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Coach’s Corner

Published on April 9, 2015 by in Coach's Corner

Small church ….big thinking

Dear friends,

In last month’s “coach’s corner” I discussed the results of the latest exploration group meeting which yielded the outlines of a new Parkview PC mission statement. This mission statement would underline partnership with local community organizations and congregations in achieving social justice and outreach and the development of creative worship which would highlight these partnerships.  In last month’s “coach’s corner” you also learned about an important focus of the Session, namely realizing the congregation’s mission in a way that includes not only all people of all racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds and sexual orientation, but that also makes a concerted effort to include all age groups.  I expressed to the Session that the “one main thing I cannot change about myself is my age.” It is just a reality that the pastor of a certain age will appeal more to some groups than to others.

So we have come up with a novel idea for the next five years or so: interns or residents who have graduated from seminary or who will do so in the near future.  The idea is that for most of the year the church would have 2 interns or residents.  They would learn what it is like to serve in a multicultural congregation, an experience they will have a hard time finding elsewhere.  There are a number of factors that would make such a program in multicultural ministry workable at Parkview at this time: 1. we have a supportive, open, intelligent and tolerant congregation (if I did not have great faith in you as a “teaching/mentoring congregation I would not be proposing this), 2. We have the empty Kansha house on the corner which could offer more than adequate housing for two or more people, 3. I happen to have the twelve years of seminary teaching experience that would go a long way in my supervision of the interns/residents, 4. the way the sermon is structured currently(in 3-4 parts would allow the interns/residents to rotate into the service without disrupting what people are coming to hear), 5. All of the above would create an attractive setting for those seeking a unique learning experience and who are willing to help us meet our new mission goals. How exciting it would be for Parkview to help prepare a new generation for multicultural ministry and service!  This small congregation has always been willing to be a laboratory for new ideas, such as providing legal aid for immigrants and Jan Kenpo Gakko, to name a few. This would continue and perhaps expand that tradition.

Of course there will be a number of obstacles we would have to overcome: 1.the Kansha house will need some upgrading (heating/air/water heater, security doors etc.) and we may have to establish a special small fund for the cost associated with that (but it will be a good idea to have the Kansha in rentable condition anyway, in case the congregation ever needs the income). 2. Funding for modest stipends will need to come from the seminaries with substantial endowments and funded internships (like Princeton) or from grants we would apply for.  The target time for the beginning of the program tentatively is summer of 2016.

We request your feedback regarding this plan. Please be assured that we are trying to ask all the questions that will need to be answered to make this program a success.  We also welcome any questions we may have overlooked.  We hope you will support us in giving this program a chance.  May God bless our ministry. Aart

 
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Reflection March 29 Palm Sunday

Published on April 9, 2015 by in Reflections

Isaiah 50: 7,8; Mark: 11: 1-11

Dark side of the reign

The body of King Richard III of England was reburied at Leicester Cathedral last week.  It brought out all the pomp the British are so good at: soldiers, royal representatives and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Anglican Church.  The fact that he was King and that he is still honored as a King more than five hundred years later hides the fact that his reign was more darkness than light.  Yet he was only 32 years old when he died in the battle of Bosworth Field, the last battle of the Wars of the Roses at the tail end of the Middle Ages.  But how he got to the throne is a tale of great darkness.  This fascinated Shakespeare who wrote one of this earliest plays, Richard III, about him.  In it Richard’s spinal deformity (which was probably not as bad as Shakespeare assumed) becomes a symbol of darkness, which is highly discriminatory of course. Richard was supposed to be the Lord Protector of the Realm, supervising his twelve year old nephew Richard V. Instead he had the marriage of the child’s deceased father, Richard IV and the Richard’s brother, annulled, so that the reign of the boy would be illegitimate.  Shakespeare writes about Richard III’s resentment when his brother Richard IV becomes king in the famous lines: ”Now is the winter of our discontent Made glorious summer by this sun of York; And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.” Shakespeare really brought out the darkness of the reign of King Richard, perhaps more so than the young man deserved.

Today we remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.  It is that brief moment when we can speak of the earthly reign of Jesus, even though it was only to fulfill the prophecy.  He is celebrated and heralded and John writes that above the cross is written INRI, an acronym in Latin, Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum wich was also written in Greek and Hebrew, meaning:”Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.” But of course Jesus was not a King of people and of land as Richard was.  He is a King of hearts and souls.  But that’s not what the people wanted: they wanted an earthly Messiah Who would liberate them.  Also there is no darkness to Jesus reign unlike Richard’s, it is a reign of light and love. Unless we take into account that by his death for salvation he would invite all that was evil and oppressive to come His way.

