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Reflection June 22

Published on June 25, 2014 by in Reflections

Genesis 21: 9-19; Matthew 10: 29-31

Counting the Uncounted

In the documentary a people uncounted the story is told of the Roma people- Gypsies- as we know them.  There are several reality shows that show the life, especially the wedding practices of the Roma people, especially in the United Kingdom and Ireland where they are known as Travelers.  These reality shows give us all the stereotypes of gaudiness and drunkenness, but show that they are a people that remain a mystery. We know they came from India many centuries ago and that they are tight-knit, do not blend well into the societies where the find themselves and that they tend to stay on the move.  Where the idea of a people uncounted really hits home is the reality that no one knows how many Roma Hitler annihilated in the Holocaust. It could be 100.000, it could be a half a million. No one knows. Possibly hundreds of thousands of people have disappeared.

The people of the Middle East these days more than ever, although they are always in the new, may feel like a people uncounted.  The numbers of refugees from Syria is mind numbing, the number of children stuck in dirty and dusty camps is horrifying. Now the killing in Iraq has started up again.  Back to the uncounted bodies in hospitals emergency rooms and morgues.  Shiites need to be counted by Sunnis. Sunnis need not be counted by Shiites, The hatred goes back many centuries and is always re-remembered.

Perhaps it’s all too much for us. The bad news keeps coming.  Conflicts light up the map all over. Brutal dictators oppress without abandon.  Guantanamo Bay has counted militants, but we like to pretend they are not. And then when we finally do count our soldiers and bring one home from Afghanistan, we wonder if the Taliban count let go for his release was worth it.  And Guantanamo is not the only prison we don’t know what to do with.

In the story of Hagar, mother of Abraham’s son Ishmael, Hagar feels uncounted, let go by her mistress Sarah, the one who laughed when she heard she was pregnant with Isaac at an advanced age.  And here we find the roots of the resentment and hatred.  The Jewish Isaac  is favored over the Arab Ishmael.  And so the tribalism is born and it is still with us today.  And tribes quickly tend to feel undercounted.

Friends, what is hard for Americans, citizens of the most powerful country in the history of the world, to understand is how important the World Cup is to nations.  It is a way for small nations and flawed larger nations to stand up and be counted, to mean something.  Citizens of those countries measure the worth of their nation and their own worth by how they do in the World Cup. It’s silly, but it is fed by the tribal instinct of all of us.  Former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in his book “Faith in the Public Square” writes about the church that Christianity challenges consumer pluralism and rootless invidualism; it upholds local communities and encourages other faiths and thus prevents faith being relegated to privatized fanaticism and exclusion (see the Christian Century, June 18, 2014).   In other words without churches we get our values from commercialism and we retreat in our own exclusive tribal communities. This is becoming more and more obvious. We are getting more polarized because we all watch our own commercialized tv channels and echo the themes those channels present.

In Matthew Jesus talks about sparrows and hairs. Neither one are very unusual.  Most people had hair at one point or another and sparrows are everywhere.  But God counts them all.  This is how Christian faith is the great counterweight to our world.  God counts everybody, from the very young to the very old, the sex slave and the prime minister, the President and the child laborer, the prisoner and the powerful, the ugly and the beautiful, the strong and the weak, the brilliant and the challenged.  With Jesus, with God we are by definition counted and accounted for, as much as we are aware so many people these days are discarded, dumped, pushed away, unaccounted and forgotten.  God’s love is a response to the cruelty.

Friends, in response to God a congregation such as these, with its limited numbers and resources can counter the forced of tribalism and exclusivity.  It can create a welcoming space where all people can be counted, the poor, the rich, the gay, the straight, the skeptics and the believers, the young and the old, the stranger and the familiar.  The question is not just how we can make this a better place for us, but a haven for anyone out there who feels lost and uncounted and forgotten. May God bless what we do here.  Thanks be to God for counting all of us.

