Thursday, December 30, 2010

Interfaith Shelter Christmas Poem

At Santa Fe - ROC, the New Shelter, each team leader is expected to give a report after each night they are in charge of the shelter.  
Here is one of the most creative, written on Christmas eve, by Mike Barker: 

Twas the Night Before Christmas
In the Shelter of Faith
We were all blessed in goodness
And feeling God’s grace

The bounty of food
was prepared with all care
Our 41 guests
 Were so glad to be there.

With only just five
who came just for dinner
All were alive
and felt quite the winner

With 10 lovely women
and 32 men
Plus 2 charming children
Our Christmas begins

When came to the door
A stranger it seems
With gifts wrapped for children
A blessing indeed

But out on the street
There was a real clatter
She was rolled up in ball
Like nothing else mattered

She was found in the street
By our boys in the blue
They brought the kind medics
And an ambulance too.

And inside this shelter
Ah Temple Beth Shalom
They delivered a feast
A Delight for the Tum

But I thought for a second
About the girl and the boy
A Christmas that matters
Has to have just one toy

No Santa was coming
I knew in my heart
And remembered the presents
Dropped off at the start

So a present was selected
A good one I hear
And given with love
By a kind volunteer

Oh the kids with a smile
That beemed ear to ear
The joy in there soul
Said Santa was here.

You would have thought
A sleigh full of joy
Had been dropped through the chimney
Instead of one little toy

Christmas Eve had come
And gone with no hitch
But then suddenly outside the front door
Here came the Grinch

Something had happened
A nine o’clock wait
Had fell to the ground
And injured his kind face

He was found very bleeding
A bad wound to his nose
Again came the kind medics
And away he did go.

Alas through new slumber
Our night ends adorned
With so many grateful
Tomorrow stays warm

For all will be peaceful
Snug in deep sleep
No one will wake them
Say “Go back to the streets”

And I heard him explain
As he drove out of sight
Merry Christmas to ALL
You are all God’s Delight

Merry Christmas to all volunteers and to everyone who contributes or is a humble guest at the Interfaith Community Shelter.  

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Matthew 2:1-12 - Ancient Stories

To get me in the Christmas spirit last week, Desiree Burnett sent me a link to a video called
“The Digital Story of the Nativity.”  It imaginatively depicts the angel Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary coming in the form of a text message that Mary receives on her iphone; the subsequent dialogue between Joseph and Mary takes place on email (gmail of course); the birth of Jesus is announced on facebook; and the three wise men purchase their gifts on eBay; these same three become followers of the star on Twitter. And tweet back and forth to one another their progress as they make their way to see Jesus following the star.

If some of you have no idea what I’m talking about right now....IT’S TIME TO GET WITH THE 21ST CENTURY!

ACTUALLY, Ten years ago and less, none of these methods of communication even existed.
Now we depend on them (or at least we think we do). Chances are high that for many of us,
devices that may enhance our ability to communicate by these various means took up a big place under your Xmas tree, even if it came in a small package. These things aint cheap! But I digress.  The video is great, and I really appreciate its attempt to make sense of an ancient story--the story of Jesus birth--through our 21st century reality.

This is the ongoing task of people of faith who depend on ancient stories found in sacred scriptures: How does the story relate to our lives today?

We love the birth story.  Of course! It’s about a baby and the dramatic events that surround his birth. It has the exciting events of the pregnancy; the adventure and danger of travel even migration; the terrifying suspense of King Herod’s actions; And in the end, the good guys win.  
But what does that story mean for our lives today? So here’s the fun we’re going to have with our biblical passage today.  An exercise in hermeneutics - interpretation, doesn’t that sound fun! Woohoo

The passage comes from Matthew 2:1-12.  The story of the wise men, or magi, or readers of the stars.  And I’m going to share with you briefly, some of the more creative ways, five to be exact, this scene of the story has been interpreted in an attempt to make it relevant to our own lives.  
So let’s open our hearts and minds as we, with diligence, seek to discover the meaning of Christmas, kind of like the wise men who sought out the baby Jesus by following a star two thousand years ago.  

Ready! (all but the last interpretation were inspired by the devotional Su Voz, published by the Presbyterian Reformed Church of Cuba, Oct -Nov- Dec 2010 edition).

One: How much thought have you given to the star?  The star of Bethlehem?  Without the star, we don’t have  a story. It got the wise men to Jesus.  The star guided them to the best news: the birth of hope.  Think about this: we too can be like the star of Bethlehem, and guide others to places where there is hope, humility, harmony, and peace.  We may provide light for people who are lost.  May we shine brightly! 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Christmas Story

Wheaton College certainly shaped my life as a Christian in many ways during the three years I attended there from the age of 19 to 21.  In some aspects, I have had to undo some of my learnings, but for the most part, it helped with a character formation of which I am proud.

Wheaton sent alumni this creative Christmas greeting.  I like the idea and hope to do something similar one day. Maybe with my session!

Merry Christmas!
Peace has come into the world.
Peace be with you

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What’s in a name? - Matthew 1:18-25

Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 2010
Westminster Presbyterian Church
Read Matthew 1:18-95 here
How often do you spend thinking about your name?  What is your reaction when people say your name?  Diane.  who said that!? (Jumping with surprise) David...  Such a regal sounding name, (you think proudly).  
Am I the only person in the world who was named for his grandfather, and when his grandfather heard that one of his grandsons had been given his name responded,
“You know, I’ve always hated that name.”  I was not very proud of my name growing up, and hated when roll was called in class on the first day of school.  Chester Topple... the teacher would say.  I would cower, and utter a squeakie, “here” as the other kids snickered.  

