Thursday, March 29, 2007

API Scores
More Articles and Tidbits

We were out late last night, by the time the girls were put into bed and calmed down for the night I needed to unwind so my wife and I were reading the SF Chronicle and stumbled across some good articles on the API Scores and even some stories about School Option Choices in Oakland. Didn't see them in the morning but caught them before the end of the day.

One talks about the meaning of the API, the 'success' threshold of getting an 800 for a school and the ways in which the API scoring isn't necessarily a fair or just way to evaluate the teaching level of a school. Read it here.

Another article talks about the pressure for folks to move into neighborhoods were there are good public schools. Sounds great...sounds normal...yet the couples they talk about are looking at moving into million dollar + houses in Rockridge. An option that isn't an option for many of us. It goes on to talk about the reality that even if you get that coveted house in a neighborhood uniquely gifted with a good public school -you might not necessarily get into it because of the influx of families and the explosion of entering Kindergarten-aged children in OUSD in 2007. Maybe it's because of family planning, maybe real estate planning, or maybe it's more people choosing public school because private schools aren't an option because of the shackles of massive mortgages financed only by double middle-class salaries. The articles talks about over-enrollement problems at Hillcrest, which also happened in the neighborhood and school of the same name - Redwood Heights. You can read the article here.
Fun Church Video

Check out the bloopers from different church services and weddings.

Thanks to Chuck Marut for sharing!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Oakland School Scores for 2006

If you've been reading my blog or spending any time with me you'll most likely already know plenty about my angst-ridden, neuroticly detail focused, and occasional bouts of hopelessness mixed with a dash of constant regret about trying to get our daughter into a quality and opportunity-providing Elementary School in Oakland next year. We've decided on a private school while we wait to appeal the school option non-option we were given by the district. Ironic it's a bilingual school - the one of my wildest dreams in all my visits - it just has the hang up of the out of our league price. But of course what is fixing the car, having cable, taking vacations, buying an occasional bottle of wine to go with dinner in light of educating one's children, right?

Today in the Tribune there's an article about how "Oakland schools rank low again" you can read it here if you like. So many friends have talked about how much they love Oakland, how they are "lifers" yet struggle to accept and come to grips with the reality that the District doesn't seem to improve, or transform in an overtly positive way from year to year. I guess this year's hot-off-the presses Academic Performance Index (API - the academic ranking of California schools on a 10-point scale in comparison to others California Schools). If you're in OUSD you can see the 2006 scores for your school here, or if you live elsewhere you can search for them here. Sad news for those of us for public school. Yet it tragically (and maybe it's a bit demented) makes me feel better about our choice for next year.

What does it take to turn things around, to transform a complex system? I know a load of 5-star educators working in OUSD as teachers, administrators, and support staff. How does such vision, dedication, skill, and purpose get repeatedly school-jacked by other factors such as lack of parent involvement, spending of money, bad teachers entrenched in the safety of their tenure, and lack of vision? Can one person (or even a small group as Margaret Mead has said) really change the world? What does such change cost?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Lent Reading Day 31
Calming the Storm:

Earlier in Mark 4 we learn that Jesus has been teaching the crowds all day. No doubt tired physically and exhausted mentally he sets off with his disiples to cross the Sea of Galilee. Then this storm comes up. The disciples complain and are conviced of impending death, yet we're given the picture of Jesus sleeping (serenly?) on the deck of the boat (which wasn't a titanic ocean cruiser but rather most likely a small wooden fishing craft) in the midst of the storms that arise suddenly and sweep of the Sea of Galilee even today.

I'm not sure what would have most scared me had I been there: the violent and sudden strength of the storm, or the spookey slumber of the person that I called master. Then Jesus awakes and rises and confronts both the storm and the disciples with "Peace. Be Still!" Calming the waves. Silencing the wind. Confronting the anxiety and doubt of the disciples. Inviting them to be centered as opposed to chaotic in what they've been experiencing all day long. As I read this today I hear the words of Isaiah 30:15 in the background of this story, "Thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: ' In returning and rest you shall be saved; n quietness and in trust shall be your strength.'"

It's like Jesus is speaking directly to us, to me in the conclusion of this part of the chapter..."Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?" Fear that we have to actually save ourselves, because no one else ever pulls us up by our bootstraps all the time. Faith that good will prevail, that we're meant for blessing, that what we put our faith in won't let us down, that this man from Nazareth might not just be talking about the truth, but might just actually be the truth.

"Storm on Galilee" by Rembrandt

Monday, March 26, 2007
Lent Reading Day 30
Laborers in the Vineyard:

Jesus tells the parable to open eyes to the mystery and the seemingly unjust justice of God's righteousness and love. This parable about God's timetable versus the way that we as human beings view the timeclock is shocking. It sucks if you've been working all day and then those that seem to you to be slackers just show up at 4:30 and get the same 8 hour day pay as you come 5:00. Yet for those that can't get a job, those like those in the parable, that are overlooked, not hired, not wanted, not considered - to be given the chance and then to be treated with such tremendous grace is ... WOW! Funny how we want God to be fair (isn't that the first complaint voiced when there is a catastrophe, natural disaster or we don't get our way) and yet God's not interested in being fair, but in being just in grace.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Lent Reading Day 29

The Lost Sheep:

I've heard this story so often that I no longer hear it. Of course you'd look for the sheep....yet if I was the CEO of a major international shepherding firm I would fire the employee who would leave the 99 of the herd to look for one lost sheep. That shepherd wouldn't even get any sort of severance package. So what's the point...the shepherd in Jesus' story should be looking for different work. It can't be just about has to be some sort of metaphorical paradox articulating the crazy lengths to which God will go to seek us out. What seem so trite and simple is yet quite deep and complicated...why would God love us in such an illogical, not-cost-effective way? And if we're called to love each other and ourselves in that same ditch-the-99 to look for the lost-one...than we - and I in particular - have a lot to learn.
Friday, March 23, 2007
Lent Reading Day 28
Lazarus and the Rich Man:
Luke 16:19-31

As I read this passage today I'm reminded of someone in my life who absolutely refuses to listen to what I have to say and what I think. This person claims to listen, to cooperate with me in joint ventures...and yet they absolutely refuse to hear me...they're convinced they know everything and that I'm a young - foolish idiot. What does it take to convince someone to listen - to get someone else to really hear us when we have something important, crucial, to share? This person makes me want to get in my car and express my well-known road rage in a front-page worthy what did Jesus feel like when he repeatedly was beating his head against a stone trying to share his 'bigger' vision of who God is, what God wants of us, and how God wants us to treat each other?

What does it take to open our eyes to what is happening around us? What does it take to open our eyes to the reality that our faith affirms - that we are in need of being saved everyday from the brokeness that characterizes our human condition? Now you might be wondering how it is that I'm affirming some sort of massively pessimistic calvinistic view of total and radical human deparavity as the quintessntial evil creature in creation....yet there is something broken about who we are deep inside, how we react to each other, and the world-system in which we live. We doubt ourselves - our uniqueness - making up for it by striking out at others, by doubting our self-worth, or by simply checking-out. We doubt our relationships don't we....assuming on a certain existential level that we'll be left out, that there won't be enough resources to go around for us to get some (wether that's love, time, food, shelter, energy, clothing, attention or even oil), so as we're hurt in life we gradually let mistrust emerge and become the foundation for many of the ways in which we act and react to and with one another. Looking at our world the system is broken...the rich get richer, the poor poorer, those who need have more need....their is a deep inequality, lack of justice and terrestial mistrust between the nations, the diverse cultures and different races within our world. In all of this our deep mistrust, fear, and anxiety that leads up to violence, competition, destruciton, and division ... directs us in a way more of death than life.

This brokeness of us, our relationships, and our world is what Jesus is talking about - it's what we affirm as reality through and in our faith, it's the problem or the thing that's broken that Jesus somehow fixes in his life, death, and resurrection. In him God turns the powers of the world upside down, transforming oppression into liberation, mistrust into grace, death into new life. What does it take to open our eyes to that need? .. not just some simplistic way of saying that a once-in-a-lifetime conversion-sort-of-prayer will solve all of the problems (of course it's a great start) but that we need to be saved every day, to have the liberating power of this resurrected Jesus become the currency with which we relate to one another, the vision on which we base our life, the love through which we trust that we are loved by God and then can learn from that point to love others and to love ourselves.

What does it take us to recognize that deep need within us, which on a certain level is so obvious? This is what Jesus is talking about....the rich man can't see it, or doesn't want to see it...ignoring his responsibility in continuing a broken system of injustice, and his own need for salvation. Even in his death and the afterlife he continues to treat the poor Lazarus as an errand-boy, someone of less importance than he, someone who seems to be less human. Jesus tells us this shocking parable to force our eyes open, to invite us not just to reflection but to life transformation and action. How are your eyes closed to your need for salvation, our need for salvation, and the need of the world for salvation? We're quick to think or see how others need to be's much harder when it comes to seeing the log in our own eye, our own brokeness and then admiting it and asking for God's salvation to transform us directly and through our living-out-of-faith in the context of a community of faith. We're often so eager to judge the idea of salvation - to reject the notion of a faith that invites us to a deeper and newer way of living - to refuse the idea of sin - existential and universal brokeness that characterizes our human condition. Yet isn't that the thing that's broken - that we can't fix through our political parties, through the empowerment of the proletariat, the increasing power of technology, social programs, or modern warfare and the spread of democracy. We need a savior....and we can't save ourselves.

Thursday, March 22, 2007
Lent Reading Day 27

The Widow’s Mite:
Mark 12:41-44

GENEROSITY. What is it? I think we all tend to believe that we're generous with our time, our efforts, our money, and our life-energy. Yet how do we know what is really generous. In this parable the one who thinks that he's so generous, faithful and righteous is the fool. It's the person who seemingly has nothing that is the one held up as the example to emulate. How often do we fool ourselves? I hear Jesus saying that it's not some sort of Marxist-revolution thing he's up to - he's not just against the rich and for the poor ... it's deeper. He wants to invite and challenge people to be generous with God, each other and themselves starting from and with what God has given. What does that mean for our wealth as a nation in the midst of the larger world population on planet earth?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Lent Reading Day 26

Healing the Ten Lepers:

This story speaks to me of gratitude. How many times do we encounter in our own lives the lack of gratitude...maybe it's others that don't express their thanks to us, or maybe it's us that don't do the expressing... Why is it that in our urban culture to demand things, or why is it that in our church communities were often super-humanly gifted at complaining or bitching about things....and yet we're so verbally-challenged in terms of expressing our gratitude to someone else either in words, a card, a phone card, or even an email? Why are the words, "I want..." and "I don't like....." so much easier to say than "Thank you for..."?

