the twitching of an eye; we also have a side of faith to us that can cause us to becoming people of humility.  Judging, changing, humbling.  These are dimensions of us, friends.

The point here is what we can learn. We know that God calls us to become more like that Paul in Corinthians.  He is still the same person, he is just a converted and transformed person.  He is troubled by all the issues we also struggle with like annoyance and insecurity and the desire to control.

Does the person who condemns and judges in us stay forever? Can we ever completely get rid of that part? Do we backslide into that way of viewing other people?  Are we open to change for good once we open our heart to transformation?  Or do we slide back into judgmental thinking. Once our faith in God matures and we become more humble, can we sustain that? Or do we go back to inflexibility and arrogance. Perhaps all we can expect is that through prayer and reflection we can shrink the dark and destructive part of us and make the lighter side of us grow.  It is a question of reconfiguring ourselves.

Friends,  let us look honestly at the condemning and judging part of us, the part of us that is open to change and transformation and the part of us that committed to humility and a reliance and God’s grace. May we become better people.  May God give us wisdom.

 
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Reflection May 7

Published on June 8, 2017 by in Reflections

John 10: 3-6: I Peter 2:25

Finding the pepper in a stale text

A Frontline program (PBS May, 2017) follows a researcher who tracks where fish is caught in the pacific and where it goes.  He also commits to eating only fish and no land meat up to three times a day for one year.  All the Omega-3 fatty acids are supposed to improve his brain strength.  After a year he does feel slightly healthier and more energetic, but according to a physician the brain-boosting power of the fish is offset pretty much by the mercury they find in his hair follicles. Omega-3’s are good for the brain and mercury is very bad.  So he tells the audience what fish to eat. The other good affects of fish on heart and blood pressure show no detectable change.

Friends, how would you like to eat fish twice a day?  I wouldn’t like it.  I like sashimi and had it the other day, but if I would have to eat it four days in a row I probably wouldn’t touch it for four months after that.  The experience gets old. Now sashimi doesn’t taste good if you do not mix the wasabi into the soy sauce to mix it in.  I didn’t realize the other day that I had mixed in too much wasabi, but it didn’t hit me until the piece of tuna had half disappeared.  That’s when the kick came.  Rice and water to the rescue!

The text today is a little bit like fish. First, if we hear too often, like eating fish too often, it goes stale to us. Its taste is diminished.  Second, the tuna may have great texture but it is nothing without the mild kick of wasabi.

Friends, there is nothing wrong really with the text the way it is written, other than perhaps that Jesus is both shepherd and gate (which may be a result of his quotes being merged).  The way Jesus tells it, it’s good.  The problem with it is what the Church has done with it over the centuries.  The Church has turned it into something bland, Jesus as the protector, the one Whose voice we the sheep all know. It’s like sashimi without any wasabi.   We have to remember that Jesus spoke this to a larger audience who felt oppresses and marginalized and hopeless in the midst of corruption under Roman rule, but also to a minority of his followers who did not feel secure as a new movement.   As the Church flourished between the third and twentieth centuries, most people in majority Christian countries felt included in the sheepfold. It was comforting to hear this message, but not particularly earthshaking. The centuries turned it bland.  Now Christianity is in crisis in the west and in Europe on the wane. It is till powerful in this country but it has been hitching its wagon to ideologies that exclude rather than include.  One of those ideologies has just pushed for a health care bill that passed the house, a bill that allows for insurance of many but leaves one group vulnerable outside the gate: really sick people.  As if being really ill is not horrible and frightening enough.

Jeffrey Gallagher, a pastor in Tolland CT, has found the kick in this passage as we reexamine it in this new time Gallagher talks about how the gate could be something that keeps people out.  Many people feel left out or alienated by the church.  He says that a young woman who has just come out to her family may listen to this text and hear something else.  “She too is fixated on the sheepfold. ‘There are many sheep inside,’ she thinks, ‘and I’m not one of them.’ And there’s a barrier to getting in-the church wants to keep me out. I’m not good enough. I’m not good enough: I haven’t been faithful enough. God doesn’t love me for who I am. The sheepfold will never be for me, because I’m the one the gate the gate in intended to keep out. So she slips out before the benediction, as quickly as she entered, realizing, once again, that the church is not the place for her.” (Christian Century, April 12, 2017, p.21).

