Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Prayer in a time of Nationalism and Xenophobia



I received this prayer, originally in French in the mail this week, finding it thoughtful and poignant for our world today:

Lord Jesus, you were born to a Jewish Mother.
Babylonians came to worship you.
You rejoiced in the faith of a Syrian woman
and that of a Roman centurion.
You welcomed the Greek pagans who came looking for you.
An African carried your cross.
Remind us that you came for every man, every woman.
And that it's for all of us, each one of us,
that you promised to make us capable of saying:
"Lord, I am one that follows you."


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

Preaching at Christmas, Cophenagen, Avatar 
and Post-Modern Manger Seekers

What's the connection between Christmas, Cophenagen and Avatar?  I went to see Avatar today and here's how I see it.  A close second to the highest money making December premier of a movie, it actually has much to teach the church about post-modernity and in its new-ageish eco-friendliness points to two fundamental aspects of Christian identity that the church would do well to remember and kindle.




Saturday, December 19, 2009

Advent Conspiracy

This weekend is the BIG push - the final shopping rush before Christmas.  Some folks have gathered together as the Advent Conspiracy and seek to resist the consumeristic tsunami that Christmas has become.  They make some great stuff, including this video clip that challenges our holiday practices and invites us to practice them in different ways:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Blogging Towards Sunday, December 20th


What's so special about Mary?  In France where I live and work she can be seen as a major source of division between Catholics and Protestants.  Is she the mother of God, or the woman who gives birth to the Promised One?  Was she a virgin? a young maiden?  a liar?  Where today I think Mary is oftentimes (not by any fault of her own) an object of division, she is in fact maybe the opposite, someone to imitate and emulate.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Oakland Video

I ran across this cool video of Oakland, and original song, on a blog I check sometimes [www.shalomofoakland.com/blog.html]. Very Oaktown.



Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Bumper Sticker of the Week




Not exactly sure what this means, but it's a great conversation-starter.

Monday, December 07, 2009

How do you spell convergence in Church-ese?

This video, or a similar one, is diffused via youtube at the conclusion of each year. It's a definite eye-opener, albeit super American-centered, in terms of the speed at which aspects of our life together as a society and our deepening dependance upon technological tools are converging to impact the details of every day life. I continue to find myself asking if anyone and who in the church is paying attention.  In Advent we remember and focus upon the promise of the return of Christ, the promise that all is not lost, that there is hope for justice, redemption, wholeness and shalom-peace even in our world today.  It's what the Bible articulates as the hope we wait anxiously for, a waiting in which we're admonished to say awake, to say alert and to be on the lookout.  Maybe in the church we've forgotten that message?  Or maybe we just don't know what we're hoping for and/or waiting for in liberating expectation?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009


Blogging Towards Sunday, December 6, 2009


Malchi 4:1-4 | Luke 1:68-79 | Luke 3:1-6

Advent is a time of preparation, anticipation, staying awake - not in view of decorating our house, making a list and checking it twice or waiting up for the jolly old guy in red; as much as it is about a future-oriented hope, expectation and active waiting.  The texts this week remind us to hunger and thirst as God does: for justice, for a reign in which the oppressed and the oppressors live together in peace, in which the lion and lamb lay together, a pardoxal reversal of the world as we know it. But how does it come?

It's not a new word, it's the Word that God has spoken from prophet to prophet, from age to age.  But  how does it come?  What's up with God taking so long?  Or maybe it's just an empty promise, a metaphorical response to the presence of Evil in our world.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving ! | ?


In general at Thanksgiving we're ready for a good laugh, the chance to relax and be with family and friends, to eat, but most of all it's the time together that we remember: watching a game or a parade, the smells while hanging out in the kitchen, the post-dinner clean-up, the late-night snacking.




Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The World is Just Awesome






I saw this video on a friend's Facebook page.  Yes it's a fun advertisement and also found it to be an interesting response to last week's lectionary text from Mark 13 and an invitation to reflect upon how we react and engage the world in which we live.  Definitely more my style than the choice of flight and withdrawl that might be more expressed in the 2012 film, or the emerging fear of apocalyptic destruction and judgment looking forward to auspicious date December 21, 2012 in the Mayan calendar.
Bumper Sticker of the Week




Friday, November 13, 2009

Evangelism: has it seen its day?

