Wednesday, February 28, 2007

March 1, 2007
Lent Reading Day 8
Moses and the Burning Bush:
Exodus 3:1-22

Moses has fled his past, fled his future, and chosen a present that enables his to hide from his fears, failures, and family situation in Egypt. Alone in the wilderness, tending the flock of animals he cares for, he stumbles suddenly upon a bush that burns yet is never burnt up. Seeminlgy indestructible, Moses is intrigued and as he approaches comes into a face-to-face encounter with the living God of the past, the present and the future, who was, and is, and is to come. Moses experiences an epiphany, an experience of God revealing himself in the midst of our world. He takes off his sandals as a sign of respect for this holy ground, but it's more than his footwea that changes. Trasnformed by his encounter of the God of his ancestors - who now is clearly the God of Moses too, he cannot simply go back to business as usual. The voice and word of God has gone out, the call has been extended and Moses accepts - even if he still bickers and complains abit in the rest of chapter 2 because he stutters.

How often do we walk past holy ground epiphanies in our own lives? Maybe we don't see burning bushes, or hearing booming voices from on high. But I have to believe that we're not all that different than Moses. Often when God comes calling, inviting us to stand up, lead, and stand for justice - freedom - community solidarity - we too are often afraid. But what was Moses afraid of? Was he afraid of failure? Or was he afraid of himself, afraid to have his stuttering fear transformed into clear leadership, prophetic word? It reminds me of an often quoted poem by Marianne Williamson

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

What was Moses afraid of? What are we afraid of when we have our own burning bush epiphany encounters and are invited to be vital participants in what God is doing in the world?
Sculpture "The Burning Bush" from the Ratner Museum

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

February 28, 2007
Lent Reading Day 7
Moses in the Bulrushes:

A children's Bible we read at home describes this story as "the baby in the basket." The imperialistic Pharaoh has set out upon a program of ethnic cleansing, using all his power to wipe out the numerous Israelites. And yet his own daughter is the person to pull out from the jaws of death the child that will grow to lead the Israelites to a freedom at the expense not only of Pharaoh's pride but also his power.

It's a cute story. That's why my daughters enjoy it. That's why the Prince of Egypt was such a success in the movie theaters. Yet it's deeper than just cute, trite, or sweet. Pharaoh's daughter makes a choice - she seems to me to clearly know what she's doing and who is the biological mother of the child. She makes a choice to protest against her father's policy, to speak her mind, what she believes to be true - not only with her words, but also with her actions. She not only saves the baby in the basket that day, but his mother and sister as well. Her compassion and mercy are actually acts of justice and revolution. A recent newspaper column, the last written before her death from cancer, of Molly Ivins invited readers to politcial action, to acts of justice in simple, coherent, seemingly cute yet revolutionary ways.

How is God inviting us today to stand up and go outside like Pharaoh's daughter and take some action?

Art by He Qi, "Finding of Moses"

February 27, 2007
Lent Reading Day 6
Jacob’s Ladder:

Jacob, the son of Isaac, experiences the power, purpose and passion of God in a new, unavoidable way in today's passage. Read Genesis chapters 25, 26, & 27 to get the background of today's scripture story. Jacob's history is literally catching up with him. Like his grandparents he trusts more in himself to provide, than in God. So he has repeatedly taken things into his own hands, ensuring his safety, status and survival by trickery, deceipt, and self-reliance. But here as his vegeneful brother is closing in on him, and after giving up his family to his angry brother, he is overwhelmed by this vision of God through this ladder. It's from this point on that he changes - his life, perspective, and world-view is transformed. Better late than never we'd say. You might also say that it's easy to do that when you've already sacrificed your wife and children to save your own skin....but Jacob does literally see the light and change.

With all his blindness Jacob is able to discover, discern and understand that he is in a holy place, that God is present - not just in that square yard of land, but in all of life. How are you aware of God's presence? How would you like to be aware? It's in Jacob's dreams that God comes to him - the one time in his day in which he lets go of his total control over the way he reacts to all of life. It's in his dreams that God is able to come to him and be heard. How are you open to God coming to you, speaking to you God's power, purpose and passion?
February 26, 2007
Lent Reading Day 5
Abraham and Isaac:

The story of the barren Abraham and Sarah journeying through the desert towards a new promised land and the promise of a child climaxes with the birth of Isaac by God's grace. Of course between this gift there were many times in which Abraham and Sarah scheme and sneak their own ways, trying to make what God promised happen by their own grit, greed, and guts. Isaac is born - the child of laughter - what his name refers to, reminding the proud parents each time that they call their son by name that they laughed when God made the promise of a child, doubting, disbelieving and discrediting that God could do such a mysterousily miraculous thing.

