Friday, July 31, 2009

Religion: appealing to the faithful or faithless?

I've been thinking all week about a recent church experience and the division that is so dominant in our church system. A friend was interviewed for a pastor job and recently asked can you work with both "pro-gay and anti-gay" people. Hmmm. What a question? And maybe it's actually going in the direction we most often avoid. We tend to always polarize, preaching to our choir: those that support our views, as opposed to dialoging with the larger community. When I encounter Jesus of Nazareth in the gospels he seems to be more about the larger inviting dialog to a new counter-cultural life-transforming community than recementing existing divisions and lines in the sand.

Newsweek ran an article entitled "losing their religion" this past week talking about the challenges of portraying faith on tv. Executives feel the pressure to either create entertainment that appeals to the faithful by maintaining some sort of orthodox context and lose the faithless, or work towards the faithless in creative new stories and incur the wrath of the fearful faithful. Maybe that's the tension the church should be in more. Maybe if we were in our leadership, teaching and community hospitality Christian worship could become more of a crossroads of beliefs and growth than an impasse of doctrine rigidity and moral certainty, all while professing and deepening faith. I know that's the sort of church/faith community I'd want to be part of.

My favorite show these days (The Wire) has a church character [the Deacon] addressing the problems of inner city Baltimore that recently summoned his vocation in a conversation with an inner city cop: "Church folks got to be all up in everybody's shit." The Deacon meant that it's his duty to be involved in other lives, knowing what's going on in order to empower collaboration through invitation to working together in integrative contexts. Maybe that's gospel for us today: living out a call to be with other (and maybe even everyone), rather than merely defining ourselves by what we're against.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ode to Oakland 9 |
Community Educators & Educating Communities

When it comes to Oakland there's a lot of talk about education. The power of Oakland Unified School District was just returned to the city after exiting receivership and a take over (sometimes hostile) by the State of California. When you talk with people leaving Oakland, or thinking about making that choice, it's almost always around schools and/or crime. I've blogged a lot on it, torn from the challenges of education our children in public schools in the city, excited and at times overwhelmed by the inequity and systemic stuck-ness. And it's not just OUSD that educates our children.

We've been part of a cooperative preschool community for several years. As we leave that space and community I'm reminded that it does take "a village to raise a child." That we've been blessed to have our two children loved and known by other kids and families, and for our family to love and know other children and families. The diversity (cultural, class, financial, educational) of our city is amazing and shows up in our kids. It's also a huge challenge to those that work in education. How to you meet, respond to, let alone simply articulate the myriad needs that exist.

I've been repeatedly amazed by the passion of those who work in education in Oakland, life-long commitments (in many cases to the city that they grew up in) of educators to empowering the citizens of Oakland. Heroes for me, who recognize the sickness and stuck-ness of the system yet refuse to be complacent, hopeless or apathetic. They form a great cloud of witnesses I think of when I lose hope. Their example lifts me up to push on to finish the race we all are running together as a city community: Gary and Caroline Yee, Di-Di, Gail Murphy, Brook Pessin, Mel Stenger, Misato Araki. We should be hearing more about such heroes as a city. Katy Murphy at the Oakland Tribune does this to some extent on her blog: The Education Report

Ode to Oakland 8 | Oaklandish

Founded in 2000, this community of artists | renegades | organizers has got to
be one of the most under-noticed political gathering powers of Oakland. Their t-shirts are everywhere, worn with great pride.

Their great website says it all, in particular with the home page that directs you to shopping and/or community. [] I believe that Oaklandish does more than our Mayor and City Council to increase civic pride, empower civic activism, and generate good energy for our always-struggling city.

Here's a blurb from their site that spells out the Oaklandish vision and purpose for both artistic creation and community organizing. (there's also a glimpse of their newest t-shirt)

Representing the strange luster & oddball spirit that is East Bay Life.