What's striking in this story is that it's a Samaritan that returns to say thanks to Jesus. The samaritans were the bad guys, they were the culturally inferior. Often our derrogatory jokes aim at blondes, polish people, or other cultural groups. For the people of Jesus' day and land the Samaritans were the butt of all the jokes, they were the ones always looked down upon as stupid, slow, out-of-it, here is Jesus telling a teaching story to a group of good Israelite Jews and the "good guy" in the story, the only one to return to say thanks is a Samaritan! With all the cultural and historical differences between us and Jesus' world it's easy to overlook. We're often so smug about our own goodness, which goes hand in hand with a judgement (spoken or un-spoken) of others. Maybe you're like me...I'm quick to criticize the others who don't express gratitude assuming in the same breath that I always do...yet when I look closer, I too am quick to judge the Samaritan who is much more faithful than I.

I was working with someone tonight on a project and they asked me about Jesus, saying "he was a revolutionary, right?" We get so stuck on some cheesy picture of Jesus surrounded by sparkling white sheep and perky children falling all over him that we forget - or don't ever know - what he was really like. This parable points us to the truth....the people who heard it most likely didn't say "what a nice story about inclusion" - they probably were more pissed off than inspired, more likely they muttered "who is this guy?" not in admiration of his respect but in voicing their bitter discontent with his judgemental story. There's a reason why they wanted to kill Jesus.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Lent Reading Day 24

The Golden Rule:

Matthew 7:12

"In everything
do to others
as you would have them do to you;
for this is the law and the prophets."

What radical words. Love your neighbor as yourself - that's how Luke tells it. So simple. Yet so impossibly difficult! I know in my own life it has seemed so easy, yet in the past 5 years I've realized how challengingly difficult it actually is. Until recently I hadn't had the exprience of really hating someone - hating them for their actions, how they treated me, treated my family, and then hating themeven more because they were the first to make me realy hate someone. Am I screwed up, or what? Yet in getting myself so wrapped up in my passionate feelings...I forget about the call to do to others and I would have them due to me. Look at the Freudian slip that I just said...I want people to do to me as I think I'm due....yet that's not what Jesus said. So what does that say about me? What does that say about our culture when that's how we operate?

I've been told - and studied - that Jesus isn't actually the only one to say this, and that he might not have been the first in ancient Palestine, and the Jewish worldview to proclaim this simplification of the 10 commandments, yet when I read it I'm convinced of the truth I've experienced in his words as they ring in my life, echo in my mind, shape my actions, and form my opinons.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Monday, March 19, 2007
Lent Reading Day 23
Plucking Grain of the Sabbath:

Today's story seems so distant and different than what we live today. I mean who goes into the field to eat go to Farmer Joe's or Safeway to buy some bread, or if you're lucky enough walk to La Farine. Who cares if these guys were picking stuff on the sabbath. The pharisees aren't angry that the disciples were stealing, extorting from farmers, or protesting the national farm bill...but that they were disrespecting God by "working" on the day of rest. Jesus reminds them that the sabbath commandment wasn't about following rules, but about celebrating life, recognizing our inter- dependence upon others, and honoring God for creating us with such honor. How often do we turn things around....making rituals that invite us to live life fully into rules that regulate our livelihoods to death. What in us makes us so often choose death over life in that way? Whether parents with children, seniors with younger folks, or leaders with those they govern, we tend to dumb things down, destroy creativity, energy and liberty with rules, nitpicking, and regulations that beat us down and divide us. Why is LIFE so hard to choose? What is it about freedom with purpose that's so often so scary to us? What are we - like the Pharisees in this story - afraid of losing?
What I learned in getting ready for kindergarten:
Fight or Flight

For months now I - like hundreds of families in our city of Oakland - have been actively pursuing and searching out the options we might have for kindergarten. Along with these colleagues in this journey of school visits, web searches of databases, interviews of teachers, administrators, and friends our family received the news for next year this past week. Like many families we received none of the 6 options we had chosen as potential public schools for our 5 year old daughter. (An article in today's Oakland Tribune discusses how the School District Lottery Received Mixed Responses). Last Wednesday we discovered that despite my deepest fears and proactive visiting, networking, and research to find a good school, that my daughter had been sentenced to receive an education at our local neighborhood school (which we had purposely not chosen for it's 30% academic proficieny ceiling of acheivement).

In the midst of 24 hours my wife and I had to make a seemingly simple decision about kindgeraten that in a fubar-ed way has existential consequences for all of our life. Sending her to our local school was not an option. So do we send her to preschool again - a good place - but she's ready to move forward? Do we try to appeal, risking and betting everything on getting into a better school - the second time around? Should we even bother when we felt so screwed over the first time around - despite all the assurances of fairness and equity? Do we send her to a 20k/year private school - we applied to 2 as back-ups and sought financial aid - knowing that we can't afford it, yet choosing it as a short-term solution to our problem for next year? Do we move from Oakland because of the sad schools? Do we move back to Europe to give our kids a free (as it's normal there) bilingual education? Do I give up my job for one that pays better? Does this decision about kindergarten end up being an indirect form of family planning for us in terms of more children? Should we feel guitly or wrong about now supporting public schools with our family when we do so with our words, actions, and relationships?

