Monday, August 31, 2009

Life in the 78300

That's the postal code for our new home, Poissy in France.  Home to an ancient royal abbey that was destroyed in the Revolution, to a famous (and unfortunately failed) religious colloquy between Catholics and Protestants aiming to empower religious multiculturalism in 1561, the painter Ernest Meissonier (our street is named after him [link to his works]), Cristine de Pisan: an Italian nun who lived here in the 1400s and was the first woman in France to make a living from her poetry writing and now US the American Parsons-McClain clan come to pastor and journey with the Eglise Réformée de France parish here [site].

Today marks two weeks that we've been here in France after leaving Oakland and life in California.  Some have asked why?  Others commented "why not?"  In the past few days we've wondered ourselves, "what that hell have we done?"  Something funny happens to us:  I'd call it God, or a God-moment, others might call it chance, synchronicity, karma, or luck.  We keep getting pulled back here: to this place, this country, these people.  I've been going back and forth between Northern California and France since 1992.  Feeling pulled | attracted | called to the two places and all that they represent in terms of people, faith-communities and culture in that time.  We had a day of depression and questioning this past week, wondering why we gave up so much to come here to start over in terms of finances, friends, "stuff" and community.  In reading the book I'm working through these days [My Jesus Year] that day I fell upon a quotation of the defining Bible story I identify with and that seems to give meaning to my life: the story of Abraham and Sarah being called to leave what they have/know to discover/receive something new: 

The LORD had said to Abram [and Sarah], Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land I will show you" Genesis 12:1-8

I'd forgotten about that.  I'd also forgotten about the Monday afternoon about 16 months ago when my wife I and were onboard a plane taxiing at Chalres De Gaulle airport for takeoff to return to SFO following a week of interviews here.  We looked at each other, having not yet had the time or mental energy to talk together about all that we'd experienced in those brief and full days, and we in near synchronistic unison uttered in a clearly un-Shakespearean way "Shit!  I think we need to move back to France." And so here we are.  Either we're prophetically bold to step out, leave everything behind and drag/invite our 4 & 7 year old children to discover an abrahamic way of life; or we're radically naive and foolish, chasing after a France-lifestyle dream that Peter Mayle has already written and rewritten so much that he had to move to Manhattan.

Maybe there is more to life than what meets the eye?  Friends that picked us up at the airport, and who serve as some life-models for us (as they choose to move to Africa for a while with their children) commented on the fact that many people expressed solidarity, wishing that they too could move their families abroad for a while to experience the world | something bigger | more.  Her response was, "Sure they want to.  But you had the courage to do it!"  Courage.  Naieveté.  Blind Faith.  Prophetic Call.  Dream-Chasing.  Whatever it is that's brought us here we now how to assume.

So I'm changing my blog a bit.  Working out how to include this emerging story within the folds of the larger unfolding story of our life, ministry and my whacky thoughts.  I hope to blog on faith in a post-modern world, life in France, gardening, and parenthood here.  I'm also blogging on our family adventures in a more "journal" way on our family blog at

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

Montana Slim String Band

I've written in the past about my brother's band: Montana Slim String Band. They're on a national tour this summer and just released this fun acoustic video.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Liberal Left-out in the Outfield

I went to worship today at a Northern California PC(USA) church. Downtown, the historic congregation advertises 2 services online (as well as their 2008 Christmas Eve Service). As I arrived late (I am on vacation - one of my joys "going to church late since I'm not in charge") I discovered that the service was actually a small circle of a dozen folks gathered around the pastor. The sermon was on the text Exodus 20:1-17 (the giving of the 10 commandments), supposedly addressing the them of Sabbath Rest. What I heard of the sermon was actually a droning on about the foolishness of those that advocate creationism and the evils of their stupidity. The handful of faithful huddled around the pastor resembled a half-time gathering around the coach, seeking to reboot the team with verbose and borderline-violent comments about the "other team." I didn't stay. I found myself wanting more than a polarizing speech motivating me to stand tough against the other guys.