This American Life had a recent very interesting interview about evangelism as a scam, a basic bait-and-switch pattern that the church didn't learn from imitating Jesus, but rather shamelessly adopted from corporate America.  The interview with Jim Henderson is interesting and worth a listen [link].

He also has an interesting movement being spearheaded through his site: offthemap.com

and a great video that you can use for your own stuff on vimeo:



The Spiritual Discipline of Serving from Recycle Your Faith on Vimeo.

Thanks to Matt for the connection.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Day of Memory : November 11th


I spoke this morning in the town of Vernouillet at an inter-religious ceremony commemorating November 11th, end official end of WW1.  The theme of "solidarity for peace" - quite a French theme and experience, and one that has been poignant for today.  It began with the moderator introducing me (I spoke with a Priest, Rabbi and Almost Imam [sounds like the beginning of a joke]) as the newbie and an American.  He began crying, expressing his gratitude for the Americans who came and died in Europe twice in 30 years for freedom.  Moving and unexpected.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Monday, November 09, 2009

Can Virtual Church Be Literally Fulfilling?


CNN recently posted a breaking news video entitled "Is virtual worship fulfilling?" [LINK to the video report]. [LINK to lifechurch.tv]  Interesting video that asks a question that's been being discussed for several years in certain corners and sub-populations of the church community.

I found striking the commentators remarks towards the beginning.  It's high ceilings, windows and everyone together - those are the things that remind her of church.  In an age of transformation and redefinition of most of our experiences in daily life because of technological advancement, our approach to pluralism and cultural diversity and the global market-place, church - religious community and experience - also needs to be redefined, or does it?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Blogging Towards Sunday, November 8th 



Familiar text that we often regulate to a stereotypical reading that glorifies the generosity of a poor widow, I suspect that we are so blinded by her extreme example that we become incapable of living into the generous way of life Jesus is calling us to.  She gives all that she has, 2 coins (lepton, worth about 1/64th of a day's wage for a typical worker).  The coins weren't worth much, or anything in the day.  Yet it's all she has.  So she gives it by faith and in faith.  Whereas the scribes make themselves known and visible by their actions and supposed generosity, she enters into the worship space and lives our her faith without seeking attention and glory.  Faithfulness in action.

It's a great story.  Yet often we've read it saying that it's a horrible excuse to deprive the poor even more, or a vain attempt to say that we, the good and faithful Christians, are like the widow and others are like the scribes.  I suspect the text is more than just a black and white comparison between the scribe and the widow as examples of faithfulness.  It's an invitation to recognize that the scribes weren't just blinded by their ambition, they were blinded to the fundamental meaning of the Torah.   It's a juxtaposition between the ambiguity of institutions and systems and the demands of faithfulness.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Bumper sticker of the week

Thanks to Uncle Andrew for this find.
If you see a good one email it to me.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Politics of Jesus

I found a crazy picture on Facebook the other day, portraying Jesus as the Savior of the United States of America.  Ironically he's surrounded only by Americans (I guess he didn't save anyone else), of whom the drastically large majority are white or Anglo-European Males. [Click on the photo for a larger version]




Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bumper Sticker of the Week


Blogging towards Sunday, November 1



Simple words, often taken for granted.  Jesus may have not been the first to pronounce this 'abbreviation' of the commandments.  It was a hot topic in his day among religious scholars and leaders: which of the 613 commandments given by Moses have priority over the others?  Philo of Alexandria, Josephus and Hillel all spoke on this.  Yet here Jesus equates these two commandments: Love of God and love of Neighbor.  They aren't to be confused and yet they can't be separated.  One can't simply be a mystic, talking of love of God, abandoning oneself to the divine and invisible without caring and committing to the concrete, the here and now, the pertinence of those with whom we live.  One can't simply be an activist, taking up every cause because we all are created equal with the same rights.  Love of neighbor has to be more than that.  Those two together are the greatest, the essential, the unavoidable.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Clean Energy: what's broken with America


I finished reading the book "Hot, Flat and Crowded" by Thomas Freidman this past week.  It's an energetic  wake-up-call of a read challenging America (and the larger world) to get with it, to let good science speak louder than politics, to look long-term for solutions to our current economical and environmental problems instead of to short-term political gain by those running for office in the next 2-4 years and/or  financial gain by multinationals.  Newsweek recently ran an other clear and concise article on the impasse in which we sentence ourselves entitled "Clean energy should trump politics"

You have to wonder why is it that we repeatedly let politicians cower in the wake of screaming plebite citizens who have barely graduated high school and demand that we drill in the oceans, burn coal like crazy and keep gas cheap all to keep them happy today?  What about their children?  My children?  While we let states filled with oil and coal dictate our national policy, or even continue to allow Detroit - awash in bail-out money - insist on keeping the status quo in order to sell their gas-guzzlers, or ignorant MSNBC or FOX news driven fans shape our national energy policy, while we turn a deaf ear to PhDs formed and working in that field?

