Museum of Clean

Close to the end of our Montana vacation Mom, daughter, and I went to the Museum of Clean in Pocatello, Idaho.  It testifies to the need to clean displaying vacuums that worked without electricity, old washing machines, robotic statues made from vacuum hoses, and a large play area in which my daughter gleefully picked up window washing spray and a cloth and washed the sheet of plexi-glass.  All of this was brought together by Don Aslett, the same man who took us on a tour of the 2 story museum.  He has authored over 40 books on cleaning and built quite an empire out of a very humble cleaning business he began while in college.  Calling me a “member of the professional cleaners club” he signed a book he wrote for professional cleaners. 

Perhaps because I’m now a custodian of a very large church campus without funds for a professional cleaner, I find myself drawn to the books he’s written.  He tells me how to get a stain out of a carpet—make sure all the stain remover is flushed out with water!  He tells me what to use to wash kitchen walls—your dishwashing soap is made to cut grease.  He tells me that I can make things better, less dusty, if I just put down proper mats in entry ways. 

The idea that we can make things better is encouraging and dare I say it, holy.   

Don is a natural encourager, reminding those who clean for a living that they are the ones who care for all who enter the building, who make sure things are maintained, and who often point out safety issues (perhaps even fix them).  A good cleaner thinks about the best way to do something, knows what the cleaning agents do, and keeps his/her tools in good repair.  Before I read his books I thought cleaning as the never ending chore that had to be done.  He’s begun to transform my way of thinking—instead of the tedium of keeping dirt at bay, I am beginning to see cleaning as an art which makes life more lovely for us all. 

Jesus helped us believe that, if we became his disciples, we could make the world better.  He taught us how…prayer, community, scripture, service, love.  And, he gave us the Holy Spirit which turns us from a law led life to one of creative holiness.  We can find the best way to encourage another, the most effective way of serving the community, and we can keep our relationship with God in good repair.  If we do this, we can make things better and life more lovely for all those we touch. 

Often times the spiritual work we do goes unnoticed or unappreciated.  We don’t get any points for spending time in prayer.  But how wonderful it is when there is trouble and the relationship we have with God is in such good order, that we have the right tool to suck the trouble up and away.   It takes a lot of work to create community, lots of phone calls, the making of meals, and the inevitable clean up.  And yet…how wonderful it is when someone is struggling that there are 5 people who gladly call and help out where they can.  You get the idea.

We can make the world better! 

Get to it…and expect to be creative, to have some fun, and to learn a whole lot along the way.

In Christ,

Reverend Heather Miner

 

NEWS FROM NLBCC

For those who have thought they might visit North Long Beach Christian Church, this Sunday, September 15th, is a great choice!  Elnora Beck will join our worship team by leading our opening praise.  And we are beginning a series called Voices of Prayer where we will listen to the prayers of others and allow them to inform our own.  

What are you waiting for?

What are you waiting for?

This rhetorical question is often used to get us moving and doing.  But that’s not the intent today.

Our Psalm proclaims “I will wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope…my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.”

The words make me picture a long cold sleepless night.  Sometimes I have a little taste of it when I camp; when I wake, and it is still dark, and I cannot sleep again.  How I long for the light of morning and the bird’s twittering proclamation that night has become day.  But there’s something else that helps me get through the night.  For a little ways away from me in our tent is my daughter and all I have to do is take her in my arms, share warmth, and all is well.

O Israel, hope in the LORD!   Shouts the Psalmist

For with the Lord there is steadfast love,

And with him is the power to redeem.

Notice–the Psalmist is in relationship with God, with the Lord.  You may know that, while it isn’t the majority of the scholar’s view anymore, the Psalms were, traditionally, ascribed to David.  The same man who was guilty of adultery, the one who took down Saul, the harp playing king of kings was thought to have authored the Psalms because the words sound like what a broken man of faith would sing.  Indeed scholars have simply expanded the authorship to include a larger community of faith.  Not one voice but many.  What is most important is not trying to figure out who wrote what but that these words were spoken in a faith community during worship.  These are the words spoken and sung by the broken people of faith–those who know the worst of life and the worst of themselves and yet dare believe God is near.   The Psalmist knows the love of the Lord.  The community who sings the Psalmist’s song have felt the power of redemption.  In their singing they open their arms wide to the God of love.  In some respect, the wait is over.  Even the words that come out of a long night ring with joyous faith.

