Sunday, September 30, 2007
Friday, September 28, 2007
I went to the new Whole Foods store down by the lake today and nearly passed out from the beauty. WOW! The store is amazing...the gelato bar at the entry was awesome. And it just got better and better. Check out the cheese section, produce and wine sections....fantastic. I kept expecting to round a corner and bump into Alice Waters, Michael Pollan or at least Barbara Kingsolver.
Of course I'm partial to Farmer Joe's and the other emerging slow food mecca markets in the Dimond/Laruel districts. I went to Farmer Joe's to pick up my favorite espresso and get a baguette and was reminded of the diversity of East Oakland. While turning down homemade Tamales sold by a Latino Family in the parking lot, I then said hi to a familar faced street-man drinking a cup of Peet's coffee in front of La Farine as I walked in for my bread. I then jay walked across the street with an African mother and daughter. Where else can you get all of that in 100 square feet (along with human hair extensions next door and several manicure places - as a Dimond resident recently pointed out). I don't think Whole Food can beat that.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
At our church community we're both using the Lectionary (Luke) and adding another for theological reasons (1 Corinthians).
The Luke passage is problematic. The rich guy is a loser, judgmental, the bad guy...the ultimate sinner who thought of himself highly in life and didn't think of other - in particular the poor - at all. It's interesting how extreme his wealth is contrasting with the poverty of Lazarus. The rich man is buried, Lazarus not at all (quite a shameful thing in the ancient Israelite society). The rich man not only doesn't notice or care for Lazarus, he's not just out of luck, Lazarus is so overlooked, excluded, downtrodden that the neighborhood dogs (a dirty, unclean, nasty animal for the Israelites - maybe like Cockroaches for us today) come and lick the sores on his skin (probably leprousy or some other sort of skin disease).
Jesus is telling a story to push the envelope, to shock us with an extreme contrast is to grasping the extreme and radical truth experienced in the good news gospel he's trying to teach.
The rich man goes to hell and sees Lazarus partying it up in heaven while he suffers in the fires. So he asks for mercy not for him, but for his descendants who still have a chance. Shockingly Jesus' teaching says that no warning will be given....for if they can't hear the invitations to new ways of living that they've already heard in the prophets (like Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Micah) why would they listen? Odds are even if someone rose from the dead they wouldn't listen.
Did Jesus really say this while he was alive, knowing that he would die and rise from the dead? I'm not sure...maybe he did, maybe it's Luke going back and tweaking the original story with edits empowered by his hindsight? But that's not the point. The man seems to be concerned with salvation, the end of the road...where he ended up and where his descendants will end up. I think Jesus is more concerened with the here and now...how are we treating others around us...not just those that are in our social-class or ethnic group, or even those that can scratch our back and network us to a better quality of life. Jesus is saying to have compassion, to notice and to be in relationship with others.....even if they're like Lazarus and they might not have anything to give in return. It's not just some sort materialistic communist pc dogma...but Jesus' radical affirmation of the promise and mysterious truth of the Creation Stories in Genesis 1 & 2 - in which God says that we are created in God's image....God's beloved children and creation. It's not based on our net worth, if our mortgage is sub-prime or not, or on our racial/ethnic background....we are the beloved creation and children of God just because we are. So we need to recognize the "me" of each of us in the "we" of all of us.
Paul in 1 Corinthians is telling a similar thing. He's writing to the trouble-plagued, gossip-loving church community of Corinth in all its alienating in-fightin, exclusivistic practices, and privelge-based worship styles. They are a community. They are a community because God loves them, they've experienced that in a revolutionary participatistic way in Jesus the Christ. They need to recognized that God loves them as individuals and as a community - the body of Christ. In fact it's in their life together that they embody and represent the Body of Christ, the purpose of Christ, the Gospel incarnate in the world.
I think that the story of Luke 16 goes over our head. Most of the people in the communit in which I practice my faith aren't like the rich man. I don't think most of us our, besides Hitler, Stalin - or other politicians, but I digress. The point is that we deal more in the grey areas of life than the black and white extremes of Jesus' parable. I think we're more likely to mistrust other people than to treat them like dogs. We're more likely to not respond to their needs, to treat them badly, not because we're that clueless, compassionless, or un-human...it's more about mistrusting each other out of fear, competition, jealousy, past hurts, personal history, or baggage. We would walk over someone more because we've been hurt by them, distrust them, don't like them, or fear them as opposed to being completely unconscious of them, their needs and their situation.
I unpacked a printer toner cartridge in the office today that was wrapped in that fabulous bubble wrap stuff. The toner was completely protected in that bubble warp bag...so I wonder if that's not what we wouldn't want to wrap our entire bodies and lives in to protect ourselves in the dangers, chaos and risks of every day in urban life. Wouldn't that be great? We wouldn't have to worry about who we can and shouldn't trust. We wouldn't have to fear who could or couldn't hurt us. We would have to be anxious about having our hand bit by those we try to feed out of generosity and solidarity.
But the problem is, that really isn't living. I had lunch on Tuesday @ Sparky's - one of the places I escape to for a momentary respite of an avocado burger, fries and a killer shake, all with a view of Oakland. At the table next to me two women were talking, quite loudly, so I wasn't exactly listening in. One woman explained that she just bought a house with her husband and made sure that both of their names is on the deed and mortgage, because she's not sure she wants to stay with him. She did it to ensure that she'd get her part. What? I wondered, almost aloud, why she'd even buy the house with the man that she doesn't even trust, let alone maybe even love.
