Monday, July 27, 2009

Vancouver, Canada 10

A last hurrah from Canada!

The future is rapidly transitioning out of the hands of us oldsters and into the hands of our youngsters. Right behind and to the right of the science pavillion (here in Hilary's hand) on the east end of False Creek the workers are rapidly building the Olympic Village for the 2010 Winter Games.

All buildings will be LEED certified and will be a sustainable part of the rebuilding of new Vancouver.

Meanwhile, a generation of older Canadians is seeing the demise of their "new" and very ethnic homeland on this side of "The Bamboo Curtain". I wonder what stories this woman could tell us?
And how about the woman who sells newspapers and magazines? She may have emigrated about the time that Chiang Kai-Shek made his effort to revolutionize China, only to fail under the massive opposition of Chairman Mao. She's probably sold newspapers all her life. Or maybe she was a traditional dancer before the revolution. Maybe she fled for her life and found freedom in Maple Leaf Land. Maybe she and the family left Hong Kong when the sun finally set on the British Empire there a few years back.
Do we have any idea how much history, how much life, how much important wisdom and drama are walking around in the hearts and minds of our elders? Have we ever asked them to tell their stories in this topsy-turvy, youth-driven world where elders are obsolete and every new thing enters the market and the culture before we even know how to ask what it might do to us as a people? When our kids tell us they are tired of trying to keep up--and can't--maybe it's time to stop and look for balance, get right-side-up again.
Along the shores of English Bay where we love to stay and stroll around Stanley Park, it's become local tradition to balance rocks on each other. There's no glue, no sand, no cheat pebbles between the smooth round rocks. Somebody just loves to take the time and has the patience to stand them up--and keep trying.
And there they are for all to behold. . . All because someone wanted to leave a gift to passers-by whom he/she would never meet or know.
There's some wisdom in that. And some peace. Look for it in the elders around you, in the world of God's creation, in the people who once were strangers but now are close. Look for it in what you have received and what you give each day.
Perhaps there is a reason why Jesus spent so much time crossing Lake Galilee and spending time with people who took time out to come to the shore.
And he began to teach them many things . . . (Mark 6:34b)

Shalom, eh?
Pastor Roger

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Vancouver, Canada 9

A happy warm evening!

Vacation weather, isn't it? Or going-to-camp weather? 'Bout time to have a doozy of a thunderstorm when this is all done.

When I saw the Danish family at left, I thought of the line from the fun baseball film "Bull Durham" from some years back: "Who dresses you?"

So who says that vacation garb has to coordinate? Or even be flattering? It's a time to not care about that, isn't it? Sure is! And it's a time to take a look at ourselves as others might see us, to not take ourselves so all-fired seriously.

I like the sidwalk sign for the Silver Gallery. They remind us that there are other kinds of rings besides wedding rings. There are all kinds of couples today. And there are "exquisite West Coast Native Artworks." Really? Are the West Coast Natives exquisite? Or are the artworks?
Everything I know about the wood and stone carvings of this area tells me that the symbology and the layout were never crafted purely as works of art. They may have had artistic value to the people and the communities who originally made them, but that was not their primary purpose. They were first and foremost theological statements. They told the people's story and their relationship with, and place in the world of, the Creator.

Only people who know the history, only the elders could say if modern productions are anywhere close to theological. Or theologically correct. I'm not sure if the carvers who make them are that well versed. I hope so. If not, it's quite a sacrilege.
Consider this beautiful carved wooden sea lion made as a bowl or very big dipper. How would the elders from two centuries ago react to the golf balls inside? Would they laugh or cry? Be horrified or chuckle and say, "Nobody has put that in one of them before!" Note that the golf balls also have a Native American logo on them. Hmmmm. . . . Native American golf balls. . . .
How would we feel if somebody were doing "Exquisite Holy Land Artworks", such as laundry racks made of crosses. . . ? How about shish kebab skewers made of crosses? Oh . . . . you're telling me they already exist? There was a good market for them? It's about the economy?
I guess so. I'm all for people having jobs and supporting themselves.
I once made a processional piece for a Native American friend who was ordained as a pastor some years back. A whalebone carver from Shishmaref, AK carved a descending dove (Holy Spirit) called "Transformation". I made the shaft in the shape of a harpoon, the arms of the "cross" supporting the carving in the shape of kayak paddles of two centuries ago. No screws or nails holding it together, only fishing line. I took great pains to be respectful and to not expropriate anything I did not understand.
Her people loved it, but not so much for what it looked like as the story that came with it.
I hope our religious symbols never stop telling us a story, never simply become "exquisite artworks" that we buy on vacation--only. I hope we actually live with them. Daily.
Got time for one or two more Canada posts? Then we'll move on. Stay cool!
Pastor Roger

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Vancouver, Canada 8

A warm afternoon, huh?

