Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Existential Moments
It's a God thing!
The 1st Night of School

Our daughter attended, survived and thrived in her first day of Kindergarten. It's been a journey of a day, filled with introspection, reflection, joys, good karma and quasi-out-of-body-experiences. I went to pick up our daughter after school with our family. As we waited with the all the other kindergarten families. As I walked back down the hall, taking in all of the families, relational encounters, excitement-filled words and laughter, I started to cry. Slight visible tears that expressed my deep gratitude. My thankfulness for being there, for our daughter being in a public school, for us being able to be a family in the school community that we deeply longed to be in. Being there at the school, 3 generations of our family, I was aware that it was an existential MOMENT - a ripple in time in which the deepest meaning of human existence and universal meaning, faith in a living God and the fullness of community were intertwined, integrated and interconnected.

It got me thinking. How often do we pass alongside such moments, not just "happy" times, but such existential moments - those instances or experiences when the fullness of God transcends the urgency and coming and going of daily existence to transform it into those glimmers of eternity, those shimmerings of what life is meant to be and what life is all about? That sounds all philisophical and theological...but I think that's what faith and human existence is all about. I mean those time when we are "transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect," (Romans 12:2)

I think we're so often so lost, thinking (most likely because of our hyper-individualistic western and capitialistic American Culture) that it's all about us, that what we want and what we "see" are what really ARE. Maybe we're so self-focused or consumed with the tyranny of the urgent that we pass alongside what is really imporant, what is radically meaningful, and what is deeply human. Maybe we go so quick and fast in our every day life that we zip through those moments of transcendence and full-presence of the divine like a car seeking to cruise through the carpool lane to get to the FastTrak entrance ahead of everyone else? Why is it that we most often skip over those times, encounters, and moments that make the most meaning of our existences in order to get to the next thing on our list?

Maybe that's what FAITH is all about...seeking to see, to experience, to live in and live from those existential moments; to recognize God's radical presence in our lives and days from which we find meaning and through which we can be irreversibly transformed (the Christian Theological world is redeemed and sanctified) in order to (re-)become the people that we were created, intended and set apart to be. Maybe a faith-full life is not one in which there are massive amounts of such experiences and relational encounters...but rather one that recognizes that such mountain-top theophany/encounters are rare, preciously rare... and that we live not from one such moment to the next, but rather that we live by faith, emerging from one such encounter, sustaining, maintaining and propelling us into and through life?

Monday, August 27, 2007

1st Day of School

Over the past year I've blogged about my middle-class urban angst as we've sought and fought to indentify and gain admission to an urban public school that is ahead of the failing-school curve and hopefully about more than just teaching kids to succeed on standardized tests so that no one is "left behind."

Well K-Day has arrived and our daughter is off to her first day of school. Hopefully by now they're either at their first recess, learning names, or prepping for the first round of standardized tests.

Here's some pictures from this morning and a video to mark the day.

I think I'll celebrate today by beginning to look at Middle Schools :)

Cheers and blessings to all the OUSD families and staff in this first day of school!

The Cultural Shift in our Midst
BoBos - Creative Class - Young Affluents

The SF Chronicle had an article in yesterdays' STYLE section that talked about something I've (and many others) have blogged on in the past: a cultural shift that has already happened all around us in American Majority Culture. David Brooks calls this new socio-economic trans-cultural group BoBos (or Bourgeois Bohemians). Characterized by creativity, communally driven, affluent yet seeking to spend their money in non-flashy or bling-bling ways, and strongly socially conscious - they have and continue to transform the way that our economy, school, media and religious communities are functioning.

The article talks about the influence of this emerging group on the Hotel Industry, as they are seeking quality without the formality, flexibilty with the things that they demand.

I'm inserting a quote from the best portion of the article below:

"Danziger calls Generation Xers and Millennials "young affluents" and said her market research shows that this age group's wants and desires will have a major impact on shaping the luxury market worldwide, from the United States and Europe to Brazil and China.
One of the driving forces behind the demand for experiential travel and casual luxury in this age group and economic bracket is simple, Danziger said in a telephone interview. This generation is as wealthy as the Boomer generation, but is at a different life stage. They're younger and more active, or may have children in tow.
"They're engaged in 'we-think' - putting the needs of families first - rather than 'me-think,' which considers the needs of the parents as individuals, so casual luxury is important," Danziger said.
As people become tired of acquiring possessions, they are turning toward "experiential consumerism" in a relaxed, not frigidly formal, manner, she says."