Community Empowerment
saving the dimond post office


For the past 5 months efforts have been underway to act in view of preventing the closure of the Post Office in Oakland's Dimond District near the corner of MacArthur and Fruitvale.  Scheduled to close for financial reasons, in light of the larger financial balance sheet problems of the US Postal Service, the fight was organized around the character of the neighborhood, desiring to ensure that it continues to be a place of vibrancy, presence and exchange and continues to grow in that direction.  It's a testament to the fiery community organizing power and passion of Oakland, in particular to the Oaklanders that call the MacArthur corridor, from the Dimond to the Laurel, home.  Here's some online media blitzes on it (sorry couldn't find any bloggers covering it):

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bumper Sticker of the Week

I'm not sure if I find this funny or tragic: probably both.



Monday, October 19, 2009

Blogging Towards Sunday October 25, 2009
What's the real miracle? [article]


This passage comes at the conclusion of a long section in Mark (chapters 8-10) which begin with another encounter with a blind man and address the notion of discipleship: what does it mean to follow Jesus?  What does it cost?  At the conclusion of this central part of this gospel is another healing: Bartimaeus the Blind Beggar becomes Bartimaeus the Free Follower.

Blind, he has only begging as a career option.  In being healed, despite his obvious marginalization by society manifested in the ways the crowds tell him to "shut up" when Jesus passes by and he cries for help, he re-enters society not on his knees but on his feet.  Jesus makes him whole: meaning that he's healed, not just his eyes, but his relational place in society, his relationships with his family, his self-view as unimportant and forgettable.  He leaves behind what is quite possibly the only way he ever knew to make a living: begging.  He gets up and walk forward, step by step after the One that not only invites him to a knew life but who also makes it possible in all its various levels.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Blogging Towards Sunday, October 18


Leadership Vacuum in the Church




There's been a ton of recent brouhaha about President Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.  Some saying he hasn't done enough.  Others wondering who else could have been nominated, recognizing an apparent leadership vacuum in the world of those working to and for peace.  This recent picture from the Economist raising the issue - is Obama already great before he's done anything? [article] Are we so desperate for models of authentic, sincere and effectively world-transforming leadership that we reward those that seem to have promise?


Thursday, October 15, 2009

GLO: translating the Bible for the E-world of the Net Gen

I saw this video on facebook today advertising a new sort of social-networking, e-friendly, created for Gen Net.  Pretty amazing.  I wonder if it'll work and how much it'd cost to buy enough for a whole church to use.  I love the way in which you can easily make connections between the text, the context and our context.  I guess I'm a fan, and a member of the targeted population.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Friday, October 09, 2009

Blogging Towards Sunday, October 11th


Text familiar to many yet perhaps unknown to most of us.  We think it's about a young rich ruler, yet the text never says he's a "ruler."  We tend to think it's a blanket a marxist-inspired Jesus message against the rich, yet Jesus seems to be saying that no one can be saved: poor, rich; male, female; young, old; Jew, Gentile.  Only God saves.  Salvation - eternal life - is a gift, the eternal standard-bearing statement of the reformation - it can't be earned, won, merited or inherited, it can only be received.

Needing to redefine our political vision of family

Catching up on news - and trashy news - yesterday I learned that the father of ex-Governor Sarah Palin's grandson is going to pose for Playgirl.  I don't blame Levi Johnston, like the family of his child, he just wants to ride his moment of fame and possibly get of Alaska by doing so.  I freely admit that I'm a politcal pramatist, leaning heavily to the liberal-side - yet ironically in this season becoming more seasoned by capitalism.

The irony of the whole situation is that here is a political family who based their whole political upswing, and continuing and emerging political machine upon the notion of "going rogue" in the sense of returning to the better days of yore when family meant everything, when we worked hard for what we earned, when America was great.  Curiously enough in those days stereotypically: women didn't work and stayed home, young men wouldn't pose nude in a girlie magazine and America was forward-looking instead of history-fantasizing.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Bumper Sticker of the Week



I'm beginning to run low on bumper stickers and not seeing many here in France.  SO - it's your moment of glory.  If you see a/some good one(s) - get a picture and email it to me and I'll give you a shout out!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Does death become us?

