Tuesday, April 28, 2009
I told my children Friday about the Dimond Community Mural at Macarthur @ Champion Street and said that we could help on Sunday. They were beside themselves with excitement, counting down the days and then the hours on Sunday until we could go and make a "mark" on our hood.
Kristi, the artist creating, facilitating and driving this project was amazing: empowering my children, and others that showed up, to be involved, creative, learn about art, laugh, connect with each other, and celebrate their neighborhood and be proud of Oakland - all in the space of 90 minutes.
My children loved seeing the computer image of what the mural would look like. Immediately they identified the California Poppies, Salmon, Redwood Trees, Oak Trees and Oakland skyline - all the native and/or indigenous aspects of what defines both the historic and emerging Oakland. As a 6 and 4 year olds they made the connection between Oakland, the Mural, and them. What more could we want for our kids? AND they ask now when they can next go back to paint, and if we can drive down the mural street to take a look.
Some criticism has arisen that there isn't enough indigenous stuff in the mural. I disagree - so do my preschooler and first grader - both of whom made the connection and clearly articulated it. Kristi is amazing - with older folks, 30somethings like me, and kids. She is a fan of La Farine (bread)...if you want to say thank you to her buy her a la Farine gift!
They still don't have enough funds to cover the cost of the mural. You can support the mural begun in part by the Dimond Improvement Association in 2 ways:
1. Make a personal contribution via Arts & Creative Expression firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Encourage Jean Quan to decide to support the project with the local funds she directs/manages. She her a note or email at:
One Frank Ogawa Plaza
Oakland, CA 94612
Friday, April 24, 2009
God Makes a Surprise Visit
Two friends walking and talking about what has happened encounter a stranger. In their reflection together, seeking to make sense and meaning of the events of the last days they encounter the presence of God with eyes wide shut. It's only around the table, sharing the meal, hearing the prayers, smelling the bread, tasting the wine that they put it all together, they become aware of God's presence, cognizant of the purpose of God's word in the world, present to the meaning that God makes in life and that life finds in God.
The Onion has a funny article this week that pokes fun at this in a non-religious way [God Makes Surprise Visit to Local Church]. We often reduce this argument and dilemma to a stereotypical utterance of what would Jesus do if he was in our situation. Would we even recognize him? Maybe we've (re)made God into our own image in our understanding of experiencing God through Jesus? Maybe we've put a box on experiencing the presence of God in our world because our unquestioning creedal understanding of God? I don't have the answers. Yet as I reflect on events of this week, it was at a communion celebration (wether forced or not) that I experienced a glimmer of the solidarity, mutual forbearance and grace-full love that God is and calls us to become through Christ and in community. That has to count for something. Maybe you can't just talk about it. Maybe we have to experience to know it, and then reflect upon that primary experience in secondary discussions....isn't that what happens in the Emmaus story?
Thursday, April 23, 2009
I am sad, feeling my heart broken by the falsification of polarizing language that sets this dialog in the framework of a debate and conflict in which there necessarily has to be fear, anger, winners and losers. I'm for ordination of all people seeking to serve and follow Christ. I don't think it's just about pastors. It's in fact more about elders and deacons: all those in the church to be participants in leadership, passion and creativity; not just called to fill a pew, drink coffee, or second a motion. I was sad last night. I also was amazed in our experience of communion after the vote, thriving in the worship experience that framed the discussion, engaged by the discussion online with tweeters, facebookers and those near me in the room. The church is alive. When we refuse to let it be, it dies. Emily Saliers, one of the Indigo Girls, says best what I feel in a song (a secret song) entitled The Philosophy of Loss at the end of track "Faye Tucker" on the album Come on Now Social [free sound tidbit online HERE - track 14]
Welcome to why the church has died
In the heart of the exiled in the kingdom of hate
Who owns the land & keeps the commands
And marries itself to the state
Modern scribes write in Jesus Christ
Everyone is free
But they are not open to me
[all the lyrics]
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Monday, April 20, 2009
Oaktown has been in the news much recently, with questions about safety, community concerns, neighborhood empowerment, the attraction and retention of small business, the imploding municipal budget and emerging massive budget shortfall. I participated in Earth Day efforts this past Saturday (there were tons of them across the city) at Redwood Heights Recreation Center. My daughter was in a ballet class there, so while she danced I yanked weeds, raked and chopped. In talking with the registration person, I was struck again by how quickly the conversation turned to Oakland, the future, the concern that property values will go down [this is high or low on the list depending upon the district context of Oakland...high, very high in Redwood Heights], and the invisiblity of younger-ish people (30s-40s). As I worked I was struck. There were a few of those people (including myself). Many came with kids and didn't actually do much as they were suprevising their kids and then trying to do work (not a critique, just a reflection on reality).
