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Coach’s corner

Published on October 11, 2014 by in Coach's Corner

Parkview: a model or one of a kind?

As I reported last month the session has decided to continue with our exploration, not as five groups but as a single group to which everyone is invited.  The meetings will be a blend of social time and some discussion. It will be a good event to invite newcomers to.  Session also said they would like to see a book discussion group that would focus on issues relevant to the church, e.g. leadership, youth culture , worship models.

To stimulate your thinking on the future of our congregation, I would like to ask: is the way we do things at Parkview (informally, multiculturally, inclusively, non-dogmatically, non-guilt based, collectively, family-style, with a food-oriented approach, attentively, holistically) a model for other churches? Or are we a one-of-kind congregation surviving the way we think is best in our specific context? I thought about that this last month as we attended mass in the Notre Dame in Paris and when I sat in the pews in the old Protestant church in The Hague where the former Dutch Queen often sits in the balcony, just a few hundred feet from the city hall where my parents were married. Would a Parkview “work” there as well as in different places in the US?

I would like to raise two sub-questions to this question.  A. Do we exhibit any of the pitfalls of the contemporary congregation Jim Tautger identifies?  Here they are: 1. Worship wars. One or more factions in the church want the music just the way they like it. Any deviation is met with anger and demands for change. The order of service must remain constant. Certain instrumentation is required while others are prohibited. 2. Prolonged minutia meetings. The church spends an inordinate amount of time in different meetings. Most of the meetings deal with the most inconsequential items. 3. Facility focus. The church facilities develop iconic status. One of the highest priorities in the church is the protection and preservation of rooms, furniture, and other visible parts of the church’s buildings and grounds. 4. Program driven. Every church has programs even if they don’t admit it… The problem is not with programs. The problem develops when the program becomes an end instead of a means to greater ministry. 5. Inwardly focused budget. A disproportionate share of the budget is used to meet the needs and comforts of the members instead of reaching beyond the walls of the church. 6. Inordinate demands for pastoral care. All church members deserve care and concern, especially in times of need and crisis. Problems develop, however, when church members have unreasonable expectations for even minor matters.  7. Attitudes of entitlement. This issue could be a catch-all for many of the points named here. The over-arching attitude is one of demanding and having a sense of deserving special treatment. 8. Greater concern about change than the gospel. Almost any noticeable changes in the church evoke the ire of many; but those same passions are not evident about participating in the work of the gospel to change lives. 9. Anger and hostility. Members are consistently angry. They regularly express hostility toward the church staff and other members.10. Evangelistic apathy. Very few members share their faith on a regular basis. More are concerned about their own needs rather than the needs of the world and community in which they live.  Although we could dedicate more of our budget to mission beyond ourselves and although we would not get a perfect score, I do not see a red flag in any of these areas.  So we are doing something right.

B. Do we read society well?  It is possible that we could “get church right” even if we do not understand society. The odds are against it, however.  For example, do we as a congregation grasp that because of the busy life of people n their twenties, thirties and forties, the Church is largely for the young and the over-fifty?  Do we understand that youth are so busy meeting all the extracurricular requirements for college entry and engaging in sports that church activities are often a luxury?  The pressures to succeed in an economy with a widening achievement and wealth gap are getting greater every year.  Do we understand that in the seventies the Church was losing the educated while holding on to the less educated, but that now that statistic has flipped? The educated are more likely to be in church and the less educated are getting exhausted trying to survive.  Do we understand that the youngest generations are less interested in rock band style worship and more in mystery and in what’s real?  If you have an opinion, let me know. Thanks for all you do. May God bless our ministry. Aart

 
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Reflection September 28, 2014