We keep watching the forecast for the coming week and note that it will be at least 10 degrees cooler in Vancouver, BC. May we should have traveled there next week instead of last. . . Oh well, the garden really needed us here.

So the Dad in the picture is helping his daughter down from peering over the counter where she could see her soft ice cream cone being made. The big plastic display cone says "Do Not Touch". A good idea so kids don't lick it and spread swine flu.

But there it is, that little treat store right on Robson Street where most customers don't think twice about indulging. It doesn't cost much when you have plenty in your pocket. But if you don't have much, a $2-$3 ice cream cone would be a fortune. And not much of a meal.

Food options on Robson Street are not in short supply. And some of them conveniently take up most of the sidewalk. Presumably, they have permits to create these permanent obstacles to traffic. It contributes to the ambience of the place. Makes it seem more like Europe . . . or like you're on vacation. It's always nice to be seen in a place. Everybody knows how hip you are, what you can afford.
Except when you can't afford it. 7-Eleven is here. Way to go, Southland Corporation, based in Dallas, Texas! I remember seeing the corporate headquarters from Love Field, the downtown airport in Dallas, when I worked there: tall reflective smoked glass building with lights on all four sides in the shape of a big "X".

So-called "convenience" stores are not conveient places to eat. Or to buy anything, for that matter. People generally buy non-essentials there. Impulse buys like Doritos and Dr. Pepper--also Texas products. The beverages in cans and bottles are part of the food chain, though.
No, not the beverages. They're generally not very nutritious. It's the containers. For some people among us, the containers ARE the food chain. They collect them to return for deposit refunds and use the money to buy more staple foods and essentials. For these folks, it's a job, not an inconvenience to be dealt with before they do the weekly gorcery buying at the big stores.

It's actually a good thing that so many people who can afford the snack beverages are so wealthy that they don't care about the deposit. They toss the cans in trash bins on the streets or in the parks. Other people go through and retrieve them. It's good and noble work because the containers shouldn't go to landfills. The "canners" do us a huge service.
But we sometimes make it really hard for these folks to do their work. Like strategicaly locating the recycling centers in only a few places--generally very far away from the sidewalk cafes of Robson Street. No wonder people in Vancouver don't collect cans and bottle in plastic bags. They use shopping carts, and their regular routes of looking for income may cover quite a few miles of streets. Then they have miles to go to do anything with them. We saw them racing one another around the parks along English Bay in the evening, trying to score the big haul before someone else did. And trying not to lose half their catch in the process.

There is growing pressure in Oregon to move can and bottle returns out of stores and into remote recycling centers. Like in California or the one above out on E. Pender Street in Chinatown, Vancouver. If we do that here, we'll make it much harder for people to make a living and take care of their needs.
We should do the opposite: Keep the can and bottle returns in stores--and expand the types of containers to all the non-carbonated beverages as well. Think of it as creating jobs.
Jesus asked, "Where shall we buy bread that they may eat?" There were 5K hungy people. He knew what He was going to do.

We have more than 5K hungry people around us. Do we know what we are going to do?



Friday, July 24, 2009

Vancouver, Canada 7

Hi, again.

This continues our Vancouver, BC series begun a week ago. Join the original premise by scrolling down to the first Vancouver post below...

Messages. We are sending them and receiving them constantly. Sometimes, maybe we should stop to ask if the one other people receive is the one we actually intended to send.

I wonder if the woman waiting for the bus on Robson Street thinks about what message she is sending. What message do you receive? What do you think she wants you to receive?

Ya never know these days. . .

