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Coach’s Corner

Published on January 5, 2017 by in Coach's Corner

Establishing connections

Let me start my thanking you for gifts and cards to our family over the Christmas season.  As much as they were not expected they were very much appreciated.  Once again, if you received no card from us, it is because no one did.  Sorry, this is not our strong suit.

Thank you also for all you all did during the past year to keep our church going.  People don’t realize how many volunteers and donations are needed throughout the year to keep us functioning.  In an earlier Coach’ Corner I talked about the burdens of our volunteer labor pool.  Most small churches have these challenges.  While you always come through, these many tasks limit what we can do in our outreach to the community.  This takes us back to our exploration group meetings of a few years back. Remember how one of the main visions that came out of the last meeting was to be partners in helping the less fortunate in our neighborhood and the city at large?  We have not forgotten about that.  This vision was one of the reasons to start a residency program: so residents could help us develop a network of service that the members of the Parkview family could be engaged in.

There are so many connections that make a city work. There are electricity lines and sewer lines and water lines and gas lines and telephone landlines and fiber optic cable. Some lines of connection are familiar and lasting. Others need to be updated. This is true of the church and its people. This is what Chakrita with the help of her husband Ben started doing during her last two months at Parkview: establishing new lines of connection. She visited a number of churches in our area.  She met with Family Promise, a group bringing together churches from different denominations who take turns housing a group of pre-screened homeless families for a week several times a year.  She went to Downtown Baptist Church and St. Andrew’s A.M.E., both on the east side of South Side Park.  The first is a congregation with a strict doctrine that picks up homeless to attend their church. The second serves a meal for homeless at Thanksgiving. St. John’s Lutheran has a much larger outreach for those with homes and Bethany Presbyterian has a food closet for hungry families.  There are still many churches and non-profits to visit who do their outreach in other ways.  Most of them could use our help.  Not every activity Parkview engages in has to involve everybody and be carried by the congregation.

Friends, it turns out we are not just interdependent in running our church, but we can also function interdependently with compassionate organizations beyond our walls. A web of caring can exist inside but also expand outside. May we be faithful and creative in our wider vision. May God bless our ministry.  Aart





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Reflection New Year’s Day January 1

Published on January 5, 2017 by in Reflections

Psalm 8:3,4; Matthew 25:44,45

Reordering our perspective

The first Sunday of the year should feature a question mark, so today I have a question for you: “How does your faith in God impact your relationship with other people in the world we live in on this New Year’s Day? In other words how does our faith reorder our actions toward others in this specific time?

I vaguely remember having talked about Burt Bacharach a number of years ago, but I don’t remember when that was and what I said, so I guess I can have another go at it.  Burt Bacharach and Hal David songs tried to make sense of relationships in their time in the sixties and seventies. Bacharach’s music was unique in that it operates at the edge of the voice range much of the time. The lyrics make you look at life in a new way. That’s what art is supposed to do. Tell the truth or a truth in a new way. Bacharach and David write about our relationship to each other and to the world, but also there is a spiritual dimension.  While most popular songs sing about the heart, they may begin with a chair. “A chair is still a chair, even when there’s no one sittin’ there. But a chair is not a house and a house is not a home. A room is a still a room, even when there’s nothin’ there but gloom. But a room is not a house and a house is not a home When the two of us are far apart.”  The song reorders the perspective on human experience.

In the song Alfie about a working class English Casanova, they get philosophical in examining the inner life. What’s it all about Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live? What’s it all about, when you sort it out, Alfie?  Are we meant to take more than we give, or are we meant to be kind? And if, if only fools are kind, Alfie, then I guess it is wise to be cruel. And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie, what will you lend on an old golden rule? As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above, Alfie, I know there’s something much more. Something even non-believers can believe in.” You see the spiritual side, the golden rule? Then there is the song “what the world needs now.” It is about love, but it’s vision of the earth as a place that will always be there for us no matter how much we abuse it: “Lord we don’t need another mountain, There are mountains and hillsides Enough to climb. There are oceans and rivers enough to cross. enough to last ‘Till the end of time. Lord we don’t need another meadow. There are corn fields and wheat fields enough to grow. There are sun beams and moon beams enough to shine. Oh listen Lord if you want to know. What the world needs now is love, sweet love, It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of, What the world needs now is love, sweet love, No not just for some but for everyone.” We live in a time when we are aware of how fragile mountains and meadows are. A thinking person would not write a song that way these days.