Our names whether we like them or not, say something about us, they have a real say in our identity, in our self understanding. A few summers ago at Ghost Ranch Youth Week,
I met a kid who called himself Tiki.  He had just graduated from High School.  He had two brothers and a sister there, all younger, whose names were Joey, Julian, and Jasmin.
So Tiki? What were his folks thinking?  Experimental first child? Well it turns out that his name is actually Joel. Check this out: His family- who identifies itself as Mexican-American
moved from El Paso to Nebraska when hurricane Rita swept through. He was going into the ninth grade. Before he started school he decided that instead of being Joel from El Paso, and potentially face discrimination in a place that wasn’t very accustomed to color, he was going to change his name to Tiki from Hawaii. He would go for exotic, and it worked. The kids thought it was awesome to have a Hawaiian kid in their school.  Tiki was a confident, talented, funny kid, who loved God and had a great personality.  Who would I have met if four years earlier he left his name, Joel?  

Think about your names.  How they have shaped your identity. What they represent, or mean.  
Did you ever ask your parents why they named you what they did?  Have you thought about changing what your parents chose?  Have any of you looked up your name’s meaning?  
What were some?

Looking at our biblical passages for today, the fourth Sunday of Advent - are you ready for Christmas? - Names play a crucial part in the the story.

Now, I’d like to take a little survey of the congregation. There are three options when calling on the name of Mary’s son: Jesus, Christ, and Emmanuel.
Which of the three do you prefer.
How many are in the Jesus camp?
How about Emmanuel?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A child's generosity

We arrived to Santa Fe before midnight, barely.  We were the last three permitted to board the plane; one poor woman desperately trying to get on the plane but who was also flying standby, did not make the cut.  Because of my relief that we all made the plane, I didn't feel it appropriate to gripe about my seat - back row, sitting next to a man who weighed well over 300 pounds, and sitting behind three unsupervised rambunctious kids aged 4 to 10 (the stewardess turned baby-sitter was very sympathetic).  Never-the-less, the events of the day - a tribute Memorial Service for my grandmother, seeing family some of whom had never met Ruby Gene, and to this point successfully traveling back to Santa Fe with the two I love most, nothing could get me down; not even some of the emails I encountered when  I plugged into my computer and worked a bit using dinosaur arms.

We arrived to Albuquerque, and played around in the baggage claim area while waiting for our luggage.  Ruby Gene reminds me that no time is idle time: it's a time to play and interact with smiling faces all around.  We grabbed our bags and went out to the shuttle that would take us to our car.  "Mama Yesi" had gloves and a coat, "Papa" had a coat but no gloves.  Ruby Gene initially felt she needed neighter.  Her mother was insistent and won.  However, for Ruby, something still wasn't right.  On the shuttle, she noticed Papa didn't have any gloves. "Papa, manos, guantes" she shouted.  "Papa, manos, guantes!" She did not like it that my hands were exposed to the elements.  So what does she do.  She takes off her gloves, reaches across her mother's lap, and insists I take hers.  She is 21 months old, her spirit has not yet been tainted by this world! I gladly took them, and put them on thanks to their wonderful elasticity.  She seemed very pleased.  It goes without saying, I was too.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

TIDINGS OF COMFORT AND JOY - Isaiah 35:1-10; Matthew 11:2-10

The Rev. Dr. Robert A. Chesnut
Isaiah 35:1-10; Matthew 11:2-10
Westminster Presbyterian Church
Santa Fe, New Mexico

You might be interested to know that the New Testament from which I just read the Gospel passage from Matthew is inscribed with my name and the date 1953. It was the year when, at age fifteen, I experienced a spiritual awakening and a call to the ministry.

A couple of weeks ago we received an e-mail from our dear friend Tom Ward in Massachusetts. Tom, his wife Judy, and Jan and I first met in 1955 as freshmen at the College of Wooster. Tom was writing to tell us the good news, first of all, that in the midst of her second round of chemotherapy, Judy’s blood test scores for her ovarian cancer were very good indeed.

Tom’s e-mail, however, went on to report that Judy had just fallen and broken her arm and would have to have surgery. Some good news, some bad news. Life is full of it, isn’t it? You know that. I know that.

Jan and I have learned the hard way to be very careful about saying to each other, “Isn’t life grand…Isn’t everything just going so very well for us and our loved ones!” You never know what the next day, or even the next minute holds for you.

Earlier this year we rejoiced that our 40-something daughter had finally found the love of her life … and then mid-year that the two of them got married. But just a few weeks ago … on Thanksgiving night as we were going to bed, she called to say that she had taken her husband Paul to the emergency room. His heart was racing and he could hardly breathe. In ten minutes she called back again to report that his heart rate was so high they had to give him an injection to stop his heart and then start it up again with shock paddles. We went to bed knowing no more than that. We never know what the next day or even the next moment may hold.

So one of the primary messages of Advent is always relevant—be alert, keep awake, be ready. For the Lord’s return. For the end of the world. At least . . . for the end of life as you know it. Be prepared … for whatever may come your way.

Some good news, some bad news. Our lives are full of it … so is the Bible.

Last year at just about this time I also preached here at Westminster. I had the lectionary text about John the Baptist and his message—really not too much comfort or joy there. “You brood of vipers,” John shouted at those who came out to listen to him. “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? I’m baptizing you with water but he who comes after me will baptize with fire. Even now the axe is laid the root of the tree. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire to be burned.” Wow! Hell fire and damnation.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Eugenia Pratt Slack Morse, 11/6/1920 - 12/12/2010

I arrived at the house: Woodlands.  The soothing smell of the woods seemed to seep through my nostrils; the air seemed to permeate through my pores.  The familiar descent of the driveway, we were greeted by numerous cars parked there.  There was a gathering.  Mom's hug and kiss.  Tami gave me a hug, I arrived just as she was ready to leave.  Inside I met Aunt Genia, Uncle Kip, Uncle Harry, Mom, Genia, Henry and Elsa playing in the living room, hugs all around. And there sat Grammy, in her spot on the couch in the living room.  I greeted her frail presence with a kiss.  A space was cleared for me to sit next to her.  She held my hand for a long time.  Her breath was short, her speech was slurred, but she was as dignified and peaceful as ever.

Over the course of the evening: we ate, we laughed, we talked, we were with one another, and it was wonderful.

