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Reflection July 26

Published on July 26, 2015 by in Reflections

2 Samuel 11: 2,3,15 ; John 6: 12,13

                                                                                      Longing for more

Last week we talked about “rest.”  This week we talk about “more. “ Maybe they are related.  Perhaps the lectionary readings for today can direct us to taking a rest from “more.”  My point is that the idea of “more” can be dangerous to our spiritual lives and that what we need to find what is the essential in our lives instead.  Lewis Carroll in “Alice in Wonderland” records the following conversation: “Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly. “I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone, “so I can’t take more.” “You mean you can’t take less,” said the Hatter: “it’s very easy to take more than nothing.” “Nobody asked your opinion,” said Alice.” Pat Cadigan, science fiction writer identified with what is called the cyber punk movement(“Angel who this?”) wrote:  The universe doesn’t know good or bad, only less or more.” More or less in our society is a no-brainer, friends. It’s always more.  We want more of everything because we are told we want more.  If we look at all the self-storage places around the city that would certainly be a good argument there.  We go into Cost plus and Sam “s Club and Smart and Final.  So much in bulk. D.D. Gordon who works in the field of “trend spotting” for a company called Sterling Brands (PBS Newshour July 23, 2015) notices the following trends in society that have to do with more: first, people want more and more experiencing and if possible “hyper-experiences” where they can experience the media (i.e. virtual experiences). Second people want to share more and more of their experiences which they then document through what she calls “life-framing:” facebook, Instagram,  etc.  There is now even a site called . “Instasham.” That is site where you can download pictures of beautiful and cool places and trendy people enjoying themselves so it looks like you are having more fun than anyone else.  Because facebook is becoming a kind of keeping up with the Jones experience now.   Friends, like it or not: “more” is our mantra.  As we saw already people like Donald Trump are using that as a marketing tool. We could argue that there are more things we could use more of. Writer Michael Bassey Johnson says: “We need more love, to supersede hatred, -We need more strength, to resist our weaknesses, -We need more inspiration, to lighten up our innermind. -We need more learning, to erase our ignorance,-We need more wisdom,…-We need more truths, to suppress deceptions, …….-We need more peace, to stay in harmony with our brethren, -We need more smiles, to brighten up our day, -We need more understanding…..to tackle our misunderstanding, We need more sympathy… -We need more forgiveness, not vengeance, -We need more humility…., -We need more patience and not undue eagerness, We need more focus, to avoid distraction, We need more optimism, We need more justice, We need more facts, …We need more education… We need more peacemakers.”  But that is a different type of more.  We can all agree to that kind of more, but it is so vague that we won’t act to make it happen or run out of steam to make it happen, It‘s kind when after another mass shooting, we all say: we’ve gotta do something about guns but nothing happens.  

That is not what our texts are talking about.   King David wants not only more conquests on the battle field, for which he uses his commander Uriah, he also wants more conquests in the bedroom, for which he uses Uriah’s wife Bathsheba in this text.  David loses his way.  He lets his luck and his blessings go to his head.  He wants more and as a result he destroys Bathsheba and Uriah, but endangers his own soul.  Don Draper, the ad executive in Mad Men, who has a lot in common with David, muses: “We’re flawed because we want so much more. We’re ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had.” (2x) (Season four, The Summer Man).

 I found this quote from a religious writer I do not know named Ann Voskamp has written(maybe she watched Mad Men who knows) (One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to live fully right where you are) who says something similar in religious language: “Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what (God)He gives. We hunger for something more, something other.”I like Don Draper’s insight that when we get the more we desire, then we wish for what we used to have.  I think the key adjective is not “more,” it is “essential.” The essential is what makes our lives meaningful, what ensures our integrity, our sense of what truly matters.  This David has lost.  Life is not about cramming as much enjoyment as possible into the time we all have. Life is about living out the purpose God has for us.  This is why whenever Jesus is involved in multiplying, they are not trivial things. He is not a magician, he doesn’t do tricks.  He is concerned about the essential on people’s life: whether they can eat or drink, whether they can regain health, whether they are spiritually sound.  D.D. Gordon spotted another trend, the one called “bulk lash,” which is the backlash from buying in bulk. Single people living in small places, with limited budgets, just want to have enough. Maybe we need a spiritual kind of bulk lash.  We should not be tempted by the fallacy that more of everything (from money, to things, to fun, to experiences) is going to create meaning.  The big question in our lives and one you must answer for yourself is not “how can I get more….”:” but what is the essential in our lives?” May God give us wisdom.

