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Coach’s Corner

Published on June 2, 2016 by in Coach's Corner

Creating a space,

Dear friends,

Many people at Parkview are helping to make the renovation of the Kansha a success.  I am deeply grateful to them.  They include Jeannie Shaw and James Harris of the Presbytery Disaster Assistance team and their members, Stan Umeda and Barbara Zweig, the Mission Support Committee of Presbytery, Donna Komure-Toyama, Carla Hart and Lori Hart of the PW, Bill Nagata, Cathy and Terry Nishizaki and let’s not forget our generous anonymous donors.  We are coming closer to making the Kansha a liveable space once again, but there is still a lot to be done. Please find a list in this Chapel Chimes of tasks we need volunteer help within the next two weeks and spread the word!

This made me think about the fact that we are not just upgrading an existing building or a facility which has been rarely used in the past five years or so.  We are in fact creating a space for ministry, a space for people to meet and have conversations, a space for young people who are now merely imagined or at most names without faces to come and rest from the ministry they will engage with us in.  We are making room for something new.

Over the twenty years as pastor at Parkview I have learned that as a leader you can point the way to a potential vision, but you cannot make things happen.  The pastoral ministry is very often about creating a space, a space for people to gather, a space for people to look for meaning and for healing, a space for nourishment of all kinds, a space for community, a space to be oneself and a space to feel safe.  Maybe that is why I have spent a lot of effort moving around the furniture in our buildings (often with no apparent result), because whether I knew it or not I wanted to create spaces which were not just physical, but also communal, meaningful, spiritual.

Much of our lives are about creating space and I don’t mean in our cupboards and our garages, but in our hearts and on our calendars.  Those who love us clamor for that and we clamor for that from them.  Those who aren’t as close to us ask for space also and we know that keeping people at arm’s length gets us nowhere in the end. We just slowly fashion a lonely space.

Worship too is about creating space, a space for God.  By showing up on Sunday you are saying you want to make space for God.  In that sense preaching is a lot like rearranging the furniture in people heads and hearts or opening a window.  As a preacher you help people look at things in a new way so that they make space for God in a new place or in an old familiar place perhaps.  I used to think by preaching I could do a lot more, but now I realize this is a lot already.

Friends, when we make space of any kind, we are not really sure how that space will be filled. We also do not know who all will be filling that space that we are recreating on the corner of 8th and T. I guess it is all a spiritual adventure. May God bless our journeys and our ministry. Aart

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Reflection May 29

Published on June 2, 2016 by in Reflections

I Chronicles 16: 8,9,10,12;Luke  23:42

The discipline of remembering

Today we remember loved ones gone from our lives in the past year.  Perhaps there should be many more candles, for there are always some we haven’t included.  We also remember the sacrifices of our soldiers in the conflicts of years gone by and even today. So this weekend is about remembering and about memory.  In our passage in I Chronicles David reminds the people of all the great things God has  done:”Oh give thanks to the Lord, call on His name, make known God’s deeds among the peoples!”  The people are told to remember.  David is calling them to that discipline.  Remembering is important. That is the first point I would like to impress on you today.  Then Jesus from the cross reminds the convict next to Him that He will remember him. That is the second point I want you to take with you:  We are part of God’s remembering.

In the PBS series Wallander, Kurt Wallander played by Kenneth Branagh is a Swedish detective with lots of demons in his life.  He is one of this those thinking, brooding cops.  This makes him very likeable.  In the last episode of the series last week he is investigating his son-in-law’s father, a former Swedish Navy officer about the death of his wife and about a past incident of foreign submarines entering Swedish waters.  While he is getting closer to the truth, he is called to his doctor’s office and there he receives the news that he has been diagnosed with early onset of Alzheimers.  So he is solving the case while his is losing his memory.  He mutters things to his father who has died and complains how his memory comes only in moments, how the memories aren’t connected.  It is as if the memories are not connected to the larger narrative, the larger story of his life.

The writer Fred Buecher said about remembering: “In one sense the past is dead and gone, never to be repeated, over and done with, but in another sense, it is of course not done with at all or at least not done with us. Every person we have ever known, every place we have ever seen, everything that has happened to us-it all lives and breathes deep in us somewhere whether we like it or not, and sometimes it doesn’t take much to bring it to the surface in bits and pieces. A scrap of a song that was popular years ago. A book we read as a child. A stretch of a road we used to travel….Old failures, old hurts. Times to beautiful to tell or too terrible.  Memories come at us helter-skelter and unbidden, sometimes so thick and so fast that they are more than we can handle in their poignance, sometimes so sparsely that we all but cry out to remember more. “ (Frederick  Buechner “A Room called Remember”, p. 4).

