Monday, December 31, 2007

Nonviolence Is Organized Love:
One Hour for Peace

Spend an hour with your neighbors.
We will light candles
and hold signs that express our hopes for peace
in Oakland and the world.
Bring asign if you like, but you don't need to
because we have extras. Just bring yourself. With a recent increase in crime in our district again, we
feel it is even more important to show our presence. We will never give up having hope for our community, many of us have made great new
friends and confirmed why we continue to come together every month.

When: Tues. Jan. 1, 2008 at 7 PM (the 1st of EVERY month)
Where: Oakland, Corner of MacArthur & Lincoln
("Peace Park"--a small park across from 7-11)

This is something that some Dimond/Laurel neighbors been doing the first of the month every month since January 1, 2005. We always have fun and it's great to make new
friends in the community. For more information, call 510-530-3099 or 510-504-2003 (cell). Feel free to forward this to anyone you think might be

I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do.
--Helen Keller

Community Sponsors
Molly Kenefick-Doggy Lama Pet Care

Fruitvale Presbyterian Church

PAWS & CLAWS, A Natural Pet Food Store & Bathhouse

Friday, December 28, 2007

Looking for Kindergarten in the OUSD

The OUSD school options window is closing in mid-January (process info) (application info). I received a recent email through the Dimond Families Yahoo Group talking about Sequoia Elementary if you're interested and/or still looking. Here's a reprinting of the text of the email.

"Sill undecided about kindergarten?

If so, you are invited to a Sequoia Elementary Parents Panel, to be held at the Dimond Library on Monday, January 7th, at 6 pm. This is an opportunity to meet a variety of current Sequoia parents, ask them questions, and learn about their experiences at Sequoia. Come find out why many Dimond families are sending their children to Sequoia and are enthusiastic about the school community they have discovered.

Monday, January 7th, 6-8pm
Dimond Library (upstairs)
3565 Fruitvale Avenue

Please note: this event is NOT at Sequoia Elementary School!

P.S. If you're thinking about Sequoia for kindergarten, other families with pre-K Sequoia students would love to meet you. To find out about monthly pre-K Sequoia playdates, email sequoiaplaydates@ to find out when and where.

Here's a rating of Sequoia on

Thursday, December 27, 2007


A pastor friend, Matt Prinz, recently gave me an article on The Art of Olafur Eliasson, "Seeing Things" from the New Yorker Magazine (11/13/06). I'm not as savy and conversant in terms of the Art World as Matt is. It turns out Oalfur Eliasson is quite the current (and recent past) sensation in the world of Art.

Eliasson seeks to create an experience through his art, to invite us to reconnect with the larger world that we often take for granted, through an intense and intentional exprience of the world through his installations. In the article he talks about a show he was installing for the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in Chelsea. Commenting on the show in the New Yorker interview he said "A show like this comes out of the laboratory. It's not about foil and water. It's about how we feel about those things. The pool is a machine that can produce a phenomenon, but I'm very aware that it can come close to being a setup. ... Working on the idea of experience is something intimate. Speaking with you, now, will change the way I see when I return to the gallery." Of course for some critics the verdict is still out in regards to whether or not Eliasson's work (like dumping non-toxic substances in a river in Sweden in order for city residents to (re)become aware of the beauty and movement of the river in their midst) can really count as "art" in the traditional sense of the word.

Eliasson's comments and vision of art made me think about worship and the church. It also reminded me of one of the widely-published thinkers of the Emergent Church - or Post-Modern Circle of Thought - in Contemporary American Chrisianity: Leonard Sweet. Sweet talks about The epistemology of digital culture, offering an acronym for that in the word EPIC: E=experiential; P=participatory; I=image-rich; C=connective. His thought is that worship in a postmodern context has to prioritize the digital culture in which we live. One of the main aspects of his thoughts intersects with much recent philosophy (Paul Ricoeur for example) and the work of Eliasson (experience his art at the SF MOMA next Fall - it'll be a major survey of his work entitled "Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson).

All this makes me wonder about Christian Worship. Often I've been to worship services which were much more about information than about experience. Worship was focused on what it intellectually means to be a Christian, than enabling me to practice my faith in discipleship. They were more like a "how-to-succeed" seminar or a group-therapy-session-of-encouragement, than some sort of communal gathering aiming to experience as a gathered community the presence, purpose, and passion of God. I think worship is more about providing consistent, intentional experiential celebrations of God's nature, purpose, desires, grace, and call to community - all hoping that God's Holy Spirit will show up to transform our best intentions into a living experience of God. The worship celebrations I remember were such experiences of hopeful anticipation, eye-opening celebration, and life-transforming revelation.

Some might say that like Eliasson's work, such experiential worship is more of a subjective or ego-driven stunt than a meaningful and meaning-making service of worship. Does experiential-ness trump information? Or is it just a gimmick?

What experiences of God have you had in a worship setting? How are/were they different than other experiences of the Divine that you've had outside of a formal worship setting (like in nature, daily life, or through art)? How do you think an emphasis on "experience" might be enriching or distracting to our traditional form of Worship in the Reformed Tradition?