I wonder if we approach most of our relationships like that - wether it's the Lazarus on the street or the members of our family. Maybe that's what Jesus is talking about.....maybe that's what Paul is talking about in terms of understanding the body of Christ and who we are in it and by it. That's what new life in Christ is about....not having to live in the bubble wrap so that we might live with all the depth of our humanity and our freedom as God created us to be and Christ saves us to become by grace. Could it really be that easy? Or is that just trite and cliche?
Monday, September 24, 2007
Links to more trivia stuff at NBC.com HERE
Link to the unofficial fan website "9th Wonders" HERE.
We raised over $3600 today at our church fundaiser....thanks to the gifts, generosity, and solidarity of many of you from the communities of Fruitvale Church, the Dimond, the Laurel and beyond to Orinda, Larkspur, San Francisco and even Fair Oaks! Here are some highlights of today's events...photos as well as some videos of Montana Slim and their fanatastic music.
If you want to hire Montana Slim, or just become a groupie, you can contact them and sign up for a concert email list at their myspace page HERE.
Thanks go to all those that helped us - in particular local businesses such as:
Saturday, September 22, 2007
The new La Farine bakery (3411 Fruitvale Ave.) opened today, in the early afternoon, in the Dimond District. I cruised by shortly afterwards and took some photos. They still have work to do: a sign, some tables and chairs to install, and the whole coffee installation...but the baked goods look "impecable" as our francophile brothers and sisters would say. In visiting the store, the workers mentionned that nearly everyone who'd come in to celebrate the grand opening day talked of how excited they are about the opening. Who knows? Maybe the Dimond will become the Gourmet Ghetto of Oakland? Maybe Alice Waterswill open a restaurant in our hood? I somehow doubt it....but who knows. Enjoy the snapshots of the beautiful creations chez la Farine.
PS - le pain au chocolat (appelle le chocolatine chez eux) semble etre presque parisien!
Friday, September 21, 2007
I've had a crappy week. I'm sitting here nursing my bitterness with a friend's homemade beer and Brandi Carlile playing in the background. In my grumpiness I'm realizing how God's written Word is truly alive, speaking to me, challenging me, shaping me even now when I feel so lame.
I find myself irritated...by many things (not really new if you know me)...but in particular by some of the shrews in my life this week and their comments of criticizm and condemnation. So I'm shocked as I reflect on my studies today of the Lectionary Passages suggested for this coming Sunday....about Jesus commending a shrewd manager, or steward. I think all too often we act as shrews, thinking that it's not that big of a deal, choosing mistrust over trust in our relationships, as opposed to living as Jesus thought and acted...shrewdly. That doesn't mean evil, sneaky, passive-agressive or violently...but that we live, act, speak and move with purpose, intention, and strategic vision - looking to the big picture, not just what we want at a given moment or feel jealous about.
It's a crazy scripture (Luke 16) - and yet God's Spirit is speaking to me through it. Here's this manager, steward, guy, who is getting into trouble for messing around ENRON-style with the big man's money. So the rich man comes into the story all Eliot-Spitzer-like, telling the dishonest steward that judgement is coming, the accounts are due....it's pay up or he'll have to pay. Why? Doesn't say. But judgement time has come, D-Day is here. So the steward sets out to ensure that when he's fired and forced out onto the street, he'll land on his feet Kenneth Lay-style, not in the gutter. So he goes to all those that owe him money and reduces their debt (basically getting rid of the interest he's charged them on top of the principal loaned to them by the rich man in the parable). In his shrewdness he makes friends with his opportunely-timed faithfulness to ensure that he'll be welcomed into their homes in the future, the unavoidable fact of his looming unemployment without any sort of a compensation package.
He's commended for being shrewd..for thinking ahead, for using what he has been given in order to move into the future. WHAT? So maybe I'm bitter because I haven't been shrewd enough? Maybe I've been too nice, too trusting, too believing that things will work out in life, that some sort of karmic reality does actually exist in the universe. Does this scipture mean that instead of biting my lip I shouldn't be biting another? What is Jesus saying? It seems to fly in the face of everything else he's said about....loving your neighbor as yourself....picking up your cross and following after him....whoever has done this to the least of these has done it to me.
The second half of the Luke 16 scripture changes tone. It's about faithfulness and unfaithfulness, most likely a secular or popular saying. The sort of expression that you'd share in a personnel meeting after an interview. Those who succeed in little will do so with big stuff. But Jesus pushes it further, saying that you can't have 2 masters. You can't serve both money (or mamon) and God.
In the end I think the scriptures talk about idolatry, that we often mistaken the means to an end, as the end in itself. The dishonest manager was shrewd and commendable because he recongnized (maybe just in time?) that the money was just a means to an end, not the end in itself. We seem to most often get lost when we serve money and wealth instead of realizing that it's in the service of what God created, redeemed and desires for and in the world.
Maybe we struggle so often in life because we're looking at the little picture instead of the big, switching the means to the "end" for the end in itself, settling for second best when we don't have to?