So I found myself wondering: Where are the young families, whether housing refugees that fled SF for cheap(er) homes in Oakland in the past 10 years or Berkeley transplants that moved to the south because they couldn't afford the dream of being in Berkeley post Cal. Is Oakland merely a "settling city" - you can't afford elsewhere so you slum it in Oakland until you can move, or have to move because of schooling issues, or you get out out of fear? The Earth Day Reg guy had been so worried about attracting younger people to the neighborhood. Yet I find in my contacts in the part of Oakland that's my context that the 30s-40s people are generally absent. They like it when Peet's or La Farine open, but in general they don't participate in the community organizing groups that bring such change about. Usually it's a majority of die-hard Oaklanders in their 50s-80s making that change happen. I'm pointing the finger, and can, because I'm one of those 30s. I do show up and participate. I also complain about how busy I am with work, kids, schools, and everything. Yet we all say that, so in the end it's not really a legit excuse. It's just an excuse.
I think things won't really change until the young families, Bobo's, Creative Classes, whatever you want to call them - begin to invest time, sweat and energy (not just tax money) in the city. It's what it takes to turn public schools around: parents committed to their kids and the kids of the city, working at the PTA, making it happen, or starting it - not just paying tuition for a private school. The problems and context of Oakland are complex, much more than I'm making them out to be. Yet you do have to wonder where are the 30s-40s, besides out in Uptown on the weekends, and in the parks?
I left the Earth Day event and went to the Farmer's Market at the Lake. Guess who was there?
Thursday, April 16, 2009
I'm an addict. I freely admit that I drink on average between 3-5 lattes a day. A double is my poison of choice. I had an near buddha-like enlightment experience enjoying lattesque perfection today so thought I'd share my top 10 latte list.
1. Hands down best double latte: Espresso Roma in Berkeley (Ashby & College). Best foam, great roast, fantastic outdoor seating. Super delectable baked goods too. And Sierra Nevada on tap.
2. Peet's Coffee in the Dimond: My fav place to hang with a double latte (nearly a tie with Roma).
3. Cafe Fanny in Berkeley (San Pablo & Cedar): Ok it's actually a cafe au lait but it's as mean as any double latte. Great food. Cool outside seating.
4. World Ground in the Laurel on MacArthur: great coffee, nice local artwork, a fantastic community-center vibe. Plus free wifi.
5. Caffe Diem in the Dimond (MacArthur & Fruitvale Ave) (twins with Gaylord's on Piedmont): Great Coffee. Could have better service and more seating.
6. Zocalo's in San Leandro: good coffee, nice tables - free wifi. Plus where else can you drink coffee and watch people excercise in an adjoining workout space?
7. Peet's Coffee in Montclair: great coffe, fantastic people (and often dog) watching in the midst of the crowd outside on the bench.
8. Ultimate Grounds (Park Blvd in Oakland): good coffee. The best is the secret outdoor seating in the back.
9. Cafe Galleria (Redwood Road @ 580, near Safeway): Ok the coffee is not really that good. The people are nice. And the view is amazing. Go in the early afternoon when it's slow and get a window seat.
10. Starbucks at the Airport Business Park (Hegenberger @ 880, near Walmart). Starbucks coffee - and this is the SAFEST CAFE IN OAKLAND as there seems to always be at least 2 police cars in the parking lot and cops enjoying some joe.
BEST PLACE I'VE NOT TRIED: Pizzaiolo: I've been there for dinner (YUM!) but never made it for their coffee and pastries in the morning.
MOST HONORABLE MENTION: My Breville 800 with which I start each and every day. This actually is my favorite, the one I drink from the most..but my list was of cafes. Brews a great one every time.
Today’s scripture passage contains 2 scenes: The first with the disciples involves 3 events:1) Jesus says that we are sent into the world as God the Father sent him. 2) Jesus gives the Holy Spirit, breathing it upon them, like God breathed life into Adam and Eve (Genesis2:7) and 3) giving them the power to forgive sins, to participate in God’s saving action in the world.