It appears that Oakland pride is quite contagious! It's nice to see the proliferation of different Oakland T-shirt designs currently hitting the racks. But as you know, our roots run way deeper than any screen-print could ever convey. The true purpose here is to creatively promote our enduring love for "original Oakland charm" in the face of a constantly mutating culture, population and landscape. When you rock the roots, you evoke all the hidden history & rebel spirit of The Town, in its many incarnations. This way successive generations of young Oaklanders can gain a deeper understanding of the place they call home. Thanks for helping to spread the local love.

Ode to Oakland 7 | Big Longs

Big Longs would have to be on this list. An Oakland institution, that supposedly is moving and/or becoming another store after a recent buy out, it's not called Longs Drugs. It is the place to purchase anything under the sun. From fresh fruit, to beer, to toothpaste, to nice Buddha statutes, to the fantastic (best one in Oakland) nursery, to the best place for ethnic/cultured fabrics, to multiple types of garden manure, to my favorite watch repair guy: this store has it all. [previous Monteskewed blog post]

It has my favorite parking lot to troll in search of good bumper stickers: I always find a gem there each time I come.

It often served as my "therapy" place of choice as I'd take a break and cruise the nursery section coveting the plants for sale (a licensed counselor probably would have been cheaper for me in the end).

It's also great because it's Oakland: the mix of people shopping and working there from all slices of life, class sub-categories, cultural backgrounds - shopping together and so often giving and getting good gardening tips while waiting in line.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bumper Sticker of the Week

Monday, July 27, 2009

Ode to Oakland 6 | The Food

My wife and I went to breakfasts (yes plural, we did several places) Thursday with some good friends who are some of the most experienced East Bay foodies I know. Munching donuts with lattes at Pizzaola and talking about food I was reminded of how many great places for food there are in Oakland from expensive to cheap as in nationally known Taco Trucks.

It's not just about the food - which is great in so many places. It's also about the experience, from the decor to the space, to the location to the smells. For me one of the great images of this foodie creativity in Oakland is the ironing-board laden sidewalks in front of Bakesale Betty. (I think they look as fun and good as those fried chicken sandwiches taste).

So many places to experience good food from around the world: from Ethiopian lined Telegraph to the Central American experience of the Fruitvale District, from the places emerging in Uptown to the sit-down beauties of Rockridge and College Ave.

Some of my absolute favorites, that I'll miss in moving, including drinks on the terrace at Cesar's on Piedmont Ave., the pommes frites at A Cote, the pizza at Zachary's, the samosas at Shaan, and the chocolatines at La Farine. So much food. So many restaurants. Never enough money!!!

These foodie friends might start at blog on the 100 best food things in Oakland at I hope that they do !

Preaching Polarization: the easy way out

My family and I went to worship at the church I grew up in yesterday to say goodbye and be commissioned. It's a faith community that has chosen to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church because of a disagreement over doctrine, specifically in terms of stances regarding sexuality, ordination and how to articulate and profess Christian faith in a pluralistic world. While I haven't made the same doctrinal choice and relational position in terms of the church denomination that I've grown up in, I still can call that church home. I was overwhelmed by the greetings of folks whose children I grew up with, the support and the genuine enthusiasm for our family and the way in which we are choosing to follow Jesus by moving to France. I was struck during a commissioning prayer time by the reality that life isn't black or white, that relationships are confusing and messy (that's what makes them so rich) and that life is much more a labyrinth sort of road composed of twists and turns, then a road with a fork that either has a "good" or "wrong" path to follow. A dimension of my perspective on that is well articulated by an article in today's SF Gate on the Labyrinth at Grace Cathedral.

