Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I %$*& Crocs!

So I wrote about the new school shoes for daughter #1 we bought this past weekend. What I didn't tell you was that we also bought a new pair (again favorite color but no sparkles) for daughter #2.

Today I opened Newsweek and saw a hilarious response to a funny article that appeared in this week's Newsweek. "What a Croc of Shoes" tells of the backlash that the author Steve Tuttle has received since he expressed his hatred of all things croc in the August 11th issue "Make It Stop: The case for ending our long national nightmare against crocs".

Are they really that bad? I don't have a pair ... but I'd assume (not that I'm on a fashion driven reality show or anything) that they must still be somewhat "in" if Nordstrom sells them. What do you think? How do you fill in the blanks in the following sentence: "I
%$*& Crocs!"

The First Day of School
what are we not teaching our children

OK - last year I blogged on daughter #1s first day at kindergarten (including a video). Our first day of school family ritual is to take a photo on our doorstep before leaving for the day. I just was looking at this morning's 1st Grade photo and noticed a spooky connection to last year's kindergarten photo.

OK - the socks are messed up on both photos. So we're teaching our kid to read but not how to wear socks?! Maybe with #2 we should focus solely on literacy and ditch fashion?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Striving to Thrive In Urban Public School When Private is not an Option
Is buying new shoes enough?

School starts tomorrow, so we went yesterday for the yearly ritual of new tennis shoes. The shoe
department was crowded with like-minded families. Shopping in Walnut Creek, aka out of the bounds of Oakland Unified School District, I wondered how many of the kids there face the same challenges as Oakland kids at school: no supplies in the classroom, no permanent teacher, the threat of violence, huge odds to succeed despite the best efforts and strong will of passionate educators. We can't pay for private school for our daughter. Is buying her new shoes an effort to make up for that?

Luckily we fought, talked and were blessed with a spot in a fantastic public school here in Oakland that not only is better than our neighborhood school (where 1/3rd of the kids are reading at level by 5th grade) but enables us to visit all of Oakland as we cross it each way to school. We go to the public school to which the private school my wife works at donates all of their supplies, old books, etc. to. Kids of one community call the other the "welfare school", while the other community calls them the "rich kids." I can afford the $50 GEOX my daughter wanted, but not the $16,000 education that might give her a leg up (and definitely not the $1,000,000 or so mortgage that would buy our way into a good neighborhood public school). Urban middle-class guilt, or decreasing class purchasing power as I'd call it, makes me often feel inadequate in terms of what I can give to my kids. And at the same time I'm committed to my children (and others) having the chance to mix and learn not only together but from each other - in a public school.

I think Oakland is stuck in some ways because of the repeated family flight to sub & ex- urbs in the search of better schools since private here is out of reach for so many. If those families stayed and took ownership of OUSD - and increasingly more are - what would happen in and to our city? Is public education worth saving? Is going to all the playdates, school visits, budget meetings, and spending all that money and efforts for school fundraisers worth it? And who will save it?

If you're interested in the saving of public schools - maybe even OUSD - here are some links to thoughtful posts and resources:
Link to a new book on similar experiences in New York [Who will save public schools?]
Link to a podcast of the author at salon.com.
Link to the Oakland Tribune's blog special "My First Year" - detailing the life & challenges of rookie teachers in the frying pan of the Oakland Unified School District.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Blogging Towards Sunday
August 24, 2008
(Matthew 11:1-6 & Matthew 16:13-20 [Lectionary Text of the week])

I know that Jesus is the Messiah, but how is he Messiah for me [us] today?

Matthew 16 tells the story of an existential moment, a life-transforming encounter between Jesus and the disciples. In a town dominated by several large monuments, temples and history of multiple religious sacred sites, Jesus asks those who follow him who they think he is. Peter comes up with the good brownie-point Sunday School answer "Jesus" or "you're the Messiah". Actually I think he thought long and hard about this...and he didn't quite understand what he was saying at the same time. Don't we do the same thing in life? We might speak truth to one another, name the elephant in the room, envision the future path that's before us...and yet do we really get it, are our eyes really open?