Friends, we talked about at different times in the history of the world, New Year’s day had a different meaning. Like a hundred year ago or eighty years ago or fifty years ago. Each generation has to decide how to live life with faith in our time and act in a certain way toward others. All of this is never easy.  It begins with the problem of understanding ourselves in our time.  In each phase of life and especially at the beginning of each year when we are more introspective, we have to deal with who we have become, one year older and accept who we have become and think of ways to be better and more effective.  Around that central point are all our relationships.  As hard as understanding ourselves is, it is even harder to understand the people we love.  We may know them very well, each trait and attitude, each of their favorite stories, but we may not understand them.  We try and we come up with new angles and perspectives. Even if we have known people for decades, there is always something new to learn.  Beyond that are the people we know but do not know well.  And beyond all that but connected to us is God.  Our relationship with God changes as the years pass.  That will not come as a surprise to you.

The book of Genesis offers a great new idea for its time:”that humans are made in the image of God.” Psalm sing a slightly different song: “What are humans that You are mindful of them.” And then it goes on to say that in spite of our lowliness humans have been place just “below the angels.”  Then at Christmas, which we celebrated last week, at the beginning of the Gospels, God becomes one of us. Finally, in today’s lectionary  at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says:”whenever you help someone in need, you help me.” So God has truly become the lowliest human.  It is a total reordering of the way we look at the world, even to this today, where the powerful, the well-connected and the famous are still the ones we aspire to be.  So the narrative of the Bible challenges all that. Friends, how can we challenge ourselves on this day?

Let me end with you the translation of some lines from a Dutch poem: “One star makes the atmosphere less threatening. One candle makes the light less dark. One hand makes the road less lonely. One voice makes the day less silent. One spark can start a fire. One note starts a song. One child is the start of the future.” Thanks be to God!

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Reflection Christmas December 25

Published on January 5, 2017 by in Reflections

Luke 1:16-19; (II Corinthians 12:9)

The power of the fragile

In a Woody Allen movie the controversial actor portrays a physically powerless man who describes a fight he was in, somehow trying to spin the story (I am adlibbing):” Well first he hit my chin with his fist and then my stomach with his other fist but then I got back at him by hitting his knee with my eye.”

Friends, you and I are hearing a lot of muscular talk these days.  And if you are paying attention it is not just in this country, but around the world.  There are lots of tough talking men who are going to make sure their country will stand up for itself.  It is all about the identity of the majority.  The last decade or so much of the world seemed to be moving more toward more diversity. Minorities, whether they be racial or religious or sexual have found the voice to express their unique identity.  But now majorities (and sometimes powerful minorities) are asserting themselves with shocking bigotry and authoritarianism.  The fights are going on in North Carolina, but also in Germany and Holland and France and Britain and Poland and Turkey.  In Russia the strong man has already won. China has never seen anything but strongmen. In Korea, corruption is fighting with democracy as it always has. After the gruesome truck attack in Germany’s capital, that country’s democracy is in grave peril. In moderate Indonesia, the Christian Chinese Governor of the capital region is now under fire by corrupt business men who are using the identity of the country’s poorly educated Muslim majority to squash positive change.  I saw a cartoon of a map of the world that showed not the name of each major country but instead: Russia first, America first, China first, Turkey first, Germany first.  What happens to the peace of the world when everyone wants to flex his muscles?

The child Jesus is born into a world where perhaps history’s greatest empire ruled the ancient world.  The child winds up born in Bethlehem because the emperor wishes to count his subjects. This weak child, illegitimate in the eyes of society with no room to be born, is the ultimate image of frailty.  All powers are threatened by Him.  It is weakness against power.

