Advent is my favorite time of the year, in large part because in church communities we read through sections of the prophets, in particular Isaiah. I find it to be a deep spiritual time for me, a renewing of hope, an articulation of what the world is meant to be(come) and be about. This year there have been numerous creative digital and electronic creations around Advent and Christmas.
Here's one I heard about through a French friend, a creative way to retell the prophetic poetry of Isaiah in and for our context today.
Is Jesus for real? Do we really want him in Christmas?
This is my new favorite Christmas song this year, "There's Still My Joy"[VIDEO] : [lyrics] by the Indigo Girls. I'm haunted by the repeated chorus line: "One tiny child can change the world. One shining light can show the way."
The Isaiah passages in the readings proposed for this Second Sunday in Advent grab me. Filled with word pictures, I find my mind's eye inundated with possibilities, stimuli and connections. The Stump of Jesse is contrasted with the wind of the Spirit. This stump, symbol of the ancient royal line of David (Jesse was his father) is stumped, dead, finished after the Babylonian and Assyrian invasions of the 6th and 8th centuries BCE. The once great line of wise God-fearing rulers is gone. But a new leader is coming, blown by the wind, filled with the spirit, called to be a great leader who will rule with justice in particular in regards to the meek and the poor as opposed to rule in a partisan way blowing with the winds of propaganda, gain and public-opinion. The stump is immobile, unwilling and unable to change, to adapt, to grow. The Spirit, or wind (in Hebrew and Greek it's the same word) is fluid, active, transformative, inviting, moving all those that it comes into contact with. And so this first half of this passage (1-5) is dominated with these two images: Stump & Wind.
This week's passages paint huge pictures of vivid images of an idyllic future and captures the ways in which I think we live between poles of anxiety and apathy in our modern, urban, globalized life. Isaiah 2 is one of my favorite parts of the Bible. If I had to choose 10 chapters from the whole Bible to keep, it would be one of them. Yet it seems too good to be true. Swords into plowshares? A global multicultural, multiracial, multilingual community brought together by and for God? My heart beat has picked up as a type this. WOW! Wouldn't that be.....beyond belief? And yet I think that's often how we - and maybe I mean me - see it. Beyond belief. A pipe dream. In between the anxiety of trying to keep a job, stay safe, take care of those we love and the apathy of being inundated by surrounding needs, fears, uncertainties it just seems easier to put my trust into small, realizable things rather than in massive universal-transforming visions of hope. Maybe that what Jesus is pointing to in Matthew 26: don't give up or into anxiety and apathy. Stay awake. Be watchful. Be thoughtful. Be ready.
Thanksgiving is a funny holiday. Is it a religious one?, or historical?, political?, cultural? or nationalistic? In our post-modern setting we view the original myth of the sharing between Pilgrims and Native-Americans through the lens of the hermeneutics of suspicion. While not necessarily Christian in totality, it does harken back to the worldview that was primarily shared between those that framed and shaped what would become our national identity and metanarrative.
President George Washington made a proclamation in 1789 declaring the last Thursday of November to be a day of thanksgiving, echoed and transformed to the 4th Thursday by President Abraham Lincoln in his proclamation of 1863, the holiday has its roots in an experience and expression of gratitude.
This act of thanksgiving, recognizing that the gift of life as we have it originated outside our actions, beyond our power. The only response to such as gift is gratitude, thanksgiving: an expression of "thank you" in our actions, relationships and being.
I watched a video on education reform making the rounds on Facebook this afternoon while doing some household chores. It's a 20 minute clip of Sir Ken Robinson [personal site], a speaker and writer, advisor on education. It's clever, insightful, concise and potentially disturbing. He basically makes the point that the world is rapidly changing. We don't know what life will be like in 30 years (when my kids will be active adults) let alone in 5 years. And yet we continue to educate children in the same way that we have for over 100 years. While keep trying to address the paradigms of the 21st century, seeking to educate our children so that they have a sense of cultural identity, so that we can pass on the cultural genes of our communities while being a part of the process of globalization, with strategies and expectations of the 19th century. We are continually trying to meet the future by doing what we did in the past.
I'm including the video below. I found it invigorating thinking about my own children and the near-epic struggle to ensure that that get a life-feeding education. In my own work as pastor - a teacher alongside a community of faith - I wonder if we aren't doing the same thing. Do we do church in a way that was conceived for the context of the 19th and 20th centuries dominated by the transformational experiences of what we call the Reformation and the Enlightenment? Maybe our churches have decreasing attendance and increasingly bored members because we are talking about faith in a way that doesn't resonate with our questions of today and the ways in which we process our wonderings about the meaning of life. Church is focused around a sermon: a passive listening to an expert talk to you about something in an abstract way. A format that seems to be the least sought after in the ways in which people live, work and communicate today.