Earthly reigns can be benevolent, friends, but there is always an element of darkness.  It comes with the power at one’s disposal.  We have talked about the career of Lee Kuan Yew, the prime minister of Singapore for thirty years who passed away last week.  He was able to make different religious and ethnic groups live together, but ruled pretty much like a dictator. Even he said:” I had to do a lot of nasty things.” We talked about the scheming of Francis Underwood, a modern-day Richard III, who in the Netflix series House of Cards achieves great power and reveals much darkness. We talked about the police in Ferguson and other cities. We need them for our safety and for the order of our society, but police officers are often biased and we have seen the dark side of officers and the force come out time and time again. We talked about the German Wings pilot who for a brief moment had reign over airplane and for now it looks that his darkness overtook him, resulting in indescribable tragedy.

So, friends, you may think: ”Interesting, but how is this relevant for me? I am king or queen of nothing.”  But you, that is not true, friends.  Our power and influence may be limited as is the power and influence of most of the globe’s seven billion people.   But at one point or another we reign over something: it may be over children when they are young, or over parents when they are old, it may be over an office.  In my case it’s my back yard.  I want to keep it lush but I have to watch out the snakes don’t come in.  Some things I do to the yard are good for the future of the earth around us, like big trees producing oxygen, but other things may be bad, like using more water than is absolutely necessary.  Then there are my words. Officially I reign over them.  There is a chance that as a minister I say something on Sunday that may make a difference to you, but one wrong or mispronounced word could result in something unforgiveable or hurtful. I am very aware of that.  It may not even be what I say, but what people hear.

Friends, there will be times in our lives, perhaps for brief moments, when we ‘lord’ it over others or over something.  We have the reign over our checkbooks to begin with.  What you and I can do is be aware of how our power and influence impact people and the world we live in.  How much are we aware of the darkness that can creep up on our actions?  Are we aware of how the little power and influence we have can pervert us or bring out the worst in us? Are we aware how much good we can do as individuals and how if we decide not to do the good we can do, we contribute to the darkness? May the Christ, the King of our souls, give us wisdom.

 
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Reflection March 22

Published on April 9, 2015 by in Reflections

John 12: 27; Hebrews 5: 5-8

Jesus at His second most vulnerable

In today’s verse in John, Jesus is at His second most vulnerable. As a baby with no place to go, on the run with his parents from King Herod, He was more vulnerable than even here?  Vulnerability in our culture is kind of a less than acceptable word, although it is gaining ground.  Self-sufficient people don’t use that word.  Yet it is what this verse is all about.  Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.  The author of Hebrews reminds us of it.  As last week we focused on the most famous and pivotal verse in the history of world religion, John 3:16; today we have before us the verse we’d rather not share with people until they are well entrenched in Christian faith.  As last week we concluded that we should relax and focus in the game of life and the life of faith, today we are asked to follow Jesus into the garden and face our weaknesses.  There’s nothing  relaxing about that. 

Brene Brown, a researcher and story teller presented a TED talk on the internet a number of years back.  She set out to research what it is that makes people able thrive and after doing survey after survey when she had peeled back all the layers she found something stunning.  It was not stunning that it was human connection that people needed to thrive. That one is not rocket science. No what was stunning was that what people need to thrive is vulnerability.  If you watch her video you see her struggling with this finding, because she likes to be in control and have everything all lined up.  She is a researcher after all.  She found that among her research subjects the ones that were most in touch with their vulnerability were the happiest. They were people who were very aware of their own flaws, who knew they could get it wrong and lose.  Knowing full well their limitations they went ahead.  It is the people who are always guarding themselves against pain in relationships, seeking certainty and acceptance rather than being authentic, who were more isolated and unhappier.

Fiends, we don’t think of God as vulnerable, but in fact it is the only way to learn to understand the God of the Bible and the Christian faith:  imagine Jesus sitting on his knees and throwing up in the toilet bowl in sheer terror.  Not a pretty picture is it, but in a way that’s what ‘s going on over here. We’ve all been there, but none of us like to talk about that; because that’s vulnerability.