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Reflection June 15

Published on June 25, 2014 by in Reflections

Matthew 28: 19, 20; Luke 15: 28-31

Rethinking fatherhood

The verses of the week speak to us of the concept of the Trinity.  And when we think of the Trinity, one of the most difficult to grasp in Christian theology, we think of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  One God, Three in One.  As much as we are aware of the holiness and sacredness of this doctrine, to people in our day and age it also may sound like an idea that is too structured, as if we have tried to fit God into a mold of some sorts.  The “Father” description of God of course is the biggest problem.  But then friends, today happens also to be Father’s day.  Now I may officially call Father’s Day “Paternal Instinct Day,” but today the idea of Fatherhood is inescapable.  So let us just face it head on.  Let’s start by making one thing clear: There is nothing wrong with fatherhood.  Just because we have become aware that in Protestant theology that idea of motherhood has been undervalued and that we should be thinking of God as having motherly qualities, this does not make fatherhood a bad thing even as we move toward “parenthood” in our liturgy.  Whatever image we have of a father, we all have or had fathers.  Some we never have known their fathers, others have known their fathers for too short of a time. Some will have had fathers who were distant, others fathers who were close, some father s who were emotionally strong, others fathers who were emotionally weak fathers, some angry fathers, others mellow fathers, some talkative fathers, others quiet ones, some healthy, others abusive, some physically fit, others frail.  You are getting my point: there are a thousand ways to be a father, good or bad, but fatherhood in one way or another is something that is real to all of us.

Eamor McBride, an Irish woman novelist just received the prize for women’s fiction for her novel:”A Girl is a Half-formed Thing.”  The title intrigues me.  I read some excerpts of it on the internet. It is an unusual writing style. Very short sentences. Short. Sentences. Often just one word.  Then I started thinking: what if we think of fatherhood as a half-formed thing: A father is a half-formed thing.

You see, I kind of think that fathers can never live up to the ideals of fatherhood in our culture and society, more so than mothers.  Okay, mothers have to be able to cook, look good, be resourceful and not be aggressive.  You may not agree with me on that, but those are the traditional minimum requirements.  But I want to say something in defense of father. Fathers, fathers are supposed to be strong, kind, distant, a good provider, not cry, not whine, be smart, take physical pain well, be good at sports and know a lot about it, be good with tools, pay for dinner and hold the doors open for pretty much everybody but younger men, oh and yes gladly die in wars if there is a trigger happy President. Actually it would be helpful if fathers were all heroes.  Also they are an afterthought on father’s day as compared to women at mother’s day.  So fathers are bound to be set up for failure.  Mothers may feel that way too, but most fathers will for sure.

When I was cleaning up a few weeks ago, I found a cassette tape, a cassette tape with my father’s voice on it.  I have been reluctant to listen to it, ambivalent about the emotions it would bring out.   I have heard that voice but once in three decades or so.  You see, my father died almost 36 years ago.  I was 22. So I was an adult, but still at that age when I had not really come to terms with my father’s flaws.  He met many of fatherhood requirements.  He had been good at sports, he was smart, he was a good provider, he was very good with tools, he was smart and well-informed, he was rather distant and often quite unattentive.  But he was physically frail. It was as if his body wasn’t carrying him, he was dragging his body behind him. Ever since his first heart attack when I was eight.  I was not supposed to surprise or startle him in the fear the jolt might actually kill him.  A father is a half-formed thing, friends.

And then there is the parable of the Prodigal Son. In it a father embraces the selfish son and by doing son makes the loyal son angry.  In the conversation that is in our Bible passage the nature of the Father-Son relationship comes out. It shows the father’s love for both the sons and makes the complaints of the loyal son sound petty.  Love is so much greater than our rigid rules for son ship and fatherhood.  Of course God is the father in the parable Who accepts all God’s children. You see, in the Prodigal Son parable fatherhood is a fully formed thing.  Fathers are half-formed things. They can only become fully formed in relationship with God and even then they may not meet the bill.  There will always be a huge gap between the father and the God in the parable. It is in that gap that fathers live their lives; it is in that gap that we all live our lives. Thanks be to God.

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Reflection June 8

Published on June 25, 2014 by in Reflections

Genesis 11:1,4; Acts 2:1-4

We have talked about words and the way we use and about how hard it is to find the exact word in another language and how hard it is to really understand what another person is saying and to capture their meaning.  The Tower of Babel story captures that exact moment when people who previously understood each other no longer understand each other.  We all have seen that many times, when people who were close no longer are able to communicate. Hurt, selfishness, greed, anger get in the way.  The day of Pentecost is the perfect opposite, the perfect antithesis of Babel.  People who could not understand each other suddenly meet in understanding in a whole new language.  

Friends, we think of communication as in using words.  We count on words, spoken or written.  We forget that there are many other ways for us to convey meaning and receive meaning, because that is what we are after when we communicate: transferring the meaning we experience to another person.   The language of the body is one powerful way to let people know what we experience.  We can say all the right words, but if the language of the body says something else, people are going to get a totally different idea or we will confuse them.  People will get a sense that we are not authentic.