God then paradoxically invites and commands Abraham to take Isaac into the wilderness, and there to offer his only son, the long-awaited promise of future life, the fulfillment of his present moment, and the deep trust in God's goodness, in sacrifice. Some would say this is a demented and destructive God, asking parents to sacrifice their own child for God's glory. Yet it's a test - a cruel one in a way - to see what Abraham trusts in. Does Abraham trust only in his own power to provide for himself and his family (which is what he seems to do in most of his life)? To what extent does Abraham trust that God will provide?

We live in a time of great narcissim. One of the fastest selling books at the moment, the Secret, asserts that we can attract the future - the money - the looks - the body size - the material goods - that we want. Heralded by Oprah and Ellen, the divas of day-time tv, this new book, describing old thoughts, proclaims that we make the positive and the negative things happen in our life. It sounds catchy and encouraging...imagine yourself in that Porsche that has been prius-ed to get 150 mpg, and you'll soon be in it. Yet what about the downsides, that we make negative things happen by our thoughts? Is this really true when we think of what it means for those that lost everything in New Orleans, who live trapped in the Sunni Triangle in Iraq, or seeking to thrive in the midst of HIV-infected countries in southern Africa? Do we really have that much power over the universe?

Instead I'm struck by the memory of this story - which is foundational in Christianity, Judaism and Isalm - reminding me that God will provide and does provide. In fact the place where this story supposedly happened has become both the temple mount in Jerusalem and the site of the Mulsim Al-Aqsa Mosque. As I dwell on the invitation to trust that God will provide in the midst of our radically narcistic culture (check out the Oakland Tribune article that describes a study detailing the increasing rate of narcissim among college students and the possible negative effects on our culture) I'm pushed to look for different examples of trust, gratitude, and other-centerdness in our culture. I think of the acceptance speech of Supporting Actress Jennifer Hudson at the Academy Awards this past Sunday, when she said repeatedly, "I thank God." "God is so good."

In whom do we put our trust? How do I believe that God will provide for me, my family, and our church community? How do I second-guess God, by ensuring by my own powers and schemes - in an AbrahamSarah-ish way - that I'm provided for when God doesn't seem to be acting, or doing things the way that I'd like them to be done?

Friday, February 23, 2007

February 24, 2007

Lent Reading Day 4

The Call of Abram: Genesis 12:1-9

What does it mean to be called out from your people, tribe, nation, and culture to go to a new place, to make a new home, that God will show you? I find it hard to imagine. How would I respond it such a circumstance? How would you? And yet - is it really so unlike what we all live?; what we all are invited to? I was watching Grey's Anatomy tonight whch begin with the statement that Doctors believe in Science, not things such as miracles. The next philisophical musing was a post-modern response saying that science is wrong, that miracles do happen. The miracle in the Abraham and Sarah story isn't so much that they were old, worn, and baren and yet birthed a nation, but rather that they said, "yes" to God's invitation to relationship - one that led to new discoveries, unexpected journeys, and out-of-the-box ways of knowing and being known. The truest miracle of the journey of Abraham and Sarah is that they lived their life of blessing being a blessing to others... Blessed doesn't mean happy-go-lucky, or that everything is easy or turning-up-roses, but that life is full, whole, and meaning-full. I'm much quicker to want to take the blessings that come my way, than to pay them forward, to be a blessing to others. What does it mean to bless others in our actions, words, relationship, presence, and prayers? Maybe - just maybe - when we're so quick to want God to do miracles for us - to make life easier, to grant our wishes, to wipe away our challenges, we're overlooking the mystery that maybe God is inviting us to be miracle-doers - blessing others when both we're happy and healthy, and when we're broken and lost.
February 23, 2007

Lent Reading Day 3

The story of Noah, the Ark, and the great flood is well known, in particular when you visit stores that sell decorations for baby rooms. It always strikes me that we often decorate children's room and dress them up with figures from this story that at first-glance seems so destuctive, and divisive. Is the story about a God who destroys everything that God created because things don't go as God planned or imagined?; or is it about a God that takes the initiative, inviting to a deeper relationship?