Friends, by playing it safe, by being committed to self-protection and not being authentic, we actually close ourselves of from ways of feeling comfort, happiness and belonging.  So Brown’s conclusion is that although vulnerability opens us up to pain, shame and rejection, it also leaves us open to love, acceptance and belonging.  You see, I think another way to approach this is to think about posturing.  A lot of life is about posturing.  And posturing is about covering up our weaknesses and identifying the weaknesses of others.  When we do that, we will never say:” oh, I messed up and I am bad at that etc.”  Sure we can get a lot of what we want that way, but ultimately it will erode our sense of self-worth.   Brown found that the people who come to terms with their weaknesses actually wind up with more self-worth.  Strangely I think agents of celebrities and politicians have gotten that figured out. Whenever a famous person acts embarrassingly or awfully, he or she may appear on an evening talk show (and there are almost ten of them) and make fun of him or herself for that one thing they did wrong.  So if John Travolta has completely mispronounced someone’s name n television, he will go on a talk show and be told to read a whole bunch of difficult names and purposely mispronounces a bunch of that.  Brett Favre, the NFL quarterback who was infamously indecisive about whether to quit or not, knows makes a living doing commercials where he cannot make up his mind.  The problem is that is not real vulnerability and authenticity. It is another form of posturing.

Friends, when we listen to sports commentators we hear a lot about match-ups and finding space, but in the end it is about exploiting the vulnerabilities of others and guarding against the vulnerabilities of the home team.  The idea is that if you can control the vulnerabilities on both sides, then you will be free to play the way you want.  You keep making adjustments until you succeed in doing that.   But that is sports.  Sports is life regulated and controlled and manufactured.  But  we all know sports is a distraction from life. You can’t play it everyday.

This is why it is so great we have our faith, friends. We have a relationship with God Who is willing to be vulnerable.  Having a God both frantically at work in our lives and vulnerable opens us up to going through life with unclenched hands and taking the risks and making the mistakes in connecting with people which will make us better and more mature people of faith. Thanks be to God.

 
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Reflection March 15

Published on April 9, 2015 by in Reflections

John 3: 16, 17, Ephesians 2:8,9,10

Relax and focus

Last week I was looking for the scores of the European champions league in soccer on the sports channel. I know you are just as concerned about those as I am.  I saw people engaged in a whole new sport. I think it is called ‘ice crashing.’  It was almost as if I was witness to a scene from a science fiction movie in the future.  Hockey players from different countries where it snows a lot are waiting at four horse racing gates for the buzzer and they take off down an icy slope, up hills and around curves.  So much for the idea that ice skating is supposed to be on flat surfaces.  And obviously there is a whole culture built around these feisty men already.  It’s a quick, physical race that over in a minute or so.  Friends, it makes me think that golf may not be the game of the future.  It takes upwards of three hours to complete, it involves a lot of waiting for players who are even slower than you.  The more of them are ahead of you the longer it takes.  And then no matter what you do, you never really get good at it.  Not something younger people are likely to take up.  Ice crashing would be more their thing.  But every sport or game yields some lessons about life.  One general type of learning is the insight that the moment you have some aspects of a game, or the game of life for that matter, mastered a bit, you mess up on others.  In ice crashing it’s probably something like: “you may be ahead one moment, but fall on your behind the next. “  In golf the best lesson is that there are two things you should do at the same time: “relax and focus.” This may make a lot of sense, but we human beings are not very good at that: “we can focus if a certain task or topic really interests us.” We can relax if we have finished all the tasks we had planned for the day.  But can we relax and focus at the same time? 

In today’s fast moving society being wound up and distracted are more common modes for us.

Nothing distracts us more than our emotions, especially fear and worry and anger or even worse or the three rolled into one.  So that’s the worst scenario. But sometimes we are relaxed and distracted.  Men are really good at being in that mode I m told.  I have heard it said about wives” nothing bothers women more than having their husband sit around and do absolutely nothing.”  Men can have a real skill for that.  So there is being relaxed and distracted, but there is also being tightly wound and focused.  We all know that one really well too.  Like when you miss paying a bill or you find a parking ticket on your wind shield.  But “relaxed and focused” that’s rare.  And that’s the mode you need in golf more than anything.  And I think that’s one mode we need a lot more in life.

James Levine is the conductor for the New York Metropolitan Opera and has been for decades.  He had a bad fall a number of years ago and was not able to conduct. All his musicians were distraught.  They were distraught not only because he is just a great musician, but because of the way he made them feel. He combined focus on perfection with encouragement and praise for the in the singers. He was relaxed and focused and as a result they were confident and at the top of their game.

Friends, when we examine the well known texts for today, if we are tight and distracted, what we may experience is a fear of perishing or of not being saved.  When we examine them relaxed and distracted we may not notice much of anything.  We may be thinking about coffee hour instead.  When we examine them tight and focused, we may notice there is a lot of complexity in these verses. There is love and salvation and grace and gift and faith.  There is a whole Christian theology imbedded in just these few verses.  We touch on that just a little bit earlier. But if we examine them relaxed and focused, we will discover that faith is really a gift of love from God and when we accept that gift we will be fine.  The relaxed and focused approach allows us to see that God has it covered.  And this is true of many things in our life.  We will be easiest on our body if we do our chores relaxed and focused.  Our emotional well being will be greater if we are relaxed and focus.  In psychotherapy a counselor really helps us relax and focus, calm our frantic mind and see things more for what they are.  Zen philosophy is really about focusing and being relaxed in the actual moment.