God isn't the God of those that stick it to the man, swipe wealth from others and cheat themselves to power. The theological poetery of Psalm 113 reminds us that the God of the Universe is on the side of the poor, the foreigner and the barren woman - the people most excluded in ancient Israelite culture and society. It's not about who is a loser and who isn't. It's about who recognizes what the real, authentic, and God-given "end" of life is versus the means to the end.
Maybe I'm bitter tonight because I'm irritated about the means, when I should be thinking about the ends we're moving towards? My reflection opens my eyes to our sinfulness - the brokeness - the evil that is in all of us - myself included (if not foremost). We all switch the means and the ends, choose idolatry over clear vision, opt for hypocrisy over risky authenticity.
"How could this scripture not be from God?" That's my thought at the moment. For it strikes the nail on the head, calling the sin of our human condition what it is - sin, brokeness, mistrust, evil. Yet it doesn't end on that destructive note. Jesus articulates who we are and how we are in our human condition and points to another way, a different exit strategy to the quagmire of our sin and blinded idolatry.
I feel better, not because I realize everything is "ok", but because I realize I'm not alone.
E-P-I-C Ideas for Worship
*How can we sit with, lift up, and even celebrate the difficulty of scripture? Can we use this scripture, proclaiming it, without feeling the need to wrap it all up in pretty paper of resolution and reconicilation?
*How can we experience this story for ourselves? We all know shrews and shrewd managers....how can we call out the life-experience of our auditors to enable a radical participation and experiential hearing of this scripture in our Sunday gatherings?
*How could this be interpreted experientially in a time of confession and pardon? Maybe a long silence? Maybe there's no resolution...no explanation....just the experience of grace....what might that look like? Everyone speaking words of grace to each other as opposed to just coming from the pulpit? Maybe it'd be a long time of silence and reflective meditation?
*This passage from Luke 16 makes me think of the challenging teachings of Jesus. It's muchc harder to be a follower of Jesus - putting his teaching into practice, than to subscribe to a Christian worldview, like some sort of entrance pass to a club or party. How can that be lifted up? Maybe by writing those challenging teachins on the bulletin cover?, or as liturgical decoration? or on a powerpoint show going as people enter the worship space for preparation?
Thursday, September 20, 2007
We have a unique opportunity to have our locally elected School Board regain power over our school district here in Oakland! You can help by filing out and emailing/paper mailing back in the below letter urging the governor to sign AB45 (a bill that is about returning power to our school board). You can read more about the Bill HERE.
Simply copy and paste the "form" letter below, sign it - or fill it out - then you can email it to the Governor at this address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here's the Letter Format
September 13, 2007
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, California 95814
Re: Please sign AB 45 – Support Democracy for Oakland Schools!
Dear Governor Schwarzenegger:
I am writing to urge you to sign AB 45, Assemblymember Swanson’s Oakland schools bill, into law. AB 45 will create a structured and orderly process for the return of local control to the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). The District was placed into receivership in 2003, but has since been in a stalemate despite consistent academic improvements.
In the last three years, the District has diligently complied with mandated recovery plans. As a result, test scores have improved and controls over spending have been implemented. The school board itself has changed completely and is comprised of a majority of new trustees who were not on the Board at the time of the budget deficit.
I believe as part of our duty to guarantee quality education to our children, we must make sure that another lengthy stalemate is prevented. AB 45 achieves this objective by creating a structured and orderly process for returning operational authority to the OUSD while ensuring the continued financial solvency and academic improvement of the District.
Our schools should always be our greatest example of democracy and must support parental and community participation. Parents, students, and educators deserve a School Board that is accountable for educational decisions affecting all of OUSD. AB 45 will ensure that the Oakland School Board can be engaged as the District continues to move forward on its path to recovery.
I thank you in advance for your thorough review of AB 45, and urge your favorable consideration.
(city, state, zip)
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
I've received several emails in the past days from folks working with and within OUSD calling for action, asking others to sign the online petition for the power in and over our School District be returned to our School Board, and to US the residents of Oakland - who live, work and raise our children here.
Below is the body of the Email Text which began circulating upon the announcement of the departure of State Administrator Kimberley Statham last week. (Read more HERE)
We feel strongly that it is time for a return of the administrative functions of OUSD to our elected school board. With the departure of yet another State Administrator and State Superintendent Jack O'Connell's announcement of a third interim appointee to that position, instability appears to be the primary effect of the state's continued administration of our district. If you would like to see our elected school board undertake a community input process to identify and select a new Superintendent, please sign our petition and pass the link along to your school PTA lists, parents, teachers, friends, neighbors and community partners:
Sign the Petition HERE.
They ask for a donation/money through paypal through the link....you don't have to...and it happens after you're petition has been sent and recorded.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Montana Slim is playing at our church fundraiser this coming Sunday, September 23rd from 12:30-3:00pm. They were recently in the Tahoe Daily Tribune.
Read the article HERE.
Listen to Montana Slim HERE.
Hope to see you Sunday!
My current favorite song is "Kinda Country" - listen to it on the myspace page linked above!
Friday, September 14, 2007
Last year I discovered a great environmental artist Olafur Eliasson, through the wisdom and help of friend Matt Prinz. Eliasson does these great pieces of art - not pieces that you observe, but installations that you experience, connect with and through, and participate in. I wrote a blog entry last year about his environmental approach to art and some post-modern or epic approaches to Christian worship as an experiential, participatory and connectional event in our lives - my musings and reflection. You can read it HERE. (If you came to the EPIC/Post-Modern Worship Workshop led by Steve Whitney and I in Nashville definitely check out the past blog entry).