Friends, why do we remember? Why should we remember.   Why is not better to forget?  Letting go of things in the past is important, but remembering matters, because people have taught us things about life: about courage or the lack of it and resilience and the lack of it, love or the lack of it, strength and the lack of it. Remembering reminds us what’s possible.  David understands this.  It  is important to know what God is capable of and especially God’s never ending ability and commitment to remember us.

We have to remember the story of the Bible, of God’s journey with people, all the way to Jesus and the life of the Church beyond His presence on earth.   Without memory there is no hope.  Without the memory that things can be wonderful, we will not believe in a future.  As the writer writes about Jesus:”The past and the future. Memory and expectation. Remember and hope. Remember and wait. Wait for Him Whose face we all of us know because somewhere in the past we have faintly seen it, Whose life we all of us thirst for because somewhere in the past we have seen it lived…Remember Him Who Himself remembers us as He promised to remember the thief Who dies beside Him. To have faith is to remember and wait, and to wait in hope and to wait in hope is to have what we hope for already begin to come true in us through our hoping (Buechner p. 12).  Dear friends, our memory fails us all the time.   Sometimes all we get are patches.  But it is our job to remember what we can, about good people and about our good God.  For those memories will give us hope.  The Swedish police detective Wallander was distressed at the patches of memory that were left to Him.  Our memories are flawed too.  And even if we have perfect recollection, what are our memories by itself. What greater meaning do they have?  With faith, they mean something, because all of our lives- remembered or not- have a place within the memory and purpose of God Who always remembers our lives. Thanks be to God. .


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Reflection May 22

Published on June 2, 2016 by in Reflections

Proverbs 8; 22, 23; Psalm 8 4,5; Romans 5:1-5

Faith by Numbers

You all know all about painting by numbers.  Fill in the pictures with the right colors and an image will appear.  You also know how to connect the dots by numbers, following them in order.  Wouldn’t it be great if all of life was like that? And wouldn’t it be great if we come to a picture of God that way?

Admit it or not you and I put our faith a lot in numbers.  It is Trinity Sunday and Trinity means the unity of three or 3-in-1. It seems to be a kind of formula.  And to us God does not fit in formulas very well.

I head a puzzler question on car talk.  A ragtag bunch of explorers is stuck in northern Alaska in the heart of winter.  One of them needs to get to the doctor.   There is one plane which they are getting ready. They are worried whether it will start, because it is thirty degrees below 0.  The gauge says “do not operate below 40% Celsius. So the pilot asks the mechanic:” do you know the conversion formula from Celsius to Fahrenheit?  “No,” says the mechanic, but you will be alright.” How did he know?  Well, let’s leave that for a bit shall we, I am sure you do not care to know the answer.

Friends, there are many numbers we pay attention to.  Perhaps you follow the stock market up and downs or the status of your retirement accounts; maybe you closely monitor gas prices or food prices;  maybe you like to go out a lot and you keep track of ticket prices;  As kids inch toward high school graduation there are grades and test scores to keep tabs on.  If you like politics there are poll numbers and voters; If you take could care of your car you will care about miles traveled and care mileage.  If you have concerns about you health there are blood pressure and blood tests for all kind of indicators. And then we have said nothing yet about weight and length. Churches keep an eye on pledges and spaghetti dinner fundraiser totals.  Then are the numbers in passwords and codes and in the genome code we discussed earlier. What all these have in common, friends, are numbers.  Numbers, numbers everywhere.  Baseball stats are numbers as are those of any sports. They measure ability and speed and efforts and success.  You and I live by numbers.  And I have just mentioned a small number of things. Numbers run our lives and sometimes ruin our lives.  It is almost as if we live our lives painting by numbers or connecting dots in sequential numbers.  We have a belief that if the numbers are good our lives are most likely to be good. Oh, and by the way, the mechanic knew things would be okay because he knew that 40 degree Celsius and 40 degrees Fahrenheit  below zero are the same temperature.

Friends, we get lost in the numbers that we use to try to keep our life on track and our lives lined up.  All the measurements and indicators haunt us in our sleep.  So many figures to keep track of.

The problem is not there is no truth in numbers.  There is, because otherwise we wouldn’t pay any attention to it.  No, the problem is that there is no meaning in the figures.