Except when it comes to retail . . . Then there's no question. It's about getting noticed. About being edgy. It's about throwing all constraints to the four winds. "Get thee behind me, Satan, and puuussshhh!"
Push me all the way to the pay station. Push me to use my credit card. Again. And again.

Sometimes the retail messages try to get all philosophical or spritiual on us. Can't actually use a real religion or God, though. Naw, that would be taking sides, ruling some people in and others out. Sorta like we do in our churches. It's better to make up a religion that's sorta non-religious.

So we'll use symbols and icons that were once highly religious. By now, modern people have forgotten that anyway. So re-use will have universal appeal and not offend anyone--if we make it artsy enough. The little turquoise placard in the shop window is in French. It's invoking the "Moon, protectitve force and guardian of humanity and the earth." Cute little face, huh?

But the Roots /Canada sotre has taken it to a new level. They've made feeling good about life, oneself and (presumably) feeling good about buying their stuff very easy. Bite sized. By turning little slogans and affirmations into a pseudo-creed. Kinda sounds like "You shall love and serve and fulfill yourself a whole bunch. After all, no one else and no thing else ever will."

Just wondering, though, where one finds all that love and self-fulfillment? Does it come from work? from wealth? from war?
Huh? From having the right stuff from the right store?
I wonder what message(s) my faith group sends out? Are they as plain to see as . . . as the advertising slogans in the store above?
Pastor Roger

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Vancouver, Canada 6

Hi, again!

We're going to leave Chinatown for a bit and go to where the big bucks are in West Vancouver. Robson Street is Vancouver's Rodeo Drive.
Jean likes being on Robson Street and seeing the number 5 Robson buses running both directions. Robson was her maiden name.

Those stores: Store after store. Trendy stuff. Expensive stuff. Lots of people on the street, day and evening. All trying to make a buck. Gotta get your attention first, though. Or you won't spend a buck or two thousand.

When I asked, she said her name was Trish. I told her mine as I dropped money into her empty cup. She had a very pleasant voice and a warm smile in her eyes. People say you shouldn't put money into people's empty cups, that they'll use it for bad things. Well, we're just passing through and don't have any Sisters of the Road Cafe (Portland, OR) food coupons to give out in Canada. And, hey, somebody who has a bad habit will do whatever it takes to satisfy that habit even if that means robbing, mugging, selling drugs and prostitution. I'd rather give them money and help to prevent those other crimes.

It was a pleasant day, and I had a pleasant conversation with Trish while Jean and Hilary went into the shops to browse (didn't buy anything). Perhaps one out of a thousand pedestrians gave Trish money. But I'll bet even fewer make eye contact or ask her name. For now, being on the street IS her job. But I'd never have known that without talking to her.
So, do bad girls really break hearts? Or do people who don't see each other as human beings break more hearts than all the bad girls combined?
Jesus talked to people that other people shunned. He even touched most of them. And he brought them good news. Since he didn't have any money, he gave them what he had: himself and his love. More to come.
Pastor Roger

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Vancouver, Canada 5

Hi, America!

If you're just joining us, we're on an extended excursion in Vancouver, BC. The series of posts is much longer than our trip--only four days. Scroll down to the first post "Vancouver, Canada" (no number) to join us at the beginning.
This isn't a travelogue, however. I'm sharing how different another city looks, one we know fairly well, when seen through new eyes, the eyes of ministry with folks whose life is near or on the streets.

That said, when was the last time you looked around the place you live? No, I mean REALLY looked around? Looked around through the eyes of a visitor or tourist? Try it sometime. Try it this week in your own city or town. Go to places you don't ordinarily go and simply see through new eyes the people and the little culture quirks you've sailed right by before.

Like that shop of trinkets in Chinatown. What kind of world even makes something like that little plastic doll with blue hair and a slingshot for bikini bottoms? What kind of city or state or world lets families get kicked out of their jobs or their housing and live on the street? What kind of society discharges women from psych treatment in a hospital when there is a 2-3 month wait for housing? Which is crazier, the plastic doll or the DC from psychiatric care with no place to go?

So.... Did you ever watch any shows on TV sponsored by Ovaltine? Have you ever had any? I'm not sure I have. We mostly drank chocolate milk made with Hershey's syrup when I was a kid. Or we made Postum. I remember dipping white toast with butter into the cup of Postum. Had to pull it out quick and eat it, or the bread would fall apart. Postum was made as a grain-based substitute for coffee that was hard to get during WWII. Personally, I think it's way better than instant coffee. Yucko! Is instant coffee even made anymore?