As the service went on and the preaching began I was overwhelmed. The sermon was intended to be upon prayer, how to, why and what for. Yet it proceeded to be an enthusiastic encouragement to pray and to do so often [to which I say amen!] that was brought to a climactic conclusion by a sudden polarizing proclamation that the PC(USA) is evil for its stance in terms of working towards the ordination of gay and lesbian followers of Jesus and for some of non-black-and-white articulations of Christian faith in a pluralistic world. I respect the difference of opinion, and actually believe I'm pushed to deeper faith and more thoughtful world-view perspective through the dialog in diverse understandings of the teachings of Jesus and the "Christian tradition". Yet I was disappointed for the sermon on prayer slipped into a polarizing war-crime, or rally around the pole speech about how the PC(USA) is evil and God-rejecting liberals who blow with the wind as opposed to the morally righteous and justified ones that have left that behind. I felt personally attacked as what I believe was lifted up as anti-Christian, and almost evil. I wondered what that had to do with prayer? I wondered how such polarizing talk of good versus evil can lead us to a deeper understanding and experience of community as followers of Jesus. I don't think that it can or does.

I probably make a similar more, on the other side of the spectrum. And I wonder do we have to rally the troops against someone else, or the "opposing side" or is there not anything deeper in the teachings of Jesus that push us towards a both/and understanding of the implications of his ethical teachings and spiritual guidance which we often embody in our moral choices and political actions? It seems like such finger-pointing is simply the easy way out, denying that the world in which we live, and navigate as people of faith is more like the twisty turns of a labyrinth than the straight lines and black-and-white choices of a forking road.
Ode to Oakland 5 | Fairyland

This is one of my favorite places in Oakland. So many good memories for us - ranging from fun times to E breaking her leg at the age of 2. It's a unique place - open for more than 50 years - that reflects the spirit, passion and potential of Oakland. I'll miss walking through the shoe to enter the land of keys, dragon slides, bubbles, that incredibly slow train and so many memories.

I love the puppet shows. Amazing. The kids love it. It's great conversation time for adults. It's also the best parent people watching in Oakland: you can see the sleep deprivation on the majority of parental folks there.

It has one of my favorite vegetable gardens in Oakland: always beautiful and filled with good organic stuff.

It also has a great selection of native plants at bargain basement prices. An well-kept secret.

Ode to Oakland 4 | The Mormon Temple

I wouldn't actually say that the temple is pretty. I think it looks much more like a missile silo. And it's the thing that our kids always identify and use to articulate where they are in Oakland. It's definitely one of the best places to visit for Christmas lights during December. I think it's like the manger on steroids. Architecturally I think it's a nightmare. I struggle to understand how it was allowed to be built.

I love the Temple because it's so vocal. You can see the missile-resembling turrets from across the bay as you approach SFO. It's also one of my top 5 views of Oakland. I love to get a slurpee at the 7-11 at Champion and MacArthur drive up the hill, park in the parking lot, and take it all in. A perfect break. (Of course my cell phone camera doesn't quite do the view of Oaktown and SF out through the Golden Gate justice.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ode to Oakland 3 | The Marquee at Grand Lake Theater

Where else is the marquee at the historic movie theatre the town's un-official official political gathering point?  Wether it's driving by on 580 (the sign is made for such political perspective) or walking Grand Ave, the marquee booms out an invitation to political dialog in a way that is unabashedly liberal and poignantly direct. Allen Michaan, owner since 1980, is also political in his business plan not enforing R ratings on movies by Michael Moore in order to empower teens to expand their political perspective through film.  Here was the message of this week aimed at the city council.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ode to Oakland 2 | Grand Lake Farmer's Market

The Saturday Grand Lake Farmer's Market, at the top of Lake Merritt, has to be one of the best-known un-secrets of Oakland. It has everything: bouncy houses (even shark slides), the Oaklandish bus, fruits, vegetables, poulet roti on wheels, music, amazing prepared food, kettle corn, nice ceramics from Sonoma County, cheap spectacular fresh cut flowers, and great plants/seedlings grown organically from outside Sebastapol.  I love all the "stuff" you can get there [especially the Afghani food].  