Then once a year there is Trinity Sunday.  Trinity, as 3-in-1.  Numbers again.  There seems to be something cheap in using a formula for God.  As if God could be mathematically deduced.  Still we get them from the Bible.  Maybe this 3-in-1 has been foreordained, before time.  Or maybe it is the only way we can make sense of the mystery of God.   There is God the Creator, the Origin of all things, the force that propels all matter and life.   There is also God as Messiah Who became the smallest and the most vulnerable among us.  Then there is God as a spiritual wind or breeze of some sorts and Holy Spirit.  These are inseparable and they are One.  So they are creative power, power of love and power of and peace.  As simple as it is, this is not just a formula however.  The formula doesn’t matter in the end. It is how we human beings get meaning in our lives.  With our faith in the Trinity instead of in numbers, first we can participate in creation and be a creative force, second, we can know that God empathizes with us and loves us beyond life and finally and we can be assured of the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit. It is an intricate web of meaning.  No numbers we devise to explain the universe as well as our lives can take that place.

So, friends, this formula of numbers called the Trinity is not a formula at all, it is the God Whom we worship, A God Who is Creator,  Vulnerable Human and ever-present Spirit at the same time.  It is because of this God that we matter, that our existence on this earth makes a difference, not just for the moment, but in the greater scheme of things.  Friends, to God we are not a number.  Thanks be to God.




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Reflection May 15

Published on June 2, 2016 by in Reflections

Pentecost; Genesis 11: 7; Acts 2: 1-4

Between Chaos and Holy Order

One of our members who is in a care home said to me that other: ”At first I didn’t think God was in this place, but now I know God is. “  That, friends, at first glance is not a correct statement.  Shouldn’t God be everywhere? But it is a real experience.  There are times when we experience God as being totally absent from our lives and because we believe in God it is harder even than for someone who has written off the idea of God: the silence can be deafening, the darkness overwhelming and the loneliness unbearable.  Perhaps there was something of that in earliest Church before it became the Church.  The absence of Jesus (as God incarnated) is overwhelming.  The loss is paralyzing.  A group of many languages and backgrounds is gathering and they hear the wind and experience tongues of flames and suddenly a holy order is established. There is a feeling of peace and unity and togetherness and hope and they can understand each other.  Pentecost is important, not because we are all going to feel just like that, but because if we are open we can all have some sort experience of the Holy Spirit, like our member in the care home, that somehow, in some way, God is present and at work.

The story of Babel in the Old Testament , on the other hand is the story of utter chaos.  A people work on a tower that will be the tallest of all (ironically the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, now sits in that same region of the world).  But it is a building of pride and arrogance. So they are taught a lesson. They suddenly stop understanding each other and suddenly the commands of one worker to another, from foreman to bricklayer, from architect to construction manager can no longer be understood.  They are stumped.  So the work is halted and the tower falls in ruins.  Of course there are have been long periods of peace and tranquility in the region around Babel, modern-day Iraq, since the time in which the story was set. However, to us it seems the chaos of the story has always been there.  The region always seems to be in turmoil.  We still see daily images of crying men and desperate mothers.  We are more troubled than ever before by this, because we know now that what we did as a country or fail to do as a country is a contributing factor to the misery of the people in that troubled region.  Of course we know that centuries of ethnic and religious differences has made it fertile ground for unrest,  but our greed for oil and power is just fuel on the fire.

Babel and Pentecost as I have told you before are bookends. They are the extremes of chaos and holy order.  You and I live our lives in between these extremes.  We have the experience of Chaos (we discussed some of the examples already) and we have the experience of Pentecost.  We understand that our attitude has a lot to do with which one we are going to be more familiar with.  Pride leads to chaos in ourselves for we set ourselves over against others who also have pride and someone must lose. The Bible seems to teach that humility is most likely to lead to an experience of the Holy Spirit r vice versa.  We acknowledge our flaws and our limitations and recognize the power of God’s acting in our lives.

Friends, on the biggest island of the Hawaiian chain sits a series of eight magnificent deep and emerald green valleys in between the dry Kohala and the lush Hamakua coasts.  The widest one, furthest south, is the famous Waipi’o valley. The one on the north end, the Pololu valley is less well known, but it has a scenic , rocky trail running  from the valley floor, near the violent surf, to the road on top. A local friend of ours whose family has ancestral lands near there told us that every time she hikes up this trail, her breath fails her at exactly the same point.   She thinks it may be one of her long deceased relatives or an ancient enemy.  She says it has happened seven times.  There are other explanations of course: the trail changes contours right at that spot and perhaps it is psychological for her by now.  The concept of her theory intrigues me:  that there are unresolved relationships and events that bind us together but also keep us separated and conflicted, even beyond time.  Perhaps this happens in everyday life: as much as Pentecost wants to flow in, Babel still haunts us.  There seems to be so much chaos, in families, in marriages, in work places, in governments and yes, in churches.  Often these are driven by pride or greed or possessiveness or good old insecurity.  Friends, maybe you and I should be aware of the chaos Babel describes and how it works in our lives. It sometimes stuns me how it creeps into groups of any kind.  We should remember that God as Holy Spirit seeks to fill the vacuum of our lives, as a whiff or breeze of grace and have that which is perplexing, frightening and chaotic make sense and give meaning.  Thanks be to God.