I'm pondering over all of this as I sit on the front porch watching my daughter joyously riding her big wheel up and down the street, unaware - thankfully - of our decsion, the ramifications, and the ways in which it haunts and dominates my thoughts in my waking and sleeping. How in the world did kindergarten become such a key and foundational choice for the coming years in our life? And we have another daughter...who'll be at this point in 3 years. YIKES! Is this the cost of urban living? No wonder everyone flees to the suburbs and fly-over states when stuff gets difficult. In ancient times cro-magnum families had to choose between fight or flight in terms of being attacked by a sabor tooth tiger or the coming ice with all of our 21st century sophistication, cultural imperialism, and technological prowress we're faced that same choice in terms of kindergarten.
Saturday, March 17, 2007
Lent Reading Day 22
Baptism of Jesus:

What does it mean to be "beloved"? In the end baptism is all about love - the experiential and sensory statement of a nearly-invisible-proclamation that God loves us before we're aware, before we're asking, before we love God back. Even in the story we see that John says to Jesus basically "you're coming to me, before I can come to you!?" Isn't that what it means to be beloved? I feel that the most in my life knowing that my partner is going to pursue me, ask me about what's going on, encourage me when I'm discouraged, fight for and alongside me sometimes before even I fully grasp the fight that needs to happen in life for more freedom and fullness. Baptism is one of my favorite experiences - and such a privelege to do as a pastor with others....yesterday in church we used the baptismal font during the confession time in service, remember the words of St Patrick's Breastplate - a promise of God's solidarity, presence, and before-baptismal love - like the words, the water of baptism surrounds, engulfs and inundates us on all sides - before, after, left, right, under, above. What better experiential metaphor for being beloved!

St Patrick's Breastplate

I arise today Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the onenessOf the Creator of Creation.

I arise today Through the strength of Christ's birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels, In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs, In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles, In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins, In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun, Radiance of moon, Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning, Swiftness of wind,Depth of sea,
Stability of earth, Firmness of rock.

I arise today Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save meFrom snares of devils,
From temptations of vices, From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear, Alone and in multitude.
I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,...
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.

Christ with me,
Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today Through a mighty strength,
the invocation of the Trinity,Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness, Of the Creator of Creation.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Friday, March 16, 2007
Lent Reading Day 21
The Birth of Jesus:

"GOD IS WITH US." Someone in my church tells me this every time I have her on the phone or talk with her in person. It strikes me for she says it as a reminder, to give encouragement to others, to confirm that good stuff is happening, and even to give herself - and others - hope in hard times. What then does it mean that the name of the savior in the Christian tradition, of God becoming human, is God with us - a statement, a proclamation, a reminder, and a challenge. What does it mean for me?

This week has been a roller coaster of ups and downs: emotional, physical, mentally, and socially. Our 2 year old daughter broke her leg - on my watch of course! - and then we heard the final word about our daughter's placement for kindergarten both in the Oakland Public Schools and the Private Schools of the East Bay. I've been moving anxiously towards this week for about 3 months now...terrified of what we'd learn, of the choices we wouldn't have to make. Feeling so hopeless, I forgot and still do this promise that "God is with us." If anything I've gone from moments of feeling that "God is absent" even to the extreme that "God might be against us" or at best "indifferent." I think the challenge for me in all of this is that I struggle with what it means that "God is with us" - does that mean protection, blessing, solidarity in hard times, a guardian-angel presence on our shoulders, or an invitation to risk radically in challenging situations?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Anti- or Pro-Choice?

The past months I've been working on the possibility of choosing a school for our kindergarten bound daughter in the schools of Oakland Unified School District. In the midst of the searching, numerous school visitations, and way-too-often sleepless nights of anxiety there was an article published in the Oakland Tribue about the School Choice Process and how things are looking up for the district as more and more families are deciding that the right school for their children is a public school as opposed to continuing the cycle of a massive exodus of Oakland families to the Private Independent Schools of the East Bay. Read the article here.

While the article was thoughtful and seeking to empower folks to choose OUSD schools I found it to simplisitc and naive. Do we really have a choice? Or is it merely just a mirage to make OUSD folks feel good? Who has a choice... is it only those families that have the money to comfortably choose between private and public education, or who can either afford or managed to buy early into expensive gentfiying neighborhoods in which the public schools are transforming and improving in relationship to the explosively escalataing house values in the past post-dot com years in which numerous families moved into many Oakland neighborhoods? I sure don't feel like my family really has a choice...and yet we have much more of a choice than many other families of preschoolers we're journeying with....

Here's the letter I sent to the author as my response to the article......

I read with anticipation and trepidation your article on the front page of the Oakland Tribune this morning about the search for a right school as my wife and I are also currently traversing the same journey of school choice for our 4 year old daughter.

As I read, I felt increasingly disappointed. The Larson-Moore family do indeed have a difficult choice to make, private school for $14-19,000 a year or a local OUSD school. But what you overlooked in your article is the reality that they have a choice, as opposed to the many middle class families that live in the part of East Oakland below HWY 13 strectching from the Glenview to the Millsmont Neighborhood. Many are the families there, like my own, that don't have such a choice, let alone any choice, in terms of where their children will go to school. Our half-a-million dollar homes sentence us to the enslaving necessity of dual incomes, which preclude any fantasy of affording an independent school. Simultaneously we're also stuck in neighborhoods where the local school options top out, at best, with the elementary schools succeeding in increasing the rate of proficiency in language arts and mathematics among their students to the incredibly low ceiling of 30%.

I myself have visited Glenview, along with nearly a dozen others OUSD schools these past several months, scrambling to see what the odds are that the OUSD School Options gods might entertain my prayers and grant my daughter a preciously rare spot in a school that seeks to and is actually achieving academic proficiency in more than just a third of their student population. The other reality is that many of these families, in this part of East Oakland, are increasingly multi-racial couples who fled San Francisco as Housing Refugees clinging to the dream of buying a home in Oakland. Having survived the roller-coaster nightmare of bidding for a home in Ivy Leagu-esque competitions of the past six years, they no longer question if they should leave Oakland because of the mortgage possiblities, they now do so because for all their financial stretching, their children are doomed to an inadequate education in neighborhoods where the average home price far exceeds the national mean.

