Friday, May 29, 2009
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
orienting our vision of spiritual authority
Today is the day that the California State Supreme Court pronounces its decision regarding Proposition 8 and the stance on Marriage and its parameters. At the same time the Church of Scotland appointed by vote its first openly gay minister on Saturday [BBC video report]. At the same time this same General Assembly then voted to no longer ordain anyone who is openly gay and not yet ordained for 2 years, until 2011, thus avoiding having to deal with the problem that they just addressed on Saturday [BBC article].
I think most people in the church (and maybe outside of it too) are tired of this debate, and unsure how much longer the church can handle discussing, debating and being divided by it. Ironically a blog I read had an entry about the surprising fact that most clergy support gay marriage. I finished reading a book this weekend [The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle] that talks about the changes we're going through culturally/politically/socially/religiously and the consequential transformations it will bring to the church.
Rather than proclaim a doomsday apocalypse for the "faith-full" (however they define themselves), Tickle believes that we are approaching and beginning to articulate a cyclical re-formation or re-traditioning of the church that will actually lead to more vibrant faith community and experience as opposed to death and destruction. In her analysis the main question of the changes we're going through is the one of authority: who has it? a group of scholars, clergy, scripture; or is it experience, community (local, national, global); or even a dialog between multiple of theses factors. She argues that the discussion about homosexuality will be one of the keys in the conversation of church conversion:
To approach any of the arguments and questions surrounding homosexuality in the closing years of the twentieth century and the opening ones of the twenty-first is to approach a battle to the death. When it is all resolved - and it most surely will be - the Reformation's understanding of Scripture as it had been taught by Protestantism for almost five centuries will be dead. That is not to say that Scripture as the base of authority is dead. Rather it is to say that what the Protestant tradition has taught about the nature of that authority will be either dead or in mortal need of reconfiguration. And that kind of summation is agonizing fo the surrounding culture in general. In particular, it is agonizing for the individual lives that have been built upon it. Such an ending is to be staved off with every means available and resisted with every bit of energy that can be mustered. Of all the fights, the gay one must be - has to be - the bitterest, because once it is lost, there are no more fights to be had. It is finished. Where now is the authority? (p. 101)
So as I start the day I wonder what today's California State Supreme Court decision will have as an impact on this ongoing "fight."
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Thursday, May 14, 2009
LOVE is a four letter word that we use often. Both a noun and a verb, Jesus challenges us to redefine what love is, how we love and who we love. He does this in his teaching, and in particular in his whole life. A common saying goes, “your actions speak so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.”
In the past few years we’ve categorized many things as Evil: Iran, Korea, President Bush, the suspected socialism of President Obama. The word gets thrown around to describe those that oppose us, or is it those we oppose? But what is Paul talking about in Romans 12 when he challenges his readers and listeners to not be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good? In my reading of the gospel Jesus is talking about a radical pacificism, a good that is concerned primarily and foremost with love of one's neighbor, a notion of brother/sister-hood that transcends our self-centered notions of ethnicity, race, gender, orientation, nationalism, class and education.
When someone is in need we are invited to love this as Christ loves us. So what does that mean when we could lose our own skin, risk our security, forfeit our stability in order to intervene on behalf and on the side of someone else in need? Is evil merely saying no? What about not responding to need that is articulated and in front of us?
I'm struck by a quote I discovered this week of Rabbi Hillel about what it means to love God with all your heart:
I am an not for myself, who is for me?
If I care only for myself, what am I?
If not now, when?
Maybe this was more church than church often is? Someone in my life, a faith-full person, recently told me that they had pretty much given up on the community of the church - in the institutional sense - because it seems to be more about self-preservation at the cost of the excluded, marginalized and those without a voice, instead of following Jesus' words, actions and purpose in today's world. Isn't that what church - being called to community both in and for faith - is all about? Emily Saliers, one of the Indigo Girls, wrote a book [A Song to Sing: A Life to Live] with her father: a famous church organist, in which she basically affirms this through her personal experience of Christian faith, church participation and her experience of concerts often become more "church" than church is [my words]. Maybe the church is shrinking in attendance and participation because it's given up its purpose and passion to others in the name of holding fast to the traditions of credal orthodoxy, doctrine and dogma over people, the world and God's presence?
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Saturday, May 09, 2009
Friday, May 08, 2009
This week I shared with the church community I serve as pastor that I have taken another call to serve as pastor of a French Reformed Church in the town of Poissy in France (located in the Paris metro-area). For our family this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Such pastoral invitations are rarely extended to Americans. As you may know, we have lived in the past in
We are both excited and torn. Excited for a new adventure as a family. Excited for new learning opportunities in terms of multi-cultural and cross-cultural pastoral leadership. We are also torn, sad to leave family, friends, our faith community and the life that we love and cherish here in
I will continue serving Fruitvale Presbyterian Church as pastor through July 18th. During this time I will be working to empower the Session to search for a new pastor, prepare for transition, and transmit the knowledge of daily operations of our church that only I possess.
This news is shocking and difficult for many folks in our church community and our wider community context; as well as for our family. We love Oakland and hope to return. We've committed to a 5 year pastoral term with the Eglise Reformee de Poissy.