Oooops! Who said whatever that got somebody's buns so steamed anyway? I hope it wasn't me! But at least they're the best ones in town. Now, if you're gonna get your buns steamed, might as well do it up right. No half a---d buns here!

Like I said, have you ever really looked at your neighborhood, your city, your culture through a visitor's eyes? How about your church? How about if the visitor was not just another American like you but from another country? What would they see? How welcome would they be?

Has anything changed in the neighborhood where you live? Any new people, foods, cultures, languages, poverty, unemployment? Is the attitude of our faith group "Well, we're here. They can find us if they want to."

Or is it, "Well, they're here. So it's time we moved in next door and got to know them." ?????

Do our churches effectively have bars over the doors and windows just like the market above? Remember, the people inside cannot see the bars. But people outside sure can. Look closely, and think about what you see. Either on the street or in your church. Maybe both.

More from Vancouver still to come. Much more. Fun stuff. Stay tuned.


Pastor Roger

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Vancouver, Canada 4

So there it is in the distance at 320 E. Hastings Street. It's the First United Church Mission, brainchild of the United Church of Canada. When I first saw the roofline and the cross above it there on the edge of Chinatown, I thought, "Yeah. It's

probably just another of those poorly planned, dying churches in an inner city." I thought the church probably didn't represent the community as so many don't. I thought maybe it was a church that only reluctantly served the people outside its doors because all the other members had left. How wrong I was! This church was built specifically to BE the church to those on its doorstep.

Here are a few numbers: mission is 3 years old; 700-1,000 people come through the doors every day; 18 staff; 60 volunteers; 23 sandwich-making groups; up to 200 people call it home on any given day. But don't take my word for it. Visit the church's website and read the mission statement: .

Read the text of "A Song of Faith" included in the mission statement. Has any church you know been as bold, as realistic, as willing to go where the people are? One of their key staff positions is Minister of Hospitality.

Read "Our Presence: In the Heart of the Downtown Eastside." It's a humbling and inspiring vision and commitment. When we drove by, the steps were filled with people who had found a home there. It's truly what Christ is when he came ashore around Lake Galilee--a source of preaching, teaching and healing.

There are plenty of places that feed people's legal addictions to alcohol. Places like the Blue Eagle. Or like the West Hotel. Why is is that they need to hang that big vertical banner next to the hotel name to proclaim "Cold Beer & Wine?"

And these are just the establishments that serve more ordinary residents of the area as well. There are so many more where the tourists and the visitors, the people passing through will likely not get near.

And there still are those traditional sights and aromas of a vibrant ethnic community. Not all poultry and pork that people take home to eat and to add to other dishes, not all of it spends days or weeks sealed and frozen in clear plastic wrap on a styrofoam tray. Some of it is still done the traditional way.

But spend some time with that First United Church Mission site and think about what they have done, what they do on a daily basis. Is a similar mission needed where you live? What's your church waiting for?

Many more sites and reflections from Vancouver to come. Stay tuned, and thanks for this visit!


Pastor Roger

Monday, July 20, 2009

Vancouver, Canada 3

Hi, America!

More from the Vancouver Streets. The jewelry shop above seems to be doing OK at this particular hour on this particular day. At least, not all the visitors and shoppers are Caucasians from the USA and Europe. That may be a good sign.
However, for the little neighborhood grocery and market below the picture is different. His "Blow Out Sale--Everything Must Go--Don't Miss Your Chance" is his last attempt to bring in a bit of revenue before he closes. The economy and the changing neighborhood had hit hard. Especially when there are other nearby shops that sell essentially the same thing. That will leave a hole in the neighborhood.

But other things have been changing in the neighborhood also. Libraries are an important feature of any community, any city. Vancouver has a stunning new one. Huge interior atrium. Stunning glass and architecture. A far cry from the Carnegie library that once served the city from a corner on E. Pender Street. This beautiful mosaic is out front on the sidewalk right at the corner entrance.