The story goes that after the Emperors of Austria died their coffin would arrive at an old monastery in Vienna and there the leader the procession would hit on the large wooden door with his staff. Inside one could hear the trembling voice of an old monk, who asked:”Who is there?” And the leader of the procession would say:”His imperial and royal, apostolic majesty, Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary” and then some five hundred more of such titles or something. It would stay quiet inside. After this the leader of the procession would hit the door three more times and raffle off the same mind numbing list of titles three more times. Each time again the monk would ask:”Who is there?” Finally the procession would answer:”A poor sinner.” Only then would the doors slowly open.  It turns out that the powerful emperor-king passes out of life a poor sinner. It’s the only way to do it. All his gold and wealth do not make a difference. It’s just superficial, gold leaf, window dressing.  The only way he is going to find peace is as a poor sinner.   The emperor has no clothes. Friends, I just talked to you about the old monk in the Italian film “The Confessions.” He is a man with no possessions and no agenda but he becomes an influence in a group of the world’s most powerful economists.   Weakness becomes more powerful than power. Power collapses in on itself.

The Apostle Paul comes up with the mind bending saying:”when I am weak I am strong.”  See your program cover for that.  When a believer in Christ does not have power, she or he focuses on the grace of God.  That is the message of Christmas. Inside the fragile is hidden the love of the Creator God. This is an enormous comfort to Paul and to his fellow believers. It should be to us also.

Friends, in the commercial society we find ourselves in, we are told that we have power and control and yes there is a certain power in being a consumer.  Yet we are deeply uncomfortable with our own frailty and weakness. We try to hide it and cover up.  But deep down inside we are all insecure about our abilities and capabilities. We know the limits of our bodies and our minds and our energy.  Weakness is okay says Paul at his wisest, knowing more than most people know now.  Acknowledging your weakness opens you open to contemplating God.  The birth of the Messiah remind us that weakness can be more powerful than power, for this story has outlasted kings and emperors and other strongmen who are mostly forgotten and just poor sinners in the end. Thanks be to God.

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Reflection December 18

Published on January 5, 2017 by in Reflections

Isaiah 7: 14; Matthew 1: 22-24


Emanuel means “God with us,” “God-with-us.”  You and I we get the concept of God, although we have different opinions and visions of Who God is.  You and I also get the idea of “us,” although we may have different view of who “us” is.  There are many ‘usses’ in America these days. So two out of three of these words are understandable to us, but when you add the word “with” things get more complicated, much more complicated.  What does “God with us” really mean?  If you read the Old Testament it will become clear that the people Israel often assumed that God- with- them meant God was on their side and very much not on the side of other people.  They felt so strongly about it that they may have put words in God’s mouth indicating that their opponents would suffer a horrible fate at the hands of God.

                We are approaching NFL play-off time, so pretty soon some Christian player with bad theology is going to be thanking God in front of the camera for having his team win the game that so broke the hearts of their opponents.  I saw a cartoon recently with a football player saying something like this with a sad face:  ”I just want to thank Jesus for having us lose so terribly to the other team.”  We never hear that, do we?  Friends, what does “God-with-us” in our day and age mean?

                We have pretty good idea what God-with-us meant in the times into which Jesus was born.  Here was a people who had bounced back from slavery in Egypt, many years roaming the Sinai desert, the Assyrian and the Babylonian exiles and now they were under the cruel thumb of the Roman empire.

They were sick of their own people allowing themselves to be used by the Romans and selling out.  They were sick of the routine crucifixion of opponents of the Roman regime.  Groups of rebels were forming all around. A group of purist who saw a coming age of justice called the Essenes lived in caves near the Dead Sea where they penned documents on scrolls that tell us about the spirit of that day.  Seventy years after Jesus’ birth the Romans would destroy the temple for good and set the city of Jerusalem on fire and exacted horrible retribution for the first Jewish revolt. The people of those days read Isaiah and saw the hope of a new time.  In general God-with-them meant an actual Messiah who would lead the people to freedom and justice.  Jesus was born into that expectation, that anticipation.

                Friends, what does “God-with-us” mean in our time?  What does it mean to you when you get up in the morning and you face the task of the day?   What does it mean when the days are not so good and the burdens of life press down on you?  Does it mean that every request we throw out at God will be fulfilled? Does it mean we feel God’s presence with us?  That may be different for you here.  What does God-with-you mean when you face illness and grief?

                Three days ago white supremacist Dylann Roof was found guilty on 31 counts for the homicide of unsuspected church parishioners attending a Bible study at an African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. What did it mean to the victims and to their relatives when the young gunman was invited into their midst, sat down, listened to the Bible study and then opened fire. 

