Monday, July 28, 2008

Top Ten List for our Vacation in Paris
Week 4

10.  Watching the Eiffel tower - temporarily blue - shimmer every hour on the hour.

9.  Eating St. Felicien - as much as possible.  I think the dryers here are shrinking my clothes.

8.  Experiencing the joy of the girls as Wall-E movie posters appeared suddenly in every Metro Station and Bus Stop across the city this past week on the same morning.

7. Experiencing the Musee Marmottan as a family and loving the basement room filled with Monet paintings.

6. The realization that this vacation was about 4 days too long.

5.  The return of the sun in force!

4.  Borrowing a friends DVD pack of our favorite show "Un Gars et Une Fille"

3.  Paris Plages along the quais of the river Seine.

2.  Hanging out and reconnecting with old friends.

1.  Playing in fountain at Parc Andre Citroen.

Blogging Towards Sunday
August 3, 2008

Genesis 32:3-31 [The Message]
Matthew 14:13-21 [The Message]

We tend to put everything into a box.  We classify, understand and translate the world around us based upon our experience.  The big foundational tension today in our culture (whether we see it or not) is our changing or emerging notion of knowledge and experience of the truth.  Classic modern worldview thought affirmed that there exists a knowable Truth that exists outside of our pragmatic world that we can know, discover and possess through observation, scientific analysis and prowress.  An emerging worldview disagrees, declaring that science is not objective in itself, that there is in fact no one quantifiable truth that remains outside our realm of personal - and thus subjective - experience.  Whichever worldview you possess it does matter in particular in terms of how we experience, relate to and discern God in the world, the ultimate TRUTH beyond us.

Richard Rorty is an American philosopher who wrote, spoke and worked extensively on this notion.  He says in the end that truth is always particular, contextual and personally experienced because of cultural norms.  And he adds that life isn't hopeless because there is no one unifying scientifically-provable truth, but rather that truth is pragmatic, that the truth for us is truth because it pushes and pulls us to action, specifically social/political action.

The two principal Bible stories this week tell of revolutionary, life-changing out-of-the-box experiences of God.  Jacob who literally wrestles with God, trying to force God to do Jacob's will, to bless him and thus protect him from his brother Esau.  Jesus who feeds the massive crowd after his disciples refuse to imagine any sort of out-of-the-box resolution to the shortage of food problem that they face.  Both stories relate and encounter with the God who claims to be "the truth, the way and the life," a God who when personally encountered invites first and foremost neither to philosophical musing, nor moralizing grandstanding, but rather to social action.  As I reflect on the meaning these texts make for me this week, I'm challenged to look at my own pragmatism in what I believe to be true.  Does is push me to action?  Do I follow through socially and politically in the public sphere?;  or am I simply content to muse, wonder and think about the mysterious love of God in private?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Building Community in an Urban Context
Paris Plages

We went to Paris Plages on Thursday. [official site] It's a now annual event in which the Mayor of Paris builds a beach along the border of the Seine River running through the middle of Paris.  The idea is to bring the beach [summer vacation world] to Paris for those that don't have the resources (money or time) to go to the beach or on vacation.  I took some pictures as we toured the event which included a pool built for the occasion, work out areas, ping pong tables, petanque courts, a board walk, restaurants, cafes, and a concert area [for up and coming acts].  

As we saw people of all ages and backgrounds hanging out enjoying the evening I was struck by the power of building community in an intensely urban context.  Several other European cities now experiment and have their own equivalent of "Paris Plages"

Today is the Dimond Picnic in Oakland, a new now-annual event, seeking to accomplish the same thing: build community, create connections, better the daily life of citizens, and lay the groundwork for future, as-of-yet-to-emerge, collaboration and participation.

What could an "Oakland Plages" do for our city?  Where would it be?  Would the city dare to close down 10 blocks of College Ave, Mountain Blvd., MacArthur or 580 for a month?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Obama in Berlin
Thoughts from Paris

Barack Obama spoke in Berlin last night, and is this afternoon in Paris - as I blog - meeting with the French President several blocks away.  The French news talked repeatedly yesterday of Obama's public address in Berlin last night, saying that they expected a crowd of 10,000.  Turns out to have been much more like 200,000.  Here's the speech (and comments on

Obviously I'm a fan and supporter.  Everywhere that we've been in France these past weeks, Obama always comes up in the conversation.  His book is a big seller here. Many are those that ask us if we think Obama can win.  Nearly all of them express a hope that he will - not just for the USA - but for all the world.  Something about him, his presence, his speaking prowress and what he represents offers HOPE not just to Americans but to most Europeans who are tired of a political system that seems stuck, mired in an impasse of political position taking, opposition stalling, and racial profiling.