But it's no longer a library. It's a community center. That's a good thing. Lots of services are needed in this community. But they probably aren't the kind of services one might expect to find at a community center in other neighborhoods. Things like organic gardening classes and summer reading and recreation programs for youngsters out of school, knitting and weaving groups for seniors.

No, this sturdy old building probably provides showers for people on the street, 12-step programs, diversion groups.

Might even have a clothes closet and a food pantry. Life-saving stuff.

Maybe a place to use a phone or a computer. A place to sit down for a few minutes. Take a pee. Maybe even a locker to store your stuff for an hour.

Might serve as a resource center for public housing, a place to come in off the street when it's cold and wet out--which is a lot of the year in Vancouver, BC.

It no doubt has other unofficial uses due to its location. Such as a landmark for making a deal on the corner. Other people will be coming and going. No one will notice. . . .

Until someone does. . .

While the two female officers were making this bust in front of the Carnegie, a woman was standing right outside the coffee shop door a block down taking care of her own private "business" with the butane lighter and her little pipe. 10:30 in the morning. It didn't matter to her whether she was in Chinatown or Beijing. So long as that little pipe and lighter did what she wanted. What her body needed more than anything else. As businesses close, there will be less shopping and more "street sales".

So often, when Jesus came ashore on Lake Galilee or entered a town, a crowd formed. People desperately needed some good news, a reason to live and go on another day.

Someone has heard the call "Follow Me" in Vancouver. Right up the street. Stay tuned. . .


Pastor Roger

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Vancouver, Canada 2

Hi, Americans!
Not all is as it once was in Chinatown, Vancouver. To be sure, the megamarkets on prime corners along E. Pender Street in East Vancouver will continue to do well. They will attract locals with their selection and quantity. Tourists who know their stuff will surely wander into the open market storefront. Who knows? They may sell more online than "over the counter these days". But I've always wondered about some Chinese markets such as the one below. Is this a food store? Herbal medicine apothecary supply? Craft supply store? Health and beauty store? All of the above?
Does one cook with these nearly transparent dried fish? Grind them up for medicines? Boil them for the cat? Fertilize the garden with them?
The old institutions and clubs are barely hanging on. Younger Chinese-Canadians have grown up almost entirely westernized. They don't want to live or raise their families on the old narrow apartment buildings with cramped space, poor plumbing and heat, inadequate electrical systems and right above the crowded streets. Those who can afoord to move out to communities like Richmond or North Vancouver and have a more suburban life. Their kids feel much more at home there.

How does that change life for the smaller stores and businesses? If they go under, what happens to the space? Who moves in? What goes on outside?

How do these factors and other changes in the economy affect life for the people already there? For the people who have nowhere else to go?

Where does the Gospel and ministry fit into all of this? Stay tuned.


Pastor Roger

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Vancouver, Canada

Hi, Americans!

We just returned last night from four nights and days in Vancouver, BC. Chinatown was on our list of places to visit. We had been there briefly in 2006, and we returned to spend more time this year. It was my first visit to another major city (Vancouver is Canada's third largest and North America's second most densely populated city) since beginning the worship ministry through Operation Nightwatch in downtown Portland.

I saw Vancouver and Chinatown through new eyes, through the lives and condition of some of the folks on the street. This and upcoming posts will highlight some of the quirks and contrasts of street scenes in another city.

The Potter's Place Mission is on Hastings Street, just on the edge of Chinatown. The folks above are waiting for the mission to open to get coffee and perhaps a meal. It is 2-3 blocks from the heart of the hard-core drug and mental illness population's hangout. One door, three crosses. The folks on the street here are the ones in better shape, of course. Some can't get that far--or stay that focused.

One mile to the west is the financial capital of western Canada--and more tourists from more countries than most Americans know about. But the cross is here at the Potter's Place Mission serving the few.

But He answered them, "You give them something to eat." (Mark 6:34a)
In upcoming posts I'll be doing a daily series of reports and reflections from the Vancouver trip. Stay tuned.


Pastor Roger

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Puppeteer. Or...?

So what do you think, King (or Queen) Solomons out there? Are the parents innocent or guilty? If guilty, of what?

