Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lent Bible Challenge | Day 30
March 31
Luke 13:18-14:6

Jesus taught in his day that the kingdom of God - the vision that God had for the world coming into existence through the life and actions of Jesus and his followers - was not a pie-in-the-sky escapist future from the hard, oppressive world of the Roman Empire, but rather a reversal of the world order, in which those that claimed to know God might discover God in the words, presence and actions of the poorest of the poor, the marginalized, what Jesus called the "least of these". His message is a prophetic interpretation of what community, relationship and solidarity mean: the essence of being human. Not just being human, created in the image of God, but becoming human - more human in that existential sense - through our actions, our response to the original creative initiative of God in creation up through the experience of Jesus the Christ and still ongoing and emerging today. Maybe we miss out on the dynamism of that call and this kingdom vision today because we're too quick to close the canon, to say that God spoke "then" but doesn't speak to us in the same way today. Maybe God does?
Lent Bible Challenge | Day 29
March 30
Luke 12:29-13:17

I think one of the major problems with Christianity in our North American Context is that we separate everything, or live by dualism : body versus spirit, male versus female, spiritual versus physical, history versus future, God versus humanity, belief versus disbelief. Jesus is challenges his listeners, then and today - to live whole lives, holistic lives that incoprate and integrate every aspect of life into a whole. Faith is part of the whole. God isn't separate, above and beyond everything else, maybe God is right in the middle of it all, in the mix, the origin of the emerging meaning-making of our lives through work, rest, relationships and discovery. Maybe it's God's presence or Spirit that opens our eyes to the needs/realities of our own existence, the lives of others, the world and the presence of God with us. Jesus challenges those that listen to him to see the connection between their own spirituality, their actions, the needs of those around them, the vision of God for the Universe as a whole - that we are all invited to participate in.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Lent Bible Challenge | Day 28
March 28
Luke 12:1-48

Action. Speech. Priorities. Responsibilities. A challenge to live in God-reality not in our own-self-affirming-and-created-reality. Life seen through the cross. Life directed toward the cross. Life abundantly.
Lent Bible Challenge | Day 27
March 27
Luke 11:29-54

Jesus pronounces "woes" - warnings about spiritual hypocrisy, or what I'd call anti-faithful or anti-spiritual living. Woes or warnings, that still are equally valid and contextually pertinent for us today. What's amazing to me about the Jesus story, and the season of Lent - is the message that we most know and experience God not in victory, or as the old guy with lightning bolts in the clouds, but as the suffering servant, as the God willing to come and dwell among us, to die with and for us, to show us love in a costly, risky, life-transforming way. We are challenged and invited to not merely believe through Christ or in Christ - but to live as Christ - to make his values and ethos our own.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Blogging Towards Sunday
March 29, 2009
The Vocabulary of Faith 13

Humor & Laughter

Luke 10:25-37
Matthew 19:16-30

Humor. It’s a funny It can bring us to tears, and double-us over in laughter. We feel good when we’re “in on” the joke and excluded when the joke is at our expense. Sometimes it’s through a poignant joke (not at our expense) that we are most open to hearing the truth.

Humor is actually quite present in the stories and diverse faith testimonies that have been assembled over the past 2,500 years to form the book that we call the Bible. As I read and reflect back on the stories of the Bible I have the image of a God who enjoys a good laugh, never at our expense, but who is able to laugh at the craziness of our actions and the ridiculousness of our stubbornness.
Think of Sarah who refuses to believe that she will actually have a child – as God promised – laughing at the preposterous promise [Genesis 18:10-12]. Abraham falls down and laughs when he hears the promise of God [Genesis 17:17]. Then when they do have that miracle child, they name him “Isaac” which means “he laughs” [Genesis 21:6], because she says “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” I wonder what they thought each time they heard or said the name of their son?

In today’s scriptures Jesus is struggling to invite people to follow him, to move beyond prejudice and comfortable routines, to authentic new ways of living together, understanding community and practicing their faith. I wonder if he laughed at the scribe (or lawyer) who refused to say the word “Samaritan” in his answer about who was the better neighbor [Luke 10:37]. Here was a man who dedicated his life to studying the laws of the Torah in order to live by them, yet refused to admit that a non-Jew might actually be doing God’s will. I wonder if Jesus laughed when he said that it’s easier for a “camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven” [Matthew 19:23]. I wonder if Jesus laughed when the disciples, desperate to follow Jesus ask “who then can be saved?” [Matthew 19:25]. Maybe it’s only through humor that we are disarmed & become open to hearing God’s truth for us?

Lent Bible Challenge | Day 26
March 26
Luke 10:38-11:28

Three stories about the teaching of Jesus and the word of God being uttered and different responses or invitations to respond with actively listening. Peterson's Message interprets the last verse - "blessed are those who hear God's word and guard it with their lives" others "as blessed are those who hear God's word and do it." What does that mean in each of these stories? What does it mean for us: you/me today in what lies before us or what we're in the middle of?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lent Bible Challenge | Day 25
March 25
Luke 10:25-37

Well known, this passage I fear is one we often overlook or take for granted, reading it with token lip service. The anonymous man asks the question "who is my neighbor?" in an insincere effort to appear sincere, righteous and socially conscious. The story is a challenge - those that should be holy and righteous - by birth, the "right" ethnicity, religious practice and standing are selfish, while the one who is from the wrong side of the tracks in terms of ethnicity, language, people and religion is the one that does God's will. It's so challenging that the "expert" in the law can't say the word Samaritan out loud - it's just too despicable. So he strategically answers "the last one." Where are we also trapped in such tokenism in terms of spiritual expertise? Where are we trapped in boxes that prevent us from recognizing the universal search for God's presence, and unexpected participation in making God's will visible and reality through actions?
Are we in and impasse that we can't escape?