There is the language of energy.  Dogs pick that up right away about people, whether it is the energy of fear or the energy of anger, negative or positive energy.  Sometimes when we start a worship service, I am aware that the energy in the room is very low.  Sometimes my own energy level is very low.  We all bring our lives to church after all.  Usually when the worship service starts going that energy will pick up.  There is also the language of our acts, our behavior.  It is expressed in how people do things.  The way they do a task, with full commitment or half-way, with enthusiasm or grudgingly or whether they a task right or procrastinate.  That is a way of communicating meaning on a whole range of things.  I always notice about this congregation how people find a way to work together, how they anticipate the next task, so that very little energy is expended by people having to ask time and time again or by someone else having to do the work of two people.  Yes, I know you are not perfect, but it’s especially obvious at fundraisers.  Then there is the language of art which is obvious in many ways. People communicate meaning through art.  In a sitcom (The Middle, ABC) a college student receives a painting from his girlfriend who lives far way.  He calls to tell her that he doesn’t get what it means and that as a result he does not get her.  As he is talking to her he starts looking at each item on the canvas and he realizes that she is breaking up with him by way of the painting.  Some people are more in tune with the art of music than others, or with paintings and sculptures, others are more in tune with the art of creating taste through cooking.  But they are language. The language of art is all about finding our voice.

These ways of communicating also have to do with the more obscure language of the gut, or at least that is what we call it.  In Thursday I work on the sermon at home, but this last Thursday I took a few hours and drove to Mather Field not far from where we live.  I did this because of a hobby I had as a junior high age kid: putting together models of World War II airplanes. I read that old planes were coming to Mather, including the P 51 mustang, a bunch of trainers and  a B-29 Superfortress, the only one left that flies, called Fifi, a plane just the one that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  I liked the glass nose of the cockpit and was excited about going in to take a peek in cockpit.  So I stood in line under the right wing for 45 minutes almost.  It was almost time for me to enter the cockpit through some stairs that came out from the forward bomb bay.  The something weird happened.  In order to go in, I would have to spend about ten minutes standing on the tarmac between the opened bomb bay doors.  Something got a hold of me, a terrible sense of oppressiveness, a kind of anxiety.  It wasn’t about the close confines of the cockpit.  It was a sense that I could not stand in that open bomb bay for even a minute with my head right where the bombs used to be. It was like placing by head in a coffin. For a moment I felt connected to all the suffering that was unleashed from these bomb bays.  I felt that the person I was and had become should not be there.  I stepped over the line and walked away, to my own astonishment.  It was the language of the gut, which may be the only way to describe it.

Friends, today is Pentecost. We remember that a new language was born, a language of the Holy Spirit.  It is a language available to us, a language of peace and joy.  It is not just the language of the early church or a language of noisy churches that make us uncomfortable.  It is the language that God speaks to us when our spirit, our true authentic spirit and our gut, connect with the Spirit of God.  It is this that we are hungry for. This is the meaning we ultimately crave, God communicating God’s love to us, God accepting us and showing us God’s true Self .  It is the source of our hope and our solace, but also the source of creativity and energy.  It makes us new. Thanks be to God.

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Coach’s Corner

Published on June 25, 2014 by in Coach's Corner

Facility fact sheet

Dear friends,

As you ponder the future of Parkview in sweeping terms in your exploration groups, I concluded it would be helpful in today’s installment of coach’s corner to try and imagine all the practical questions you may have about the facilities where that new mission will take place.  So here it goes: just the facts.

Groups regularly using the church facilities:

First and Third Sunday 12: 15-2.30  Sakura Chorus practice led by Haruko Sakakibara.

Saturday 6-9 and Sunday: 2.30-3.30:  Fellowship of the Mosaics, an outreach approved by the Presbytery of Sacramento led by Rev. Stephen Moon, aimed at the Midtown “Millennials” generation. This is a mission we are supporting by allowing them to use our social hall and kitchen free of charge for a six-month trial period. If the sharing of facilities operates smoothly and the ministry gets off the ground, they would become our renter once the GKI Indonesian fellowship Parkview helped found will leave for their own new facility.

Sunday 4-8.  GKI Indonesian fellowship has their worship service and dinner as they have for many years.  The Presbytery has informed us that they have finally received a permit to build their facility near 99 and Florin Road.  We expect that by the fall the GKI will move.  This fellowship pays us $4800 per year for our facilities, a very generous arrangement for them as Parkview seeks to support their development.

Wednesday lunchtime: C.I.W.P., a charitable organization serving intellectually impaired young adults, use  the Parkview kitchen for cooking class at the rate of $150 per month.

Special arranged practice and recording times: Vox Musica, and innovative women’s chorus led by Daniel Paulson is using our facilities.  Session will consider a proposal on June 22 concerning future use of our facilities by the group and how they can contribute to Parkview’s ministry and mission in return.