Yet even better is the experience of the market, for it has to be one of the major life-centers of Oakland today.  You spend some time there and you experience the people, energy, ethos and excitement of Oakland.  Market pilgrims come from all over the diverse city.  It's a - or maybe the - way to "get" Oakland in a matter of an hour - even the challenge of urban parking.  As a pastor-person I continue to think (someone else's idea) that studying the market as a microcosm of Oakland is key for any faith communities [or any other societally involved organization] seeking to grow through addressing the needs, concerns and culture of Oakland.  From the modern East Bay family paradigms hanging around the bounce houses and balloon animals to the protesting pro-Israel and pro-Palestine opposing voices both affirming gay rights each week outside the Grand Lake Theatre, to the organic foodie shoppers in uniforms ranging from tattoo covered bodies to the latest Banana Republic urban ensemble:  participation in this market experience is quintessentially Oakland.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ode to Oakland 1 | Corn Dog

I've been thinking about a swan song to express my love of Oakland blogger-style as we prepare to move to Poissy, France August 17th.  What better way then to do a blog series ode to Oakland of what I love: people, places and things.

I started blogging several years ago through an ongoing conversation in a Peer Pastors Learning Group.  Bruce Reyes-Chow encouraged me to take
 the plunge. I started blogging, thinking that it could expand my ministry work at the church I served by empowering deeper and wider dialog (and an actual discussion instead of a "speaking at the congregation" about the scriptures texts began in worship on Sunday mornings.  I also imagined it as a great avenue for education and participation.  Little did I know that Corn Dog, a neighbor of the church and quite possibly one of the most vibrant and least public of the residents of both the Dimond District and 
Oakland, would teach me much about blogging.  Corn Dog is the reason behind and for #8 on the list of my previous post.

Here's what I love about Corn Dog (and Mr. Corn Dog too!):

She loves Oakland.  We say that a lot.  But she really does.  She loves the dirty and the gritty, the messy and the urban-decay-stuff-we-want-to-overlook and deny.  

She loves the people: not just the beautiful ones, but maybe even more so the  crazies.  It's often that she buys food for folks on the street.  She knows all the street people in the Dimond (and well beyond) by first name and life-story.  She considers them to be her neighbors too, ones that she is called to love in word and deed.

She is a connection-maker.  She knows everyone on the street - not just the street people - she knows the business owners, employees, etc. - by name.  She doesn't live in the hood.  She lives in her hood.

She is an amazing technology-using-communicator.  She creates and publishes more than you know in terms of paper and e-marketing/communication in the Dimond and greater Oakland.  She taught me a lot about blogging, writing and the connections that we can not only make but also mature online.  She also stood with me, having my back, when I got involved (not as much as she did) in the messy union-related tuff around Farmer Joe's a couple of years ago.

She knows and embodies the words GENEROSITY and SOLIDARITY more than anyone I've ever met.  I spend my days talking about what it means to love unconditionally, inclusively, as God first loves us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  I may be a good "talker" about that. Corn Dog lives it.

Corn Dog should probably be voted Oakland Resident #1.  She should definitely win, or at least be on, Jean Quan's Local Heroes list.  Of course even if she won she'd never show up to receive the prize or the praise.  You may not know her by name - but odds are you've seen her - walking her canine children through the Dimond, contemplating the giant Jesus at the Mormon Temple Center, at the monthly Dimond Peace Vigil [first Sunday of the month at 7pm at the corner of Champion and MacArthur] or riding the 57 bus.  I see her most days walking the hood and love encountering her on her online at Crazy 57 Bus: (uses to blog under the name Corn Dog)  The Corn Dogs embody the best of Oakland and the best that it can become.

Friday, July 17, 2009

10 Things I Learned over the past 7 Years

Yesterday was my last day as pastor of the church I've served for the past 7 years.  In preparing to leave and than actually gearing up to do so in conversations, letters, emails, dialog and a goodbye Sunday celebration, I've been flooded by memories and reflected on the time.  As therapy I thought I'd compose a top 10 list of what I learned as pastor in a 21st century, urban Presbyterian church:

1.  We all are broken in one way or another, looking for, and needing wholeness.  The Bible writers call this sin. I like the word broken (which means the same thing I guess as "sin" literally means "missing the mark you're aiming for."

