Friday, October 30, 2009

Memories that come after the loss of a loved one

From Caring for God's People, by Philip Culbertson, p 235.
"In his novel Tangi (a “weeping” or funeral), Witi Ihimaera portrays a young protagonist whose father’s death revives memories of his having been left behind once as a small child:

E pa, if I could I would grasp those tickling hands and force them back through all those yesterdays gone, just to be with you again.  We had such good times together.  It was good to fell your hand in mine.
Do you remember e pa, that time whne you took me into town one crowded night so many years ago?  I was only a little boy then, about five I suppose.
You wait here, you said. Then you disappeared with the crowd and left me waiting for you on the pavement. 
         E pa, I waited and waited. But you didn’t come back.  Where did you go? I tried not to cry because you’d said that only babies cry.
         Are you lost little boy? A lady asked me.
         No, I told her. My Daddy, he’s just gone away for a while. HE’s coming back to get me, though.  He told me to wait here.
         So the lady left me. I wanted to shout: Come back! But she was gone.
         I waited and waited, e pa. I was frightened. All those people, they jostled and pushed against me. They couldn’t see me; I was so small. I felt as if I was in a land full of giants.
         In the end I cried, Dad. I couldn’t help it. And some of the passers-by, they asked me if I was lost, just like that lady asked.  But I pushed them away and decided I would find you. 
         I wandered along the streets and everybody was laughing and having a good time. Where were you, Dad?...

Can't resist

Does this girl love having her picture taken or what?
This was taken by missionary to Thailand Carol Fujii in my office at WPC.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jokes from an 83 year old organist

Marilyn Penner, my beloved 83 year old organist/ pianist every now and then will pull a fast one on us. She's slow as molasas but moves those fingers like lightning and her feet glide across those foot pedals (If you ever get a chance you should observe an organist's feet while they play).

Rev. Richard Avery was leading the choir Wednesday in an old bluegrass gospel song: Shall We Gather At the River.
After we'd played it through a few times, we caught our breath, and Marilyn stood up from behind the piano and said: I heard a story about a preacher one time preaching a sermon about the evils of alcohol and that he wished everyone would take all their alcoholic drinks and dump them in the river....
after the sermon was over the choir stood up to sing: Shall We Gather at the River.
She is a dear dear woman.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cary Clark

After returning from a visit with Trasie's family yesterday, I went to the church office this morning and checked phone messages: Chester, this is Angela. Cary has been murdered...I just thought you should know.

Some time ago (May 2009) I posted about a new strategy for providing care for off the street visitors. Cary was the only one who had taken me up on it. We met for several consecutive weeks, and forged an interesting friendship. We met at church and he would bake me bread. I went to his house a few times, and he gave me the best tea I'd ever had. He told me cool stories about his world and life that was so foreign to me, that of an artist, a drug-addict, someone who was comfortable in situations that would have freaked me out.
He so desperately wanted to escape the demon-filled world that haunted him; and he turned to me and the church for help. He attended services and a few Bible studies. He came to the despedida for Claudia. I took him to ER so he could get checked in a treatment facility. He disappeared late August. I missed seeing him all of September. We traded a few phone calls. I went to his place and when I didn't find him there, I left a note. I figured eventually we'd run across each other. I really had hopes that he was going to be able to turn things around....

The phone message from Angela really got to me. I went to see her this morning. She cried; I tried to hold it together. I don't know what it was about him, something drew me to him, his giftedness for the arts, his mysterious life, his intelect? I think he was just a nice guy; someone I could be friends with. Angela told me that he really liked me. That meant a lot. I hope I can help her and others of his friends in their grief. I'm going to miss the Cary I knew, and I'm going to have to grieve the Cary I did not get a chance to know because his life was taken so suddenly. I would put a link to the article that came out on him in the paper, but it's not worth it. It was so negative--an inaccurate, in my opinion, portrail of who he was. He was painted as someone the world was fortunate to be rid of...not for me, not for those who were at his home this morning sorting through his few possessions, his most treasured was his printing press. It took up an entire room!

I'll write more about Cary as I know what's going on. I'm sorry it ended this way. I pray that God have mercy on him, those who offended him, and those he offended, and that the circumstances of his death are brought to bare, and that there can be forgiveness where necessary.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sell Everything Rumage sale

Westminister Presbyterian Church, Santa Fe
Mark 10:17-31
October 11, 2009
Cost of discipleship:  Sell everything
Last night was a special night.  I had a blast at the Spanish Supper. Great food, Good companyAn interesting dance performanceGood singing ;). It’s a good fund raiser, people chipping in to help out even as they enjoy the evening. So are we ready to do another fund raiser? I was thinking about a yard sale….A rummage sale—that’s the word right? Now before you object: I know this church has put on some pretty impressive rummage sales.  I’ve seen the evidence: -boxes labeled Rummage Sale, with markers and labels.. -clothes rack and hangers.  These things used to be huge. 