I finished dinner listening to the sound of multiple news helicopters hovering over the vigil
 tonight for the fallen OPD officers.  15 blocks and 2 worlds away from my front porch was the scene of the murders in the street and then the SWAT invasion of a building.  I usually don't think about crime much, in the sense that I'm afraid.  I don't drive to the Coliseum and walk around at midnight.  I know where not to be and when not to be there.  Yet maybe one of my neighbors owns an AK47?  Maybe that driver I flip off in frustration on the 580 has a gun on the driver's seat? Who's to know if the person that thinks they deserve the parking spot I've patiently waited for doesn't have a small arms cache in their trunk?

FEAR.  It quickly grips us.  I find myself thinking weird thoughts that I don't usually fathom.  Gutierrez says that FEAR, not doubt, is the opposite of faith.  I don't doubt that Oakland has problems. I don't doubt that Oakland has serious problems and issues with violence [see a Better Oakland].  I do doubt that we have to resolve ourselves to live in fear of our neighbors.  I do doubt that we have to settle for the typical racist rhetoric that I've heard (and will undoubtedly emerge in the forthcoming days) that we have to be weary and leary of  of specific groups, in particular young African-American males.  We can't live in fear.  Isn't that what we're seeing all over the nation?  In the NY Times today "Oakland Looks Warily Ahead After Killings" in Quindlen's Newsweek Editorial "Dollars and Sense".  

What leads us to fear our neighbors?  What leads us to fear that crime and violence is the only option for us? What leads us to fear those that live differently than us, look different or live on the opposite side of town? 
We are not victims even if our culture cries out to us to claim that response in the face of our fears. We all are part of the problem and all have to be part of the solution.  What does that concretely mean?  I don't know.  But the first - and the final - step in the journey is to live by faith, to refuse to live from, by and into fear.
Bumpersticker of the Week

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lent Bible Challenge | Day 24
March 24
Luke 10:1-24

Jesus sends out his followers, not as zombies or pawns, but as active participants in his subversive and counter-cultural effort to bring peace - not through violence or top-down hierarchical structures but through community organization, group empowerment, social revolution talking not just about peace but actually practicing it. He even praises Tyre and Sidon - foreign, Gentile cities, as quite possibly more "in tune" with God's plan then supposed righteous Jewish ones. This kingdom of peace transcends lines of ethnicity, race, class and even gender. Yet that's not what the church ended up advocating within 100 years of the absence of Jesus? What happened? Does that excuse us from living so radically? Or is it all just a pipe dream? Maybe that's why Jesus send his followers out in pairs: to encourage each other, for mutual empowerment and for accountability to the orignial vision.
New Mural for the Dimond

The Dimond Improvement Association is working to create a new mural at the Peace Park/ Gateway Garden at
Lincoln Avenue and MacArthur, there is a small almond shape retainer wall across Lincoln Ave. from 7-Eleven that slopes down Lincoln toward Farmer Joe's.

Representatives from the DIA, the 22X NCPC Beautification
Action Group, and Park designer Tricia Cristopher have begun discussions with artist Kristi Holohan of ACE Arts to design and implement a mural on this wall. The communities opinion is being sought and will be factored into the mural design.

They are also looking for donations to meet the $990 project budget. 7-Eleven and Lincoln Court are being asked to donate, contributions from the community are also needed and are fully tax deductible, details are at the bottom of the page.
Below are pictures of the current site and the 2 proposed murals.

If you want more information find it on
Dimondnew.org, where you can also post comments or send them directly to DIA Chair Daniel Swafford at danielswafford@aol.com

New Music : Slim Pickins by Montana Slim String Band

Ok I'm completely partial. This is my brother's band. They released their first full CD on Friday night at a concert at Cafe du Nord and I have to admit that I love (yes - written by my brother) the song "Consumption". There are no video clips of them playing it, and you can listen to it on their myspace page HERE.
When Is a Protest too much?

There is constant outflowing of emotion, discussion and feelings in Oakland since the murder of the 3 police officers on Saturday. I saw several signs in the Dimond today informing folks of neighborhood crime prevention meetings canceled because of the hurt to the Oakland Police Department. New has been leaking out - albit a bit chaotically a la typical Oakland style - about a vigil tomorrow night (Tuesday) at 6:00pm at the site of the murders. Some folks, Oakland Residents for Peaceful Neighborhods are encouraging people to not go as a statement against the ineffectiveness of Mayor Dellums and the City Council in terms of fighting crime and improving the safety and peacefulness of the city of Oakland.