(Image Credits - in descending order
1. The Kaleidoscope - Rostock, Germany
2. The Weather Project - London, The Tate
3. Double Staircase - Essen, Germany

More Images of his work at flickr

There is a current exhibition of his work ("take your time") on display now through February at the SF MOMA.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

raising faith-filled kids::4
fighting the material tide at christmas

the challenge of seeking to raise children in our post-christian, post-modern, globalizing capitalistic flattening world is quite significant. how do we encourage our children to look for the deeper things, ask the foundational questions about life instead of merely settling for the latest product created by disney, nintendo, or gap? should we forsake celebrating christmas all together to avoid the evil of materialist contagion? should we just go with the flow? how do we raise faith-filled kids in the context of santa, target, and the omnipresent power of the disney channel?

i've been thinking all month about the story of christmas: how the birth of one baby, to a poor family, in a poor land oppressed by an all-powerful distant imperialistic power managed to change the world. whether or not you believe that this jesus from nazareth was indeed the messiah of god, god with us, or the one to save us from our sins, the christmas story has great power. what better story to instill meaning in our kids and help them make sense of the world in which we live and the ways in which we have the power to choose how we'll live.

i drove home from worship at our church on monday night alone in the car, blasting a favorite carol giving thanks to god for the power of hope, peace and love made known to me in the stories of that baby - his birth and even more of his life. the moon was explosively rising above the oakland hills and i was filled with gratitude, for life, for the faith community in which my children and family live, for the children and families that stayed after the service to help clean-up so that i could get home quicker to my own family. maybe that is indeed the main thing to beginning teaching our children.

leila and her familiy came to our christams eve worship gathering and she wrote a great blog about it. it's like we we're sharing a latte together chatting after the service. you can read it on her blog (here).
Merry Christmas

Here's a snapshot of my favorite Christmas movie of all time - "A Christmas Story"

One of my favorite scenes

The trailer for the film

Here's a video clip of the movie's best line - "you'll shoot your eye out!"

And also some of my favorite Carols

In the Bleak Midwinter

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming

Gabriel's Message

Hope you got a red ryder bb gun!

cheers & peace,

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Solstice Gathering Photos

Here's some snapshots from last night's Winter Solstice Celebration at the church I serve. What fun! Much thanks to Alan Ball for some of the great photos. See you again next year on the 21st of December!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Solstice

The sun is beginning to peak above the Oakland hills on the darkest of days of the year. It's the moment when the seasons change, when the light begins to return, when we're close to the beginning of the summer than the ending of it. Filled with meaning it's been a sacred time for many peoples - pagans and Christians. So I thought I'd share this great holiday song by Dar Williams called "The Christians and the Pagans."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Raising Faith-Filled Kids:: 3
How will they know
if you never go?

I increasingly find that many of us younger-ish parents desire for our children to have some sort of exposure to spiritual things in view of fostering or encouraging their personal spirituality. Yet often nothing is done. I find myself asking how will your kids ever know about faith or spirituality if they never go and experience it. Now that affirms my context as a follower of Jesus who confirms that spirituality is a personal or individual thing and also believes that it might even be more of a communal or public thing.

I want my children to participate in a faith community, to connect with other people - of different ages, diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, in order to experience what faith is from different viewpoints. I want my daughters to be part of a community, an extended family of faith as they grow up. The African saying "it takes a village to raise a child" is often quoted in our Bay Area. Yet if children aren't in a village how can that happen?

Here's an illustration. I'm not really hyper-excited about the whole Santa thing. I've told (maybe a mistake) our oldest daughter that Santa is a myth, a story that invites us to share with each other, that her gifts come from all those people in her life that love and treasure her. She now likes to tell other kids that Santa doesn't exist. Yet she does find an ironic joy in encountering Santa, in that glimpse of a dream that maybe the whole myth is real. We were at a family Christmas party this past weekend. Santa came to distribute gifts to over 40 of my cousins and second cousins. Here's how my daughter responded to Santa

She was excited. Hopeful. Wide-eyed. I think she knew it was a great uncle under that beard. But what was so joyful for her was being surrounded by family, who witnessed what was going on.

Many folks tell me that they want their kids to have a spirituality, to choose their own faith options. Yet how can they do that if they've never experienced anything? How can they see what faith is like or spirituality about if all they hear is talking about it without ever seeing or experiencing it? The idea of Santa is crazy. Yet the practice is life-shaping. The idea of God becoming human to convince of us divine love is preposterous and unfathomable. Yet the practice of it is life-transforming, fulfilling and sustaining - in my experience and practice. Spirituality is about participation. Participation in a community, practicing faith in the needs of our world, maybe even participating in the divine itself. You can't just talk about it. You have to experience it. You can't allow someone to make a choice about something if they don't know what choices they have. What better time to provide our children with an experience of faith in community than during the long darkness of our short winter days when light seems so precious?
Blogging Towards Sunday
December 23, 2007
The Fourth Sunday of Advent
Jesus Shaves
Isaiah 7:10-17
Matthew 1:1-25
Matthew 28:16-20

The Biblical texts for this fourth Sunday of Advent are all about the event. I'm taking the lectionary and tweaking it a bit to flesh out some of the unique meaning of the birth of Jesus made by Matthew in his retelling of the story in his gospel. So at our congregation in worship we'll be looking at the beginning and ending of his gospel, and the place that the birth narrative plays in it.

What's interesting is that Matthew spends so little time describing or commenting on the actual birth of Jesus. The first chapter of Matthew is pretty much all there is in his telling. He spends a great deal more time on the genealogy of Jesus, the story of his conception and the naming of the baby by Joseph and Mary.

Jesus isn't just the succession or the fulfillment of his long ancestral line. He's born from normal stock, from leaders and losers, from courageous folks and cowards, from men and women. He's the everyman and the noman, particular and common, made unique by his God-given call and purpose.

Matthew focuses on the conception, the miracle of the birth, insisting upon the connection between that story and the ancient prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, the prophecy that One would be born to save and deliver his people.

