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Coach’s Corner

Published on August 2, 2014 by in Coach's Corner

Parkview at a glance

Dear friends,

You have been meeting or are about to be meeting in exploration groups for the second time. One group raised the need for helping new people get integrated into Parkview groups and to be informed about what the church is all about. The session redid our manual a few years back, but there are very few people who have read it. So here is a fact sheet on the congregation for visitors and new members. It will not be complete, but it might help. So here we go: Is there a Membership fee to be part of the church? No. Do you have to be a Christian? To be part of the Parkview family, no. To be a member of the congregation, yes.  How many employees does the church have? Three: one full time employee: pastor ( in spite of the popular joke that the pastor works only one hour a week); part-time employees: Donna Komure –Toyama, office manager and  Ben Pryor, choir director.  We also have a bi-weekly janitor and a weekly gardener.  Does the pastor have a day off? Yes, Monday, but generally this is a secret.  When is the office manager at the church?  Tuesday 9-11.30;  Thursdays as well as Friday 1-4. How much vacation does the pastor get? According to Presbytery rules: 4 weeks vacation, 2 weeks study leave per year and a three month sabbatical every seven years.  Aart has 12 weeks of time off saved up and has taken one two-month sabbatical in 18 plus years. Who is a member? Of the Parkview family: everyone; of the congregation: you can become a member: in 3 ways: a. 1 through baptism, b. through confession of faith in front of the congregation  if you have been baptized but are not a member of anther Christian church and  c. through a letter of transfer if you are a baptized member of another Christian congregation.  What is the session? A church board made up of (in our case 5) ordained members (RE’s, ruling elders) who have three year terms and make the decisions for the congregation. The pastor (otherwise known as TE (teaching elder, not Tight End), is the moderator, but has no voting power). What happens if a session can’t make up its mind?  A congregational meeting of members of the congregation can be called. What is a deacon? A deacon is an ordained member of the congregation committed to the care of the sick, the poor and the bereaved.  Currently we have no board of deacons, although until recently we had one for more than ten years. What are trustees?  Members who represent the congregation as corporation in relation to businesses and government agencies. How are officers selected? Through the nominating committee who take into account the age, gender and ethnic make-up of the congregation. What are the Presbyterian documents? The Book of Confessions (theology), the Book of Order make up of the Books of Worship, Government and Discipline.  What is a Presbytery? It is a regional unit made up of local congregations (in our case the Presbytery of Sacramento which meets four times  a year). It makes decisions about the member churches as a group of ruling elder representatives of each congregation (Parkview has 3) and teaching elders (pastors).  Who owns our building? The congregation and the Presbytery together. What is the stewardship committee? A group of volunteers who advice the session on facility/ money management. How do you complain about the pastor or another employee? By contacting the personnel committee.  What groups can people join? Generally Choir, youth, men’s PPW, mariner’s, Jujikai.  Activities of these groups are generally open to anyone.  Their work is about sharing the burden of responsibility, not about keeping people out.   How is money handled?  Different people receive money, count money, deposit money. We also have a treasurer and two people to review our books. Thanks for being a part of what we are and what we do. May God bless our ministry.  See you in church. Aart

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Reflection July 27

Published on August 2, 2014 by in Reflections

Genesis 29: 20, 25-28; Matthew 13: 31,32

Into the woods

Today I want to do something unusual: take the message of a musical and see what we can learn for our faith.   I believe the musical “into the woods” paints the human condition extremely well and asks the question people of Christian faith have to respond to. We have just talked about the story of Jacob and his wives.  The trickster gets tricked.  The way the story is told gives the impression of a fairytale. We also heard the short parable of the mustard seed again.  The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. Mustard seeds are small but grow out big.   We also talked about the musical “Into the woods.”  The first part of the Sondheim musical is a zany and chaotic mixing of the four fairy tales of Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella.  The stories are strangely tied together and they continue after the happily ever after.  The princes from Rapunzel and Cinderella talk about their princesses and they are the most hilarious.  All the Grimm brothers’ storylines go haywire and a whole new story is born.  The giant has a wife who wants revenge.  The baker wants Red Riding Hood’s cape. But then in the second act the musical becomes more reflective and raises questions of parenting and being lost and loneliness.  There are four things that I take away from this musical that can shed light on our faith.