Faith is always an invitation to take hold of a love and power that is beyond and yet with us.  We can choose to set our mind to wait, to believe all will be well someday, and then we will know love.  Or we can choose to set our mind to take hold of love already given.  As Victor Frankl, a survivor of the extermination camps of World War II writes, “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”  (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/v/viktor_e_frankl.html#35iLDEkBbRxkeaY6.99)

Frankl’s writing comes out his observations that those who survived the camps held to something higher, more powerful than the overwhelming evil of the camp.  They could feel something else at work.

Faith is an invitation to make a choice to believe God is moving among us.  But when we are busy doing, we are often not even conscious of our choice to exclude God.

In college, my Sociology professor assigned his students to go to a public place and stand.  We weren’t to wait for anyone or anything.  The assignment was to stand for 30 minutes and then write about the experience.

Years later, I remember how out of place I felt at first.  I wasn’t doing what everyone else was doing around me.  I had no purpose and felt uncomfortable with my lack of intent.  But, then, after awhile, I began to see the laughing teenagers pass by; the baby calling for his mother’s attention; the man waiting for his wife outside a store.  I began to see.  And, as I stood there, instead of feeling the frenetic pull I often feel in a Mall, I felt more and more peaceful.  I didn’t need anything from the stores.  I wasn’t waiting for someone outside of a store I had grown tired of.  I wasn’t worried about being lost or left behind.  It was okay to not have a purpose.  It was enough to watch a bit of God’s work in the faces of those who passed by.

The difference between waiting for God and waiting for something less is when we wait for God there are no limits.  We give God permission to work outside of the lines.  In contrast, when we wait for someone or something, we become captive to one idea–like, waiting for a loved one at an airport.  Lots of people pass by before the one we desire appears.  We don’t really see their faces, just the fact that they aren’t the one we are expecting.

When we are waiting for the one, we can become irritated.  Our time, that precious commodity, is being wasted.   We are angry at those who keep us from what we are waiting for.  We feel both the loneliness and fear of being lost.

It is this kind of waiting that is most familiar to all of us and to those who disbelieved the words of Jesus.

When Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will not hunger.  Whoever believes in me will never thirst.”  Those who heard him argue saying, “How can he say such a thing?  Is he not Joseph’s boy who grew up in Galilee?”

You can almost see the scripture writer’s smile.

On one level, there is truth to their complaint.  It would be difficult to believe that someone who grew up in your neighborhood is the one sent by God.  It is totally ridiculous.  On another level, the gospel suggests that disbelief and complaint go hand in hand.

You can fill in the larger conversation:  “Jesus can’t be what we are waiting for.   If he is the real thing, let him perform a miracle, like the one God did that day when our ancestors were in the wilderness and God sent manna from heaven.  Let Jesus do something grand like that.”

And Jesus retorts: “Stop your complaining.  Stop looking up to heaven.   I am here.  Besides, that miracle in the wilderness wasn’t so grand.  It didn’t overcome your ancestor’s disbelief.  Those complainers died before they entered into the promises of God.  Look at me.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”

“I am here.”

What are you waiting for?

A young man worried about his soul going to hell because he didn’t go to church except on Christmas and Easter.  Some of his Christian friends had told him that he was doomed.  He, being at the age when the thought of death becomes scary (remember that age in your life…we don’t talk about it much, but it is part of our development), found it hard to sleep at night.

Pause here a moment.  Understand, when we are spiritually alone, it is easy for fear to take hold of us.  On one level, his friend was right.  Church could help bring this young man closer to God and love.  A faith community could love and shape him.  Where the friend went wrong is in deciding for God what God would do.