As our facilities are shared, the social hall stage should be clear for group use at all times. In addition, the Heiwa building and the large north facing room of the Kansha building should be kept clear and tidy and ready for use at all times except just before and during fund raisers.

Facility maintenance:

The Social Hall and Kitchen roof need replacement.  This work has been completed, but there are additional repairs demanded by the city inspector because of termite damage (termites are no longer active due to the major treatment of powder post beetles conducted about 15 years ago).  These will be discussed in a brief session meeting on June 8.  We hope the total cost will not exceed $30,000.  We always knew our aging buildings would need serious repair and we have maintained a reserve fluctuating between$60,000 and $80,000 for that purpose.

Garage: termites are active in the garage and will need to be dealt with in the near future by drilling into the concrete and applying treatment.

Fence: the fence has serious dry rot damage in specific sections and will need to be repaired.

Parking lot: the parking lot we were so graciously allowed to use is available to us until it and the building can be sold together.  A Parkview committee has looked at this issue and concluded that we should take a patient attitude. Chances of Parkview being the buyer are not  great. We are considering a wide range of parking alternatives. Ken Murray said he will advocate on our behalf with the buyer.

May we all be grateful for our wonderful facilities with their unique character and may we constantly be reminded that the Church is God’s to keep and merely ours to manage. May God bless our ministry. Aart

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Reflection May 25

Published on June 25, 2014 by in Reflections

Psalm 66: 16-20; Acts 17: 26-29

Memory care

There is an assisted living facility near our house and you pass it when you walk to the grocery story.  It’s kind of the place you hope you won’t have to go some day.  It advertises “memory care.” It is a common advertisement. But we were wondering the other day when we walked by: ”isn’t a bit of a deceptive slogan?” They’re not taking care of memories; they are taking care of people who have let go of their memories for one reason or another.  However, even people with significantly reduced memories can hold on to things that really matter. Mark Ralls writes (The Christian Century, May 14, 2014). “I love you a little, I love you big, I love you like a little pig.” During my visit to the nursing home that afternoon, I must have heard this sweet, odd rhyme more than a hundred times. I was sitting in the atrium, talking to a distinguished, older man I had come to visit… But that particular day we were not sitting there alone. Near us sat a woman, another resident, wearing a nondescript pastel blouse and a broad, broad smile.  Though the woman sat close enough to touch, she expressed no interest in us or in our conversation. She just stared out the window and said these childlike words:”I love you a little, I love you big.“ She repeated them again and again. “I love you like a little pig…. “ As I left the nursing home, my curiosity got the better of me. I searched for a nurse… ”Could I ask you an odd question?” “The woman who sits in the atrium. She says this rhyme over and over. Do you know why she does this? “ The nurse smiled and repeated the words with a dramatic flair:”I love you a little. I love you big. I love you like a little pig!” She had obviously heard the rhyme thousands of times. …”That’s Thelma,” she explained. “She taught first grade for more than 30 years. Her little rhyme was her way of greeting the children every morning. As she helped them remove their coats, she would whisper those words in every little ear. It was her way to let each child know s/he possessed a special place in her heart.” Thelma’s mind was ravaged by dementia, but here was this single holdout from her memory.”  Friends, Thelma has forgotten almost everything except the most central part of her story and that was her identity as a loving teacher.

As I was thinking about today’s worship, I realized that today is my mother’s birthday.  It is nearly five years since she died. Made me think about memory and what we hold on to.  It so happens also that I had to go through some old papers the other day I found a stack of her medical bills and reimbursement slips as well her Dutch online banking card to an account that has long since been closed. I am sure many of you can relate to that. There are these vivid memories that stay with us.  Some things are so tangible and unmistakable.  But are these unmistakable, tangible things really the things that we ought to be remembering about people? What really matters?  Since we can’t remember everything, how can we take care of our memories? In other words, how do we do memory care? I think the first thing we must do is find and hold on to the person’s narrative, the small stream of water that trickles through the landscape they helped shape in one way or another.  The medical bills don’t tell that story, neither do the last days of their lives. It’s that picture that emerges when you connect all the dots on a number drawing.  The second thing is even more important and that is how does that narrative of a person’s life fit into the narrative or story of God, the one who sets the parameters of our lives, the One in Whom Paul says:” we live and move and have our being?”

(Philip Yancey (‘What Art can’t do’ in “best Spiritual Writing 2013)writes: “)The novelist Reynolds Price once remarked that there is a single sentence that above all, people crave from stories: the Maker of all things loves and wants me. Christians still believe that.” Psalm 66 reminds us that God does not forget us in spite of that not so bad word for all the bad we do:”iniquity.” That is something worth reflecting on, friends. How do these stories of people whom we cherish fit into the palm of God’s hand, into the greater purpose of creation. May God inspire us.

