Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Does death become us?

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

Bumper Sticker of the Week

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Blogging Towards Sunday September 20

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Church: Freed by an Emerging Culture?

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 04, 2009

Blogging Towards Sunday, September 6

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Lost in Translation

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

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

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

Kristy Parsons-Mcclain

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 01, 2009