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Reflection August 23

Published on August 27, 2015 by in Reflections

Genesis 8: 1,8,9; John 3: 8; Acts: 2:1,2

A tale of islands

I saw a brief cartoon of about a lonely volcanic island recently. The visuals were great, the camera approaches the island from the sky as in a helicopter, but the island had a mouth and eyes. He roars for companionship.  Underneath the sea a female volcano hears his roar and wants to join him. She is struggling to become an island at the surface.  Just as she emerges, the old island is about to fade away. It was strange: islands with human features.

English poet John Donne wrote the famous lines: “No man is an island, Entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”  These are interesting lines to have been written by an Englishman, for the English have always been happy to live on an island, close by and at once separated from those Europeans.  He was of course right. Human beings are social beings.  Only very few of us want absolutely nothing to do with other human beings.  But I also want to say the opposite today, that you and I are all to a certain degree islands.  There are always parts of us that no one can access, that no one can reach.

I saw a documentary about a man traveling to St. Helena, not the St. Helena in the Napa Valley, but the Santa Helena that lies in the middle of the South Atlantic.   Soon there will be an airport there, but as the program was being made the only way to get there was on ship operated by Britain’s Royal Mail which takes five days from Cape Town, South Africa.  This is the island where Napoleon lived out the last six years of his life, after he had lost the great battle of Waterloo in Belgium to Wellington. Napoleon has been exiled in before, on the Mediterranean island of Elba, but had escaped.  This time this was not going to be possible. The island just has a population of several thousand who are a truly multicultural mix.  The town only has one street.  Napoleon was taken to the top of the island where it is always foggy and windy. There he lived, in a house surrounded below by British troops, lonely and despondent, remembering his great battles and exploits as Emperor.  A remote island with a mighty ruler who slowly turned into a remote island himself, disconnected from his subjects.  Because the place has changed so little in the 200 years since he was exiled, it is very easy to picture him there, mulling over the maps of Europe.

So friends, you are not an island, for you are human.  Yet, you are an island still, because you are human. Although these statements seem to contradict each other, they are really a paradox. Both have truth in them.  But the question is, what kind of island are you?  Let’s look at the Hawaiian islands, which were not discovered by Europeans until two year after the declaration of independence, just before the time of Napoleon, almost three hundred years after Columbus. Are you like Oahu, a gathering place that pulls people in, always active and full of energy, the center of everything, but sometimes overwhelmed and stressed?  Are you like Molokai, overlooked and relatively unchanged, with a forbidding, turbulent, inaccessible topside and a low, calm accessible side, if one knows how to find it.  Are you like Lanai, overshot by many of the clouds that turn one side of the islands green?   Are you like Kauai, off on one side, out there in the breezes, but exotic and welcoming.  Are you like Maui, so touched by the outside influences in your life that you almost forget who you are?  Are you like the Big Island, with a distinct rainy, gloomy side and sun bleached arid side and still unexplored corners?  Are you like an island in the Bahamas,  dazzling on the fringes, but with very little appeal beyond the edges? Are you like Catalina island, you welcome visitors, but close off when the sun goes down? You can almost take so much.  Are you like Coronado island, by yourself, but close to the land, so that your never far from life by ferry or bridge or like Alameda, almost indistinguishable from the land around it.  I could go on, but I don’t think you want me to. You can do the rest.

Friends, as we have determined, the Bible doesn’t do much with islands.  The Bible knows the land.  Even the word for island in translations seems interchangeable for coastland.  The closest we come to an island is perhaps in the story of Noah on his ark.  He is inspired to create a refuge from the storm for animals.  He sends out birds to look for land, but they keep coming back and he pulls them back into his wooden island.  The disciples who have to find a way to become apostles are huddled in a building not knowing what to do without Jesus.  They are like a tiny island for believers in a great big world. There are many persecuted groups of Christians like that around the world; islands of shaking faith.  Then the wind comes, the wind of the Holy Spirit, and everything changes.  Friends, when we feel most like island, perhaps we often feel that God is far from us, unreachable, with so much in between.  But let us be heartened by the image of the breeze and by the wind.  It comes to us in many forms and with many names: tradewind or Passat, Zephyr or Mistral or Delta breeze.  The wind of God’s Spirit will always be able to reach any island.  Thanks be to God.

