Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Memories

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Can Both Faith and Science Be True?

It's Christmas, time when often questions of doubt surface in discussions during the singing of carols at church, over dinner or after the presents have been ripped open.  How could the whole nativity thing be true?  Was she really a virgin, or a young maiden?  How could God become human?  What was that star thing they claimed to see?  It all just doesn't seem to make enough sense according to our scientific worldview to be true, let alone believable.

I think we often get lost by opposing Faith and Science.  It happens when we talk about abortion and the "quickening moment" of life, evolution and the beginning of our origins, sometimes in terms of our identities, particularly our orientations and the question of nature or nuture, and all the times in face of the complexity of the universe.  Is God merely the god of the gaps, invoked to explain the gaps in our understanding  of the mysterious world, who fills in the spaces that don't seem to make sense?  Like the moment just before the big bang, as the unmoved mover that started it all?  If so, then we end up with an opposition between science and faith, where science is seen as the primary syntax for searching and articulating what's objectively true, and where faith is seen as ignorant or defines itself purely in opposition to science refusing to affirm that we come from monkeys or are merely a cosmic accident. Surprisingly there is not a decrease in belief in God or a higher power as our technological prowress and scientific knowledge increases, but rather the opposite in the general population.

Two articles I read this week [Rethinking Science and Religion on sfgate.com and Angels in the Economist] synthesized concisely this quandry and offered some great language.  Today we see more that God is not the god of the gaps, but rather the author of wonder.  We are moving beyond a purely scientific worldview, realizing that not everything can - or maybe even should - be explained, quantified or qualified. We want to make sense of the world around us, make meaning of and with our actions, choices and relationships.  Scientific insights, whether regarding evolution, orientation or reflections on miraculous historicity, don't have to force us to choose between a bunsen burner or the Bible, making existential faith-related decisions easier, but they just might be complimentary, making the choices and decisions we make more enlightened, thoughtful and meaning-making.

I think a major part of the politicized problem of opposition between the two sister languages for meaning making in life has been the result of professional clergy afraid to move beyond an historic understanding or what traditional belief or orthodoxy must mean, or on the other side of the spectrum so entranced with science and put-off by the old-schoolness of traditional orthodoxy that they have advocated seeing faith first and foremost through the lenses of a scientific world-view and define modern or liberal faith mainly in opposition to the traditional stance that refuses to engage modernity.  So in the end the main poles of religious thought and producers of mainstream faith language base their foundations upon a refusal to engage with the other side.  No wonder we're so confused and the percentage of folks who believe in God is significantly higher than that of those who participate regularly in a community of faith.  Maybe truth isn't so much about what beliefs we hold on to in an intellectual or emotional way, but rather truth is what pushes us to action and brings us into common community with like-minded other people?  The only way forward out of this bankrupted opposition position is dialogue, engaging the "other side", re-affirming the faith pointed to in the Bible that we are created in the image of God, intended to be(come) co-creators with God, active participants in the emerging and expanding universe not merely mute followers pliant to a mysterious power.  And isn't that what the message of the Christmas narrative, the baby born in Bethlehem is really all about?
Bumpersticker of the Week

Friday, December 19, 2008

Santa vs. Jesus

So what really is the reason for the season? Is it about an overweight fat white guy who tries to sneak into our homes through they chimney to shower us with presents? Or is it about the birth of a middle-eastern tradesman who many claim is God incarnate, born not in a palace but in the lowly poverty of a stable? Do we have to choose? [online comparisons: one, two , funny three (below), slightly offensive South Park four].

Modern Day Jesus: Santa vs. Jesus

With my kids I've always favored Jesus more than Santa. Maybe it's because we don't have a fireplace in our house, hence he could never come over and we're eternally doomed to be shunned by St. Nick. Yet I prefer the power and
promise of the Jesus birth story over Santa flying through the air with gifts. When asked if he's real by my kids, I always respond asking them if they think he's real. Of course they do. I use to tell our eldest that Santa is a mythical figure, who was a real man who did show generosity to children. I wouldn't go as far as to say that Santa is Satan [mix the letters around to see how] but I'd rather that our kids know the foundational experience that formed what we now call Christmas. I don't want to lie about why we do what we do, at least how we as a family live and act from our beliefs and existential choice to follow Jesus as the guide to our life praxis.