Matthew goes out of his way to emphasize the names:
Jesus: "the one to save his people"
Messiah: "the annointed, or chosen, one of God"
Emmanuel: "God with us"
The names say it all. God's promise in Jesus is to save all peoples, to be present with us in the event of this unique person. If you jump to the end of Matthew, chapter 28, that same promise is reiterated in the gospel conclusion but expanded. It's no longer just God with us in Christ, it's Christ with us always, until the end of the age. The way in which God was with Jesus in his life becomes the promised way that God will be with those that seek him and follow. Disciples are pulled into the Jesus event, invited into a new way of being with God and with each other because of this baby born of Mary and Joseph, conceived in a miraculous way, named with great meaning, issue of a normal family.

Makes me think of a quote I heard in a recent interview with Golden Compass author Philip Pullman. "Events are wiser than any sort of commentary that you can make on them." Maybe that's what Matthew was more or less thinking in his composition. No need to say a lot, simply tell the story in a way that allows it to make meaning in the ears and minds of those that hear it. The birth of Jesus changed, and changes everything.

These passages and my journey with them this week led me to a lovely song I heard through the Roches, but was composed by Paranoid Larry and his Imaginary Band (in the video). "Jesus Shaves" - I love the chorus. It echoes Matthew's non-commentary.

Also reminds me of my favorite Christmas Card that we've received over the past few years:

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

RUaHeretic 3/3
Monatism, Mormonism and Revelation
Is God still speaking?

Our third and final session in our RUaHeretic Conversation Class at Fruitvale Presbyterian Church takes places this Wednesday, December 19th from 3-4:30pm.

This time we're talking about Monatism, Mormonism and God's Revelation.

Here's a few resources to help you discover what those words mean and discern where you are on the spectrum of faith:

1. Here's a tongue-in-cheek survey you can take on entitled "Are you a Mormon?
" (HERE)

2. Monatism: It was judged to be a heresey in the early church, even though some of the big-wigs of orthodoxy embraced and supported it (showing the diversity present then and now in the discernement of the church body) In the mid-2nd-century Montanus traveled trough Asia Minor. He believed that he had received a series of revelations from the Holy Spirit, and even that he himself was the embodiment of the Paraclete on earth (John 14:16). He was followed and joined by two women, Prisca, sometimes called Priscilla, and Maximilla, who claimed the same special revelation and spiritual authority. Their militant belief in the continuing revelation of God split the church.

So what's the big deal you say? Here's a list of the major differences between Monatism and what came to be called "orthodox" Christianity:

The beliefs of Montanism contrasted with orthodox Christianity in the following ways:

  • The belief that the prophecies of the Montanists superseded and fulfilled the doctrines proclaimed by the Apostles.
  • The encouragement of ecstatic prophesying, contrasting with the more sober and disciplined approach to theology dominant in orthodox Christianity at the time and since.
  • The view that Christians who fell from grace could not be redeemed, also in contrast to the orthodox Christian view that contrition could lead to a sinner's restoration to the church.
  • The prophets of Montanism did not speak as messengers of God: "Thus saith the Lord," but rather described themselves as possessed by God, and spoke in his person. "I am the Father, the Word, and the Paraclete," said Montanus (Didymus, De Trinitate, III, xli); This possession by a spirit, which spoke while the prophet was incapable of resisting, is described by the spirit of Montanus: "Behold the man is like a lyre, and I dart like the plectrum. The man sleeps, and I am awake" (Epiphanius, "Panarion", xlviii, 4).
  • A stronger emphasis on the avoidance of sin and church discipline than in orthodox Christianity. They emphasized chastity, including forbidding remarriage.
  • Some of the Montanists were also "Quartodeciman" ("fourteeners"), preferring to celebrate Easter on the Hebrew calendar date of 14 Nisan, regardless of what day of the week it landed on. The orthodoxy held that Easter should be commemorated on the Sunday following 14 Nisan. (Trevett 1996:202)
Jerome and other church leaders claimed that the Montanists of their own day held the belief that the Trinity consisted of only a single person, similar to Sabellianism, as opposed to the orthodox view that the Trinity is one God of three persons which Tertullian also had held. There were some that were indeed modalistic monarchians (Sabellians) and some that were closer to the Trinitarian doctrine. It is reported that these modalists baptized mentioning the name of Jesus Christ as opposed to mentioning the Trinity. Most of the later Montanists were of the modalistic camp

3. Mormonism: the term used to describe the practice, doctrine and organization of the CLDS of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. Mormonism is commonly considered to be the fastest growing religion on our planet today. It's based upon the leading and teaching of Joseph Smith, Jr. who claimed to have discovered some ancient, long-lost, scriptures which revealed that Christ has also come and taught in the New World after his resurrection in Jerusalem.

Mormons teach that the Gospel of Christ has existed since the days of Adam and Eve, and that throughout history a series of apostasies have occurred, always followed by a restoration; meaning that the doctrine taught by the LDS Church was on the Earth throughout history, but at some points was lost and later restored again. Mormons teach that one such apostasy occurred after the death of Saint Peter and the other original twelve apostles, and that the calling of Joseph Smith, Jr. marked a new restoration continued to this day.[citation needed]

The publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830, in Palmyra, New York, aroused great animosity among Protestants. Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon is holy scripture and, as another testament of Jesus Christ, a companion to the Bible. Some of the Mormons' practices and political clout in Ohio, Missouri and Illinois also contributed to early animosity. Mormonism's greatest conflict with other branches of Christianity has been over the issues of traditional views of Christ, additions to the scriptural canon and plural marriage (a form of polygamy, wherein a man can marry multiple wives, that was officially discontinued by the LDS Church in 1890).