Of course this whole European tour is planned, a smart marketing tool, in a way propaganda.  Yet it's striking that everywhere we travel in Paris we seem Obama...all across the shelves of newstands, in bookstores, in the paper, in conversations over dinner.  Even when we spent the day at the Eiffel Tower we couldn't escape it.  A German couple who waited in line with us for over an hour were reading a copy of Obama's book in French and passionately discussing it.   What does that mean?  for America?  For the West?  For our world that seems increasingly mired in passivity in the face of raising food prices, reduced purchasing power, exploding petrol prices and growing complacency in terms of daily life and the need for change and the seemingly impossibility of true transformation.  We are intertwined not just by the multinational corporations like Coca-Cola that control and shape our socio-economic lives but also in our intellectual-spiritual-communal hopes, dreams and desires.

Interesting Online Reads
France for Obama (French Blog)
Raising $$$ for Obama abroad in France (All the News that's Fit Blog)
Elections USA 2008 [blog] interesting video clips and photos from Berlin

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Michael Savage - Autism - the Search for Moral Compasses

Watching CNN this morning I heard about yesterday's events around the crass or harsh (depending upon how you look at it) words of Michael Savage about Autism.  On a diatribe about other issues [context context context] he switched into a mode of saying that autism is simply a character flaw compounded by the moral absence of strong fathers in the lives of their children.  A bit harsh.  Totally off base. Yet the public outcry gets me.  Why are people so angry?  His words are unfair and unjust, yet he's not a moral compass, a cultural prophet, intellectual master or spiritual guide for the American people?  So why do we give him so much credit, so much moral authority, assuming that his words are so important and meaning-making in terms of our lives, our collective consciousness, the way our children see each other, and the way that we see ourselves?  He's on radio in order to PROVOKE, so why are we surprised when that's what he does?  

Makes me think of the brouhaha over which presidential candidate best pronounces the word "Nevada".  Is that really how we're going to decide?  It seems to me that we collectively have lost any sort of compass, or even general consensus on who should serve as our cultural compasses.  We look to the radio and Hollywood for guidance that we ourselves should be giving our children and nurturing in our communities and neighborhoods.

You can also see the interesting responses of listeners on youtube HERE.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Top Ten List for our Vacation in Paris
Week 3

10. Monte trying - on his own - to take care of our girls, a 3 year old boy and 2 twin girls under under 2 years of age.

9.  Seeing a Starbucks inside the Louvre.  How much rent do they pay each month?

8.  Going to the Louvre and fighting with the 10,000 people pushing and shoving to video-tape and take a picture of the Mona Lisa.

7. Watching the smurf movie for the 50th time on our trip.  How come Gargamel could never 'smurf' those little annoying blue guys!!!

6.  Sophie asking Kristy if they could go into the Louis Vuitton store on the Champs Elysees to look at purses.

5.  Arnaud - a good friend - who managed to break the code of a neighboring flat's wifi access!  Now we don't have to look for public wifi access in the best places in Paris: local parks, McDonalds (in which you have to pay to use the bathroom but not their wifi) and Starbucks (at which you get an hour of wifi with every purchase).

4.  Elodie shouting during church at the temple du marais - while I try to quite her down -  "No!  I won't be quiet.  I HAVE to talk!!!!" 

3. Elodie singing "I love the Eiffel Tower" at the top of her lungs the entire 45 minute train ride from Paris to St. Germain-en-Laye in a very full train.

2. Going up the Eiffel Tower together.

1.  Playing tag and general jump-o-rama at the Jardins du Palais Roya

More pictures for the week are on my flickr page here.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Tenacious D
Potential Music for Worship at Your Church

I got a link to this song/monologue recently done by Jack Black on SNL.  I'm thinking of singing it as an offertory song the next time I lead worship after vacation.  What do you think?

Thanks to Francois for le link.
Le Temple du Marais

We went to a Christian worship celebration [culte] yesterday at a friend's church in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements, or Marais neighborhood of Paris.  Le temple du Marais, a parish of the French Reformed Church [Eglise Reformee de France], has a great 2.0 site - with parts in English. Great multicultural community, richly diverse in age, race, class and cultural background - which is uniquely rare in France.  Well worth a visit if you're in Paris in the future.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Jesus:: the Alpha & Omega
but what's inbetween?