In any case Eliasson has created an intentional and original display here at the SF MOMA! It's opened and will be here through February. Go and see it. Then call/email/facebook/or blog me about it if you want to talk about it!
Check out his website HERE.
Read a review of the installation in the Tribune HERE.
Read the MOMA Website Guide HERE.
Check out other Elisson Art-Pieces HERE.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
The Whole Food Store downtown is nearly open. I ran across this online announcement today on Laurel Village.
The store will have its Grand Opening on Wednesday, September 26th (Bread > Breaking at 8:45am, doors open at 9am).
On Monday, September 24th, 5:30pm to 8pm there will be a fundraiser/Opening Gala to benefit Oakland Parents Together There will be live music, sample delicious food and a chance to visit with your neighbors! All taking place in the new Whole Foods Market~ Oakland , 230 Bay Place , at the corner of 27th and Harrison - before it officially opens! There will be a
$20 donation per person suggested. All funds raised will be donated to Oakland Parents Together.
Please RSVP to Jolyn.bibb@wholefoo ds.com
I had lattes in 4 cafes today for various reasons and meetings. Peet's was by far the best (Go store number 150!) In 3 of the 4 I heard Brandi Carlile playing in the background. If you haven't heard of her yet, you will. I first heard her earlier this year when she opened for the Indigo Girls at the Fillmore - all the while realizing that I'd heard her music in the background of at least half a dozen episodes of Grey's Anatomy last year.
She's amazing. She's hot. Great, unique, powerful voice. One that you should get used to. She played at the Fillmore this past weekend. You can read a review - a raving one - HERE or check out her website HERE.
At the same time, throughout these moments of memory, gratitude for lives, and reflection I was attentive to the fact that 9/12 is maybe just as important (if not more so today) than 9/12. I remember 9/11. We had just moved back to California from Europe. We had no TV, and little furniture in our apartment. My mother-in-law called us to tell us what had happened. We listened to the events unfold through the spotty reception of NPR on our radio. Calls were made. Breaths were held. It was a Tuesday. I started an internship in Berkeley and remember driving across the Richmond/San Rafael bridge from San Anselmo to the East Bay and seeing less than a dozen cars. It seemed like the world had ended, that everything was wrapped in silence except for the whirring sound of the F-14s flying over Southern Marin that night. But what happened that next day?
9/12/01 was a day in which the Afghanistan restaurants of Berkeley were flooded with patrons, each making a statement by their action, which I'd say was both simultaneously political and theological. While CNN droned on with the endlessly-looping-video of the WTC Towers crashing down, or airplanes crashing into the tower, or even worse the airborne free-falling bodies of those that jumped to their deaths, some people choose to be active peace-makers, working with and talking to Afghani and Arab-descendent residents throughout the East Bay from particular restaurants to the large Afghani population in Fremont. It was a statement, seemingly overlooked in the brouhaha of asserted connections between bin Laden, WTC, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sadaam, all things evil, and the urgent need for military action in order to solve our problems.
In September of 2002 I remember driving a visiting friend to the Oakland Airport for a 5am flight. On the way back through East Oakland I was struck by a report on NPR as the sun was rising over the Oakland Hills. War had begun. Terror was being vanquished (supposedly). We were united. The reporter wondered what the world could have become....what would have happened if our President would have said, "TIME OUT." Something is wrong. We need to talk. What would have happened if he would have invited every leader of the nations of our planet to come to a week-long BBQ, sit-in, conversation/dialogue at his Texas ranch? A time to talk, listen, share, and listen again....what could have been born from such an effort of peace-making around a shared table, in active discussion, in a dialogue based upon mutuality and solidarity? I've never forgotten those words and my thoughts. I actually pulled over to the side of the road - dressed in my pajamas driving my car through the dissapating darkeness - to listen, to soak in all of the words.
It's six years later. I still remember both of those days. I don't mean any disrespect to those that lost loved ones on 9/11. It was a horrible day, for all peoples of our plent. And I find myself wondering if maybe we should remember, reflect upon, and mark the anniversary of 9/12 perhaps more than that of 9/11. We hear the slogan "Never Forget," part of that should include asking ourselves, how did we respond on 9/12? How are we responding today? How are we peacemakers? What does that even mean? I think of Jesus' words about peacemaking - spoken from a mountain top to a people that was oppressed and enslaved by the dominating foreign power of Rome. What if we had responded to bin Laden, as Jesus invited his people and listeners to respond to Cesar?
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers,
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
In our worship celebration at Fruitvale Church on Sunday we celebrated and dedicated the coming school year for students (young and old) and those that work in education. There was a significant time of prayer in which we had a ritual prayer to make our prayers visible, silent personal prayer, as well as the possibilty for annointing with oil for the new year.
I was overcome in the midst of all this spiritual acitivity, as many participants in our faith community shared their deep needs, concerns, hopes and visions for the coming year, asking me to pray with them.