Matthew 11 tells the story of John the Baptist. At the end of his ministry and public work he's wondering what's up with Jesus - he doesn't seem to be living up to his (aka John's) expectations. What gives? Is he a slacker? Is he a hacker? What's going on!!! So Jesus responds with a question, as always in an Obama-style - long before Obama, "what do you see? " The blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, lepers are made whole, the poor are given everything good and the dead resurrect. Life is transformed - made whole, real, vibrant, new! Resurrection Life is what I call it.

It's so easy for us - in particular in the more comfy-with-evangelical-talk-circles - to proclaim that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the World. Yet rare is it that I hear someone talk about what that means for them. It's more than just dogma it's about ethics - action - pragmatism. I think we often get stuck on some sort of theological high-horse (not that our world cares at all anymore) seeking to articulate with the right lingo that Jesus is the Christ, yet we do so without concerning ourselves with our actions. How often have you heard of folks who claim to serve Jesus as Lord yet who don't care for the poor, seek to kill those who go for abortions, or to wipe out followers of other faiths - or merely talk one way for a couple of hours one-day-a-week and then live something else the rest of the time?

What do you think? If you call Jesus the Christ, how is he the Messiah for you today?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Do We Need a Christian President?

Since the interview of Senators McCain and Obama by Rev. Rick Warren at Saddleback Church this past Saturday I've had numerous conversations with people (Christian, agnostic, atheist and searching) sharing thoughts, concerns, hopes and fears. Was it a good thing that they went there? Was it a good thing that the church audience seemingly applauded with more gusto for the person that offered simple sentence answers about faith as opposed to the one that quoted scripture and talked about faith in the first-person? Where do we draw the line in expecting our President to be like us and for him/her to lead us? How valuable is experience when it's lived and acquired in a world that has since radically changed socially, technologically, culturally and economically? What do you think?

I'm a pastor. I base my life upon my world-view that Jesus is the One I follow. I commit to living my life in community with many peoples, including followers of Jesus. I'm a pragmatist democrat that thinks some parts of socialism are a good idea. Yet I don't think I need a Christian for my president. I'm not going to vote based upon how much we share or don't share the same spirituality or faith. If I was hiring a pastor it'd be different. But my vote is for president. I don't want them to preach to me, but to lead us as a nation and a community being radically transformed through changing ethnic demographics, emerging tweaks of capitalism and democracy, and a global flattened world. Let me and my faith community take care of Sunday School, let's get a president that refuses to leave not just children behind, but our entire school system.

Here's some thoughtful articles about this:

Byron Williams (pastor and columnist from Oakland) Don't need a Christian in chief; we need a commander in chief.

Ruben Navarrette (columnist in San Diego) Stop taking pot shots and tell us what you would do as a president
Enjoying My Summer Garden
& Looking towards the Fall

My tomato crop is beginning and will shortly inundate us. I plant a lot of them, mostly heirloom (11 plants this year) as they're so good fresh from the garden and quickly get so pricey at the farmers' markets.
Here's a picture of some of the food I harvested & we enjoyed in our garden this past week.

10 tomatoes
Lot's of herbs: basil, parsley, sorrel & cilantro

about 2 pounds of green beans

2 dozen eggs (from our chickens)

apricots (frozen from late-June/early-July)

about 1/2 lb of blackberries

Our next round in the garden includes:



more tomatoes & green beans

A friend asked what they should be planting in terms of preparing a fall/winter garden.
I've planted broccoli & leeks so far. The lettuce I did was fried in the heat of the afternoon sun. Here's other stuff you can be planting now as the heat of the summer cools to fall:
lettuces, aragula, other greens


Brussel Sprouts



Herbs from seeds (I still can make them happen through October)





Here's a helpful site with a more extensive list, including planting dates & suggestions. (
Master Gardeners of Santa Clara County)

Here's a great article on "
growing your own greens" from Sunset.com.

If you're doing an edible garden to reduce your carbon footprint, eat local, be victorious or just to have fun, what are you planting? Do you have any tips or suggestions?
Vanessa Paradis

I learned of a CD - new at least to me - from my brother-in-law and have quickly fallen in love with it. Vanessa Paradis is big in France, like a Britney Spears crossed with Madonna and Alanis Morisette (if that makes sense). She's also married to treasure-seeking-pirate actor Johnny Depp. Here's a video clip I love from one of the big songs (Incendie) on youtube. I love the cool retro art deco feel and the sound of the music. Thanks Unlce Tio for the tip!