I applaud your efforts to bring such important stories to light, but would have prefered to read an article going beyond the stereotypical story of the single-wage-owner caucasian family risking the choice of sending their child to an OUSD school to explore the stories of the dual-wage middle class multiracial families of teachers, social workers, police officers and small business owners, who have no choice but the luck of the draw in this month's school options lottery.

Respectfully yours,


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Thursday, March 15, 2007
Lent Reading Day 20
The Fiery Furnace:
Daniel 3:1-30

This is one of my favorite stories of the Bible...and has my favorite name - Meshach. I'm amazed at how the wise and all-powerful king is so quickly stumped, surprised and succumbs to the experience of true power. The story is grounded in the topic of faithfulness and obedience. What does it mean to be obedient to what you believe is true? What might it cost for you or us to be faithful to the call of God for our lives and in our world?

I don't know if I could step in the furnace like those three young guys... Did they assume they'd die? Were they not afraid of dying? Did they expect God to save them from the fire? Were they ready to die? In any case I'm sure that they didn't expect what happened to happen. It all leads me back to the question of I willing to be obedient to God's call of and for me? Do I even want to? When things get sticky, costly, and faithful have I been in the past?; how faithful am I today?....what will I be like in the future? It seems like were surrounded by a culture in which the easy-way-out is the best option, or that we choose what feels good in the moment....I do that with my cell phone plans, making a purchase a target, or deciding what I'm going to eat at a given meal. But those extra minutes, the debit cards totals, and the extra trans-fats do all add up...they do have can't simply move our total-due from one credit card to another forever. I'm not talking about the fear of the trumpet call and the fires of hell....but the consequences of my actions, the results of my decisions, the ripples that my person, passion, and purpose make on the water surface of life, the communities I live within, and in my own personhood. Asking if I'm (or you're) faithful or obedient is the easy, false piste question to ask....what's harder to answer is the question...where in my (our) life (lives) do I not want to be faithful, or refuse to be obedient? And why?
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Lent Reading Day 19
Isaiah 9:1-7

We live in a time of gathering darkness...there seems to be growing injustice in terms of the priveleges awarded the hyper-rich and the suffering of the expanding population of the poor-er class, war has become so common that we seem almost complacent to change in the world (I'm not just talking about the Middle East, and Iraq in particular...but also Lebanon, the Lord's Resistance Army of abducted children in Uganda, and the violence in our cities). More and more we seem to wonder if anything can change, if anyone can bring transformation to our broken world, bringing healing to what is shattered, unity to what is divided, sight to the places where we're blind, and rivers of justice to the dry-places dominated by the lack of justice. But it's not just in our day and time that such darkness seems onmipresent.

Isaiah's prophecies were recorded nearly 2,500 years ago when

the powers of Babylon and Assyria were rearing their head in the
ancient Middle East....they were dominating the "known world" establishing an empire that the Israelites could not resist nor vanquish even though they fantasized that God would deliver them (despite his warnings of the contrary).

Hear Isaiah offers an oracle that justice - peace - light in the darkness - hope in the hopelessness - would emerge in the birth of

child - an event first-and foremost - about relationship, interdependence, mutuality, and growth. In a world yearning for change - God doesn't ask them to settle by simply waiting for it - but to live fully - to anticipate that God's zeal would accomplish something so new, so different, so beyond-the-imagination that it could only be imagined as the using of the uniforms and weapons of armies as fuel for fires to warm the cold, and make food for the hungry.

Looking back the early church community saw with clarity that Jesus of Nazareth who they knew and experienced as Messiah and Savior - was this baby born into the world like light illumnating a room engulfed in darkness. How do we experience this same baby today? We often fight over what specifics to believe, over the historicity of this or that event, or the translation of this or that word in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek....yet what the prophetic oracle is first and foremost about is HOPE. How does faith bring hope? How does our common faith, that in Jesus of Nazareth God does something unique, authoritative, and world-changing, gather us together into a transforamtive community, equip us with new HOPE, and send us into the world as peace-makers, and bridge-builders with that same hope? Such hope can't be limited to programmatic declarations of what is or isn't a family value, what is or isn't righteous, or what is or isn't proper according to tradition. Such radical hope is the currency with which deep, radical, hope-giving, life-sustaining, and world-transforming are built, strengthened, and shared. How does your faith give you hope? How does it give you new hope? How does it inspire, encourage, and equip you to share such hope in active peace-making and bridge-building ways with those in our homes, neighborhoods, cities and across the world we share with each other?
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Lent Reading Day 18
Test of Solomon’s Wisdom:
1 Kings 3:3-28

Today's scripture story tells of King Solomon asking for wisdom from God and then the most famous example of his wisdom in resolving a problem within his kingdom. Two mothers. One dead baby. One living baby. Who's is who's? Who is lying? Who is telling the truth. Solomon wise reply is both horrifying and smart beyond imagination. He knows the hearts of the women as mothers. He knows how to recognize true life-giving love is like. He accepts the truthfulness and honesty of what are our limits and strengths as human beings in relationship with each other, ourselves and with the living God.