I preached on Matthew 28:16-20, borrowing many ideas from a friend's sermon on the same text. Jesus sends out his friends, the 11 disciples into the world as followers-in-training, as life-long-learners, in a community because they would need each other every day. What's striking is that in the middle of that some of them still doubt. Jesus sends them not because they have all the answers, can package an easily-legislated morality, or because their militant zealots. They're sent because they've been changed, for good, because of their relationship with Jesus of Nazareth.
I quoted the song "For Good" from the Broadway Musical, in which the two protaganists sing to each other in the finals song of their relationship, and how they've been formed and informed by their relationships.
Here's some of the lyrics
"I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you:
Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good"
All of the lyrics are HERE.
I was seized with reflectiveness and gratitude during our worship celebration, and the chorus of prayers spoken, whispered, sung, enacted, and uttered in silence. These are the people who have changed me. Because I've known them in community, and have been known in return in community, I have been changed for good. It's not just a mountain-top, pass-the-smores-sing-around-the-campfire-feeling, but an experience of transcendence. I believe that I've been changed for good first and foremost in knowing this Jesus - who I'm still trying to know and grasp - and that has put other things into motion. But Sunday's worship put other things in motion.....
I was throughout our Dimond/Laurel neighborhood this past weekend...shopping in the Laurel, at the peace pole dedication in Dimond Park, at the neighborhood picnic in Maxwell Park, talking with Dimond Shop owners, and at our church building in the middle of it all. All of those events, all of those people are chaning things for good, for the more good. Maybe that's in part what faith is....not that we doing the changing for good, but that we are transformed and open to the power - I'd call it the Spirit of God - that moves in, among, and through us, changing us for the good (not some sort of moralistic or exclusionary good, but the good of caring for the widow, the orphan and the foreigner). Maybe that's what doing the will of God is...being open to relationships, encounters, sharing words, dialoguing....so that through it, in it, and by it we're all changed for the good?
Here's a video of the entire "For Good" song from the musical if you're interested.
Saturday, September 08, 2007
New Music from Brazil
I went to a Bebel Gilberto concert at the Fillmore this week and discovered a new (at least for me) band of brazilian music made with surprising ease (at least it sured looked that way from my view through the grooving bodies on the dance floor to the stage) and a fantastic diversity of instruments.
Visit their website HERE
Visit their myspace page HERE - includes some music.
Great music for dancing, relaxing and for a party. I've never seen some play such a mean triangle....and who'd have known that the accordion, flute, triangle, bass and zabumba (drum) could make such fantastic music.
Good professional online video at YouTube HERE.
Here's a non-pro video from YouTube as well
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
September 9th, 2007
Are you a Christian or a Follower of Jesus?
My intial thoughts (after hearing some recent teaching on this Matthew passage by Rev. Dr. Virstan Choy) was am I a Christian or am I a follower of Jesus? WHAT? What I mean is am I merely (and maybe you by extension) a Christian, someone possessing and professing a Christian WorldView and that's that, or am I a follower of Jesus, someone who is on the way, basing my life on the teachings of Jesus yet feeling far from the end of the journey or distant from "perfection" or "religious certitude" or "spiritual enlightment." That's not to say that I'm not passionate about my faith, and believe I've experienced life-transforming and life-giving experiences of the divine through Jesus the Christ. What I mean is this: is my faith simply a marker that I use as a qualifier, that I belong to the subset of the population claiming to be "Christian," committed to upholding a particular dogma, political perspective, or social consciousness? Or am I a follower of Jesus, a dicsiple, a fan of his teachings, seeking to integrate and apply his words of life and truth-giving wisdom to the way I live, spend my money, use my talents and gifts and relate to those around me in the world? I choose "follower."
Psalm 139 (the selections for this week - read the whole thing HERE if you like what you see) is mind-blowing. It's an affirmation, a universal proclamation that God not only loves us, but knows us intimately more than we could ever imagine, expect or understand. Some would focus on the notion that we can't hide from God, that God knows all our little sins, and keeps a list checking in twice before getting in his sliegh at Christmas (oops...wrong old guy). I think that the psalmist poet in 139 is trying to articulate a radical feeling of connection to God, to put into words some sort of out-of-body-&-mind experience of the mystery that God is beyond our knowing and yet chooses to not only be known to us, but to know us intimately, not from the point at which we deserve such relationship...but way before...while we're being made in the womb of our mother. It's not some pro-life abortion statement, rather pro-life in the sense that God is about life, about living and that being alive necessitates knowing and being known by God.
The passage from Matthew, the closing words of his account of who and what Jesus of Nazareth was and is, is often known as the Great Commission or the Last Gathering. Jesus reappears, and the disciples are transformed from fearful spectators into active participants it the emerging vision of the new community Jesus talked of. They are sent into all the world to share the good news of Jesus' death and resurrection and the great mystery of how his life and teachings can transform life, resurrecting all of us from fear to faith, from grief to grace. They are sent to baptize in the name of God, to not only talk of new life, but ot offer it through community with God and other followers of the teachings of Jesus. Simple. Isn't it? The teaching for us then is to go out, like the 11, to the ends of the world teaching, preaching, baptizing and loving in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit.