I facilitated my first funeral this morning since moving to France to serve as pastor of a parish of the French Reformed Church.  Arriving and being unknown the mortuary staff was amazed when I shared where I came from.  What?  You'd leave California to come here?  There were nice, professional and competent.  It was like I was at one of the nicer mortuaries in my previous home of Oakland.  They played music before and after the brief service I led.  The room was without art, pale colored, neutral and calming in every aspect - including the idyllic pond scene complete with lillipads and light reflecting into the ceremony room.  It was all about being peaceful.  Yet I was struck by the way in which those professionals avoided "death."  They only referred to the man who had died as "he."  The casket was closed.  It was as if he was there without being there, without ever being referred to in the first person (except by me) and then conveniently and efficiently carted off to the music of Bach through a hidden door on the western wall of the room.


Bumper Sticker of the Week


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Blogging Towards Sunday September 20

This is the second of three similarly constructed stories in Mark's
retelling of Jesus. Each time Jesus reveals or predicts that he will be killed. Each time a or the disciples reject his prediction, either pretending not to hear or not wanting to understand or even
taking Jesus on in order to set him straight. In this passage the disciples don't want to understand, they're too busy focusing on who's the greatest, thinking about what they're going to get - their name in spotlights on the marquee since they placed their bets with the 'best' teacher, the master that will take them all the way to the bank or make them famous.

It's not that being "big" or "great" is bad as much as that Jesus is trying to question what it is that makes us great. Rather than taking all the place available, it's about creating space for others. A probable word-play in the Greek and Aramaic words for "child" and "servant/slave" is Jesus' way of turning upside down the notion of greatness. The first shall be last and the last first. The child in the story was probably not as clean and perky as those in this photo. Kids were at the bottom of the social ladder. Unwanted babies would be left in the open to die (Greek Culture). Most died young. Why invest time in someone who wouldn't be around. So Jesus speaks with a paradox that's meant to challenge the way in which we see the world, each other and God.

How do we welcome others: the children, forgotten, marginalized, overlooked in our midst? The Bible often calls them the orphan, the widow and the foreigner, insisting that God is first and foremost their God. So ho are the orphans, widows and foreigners in our midst today, in our churches, in our societies? I can't help think about the ongoing debate and at-times verbally violent monologues about health care: who has it. who shouldn't. who is like Hitler. who is a liar. and who should shut up. How do we profess our discipleship in the way that we welcome others, with our words, in our dialogs, via the expression of our political convictions, with our time and resources? Often we're so busy trying to move to the head of the table and get a good spot that we don't realize we've taken up all the room.

I think of the global church - the global community of those who claim to be followers of Jesus and his teachings. How are we welcoming, including and following Jesus in the ways in which we are addressing the challenges before us: the use and place of technology, political division in our faith communities, confusion and lack of unity in terms of understanding the Bible and professing faith in an increasingly pluralistic society, the role of race and class in our communities. Jesus basically says that to follow him means to conform our lives to his, to walk after him....what does that look like for us, for you - for your church community today?

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Church: Freed by an Emerging Culture?

One of my first committee meetings at the church in France that I now serve lifted
up the challenging situation in which all of the church - at least in the Western Industrialized Church of the North - finds itself is the fact that we are a community of faith gathered by the common experience of a once spoken, long-time written Word yet we live in a world that is increasingly image-driven, decentralized and more SMS than manuscript. How do we navigate the challenging waters of emerging forms of communication, failing printing presses and transforming ways of inter- and intra-personal forms of dialog?

The church is based upon the written Word. We read the faith stories and testimonies that together compose what we call the Bible. We listen to a sermon. We sing songs that quote and reflect upon this Word. We experience God both in the natural world, yet in the Protestant culture we emphasize even further the way in which we experience God by hearing the word spoken, we are motivated and invited to action through sermons, homilies, newsletters, and tracts.