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Reflection August 16

Published on August 20, 2015 by in Reflections

Psalm 111: 10, I Kings 3: 9-12, Ephesians 5: 15, 16

Clues to spiritual wisdom

It turns out there have been a lot of bikes stolen in our neighborhood lately.  Last weekend ours was the target.  We had just returned from the Bay Area and it was about midnight.  Frankly, I was kind of tired and cranky.  The garage door was still open. As I opened the laundry room door to close the garage, I saw a person in a grey sweatshirt slowly riding off our driveway on a bike. I looked at the wall where I hang my bike and it is gone.  Before I had time to think I spurted through the garage and across the street, in my boxer shorts and a shirt, to where a car is waiting. I am about a second away from opening the driver’s side door as the cars screeches into motion and the thief jumps it when it’s already moving.  I guess seeing a 59 year old barrel toward you in his boxer shorts can be a quite troubling sight when you are a clueless teenager. Then I notice the bike is still on the sidewalk.  What would have happened if I managed to open the door or if these people weren’t a bunch of misdirected teenagers. Frankly I don’t know. If I had been in a jovial mood, would I have let them drive off or responded just a second later. Instead here was just me standing on a quiet midnight street, with a bike, in my underwear, trying to commit to memory numbers and letters on a license plate.  Was I wise, you tell me?

About thirty years ago, on another warm night, in the Asian city of Yogyakarta Is saw another person, somewhat older that our local teenagers,  grab the old Dutch bike which was my form of transportation and speed off in to a cramped crowded neighborhood of small houses patched together. I chased him too, until he disappeared out sight, Minutes later I reached a throng of people curiously gathered around a local police post.  Turns out bicycle thiefs aren’t all that smart.  I walked in and announced myself as the one claiming the bike. Then my concern shifted to the thief and his safety. I could tell they weren’t going to treat him very well. It became clear he was a hapless person from the poorest region near the city, a place where I had seen people use old car tires as shoes.  So I convinced the police to let him go and I wind up riding my bike out of there, with the thief sitting behind me on the bike.  Was I wise, you tell me.

Friends, the Dutch have an expression: “he/she is a hero on socks,” meaning a pretend hero or in my case a vigilante with bare feet in his underwear. You can tell the story of the bike and say: “ that 29 year  that’s aart right there or the 59 year old, that’s him, kind of quirky. In fact the context was different.  Besides that bike in Asia wasn’t even my bike. The truth is that we are all different people and you never know what you will do from one moment to the text, when you will perform an act of kindness or decisiveness or fail to act when you should have. or say something utterly shocking or banal.  This goes for our being Christian also. None of us are full-time Christians.  Very part-time at most.  Often we are Christians in our underwear, or barefoot or on socks. We can be different people in different circumstances.  Atheists can act like Christians and Christians can act like people who scoff at the idea of God.  We have talked about levels of understanding. It’s about the way we approach the text.  Often we approach in our underwear, very mundane and not very thoughtful. Sometimes we are dressed for church and are ready to be spoken to.  This is how we approach the Biblical text: Sometimes serene and peaceful, sometimes angry and frustrated, sometimes wounded and afraid.  This affects what we will hear: at times it’s just a story to us, at times a moral lesson, at other times it lifts us to a spiritual height we had not deemed possible, again at other times it annoys us and strikes us a implausible. So is our spiritual wisdom bound to be hit and miss, the way much of our behavior is hit and miss?  Let us turn once more to the Biblical passages for insight.

In Psalm 111 we learn that wisdom and understanding starts with a sense of awe about the greatness of the power of God’s love. In I Kings we learn that wisdom, including spiritual wisdom is a gift.  In Ephesians we are told to act wisely and mindfully in time.   So what the texts call for is a sense of awe, a sense of gratitude and acceptance and a sense of the poignancy of time.  Friends, you and I feel guilty a lot about the extent of our response to God.  We are upset that it’s hit and miss. We are frustrated by our lack of spiritual accomplishment. We are exasperated by the way we slip back into our old ways. I think we need to accept that first, God’s grace is at work in our lives, at its own time, second, that spiritual wisdom is a gift we cannot force but only open ourselves up to and finally that we have a duty to try to act mindfully in the time available to us. May God give us wisdom.