Is it too much? Is it not a time to be political? I've read many different comments about it today online. Yet the reality is that everything is political, whether we want it to be or not, whether we realize or accept it or not. Yes. It is a tragedy that the three men died and a fourth is brain dead. Yes. Iit's a tragedy that they died as police officers serving us - members of the city of Oakland. No. It isn't the direct fault of the Mayor or the Council. Yes. People do have the right to make it political. In the end the organization of a vigil at the crime scene is a political choice. I doubt it's what the families of the 3 fallen officers want as their place, time and context of mourning. The question isn't so much how far is too far. Rather it's how do we move forward. Will it be typical finger-pointing and politically safe and evasive answers? Or will we move beyond the polarizing position-taking to taking not just a position but action in terms of fighting crime, sending a clear message about the vision of Oakland and empowering people to not just feel safe but to contribute to safety in our city.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Lent Bible Challenge | Day 23
March 23
Luke 9:51-62

What does it cost to follow Jesus? The last 48 hours have been devastating to Oakland, where I live. A challenge to see what it sometimes costs us to work and live in Oakland. Every choice has inherent risks: just and unjust, that we consciously choose and that we could never consciously fathom. I think oftentimes when the going gets tough for us in terms of faith or in life-in-a-faith-community we just quit. Fights over money, suspicion of the behavior of other people, judgments of purity/righteousness against others: these are some of the things that most often we see as risks in faith-community-life when in fact maybe they have more to do with our own brokeness, mistrust and sin being exposed, or made visible to us, in and through the actions of others. In the end maybe that's the biggest risk that Jesus says followers will face: no home to hide in, no cave to take refuge in when we are exposed to the harshness of life that pushes us to recognize and name our limits, our interdependence and our existential need for God and others?
Police Shoot-Out: Is it time to leave Oakland?

The news of the murder and death of several policeman yesterday and the suspect they were pursuing has rocked not just our city - but the whole country. [A Better Oakland Blog | Tribune | SF Gate | CNN | KRON 4]

Share condolences with families and others online [Tribune | Dimond District Weblink ]

At church today it was the big item for discussion and subject of prayer that people shared: prayers for the families, prayers for all our police officers, prayers for peace, prayers for our city. I asked out loud if it maybe wasn't time to leave. Why stay here? One 5th generation Oaklander responded "It's so great. Where else would you go?" That's true and things are messed up in our city. Perfect temperate climate in a city who's climate is anything but temperate. What does it take to change a city? Why doesn't our change?

In the end it's not just as simple as cheering "it takes a village" and rallying the troops. How do we change the inequity around us: lack of economic opportunity for so many, too many paroles with too little supervision in our city, schools that are overcrowded and underfunded - and diverse in language, culture and huge income-gap discrepancies, a visible divide between the hills and the flats. Building a better Oakland isn't just a question of more cops, or beefed up security. It's complex, deep and across all the areas of need. The biggest need is for people to commit to Oakland: not just for a cheaper house, a nice neighborhood but for the long-term and the long-haul. We often say that "when the going gets tough the tough get going" unfortunately for Oakland - it's usually a question of going somewhere else: Brentwood, Orinda, Berkeley....

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lent Bible Challenge | Day 22
March 21
Luke 9:18-50

What does it mean to confess Jesus as the Christ?; to follow him, his teachings, life example and to embrace, enable and expect the power of resurrection in our own lives and world - not just at death - but here and now today? Jesus was misunderstood - in his own context - by his adversaries and even by his closest friends and confidant. His is a different model - a different way - in which service is greater than power, in which life-giving is how life-wining is done - not in life-preserving. Is it an invitation to death or martyrdom or is it a way to new life beyond the fear of despair, the doubt of destruction and the division of human brokeness?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Lent Bible Challenge | Day 21
March 20

What does it mean to follow Jesus?  The 12 reorient their lives and move outwards like concentric circles through the context of ancient Palestine.  It doesn't seem to simply be a matter of walking behind, passively listening to Jesus. Nor is it simply living in repetition, asking oneself what would Jesus do?  Rather it's moving ahead - in community - to do what Jesus commanded.  I seems like we often get that wrong, or at least mixed up - calling and following Jesus as a puppeter, or a dictator, or a benevolent and absent dictator, a BFF, wise teacher (yet who didn't seem to really get the intrixacies of modern daily life) or as a God-head who doesn't get our hypocrisy, confusion or delusion.  What moved those 12 to give their lives - to reorient them so radically - and in most cases to die for following and then surpassing on a certain level their master?

The feeding of the 5,000 illustrates another aspect of this.  Miracle or miracles, metaphor for the whole purpose, passion and perspective of Jesus.  Was it merely a story?  Was it a miracle of bread being created from nothingness?  Was it a miracle of sharing: Jesus bringing solidaritous order to a chaotic one-for-all context of hunger?  Whatever option you choose - the narrative lifts up the fact that Jesus: 1) feeds the hungry, 2) gathers the hungry, 3) transforms their situation of hunger, 4) not only empower, but demands, that those that follow him address that hunger.  So what does that mean for us today?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lent Bible Challenge | Day 20
March 19
Luke 8:40-55

This is one of my top five Jesus stories. A story sandwiched in another story. Jesus heads out to heal the dying daughter of an important, nearly like a member of aristocracy, man in society. Along the way he stops to heal, confront and liberate a nameless woman excluded, abandoned and forgotten by society because of her sickness. Menstruating for 12 years she must live on the edge or margin of society because her physical state makes her "impure" according to the Jewish religious laws. As such she can't enter town, can't ever touch anyone because she would transmit her uncleanliness to them (kind of cootie style). Jesus heals her - her desperate hope and naked faith bring her wholeness (which is the word I prefer for salvation). Jesus liberates her: asking her identity, singling her out in the crowd as whole and then by publicly calling her daughter. He then continues on to the home of Jairus to heal his daughter, who seemingly dead and absent is brought back to life and once again made present. If we're called to live out the messianic project of Jesus, to make God present in our world by doing what Jesus did - which doesn't mean miraculous healing - but more likely radical acts of liberation: including the marginalized, naming the un-named, reclaiming the forgotten, making whole those who are broken - then we do so not simply to repeat a pattern, but rather because faith in Christ points us to the end: the promise in the Revelation parable that there will be no more crying, tears, brokeness, exclusion....that we all will be brought up in to the future project of God. We live into that hope. We live from that hope in our world today.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Blogging towards Sunday
What is the Kingdom of God? Is it a place? Is it the future? Is it just a metaphor that Jesus used? Something historical we look back to or something in the future comes towards us? What is it? Where is it? When will it be here? – or will we get there?Traditionally we seek to grasp it in the language from the Bible - from the teachings of Jesus - who says the kingdom is like yeast, mustard, a sower who goes out to sow seeds, like the City of God, the New Jerusalem, good news that make fishermen become fisher of men and the image of the feeding of the 5,000.