First, we are all in the woods at least some of the time.  We have to go through it, but we all lose our bearings and get thrown off course.  For example  I think we are all horrified by what is happened in Gaza and Israel again and we stunned by the downing of an airliner in the rolling wheat fields of Ukraine.  Into the woods sings how children will listen, but these children can no longer listen.  It is all the opposite, the antithesis of fairy tale. It is a horrible tragedy that leaves us all feeling a little more anxious, a little less secure and a great deal sadder.  Jacob too was lost after he cheated his brother and father, into the woods of a foreign land.  In our personal life we can often feel we are in the woods with no way out.  Sometimes we are not “out of the woods yet.”  Our faith reminds us that we will not be in the woods forever.

Second, it is important to get our story straight.  This is true of the Bible story.  The musical completely confuses the four fairy tales. We have to keep telling them, even if they don’t go the way we want them to, even if we are not comfortable with them.  These are what we have to catch a glimpse of what God s like and what God desires and how much God loves us.  We have to tell these stories for in them lies a world of meaning and spiritual wisdom and good news that will help us get through the woods of our lives.  We have to trust these stories and have faith that God can speak through them to us.  You can’t mix and match stories.  You have to leave them their authenticity. We can’t change the stories of the Bible.  You can’t change the Jack the beanstalk fairy tale.  But you can’t change the Jacob story either. It’s set in stone. You can’t change stories as the culture changes. But you do have to keep interpreting them.   As the song “children will listen” says: children may not do what you tell them to do, but they will listen. The message will get through to them.  So even if they go their own way, they will have soaked up the message of the church.

Third, as the musical says “no one is alone.”  I don’t know if we really believe that deep in our hearts.  I think there is loneliness in all our hearts at one point in our lives.  But this is the beauty of the Bible, that it reminds us that we are part of God’s story and that we belong in that story, that in away Jacob is our family as are all the other characters in the Bible.   And this is one really important function of the Church: to make sure that people know they are not alone, to remind them that they should not be alone, that “someone is on their side” and to let them know that they are safe in God’s love.   The question of aloneness is more pressing than ever in our day and age.  Sondheim has really put his finger on this scourge of our times.  Other than families, no one can address this question better than the Church.

Finally, friends, something to think about.  There is Jack and the Beanstalk.  The beanstalk grows us from a magic bean.  So the mustard seed of faith grows up to be a huge tree.  Something small becomes something big.  Even if our faith is really small, it can become bigger.

So, friends, the musical addresses a lot of the big issues of life in our society: there is our lostness in the world, there is our confusion about what the stories that get us through life mean, there is the reality that at one point in our lives we are all lonely and we want to know how to get rid of that loneliness.  It is this lostness, this confusion and this loneliness that can so overpower us that we give up on faith, that we discard it.  Accepting these conditions on the other hand can deepen our faith and make it more meaningful.  The Bible is full of human confusion, lostness and loneliness and those people in the end find a way to God. Even Jesus deals with these questions. May God make bring us closer and may  God make our faith grow. God.

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Reflection July 13

Published on August 2, 2014 by in Reflections

Psalm 1: Matthew 13: 20, 22, 23

Soil samples

The texts for today give us a lot of nature metaphors.  Jesus talks about different kinds of soil where seeds can fall.   The point is that people can be like soil, good soil or bad soil, receptive soil and soil with thorns.  In Psalm 1 the text compares faithful, spiritual people to trees that are planted next streams. They have access to water.  So good, faithful, loyal, spiritual people are like good things in nature, trees or soil. These are things that inhabitants of a parched, infertile land depend on.  Anyone there would have instantly been able to relate to these metaphors, for they are life giving.

Last week, Alejandro Sabella, the coach of the Argentine soccer team, spoke of Lionel Messi, one of the smallest players in the game and arguably the world’s best player and said that Messi was like a life giving force that creates fertility when there is a drought of options in the game.  He creates something out of very little space. It was way too great of a metaphor for a game, but it shows you how seriously people can take the game. It also shows that the examples used in these texts aren’t that farfetched at all.

Christian Wiman writes about the importance of faith (The Best Spiritual Writing 2011. Philip Zaleski Editor New York: Penguin, 2010, p. 203, 204):” On the radio I hear a famous novelist praising his father for enduring…without “ever seeking relief in religion.” It is clear from the son’s description that the father was in absolute despair,  and that   he could find nothing to hold on to but his pride, and drowned clutching that nothing. This is to be admired?  That we carry our despair stoically ….that even the utmost anguish of our lives not change us?  I don’t mean to suggest that theattitide of stcoic acceptance is not at times a worthy one. I don’t know what was going on in the mind of the novelist’s father, but what was going on in the mind of the novelist is quite clear: it’s the old fear of religion as a crutch. “ The novelist and the novelist’s father both are not good soil for the seed of faith.  They are also not good trees that draw the water of faith.