2.  A mentor told me long ago that the people of the church will teach you how to be a pastor.  A wise truth that we ignore in a church based upon the theory of lay leadership among equals, yet which in practice lifts up the seminary-trained people as "superior."

3.  People don't want someone to tell them about God, but rather to be empowered to experience God.  They don't necessarily want someone to tell them how to live faith, as much as someone who can empower them to articulate their faith and equip them to practice it in their daily life.  In general we're trained to lead worship basically as a spectator-sport or "info-mercial" about God (and most of us our so used to it that we settle for it), when what we really want to do is participate in worship, claiming faith for ourselves, articulating our spirituality in a common gathering|ritual|celebration.

4.  The church hierarchy tends to honor tradition and loyalty, often promoting almost-retired leadership to open parish positions, because they're almost retired and need a job, as opposed to looking at the crucial culture-changing needs of a local parish and letting them experiment boldly.  People in the church, or maybe just the one I served, in general are more attracted to and by creativity, really radically going for trying to be the church, than simply doing the same old thing with the Book of Common Worship, 3 point sermons and committee structures for report making.

5.  Children should be heard not just seen, invited as full-participants in worship, for at times they articulate faith more clearly than adults can.

6.  Brevity is always more effective than long-windedness:  we over-complicate with incoherent theologizing, instead of speaking authentically and personally about faith/theology in daily life. (Of course in a sense that what we're taught in seminary).

7.  A few bad apples do indeed spoil the bunch.  We tend not to confront trouble-makers and bad-energy-vibe-producing people (we all know who they are in our respective communities) because we don't want to be mean, gang up on someone, or nit-picky.  Yet the bad apples repeatedly set the tone, divide community from its focus, and spoil the whole bunch with their negativity.  Jesus was about confronting the bad apples he encountered, to invite them to redemptive wholeness, where did we begin to think that doing so in love is un-Christian?

8.  Sometimes folks who are "outside" the church are actually more for the church than those in them.  Instead of looking at a congregation as the community of faith, maybe we should consider the neighborhood or parish as the larger community of faith of which our congregation is but one part.  I'm not just talking about other religious groups. I also mean that there is community to develop through blogging, local social networks, community organizing, online social networking, and just plain-old hanging out at the "hang out spots" like Peet's or World Grounds.

9.  Urban people are more interested in faith and the teachings of Jesus than the Media, or our entrenched modernist church-planting perspectives lead us to believe.  They just don't want to believe in the God that they experienced in their journeys (mostly in churchs that ran from culture in the 60s and 70s).

10.  Empowering people to be disciples, to be and become leaders of and by faith, is what the work of pastoring should be, and is about.  Unfortunately we're often to distracted by people-pleasing and preserving existing traditions (that no one understands any more in general) than addressing the pressing, organically-emerging issues of following Jesus right here and now.

10b. (ok - couldn't do it).  In all the hard times, personal attacks, celebrations, joys and gratitude...I must admit that I love being a pastor.  As much as I might complain about it, it's amazing.  My favorite things about it include being present at deaths or alongside hospital beds, present in the moments of life that are so filled with meaning.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bumper Sticker of the Week

Sacred Space: Mister Woods

OK, actually it's called Westminster Woods. Our youngest daughter E can't pronounce the full name, so she calls it "Mister Woods." It's a Presbyterian owned and operated camp and conference center just outside of Occidental, near Sebastopol in God's country aka West Sonoma County. We went as a church group last week to several simultaneous camps. Matt Prinz and I spoke together at the Central, or Junior High, Camp. It's a sacred space for me because it's where I met Kristy, discovered most of my deepest friendships in life, discovered who I am, claimed my gifts and first deeply encountered the integrative experience of living faith and living in community. No matter when I go: simply to swim for the afternoon, to attend a campfire, or to spend the week - it is a place of rejuvenation, rest, renewal - resurrection for me. As E says, "it's the best place in the world - there are so many trees and so much shade!!!!" I think chillin' with Chillie Willie at the Craft Shack always entices too.