 

 

 
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Reflection July 19

Published on July 22, 2015 by in Reflections

2 Samuel 7:1-3; Mark 6:30,31

 What  we need rest from

What are you tired of? Please don’t say: ”you.” What do you need a break from?  From what do you need to rest?  We kind of figure rest means a good night’s sleep, an afternoon in a hammock or as the British say:”a good lie in.”  But if you are minister and people are going to come and hear you speak, that isn’t much of a message.  The lectionary readings made me scratch my head this week , but at the same time they clearly pointed in the direction of the theme of rest.  As we are approaching mid-summer, this would seem like a good topic.  Now if you think about anything for a while, you will often find out that there are some deeper layers to a topic, even if it happens to be something as simplistic as “rest.”

In 2 Samuel God has given the people of Israel rest from their enemies.  Things are going so well it seems that the people give their king a house of cedar to live in.   In a moment of fair-mindedness the king wonders:” but where is God going to rest?  I am in a nice house of cedar, God is a tent with the ark of the covenant.”  It is an almost cartoonish conversation that follows.   It is almost as if God says:”I appreciate the sentiment, but I do not need anything like that. “ In the Gospel of Mark Jesus tells the disciples that they a rest, a rest from the work of healing and preaching they are doing.  But that plan goes quickly out the door, because needy crowds are moving on in on them.  So we’ve gotten some clues, friends.  There’s rest from enemies and rest from people that need us.  But how do we apply that ourselves?  I’m sure all of us have some people that aren’t particularly fond of us, which is of course, regrettable, but not always avoidable.  But enemies is a big word.  Also we don’t face the kind of needs Jesus was facing, simply because we don’t have those kind of skills and track record of service as he had.

However,  if we dig a little deeper, perhaps there is some common denominator in this need for rest.  Maybe it is expectations that we need a rest from, stifling, oppressive expectations.  Perhaps people grow less fond of us because we do not meet the expectations they have for us.  Maybe we don’t use the words we are supposed to.  Maybe we don’t  help in the way we are expected to.  Maybe we haven’t given what people expected.  In the recent novel “The Diver’s Clothes Lay empty” (New York: Harper/Collins ECCO, 2015) by a Northern California woman named Vendela Vida a woman has just landed in Casablanca. She has just been the surrogate mother for the child of her prettier twin sister who repays her by running of her husband as well as the child she has just given birth to. Okay, I know it’s a stretch. Novels often are, and sometimes I wasn’t sure the writer had actually been to Casablanca.  Anyway, her backpack with her credit cards and passport are stolen.  The police chief then gives her another American woman’s passport and backpack.

How do you explain that to the passport section of the American Consulate. So she doesn’t and she finds herself being a stand-in for a famous American actress.  The story is gripping because it is written in the second person all through.  The main character is “you,” not”he” or “she” throughout.  So this tourist is trying to find a rest from her Florida life, but finds the opposite.  It is a constant roller coaster of decisions, many of them bad ones.  But she does get a rest from expectations.  She gets away from being the woman people expect her to be. And whenever she threatens to fall into meeting expectations, she messes up and goes the other direction. She is a woman with shifting identities and names, free but adrift.

But then it’s weird isn’t it, friends?  Like many things in life, we are torn.  We are torn between being in a place “where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came” as the  theme song of the series cheers goes and on the other hand going where nobody knows your name; a place where nobody expect anything.

But you know that is not where it stops.  It continues.  It’s not just people’s expectations of us that press in us, but it is also our expectations of ourselves.   Not only that it, but is our expectations of other which when not satisfied cause great distress.  Beyond that it is our expectations of the world and of life and our expectations of God Who somehow has not delivered the life we wished for.  To top it all of there are the expectations we think God has for us.  Yes, let’s face it a lot of us have our own house of cedar we think we should build for God but never finish.

So, friends, you want a rest, then toss aside some of the expectations piled up around your life.  Believe me, you will never be able to get away from them.  That only happens in novels. But we can begin trying to manage them, be aware of whether they are helpful and learn to trust other people more.  That is what a place like this is partly for: to let you be a person without the world’s expectations and where you can trust others to do their part.  And let us be heartened by the words in 2 Samuel when he reminds us that God is always ready to work for us in our lives, never resting.  Thanks be to God. Amen.

 
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Coach’s corner

Published on July 12, 2015 by in Coach's Corner

Investing in ministry

Dear friends,

There is a lot of turmoil in the world of investing these days. It is dominating the news.  As I write this, Wall Street just experienced a technological glitch and China’s stock market has lost thirty percent of its value in several days.  Then there are the Greeks who seem unable to pay their debt as their country is becoming an investment disaster.   Brazilians, Russians and Chinese are meeting to see if their block cannot generate its own investment.  People want to know where to put their money so that it will be safe, but nothing seems full proof.  There is always talk of emerging markets, but there is disagreement about which ones are a good bet. So what should people do: invest in stocks, bonds, real estate, gold etc.?  It is a perplexing world.