I thought about my recent past experiences in church, most notably one that was on the other side of the political spectrum, at which I heard a sermon about the evils of homosexuality and the liberal agenda in the PC(USA), which was supposedly to address prayer. Maybe our church traditions are bankrupt - on both sides of the spectrum? We don't seem to be able to say much besides "the other team is bad", "we've got to stick together," "the church is declining because of those that don't think like us." It sure seems that such half-time huddle talk is easier to reproduce than to dialog about what Jesus taught and how to live it today. (Jesus, who in my reading never actually blamed or simply attacked the other side, but rather invited all participants in the dialog to a new way of being and looking at the world. Those that rejected his inversion of the polarizing fight simply judged themselves.)

I left the church and walked downtown passing cafes filled with people reading the paper, talking about each others' dogs and living in the moment. I passed numerous walkers: out savoring the early morning air and calm with an urban stroll. They all seemed to be more in the moment, addressing the life that they're living, than getting angry about things that happened in the past or were done by the other team. The liberal, as well as the conservative evangelical churches I visited, both seemed to be left out, like a kid playing in the outfield grass while the game is happening in the infield. Maybe that's why our church attendance is actually in decline today? We seem to be much better at preaching politics and/or prosperity than we do participation.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Market Rearch

I recently worshipped at the San Rafael Sunday Farmer's Market.  It was an experience that brought some reflections on Church faith community worship.

At the market diverse people gathered together to search for fantastically fresh food that they hungered for.  The stalls were lined together with a tidal wave splash of multiple-colors, textures, shapes and sizes.  The seating area (pictured above) and located next to a quality espresso-making coffee stand was filled to capacity at 9am.  There wasn't any magical formula per say that maxed out the parking lot at a time when it's becoming increasingly easier to find a spot in most church parking lots.  The merchants offered what people wanted and repeatedly want.  Maybe the market has a lot to teach those of us wanting to help the church to change, to better address the context we live in today.

I'm not advocating that the church such do whatever our cultural context dictates, yet it does provide some avenues for action.  In the market aesthetics were important.  They didn't replace the quality of the goods for sale.  Yet they enticed people to leave the school-like stream of market shoppers swimming through the isles to pause and linger at a given stall and potentially make a purchase.  It was the same thing, nearly a ritual, that occurs every Sunday - yet an attention to aesthetics: appearance, color, space, smell, light made a difference.  I mean how much can you doll up a tomato?  And yet I was taken aback by the colors and shapes that were present.  Maybe that in part is something we're lacking, maybe through our deeply grounded and vital roots in the reformation traditions of our ancestors we through the baby out with the bath water.  We do need aesthetics to fathom and contemplate the divine.  We do want quality, to not just be told what to buy - or do - but to discover for ourselves, to be empowered to become full participants.  In the market that might be a seller sharing a recipe, or giving tips on what to do with food that's bought.  Maybe in the church we need to do more teaching, or empowering in terms of spiritual disciplines: ways in which the common person can be involved, creatively responding by faith to the world as opposed to passively listening to a sermon.  At this fish stand I heard such conversations emerging while I lingered for a few minutes.  Unfortunately my last Sunday worship experiences haven't included any sort of similar dialogs.

There were so many young families at the Market.  None seemed to be rushing off for church.  Maybe that's Southern Marin for you.  And maybe it's a lesson for the church: a school room for us to attend to in view of catching a glimpse of how the church might re-become more relevant for our culture and context.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Moving to Poissy

A week from today we'll be arriving in our new home, Poissy, France 
(located about 15 miles from the center of Paris).  We've been working towards this for about 2 years, and concretely for the past 4 months: moving, shipping, cleaning, chucking and renting.  Our children have alternated from crying when tired about "wanting to return to our old house in Oakland" to "I'm excited to move.  Can we do it today?"  So now the time is finally coming.  I think we're all a bit fearful and also excited to finally make the move after so many goodbyes and transitions.

Poissy is a town outside of Paris, known historically for a failed attempt of reconciliation between French Catholics and Protestants in 1561, a Peugeit car factory and (new to me) a liquor  made from distilled apricot pits (Noyau de Poissy) - I must try!  Poissy's 36,000 inhabitants are similar in make up to Oakland: diverse in culture, racial background, social class and wealth.