I'm talking about the Worthingtons who are on trial in Oregon City following the death of their toddler who had a large cyst on her neck. The cyst was benign and could easily have been drained and treated. Instead, it swelled when the child developed a cold. It closed off the airway and she essentially died of suffocation. The parents and family prayed and laid hands on the girl. They say in court that they did all they could. They don't believe in doctors or medicine. They believe that their only recourse in the face of illness and disease is prayer.

And if the child dies (doctors say she could easily have been saved, even on the day of her death), it must be God's will.

But if it's God's will--and the faith and earnest prayers of loving family who have thrown all other sources of help overboard can't or won't change God's will--then why pray?

Is God the great puppeteer? Is it all predetermined, choreographed, cast in something harder than diamonds, more durable than titanium, more eternal than gravity? Or does God give us prayer and then some? Does God give us the tools of healing to free us to serve other people? Or does God only tell us to pray faithfully while perpetually taunting us with random answers? Is God the Great Physician and Healer or the Great Arbitrary Manipulator?

Does God give some people insight and make other people blind? Is God constantly playing games with us, constantly changing the rules and the scores, so that even when we think we have enough faith we end up hearing God push the buzzer and chant, "Ennnhhh! Sorry! You lose. Shoulda prayed HARDER and it might have worked out. Your fault."

Or does God want us to get off our buns and use every tool and opportunity for healing to the max? What does it mean to pray, "Thy kingdom come; they will be done?"

Last October we took Jean up to OHSU to have her head taken apart and put back together. We prayed for healing before, during and after the surgery. We prayed for the team while the work was going on. We used every tool God gave us. I don't trust or love God less because we had one of the very best neurosurgeons in the country working inside her skull. I thank God for the abundance of the gifts we were given.

I think God has cut the marionette strings and wants us to stand on our legs like the people he made us to be.


Pastor Roger

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Golden Calf

Worship fest. That's what we're having at the Staples Center in LA today.

We scoff at the biblical story of the golden calf built by Moses' brother Aaron when Moses was presumed KIA on the mountain top in prayer and receiving the Decalogue from God. God shoulda seriously gone for a higher baud rate in his analog data transmission system back then. The current fourth grader blindfolded could out-text God today a zillion to one. And then there was the painfully slow backup process when the first Decalogue was destroyed by Moses' temper. Wow! All over what the people were worshiping when Moses got back to town.

Yeah, it's about what we worship.

Years ago when I was working long hours and driving home in my little 1971 Honda 600 sedan I kept the radio on to stay awake. The only station my bad antenna would pick up on the AM radio was a station that broadcast Bruce Williams' three-hour nightly calli-in show about money, small business and entrepreneurship. Ol' Bruce won my heart. He had learned so much the hard way: by experience. And he was willing to share it all. He always advised people to learn a business by working for someone else already in the business and to invest in themselves through education and training. Timeless, sound advice.

I also liked Bruce because he was a (former) pilot. Nearly killed himself in the crash of his Cessna 182. Like many people who get overcommitted and overstressed, he thought he was God and could/should do it all. Had to get somewhere as though the world depended on him. Nearly died and learned the world did not depend on him. Turned his life around and instead of doing it all helped as many other people as he could.

One night somebody asked Bruce if he didn't want to leave the small potatoes of radio and take his show on TV instead. "No way!" Bruce replied. "I get three hours. Three hours every night on radio. That would be impossible on TV. On TV, the Second Coming of Christ would only get 15 seconds--45 seconds max on a slow news day."

So when a dead pop star or a dead president gets a whole day's worth of coverage on TV, radio, the Internet and via global hookup in movie theaters it tells us the Golden Calf is alive and well. The calf has turned into a bull that has bulldozed his corral to smitherines.

Yes, Michael Jackson could sing. Yes, he could dance. That's not gone. We can hear it all, see it all endlessly on CD, DVD, etc. It is immortal for as much as we want to wallow in it.

But the accolades will ignore the man's disfunctionality and his abuse of children. The accolades will be about self-pity, how much we miss him, how badly we hurt now. Oh, poor fame and dzzle-deprived us! Wah, wah, wah.

Gimme a break.

Black Elk had a definition for gold which was of no value to the Lakotas because it did not promote or sustain life or teach wisdom. But to the Wasichus (white people), gold was "the yellow metal that they worship and that makes them crazy", as Black Elk put it. Yeah, see who ended up owning the Balck Hills?