So,  how do we make all if this concrete?  First, We have to be soil that can absorb nutrients.  You all know that soils are different.  Volcanic soil and river soil are often very fertile. But in Sacramento county if you go a ways from the rivers the soil gets bad and takes a lot of work.  Second, we have to be soil that is free from thorns and rocks. Third, we must be in a good location to draw water.

Friends, it is quite a jump to go from soil to people. They are so different.  But let us remember we all came from earth.  We are part of the earth and the earth is part of us. In many cultures the location of that earth is crucial.  Let us not forget that.  There is iron in the earth and we when we evolved from earth took on elements of that earth.  There is a lot of iron in our blood and we are told to keep it up by eating certain vegetables.  We cannot separate earth from us and us from earth.  This is why the way Jesus talks makes sense to the people. At the same time he stretches their minds, their imagination and their souls.  We feel the same way. We get it and we don’t get it.  It makes sense and at the same time it doesn’t.   You see the seed is the spiritual, it is faith.  If we are infertile soil for the seed it means we have no eye for God, no desire to search for God.  If there are thorns growing all over the soil then that means that we put obstacles up to faith and spirituality: this could be our busyness or our selfishness or our pride.  If the soil is in the wrong place, nutrients and water can’t reach it.

Friends, Northern Calfornia is a blessed place for wine.  Great climates, differing temperatures, a variety of sheltered valleys.  Wine experts talk of the “terroir,” meaning the soil and that which the soil absorbs.  It comes out in the subtleties of taste.  You can taste the eucalyptus or the cherry in the wine.  The wine and the earth are extensions of each other.  Friends, what is your terroir?  If we were to analyze your spiritual life, what would we find: bitterness, joy, resentment, anger, sadness, love.  What would we find if we take a soil sample, a spiritual sample much like a lab test at the time of your physical when they measure your iron level?   Can a spiritual seed grow, can faith flourish, what is in your soil and how do you care for the soil?  How far are you from the water?  How does your garden grow? May God’s Holy Spirit find a place to grow.  May the tree be strong and flourish. May the garden of your life flourish. Thanks be to God.

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Reflection July 6

Published on August 2, 2014 by in Reflections

Matthew 11: 16-19; 28; Romans 7: 15, 16

What would people think?

Sometimes you’re damned if you and sometimes you’re damned if you don’t.  Sometimes we try to help but our helping is misinterpreted or considered too little, too late.  Sometimes we make choices that aren’t really choices at all, just alternative bad options. The Middle East kind of always seems to feel that way. One moment as a Western leader you’re thinking about supporting one opposition group against a Shiite dictator and next you are supporting Shiites next door against another opposition group.  One moment you enable the Israeli, the next you empower the Palestinians.  Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Jesus lays His finger on this when He talks about people complaining about what others do or do not do. “We played the flute for you and you didn’t dance…..John the Baptist came neither eating or drinking, and they say ‘he has a demon;’ the Son of Humanity (i.e. Jesus) came and they say, ‘look a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’”  In others words, these people complain that the ones associated with Jesus, including Jesus Himself, do not do what others do.  They stand out, they don’t follow the rules, they don’t fit it.

In his letter to the Romans Paul again looks deep inside his soul only to find out that he wants to be what God expects of him, but his flaws make him “do the things he doesn’t want to do.”  Part of the things he is doing have to do with society and what people ask of him.  He has to think about what people think and say and we find Paul responding to what people are saying in the different Christian communities he has founded.   Sometimes he seems to go too far in responding to all the talk.  But in the verses of the week he seems to realize, if I read him right, that he shouldn’t follow his insecurity.

So much of our lives, friends, is spent on doing what people expect of us or ask of us.  So much energy is spent on what people are thinking of us.   But we don’t like that about ourselves. We know that if we were to do exactly what we wanted all the time, we might wind up by ourselves most of the time.  And more and more people are.  Some flexibility is needed.  Some give and take is necessary.  But so often we twist ourselves in loops to try to accommodate to some vague or unreasonable expectation. We then, to quote Paul, “do what we do not want to do.”