Oktoberfest in the Dimond
Save the Date

I went to my first planning meeting at the Dimond Library tonight for the organizing efforts for the Oktoberfest in the Dimond on Saturday, October 4th. It's going to be fun: great music - local and diverse, food & activities that will be both in keeping with the "historic" theme of German Oktoberfests and a post-modern Oakland-ish twist on the whole thing and LOT'S & LOT'S OF BEER: Bavarian, Ale, Dark, Indian Pale Ale, Cold and Ice Cold. YUM!!!! The next planning meeting is next Wednesday, August 27th at 7pm at Fruitvale Presbyterian Church.

Check out the official website for the Oktoberfest at www.oaklandoktoberfest.com.
There's also a good write-up of the event over on www.shopdimond.com.
Info to be posted soon at www.dimondnews.org.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bumper Sticker of the Week

I saw these stickers together on a car back in June here in Oakland.
Little did I know how prophetic they would be in terms of John Edwards.  
Maybe it was the haircut that led him astray? 

Monday, August 18, 2008

Church and Politics
Senators McCain & Obama
at Saddleback Church

Both primary candidates for the Presidency were in California on Saturday at the Saddleback Church (under the pastoral leadership of Rick Warren - author of the bestselling "A Purpose Driven Life") in Lake Forest, CA (aka the modern-day evangelical heart of Orange County and maybe even the USA) for a public interview. It's a huge church, over 20,000 members with services that occur over the duration of each weekend on several sites on the nearly 100 acre church campus.  We visited several years ago on a Sunday morning.  I was marked by the terrace cafe that we watched church from over coffee outdoors, and the waiting room for the Junior High Sunday School Class Area that included roughly 20 Nintendo Game Sets.  Those are my memories and the church community has done remarkable things, putting their faith into action.

Here's a promo video of the interviews of the 2 candidates in the guise of the Saddleback Civic Forum from Youtube.

Here's links to the interviews on line (too big for youtube format).
Transcripts of the Interviews on Rick Warren's Site.
Article and link to video of the interviews on LA TIMES.

I'm not sure what I think about it all.  Should political candidates go to a church to talk about issues, faith, policy matters and worldview?  Should it be talked about in such detail in a public way?  Does their faith matter, as one candidate seemed more than capable and comfortable in talking about faith in a personal way while the other merely agreed and towed the party line.  What do you think?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Nama Sushi
Opening in Oakland
Tomorrow - Thursday, August 14th
Grand Opening
Friday, August 15th

I cruised by the under-construction Nama Sushi House in the Dimond District today on Fruitvale Ave & Benati Way (across from Peet's Coffee) as I do most days hoping to catch a glimpse of what is going on in there.

I not only got a glimpse (all the window coverings are down), I also snagged an interview with John (one of the co-owners).  They are opening tomorrow - Thursday, August 14th for business.  They'll be having a Grand Opening Celebration on Friday, August 15th.

It looks good inside - still a lot of finishing work to be done probably late tonight!  They will have a wide menu, including a family friendly kids menu.  They have bought the building and plan to be in business in the Dimond for a long time and won't sell of the store in a franchizing effort.  They don't advertise, rather seeking to spread the new by word-of-mouth and by foot traffic (hence the decision to open across from Peet's Coffee).  This is there first store in Oakland (they currently have 2 restaurants in SF and one in Walnut Creek).  

Here's the interview (the end has a bad quality - sorry!)

See you there tomorrow.
Bumper Sticker of the Week

OK - this bumper sticker is not new or anything...and can seem a bit quite (though very profound) since we've all seen it.  What struck me was that it's all worn down and affixed with painter's tape to the car as some sort of sign of deep attachment to the motto.  The tape just makes it seem so Oakland-ish.

A New Store in the Dimond 
at 2207 MacArthur

If you've driven past the intersection of MacArthur and Fruitvale, or been keeping up to date on the emerging online discussion on the Dimond Online Group, you've either seen and/or heard of the permit for a new business to go in at 2207 MacArthur Blvd.