The second scene is about Thomas, who we often call Thomas, “Doubting Thomas.” He seems to get a bum rap. He’s the one lone disciple who stubbornly (or maybe honestly) needed to see, touch and experience the risen Jesus to believe he was alive. We tend to think of doubting as not believing. Some theologians have said that maybe a better way to understand “doubt” is as fear: fear that our expectations won’t be met, fear that we’ll be forgotten, fear that our hope was misplaced. When Jesus appears to Thomas he doesn’t say “Get a life. Get over it. Believe!” Rather he says “peace” – wishing the strength, courage and spiritual centeredness to empower Thomas to move from fear to faith, hesitancy to action, observation to participation. He challenges Thomas to change, to move into a new way of being, & a new identity. Faith, freedom from fear, is the freedom to dare change, to dream of a new way of being freed from the shackles of our expectations, anticipations and frustrations. Yet freedom is often scarier than the familiar prisons we've become used to in our personal lives, lives as a community of faith and in our relational dynamics. We call Thomas the doubting one....yet maybe he was the most courageous; the one that most measured the cost that choosing faith - and new life in the resurrected Christ - would demand, entail and give.
As I reflected on this passage and its prophetic essence for the church community I serve this week I was reminded of a meaning-making quote from Walter Brueggemann in the book The Bible Makes Sense:
The Bible provides us with an alternative identity, an alternative way of understanding ourselves, an alternative way of relating to the world. It offers a radical and uncompromising challenge to our ordinary ways of understanding. It invites us to join in and to participate in the ongoing pilgrimage of those who live in the shattering of history, caring in ways that matter, secured by the covenanting God who is likewise on pilgrimage in history. This way of understanding our lives lets us be open to hurts (crucifixions) but also to healing surprises of new life (resurrections) that emerge in our common life. … Moreover, this way of understanding lets us embrace our own experience as important and the life of our brother and sister as part of our own. Most of all, it tells the story of this One who has committed his life to us, who promised in every hurting and rejoicing place in life to be there with us. (Matthew 28:20)
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Easter has come and gone. I've found in my shorter existence as a pastor, and longer one as an active church participant, that now is the season in which there is often tensions and conflicts about the ways we are doing church and the ways we should be doing it. The high feast days have come and gone. In the coming-down-from-the-high something happen in the vortex of community that pushes some to want to blame others for their unmet expectations, un-articulated demands and possibly their unconscious essential tenants. It's not about being a killjoy as much as it seems to be a cyclical pattern of rejection and condemnation before a fear-full minority receives the rejection that they fear is coming.
This is true in my own life in the past weeks with claims that I am hiding, or embezzling money, as well as an anonymous critical comment left for me in the offering plate this past Sunday. (see image: click on it to expand it).
As I reflect on these encounters, past experiences and current theological reading I have to wonder if maybe the church is dying in our country - or at least struggling in a major Code BLUE way because we are so intent at any cost to not just hold on to tradition, but to be dominated by it. I'm not talking just about the little old ladies who only want to sing familiar hymns, nor about those that demand that a pastor/priest wear appropriate clerical uniforms. It's not just generational, geriatric or ageist. It's bigger. There is a strong surge, maybe a desperate plea for help, that rallies around the flagpole of tradition, even affirming negative aspects of our tradition out of fear or modernity and the increasingly obligatory need to adapt. Some examples include the continuation of destructive highly-hierarchical ways of relating to one another versus liberating and empowering forms of egalitarian collaboration, observation over participation, critical comment making over involved personal effort to bring about a change, cries of dogmatic and doctrinal heresy as opposed to thoughtful and time-consuming engagement of new ideas and reflection on past traditions, and the fight or flight response to emerging culture that pushes the church community to often feel the obligation to choose between total accomodation and dissipation in our pluralistic postmodern world or retreat back into the glory days of the 50s when churches were full and we were happy. [Another example is a recent article on President Obama's speech to the government of Turkey on the blog religious dispatches]
In my experience of the church I think we often don't recognize or welcome the growth, revitalization and "younger folks in the pews" that we desperately claim to want because we are addicted to the crack of the past, letting the hands of tradition so strenously wrap and hold themsleves around our necks that we can't inhale the fresh ideas, paradigms and air that is all around us. For the past years both in California and in France, I've worked with and for the transformation or revitalization of church communities (specifically in the PCUSA and the Eglise Reformee de France), maybe their is not an appropriate way to bring transformation, no peace-able way to bring change when it's perceived as possible only at the cost of throwing out all tradition.
