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Reflection November 1, 2015

Published on November 5, 2015 by in Reflections

Genesis 32:27-30; Revelation 21:5

Naming the mission

We have talked about Jacob and his quest for a mission as the new patriarch of the Hebrew people. He had to return from exile and face his past, and thereby, his brother, all alone. In this finding or naming of a new mission there are several elements. First he must name struggle. His struggle is with himself and with his conscience. Second, he must be renamed. He becomes Israel, Prince of God. Third he must name the place where his mission takes place and he calls it face of God. Finally he must name the mission itself. In his case it will be the generational leader of his people. Let us see if we can apply this to other things.
I talked to you about Grace Damman featured in the documentary States of Grace. She is the physician who working with dying AIDS patients in San Francisco in the early eighties who with her partner adopt an AIDS baby and live together in their Buddhist Community in Marin County. Then comes the accident on the Golden Gate Bridge which her daughter survives unhurt but that almost kills Grace. After more than a dozen surgeries she completely becomes a disabled person who is dependent on others and feels she is a burden to others. Again we can name the struggle, to live with her disability and dependency. We can name the person: Grace the person rather than Grace the famous physician, we can name the place, her community and home (more than the hospital where she worked) and we can name the mission: to show a new State of Grace and move through her grief to a new way of contributing to her family and beyond.
Friends, we talked also of the Dutch Javanese lawyer, a man whose tradition told him to change his name in different stages of life and who was a magistrate of a small city and who nearly faced his doom at the hands of his enemies. He survives because he has changed his name, taking his father’s. He is there because he can name his struggle and that struggle is to help found an independent nation, liberated from the Dutch. He names the place, the town called Madiun which is synonymous with a volatile history of the birth of a new nation and finally he must name his mission: to found a judiciary that is independent and has integrity and so he becomes the first Head of the Central Java Supreme Court.
Friends, so it seems when we talk about personal mission that people have, Jacob’s experience applies: there is struggle, there is a new identity, there is the understanding how important this place is. Finally there is naming the mission itself.
How is this true for you? Are you perhaps in a stage in your life when you have to define a new mission for yourself as individuals: where is the struggle, what is the name you would give yourself, what it so significant about the place you find yourself and how would you describe your mission? Maybe it’s a bit heavy, but it’s worth a thought.
If it is true that Jacob’s experience applies to people, then maybe it can be true of groups of people too, for instance or specifically rather, this congregation. Our exploration groups have taken us to the threshold of a new mission statement. First, we too face a struggle: as an inclusive multicultural community with people from different faith backgrounds to be the church in a meaningful and timely way. Second, we must have a new name, a new identity, for we cannot stay the same. Third, we must rename the place we find itself: is it just this buildings, just this little campus, is it the streets around here or further out. Finally we must name the mission itself. Now I think you have spent a lot of time in the exploration groups thinking about the first three already: 1. Parkview’s struggle, 2. Parkview’s identity, 3. The place or places where Parkview wants to serve, this coming Saturday during the exploration group meeting at the Hill’s house you need to talk about how you name the mission for the coming years, write your mission statement which perhaps should mention all three: struggle, identity and place.
But wait a second, there is still that verse from the Book of Revelation that talks about God making all things new. It is in our readings to remind us that we should not just look at what’s around us to see how we should be the church. We should also listen for what God moves toward us. Where our work and God’s will come together, that is where our true mission will be. May God as Holy Spirit give you insight.

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Coach’s Corner

Published on November 5, 2015 by in Coach's Corner

Filing a flight plan

Dear friends,

By now it should be clear that the traveling metaphors I have been using in the last several coach’s corners are all over the map. One article had “All aboard “as a title and another “Full steam ahead.” So from trains to ships to planes with “Filing a flight plan.” I wanted to remind you not just of where we are, but where we are going. Some time ago in another coach’s corner I discussed the task of exploration groups (to determine where we are going as a congregation) and a task of the session: to help make our church not only multicultural but also more inter generational. The residency program is one vehicle to reach that last goal. It will bring new pastoral leaders among us for a year at a time with new ideas and energy. The residency preparation group (Titus Toyama, Maurine Huang and Carol Sakai) have finished up a program description and church/ supervisory profile and are now working on the residents’ job description. Meanwhile the Kansha house renovations are ahead of schedule with the help of Stan Umeda and Barbara Hiyama-Zweig. While you may notice that we have an income-expenditure gap in our finances through September) ( note: the highly successful rummage sale and breakfast earnings have not yet been posted), generous gifts to the Kansha renovation fund have been steadily coming in. In the attempt at regeneration we also have to do more to welcome little children and I am grateful for Julie Chew’s once a month availability to help the preschool age. In addition Wade Tambara and Ben Pryor who are already active as leaders of the College Hi group are stepping in to help with the Sunday school for the older ages.