Powerful words and images that try to convey something that is both available to us and beyond us, a promise, as Paul would say, that is already outs and not yet completely fulfilled.

Gustavo Guti√©rrez, a Latin American Liberation Theologian writes that “The Kingdom of God revealed to us in Jesus’ practice is a messianic practice which inverts not only values, but historical realities and social roles as well. To be a disciple of Jesus is to make our own his messianic practice.”

The Kingdom of God is the alternative community – or way of being together through faith – that Jesus invites us to become. It’s the creation intent that God has for humanity. It’s the new creation existence that we are invited to and empowered to live in, through and by Christ’s resurrection. I think it’s knowing God – with our lives, our minds, our hearts, in our actions, relationships and service.

The testimonies of the Bible say that God is both absent and present in our world.
Absent – in the sense that God can’t be controlled or manipulated: Isaiah 45:15; 1 Kings 8:27
Present in the sense that God is actively working in our history and in our midst: Exodus 40:34-38, Deuteronomy 4:7, Exodus 19:16-18 & 1 Kings 19:11-13 & Daniel 3:62-66.

The Bible also affirms that we live from hope into hope. Today we’re in the midst of a bail-out in which we don’t know what’s really happening, where we’re really headed and who is actually being bailed out. The testimonies of the Bible talk repeatedly of God’s future – of wholeness, healing and redemption – which is breaking into the world in which we live. We know God in history, in our own lives, in our experiences of loss, grace, hope and faith. The future of God is talked about in many ways: as the City of God (Revelation 21) as the New Jerusalem (Isaiah) and by Jesus most often as the Kingdom of God. It’s a new way of being that’s already here and now in Christ and not yet completely fulfilled, until the last days when Jesus heals everything through his powerful love. It’s like the picture below (that I took from the Exploratorium on a recent visit) that changes according to our perspective – and is more than we can take in when we first encounter it. When you relax your eyes, focus differently, you see that what you thought was static and dead actually seems to be alive and moving. When we encounter it we both see it and yet our vision isn't yet fulfilled - you have to look for "it" to encounter "it". I think it's a similar thing with the Kingdom of God: what we think at first glance is distant, stagnant or non-existent is actually moving, breathing, creating and acting before our very eyes.

In the Old Testament the people knew that God was in their midst because the tabernacle (or tent of meeting Exodus 36:8-40:35) was in the center of the space in which they lived. They saw daily the Glory of the Lord in their midst: the cloud that traveled with them in the day and the fire at night (Exodus 30:34-38). God was in their midst. But what does that mean for us? Is it just a story? Is it just history? Could God really be living in our midst? If so how does that shape the way we act, reflect and engage our world in the name of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Is Consumerism the Primary Cultural Glue that Holds US Together?

An article on Oakland's diverse ethnic neighborhoods in SF GATE today talks and how the cultural specificity of a particular population group shapes - and reshapes - the geographic urban context that the live in. [
How ethnic groups change Oakland neighborhoods] The examples include Oakland's Chinatown in which residents (primarily Chinese) like to have crowded sidewalks in part because it reminds many of them of daily life in China. Another is the Fruitvale District, primarily Latino today, in which walking and biking is highly popular - even when not provided for with adequate space by our city planning. A good read. I found myself wondering how culture impacts the districts of Oakland in which I live, work and have my being: Dimond, Laurel, Maxwell Park, Glenview, Redwood Heights.... Later on in the article is the answer (or at least the answer formulated by this study):
"There are many places in Oakland where one culture does not dominate," Angstadt said. "Piedmont or College avenues for instance. Those neighborhoods have got a different dominant theme going, more of a West Coast small specialty shop vibe. Whatever the dominant theme is that the neighborhood wants to preserve, we want to be aware of that. We also have to be balanced because we're planning for an entire city."
So I wonder is it materialism, shopping and captialistic consumerism - the desire to have good shops to shop at nearby - the cultural bit that defines the dominant West Coast | Bay Area culture? Is that what we have to offer? Is shopping the one thing we have in common when we have either 1) forgotten or not maintained our ethnic cultural particularities? or 2) had our cultural particularities absorbed (either as the oppressor or the oppressee) into dominant American culture today? I don't know. As a white middle-class father I'm troubled if what I'm expected to pass on as a cultural legacy to my children is a love of coffee shops, local food stores, and Target. There has to be more. And yet if you've seen the cover of this week's Newsweek - which seems to affirm - that we are what we buy - or we exist culturally - politically - and socially to consume - you have to wonder.
Lent Bible Challenge | Day 19
March 18
Luke 8:16-39

A friend often uses a saying "your actions speak so loudly I can' hear what you're saying." I find in these passages this to be the theme: actions - are we practicing what we preach? Jesus acts according to what he professes, he does what he teaches: offering a new sort of community beyond genetics, ethnicity and class - defined not on established cultural normalities in terms of morals - but in terms of following and doing what God (Jesus) teaches. He lives it out in the healing of the demon-possessed man, who is excluded, abandoned and forsaken by his own people - divided from all social contact and the power to make meaning through relationships.