But am I robbing our kids of the mystery of Christmas, the joy of seeing "Santa's helpers" working
throughout the glorious malls of our nation, ringing bells in front of Safeway, and retold with the wonder of claymation? Even if I didn't choose to be a follower of Jesus, I'm not sure that I'd want to blatantly encourage capitalistic worship of the jolly man who seems to be able to produce every product that my kids could wish for at Toys-R-Us, Target, Costco, barbie.com and the dollar bin at Longs Drugs. Maybe the whole Santa narrative has been to highjacked by corporate America and he needs his own bailout? Besides why when I tell my kids to stay away from strange men all year long, why in December would I act differently? Plus I have to admit the Easter Bunny vs. Jesus conflict really bugs me a whole bunch more for theological reasons, plus how would my kid who believes in a human-sized bunny hoping unhurt through East Oakland ever stand a chance of getting into Stanford?

Some other bloggers have posted on this epic battle. Bruce | John O'Hara
Of course now the next big question is Santa vs. Jack Frost.

So am I a horrible parent, follower of Jesus? I think in the end we have to choose both, yet frame our celebrations around what we believe and act from in our families and the communities of faith we call home.

What do you choose to do in the Santa vs. Jesus conflict?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

New Restaurant Coming to the Glenview
from the owners of A cote

The folks at Oakland's A Coté have taken over the former Los Compadres
Park Blvd.) to open a Pan-Latin place scheduled to open in June 2009.

[sf gate article]

Cheers to Robert for the hot tip!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Blogging Towards Sunday, December 21st
The Fourth Sunday of Advent
1 Samuel 7:1-16,
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26,
Romans 16:25-27,
Luke 1:26-55

This fourth and final Sunday in the season and journey of Advent is about Love. Not so much how much Mary loved the baby she'd bare, nor even how much Mary loves God. Rather I think it's a statement of how much God loves the whole deal: Mary, Us, the whole Universe. We wonder if it can be true when we see continued evil in the world such as warfare, natural disasters and injustice. Is God not strong enough to stop it? Or does God just not love us enough to bother using all that power to make things better? Those that have followed Jesus before us have had a different answer: God is both all powerful and all loving and these things remain.

As I think on this the song "Where is the Love" by the Black Eyed Peas come to mind [lyrics]

Black Eyed Peas Lyrics
Where Is The Love? Lyrics

What's remarkable in these passages is that God's love is known through, by and in us. We are called, like Mary, to be God bearers, to make God visible, active and interactive in our world through our actions, words, presence and relationships. Maybe God's love is more about solidarity than solutions, more like a mutually enriching dialogue than a decisive victory, more about participation than power. That's the kind of love I'm looking for. It seems so absent from our world whether in the governor's office in Illinois, or among shoe-throwers in Baghdad or among leaders in Sudan. We often ask where is God? Where is God's love? Mabye God is asking us, where are you?
Leaving Oakland

Yesterday saw another article in our local newspapers that spoke of the decline of Oakland. "Black population declines in Oakland" articulated what many Oaklanders can tell you of East Oakland in particular, it's turning predominantly Latino what African-American families that could have fled to other area (in larger part the outer East Bay) for more affordable housing, less crime and better schools. Of course in the imploding economic situation of our banks and nation what once seemed like a better housing deal near the delta is actually a sinking ship.