You can read the whole article HERE.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Survey about Decreasing Trends in Reading

The Associated Press just released a survey on reading habits across the nation.

Turns out the West and MidWest read the most. The things most read include the Bible, religious books and Harry Potter. I'm wondering if there is a connection?

One in 4 people didn't read a book last year.
The average (claimed) was 4 books read last year.
Women read more.
Senior adults read the most.

Supposedly our decreasing literacy action is due to television, movies and the Internet. Who would'a thought?

So stop reading this and pick up a book.
Does a Sudoku puzzle count as a book?
I tried to find an online video summary of this article but couldn't. So you'll have to read it for yourself online HERE.
God's Warriors
CNN Exclusive Report on Religious Fundamentalism
in Judiasm, Islam and Christianity

I watched the first of three reports from Christiane Amanpour on CNN last night entitled "God's Warriors. Last night's show was on Jewish Warriors, in particular radical Zionists in Israel. I found it thoughtful and well done. She's not aiming to cover the diverse perspectives and worldviews held by Jewish believers (or Moslems or Christians) rather focusing on Extremists. You can see more about the show on the CNN page HERE. (the Site includes Video bits from the show). Rory Gilmore would be proud of her reporting.

Watching last night I kept remembering a quote from Sam Harris in Letter to A Christian Nation, in which he claims that all religious belief leads to such violent, quasi-fascist fundamental extremism. Can't agree with that. But I'm glimpsing how an intelligent person might make such a conclusion. We'll have to see what comes to mind tonight and tomorrow. The shows are made to be discussed.

Tonight's Show
Moslem Warriors
Wed., 8/22
6-8pm and again 9-11pm
on CNN

Tomorrow's Show
Christian Warriors
(aka Fundamentalists seeking political power in the USA)
Thursday, 8/23
6-8pm and again 9-11pm
on CNN

I'm taping the shows and thinking about showing them in the next two months at our church for discussion times. Would that interest you? If so leave me a comment saying what time/day would work for your schedule.
How Do You Spell
in church-ese?

I worked today with a colleague on an upcoming conference workshop we're leading on worship in a redevelopment church setting. So many ideas, experiences, and vision to try to articulate in a fun, non-nap-inducing way for a 90 minute workshop time at the end of the afternoon!

When I went online tonight ran across some great conversation about Innovative Church and what that means on Bruce's blog at http://www.reyes-chow.com/

Well worth the read.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Blogging Towards Sunday
August 26, 2007
Are We ALL
- each and everyone -
REALLY Called by God?

The texts from the Christian Bible that I'm preaching on this next Sunday are Jeremiah 1:4-10 and Luke 13:10-17.

In the past weeks we've been talking about disovering the Will of God. We tend to think it's some sort of Secret Truth, or objective knowledge that we have to acquire in order to finally grasp the will of God for the world. We're unable to figure it out. So in our uber-individualistic world we thus feel disempowered, distant from God, unworthy of the faith that we claim as foundaitonal in and for our lives. Yet many theologians and disciples have reframed the question. It's not about acquiring some difficult truth, but rather more about perspective, purpose and participation. God's will is easily understood: Love God with all of who you are. Love your neighbor as God loves us. Love the excluded (the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner) with particular intention and passion. Rather clear. The trickier part is applying it to our lives. Often we turn in circles, waiting, praying, hoping, and then being disappointed that we haven't been struck by a lightening bolt as we hear God's voice boom from the heavens. Instead we should ask ourselves 3 simple questions:

1. What are the great needs around us?
2. What might God be doing? What might we be glimpsing?
3. How might God be inviting us to join in, to participate in the work that God is already doing?

Are we really all called by God, created by God, meant to be involved intricately and integratively in what God is doing in our world?

The passage from Jeremiah is about Call and Transformation. Jeremiah has this experience of God's holiness and power around 627BC. He's either a small boy or a young man still living in the home of his priestly father Hilkiah in the village of Anathoth (near Jerusalem). This experience of God forms him. God says that he was born, intended and created for a special purpose: to be God's prophet at a unique time in the history of Israel, in particular during the final years of the Judean Monarchy before it's ultimate destruction. But Jeremiah is reluctant to accept, even refusing. God says "NO" - he can't turn down the call, for God doesn't ask him to participate....rather God says this is what you are meant for. In experiencing God's holiness (like Moses reluctant to be a leader in Egypt and like Isaiah seeking to avoid God's Call) Jeremiah is changed forever.