Friends, in the world of His time on earth Jesus needed to tell people they were safe with Him. The sheepfold, the corral, needed to be secure.  Our question with this text as a Church as a nation with so many churches is to ask:”who are we keeping out and how can we be welcoming to people who want to come in?”  Being inclusive does not just mean: everyone is welcome, we also have to ask:”who are we keeping out?  That is the spice, the pepper, the kick in this text.   This passage is not about being nice and comfortable within the walls of our church, it is about expanding the sheepfold and opening the gate to all Who fish to come in. When we examine Jesus’ words, you will find He talks about that more than once.  Children, the poor, the lame, the sick, the mentally ill, the oppressed, the possessed, even the dead are included in His sheepfold. May we never forget that.  Thanks be to God.

 
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Coach’s Corner

Published on May 8, 2017 by in Reflections

Coordinating Q and A

Dear friends,

Once in while I realize a number of you have questions surrounding a specific topic.   You have told me it helps you when I do a little Q and A on such a topic in this column.  This time the topic is coordination.

Q 1:  We used to have various committees  in the church with specific  responsibilities. How come those committees mostly disappeared, even though our attendance isn’t significantly lower?

A1: Over time there were ‘nt enough people willing to serve on those committee. We also found it was harder to get session members (who have to be church members and then be ordained) and we did not want to burden session members with chairing committees. The only session member still chairing a committee (Christian education) is Cathy Nishizaki. Please thank her !  Two session members serve on the resident selection committee (Carol Sakai and Maurine Huang complementing Titus Toyama and Jennifer Nishizaki) and one of them (Maurine) also sits on the resident supervisory committee with Irene Uno and Lois van Beers. Thank them too! In fact thank all the session members (Carol, Maurine, Cathy, May Lee, Christine Umeda, Gary Younglove), because they are all great servants.

Q2: since we have groups who are responsible for organizing events, why do we need a coordinating committee (i.e. Mariners, Jujikai, Men’s, PPW, Choir, College Hi, Eddie’s Crew, Golf Group, Biking Group etc.)?  A2: Because a) it allows them to sync up on events together, b) it creates positive energy because the people who are there are invested and so they can bounce new ideas off each other, c) a large number of active Parkview family are not official members (either because they are not comfortable giving up membership in their home congregation/denomination or are not ready to profess their faith in the way the Presbyterian Church USA prescribes).  This coordinating group allows them to take active leadership in planning events for our congregation without the pressure of membership.

Q3: Why introduce this coordinating group idea now? A3: a) because some groups are not as active as others and this helps their leaders, b): there are a number of Parkview family who do not strongly identify with any group, but would like to take an active part in leadership, c) if an event is announced by the coordinating group rather than a specific group, new people are more likely to feel that event includes them.

Q4: What about the relationship between the session and this coordinating group?  A4: we anticipate that the two will complement each other. The coordinating group a) brings together the representatives of all the groups plus other interested individuals, b) keeps the master planning calendar and c) makes sure new information gets communicated with the office manager (Donna until Jan1, 2018) and the website calendar manager (Lori Hart).  Those present may have to vote in the event there is no consensus, but any difficult decision can be referred to the session (and in rare dire circumstances by the session to the members of the congregation). The session must approve plans by the coordinating committee if they present a new precedent pertaining to moral/ spiritual, financial/budget, building usage or inclusiveness issues.

Q5: Will the coordinating group take over any of the tasks of the existing groups? A5: No.

Q6: Does it have to be called “coordinating group?” A6: Again no.

Q7: Does the group have open membership and attendance? A7: Yes.

Q8: Does the group have a chair? A 8:  Yes, Jerry Champa. Please Thank him too.