It became late, time for her to go to bed.  She had a slight black out due to cardiovascular weakness, and shortness of breath.  Uncle Harry and Aunt Genia revived her, and so as is her usual routine she put cold cream and Vaseline on her face, brushed her teeth, put her pjs on, and lied down in bed.  When it came my turn to say good-night, we gazed into each others eyes, hers looked brighter than usual, less blue, more hazel; the gazed lasted some time. Words were exchanged: "I love you."  This phrase she always felt was unnecessary. It was a given, always; but she said those words to me tonight, and I said them to her.  Those words were enough. No need to say the usual, "Sleep well;" or "See you tomorrow." Those words said it all.  May you rest, beloved grandmother.

It was so wonderful to see all the beautiful contributions to the album of memories shared by family and friends of Gene Morse on her 90th birthday. For posterity's sake, here's mine:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Interview with Mayor Coss

For the third time in my life I have been interviewed for radio.  The first was with Bob Chesnut with Mary Charlotte'a Radio Cafe about a new church plant effort (that didn't take--the church that is).
The interview was indicative of Santa Fe's interest in the effort we were putting forth for a church plant. I was kind of a by-stander, well, we both kind of were, since she called us on at Bob's request when her preferred guest canceled. Hear it here

The second was with Somos un Pueblo Unido, a wonderful human rights group in Santa Fe who wanted to speak about the varying levels of reactions within faith communities toward immigrants and the at the time recent controversial Arizona law SB 1070.  I knew Marcela Diaz and the co-host Elsa fairly well, and this was a phone interview. I was the sole guest, and it was intriguing to talk with them knowing that some listeners were going to be tuning in at some point.  I tried to not let that get to me and just answer their questions to the best of my ability.  Hear that here.  It got a little easier for me, but still, I'm pretty green.

Then this week, I was asked by the Mayor's assistant, Carla Lopez, with whom I work on the immigration committee, to interview with Mayor David Coss, who happens to lives in my neighborhood.  Where as before, with Marcela, I resisted, in this case, I jumped on it.  And was determined to have a good time.  He wanted to speak about the Interfaith Shelter that recently was given $1M by the city to buy and renovate a building a run a new more holistic approach to homelessness - SF-ROC.  While I am not the expert or most qualified person to speak to the effort, I knew enough, and was excited to be with the Mayor.  He asked me to bring a guest. I asked Trasie, and Mayor Coss was courteous enough to  engage her with her good work, even though he hoped to focus on the shelter.
The interview will air Saturday, Dec 11 at 9 am on AM 1260. I hope to find a link soon, but in the meantime it was a good time for me to share of the good work of the community to come together and provide a shelter, and to hear my wife share of her good work, and the Mayor was genuinely interested.  

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Message of Hope, It Never Grows Old

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Dec 5, 2010 - Romans 15:1-13

Perception is reality. This phrase and concept is one philosophical attempt to make sense of the world. Perception is reality.  

Is the glass half empty or half full.  (I’ve never really liked that object lesson. One friend said, Engineers say the glass is the wrong size.)  
Is the world going to hell in a handbasket....hmm

Perception is reality.
It’s great to watch shows like the daily show, or Colbert Report, or read The Onion news. These “Fake news” outlets have a very different perception of the world from most news outlets.  They

One of the headlines of on about the recent increase in airport security:

Disgusted TSA Agents Also Calling For End To Body Scanning, Thorough Pat-Downs

Huh, i’d failed to consider their side of the coin.  (this joke attempt bombed)

Our lesson today comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  What was their reality? While we have our perceptions about what life may have been like in first century Rome; we can never know. Was there concern among the common roman citizens about the constant push to expand and conquer and exert influence? Was there a concern for security? Were their budget crises? Increasing number of migrants moving into overpopulated cities?  Maybe people were no longer respectful of one another; lines were drawn and labels applied. Long haired rebellious Romans verses the Romans who had short Cesar hair the guy from Little Cesar’s pizza.  Maybe there were the righteous and powerful Jupiter worshiping Romans verses the pagans who put other gods at the Jesus.

Who knows, but there were divisions; there were concerns. Life was hard.  People died young.  

A Jewish man who was also a Roman citizen named Paul wrote the fledgling, finicky, and panicky community that has decided to follow Jesus; And he’s trying to give them a little - hope.  
Not a bad thing to do, is it.  The message of hope, it never grows old.  And he seems to be saying that followers of Jesus ought to perceive the world differently from the way that it may really seem. Filled with hope

Paul says that that is the main purpose of the Hebrew Bible; written to give hope, to create hope in us.  Perception is reality right? Well, what do the scriptures or Paul mean when they talk about hope?   

How many of you used hope in a sentence last week?
I hope I have a good week at work.
I hope my team wins.  
I hope it snows.
I hope Ruby goes to sleep..trasie’s words last night at 10:30 pm.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

van Doorn Update!

from the Colonel Sander:
I'm enjoying a week of vacation, which gives me the opportunity to catch up with all kinds of things I was planning to do for a long time. I was working on a grant proposal until two weeks ago, and last week I was in the US for a workshop (in Durham, NC). The grant proposal was a huge amount of work, but Christel and I decided it would be good to give it a try, because it can gives us an opportunity to return back to the Netherlands. For three months I did almost nothing else except thinking about the grant proposal and writing it. I'm really glad it's over now. After I submitted the thing, I thought of one of your sermons and had my hair cut, to mark the transition back to normal life. 
Christel is doing well. She still goes to German classes. She met someone from Ecuador, another mother with two young children, with whom she likes to hang out. Jaleesa goes to a play group once a week, and then once more to another play group in church together with Kirsthe. She is starting to use a few words of German, and we have the impression that she understands quite a lot. She's all excited that it's winter, and she asks us every day whether it will snow today. She made a couple of nice drawings on the wall, on our bed and on Kirsthe. Kirsthe started to walk and talk this summer. She has a great sense of humor and loves music and dancing. 
We still miss Santa Fe a lot. Google Earth is out favorite way to feel 'homesick'. We still like Switzerland as a place to live, but the people are very closed. We have been regular visitors to the same church for over a year now and made only four new friends (two couples). Unfortunately they all moved, so we're back to nothing again. We decided to visit an international church again, to see if we are more lucky there. Most other foreigners we talk to have only foreign, no Swiss friends. 
We had a great summer's holiday in the mountains. We went camping with the kids for the first time, which went really well. We are already making plans for next year: one of the guys I collaborate with went to Vancouver for a postdoc, and he has asked me to come for a visit. I would like to go with Christel and the girls, and take a few weeks of vacation to travel south along the Rockies, all the way to Santa Fe. Would be great if it all works out! 