This attitude is important for a congregation also.  A frantic and focused congregation will see problems where they aren’t and create mountains out of molehills.  A relaxed and distracted congregation will just shoot the breeze and not think about a vision.  A frantic and distracted congregation will jump from one thing to another and forget what it is about: worshipping and serving a loving and forgiving God and serving others.    So, who do want to be?   And as congregation who do you want to be?  There are a lot of things happening this small congregation right now, which when examined are really not much of our own making.  I think it is important not to be frantic and crucial not be distracted. Also just to be focused is not enough.  I think we should be relaxed and focused.  Let’s have some faith in the grace of God our texts today are gushing about. It is because of the suffering of Jesus on which we focus at Lent that we are able to do so. Thanks be to God.

 
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Reflection March 8

Published on April 9, 2015 by in Reflections

John 2: 15; I Corinthians 1: 20-23

When foolish is wise

You and I assume that foolishness  is always bad, but the Bible begs to differ.   The Apostle Paul tells us that foolishness can be good.  So maybe there is good foolishness and bad foolishness.  In the Beatles’ song Fool on the Hill they tell of a man on a hill who is considered foolish as he watches the skies.  I always thought they were singing about the 17 century Italians astronomer Galileo who had the insight that the universe isn’t spinning around us, we are spinning around the sun.  Actually the song is supposed to have been about an Indian guru.  But anyway, going back to Galileo:  The theologians of his day could not accept that and punished him for it.  Galileo, the fool on the hill, was a wise fool. A Muslim scholar I know at UC Riverside posted a story on his Facebook page making fun of a Saudi Prince who argued in his thesis that the sun spins around the world.  Bad foolishness on the part of the prince obviously. Had he been right, the people in the international space station would have been in trouble.  Just recently a senator by the name of  James Inhofe supposedly acted like a fool on the hill, Capitol Hill that is, by bringing in a snowball into the senate chambers as an illustration that there is no global warming .  You could almost feel his more enlightened Republican colleagues cringing.  It is a pretty much accepted theory that the melting of the polar ice cap causes a chance in the jet stream that brings cold and snow to the northeast and warm and dry weather to California.  Although it was perhaps meant to be funny, we can chalk this one up in the category bad foolishness.  

John Saville has lived in East Africa most of his life and grew up loving elephants, not just as friends, but also to kill. It seems that John Saville suggested the killing of 40,000 elephants to bring the vast dry overgrazed grasslands back to life (PBS series WILD, February 2015).  It was believed they were trampling the land so badly that grass could not grow. Now he has completely changed his mind, for the after the killing of the elephants, the land and grasslands were in worse shape. Now he is saying that the land needs more and more grazing.  He says that what the land needs is tight frightened herds of animals trying to run away from their predators, including humans.   Their nervous stomping causing the earth to get ploughed through so the nutrients are brought out and the grass can grow in spite of sparse rainfall.

During our Presbytery meeting  key note speaker Presbyterian pastor Theresa Cho shared a bulletin quote from Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church.  Listen to the following words of welcome: “All are welcome! We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, y no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail, or could afford to lose a few pounds. We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up, or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s baptism. “We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too. “If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.  “We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!” Now, friends, that’s good foolishness.  I would not have thought of this and I have come up with some pretty foolish suggestions, most of which you have shrugged off as a congregation.  But what a statement of truth and of inclusion.

Friends, Paul reminds us that to the world the story of Jesus the Christ is foolishness. The ones who put Him to death sure believed that.  The way he went to work with the Temple stalls in today’s lectionary reading shows his wise foolishness as He exposes the hypocrisy and the opportunism of callous business people who are trying to make a buck of religion.  Friends, our faith is nothing without foolishness, the good kind that is. May we loosen up the soil of ministry with creative activity. May we in this church be guided by God to be wise fools.  Thanks be to God for foolish wisdom.