Speaking of huge rummage sales: there was this Baptist church, not far from where I grew up, and they had this huge yard and this huge yard sale every year.  They started dragging stuff out there on Monday of the week before.  And covered the stuff up with tarp—big blue tarp—tarp city. You should have seen the people as they drove by. slow down, roll down their windows and just gawk, Wow…look at all that stuff.  Sales would begin Thursday morning at 7 am, and the line to buy stuff would stretch for a mile down Clairemont Ave, If there was any grass ever exposed because too much had sold they would go back to these storage trucks and bring more stuff out!  And the sale would last for three days!  Three Days!  It had to end before Sunday because you know Baptists don’t work on Sunday.

Trasie and I went to it a few years ago, and gawked and looked and touched, and bought a few things. Some of which is sitting in our crawl space—I’m sure there’s a perfect place in our house for it. When I went to pay, I asked the woman at the register (yes they had registers), so how much do yall usually make at this thing? 
Well last year we made $40k.  And what do you plan to use the money for?  
Our church youth group. Hmm. $40 grand for the youth program; wow.

Well, let me drop the idea of yard sale for a second and talk about a different sale going on. We continue our series on the cost of discipleship…and today’s passage, today’s challenge of Jesus may be the most liberating…or perhaps the most challenging we’ve had yet.  I mean, before Jesus was just telling us if we want to become disciples…we just needed to become like childrenPiece of cake
Or if we wanted to deny ourselves and take up our cross ha, that’s nothing compared to today’s challenge! Because see today…Jesus is getting personal. He’s talking about our stuff.

[act it out]Here comes the man to Jesus.  He is dignified, hes thought about this for a long- time; He has a lot of stuff, and Jesus has something else he wants.  A good consumer.  He bows, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life.
What must I do…hmm.
Jesus response:
why do you call me good, no one is good but God alone. A loaded statement, We can talk about after church.
You know the commandments, Jesus presumptuously tells the man
Indeed he does—such a good studenthe even drops the good,
“Teacher, I have kept these since my youth! 
He’s just beaming! Jesus looks at him, and loves him, the passage says, what detail. 
No judgement, no contempt, Does Jesus want what’s best for the man?   Good, but you lack on thing.  Sell your stuff, give the money to the poor, and follow me.

How’s that for a plan for redistribution of wealth? It’s very systematic.
He doesn’t say give your stuff away.  He says sell it—so as to get into the pockets of those who can afford to buy the stuff—and then give the money away to the poor.
Don’t give your stuff to them…it might corrupt them. Give them money, something that they can use, to buy food, to be able to live in a decent place.  It levels the playing field.  Then, then follow me. 

What an invitation Right! I mean it’s Jesus we’re talking about…inviting that guy to follow, to hang be with him!  Is this guy excited or what..I mean Jesus gave him an answer.. told him exactly what to do! Woo HOO! What was that man’s reaction? SHOCKED…and grieved. He had been so happy, what had made him so sad now?

A decision: follow Jesus or follow what we in our society call the pursuit of happiness, the acquiring, the possessing, the taking of more stuff. A consumerist’s dilemma. I’ve got everything that I could ever want, just give me one more thing: assurance of eternal life. Is this Jesus saying: you can’t buy your way into heaven.

Do you remember when you first encountered Jesus?  Did you take the initiative and go to him and say, Good TEACHER…what must I do to inherit eternal life? OR did Jesus come to you, and say, drop your nets and follow me..  Sell your stuff or drop your nets, either way you’ve got to give something up to follow.  Right?

See why this is may be the hardest price to pay of discipleship for many of us…Even the disciples are thrown off by what Jesus says especially when he starts talking about a camel and a needle.  Where did he come up with that?
Who can enter the kingdom of God? They gasp. 

And Jesus throws them a little incy wincy tiny tiny bone:  Well, for mortals, it’s impossible, but for God…?   So, you’re saying there’s a chance.[1] 

But the disciples are like….Look Jesus we’ve left everything..are we okay?  Having left everything, the disciples wrestle hard with this issue…And do we, will all of our stuff, do we wrestle? I love it when we can say about God, and the bible it’s a both/ and scenario.  The bible is both inspired by God and written by humans. Jesus is God and human. You can have a lot of stuff, and you can participate in the kingdom of God.  Hmm. Is that what Jesus says?

That’s the way most people read this passage:
Try to explain it away.  Well, that just applied to that man, not to me.” Is that what you think?
Or they spiritualize it and say,
so long as my things don’t own me, they don’t possess me, then I can follow God and have my stuff.” Does that make sense?

Or say, well God is in charge of everything, if I have a lot of stuff, it’s because I have been blessed by God.

And who’s approach is to just not bother reading it..Is that that story about that rich guy…quick turn the page!  turn the page!

I don’t think most people in America, where we consume more than any other place in the world, really like this story: I don’t.  I know I have too much stuff, and how does the stuff affect my life and my discipleship? 

We had a yard sale recently because we needed to get rid of things—declutter a bit, simplify. We filled up our drive way with stuff, and we still could have put more stuff out there. We thought it would be nice to declutter a bit…simplify our lives.  What do you think our plan was for the proceeds? Oh, how pious do you think we are? We wanted to sell our stuff so that we could buy a dishwasher.   Remember, we’re simplifying our lives J. My excuse: I hadn’t prepared for this sermon yet, otherwise, I’m sure I would have given the money to the poor.