Advent Greeting - creche

At this time of year, we recall how St. Francis of Assisi offered a visual aid as part of his preaching about the birth of Christ to the townspeople of Greccio, Italy. On December 25, 1223, he brought in live animals, decorated a nearby cave with straw and a manger and created history's first Christmas crèche. In teaching a lesson about Christ's humble beginnings in the Bethlehem stable, Francis knew that seeing was believing. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving Concert

Rev. Richard Avery, who is doing a fantastic job with our music at WPC, had an idea some time ago to do a concert. First, he thought spring; that didn't happen. Then he thought beginning of the fall; that didn't happen. Finally, Thanksgiving. A benefit concert. There is a fledgling much needed shelter in town generating support, so why not throw in our lot with them. The shelter would be the beneficiary of our efforts. It was great to see the bell choir pull it together and work hard for their part of the performance. The Brinegars played beautifully on their strings, while Bill Taylor tore it up on his trumpet. Wonderful guests, Still Waters, added some lively humorous folksy tunes, and Bettie (?) accompanied the choir marvelously on her French horn. And the choir worked our tails off singing 14 pieces, a variety of music, and we did great! It was hard work, a lot of fun, and we packed house, as well as the shelter reaped the benefits as well. Amazing what can happen with a vision, persistence, and a willing group. 

Here was my speech as part of the presentation: 

With thanksgiving coming up just this Thursday, we gather together to ask for God’s blessing on the work this city has set out to do.  The old Pete’s Pets on Cerrillos Rd, in a joint effort with multiple providers, including St E’s and Youth Shelters, will not only provide shelter, food, and a safe place for this town’s homeless, but let me tell you:  There are some big plans underway to do even more.  The facility will be transformed over the course of next year to a space where services can be provided, including health care and job training; there will be storage facilities, a full kitchen, showers, and ample space for those who need a place to stay.  
We, as a community of religious organizations, individuals, clubs, and groups, are taking on the task.  

To operate what is being called Santa Fe – Resource and opportunity center…AKA SF –ROC, takes major commitment from city residents.  First, I think that much thought and prayer is in order, for us to collectively arrive at an ideal we hope for those who reside here. Do we want there to be people sleeping on the streets or under bridges who don’t want to be there? Do we want there to be opportunities for those who have caught a bad break or made some bad decisions from which they have not been able to recover.  Thought and prayer are essential as we seek to create a better place for everyone.

There is a need for people to volunteer their time.  Planning and implementation needs to be done.
Clothes need to be sorted and distributed, and meals to be served. Hosts are needed at the shelter: checking people in, serving food, and facilitating evening operations.  There is a need for money. The shelter operation costs $15000 a month. Yes, there is much to take on and we can take this on. And in this small way we are beginning.   We are creating awareness, we are putting a small dent on a month’s operational cost. And we’re having a good time doing it!  

Jesus said, when the least of these knocked on our doors, and we provided them with shelter and hospitality, we have done it unto him.  Thank you for coming, thank you for your donations, which will go entirely to the shelter, and stick around for refreshments, including cheesecake and pound cakes and other treats.  Come back anytime if you would like to learn more about how to be involved.  

Be at peace and at home in this place.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cuba Day 4, Sept 9, 2010

Sept 9, 2010

If a plantain is very ripe, you cut it at an angle in thick ½ inch pieces and fry it in hot vegetable oil until it has a crispy blackened exterior soft interior.  If it is still green you cut it with a cheese slicer and put it in hot vegetable oil until it is hard to make plantain chips. Both are delicious! I think Ruby Gene liked the chips more.

Daniel took me to the market today.  Plastic or cloth bags are either to be carried, found in the street, or bought for 1 peso cubano or about 4.5 cents.  According to my guide, you can’t find the best fruit that grows in Cuba, but the fruit you find is good enough. We bought guayaba, plantains, and some salami, sliced from a less than clean looking concrete slab.  Purchases can be made with either the Cuban peso or the exchangeable Cuban Dollar (CUC), or some combination of the two if you get a good exchange rate for the CUC (24 or 25 pesos Cubanos).  Confusing…yes.  The man who sells plastic bags at the market couldn’t be found because the police were around and he wasn’t authorized to sell.
A Cuban Moneda National or "devisa" of three pesos.
From the market we went to visit two people from the church.  One was a young woman who had just had a miscarriage.  Daniel prayed for her, and we shared a few moments with her family.  The young woman in her 20s was engaged to be married, so obviously she was devastated and in a lot of pain.  The other was Israel Palma, a member of the church for some 50 years, was in a wheel chair and has stomach cancer. He is in his mid eighties.  Shirtless, he met Daniel and I with a disarming smile and display of enthusiasm.  He had been anticipating our meeting, and gladly shared that he enjoyed speaking English.  His wife, Pilar, originally from Spain, moved to Cuba with her aunt after her mother died and before the Cuban revolution.  She is a faithful Catholic, but knows we are all on the same camino.  She met Israel because Israel’s father kept sheep and she happened be on a business exchange, which turned into several exchanges.  They have been together for 52 years. Israel said of our relationship with God that we are like planets orbiting around the sun.  We are within God’s gravitational pull. 
Israel Palma in his bed on a visit to say good-bye just before we left Cuba. 