Then there is this little church called Parkview that sits in this world, a quiet, friendly place with people who want to make a difference, but perhaps don’t always have the time.  Nevertheless we have been talking about getting the Kansha building ready for residents/or interns to live there.  We have been fortunate that the Presbytery is interested in assisting us, that we have a nice building on the corner and beyond that we have two anonymous “angel investors” who want to donate a significant amount for the upgrading of the Kansha if matched by congregational participation. So as organizations of Parkview please consider making a contribution you are comfortable with. Jujikai is already doing that and other individuals are stepping forward.  We are very pleased by this and flattered by confidence people put in the congregation and its ministry.  They are in a sense investing the future of the church, although they themselves will not reap any benefit other than satisfaction perhaps.  I am enthusiastic about the possibility of our small church training young men and women to minister to the multicultural community which increasingly is the reflection of our society.

In “First Peoples, Australia “(PBS, KVIE) one can learn that the first Australians traveled from East Africa to Australia about 50,000 years ago, to be spread out across that vast continent that was eventually ravaged by drought.  The first peoples adjusted on an isolated continent by creating a social network in Australia.  For survival the groups sought each other out.  Survival depends on a strong social network.  I learned that the more peoples engage with each other and emotionally invest in each other, the more we develop the human species in the right direction. This is what we want to do at Parkview: to bring out the greatest possible diversity of people so we can all learn to eradicate the differences that divide us and enrich our community.  This is what we want young ministers to experience.  This is how we make the world divided by tribalism and by economics a better place.

I know you too are invested in this church.  You are invested emotionally, socially and financially through your pledge or other ways of giving and just by being in church. We need you to continue what you are doing so we may do our part in transforming our state, our country and the world Church. Thank you for continuing to invest in this church in so many ways. May God bless its ministry.  Aart

 

 
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Reflection June 28

Published on July 3, 2015 by in Reflections

Mark 5: 21,22,24; II Corinthians 8: 10, 11

Living the interruptions

What if we were judged by the interruptions in our lives?  Isn’t that a novel concept?  What if we were asked to write a resume, we would not have to give our academic, social or work accomplishments, but we would write down our interruptions.  We might write:  on the 15th of April 2004 I was in the middle of completing a task I had been working on for two years and someone called.  I listened to them and as a result was set back so far that I missed an important deadline. “ And the interviewer would ask: “What gave you the strength and what prepared you to embrace that interruption?”  Silly isn’t it? W. Edwards Deming wrote: “The average American worker has fifty interruptions a day, of which seventy percent have nothing to do with their work.”  In other words interruptions translate into lost productivity.   Interruptions are a nuisance to us.  They are about as welcome as the hours per month we spent waiting at traffic lights.    Some interruptions are particularly tragic.  When President Wilson, whom Theodore Roosevelt called “that moralistic Presbyterian” near the end of World War I pushed hard for the League of Nations to avoid more war, his opponents in congress led by Henry Cabot Lodge fought back and thwarted it.  The establishment of the United Nations thirty years later under the leadership of Roosevelt’s niece Eleanor ironically was preceded by the tragic interruption of that thing we know as World War II.  But, friends, interruptions are also an integral part of our lives.  We deal with it.  Sometimes we get sarcastic, like in this your e-card: “I’m sorry, did the middle of my sentence interrupt the beginning of yours (2x).”  Brian Spellman in the Cartoonist Book Camp writes: “First let me finish, then interrupt.” Michael FoleyThe Age Of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes It Hard To Be Happy  describes the situation well “Being constantly the hub of a network of potential interruptions provides the excitement and importance of crisis management. As well as the false sense of efficiency in multitasking, there is the false sense of urgency in multi-interrupt processing.”  Race care driver Mario Andretti has the following famous quote contributed to him: “Circumstances may cause interruptions and delays, but never lose sight of your goal.”

In the Gospel of Mark Jesus is surrounded by desperate people all clamoring for healing and help.  It must have been overwhelming.  Yet never in the Gospels do we get a sense that Jesus has a schedule He goes by.  It is almost as if He lived a series of interruptions.  His professional resume as we know it is powerful, but also very short.   Life happened to him, was almost forced on him. “Marcia Lebhar  said:“If you had slept in the same house or field with Jesus, awakened with him, eaten with him and helped him, what would you have observed? One thing we always think of is that Jesus gave himself almost entirely to what we would consider interruptions. Most of the teaching, healing and wonders we see in his life were responsive…seemingly unplanned.  He trusted that what the Father allowed to cross his path was exactly that…from the Father. Jesus always seemed willing for things to get messy.”

Friends, interruptions can be grace-filled.  I have mentioned a few earlier.  They can be providential. Sometimes they can be what it’s all about.  Sometimes we need to get knocked off the straight road to our goal and get realigned, because perhaps our wheels aren’t quite pointed straight.