If you're game to respond to this post, why do you find church incoherent, out-to-lunch or less than life-giving?
What would you do if you were king (or queen) for a day? It's what we dream of: be in charge, have that castle, the crown that implies power, prestige and authority. Yet what would we do with such power? We might want to change the world, heal the wrongs, bring justice, and maybe also do a little something for ourselves. A favorite band of the 80s - the Thompson Twins - wrote a song about this.
Two passages that paint wide and big visions of the world the ways it is and the way God wants it to become. Are they talking about the recreation of the world? The end of the world? Or the end of the world as we know it?
We live in a hard time economically filled with many choices. How can we make life better for ourselves, those we love and live with and our larger community. That desire to serve others is one of the main forces that drives some folks to try seminary, believing that a connection between faith and daily life might be a vocational call. As with all calls it's not exactly what we expect when we undertake the journey at the beginning. I loved seminary - all three of them that I attended. It was a challenging time, stretching my intellect, expanding my personal faith through the adventure of the integration of head-learning and heart-convictions, theo-speak and God-experience. And yet what would have been more helpful that another Greek class, history class, or lecture would have been a basic business class, an Adobe Software Suite course, basic accounting, a marketing seminar and a season of community organizing.
We often think - or hope - that we can change the world through our service, example and commitment. Oftentimes it's unfortunately the world that changes us when we are confronted with the loneliness, impossible vastness and relational triangulation of clergy work. Yet each vocation has challenges, costs and benefits. It's easy to second-guess what we've chosen, to fall prey to the all-too-easy-trap of suspecting that the grass is greener elsewhere. What's harder is to enjoy where we are, laughing with the good and hard, celebrating the grey. On twitter this week I stumbled across this humorously clever and wickedly sarcastic video someone made about seminary and the earnest hope we all share (wether in seminary or elsewhere) to go out and change the world.
This week's passage makes me think of hazing to enter a fraternity or some sort of gauntlet to run to prove one's worth. I'm using a larger passage than that suggested by the lectionary [Luke 20:27-38] because it gives more perspective to what I think this teaching of Jesus is lifting up. Faith isn't merely maintaining a tradition or talking about doctrine in metaphysical or philosophically abstract ways. Jesus is saying that faith is what we believe in, where we place our hope and what shapes the way we relate to and interact with God, our neighbor and all of the universe. It's this approach and his interpretation of who a neighbor is and his commitment to radically inclusive nonviolence that make waves for his contemporaries.
I saw this in the Trader Joe's parking lot this week. It seems to sum up the general malaise and apathy that flavor not just the electorate but our culture in general. Funny and a bit tragically sad when you think of the opinions about the next governor of our broken state.
The texts I'm choosing from the Lectionary list this week lift up several theological and philosophical themes: relationship, community, making-meaning in and of our lives, looking for a ethical/moral compass, conversion to a new way of life and thinking and freedom. It's this last theme that most strikes me. In our American-Idolized culture of everyone can be famous. In the face of massive daily choices, updates and tweets that define who we are. In the realization of the complexity of the global system in which we swim like a fish bowl, it's ironic to say that we're free when freedom is the thing that seems to most elude us. We all want freedom yet we seem to pursue it on our own, by our own power and without any strings.
I caught the Thrill the World effort at Studio One in the Temescal today where the Bay Area Flash Mob gathered and trained any and everyone to dance the Thriller dance to Michael Jackson's song in the effort to establish a new world record.
What makes a good life? Socrates says that the unexamined one isn't worth living. Jesus says that unless you're willing to give yours away you won't have one. Some say that it's about dying with the most toys or living the most fullycarpe diemon a daily basis. The word GOOD is the hard part. Does it mean pleasure?; hedonism?; alturism?; generosity?; personal growth?; satisfaction?; meaningfulness?; belonging to a community?
A new mural is up in the Dimond District of Oakland, on the side of the Farmer Joe's building. Built by local artists who also teach at Sequoia School it is an example of how public art can beautify our city - not just physically but also through connections and socially.
Tim Chapman has posted some videos and photos online at the Dimond News Site [LINK HERE].
You can also read the Mural Blog hosted by the artists: Debbie Koppman and Amanda Lockwood [HERE].