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Reflection May 18

Published on June 25, 2014 by in Reflections

Acts 7 : 57-58; I Peter 2: 4-8a

Depends on how you look at it

What can we say about stones?  We could talk about the different kinds of stones and rocks, where they can be found and how many millions of years it took to form them.  We could talk about how they can be used in Asian-inspired landscape.  Talking about stones spiritually, however, is an entirely different matter. But that is where the prescribed text before us is leading us to.   Now let’s assume for a moment we were only talking about one of the texts, in Acts.  Stephen, the saintly martyr is being stoned for his faith. Present is Saul who soon will be converted in the road to Damascus and will become the apostle Paul.  In this passage stones are bad, really bad. They kill Stephen who while bloodied still begs God for forgiveness for their sin of stoning him. These stones are like all the stones that people throw at each other in the Middle East where stones and rocks are everywhere.  How many of these rocks have had blood on them time and time again?  One stone may not just be able to kill two birds, but may have killed more than one person.  So in this passage stones are the instruments of evil and pain, the perpetrators of tragedy.  Clear-cut. No doubt about it.

But then there is the passage in I Peter which strikes a common theme.  Here Jesus is the stone.  So we go from literal stones to the idea of stone as a metaphor. We know Jesus is not a statue. He isn’t made of stone.  Yet he does say as in the Simon and Garfunkel Song “I am a Rock.” This is idea of faith and rock is powerful in the Bible. Moses hides in the cleft of the rock as God passes mysteriously behind him.  Jesus is the Rock of Ages. The word “Peter” means “rock” and Jesus says that “on this rock I will build my Church.”  The Roman Catholic Church of course believes that Peter was the first bishop of Rome and that all Popes are standing on his shoulder so to say.  So spiritually how should we look at rocks and stones?  Well, as you can see, it depends on how you look at it.

The same could be said of the text, friends.  We come to the text just as come to the idea of stone, with our own perspective.  Theologians and philosophers call that a “hermeneutic,” a way of understanding.  So if you open a Bible, you not just see the words, but you bring with you, your whole understanding and experiences.  If you do not know the Bible, you may think of the people who were Christians or Jews in your life who spoke to you about it.  Were they good and reasonable people or was your experience with them negative? If someone whom you have loved told you that they think religion is nonsense then you approach the Bible with that understanding.  If you come with an understanding that God is powerful and judgmental, you may approach it with caution and some nervousness.  If you come with a strong belief in God’s love that is stronger than all things, you may approach it with joy and expectation.  It’s how you look at it, you see. It’s how you look at it.  I think it is very important for you to realize with which feelings, thoughts and expectations you approach the text and to read it over a few more times.  We have just talked how there are so many events and things and people are viewed differently by different people. It’s how you look at.

So, friends, stones are different depending on how you look at them.  Do they hurt, do they support, do they make something ugly, or do they make something beautiful?  The texts of the Bible are similar.  It depends on how we approach them.  You know, sometimes people talk to me and they say: I am reading the whole Bible front to back and I always cringe a bit when they say that.  I always recommend with the Gospel of Mark which is the shortest and the one the other Gospels look to.  That tells the story of Jesus in a brief way.  Then once you have a good feel for that, go back to other Bible books but come at it from a Christian perspective. It changes how you look at it, in a good way.

Then, friends, there is life and its many moving parts. One of those moving parts of life is suffering and we talked about that last week.  How we view suffering and other parts of life depends on our philosophy.  You can look at it scientifically or medically or as an atheist or an agnostic, as a Hindu, Buddhist, Confucianist, Muslim, Jew.  It depends how you look at it. In Jesus’ you and I have been giving a way of looking at life that is all about love, faith, and joy and hope.  He is the cornerstone of our lives.   Jesus through that text that talks about Him as a stone, gives us a whole new perspective on life.  This is what it means or at least should mean to approach life as Christian, hopefully and compassionately. May God help us to succeed.