The story of the great flood existed in the myths of many of the ancient cultures in mesopotamia. Many scholars assert that the Israelites adopted this story from their neighbors, transforming it, claiming it for their own faith community. The selection for the day leaves out the part of the stoy that reveals God's heart, passion, and purpose. Genesis 8:15-22 talks about the unique aspect that the God of the Bible promises to never bring about such cataclysmic destuction again, making a covenant with Noah and his family to be in relationship with them.

What does it mean for us that God makes a covenant to be with us, to be for us, and to be among us? How does such a promise change how I live my day, the decisions I make, and the way I invest in my relationships?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

February 22

Lent Reading Day 2

Creation of Man and Woman

I've heard, as probably many of us have, multiple negative comments about this text. God is mysoginist - seeming to hate women, and the story protrays the woman as the only "bad" person - the tempter. Others have said that God is unfair, setting Adam and Eve up for a fall, tricking them into being disobedient. Others have said it's just ridiculous to think - in our post-modern, post-industrial, scientific-worldview-based-world, that such a ridiculous story could explain the creation of the world that took hundreds of thousands, in not millions, of years to evolve, emerge, and exist. Plus no one has ever found this "garden of Eden" - so it must be an ancient myth told and re-told be pre-enlightenment peoples to make themselves feel better.

These comments all miss the point of the story - at least how the story of creation strikes me. Yesteday's reading (Genesis 1:1-2:4) also tells the story of creation. So the Bible actually has two versions - side by side - of the story of the beginning of the universe. If the writers of the Bible were trying to offer a conclusive, evolutionary and scientific explanation of the genesis of the cosmos I doubt that they would have included 2 stories - unless their editor was on vacation the week they put Genesis together. The first chapter tells the story of creation as an invitation to a conversation with God - a God who speaks things into being, speaking with creation as co-subjects, equal, and with whom God seems to be interdependent. The second chapter - today's text - tells the same story with a different theological point - that we are created in God's image - but are not God. The man and woman are equal in creation. For God doesn't create Eve from Adam's foot - but from his rib, his side - the part of the body that will be side by side with her when they are standing together side by side. I think this shows God's intention for interdependence, mutuality, and equality in creation from the get-go. (Of course this isn't my idea - it comes from several French medieval theologians). The fruit in the garden - the temptation of the snake - and the evenutal banishment of Adam and Eve are not meant to paint an unloving portrait of the God of the univese as without mercy, grace, and patience, or meant to justify the latest jockey or 2xist underwear marketing schemes. Rather they remind us of the human condition - that we all are part of what a friend calls the "circle of life." We all are born. We all will die. Adam and Eve seek to change that, with some suggestive encouragement from the snake. Curiously the world "devil" comes from the Greek work "diabolos" which means "the one who divides." And isn't that what happens in this story? In the beginning Adam and Eve are living in interdependence with God and with each other...but by the end they have turned on each other (who else do they have to blame in the garden?) and on God.

How often do I - and we - turn on each other when we're afraid or confronted with our own mortality, brokeness, fears, or uncertainties. As mythical, distant, or destructive (read Sam Harris' latest book) we might suspect these ancient stories to be - there is a reason that these two chapters; two versions of the same story, are at the beginning of what became the collection of testimonies about God that we now call the Bible. They remind us that the God of the universe is seeking us out, taking the initative, inviting us into a conversation - a dance of co-creation and interdependence, and that we in our human-ness somehow learn radical mistrust from one another - what the Biblical writers call sin - fearing that there won't be enough for us, to go around for me to get some, or that God will or even has forgotten us. In this second day of Lent - we have to ask ourselves - how does mistust of God, of others, and even ourselves - rule our lives, reign over our decisions and actions, and govern the way our cultures and nations deal with one another?
Ash Wednesday
February 21, 2007
Lent Reading Day 1