Q9: Will the group take notes. A9: they must, yes.

Q10: When will the second meeting be? A 10: June 25 at 12 p.m. pastor’s office.

May God bless our ministry. See you in church! Aart.

 

 
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Reflection April 30

Published on May 8, 2017 by in Reflections

Luke 24: 17, 28-32

Soul-searching

We find the men on the road to Emmaus. Emmaus is a little village, but it has become a symbol of mysterious encounter or encounter filled with spiritual promise.  What is interesting is that geographically the place of the encounter can be pinpointed exactly. You can fly there on  Google Earth.  It is all so small and so detailed that you can probably find within half a mile where the interaction took place between the men and the Stranger. But it striking that the emotional and spiritual landscape is so muddled. The men know exactly where they are on land, but they are totally lost. What would become of this band of followers of this man Jesus now that He was gone?  They are searching the possibilities, but more than anything they must be searching their own soul.  You cannot have been witness to such an important spiritual movement and not be touched. When then the rug is pulled out from under you, you have to completely reorient yourself.  What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus now as compared to what you thought before?  But then they meet up with this stranger who does a little bit of the clueless reporter thing with them:”Oh tell me what happened.” Luke of course uses the story to get his point across about the Resurrection.  The stranger, Jesus, is not interested in the story, he is interested in the state of their soul.  Cleopas and the other man are not interested in the stranger at first, but as He starts to lecture them, they become intrigued. So the men search their own souls, the stranger searches theirs, in the end they search His and nothing else matters. As they arrive at their destination, the stranger moves to travel onwards, but they invite Him in and then they see Him for who He is, what His soul is. They recognize Him as the greatest soul of all.

Friends, do you know the soul of Frank Lloyd Wright, the greatest American architect of the Twentieth Century? Many people have been fascinated with him.  Simon and Garfunkel wrote a song about him “So Long Frank Lloyd Wright.”  They sing:” Architects may come and, Architects may go and
Never change your point of view. When I run dry, I stop awhile and think of you.” Lloyd Wright designed the Imperial hotel in Tokyo in 1921 in Maya revival style, most of which stood until 1967. The entry hall is in a museum in Tokyo.  But he remains mysterious. T.C. Boyle in his novel the women in a way tries to find the soul of the architect “The Women.” Through the perspective of the four women Frank Lloyd Wright has long relationships with, Boyle tells the story of who this famous man really was.  So we get a view from Olgivanna, the Russian, whose daughter Svetlana is very close to Frank. Then there is Miriam, the addicted Southern woman with a big temper. They all make their way to the Taliesin house, his most iconic creation in the Wisconsin Prairie. That’s how far I got so far in the book. Two more characters to go.  But there are these interesting footnotes throughout the book by a Japanese protégé of Lloyd Wright who calls him Wrieto-San. Slowly the man behind the driven genius is becoming clear.  But it is hard to see someone’s soul.

Friends, have you ever have somebody describe you or your intentions and just being stunned at how wrong you think they are about how you see yourself? I think that has happened to all of us. It is almost as if the image they have you has been taken off a shelf somewhere or borrowed from another person and projected on you as if you are some projection screen.  It doesn’t ring true and it alienates. It is profoundly frustrating.

But guess what, friends, we do the same to others.   Not always consciously, we size people up, make a judgment for ourselves and then look for proof that our assessment was correct.   We look at people’s dress, how tidy they are, how they walk and talk and we draw our conclusions. This is not fair of course, but nevertheless very common.  What we don’t look for is people’s soul.  We may do some soul-searching when it comes to ourselves once in a while, but we don’t do much soul-searching of others.  What I mean is that we tend to make a judgment about people based on physical traits and behavior,   rather than on what moves them, what their deepest wounds and longings are, what insecurities they are covering up.

Friends, the man never recognize Jesus physically. They cannot see Him in a physical sense. They recognize Him when he breaks the bread, the way they have seen Him do t before.   They look beyond all the distractions that could their judgment about him and they see Who He truly really is.  Could we do the same?  May God give us the wisdom and the commitment to really search for people’s souls.