Oakland had a whole article consecrated to it in this week's edition of The Economist. "Killing for Respect" articulates the hypothesis that the high crime rate, and murder rate, in Oakland isn't because of racial tension, nor economic factors, nor because of joblessness, but rather because of a desire to earn respect in a highly paroled gang shaped subculture. Worth reading, the article points to the possibility that maybe we are too liberal (aka unashamedly positive) that prison reforms people. A tree-hugging, pinko-liberal myself, I wonder if it's not true. Maybe we do simply ignore the problem - a big systemic problem - by putting in place a governmental house of cards to manage a problem we don't want to see, acknowledge or deal with?
Are we simply continuing tried, true (and maybe tired) rhetoric about God
instead of actually engaging our world today for and through God?
Blatant Disclaimer: (I am in no way criticizing any specific person in this post, rather seeking to reflect on an experience and articulate some questions.)
I'm taking a class at the GTU on Systematic Theology. We gather on Monday afternoons. This week we were to read a book by Victor Anderson entitled Creative Exchange: A Constructive Theology of African-American Religious Experience. [article] In the book Anderson argues for a constructive pragmatist approach to faith. He is saying that we should talk first from human life & spiritual experience as that's what we live. He advances that maybe we should talk about God as World instead of as the God-head (Father, Son & Holy Spirit). He's asserting that faith and encounter with the divine should be first and foremost relational. God is relational by nature and foundation and experience. Rather than continuing the nearly 2,000 year-old western way of thinking about God as essence....what is he made of? Is he a he? What is the trinity? How much is God like us (since we're created in God's image)? - we should talk about God in terms of relational experiences: between us and other people, in communities of faith, in the exchanges, encounters and creative moments of life. It might sound far out there and heretical, yet I think it's actually what most of us in 21st century urban areas searching to know Jesus and experience God and practice that faith in community - are leaning towards, or emerging into.
I read this book and then went to a funeral yesterday for a woman shot in her sleep by her husband who then killed himself with the same gun [Tribune article] She was a remarkable woman. For 30 minutes people testified to her encouraging spirit, consititent positiveness, insatiable laughter, ability to bring out and point to the best in all people, all circumstances and all problems. She was African-American. Most of those attending were as well. From the music, the call-back responses and dress you could catch the strong influence of "black church culture" on the gathered community. Anderson comes from the community as well, and advances in the book that the tradition in the "black church" insists upon the suffering of God in Christ, who suffering with us, like us, alongside us. Whereas often times in the "white church" (for lack of a better word, maybe it's more Western bourgeois, male-highly-educated influenced) we focus on the soverignity of God - that God is all powerful, all present, all loving and unknowable. God is so removed - above and beyond - from our existence, you have to wonder what kind of relationship you could have with a God so distant.
The funeral service ended with a eulogy based upon Philippians 1:21 "For me to live is Christ [His life in me], and to die is gain [the gain of the glory of eternity]." The eulogy consisted in 4 points, each reitterated 2-3 times.
1. She gained a better body, a glorified, immortalized, resurrected body.
2. She gained a better home.
3. She gained a better inheritance.
4. She gained a better fellowship.
Never once in the eulogy, or in the sermon, was it mentioned what this woman had sufffered through. Her death was spoken of as a "graduation day" when she finally obtained what she always wanted. She who was always a blessing to others, who seemed to have been an "instrument of God" in all she did - seemed in her tragic, horrifying death to be abandoned by God.
What kind of God, divine being, would allow that? What kind of life do we lead if we merely want to escape it, to get to a better one that's not here but removed from the world in an ethereal, transcendantal other-world?
I found myself wondering as I experienced in this service what Anderson talks about in his book. Maybe our understanding of God as a "person" three-in-one is too old and tired. I'm not advocating that we reject and through it away, but I wonder if it actually takes our life experience seriously. We seem to have reduced the unknowable God who makes himself known by entering into a life of suffering (in Christ) to a super-hero cheerleader who is on the sidelines (safely removed to distant heaven) cheering us on towards our death when we finally we get all the good stuff we're promised in and through faith. I think that metaphor for God is irrelevant to our life today.
While we fight in our churches (at least the denomination I call home) about the reasons for our church decline: conservatives blaming liberals, liberals blaming liberals, many blaming the drive to ordain homosexuals, or the categorical embrace of the Republican party as "Christian" - we aren't asking ourselves if maybe church attendance is declining because what we are saying is completely irrelevant. I left the service yesterday speechless. After 30-45 minutes of testimonies about how she accompanied other people in their suffering, we heard about a God who reduced her suffering in a tragic death to something of a sorority-rush event, a death to go through in order to get the prize of eternal life. I think that sort of language (even if I would affirm at the base level the redemption doctrine that our lives are immeasurabley worthy to God and that life is more than just the here and now) is irrelevant to our cultural syntax today, it continues a stereotype that falls not on deaf ears, but on ears that can't understand it.