                A video was released last week of orphans in Aleppo, Syria.  One of them pleaded for their life and for compassion from the world community.  Imagine that onslaught by the Syrian government bombers with the help of the Russians and the Iranians and imagine that going on for years until one of the biggest cities in the region is nearly reduced to rubble?  Imagine the voices in our country preventing us from taking these orphans in out of fear they may turn into terrorists one day? What does God-with-us mean to them?  Uncomfortable thoughts aren’t they?

                Friends, in Advent we anticipate the coming of the Christ child and we celebrate the hope for a new age.  In the child God becomes human; as the doctrine says: “fully human, fully God.” From that moment Mary gives birth, all that is God becomes exposed to all that is worldly and human.  God experiences all human suffering intimately.  If God can be crucified, then God can be mortally wounded in a mass shooting or traumatized in an aircraft bombing raid.  The coming of the child called Jesus is the ultimate statement and commitment by God that says:”I am with you.” Nothing can change that.  It will not stop the fact of human suffering in our lifetime, but it is an incredible hope and comfort that God chose to become one of us. God suffers in our suffering and God loves in our love.  God’s grace is all around us, actively, subtly and powerfully at work. Thanks be to God.

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Coach’s Corner

Published on January 5, 2017 by in Coach's Corner

Counting our blessings,

Dear friends,

On Thanksgiving Sunday, after the service, I was the beneficiary of a wonderful surprise, a celebration of my two decades at Parkview. When I visit one of our hundred year olds, I like to quip (to the relatives) that I have been their pastor for one-fifth of their life! That’s quite a while! There was an introduction by Titus Toyama and a slide show courtesy of Judy Fukuman and many kind words by a number of you. I am truly blessed to have had such a kind congregation to serve over more than twenty years. I think you all gave me way too much credit. There are so many things that could have happened to end my tenure prematurely which never happened. We depend on God’s grace working with and through our human efforts. I always remind myself there is no guarantee that anyone will show up on any given Sunday and no guarantee that we will get enough donations any give year. In fact you have always come as well as come through.

You have supported our latest project at the church, the residency program. That too, despite our best efforts is dependent on God’s grace. Changes in affordable insurance coverage may make recruiting of residents more difficult, but we are hopeful. I am grateful for the blessing Chakrita’s presence has brought. Especially in her second period at Parkview I think in the contribution is making the congregation is starting to see the dimension residents can bring to our ministry. Rev. Gail said that she thought it was interesting Chakrita uses her IPad in leading the worship service. “yes,” I said. “That’s just one way the next generation brings its own perspective to the church.” Chakrita is making an impact on our Sunday School in particular as she is inviting interested Parkview family members to a Sunday School teacher training later this month. She has also been meeting with other churches/church organization to help us develop a ministry network.

Speaking of Gail, I am grateful for the blessings of her pastoral concern and her love for worship. We should pray for complete recovery while not taking her for granted as she has been ready to step in for many years now. She has brought in a woman’s attention for worship detail as well as stability and predictability. Imagine having a different guest speaker every time I was away.

We have been fortunate to have a parking lot to use for most of the period I was here and that has made attendance easier and fundraisers possible. We have been depending on the kindness of the old and new owners. I received encouraging news that the building on the premises will be leased to an architectural company. This may mean this will us more years of use of the parking lot. The use of that space too has been blessing, even though we also know it is fragile. We are dependent on the kindness of others. As we do not know the limits of their good will, we must be good stewards of their gift, but again we depend on God’s grace. Maybe this is good, for it keeps us from the illusion that the the future of our congregation is entirely within our control. It is not.

As we approach Christmas and a New Year full of uncertainties for our country and our planet, may we count our blessing and celebrate God’s working grace in our lives and in our world. Merry Christmas and New Year. Thank you and may God bless our ministry. Aart

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Reflection November 27

Published on January 5, 2017 by in Reflections

Isaiah 2: 1-4; Romans 13: 11-12

Happy New (Church) Year

Today we move into the brand New Year Church year and into a new three-year cycle of the church year with its lectionary readings.  So we’re into the first Sunday of the Advent season in year A, with the last Sunday in ordinary team of year C in the rear view mirror.  This is when it all begins: the anticipation and the proclamation of hope as we expect the Christ child.  The New Year in the Church comes before the New Year on our calendar.  It makes sense that the coming of the new comes first through the Church, because the renewal the Church proclaims, precedes all hope and renewal. It has done so for two thousand years and this renewal, this hope is the most consistent. It comes with the same promise every year.  We cannot say that about New Year’s day. It often comes with a sense of dread and anxiety, depending on the times.  On New Year’s day our hope comes from the confidence of people to do the right thing and of economies to improve and leaders to make the right decisions.  But we are really at the mercy of others.  The New church year comes in spite of all that happens. Consistently the music and the worship remind us that God has been with us throughout history. Isaiah speaks hopefully about swords being turned into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. A peaceful time will come.  In his letter to the Romans Paul talks about hope a time of light and how it important for us to clothe ourselves sin light and not in darkness.  Peacefulness and kindness are the mood of these verses.