I'm taking a class in which we discussed liberation theology this week, and Gustavo Gutierrez's use of the term "orthopaxis" meaning "correct behavior". We are called he'd say to live as Jesus did, fighting for the liberation and inclusion of the excluded and marginalized (in Bible talk the widow, orphan and foreigner sojourning among us). Today many evangelical protestant Christians say it "WWJD" yet it often seems more focused on how to act in a moral ambigiuous situation that how we treat each other, or act on behalf of others. Unfortunately all too often my actions do speak louder than my words.... I supsect it's maybe the same for you. How do we behave correctly, live out the teachings we are called to follow? It can't just be in theological reflection (which leads to abstraction or disconnection) and it can't just be in action (which leads to ego-driven militancy and towards hegemony of the not-active). It's got to be both reflection and action, in an endless cycle. James says faith without works is dead. And works without faithfull reflection is merely activism. Jesus is calling us to something wider, deeper and more inclusive.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bumpersticker of the Week

Lent Bible Challenge | Day 18
March 17
Luke 8:1-15

The parable of the sower if well known. I've heard so many times "which soil are you?" that it makes me a bit sick. I don't think the parable is actually about which soil we are. I think we're all of them at different times. What Jesus is insisting upon is the fact that God - the wacky gardener (as I like to call her) - throws out seeds everywhere - sowing on the path, in the weeds, in the rocks, in the deep soil. The seeds sprout everywhere. They actually do grow everywhere. Weeding in my garden Friday afternoon I found onions that still grew surrounded by weeds, wild snap peas that grew among rocks and some volunteer daisy-type flowers that grew up (about a dozen of them) through the hard packed down surface of our bocce ball court. They grow everywhere. The point is that God sows, and loves, unconditionally - beyond our expectations and systematic clarifications of what is "good soil" - or more often than nought "whou is good soil". God shows no preference and yet is preferential for the poor (the widow, the orphan and the foreigner sojourning among us). God in the parable is a wacky garden because he doesn't hedge his bets in planting. His intentional strategy is to plant everywhere. We so often make faith so much about us. Yet what Jesus is affirming is that it's a gift freely given.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Wake Up Call for the Church
maybe it's already too late?

The conclusions of a study of religious practice and affiliation (the American Religious Identification Survey) was just released affirming what many see in the context I serve in as a pastor of a Protestant church: people are interested in belief, pondering about God, seeking the divine in our daily lives and emerging world, yet a quickly growing majority of them are completely down on the church. I suspect that it's due in large part to the politicized and polarizing atmosphere that has overtaken our church communities and larger dialogues.

Conservative churches seem to talk about many things (sexuality, abortion, supporting the war in Iraq, voting against Obama, pro-Israel military stances, anti-Islam, fear mongering of potential terrorists, Proposition 8 and the evils of socialism) more often than they discuss God and the presence of God in our history. The decreasing church attendance is blamed on the liberals and the way that they are herectically infecting the church. The church focuses nearly entirely upon are you saved yet as opposed to how are we living a saved and saving life each and every day. This doesn't even mention the negative effect of so many disillusioning examples of hypocritical and arrogant Christian leaders in the past 30 years.

Liberal churches often seem so intent on welcoming everyone that they smooth over differences and diversity in the name of mutual tolerance. In the end not much is articulated and ventured in terms of what it means to follow Christ in our modern world. They are often so intent on reinterpreting the question of if you are saved that the challenge of portraying a saved and saving lifestyle (different than the rest of culture) doesn't arise. We are encouraged to simply embrace a eco-friendly metropolitan version of life that looks a lot like the average Democratic voting person in Berkeley.

Where is the middle way - the way that follows Christ, carrying his cross in life as a community? I find it hard to invite people to church. The inviting is easy, it's the getting people to even consider it. In fact most people assume when they meet me that I'm homophobic, Republican, pro-Israel, anti-other religions, non-drinking, non-smoking and deathly allergic to the sound of cuss words. Rarely do I have encounters where we actually can talk about the Divine, ponder the creator, fathom that maybe God is present in history. We're too busy trying to deconstruct the stereotypes that have been built up.

So is there hope? Maybe the church does have to die? Maybe it needs to die (at least in our context) in order to be reborn, or resurrected, as something else which escapes the shackles that we have placed upon the community we call our own as people of faith here in 21st century America?

Here's some reading about the survey

Good article in USA Today [Data]

Editorial by Leonard Pitts "I truly believe religion is driving people from God"

Official Survey Results
Lent Bible Challenge | Day 17
March 16
Luke 7:36-50

Jesus nearly tells a parable about a bail-out to the Pharisees who've invited him for dinner to feel him out to see which team he's playing for: theirs or against them. In comes the woman - who remains nameless, faceless, nearly anonymous - except for what the religious leaders - of the public face of religion - insists upon - her morally dubious and well-known past actions as not just a harlot, but the town harlot. Jesus favors her, having a preferential option for the poor, excluded, marginalized and anonymous. She is the one who is saved, or made whole, by her faith as opposed to the boasting and morally self-aggrandizing faith of the pharisees. How often do we - as the church - react in the same way? Offering simply black and white stereotypical platitudes about morality instead of addressing the meat of the grey morally ambiguous challenges and ethical exclusions that we face in our society? I think that's what Jesus was all about, yet we as the church have somehow come to embrace cultural wars and liberal vs. conservative ideological battles as opposed to embracing a radical re-definition and affirmation of what it means to be human in relationship with each other, ourselves and the creator.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Battlestar Galactica
end of the road

One of my finer treasures in life is escape into scifi. I love Battlestar Gallactica which end this coming Friday night in a 2 hour finale. In the end this scifi escape is a reinterpretation of what we live today: monotheism vs polytheism, fundamentalism, terrorism, treason, the war in Iraq, multiculturalism and what it means to be human: light for a Friday night. So here's a few inline tidbits to celebrate the end of this great show.