How does this work in a world in which classic "paper" newspapers are bleeding money and dying? In which their is no longer one principal authority, or metanarrative: master story, that binds o ur culture together, uniquely shapes our shared worldviews, and frames the way we make meaning in and through our lives? In the USA last year the average person supposedly read 4 books,
while 1 in 4 Americans read none at all. How does that translate to a church-culture based upon reading as the foundation for dialog, community action and faith experience? Sermons are the "main" way folks experience God. I like no more than 10 minutes (even though I usually do 15). Jean Calvinpreached for about 90 minutes. How does that translate in a world of Facebook, Twitter, blogs and SMS - where we're maintaining multiple conversations, that come and go in a more continuos organic way than a stop-everything-else-for-20-minutes way? Maybe it's the death of Christianity? Maybe it's the chance for a new birth, to rise like a pheonix from the ashes of the cultural trappings embraced in the Reformation (which maybe we're a tad too reactionary and extreme)?

Granted we have to make sure that all people have access to new forms of communication. Money, class, education, age - they can't be characteristics that determine one's participation or inclusion in a faith community and its ensuing and ongoing dialog. Yet the church seems all too often to let one sub-population, which doesn't or can't embrace an emerging change, hold everyone else back from addressing and assuming it.

In any case the church in Europe is in the same challenging situation as that in America. There isn't one authoritative models to lift up and emulate. There is no purpose-driven e-culture church communication model. Rather there are multiple models, diverse attempts at experimenting where our cultural paradigm shifts, faith experience and congregational traditions\history intersect. Maybe this is the exodus moment the struggling historic church has been waiting for. How do we as an institution empower such experimenting, experience and emergence, when it may seem as if doing so is merely pulling the plug on the life-support system enabling our continuing ecclesiastical institution?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

September 11th - are we moving forward or in circles?

Last week was the 8th anniversary of the tragic events and senseless deaths of September 11th, 2001. Living out of the country now it was interesting to hear about the events and to be in a context where it was referred to but didn't consume the national/media attention. What's interesting about the day was the recreation of the event, displays and representations of the airplanes hitting the tower amidst the moments of silence, reverence and remembering.

I'm all for that and yet I found myself wondering, why do we insist on remembering where we were at that moment, or rewatching in a near addiction-to-pornographic-like-violence of that terrible day. Why is it that we are so quick and eager to remember and yet I find it nearly impossible online to read or hear of people's analysis of where we've gone and been since that day? How is it that we've gone from a moment of near universal unity in the face of such horrific and inhuman terrorism to a world splintered by politics, torn by war and now consumed by the complications of global economic re/dep-ression? How is it that we can't seem to learn more than how to remember from an event that should be forcing us to (more than) annually ask ourselves how have we gotten to this point? Why did this happen? How can we stop such terrorism from happening again, besides merely by invading and attacking far away lands in order to get the terrorists before they can get us?

Granted I live in France, the land of un-freedom fries, so others here asked similar politically/nationalistically challenging questions. So maybe I'm a traitor. Maybe I'm a patriot. In any case I find it ironic that the only analysis-like clip I encountered online was this funny and thoughtful bit using stormtroopers reflecting on the destruction of the death star posted on collegehumor.com.
Bumper Sticker of the Week


Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Where Does It All End?
As followers of Jesus are we supposed to be part of the solution
or just identify the problems?

My first pastoral visit today was spent talking about President Obama and what's happening in the USA now. As the older French couple and I shared, we dialoged about the similarity between France and the USA, between Presidents Obama and Sarkosy, about the shared need to move forward, to recognize that yesterday is over, that tomorrow is ours to build - and that today is the day to do it. So much is broken: social security, our notions of capitalism, our safety-nets, our vision of solidarity and citizenship, and the involvement of the general population in politics and policy -making - AND in the life of the church. In the end we often don't make the changes we all agree are necessary because any change requires sacrifice. I think we're all down with that existential and pragmatic truth, as long as we don't have to be the ones to sacrifice. And so nothing changes. We don't want to lose our health insurance, our 401k, our mortgage, or the church that we know so well.

We're stuck between two chairs (as the French say) and not willing to recognize that you have to make a choice and follow-through. Instead we seem to allow those that bitch, complain and moan the loudest to dominate the public arena, shape our policy and determine our actions. Isn't that true in a church? It's usually the loudest, grumpiest, most passive-agressive that end up shaping the policy of action because others just want them to be quiet. It sure seems to be the case this summer with certain folks lamenting public health options as "socialism" "fascism" and "obamacare" when they sure don't have to ever worry about if they can afford to take their kid to the doctor (I think of Mrs. Palin and Mr. Limbaugh). It seems that our modern political spectrum is more about identifying problems and assigning blame than about identifying, discerning and articulating potential solutions.