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Coach’s corner

Published on May 9, 2016 by in Coach's Corner

When things get real,

The most famous line from the movie “Field of Dreams” is: “If you build it, they will come.”  Of course that movie was about a farm field in Iowa which was being turned into a baseball field for the ghosts of departed ball players. Nevertheless what we have been doing at Parkview is building a field of dreams of sorts. It is a place where people can learn to minister from and to a unique and diverse group of people. This is a great opportunity. It is also a grand experiment. There are other residencies out there in the US, but not many and they are in large churches that receive funding from organizations like the Lily foundation. And there are no multicultural ministry residencies that I know of. In an earlier coach’s corner I talked about the Leicester City football (soccer) club in England and how they were doing very well with about 10% of the budget of the large, rich clubs. Well that club has just won the English Premier League watched around the globe and the season isn’t even over yet. They say it is the most stunning feat in a hundred years. Think of the Cubs winning the World Series with almost no budget. So small organizations can have a great impact.

We have gone through a number of stages in the development of our program since early last year. We began by floating the idea and asking for advice from people outside the church. We asked and got support from the Presbytery whose Mission Support Committee is an active partner in this project. We asked and got generous support from you for Kansha renovation.We contacted about twenty seminaries and I went recruiting around the US. We established teams: a selection committee (Titus Toyama, Carol Sakai, Maurine Huang, Jennifer Nishizaki), a kansha renovation committee (Stan Umeda, Barbara Hiyama Zweig with Bill Nagata working on the window bars), a decorating/furnishing committee(Carla Hart, Lori Hart, Donna Komure-Toyama, Cathy Nishizaki), we got a local Presbyterian Disaster Assistance team to come twice already to help us renovate, including creating a larger window to meet code. We had heating and air put in as well as a water heater.

But if we build it will they come? That question is being answered. The selection committee with the approval of the session had offered a position to two bright young women. The first is Chakrita Saulina, a woman from Indonesia (ironically no connection to the Indonesian congregation or me) who has just finished her masters of Theology at Yale Divinity School in Connecticut. She is slated to be coming from mid June to Mid September with a possibility of renewal The second is Rola Al-Askar from the Presbyterian Church of Lebanon who is finishing up her masters at Princeton Seminary and is to come in early October for a year. Application is still open as we can have two residents at time in the Kansha. So things are becoming real. We are excited about these residents-to-be as they are bright and motivated women who, undoubtedly, will have great impact wherever they serve in their life. It is great to think they will be able to do that with a dose of Parkview in their system!

Reality does come with side effects. It’s okay when the field is just a field, but when the players arrive it can happen that latent or new questions emerge and sometimes considerable anxiety. We may feel some of that, but that’s all part of blazing new trails. We may have a resident here in five weeks and there much to do still. Things may be a little frantic, even though we have been very deliberate in our process. Rola is still struggling with questions about visa renewal and there other issues we had not counted on that are particular to each resident. Experiments come with unpredictability. 

Now one question you may have: what will change with the coming of residents with regards to the way we go about things? The answer is: essentially nothing. The residents will not be here to take over the duties of any volunteers. They will be there to learn and coming alongside. We want them to create new energy, not to replace the energy the Parkview family has already created; to open up new opportunities and connections, not dominate existing tasks. Some of their duties will therefore be outside of our congregation’s bounds.

Thank you for your continued support.May God bless our ministry. Aart

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Reflection April 24

Published on May 9, 2016 by in Misc., Reflections

John 13:34, 35; Acts 11: 9, 17, 18

What it boils down to

We have all boiled pasta from a package before.  The hard, cream-colored pieces almost seem like plastic.  Only a fool would try to eat it like that.  No, it needs to be dropped into boiling hot water and after it boils down it becomes edible.  We have all forgotten to heat up water before (at least I hope so) and we know that ground coffee or tea leaves or honey do not do what they are supposed to do when the water is cold.  It has to be boiling or nearly so.   But maybe that’s not exactly what we are looking for here. In the different dictionaries, “boiling down” originally means reducing (or condensing) bulk or elements by boiling.