4. Discussion Questions:
Some say that Mormons are not Christians because they believe in a new (although they consider it an old or original) revelation from God. The Monatists were judged as heretics because of many things, in particular their insistence upon new revelations from God and them being them.

The Methodists use a catching slogan these days, "God is still speaking" emphasizing that the revelation of the Bible ends with a comma and not a period. I'd agree. What is God saying about the debates and discussions characterizing the church today: sexuality, ordination, pluralism, how we read the Bible, and Christology. But how do we discern what is a revelation from God and what isn't? How do you do? How does the church do it?
Blogging Towards Winter Solstice
December 21, 2007

I woke up early this morning, trying to get a jump on the day before everyone woke up. It was
about 5:30am. The darkness outside was thick accompanied by the constant pattering of the rain against the window in our dinning room. I was up early to work on studying Biblical scriptures for various worship celebrations this week: Sunday, Christmas Eve, and Winter Solstice.

I first made my way to turn on the coffee pot, and the stumbled through the darkness of our
main living space towards the outline of the Christmas Tree. As I plugged it in the room was flooded with warming white light. Once I had my java, I settled into working at the table, lighting a candle for meditation and turning on a Gregorian Chant CD. It was as I sat there and then rewinded the events of the brief morning that I was struck by Solstice and the ancient celebration of it across cultures, times and religious perspectives.

As the Earth travels around the Sun in its orbit, the north-south position of the Sun changes over the course of the year due to the changing orientation of the Earth's tilted rotation axes with respect to the Sun. In the northern hemisphere, the Winter solstice is day of the year (near December 22) when the Sun is farthest south, marking the first day of the season of winter.It is the shortest day of the year, respectively, in the sense that the length anticipation, and rejoicing, for out of the darkness of the longest day of the year the light of the coming summer – and longer days – is reborn. Historians tells us that Christmas – the birth of Jesus of Nazareth – most likely happened in the Fall or Spring when the nights were warmer for the shepherds out in the fields. Near the fourth century the early church began to formalize the celebration of Christmas on December 25th a day that was already a religious holiday in ancient Roman Culture as well as near the date of Saturnalia a wild celebration of the god Saturn in which a mock king was elected (this is the holiday from which the tradition of 12th night emerged). The ancients burned a yule log on Solistice – to provide light in the darkness – a practice which was transformed and adapted to become our “yule log” of today and eventually the practice of burning – or putting lights – on a Christmas Tree.

So from what scholars tells us, Christmas was first celebrated by the emerging and ancient Church near several other 'pagan' or Roman holidays: winter solstice and Saturnalia for several reasons. First and most likely to enable an illegal church to worship publicly without being arrested or martyred for following the faith beliefs. Second I think it has something to do with the difficulty, maybe even the impossiblity, of identifying, articulating and recognizing what it means to follow Jesus of Nazareth, not just as a good teacher, a prophet, or a miracle worker, but as Emmanuel, God with us, the Messiah, God's Chosen One to deliver humanity from the power and bondage of sin, mistrust, division, decay and death.

I had all this pregnant reflection in my mind and read the beginning of the gospel of John, chapter 1:1-14

I recently heard an interview with Philip Pullman (the author of the Golden Compass), who in talking about literature, said "events are wiser than any sort of commentary that you can make on them."

I wonder if that's what John was trying to do in beginning his gospel in language (and using the metaphor throughout his retelling of the story) of light and darkness, the vocabulary of the ancient, or pagan worldview, the syntax of Winter Solstice.

For me it is Jesus who brings God's light into the darkness, a light that is not destructive but illuminating, not damning but inviting, not condemning but transforming. What or who brings light into your darkness in a way that it cannot be overcome?

If you live in the East Bay and are interested, come and join me at our church for a Winter Solstice Celebration this Friday, December 21st from 7-8pm.

Friday, December 14, 2007

10 Things I love about Oakland:: (2/10)
Ice Cream Spots

I wrote last week about 10 of my favorite things in and about Oakland. Actually I only wrote about one (Peter Pan Cooperative Preschool). A friend told me it was a teaser, that he scrolled down to read the remaining 9 items. So I'm going to do a series of 10things I love about Oakland. I'll publish one each week on Friday. Each one of the ten will have a list attached to it - since none of it makes sense, or is in a from best-to-worst list...just 10 things (and many more) that I love about Oaktown.

So today I'm writing about ice cream spots - one of my favorite things to eat and always one of the events I do with my children that is at the top of my must list!

My current favorite spot for Ice Cream, actually gelatto, is the new Whole Foods Market down near the Lake. It's great because of the selection of flavors (see the picture) and also because I think there's not many better places these days to sit outside, enjoying food with friends and family and witness - actually experience - the energy of our city. When you are there you get a good feeling of the rejuvenation, gentrification, transformation of Oakland. Plus the straticella is almost as good as the one I got in Tuscany years ago!

Other more than worthy mentions:

Fenton's (on Piedmont) - What's their to say? Excellent. Any sundae with that much fudge, nuts, and ice cream to worth the 5 pounds you gain. (Fireman's special). They have a new store in Vacaville that was equally good (of course we had to try it!)

Loard's Ice Cream (the peppermint is fantastic!). I prefer the one near the place I work on MacArthur at Coolidge.

Ciao Bella Gelato (on Piedmont - also in the Ferry Bldg in the City). Excellent, but no terrace view of downtown.

What about you? Any other favorite spots that I should try or that you want to share?

The Golden Compass
More Online Resources and Conversations

I'm enjoying the discussion about the Golden Compass on the blog and elsewhere in the world of communication.