Often we say that we are each and everyone called in a same manner by God. But I haven't had such an experience. I haven't seen a burning bush, seen an angel fly with coals to my lips, or had God touch my mouth. Maybe it's all just some narrative ploy to make us feel good about ourselves, feel loved by God, included in the pantheon of the disciples. But is it?

In Luke 13 Jesus pushes the envelope. He is trying to open the eyes of the Religious Leaders of his day. Yet they fail to discern the significance of what is happening in the present moment. They're so focused on following the laws and traditions given in the past, maintaining the status quo, afraid of being the ones to get lazy on their watch, that they miss what God is doing in their midst. They fail to see what Jesus is teaching, that this crippled woman is more important to God than observing the Sabbath law, that people are more important than "principals", rules, or traditions. She is even integral in the Will of God in that moment, time, and place! Jesus tries to open their eyes, to give them a perspective of the world transformed by God's holiness (like Jeremiah), yet they are stuck and as they're shamed by their failure to "get it" in public they decide that the only thing left to do is to eliminate the threat to their power that Jesus represents.

The conclusion of the story rings true for the predicition in Luke 12:49-53 that Jesus will ultimately bring division. In my own life I've often naively thought that if I could just figure out the will of God for me then everything would work out just right. The reality is that God's will isn't just for me, that isn't not just about me and what I can do on my own initiative. It's about what God is already doing - and how you and I together are an integral part in God's purpose and passion for the world. Yet when we doing participate in what God is doing it doesn't always result is our wildest-dreams-coming-true. Often it can lead to difficult relationships, fear of the unknown, rejection by friends/family that don't understand or share the same vision. We mean well but often the desire for power, the fear of rejection, the shame of being confused and the anger at being excluded lead to division rather than collabration, to destruction rather than construction, to death rather than life.

Recently I heard a discussion about who is righteous and who isn't (the Mormon church articulated a new take on their perspective of holiness in terms of homosexuality today). I think such talk misses the boat. In Luke 13 Jesus isn't talking about who is with God and who isn't. He's trying to get everyone into the boat, to open all eyes to the significance of what God is doing in the moment and time in order for them to enter in to God's emerging work. We often want God to break into our lives and speak to us. But rarely are we content when God breaks into our world to transform it and to transform our experience of who God is and how God wants us to be with one another as co-participants and colleagues in God's work of good news and justice right here and now.

So are we all called like Jeremiah? The witness and testimonies of the Bible and the words and actions of Jesus say "YES." We all are called to love and be loved by God. We all are called to love each other and be loved in that same grace-full, peace-making and justice-doing way. Wether we seem to have a lot to offer (like Jeremiah) or not (like the crippled woman) is besides the point. It's not what we have to offer, or what we can do that is the crux of the question. It's what God is doing and how we respond to the invitation to join in with God's people to transform the world into what God longs for it to be.

So the 3 questions remain:

1. What are the great needs around us?
2. What might God be doing? What might we be glimpsing?
3. How might God be inviting You and I to join in, to participate in the work that God is already doing?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

4 Square, Rejuveniles and the Church

The Chronicle has a cover page article on the power of FUN, in particular 4 Square, in terms of rejuvenating rejuveniles and other tech-employed workers throughout Silicon Valley and the Bay Area (Hip to Be Square). Makes me wonder about the church. We often have so much tension caused by fear: fear of being forgotten, of having one's ideas overlooked or ignored, of being irrelevant, of being unwanted. Most church community decisions seem to be based upon reactions to such voiced or subconscious fears as opposed to be thoughtfully and creatively imagined, articulated and implemented in response to a perceived need, acknowledged vision, or stated mission. Maybe having more creativity inducive and flexibility reinforcing activites - like 4 Square in the Office (Sanctuary?) - would change the culture of our church communities...making them more fun, creative, imaginative, integrative of our wider societal culture and constructive as opposed to reactionary? Anyone want to play?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Blogging Towards Sunday
August 19, 2007
Lindsay Lohan, Barry Bonds, Jesus & Your Hair

This week at our church we're having a garden-themed worship celebration, as a guest preacher teaches on "Finding God in our Gardens". The scriptures we'll be centered upon are Luke 12:4-7 and Job 12:1-10.