The first reading in the Read Through the Bible Lenten Spiritual Discipline Blog Entry starts in the beginning - the first words of the Bible in the book of Genesis are actually, "In the beginning...", not "in the first instant," not "in that moment before the big bang," not "before the process of evolution emerged," simply "in the beginning." We often read the text putting our values, expectations, and worldviews upon the text, making it speak our language, talk to us on our terms, or even tell us what we want to hear. In light of our scientific world-view and knowledge, we struggle with accepting that the world was created in 6 days or that God's word could create something out of nothing. But what I hear the text saying is that God speaks, taking the initative, addressing the first word in a dialogue. God's speaking organizes, transforms or shapes what already was - the darkness and the void - into something that is alive, dynamic and good. God speaks and the universe responds, joining into the conversation. God speaks and man and woman are created in God's image - creatures empowered with the gift of gab - able to participate in a discussion. God doesn't talk down to them, but rather with them. God doesn't begin creation with a dictation, or a speech, but rather with a conversation. A dialogue requires two actors or speekers, who are able to listen and speak, to interact in mutuality, interdependence, and relationship. If this is the first story of the Bible - then what I hear it saying is that from the beginning God has sought to be in relationship with us, speaking to us, taking the initative, so that we might respond, join the conversation, and become co-creators with God. I find that quite different than simply imagining that the creation story justifies this or that political party platform, a pro- or anti- position vis-a-vis science, or even a line-drawn-in-the-sand approach to faith in the Judeo-Christian perspective. How radical to imagine that God is still speaking (as the Methodists say in their marketing) - and speaking to us - to me - inviting me to join the conversation. If that's the case how often do I approach life: my decisions, actions, relationships, and words in the view that I'm part of a conversation and not simply the center of my own private world, or in a dog-eat-dog world, or a complacent cog in the midst of a meaningless machine? If God is still speaking - what am I saying?

Monday, February 19, 2007

is the period of 40 days before Easter (not including Sundays) that begins on Ash Wednesday. Since the first days of the Christian Church Community, nearly 2,000 years ago, Lent has been as season of spiritual growth, discipline, and maturation. Early converts to Christianity underwent a time of catechism, or faith instruction – including fasting – during these 40 days. This became a practice of “giving something up” during this time in order to be more mindful of the sacrifice that Christ made on the cross and in the crucifixion so that sin and evil might be overcome by resurrection grace and transformational faith-relationships with God. Instead of “giving something up” to be mindful of Christ and the new way of being in our world and relating to God and one another, thechurch community I serve (Fruitvale Presbyterian in Oakland, CA) wants to invite you to “take something on” during Lent.

Throughout Lent you can discover a new spiritual discipline that you can practice on your own in order to grow your faith and nurture your spirituality. These will be presented each Sunday by a special insert in the worship bulletin (which you can download on the church website). I'll also upload these inserts - including links to online resources - each Sunday until Easter (April 8th)

Throughout Lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday, February 21st, I'll be blogging on a daily basis, briefly sharing my thoughts about the sciptures that comprise a snap-shot overview of the entire Bible. If you'd like to try this as spiritual practice during Lent this year, simply tune into my blog each day. You'll find a link to the scriptures as well as a short reflection piece.

Here's the List of Scriptures that you can read through and which I'll be blogging about.

A Lenten Spiritual Discipline: Read the Bible on a Daily Basis
Readings for Lent “Through the Bible”

Day 1 Creation: Genesis 1:1-2:4
Day 2 Creation of Man and Woman: Genesis 2:4-2:25
Day 3 The Flood: Genesis 6:5-8:15
Day 4 The Call of Abram: Genesis 12:1-9
Day 5 Abraham and Isaac: Genesis 22:9-14
Day 6 Jacob’s Ladder: Genesis 28:10-17
Day 7 Moses in the Bulrushes: Exodus 2:1-10
Day 8 Moses and the Burning Bush: Exodus 3:1-22
Day 9 The Ten Commandments: Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:1-21

Day 10 Joshua and the Battle of Jericho: Joshua 6:1-20
Day 11 Call of Samuel: 1 Samuel 3:1-4:1
Day 12 Anointing of David: 1 Samuel 9:15-10:1
Day 13 David and Goliath: 1 Samuel 17:1-54
Day 14 The Shepherd Psalm: Psalm 23
Day 15 The Voice of the Lord Psalm: Psalm 29
Day 16 Advice from the Proverbs: Proverbs 10:7, 10:12
Day 17 Advice from the Proverbs: Proverbs 10:15, 10:20
Day 18 Test of Solomon’s Wisdom: 1 Kings 3:3-28
Day 19 Isaiah: Isaiah 9:1-7

