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Coach’s corner

Published on October 1, 2015 by in Coach's Corner

Full steam ahead

Dear friends,

Last month I used the image of a train leaving the station to explain that on the whole our Parkview family was on board with the residency program we plan to start next summer.  Since then the train really has left the station and we made a significant start on realizing our goals.  “Full steam ahead” seems to be the best description of our project at this time.  Now, I believe that this is an expression used mostly for steam ships, so we will have to assume this train I was talking about is “a steam train!” Here are some of the things that are happening:

  1. A team of about fifteen members from other congregations in the Presbytery have come to our campus to get to work. So far they have purchased and installed a larger window in one of the rooms in order to meet code for emergency egress, purchased security doors and put the first coat of paint in the Kansha house kitchen. Since they had such a good turn-out they also poured cement and replaced two fence posts, got to work on the replacing walls of the garbage can enclosure, sanded the social hall floor and cleaned the kitchen. All of this out of the goodness of their hearts. They will be back for more!
  2. More donations have come in for the Kansha refurbishing fund, including a sizeable amount from one of our angel investors.
  3. Brief ads in two national church magazines have been written, sent in and confirmed. They will be spreading the word of our internship program.
  4. Titus Toyama has prepared a first draft of a position description which we hope to finalize in the next month. Lori Hart will be creating a special category for it on our website. Bill Nagata has taken photos that will accompany the position description.
  5. The Presbytery is finalizing steps to have a scholarship fund for our residency program created so that churches in this region can donate to it starting next year.

Some of you may still wonder whether this residency program is just a tool to reenergize the life of our congregation and bring new ideas and may not be clear how it connects to the general mission of Parkview Presbyterian Church. I plan to address that next month. This is also something that may be discussed during the November 7 exploration group meeting. (By the way, we are still looking for a volunteer to host that meeting).

Again many thanks for the commitment of the Fong family, Eddie’s Crew, our church volunteers and diners that made our breakfast buffet fundraiser successful once again. Remembering the meaning of “kansha (thanks, appreciation, gratitude),” May God’s grace be the steam that propels us forward and may God bless our ministry. Please pray for your church. Aart

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Reflection September 27

Published on October 1, 2015 by in Reflections

Numbers 11: 26-29; Mark 9:38

In our name

A Presbyterian author writes; “ Buechner is my name. It is pronounced Beekner. If someone pronounces it in some foolish way, I have feeling that’s what foolish is me.  If someone forgets it, I feel that is I who is forgotten. There’s something about it that embarrasses me in just the way that there’s something about me that embarrasses me. I can’t imagine myself with any other name with any other name-Held, say,or Merrill or Hlavaceck. If my name were different, I would be different. When I tell you my name, I have given you a hold over me that you didn’t have before.  If you call it out, I stop, look, and listen whether I want to or not. In the book of Exodus, God tells his name is Yahweh (I AM WHO I AM) and God hasn’t had a peaceful moment since.(Beyond Words, Harper San Francisco, 2004. p. 52/53).

Friends, in the book of Numbers, Moses is supposed to uphold the name of God and keep people on the right path.  Joshua, his successor, is not happy with the liberty Eldad and Medad take on proclaiming the message of God.  Is it jealousy thing? Moses seems to think so. “Are you jealous for me,” he asks.  The same is true in the Gospel of Mark.  Jesus’ followers don’t want others to start healing in His name? Is it jealousy? Maybe.  We know of course that we should take on the grateful, non-worried view of Moses and Jesus, but in this case we are with Joshua and the followers of Jesus. “Yes, who these people think they are?” Better than us and just as good as our Leader and/or Lord?” We bristle at the arrogance and the presumptiveness of these people. “Who do they think they are anyway?”

Native Americans are up in arms about the canonization of Junipero Serra, founder of the California missions.  They say he was responsible for the oppression and death of thousands of local Native Americans.  How could this good Pope bless that Spanish priest this way? Isn’t he the Pope who apologized to the native people of South America?  If Serra did bad things in the name of the Church, should he be rewarded for that? There is a kind of embarrassment there, if for non-Catholic Christians, that perhaps is not so different from the embarrassment Frederick Buechner felt.