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Reflection August 9, 2015

Published on August 13, 2015 by in Reflections

Jonah 1:3, 4:10; Ephesians 4: 26, 27, 31

Getting in our own way

You and I have a tendency to sabotage ourselves.   We do things over and over again that are not good for us:  it may manifest itself in anger or in procrastination or in our eating habits or in the way we avoid certain situations or the way we hold on to things.  These things have become comfortable and comforting in some way.  They are part of the fabric of our lives, but they keep us from flourishing.  The Dutch have an expression which translates roughly: “She or he sits in her or his own way.”  

We have just talked about the characters in comedies.  I have sampled just enough mysteries over the decades to know what a good one is and what a bad one is.  The not-so good ones can be very entertaining, but tend to have a lead character who seems to have very little flaws, like Miss Marple or Father Brown or Miss Marple or the Murder she wrote lady, but may be a bit too nosy or as in the case of Poirot spent too much time waxing their mustache. But as a result their stories are also less stressful to read or view. The best mysteries have an emotionally wounded protagonist. Wallander (PBS masteroiece mystery), a Swedish cop who has experienced too much and is haunted by his years of experience, hates guns and is constantly at risk of failing relationships.  But somehow his instinct and intuition lead to successful outcomes in his crime case. Sidney Chambers, a creation of J. Runcie (PBS masterpiece mystery), is an Anglican priest who is being pursued by a wound of guilt.  In an episode of Inspector Endeavour Morse of the Oxford police (PBS masterpiece mystery), his superior Fred Thursday stands on the roof of a college overlooking the city.  It is the mid-fifties. They have just caught a heinous and brilliant criminal who was also very knowledgeable about Opera. That’s the Oxford crime novel scene. But it is clear that he too has nightmares of his days as a British soldier in Italy in World War II.   Michael Cain plays a British journalist in Viet Nam in the 1950’s and has the closing sentences in the film “The Quiet American (Miramax),” based on the novel by Graham Greene. He says:” They say every house here has a ghost and if you can make peace with it, it will leave you alone.”  Perhaps he is saying something similar as Inspector Thursday said on that roof in Oxford. In a sense we all live with ghosts inside us, not a literal sense of course.  Sometimes we call them demons, but of course they are not demons either.  In Ephesians we are told not to let the “devil” in.  In the 1956 movie The Searchers (American Technicolor Vista Vision) John Wayne is Ethan Edwards. He is a confederate soldier who returns to Texas to find that his niece has been kidnapped by the Comanches. He searches for her for five years and then finds out she has become one of them.  He faces his own hatred and his own twisted views about race, but doesn’t know what to do with it. The text in Ephesians again rings true.  The new Hawaii Five O (CBS) has picked up on this idea of the flawed hero. The principled detective who is a veteran ignores police rules to reach his goal time and time again.  He too has demons or is chased by a “devil.”   But he doesn’t get in his own way. People mostly get in his way. As a result he is not that interesting and believable a character.  Friends, in the book of Jonah we run head-long into a person who gets in his own way.   He doesn’t want to complete the mission God gives him and even after he does what he is supposed to against his will, he sits and sulks under a tree, instead of celebrating the act of kindness which has been brought to completion.   Jonah is getting in His own way and in the way of God as a result. You see, friends, in some ways that’s us.