Published on October 11, 2014 by in Reflections

Ezekiel 18: 1-3, Matthew 21: 23-32

The blame game

Do you ever play the blame game? Does anybody ever do so with you?  Just the fact that there is an expression “the blame game” shows that it is a common thing.  The prophet Ezekiel steps right into the middle of this old game.  Ezekiel speaks critically for God and the people respond defensively:”It’s not our fault. The problems we face is because our parents.  That’s most likely what the words of the text mean:”The parents eat sour grapes and the childrens’ teeth are set on edge.”  Jesus too has to deal with people who are blameless.  The chiefs and elders in Matthew want to pin Him down by asking questions about His authority.  Jesus cannot be seen as being called on the carpet. So He comes up with a question of His own:” By what authority did John baptize? Now they are on the defensive. If it’s human authority the people will be angry at them, if is God’s, then why have they themselves excluded themselves?”  So they say they don’t know. But that’s not honest, because they refused John’s baptism because they did not want to appear sinful. As experts and leaders they had to appear blameless.

Blame has been around forever. It started with Adam’s story and all other earliest humans. “There is enough blame to go around” is really a saying, because most of us don’t practice it.  Blame always belongs most heavily to someone else.

Friends, to give blame can often feel good. To receive blame is endlessly painful. Humans are one with hating the label “to blame” when it is assigned to them.  Much of our lives are spent assigning the blame to others and avoiding it for ourselves.  Just two weeks or so ago in Pretoria, South Africa Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius was convicted of culpable manslaughter in the death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.  The defense tried to find ways to not make him to blame, that somehow he could get a pass. That didn’t work, although he avoided the worst charge.  That was perhaps one of the most

blatant efforts in escaping blame, especially since no one denied he fired the guns with the bullets that killed his girlfriend. In that same South Africa a decade or so before that the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” held hearings in which perpetrators of crimes by the Apartheid regime were to tell of those crimes in front of the relatives of the murdered and in return for their honesty and shame and acceptance of blame, they would not be tried and convicted.  Church officials were the drivers behind this unprecedented trial without trial.  It was very Christian: true repentance is enough and you will be forgiven.  But it did not heal the deep anger that existed in South Africa of the rich and the powerful who killed the poor and frustrated at random?  It was idealistic and raw and beautiful and awful.  But was it justice?   It perhaps was better than the pitiful way the crimes of the Khmer Rouge were accounted or the crimes of so many occupying countries.  The people of Rwanda seem to have learned the lessons and people are allowed to take their time to find solace. They are not asked to rush through their grief and rage.  There is an acknowledgement that the injustice done is so deep and traumatizing that you to assign and accept blame is not enough.

Of course friends, these are the excesses of human sin we describe.  Most of the things in life that people assign and receive blame for are a lot more simple and not as heinous.  As our lives become longer we have the chance to blame lots of people : we can blame our parents and we do, we can blame our teachers and we do, we can blame our siblings and we do, we can blame our politicians and we do that with abandon, we can play our pastors, no please don’t!  Yes pastors need to be blamed sometimes too.  But there is something God knows that in the relatively short lives of humans to live with blame, either as one who hands it out or who gets blamed, we cannot be fulfilled when we live under the shadow of blame. It will cripple us and warp all our relationships.  So God came up with a solution that is as weird and strange as it is beautiful: :”Shift the blame to Me. Let Me be the fall ‘guy.’” That is how we get the cross.  That’s is what dying for our sins means, friends.  We are allowed to deflect the blame.  By being forgiven in an act of true forgiveness we can forgive ourselves.  We can liberate ourselves from that crippling sense of blame.   As a result our blaming of others should become less.  The forgiven should forgive. But no one can tell another human being who has suffered deeply to let go of their anger and resentment or tell them when or how to do this.  You can’t force healing.  Emotional pain is too personal to be removed by prescription.  May God help us all.