The actress Joanne Froggatt who plays one of the servants in Downton Abbey made a movie where she is a British soldier returning from Iraq. The movie is called “In Our Name.”(Artificial Eye, 2010)  She winds up coming home and facing PTSD and the memories of the violence she was part of and she winds up criticized by Muslims in Britain. She grows more and more afraid (I got all this from the trailer, so forgive me if I am slightly off).  Friends, so much is done in our name, by our local government, our state government, our Federal government.  Money is spent, buildings are built, drones are sent out, bombs are dropped.  We kind of don’t want to be responsible for all that, so we separate ourselves from our government, as if it had nothing to do with us. But in a democracy you can’t quite do that.  Much is done in the name of religion.  Pope Francis emphasized that in his speech to Congress this last week.  The Islamic State murders people in the name of Islam.  This horrifies most Muslims I am sure.  Can you imagine a Christian State performing atrocities?  There used to be states like that and we could claim there still are.  Devout Christians have been responsible for a lot of violence in the name of other more peace loving Christians or Christians who were clueless about what was happening.

Friends, the point I want to make is that it all comes down to the names we call ourselves. Buechner says he is called Beekner, God is called YAHWEH and as Buechner says doesn’t have a peaceful moment ever since.  Moses and Jesus lived in a time when they could use all the help they could get. The Church still needs lots of help, but it has to be the right help.   Sometimes it feels you and I are on the sidelines and people who call themselves Christians and who consider themselves holier than others are making statements about being Christian we can’t relate to or are horrified. But we are still embarrassed about it.  Catholic comedian Jim Gaffigan stars in a tv show about a Catholic who does not really want to admit that he is one. In the show a pizza brand wants to use his name to sell their products, because they want to sell to a traditional market segment. He realizes that although he is a Catholic he is no way traditional.  Sometimes when I work in the community I wonder if it is better I don’t mention I’m a minister. You can see red flags going up in people’s eyes.

To sum things up, friends, if we dare to carry the name Christian, along with our other names which people constantly mispronounce, we should pay attention when people use that name Christian to preach hatred and exclusion and we should be saying :”not in our name.” May God give us courage when God calls us to task.

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Reflection September 13

Published on October 1, 2015 by in Reflections

Exodus 3: 14,15; Mark 8: 27-30

Changing biographies

Last week we talked how we use our words to paint the canvas of our lives and how the painting we paint of our lives has a place within the greater canvas of life that God is painting.  Today we bring another dimension to that thinking by speaking of biography, or how the history of our lives is intertwined with the history of God.  The Bible writes a kind of biography of God.  We read the book of Genesis and get a picture of God as Creator which then expands into a description of God as a judging (and at times jealous Being).  As we go through the Bible the historical picture of God evolves and gets chiseled and sanded down.  The sculpture of Who God is becomes more nuanced and refined.  When Moses comes face to face in the second book of the Bible, God sends him to the Pharaoh to free the people of Israel. Moses is clueless. He has no idea of this God of Israel Who is neither a god of the royal Egyptians who raised him or the Midanite desert family he has married into.  He doesn’t even know how to refer to God, so he asks God: “What do I even tell them Your name is.”  And God answers: “tell them I AM WHO I AM sent you.”  I AM WHO I AM is not exactly very specific.  The idea of God is still a rough sculpture.  As we read each book of the Bible more about God is becoming clear. The specifics will become clearer later.  God is not interested in giving a resume here.  This God will be known by actions and above all by love.   Throughout the Bible a picture emerges of a loyal, faithful God Who gets disappointed time and time again, but forgives time and time again.  And then comes the New Testament where God truly shows God’s ultimate love on the cross. It is beautiful.  The God become human winds up asking:”Who do You people say that I am?”  But the biography goes on. Christian theologians keep on writing about the God of the Bible and making corrections and additions in understanding. Of course the books about famous people are never definitive biographies, just new insights. The Bible is definitive about God, but can be subject to new interpretations in new contexts. Kim Davis, the clerk in Kentucky who is defying the laws by refusing to sign the marriage certificates of gay people, has her own biography of God.  Unfortunately in her interpretation God is not one to celebrate the love of all people expressing their fidelity to one another.  Not having lived a perfect life and claiming to have experienced God’s grace, her mind is still quite closed as it pertains to the grace others experience.  Both her own biography and that of God seem to be very tightly controlled.  her biography.