In Acts Peter has a dream about edible things. He is told to eat them, but he refuses.  When you boil it down all those things are foods he as a good Jew is not supposed eat and as a good Jewish man he refuses.  But then in that dream he is told in so many words that of God does not consider those things profane, why should he?  When you boil it down, it isn’t about following dietary laws.  It is about something much greater: the power of the Holy Spirit.  So Peter’s faith overnight goes from becoming a faith of rules and laws to a faith of Spirit.  He sees things differently.  Friends, these images Peter has of food boil down to nothing. Faith is not about laws about food or anything else.  It is about love that comes through the Holy Spirit; when you boil it down. Of course we need commandments in faith, but none can ever be greater than the commandment to love God and others. This is what Jesus is making abundantly clear in the Gospel of John. Now returning to the passage in Acts, things become a little complicated because it also seems to be about Jews and non-Jews. What it boils down to friends is that He affirms once more that the new faith is no longer Judaism. It is a whole new world faith where everyone is included. You see what unites people in no longer the religious law, but the love that comes through the Holy Spirit. Again this is what Jesus is talking about.  Actually in a Christian perspective the whole Bible boils down to the Jesus who calls us to love.  For Christians Jesus is the prism through which the while Bible must be seen.

Friends, let’s talk about Prince. Actually I can’t.  I know nothing about him other than what I have learned in the last several days. I was living in Asia when he was at his most popular. But the other day it felt more like I had been on another planet.  I could not have identified a Prince song even if my life depended on it.  I had to get from news shows what he and his music were all about.  They boiled it down for me.  I found out he was a few years younger than me, that he was from Minneapolis and never really left there, that he could play almost any instrument, that he battled with the powerful record companies and that you could never pin him down. His identity seemed to be elusive. Extreme creativity and freedom seem to be what he was most about. He was so creative that he could bring together many genres of music and as a result his fans were a mixture of races and ages and economic levels.   Even they could not be defined.

Friends, we have just seen Peter boiling down what is important to the brand new Church.  We have just heard Jesus boil down what the new Christians will be measured by: how they love one another.  Earlier we tried to boil down the life of well known people, but found that it was hard to do. In the light of this, what does your life boil down to? How would others boil it down?  Now, let me make it clear, this is not about image.  It is who and how you really are.  Two weeks we talked about the lives of Peter and Paul and how different they were and also so complicated and how it shed light on our own complexity.  Last week we talked about who the there is a tension between being a lamb and being a shepherd and how me need both to be wholehearted human beings.  Now if we through that in a big pot with all the things we say and what we do, what does it boil down to, friends?  There is so much that distracts us throughout our life, like: finding or not looking for a mate, financial security, family responsibilities, how well our children do in life and whether they are health and happy, the success of our careers, how well we appear in the eyes of others and above all the constant worrying we do about each and every one of those.  Each phase in our life seems to be preoccupied with one or the other.  So when we learn about mindfulness we realize it is a good thing: living in the moment as effectively and compassionately as we possibly can. However, friends, there is another layer to mindfulness and that is: at its core and beside all our worries, what is the deepest meaning and purpose that drives us, what does it all boil down to?  May God in Jesus through the Holy Spirit give us insight and vision.


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Reflection April 17

Published on May 9, 2016 by in Reflections

John 10:25,26,27,28; Revelation 7: 17

Between Lamb and Shepherd

Imagine you are a small farmer who rents from a landlord in ancient Israel or Palestine.  You work a few acres of rocky, infertile land in the hills. Rainfall is sparse. You have a few goats for milk, but no cows. The landlord has a few of those. You tend to two big fig trees and have a few rows of olive trees to work with. A few vines of grapes produce a minimum of grapes.  Other than nuts, your only source of protein are sheep.  Chickens are not your staple.  The kids in the family love the little lambs. They are cuddly, make funny noises and don’t mind being carried around.  So when your faith demands that it is time to sacrifice a lamb as a sign of your devotion to God, it is something very real to you. You are killing the family play mate on the altar, a playmate not old enough to be accepted pleasant meal for the children.  So when Christians talk to you of the concept of Jesus as the Lamb of God, you may contort you face in frown at first, but soon enough your face muscles will relax and the story will become real to you.

To us, however, friends, lamb brings associations of dishes we order occasionally at Middle Eastern restaurants.  The depth of the innocence and helplessness of the lamb does not really come to mind, so to us the image of the Lamb of God is one we accept, but does not reach us at much more than a digestive level.  I actually don’t even like the taste. But when it comes to shepherds, we can get the picture.  It’s not that far from Cowboy or Gaucho or Paniolo.  Lonely Basque and Peruvian sheepherders still roam the heights of Nevada we hear.   The shepherd’s role is clear.  So Jesus at the Good Shepherd (for there are bad ones) is acceptable to us.  We get it: we are the sheep and the lamb.  The shepherd has a staff with one end shaped to pull sheep in and the base to push them away to roam free.