As I mediate on the story I wonder what is the God given wisdom that this passage might be birthing in me, in our church community, or calling us to discover as a community of faith? Where in my life, where in our church life (our mission, our purpose, our established - or traditional - identity) are we stuck...insisting on holding on to the past, the familar, or the easy-answers in the face of the massive cultural change and general transformation happening all around us? Where am I - where are we - insisting that both babies die...because we lost ours? What am I - what are we - so attached to that we refuse to give it up in order to accept the past, live fully in the present NOW moment, and receive something new in the coming-to-us present?

"Judgement of Solomon" by He Qi, China
Monday, March 12, 2007
Lent Reading Day 17
Advice from the Proverbs:
10:15, 10:20

WISE - do you consider yourself to be? Who of us thinks that we're foolish, and yet we all do foolish things. Tradition says that King Solomon wrote the Proverb sayings of this book following the wisdom that he gained as King throughout his life and in particular the wisdom that God gave to him. A pastor once told me that there are only 2 resources that we have and can use - our money and our time. Today's passage talks about our money and our words. How do you use them to build rather than destroy, to bless rather than curse? Are you governed by your money, or by your lack of control over your words? How so? Why?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Saturday, March 10, 2007
Lent Reading Day 16
Advice from the Proverbs
10:7, 10:12

What is wisdom exactly? Do you have to be old to be wise? If you've lived a lot and you've learned from all your many mistakes - does that automatically mean your wise?, or does it hint at your learning style?

Today's proverbial selection reflects on the power of memory and love. History - as they say - is written by the winners. So what does it mean to say that "the memory of the righteous is a blessing"? When I hear the word righteous in this verse I think more of honesty, integrity, authentic humaness seeking to walk in the sacred peace-making ways of the living God, than I do of morality related boasting, family value proclamations or battlecries for societal change. The blessing is not in the winner's history, but in the living memory of those seeking to live fully, wholly, and authentically.

The second proverb talks about hatred created strife and love doing the opposite. It's not that love is a gushy sort-of-politically-correct-tolerance-hug-a-tree passive agressive feeling, but rather an active, creative, and transformational way of living, knowning and being known. It makes me think of an article in the Tribune today about the division and hatred being generated by the increasingly over-the-top and blatantely hyper-provocative comments of Ann Coulter (and Bill Maher) who talk and scream hatred in order to keep the media attention focused upon them. Rather than loving to talk and write, they seem to talk and write because they love the spotlight.

The underlying word for me in these proverbs is why do we do what we do? - whether it's as an individual or as a community of faith?
Friday, March 9, 2007
Lent Reading Day 15
The Voice of the Lord Psalm
Psalm 29

Voice...what power there is in it. When we pick up the phone and that instant in which we recognize the voice on the other end. The tension in anticipating if it will be friendly, that person that really gets to you, or the more-than-familar silence followed by a click and then a salesperson's voice. There is power in our voice - power to thunder over the brouhaha of a crowded room, the authority in a silent whisper, the soothing gentleness of a "i love you" when tucking a child in, the violence of verbal abuse littered with explectives, and the anxiety-inducing silence that comes when we expect or await a reply.

We're so inundated with noise, speaking, talking, chatterings, conference calls, ever-on radios and tvs, that we often no longer hear others. The well known cell phone marketing strategy asking, "Can you hear me now?" indirectly asserts that we tend to block everyone and everything out as white noise to be avoided. This ancient poem, called Psalm 29, speaks of the power of God's voice. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures God creates, redeems, recreates, heals, saves, and invites through the power of the divine voice. It's that voice and God's creative power in speaking that the psalmist celebrates in psalm 29. God speaks the universe and us into action - in creation, the call to Abraham, the revelation of the burning bush, the call to Joshua, in the falling of the walls of Jericho, and in the consecration of David as the king. We take that for granted...I know I do. I expect God to speak - and if I miss it for God to leave me a voice mail or something so that I can know what I missed. We're so busy that we barely hear each other, let alone are centered enough to recognize when God is speaking and then listen with all our being.

The Methodist and UCC churches have the campaign saying that "God is still speaking..." It seems that the problem is that our reception is bad (does God need of more cell phone towers?) or we're simply unable, or unwilling, to listen. During Lent this year I'm taking on the spiritual discipline of "centering prayer" seeking to spend more time just listening. (Centering prayer is more about listening to God and sitting in God's presence than talking or offering verbal prayers). If you want to try an online prayer practice check out "sacred space."

What are you doing, being, or envisioning in order to be a better listener of God's Voice?
Thursday, March 8, 2007
Lent Reading Day 14
The Shepherd Psalm
Psalm 23

This just might be the best-known scripture among those that have read, or heard the Bible read. I find it's the passage that is most request at memorial services - either by the family, or by people who tell me that when they die that want that read. Why is it so popular and well loved? I mean who of us has really ever worked as a shepherd? or can really identify with the life, work, and world-view of a shepherd? Granted the city of Oakland moves sheep around the Oakland hills in the Summer months in order to help keep the wild grasses under control in terms of another potential urban fire - but other than that connection....few and far between are the experiences we've had of shepherding.