To make matters worse (as if they could get there) we have folks speaking - supposedly on
behalf of all those that share their basic religious convictions - in radically violent and destructive ways. I read of one such man, baptist preacher Steven L. Anderson, [on the thoughtful blog Religion Dispatches] preaching that "he prays for Barack Obama to die and go to hell." Trained in several Bible Schools, he boasts online of having no college degree and having half the New Testament memorized. As one friend emailed recently, he seems to be perfectly able to memorize and quote the Bible, but not do much else." I admit I'm incapable of scriptural memorization and also more interested in applying the scriptures to life, seeing how the fundamental teachings of Jesus lead to an ongoing and emerging transformation of the broken system/world we live in than in reciting a litany of evils identified by prophets and political gurus and masters of modern media. Since when did the teachings of Jesus justify having the right to carry a concealed gun?

Why is he is helping to shape our national policy discussion? In particular when it's done primarily through his ranting and ravings, claiming that gays, lesbians, illegals and our president are undermining everything that's holy (such as Social Security as we know it, the Patriot Act, our interventions in the Middle East, and general societal problems) without noticing that most of the problems exist in large part not because of those sub-groups but quite possibly because of red-neck warmongers and overly-greedy WASPy and sacrifice-free-optimist Wall Street and 5th Avenue capitalists.

What good does it do to point fingers really? Doesn't that just trivialize the problems we face by working to place blame instead of find solutions? I just got worked up by doing so in the last paragraph. It may make my blood boil, but it sure didn't help anything. [Newsweek recently had a good editorial on this line of thought: Hitler and Health Care Don't Mix]. I blogged recently, and talk endlessly these days, about why it is that we're quick to complain, compete and attack those with whom we disagree with as opposed to working towards resolution, pragmatic solutions, and the cooperation which historically is the only way that things get accomplished? Why is it that we in the church community - in all our maginficent and muddled diversity - fail to offer up voices besides reactionary ones of radical violence, hatred and intolerant-of-difference-finger-pointing that are lifted up in the public arena? Is it the subjective choices made by the medias? Or is it that we seem unable to articulate how the faith that defines us shapes our thinking? What was remarkable about Jesus is that he went beyond mere finger-pointing and blame-laying, to radically inclusive community-building, strategic action and holistic speaking. Isn't that the kind of leadership that we need now both within and alongside the church community?
Bumper Sticker of the Week

Photographed in the foodie-friendly, East Bay - it'd be appropriate and popular here in Ile de France too.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Blogging Towards Sunday, September 6


At first glance, even the second, I'm struggling to see what these passages, proposed for this week, have in common. God who saves everyone, in particular the poor and excluded. The same God, seen as the God of Israel that will take vengeance upon the enemies of Israel (basically everyone else) in a salvation that looks like deaf suddenly hearing, blind seeing, and muet speaking. A salvation that doesn't promise life eternal in the here-after as much as it's transforms brokeness into wholeness and vibrancy here and now. Then stories of Jesus healing: at first not wanting to heal a non-Jew/Gentile woman's daughter, then giving in - or being negotiated into acting. And the healing of a Gentile deaf-muet man, leading to the proclamation of Jesus' goodness in words taken from the Greek version celebrating the goodness of God's creation in Genesis 1.

Maybe the challenge for us in these living words is to recognize that life is indeed a gift: that we haven't earned, worked for or inherited, but merely been given. Life that doesn't come at the expense of those different from us racially/culturally, socially or class-wise. Life that isn't just in the not-yet-far-off-pie-in-the-sky-riding-on-a-cloud-future, but here and now in what we do, the meaning we make of our lives and the footprints we leave in the lives of other we know and are known by. Psalm 146 lifts us an impartial, benevolent "good" God - like the wise-old guy in the clouds. Then Isaiah seems to lift up a God of vengeance, throwing down lighting-bolts on the Gentiles, all the enemies that made Israel suffer during the Exile in Babylon. Yet Jesus, in the way Mark tells these stories, tweaks the language re-taken from Isaiah 35 to tell a different story. God - through the person and actions of Jesus - opens the ears, eyes and loosens the tongues, not just of the Israelites, or of a specific "chosen" people - but of all people.