C.S. Lewis ( The Collected Works of C.S. Lewis) The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life — the life God is sending one day by day.”

Okay I know, we are never going to write resumes listing the interruptions to our goals. But I believe the point has been made.  Paul in his second epistle to the Corinthians urges the people to go and achieve the ministry goal they have been working on for years.  His words are echoed by the John C. Maxwell:”One of the major keys to success is to keep moving forward on the journey, making the best of our details and interruptions, turning adversity into advantage.”

Friends, I have peppered you with quotes just now, but as I researched the topic the lectionary readings presented to me, I felt that today these people could say a lot of things better than me.  May it be food for thought for you.  May we not lose sight of our goals and may be also live the interruptions mindfully, for every moment of our lives is important to God and every minute of our lives has the potential of being transformative in the greater picture of God’s purpose and of human existence on this fragile planet. May God bless our efforts!

 
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Reflection June 21

Published on June 25, 2015 by in Reflections

Luke 15: 11,12,13,20; Hebrews 11: 1

Prodigal father

Perhaps we all have something of the prodigal inside of us.  We may not like to admit it, but perhaps we all fear not having been a good son or daughter.  Maybe that is even not all that bad.  Maybe it keeps us on our toes.  On the other hand, it can cause a lot of harm of families.  Think about all the millions of conversations everyday between siblings about who is the better child and who is the deadbeat child.  Anger, guilt , resentment and anxiety get pressed together.   The parable of the Prodigal Son has all those elements as the destitute party animal returns to the homestead to find a deliriously happy father and a resentful brother.  

Friends, Woody is the brother who returns to the hometown of Hawthorne NE, a farm town of retired people and adult children that kept hanging on there in the movie Nebraska (Paramount Vantage, 2013).   Woody isn’t planning to go back there but the mother and the sons agree to meet there, since one of the sons and he are already in Nebraska to try to claim the Publisher’s Clearing House prize in Lincoln.  It is not exactly clear who Woody is.  Is he just a grouchy, delusional, selfish man fixated on getting a new truck? We start out not liking him, but a complex picture emerges of a man in an unsatisfying marriage who was traumatized in Korea as a young soldier and who cannot say no to anyone who needs his help.  At the same time his family is finding a way to cash in on his imaginary prize.  The movie ends with Woody driving through his home town wearing a cap that says “prize winner” driving a new second hand truck his son has secured for him.  The son, who has his own disillusions, has great pity and compassion for his father, even to the point that, as gentle as he is, he decks the father ‘s old friend in a bar with his fist. There is triumph here for the old man: he gets to ride through town and all the people whose opinion matter to him see him: his brother who likes to sit and watch cars pass by from a plastic chair in his front yard, his old friend with the bruised face, his old girlfriend Peg Bender who still carries a torch for him after all these years.  There is also enormous sadness in how we spend so much of our lives impressing people who do not give a hoot about us anymore.   It is almost like we are imprisoned by our desire to impress people.  It is as if they determine what our lives should be like while instead we should spend time trying to please God in the service of others.  The father and son return home to Montana in the end as the son has learned to love his father more. What Woody has learned is not clear.  Yet there is a sense of redemption.

At a deep level the movie is about faith, about faith in oneself and faith in your children and faith in your father, about faith in marriage, but more so about faith in the world.  Is the world a place we can trust? Do we live in a reliable universe?  Is there meaning or are we just stumbling about trying to make the best of?  Religious faith perhaps is a deeply personal way for us to make sense of a universe that we sometimes think considers us “of no account.”  Woody for a moment feels as someone who is of “some account,” a fake prize winner driving his own truck through his childhood farm town, seen by people who will soon forget him.  “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” says Hebrews so articulately.  In the end the son winds up with a little more faith in his cranky father and Woody keeps his faith.  He never stopped believing in what people tell him, for better or for worse.  So while in one sense he is a depressing, absent and uninspiring bore who lives in his own world, in another he is the best of America, a person who keeps the faith in what people tell him.  So we don’t want to be like Woody at all, because he is so disengaged. But on the other hand we want to be like him, because he doesn’t really hurt anyone and he still has faith in the basic meaning of the people in his society.

Friends, while the film Nebraska in its somberness and its simplicity can seem depressing to us, underneath it tells a story of loyalty and redemption and hope and of the humor of human existence.  It is about life stripped down to its essentials in a grayish tone. In doesn’t have all the distractions modern life provides us.   What we learn is that the prodigal is everywhere. We all lose our way at one point or another and we forget what life is all about.  We are very good about seeing where others, especially our immediate family, go wrong, but we are not as good at recognizing our own wastefulness and lostness.  But it’s that lostness we feel on days when we don’t know what ails us and it is that lostness that draws us to God.  It is with God that the source of our faith lies.  So, friends, as Christians, God comes to us in our lostness to help us find faith,  so we can find redemption and healing in all our relationships. Thanks be to God.