Find someone every day who needs your help. They are as close as your street and your block. Don't blink or succumb to idol worship. Or you might miss the Christ walking among you. After all, you might have spent more than the necessary 15 seconds texting, Facebooking and idol worshiping and not noticed His arrival.

On a slow news day, you might even get 45 seconds. Can't even order a latte in that time.


Pastor Roger

PS The "American Idol" road show starts in Portland. Good grief!

Monday, July 6, 2009

That Declaration of Independence

It wasn't the first or only such document, the one signed and adopted in Philadelphia on 4 July 1776. But it's the one we know and hang our hats on today. And don't forget that the name of that city means "friends/lovers of brothers".
Don't just focus on the unalienable rights. Read the whole thing. Does it make assumptions and judgments about people that stick in your throat or conscience today? I hope so. In the same way that once having had a car crash as a result of carelessness or recklesness can make one a better driver, I'd hope that a fresh reading of the full text of the Declaration would make us alert to avoid the same kind of oversights and misjudgments of people today.

The ninth chapter of the Gospel According to John is aobut seeing and blindness, both the physical and the intellectual/spiritual kinds. And there is a difference between being unable to see and refusing to see.

Self-check questions for the day: What have I ever refused to see? What have I refused to see lately?

God, give us vision. Amen.

Pastor Roger

Friday, July 3, 2009

Find The Cost of Freedom

"Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground.
Mother earth will swallow you, lay your body down..."
The words above are from a Crosby, Stills and Nash song. Another day, another time. And before them, Janis Joplin had sung that "Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose..."

Freedom is a dangerous word. It's what your adolescent dreams of and what your teenager asserts by violating your rules, common sense, wisdom and domestic tranquility. They are certain that (their) best parents in the world are oppressors who need to be fought with guerilla tactics. Sometimes gorilla tactics.

Ever thought about how the word freedom gets used? Between '03 and '08, it was often used like a spear to impale an enemy we did not really know as well as our own citizens who wondered if we as a nation were doing the right thing. Or doing the right thing all wrong.

How free are you? How'd you get that way? When 90% of the people under the age of 35 have decided to tatoo themselves, did they freely make that choice? Wasn't it those who didn't tatoo who really expressed freedom, the freedom to not follow the crowd?

Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA. July 4, 1776: white men met for several days and compiled their lists of grievances against King George III of England. They actually had little to say about their vision for a new country except to emphasize their "unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." They asserted that any legitimate government shoudl derive its authority from the consent of the governed.

For all their visionary wisdom, the Colonies' brightest and best could not have conceived that these rights should apply to people of color--any color but white. Oh, and how about the consent of the governed? Slaves were more than governed by the ruling authority. When had they given their consent? What were any such persons to make of the writers' "firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence?"

And how about the charge that King George had endeavored to incite "the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions?" Did they just think that--or did they know that. Wounded Knee hadn't happened yet. But a thousand little ones already had.

A grievance against King George was that "he has endeavored to prevent the population of these States" and that he wouldn't open more land to appropraiton for settlement. As if the land had ever been ol' George's to give away in the first place.
I guess the people already living here weren't people. And neither were the African slaves brought in to do the work of the tobacco, cotton, sugar and rum trade.

When it's good for the economy of the wealthy, all manner of ideas about humanity can be invented. And the people who did so in our Declaration of Independence weren't a bunch of pagans or atheist God-deniers. They were either deists or Christians. We use God to back up our perverted ideas about humanity all the time. But are they the truth?

Jesus said knowing the truth would make us free.

Were the representatives in congress in Philadelphia free? Were they already free in their minds, thus enabling them to declare themselves free on paper? The Continental Army did not yet exist. No formal battles had been fought. And when they were fought, they were usually not very favorable to the Continentals. Lord Cornwallis surrendered to an insurgency that had become more touble than it was worth to the Crown. But that was years away.

To be a part of that insurgency, people were willing to die and did so. Did their death make them free? Or were they already free, thus willing to die? When they were ultimately successful, most of the colonies had absolutely no idea what to do next or how to form and be a nation. It came close to ending very badly.