Friends, at the same time, the work of God is not separate from history.  God’s working intersects with human history. It happens through our history, but we have to pay attention to make notice it.  The working of God’s grace is so subtle that we could reasonably deny it even exists or ever existed.

I know this is a very confusing time for our nation, but we have dwelt on this quite a bit already and I am sure it was a topic of conversation at family Thanksgiving tables. So let’s look beyond at the world at what kind of history  the world’s people are living and maybe it will tell us something new about what’s happening here at home.

Columnist Tom Friedman in his latest book “Thank you for being late” strikes an optimistic tone in spite of the problems.  He is always good at capturing the social, economic and technological tends that influence our times.  Friedman identifies what he calls “three accelerations” in our time.  One is the acceleration of climate change, the second is the acceleration of market change and third is the acceleration of technological change. These are all happening at the same time.  This is felt everywhere, for instance among the workers of the industrial Midwest.   Friedman also talks about visiting Niger in West Africa to see for himself the refugees from climate change with all the young men leaving for Europe and as they leave communicating on the wassapp application of their phone.  They are looking for work. This phenomenon shows all three accelerations: markets, technology and climate change.  These are not just changes, but they are accelerations.  We are getting more connected all the time and the movement is from nations in disarray to nations with order. Nobody can expect to survive if she or he is not constantly learning.  Lifetime learning is the key and more important lifetime learning on your own cost. Individuals and even families cannot change this. Only communities can make an impact.  Asked in an interview if he believed in hope, Friedman answered:” I believe in ‘applied hope.’” In other words he has hope if people adjust to the times when the climate will do wilder and wilder things and technology can exponentially perform and markets are constantly changing.  ‘Applied hope” is like ‘working hope.’

Well, friends, where does a small congregation like this fit in?  Well, we can ask, not what we usually ask: what will the future bring for our church, but how come we survived so far against demographic odds?  The answer is by being a community that kept reflecting and thinking about what our unique role was.  We didn’t just sit here and do the same thing over and over again and hope that things would be better and people would come. Our hope was a working hope and a reflecting hope.

In this uncertain time the question becomes: how can we as a congregation have a working hope.  How can we continue to be unique? I know this is a question I am always asking.  How can we be creatively faithful?  How can we be true to our faith but at the same time adjust to the accelerating changes.  And how can we do this by promoting the peace and the light the Bible speaks of instead of bigotry and discrimination.  So before we think of Christmas and New Year’s, let us renew our commitment to be creatively and hopefully working. Thanks be to God!

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Reflection November 20

Published on January 5, 2017 by in Reflections

Jeremiah 30: 18, 19; Ephesians 1: 15, 16; Colossians 1:11-13.

Thanksgiving in uncertain times

In this month’s The Atlantic  Sarah Boxer has an article about women artists and she makes the point that what can make an artist great is uncertainty. This is what she writes: “In many of the pieces in the exhibition, the artists’ worries and doubts about what they were trying to do are there for anyone to

For a lot of the great artists a painting was an attempt.  Boxer goes on the say:”…we can once again see the greatness in anxiety (The Atlantic, p. 49).”

Friends, uncertainty and anxiety are a good way to describe the mood of the nation and the world at this moment in time.   But in a time of election turmoil that highlighted a deeply divided nation came several days late this time around the calendar takes us right up to thanksgiving which comes rather early this year.  Even though it is not part of the church year, Thanksgiving is a Biblical discipline. It also happens to be the Nation’s most modestly celebrated major holiday.  This holiday has made this a more positive and optimistic nation.