 
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Reflection June 14, 2015

Published on June 18, 2015 by in Reflections

I Samuel 15: 9-12; Mark 4:26-34

The Great Sower

Last week we talked about power seen and unseen.  We learned that the Bible teaches us that God prefers invisible power to work in our lives.  We learned that soft power can have more impact than hard power.  In today’s text Jesus tells the parable of the sower and it has a lot to do with the Biblical idea of power.  A person sows and then gets up at night impatiently to see if the seed will grow, so excited and nervous is this grower.  Effortlessly Jesus transitions to the parable of the mustard seed: the humblest of seeds will grow into a great big tree to give people shade.   Friends, what if we were to take this parable as far as we could and see God as the One Who sows seeds?

When I was sixteen I had a chance to visit the US for the first time and one of the places I wanted the visit the most was California.   A barely sixteen year old boy in 1972 from Cold War Europe looks at the world a certain way.  There were a few impressions that stayed with me.  One was driving through New Mexico and Arizona and feeling like a pioneer and then suddenly the lights of San Bernardino County appearing and then feeling disappointed that so many people had gotten to California before me.  The second was the high diving board at the old hotel in Arowhead Springs where I almost messed up my back for good.  Then there was the shock of walking across the border into Mexico where you could ten walk from the wealth of San Diego County straight into the slums of the Third World in Tjuana. Then there was the Golden Bridge and finally: the Monsanto Pavilion in Disney Land.  What a modern company that must be I thought.  But what company was it?  It took me about 30 years to find out, because you don’t hear much about them.  Well, it turns out Monsanto has a near monopoly on the agricultural seeds in the world. They have great hybrid seeds that are resistant to disease, but they also have forced the world to buy there seeds, thereby limiting seed diversity which could be disastrous. This is what I heard. I’m not an expert.  Friends, we forget how crucial seeds are for the worlds.  Jesus obviously understands that.   Maybe the idea of the seed is crucial in understanding the mind of God.

Let’s take the universe.  It turns out the building blocks of the universe are surprisingly simple.  Positively charged protons will attract negatively charged electrons which will go into orbit around them. That’s where we get hydrogen.  Karl Giberson (Christianity century, June 16, 2015 p, 21) writes:”

Everything that has happened from the moment 13.7 billion years ago (i.e.the Big Bang) until now was an expression of just four kinds of interactions: gravitational, electromagnetic, strong nuclear (…enables nuclear fusion) and weak nuclear (..produces radioactivity). Every event in the long history of the universe, from the formation of the first atom, to the explosion of a distant star, to the recollection of a childhood memory, to the purr of a cat, was and is controlled by these four interaction and the simple rules they are constrained to obey. “ He explains that slowly hydrogen balls turned into stars, producing the first-what we would call it- sunrise.

Chinese thinker Chuang-Tzu once asked:”Who governs this? Who maintains this? Who, without acting, pushes and makes this move?”

Friends, what if we were to think of the creating God as sowing these simple elements of the universe until the universe became ever complex and the mind of people developed so much that they were able to conceive of machines a million times more powerful than the human muscle and a million times faster there the movement of a finger; until the human heart grew so much that it was able to love without seeking its own survival?   What if God works that way: from protons all the way to human love?  So God picks the shepherd David to become the greatest, yet deeply flawed, leader of the Hebrew people,  thereby sowing the seeds for the future of the nation.  Is God not always sowing something, something that may grow or may not grow, depending on the reaction of the people in their environment?

Buddhist monk Matthieu Picard, sons of a well-known French philosopher has just published a book called “altruism.”(interview with Tavis Smiley, KVIE, June 2015).  He argues that altruism is in our self-interest, even though economists tell him otherwise.   He is sowing an idea that is not strange to us, but may still sound a bit naïve.

Friends,  if God is the great One Who Sows, as Creator, as compassionate liberator, as Holy Spirit,  then perhaps we too must sow and maybe that’s the logical implication of what Jesus is saying. Perhaps you and I are here to sow, sow kindness, goodness, compassion, social justice,  faith, hope, love etc.   If this is true then the question of the Church and of this congregation becomes not: how do we maintain what we have, but what will we sow? May God give us wisdom.