 

 

 
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Reflection April 23

Published on May 8, 2017 by in Reflections

John 20: 24-28; I Peter 1: 8,9

Heart and Head

It’s the week after Easter and we go from the mountain top of faith in God to the shame of the doubt of Thomas.  We don’t think of him highly, although he is a distant candidate for our disappointment compared to Judas.   We are ambivalent.  In a way we love Thomas, we’re happy he’s in the Bible, because he makes us feel a little less bad.  If even a disciple who knew Jesus doubted His Resurrection, then, two thousand years later, we’re not so bad.  We usually think of Thomas in terms of doubt, but we could also look at it differently and approach his story from the vantage point of being a logical person.

Thomas is on end of the spectrum of faith, the head end that is.   On the other end of the spectrum are the people addressed in I Peter:  they are full of faith in spite of never having seen Jesus.  Compared to those people Thomas looks like a failure, but maybe we should cut him some slack.

There was an interesting announcement last week. The coal museum in Kentucky is going solar, meaning it will be powered by solar power not by coal.  Now that’s ironic.  I am sure it’s not because they are environmentalists, but because it makes good common sense.  They followed their head, not the emotions of politics. It is encouraging that despite discussions to return to a more polluting past, enough progress has been made that as a society and in the world at large we are starting to understand the importance of this planet that is now so fragile.  Score one for climate science.  A victory for the head that also warms the heart.

In the next week or so there is a march for science.  Had Thomas lived in our day and age, perhaps he would have liked to take part in the march. Thomas is a man of the head, of the mind, at least in this passage. He will not believe the story of the Resurrection of Jesus until he has seen the wounds from the nails in his hands. He does a great job of doing that.  He wants to see the results of the experiment before he commits to the findings.

Friends, are you a person of the heart or of the head?  Do you want to get proof or do you follow what moves you? There are psychological tests that will tell you where you fit in, although they are not longer considered them scientific.  Now, If in Easter we go a little more for the heart, on this Sunday we always go a little more for the head. But sometimes we can be torn between the heart and the head.

Every five year or so I like to submit an article to an academic journal, usually Pastoral Psychology. It is good to do so, one to make a contribution to keep my reasoning sharp.  Just recently I did another submission. I had been thinking about for about four years. This particular one came out of a concern for pastors and it so happens that it has to do with our topic for today. You see I was worried about the wellbeing of future pastors who find themselves between the head and the heart and I am concerned this is not good for the soul. You see the pastor in this day and age must explain ancient texts, but also take into account the constant progress of science and talk about them in a way that makes sense and touches people’s hearts .  On top of that pastors do not only have to interpret the ancient in the midst of today’s problems, but their behavior has to be consistent with what they preach.  In other words the pastor has to be faithful, smart and act consistently at the same time.  If he or she is or does not do not one of these things, she or he can feel fake or inadequate or even “fictional.”. My concern is that these demands can tear at the pastor or even tear him or her apart.  So the article was a head exercise about the heart of the pastor.

Friends, what s true of the pastor is true to a certain degree of any person of faith.  Just listen to what . Garrison Keillor, the former host of Prairie Home Companion writes:”I came to church as a pagan this year, though wearing a Christian suit and white shirt, and sat in a rear pew with my sandy-haired gap-toothed daughter whom I like to see grow up in the love of the Lord, and there I was, a skeptic in a henhouse, thinking weaselish thoughts.  This happens around Easter: God in a humorous way, sometimes schedules high holidays  for a time when your faith is at low tide. (Homiletics March/April 2014). Friends, Garrison Keillor came heavy on the mind stuff and not quite ready to have his heart be touched at Easter.

Friends, God’s creative powers have gifted us a heart and a head.  We must use both of them. Thomas couldn’t be a disciple with a head only.  Jesus reminded Him he needed heart.  But faith cannot be all emotional either.  If we cannot reason we cannot convince anyone, including ourselves.  May God help us live with heart and use our head.

 

 
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