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Reflection May 11

Published on May 20, 2014 by in Reflections

The truth about suffering

Recently I saw a cartoon in the Christian Century showing an economist holding a clipboard and a distraught man. The economist stated: ”The fundamentals of the economy are sound.”  The distraught man quips:” but I am not earning enough to survive.  The economist answers:”that is not one of the fundamentals. “We’ve had some questions asked about suffering earlier and we have looked at what the Bible texts throw out at us.  How can put that together and find some new meaning about the experience of suffering?   Alfred de Vigny, a nineteenth century French poet wrote: I love the majesty of human suffering.”  This is kind of a troubling statement, but it is true that suffering is it the heart of most human art and literature.  English novelist William Somerset Maugham wrote in The Moon and Sixpence that:” it is not true that suffering ennobles that character; happiness does that sometimes, but suffering, for the most part, makes men petty and vindictive.” Which seems to say pretty much the opposite about suffering.  We have the famous saying:”What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” which is a statement that is part true and part absolute nonsense because I have met plenty of people who were crippled by their suffering and perhaps so have you.  What is clear is that although all through human history men have more often been killed than women, it is also true to say that all through history women have borne suffering more than men disproportionally. We all can come up with hundreds of example from the top of our head.  We remember mothers especially. During my teenage year whenever I came back to the salty smell of the seaside town where I was born, I would walk from my grandfather’s house past the harbor where my great grandfather’s fishing fleet used to be tied down and climb on top of a human made hill designed to protect the town from the restless grey North Sea.  Not far from there is a bronze statue of a woman in traditional village dress peering across the sea, waiting and praying for husband and sons to return from the sea.  It is suffering of the soul, of the heart and of the stomach.

Friends, most of you us know people who are Buddhist and some of you were Buddhists.  Buddhism has a lot to say about suffering which has educated me.  The way I interpret some of what and I have read and heard is that we have some control over our suffering, at least over the psychological and spiritual part of it, for suffering is temporary, just like all things in life are.  It won’t last.  So better to appreciate the good and the beautiful while we can.  Kiyo’s florist has this neat gift item called a Buddha board made up of stone and water and screen.  When you write on it with a brush and water, after a number of minutes the writing will disappear.  It is very realistic, sobering and beautiful. Suffering also has its roots in desire, for if we desire nothing we do not suffer: if we do not desire certain relationships or certain physical comforts or the possession of a home or a certain appearance for ourselves or for those we love, then our suffering will be minimal.  The more we control desire, the less we suffer. The more we accept thing as they are rather than demand they are not, the less we suffer.  Japanese culture of course has been drenched in Buddhist thinking over the century.   I know very few words in Japanese and my favorite is “hontene” or “is that so?”  The words I have heard the most are “gaman” and “shikataganai” which although hard to translate have a lot to do with what I have just said.  It has to do with suffering through things and accepted that things “can’t be helped.”  Christianity is just as concerned with suffering.  The Old Testament psalmists and prophets rail against, Job chews God out over it and as a result Christians and Jews are often beating their heads against the wall crying:”why, why, why?” This is itself is therapeutic, but not satisfying intellectually.  In Christian faith the preoccupation with suffering is not detached and dispassionate, but passionate and involved.  Christian theologians have come up with roughly three different answers to that why question.  The first one is the traditional answer that says “God is in charge and sovereign and some day we will understand why God allows everything to happen the way it does.” Second, much of suffering is the fault of humans and the rest is a mystery.”  Third, God wishes to transform the way things are, but does not control everything and God works in a subtle ways to influence creation, including people’s actions.” People will be more comfortable with one of these answers depending on their personality, experience and stage of life.

William DeBurgh has a drawing of Jesus sitting on a park bench with a young man with a backpack next to him. The young man asks Him: ‘So why do you allow things like famine, war, suffering, disease, crime, homelessness, despair etc. exist in our world?” Jesus answers:” Interesting that you should bring that up as I was about to ask you the exact same questions.” Friends, the most beautiful religious story I think is that one at the heart of the Bible and that God is so desperately in love with human beings that God is willing totally to enter their suffering as one of them, as Jesus.  Only by doing that could God completely show the world the extent of God’s love. This means that in Christian life we are always anchored in God’s love. Thanks be to God.

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Reflection May 4

Published on May 20, 2014 by in Reflections

Luke 24: 13-19; I Peter 1: 23-25

Directions to Emmaus

Many years ago I was doing volunteer work for a few months in Jerusalem.  Somehow I found out that in Bethlehem one of my theology professors from Claremont was giving a lecture at a Christian institute so I took the bus and showed up there.   On the way back I stopped in Cambridge in England where the dean of the same school was spending his sabbatical.  I showed up unannounced there.  Both professors had these puzzled looks on their faces.  But fortunately it hadn’t been more than a year since I had seen them. Today we find ourselves on the Emmaus road.  Words are spoken between Jesus and two people who should know him, but do not recognize him.  We have all had that experience.  Somebody we haven’t seen for a long time who now looks different.  Maybe their hair style or hair color has changed or their physique has developed in certain directions.   These things are more likely to happen when we see those people in a place where we are not expecting them.  But think of all the times you might have seen fellow high schools students in different places and you did not recognize them.   I don’t get to do that, because I grew up somewhere else.   But you may not know this. One day as I was taking some church people visiting from the Philippines through Old Sacramento and there I saw a familiar face that I had not seen for twenty years or so.  Seeing her with a white man and two children I put the pieces together.  It is was Herning and Bill and their two children. They were just moving to Sacramento from Atlanta.  She was a friend’s cousin and I had last seen her when she was in her mid-twenties.  So I guess sometimes we recognize people we are not supposed to recognize just as much as we do not recognize people we are supposed to. But the question that comes up is: How would we do on the Emmaus road, on that short seven mile stretch between Jerusalem and Emmaus?  Would we recognize Jesus? 