 

 
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Reflection June 7

Published on June 13, 2015 by in Reflections

I Samuel 8: 4-11 ; 2 Corinthians 4: 16-18

Power seen and unseen

The texts in Old Testament and New Testament lead us to a contrast between power that is visible and power that is invisible.  Samuel is disappointed in the demand of the people to have a real king.  It is almost as if they feel like gypsies who have roamed the region and are now established without an indisputable leader they can follow into combat.   They have forgotten the miracles in the desert after they made their way from the slavery in Egypt back to the Promised Land, a journey of many decades.  They don’t much care for the invisible, spiritual power God rules them with.  Although there are stories in the Bible that have been embellished through centuries of oral retelling, the Bible isn’t that much interested in great shows of power.  Paul has a completely unique perspective.  He cannot imagine the Christian community that will emerge in Constantinople several centuries later when the Emperor converts.  In Paul’s day the movement is tiny and spread out across the northern Mediterranean.  There is no visible power, just earthly power.   But friends, there are limits even to the power of kings and potentates and leaders of elected governments.  Shows of force will only keep you in power for so long. Power seen and unseen in terms of governments is often described as hard power and soft power. Hard power is about compelling your adversary to comply with your will through the threat or use of force. Soft power is about attracting your partner to share your goals through dialogue and exchange.In terms of objectives: Hard power seeks to kill, capture, or defeat an enemy. Soft power seeks to influence through understanding and the identification of common ground. In terms of techniques: Hard power relies ultimately on sanctions and flows from the barrel of a gun. Soft power is rooted in meaningful exchange and the art of persuasion.  In terms of values  hard power is macho, absolute, and zero sum. Soft power is supple, subtle, and win/win.  In terms of economy hard power engenders fear, anguish, and suspicion. Soft power flourishes in an atmosphere of confidence, trust, and respect.”(themark,news)

In some places neither soft nor hard power succeed in the foreseeable future,  Philip Gordon may have a point when he says: “In Iraq, the U.S. intervened and occupied, and the result was a costly disaster. In Libya, the U.S. intervened and did not occupy, and the result was a costly disaster. In Syria, the U.S. neither intervened nor occupied, and the result is a costly disaster (in an article by Zack Beauchamp in Vox.xom, June 2015). That should tell us about North Africa and the Middle East.

Friends, is it possible perhaps that our image of God ‘s power is too much as hard coercive power.   It is the idea of a mover of brute force that whips the universe into shape and unleashes great forces of nature in a sheer act of will.  Should we not think of God as a force of energy in creation that more often that is much more persuasive than coercive?  That is at least the picture our texts appear to paint.  The idea of a violent but also loving God confuses us.  It seems to be a God with a split personality while a God Who uses mostly persuasive power is much more coherent.

Friends, what about our power as individuals to impact our world? How much power do you think you have?  Can it be measured?  How much good do we do?  Paul says the invisible is eternal, and by that he means the grace of God at work in the world.  That is where Paul believes the great power lies.  But how does that work? Let’s take an example.  When Herbert Hoover was President, there was only one mail clerk assigned to him, because he didn’t get much mail.  When his successor Franklin Roosevelt was in the White House, they needed fifty clerks, because Franklin and Eleanor would receive at least 5000 letters a day from people who felt that they would be listened to.  Now Presidents just get too many. But in this day and age can writing letters to senators make a lot of difference?  I think we don’t believe so anymore, because we think most congresspersons, unless they are in a safe district, are beholden to their big donors.  There is the internet, but it’s getting harder and harder to be heard there.  Search engines tend to go to sponsored sites.

Ultimately I believe the answer lies clearly written in between the lines of Paul’s words:  the answer is faith in God as embodied in Jesus Christ.   If we believe God has enormous soft power to work in the world and God is with us then all the good we do has a place within God’s work.  Without faith we can often despair at how little changes in the world.  With faith we own the effort, but God owns the result.  Our soft power can go a long way provided we think God is at work.  That is the key.  But God’s soft gentle power does need our persistent partnership.  Sitting on the couch will do nothing.  We are responsible for the souls we have the power to impact, one helping hand, one righteous protest, one encouraging word, one check written to a charity at a time.  Thanks be to God.

 

 
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Coach’s corner

Published on June 13, 2015 by in Coach's Corner

Making the case

In an earlier coach’s corner I floated the idea of a resident internship program at the church with two seminarians or seminary graduates living in the Kansha building.  Although  I have already discussed some advantages of such a program, I want to give ten clear reasons for doing this.  After the worship service on June 14 we can then have a discussion on the logistics of going forward or not.