The proposed business is a Middle Eastern Market.  While many are the accolades and cheers of "hurray!" for such a unique store in the Dimond Business District, there are also significant questions about what exactly the store is aiming for in terms of being a convenience store.  Will they primarily sell food, including prepared Middle Eastern Foods and a few convenience items on the side (such as packaged foodstuffs, soft-drinks, tobacco and potentially alcohol that you'd find in your average 7-11)?  Or will the store be primarily selling those convenience items (that you can find in several stores already existing within a 2 block radius of the proposed business site) and sell a few speciality items on the side?

This is an ongoing discussion in the Dimond Community.  Some say it's a negative symptom of gentrification.  Others say that the only way to direct and encourage both current and future growth is to encourage and demand business diversity.  Some say it's meeting the purchasing desires of the existing community.  Others say that we don't need more of the same businesses that fail to cater to the overall needs and desires of the entire East Oakland community.

If you're interested in learning more about the proposed business at this site you can check out the dialogue over at Dimondnews.org.  If you're interested in acting politically to demand that the new business be more than a glorified convenience store you can send an email/letter (but act fast - as in this week) to 

Aubrey Rose [arose@oaklandnet.com]
Planner II, Oakland Community and Economic Development Agency
250 Frank Ogawa Plaza, Suite 2114

What do you think about growth in the Dimond?  
What kind of businesses do you want to see and patronize?

Thanks to Owen for the details and contact information.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

National Night Out
Transforming a City One Hot Dog at a Time

Tuesday night I cruised several National Night Out neighborhood block parties in and around East Oakland. District 4 (Glenview to Redwood Heights) had the most registered block parties of any Oakland district. [Oak Trib Article on parties in West Oakland] It was amazing to see people meeting and gathering in the middle of their streets, circled by children in motion on bikes, scooters and skateboards. Buffet tables were filled with diverse potluck foods. Each site I went to had someone barbecuing hot dogs and long lines. I met people I haven't seen before yet have connections with through living in the same hood. I met an entire street of folks (who live adjacent to the church I serve as pastor) who were eager to tell me that they vote in our building. What better way to fight crime, increase communication and birth future collaboration than through the simple sharing of hot dogs while chatting on lawn chairs in the middle of the street?

I ended the night with only 3 wishes:
1. That I should have taken the lead to make a block party happen on my street.
2. That NNO was more than just once a year.
3. That I'd waited in line to get one more hot dog.

If you're interested in learning more about crime trends and statistics in Oakland check out this entry on the blog A Better Oakland.

If you went to a NNO party how was it? How do you see it transforming the neighborhood you live in?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Blogging Towards Sunday
August 10, 2008

Matthew 14:22-36

What does living a faithful life look like in terms of family? environment? political involvement? solidarity with the poor and overlooked?
What does it mean to be a person of faith? Do such people doubt? and what does that look like?

Fear comes in many forms. It seems to be dominant today in our culture, societal system and world outlook: Fear of gasoline prices, energy shortages, our decreasing purchasing power in the light of elevated and escalating prices for food, clothing, and other daily items, the mortgage meltdown and foreclosure escalation, the rise of China and India (and how we're told to be afraid of that), the continued talk of the need for war against terrorists both near and far, both known and faceless.

President Roosevelt said, "The only thing to fear is fear itself." Hopelessly hopeful, deep and complex. Yet those words don't always comfort in the dark of the night. They didn't encourage me per say when I had to choose several years ago between buying diapers or groceries one fateful day in a difficult season for our family. Yet as a follower of Jesus on the way I come back to the larger question of faith in relationship with fear. I did buy the diapers that fateful day, and none of us starved. Did I have faith? Yes. Did I have doubts? I was riddled with them.

Culturally we tend to oppose faith and doubt: you can't have both at the same time, you're either faithful or doubtful. Ironically in the passage for this week Jesus tells his disciples that they're of little faith. It doesn't mean that they faithless. I'm not sure it's even a rebuke. For when you read the Gospels (in particular Matthew) "you of little faith" is consistently the name - some sort of a nick-name - that Jesus gives to the disciples. Those that gave everything to follow Jesus as a new path between the oppressive power of the Roman Emperor and the traditionalist responses of religion (ranging from accommodation to revolution to seclusionary withdrawl), are of little faith. Peter, who walks on the rough raging waters of the sea, is among those of little faith. Would that we all be such people of little faith: obedient, seeking, searching, failing then getting up and starting again, succeeding and celebrating, discerning, discovering and deepening an experience of the mystery of God's power, presence and passion.