I've been overwhelmed with ideas, experiences and relational encounters in the past 2 weeks of travel, reconnecting with old friends and my brother's wedding. In the midst of that there was the death of a relative, a cousin who went into and out of an unexplained coma, and the seemingly universal experience of divine power and unity as the Chilean miners were delivered from the darkness of their mine prison. The election season is ramping up. I hear more and more people evoke faith for votes, self-preservation, out of fear, or in hope, than I have for a long time. I also hear more and more people reject the faith of other people, from both the left and the right of the spectrum, asserting that their way of believing is the most orthodox or more correct. Two videos that I discovered via Facebook posts this past week highlight the diversity in which we express our faith and also the divisiveness that faith, or religion, seems to be contributing to in our national culture. The first is a youtube video made by Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire in response to the recent flood of suicides of despairing youth. The second is of an episode of the View airing last week with Bill O'Reilly as guest during which the hosts of the show walk off the set.
This parable about the persistent widow and the stubborn judge is like an onion: filled with layers. Does it paint a picture of what God is like, as in someone who has to be talked into action? Or is it portraying how we should relate to God: bargaining, begging, not giving up in our requests? Or is it about something else? Personally I think we often get lost in the parables. They're images, metaphors, word-onions (if you will) that we're invited to wrestle with, unwrap and struggle through. It's not just a question of figuring out what represents what. I think we get the parable when it gets us. It's in the struggle with the parable that we receive the good news it contains. Maybe it's corny, but it's a bit like the onion metaphor: you struggle and tear as you work or cut through it. It's when you're eating it, or cooking it that you realize the power, savor and flavor of the onion.
My cousin Lori, a big paper and web reader, turned me on to an insightful blog article about California and our near-death insolvency. "There's no budget, but California is all over the foreign cow issue" lifts up some terrifying aspects of the train-wreck we all seem to agree our state has become, a place in which the general population seems to becoming not merely depressed and hopeless, but deeply apathetic and uninterested in solving our problems. "If we all focus on the budget, then we're going to crash [personally and emotionally]" said a congresswoman. Maybe that's why so many congress members are up in arms about foreign cows being used in a Happy California Cow commercial. Maybe that's why the governor went an made a bad cult movie with decrepit action stars [The Expendables | TRAILER] while serving our state in the past year. Nothing better to do, I guess. Here's the commercial. You may need to watch it on the original site: LINK
This week's passage is the ongoing continuation of what Jesus has been teaching since chapter 13 about discipleship and life of leadership based on following someone beyond ourselves, the tyranny of the urgent and our cultural context. Leadership implies responsibility. It doesn't equate earn entitlement. Rather that in leadership, following the One from Nazareth we are changed as we change the world. We are held responsible for our actions, not in a subservient, ego-crushing way; but rather in a life-affirming, leadership-maturing and earth-community-awareness-transforming way. What we say and do and our relationships matter.
"Well I'll be damned!" : a funny sermon title I'm flagrantly plaguarizing for my sermon this week. It might just be what the rich man in this parable says in the end. Funny. Ironic. Painful. Fitting. It's all about perspective, it's what Jesus is talking about. This rich guy never helped, let alone noticed, Lazarus laying like a sick dog on his doorstep. He was unimportant until the rich man needed his help. It's a bit like Ebenezer Scrooge in Dicken's A Chrismas Carol. A wealthy, arrogant man who claims to need no one, or to have anyone worthy of his friendship, until his eyes are opened to life in general - and his life in particular - by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. In this parable the scrooge character doesn't get it. He's read and hear the Torah and Prophets every day of his life as he followed the prescriptions for good faithful living (as articulated in Deuteronomy 6:1-12). That obviously didn't change his heart or his perspective. Would the ghosts of Christmas, or someone returning from the dead, make any other change?
For many Ann Rice isn't a name you often associate with the Christian Church. Wildly famous for her numerous novels about vampires, she rediscovered her Christian Faith, in the Catholic Context, several years back in a time of deep grief. She then wrote 2 novels in a planned trilogy telling the story of Jesus in the first person. A challenging endeavor to undertake: Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt; The Road to Cana and a memoir about her spiritual transformation: Called Out of Darkness.
In August she announced that she was leaving the Church, quitting religion, but in no way renouncing Jesus the Christ, nor abandoning her life-path of discipleship. [Belief Net Blog] [NY Times Article] [Christian Science Monitor Article] The news came out in early August, yet it seems to have gone much un-noticed, being overshadowed by religious comments and conflicts around Glenn Beck [site]. She claims that she could no longer be identified with a group that she feels has little, or no, identifying links to Jesus of Nazareth, his teachings and his life.