I just listened to a great interview with Phillip Pullman on 94.1 Looking for it online at at the moment. I think you can find it in the archives here ( Thanks Lisa!

Also a friend sent me a link to a Christian Website - that's usually quite thougthful - with this week's major discussion about the film.

Here's also the link to the official movie home page (cool graphics and more goodies)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

RUaHeretic:: 2/3
how is Jesus both divine & human?
donatism & the virgin birth

We're talking more today in our RUaHeretic discussion at church about faith, orthodoxy, and heresy. How are we to understand that Jesus of Nazareth is both divine and human? Is that why Mary had to be a virgin mom? What about the doctrine of Immaculate Conception? Does Mary have to be born to a virgin mother (Anne) in order to become a virigin mom? Can you still be a follower of Jesus if you struggle with the whole concept of the Virign birth? What's it all mean? How is it all related? Can we pick and choose what we believe, or is that merely syncretism disguised as personal authenticity or scientific political-correctedness?

Donatism was a heresy in the ancient church. They (named for the Berber Christian Donatus Magnus) were followers of a belief considered a schism by the broader churches of the Catholic tradition, and most particularly within the context of the religious milieu of the provinces of Roman North Africa in Late Antiquity. They lived in the Roman province of Africa and flourished in the fourth and fifth centuries.The primary disagreement between Donatists and the rest of the early Christian church was over the treatment of those who renounced their faith during the persecution of Roman emperor Diocletian (303305), a disagreement that had implications both for the Church's understanding of the Sacrament of Penance and of the other sacraments in general.
The rest of the Church was far more forgiving of these people than the Donatists were. The Donatists refused to accept the sacraments and
spiritual authority of the priests and bishops who had fallen away from the faith during the persecution.

Here's another fun online "Are you a heretic?" quiz from [Quiz] It has to do with Donatism. In our discussion today then we're comparing Donatism and belief - or the increasingly lack there of in the Virgin Birth in our modern culture/society.

The Question then for us today in terms of the Virgin Birth and our study of Heresy:

1. Is a Follower of Jesus who doesn’t uphold the virgin birth still a Christian?

2. If a pastor/priest/bishop who doesn’t believe in the Virgin Birth baptizes you, do you need to be rebaptized by one that does?

3. If a pastor/priest/bishop who doesn’t believe in the Virgin Birth serve you communion, is it communion – or just bread and juice?

If you're up for it, post your quiz score, and any perspective on these questions on the blog and continue the coversation in the Comments section below.

Raising Faith-Filled Kids:: 2
Nurturing Faith Discussions at Christmas Time

So I wrote recently about the Golden Compass and how most Christian communities/leaders are great at saying what is dangerous, leads to sin, and should be avoided, but not so verbose in terms of what is helpful, life-changing, and faith-forming - in particular for children & youth. So I'm going to try and do my part.

I talked before about the prayers of gratitude around our table - mostly for this or that Barbie - but at times different. Like last night, when my youngest daughter prayed, "I'm thankful for all the sick kids getting better in the hopsital."

One powerful thing in these pre-Christmas days of Advent is the story of Christmas itself. Increasingly our kids know about the Maccabees, the spelling and purpose of the word Solstice, and the days of Kwanzaa...and ironically more about Santa than the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

We light the Advent wreath each night at dinner. We also have an Advent Calendar from our favorite play toy company (Playmobil) - ok it is consumeristic, but it helps us get excited, mark the time, and talk about the coming of Christmas. We open a box each morning - or whenever we are all together around the table that day. We light the wreath at night, a wreath that we've made with cuttings from our yard. It's more personal, real, and from the sacred space of our home. (Here's a picture) You can even include your children in the creation of it.

A wise and beloved Auntie of our family taught us a great thing in terms of a creche or nativity scene. She has her baby Jesus surf around her house, never appearing in the manger scene until Christmas day. We do that too now. Jesus cruising around our places, kinda like Joseph and Mary's journey to Bethlehem in a fun and funny way. We also have several different creches that we bring out at Christmas either from different toy companies (Playmobil, Little People), from beloved family members, or that we've collected from travels around the world (Mexico, Africa, and Europe). In playing with them our children discover, articulate and integrate the foundational sacred story at the root and heart of Christmas. Plus you can even spice it up and add the Grinch or Santa coming to visit Baby Jesus and what that means for us today. You can also make the Magi travel around until they get to the Creche on Epiphany.

All of these simple things provide for fun, easy, and authentic conversation starters for us as a family whether we're around the dinner table or just hanging out. It helps us as a family expand our audible prayers, and invisble faith thoughts from gratitude about Barbie, to thanksgiving for healing children, and maybe even to intercession for justice in Darfur, the Middle East and even Oakland.
ongoing debate about access

An insightful article "School boundaries plan spurs debate" is on the cover of today's Tribune. Katy Murphy, the Tribune wrtiter covering school issues, asks some good questions about public education in our diverse, and rather divided, city of Oakland.

Basically the hills school perform better - on tests - than the heartland schools. People spend well over a million dollars for a home if it's in a good school area, in particular Hillcrest School which repeatedly betters some of the elite private schools in Oakland. So people spend a fortune to get a free education, which is better and more privileged than the same free education that most other kids get in our city.

A teacher at one of the hill schools is quoted in the article as comparing her classroom to the United Nations, and at the same time recognizing that "there wouldn't be this kind of diversity if the students were just from this neighborhood."

So the question remains: is diversity in our OUSD schools important? or an added bonus?

And a great question asked by Katy Murphy, "To what extent should wealth - the ability to buy a home near a good school - determine one's access to a public education of their choice?"