A week ago SFGate ran an article "Violence is why Oaklanders forsake the city" telling the story of a San Francisco Refugee who found good housing, work and a surprisingly good social scene in Oakland. Quickly robbed and feeling unsafe after a firebombing (who wouldn't?) they left Oakland for a new home. Those two articles talk of the long commute from as far as the Eastern Sacramento regional area that people do to work or hang-out in Oakland, happy to not sleep here during the dangerous dark hours of send their children (born or un-born) to local OUSD schools. While our mayor and city structure seemingly don't do or accomplish anything to change the situation many are the voices affirming that a "long commute is better than living in Oakland." Are they giving up? Do they not have what it takes to be an Oaklander? Or are they smarter and have more of a back-bone to make a good, and maybe difficult, decision than the rest of us that stay?

My family only began to dream and talk of moving when we failed to get into any public school besides the one around the corner from our home. At first sight we had wanted to commit to our neighborhood and dreamt of having our kids walk to school. Yet upon visiting the learning institution to find that less than 50% of the graduating 5th graders could read at grade-level proficiency standards and having the kindergarten teacher I observed take a break and leave me to manage the classroom for 10 minutes while I "visited" the school, we choose to try the lottery system for another district school where we might actually be able to expect success. After the depression and despair of the failure of getting in and the existential angst of being a middle-class person type that can't afford a nice enough living situation to attend a public school that is succeeding in more than half of its population, we were lucky - or blessed - enough upon appeal to get into the district school we dreamed of. But it didn't happen until we had gone over to the dark side, doing what we hadn't dreamed of doing, paying the deposit for enrollment on a private school. Through mid-January it's the OUSD time for the lottery school choice system that they call School Options. I find it's the time of year that I most hear people talking of wanting to leave Oakland for another place with better, or just even decent schools.

People love our city for it's diversity in terms of geography, culture, activities and mostly people. Yet all urban metropolises have to be able to offer enough of the basics to retain people [affordable quality housing, safety and good public schools]. You can't just count upon gentrification to make everything all good.

What do you think about Oakland? Why do you choose to stay? Or maybe how is the choice made for you? Why do you dream of leaving?
Bumpersticker of the Week

I'm not sure if this once is intriguing or just ego-centric. I guess it depends it it's on the car of a broker/banker or on one of a foreclosed upon home-ex-owner.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Online Advent Fun

Advent (the 40 days before Christmas marked by Four Sundays is my favorite time of year and what I find to be the poignant and meaning-making aspect of the Christian Church Calendar. It's a time for journeying, preparation, reflection and dreaming aloud and in community. I like it so much more than Christmas for it's more like life, journeying, waiting, walking and watching even in the darkness of despair and/or doubt. Plus it's just more fun because we get a playmobil advent calendar each year!

Here's some of my favorite links about advent if you're interested

Textweek.com (great reflections, images, etc. about the lectionary texts proposed in Advent)

playmobil advent calendar options

build a creche (multilingual)

calendar (from the episcopal church with cool links about southern africa)

funny interactive calendar with prizes (funny)

interactive calendar (photo of the icon of the virgin and baby)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Montana Slim Holiday

My family gathers once a year for a holiday party that includes lot's of beer, good fudge and an uncle who comes as Santa each year in a different mode of transportation.  This year the fudge was complimented with rollo cookies (yum!) and Santa riding in the back of a truck and one of my favorite bands playing in the park - MONTANA SLIM.  Here's some videos I took.  You can find them on myspace and on facebook.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Life-Style Choices
which is more of one: sexual orientation or religion?

Jon Stewart had this great interview/dialogue with Mike Huckabee on Tuesday night that has been making the rounds on the internet and the blogosphere. The second half of the discussion addressed gay marriage and the traditional/Christian interpretation of what the word "marriage" means.  I found it quite insightful, and a sheer pleasure to watch two people who thoroughly disagree with one another, talk not just at each other, but with each other, recognizing that they don't agree, and that they won't come to some sort of miraculous unity after a polarizing debate.