Friends, do you ever find yourselves thinking about persons you cared about whom you lost long ago?  You are thinking about their life and the decisions they made, the things they wanted to do but never did, the things they didn’t want to do but had to and suddenly out of nowhere a new insight comes to you, even as you didn’t expect them. You understand them more and appreciate them more.

In a masterpiece mystery ( PBS) program called Worricker, Johnnie Worricker (Bill Nighy) is a British spy addicted to his work and the intrigue that comes with it.  He and his girlfriend (Helena Bonham Carter) have to go into hiding because they know things that the British prime minister wants to keep hidden.  His girlfriend stays with a Anglican priest, a friend of Worricker’s and the priest tells her that Johnny Worricker used to love the church and wanted to be a priest, but that he, the priest, had to point out that Worricker actually didn’t believe any of it.  Worricker wanted his biography and the biography of the Church of England to be part of one another, he wanted to place, as it were, his biography within the biography of the Church, but the problem was Worricker had no biography of God. God was not real to him.

Friends, our biography without God’s biography does not end well.  The two biographies have to come together for us to realize that our biography, with all its connections and separations, triumphs and flaws, is not complete without the biography of God.  You know, there are all kinds of ways of interpreting the Bible.  Some like Davis, interpret it in such a way that people who may not have hurt a soul in their lives get hurt as a result.  Other interpretations push people to great acts of sacrifice and love and selflessness in the slums of the poor cities of the world, in warzones and in disease ridden hospitals. I am sure that more than once the elements of the biography of God as I see it has been wrong or off course.  What is important is that the story of our lives is not complete without the story of God.  Our story without the story of God does not have a happy ending. With it, it is a hopeful tale where all the good we do has a place within God’s greater story. Thanks be to God.

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Reflection September 6

Published on October 1, 2015 by in Reflections

Proverbs 22: 10, 11; Mark 7: 27; James 3:1-12

To speak or not to speak

When we read today texts in the program, it seems like mumbo jumbo. And perhaps when you put the text together like that, it is kind of mumbo jumbo. We are better off reading texts in context. But there is a reason for doing this today. The verses are all about when speaking goes wrong.  Proverbs talks about scoffers and how they should be driven out. James is crisp and clear and also a little bit angry when he speaks of the human tongue. In verse 6 it reads:”And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity, the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life and is set on fire by hell.” Wow! Even in Mark we find Jesus, at least at first glance, saying something that is insensitive and inappropriate. We have talked about that already. Was He sarcastic or mocking others who might talk like that or did His humanness win out for just an instant?

In American schools most students at one point or another read the line:  “two paths diverged in the woods and I took the one less traveled by.” They were of course written by Robert Frost.  It turns out they did not have the intent that we might think they do.  Frost may actually have been mocking the words of an English friend who put much importance on the decision which path to take in the woods, while Frost didn’t.  I guess we won’t truly know what he really meant so just like we won’t know what Jesus really meant. It has been said that poetry is like painting with words.   We might extend this thought to our words in general.   Speaking is like painting.  Our words paint a picture, of our views, of ourselves and of the world around us, over time.  Friends, in that way the Bible is a large canvas.  Or we could say that is a combination of great paintings. Each book paints its own picture. Proverbs is all about being clear, rational and morally upstanding. Mark is one view of Jesus. James, supposedly the brother of Jesus, is all about action and doing something.  Some of the “art” of the Bible is rational, some emotional, much of it historical, some of it abstract and hard to penetrate, but through it all God’s Word comes to us.  This is a kind of miracle. All these words in the Bible, retold and passed on by mouth for centuries, or written down on parchment that survived because of the dry conditions of the land.  These ancient words still touch us and educate us and direct us and move us.  And then through our own words we try to make sense of them.

There is an anecdote about the famous nineteenth century preacher, Henry Ward Beecher. One morning he ascended the great pulpit of Boston’s Plymouth Congregational Church and there he found a note waiting for him. Beecher glanced at the note and then announced:”I received a letter from one of you this morning. It simply states, ‘Fool.’” Beecher paused, the grinned maliciously. “I often receive letters from people who forget to sign their names,” he said, “but this the first time someone has signed their name and forgotten to write the letter.”  Beecher was quick on his feet, found a snappy return, but even for him the criticism must have stung. There is such a thing as criticism offered in love, of course- courteous words of correction from a teacher, or coach, or spouse, or friend, sincerely intended to build up. But there I also that other sort of criticism, the kind that tears down To speak or not to be speak, that is the question he faced and that we face every day. He spoke. Perhaps we wouldn’t have.