But there's one word in there that's tricky, that turns the whole story upside down.
v. 17 When [the eleven] saw [Jesus], they worshipped him; but some doubted. WHAT? This story of the disciples being sent into the world on fire to change it by preaching and teaching, begins with the statement that some of the eleven doubted, were doubtful, or as one could translate "had many questions." Those that go out into the world in and for the name of Jesus do so not as master teachers, but more as interns, followers-in-training. They're sent not to tell everyone exactly how things are, and how to do them, but rather to testify to what they've experienced, how they've participated in what Jesus is doing in the world, to point to the way that knowning Jesus has changed not only them as people, but their connections and relationships in the world. Isn't that different than simply going out and preaching a particular dogma, doctrine or statement. It seems that Jesus is more about faithful living than lives of perfection, more about honesty and authenticity than polished-performance and unquestionable certitude.
Mother Theresa has been in the news this past week, the revelation about the shocking mystery that someone we conisdered for so long to be such a paragon of faith and religious fervor, actually had many questions, doubts and was doubtful. (Read onlines articles in Time and Newseek). I think she was actually continually searching for some sort of radical spiritual experience that she once knew in her life (it's what she writes about in her journal) - some sort of life-transforming experience of knowing and being known by God in a radically intimate way - like the poet speak of in Psalm 139. She was longing for that to be her every moment from waking to sleeping, and yet it wasn't. Was it because she doubted? Was it because it's just like that? Was it because it's all just some proletariat-duping dogma of the wealthy classes? Matthew 28 redirects my wondering. Mother Theresa isn't any different than some of the 11 disciples...some of those that actually encountered Jesus physically! So I guess she was in good company, as are we when we question or are doubtful.
That's the difference between being a Christian and being a follower of Jesus. One seems to imply that we are above-human, beyond-reproach, without doubts and questions, while the other implies that we're on a spiritual journey, seeking to share our experiences of faith while we are seeking to grow, discover and deepen our own spirituality and integration of life and faith 24/7. One implies that we have everything to teach, the other that we are teachers and learners, part of a community on the march. Personally I'd much rather be part of the group of mutual seekers and life-long learners, than someone who has to be perfect and all-knowing. I think it reduces who God is if we imagine him like Santa Claus, who is always checking his list to make sure that we're perfectly faithful, without doubts and questions, as opposed to a mentor/teacher who knows that our quesitons and doubts can lead us deeper into discovery and maturation.
I'd rather be a follower of Jesus than a Christian. It changes everything about faith when we look at it that way. When you think about sharing your faith with others it's not a question of having all the answers and subduing the unwilling to recieve all that you have to teach, but more of a dialogue, a discussion, a sharing in mutuality about the mystery of life, how we make meaning of it and how following the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth is not only life-giving, but life-affirming and life-transforming too.
EPIC Possibilities for Worship
Show pictures in worship of great saints...not just perfect, famous ones...but the saints that have testified to you and your community about beings followers of Jesus of Nazareth.
Do a Communal Confession of faith that affirms that we don't have to know it all, but simply be willing to show up and to follow Jesus' leading.
Have a time of confession when people can vocalize/articulate their doubts/questions. They could write them on a piece of paper, speak them aloud, associate them with some fabrics pieces that they then lay at the foot of a cross at the front of your worship space. How can you made an experiential and participatory ritual for letting go of our burdens/doubts/and sins? We need to actually move our bodies - with our minds - for it to feel real.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
An editorial from the Voice
This past month a scientific study came out affirming that we are shaped by the people we spend time. It was specifically researching obesity in modern-day America, but also commented on such things as youth crime and violence. Now it’s not really a surprise is it? We are greatly impacted by the people we hang with, eat with, learn alongside, and relate to. So what does that mean for us who have chosen to make Fruitvale Presbyterian Church our community of faith? In today’s world we seemed to be offered two choices in terms of our spirituality: we can take and pick what we want, creating an over-the-counter spirituality, or we can choose to accept a vision that’s larger than what we personally expect or imagine because it implicates us in a community of faith. In our culture today we increasingly want to be spiritual people, but only on our terms, when and how we want it, according to our desires, schedules, and dreams. On TV last night, a sitcom character, when invited to church, replied, “I’m plenty spiritual without church. Who’s the church to tell me…?” That sit-com skit got it right. We tend to think that it’s all about us, all about me. In our hyper-individualistic culture we are conditioned to pick
and choose what we want and how we want it. We increasingly seem to only want faith if we can have it our way, only if we can control it; that faith is what we make of it. Faith ends up being more about us than God.
Yet don’t you feel the most alive in those existential moments when we don’t have control?; when life escapes our plans and surpasses our expectations? When a child is born, a loved one dies, we make a transition in life, when we experience God’s love and glimpse what life could be if the world was whole. All of those moments are fleeting, rushing upon us and then leaving us behind. If we’re not attentive, we pass by without recognizing those moments, relational encounters, & life-transforming experiences that only the Spirit of God can birth and facilitate in us, and our world. Such moments make us more grateful for what we’ve been given. They open our eyes to how the goodness of life and the love of God transcends the little boxes we try to keep God in. What’s interesting is that such existential moments, while they happen in and to us, always take place in community: relationships of family, love, friendship, shared values, common history and faith communities.