As I surfed the internet look for some sort of photo to visualize my thoughts about psalm 23 I realized that what grabs us maybe is the image of green pastures, of a God that wants good for and with us; a God who blesses us so that we might bless others in return and start some sort of pay-it-forward, upward-sprial of blessings in our all-too-often parched and burnt-up world. More often than not we tend to hear more about Faith as a battlefield (see the great article in today's SF Chronicle linked here) then about Faith as what me most experience it to be: some sort of life-transforming oasis of strength, hope, grace, rest, and sanctuary, a mission much more of regegenerative and empowering resurrection than a militaristic battlecry to purge the darkness we see all around us. Maybe what's so powerful about this faith poem is the imagery of the valley of the shadow of death? I mean it's just there, well-known, not taken for granted. Oftentimes it has something to do with who we are, or related to consequences of our own actions, worldviews, or broken relationships. We've all been there, traveled through it, can name what it has been for us and our communities. Whereas so often in our more militaristic churches today we blame everyone else for the darkness: our culture, this or that group, rock music, sex in advertising, materialistic consumerism, or the fact that we need to return to the golden years of morality and family values (whenever that was). Maybe the power we experience in these words comes from the pictures it paints in our memories - beginning with the affirmation that the Lord is the one that cares for us, wants good for us, desires to see us grow both individually and corporately as we live together in a community. It then continues asserting that we all WILL walk through the valley of the shadow of death - and that God is with us in a solidarity - not a hallmark-gift-card - way, transforming our fear into something else, in the midst of our darkness and despair.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Lent Reading Day 13
David and Goliath
1 Samuel 17:1-54

Today's selection as we continue the Lent Challenge to read through the Bible again reveals the heart of God and the unifiying believed-in promised-reality of the people of Judeo-Christian Faith. The small overcomes the big. The seeminglly insignificant is more essential than the boasting tyrant. The humble overturns the proud. God is not seen or heard in the loud storm, the strong wind or the violent earthquake, but in the silent stirring whisper. David is the ultimate hero of the Bible, along the lines of Abraham, Moses, Debora, Ruth, and Esther.

The story is deep - granted it's a perfect made-for-tv sort of story in which the young amost-king-arthur-ish boy vanquishes the nastry and brustish giant of a man. It's a story meant to shape the people of faith, to shape the way that we envision and experience greatness, authority, faithfulness, and perseverance. It's a counter-cultural, revolutionary story that reminds us of the worldview we are shaped by and the faith community in which we are formed by our common faith in Christ. Ironic that this is our passage the day after the news about the falling of Libby. The story of David, who rises from the pastures of shepherd-om to become hero of the people in a nearly survivor-ish story, and then on to become the Hebrew Idol as the chosen king to replace Saul when the latter becomes proud, arrogant, and self-suficient, is crucial in the Hebrew Scriptures. Is it any wonder that our ancestors in faith claimed that Jesus the Messiah who overturns the proud, and lifts up the poor, was a descendent of the King David? How does this story shape you? How does it inform the way that you see the world, anticipate God to act, imagine the way in which God invites us to particpate in the kingdom-revolution in our world?
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Lent Reading Day 12
Anointing of Saul
1 Samuel 9:15-10:1

The Israelites clamor to be like everyone else, giving into to the peer pressure of fitting-in as an emerging nation in the ancient world, they beg God for a king to rule over them. They trade the direct relationship with God (through the priest Samuel) for one in which God rules them but through the power and presence of a human king.

As I read this story I wonder how Saul felt? I mean he doesn't seem to know that he is going to become king, and that Samuel has been instructed by God to annoint him to this newly created position in the Israelite community. How does it feel to hear "God wants you to be king." I wonder how it felt for Samuel to say it?

I'm struck by Saul's comment, "I'm only a Benjamite..." It seems to me that such a phrase shows up in nearly every major story of a transformational experience of God's presence and purpose in the Hebrew Scriptures. Abraham. Sarah. Moses. Hannah. Samuel. "But I'm only...." It's amazing how God transforms the humble "I'm only..." into something more.

"Samuel annointing Saul"
Monday, March 5, 2007
Lent Reading Day 11
The Call of Samuel
1 Samuel 3:1-4:1

The story of Samuel hearing God's voice in the night strikes me as a tragic-comedy - along the lines of an episode of Three's Company integrated with ER. Eli - the chief priest - the one that is supposed to know God and to recognize God's voice is not the one that God speaks to. Instead the voice of God comes to the child Samuel, whose mother Hannah entrusted him to Eli to live in the temple in the service of the Lord. Samuel mistakes God's voice for Eli's who then is irritated that the boy keeps waking him up in the middle of the night. But then Eli realizes what is happening and teaches Samuel to recognize the call of God and to repsond to God's presence and purpose. The story challenges us about the voice of we recognize when God comes calling? Or are we too busy?; too distracted?; too doubtful?; or maybe waiting for God to speak to us on our own terms - like in a podcast or a cell call.

God calls and his call of Samuel means that God is not calling the deliciously and seflishly gluttonous sons of Eli. The authority of being the priest of God passes from Eli to Samuel. God's call doesn't have to do with birthright, genetics, social standing, or even already being in a place of political power. Rather God calls the unexpected. God speaks to those that are listening for God's voice, not saying what they think God wants for others only to get ahead themselves. Samuel as we'll see in the subsequent readings for Lent becomes a great and wise priest of the Lord, leading the people, listening to God's Voice, obedient and in the service of God's will. In our own lives - and in our denomination - we often think that God most speaks to those with a Masters degree of Divinity, with a particular background, extensive knowledge of the Bible, or who are repeatedly in positions of power. Yet the story of Samuel reminds us that God calls according to God's vision - not our resumes, pedigrees, or power-hunger. The God we've seen so far in the readings of the Bible is one that is revolutionary, overthrowing the power structures by speaking to the people of the margins - the prophets, children, the barren, sick, excluded, overlooked and forgotten. In our own lives, and in our own church, who do we look to to speak for God? In doing so are we looking to those people or looking to God to speak?