Maybe that's the word for us in this time of economic crisis, increasingly violent rhetoric regarding morality/faith in terms of support or death-threats against President Obama, or dialog about Gay Marriage, in action to heal our environment, or in the national debate about health care and the need for it to change. Rather than pointing fingers, giving the finger, or making a fist - maybe we need to open our hands to recognize that we are all God's children, all called to be 'new creations', to live life fully - here and now, not after death - with each other, as opposed to against each other. I feel as if I sound like I should go hug a tree or am advocating that. Yet isn't that too the image the prophets give us of the "new day" dawning in the event, purpose and passion of the Messiah to come: life is so good - community so deep - life-meaning so relevant -that even the trees of the field shall clap their hands and join into the song of salvation.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Lost in Translation

I've been trying to figure out these past 2+ weeks what shape Monteskewed will take for both me and reader-participants.  Maybe part of the journey is translating/relating the life-changing experience I find living abroad to be.

One of the ironies | pleasant surprises | emerging daily routines, since we've been here is our nightly facebook blasts....catching up with California as our day in Paris ends and life is picking up on the far West Coast.  It's been fun to see how many folks are following us, eager to see how life unfolds and emerges between the dust bunnies of the manse, the travails with paper-work and French beauracracy, the cultural adaptation of our kids to life here and the cheese! (can't forget that).  One of the interesting things is to see how the internet/facebook and social networking technology empowers us to be in contact with so many that are both so far and so near to us.  Calls from California pick up from where we left off online, today we had a visit from a Poissy friend which picked up from the point of departure of Kristy's facebook post last night.

Google and Facebook also offer interesting translation quandries, as different folks, speaking different languages work towards communicating towards - if not with - each other.  This leads to "global understanding" and more often some laughs.  Here's a funny experience from my wife's facbook page today regarding a conversation detailing the emerging details of our youngest daughter's school enrollment here:


Kristy Parsons-Mcclain

Kristy Parsons-Mcclain nervous about the first day of school tomorrow.

11 hours ago ·  · 
Schrumpf Caroline
Schrumpf Caroline
finalement élodie va à quelle école ? courage ! ce qui est super chouette c'est que tu peux aller prendre le gouter dans le parc le soir après l'école ou pique niquer à midi ! tu n'avais pas ça à oakland... j'espère que votre installation est en bonne voie. ils ont refait les peintures ? et le jardin ? bises
10 hours ago
Kristy Parsons-Mcclain
Kristy Parsons-Mcclain
Le maire va trouver une place pour Elodie à l'école de l'Abbaye, mais il faudra attendre la semaine prochaine. On a fait peut-etre la moitié des peintures et pas encore le jardin. Il y a tjs beaucoup à faire. L'installation est long, quand-même.
9 hours ago
Karl Shadley
Karl Shadley
OK Kristy. This is what Google translate does with your post..
"The mayor will find a place to Elodie at school of the Abbey, but not until next week. It was perhaps half the paintings and yet the garden. There tjs much to do. The facility is long, anyway."
5 hours ago
Kristy Parsons-Mcclain
Kristy Parsons-Mcclain
This is what I said: "The mayor will find a place for Elodie at the Abbey school, but until next week. They did maybe half of the painting and not the garden yet. There is still a lot to do. Moving in takes a long time, after all. " Google, I give you 75%, room for improvement.
2 hours ago

Maybe facebook translation merely lifts up the fact that we don't always understand each other, even when we speak the same language.  A wise, and crusty, old friend used to always tell me, "communication is God's greatest miracle."  I think she may have been onto something, even if not a lot of people listened to her.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Monday, August 31, 2009

Life in the 78300

That's the postal code for our new home, Poissy in France.  Home to an ancient royal abbey that was destroyed in the Revolution, to a famous (and unfortunately failed) religious colloquy between Catholics and Protestants aiming to empower religious multiculturalism in 1561, the painter Ernest Meissonier (our street is named after him [link to his works]), Cristine de Pisan: an Italian nun who lived here in the 1400s and was the first woman in France to make a living from her poetry writing and now US the American Parsons-McClain clan come to pastor and journey with the Eglise Réformée de France parish here [site].