This brings me back to the exploration task. Now that we are anticipating more crew to help “fly”our Parkview “plane,” like with any airplane there has to be a flight plan filed. In our case this is a mission statement that will determine our direction, our compass heading. The last exploration group meeting established goals found creative worship, community involvement and outreach. Now this will need to be translated into a mission statement. I will be meeting with moderator Lois van Beers to formulate some questions before the November 7 meeting at the Hill’s home which we hope you will be able to attend. It is the session and the pastor’s task to find the tools to equip our mission, but the task of the exploration group meetings to chart the course. Thank your for all your support and participation. May God bless our ministry. Aart

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Reflection October 25, 2015

Published on November 5, 2015 by in Reflections

Job 42: 8,10; Mark 10: 46-48

When words fail

In our Parkview sermon format we have three moments and dimensions: encounter with the text, connecting with life and finding new meaning. These are all important moments so it may be good that we space them out. During my two weeks of study leave/vacations I attended part or most of three conferences. One was a pastor’s conference at Zephyr Point that was about encountering the text. The second was about interpretation, not just of language, but of the context in which we live. One thing we heard at that conference was “we don’t interpret words, but we interpret meaning.” Words by themselves mean nothing after all. It’s like when we hear a foreign word and don’t know the meaning, it has no significance. Also, words only have meaning in context. For instance, to us “cool” means more than “not warm.” “Bad” can mean “good” among a certain part of the population. Some words have no real translation. Many Asian languages have different words for people with a different status in society. When we talk about connecting with life in our worship service, we are interpreting the text in to our life, into our contemporary context, trying to find stories, events, experiences that give us clue into how the text we just re-acquainted ourselves has to do with us. So it serves as a kind of bridge. The third conference was the Congress of the International Council of Pastoral Care and Counselors. Many of those people were chaplains and chaplain educators. There was a widowed woman from Burma who is developing chaplaincy training all on her own in her country. There were also 5 chaplains on oil rigs off Norway. The overriding concern of people there was how pastoral care people can come in contact with suffering people and have empathy. Then there is third part of our sermon: finding new meaning. If it turns out well, we will find together or be reminded together a kind of empathy and compassion for human beings and perhaps for ourselves also. So my point is that from these three conferences I learned something different each time for the work that I do here.
That being said, how can it help us get a clue about Job and the blind beggar that came up to Jesus? I think Mark gets it right and Job’s author gets it wrong. Mark talks about the blind beggar and how he shouts out:” have mercy on me.” It is a cry of despair that he has to time just right. This may be the only moment he has. This Jesus may be his only hope. But he says:” have mercy.” That strikes us as odd perhaps. We would expect: “have pity on us.” But after two thousand years we don’t know the exact meaning that word had in its context, other than that the society would have seen the blind man’s suffering as a punishment perhaps. It’s almost like a kind of karma. But it is possible Jesus Himself was a bit taken aback and He asks:”What is it that you want me to do for me.” It is as if words fail the beggar and maybe that is just right. His suffering is inexpressible and his sorrow unexplainable.
Job’s story is the most sorrowful of stories: forty-two chapters of intense suffering and loss and wondering why. But after finishing it contemporary readers will walk away shaking their head. Job’s story becomes the story of a patched-up life. Oh, yes there is new cattle and new offspring. “That’ll make him feel better and he gets to grow older than almost anyone ever.” The problem the narrator has is that he wants to solve problems and explain why Job suffers so much. It’s almost as if he wants to explain it all away. He takes a clinical, scientific approach. And we leave the story uneasy. And that is too bad, because there are many people who can relate to Job’s suffering and outcry. We would not want to take Job out of the Bible. The truth is though that suffering can never be clinically explained. Words are always going to fail. Explanations are often only going to deepen the despair.
This leads me to the story of Catholic theologian Henri Nouwen, a Harvard professor who left the glory of Ivy League teaching behind to go live with developmentally disabled people in Toronto. He said it taught him to understand with the heart, not the mind and that there is powerful wisdom of the heart. Nouwen is known for talking about faith and hinting that it is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be entered into it. One of his quotes (Brainy quote) is “when we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us we often find that it is those who instead of giving advice, solutions and cures have rather chosen to share our pain and touch our wound with a warm and tender hand.” While the narrator of Job’s story is full of empathy throughout the book, he is tempted into delivering a tidy little package. Instead perhaps he should have had words fail and enter the mystery of human life where words fail all the time. With so many people in the media blaring in our ears, perhaps that is not such a bad thing. May God give strength. Amen.