This teaching of Jesus is famous, beautiful and upon deeper analysis quite challenging. We tend to practice Christianity – following the teachings of Jesus – either through our actions and/or words. We place a large emphasis upon evangelism, mission and works of justice. These are active ways of sharing the good news of knowing the heart of God through the life, words, work and death of Jesus of Nazareth. We live in a culture and society in which our worth is most often measured through our works, our importance is based upon what we can do or have done. Our world today isn’t much different than that of ancient Palestine that Jesus turned upside down through his ministry.
Jesus says that you can discern if someone is a follower of him by the fruit that person bears, the visible aspect of practicing faith in the way they live. Is it about works? Their quality? Their quantity? Or is it something else? The deep truth is that the branch doesn’t produce the fruit, rather it bears the fruit created by the tree in its roots. Jesus then goes on to say that discipleship is about relationship, about abiding in him. Those that bear good fruit are those in relationship, relational people: living from their relationship to God and living into that relationship. We are called to relationality, interdependence, solidarity, compassion. How can these two things go together?
Of course things get trickier thinking about the context of this week in my church: first Sunday gathering since I shared that I will leave. How do we stay in relationship when we know that there's a time limit? How do we chose to love when we feel hurt?; want to protect ourselves from future hurt?; when we can stand to be in the uncomfortable zone of neither here nor there....in the in between? Maybe that's the hardest thing about community: not just loving your enemies, but loving when you know that someone will leave?; in the fear of being abandoned?; or knowing what tomorrow holds and not necessarily wanting it?
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Monday, May 04, 2009
Oakland was all over the news this week. A man walking his dog at night was killed in a supposed drive by a week ago [Trib article], about 3 blocks from the new community mural that I've been blogging about. Ironically the week ended with the NY Times travel section publishing a positive review of traveling to Oakland [36 hours in Oakland].
It seems that when things get unimaginable in Oakland something paradoxically unexpected happens. If you're attentive, it's not impossible to see and taste the hope that I believe is underneath everything in Oakland. My wife has been cleaning out our garage, getting rid of stuff we no longer need and haven't recently used. Freecycle has been her social-networking resource for connecting with different folks in and around Oakland looking to downsize their lives or to pick up a particular items for free. She's freecycled baby clothes, a TV, used flower pots, etc. One of the things that she freecycled was a children's scooter that although brand-new didn't come with all the parts (a gift from the Spirit of Christmas past). The guy that took the TV also happily returned for the scooter that we left for him on the porch. A couple of days later we came home to find the scooter (pictured) assembled and left on our porch. A modern social-networking, green culture good samaritan parable story that lifts up the hope, solidarity and light in our city that is so often portrayed as chaotic, dog-eat-dog and filled with darkness.
Whoever you are Scooter Man, if you're reading this - thank you!
I ran across this great article about how many modern toddles are using iPhones easily and often for learning and entertainment. iPhone apps are tempting even to 3 year olds. Ironic as the first thing shouted when I get my children into the car isn't "shot-gun" but "can I have your phone?" Our youngest goes so far as to say that driving in the car without a phone to play with is too boring. Maybe we're entitling our 4 year old, or maybe something is changing in our culture.
My wife and I went for dinner the night before I read this article in Rockridge. The first thing we saw upon entering the restaurant was a 6 year-old-ish girl playing on an iPhone while the adults she was eating with enjoyed the dinner not-yet-half-eaten on their plates, while the child's plate had already been cleaned off. Maybe it's irony, maybe it's confirmation of changes in and around us.
Friday, May 01, 2009
A friend is starting a new online format for talking about faith and the church in our emergent, post-modern context. Looks to be promising as our historically traditional ways of talking about faith and the secular, church and the world just might not be large enough in terms of inclusion, expression and honest self-awareness to address the real questions before us. Here's their publicity blurp:
The God Complex: "where fully divine runs smack dab into fully human" begins its broadcast life with the first program on May 4 at 9am PDT, noon EDT.
Here is the link for the live show. http://www.mogulus.com/thegodcomplex
Bruce Reyes-Chow is a pastor of a church that recently completed the new church development process in San Francisco, a blogger at reyes-chow.com, and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Carol Howard Merritt is a pastor in D.C., a blogger at TribalChurch.org and the author of Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation. Join them for a coast-to-coast conversation about faith, culture, politics, and life.
Through their diverse congregational experiences, Bruce and Carol share a deep common yearning to find bridges between tradition and innovation.
Gleaning from the practical knowledge of special guests, questions from call-in listeners and a never-ending well of current issues and church happenings, Bruce and Carol will take on issues of the secular and the spiritual.
Jesus says I am the Good Shepherd. What exactly did he mean? We wonder, in the light of the academic quest for the historical Jesus (primarily by the Jesus Seminar), did Jesus think he was the Messiah?; or did the early church interpret him as the Messiah in light of the transformative resurrection experiences they had of him after his death by crucifixion? Can we know? Are we splitting hairs in that search, aiming to reconstruct the psyche of Jesus? Is it purely heretical intellectual back-flips?
Hard to know. Yet, there is indeed something that we can know: like the expanding ripples on the surface of a pond after a rock is thrown in, we can see the consequences of who Jesus was, how he lived and how others experienced him - ripple through time, history, culture and knowledge. While that may or may not be enough for you to invite you to a deeper experience of this Jesus, I think that when we try to reconstruct the historical Jesus we oftentimes reconstruct him in our image, according to what we hope he was like, prioritized or did. I wonder if we have to have historical certainty in order to make a leap of faith?