Maybe we do need new ways for talking about God? Maybe we need to seek new ways of being relevant through the articulation or affirmation of Christian tenants in language that dates not from the European Enlightment, the Ancient Greek patristic era (300-500) but rather emerges from our postmodern and multicultural context of today. If we really belive that the God experienced in the story of Jesus of Nazareth is first and foremost relational, than why don't we affirm that and articulate it in ways that are understandable in our cultural context, post-critical scientific worldview, and globalizing economy?
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
18:24-27 in Peterson's the Message translation grabs me:
Seeing his reaction, Jesus said, "Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who have it all to enter God's kingdom? I'd say it's easier to thread a camel through a needle's eye than get a rich person into God's kingdom.""Then who has any chance at all?" the others asked.Isn't that our problem? Or at least mine! We want to save ourselves, and when we can't we fear we're beyond saving. Maybe that's part of why so many men have been opening fire this past week: on their families, in community centers, elsewhere. As American-acculturated males we are groomed to believe not only that we can do it all ourselves, but even more that we have to. Maybe something is deeply wrong with or culture and society. I heard someone quick to blame that on other sub-populations of our nation earlier this week (basing that decision upon race and orientation). Yet maybe we don't recognize the truth before us: our culture is anti-Jesus in the sense that we are anti-interdependence. We glorify conflict, autonomy, independence, victory. Yet isn't community, inter-dependence, mutuality and collaboration what most often leads to "victory" in life?
"No chance at all," Jesus said, "if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it."
Jesus preaches this: radical risk, a new way of living, not in isolation, not in passive community, but in committed, authentic interdependence. He preaches it, not just in words, but first and foremost by his own actions, lifestyle and incarnated worldview with the youth rich ruler, his followers, even with the tax collector Zaccheus who seems to represent the pinnacle of go-it-aloneness. How is it that we still don't get it today? I think it's not just a question of getting our minds around it, or praying enough. Maybe it's foundationally about getting that good news message around, in and under or culture.
What hope do we have in the face of the economic melt-down, emerging fear and growing despair that things won't and can't get better? What is happening in our country, and the city I call home: Oakland - seized by fear, dominated by mental-illness and despair, disbelieving that things can get better, let alone change. For me, faith is the answer - belief in a resurrection event that changes all things - yet does that translate? Do we live that? How can despair and darkness have such a grip upon us today? In an increasingly agnostic world - what gives us - what gives you - faith, not just in yourself or in your neighbors, but in yourself?
I hear these parables saying that what we say and do matters. It's often that I feel un-noticed, un-important. Who am I in the larger scheme of things? Yet Jesus teaches that we all are important, not in a Song-of-Music la-de-da kind of over the top proletariat-empowering nice-way of affirming the common human being, rather it's a radical affirmation that our lives matter, that our actions are important, that our words are paramount. Do we live that way? I know I don't. What would we live like if we consider our every-day, mundane (even repetitive) actions as life-changing, universe-transforming and other-sustaining?
Jesus expands upon his teaching in the early part of chapter 16. We are called to practice what we preach, to live what we profess to believe. Faith isn't about broadcasting our righteousness, proclaiming our superior dogma - it's about subversive change in the sense that we live what God calls us to, that we live not into righteousness, but rather from the gift of faith.
It's about participation in a way that's God-driven, faith-given and other-focused. It's about participating, not just listening to a sermon, or reflecting upon something we've read. It's where the rubber hits the road. It's about doing what we are believing. Often that's the opposite of what faith looks like: we're other focused - but in terms of saying who's "in" and who's "out" - when Jesus calls us to be other focused in lives of radical service, subversive solidarity and unexpected compassion. Why did only 1 healed leper return? Because we often think we deserve what we get as opposed to being grateful for the gift(s) that we are given.
I think this first parable is hard. Our reading of it is illuminated when we discover (as archeologists and historians recently have) that the average "poor" Israelite in Jesus' day was being taxed at nearly 50% of the income by the Romans and the Jewish Religious authorities, and that most then were in debt and had to pay more. Often land-owners (as in this first parable) lived far away, so they were absent from the suffering and travails of normal everyday life. They demanded more and more from people that had less and less. Jesus then tells the parable, lifting up the "shrewd manager" who knows how to "stick-it-to-the-man" when needed in order to gain friends among the "poor" (his people) who can help him in the future. It seems counter-gospel, yet it's about knowing who is right in terms of economic justice. Jesus reveals himself as a marxist, populist revolutionary in this parable.