Friends, in a way we are jealous perhaps. We are jealous because we were not on that road to Emmaus with Jesus. There would have been so much we could have asked him and so much we could have told him.   Of course we believe His presence is still with us somehow, but we are not sure how to get to it.   It is possible that we are all on Emmaus roads of some sort.   But how do we get to it?  How do we get our directions to the Emmaus road?   I have always loved map, road maps, terrain maps, nautical and aeronautical maps.  I like plotting ways to get from one place to the other.   Like figuring out how to get somewhere by looking at the landscape.  Geography and a sense of space are important to me. If I am flying over a group of islands I have to figure out which ones they are.  There is always something new to be astounded by.  Did you know Sacramento is way further west than Santa Barbara and that Reno is further west than Los Angeles?  Did you know that flights from San Francisco to Bejing will often barely fly over the ocean. They will follow the coast to Alaska and then go over the Aleutian island to the Kamchatka peninsula and in over Manchuria.  You learn a lot about countries when you look at the map.  In order for Russia ships to get to their warm water ports on the Black Sea from the Atlantic, they will have to pass through the straits of Gibraltar and two narrow channels.  It changes your view of the world. But it is no excuse for aggression of course.

But then there are no maps that lead to the Emmaus road.  Oh I am sure you could get close to it on Google Earth, but the Emmaus road as a meeting point of us and Jesus, there is no GPS for that. A GPS is a device that combines word and map.  But perhaps our Bible passages can give us a clue.  In I Peter it says that the word of the Lord will last forever.  It is really the only thing that lasts, for nature doesn’t, including human bodies.  It quotes Isaiah 40. But in the Gospel of John Jesus in the Word, the Word that has always been there. So we find the word on the road to Emmaus, pointing the way to go. Word and road map like a GPS.  But the road is a spiritual one.

Friends, we may not have the map of the Emmaus road, but we do have the Word that does not change.  That Word is the word Jesus.  In today’s passage that Word teaches us that it is important to pay attention to strangers, because they may be people you know or want to know.  They may be people that have something to teach you.  They may be people who show you a roadmap for the rest of your life, just by the things they say.  They may be people you are supposed to help with a word of encouragement or a listening ear.  We are walking with strangers through whose words and thought and actions we may see and meet the risen Christ.   The Emmaus road is everywhere and it is inside you. May God point the way.

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Coach’s corner

Published on May 20, 2014 by in Coach's Corner

Exploration XII: Exclamation mark !

Dear friends,

This is the last of twelve coach’s corners about our explorations together on the future of our congregation. I am entitling it “exclamation mark!,” because what you are all about to do in your five explorations groups is really important.  I had a very fruitful meeting several weeks ago with the group facilitators and we agreed on a simple approach for the second and final group exploration meetings.  We really need to hear from you in these meetings if at all possible, because as I told the facilitators we do not know if we will ever get these groups together again in a structured way to ask for their input.  The next meeting will determine how useful this whole process is turning out to be and to what extent it was helpful!

In the first groups meetings the groups discussed what they were happy about when they thought of Parkview.  The groups came up with few keywords that described the groups such as : friendly, tolerant, inclusive, peaceful, welcoming, acting out spirituality etc.

The second meeting is supposed to answer the question: “what will we be proud of as a congregation twenty-five years from now?”  This is a good question, because it takes us out of thinking about the immediate future and it takes us away from current leadership.  We cannot just use the present as a reference point. Instead we have to dream from scratch.  So each of your groups will have to answer this question.  This question is the gateway into the discussion for each of you.  But beyond that, each group has a certain amount of freedom.  At first we thought that discussions should use an identical format all the way through, but we decided that each group should be allowed to choose a few “keywords” or “prompts” to enter the discussion.  Some of these keywords or prompts could be quite obvious such as “spirituality,” or “leadership” or “family” or “healthy,” or “witness” or “outreach,” or “inclusion, ”but others are just as acceptable.  So we are hoping each group will come up with three keywords or prompts which most express and embody the priority of the groups and use them as a way of opening new pathways of thinking about our congregation which we hope will eventually lead to the transformation of the congregation’s life.