There I go talking about rummage sales again.

I think most american’s don’t like this story because we, like that rich man, see Jesus as a threat to our very identity.  If we don’t have our stuff, who are we? If we don’t have our stuff, are we secure? If we don’t have our stuff, will others think we are successful? It’s so engrained and it starts at an early age:  What do we tell our children.  To get an education, why? So they can get a good job. Why? SO they can make money. Why? So they can buy a lot of stuff! This story is about stuff, it’s about wealth, and what Jesus says flies in the face of his Jewish culture that would have viewed this man Jesus talks to as one blessed, one favored by God, and it flies in the face of our culture, both the secular society that would place all meaning and value on accumulation of possessions and wealth, and a Christian culture that has been seduced by the allures of this world, and preaches prosperity and wealth are blessings from God. Jesus says SELL IT…give the money away…and follow me!

How did that rich man feel?  How do you feel?  Is Jesus trying to torment him?
Does Jesus say this to make us feel bad?  I feel bad….

But I don’t think that’s Jesus’ intention.  He loved him…Is it possible that Jesus wants what’s best for him, for us…and for the thousands are people in the world who don’t have enough to eat because of a screwed up economic system that sucks up all the resources and world goods from poor places and fills the belly of rich places to the point that we are sick to our stomachs.

It’s John who’s more direct about this than Jesus. 1 John 3:17:
17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
Is there good news?
He looks at the man, and loves him, and says come along…live a life you’ve never imagined living before. Don’t be dooped by empire!  Come and live into the kingdom of God now. Begin living your best life now…get rid of your stuff.

Can we see that there is any good news in this message?
[Solicit responses.]

I have to say a few theological things about this passage that I think are good news: 
First, the man wonders what he needs to do:  And that’s what we often wonder too. What do we need to do to inherit eternal life.  There is nothing we can do.  We are saved by grace and grace alone. It is what God does.  Second, Jesus reassures us, even after the camel and the needle thing: that nothing is impossible for God. 
It’s kind of like Jesus bringing us to the edge of our pews, and before we fall off, he gives us reassurance. But the invitation is still there, for the rich man—for us: Sell your stuff, give it to the poor, and follow me. 

And wouldn’t it be awesome if we as a community of faith, before we told any individual or any kid that they need to live a sacrificial lifestyle, that we modeled together that sacrificial lifestyle, for all the world to see.

Ok, back to the rummage sale:
I wonder what would happen if we had a huge rummage sale, as big as that one at the Baptist church.  I bet we could, especially with this passage in mind..I bet our small church, and some of our friends could really go through our homes and take out all the stuff that we don’t need, and bring it here to the church, and put it in the parking lot and set up tarps, and just start selling it, even on a  Sunday…we can just take a break at 11 for worship...And when people see how much money we’re making, when they ask us what we’re going to use the money for, we can say…
to build a second story educational wing to our church (so much for the new roof)..
TO buy the liquor store.  For new counter tops J, and a new stove.  (sorry ladies)

We can say, did you hear about the need to pay for a homeless shelter in town..we are doing it to help cover the cost so that no one freezes in this town this winter, and everyone who comes in gets to eat.

We can say, did you hear of all the kids who are starving in the world, I think there are like some 30000 who die about ever day from lack of food and malnutrition, and no good drinking water. We’re going to help to give them food. 
Hope you enjoy that dvd player!

What would the people think of us then.  That we were crazy?

Sure they would.  And we’d go home and say, what happened to all my stuff. How liberating! 
We would be assured of one thing: We would be well on our way of following.
We would be well on our way to entering the kingdom of God. Follow me!
The invitation is there. The invitation, that sweet liberating, challenging invitation.
I don’t care how young or old you are, there it is.  Rummage sale, here we come, and let’s see what the kingdom is all about. 

[1] Dumb and Dumber

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Quick hitters: Reading the bible and Faith for Mark

I don't remember where I read the following quotes, but they were worth writing down and posting here.  Sorry original authors, but thanks.
When we study the bible together, or alone, do we look for information or transformation?  Why bother opening scripture studying its words, reading it unless we intend to approach as closely as we dare the numinous majesty of the living God.

Faith for mark is not the opposite of doubt, it is blindness healed. It is having one’s sight restored.

“GO Bees, Sting ‘em”

World Communion Sunday, Oct 4, 2009. Westminster Presbyterian Church, Santa Fe, NM
Scripture: John 3:16 (read in various languages); Isaiah 2:1-5; Mark 10:13-16
For it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs….how cute…The kingdom of God belongs to the little children. After a week hiatus from talking about kids…they’re back. And in this scene, Jesus is doing his best santa clause impersonation…like he’s in a huge mall, ho ho ho. And his disciples are like body guards, tired of the kids runnin’ around all over the place…don’t touch that, slow down! I love it, Jesus is indignant, strong language.—angry, in a huff, annoyed—at his disciples’ actions, and turns the tables on them. He welcomes the children, picks them up and blesses them and says, “See these kids:
‘It is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs…and let me add to that, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’
Children at play becomes quite serious talk...