Top 10 List from Letterman

And a quick video recap

Rants and Ravings

I thought I'd concretely share my rants and ravings in a timely weekly manner, as opposed to simply inserting them into my blog entries.

So if you screw a multinational company with bad professional advice, you should get a bonus in order to retain your skill?
"AIG executives to get $100 million in bonuses" (SF GATE) - so this is basically what the leaders of AIG admitted. They need to offer large bonuses to retain skilled staff (which led them to overstretch their investments to such an extent that the US Government has had to bascially nationalize their country...and we should, as taxpayers, offer them bonuses through our bail out money in order to retain them.
I'm not the greatest financial wizard, and I know if I made such mistakes at my job I'd be fired. The rich protect the rich. Maybe I actually am that pink commie I say I am. On top of this the great news is that Warren Buffet (the second richest man in the world) was only compensated $100,000 in 2008 - and he's the one who should be bonused in order to retain him. How's that for irony.

All Meat is good - especially the kind that can walk itself to the slaughterhouse. "Cows that can't stand up are barred from food supply" (SF GATE) So any creature that can make it to the axe is worthy of eating. I'm glad that we don't the bar too low in terms of food safety for the meat that we consume. And we do it in such a humane way: if you can walk to your death, you're worthy of being eaten. Otherwise it's just into the trash for you!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lent Bible Challenge | Day 16
March 14
Luke 7:11-35

What are we looking for? What are we waiting for? I'm struck by this story - John the Baptizer - who knows Jesus - doesn't recognize him, isn't sure he's actually the One to come. Jesus isn't performing according to expectations. What's his response? Not to attack, protect himself or deflect the questions....but rather to ask what is happening and what folks see. What is it that we expect of God that gets in our way of discerning and recognizing God's presence. It's what faith (and in particular our practice in Lent) is all about.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lent Bible Challenge | Day 15
Luke 6:43-7:10
March 13

These two teachings seem to be expressed in the concrete story of the encounter of Jesus and the Centurion. What does faith look like? We put our faith in a lot of things: God, our salaries, our home value, family, meaning made at work or through work, 401ks, friends, relationships, things we own, things we'd like to own, legacies, actions, memories.....ourselves. Maybe the centurion (who wasn't a Jew, but rather a foreign Roman occupier - big time political no-no) had such remarkable faith - not because of the quantity or even the quality - but rather because he was clear and coherent in terms of what he put his faith in and how he lived?
Lent Bible Challenge | Day 14
March 12
Luke 6:27-42

Perhaps the most difficult challenge of Jesus. What does universal love - of all people - cost? look like? It's not loving everything, we're called to resist to come into conflict with forces, groups or systems that confront and seek to subvert and undermine the will of God (for all to know the depth, freedom and power of peace established through justice). And we are called to love all persons. Osama bin Laden? Bernard Madoff? Putin? Hilter? Easy theoretical cases for us to reflect upon. But what happens when the rubber hits the road....that annoying neighbor? that difficult work colleague? that judgmental person who gets under your skin in your faith community? It's a call to radical love of all persons - friends and ennemies, supporters and adversaries, easy and challeging. Ironic that in loving so we often are changed as we learn to love. It's both a challenge and a commitment. What happens to us when we seek to love someone who is an ennemy?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Blogging Towards Sunday March 15th
The Vocabulary of Faith
"Faith without Works is Dead"

John 13:33-35
Ephesians 2:1-10
James 2:16-24

I think we often put the cart before the horse when we talk about faith, doing good works
(or puttying our faith into practice) and salvation. We in the Modern American Church spend most of our time talking about what is truth, how we know it, who is saved and how we are saved. I suspect that we've somehow gotten it backwards. How come we invest little of our teaching and spiritual focus upon what a saved life looks like, not just after a prayer, but day in and day out? What does a life - and a community life - look like of and for those that are doing what Jesus commanded - following him and his teachings in word, action, presence and relationships?

Part of our challenge undoubtedly comes from the testimony of the Bible itself. Jesus says "come and follow me" - the following implies a doing - putting into practice what he teaches in order to be saved. The apostle Paul seems (in Galatians, Ephesians and Romans) to focus on the mysterious paradox that we are saved not by doing good works - or earning salvation - but rather through faith in Christ - the gift of Grace freely given by God. The Greek work for SAVED means to both "be saved" and to "be made whole"- to be set free from past sickness, division, destruction or brokeness. Maybe Jesus (and Paul too) are talking more about how we lead lives of wholneesshere and now, as opposed to what life in heaven is all about and how we can intellectdually know we're among the chosen. Maybe Jesus is inviting us to know a truth not just with our minds but first and foremost through relationshop, to comtemplate the word of God not just with our minds, but in the way that we as a commnity act in the world in which we live.

A traditional African proverb states: "when you pray move your feet". [blog link] Liberation Theologian Gustavo Gutierrez puts it another way "The starting point of Chiristian life and therefore of theology is the encounter with Christ, in whom we recognize God to be love and Father, and other human beings to be our brothers and sisters. The truth that liberates is Christ himself and every action and word which comes from him. Christian life, is above all else, a following of Christ." In John 13, Jesus says if you love me you'll do what I command: love as I have loved.