The following short video is Israel reading scripture in English on this same visit:
That evening Daniel led a bible study on the closing chapter of Ecclesiastes. It ended at 9:20 pm, after which, in the dark, Daniel showed me a set of about 12 keys that go to locks and doors of the church.  I assumed and hoped I would be able to figure it out through much trial and error.  As the keeper of the keys, I would be frequently sought after.  El Pastor is responsible for locking up, shutting and turning off, and putting away….So now that’s me.  Since he was one of 8 members of this church when he first came as a lay person in 1986, and has been here ever since, I suppose that he was one of the only ones who would know how to do these things. They are painting the front of the church building right now.  Thinking of a recent painting project at Westminister Presbyterian Church, Santa Fe, I asked, “Who chooses the color?” He proudly pounded his chest and said, “Yo” - “I do.” It helps that he’s an architect by trade, so he knows colors, etc.

Names of the people are going to be very difficult to remember. First names are very different, like: Iraraizi.  And some of the first names are not used because of nicknames.  It is nice to meet a Pedro or Juan (or even Juany) or Ana on occasion.  There aren’t enough of them here. 

The Izquierdos leave tomorrow morning early.  We will miss them immensely as we will now attempt to navigate this town, San Antonio de los Baños, and this country, Cuba, relying on God and the people who have received us.

Cuba Day 3, Sept 8, 2010

It was 10:45 pm when Daniel prayed to close out a meeting with some elders and deacons. The evening began with an informal worship service (which I later discovered was both a going away and welcoming gathering), which began at 8:30 pm, just a few minutes after the airline Cubana finally delivered our two pieces of luggage which had gone missing since our arrival.  About 45 people were gathered in and around the sanctuary.  Children were playing and the little girls delighted over Ruby Gene, and she over them.  The service consisted of a simple welcome song, which Daniel led on guitar: “venimos de lejos y de cerca, somos una familia, dame la mano, a ti te doy mi mano,” something like that. Enough to inspire us to go around shaking hands and on occasion some of the women would initiate a single kiss on the cheek.  Not sure yet what the rules are on that exchange.  Daniel said a few words of welcome, and then invited us to come forward to say a few words.  I rambled on some about our past experiences in Latin America and about the church in Santa Fe.  There were many things I wish I would have said or said better.  One, the power of vision. I spoke of Dean Lewis, but didn’t connect it to what it means to have vision and from that vision God can make amazing things happen. Dean Lewis had this vision, and here we are in Cuba.  I was a bit skeptical these first few days about what this experience would be like.  The town is dumpy. Things are very different and it seemed the people were going to be hard to get to know—some of the names, thanks to Russian influence, were so hard to pronounce.  Then, tonight happened.  The church gathered. And in their greeting, their warmth, and their sincerity, I knew this would be a special experience for us.  Old men called me hermano.  Age contemporaries said this prayer/ poem for us:
            ¿Por qué tener miedo?
            ¿Qué sucede es qué acaso no tienen fé? 
            Respondemos: Estáis siempre gozosos.  Este dice el Señor.

Nuestro buen Pastor
Señor, tu eres nuestro buen pastor, el señor de nuestras vidas. Jesús tu hijo compañero del camino nos promete su pomania consten fe y su protección invariable.
Pero hoy señor en nuestra iglesia aquí en la tierra donde tu nos has puesto llamados a hacer tu obra estamos nosotros y en especial estos pastores que son tus siervos los que han dado todo para servirte donde tú los pongas lejos o cerca son Bienvenidos y dice tu palabra que se encuentra en el libro de Números Cap. 6 versículos del 24 al 26:

24 The Lord bless you and keep you; 25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; 26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Older women invited us to their homes.  One woman, an afro-cubana, said if we could accept her humble home we were welcome there.  “La mas grande,” as she called herself, was the shortest woman in the church.  Pedro said we could count on him for anything.  Junior would pick us up for an event the following Tuesday.  Another told me she encountered God in this church 18 years ago, and has a reputation—attested to by others—for her great cooking.  These are the stories we will begin to learn.  The gathering of people, young and old, was impressive, very impressive.  They came not only for the service itself, but also because they wanted to be with one another. They wanted to say goodbye to Daniel and welcome Trasie, Ruby Gene, and me. 

Maria, Daniel’s wife, describes the people as sencia-simple.  One of our hopes through this experience is to learn how to be simple again. I hope these people can teach us.

The leaders—elders and deacons—who attended the worship service stayed to go over some final details before Daniel and Maria were to leave.  They met for an hour; no one was hurried even as the clock passed 10:30 pm.  They took care of what needed to be done to ensure the exchange went well.  Even after Daniel closed in prayer at 10:45 pm they stayed and took care of some still left unfinished “business”, and talked about other things.  I don’t know what time they finally left, but I said goodnight to them at 11 pm.  They know each other. They trust each other. They take the time to be with each other. They are empowered and confident that God has called them to be the church here in this place.  For which I am very grateful to be part of at this time. 

One of the many times Ruby Gene was the center of attention.  The young woman, Yudasis, with the baby in her arms, was the one who read the prayer for us, mentioned above.   

Cuba Days 1 and 2, Sept 6 and 7

The following passage, which I came across during my first few days in Cuba, struck me in that context:  
Peter Gomes, in his introduction to Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be, writes of Tillichian thought: “Genuine belief is maintained “in spite of” circumstances that would undermine belief and not simply because of circumstances that would confirm it.  It does not take a great deal of imagination or courage to believe that God is on your side when you are prospering or winning; it takes a great deal of courage and imagination to believe that God is on your side when you are suffering or losing. To believe in love in the face of hatred, life in the face of death, day in the dark of night, good in the face of evil—to some, all of these may seem to be hopelessly naïve, wishful thinking, “whistling in the dark”; but to Tillich, all of these are manifestations of enormous courage, the courage of confidence in more than the sovereignty of fact and appearance. 