I'm struck by the words of Luke 12:6-7 in particular:

6Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. 7But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

In age in which we are so marginalized and dehumanized by massive Chinese-made toy recalls, failing national infastructre and a seemingly powerless presence in our democracy...it's easy to feel that we're inconsequential, not merely unwanted and overlooked but completely inconsequential in the midst of our Global technologically enhanced society. Only the uber-powerful/rich/beautiful are lifted up as individuals - for good or for bad - such as Barry Bonds, Karl Rove, and Lindsay Lohan. How radical of a word then that Jesus says that we are important enough to and for God that all the details of our lives are know, even the number of hairs on our heads.

You might reflect a materialist knee-jerk reaction that such a comment is just some sort of proletariat-dupping statement to make us content with our lives and places as cogs in the global captialist machine...yet I find it transformative. Jesus is saying you don't have to take steroids (or not take them - I don't want to be sued by Mr. Bonds for slander), work as/for the President, or be a Hollywood bad girl to have importance and make-meaning in the universe. Who we are is infinitely important, not because of what we've done or what we may do, but because we ARE, because we are the beloved children of God, because God in Christ made us for, and redeemed us to, such essential existential importance.

How might such knowledge transform us and shape the way we interact with other people? If in our urban day-to-day fight-or-flight reality we remember and act from the affirmation that we are loved, we are known, we are each and all important, when we relate to one another on the street, in the long line at the register, in the crowded BART train, in that committee meeting when that one super-talker just won't shut-up, when we're irritated by other's seemingly incoherent choices and actions? How might it impact the way that we shop in terms of buying products that are manufactures at the expense of those living in the Majority or Southern World?; our actions/silence in terms of injustice and genocide in such places as Darfur and Zimbabwe? And how might such an affirmation of faith and human importance transform the way that we think about ourselves?; and feel about our own importance in terms of making meaning and fighting for justice in our neighborhoods, city, and global economy?

For me I have to believe in a God who loves all people, who loves us deeply, who loves us radically (which is what the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is all about), and who invites us to love each other and oursevles in the same manner. But it's not just a love-fest. It's an outward turning knowledge, a community of participation, passionate meaning-making, and life-affirming faith-given purpose.
Vacation Update
Who knew that Jersey is pretty?

We recently returned from a great vacation back East. Many have asked how it was, so I thought I'd share a few memories and an enlightening video.

Went for a wedding which was actually a never-to-forget martha stewart/bollywood production party banquet-fest
Shopped at the Playmobil mother ship store
Discovered that New Jersey is more than asphalt and traffic
Discovered the only Dry, Methodist, nearly church-run, gay, beach town to exist [Ocean Grove]
Sweated to the Oldies with Elmo and friends at Sesame Place
Gained 5 pounds visiting Deep Run
Survived the Hershey World of all things chocolate
Ate half a dozen cheesesteaks
Had Ice Cream every day - peach cobbler was the best!
Sat on the tarmac in the plane for over 6 hours before taking off (like most of America this summer)

In the midst of all of that we encountered this princess prefering boogie board goddess on the beach at Ocean Grove. My favorite highlight of the trip (next to the cheesesteaks!)

I was Poked by a Friend
on the Social Graph!!!
Is that legal? Is it consentual?

This week's edition of Newsweek contains an instightful article on Facebook.com and the power of social networking, or what Facebook creater Mark Zuckerberg calls the "social graph" in our lives, social world, and the global marketplace/21stcenturyreality. You can read it HERE.

Mark expects every human being on our shared planet to soon be an inetgrated part of the facebook world (granted in my life-experience I know many folks who won't make the evolutionary jump...they already have enough problems with their BETA machines!) I find it amazing how technology - facebook, myspace, etc. can not necessarily create connections (although the Newseek article proves me wrong) but can reinforce and deepen existing and emerging relationships. When we're so busy commuting to and from work, multi-tasking while we prepare dinner, create a spread sheet on our blackberry in line for a triple no-foam latte at Pete's while reading the paper...maybe such online social networking is the natural progression of relationships...or at least communication that can be so foundation and formative for relationships in a post-911, globalized, mutlicultural world?

I don't have a philisophical answer...but I'm hooked. Does that mean that I'm a geek if I'm always wondering who has contacted me, or what old friend I can rediscover on facebook - even if they're now living in a cave in Katmandu? Is it adultery if you're excited - even in your heart- by being poked by a stranger, or better yet an old friend?

Monday, August 13, 2007

How Much Should Public School Cost?