However, thanksgiving is more complicated theologically than we might think.  It has often led to smugness.  Thanksgiving was a way of reinforcing for ourselves that we were on the right path, a way of acknowledging that God has blessed us as a nation.  To be fair, there was a basis for this.  It has been, at least until now, one of the freest countries in the world for religious expression.

But what do you do with thanksgiving in an anxious time?  You can’t be smug. You can’t say:”Wow, haven’t we done well” when we you are thinking: ”My God what’s going to happen?“  It just isn’t the mood of the moment.  But I think that is where we are wrong perhaps.  Because in the smug idea of Thanksgiving God is just blessing something that is just fine, just peachy.  “Good job, people,” we hear God say.  “You’ve done great,” we hear Jesus echo.   Psalm 100, a psalm of Thanksgiving, reminds us that is “God Who has made us, not we ourselves.”  God doesn’t just give us the seal of approval for what we do.  God is engaged. German theologian Dorothea Solle rebels against the idea of the “sanitized” Jesus or the “individualized” Jesus:  Jesus as an older brother who gives you a pat on the back.  She says that that kind of thinking severs Jesus from the Old Testament prophets who spoke against the injustice of the nation.

In Jeremiah the prophet tells us that there will be great thanksgiving voiced by the people, but it is not because they did so well, but because God has chosen to forgive and reengage with them.   Ephesians ties thanksgiving to the steadfast faith of the people and in Colossians Paul connects thanksgiving to endurance and patience.  These Biblical understandings of gratitude are very different from the smug idea of thanksgiving.  So we learn that thanksgiving is about people hanging in there, acknowledging God’s work and people being patient and enduring.

Friends, I have told you before about the awkwardness of celebrating Thanksgiving on the Indian reservation where I was working, so I am not going to bother you with that again.  But as I said I have learned from different peoples about thanksgiving in uncertain times.  I have learned about how African Americans see it: they do not glue their economic wellbeing or even the justice of the society they live in up against the work of God, making it a nice package.  They see the world order and the order of the society they live in as something totally different from God.   About ten years ago I taught a class for St. Mary’s college in Moraga in their extension program. I think I did three or four semesters of that class on religious autobiography.  We discussed a book by an author representing different religions.  The Islamic perspective was represented by Malcom X.  He had a speech in which he proclaimed about the Pilgrims:”I did not land of Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on me.”  In other words he said that like the Native Americans that Pilgrim story was not about him or his people.  They were at the receiving end of that story. What African American Christians tend to be grateful for is that God has helped them keep faith and be patient and endure for the long journey with ups and especially downs.  The actor George Takei  wrote recently about the Japanese concept of Gaman, which means to endure in spite of suffering.   It is an enormously important idea for Japanese Americans also. Looking at the text Colossians, that looks like a Biblical concept now.  Thanksgiving is about enduring and keeping faith and our thanksgiving is not for the great things that we have created, but that God is at work to transform our unjust world, and to a certain extent ‘nation,’ into something good and just, mostly against the current and against the odds.  That new world is a long way off, but while God works we must work. May God help and guide us.

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Reflection November 13

Published on January 5, 2017 by in Reflections

Isaiah 65: 21,23,24; Luke 21:6

From despondency to hope

I have always respected the law in this country of separation of church and state.  Pastors are not supposed to endorse political candidates.   However, pastors are supposed to comment on moral issues even when they pertain to political leaders, from the perspective of their faith.  Eighteen years ago from this same pulpit I spoke of the behavior of President Clinton and you know very well how I feel about America’s idolatry of guns.  We can talk about the moral issues of climate change and health care for the poor another time from a Biblical perspective.  What is going on now is much deeper and it has to do with what this little church in its diversity is all about.  Nextchurch, a Presbyterian Church organization organized  a national call in for pastors three days ago about how they should preach this Sunday.  I have never seen that before. The United Church of Christ in Honolulu has counselors standing by for after this election.  Some of you, specifically women, have reached out to me in need of healing.  I don’t think they can put their finger on it but I am coming to the realization that it is about a sense of feeling violated.  It is about a sense that we got where we are now through an appeal to the darkest reaches of the human psyche.  I have seen you through five previous Presidential elections, but in all those, whether they were victories by a Democrat or a Republican the candidates, although critical, always fundamentally appealed to our better angels.   Not this time. That part is harder to heal and can only be done through conciliation and contrition on the part of the ones who have perpetrated it.  More important, the decision of so many Christian leaders to overlook such manipulative appeals to the dark forces of racism, objectification and hatred of women and ridicule of the weak raises a moral crisis that, if not addressed, can only hasten the decline of the Church in this country.  When Christians become complicit in this, as they have so often in history, the sacred is violated.  When well meaning people in this country and around the world see devout Christians excuse such behavior with reference to one or two policy choices, it reverberates through time.  I think of all the nations the Germans, who are led by a Lutheran pastor’s daughter and a Lutheran pastor, are most horrified. They have seen this before and have paid the moral price for it and we see it again in Europe too: Nigel Farage in Britain, Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in Holland to name a few.  People who abuse democracy to put people down, but then despise the right of others to speak out.  It still exists in Germany too of course, but one Dutch newspaper wrote a few days ago: “New York is now no longer the model for democracy, Berlin is.”  Can you believe that?