The Clever Manager parable is widely regarded as one of the most difficult of Jesus to understand.Is he wise? Shrewd?Dishonest?How are we to interpret it?Having squandered the property of his boss (as the Prodigal Son scattered the inheritance of his father Luke 15:13) he is lauded as a good manager.Is this clever steward commended by his boss or by Jesus for having reduced the debts owed to the master?In doing so he gains favor with the indebted farmers.He makes his boss to look like a very generous benefactor.And he secures his position by earning new friends and making it nearly impossible for his boss to fire him without losing face among his grateful debtors.Jesus talks about children of the world (or this time/age), encouraging children of the light to be clever in their decision-making.It’s not about dishonesty, deceit, trickery, but rather about recognizing how things work and working in the world with a different view as the goal.It’s not just about self-preservation or self-enrichment.It’s about a wider vision of life, a world-view of Jubilee (based on Leviticus 25): a global vision of justice, inter-dependence, solidarity, and peace all both in the name of God and for God.
The texts suggested by the Lectionary (a 3 year cycle through which we travel the breadth of the Bible) address the question of discipleship and grace. We're challenged to love and live as Jesus did. A radical invitation that seems poignantly a propos in this week of threatened Koran burning by a Florida church as we mark the 9th anniversary of the horrific destruction of September 11th and its consequences.
In the gospel according to Luke, again we see that Jesus is encountered around a meal, a celebration: with the wrong people.Tax collectors, sinners, maybe prostitutes and gamblers: folks who were considered immoral or wrong because of their economic activities.At the same time they were the ones with money, enough to host large meals, something that was rare and very costly in the poverty that dominated Palestine in Jesus’ day.It’s in this setting that the parables of Luke 15 unfold: verses 3-7: the Parable of the Lost Sheep; verses 8-10 the Parable of the Lost Coin; and verses 11-31 the Parable of the Prodigal Son, also called the Parable of the Loving Father.All follow a similar narrative structure:something is lost.It’s sought out.It’s found.A celebration occurs to mark that was was lost is found.
I love bumper stickers: the opportunity to be funny, ironic or poignantly observant in a phrase or word. I find that there are a ton of great ones in the East Bay, in particular in certain parking lots such as the Big Longs and Trader Joe's by the Lake. I'm always looking for good ones to share - one a week - and open to getting ones you've seen by email. I've noticed that there are a lot less stickers these days: either a sign of the economic downturn, or maybe our political/social malaise.
Jesus is invited to a meal at the home of a prominent religious leader. It’s like he’s been invited to be watched in some sort of paparazzi religious-examination way. And yet ironically as the story unfolds we see that it’s actually Jesus who is doing the watching. Like many of the gospel episodes, this one unfolds around food and the sharing of a meal: the basic experience that flavors and empowers human relationships and community.
School starts in Oakland, at least for OUSD, next Monday. A time of excitement and anxiety, eagerness and trepidation. In our own family our youngest will start kindergarten and has been instensly preparing though play for the big day. Yet public school, or the challenge of choosing it in the urban jungle of the Bay Area, and Oakland in particular, is one of the things that drives Oaklandites away. In our own travails of trying to get into a public school, other than the just-above-failing one around the corner from our home in East Oakland, led us to question staying in Oakland, our commitment to the city, public education and our children. The problems facing urban schools are not black and white. They can't merely be solved by throwing more money at them. It won't change overnight. And yet the cost of change isn't just money and time, but one's children. The tension of being committed to your children and your city/public schools is one that goes all too often under the radar. What happens to the middle-class, lower creative-class families in our urban areas that are too monied for help, but too poor for private school, unlucky for a charter school spot or stuck for a move to the burbs?
I was driving through the MacArthur Maze on a pilgrimage to IKEA this week and found myself stuck in traffic behind a truck with a bumper sticker reading "The problem with religion is religion." It got me thinking, in particular about the lectionary texts for this coming Sunday (my first at a new church gig). HYPOCRISY seems to be the big thing that people comment about in terms of problems with religion, and in particular - in our context - with Christians. Against abortion but for the death penalty. For the peace of Christ and the war in Iraq. For religious freedom, but not a mosque near the former World Trade Center site. For morality, as long as it doesn't impede one's own personal choices and options. Where do we find the balance between faith and follow-through; between our egos and our authenticity? The texts from Jeremiah and Luke invite us to this dialogue.