Friends, there is a tragedy we all share.  We know and we can see what other people do to get in their own way, what others do to sabotage themselves and keep themselves from reaching their full potential.  We care about those people, but only they can make the change.  At the same time others can see what gets in our way: resentment, fear, fatalism, guilt, shame, depression etc., but only we can do something about it.  We have to start getting out of our own way. So what’s the point for us, friends?  The point is that we must embrace the truth about ourselves. We must accept that we get in our own way much of the time, and that we can never get the wounds out completely on our own.  We must appeal to God’s grace and God’s love.  The more we remind ourselves of God’s love, the more it is likely to make us sit back and relax.  If we accept that we may never quite get rid of the ghosts or the darkness on our own, we must turn to God and when we turn to God fully aware of the bad in us, we are liberated. Then we can make friends with our ghosts and hold off the darkness.  God knows who we are with all our flaws can God still loves us; all we have to do is accept the truth about ourselves and about others and let God’s goodness rub off on us, one touch at a time.  Finally, friends,  perhaps getting in our own way is a lot like getting in the way of God.  When we allow God’s grace to illumine our lives, we may be able to let go of the things that get in our way.  Friends, what is that do you do to sabotage yourself? Where are you getting in your own way?  May God give us wisdom.



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Reflection August 2, 2015

Published on August 13, 2015 by in Reflections

Ephesians 4: 15; 2 Samuel 12, 7, 9; John 6: 26, 27

Truth Hearing

The texts today are about the truth. We talk a lot more about telling the truth than we do about hearing the truth. It occurred to me that one of our problems with talking the truth has a lot to do with our ability and willingness to hear the truth spoken to us.

Good comedians tell the truth about uncomfortable things. They hold a mirror in front of our face and make us say something that’s there, but we wish wasn’t.  Comedian Louis C.K. talks about the “mild” racism of East Coast whites who were born in the seventies.  He says:” when those people walk into a bakery which  is run by four African Americans, they will simply get this puzzled look and go:”mmmm.”  Now that’s the truth right there, but it is an uncomfortable truth, isn’t.  Part of us goes:”That’s not discrimination. “We’re just noticing something that you might not see every day.  Just like all Asian Americans are supposed to be good in math or do martial arts. But we are all prone to these reactions. It allows us to order the world in our heads. We think that in the times when you can go to Alhambra boulevard to a converted forties gas station and we can buy Korean Burritos, that all is well.  But then someone confronts us with the truth. But this kind of truth that if we can hear it will actually make us better.

Our families are very good at telling us the truth. They will remind us of our flaws and will usually be happy to tell us when we ask for input.  This works because we know they love us and that in the end they will be there for us. But if we hear too much of the critical and too little of the positive we start blocking them out.

Pastors need to hear the truth too, from their congregation.  When I came to this church there was no personnel committee charged with evaluating the pastor and other staff and even after it was established it has always been hard to get the committee to evaluate me.  What if there is some uncomfortable truth the pastor will need to receive, will he or she storm out of the room.  Don’t worry, this is very common in churches. In some churches, the only feedback pastors will get are constant affirmation until that moment when all hell breaks loose.

Countries need to hear the truth sometimes.  But those are the trickiest to deal with.  We tend to look at the best of our own countries and the worst of other countries.  Believe me, every nation has something despicable in its past, something shameful.  I think all people in the world would be better off if we faced the truth about what our nations had done. For some nations it may be further in the past, but it is rarely more than a century and a half ago.   Whenever a nation has not dealt with its past adequately, that past will raise its head eventually and often unexpectedly. Just look at Turkey and the perpetration of the Armenian genocide.

Friends, I think that deep inside you and I actually hunger to hear the truth about ourselves.  But we want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth(, … help us God).  What scares us is a partial truth about ourselves, a partial truth that is meant to hurt us and to put us in our place.  That’s the kind of truth we have no stomach for, but the whole picture, the good and the bad, most of us could deal with.

What can we learn from our Bible texts? From Jesus talking to the disciples we learn about we need to be unmasked sometimes.  Sometimes it is too convenient to say the right thing, when it is clear we are just covering up our real motivation. People don’t usually call us on this, because it is not worth starting a conflict over, but it is not uncommon for a child to smell it out a hundred yards away.  Jesus tells the disciples that He knows it’s about the food. Isn’t always? If not that, then the money.

This kind of truth hearing is not too traumatic, but it’s necessary for our maturing.   In 2 Samuel we see something on a totally different level.  Because of his behavior with Bathseba and Uriah her husband, David gets an earful.  He is morally taken apart. Sometimes as a person, or as a community or as a or as a nation there are different levels at which we need to hear the truth.  There are even levels on which the Bible speaks the truth to us.  There are times we need a gentle reminder, at times a firm redirection, at other times a total rethinking and fashioning of the way we think and acts.  Friends, what is the truth that you need to hear and what is the truth you are resisting?