Now our lectionary readings are a bit confusing for they force us to acknowledge to Jesus is both Lamb and Shepherd, both helpless, vulnerable and strong, protective. We are not used to thinking of Him in both those terms at the same time.  We are used to thinking in clear roles, because when people have clear roles it is easier to run families, companies, churches, armies and societies.  Is there some hapless mixed metaphor here?  How can someone be weak and strong at the same time, vulnerable and resolute? We don’t get it.

Plenty Coups was the chief of the Crow nation who helped his people survive the disappearance of the buffalo and the move onto the reservation. In a vision he heard a voice say that “he must be like the chickadee (a cute animal that is the state bird of Massachussetts and Maine and the provincial bird of New Brunswick)-listening, attentive, industrious, trusting, with a well-developed mind and body, tending to the work at hand.”  He decided he must lead his people to be “chickadee-people.” (Toronto Journal of Theology, Supplement I, 2015). But he didn’t tell them to be both Chickadee and Hawk. The role was clear.

Brenee Brown is a researcher at the University of Houston who focuses on human connection.  She is interested in learning which people are good at establishing belonging and expressing empathy.  After many interviews, and she talks about this in a TED talk, she concluded that vulnerability is important in establishing connection and belonging, that vulnerability also helped in showing empathy. Vulnerability is the ability and willingness to show our wounds and our weaknesses.   That was a surprise to her.  So if we take this to its logical conclusion we come to see that the Lamb which is vulnerable and the Shepherd who is strong need each other for us to become what she calls “wholehearted people” (Weavings, vol. 31, no.1). Perhaps this is what the text is showing us, friends.

In a recent interview with Charlie Rose, Gloria Vanderbilt who is now 91 appeared together with her son, the journalist Anderson Cooper. They are each other’s only immediate remaining relatives.   Cooper said of his mother that she was not tough, but strong and that one thing he admired about her was that despite her many hardships she always remained vulnerable.  He presented it as if it were a key to her success.

So friends, Jesus is both Lamb and Shepherd, both the helpless one willing to be sacrificed on our behalf, but also The One Who looks out for us, pulling us in and pushing us along toward our work. Not one or the other, but both.  The two need each other for Jesus to be wholehearted. This is what we learn here.  We need to acknowledge both Lamb and Shepherd in us.  We cannot take care of others if we do not let others take care is us.  That is easier said and done I know. But if we are shepherds only of our loved ones and our friends and of those we are called to serve beyond those circles, we can become tired and resentful.  If we are lambs only, we become dependent and we become whiners. Not one, but both. We cannot always say : I am strong and you are weak so I will help you.” We can also not always say: “I am weak and you are strong so you must help me.” Just because we think those are the roles. Friends may we be wholehearted, allowing ourselves to become, both Lamb and Shepherd. Thanks be to God.




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Reflection April 10

Published on May 9, 2016 by in Reflections

John 21: 15, 16, 17; Acts 9:3,4

Between Peter and Paul

Dear friends,

What do you think of the following:  “There are two kinds of people, those who make your life easy and those who make your life hard;…., those who finish what they start and so on. — Robert Byrne …those who do the work and those who take the credit. He (my grandfather) told me to try to be in the first group; there was much less competition. — Indira Gandhi; …… — those who love and build and those who hate and destroy. — Jose Marti; … the ones that suck the life out of every day, and the ones that let every day suck the life out of them. — ; and.. those who want this country for themselves and those who want it for everyone. — Bill Purdin. … some willing to work and the rest willing to let them.– Robert Frost; ….. those who go ahead and do something, and those who sit still and inquire, ‘Why wasn’t it done the other way?’ — Oliver Wendell Holmes. …: those who love to talk, and those who hate to listen. — James Thorpe; ..those who walk into a room and say, “There you are” — and those who say, “Here I am!” — Abigail Van Buren; There are THREE  kinds of people in the world: those who can’t stand Picasso, those who can’t stand Raphael, and those who’ve never heard of either of them. — John White; … the have’s, the have-not’s, and the have-not-paid-for-what-they-have’s. — Earl Wilson; …. 1. Those who make things happen, 2. Those who watch things happen, 3. And those who wonder what’s happening. – Anonymous; ….. those that are immovable, those that are movable and those that move; — Benjamin Franklin; And then there are “four kinds”s of people.. ..cop-outs, hold-outs, drop-outs, and all-outs. “– Robert Schuller.