We go there because I've accepted a call to serve as pastor of the Poissy parish of the Eglise Reformée de France (the historic, native protestant church of France: the church of the Reformation and Jean Calvin: who was actually French not Swiss).  This community has diverse ages, enough children and youth for them to take on a building project for more room, and a multicultural perspective in membership and leadership. Although I have a vague idea of what I'll be doing, I don't really know until we go.

In thinking about blogging and exploring the use of technology and online social networking in this next season I'm not committing to any strategies until we assume our new context, and I am anticipating to:

1.  start a new blog in French

2.  continue Montewskewed, but with some tweaking: I want to focus it more, turning to the theme "thoughts on Fatherhood, food, faith and life in France."  Not sure about the bumper stickers, as they don't really do that in France....I might need to stock up before leaving.

Bumper Sticker of the Week

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Summer Camp Memories

Now that I've stopped working I finally have the time to finish some past work projects. I guess that's the irony of work. We came with the youth of our church to Central Camp week 2 at Westminster Woods earlier this summer. It was great fun and here's a quick video that highlights some of what we experienced together.

Untitled from Monte McClain on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Bumper Sticker of the Week

Monday, August 03, 2009

Ode to Oakland 12 | the YMCA

Of everything I've experienced in Oakland I think that the Downtown Oakland YMCA on Broadway is perhaps the best image and metaphor of Oakland. Diverse people gathered
together to work out and seek greater health, have fun, build community and invest in the community of Oakland. You see every body type from overly thick to marathon-runner thin, every shade of skin color, babies to octogenarians, yoga disciples to body builders to swim lesson kids to those wanting to soak in a jacuzzi. Activities range from spin classes to dance classes, from groups meeting for dinner to night-out kid-friendly activities for parents desperate to have a night off. And the membership costs are on a sliding scale, ensuring that everyone has access that they can afford and then those that can financially empower others to be a part of the community can do so too. It's Oakland at its best.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Ode to Oakland 11 | The Views

I was at the Oakland Zoo yesterday and reminded of the amazing views of Oakland that I take for granted every day. Where else can you drive through an inner-city context and then be in a Redwood forest within 15 minutes without taking a freeway or leaving the city? I love the diversity of Oakland: people, food, shopping, body types, music, art...and the topography, geography and views. Here are my top 8:

1. Inner-city to Redwood Forest back to the Urban Jungle: Start at 880 & 35th Avenue. Drive up 35th over and past the 580 as it becomes Redwood Road. At the top of the hill, turn left on Skyline, stay left at the fork onto Joaquin Miller Road and continue down. At 580 it becomes Lincoln Ave., later it's Champion Street (at MacArthur) there turn right onto MacArthur then left onto Fruitvale and follow it back to the 880. Great driving view of the city.

2. View of the Hills and the whole bay are from the Sky Ride at Oakland Zoo (worth the $2.50 on a clear day).

3. View of the city from the rooftop of the Oakland Kaiser Parking Lot (free if you leave within 30 minutes)

4. View of it all while circling Lake Merritt

5. View of the rooftops of the urban jungle, including church spires, looking towards the hills from the Elliptical Machine Room at the YMCA on Broadway

6. View anywhere within Middle Harbor Shoreline Park

7. From the Mormon Temple parking lot (both SF and Oakland downtowns line up together)

8. At the top of Hiller Drive above the Claremont

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Ode to Oakland 10 | Lake Merritt

Oakland wouldn't be Oakland without Lake Merritt. It stinks and still we go. It's been covered with signs, walls, construction stuff for months yet still the sidewalks and lake banks are filled with frolickers, runners, walker-pushers and tai chi doers. Located in the middle of the city it's a perfect living metaphor for the beautiful complexity that Oakland is: crime, skylines, the hills, parks, the new cathedral, urban decay that shows us not so much that beauty is in the beholder, but that each thing is beautiful.

Each day begins with numerous boot campers working out around the lake at the east end (pictured) and on the stairs as the sun rises, and ends with folks enjoying breath-taking views of the city at sunset (usually admiring the fog located across the bay in our more famous sister city). Is it any wonder that the take has been taken over by the immigrant Canadian Geese and their excrement? Maybe that too is an appropriate metaphor for the challenges that face our city: beauty that invites and in the invitation creates the problems that keep the city from becoming the beauty its destined to be.