 
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Reflection March 1

Published on April 9, 2015 by in Reflections

Mark 8: 34-37; Romans 4: 23-25

 

The things we hold on to and the things we let go

What do think of when you say the word “sacrifice?”  Feeling kind of uncomfortable, are you?  Is it because we are not comfortable with the idea of sacrificing anymore?  Maybe we’re just uncomfortable with anything uncomfortable. Or do we think more of animals being sacrificed in certain religious practices?  Or are we too aware of the eagerness hyper-religious suicide bombers and rebel fighters give up their lives in the belief that they will be rewarded for their sacrifice in the afterlife, even though they murdered hundreds of innocent people?  Or maybe we are a little too psychologically savvy these days. In movies and tv shows and in the lives of our own family perhaps we have heard too many people cry out how much they sacrificed for others.  We are wary of it because it smells of manipulation, doesn’t it? But then it has to do with war, doesn’t it?  We are still fighting a lot of wars as a country, but what has changed is that we live in a time of real time media and savvy weapons when we are never really able to win a war anymore.  So things are always fuzzy.  This issue plays in the whole debate about the Movie “American Sniper.”  One part of America hails the real life character Chris Kyle as a hero who sacrificed his happiness for his country’s safety and the other part calls for a more careful examination of his life.  It deals with the question of how many of the sniper’s bullets sacrifice the innocent and how his life too is sacrificed. 

Friends, there are so many conflicts around the world.  We don’t see eye to eye with Russia on Ukraine.  We are surprised how many Russians agree with Vladimir Putin.  We see freedom being sacrificed and democracy and national sovereignty.  But behind it lurks always some story of sacrifice past it seems.  The Russians see the Western Ukrainians as fascists and friends of the Nazis and they talk about the sacrifice of the ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine and how they were sacrificed by an evil West when the Soviet Union broke apart.  Iranians talk of the evil Iraqi Sunnis when they remember the brutal Iran-Iraq war.  And Iraqi Sunnis talk about the evil Shias from Iran.  There is always story of sacrifice.

But, friends, is this really the sacrifice Jesus and Paul are talking about?  Jesus reminds His audience that those willing to give up their lives will gain it and those holding on to it will suffer loss.  Paul writes to the congregation in Rome that Abraham has sacrificed and this will be remembered and that through the sacrifice of Christ we have hope and a life that never ends.  It all seems to be about that sacrifice we are so uncomfortable with.  But what we are missing perhaps is that the message may be more about attachment.  Let me explain.  Recently Hach shared a story of four chaplains on a warship called the Dorchester, during World War II I think.  There were four chaplains with life vests about to leave the sinking ship, a Catholic priest, a rabbi and two Protestant ministers.  Just that moment four sailors emerged, frantic and confused.  You can imagine the chaplains’ heart sink perhaps, but all four handed their vest to the sailors and the chaplains went down with the ship.  They sacrificed, but they did so because they were more attached to their duty than they were to their survival.  Yes, people still do that these days.  Sometimes our lives are too much about holding on: to things, to reputation, to ego, and most of all to grudges.  We hold on to things for dear life.  Literally and by doing so, we waste our lives and disrupt the lives of others.  Jesus and Paul remind us that Jesus was attached to eternal things, not earthly things.   Our attachment is that problem.  So the question today is not so much whether we would give away our life vest on a sinking World War II warship, but what keeps us attached to things we should not be attached to.  Gail Cullerton is leading our Lenten study about letting go of BAD, namely bad things: Bad, b for bitterness, a for apathy and d for discouragement.  The three are related:  how easy it for people to become bitter, it’s a kind of sourness that hangs over hem as a result of the grudges they can’t let go of;  bitterness can lead to giving up, to apathy. Apathy in turn will lead to discouragement and ultimately to despair.  So this leads to a good question for us to think about it in this reflective period of lent: what do we hold on to in our lives that keep us from growing spiritually and what are the things we should let go?  At the heart of sacrifice lies the question of what we are attached to, what we value above all.  May God give us wisdom and insight in this time as we ponder Christ’s journey of sacrifice.