 
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Reflection September 21, 2014

Published on October 11, 2014 by in Reflections

Exodus 16: 1-10; Matthew 20: 10-14

 

Our fair share

 

The well known popular songwriter Paul William co-wrote a song “My fair share” with Paul Fox. It was recorded by the singing duo “Seals and Crofts.” They are a duo from Texas who were popular in the late seventies. Seals and Crofts were kind of a blip on the musical radar. Maybe this was partly because they were so vocal about their Baha’i faith, a religion with about five million adherents that is headquartered in Haifa in Israel.  It came out of the Shiite tradition in Iran in the nineteenth century but it is heavily persecuted there. Its main values are the unity of humanity, the unity of religion and the unity of God. It comes close to Unitarian Universalism in the US. This is good background for why their songs are a mix of pop, rock and mysticism. But the harmonies and lyrics can be quite good:” Lost, lost as a child’s first thought I must have arms to hold me. Lost without loving care I will have my fair share Fair, fair is a changing word, Fair is an honored promise, Justice if you’re  still there, I will have my fair share, Justice is a lady, Lay me down with justice, In a long white gown, With a breath of love we can share…., Celebrate my fair share.” Now Seals and Crofts tried to make a comeback on several occasions, but were unsuccessful.  They wanted more of their fair share of the musical success I guess.  Crofts now lives on a ranch in the Texas hill country and Seals has a coffee farm in Costa Rica.

Friends, today we are encountering the text in Exodus once more. To me it doesn’t feel that long ago since this text popped up in the lectionary.  The people are distraught. They feel things are worse in the desert than they were in Egypt. They complain bitterly to Moses.  Then God announces a miracle and promises that they will remember that God heard them.  In Matthew Jesus tells the parable of the laborers who all contract to work on the land.  They all receive the same pay, even though some have only worked a few hours and others have toiled all day.  You and I too would be upset.   The land administrator confronts the workers who worked since sun-up and tells them that he has not broken any contract with them.  So why are they complaining? Of course the parable is not about work on the land, it is about anybody can come to faith in Christ at any point during their life without consequences. Jesus knows the issue is controversial and that He will get their attention with this parable.

Friends, getting our fair share.  That is a big question in our lives.  Getting our fair share of attention, getting our fair share of love, getting our fair share of fun, getting our fair share of money, getting our fair share of possessions, getting our fair share of land, getting our fair share of power. The list goes on.  As the song says: “Fair is an honored promise, justice if you’re still there, I will have my fair share.”   We all want to be able to say:” celebrate my fair share.”  But it also says:”fair is a changing word.”  Jesus’ audience sure felt that.   He turns the whole concept of fairness on its head, as far as they are concerned.

When you hear the story of young boy fatally ill on cardboard box on a beach in Liberia, by himself, shunned, because he has Ebola, then we might wonder: ”where is his fair share of this life?”  There is a discussion going on in Bombay, in India about putting air conditioners in commuter trains which carry millions of people a day to work.  The question does not so much have to do with the technology or the cost of it, but with how you close the doors. People are piling out of the doors and dangle off the outside handle bars.  People get pulled into the compartments through a process of sheer suction created by the sweating bodies and spit out again at their appointed station.  Not even a square foot for people to stand on.  How do the inhabitants of the great cities of the world’s developing countries get their fair share?

Perhaps, friends, we find an answer in both our Bible texts and the song.  Fairness and justice do no work and, do not come about without love.  Exodus speaks of God’s miraculous love that will give people their share on their long journey.  Jesus ties them together.  He says that as long as we get what we need it is God’s prerogative to act out of love toward humans.  The song ties in both and justice and love: “lost without loving care, I must have my fair share.”  This is what we can learn in our dealings with the people around us.  People have tried just fairness, communism being one great experiment.” But fairness without love is bound to fail.  We need both. This is perhaps why we can’t find a way to make our world a good place for all, even though we have the know-how. At most we succeed in patches.  We love only a few people, and fail to love the rest.  It is true, it is much to ask. It is a herculean task.   May God help us.