I've been struck as we travel, hang-out and explore around familiar and new places in Paris the reality that most art depicting Jesus of Nazareth is nearly always of his virgin birth in the manger or his violent death on the cross.  (I made a quick slideshow of some of what I've noticed).

In the Louvre as we fought our way towards La Joconde (aka the Mona Lisa) I was struck in turning around to see a favorite picture of Jesus that shows him in the middle of a crowd, seated at a table, sharing both a meal and discussion.  That's the Jesus I imagine.  I recently finished reading Brian McLaren's book "Everything Must Change" in which he asks the question what are the crucial needs of the world and how would Jesus invite us to respond as a community of followers of Jesus.  Most people open to faith and the active presence of the divine are intrigued and moved by the words of Jesus, yet find the stories of his birth and death less moving. It's Jesus words - (and his death that transforms the system we're trapped in) - that speak to me. - on loving not just yourself, not just your own people but even your enemies. The role and place of possessions.  The meaning of community and self-giving love.  Care for the poor.  God's priorities for the world economy and vision of community.

Having dinner with a friend Thursday night brought this theme up in our discussion.  It's the stuff in the middle, the teachings, words, and transformative actions that speak to us, call us to faith, and motivate us to participate in and for the ongoing emergence of what Jesus called the "kingdom of God" - the vision for the universe of God.  Why is it that the church has so often - and still today - gotten stuck on insisting upon the formulation of what is orthodox and what isn't in terms of the birth and death of Jesus, as opposed to practicing what he taught?

The Toliet isn't 
a Trash Can

We stayed at a hotel last week after a friend's wedding.  
Arriving in our room about 1:30am after the cake was served we had 
a good laugh.  The underside of the toliet seat and the wall both contained pictures detailing what you should not throw into the toliet and flush down.  I'm glad I'm not the plumber at le Week End.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Gleanings & Best ofs 
from Paris (& the Loire) 
Week 2

10. When in France in early July, it will rain.

9. Monte's Law of Vacation:  When looking for the simplest thing to find on a road trip, you won't find it.  When you don't need it, you will.

8. Hot dogs on a baguette always taste better.

7. Elodie, "It's time for booty bottom shaking after lunch!"

6. Freeze Tag & the Birthday Game are always more fun when played in an empty 500 year old castle. [video]

5. Best deal for kids in Ile-de-France, 1,50 euros for all-day play at the Playmobil Funpark in Fresnes.

4. Kristy, "I forgot how difficult it was coming to France like this 2 years ago.  Now I remember."

3. Sophie in the car, "You make me car-sick, sea-sick, plane sick, home-sick & life-sick."  Family Vacations: PRICELESS.

2. Elodie on Sleeping Beauty-inspiring castle Uzze, "Sleeping Beauty doesn't live here anymore.  She's dead."

1.  "NO!  It's not for that.  It's a sink for little kids!!!" - Elodie on the bidet in our hotel room. (She must have washed her hands more than night than she has in the past month.)

Here's some more photos of the week's adventures and hand-washing.
B&B in the Loire - Sustainable Food - China - & the Power of Eating Together

Last week we went to the Loire Valley for a few days to visit the Castles and look for real princesses.  The first night there we went for dinner with 4 other couples staying at the B&B La Bigottiere.  The owner/cook/tourist agent/local marketer served us an amazing meal consisting almost entirely of locally grown and harvested food: carrots from the neighborhoods yard, beef from a local farmer, wine from a local wine-maker.  The conversation between strangers: 2 Americans, 2 French people living in Africa, 2 Belgians, 2 Chileans living in Belgium, turned easily around the subject and themes of food, whether talking about the globalization-induced uniformity of wine tastes, to agricultural policies and multinational farming, to the rise of China in global affairs, and the month old enforcement of the use of pasteurized milk in the production of Camembert Cheese (thanks to the policies of the European Union).  The meal only ended when the various children of the families gathered around the table clamored for bed-time assistance around 10:30pm.

The following morning at breakfast most folks couldn’t remember each other’s first names, although the conversation continued following.  Around the table, community was empowered and enabled, relationships established quickly when they are rarely –if ever-done so without the presence of food in Urban European daily life.  Funny to re-experience the power of food – not so much what we eat, but how we eat it, in terms of our human condition and the way that we relate to and with one another.

