Friday, May 29, 2009

 New Music

OK - it's new for me from the Flight of the Conchords...and oh so funny.  I just want to be popular too.  I wish I'd have learned French this way, would have been cheaper than 5 UC years.  I'm wondering if I can make this my theme song as we move to France.  Is this appropriate for church?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Can Snack Foods Save Your Soul:
Even if laced with trans-fats?

Corn Dog - the Dimond District's amazing world wide web snoop - shared a hilarious youtube clip with me in which a woman is interviewed after she found a cheeto snack that looks like Jesus or maybe cheesus.  Maybe such divine intervention in mass-produced snack foods is what God is up to these days and the way through which God is seeking to encourage and empower humankind.  Who knows?  Here's the video clip.

I find it striking that we're so quick to identify Jesus and the virgin Mary in cheetos, grilled-cheese sandwiches, and other edibles; yet we struggle so much to discern God's presence in our world, our human relationships, the stickiness that our morality-based parameters lead us into in our transforming world - moving from a "Christian" to a pluralistic nation/culture/society.  I don't doubt that people are seeing this, experiencing God as they snack.  I've seen the Jesus Cheeto bit.  Yet what is it all about?  Is it about grabbing a moment of fame?; a good laugh?; a misplaced spirituality?; or is it that God cares more about General Mills than the General State of our world?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Orientation & Ordination:
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."
Bumper Sticker of the Week

Thanks go to Uncle Tio for this never-seen-before-sticker.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Blogging Towards Sunday, May 17, 2009
John 15:9-17
Romans 12:9-21
Overcoming Evil with Good

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?
becoming church outside of the Church

The Indigo Girls' concert I experienced last night at the Crest Theatre in Sacramento was maybe the closest thing to church I've experienced in a while. Surrounded by throngs of people singing along with lyrics that often times talked about faith, invoked Jesus and invited listeners to active participation in social action, I was in the minority in terms of gender, age and orientation. The majority of concert goers seem to be down with the themes of grace, faith, social responsibility, ethical actions, and solidarity in the name of something bigger than ourselves. Yet they also shared in the lyrics sung by the Indigo Girls (and opener Matt Morris) covering topics such as criticism of the institutional church for hierarchical actions, immigration reform, exclusion, making meaning in modern life, love, social action, generosity, overcoming evil with goodness, community, the paradox of human life. As I sang, reflected, and sang along some more I realized that it was the evening included several elements of church experience: community greetings, sacred texts being interpreted, invoking the life-example and teachings of Jesus, a benediction and exhortation which climaxed in a crowd-rushing-to-the-front-of-the-auditorium altar call to the song addressing the ills of modern American views of Immigration, "Shame on You" [music | lyrics], including the phrase "My friend Tanner she says you know me and Jesus we're of the same heart The only thing that keeps us distant is that I keep fuckin up".

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

Bumper Sticker of the Week

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Sing Silent Night at School: Over My DEAD Body

What are the Limits of Tradition based on Faith in a Pluralistic Society?  That's the question we seem to want to ask ourselves as a society and culture, yet we don't seem to know how to go about it in a pluralistic way?  San Leandro Schools have been in the news this week because of a debate, legal case and desire (by at least one person) to force the schools to remove religious songs from school performances, specifically at Christmas.  [Parents to get preview list of holiday songs]  

Obviously I'm biased as a follower of Jesus and member of the religious left, yet it seems to me that it's going a bit too far.  We tend, in our country, to target Christianity as the smother-of-all-freedoms because of its influence in our national historical and cultural emergence, and more specifically because of the recent get-in-to-bed-with-each-other-incest of the Republican Party and Religious Right.  Yet is that a reason to rid our schools of part, in fact a significant cultural factor, of our national identity and history?  Christmas is in fact a Christian Holiday, granted it's a pagan one from the Romans subverted and crossed-dressed by the early Christian Church in the Roman Empire of the 1st centuries of our era.  And it is primarily and foundationally not about a fat man that comes down our chimney, nor a capitalistic way to subvert our financial values by helping companies move from the red to the black in their account books before the end of the year through our splurging and credit card fed over-indulgences.  It is in fact a holiday whose ontological roots are articulated in the lyrics of Silent Night.  How is that not an important part of the entire package, depth and width of our cultural identity, specifically in a pluralistic society?  We, as a culture, in particular in progressive circles, mistake pluralistic with the idea of let's pick and choose what we want to belong to us and define us.   Yet we can't remake society and culture in our own image, or preferred picture.  [Of course some are trying to do such such as the "Catholic college town" created in Immokalee, Florida].

Friday, May 08, 2009

Changes: Moving

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 France and hold it close to our heart. This is also a unique chance for us to provide our children with the opportunity to become bilingual and bicultural. This is also an opportunity for me to pursue further studies in theology and the challenge of cultural diversity.

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 Oakland.

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.
Blogging Towards Sunday May 10, 2009

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 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

Bumper Sticker of the Week

Monday, May 04, 2009

Oakland: still worth staying

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!
Are iPhones replacing baby-sitters?

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

GodComplex: new format for faith discussion
Monday, May 4th 9:00am PST

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.

Bruce Reyes-Chow is a pastor of a church that recently completed the new church development process in San Francisco, a blogger at, and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Carol Howard Merritt is a pastor in D.C., a blogger at 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.
Blogging Towards Sunday May 3, 2009
John 10:11-21

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?