 
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Reflection August 24

Published on October 11, 2014 by in Reflections

Genesis 45: 4,5; Matthew 15: 22-28

An outsider’s view

Cabdrivers in Washington DC see often drive from National airport along to Potomac and the Iwo Jima memorial to Arlington.  They drive along the George Washington Parkway.  When a Washington foreign born cabdriver (they all seem foreign born) was taking his citizenship exam, they asked him: “Who was the first president of the US. His answer: “George Washington Parkway.” An outsider’s view of Us history from the roadmap. It seems there is a new collection out about the marx brothers, Groucho, Harpo and Chico. Will Friedwald reviews (WSJ, August 12, 2014). He writes:” There was always something “other,” something “outsider” about the Marx brothers-they seemed to belong to an entirely different universe, not only from the other actors in the movies, but from each other.. The member sof other comedy teams, ……. were so similar you often couldn’t tell them apart. Others may have had physical contrats-Laurel and Hardy say- or Abbott and Costello-but those seemed to be half of a whole. The Marxes, on the other hand, could have been members of three different teams: one visual, on verbal and the other ethnic and musical. But what ultimately united Harpo, Groucho and Chico was a shared sense of (subversive) realism-each was, in his own way-(anarchically absurdist).  Friends, the Marx brothers in a way did not fit in, but by doing so gave us a new perspective.  They were outsiders looking in.

In Matthew Jesus goes into Tyre and Sidon, out of his land, for a respite, a mental vacation.  A woman comes up to him and asks Him to heal her daughter. Jesus says that He serves His own people and she rebukes Him. It is one of the only instances where Jesus is caught speechless and flatfooted.  The woman embarrasses Him by comparing herself to dogs who get crumbs from under the table.  Jesus is jolted into a new perspective by an outsider at the moment he himself wants to be an outsider, an invisible celebrity.

Friends, Americans have been preoccupied this last week with the passing of Robin Williams.  It is hard to see someone lose heart when so many are counting on him to cheer the up and take life a bit more lightly, for we all take it so seriously sometimes. We are always seeing or hearing about people suffering and hating and being hated.  He was one of those people who took us out of that.  Robin Williams seemed to always try to keep the world at bay with his frantic humor.  But what he was publicly was different from the quiet, unconfident man he was in private.  It was as if he was a stranger, an outsider to the world that he was so embraced by.   People have been sharing Robin Williams insider-outsider view of his Episcopalian church on facebook.   This is what he said:” 10. No snake handling. 9. You can believe in dinosaurs (meaning evolution is not a problem). 8. Male and female God created them; male and female we ordain them. 7. You don’t have to check your brains at the door. 6. Pew aerobics (Episcopalians kneel a lot). 5. Church year is color-coded (they take the colors of the church year much more seriously). 4. Free wine on Sunday (they take communion every week).3. All of the pageantry – none of the guilt. 2. You don’t have to know how to swim to get baptized (meaning baptism with sprinkling not dunking 1. No matter what you believe, there’s bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you.” (Ebb and Flow, St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church News, Santa Monica CA, September 2002).

Friends, in Genesis Joseph is the consummate outsider who becomes the consummate insider.  The Hebrew sold as a slave becomes the right hand man to the Pharaoh and saves his people from famine.  The outsider-insider theme is central to the story as his brothers beg for food aid without knowing who Joseph is.  They who made him the outsider, now they are the empoverished outsiders in this rich, abundant land.

Sometimes we find ourselves outsiders. Maybe it’s at a party.  Maybe it’s at work.  Maybe it’s on the street.  Maybe even in our own family.  Even Jesus found Himself an outsider in his own country, a Prophet not accepted in His own land.

Sometimes we are the insiders.  Sometimes outsiders come to us with huge insight that jolts us and stuns us.  It unsettles us.  We need to be aware of this, for when we are outside of our comfort zone that is when wisdom comes and insight.  The Christian faith is all about being outsiders, looking at the world with a special, unique lens of hope and salvation. It is when the Church becomes the insider that we must be careful. That is when we get complacent and arrogant and we no longer pay attention to  the voice of the outsider and we stop learning.  May God speak in ways we least expect.