I asked the young man, What do you know about God?

God is a good being, he replied.

That got me thinking.  How do we know God is good?  How do we know God is the one we should look for in the morning?

There are plenty who would question God’s goodness and love because this side of heaven is not all good and sometimes acts against love.  How do you know God is good?

The Bible tells me so?  The preacher tells me so?

How do you know God is good?

Your Dad?  Your Grandmother?  Your Friend?  Your Sunday School teacher?

How about an experience you had one day.

How many of you here have had an experience of God’s goodness?

If I probed further, if we had time in this short hour to share of these experiences, I trust that many of your stories would be set in a time when you were forced outside of your normal habits and were able to see more clearly.

To wait on the Lord is to seek out the Lord as if God is here.  To take hold of the one we love in the middle of the night and let the Holy One warm our soul.   It is to believe that when Jesus stands in front of his hometown peeps and says “I am the living bread” that Jesus means to give us all we need.  It is to wait, not for someone to arrive, but to see the possibilities in the life that has been given all around us.  It is to stop complaining so God can get to work in us.

Henri Nouwen writes:

A few years ago I met an old professor at the University of Notre Dame, Looking back on his long life of teaching, he said with a funny wrinkle in his eyes: “I have always been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I slowly discovered that my interruptions were my work.”

 That is the great conversion in our life: to recognize and believe that the many unexpected events are not just disturbing interruptions of our projects, but the way in which God molds our hearts and prepares us for his return. Our great temptations are boredom and bitterness. When our good plans are interrupted by poor weather, our well-organized careers by illness or bad luck, our peace of mind by inner turmoil, our hope by a constant changing of the guards, and our desire for immortality by real death, we are tempted to give in to a paralyzing boredom or to strike back in destructive bitterness. But when we believe that patience can make our expectations grow, then ‘fate’ can be converted into a vocation, wounds into a call for deeper understanding, and sadness into a birthplace for joy.

– from Out of Solitude by Henri J. Nouwen

What are we waiting for?

I’m sure you have your lists.  I know I have mine.  It has been exactly one year since my last day at Community and there is no sign of a church call; nor a sign of full time work; nor a sign of financial stability.  There is much we all can complain about as the economy saps our confidence in keeping what we have.  There are those among us who are single after all these years who wish for a loving partner to share their lives with.  There are those among us who wish for a more just politic.  There are those here who wish desperately that their son/daughter will come back to a path of love.

Nouwen says,  “Fate can be converted into a vocation, wounds into a call for deeper understanding, and sadness into a birthplace for joy.”

Jesus tells us who does the converting: “Do not complain among yourselves.  No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me….”  (John 6:44)

”unless drawn by the Father who sent me.”

It is God who draws us to Jesus, to healing, to hope, to love present now.  It is God who converts fate into vocation, wounds into deeper understanding, and sadness into a birthplace for joy.  There no stronger image of God breaking into this world than the heaven sent Jesus standing in front of us, saying, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”

“I am here.”

Today, hear the call:  Let go of the lists, the complaints, the worries, and frenzied acts.  Instead, take hold of the invitation of faith…Wait on God … wait on God

I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 

July 28, 2012

John 6:  35 – 51; Psalm 130

Reverend Heather Miner

Loneliness and Solitude

From the book, The Eternal Now, sermons of Paul Tillich written for college aged young people:  “Our lanugage has wisely sensed two sides of man’s being alone.  It has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone.  And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone.”

On the latter, he writes:

“Sometimes God thrusts us out of the crowd into a solitude we did not desire, but which nonethless takes hold of us.  The prophet Jeremiah says–‘I sit alone, because thy hand was upon me.’  God sometimes lays hands upon us.  He wants us to ask the question of truth that may isolate us from most men, and that can be asked only in solitude.  He wants us to ask the question of justice that may bring us suffering and death, and that can grow in us only in solitude.  He wants us to break through the ordinary ways of man that may bring disrepute and hatred upon us, a breakthrough that can happen only in solitude.  He wants us to penetrate to the boundaries of our being, where the mystery of life appears, and it can only appear in moments of solitude.”