Day 20 The Fiery Furnace: Daniel 3:1-30
Day 21 The Birth of Jesus: Matthew 1:18-25
Day 22 Baptism of Jesus: Matthew 3:13-17
Day 23 Plucking Grain of the Sabbath: Luke 6:1-5
Day 24 The Golden Rule: Matthew 7:12
Day 25 The Great Commandment: Mathew 22:36-40
Day 26 Healing the Ten Lepers: Luke 17:11-19
Day 27 The Widow’s Mite: Mark 12:41-44
Day 28 Lazarus and the Rich Man: Luke 16:19-31
Day 29 The Lost Sheep: Luke 15:3-7

Day 30 Laborers in the Vineyard: Matthew 20:1-15
Day 31 Calming the Storm: Mark 4:36-41
Day 32 Entry into Jerusalem: Matthew 1:1-11
Day 33 The Last Supper: Matthew 26:17-29
Day 34 Garden of Gethsemane: Matthew 26:36-46
Day 35 Arrest of Jesus: Matthew 26:47-56
Day 36 The Crucifixion: Luke 23:44-49
Day 37 The Resurrection: Luke 24:1-11
Day 38 Pentecost: Acts 2:1-3
Day 39 Paul’s Conversion: Acts 9:1-9
Day 40 God Wipes All Tears: Rev. 7:9-14

Sunday, February 04, 2007

An editorial from Monte McClain – Pastor, Fruitvale Presbyterian Church

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” – Jesus of Nazareth (John 14:25)

February is filled with celebrations that affirm our identity in community. You might watch the Super Bowl with your closest friends, celebrate Valentine’s Day with a significant other, celebrate Black History Month in our schools, faith communities or neighborhoods, or participate in Lunar New Year Festivities in different and diverse Asian backgrounds. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday the 21st, marking our 6 week journey towards the resurrection promise of Easter for us and our world. The month is filled with festive Feast Days in which we gather together in community to celebrate who we are culturally, historically, relationally, and also spiritually.

As Christians we gather together in our common belief that something universally unique and authoritative happened in Jesus the Christ. As disciples we share a common hope that in Christ the God of the Universe has given us a peace beyond all understanding, and that through Christ on the Cross this is made possible, and that by Christ we are invited and called to not only talk about such peace, but to work to make it the reality of our world. In the Christian perspective peace isn’t merely just the absence of War, rather it’s the fullness of God’s presence, purpose and passion in and for all of creation. It’s not a temporary surge, but a constant universe-transforming gift of grace, love, and wholeness. When we discover God’s peace we ourselves are transformed, finding the fullness of who we are created to be and become. It’s in the peace that God gives in Christ that we come home – not to become a couch-potatoes, but to discover and deepen our discipleship as ambassadors of Christ’s love for all the world. It’s not sanctioned by Congress, nor a mayoral policy, but rather God’s deepest desire for us and invitation to us to be co-participants in the continuing work of creation.

We are in need of such radical and life-transforming peace, aren’t we? The surging death rate of young men and women (as well as not so young) dying in conflicts around the world from the neighborhoods of Baghdad to the corners of Somalia remind us of our need for peace. The rate of violent crimes and thefts in our city of Oakland are surging towards new potential records in only the second month of the year. A recent article in the Tribune highlighted the gentrification in our own church neighborhood the Dimond District – and the “rebirth” of an historic city district. Yet at what cost will this gentrified fullness come? Who will be forced out by the surge of skyrocketing housing costs? If Christ gives us his peace – and does it differently than the world does – what does that mean? In a time in which many of us are fearful of what can happen and what is happening, what does Jesus’ invitation to “not be afraid,” mean for us?

February is filled with holidays and celebrations that invite us to peace – either in wishing us peace and prosperity for the new year, to share a peace-full moments with friends and family, or to remember and claim our diverse history in order to prevent the horrors or racism and xenophobia to tyrannize our society. As Christians, Lent invites us to fathom the cost at which God makes peace with us, and the universe through Christ. What does that mean for us? And how are we invited – or challenged – to pay forward our gratitude by being peace-makers in the name of Jesus the Christ in our world, our city, and in our church community – in words, actions, and relationships?

Peace to you and yours,