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Reflection October 4, 2015

Published on November 5, 2015 by in Reflections

Mark 10: 14-16; Hebrew 2:6,7
Saint and Sinner

I would like to do something slightly unusual and have three popular songs from decades back do much of the talking for this reflection. But let us first look at the Biblical text. Psalm 8:4 talks about the human being and how fortunate we should feel that God pays attention to us and that we are important to God. This is picked up by the author of Hebrews. The text goes on to say that the human being was made put “just below the ‘angels.’” It is beautiful poetry. The sentiment is that we don’t deserve it. It also sums up the tension that is present in the human condition. We find ourselves between feeling worthless and unworthy of attention and yet full of confidence and accomplishment, on top of the world or on cloud 9. We can’t really predict when those moments will come, when we will be flying high and when we will be hitting rock bottom. In Mark disciples snap at little children for wanting to come close to Jesus and hug him and feel his touch. They can sense they are in the company of someone special! Jesus in turn rebukes the disciples. They are reminded they should become like children to be truly spiritual. Society tends to have the attitude of the disciple: the really important stuff is reserved for adults. There is special stuff for kids. In reality the childish and the adult just like the high and the lowly I just spoke of is more intertwined than we think. People say children are resilient. I believe this is true. But over the many years of pastoral work I have also become aware that the child in the adult is not so resilient. It is not so resilient at all. Childhood stays with us all, from the joyful to the sense of abandonment and the sense of loss and sadness. What stayed with the shooter in Roseburg OR, what lack of resilience, what twistedness was connected with an obsession for firearms?
Stevie Nicks of the Fleetwood Mac sings a song called entitled Landslide : Oh, mirror in the sky
What is love? Can the child within my heart rise above? Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life? It has it all, the child, the worry about the highs and the lows, the fear that we may not be resilient enough to face life. She sings on: “Well, I’ve been afraid of changin’
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you; But time makes you bolder, even children get older And I’m getting older too.” Friends, we reach high points and we reach low points on this rollercoaster we call life. Also there is a child in the adult and the adult in the child. The child has highs and lows, often in rapid succession, from giddy laughter to crying and back again. The adult has high and lows, usually more prolonged and dragged out.
Friends, Harry Chapin was a folk singer who told stories about ordinary people. He has two songs, Taxi and Sequel that form a continuation of each other, written years apart. In the first he is a taxi driver on a rainy day in San Francisco and his ride turns out to be his now successful ex-girlfriend. He sings: It took a while, but she looked in the mirror, And she glanced at the license for my name. A smile seemed to come to her slowly, It was a sad smile, just the same. And she said, “How are you Harry?” I said, “How are you Sue? Through the too many miles and the too little smiles I still remember you.” You see, she was gonna be an actress, And I was gonna learn to fly. She took off to find the footlights, And I took off to find the sky. Past the gate and the fine trimmed lawns. And she said we must get together, But I knew it’d never be arranged. And she handed me twenty dollars for a two fifty fare, she said “Harry, keep the change.” Well another man might have been angry, And another man might have been hurt, But another man never would have let her go…I stashed the bill in my shirt. And she walked away in silence, It’s strange, how you never know, But we’d both gotten what we’d asked for, such a long, long time ago. And here, she’s acting happy, inside her handsome home. And me, I’m flying in my taxi, Taking tips, and getting stoned. So here he is at a low point for him and it’s not necessarily because of his profession. Then in “sequel” he comes back to the city and looks her up. He is the star now and her career has gone downwards. He sings:” I thought about taking a Limousine Or at least a fancy car I ended up taking a taxi ‘Cause that’s how I got this far. Now Sue no longer lives in the mansion and has scaled down. The butler give Harry the address. Chapin sings:” And the look on her face as she opened door was like an old joke told by a friend. It’d taken ten more years, but she’d found her smile and I watched the corners start to bend and she said, ‘How are you Harry? Haven’t we played this scene before” I said, “It’s so good to see you now, Sue. Had to play it out just once more….She said, “I’ve heard you flying high on my radio.” I answered, “It’s not all it seems” That’s when she laughed and she said “It’s better sometimes, when we don’t get to touch our dreams.” That’s when, I asked her where was that actress. She said, “That was somebody else” When I asked her, why she looked so happy now, She said, “I finally like myself, at last I like myself” So we talked all through that afternoon Talking about, where we’d been. We talked of the tiny difference between ending and starting to begin.”
Friends, they talked of the tiny difference between ending and starting to begin. What wisdom in these words. It is a story of the ups and downs of two people trying to find a way, trying to “face the seasons of their lives.” He continues: Yes, I guess it’s a sequel to our story from my journey between Heaven and Hell, with half the time thinking of what might have been And half thinkin’ just as well. I guess only time will tell. Chapin calls it a journey between Heaven and Hell. He is right, it’s a spiritual story. I would call it a journey of grace. Therein lies the real lesson. If we look at the journey of our lives as either failure or accomplishment, good luck and bad luck, escape from reality may be a good option. However, if we see it as a journey of spiritual maturity and the recognition of the grace with which God propels us forward, suddenly our outlook brightens. It is the journey of the lowly human being who can become almost an “angel,” the journey of the sinner who at the same time is a saint. Thanks be to God.

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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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