She has a blog well-worth the read at

I have to admit that I live in a failing-school neighborhood and succeeded in getting my child enrolled at what is considered a "hill" school - all without using a fake address and doing so in a legit way. You can read about my travails in many blog entries from last year [January - March].

I don't think the whole debate is rich versus poor. It's more about how our city is changing, how each and every neighborhood is being transformed by San Francisco Refugees, an expanding middle class that cannot move up the hills for a school nor afford a private one but will leave if they can't find public education that they trust. It's an huge issue for the urban shrinking middle class, even more in light of the financial slavery/limitations often incurred through mortgages and the desire to buy a home in the uber-expensive Bay Area. It seems to me that this is one of the KEY issues in terms of the transformation, gentrification, or resurrection (you pick the term you like) of our great city of Oakland.

What do you think about our city, the changes occuring and the role of OUSD in it all?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Golden Compass

With all the faxes and emails I've received in the past weeks (and this past Sunday morning) I thought I'd check out the Golden Compass myself to see if I think it an aethiezing force. (Read my former blog entry on this HEREl.

This Movie will NOT make your child into an atheist (in my humble opinon).

This Movie WILL convince your child that violence is not only an appropriate answer to solve conflict but also the only and best one.

If you're going to the Movies this weekend, wondering if you should see it or not: I'd suggest seeing
Atonement instead.

I wouldn't take my daughters to see it because of the violence. A bear's face is ripped off and flies across the field. Hundreds of people are stabbed, shot or empaled. The heroine, a 10 year old girl, finishes the movie by becoming violent herself.

I found the movie visually stimulating and beautiful, and the story too complex to be explained so briefly. I was not enthralled by any of the characters or sucked into the power of the story. (I'm reading the novel at the moment - an entry to come soon on Monteskewed - and it is entirely different.)

Here's the Movie Preview

Theologically the themes that are treated in the movie are way about the heads of children, and most likely so complex philisophically that most adults might not even catch the nuances regarding free will, temptations, and our nature. The movie seems a bit gnostic to me, encouraging duality versus integration. (I'd say that's my biggest beef with it). There is one scene in which a church is painted as the haven of the bad guys.

Things that the movie does treat in an interesting way:

Free Will: do we have it? at what age? what does it mean? is it a good or bad thing? can only children choose good?

Daemons (the animal respresentations of the soul that lives on the exterior of the human body). In the movie they're called "
demons", yet in the novel it's "daemons." The difference is that a demon is always bad. A daemon can be good or bad, while a demon is always bad. A subtle difference that appears in ancient & medieval Christian Theology, but largely absent today in our post-This-Present-Darkness-Evangelical Age.

The Church: ok in the movie it's called the Magisterium. The Catholic church feels slighted and attacked by the metaphor (it's a
Catholic word about the teaching institution of the Catholic hierarchy) It's there. (Much more in the book - but I'm only on page 85). It's a group of leaders that control the world by controlling the way that people can think, ensuring that they can only choose the "good", or what they deem to be the "good." Is it really that far off from some of the things that the church does? I don't think so. And I'm a card-carrying, ordained member. It could lead to great conversations about faith, religious communities, and the way in which we share with one another what we believe and base our lives upon.

If you haven't heard about this movie/book and the brouha-ha that it will convert our children into atheists you can read about this ideas and campaigns in the following links:

A Briefing for Concerned Christians (Albert Mohler)

Focus on the Family (
on the Book) (on the Film)

Mary Fairchild Blog Entry on

Spiritual Lessons from the film on

ABC News Report

RogerEbert Movie Review

If you've seen the movie and/or read the book, do leave a comment and contribute to the conversation that I'm hoping to start through the monteskewed blog community!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Blogging Towards Sunday
Sunday, December 16, 2007
The Third Sunday of Advent
The Root of our Problem::
we're all freaks

Isaiah 11:1-10
This third Sunday of Advent is known as the "JOY" Sunday. We light the 3rd candle, a pink one. It symbolizes joy, a tradition dating back to Roman times. At our church community this year we've mixed it up a bit so we're worshipping from the scriptures suggested for the 2nd Sunday of Advent which seem distant from the theme of Joy.

Isaiah 11 is a word of hope offered to a hopeless people. Not hopeless because they're losers, but without hope for they are prisoners, exiled in a foreign land, conquered, oppressed and experiencing cultural genocide at the hands of the might Bablyonian Empire. They have forgotten their roots, their background, their traditions, and the faith in the God of Abraham (Sarah), Isaac (Rebekah), and Jacob (Leah & Rachel). They haven't forgotten because they're careless, rather they have had their faith bred out of them through the imperialstic cultural hegemony of Babylon, through the ease that it seems to give up the old in order to go along with the new, to fit in with the changing structures, systems, and contexts. Isaiah utters a prophecy pointing to the future, a different one than seems possible or present. Hope will come. A new leader will arise, a shoot from a stump of a tree, new life from where there seemed to only be death, impasse and decay. But this new branch will be the mightest on a new tree, providing life for everyone and everything. Challening the way of the world. Creating a new way. Inviting to a new paradigm.
Resurrecting the dead to new, whole, complete, fulfilled life - for all the peoples and nations.

Matthew 3 tells the story of the preaching of John the Baptizer. A great speaker, he drew large crowds not with politically correct speeches, or pat-on-the-back encouragements, but rather with hellfire and brimstone. "Repent" he bellows. Turn your life around. You have chosen death through your sin, mistrust of each other, injustice to the poor, and disrespect for how God calls us to live with each other, alongside each other, and to create life through justice, compassion, and sacred living. Rather than shying away from his point, John goes for it - with gusto. And the people come. They realize that something is amiss. They realize that the way that they all live is not what God intended for them. They realize that they are actors, and also participants in a life-system gone wrong.