Jon Stewart brought up an interesting retort using the language that Gov Hucakbee had used saying that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice.  Stewart responding with disagreement, and then by expressing his opinion that religious views or faith world-views seem to him to be the ultimate lifestyle choice.  Why then does the Christian establishment fight so vehemently to protect and preserve its identifying lifestyle choice of faith and then oppose what it considers to be another lifestyle choice as less than equal.  Following Jesus is a choice, an orientation (if you will).  You're not born one.  Maybe that's why so many Christians seem to doubt that sexuality is something were born with.  Maybe that's why so many people have left the church, or are terrified to go to it, because we claim some sort of predesitination-born-with-faith-holier-than-thou thing and yet give constant lip service to the idea that one can change, repent, convert and find a new life. There is a deep hypocrisy there, that the church community in general refuses to recognize or admit.

What do you think?  Watch the video.  It's good.

Blogging Towards Sunday December 14, 2008 
The Third Sunday of Advent: JOY 

This third week of Advent [resources] is traditionally known as the "JOY" Sunday, switching from the purple of Advent to pink for  one week. [pink is created when mixing the purple of Advent and the white of Christmas].

The passages this week are about the joy of the coming of the Promised One to Ancient Israel captive in long-ago Babylon [Isaiah].  It's this promised one that will bring and be good news, healing the broken, freeing the captive, liberating the prisoner, these redeemed broken folks will be transformed into agents of God's power in creating a new heaven and new earth.  Joy in the Psalm has to do with the living out of faith in community, similar to the community that the preacher in Thessalonians invites those that follow Jesus to live into and to act out of.  John the Baptizer preaches to the diverse masses that go out to him inviting them, challenging to turn around 180 degrees in the way that they live, treat each other and act.  He declares that the One to come is already present, standing among his audience and yet un-recognized.  Both literal and metaphorical, it's a call to recognize that we are invited to a new way of being together and being towards each other in a radically inclusive and transformatively just community made possible by the Promised One of God  and possible in him.

So the question that haunts me this week is joy.  The scriptures point to the joy, the call to rejoice that God is doing a new thing, already present among us, even if we don't recognize the divine presence. Yet today joy seems the farthest thing from us.  Where is the joy in urban life?  Where is it for friends who had to have the police take their son into custody because he continues to steal and beat other kids up?  Where is the joy for the teacher beat up by the parent of an expelled student?  Where is the joy in the driver who flipped me off then blocked me driving down the road for no apparent reason today?  Joy seems distant from daily moments or urban frustration, injustice and efforts to survive.  

The opposite of joy seems to me to be despair, unescapable darkness that nothing can or will change, depression that we are forgotten, overlooked, duped.  Yet the scriptures this week point to the fact that hope remains, that we often project our fears and doubts onto a faithful God, suspecting God of doing what we would do.  Isn't that a joy, that God isn't what we expect?  That God isn't like us?  That God superceedes our fears, doubts and despair?  Some might say that's merely wishful thinking on behalf of a manipulated proletariat, or that it's not scientifically provable.  Yet a purely materialistic and/or scientific worldview merely points to the meaningless of human existence.  I think that we make meaning of life through our choices: our actions, our relationships, the communities we commit to, the praxis of those communities living out the Truth that unites and defines them.  Isn't that maybe the joy that we're invited to plant as the foundation of the way that we live, move and have our being in the 21st century world?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Eating in the Dimond

I finally ate at Shaan the new Indian restaurant in the Dimond on Fruitvale next to the Dimond Cafe last week. It was fantastic [here's a picture worth 999 more descriptive words]. My wife and friend and I ate for $50 (including drinks, appetizers and tip.) The staff was great, kind and helpful. The bathrooms are gorgeous (not common in the Dimond) and the wall mural is a nice touch. Plus they have chai tea for $1! They do need a larger waiting space though. Of course that's an emerging need in our transforming Dimond eating scene. I'm also including an upload of the menu below as images [click on the image to make it bigger]

Nama Sushi is now doing happy hour! 4-6pm Monday thru Thursday. $2.50 for draft beer - all in a setting in which the windows are not blacked out! Such a happy hour environment is exactly what many people have long dreamed of and longer for in our Dimond community. I'm looking forward to going soon. Maybe I can start scheduling my church meetings there?
Bumpersticker of the Week

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Dimond Winter Festival 2008

Here's some of my snapshots in a slideshow and some youtubed videos from today's 4th Annual Dimond Winter Festival that took place at Fruitvale Presbyterian Church. Thanks to Ruth Villsenor and Carolyn Vallerga who worked with me in a productive trio that helped to make all the fun from the pancakes with Francis and Frank, to the local music, from the crafts to the local vendors all possible!