Friends, that list went on for quite a while. I wanted to make a point. This is how we humans are often programmed to think.   But I left out one….those who divide people into two types and those who don’t ,” Edward A. Murphy.  Let’s be honest, when we hear this list we thought:”yeah, that’s right. “ At least with a number of them. And that’s because there is SOME truth in them.

We have talked about Peter and Paul.  We have talked about complex their personalities were.  Where would they fit in each of those typologies?  It’s not that easy is it.  Or let me ask you: “where would you fit in?  You know yourselves pretty well, but even that’s not that easy.  It’s because we are complicated. We bring our personality, our personal history, our upbringing and the experiences of one day and what it has done to us and we act or do not act, we speak or do not speak.  And when someone pegs us as a certain type, we protest and we say:”that wasn’t really me. That was an exception.” Peter is the beloved disciple, the rock, both in Aramaic as in Greek.  He was passionate, sincere, cowardly, but died a hero’s death in Rome, supposedly crucified upside down. His faith was great and it was puny. He loved Jesus deeply, but he also betrayed Him.  He was a towering figure with glaring flaws.  Paul was tireless and tenacious in everything he did: persecute Christians and make converts.  He was articulate and humble, insecure and boastful.  He was Roman and Jew and a native of present day Turkey.  He did all his work at great cost to himself without ever having met Jesus in person.  Perhaps in response to my description, each would have said: ”that wasn’t really me. That was an exception.”

Friends, what makes us want to have a simplistic picture of people? Why do we have such a simplistic view of ourselves? The people who love us the most or who are closest to us can tell give us the full picture we don’t want to see.  The reality is that we all want some credit but we seldom want it all the time.  The reality is that sometimes we are ready to move and sometimes we are immovable. The reality is that the people who make our life easy can also be the one who make our life hard. The reality is that sometimes people are willing to work and sometimes they are not.  Seldom are all people lazy all the time.

Friends I like to think that who we are is like a jagged mosaic, not a glossy touched up picture. There are these uneven, sharp edged pieces of glass of different thickness and in varying colors.  They are pieces of who we are and who we have been.  We never quite put them together perhaps, but they exist in a panel of who we are, a small red piece next to a large blue piece etc. This is the true picture of who we are: this jagged panel, haphazardly glued together.  But you know what, when you hold that panel, and none is alike, up to the light, it creates a special, unique quality of light.  Peter is richer to us because of all the jagged pieces, some shoved in the corner and Paul is more meaningful to us because of his complexity.  The light of God’s grace through their lives has a unique quality. This is true of us also.  So, friends, when you look at yourselves, see the whole picture.  When you look at others you meet, see all of the light. May God give us vision.


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Reflection April 3

Published on May 9, 2016 by in Reflections

John 20: 24, 25, 26; Acts 5: 27,28

Shaky church

Dear friends,

I believe that we need an acceptance of God’s grace to compensate for inherent shakiness as believers. I once read that the famous British philosopher who was an atheist was asked how he would defend himself if he were to face God.  He claimed he would say:”You didn’t give us enough evidence!”  Russell wanted evidence before having faith.  Thomas, our doubting disciple, wants evidence that Jesus is alive by seeing and touching the wounds of the cross. Otherwise the whole thing is shaky.  In fact what his shaky is his faith. Rather we could say that he doesn’t understand what faith really is.  It is the conviction of something for which no evidence is readily available?  The great mystic monk Thomas Merton once said:” Faith is a decision, a judgment that is fully and deliberately taken in the light of a truth that cannot be proven-it is not merely the acceptance of a decision that has been made by somebody else.” (The Opiniator-The Store- Richard Irwin/ New York Times-“God is a question, not an answer,” March 26, 2016).   Friends, sometimes we are too shaky to make that judgment without the proof we want.  Perhaps we shouldn’t be so hard on Thomas.  After the crucifixion and even after Jesus is no longer physically present with the disciples He nurtured, the church (which really wasn’t considered a church but a movement) was on very shaky ground.  It was in the hands of a few uneducated fishermen and low skill laborers. How could it go anywhere?  How did it then become the most widely spread institution in world history?

In Acts we are further along.  Pentecost has happened. The disciples have encountered the Holy Spirit, but they are in trouble with the authorities.  It is less an issue of shaky faith and more an issue of shaky power.  This group has no power and influence. They are not well connected.  They have to defy authority to preach the Good News of Jesus. Like so many groups they could be banned.  The church is still very much shaky.  As it then spreads in the coming years through the Roman world that shakiness remains.