I am sure I have told you that a few years ago I made a New Year’ resolution which was: “to talk less.” Now most of you will not have seen me make much progress on that one, but actually it did work, for that year at least.  I wanted to not say what I did not need to say or what people really weren’t interested in hearing.  I want to paint a different painting, one perhaps with fewer strokes and more light.   To speak or not to speak. That was my decision and that is ours every day.

In a research paper reporting on how people process words that express emotions, the author claimed that half of the words that people produce from their working vocabulary are used to express negative emotions, compared to a mere 30 percent which are used to express positive emotions and 20 percent that have a neutral context. Although the precision of the statistic may raise questions, the relative proportion of negative to positive words in our working vocabularies should be of concern to all of us. To speak or not to speak, that is the question. And how to speak.

Friends, I think all of us go through life using words and hearing words that we given no second thought.  Everybody knows that we all say stupid and inane things that in the end aren’t part of the big picture of our lives.  But words often repeated will be. And the unusual things we say, they will become the accents in the painting that will jump out.  We all paint our lives a different way. Some of the pictures of our lives are clear and straightforward, some are impressionistic and blurry.  Others are so abstract we ourselves don’t even get it.   But let us be comforted by the thought that all our words have a place in the great canvas God is painting.  May God allow them to make a difference.






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Coach’s Corner

All aboard!

Dear friends,

We have talked a lot about our planned residency program. We have had an informational meeting for the congregation, a series of session meetings, meetings with a Presbytery committee and a bunch of coach’s corners on the subject.  We have established two committees to guide the process.  I am getting a good sense that most people if not everybody are on board.  This is good, because the train is about to leave the station!  We have reached a crucial moment when the talking we have done and the words we have let loose on this are going to be turned into concrete action.  It is a moment of commitment.  In about two months we will need to start spreading the word that we are looking for residents and have program/job descriptions going out. This month the refurbishing of the Kansha building is scheduled to begin. A Presbytery construction team will do the work.

Even after the question and answer sheet I did for last month’s newsletter, I have gotten the feedback that the finances for this exciting project are not completely clear to all of you.  Let’s just say you’re on board of this train that’s about to leave the station, but you’re not completely sure how the ticket will be paid for.  So let me explain.  There are two financial commitments that we must take on.  First, the refurbishing of the Kansha house which we think will top out at fifteen thousand dollars (it would be much more expensive if we did not have the free labor).  About two thirds of that has been raised (so imagine one of these fundraising thermometers that goes up two-thirds of the way).  In addition there have been offers from church members to pay for a water heater and a security system.  Our general budget and our reserve earmarked for routine maintenance have nothing to do with this.   But once it’s done is done and we will have a building that’s worth quite a bit more than it is now.

The second financial commitment is for the stipend scholarships for two residents, each $12,000 per year.  This will be ongoing. These are not the responsibility of our congregation.  The Mission Support committee of the Presbytery has just voted to establish a scholarship fund account for these stipends that congregations in our region will be able to donate to and still get mission giving credits.  Since all congregations are expected to give at least 5% of their budget to mission giving, we will probably redirect our congregation’s mission giving entirely to our own project and still get mission giving credit. Nevertheless, we are going to ask other Presbyterian churches to donate the majority of the scholarship aid. The mission support committee of Presbytery is also planning to donate a significant amount.  Because we are not starting the program until the middle of next year, only half of the scholarships will need to be raised for 2016.

If groups or families wish to donate to this program, the next few months will be a good time.  If donating specific items is more acceptable, here are some possibilities: two wall unit ac/heater units (like the one in my office) at about 1,700 each, a new 7 square foot window, removable bars for two windows, two security doors at about $200 each, insulation pads for the attic, a shower head and faucet, a shower curtain and rail, 2 ikea storage units, two ikea beds, two ikea desks, 1 rug, 2 small desks.

To use a well known saying: “we have miles to go before we sleep,” but we are getting there. We are a small church.  But as Thomas the tank engine said:”I think I can, I think I can.”