Where's the joy in that?

At a church dinner last night I found myself laughing with some church memebers about some events that happened at the Dimond Winter Festival on Saturday. We laughed at some funny comments and circumstances, one in particular was a person going on and on about what churches they've been to, and then asking if our church was in trouble. I responded, quite pastorally saying "Are you looking for a church?" The immediate response was "Oh God no!" Funny as most people tip-toe around me, wanting to sound interested in a polite but distant and non-commital way. This person's honesty was refreshing. As we talked and told stories I said that I think we're all freaks. We all know that how we are isn't what we want to be. That there is something wrong in our world. That we oftentimes give more lipservice than actual commitment to what we believe and base our life on. We're all looking for meaning, purpose and passion in life: but only if it's easy, if it's cheap, if it's on our terms. We see the shortcomings in others, and repeatedly miss the logs in our own eyes. So we're all freaks! There's got so be some sort of joy in recognizing that I (and you) aren't the only messed up ones around.
I've been sharing music these past Sunday reflections in Advent that speak to the point of what the scriptures tell us these weeks. I hear the scriptures this week inviting, challening us to fearfully and fearlessly recognize that we're all sinners - I prefer that we're all freaks - in need of deliverance, healing, wholeness, wider perspective, and holistic purpose. In essence we're all alive yet we need to live.

I love the group Telepopmusik. They have an overdone song "Breathe" that I think speaks to the challenge we all face in living life, in daring to get up every morning to go about life. Here's the video.
They also have a another great song on the Angel Milk album entitled "Stop Running Away" I think it's a post-modern uber-urban take on what John the Bapsizer was preaching. An invitation for us to stop running, to embrace our freak-dom and to look to the root, to the branch blossoming anew for new life. Here are the lyrics:

We’re all searching
Time’s unfolding
Trying to fill
Our lives with meaning
Still we’re learning
How to breathe amongst
The pain and suffering
When all we need
Is peace of mind
Stop running away
Beliefs are changing
Still we’re paying
Power holding back the people
All we need is peace of mind

What do you think?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Dimond Holiday Festival
What fun! Why wouldn't you want to live in one day you can celebrate (or at least anticipate) Solistice, Channukah, Christmas, Advent, Epiphany and Kwanza with a pancake breakfast that I shared with homeless folks, hearing Mandarin, Cantonese, English and Spanish and seeking diverse families from different socio-economic groupings. That's Oakland. That's the Dimond! All of us together. All of us living here. All of us eager and anxious to see Oakland - and the Dimond - grow in healthy, diversity, vibrancy, and just revitalization.
We heard about many of the religious celebrations that characterize the growing darkness of winter, all of which are about community:: hope in living together, in dreaming together, in working together to transform our hopes or God's commands from dreams into reality.

Here's some of my best of photos of today's celebration.

I'm grateful to Ruth Villasenor and Shari Godinez who made it all possible. You can express your gratitude by shopping and buying TONS of stuff at Paws & Claws or throughout our local Oakland stores! Thanks also to Robin daughters are still playing with the crafts they made earlier at the festival!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

10 Things I Love About Oakland: (1/10):
Peter Pan Co-op Community

Thought I'd make up a list (in radomn order) of the 10 things I most love about Oakland.

I'd have to start with
Peter Pan Cooperative Preschool and PP Director Gail Murphy. OK - I'm not objective - but post-modern enough to admit it. I'm a fan...a front row flag-waving, t-shirt wearing sort-of-a-fan.

Here's a hot-off-the presses newspaper article in the MacArthur Metro about Peter
Pan (OK - I'm a nerd, I wrote it.) Read it online HERE. But this community in that old house on Allendale is one of my Iona's in Oakland.

We started a class today at the church I serve as pastor entitled "RUAHeretic?" We've been learning about the Early Church, how things grew and developed and how it all effects how we are and who we are together as Church today here in the East Bay.

Thought I'd upload as much of our class/discussion to my blog for others who might be interested:

Take the "Are you a heretic?" quiz at HERE.

Our Discussion today was about Gnosticsm:

Gnosticism is an esoteric religious movement that flourished during the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD and presented a major challenge to orthodox Christianity. Most Gnostic sects professed Christianity, but their beliefs sharply diverged from those of the majority of Christians in the early church. The term Gnosticism is derived from the Greek word gnosis ("revealed knowledge"). To its adherents, Gnosticism promised a secret knowledge of the divine realm. Sparks or seeds of the Divine Being fell from this transcendent realm into the material universe, which is wholly evil, and were imprisoned in human bodies. Reawakened by knowledge, the divine element in humanity can return to its proper home in the transcendent spiritual realm.

Gnosticism was a religious philosophical dualism that professed salvation through secret knowledge, or gnosis. The movement reached a high point of development during the 2d century AD in the Roman and Alexandrian schools founded by Valentius. Scholars have attributed the origins of gnosticism to a number of sources: the Greek mystery cults; Zoroastrianism; the Kabbalah of Judaism; and Egyptian religion. The early Christians considered Simon Magus (Acts 8:9 - 24) the founder of gnosticism. His doctrine, like that of other gnostic teachers, had nothing in common with the knowledge of the mysteries of God that Saint Paul called wisdom (1 Cor. 2:7).

Christian leaders looked upon gnosticism as a subtle, dangerous threat to Christianity during the 2nd century, a time marked by religious aspirations and philosophical preoccupations about the origins of life, the source of evil in the world, and the nature of a transcendent deity. Gnosticism was perceived as an attempt to transform Christianity into a religious philosophy and to replace faith in the mysteries of revelation by philosophical explanations. (These descriptiions come from this helpful site.)