  1. Generational inclusion:  as has been made clear earlier, we must think of the children and youth of this church who need role models and trained leaders of a younger generation.
  2. Sampling of future leaders:  Being exposed to seminarians/seminary graduates will give you insight into who is out there for future ministry leadership.  A diverse congregation like Parkview with its unique character will not be able to hire just somebody down the road with no understanding and skills in dealing with a multicultural congregation.
  3. Energy creation:  In the past we have talked a lot about energy groups and a commitment to only pursue the programs that have energy behind them.  Interns/residents will bring their own fresh energy to the situation and we may be able to learn much from them.
  4. The labor of ministry:  our exploration group has come up with the outlines of a new mission statement, but to make this mission statement (which involves outreach to the community) a reality it will take work.  Interns/ residents will be able to help with the labor of new ministry.  Our congregation already has a lot of work in maintaining and funding the church and to provide church family activities.
  5. Supervision:  we have an intelligent, open,  healthy  and supportive congregation that would provide positive mentorship.  Also my own twelve years of seminary teaching experience may be helpful.
  6. Presbytery support: The Mission Support Committee of the Presbytery of Sacramento is endorsing the project and I have discussed with them whether part of all of our annual $7000 mission giving could be applied to this program. The committee also encourages us to request labor help from the Presbytery for Kansha building refurbishing.
  7. Thorough research: 80% of the extensive research has been done.  We have been in touch with five seminaries (in the Bay Area, Southern California, Austin, Pittsburgh and Princeton) and have talked to contractors, the fire chief,  the county and city planning offices,  an architect and an appraiser  and have contacted our insurance among others.
  8. Impact and influence:  a unique program such as this would allow a small congregation like Parkview that has found a unique formula for being the church and “doing church” to share its learning regionally and nationally just as our society becomes increasingly multicultural and the mainline Church lags far behind.
  9. Cost effectiveness:  A program such as this would allow the continuity of the good things we have going and fresh leadership to happen at the same time at very little additional cost (essentially: the cost of improving the Kansha).
  10. Flexibility:  The program, although planned for five years, could be discontinued at any time (provided we met our commitment to current interns/ residents).

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

 

 
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Reflection May 31

Published on June 13, 2015 by in Reflections

John 3:1-17; Romans 8: 14

Human spirit and Holy Spirit

Our two lectionary texts for today address the call to the spiritual life.  We read the words of Jesus and the words of the Apostle Paul.  These words are spoken to the people of a specific time and place.  Jesus speaks to a Pharisee who is fascinated by Jesus; Paul speaks to the Roman Christians, a new, often oppressed minority in the heart of the Roman Empire.  Both Jesus and Paul call people to spiritual transformation.  Nicodemus the Pharisee has to be “ born form above” in the words of Jesus and Paul’s audience in Rome is called not be “slaves to the flesh,” meaning they must rise above materialism and physical gratification.   So on the one hand we have people trying to live within the bounds of their cultural contexts and on the other we have the power of the spiritual that must transform them.   So here we see the human spirit meet the Holy Spirit.  How does that work and can that really be done? 

Friends, below the questions of the Pharisee and the new Roman Christians there is a deep question of human existence.  It is simply: are we okay?  Are we okay the way we are? In other words are we spiritually acceptable?  The answer might be:”Not quite yet. The fact that you ask this question is a good sign, but you have a lot of work to do.”

The series Mad Men (AMC) has just ended.  The fact that it was ending intrigued me enough that I watched a number of old episodes just to see what I had been missing all these years.  If you disregard all the affairs, the pillow talk and moments of drunken stupor that kept popping up, you see people honestly struggling with the meaning of their lives and with truth and untruth.   At one point Don Draper, and interestingly enough this isn’t really his real name, explains to Lucky Strike executives what the advertising strategy should be. They believe the ad should attack the medical report that smoking is dangerous.  Draper disagrees. He says:” what the consumers want to know is that with Lucky Strike they will be ok.”

“Am I okay and will I be okay?”  That is the nagging question we have.  We live in a society where people believe and don’t believe at the same time.  So we are kind of in tension, torn: “ If it is true, are we going to be okay?” If it isn’t: what on earth is going to happen to us?”  And we can’t have a strategy to cover all bases: we have to choose: have faith or not have faith. Within our culture we all do things to be accepted and to be okay:the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the neighborhoods we live in, the kind of tattoos and the size of our hubcaps.  There are all these signs that say:” I want to be okay in this culture. I want my people to say I fit in.”  But all of that is constantly changing.  Talking about ads, there is a commercial where company executives are standing in an elevator with cool bicycle messengers.  One of them asks the other:”man, are you on woo-woo?” and the other says:”Yeah, man, everybody’s on woo-woo.”  The idea is that woo-woo is like face book or Instagram.  So the executive run onto into their offices and call out:” Everybody, we’re on woowooo.?  the next scene the same bicycle messengers are alone in the elevator and the same asks: “Hey, man, are you on woo-woo. He anwers: “No, man, my mom is on woo-woo.”  It’s hard keeping up with the culture, friends. It’s hard to be okay.  We are all in the culture. So here comes Jesus calling us to be transformed spiritually and Paul who tells us not to be a slave to all that stuff.   Now there us a lot that humans do that make the world better through our culture.  I don’t believe the world is necessarily at war with culture as a lot of Christians think. We are moving to more inclusiveness and diversity and eradication of illnesses slowly but surely.  We are more diverse in our thinking.  Just look at the Miss Universe election in Japan the other day, when a hafu woman won the title.  But all that is not enough if it does not go together with us becoming spiritual and constantly trying to transform ourselves.  All those attempts to change the culture have to have their roots in a spiritual kind of compassion.  Otherwise they will not last. They will just be trends.  This means moving away from the desire to get accepted by our culture to being pleasing in the eye of God.  This means moving away from ego and power and fame .  Last week we saw this Swiss potentate named Sepp Blatter who heads the FIFA organization hold on to power because of shameless ego that uses bribery and corruption.  In his desire to be loved by the world he sells his soul.  What a terrible example to set for the world’s young people.  It is the opposite of what Jesus and Paul are talking about.  Friends, as we try to transform our culture through compassion, may we seek to be spiritual transformed , not focusing on the recognition of society, but on the desire to be who God wishes to be. After all our culture ad our world will not always like us and approve of us, but God will always love us. Thanks be to God.