Here's a slideshow of our week together there last week.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Goodbye Fruitvale Church

Today was the last Sunday that I served as pastor of Fruitvale Presbyterian Church. We gathered for a service of celebration, celebrating the past, giving thanks for today and hintingly pointing towards the future.  Several members gave personal reflections about the past seven years together.

I've been wondering the past weeks about what to say at this last Sunday gathering together.  How do you sum up so many times, so many events, conversations, words exchanged, words received?  How do you reflect upon the meaning of and the meaning-making experiences of community, including both the good and the bad, the encouraging and the existentially challenging?

I chose to attempt to sing a song that makes great meaning for me: "For Good" from the musical  Wicked.  Realizing that I can't quite sing the octave range that Kristin Chenoweth can, I opted to simply quote the lyrics of the song: "Because of you, I have been changed for good." [the whole song is below]

In the end isn't the unequivocable truth of human existence the paradox of mutuality?  We're inter-twined, inter-connected, inter-dependent.  I think that is what in large part the Christian faith points to, invites us to live, and challenges us to embrace.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Homelessly Heading towards Life in France

Folks have been wondering where my family and I are in our journey of moving from Oakland,
to France, specifically to the town of Poissy where I'll be pastor of that parish of the French Reformed Church. We have moved out of our home in Oakland and this next Sunday, July 12th will be my last one as pastor of the Oakland church I serve: Fruitvale Presbyterian.

We are at summer camp this week with
a group of youth from our church. We return for a week of work in Oakland, then have a month off before moving to France on August 17th. That time will be filled with house sitting in the Dimond District, hanging out with friends, graduation day at our preschool and then 2 action-packed hang-out weeks with the grandparents. While at camp this week, a prize was given to the camper that came from the farthest distance to camp. Our eldest won, as she said that she soon will live in France. When asked where she lives, she replied "I don't really have a house." Not quite homeless, but definitely a sojourner. Of course she can't understand that. Maybe that's part of the whole journey of living and growing cross-culturally? Recognizing that we don't necessarily have a home, but rather several homes in between which we move. I find that California is by far home, and Oakland seems to be it for me, and at the same time that are many other places that are home for me in California: Fair Oaks, Westminster Woods, Cloverdale; and also in France: St. Germain-en-Laye, Strasbourg and Montelimar. Poissy will become our new home. But what does that mean for our children: 7 and 4 years old, who have only known Oakland as home?

I awake most days thinking of them, praying for them in the changes and transitions that await us: those of which we're aware and those of which we have no idea. How will they be transformed by the experience? I have some cultural cues and suspicions, having done that jounrney myself, yet what does it mean or a 4 year old to learn another language? What will it mean for those two to begin school in 8 weeks in a local public French school in a different language, culture and with all new people? It seems overwhelming. It sure was for me when I did that at the Universite de Grenoble in college. Yet maybe overwhelming is what is actually unavoidable in our world today? We're overwhelmed each day with the amount of knowledge and information we have to sift through and the decisions and choices we have to make in daily life. Maybe embracing the emotional overwhelmed-ness of living cross-cutlurally moves us along the path of maturation in a post-modern, globalized and flattened world? I wonder if we are either providing our children with the best possible educating and growth opportunity in childhood through this experience, or directing them towards a great challenge. I suspect it's both and more of an opportunity in the long-run than a nearly-impossible-to-overcome challenge. I guess only time will tell as well as our commitment to walk with and to carry our children through this time of transition that will last not just for a few weeks but for quite possibly a few months.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Bumper Sticker of the Week

Communication and Communities of Faith:
The old paradigms just don't seem to work.

I'm at Westminster Woods speaking in partnership with friend and colleague Rev. Matt Prinz at the Central - Middle School - Camp.  We had the vision and desire to try speaking together - it may very well be the first time this has ever been dared here - as a reflection upon the reality of how we communicate culturally these days.  It's much more about conversation, dialog and participation than upon lecturing, passivity and indoctrincation.  The campers seem so far (after 2 speaking experiences) to be into the conversation form and format, making comments, participating.  Hopefully the experience helps to set the parameters and context for quality follow-up conversations in smaller groups.  Isn't that how we really learn?: small group discussions, reflecting upon what we've already "learned" or experienced.  How is it then that more often than not in the church we think we learn best by rote, by imitating a "master" by listening to a speech.