Yesterday SF Chronicle Magazine contained a thoughtful article about the shameful need for public schools in California (and throughout the USA) to raise significant amounts of money to afford the educational program and offerings they wish to provide. (You can read the article "Going, Going, Gone!" HERE)

Being the parent of an entering kindergartner beginning school in a matter of days, as well as seeking to be involved with the schools in the area where I live and minister, I was struck by the harsh reality that I've already experienced, witnessed and worked within. There is not enough money going to our public schools. We live in the richest country, not only in the world, but in the history of the world. Our golden state of California would be the 7/8th richest nation in the world if we were independent. We are the land that is the home of Hollywood, Silicon Valley, the University of California, and significant contributors to science, the arts, engineering, and future-oriented industries. And yet public schools - whether rich suburban, affluent urban, and struggling communities with economically disadvantaged students all must turn to such fundraising events as PTA sponsored raffles in order to fund what should be stated mandated, supported and empowered educational offerings: computer programs, P.E. teachers, gardening programs, foreign language instruction, and field trips (this list comes from the article).

Earlier this year I blogged about the challenges of seeking to get our child into a health/stable/vibrant public school in Oakland and my reactions to visiting nearly 20 public elementary schools and half a dozen private ones. As we enter more concretely into the new community of our public school I'm impacted by the reality (as in all of life) that the whole thing is not about the destination (in this case finding the right school) but the journey (helping to improve the school). My - and your - children will live in a technologically advanced and based society characterized by multilingualism, multiculturalism, and a cultural fluidity that our world may not as of yet known. Obesity and early onset diabetes will no doubt continue to be rampantly emerging in their generation facing the fears and unknown consequences of climate change, instant communication, a global urbanization transformation, and global market for which schools in India, China, Japan, Singapore, Australia and Europe seem to be preparing their children, while we spend our time seeking to raise money to hire a librarian or computer aid so that we can unlock the doors of our existing school libraries and computer labs.

My wife and I are delighted by the school community that we were blessed to get into here in OUSD. The staff is excellent. The principal out-of-this-world. Yet something must be wrong when the Orientation Night for New Parents in a school community in the Bay Area of California deals mostly with the paramount need for parents to contribute money and time in order to balance out or make-up-for the significant resources that our state doesn't allocate to her public schools.

What would it be like if we valued education as much as we say we do with our lip service?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Roles, Reversals & Remembering

I opened the paper today and read a interesting article (Southern Baptist Seminary to offer ABCs of Homemaking) that got me thinking. OK didn't take much as I've been offline for 2 weeks. Why is it that we have such a reversal remembrance of the past? Why in particular do we so often seem to only review the past through rose-colored glasses, remembering how good, pure, easier, and cheaper things were? It seems like it's more of a denial sort of reversal of our memories in order to either make ourselves feel better about our current worldviews that struggle to grasp what's happening around and within us, or a way to flee our current fears to some golden-aged past that is locked away like a horocrux in our memories.

In particular this creative memory reversal seems to be some sort of maladie that plagues in particular portions of the Christian Community here in our Country. Ironic, since Christ calls us to live fully present - not in the past, but here, now, today.... I fail to understand how offering a BA in Homemaking will re-instill the "family values" that these folks are aiming to resurrect, reincarnate or reinvent. Were we really so much better off when we forced women to "stay home" in order to have meaning in life? Was it more effective when we denied the roles or women outside of the home in such a way that we made women, such as French writer Georges Sand, take pseudonmyns and quasi-identities of men in order to not only be appreciated and recognized but to be actual participants.

On vacation I began working through a new book, The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson, in which the last chapter I read talked about the urgent need for us as Christians to find our identity and to root it not in our consumeristic choices and/or the passive roles that modern media and captilalism fosters upon us. We need to remember that we're called to find our indentity in our baptisms....that we are new creations in Christ - neither female nor male, greek nor jew, slave nor free - that we are first and foremost the children of God. I fail to see how making sure that we maintain "traditional" gender roles (of course whose tradition is it?) is the most true form of being Christian? We seem to so often mistake Christ's call for us to know Jesus as the way in which we live our life for some sort of "truth" that we must enforce and legislate upon others through force, political power of a homemaking degree? Plus - how come men aren't allowed to enroll in this program? I'm not against one of the partners in a family being the principal homemaker...but how is that decided?

So often the Christian Community is uber-concerned with reaching out to those outside of the church, to 'save' them from the lost-ness of our current culture...yet how is reinforcing old stereotypes like women as homemakers going to do that?