This week some have sensationally claimed that the news that Mother Theresa expressed personal doubt in God in her life convictions means that she wasn’t really a Christian (read this week's Time Magzine Article on this HERE). When we think of her life and example, doubt is not the word that comes to mind. So if she doubted, does that mean it was all her actions were a lie?; or that God must not exist? Some have said that. Yet I think it’s the opposite! Doubt is an essential or unavoidable part of the journey of faith. Mother Theresa expressed doubt in that she hadn’t had a life-changing experience of God’s power and love for many years after her original call to the ministry of loving the extremely poor. Yet she continued on. She didn’t give up. She undoubtedly doubted at times, but she was smart enough to commit to living her life and her faith in the context of a community of faith. She knew that our spirituality is the integration of our relationships, knowledge, experience of God and faith practice. She knew that we are influenced, encouraged and challenged by those that we hang with. So she chose well.
It’s easy when we face the challenges that we do as individuals and an urban church community to lose hope. Yet I find myself more and more grateful that God has called my family and I, to live not just our faith but also all of our life in the context of our church community. You are the ones we want to influence, encourage and challenge our children and us. You are the ones through whom God transforms our doubt into trust and our grief into grace. You can’t have faith without doubt. You can’t have spirituality without community. Someone said recently that they couldn’t live without Fruitvale. You know why I’m here, why are you here?
Peace to you and yours,
(This is part of the monthly Newsletter of the faith community I practice in.
It's called "THE VOICE" you can read it online HERE)
Monday, September 03, 2007
I went to this great workshop today where I experienced the Spirit of God moving through a group spiritual discipline of reading (lectio divina style) a parable teaching of Jesus recorded and passed on in Luke 13:6-9. I was struck by the power of this teaching and what it says for our life. If you've never done Lectio Divina reading before...check out this past blog article on it HERE.
Here's some of my thought and wonders in asking about
1. The word/phrase/image that struck me.
2. Where the story touches my/our life today.
The parable is actually a judgement statement of Jesus who says to the relgious leaders and people of his day: Make a choice! Either get with God's program, or God will get with someone else.
The tree belongs to someone.
The soil is old, empty, stripped of nutrients, so the tree only can produce badly nourished leaves and immature buds.
It would take something radically new for the tree to bear fruit.
Every tree counts in this orchard (even if the others are mentioned) and they all are planted to bear fruit not just to make shade.
One more year is given.
If there's no production, the tree is history so that a new tree can be planted.
The owner cares enough to come and check for fruit himself.
To get fruit, you gotta first shovel the shit.
So what does it mean for us? How does it touch our life today? How is God inviting us to change/become/act through this story?
I found myself thinking about the church (the church community I'm a part of as well as the larger church). God loves us. God cares enough to ensure that we're holding up our part of the bargain, living up to our calling - to bear fruit. If we aren't producing, God will plant, or call someone else to do so. We have to make a jump, a radical shift, not just a tweak-ing in order to bear fruit, to move from bareness (if that's where we are) to fruitfulness.
Several people shared in this group exercise about how their faith communities are stuck, like the tree in need of manure:
The complainers control things.
They're afraid of change.
They're afraid of losing what they already have.
The older folks want things to remain how they've always remained...even if it means we don't make space (physical and invitaitonal) for new folks to enter into and participate in the life of our faith community.
Got me thinking....Are we held hostage by our elders?
In some cultures my question is sacrilege. In Africa and Asia elder respect is key and king. I'm a Western Anglo-American does that mean I'm culturally insensitive for asking the question? Or maybe there's something deeper.
Can we get rid of the older folks who complain, block things, and tyrannize others by and through their fear?
Or do we let them create an impasse, stopping any sort of freeing and creative momevement or energy, ideas, passion and relational synergy, in order to be "polite" and "respectful"?
I'm not advocating for elder abuse here...it's just an image/metaphor for the ways in which we're blocked and sometimes even stalin-esquely held hostage by others or other forces that are afraid of the future, of change, or being lost.
What is that in your life? - the state of our government? The War in Iraq? The state of the schools in Oakland? A relationship? How you're treated at work? Your own faith community?
How do we respond?
It's tough where is the line between respect and choosing blindness? Are we willing to let the church (in my case - or whatever it is for you) let us or others down in order to keep the peace? In our journey from the wilderness to the promised land, are we willing to settle for almost made it but not quite? Are we willing to settle for living in wasted soil instead of picking up our shovels in order to redistribute the shit so that we can be fruitful?
Sunday, September 02, 2007
I'm at the First Presbyterian Church Evangelism conference in Nashville. Yesterday was filled with lot's of learning and discussion. Following an amazing southern-preaching celebration with a great message about spiritual obedience and blue-tooth technology yesterday morning, the afternoon was filled with some workshops. I attended a helpful one on Reaching Gen Xers (the Postmodern Generation). Interesting to be present in a workshop in which I was (and the other dozen or so 20 and 30somethings in the room) were not the "target audience" but rather the "target." At one point some passion bubbled up as it was vocalized that it's not an "US - THEM" situation but a "WE" situation. We want the community of faith of those who follow Jesus of Nazareth to grow, deepen and mature across generational, racial, cultural, and socio-economic barriers. That's what Jesus says in Matthew 28 "go to the ends of the earth in my name with my teaching."
Maybe the challenge isn't thinking about the ends of the earth, you know that corner of the planet under antartica where the boats go after they fall off the edge, but actually more about our neighbors, those who are closest to yet farthest from us? Often I hear the question, "Why can't we just all get along?" That seems to be skipping several steps of critical thought...first of all what do we mean by "WE"?