 
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Coach’s Corner

Published on April 9, 2015 by in Coach's Corner

Excitement found,

Dear friends,

Two important meetings were held last month.  The first was the first combined exploration meeting on February 7th and the second was the annual session retreat in February 9th.  Thanks to the Hills for hosting the first, Lois van Beers for facilitating and Carol Sakai for taking the minutes! Also thanks to Carol Sakai for hosting the second! In the February Coach’s Corner with the heading “Finding the Excitement” I tried to lay the groundwork for the Feb. 7 meeting by identifying some areas where the mission of the Presbyterian Church USA might intersect with Parkview’s understanding of itself (which emerged from last year’s exploration meetings).  As always our Parkview folks were very good about completing the task put before them and had something to say in each category.  But in the end three areas of excitement came out of the meeting.  These are: 1) Building partnerships with the other churches and  groups in our church neighborhood to address issues of social justice.  2) Using team Parkview to make a difference in our community through our participation in humanitarian causes.  3) Using the worship service as a means of focusing and manifesting our ideas. These are exciting results, because it shows an evolution in how the congregation is seeing itself.  Having been founded as a gathering place for new immigrants (i.e. recreating home), after the war the church became a place of refuge (i.e. a shelter from an unwelcoming world) while in the last twenty years we welcomed people from other backgrounds to our premises (i.e others coming to us).  But these results of the exploration meeting show a congregation ready to step outside its attractive fence more and forging partnerships with other churches and organizations in being agents of change( i.e. we going out to others). What needs to be done now in exploration is to turn these areas of excitement into a new mission statement.  In addition we can begin establishing some groups or task forces to act on these areas of excitement. In fact the session is calling a first meeting of a worship task force for anyone interested in brainstorming about creative worship on Sunday March 22 at noon.  Rev.Gail Cullerton has agreed to be a resource person to this group.

The session retreat was a more free flowing investigation of our concerns for the future.  Very quickly we arrived at the question of regeneration and how we have a great core of enthusiastic people, but that not all generations are sufficiently represented. Granted most churches have this problem and that there is no panacea for this. Nevertheless we concluded that the session needs to think further about the need for, the obstacles to and new ideas to address ‘deliberate generational inclusion.’ It is my expectation that the excitement-orientation of the exploration group and the concern-orientation of the session will converge at one point.   However, we don’t want the exploration group to focus on problems, but rather follow its excitement to its logical conclusion.  We sustain an organization through enthusiasm and energy while managing it from day to day through problem solving.  At this point we shouldn’t confuse the two. May The Creator Guide us, the Christ be our example and the Holy Spirit inspire us. Thank you for your participation. Aart.

P.S. our historic minutes book was re(dis)covered!

 
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Reflection February 22

Published on April 9, 2015 by in Reflections

Genesis 9: 12, 16, 17; Mark 1: 12, 13

The desert imperative

Please forgive me if I sound like Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, but there is a woman on yahoo travel who frequently has a video segment called “a broad abroad.” These are her words, not mine.  In one of her presentations she travels to the country of Oman in the Persian Gulf region.  It is a country that just lost its ruler after many decades. It seems he was a rather benevolent leader who had pretty much any building or venue named after him.  It is a place of endless deserts, hot, baking deserts with almost no life in it, it seems. But then she shows a beautiful, blue watering hole in the middle of the arid wasteland and in spite of her fear of heights she jumps in from a rock, fully clothed of course, because anything else would be improper. 

Once again our lectionary readings put the text about Noah and the flood together with Jesus’ entry into the desert.  How opposite they are, moving from a time of inundation with water to a time and place of dryness and drought.  This is something Californians can understand: drought, fire and flood.  They all threaten at one time or another.  What we want is a nice clear balance between dry and hot.  “It never rains in California, but boy let me tell you, it pours( Albert Hammond, Mike Hazlewood, Mums Records, 1972),” says the well known seventies pop song.  We are going to be really dry now and animals will suffer, farmers will suffer, grocery store shoppers will be hard pressed and we will have to change our ways to a certain degrees.  The way we use water on our church premises may no longer be responsible.  So how does our reality as a soon-to-be-parched state change how we look at today’s passage?   The flood has ended.  The rainbow of promise has been seen. That is one story.  But the other is a story of dryness, of desolation, of depletion.  And that is our theme for today:”depletion.”  Jesus has to go into the desert where the Spirit takes Him and He must face His demon and find His angels.  There is no other way.  And He finds out what matters to Him and what He is supposed to do.  He rejects power for the mission to which He is called.  In the middle of desolation and terror and depletion, Jesus finds a source within Him that will feed the people and that still feed you and me, one drop at a time.

Friends, you and I understand depletion.  We understand feeling dried out when we don’t drink enough.  We feel sapped of energy when we have worn ourselves out.  We understand feeling burnt out when our enthusiasm finally leaves us.  Depletion is part of life.  But could we say that perhaps sometimes it is necessary, friends?  Sometimes our faith even dries up, withers at the vine, and we think that is terrible, but could it be that it is necessary.  If our life was always flooded with joy and meaning and reward and energy, would we learn the lessons the desert experience teaches us?  In a sense Lent starts and ends with the depletion of Jesus, Jesus Who in the end finds enough water in the desert to give us all to drink. “Living water,” He calls it.