Friends, in the past few weeks I have been working on building an enclosure in the back yard.  It takes calculating and visits to home Depot for three way post connectors and posts and planks and asking lots of questions. It is taking shape now, but it’s still shaky.  What I have learned is that once you start varying the lengths of the posts to compensate for uneven terrain, there are a whole range of other problems that can ensue and for which you then have to compensate again. Anyway math was never my strong suit.

Friends, when we see the great Cathedrals of the Western world that have stood for as much as eight hundred years, we ask ourselves how could anything be more solid and lasting?  Yet the church is shaky.  It is shaky in countries where the powers are allied to other religions. It is shaky in the Middle East, under siege from terrorism. It is shaky in the developing world in the midst of corruption and poverty.  It is the shaky in the West as it is undermined by consumerism and rigid fundamentalism.  In fact the church as the institution Jesus would have approved of is always shaky.

The key is God’s grace.  Look at this church. It’s a good building, designed quite well and it has stood for seventy five years.  When a building, especially a wooden building, gets that old, things go wrong.  And just the otherwise the heater in my office went out. That is understandable. It is an unknown brand and it has functioned for fifteen years.  If it isn’t one thing it’s another.  If that is true of the church as a building, it is true of the church as a community of people.  You have heard me say it before. Sometimes there is friction or a lack of energy and things look shaky for the future. Then sometimes a spirit comes out of nowhere connecting with God’s Holy Spirit.  Whenever I think I preach well, it has often fallen flat. Whenever I thought I swung and missed, it has often struck a chord.  It is the presence of God’s grace that is the necessary element and the humility that this is not our handiwork. We can only be open and ready to work.

Friends, there is a shakiness about Thomas and a shakiness about the apostle Peter. There is a shakiness to the disciples and to the early church. There has been a shakiness to the church ever since and there is a shakiness even today.  There is also God’s grace that can make people defy corrupt authorities and drive them to acts of incredible courage.  Friends, there is a shakiness to all of us, in our bones, in our muscles, in our nerves, in our emotions, our will and in our reasoning.  Shakiness all around.  Shakiness as a given.  It’s good for the supplements industry I suppose, all of us peppering ourselves with vitamins.  But there can be strength in shakiness, for once we realize there is so much we can do to shore ourselves up, there is God’s grace saying:”there is something I want you to do, something I want you to try, something I want you to strive for and when you do you will feel yourself straighten and gain strength!”  Thanks be to God. Amen.




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Coach’s Corner

Published on April 1, 2016 by in Coach's Corner

From Mission to Vision

Dear friends,

Last November 6 the (for now) last exploration group meeting took place.  The task before the group was to distill the results of the earlier exploration group meetings into a working mission statement for the years to come. There was recognition that in fact we are now a multicultural community and that we should continue celebrating our multicultural identity through the love of music, food, children, and the arts.  We also should support each other as we take our journeys of faith with God and explore different facets of ourselves and faith. The group also concluded that we should endeavor to be more multi-generational as we adapt and evolve in relation to the community around us.   We can boil down what was most important in the eyes of this group for the future as: “providing thought-provoking practical sermons that nurture our learning family and our individual searches for faith while we integrate ourselves with our surrounding community to provide service.”

When I presented the results of the exploration group meeting to the session at the annual session retreat on February 8 so that they could crystallize into a mission statement, the result was surprising.  They saw the result of the exploration group discussion more as a vision statement for action than as a mission statement. They said that the current mission statement was still valid. To refresh your memory, here it is (with some suggested edits in italics based on the discussion above): “We, the members of Parkview Presbyterian Church, seek to honor our (church’s) Japanese American heritage wrought out of the unique blend of communal and Christian values, immigrant experience and the suffering of internment. This heritage has shaped us to become a unique family of faith, imbued by a spirit of tenacity, loyalty and genuineness, compassion and solidarity. Rooted in, and committed to the welfare of our Sacramento community, we wish to share this spirit with others in efforts to build (having built and wishing to strengthen and expand) a new (strike:new) multi-cultural (and increasingly multi-generational) community of believers  committed to their faith in God through Jesus Christ and to the service of God and suffering humankind. “So what the session was in fact saying was that what the exploration group came up would be more a manifestation of the mission statement rather than the mission statement itself.

In summary, our multicultural Christian family keeps evolving and adapting, opening more and more to the city community like a flower while becoming more inclusive in all ways, with sensitivity also to those who have a faith other than ours.

Our commitment to a residency program is already a sign of our opening up to the world around us, for strengthening our bonds with the local community will be one of the tasks of the residents .  At the same time we add a new dimension: we become not only a learning but also a teaching community.  As our selection committee is about to interview two candidates in the next two weeks we might gratefully acknowledge that the vision of opening up is already being implemented.  May God bless our ministry. Aart


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