Ruby was getting stir crazy.  She had not been out the whole day.  So we decided to take a walk on our own, unaccompanied through this strange new world called San Antonio de los Baños.  The town is named for a river that runs through it.  Evidently, it was more impressive in a yesteryear.  People would travel to the river para bañarse (bath or swim) in the river, not because there were thermal baths.  Thus the name, which is actually different from the name the Spanish originally gave it (ariguanabo).

We loaded Ruby in the stroller, and told her “parque,” her word for going to the park, in hopes of finding some place where she could run around.  The street that runs parallel to ours is where all of the commercial activities take place in town—a main street of sorts.  When I think Cuba, I think patchy thick walls of varying worn colors that adorn the patchy roads.  “Green” roofs exist unintentionally; weeds and even bushes and trees may be found growing on rooftops because buildings are not maintained.  Little motivation of the people? No money? No resources? Yes.  We were surprised to see a number of places that sell food.  Two advertized pizza.  We ordered two small round pizzas, mine with chorizo, Trasie’s cheese, with two “refrescos” all for less than a dollar.  The pizzas were tasty; Ruby ate what we gave her.  “Do these refrescos have water from the tap?” I asked the woman who leaned out over the windowsill of her home from which the business was run to better see Ruby.  “Si.”  “I’m sorry, we aren’t going to be able to drink them. We will pay for them, but we have been advised not to drink tap water, only bottled water.”  She was somewhat surprised and cautioned us about how costly bottled water is.  Cubans are very aware of the costs of things, and are careful to not spend unnecessarily and to use well whatever is purchased. 

We finished our pizzas and moseyed on down the street.  People walked busily here and there.  I noticed a barber shop and thought of getting a hair cut at some point; a bar and thought of getting a drink.  There were other small shops and “restaurants” of varying sizes and offerings.  Trasie observed that they sold what they had, and it was fairly unpredictable what that might be.  A bread shop with one cake for the day that she had visited earlier, had still not sold that cake by the end of the day.

We passed the river, and it wasn’t as dirty as some I have seen, and had a healthy current and even a few small fish.  We saw bicycle taxis who assured me they would take us as far as we may need to go.  We walked finally to the plaza marked by the local Catholic Church Cathedral—it too was in poor condition.  When we first arrived, there were only a few people there, but slowly as we sat and walked around and observed, more and more people came out.  It had gotten cooler and most had probably just finished their suppers.  The church doors eventually opened.  Strikingly and markedly, there were no vendors there.  There were over grown “volunteer” plants growing in seemingly random places.  The surrounding buildings were dreary, and in the middle was a pathetic square fountain, filled only to one side of its bottom had a slope, the bottom stored a few inches of rainwater, which somehow sustained life for tadpoles.  Ruby insisted on walking around the wide rim of the fountain.  Then she discovered she could walk inside the fountain on the dry bottom side.  But of course, the water was too tempting so she splashed around a bit, disturbing the tadpoles, which skirted away.  Some boys threw a baseball to one another; others some kind of large tree seed at each other; others were on skates.  A man road with his daughter about Ruby’s age, on a bicycle; she sat atop a wooden seat he had rigged to the bike, which actually looked quite attractive and adequate.  It made me think about the fancy $80 bike seat we had transported with us in case we had opportunity to ride with Ruby Gene.  I decided we would not be using the one we had brought, and the image of the coke bottle from the movie, “The God’s Must be Crazy,” came to mind.

I commented to Trasie, “It would take years to figure this place out.”    We will be here for just one month. 
Ruby Gene adjusting to her new facilities in the Cuban Pastor's house, were we would be living for 30 days.  

Sunday, November 7, 2010

money money money money...Money

A stewardship sermon based on selected verses from the prophet Haggai.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Future of Education

After returning from Cuba, it became more evident the power and potential for good public education.  Time after time, encounter after encounter, I was blown away by the ability to speak intelligently about most any topic by the "common" Cuban citizen.  People didn't just study to earn money and get a job (for obvious reasons perhaps), but for the sake of learning and improving one's self intellectually.

Contrast this with the recent closing of three (3) Santa Fe public schools.  More and more kids are going to private schools, yes.  This is one of the most wealthy per capita cities in the country, yes.  Public school class sizes in Santa Fe continue to increase, yes.
Is there still value in educating those kids who can't afford private schools?

It was a shame that these schools "had" to be closed because of budget crunches.  The city was promised that the facilities would be rented to generate revenue.  Who would be one of the first big money tenants to sign a contract?

For the past month since I have been back from Cuba, one renter reared its head.  Along the perimeter of the now abandoned Larragoite Elementary School, in front of the no longer used marquee, is a large rectangular sign white background, bold red letters: "DECODING PROPHECY meets here 7:00 pm Thurs, Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon, Tues."

I have so many problems with this! There are so many ironies.
Can't afford to educate children, but people will pay for this kind of education?
This group will help the city of Santa Fe generate revenue?
What kind of education are we giving our people?

I don't like to make judgements about groups I have not personally known or read much about. There is not much available on this group. This is the best I could do.
For me this whole situation reflects a very sad and dire straight of American society.
But hey, at least they can help us figure out when Jesus is coming to get us out of this mess!
Matthew 6:34
2 Peter 3

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dina y Roldan's Baby

Daniel y Maria Izquierdo, de San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba tuvieron su nieto, Sebastian, el 25 de Oct de 2010. 

Dina, the mother is quite strong, the baby weighed 9.6 pounds!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Luke 18:9-14 - Looking Up, down, and all around

Luke 18:9-14
Looking up, down, and all around.
Preached October 24, 2010
Ranchos de Taos Presbyterian Church - Jicarita Cluster Pulpit Exchange Sunday

When my wife and I went to an aquarium some years ago...we came across a marvelous fish...It’s eyes were set high on the top of its head, but its mouth was well down its face on the belly side.  The ridge of its forehead was on about a 10 degree angle, sharp and steep, and yes, its eyes for the most part looked down. In fact, that is what it was called a look down.  Trasie saw it and she said...that’s it. That’s you!  You are such a look down fish!  And she laughed and laughed.

Me? I asked. What did I do to deserve such a label?  