Sounds true to me!

Pastor Heather

Speaking Jesus

Christianity certainly has a rich back story found in the Hebrew scriptures.  But today I’m more interested in the “after story,” what happens when the final scene has ended.  The gospel of John tells the story of Jesus but is written long after Jesus died; long after the resurrection encounters.  Yet, despite John being the latest gospel written, it, alone, is filled with Jesus’ speeches, Jesus’ words.  And, it is the only gospel that we hear Jesus pray for us (John 17).  Here scripture points to a principle of faith.  Only after the church has been around awhile, only when they have dwelled within Christ for some time, can they give Jesus a clear voice.  Only when we have dwelled with Christ for some time can we give Jesus a clear voice.  I suspect this is why the epistle, 1 John, talks so much about abiding, dwelling in Christ.  What I understand from this scripture is that there are times when it is best not to act but simply to abide that we might give Jesus his truest voice.

In Christ,

Heather

An Easter Call

Easter morning—He is Risen!—He is Risen, Indeed!

Sin and Salvation

Jonathan Edwards shouts out

We are sinners in the hands of an angry God

Look what we have done

To ourselves

Our neighbors

Our nation

Our world

Our God

Look at what we haven’t done

For ourselves

Our neighbors

Our nation

Our world

Our God

Should God not be angry when we stand apart, build our own towers, testaments to our own strength?  Should God not be angry when those God loves abandon each other?  Should God not be angry when we abandon our world and ourselves when the tower falls?

We are not made to stand alone!

We were made to stand with…

Salvation is connection.

At the cross we stand with

Jesus who believed

God is more than anger

Or vengeance

People are more than sin

Or arrogance

Easter morning dawns

Mary and Peter peek into the

Empty tomb

And are afraid.

Resurrection possibilities

Strewn about in torn cloth.

“Mary,” calls the gardener

Recognizing Jesus’ voice, she cries out, “Rabouni!”

Salvation is connection.

Jesus’ faith  in and Jesus’  love for

God’s faith in and God’s love for

you and me

live on

connect

you and me.

Leave behind Eden

The serpent will never have

The last word.

Leave behind the tower

None of it is yours

Anyway.

Free your hands

Together let us

Take hold of the cup–

The cup of salvation.

Together, let us come into love.

Samosas and Pi

I listened to a film critic’s debate about whether current cinema has become too easy for us to watch.  Films like The Help or the Shawshank Redemption were criticized as being too sentimental, too satisfying to watch–providing no deep insight into humanity, moving us nowhere.  A few of the critics lamented how movie viewers need to demand to see more challenging movies rather than seeking movies that make us smile.  While they probably aren’t going to win that argument in the marketplace of stories, I felt properly chastised.  When Netflix surfaced a film called Pi, I thought, “okay, I’ll give something that is ‘edgy’ a try.”

More than once I wanted to turn it off.  It seems that when film pushes the boundaries, it invades the psyche.  I was reminded of the time when all freshmen, including me, who took Humanities Core at UC Irvine had to watch A Clockwork Orange.  It was a similarly unpleasant experience.

The premise of the movie, Pi, is that a mathematician (Max Cohen) finds the pattern that describes the ups and down of the stock market.  Because the number of digits matches a number a group of esoteric Jews seek, they believe that this same number is the one that underlies creation itself–or is the pattern that is God.  Max is already subject to migraines, and knowing this pattern increases their frequency and intensity.  Further, within these episodes are harrowing visions.   In the earthly world, the knowledge Max holds sends bad people after him from every direction.  His solution to all of this craziness? <spoiler alert>  Drill a hole in his head.  <end spoiler>  Who wouldn’t want to watch this for 2 hours?

The movie’s intensity made it into my dreams and woke me up in the middle of the night.  I realized what was missing in this man’s search for truth, what was missing in his search to understand the ultimate code of the universe, was relationship.  There is one friendship, but that too is lost in the search for the numerical pattern of the universe.  When a girl knocks on his door bearing Samosas, he slams it shut.