by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1851-60. World Mission Collection

Saturday, March 03, 2007

go outside and testify
An editorial from Monte McClain
The past weeks have seen a surge in political activity. From the positioning of multiple candidates on both sides of the spectrum, you would think that the presidential election is slated for next month. Several are already the darlings of particular groups – whether that be Hollywood, the Political Parties, the Red States, the Blue States, or the Evangelical Lobby. Each claims to speak for the whole, for the diverse people of our nation. In the same time period, Molly Ivins, the prolific nationally syndicated columnist, died of breast cancer. In her final column she encouraged her readers – and all citizens – to remember that “We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step out and take some action…” Granted, Molly Ivins spoke and wrote from one side of the political spectrum, but in meditating on those final words of a long career, as she faced her imminent death, I’m struck by the power of her thought in terms of being a disciple of Jesus the Christ and living my faith out in the context of our Fruitvale Presbyterian Church faith community.

It seems that faith is being spoken of wherever you look. The possibility that Jesus’ tomb was discovered along with Mary Magdalene’s and their baby’s in Jerusalem is the subject of a current Discovery Channel Show. Several outspoken conservative Christian leaders lambaste the front-running Republican nominees for not being Christian enough. The power of a good life – the ideal life – is being heralded as the secret knowledge contained in the latest best-seller called The Secret; if we simply envision and focus upon the things that we want, we will supernaturally attract them to us – good jobs, cash, the perfect car, and a leaner body will simply appear as we think about them. All of these events are occurring and being discussed as we journey through Lent – the church season in which we take the time to focus, or maybe re-focus, on who Jesus of Nazareth was, what he said, and how he lived in a way that revealed that he wasn’t just a good teacher, possessed a secret for material wealth, or was the foundation of DaVinci code related mysteries; but rather that he was and is the Living Christ who transformed the universe through his death and resurrection, and invites us to transformation by living in that same resurrection power today, here, and now.

How often is it that we let others – politicians, Hollywood stars, day-time TV divas, or best-selling authors – speak for us? In a generation in which many people have no personal experience with the church community or the faith we profess and possess in Jesus Christ, how can we be surprised when we seem to often let others speak for us because they have a title, following, or celebrity? We tend to believe – and rightly so – that God will provide the testimony, spread the good news that the resurrection of Jesus Christ brings power, purpose, and passion to our daily lives, meaning to our work, and transformational community to our congregations. We tend to think that God will provide someone else to do that testifying. We don’t want to be a bother in the line at Safeway, a nuisance in our workplace, or a lightening rod in our neighborhood. I’m reminded of the story of Esther in the Hebrew Scriptures, in which Esther becomes the queen. She wonders how God will save her people, and her uncle Mordecai plainly states to her, “who knows but that you have come to the [position in which you are] for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

If there is a secret to faith it’s that God also has faith in us, that through Jesus we too can spread the good news of God’s love and justice through our words, actions, presence, relationships, and silence. God doesn’t simply entrust this mission to the professional clergy, the PhD’ed, or Nobel Prize-winning writers. We are the people that make up the church. We are those invited to share the story of resurrection and our stories of spiritual transformation. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step out and take some action to testify to what we believe and how it changes the world. We need people in the streets standing for justice, voicing the concerns of God’s heart, and working to make the Peace of God the Peace of our World.
Peace to you and yours,

Friday, March 02, 2007

March 3, 2007
Lent Reading Day 10
Joshua and the Battle of Jericho:

The Israelites have made it out of their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, leadership has passed to the next generation from Moses to Joshua. They enter the promised land and take Jericho the first main town they encounter. Bloody and destructive - it can seem like a bizarre story of the people of God finding the home that God promised them in their pillaging the home of another. What's the point then of this story? Is it reinforcing the idea that the Hebrew Scritpures are merely written to advance and justify the perspective and worldview of a particular people? Or is there more?

What strikes me in the story is that Joshua and the Israelites trust that God will provide. In seemingly unbelievable ways that first meet Rahab, remain faithful to her hospitality...and God provides for the Israelites in a miraculous and mysterious way. How often do we truly believe that God will provide? In our day and age it's much more common for us to feel entitled to something, believing that we deserve it and must take it by our own means. Yet the sotry of Jericho reminds us and invtes us to trust that God will provide.

March 2, 2007

Lent Reading Day 9

The Ten Commandments:

Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:1-21

Simple yet profound, the ten words given from God to Moses for the Israelites serve as a foundation for their community life together. Not just a set of rules, of do's and don'ts, they serve as guiding ethic by which the Israelites life-in-community is shaped. They value life, respect the other, and integrate that in the belief in the God that freed the Israelites from oppression in Egypt. They tie together in a deeply interdependent way relationships between God and people, between people and each other, and the way that we consider ourselves. They serve as a reminder of God's priorities, the purpose of creation, and the way that we ourselves want to live in freedom, solidarity, and community.

As you read them what strikes you, grabbing your attention? Why is that? Read the texts again. What is the difference between the Exodus version and the Deuteronomy version? Hint: look at the commandment about the Sabbath. What does it mean to be free? What does it mean to rest in a sabbath-way? How are you missing those values in your life? How are we neglecting them in our society? The commandments are given to remind the Israelites of who they are and who God is calling them to be in their new-found freedom. How do we forget who God calls us to be and how we called to live as a people?

Sculpture "The Tablets of the Law" from the Ratner Museum