Usually I've heard this story as an illustration of what faith is: Peter lacks it so he can't walk on water. Jesus alone has it so he can. Yet I don't think the whole walking on water part is what it's about. Jesus sends his friends to the other side of the lake (v. 22). Once Jesus saves them from the distraction of the destructive storm, they actually get to the other side of the lake: Gentile country, the foreign place of those that were forgotten, overlooked and excluded by the people of God. It's there that Jesus continues his ministry of healing, teaching and compassionate solidarity. The point was to get to the other side.

How often today do I - do our churches - get lost in the chaos of the storms we encounter (which I don't mean to downplay), and completely forget about what we're called to do - get to the other side, to go to those on the other side to show compassion, live in active solidarity, and point towards the one that we believe saves us from the storm, from our own fears, our own selfishness, and the fear of scarcity that drives our multinational commercial system. Several secular books I've read in the past 6 months [Presence, Bobos in Paradise, The Post-American World] talk of the need for spiritual people, who have a larger perspective or world-view, to engage in the world, making their belief community actively present in their context. In a sense the lift up what Jesus teaches through this passage: go to the other side - to those on the other side; boats are made for boating, not simply keeping tethered to the dock when the waters look rough. Maybe we who claim to follow Jesus (historically in the church community which is traditionally represented by the figure of a boat) with big, visible faiths, should take a lesson from Jesus' call to be like those he knew who were of little faith?
Bumper Sticker of the Week

I found this on a car in the parking lot when I went to General Assembly in San Jose in June.
I so need one for my car.

relax renew run for the hills

As you know from the blog we just returned from a month-long vacation in Paris. It was great fun and also several days too long. Family is great. Yet maybe there's a reason that we don't spend 24/7 with each other? I think having a nanny on any family vacation voyage over 2 weeks long might not be such a bad idea. In France Vacation (les vacances) is not just something you do, but a human right. It's a time to get away (even on a staycation), to do something different, to gain perspective, and to eat good food! The problem with vacation seems that often we build them up to be such life-changing, long awaited, nearly epiphany-esque experiences that we can't help but have our stellar expectations go unmet. We have some friends who would go on fantastic travels for vacation each year, annually ending in some sort of family blow-out. The cycle continued until the children said "enough!" There's something in us - maybe our inner Girmwald - that wants to provide a "perfect" experience for our loved ones. I always remember the family blow-out scene from one of my all time favorite movies "Vacation."

My best vacations have been ones that involved several things:
6. Something fun to visit (preferably ancient scavi or ruins or a local grocery store in a foreign country)
5. Sun - preferably some sort of beach space to be in a swimsuit in order to get guicied.
4. A chance to swim in (preferably in this order): a river, a lake, the ocean, a pool.
3. Good books to read
2. Good food & drink
1. Good people - the only ones you can stand - to be with!

My favorite vacations have been to: (in no particular order)
6. Egypt
5. Discovering the greatness of the Jersey Shore & all it's ice cream glory
4. Camping in Rome with that great campsite pizzeria
3. In a hole-in-the-wall no-screens hotel on the beach in Costa Rica
2. A hot week on the veranda in Cloverdale
1. Camping in the rain with Kristy at Bellagio

My worst vacations have been:
3. Skiing and breaking some ribs then having to pack the car for another family & ride home for 10 hours in the back of a station wagon.
2. The time spent crammed in a over-crowded car on a 24 hours blitz trip to Disneyland.
1. Being stuck in a minivan full of junior highers on Hwy 80 outside of Truckee for 13 hours in the snow with no food.

What about you?
Love Your Neighbor

If you live in Oakland, or specifically District z4, there are a ton of events happening tomorrow (Tuesday, August 9th) night for National Night Out. Of course if you live somewhere else there's stuff going down too. It's a nationally sponsored annual event meant to encourage people to take back their neighborhoods by organizing a street bbq, or block party - anything to get folks together.

Jean Quan's website has a great list of District 4 events
The City of Oakland has a site too
Here's a description of what it's all about & ways to find a party near you