His compulsive need to find a pattern, to know what the pattern means, made me think about that tree in the Garden of Eden, the one God said not to eat from.  It was the tree of knowledge.   The serpent said eating from it would not kill us but would make those who ate of it like God.  Might this movie be a meditation on what it means to disobey God’s garden command?  For it was the human desire to know what it is God knows that took Max out of all relationship and led him into hell.

After the drilling, there is one more scene:  heaven.  Where, on earth, a young girl can give Max complicated arithmetic problems which he solves quickly in his head, in heaven she sits with him on a bench, gives him a math problem, and he smiles and says, “I don’t know.”

The Bible suggests, from the very beginning, that we are not made to know everything but we are made for relationship.  We are made for relationship–with these words I join a chorus of preachers.  But I will differ from many by saying that the Bible isn’t interested in giving you the 10 ways to make your relationships last or in helping you find your life long partner based on 30 bits of scripture.  The fact that such a message means snipping scripture from its context suggests humans are at play.  Remember that the apostle Paul makes clear that, if we can help it, we should not enter into marriage because it will distract us from following Jesus.  The Bible isn’t interested in helping you find your lifelong love.  But the Bible is intent on inviting you into love.

The Garden of Eden warns when we allow our search for anything to get in the way of relationship with God we lose ourselves.  It isn’t that the pursuit of knowledge is bad.  There was much to learn about in the garden, and God was there to be Adam and Eve’s guide.  But when their search for truth overrides their relationships what is left is scary.  The Garden of Eden story seems less frightening than was the movie in that it describes not one who has literally lost his mind, but how the world really is…pain in childbirth, backbreaking work to till the land, and a distance between us and God.  If we’re looking for something more akin to a nightmare we might recall those scenes from the prophets where God is fed up with loving a people who refuse to love. There the enemy is allowed to enter into the people’s homes, to destroy their place of worship, and to send them away.  The language of God’s ire is vivid and abundant.

There are many who draw out that Biblical language and state that they will not believe in any religion with such a God.  They miss the point.  It is exactly because the “chosen people” turned away from relationship with God that God became the one who condemns.  When we turn away from love, from loving, from relationship, we are left, as was Max Cohen, with people, with a God, who just want to use us.  However, when we turn towards love, we experience God’s love.

Relationship is at the heart of faith.  Faith deepens when we choose to love God and love our neighbors.  And faith compels us, when we are struggling, to do the things that allow love to take hold of us.

Practically speaking, from my own experience, this means that when we are feeling low, apart, even attacked, it helps to enter more fully into relationships, to become more vulnerable, and to allow love to act.  It is the opposite of what I want to do when I’m tired, uncertain, or hurting.  My first impulse is to run away, whether it be in imagining a solo road trip or playing on my computer.  I confess, I allow myself a little of both.  But what’s even better…?  Being held tight by my family and holding them tight; sharing some of my life with people I meet at the gym as they share of their lives; allowing the people I meet in church to walk with me and I with them in the ways of faith; writing these messages where I seek to know God’s word for this time and place and reading the writings of others who are engaged in a similar task; reading and watching creative endeavors–some that are satisfying to watch and others which wake me up at night; and prayer.  Some prayers I focus on Jesus, in others I rest in God’s word, sometimes I talk a lot, other times I’m quiet.    None of these are “the way,” but each is an example of how I enter more fully into love at this time of my life.

Thankfully, I suspect none of us are as extreme as Max.  When someone knocks on the door with Samosas we are going to, at the very least, open the door.  But still, the question remains…how will you move closer, be more intimate, love more deeply God and neighbor?  What are the habits you already have or one you might add into your life which allow you to remain open to love?  Within your list, there is your garden where you walk with God.