In tonight's campfire gathering I asked what we do in church.  The first response was "sit down" One of the last was "be bored" and "kill time while the boring pastor drones on".  Quite possibly harsh.  And most likely true.  Thankfully it wasn't a youth from my church.  Somehow we've come to interpret and practice experiencing God as listening to a sermon.  Maybe that's where the church is getting it wrong.  Maybe it's because of that passe communicative style that our churches are emptying without being revitalized because of death, attrition and even division.  

Another example of the splintering because of communication changes and style/form transformations is the recent departure of the new pastor at Riverside Church in NYC.  This is a big deal: a big church gig, in a highly respected progressive church which is often lifted up as a model of multicultural faith community.  Yet I wonder if what happened is that a question of communication.  Progressive criticize conservatives.  Conservative criticize progressives.  Yet what neither "side" recognizes is that they way (not necessarily the subject matter) that they communicate is out to lunch, not inherent or reflective of the ways that we communicate, relate and educate in our society today.  "God Needs You to Get Out of the Bubble..." [Religion Dispatches blog]

What I found in tonight's campfire talk was that the kids were honest about church, how they listen and how they talk to God.  The forms lifted up around them as models to emulate don't seem to interest, enthuse or be practised in large part by them. So if the way that we have been doing it, isn't working.  Why do we expect it to eventually if we just keep doing it over and over?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Communication and Communities of Faith

A family friend when asking me today what my sermon was for tomorrow, told me that she doesn't like the word sermon.  "It seems so negative and moralistic" she said.  I'd have to agree.  Isn't that what "church" communication often is?: a one-way-street experience of lecturing, moral aggrandizing and emotional belittling.  There has to be more?  What I'm looking for is something that's vibrant, includes me in a conversation/dialog not just a speech intended for the dissimenation of religious information, and that involves me as a participant.

The New York Times ran an article today entitled "Our Father, Forgive Us That Tweet..." in which they raise a question traveling extensively across the blogosphere:  is Twittering appropriate in religious services?  What kind of communication is essential and which is not a propos for worship experiences?  What constitutes an experience of community and what undoes it? I think it's what my friend is asking about in terms of what the word "sermon" re-presents.

I've Tweeted and Facebook-ed in worship and other community gatherings (not as a worship leader, but in the capacity of participant).  For me personally, it has empowered a dynamic sense of communication, a sense of mutuality that doesn't seem to often occur in worship in which I'm a regular part.   I found it dynamic, invigorating, stimulating on a multi-level way involving, inviting and enthusing me in worship and my experience of a community of faith.  Yet others say it distracts, divides, and denies the depth and integral authenticity of face-to-face communication.  I think worship is in large part about community, about sharing thoughts, discussing sacred texts, dialoging about the word given, received or experienced in a worship setting.  Increasingly such new methods and means of communication | social networking are either transforming, revitalizing, or rivalizing our traditional ways of communicating across the board, why wouldn't that also apply to the ways in which we worship as community.  Does it lead to the possiblity of gossip, of tweeting discussions that become divisive or anti-inclusionary?  Yes. And yet can't other things such as coffee hour cliques, parking lot discussions, and sitting by the same person in the same pew every week?  Maybe it's not any different in terms of the meaning of it all underneath, but merely a different means of communicating - one which transcends traditional control done in a hierarchical top-down way.