 

 
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Reflection May 24 Pentecost

Published on June 13, 2015 by in Reflections

John 15: 26-27; Acts 2:1-21

The many languages of the Spirit

There is a story I once shared with you of an old fashioned lady who wanted to spend a few days camping in Florida. She was, however, very concerned about the proximity of the toilet which she prudishly referred to as the B.C,  or Bathroom Commode.  So she wrote:”does the campground have its own B.C.?” There was a problem,: the campground director did not know what she meant.  After consulting with other campers about this, he still couldn’t figure it out. Finally he concluded she must be talking about the Baptist Church.  So he wrote the following reply:’ Dear Madam, I regret very much the delay in answering your letter, but I now take pleasure in informing you that B.C. is located nine miles north of the camp site and is capable of seating 250 people at one time.  I admit is quite a distance away of you are in the habit of going regularly but no doubt you will be pleased to know that a great number of people take their lunches along, and make a day of it. They leave early and stay late.  My wife and I last went six years ago. It may interest you to know that right now that a supper is planned to fundraise for more seats.  I would like to say that it pains me very much not to be able to go more regularly, but it is surely not of lack of desire on my part…It seems to be more of an effort at my age, especially when it’s cold….If you decide to come to the campground, perhaps I could go with you the first time ..to ..sit with you…and introduce you to all the other folks…This is really a friendly community.”

Friends, this is not a very likely scenario in miscommunication.  But things like this happen all the time.   A lot of are funny, some of them are tragic.  Nevertheless as a human species we are moving to a common language, one or another form of the English language unless the government of China can persuade the world to do otherwise.  The rest we will be able to do with facial expressions and emoticons and the kind of energy we bring to a conversation.  And those types of communication are very important.

Something happened the other day about ten days ago. A reporter went on a boat on the Andaman Sea to look for Rohingya refugees, a Muslim minority from Burma. He found them but his radio report was unique.  Unlike most journalistic reports about refugees when we hear the challenges of the situation described or see refugees arriving on shore, this report started with the audio footage of people wailing, adults and children starving in the middle of the tropical sea.  It was the human soundtrack of misery and distress.  That is why it was so unnerving.  Sometimes when we see people so different looking from us, we can’t identify a hundred percent, but this was a sound we could connect with on a visceral level.

Dear friends, as the world moves toward a common language, it is harder and harder to find a cultural language we share.  As David Letterman goes off the air, we see the end of an era in talk shows where the host was able to connect with a humor everyone understood or could relate to. But that is changing: we are going from full belly laughs to smiles.  We acknowledge humor more than we laugh about it.  We are aware than many topics are cruel and insensitive and non-inclusive.  This is good.  What isn’t good is that we are less and less understanding the private language each of us have, the language of the soul, which is at the heart of it a spiritual language. It is a language that involves our deepest memories which remind us of the person we have become.  So as we take a moment to remember those we lost since last Memorial Day, it is that private language we tap into, for only you know what the persons you remember meant to you.

In the Gospel of John Jesus promises the arrival of the Advocate, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.  This is the day that we honor out of the Holy Spirit.  In Acts the Spirit makes the people able to communicate in the language of others, as the veil of miscommunication is lifted. You and I sit in church and we understand the words that are being said, but the language of our soul, the spiritual language may be different.  It may be that the message you hear in the prayers, the songs and the sermon are not a language that is familiar to you, are introducing you to a world you do not fully know.   So, friends, we are her e today to assure you that Holy Spirit speaks in endless ways, that the Holy Spirit knows your language and speaks your language.  If it didn’t, you might not be called to be here in these pews today.  This Holy Spirit does what the Spirit will and cannot be controlled by anyone.  The Bible is clear about that.  It is also not owned by any one person or any group.  Friends, you may not feel you know the language of this Spirit, but be assure that the Spirit knows yours. Thanks be to God.

 

 

 
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