How many Americans did the Vietnam War free? And from what? By the time that conflict in SE Asia came about, the United States of America had become a big, ponderous political system, though still a relative lightweight by comparison to today. Such systems are like a monstrous machine with exposed chains, sprockets and gear trains. People get caught in them all the time. Does getting caught in the system make anyone thus caught up free? Whom does it free? Leaders from responsibility and accountability? Citizens from responsibility to learn, think and act? Have we actually made Janis Joplin's words come true?

What truth do you know today makes you free? And do you just think that truth, or do you know it? Has it been tested in the face of someone you regard as unhuman? Does it stand up to the humility test?

Humility is always a mandatory safeguard when national pride is on display. It's like the fire extinguishers and buckets of water I hope people have for their fireworks tonight. It's like a seat belt in your car. If you aren't wearing it, it's far too late to put it on when you really need it.

Have a humble American birthday today. Find a humble truth that frees you. And hang on for dear life.


Pastor Roger

Thursday, July 2, 2009

54-40 or Fight!

James Polk campaigned for president on the slogan. Extending the boundary of the Oregon Territory to 54 degrees, 40 minutes north latitude--well into what we today know as Canada--was the goal.

Didn't happen. As President, Polk negotiated a boundary with the British at 49 degrees north latitude via the Oregon Treaty of 1846. That's where it still is today.

54. 40. 49. 46. Similar numbers have been in the news lately. After revising methods to be more accurate, the state has finally come up with high school graduation and dropout rates that echo some of the above numbers. In the Portland Public Schools, 54% of students graduate. That means 46% don't. Out here where we live in the Reynolds District, 51% graduate. 49% don't.

So where's the fight?

Hint: the fight is not about dollars for education, although that wouldn't hurt. In the Reynolds District, class sizes will be going into astronomical numbers in the high 30's. Those class size numbers might have worked OK with the more collected and disciplined kids of the 40's and 50's. With today's attention deficit, overstimulated, fragmented and displaced kids and teachers whose disiplinary hands are tied, they are a disaster. Complete, total disaster.

But more importantly, where are the parents? Who is bringing into this world children that are not disciplined, loved, motivated, held accountable and socialized enough to finish high school in four years? High school, for God's sake! It ain't that hard!

Our daughter who attended a private Catholic high school worked her butt off and learned to write. At Portland State University, she spent half her time helping friends who came out of public school--some of them on scholarships--write papers.

Where's the fight? And where are the churches in this fight? Still wasting time trying to defend marriage from gay people's assault when the assault is and always has come from married heterosexuals?

Churches, and anybody we can join forces with, need to be about helping students graduate. But even more urgently, we need to be about Remedial Parenthood 101, Remedial Adulthood 101, Remedial Responsibility 101.

Remedial Love Your Neighbor As Your Own Family 101.

Where's the fight?


Pastor Roger

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Stranger on the Shore

Eons ago, clarinetist Acker Bilk had that marvelous instrumental hit record, "Stranger on the Shore." So different from pumped lyrics and overstuffed electronic sound of many current recordings.

Mark 5:1-20. Jesus comes ashore after weathering and calming the storm in a voyage across the Sea of Galilee. Biggest storm he has to calm is the fears in his young follwers' hearts. But as Mark will show us, it's less dangerous in the middle of a storm at sea when Jesus is aboard than safe on the shore without him.

Jesus is met by the demoniac of Gerasa (probably Gergesa in reality; texts aren't always consistent on their geography). This case of severe mental illness recognizes Jesus and calls him by name--even when the other people in the area don't. Mentally ill people have faith. Too.

How do we respond to them? Fear. How do we respond to the healing when that happens? Oft-times with fear as well. We say it's bad for the economy, coming at the price of 2,000 pigs. "Leave us," Jesus of Nazareth, "the devil we know is less threatening to us than the one we don't. It's the economy, stupid!"

Mentally ill people sometimes focus on the apocalyptic imagery of the Bible. It seems to harmonize with their overly vivid view of reality. For that, we can and must forgive them. It's when so-called sane people do the same--to the exclusion of recognizing the kingdom of God among them--that we have to step back and ask what the real definition of mental illness is.

Is it failure to recognize Jesus in the boat? Failure to recognize the stranger on the shore?


Pastor Roger