Other online articles/blogs on this include "Twittering in Church..." from Time Magazine and a good blog by Bruce Reyes-Chow [Thou Shalt Not Twitter During Church].  These experiences and the emerging discovery and discernment of what parameters should exist with Facebook and Twitter in Christian Worship point to the reality that my friend lifts up in naming the reality that the word "sermon" tends to have a negative connotation.   There has to be a better way of communicating, not necessarily in terms of efficacy - for that's surely not what worship is about - but rather in terms of participation, inclusion, empowerment and and experience.  Maybe Twittering in church is the way forward?  Maybe it isn't? I doubt that it's an either/or answer we'll articulate as it emerges from our practice, failures and successes - rather it'll be some sort of dialectical both/and response.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Public Arting Blight into Beauty

Maxwell Park, located in the Maxwell Park neighborhood of Oakland in between Fleming and Allendale, just South of High Street, is being transformed. The park is dominated by a children's play area in the middle of a Redwood Grove. This gathering area is flanked by a public bathroom, which often attracts drug deals, and obviously prostitution at night as the ground in the early morning often has unsed condoms off the path near the tables. The bathroom walls have been often tagged and vandalized.

In the midst of what would seem hopeless, the neighbors of the hood are taking the park back, re-organizing for the past year to transform the park into a place with more light through tree removal (to chase off the trouble-making elements), better visiblity, increased acitivity opportunity for families/kids, and beautification through public art and landscaping.
The project reminds me of the beautiful mural made in the Dimond recently near 7-11 at the corner of Champion and MacArthur.

The past 3 weeks have seen a transformation of the dominant (and most tagged) wall of the park restrooms. Neighbors raised the money, found the supplies, wrote the grants and did the work to transform this blank institutional-green wall into a massive mosaic depicting the park and the purpose of that public space. Krista Keim, a neighborhood resident and mosaic-er extraordinaire helped shepherd the project. Here's a [link] to her page and past work as well as some photos that I took on a recent weekday morning while Krista and the crew finished work begun on the weekend. Kudos to the Maxwell Park Neighborhood Council and all those helping to organize and improve our life together through public art, community organizing and community work days!

Best of the East Bay
Make Your Voice Heard

I received a link to the run-off E-election for the Best of the East Bay - in nearly every category - at East Bay Express. Loads of local haunts, shops and jaunts are on the list: in particular several of my favorite businesses and business people in the Dimond District. Voting closes on Sunday, July 5th. So you still have time to make your voice heard [poll link here: you have to answer at least 26 of the 100 or so questions...can take as little as 5 minutes].

Thursday, July 02, 2009

How Do You Go the Distance in Daily Urban Life?

I snuck into the office early this morning to grab a few things and to check on a room set-up before my house and the neighborhood woke up. The only person out on MacArthur Blvd. was this public works guy who was painting the new bike lane on the street in front of the church. I paused for a moment, taking in his perseverance. He followed a traced line, with his head down to make sure he stayed between the lines, and occasionally looking up to ensure he knew where he was going. I was struck by the simplicity of the scene and the deep existential challenge/truth that it holds for us that call Oakland home, or who live in urban zones.

It's so easy to give up, to get negative, to get apathetic and to eventually become pathetic - a constant pessimist, low-expectation-holder, someone who retreats into themselves in order to self-protect, self-medicate or self-dedicate. In reading the paper this morning I was inundated with hopelessness: deaths, destruction, a family swept out to sea and then [this] about the current and unavoidable future budget implosion in Oakland. It's so easy to give up, or to want to avoid. I ran into the resident street philosopher of my hood - Corn Dog, aka Crazy57Bus - who in our musings asked why people want to avoid or deny that there is danger and destruction out there? How come we don't talk about murders in our neighborhood - not in the intent to dwell on them - but to ensure, encourage and challenge each other to be safe and to be radical in our mutual solidarity? C57B brought up that we jump on people as 'negative' when in fact they're simply stating the obvious - that we shouldn't forget and that we should look through and past. It's a lot like that street painter...focused on the little lines in front of him, with his head down - but he knows where he's going - that there is a bigger picture - a wider perspective and goal then simply painting a line.

I'm preparing a sermon for Sunday on radical discipleship in Mark 6:1-13 - in fact Jesus seems to tell his listeners who follow him to expect rejection. Hmmm. Maybe Martin Luther King Jr. said it best: "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."
Bumper sticker of the Week