Thought I'd share the funny statute of donkeys playing music at the Grand Old Opry. Maybe it's a metaphor for our problem. Maybe we just can't really see what each other is like. I don't mean that we think of each other as wolves in sheep's clothing...but maybe more along the line of donkeys playing the guitar.
Saturday, September 01, 2007
If I had done something wrong
If you found me guilty
If I was going to lose face
That someone else is actually to blame
I’m crossing the country on a way to a conference in Nashville, TN today. Everywhere I look and listen I see the face of Senator Craig and hear reporting on his story. He’s pleaded guilty but claims innocence. He seems to “apologize” to save face, but not to confront the power and consequences of the truth. An editorial reran on SFGate from Pat Buchanan, who says that Craig is innocent. That he has his own inner demons – as everyone does. So we should just forgive him and let him be. Because nothing has been proven. Because he’s a good guy. So we should overlook his actions and words based on his established track record.
Got me thinking the inflammatory editorial that actually is an attack against the Democratic Party as opposed to a true word for reconciliation and forgiveness. Granted, that’s my interpretation, based on my journey, worldview and political bent. I also have nothing against Senator Craig. I don’t even know anything about him, except details of a recent trip to the airport loo. I’m also a hypocrite, sinful, broken, devious, selfish, and self-preserving.
But what does it really mean that he pleads guilty but claims innocence? Is it just a ploy? Don’t ask, don’t tell in disguise? Admitting that he enjoys anonymous airport sex with other men, but is not gay? I’m struck by the idea of forgiveness and apology. (Another great article ran on SF Gate today “Pop Culture: Apologists leave much to be desired” which I’m basically paraphrasing and re-preaching in my rants.
Why is it that the privileged and rich not only can’t do anything wrong, but don’t actually need to apologize if – not that I’m implicating guilt – they actually did? How is it that we manage to swallow the couched within nuance, diplomatically-worded, and litigationally-prentive pseudo-apologies of the rich and privileged in our society? Bill Clinton didn’t have sex, just a blow job. Lindsey Lohan didn’t do drugs, she just got caught with them in her purse (twice) and is an erratically bad driver. The War in Iraq is working, we just have to do it all differently and with a lot more troops. The rich and powerful focus on marrying their children off, while the general populace worries about planning their children’s funerals. Senator Craig isn’t gay, he just enjoys sex with men occasionally. Everything is hidden and nuanced. Of course maybe Senator Craig isn’t gay, but he could at least then admit he’s bisexual?
What good does it all do? Most of these fake-apologies are intended and articulated to shore up and protect appearances and profiles. Nicole Ritchie did admit guilt but then went to jail for less time that it took her to watch the most recent movie at the Beverly Hills 38 Cineplex. In Oakland we have a school board member who claims to have done nothing wrong in being out past 2am with a school aged girl, but regrets the deceiving appearances that such an encounter may give.
I admit I know hardly anything about the above situations and the details…my knowledge comes from Entertainment Weekly, Closed-Captioned CNN in an airport lounge and observation. Yet something is wrong.
Everywhere I go today in my cross-country travels people are either lugging their baggage behind them or so busy talking loudly on their cells phone to invisible people (so that they can be heard over their cell-phone-talking surrounding neighbors). We’re so busy focusing on what’s behind us, or what’s not with us, that we seem to totally be oblivious to the present. What lesson and model to we offer to each other, let alone our children, in an age when no one ever gives a true apology but merely plays upon some sort of innate and inbred American value that empathy, sympathy and genuine confession and redemption are all the same thing? I don’t mean to be the first one to throw a stone, but you gotta wonder…how is it that no one has done anything wrong and yet so much of our world is so screwed up? How is it that white people of privilege are not required to apologize (for things that men of color would go to jail for) and rich people are seemingly so easily able to escape the wrath of popular judgment by invoking the 5.2 amendment (I’d be sorry if I’d done something, but it’s actually your fault for thinking that I have). Is the word “sorry” and endangered word in the English language? Seems to be that more of us should be looking into it.
Tonight’s speaker at the conference (Jim Wallis) got me reflecting anew on all of this. Jesus calls those following him to conversion (metanoia) a literal turning around, in the send that you’re going one way (the wrong way on the tracks) and the only way to stop and right things is to stop, turn around 180 degrees and go the other direction. Jesus doesn’t just challenge people to say “I’m sorry” in a celebrity-crafted paparazzi-friendly way. He’s talking about the real stuff. Recognizing in our selves, admitting to others, and confessing aloud (in the appropriate context) that we are broken, hypocrites, unfocused on what’s crucially essential in life. Jesus called everyone to metanoia: women, men, children, Jew, Gentile, and Roman, rich, power, powerful, excluded, centurions and lepers. I think that’s what we’re missing in our culture today. Senator Craig is an easy target, as is Lindsey Lohan and Britney Spears. But what about us..you and me…the people we work with. If you are a life-follower of Jesus’ teachings is in evident in the way we confess and seek metanoia-conversion in our lives?
In the end maybe we should let “sorry” disappear from the English language and replace it with metanoia, not simply settling for lame pseudo-other-guilt-inducing wannabe apologies and expecting true conversion change when we’re convicted and confronted with our brokenness, hypocrisy and selfishness?