Well, I’ll let her give you some of her rationale after the service at breakfast, but I will say that it stems from a long line of family lineage of look downs. I mean, of people who see the world around them, who see the people around them, and are able to see very well the things they do not do as they should.  Why after all, I did go into ministry. Isn’t that our job? 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Watching a Baseball Game without commercials

Can you even conceive of watching any sporting event on television, no matter the level of competition, and there not being any commercials?  No commercials when there are breaks in the play, and no commercials along the walls of the stands or on billboards.  I was shocked when I saw my first Cuban baseball game on TV, their number one in the world ranked professional team in qualifying games for the World Cup Tournament--and there were no advertisements in the stadium and no commercials between innings.  It was quite nice.

Can you picture a well-educated person (high school graduate) anywhere on the globe who has never heard of McDonalds?  I'll never forget finding someone who's never been seduced by the golden arches, (whose powerful seductive tactics successfully put Pinky's, a mexican-owned burger joint in Nogales, out of business). Our Cuban friend, Juany, who was gracious enough to drive us wherever we needed/ wanted to go while we were there, and I were in conversation. He was doing his best to answer my insatiable curiosity.  Trasie was hungry, and wondered where we could get something fast.  So I asked, jokingly, "Where's the nearest McDonalds?"  And he said, "What's that?"  I said, "McDonalds?  Are you serious? Have you never heard of McDonalds"
"What is it?" he said a little defensively.  I explained.  He tried to liken it to a Cuban (not) equivalent: DiTu.
I told him that it made my trip that he had never heard of McDonalds!

When I think about societal values and priorities, I think of my daughter, Ruby Gene who is 20 months old. She, like all children, will be bombarded by advertisements and commercials telling her of her lack of self worth, while promising to help her deficiencies.  So many are addicted to purchasing and consuming.  So many buy magazines and products in hopes that their physical bodies will be enhanced and more attractive.  It was amazing to be around kids who were secure, and did not worry about what they did not have, as if they needed those things to feel better about themselves.  I wish that Ruby and all kids could be free from the jaws of marketing machines who will belittle them into buying and craving their worthless junk.

I loved watching that baseball game with no commercials or advertisements.  The time between innings was short (2 minutes?), and the conversation about the upcoming batters, or how the pitcher was fairing, or how the respective teams were prospecting for the World Cup was delightful.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Luke 18:1-8, Prayer: Use it or lose it

Luke 18:1-8: Use it or lose it.
Oct 17, 2010 Westminster Presbyterian Church, Santa Fe

Use it or lose it. Doesn’t that seem to be what Jesus is talking about here. Use Prayer or Lose Hope.

Prayer. What is prayer? Jesus’ Disciples weren’t sure, so they asked that Jesus teach them to pray. What do we think of when we say, I’m praying for you? What about when a the president--the commander and Chief-- says his prayers are with the family and loved ones of the recent soldier who died in Iraq? We pray for Haitians, for the homeless, for the miners in Chile.

For those miners in Chile, prayer seemed to have meant a lot....Of the many pictures that were taken of the miners and their rescue from the San Jose mine, one was of Esteban Rojas, 44, who, after 70 days trapped, stepped out from the lift and, before he greeted anyone, knelt to pray. One miner said: “The 70 days that we fought so hard were not in vain. We had strength, we had spirit, we wanted to fight, we wanted to fight for our families, and that was the greatest thing." One miner’s wife gave birth to a baby girl while her husband was trapped...she named her, Esperanza, Hope. Prayer, Hope.

The evangelist Luke begins this parable by saying, “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not lose hope.” Their need. Our need. What are our needs? Do we need to pray? Do we have a tendency to lose hope? How are prayer and hope related? Use it or lose it.

In this world there is so much that can cause us to lose hope. You can’t escape potential exposure to the “lose hope” disease. You can catch it watching the morning news, or reading the paper. You can catch the lose hope disease when you show up at your job that seems pointless and your boss is nagging at you. What about your family member who can’t kick a drug habit. Or age and decay begins to get the best of you or your loved one.... Or when you still can’t live up to your parents expectations no matter how much you try. Bickering do nothing politicians. Apathetic citizens. An environment on the verge of collapse. “Lose hope” disease spreads like the plague...It is quite debilitating And can lead to several reactions...You know what they are when things seem hopeless. But Jesus says, our need is to pray and not lose hope.

There’s a neighbor down the street who has two interesting pieces of Christian propoganda. A bumper Sticker: Jesus is Lord over Santa Fe. And another, a sign, like a campaign sign that you stick in the ground, that says: “Prayer Changes things” Well, life is constantly changing, tectonic plates move, kids grow up and leave home, how do we know what prayer’s role is in this?

The example Jesus uses is great: A poor widow who knows her rights, demands her rights. She’s a firecracker of a woman, that I wouldn’t want to go toe to tow with. She isn’t going to give up until the day she dies. And her case was most likely one of life and death. Widows were among the most vulnerable in 1st century Palestinian society, and since she is having to advocate for herself, she does not have a son or a father to do the dirty work for her. She is alone, she most likely has been exploited (property) in her vulnerability, and so her example is a prayer for justice. The Judge has successfully blown off most people in his career, he doesn’t fear God otherwise he would take the widow’s side as the law says, and he has no respect for people...she could be his mother, but he doesn’t care. But she’s not going to let that stop her. So she goes to him demanding JUSTICE again, and again, and again, and again and again...and again and again....and again and again....

One of the ancient manuscripts says of his change of heart: Because this woman keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not finally come and slap me in the face!

The example of this woman is not only inspiring but it helps to ground us in our own understanding of prayer. Prayer is not simply some bratty adolescent demanding over and over that he get what he wants; like a new car or a new video game system. Not even a sweet little 20 month year old saying: late late late, That’s Ruby Genes’ word for chocolate. Chocolate.
She learned that word quickly at the famous Cuban Chocolate Museum.