Luke in the twenty-first chapter speaks of the no stone being left on top of another. He writes his gospel from the understanding of the destruction of the Second Temple, a temple that to this day has not been rebuilt.   Isaiah writes of a time of hope, a time of prosperity in beautiful words: They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring, blessed by the Lord and their descendants as well.  Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking, I will hear.”  Many of you today are thinking of strewn and broken stones rather than of hope, but I think that is a mistake.  It is time to act hopefully, not to undo an election or answer anger with anger, but to work for what you believe in.  If the current president can welcome with dignity his successor who is about to undo everything he has worked for in eight years, then we can act passionately for kindness and acceptance and diversity.  In between all your hard fundraiser work and the fun social gatherings that is what this little church has been all about during the last twenty years: to be compassionate and inclusive.  We have not been perfect but we never stopped trying.  People like you are the antidote for the hatred we have seen and heard and for what is to come.

Friends, I know you, I know what a number of you have seen in your lifetimes, the deepest darkness of the human soul.   Go to work with new energy and commitment.  If you are not happy with what happened and I assume that is most of you, then act and speak and volunteer and donate, but do so in kindness not in anger.   Conquer darkness with light, not with more darkness. That is the message of the Gospel.  And perhaps you should pray that this new leader whatever you think of him will be so awed by the weight of his office that he discovers something noble and contrite and humble inside of himself that will render him more fit to govern all the people in the time he has.  Let me close with the lines from the movie Norma Rae:” “It goes like it goes:””And so it goes like the river flows and time it rolls right on and maybe what’s good gets a little bit better and maybe what’s bad gets gone.”  May God guide and help us all.

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Reflection November 6

Published on January 5, 2017 by in Reflections

Psalm 145:21; Haggai 2:2, 3a; Luke 20:39

The Power of the Spoken Word

How are you?  How are you doing this morning?  I know one thing you don’t want to hear about is the election.  Why do we get put through this for a year and a half every four years, you wonder?  People wind up feeling bruised and battered emotionally, and this year even violated perhaps.  Relatives argue with each other.  This year thanksgiving is going to be particularly awkward for a lot of Americans. So I won’t talk about, because today I think you need a refuge from it. A place to breathe and find a place of peace.  I hope that works for you today.  Maybe today’s texts will help you, because they speak of the opposite of what you have been hearing.  “Don’t be alarmed by what you hear either through word of mouth or letter as if it were coming from us,” says Paul in his second letter to the Thessalonians.  It’s hard not to be alarmed these days.  “Hold on to the traditions you received from us either through the spoken word or by letter.”  As words meant to provoke anger and fear reverberate through you, let us try to refocus and think of the spoken word and how we all here may be better at wielding it.  How do we speak?