Is it any wonder that when I read the stories of Jesus of Nazareth he’s always engaging other in existential, life-changing dialogue and conversation around a dinner table.  From a meal at Zaccheus’ place, to the feeding of the 5,000, to the wedding at Cana, from the Last Supper to the meal in Emmaus.  It’s always this ritual of sharing, not just nutrients, but a meal - an experience of food together - that ushers in the possibility of really living and being pushed to live fully alive.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Gleanings from Week 1 in Paris

My family and I are in and around Paris for 4 weeks.  
I thought I'd post each week a short best of list to share what's happening with us in a humorous way.

Top 10 Quotes/Gleanings of the week.

10.  Freaky things happen with servers, email and when you change continents.
9.  Never read a Michael Pollan book about food while traveling and eating on an airplane.
8. "My legs don't work.  You have to carry me." - either of the girls at any given point of the day. It seems as if they are experiencing repeated and spontaneous bouts of paralysis from the waist down.  Could me a new medical anomally.
7.  "The cuter the animal, the better they taste." - Monte reflecting on the beauty of duck rillettes.
6.  DPAM is indeed Kristy's favorite store.
5.  The Parc de Bercy is the best modern garden I've been to (and definitely the coolest wi-fi zone). 
4. The absolute best time and way to visit and experience Paris is by jogging through it at 6am before everyone wakes up.
3.  "All the kings and queens are dead.  Their castles are all museums now." Sophie reflecting on the Louvre.
2.  "Where's Claude Monet?" - Elodie visiting Monet's studio and garden at Giverny.
1.  "This is the best park in the world!" Sophie talking about the Jardin du Luxembourg (in particular the swing).

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Living Relationally in a Decreasing Mechanistic World
Bruce Reyes-Chow @ Moderator - the French Paradox - Michael Pollan - Following Jesus

We arrived in Paris today for a monthlong vacation filled with a good friend's wedding, catching up with "les copains," hanging out for a month with the fam in my favorite city on the planet, reading some good books, and eating many good meals!  On the flight over I read "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto" by Michael Pollan.  A continuation and expansion on his past book "Omniovre's Dilemna, I was struck by his comments about the way in which we tend to view food as nutrition, reducing it in a mechanistic world-view sort of ways to the components, acids, fats and nutrients that make up what we eat.  The problem with that culinary and ultimately cultural perspective is that we view food as elements as opposed to something that we relate to, with and from.  Food is more than the specific nutrients that create particular chemical reactions within our body organism.  It's about the synergy that certain food combined together create for our palate and ultimately in our body.  It's about the way in which eating together - thanks to mother culture - creates new dynamics that are physiological, cultural, sociological and relational.  Our modern American view of food isn't holistic because we view it as a sum of its parts as opposed to a whole in itself.

I read of the recent General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) - the church system in which I work and both find and make meaning - and the new moderatorship of Bay Area pastor and friend Bruce Reyes-Chow. [New Moderator seeks to unite Presbyterians]  An ardent fan and enthusiastic supporter in my limited capacity of Bruce's hopes and vision for the church we serve together, I believe he's right on the money in seeking to help us move as a faith community beyond our mechanistic or reductionist vision of faith to a larger worldview perspective of relationship, synergy and reciprocity.  It's a lot like Pollan's vision of our mistake in terms of food.  We reduce the whole to its parts, picking and choosing what we like, and what we're against.  Then we're surprised when we see radical increases in Diabetes, Obesity and tremendous decreases in church attendance, involvement and relevance.

I love France - it's my home away from home, or maybe even my true home in a sojourner sort of way.  We so often talk about the French Paradox: how the French eat and drink whatever they want, smoke often and yet live longer, seemingly more healthy lives than most Americans while being much thinner and healthier (at least physically).  It's not a pardox here.  It's just normal.  You eat fresh things. You cook.  You appreciate what you're eating, taking the time to prepare and enjoy it, and share it with community, making meaning in and of life mainly gathered with friends around the table.  It's a worldview based on relationship, community, synergy, reciprocity....even if outside of food most French folks seem to reduce life to a mechanistic modernist worldview.  Why is it that we're so quick to be reductionist and mechanistic with not only food but also with faith, saying this or that is good and this or that person/dogma/faith statement is legitimate, righteous, or "worthy" while these others are not.

Maybe the true paradox is that we continue to see the pardoxical nature (what I'd call the 'greyness') of life and yet remain fixed on labeling and participating in life/world/community in a black-n-white dualism.

Time for a cigarette and a glass of red wine.