Today marks two weeks that we've been here in France after leaving Oakland and life in California.  Some have asked why?  Others commented "why not?"  In the past few days we've wondered ourselves, "what that hell have we done?"  Something funny happens to us:  I'd call it God, or a God-moment, others might call it chance, synchronicity, karma, or luck.  We keep getting pulled back here: to this place, this country, these people.  I've been going back and forth between Northern California and France since 1992.  Feeling pulled | attracted | called to the two places and all that they represent in terms of people, faith-communities and culture in that time.  We had a day of depression and questioning this past week, wondering why we gave up so much to come here to start over in terms of finances, friends, "stuff" and community.  In reading the book I'm working through these days [My Jesus Year] that day I fell upon a quotation of the defining Bible story I identify with and that seems to give meaning to my life: the story of Abraham and Sarah being called to leave what they have/know to discover/receive something new: 

The LORD had said to Abram [and Sarah], Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land I will show you" Genesis 12:1-8

I'd forgotten about that.  I'd also forgotten about the Monday afternoon about 16 months ago when my wife I and were onboard a plane taxiing at Chalres De Gaulle airport for takeoff to return to SFO following a week of interviews here.  We looked at each other, having not yet had the time or mental energy to talk together about all that we'd experienced in those brief and full days, and we in near synchronistic unison uttered in a clearly un-Shakespearean way "Shit!  I think we need to move back to France." And so here we are.  Either we're prophetically bold to step out, leave everything behind and drag/invite our 4 & 7 year old children to discover an abrahamic way of life; or we're radically naive and foolish, chasing after a France-lifestyle dream that Peter Mayle has already written and rewritten so much that he had to move to Manhattan.

Maybe there is more to life than what meets the eye?  Friends that picked us up at the airport, and who serve as some life-models for us (as they choose to move to Africa for a while with their children) commented on the fact that many people expressed solidarity, wishing that they too could move their families abroad for a while to experience the world | something bigger | more.  Her response was, "Sure they want to.  But you had the courage to do it!"  Courage.  Naieveté.  Blind Faith.  Prophetic Call.  Dream-Chasing.  Whatever it is that's brought us here we now how to assume.

So I'm changing my blog a bit.  Working out how to include this emerging story within the folds of the larger unfolding story of our life, ministry and my whacky thoughts.  I hope to blog on faith in a post-modern world, life in France, gardening, and parenthood here.  I'm also blogging on our family adventures in a more "journal" way on our family blog at parsonsmcclainfamily.wordpress.com.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

Montana Slim String Band

I've written in the past about my brother's band: Montana Slim String Band. They're on a national tour this summer and just released this fun acoustic video.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Liberal Left-out in the Outfield

I went to worship today at a Northern California PC(USA) church. Downtown, the historic congregation advertises 2 services online (as well as their 2008 Christmas Eve Service). As I arrived late (I am on vacation - one of my joys "going to church late since I'm not in charge") I discovered that the service was actually a small circle of a dozen folks gathered around the pastor. The sermon was on the text Exodus 20:1-17 (the giving of the 10 commandments), supposedly addressing the them of Sabbath Rest. What I heard of the sermon was actually a droning on about the foolishness of those that advocate creationism and the evils of their stupidity. The handful of faithful huddled around the pastor resembled a half-time gathering around the coach, seeking to reboot the team with verbose and borderline-violent comments about the "other team." I didn't stay. I found myself wanting more than a polarizing speech motivating me to stand tough against the other guys.

I thought about my recent past experiences in church, most notably one that was on the other side of the political spectrum, at which I heard a sermon about the evils of homosexuality and the liberal agenda in the PC(USA), which was supposedly to address prayer. Maybe our church traditions are bankrupt - on both sides of the spectrum? We don't seem to be able to say much besides "the other team is bad", "we've got to stick together," "the church is declining because of those that don't think like us." It sure seems that such half-time huddle talk is easier to reproduce than to dialog about what Jesus taught and how to live it today. (Jesus, who in my reading never actually blamed or simply attacked the other side, but rather invited all participants in the dialog to a new way of being and looking at the world. Those that rejected his inversion of the polarizing fight simply judged themselves.)

I left the church and walked downtown passing cafes filled with people reading the paper, talking about each others' dogs and living in the moment. I passed numerous walkers: out savoring the early morning air and calm with an urban stroll. They all seemed to be more in the moment, addressing the life that they're living, than getting angry about things that happened in the past or were done by the other team. The liberal, as well as the conservative evangelical churches I visited, both seemed to be left out, like a kid playing in the outfield grass while the game is happening in the infield. Maybe that's why our church attendance is actually in decline today? We seem to be much better at preaching politics and/or prosperity than we do participation.