Someone told me recently that they don't feel an overwhelming love for God. At funerals when people say about the deceased "he/she loved the lord" this person says that they don't think they would say that about themself. Yet this person is one of the most militantly and faithfully active people I have met in terms of fighting for the poor, empowering growth, deliverance and wholeness in Oakland, and a tirless advocate for children. If I know anyone who moves their feet when they pray - it's this person! Maybe we do have it backwards....love is maybe more about action than vocabulary, more about speaking with our hands and feet than simply giving lip-service to it?
Lent Bible Challenge | Day 13
March 11
Luke 6:17-26

Jesus' beatitudes are maybe some of the most challenging things that he taught. How do we understand them?...then in his context and for us in ours today? Was he high? Was he simply telling his poor compatriots to suck it up and accept their oppressed lot by the occupying Roman legions in Palestine? Was he talking about some far distant future salvation in heaven, saying grin and bear it because we'll get ours in heaven? Or was he talking about something else? I think in large part he's talking about what it means to be truly human - free to love, with the hope to risk and the faith that what we see isn't all there is. We're relational beings, yet often we protect ourselves from loss which is an unavoidable part of life. We all will mourn when we lose what we love. We all will suffer (today's translation might throw you)...beacause if we risk relationships, risk sharing ourselves, risk loving others and risk being loved in return .... we will suffer. Not because life is suffering. But because relationships are risky things. Jesus doesn't promise to deliver us from suffering, nor does he promise to deliver us into suffering. Rather Jesus points the way to live fully in and out of suffering in radical relationship.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bumpersticker of the Week

Is Oakland turning Brown?

Our city council always talks proudly about Oakland as a green city yet increasingly our town seems to be turning brown. An article in today's Tribune "Fruitvale's African-Americans sense declining clout" lifts up the reflection that the historically dominant African-American population in the Fruitvale district is disappearing or turning brown, being replaced in large part by Latino and Asian (predominantly Chinese-American) populations.

A quote from a resident in the article states "These residents say they see signs everywhere of what they describe as black being eclipsed by brown." I too remark such changes. The church I serve as pastor distributes food twice a month. 6+ years when I came here to serve the dominant population in those that were seeking food assistance and help were African-American today it is visibly Asian and increasingly Chinese speaking. Now that could be the result of several things: 1) it confirms the browning theory of Oakland, or 2) it's our context and immediate neighborhood, or 3) it's a result of the populations and people that know about food ministry, and/or 4) it's a combination of all of the above. Another large reflection of this browning is what I notice every time I go down and around Eastmont Mall: increasing numbers of signs and notices in Spanish in what was historically one of the large African-American Centers of our city.

Sociologists and urban planners remind us that cities are living things AND I wonder what that means for Oakland.
Lent Bible Challenge | Day 12
March 10
Luke 6:1-16

The pharisees oppose Jesus because he's not following tradition: the popular (or maybe just their) interpretation of the Torah commandments about what Sabbath rest/worship means. Jesus challenges their take on the practice of sabbath rest from work as not just time off but rather a way to worship God in our rest and renewal. The problem is that they thought that observation of rules and regulations should be priveleged over people: no exceptions. Jesus turns them and the situation on their heads - saying that it's first about people - even the Sabbath or worship of God - is relational before regulatory. He then goes on to calls disciples to himself, those that will follow him, who untraditionally - even anti-traditionally - including not just pious Jews but also Zealots (revolutionary faction members) and Greek-named men.

How often do I - do we - get bogged down with the baggage of tradition and our intrepretation of it, focusing on rules and regulations as opposed to relationships and people? Isn't that what radical resurrecting faith in Christ is about - setting us free to live for and with God?

Monday, March 09, 2009

New (Old) Music
Seasons of Love from Rent

I've been thinking about some teaching for the next week in my work and reflecting on events in the past week. This song keeps popping into my head. Good lyrics and challenging reminders about what life is or could be and how we measure in the end a life.

Lent Bible Challenge | Day 11
March 9
Luke 5:12-39

Jesus is first and foremost relational. If we take serious the declarations he makes concerning his unity with God the Father and his revealing and testifying to who and how that God is, then we have to conclude that God the creator is also relational at his core. Jesus heals the leper, commanding him to obey the law and present himself to the temple authorities to give thanks to God for his restorative wholeness. Jesus is about that man, about making him whole, restoring him to the gift and vocation of human community (since he was banned and excluded from him according to the laws in Deuteronomy and Leviticus because of his leprosy). He's not trying to overturn a system as the Pharisees later charge in his response to healing the parapligic or the crowd might assume when he accepts in radical friendship a treasonous tax collector, or we might conclude with the statement about the impossible patchwork-ability of old and new. Faith - Christian Faith - is first and foremost about people, relationships, human dignity and reciprocity.