There is a scene in Wes Anderson’s movie “The Darjeeling Express” where the train is stopped in the Indian wilderness. When an American passenger asks what’s wrong with the train, he is told the train is lost.  He responds:”but how can a train be lost, it’s on rails?”  Dear friends, I think we laid out the rails pretty deliberately for this project. Let’s start rolling. We ask for your prayers. May God bless our ministry and the journey. All abooooard…. Aart





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Reflection August 30

Published on September 3, 2015 by in Reflections

Mark 7: 14,15; James 1: 22-27

Doing good from within

I see three questions the lectionary texts make us look at: in our doing are we true to ourselves, true to our faith and true to the facts?  First, are we true to ourselves?  A bunch of young people are getting settled in a bar and about to order some drinks. One of the guys who usually not that talkative starts a monologue as one of his friends whispers:” listen to him, he is saying what he means and he isn’t even drunk yet.”  There is some truth to that, isn’t it friends? A lot of people need to get rid of their inhibitions before they tell people what they mean. This is what today’s texts are referring to.  The practical book of James tells us that we do not live out our faith.  In the Gospel of Mark Jesus complements this by quoting from the prophet Isaiah and saying:”What you people say is not what’s in your hearts.” We could say they are different ways of saying the same thing.  Mary Pipher in her 2002 book (Reviving Ophelia) about adolescent girls writes:” “The world tells us what we are to be and shapes us to the ends it sets before us.  To men it says, work. To us, it says, seem.” Pipher complains: “The less the woman has in her head, the lighter she is for carrying.” I think that is really true for men also.  Men must “seem” also.  Society asks us to appear other than we are.  We are asked to pretend. People talk to me about the Trump phenomenon.  No matter what their party affiliation, they appear deeply troubled by his rudeness and don’t understand why he is popular. For the few decent folks that support him, I think it has to do with the image of straightforwardness and independence that he portrays.  He talks as if his views come from the heart, undefiled, but people wonder: instead are they not the product of a self promoter’s calculation?

Pastors are most at danger of “seeming,” because people expect them to be better people.  However, there is a catch to this: if they actually act like they are better persons, then people will not buy it and be annoyed by their behavior. This brings us to the second point, being true to our faith. Mark really zeroes in on our hypocrisy. The words of Isaiah Jesus brings to life say clearly: ”these people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of people.”  This is often so true of religion: people’s lips are close to God, but people’s hearts are far way.  So Mark makes a distinction between what we say and what’s in our hearts.  James makes the distinction between hearing the Word of God and doing the Word of God. James has this great image of a mirror:” For if anyone is a hearer of the word, but not a doer, he or she is like a person who looks at his or her natural face in the mirror; for once he or she has looked at her or himself and gone away, he or she had immediately forgotten what kind of person he or she was.”  It is as if the moment after we see ourselves in the mirror we have forgotten who we are.  We forget what we said and what we promised and we forget who and what really matters to us.  So maybe we’re not always insincere and hypocritical, sometimes we just don’t see that what we do or say is not consistent with what we believe. We’re just not thinking and checking ourselves. So, how come when we look at ourselves, when we get feedback from others about ourselves, we don’t remember? How come it doesn’t stay with us?   The reason could be that we’re more concerned with our image, what we think everyone around us thinks of us.  Friends, there is more we forget here. As Christians we forget that society cannot tell us who we are. Our faith reminds us who we are.  Subconsciously we measure our action by our faith.  But only if we are well informed and keep thinking and learning.  We need a courageous faith you see.  Being Christian in our world is a constant struggle to mediate between our faith and the knowledge that keeps growing about the smallest and the biggest things.  Christians who engage only with knowledge go flat spiritually.  Not believing can be a cop out. Christians who block out the expanding knowledge of the world are like ostriches. We need to be courageous and combine faith and facts.

This brings us to point three.  Not only are we in a faith struggle, we are also a constant struggle for integrity, because we must keep looking for the truth.  Deepak Goyal said: “half truths can be more dangerous than a full lie.”  As we have already seen, people don’t know what is true anymore.  They live more and more in a world of their own creation.  At the same they don’t know whom to believe.   Or they just grab any statement they hear and hang on to, because it makes them feel something, like proud or angry or scared or depressed.  This is our struggle.  A society where no one is true to their own voice, or faith or facts is just too scary to imagine.   May God give us the courage to keep struggling for our integrity, being true to ourselves, to our faith and the facts at the same time.



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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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