This woman’s prayer demands Justice.
So again we get deeper into what Jesus was talking about when he said that our need is to pray in the face of injustices, when we feel helpless and alone, when our world seems to be caving in on us...we Pray so that we don’t lose hope, so that we don’t give up the fight. And examples of this are the best kinds of stories.

My sister, 38 with two young kids, diagnosed with breast cancer, She asked, can you pray, and we did and she did. She didn’t want to give up hope. She is now cancer free. One day, she will die, we all do, but the important thing was that she didn’t give up hope. Pray... don’t give up hope.

Those people who march at the intersection of St Francis and Cerrillos who call for end to a senseless war, after 7 long years . They have this widow’s persistence. And Jesus says their need to pray and not give up hope. Let’s not give up hope, and keep praying these wars will come to an end! Pray, don’t give up hope
I was reading a book this week called The Prayer Tradition of Black People, (Harold a. Carter) which talks about the power and understanding of prayer in a community of people who have faced centuries of oppression and violent opposition. When Israel was in Egypt’s land, slaves under Pharaoh, they turned to the one power available, prayer. When the Black people were in bondage in the new world, they, too, turned to prayer. The hard forces of a cruel and inhuman existence force on them the necessity to pray.

Harriet Tubman, a slave of extraordinary powers, was convinced her leadership was given to her through prayers to God. Her freedom, which she eventually won, was not for selfish purposes. This brave woman returned so often to the South, freeing slaves, that a bounty of $40,000 was placed upon her head, dead or alive.
On one occasion, she instructed a messenger: Read my letter to the old folks, and give my love to them, and tell my brothers to be always watching unto prayer, and when the good old ship of Zion comes along, to be ready to step aboard.
Someone who knew her said: For in truth I never met with any person, of any color, who had more confidence in the voice of God, as spoken direct to her soul. She has frequently told me that she talked with God, and he talked with her every day of her life, and she has declared no more fear of being arrested by her former master, or any other person....
Her faith in a Supreme Power truly was great.” Harold A. Carter, The prayer Trasdition of Black People, 100-101. 1976, Gateway Press.

Prayer is an act of Resistance, A means of wearing down the powers that be. Isn’t that how we think of it?
Prayer is the substance that defies all odds and says we can live for another day, and hope for things to come.

I saw this in the Cuban church where I served as pastor last month. After the coup de ta in 1959, many churches were left almost empty because people left the country, or because they were discouraged from going to churches. So, by 1965, the church in San Antonio de los Baños was left with 6 to 7 people. I spoke with two of the women, sisters, who were part of this small group. Consuelo who is 95 and in an wheel-chair but has the fire of the Holy Spirit in her eyes...And Caridad, who will be 90 in February, and doesn’t hold back from giving her testimony. For 25 years every Thursday, the same small group would open up the church and study the bible. For 25 years, every Sunday the same small group would open the church doors: read scripture, pray, sing hymns, and go on their way. I had seen a picture of the youth group in 1942, in which there were over 30 youth and young adults. I asked Consuelo and Caridad...what was it like to have had so many, and to then for 25 years to be so few in church? How did you keep going? Caridad without hesitating, said
“If God is for us, who can be against us;
“He promised: I will not leave you orphans.
“God works out for good in those who follow him

Sometimes, they has pressures from the outside to close the church doors for good. They refused. And one day, 25 years later, a young man, Daniel Izquierdo, shows up...and becomes their lay pastor. And slowly, with his guitar in hand, and the people still on bended knee, people start coming around. The societal pressure to not practice any religion lessens, and people start to come around. Daniel goes to seminary and then comes back, people are still coming around. There were 92 people in church my first Sunday there in San Antonio....And the church was buzzing with life and kids and young adults.
In the same building where only 25 years earlier there had been only 6 or 7. And we were participating in a pastoral exchange...!

What does this testimony say about the need for prayer so that we don’t lose hope? What does it say about the relevance and vitality possible in a community of faith that prays? What does it say about our churches (a denominational critique), where we are closing doors and not helping out other churches in our presbyteries and denomination because they have lost membership and can’t afford a pastor? What if there are a faithful few praying there.... Can we help them out?

I love Jesus reminding me, inspiring me of my need to pray, of our need to pray, so that we don’t give up hope in the face of whatever circumstances are keeping us distant from God. Prayer, even when we don’t know how to pray, says, I’m going to look beyond myself, I’m going to seek God in my life and in this world. Such a powerful story of a persistent widow up against this unjust judge.

But, to be honest, sometimes I get lazy. I get complacent. I don’t intentionally pray. Why not? I’ve heard that a pastor’s primary role is to help teach the congregation to pray. Well, I wrote Grace this week who was doing the prayers of the people, and told her that this task was not always easy for me...and how glad I was for the deacon minstry of prayer, and that she was leading the people in prayer this Sunday, teaching us to pray. I’ve been wondering, why is it that I’m not always praying...I’ve thought that I’ve needed to be more disciplined. But, why does prayer have to become a discipline rather than a need; Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray.

I don’t think it’s because we live in a utopia where there are not injustices. Are we just lulled to sleep in our relatively comfortable lives? Is it because we are intoxicated by a lust for things and power which distract us from the injustices and oppressive forces around us? Or have we have no fear of God and no respect for anyone? Maybe many of us in our society, can relate better to the judge...even thought we won’t admit it. Than we do the persistent widow.

Maybe...but there is hope...What if we can turn this parable around a bit, what if this widow is an image for God. And we, as individuals, as the church, as a society, are like the judge who don’t fear god and don’t care for people. But God, like that widow, keeps coming to us, day in day out, knocking at our door, sending us letters, making telephone calls, saying I WANT JUSTICE! YOU ARE MY PEOPLE! DO THE WORK OF THE KINGDOM FOR WHICH YOU HAVE BEEN CALLED TO DO! To the point that we might just get slapped in the face.

Maybe that would be the wake up call many of us need, to recognize our need to get back down on our knees, so that we don’t lose hope, and we can continue to fight the good fight to which we have been called. And we pray everyday, Our Father who art in Heaven. Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be done. Amen