I know that as your pastor you expect me always to have something to say that is meaningful or at least take a swing at it. But with these explorations the ball is in your court.  As I routinely write words in the course of my duties for the church, I have to decide where the exclamation marks must come.  Now it is your turn.  I am placing exclamation marks behind the words you are yet to speak, because what you have to say is oh so important!  Thanks you for participating. I am excited about what your discussions may yield! May God bless them richly.  Aart

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Reflection April 27

Published on May 20, 2014 by in Reflections

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

Fear of fraud

It’s the week after Easter and we go from the zenith of faith in God to the shame of the doubt of Thomas.  We don’t think of him highly, although he is a distant candidate for our disappointment compared to Judas.   We are ambivalent.  In a way we love Thomas, we’re happy he’s in the Bible, because he makes us feel a little less bad.  If even a disciple doubted the resurrection of Jesus, then, two thousand years later, we’re not so bad.  We usually think of Thomas in terms of doubt, but we could also look at it differently and approach his story from the vantage point of “fraud.”  There are two aspects to that fraud. One is the fraud Thomas feels when it comes to the story of Jesus’ return.  The second is the fraud he must feel of himself.  The same is true of us: we fear that our faith is a fraud and because we fear our faith is a fraud we come to church and feel like a fraud. In the new book “The Confidence Code,” Katty Kay and Claire Shipman write how people in the workplace and other settings so often have to fight off their insecurity and lack of confidence.  They often feel they are not up to the task they have been chosen for and they feel they are “winging it.” They wind up thinking they are a fraud.

Thomas is on end of the spectrum of faith, the low end that is.  As one of Jesus’ chosen disciples he is likely to feel like a fraud.  On the other end of the spectrum are the people addressed  in I Peter:  they are full of faith in spite of never having seen Jesus.  Compared to those people Thomas looks even more like a fraud.

Friends, maybe we shouldn’t beat ourselves up too much.  The world and people around us teach us that we must pay attention,  that we should be cautious that people don’t take us for a ride, that they don’t double charge us or overcharge us or pull the wool over our eyes.  Recently on the coast of Spain a beautiful skyscraper went up in Benidorm, the tallest in a region resort towns.  It was supposed to be twenty stories tall, but the architects fell so in love with their building that they added another 27 stories, topping the building out at 47.  There was only one catch.  The elevators only went up to the twentieth floor, leaving the rest of the floors to people in very good shape and with lots of time on their hands.  We are taught to be watchful of people who are cheating us, of schemes and conspiracies.  So how can we drop all of that, walk into church and believe everything?  Still we feel a bit like a fraud for thinking like that.

Garrison Keillor, the host of Prairie Home Companion writes:”I came to church as a pagan this year, though wearing a Christian suit and white shirt, and sat in a rear pew with my sandy-haired gap-toothed daughter whom I like to see grow up in the love of the Lord, and there I was, a skeptic in a henhouse, thinking weaselish thought.  This happens around Easter: God in a humorous way, sometimes schedules high holidays  for a time when your faith is at low tide, a mud flat strewn with newspapers and children’s toys, and while everyone else is all joyful and shiny among the lilies and praising up a storm, there you are, snarling and grumbling. Which happened to me this year. God knows all about it so I might as well tell you: Holy Week is a good time to face up to the question: Do we really believe in that story or do we just hang out with nice people and listen to organ music? There are advantages, after all, to being in the neighborhood of people who love their neighbors. If your car won’t start on a cold morning, you’ve got friends…” (Homiletics March/April 2014) Friends, Garrison Keillor feels a bit like a fraud.

The theologian Walter Brueggemann writes: We spent our lives struggling with faith, sometimes struggling for faith, sometime struggling against faith. Faith always has it its say among us. It will not go away. Its voice is a haunting one. And in it we hear the very voice of God….We have haunted lives filled with yearnings for what is not in hand, promises not yet filled, commands not yet obeyed, desires not yet granted, neighbors not yet loved. And because faith not go away or be silent, we are destined to be endlessly haunted, uneasy, restless on the way.” (Clergy Journal, May/June 2001).   We fear that we are frauds.

Friends, we struggle with our faith in other people because we are afraid of being defrauded, we struggle with our faith in ourselves and with our faith in God and found up feeling like a fraud.   Maybe it just keeps us smart and honest.  But let us feel comforted that before God we can be ourselves, for God knows us and loves as we are. There is no need for us to pretend or to hide before God.  God has us figured out. Thanks be to God.

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