Leadership writer Margaret Wheately bases her work on conclusions drawn from modern chaos theory and emerging scientific vision: “We know from science that nothing in the universe exists as an isolated or independent entity. Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals that can go it alone” We are relational beings, and if created in the image of God that's our essence, vocation and in the end what will become our final consummation at the end of time. It's who we are. It's what we try to suppress in our economic, political and social systems we create seeking to lift up the powerful against the little, to oppose the haves and have nots. Why are we - like the Pharisees - so often against what we are? Why do we so often betray our relational nature for a quick fix or solution to problems at hand?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Lent Bible Challenge | Day 10
March 7

I fool myself most days thinking how centered, compassionate and intentional I am.  In reality I'm swinging by the seat of my pants most times, getting from one place and one task to the next.  How mindful am I really of what I'm doing, who I'm with and the God I claim to serve in all that I do, think, say and am?  Peter and his friends are overcome in the passage by the awareness of how little they see and expect. Of course the
 real danger of deep water - is not that you might drown, rather it's that you might have to do what you say, you (we) just might have to change how we are and what we do and how we see based on what we experience of God in Christ from the beyond our margins and perspectives.  Peter gave it all up to become a fisher of humans.  He took a leap of faith, realizing it was all or nothing. How about us in our age of measuring the risk before we invest?

Friday, March 06, 2009

New (Old) Music

I read a great apocalyptic perspective editorial in SF Gate today (Call it the 'A word') that reminded me of this great REM song from the late 80's:  "It' the end of the world as we know it."  Maybe it should become our new global anthem in this season of global economic and social meltdown.
Lent Bible Challenge | Day 9
March 6

Preaching in his hometown, Jesus quotes from Isaiah 42, 49, & 58. teaching that salvation - or that the circle of God's love is not based on ethnicity, genetics, culture or nationality.  Rather it includes everyone.  God's message is for the Jews and the pagans [everyone else is Jesus' day].  Rejected, and nearly killed by his own people - Jesus goes to other people - who quickly welcome him as one of their own and make radical existential choices to embrace Jesus' teachings and to live differently in the oppressive imperialistic context that they knew in Roman occupied Palestine.

How do we reject our own prophets today?  Refusing to recognize their gifts because of their genetics?  As the constitutional debate about Prop 8 rages on - and both side let fly their interpretation of who is godly and who isn't - I wonder why I rarely (if ever) hear today's passage quoted in arguments? Why is it that modern religion (of the Christian sort) in our country is all based upon private spirituality, legalizing morality and cultural wars as opposed to embracing Jesus' radical call to set free those who are burdened, broken and in bondage?
Blogging Towards Sunday, March 8
Membership - The Body of Christ
The Vocabulary of Faith

Matthew 12:46-50 Jesus redefines family not along lines of genetics, culture or ethnicity, but rather upon a new community of those that do the will of God.

Matthew 10:37-39 Jesus teaches the paradox inherent with this new family, new notion of community: that we find ourselves by losing ourselves, in living for and with others we find who we are and begin to live.

1 Corinthians 12:1-13:13 - together as community we become and are the re-presentation of God's loving action in Jesus the Christ in the world.

According to the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s interpretation of the above scriptures this is what it means to be a member, to be part of this new community:

In the Presbyterian Church we believe that the church is the gathering of all those who profess faith in Christ as Savior and accept his lordship in their lives. G-4.0101

The church is a gift of God and find expression in its faithfulness to the mission to which Christ calls it.

We affirm that a congregation is to welcome as members all persons who respond in trust and obedience to God’s grace in Jesus Christ and desire to be part of the community and ministry of the church.

We assert that faithful members of the church are active in ministry, accepting Christ’s call to be responsibly involved in his ministry, carried on by the church. G-5.0103

There is a connection between faith and community, recognizing what chaos theory tells us today -that all of life is relational. I think we screw things up by always divinding them - faith vs. reason, doubt vs. belief, science vs. church, friendship vs. doing God's work. In the end I don't think that they're different: It's the paradox of life we find life when we lose it, when we live for something(one) bigger than just ourselves.
We can just talk about it, we have to give it life service. That's what Jesus is calling us to and in the end what just maybe is the nature of the universe.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Lent Bible Challenge | Day 8
March 5
Luke 4:1-13

The story of the temptation of Jesus is well-known yet seems so distant. Spirit-filled charismatic prophet guy heads into the wilderness after his baptism and encounters the devil. I think that Anne Rice did a great job of interpreting this in the first person in her novelized take of the gospel : Christ the Lord The Road to Cana. This is a power encounter - all about power. That's the temptation. To use power to take a short cut, to get what we want quickly, to be the center, to accomplish our goals. Power in itself isn't bad. It's how we use it and how it uses us. Will Jesus worship himself, put himself in the position of God to play God, will he be hypocritical in order to succeed in his goals. Don't we all face the same temptations: at work, at home, in the communities we call ours?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Can you have too many friends?
Facebook & the global friend melt-down

I've run across some interesting articles in the Economist "Primates on Facebook"and Newsweek "Facebook Made Me Do It" in the past 3 weeks that talk not just about the global phenomenon that is Facebook, but that make connections between the amount of friends we have - what we can have as human beings (and primates) and what is helpful/actually humanly possible. I myself love to FB. I'm clearly addicted and not looking to change. Yet does it change our friendships and how we relate to one another? How much deep sharing can you do in a limited character status update? How do you set your friend limit? If you're un-friended by someone on FB does that mean you're unfriended in REAL life? Lot's of questions and no answers. I found 2 videos on youtube interesting in terms of what FB is becoming for us - the first is this great facebook song that pokes fun at FB and lifts up how much it has transformed the way we live together - and apart. The second is another video about FB suicide - it's tongue in cheek (or is it?)

I wonder if maybe FB is the actual anti-christ? I mean is it leading our civilization to decay and ruin? Maybe FB is responsible for the economic meltdown we're suffering through? Maybe FB was actually behind 9/11? Maybe FB can be the answer to our current problems....we could tax each status update? Heck if you through in taxing twitter we just might balance the budget and nationalize all our banks by the end of the week.