 
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Reflection August 17, 2014

Published on October 11, 2014 by in Reflections

Genesis 45: 4,5; Matthew 15: 22-28

An outsider’s view

Cabdrivers in Washington DC see often drive from National airport along to Potomac and the Iwo Jima memorial to Arlington.  They drive along the George Washington Parkway.  When a Washington foreign born cabdriver (they all seem foreign born) was taking his citizenship exam, they asked him: “Who was the first president of the US. His answer: “George Washington Parkway.” An outsider’s view of Us history from the roadmap. It seems there is a new collection out about the marx brothers, Groucho, Harpo and Chico. Will Friedwald reviews (WSJ, August 12, 2014). He writes:” There was always something “other,” something “outsider” about the Marx brothers-they seemed to belong to an entirely different universe, not only from the other actors in the movies, but from each other.. The member sof other comedy teams, ……. were so similar you often couldn’t tell them apart. Others may have had physical contrats-Laurel and Hardy say- or Abbott and Costello-but those seemed to be half of a whole. The Marxes, on the other hand, could have been members of three different teams: one visual, on verbal and the other ethnic and musical. But what ultimately united Harpo, Groucho and Chico was a shared sense of (subversive) realism-each was, in his own way-(anarchically absurdist).  Friends, the Marx brothers in a way did not fit in, but by doing so gave us a new perspective.  They were outsiders looking in.

In Matthew Jesus goes into Tyre and Sidon, out of his land, for a respite, a mental vacation.  A woman comes up to him and asks Him to heal her daughter. Jesus says that He serves His own people and she rebukes Him. It is one of the only instances where Jesus is caught speechless and flatfooted.  The woman embarrasses Him by comparing herself to dogs who get crumbs from under the table.  Jesus is jolted into a new perspective by an outsider at the moment he himself wants to be an outsider, an invisible celebrity.

Friends, Americans have been preoccupied this last week with the passing of Robin Williams.  It is hard to see someone lose heart when so many are counting on him to cheer the up and take life a bit more lightly, for we all take it so seriously sometimes. We are always seeing or hearing about people suffering and hating and being hated.  He was one of those people who took us out of that.  Robin Williams seemed to always try to keep the world at bay with his frantic humor.  But what he was publicly was different from the quiet, unconfident man he was in private.  It was as if he was a stranger, an outsider to the world that he was so embraced by.   People have been sharing Robin Williams insider-outsider view of his Episcopalian church on facebook.   This is what he said:” 10. No snake handling. 9. You can believe in dinosaurs (meaning evolution is not a problem). 8. Male and female God created them; male and female we ordain them. 7. You don’t have to check your brains at the door. 6. Pew aerobics (Episcopalians kneel a lot). 5. Church year is color-coded (they take the colors of the church year much more seriously). 4. Free wine on Sunday (they take communion every week).3. All of the pageantry – none of the guilt. 2. You don’t have to know how to swim to get baptized (meaning baptism with sprinkling not dunking 1. No matter what you believe, there’s bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you.” (Ebb and Flow, St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church News, Santa Monica CA, September 2002).

Friends, in Genesis Joseph is the consummate outsider who becomes the consummate insider.  The Hebrew sold as a slave becomes the right hand man to the Pharaoh and saves his people from famine.  The outsider-insider theme is central to the story as his brothers beg for food aid without knowing who Joseph is.  They who made him the outsider, now they are the empoverished outsiders in this rich, abundant land.

Sometimes we find ourselves outsiders. Maybe it’s at a party.  Maybe it’s at work.  Maybe it’s on the street.  Maybe even in our own family.  Even Jesus found Himself an outsider in his own country, a Prophet not accepted in His own land.

Sometimes we are the insiders.  Sometimes outsiders come to us with huge insight that jolts us and stuns us.  It unsettles us.  We need to be aware of this, for when we are outside of our comfort zone that is when wisdom comes and insight.  The Christian faith is all about being outsiders, looking at the world with a special, unique lens of hope and salvation. It is when the Church becomes the insider that we must be careful. That is when we get complacent and arrogant and we no longer pay attention to  the voice of the outsider and we stop learning.  May God speak in ways we least expect.