Now you may think: “ah is telling us to be assertive and put our foot down and let people know we are in charge of our own lives.”  No, not exactly.  What I want to do is point you down a number of verses in today’s lectionary reading in Mathew’s Gospel and soak up the words of Jesus:”Come to me, all you are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” In the next verse He is more specific:”rest for your souls.”  What I want do is draw a connection between the complaints others have about us, real or imagined, and finding rest for our souls.  I think this is crucial you see.  Assertiveness only goes so far, it is really just a technique and in a multicultural society that often just doesn’t work.  No we have to go deeper than that.  Finding rest for our souls, what is that about then?  And how does that help us with the opinions of others?  Well, it has to do with letting go, letting go of the demands.  It has to do with accepting ourselves as flawed, limited individuals who happen to have specific gifts and talents, but perhaps not the ones people expect of us. It has to with loving ourselves, not because we are great, for we are not, but because we are deeply loved by the Creator.  That love is a deep pool of cool clear, clean water, at last in the summer.   In the winter we can use a different metaphor.  But we have trouble really connecting with that love, for it is in our head, but not quite in our guts.  It doesn’t quite radiate down from our heads. “God loves us, yeah ok, I know, say what’s for dinner?”  We must continue trying to connect with that love.  I myself haven’t given up trying. The more we are connected to that love, the less we will need the approval of others, the more we are changed.

Brian Doyle writes of a profound spiritual experience he once had and the consequences it had.   The experience changed him but also kept things in place. This is what he said: “Let it go. I still have a job and kids and my mysterious wife and a bad back and a nasal mutter and too many bills, nothing’s changed outwardly. I didn’t drop everything and hit in the road hunched over and mooing prayer and song, and there are still all sorts of things quietly muddled and loudly screeching in my life…(but) something broke and something healed… But then he talks about how the Divine intimately knows us and he says:” Whatever else you hear today, whatever else you read, whatever else happens in your life, whatever way your heart is bruised and elevated today, remember that.” (Let in go,” in “best Spiritual Writing 2013, p.8/9, Philip Zaleski ed., New York: Penguin, 2012).  The key is understanding that God truly knows us.

Friends,  the road to authentic living that moves us away from the expectations of others about who we should be, that road leads through the keen realization of God’s love for us. Only then will we find rest from the heavy burdens of the mind and the heart.  Thanks be to God.

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Coach’s Corner

Published on August 2, 2014 by in Coach's Corner

An emerging theme?

Dear friends,

As I write this three of the five area exploration groups have met for the second round of reflections and their recorders have submitted their reports.  Each group determined their own priorities about where our congregation should be headed in the next twenty-five years, for that was the main question the group facilitators agreed on.  A twenty-five year period seemed to be a bit too long for many of those in attendance to wrap their heads around, but it is clear that the groups were future-oriented in their discussions.  Each group went in its own direction, but I am detecting the contours of an emerging theme.  It is the theme of welcoming.  There appears to be a consensus that we are on the right track, that our continued journey of opening to outsiders  and of total inclusion of all ethnic backgrounds, faith backgrounds and political views, sexual orientations and abilities is one that you all want to continue taking.  Also that you are comfortable with the congregation’s size.  But in thinking of the reports I received so far I conclude that are many dimensions of welcoming.  The groups were not necessarily interested in each dimension equally.

First, there are the mechanics of welcoming.  This has to do with how we respond to visitors and how we help them get acquainted with our congregational life.  There was significant room for improvement there you felt.  Then there is welcoming as hosting.  We welcome people by hosting them through special events and food.  This is a strength and can make newcomers feel they are at a family reunion every Sunday.  Then there is welcoming as social cohesion building.  It is a second stage of welcoming and has to with the mechanics of welcoming.  This addresses how we integrate people and make them feel at home.  One of the questions raised was how we introduce visitors to groups.  Because we are not rigidly, but more loosely organized, following the energy for certain activities that exists in the groups rather than rules, our groups (e.g. Mariners, Jujikai, Men’s, PPW) generally do not have a very strongly defined  identity. If they did it might mean they might not be as open and welcoming to outsiders. This is something to ponder. It is important to remember that visitors all have their own comfort level when it comes to integration.  Then there is the heart and soul of welcoming.  We can do the mechanics of welcoming well, be good hosts and integrate people, but this only truly works when it the welcoming is felt to be authentic and from the heart.  You said that we do quite well there. Then there is the welcoming to the outside, going out into the community and representing the congregation. A number of you would like to see more outreach to the community and to young people in particular; in other words going to people in addition to having them come to us.