The second teaching, 10-18, expands upon the teaching of the parable of 1-9 - it's not just about economic revolution, it's about holistic transformation of society and us individually as people. Are we consistent? Are we integrous in the way we live our life, work, faith and relationships? Do we walk what we talk? That's the challenge for us that I hear: God has a preferential option for the poor, siding with those that are oppressed, excluded and forgotten - and we are called through discipleship to be authentic, organic in the way we live and to live what we profess to believe - and to do so with integrity.
I want to do this - yet am far from it. I'm selfish, often bitter, slow to let go of preconceptions, quick to judge and thirsty for vengeance (or at least to see those that have worked me over get theirs). It's a call to conversion, to turn around and live in a different direction: fighting for God's justice and living from God's radical and grace-full compassion.
Friday, April 03, 2009
Today we enter into the holiest of weeks in terms of the Christian understanding of time. Jewish existentialist Martin Buber said that all of life is a dialogue with the living God of the Bible. Every aspect, event and encounter in life is sacred and holy. We respond to God’s initiative with our actions & participation. That’s what Passion Sunday is all about.
How do you know who and how God is? Is it through miracles in history? Through personal experience? Through scripture? Through sermons? Through prayer? Through dreams and visions? The Christian tradition affirms that it’s through all of those avenues of spiritual experience and that we most glimpse the heart of God through the person, passion and purpose of Jesus of Nazareth, the one we call Christ, the visible image of the invisible God.
Jesus invited those that followed him to not simply listen and obey his teachings, nor to simply imitate them. We are invited to become like him: to grow, evolve, and become. We are invited to live as Jesus, meaning that we are challenged to love as him. We have symbols (and the meaning-making stories behind them) to teach and remind us of what that means:
COMMUNION BREAD & WINE: God feeding us with both physical and spiritual food to sustain and nurture us, to move us towards living as Jesus lived.
FOOT-WASHING: we are called to new lives as servants. Jesus calls us to new ways of being together that move beyond dominance, power trips, fear, mistrust and vengeance.
THE CROSS: true power comes from giving away power. God suffers with and for us, so that we might understand the heart of God and enter into relationship with God.
Thursday, April 02, 2009
What does it mean to be lost? In our context today I often hear of lost kids, lost items, the lost youth of our generation and lost people who don't know Jesus. Jesus talks about all being "lost" in 3 parables that Luke organizes into today's section of the gospel. It's in response to Chapter 14 and the dinner scene in which Jesus criticizes and challenges those that aren't lost to discover and recognize what it means to be "found".
I myself feel lost these days. For me, "being found" isn't primarily about belonging, but rather about hope for the future.
This large section is actually 2 stories told immediately by Jesus in the context of the experience of a community meal and then a follow-up teaching later (in my opinion). Jesus is at a meal with the high-holy-rollers, the prominent in the religious world - which means the whole world - in Jesus' context. Everyone is scheming and working to sit in the places of honor, because 1) they deserve it and/or 2) doing so will make others think more highly of them. Jesus takes that on - not just in the context of the meal - but in the wider context of the community and the experience of faith. Holiness - being spiritually grounded and knowing God personally and experientially doesn't have to do with status, literacy, or even quite possibly familiarity with the religious (ie. scriptural) past. It has to do with being open to what God is doing and will do. Jesus is focused on the present-future, saying that God doesn't belong to - nor is understood - by the establishement. It's not anything-goes, nor is Jesus throwing the baby out with the bathwater in terms of faith community experience. Yet he is saying something new about access to God, experience of the holy and participation in God's emerging will in the world. I wonder how upset those around the table were when they got that he was talking to them.
SALT - it's the image Jesus gives here (and elsewhere) for people of faith - an element that is powerful and common, holy and every-day-ordinary: used for preserving food (the refrigeration system of the ancient world), for bring flavor, for bringing our flavor, for destroying land (as the Romans did to obstinate North Africa) and nearly as precious as gold in those days as a trading commodity. In short it's the essence of every day life, tying the ordinary to the extraordinary, the profane to the sacred, the here and now to the still to come. Maybe we need to think about that radical integration of the purpose and passion of salt in terms of how we live our faith today - not just condsider it (as I always heard) as an invitation to be "on fire" for God.