Friends, if we think back at the people we have known, we associate them with actions AND with words.  We remember them as kind or smart or determined or funny or attentive or compassionate or irritable or angry.  The picture we have of them comes together in a sense have captions.  The people we have know have known come with certain words.  A lot of the people at Parkview whom I have had the privilege of knowing over the past two decades come with certain sayings. For instance our long time clerk of session Carnie Ouye whenever he became passionate would say “for crying out loud.”  A beloved member like Osame Doi would so often say:”you’re great” to people. These sayings and words become captions under the picture of the person we have.  That makes us wonder, what is the caption people have of the image of us? I don’t know if you have ever used a Dictionary of Quotations.  That is full of quotes of famous people from days gone by.  Let’s take Napoleon, there are not that many quotes in the Oxford Book of Quotations from him, but here is one: “there is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous.”  How about Benjamin Franklin:”He who lives on hope will die fasting;” “remember that time is money.”  Alexander Hamilton:”A national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to  us a national blessing.” This is his only quote. Elizabeth I of Britain: “If thy heart fails thee, climb not at all.” And “I would not open windows into men’s souls.”  The bad thing about these books of quotations is that they mostly quote white men.  The good thing about them that they have a lot a quotations  from the Bible.  So let’s return to that.  Let us think of these verses as captions under an image of people.  The verses on our program cover are of Paul who desperately tries to keep his congregation in Northern Greece from leaving the path of faith he has taught them.  People hear so many things.  They can easily lose their way. Such small congregations in such a diverse world of cultures and religions.  But this is a good caption for a picture of Paul. These words fit with him. They express his worry. Then there is the verse in Psalm which is all about praising God. This is a good caption for a person who spends much of his (or her) life reminding people to glorify God.  Then there is the verse in Luke which is a caption of a Pharisee who admits that Jesus has spoken truthfully and in a genuine way.  He explains straightforwardly without destroying anyone.  Then there is the verse in Haggai where the focus is on remembering, reminding people truthfully what their story has been.  This would be a good caption for the image of a prophet.

Friends, among my sons and my wife, I am known as the designated worrywart.  Yet I don’t really relish that caption of me.  I don’t want people to remember me as the guy who always said: “be careful.”  But then it’s kind of my job with them.  They leave the worrying to me.  I want other words that I speak also to be a caption.

What about you? What are the words you speak?  Do you speak honestly and genuinely like Jesus?  Are your words full of praise or do they break people down? Do your words correctly speak of the past?  Words matter.  The way we speak matters.  Who we are and what we say in people’s minds become one.  And they’d better fit together.  They’d better not be at odds.  May God give us courage and wisdom.

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Coach’s Corner

Change and communication

As I write this we have all just woken up to a different country or at least a country we didn’t think quite existed.  The decision made by the electorate also colors our mission as a multicultural congregation.  Can we increasingly become “intercultural,” i.e. a congregation in which people from different ethnic groups connect and engage with one another with openness.  Our country may be multicultural, but to what degree it is intercultural remains to be seen.  At Parkview we have gone through changes with our residency program and the remodeling of the Kansha house.  More change will come as we are bound to lose our parking lot.  Whenever you do something new, there is always a chance of miscommunication. The session and I have made and are making efforts to communicate clearly about the change with the result that you as a congregation supported the session’s decisions.

However, I have noticed that miscommunication can occur despite our best efforts.  Sometimes well-intentioned people can get a piece of information wrong or draw lines between one thing or another where no line can be found.  The session, Donna and I realize full well that it is our job to inform while it is the congregation’s job to inquire and confirm. The first is on us, the second isn’t.  Let me give some concrete examples of questions that members of the Parkview family might entertain and give you the answer:

  1. Does the residency cost us money? No, so far all the cost has been covered by Presbytery donations.  If we pay anything, it will be from the mission budget we always pledge to the Presbytery.  The Kansha remodeling was paid for by a number of above and beyond special donations by certain generous individuals.
  2. Are the residents here to take the pastor’s place? No, the residents are under the pastor’s supervision.
  3. Do the residents reduce the pastor’s tasks? No, they increase them. There is considerable time spent by the pastor meeting with the resident to discuss and plan assignments and tasks.
  4. Is the pastor gone a little more this year? Yes. Why? Because he has a huge amount of unused vacation time.
  5. When are we losing our parking lot? We don’t know. We will let you know as soon as we do.
  6. Why do we have residents? So we can bring new energy and perspective and so we can do more, like develop a Sunday School curriculum, connect with neighborhood groups and address issues that impact our church.
  7. How can we find out about our church finances? Contact Betsy Eskridge our treasurer. Also Donna has copies of the financial reports.
  8. Who are our session members: Carol Sakai, Maurine Huang, May Lee, Cathy Nishizaki, Christine Umeda and Gary Younglove.

So, friends, if you hear something that troubles you or confuses you about what we are doing at our church, don’t be bashful and please contact us.  It’s our job to explain.  Thanks for all you do!  May God bless our ministry together.  Aart

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