A footnote to this discussion is that the session is having discussions about what our relationship should be to groups who come to us for the use of our facilities.  I notice that often it is easier to invite in individuals than groups.  This is something we will have to find answers too in the next six months or so and the session may need your help in answering these questions.  I encourage you to reflect deeply on what our philosophy of welcoming should be and devise a strategy for “radical” welcoming. This philosophy and strategy could determine how outside groups enhance or complete our sense of Christian mission in God’s world. Thanks for participating! I look forward to the meeting reports of the last two groups. May God bless our ministry. Aart

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Reflection June 29

Published on August 2, 2014 by in Reflections

Genesis 22: 3-12; Matthew 10: 40, 42

The spectrum of sacrifice

When I was living in Hawaii one summer many years ago a book that was very popular there was a book about the Japanese immigrants in Hawaii called “For the sake of the children.”  I thought that was a beautiful title, but a heavy one also.  Does that mean that all your life is about, to equip the next generation?  All you do in life is a sacrifice for the future of your children? Having raised two children, I understand better now.  But there is an implication here: the children will have to do all for their children so they can have a good life.  Success demands success demands success demands success, from generation to generation. There is a lot of pressure there.  Of course in reality over time each generation takes it less seriously, as they assimilate into the US with its culture that’s strong in its own way.

What a far cry from the story of Abraham getting ready to sacrifice Isaac.  There is no case of for the sake of the child here.  It’s the child given to please the Divine.  A terrified child becomes a test case and perhaps never regains his trust for his old eccentric father, questioning the old man’s love deep in his soul.  Is he a just a small piece in God’s giant chess game or does he really matter?  Whatever Abraham does will damage him beyond repair. The sacrifice of the child will tear apart every sinew of his being.  Disobeying God will bankrupt him spiritually.  Remember, this is also the man who also sends Isaac’ half brother Ishmael into the wilderness. There is a masterpiece by Spanish sculptor Alonso Berruguete sculpted between 1526 and 1532 of the sacrifice of Isaac.  There is a more famous depiction by Donatello which shows that the reality that this is a test is just beginning to dawn on Abraham.  Berruguete captures the moment before the arrival of the news by an angelic being.  This is the moment of the purest agony with Abraham crying to God and stroking the hair of Isaac who is tied up and in distress, perhaps feeling himself at the mercy of a father gone mad.  The piece shows at its deepest level art can give us a glimpse of the soul.  The sacrifice Abraham thinks he must make is the ultimate sacrifice, way beyond the sacrifice of one’s own life, a moment when devotion and insanity seem to blend.  Sacrifice of course is very important in many religions, even to this day.  Animals are usually the victim, but not always.  Terry Eagleton writes the following about sacrifice (The Nature of Evil in ‘The Best Spiritual Writing 2013, Philip Zaleski ed., Penguin Books 2012, p. 18):” Sacrifice is the act by which the ……….scapegoat, undergoes the turbulent passage from weakness to power. It is only by identifying with this ……cast-out thing that the city can be saved, that which is torn and bleeding can be made whole, justice can be accomplished, and life can be snatched from the jaws of death.”

Friends, sacrifice takes many forms. In war there is much sacrifice, of life and limb. There can be sacrifice of money, sacrifice of time, sacrifice of ego, sacrifice of physical effort, of security and certainty.  To be truly alive at one point means to having sacrificed something.  Perhaps the least significant will be a glass of water.  Or when I was going down a steep hill on my bicycle last week and the chain popped off with a huge noise and a nice young man running by helped me put it back on: a sacrifice of time, however short.  Sacrifice often happens in very small increments and instants, but without it the fabric of our communities and societies would unravel. Yes, the sacrifice for evil also exists. Sometimes we sacrifice for the wrong things, perhaps to be liked and accepted, perhaps to get a favor in return, perhaps because we are naïve at that moment.

Friends, Abraham’s aborted sacrifice of Isaac is not some cruel joke. The story is crucial to understand the Christian Gospel, that God will do that which God does not in the end ask of human beings, a sacrifice of one’s own self in the One we call God’s “Son.”  This is necessary to show the incredible and unimaginable unconditional love God feels for each of us. There was no other way to show it.

David Livingston wrote many years ago: “People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply acknowledging a great debt we owe to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny? It is emphatically no sacrifice. Rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, danger, foregoing the common conveniences of this life–these may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment.”

Friends, none of us are David Livingstone, but all of are called to some kind of sacrifice, not for the sake of sacrifice, but the sake of showing God’s love to other humans who so desperately need  it.  It may be as small as the giving of a glass of water that will prove crucial, but what will be your sacrifice? Thanks be to God.

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Reflection June 22

Published on June 25, 2014 by in Reflections

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

Counting the Uncounted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reflection June 15

Published on June 25, 2014 by in Reflections

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

Rethinking fatherhood

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

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

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

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

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

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Reflection June 8

Published on June 25, 2014 by in Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Coach’s Corner

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

Facility fact sheet

Dear friends,

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

Groups regularly using the church facilities:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facility maintenance:

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

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

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

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

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

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