Bob Simon, the CBS reporter tells the story of being held hostage near the Iraq border.  As he was being remembered last week an old interview was being shown on television (Sixty Minutes February 15, 2015) again about how he found something inside himself he never knew he had and that the beating he took would not kill him. He somehow knew he would survive.  It is of course not an experience anyone would wish on another, but like Jesus Simon’s desert experience led to a source, a wellspring.

Sometimes being depleted does not mean we will lose hope more and more and we will lose the connection with God more and more but that we will find God again, like that beautiful oasis in the middle of the Oman desert. Sometimes drying up and drying out is a way of draining all the excess and finding our real selves and a new mission. Not too long ago the drought in Texas drained a lake and exposed historical riches no one knew were there.  This may happen to us.  The spiritual drought in our lives may be inevitable sometimes, it is not necessary the end of our world.  I have been there many times myself over the years, but I am still talking to you here today about God. Sometimes feeling drained and depleted is a way of us reacting to the challenges and stresses of our life and our sense of failure.  Sometimes things flood in, sometimes things dry up.  Sometimes the Spirit may call us into the desert and the dry places also.  May we find meaning in the deserts of our lives.  May we find the pool of water that emerges in the drought that sustains us for the tasks ahead, the way they did for Jesus in the desert. May we walk with the depleted Jesus during Lent and find water along with Him. May God guide us.

 
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Reflection February 15

Published on April 9, 2015 by in Reflections

Matthew 6: 21,22; Mark 9: 2-9

Revisiting Treasure

The Disciples who have followed Jesus up the mountain have seen their lives change over the relatively short time they have been with Jesus. They have left their nets and fishing boats and their villages and give up their livelihood.   But the climb up the Mount of Transfiguration described in the Gospel of Mark takes things to an entirely new level.  They see Jesus transfigured, revealing the Divine in Him.  They are dazzled by what they see.  Undoubtedly this changes the way they look at their life.  We can bet that after this experience they no longer view their nets and their boats as treasures. They have had a taste of heaven and their lives will never be the same.  In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus speaks to the people reminding them that they should not build up their treasures on earth and says: “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also. “   I think the disciples on that mountain certainly get that message. We have talked about the experience of the main character in the film “Still Alice” (Sony Pictures Classic 2015) and about how her understanding of what she treasured changed.   People who are hit with disabilities have similar experiences I am sure.  We talked about Brian Williams and how is understanding of what is most treasured in his life is changing after his fibbing was revealed.

There is an anecdote of a husband and a wife at a party.  They are trying to live a snobbish lifestyle and joined a conversation about Mozart. They heard ”Absolutely brilliant, magnificent, a genius!” The wife wanting to join the conversation, remarked casually:” Ah. Mozart. You’re so right. Love him. Only this morning I saw him getting on the no.5 bus to Coney Island. .” There was a sudden hush and everyone looked at her.  Her husband was mortified. He pulled her away and whispered. “We’re leaving right now. Get your coat, and let’s get out of here.” As they drove home, he kept muttering to himself. Finally his wife turned to him. “You’re angry about something.” “Oh, really? You noticed?” he sneered. “I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life! You saw Mozart take the no.5 bus to Coney Island? …Don’t you know that no.5 bus doesn’t even go out to Coney Island!” (Homiletics, January/February 2015. p. 43).  Friends, their discussion shows us the silly way people cherish their image.

Joel Stein wrote recently in Time Magazine (February 10, 2015) about his small son Laszlo.  Stein says:” I am not a helicopter parent.” He says he doesn’t cramp his child’s life style, but the he says that his son is a “helicopter child.”  Their son Laszlo does not let his parents out of his sight.  This gets a bit too much for Joel. So they decide to give their son a new Korean made communication device; it’s like a cell phone that lets two people communicate with each other only.  The first day Laszlo takes it to school, Joel finds out he already has four missed calls from his son, so he feels really bad.  He treasures his private time so much, that he has forgotten to check his phone.  He expected to be berated by his son, but the boy is really fine. He said his father would call back sooner or later.  The boy has adjusted to a transformation in his life, while the father was still struggling with the right way to handle his parenthood.

Friends, our lives constantly change, they are transformed by aging, by events, by work adjustments, by retirement, by changes in our physical ability.  But sometimes we do not make the adjustments.  We keep treasuring the exact same things.  For Joel Stein it was the privacy of the couple before Laszlo was born.  “Where your treasure is their your heart will be also.”  Stein has not adjusted enough to the reality of the boy treasure he has.  I think this lack of adjustment causes us suffering. In a TV service commercial a stylish Rob Lowe sells direct tv, while his alter ego “peaked-in high school Rob Lowe” has cable.  That Rob Lowe has never gotten out of high school in his mind and still works at the local pizza joint. “Where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.”   This is also a challenge for you and I.  We cause ourselves suffering if we do not adjust our treasure to the changes in our lives.  We cannot go on treasuring our job if we are retired. We cannot treasure our independence solely when we are married. We cannot treasure the freedom of before children if we have children. We cannot treasure having kids in our house when they are in college. “Where you treasure is there your heart will also.  I think that if we find a way to accept our stage in life and the opportunities it affords us, then we may be able to serve God more fully and more joyfully. “Where our treasure is there will our hearts be also.” May God guide us.