This week I started a new job, serving as pastor with the faith community of College Avenue Presbyterian Church in the Rockridge District of Oakland. A congregation faithfully serving the city of Oakland for over 100 years, which began in the countryside and now is in the mix of the urban context of Oakland, and is seeking to articulate and facilitate the living out of faith in what is emerging as our 21st century context and culture.
I'm reconnecting with my Monteskewed blog which had been dormant for a while as I lived in France and blogged primarily in French at ckoilafoi.wordpress.com. I'm planning to reestablish the blog, doing what I did before - some writing on the practice of Christian faith and urban life, crazy city images, rantings and ravings and the expression of my sarcastic humor; as well as some soon to emerge new things, in particular aspects of life in and around Oakland. If you have ideas or suggestions please be sure to share them with me through a comment.
In the wake of 9/11, the the burst of the mortgage bubble meltdown, Bernie Maddock ponzi schemes, and decreasing church membership roles, questions of security dominate our national, cultural and church psyches. How can we be safe from future terrorist attacks? How can we be financially secure when everything seems to anything but? Can life be sure and secure? And how does faith through Christ fit into our wonderings. Trust in God, is the answer. Yet while it's easy to recite, it's often much harder to live day to day.
We read the scriptures as a community each week as a practice that shapes us and sends us; a big story that frames our way of seeing, being and believing. What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? What does that look like? This week's gospel lesson, as always, offers direction. Clear, concise, to the point, but also a bit vague, we often tend to oversimplify it in our reading. Mary is the good one. Martha is wrong. She should have listened to the words of Jesus instead of working so hard. A black and white answer for life that is more grey than two-tone.
Martha is doing what is required, preparing and offering hospitality, fitting of her guest - paramount in the cultural context both then and still today, of the Middle East. Doesn't Jesus criticize the Pharisee who hosts him yet doesn't wash his feet, leaving the task to the tears of the mysterious woman [Luke 7]? Doesn't Jesus himself use this task of hospitality (washing the feet of a guest) as a pedagogical experience to show the disciples what it means to serve one another [John 13]? While we do need to first receive the gospel, it is most often by our actions, presence, relationships - and hospitality - that we reflect what we have received. So it can't simply be an existential choice of being like Mary or being like Martha.
"Discipleship places heavy demands on followers of Jesus. The way Jesus takes involves and unprotected mission, a clear choice about priorities, and a clean break with the past." [quote from my studies this week]. Luke 9 is the beginning of the end: Jesus heading towards Jerusalem, knowing that his way of love, life and liberation will most likely lead towards a cross than a coronation celebration. In a sense it's the beginning (in the next chapters) of what we might call "Jesus' Following Instructions for Dummies and Disciples."
A funny photo I received a while back, portraying the Imperial Power of Star Wars, having vanquished Oakland moving across the bay to attack San Francisco. I guess that it could be one way to deal with budget cuts that no one wants to tackle.
Emergent. Transformation. Post-modern. Changing. Gen X. 21st Century Church. Hot catch phrases, often thrown around with the intent of sparking interest and justifying ones church credentials (or lack thereof). Yet maybe these current buzz words about the shifting relationship between church and culture merely serve to say a lot without really saying anything at all?
The text for Sunday, according to the Lectionary, is the story of Pentecost [Acts 2:1-13]. The birth-story of the church community. From the beginning multi-cultural, trans-national, inter-generational, and gender-inclusive; this community of faith was not just about preaching to the masses, but also listening to what is going on.
The Oakland Marathon [site] is coming soon - March 27th! - a chance for Oakland to be in the spotlight - and for many folks to see more than just the crime and gun-driven side of the city. Here's a cool e-recreation of the marathon route. [East Bay Express Article]
The two texts proposed by the lectionary list for this day talk about theophany (the theological-ese word for "the auto or self-revelation of God." They relate the identification of Jesus in a miraculously theological way as the Messiah, the Son of God; and also God concluding the covenant with Abraham. The disciples don't get what's happening, even when they realize that the heavens are open, that the divine voice identifies Jesus as the One, their response reveals that they don't really grasp what that means for them in the moment or for the world in general. They want to build a house to stay there, maybe some sort of tabernacle so that this moment can be preserved forever. Yet Jesus is calling them - and is called himself - into the world, to action, to radical loving that transforms all through nonviolent acts of grace, compassion and justice - to practice resurrection in daily life.