 
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Reflection August 3, 2014

Published on October 11, 2014 by in Reflections

Genesis 32: 26-30: Psalm 17: 1-3

 Struggle and wisdom

There is a comedy show that features a skit called “what’s up with that.”  The talk show hosts winds up asking celebrity guests inane questions, but before they can answer he breaks out in song featuring repeatedly the words “what’s up with that.”  All he is interested in is singing  the theme song of his show.  He is happy just to sing out the question” what’s up with that.” It’s a common question in our society.  It is the first line of much of American contemporary comedy: “what’s up with that?”  Seinfeld, an eighties show was said to have been a tv show about “nothing.” It meant on for many years.  Sometimes you and I just want to talk about nothing.  We just want to talk about inane things, because it reminds us that life is good and controllable and predictable.  Friends, I have a question for you and that is “What’s up with Jacob?” But really it’s not a bad question.

Jacob is the third of the three Hebrew patriarchs.  While some of the characters in the Bibles get only a paragraph or two, Jacob gets several good size chapters.  There are many dimensions to Jacob’s story.  He is born to Isaac and Rebecca as the younger and less manly of the two brothers.  His mother favors him and thus commits the sin of favoritism.  This forces him into exile and he winds up in the land of his uncle.  On his way out he has a dream. In it God reaches out to him.  God’s love for him is stronger than his misdeeds. Last week we saw that he works hard and responsibly, but it is almost as if there is some Bible karma here: the trickster is tricked, the cheater is cheated. On is wedding night he finds out he has married his beloved’s older sister after working for her for seven years. So he works another seven.  Today it is time for Jacob to return to his land and face his brother, but he faces a moment of struggle so deep.  Being a spiritual person he senses something is about to happen and he sends everybody across the stream. He fights with a stranger. Some say it is an angel, others say it is God, again others say it is his conscience. So many other things happen that this would make a good K-drama set in the palace:   a tale of two brothers, the sin of favoritism, betrayal, flight out of the Promised Land, a dream and a memorial, hard work, love, betrayal, love, struggle, return,  a vast land run by his offspring, loss, the sin of favoritism,  an attempt at fratricide of Joseph by his brothers, famine, the flight to Egypt, reunion. Three lands, two wives, many sons, three countries. But I think today’s story is the richest of the ones about Jacob, one of the richest in the Bible.  First there is lonely struggle, not the struggle with an audience as in the movies, then the opponent who is never completely revealed, then the injury to the bone and the limp it creates, then the request for a blessing, then the giving of the new name, “struggle with God,” or “Prince of God.”  Just this story tells us not what’s up with Jacob, but it tells us what’s up with us.  First, we too must struggle with our spiritual life and our conscience alone. Sure we try to give other people easy answers about faith, but they have to make it their own. Second, we sometimes don’t know who our opponent is, whom we are fighting with.  Sometimes it is the past, sometimes it is our anger, sometimes it is our fear.  But struggle we must, pushing beyond our comfort zones. But then as we wrestle with who we think we are and as we wrestle with what we believe, we are blessed at the end of it.  We are renewed.  It is almost as we have a new name or should have a new name, but we stop short of that because we don’t want to change the name on our driver’s license or on our bills, our deeds and our email even.  Friends, Jacob becomes Israel. He comes closer to becoming the man God wants him to be and he takes his people with him. His name and the name of his people become the same and will forever be linked. Because the church is the new ISRAEL, we too are forever linked with Jacob.  As Christians who are part of that name, we have to take life and our calling within it seriously.  To do that means to wrestle with ourselves.  Like any wrestling match, this leaves us bruised and even limping.  At last week’s conference at Tahoe during an hour and a half break a massage expert spoke to us and had us do exercises and one of the first things she had us do was check all our joints. This made me realize how many sports injuries I have.  These are not serious, but we also have our spiritual injuries and scars. They too may not be crippling, they are reminders of our struggles to become the honest, real, authentic and compassionate people God wants to be.  Friends, personal struggle, injury, blessing, name. These are all part of Jacob’s crucial experiences in today’s text.  They are also part of the Christian life toward growth.  Faith is no cake walk. It is also not a crutch. It is a mirror, but it is also a journey from one place to another, from one stage of life to another.  The journey continues. Thanks be to God.

 
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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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