The proceeds of today's events went to the COPE program of Fruitvale Presbyterian Church, which seeks to feed and offer concrete solidarity to those in need here in our context. Thanks to you we raised over $600 to fund our efforts to fight hunger!

Thanks to many of the local stores and merchants who donated items to help make the day so meaningful, including: Las Comales, Farmer Joe's, La Farine, The Food Mill, Full Moon Seafood, Mary and Me, Paws & Claws & Peet's Coffee.

See you next year on the first Saturday of December!!!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Solidarity in the Dimond
Two-Star Market's Thanksgiving Dinner 2008

Abdo down at Two Star Market hosted a Thanksgiving Day Dinner for the Community and those on the street. Cooked and served in his parking lot on MacArthur Blvd., I've heard that he (fellow collaborating merchants and his volunteer crew) served a hot meal to between 350-400 people. Kudos to him and to the spirit of solidarity in the Dimond!

Here's some online pictures of the event:
Two Star Market's New Blog and [expanded photo link]

Photos of last year's event [tim chapman's blog]
Prop 8 - The Musical

This video from funny or die is making the rounds (very rapidly) around the internet today.  Take a look.  What do you think?  Is it sacrilegious? Heretical?  Anti-Christian? Pro-Jesus?  What do you think?

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Blogging Towards Sunday 
December 7th 
The Second Sunday of Advent FAITH

What is faith? Is it good news? Or does hearing good news lead to it? This week's passages talk of hope, pointing towards the future, proclaiming that something is coming: something definitive, transformative and personal; dynamic, destructive and life-sustaining. In several encounters this week I've been struck by diverse and seemingly divergent, yet actually concurrent visions of faith: an atheist who likes going to church because of the feel, an evangelical saying that don't want to be called "Christian" because of modern-day political baggage, a scientist who says that the truth witnessed to in the Bible narratives is True not in a scientific but an existential/experiential way, my daughter who gives thanks for God who teaches us to love each other.  The Book of Hebrews chapter 11 says that "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." I like that yet it seems so certain.  Maybe faith, having faith, being faithful isn't so much about unwavering certainty as it is about steadfast stick-with-it-ness, the tenacity to keep fighting, keeping participating in community, keep believing in the midst of confusion and chaos.

Here's a song I'm in love with these days playing to a Second Week of Advent Wreath Image. The song is called "Toi et Moi" by the group TRYO. [wiki] I'm also including a LINK to the official clip. Yes it is in French. Lyrics in French [LINK]. Lyrics in English (far from perfect, but good enough to get the idea) [LINK] I like the song because it gives a quick experiential sound to the realities of urban globalized life today. Fear. Uncertainty. Masses of people. Unknown futures surrounded by threats, deaths and doubts. Yet in all of it the poet sings that you and I are together. We love each other. So it will be ok. I'm not a pessimist, but I'm not sure that it's enough. I'm down with love, yet is it self-serving love that ends up being a vampiristic sort of narcissism or is it a love that opens up towards others, embracing the world, making meaning of all of it?  Maybe that's what faith is, faith in something bigger than ourselves, our own love, and the power of our own breath.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Bumper Sticker of the Week

This is my all time favorite sticker.  It's probably actually more like the bumper sticker of the year.  It says it all - why I so freakishly always have my eyes open for new stickers.  Thanks to Uncle Tio for spotting and capturing it!