When the Bible tells us that God is telling us that Jesus is truth, the way and the life, it isn’t just talking, it is saying something significant.  It is saying that Jesus isn’t just telling the truth, but that He is the truth. What does this mean?  Well, I think it simply means that Jesus is the truth about Who God is and what God is like.  Nowhere will we ever get closer to seeing what God is like.  But what is the importance of truth for the Christian life?  That is simple too: the truth about our lives in the widest and deepest sense exists to make us grow into the compassionate souls God wants us to be.  We will always have a long way to go, but nevertheless that is the goal. May we be ready to hear the truth. May God give us wisdom.

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Coach’s corner

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

Q & A II

Dear friends,

You have been hearing a lot about QE I and QEII (quantitative easing) which has to do with money (the Central Bank making money available).  I think we still have a lot of questions about how money works in our country.  You may also have some questions about money in our church, especially as it relates to our proposed residency or internship program.  Last year I wrote a coach’s corner on general questions and answers. This month I want to do another in response to questions you might have about this program. So: Q&A II. Let me begin by thanking you all for your support of this exciting project, moral and otherwise, especially our anonymous angel investors and the team of volunteers (team A: Carol Sakai, Maurine Huang, Titus Toyama for the program itself and Team B: Barbara Hiyama-Zweig and Stan Umeda for the refurbishing of the Kansha.) who will guide the implementation. Here we go:

1.Q: Aart, you have been asking for donations from organizations and individuals for this project. What is the money for?  A: Exclusively to pay for the refurbishing of the Kansha building to make it habitable for two interns/residents by the late Spring of 2016.

2.Q: How will their $1000 per month stipend be paid for then?  A: First, about a quarter from our annual mission giving to Presbyterian mission (appr. $7000) which, after our project becomes an officially sanctioned Presbyterian mission project, would be redirected entirely for that purpose; Second, from Presbyterian churches and donors willing to contribute to this stipend scholarship project.

3.Q: How much will the Kansha refurbishing cost be? A: We estimate with labor donated the costs not to exceed $15,000, without not to exceed $25,000.  We have reason fully to expect the Presbytery construction team to donate the labor as they have shown significant enthusiasm. So: $15,000.

4.Q:How much have the two angel investors pledged? A: We estimate that they will provide close to half of the cost, with a maximum not to exceed $8,000 between the two of them. Their contribution will depend on the final cost. When this cost has been established, they will make their final determination.

5.Q: Have other funds been allocated from individual or organizations beyond that? A:Yes,about $1,800.

6. Q: How is this project related to the general budget and to our reserve?  A: It is not related, except for the $7000 mission giving which is a required budget item.  Any giving to the Kansha refurbishing is separate. We will still need to meet our annual budget (note: our income tends to dip during summer months.)  The reserve remains in place for general building maintenance and repair.

7. Q: What is the general expected item breakdown? A: a. repair or replacement of heater/air conditioner, b. new water heater, c. widening of one existing window and bars to meet egress code requirement, d. two new security doors, e. one window security bar frame, f. shower head, g. shower curtain and hookup, h. 2 simple attractive matching beds and tables and one couch, i. attic insulation, j. small fridge. k. security system (this item already pledged by a member family).  Note: residents would use church kitchen for cooking beyond micro-waved items. A full kitchen would increase code requirements.

8. Q: Do you encourage item by item donation? A: yes, any financial donation is deeply appreciated.

9. Q: What about increased routine insurance and utility cost? A: These will be more than offset with additional $1200 revenue from Indonesian church (rental increase) (to be reviewed again next year).

10. Q: What is the difference between residents and interns?  A: Interns are students in Seminary Masters degree programs who take a summer, a semester, or occasionally a full year of practical work. Residents have graduated from seminary and may elect for a one or two year residency.  Our team recommends a one year program which will mean we are most likely to get residents transitioning into ministry.  Thank you! May God bless our ministry. Aart

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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… 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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