In Christ,  Heather

Far and Wide

In seminary at Yale Divinity School I was awed to find myself in a vast landscape–that of the Christian witness spoken through the centuries.  My perspective, having grown up in the Southern California United Church of Christ, was limited by comparison.  I realized I had only seen faith from one small corner of scholarship in this time and place.  There were more voices to hear, endless voices of faith and ways of understanding God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  Add to that the Jewish traditions that are woven into scripture, and the totality of the Judeo-Christian witness reaches back to the days of creation.  This faith tradition is varied and beautiful, reaching far and wide, inviting us into a relationship with the living Creator, God’s self.

The vastness of the Judeo-Christian faith starkly contrasts with the image of the temple, the day Jesus arrived, as described in the gospel of John.

“In the temple Jesus found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.”  (2: 14)

Entering into the space where people came to meet God, Jesus is accosted by the sights and sounds of animals being sold for sacrifice to atone for sin.

In the claustrophobic chaos, the faithful find their way to the stalls in order to buy the appropriate animal as described in Jewish law.  Imagine the sounds, the smells, and the difficulty of holding an animal long enough to carry it to the priest for the altar.  How easy it would be to lose the intent, to lose God’s larger story, in the business of what must be done.

Recall, the Jewish people have come to the Jerusalem temple to celebrate the Passover, the day when God freed Israel from Egyptian bondage.  They remembered a day of blood and horror and salvation.  The night before Passover, each family of Israel was to sacrifice a lamb and put the lamb’s blood on their door.  God passed over the households that had this sign, inflicting the last plague on the rest of Egypt, killing their first born sons.  Only this last plague turned Pharaoh’s head long enough to allow Israel to leave his service and enter into a new life with God.

Israel, the freed people, enters into the wilderness, a vast landscape which opened them to experiences of God they had never before known.  Beautiful experiences, as when they saw God as a pillar of cloud and fire.  Frightening experiences, like a snake rising up from the desert floor.  After a generation had passed away, the new generation led by Joshua, entered, with God, into the land God promised.  God’s presence there is marked by the Jerusalem temple.

Having come to the temple, the symbol of God’s promise and presence, the crowd enters in thinking about what must be done to atone for sin. How small is their view as the din of animal noises and seller’s voices echo off the high walls of the courtyard.  Is this really the freedom that God envisioned long ago when blood was shed in Egypt?

Jesus gets angry…very angry.

“Making a whip of cords, [Jesus] drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle.  He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here!  Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” (2:15 – 17)

I’m sure Jesus’ actions confused the temple leaders of the day.  They were only doing what was expected.  Maybe the root of that which would debilitate the churches of this day is similar.  It is all too easy to get into a business that, in its essentials, is quite similar to selling sin offerings: we do what has always been done in order to placate what someone has said is the Holy Way instead of seeking to invite all people into God’s grace.

Jesus was angry because the temple had created a way for people to placate the Holy One instead of opening the doors to a relationship with His Father and our Father.

Church practices are rarely questioned, indeed, just as in Jesus’ time, there is always a scripture to point to defend them.  Every such practice can be justified through tradition…and will continue to be as long as we are trading in our earthly temples.

Would that Jesus enter in, whip in hand, to tell us to get out.  Stop selling your doves here, your narrow way to peace with God.  This is my Father’s house.

In Christianity, we come to know God through Jesus.  When Jesus saw the faithful confined to buying sin offerings, he overturned the tables.  Given this, is it not possible that God is unhappy with tradition bound rules even if they can be justified by a small portion of scripture?  Isn’t possible that, even now, God continues to overturn the tables of our limited understanding that we might better know God’s way?

When Jesus saw that the temple, the place where one could come to enter into God’s presence, had as its first and foremost concern making people act according to tradition, he told them to get out.

Then, he pointed to himself as the temple which would be destroyed and in 3 days raised up.

Of course, the temple faithful had no idea of that which he spoke.  For it required leaving behind expectations in order to imagine God in a new form, one who would not kill, but would die to set us free.

May we allow God to make us free to enter a faith which is varied and beautiful, which reaches far and wide, and invites us into a relationship with the living God.

In Christ,

Heather