 
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Reflection February 8

Published on February 13, 2015 by in Reflections

Isaiah 40:21, 28-31; Mark 1: 29-39

Reaction to Reality

We have talked about the words from Isaiah and have been reacquainted with the stressful ministry of Jesus.  When we consider both lectionary readings, one of the common denominators we find is the importance of hope.  Isaiah encourages people to believe that a powerful energy awaits those who put their hope in the Lord God.“  In Mark Jesus is the only hope for the sick and the hopeless.  The demands on Him are so great that He cannot catch a break.  “Hope springs eternal goes the saying.” In Shakespeare’s Richard III we hear :”True hope is swift and flies with swallow’s wings.”  The seventeenth century English poet and clergymen George Herbert wrote in his “outlandish proverbs” :”He that lives in hope danceth without music.”  But there are other ways of seeing hope. The nineteenth century poet Christina Rossetti wrote “the hope I dreamed of was a dream, was but a dream; and now I wake.”  In the wildly popular TV series Downtown Abbey the Dowager Countess of Grantham, Lady Violet, probably the best character in the while program, quips: “ hope is a tease constructed to keep us from facing reality.”

Hope, friends, is one of the three greats mention in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, along with faith and charity.   We have talked about a father’s commitment to find an answer to his son’s medical condition by inventing new technology.  We have talked about the huge problem of lack of jobs in a society dominated by internet technology, but we also see some glimmers of hope in the sharing economy.

Last weekend Carolyn and I visited the New Orleans, Louisiana area.  I had only been there once on a Greyhound bus nearly forty years ago.  I tried very hard to wrap by head around the life and history of that region and I learned so much I didn’t know. New Orleans was until recently always the biggest city in the south and it was also the place with the most free people of color.  It is a mixture of French, Spanish, Native American, descendants of refugees from an independent Haiti and Cajuns who were of French descent and had lived in Canada’s Maritime provinces for a century until the British kicked them out.  All these people mixed and in the food like gumbo and jambalaya it is hard to figure out who influenced who. At one point there were 250 sugar cane plantations along the Mississippi between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. They all had their digs in the French Quarter just like the Downtown Abbey crowd does in London.  So after the harvest, they’d go there and party and match make in the winter.  Even though the sugarcane plantations continue, it feels quiet and country there, but in the old days they lived along the United States’ main highway, the Mississippi river. The hated “Kaintucks” or Kentucky people (i.e.Anglo-Saxons) would float down it for a piece of the action in the crazy bustling city. For many year these plantations lived under the  “Code Noir” or black code of French colonial rule, not just a race but a class system of pecking order.  We heard stories of tragedy and deceit and jealousy, of yellow fever and other diseases of the family, but also of the cruelty of the plantation owners who sometimes would burn their plantation brand into the forehead of an escaped slave.  Yet the slaves lived with a hope that their owners would let them go if they were older when they were of less worth and would be cheaper to release.

Friends, as you get the sweep of the history in the bayous and on the sweltering banks of the river you get the picture of unfathomable suffering, oppression, resilience, creativity and complexity.  So out of this region not only does the richest food emerge, but also the music of America. On the Mississippi state line the traveler is reminded that it is the birthplace of America’s music.  It is perhaps true, but it is so because of the suffering that one group of people imposed on others.  For this is how the blues was born, out of the deep misery and suffering.  Somehow in the midst of oppressiveness and oppression a people found a voice in their music, they found the hope that kept them laughing and hoping.  It was a hope that was spiritual in nature.  It was a way of releasing the sorrow and making way for peace, joy and hope.  It is this spirit that musicians around the world still play with and search for.  In some ways Americans still look for their soul in the south I believe, both its worst demons and better angels.  It is not the soul of glib southern tv evangelists who like to convince people that God desires them to be rich. No, it is the soul of those without economic and political power who found a spiritual power of hope deep inside of them in a place they could only access through their pain.  They would certainly grasp the words of Isaiah when he said that those who hope in the Lord God “will not grow weary” and would find a way to “soar like eagles.” Thanks be to God.

 
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