In our discussion we arrived at the conclusion that Gnosticism affirms the contrast/dualism between material vs. spiritual whereas "orthodox" Christianity affirm a dialectic/integration of the spiritual and the physical in that God in Jesus saves and redeems everything, giving every aspect of life infinite meaning and glory. Of course maybe the group that gathered at church today is all heretics too? :)

More online material (HERE)

If you liked the quiz try this one recommended by Deborah: The Belief O Matic: personality quiz about religious belief (HERE)

If you have thoughts or results from the quizes share them with the community by leaving a comment below!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Dimond Library
Children's Events
in January 2008

I got an update yesterday about upcoming January 2008 programs for children and families at the Dimond Branch Library, 3565 Fruitvale Ave., Oakland, CA 94602 (Webpage)

Every Tuesday at 7:00 pm - Family Storytime. Stories, songs and fingerplaysfor ages 0-6.

Every Wednesday at 10:15 am - Toddler Time. Stories, songs and fingerplaysfor ages 0-2.

Every Wednesday at 11:00 am - Preschool Storytime. Stories, songs andfingerplays for ages 3-5.

Friday, January 11 at 3:30 to 5:00 - A New Look at Snowflakes. Snowflakecutting demonstrated by Robin Goodfellow for ages 7 to adult.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Dimond Holiday Festival
Saturday, December 8th
10am - 3pm
@ Fruitvale Presbyterian Church

Come join your neighbors for some good old fashioned holiday fun
including a pancake breakfast, arts and crafts, special music by local schools and children,
and even get your picture with Santa!

Directions at the church website HERE.

Kudos to Ruth Villasenor for making it all happen year after year!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Blogging Towards Sunday
December 9, 2007
The Second Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 35:1-10
Luke 1:46-55
Matthew 11:2-11

At our church we're switching up things a bit for the Second Sunday of Advent, switching the readings for the 16th of December for the 9th.

POWER. Faith can change all things. I belive it even when I doubt it. What makes you get up out of bed in the morning? For me it's most of the responsibilities that await me. Getting our children ready and off for their day. Helping my wife in the limited ways that I do. Heading to another day of expectations and surprises at work. Some days it's great. Some days it isn't. But isn't that the mystery of life and life in community? It's all about the long-term perspective, about going the distance, about running the race and running well. How is it that Faith not just motivates us to say a sinner's prayer and come forward at the end of a meeting, but how does it empower, enable and embolden us to go the distance, to run with our eyes fixed on the prize?

For me in my most lucid and hope-full moments that's the case. But that's not every day. It's not every moment. It's not in everything. Yet it is underneath. Sometimes forgotten, oftentimes overlooked or overshadowded by my doubt, insecurities, fears, and fatigue...but it's there like a candle in a dark room, like a daffodil bulb buried underneath the frozen snow-covered ground, like hope. How do we tap into the power of faith in our daily life? How have others? What is faith? Sure Calvin says it's a gift. Sure we affirm that it's given to us. Yet we also choose it. We live into it. We live from it. We breath by it.

Hebrews 11 describes faith as "being sure of what we hope for and cretain of what we do not see." That's what this week's scriptures talk about. The prophet Isaiah lifts up words of hope - faith that God makes and has made us a promise of sight, vision, wholeness life in all it's fullness...and that God is the ultimate promise maker and promise keeper.

Matthew 11 tells the story of John the Baptist struggling to have hope-filled faith near the end of his days. In prison, suffering for his testimony, he second-guesses all his actions....Was he a fool? Was he wrong about this Jesus from Nazareth? Was it all in vain? So Jesus sends word. Tell John what you see. The Blind see. The deaf hear. The lame walk. Lepers are healed and whole. The dead live again. Believe. Trust. Live into hope. Live from faith.

Luke 1 is the song of Mary, the Magnificat. It's her response, song, rap, whatever - to what God has done. She visit her cousin Elizabeth, now pregnant with John the Baptist, and is overcome with the realization of what is happening all around her. God is on the move. God's word is true. God's promises are coming to pass. God has invited her to not just be part of it all, but to be God's partner. So she reponds with song, echoing the words of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:1-11. God is turning the world upside down, not just through the child growing in her womb...but also through Elizabeth, through her. The mighty will fall. The oppressed will be raised up. Justice will be the currency with which all transactions will be made. Peace will be the air that all will breath. Wholeness will be the reality that all will know.

Mary is the ultimate example of Faith-filled living. Trusting. Hoping. Believing. Acting from her faith. Listening and looking for God's leading. Responding. Participating. Loving recklessly. Following boldly. Hoping extravangantly. And she wasn't some carved in ivory saint statute? She was a young teacher, pregnant and unmarried, claiming that God impregnated her. The perfect target for ethnic cleansing, witch-hunting, and down-sizing. Yet she dared to not just believe, but to act upon her faith. No wonder God choose her to be the mother of Jesus.

So she had her place. We have ours. Different. Yet the same. How is God calling you to live faithfully today in your relationships, work, rest, faith community, civic engagements? How might your faith be filling you with hope to try again, to get up out of bed, to risk something reckless, radical, or extravagant? It's what faith did to the ancients (Hebrews 11). It's how we're invited to live today.

Here's some more online info to study more if you like:

The Song of Hannah - The Magnificat - These Scriptures on

I think the song "There's Hope" by India Arie says it better than I ever could. I can imagine Mary singing this herself. Thanks to Gary for sharing it with me!