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Pomona, CA 91768

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Pastor’s Blog

No Room…Still

1170x750xhomeless.jpg_qitok_crX5Ue5G.pagespeed.ic.PYpj5Zuy-iWe read about it in the papers. There is not enough housing available in California to meet the current need; there are roughly 600,000 units needed to meet current demand. We know people are being displaced by high rents and/or lack of availability. Our congregation helps support Our House Shelter, an emergency shelter for people who don’t have a home. It’s an important part of meeting the housing crisis. But what happens when people get back on their feet and cannot find a place to actually “set up house”?

There are many possible solutions to the housing crisis and all of them are needed. Is there something our congregation could do with other congregations to help mitigate the risk for people who are still sheltered but under threat of displacement? Our faith doesn’t happen in the vacuum of our sanctuary. It is meant to be lived in our lives, on our streets and in our communities. Just learning about the realities of the housing crisis in our state and in our region is an important first step to living our faith.

Our Organizing Team invites all of you to lunch and small group conversations about the work we are doing together and might do with others to make “more room at the Inn”. On January 13th after worship, we will gather for lunch and conversation. People have opinions about housing, but the urgency of the crisis calls for more than opinions.

Julie’s Jar for November 12, 2018 – Generation to Generation

The president of the congregation sent an email indicating 650 people attended the service. Mike, Tim Reed and I were in attendance Friday night at Temple Beth Israel for Shabbat. It was called Solidarity Shabbat and Jewish congregations around the nation gathered, inviting the communities in which they live and worship to join them.

We welcomed the Sabbath together early in the service, turning to the door where we’d all entered earlier. It is an ancient practice, to welcome the Sabbath in this way, like an honored guest entering the space. We read prayers together in both Hebrew and English and sang prayers together in Hebrew: prayers and songs that have been sung by the Jewish community for centuries. I watched as everyone who was part of the community participated in a dip and bow in unison wondering “How many centuries have people been doing that?”

The prayers, scriptures and songs included a number of references to passing these on “so our children may know.” A mother and daughter sat in front of me, the daughter recently having had her Bat Mitzvah. I watched them speak, sing and move in unison to the parts of the service. I watched mom encourage daughter to go up front when Rabbi Kupetz invited the youth of the congregation to come forward and lead a prayer. After a number of persistent and gentle pushes, daughter went forward. It takes tenacity to raise children in any faith and I appreciated the mom’s persistence. It is so much easier to give in and give up using the excuse, “Well, they have to decide for themselves.” (As Anne Lamott pointed out, “We make them brush their teeth. Is the life of their spirit not at least equally of value?)

The generation to generation passing on of the faith is of high value in the Jewish community. In many ways, I think it is of higher value than it is for many Protestants, particularly in the United States. The history of Protestantism in the United States is rooted in personal salvation, making a decision for oneself. This individualist approach to Christian faith is comfortable being untethered to tradition. Protestants in the US tend to be preoccupied with numbers: number of people in the pews, numbers of dollars received and given to charity. Living a Christian life, what we call discipleship, is often an afterthought. Christian discipleship by necessity is rooted in spiritual traditions going back to Jewish community that gave birth to Jesus.

The organizing principle for the 30 plus years I’ve been in ministry has been, “How can we get more people to be part of the church?” Worship was blamed for being boring and keeping people away from church, so the worship wars broke out. Committees were blamed for being tedious and keeping people away from church, so gutting congregational infrastructure became vogue. Anything perceived traditional was and still is demonized in many circles. “It’s gotta be fresh, contemporary, culturally relevant.”

We window dress and leave behind the substance of the Christian tradition. The tradition which is ours is the good news of Jesus Christ. It is a future hope being born in our present in which the blind will see, the lame will walk, the lowly be lifted up and the mighty brought down. It is a tradition that has substance worth bequeathing, generation to generation.

Julie’s Jar – “Flight”

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Moises Castillo/AP/REX/Shutterstock (9939602c) Central American migrants walking to the U.S. start their day departing Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, . Despite Mexican efforts to stop them at the border, about 5,000 Central American migrants resumed their advance toward the U.S. border early Sunday in southern Mexico. Their numbers swelled overnight and at first light they set out walking toward the Mexican town of Tapachula Central America Migrant Caravan, Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico - 21 Oct 2018

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Moises Castillo/AP/REX/Shutterstock (9939602c)
Central American migrants walking to the U.S. start their day departing Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, . Despite Mexican efforts to stop them at the border, about 5,000 Central American migrants resumed their advance toward the U.S. border early Sunday in southern Mexico. Their numbers swelled overnight and at first light they set out walking toward the Mexican town of Tapachula
Central America Migrant Caravan, Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico – 21 Oct 2018

Southeast of downtown Los Angeles are five (now 6) small cities where blue collar/white collar middle class, mostly white families raised their children until the early 1970s. I grew up in this part of LA County. In a matter of one decade the neighborhoods changed due to countless sociological factors no one could anticipate or navigate.

A snapshot from that time might look something like this. Gangs had always been in the mix, but now they were connected to organized crime. Once they carried knives; now they had guns. Schools were among the best in the district; now they were overcrowded, students stuffed into non airconditioned, smelly bungalows for some classes. Drugs became more prevalent. One family I know left because a teenager was threatened after reporting drug activity in school. Violence inside schools was a daily occurrence. (I know; I was there.) Parents who thought they chose a safe place to raise their children feared for the children’s safety and moved out. Some moved to the Pacific Northwest; most moved 5 miles east to Downey.

Granted, racism played its part in the lack of capacity to address the real problems faced by all those cities. Fear of people “not like me” played its part. There was also genuine fear that the situation was beyond anyone’s ability to impact individually. The only sane option felt by many parents was to protect their children by leaving.

This is what I imagine approximates in some way what parents now fleeing Central American countries are feeling. When faced with daily violence, the violent death of family members, extortion by gangs, threats to their lives and their children’s lives, and so much more horror, the only sane option is to leave. Even if you don’t know if leaving will be better, flight is really the only sane option. It’s not much different from the moment a victim of domestic violence has when the realization comes, “If I don’t leave, I or my children will be killed.”

If you wonder why “those people” would come to the United States, perhaps you haven’t yet learned about the circumstances that would motivate them to walk thousands of uncertain miles in the company and safety of a large group of other motivated people to find sanctuary somewhere. The scale of their suffering and vulnerability is so much greater than what we experienced in southeast LA in the 1970s, but the genesis of both is the need to protect one’s children.

And now, a man has murdered 11 people in their house of worship for being Jews who welcomed the refugee. The man ranted on social media just before the attack about the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, an organization devoted to helping refugees of all faiths find their feet in a new country. One of the congregations meeting in the facility was a supporter of the refugee work.

There is a story told in the gospel of Matthew at the very beginning. Mary and Joseph were warned to not return home because the life of their child, Jesus, was in danger. They fled to Egypt becoming refugees in a foreign land. None of the other gospels tell this story. It makes me wonder who in Matthew’s community were refugees. Why would it be important for the community to whom Matthew told the Jesus story to know that their savior started life as a refugee?

The cause of God’s compassion in the world calls us to identify with people who are suffering. May we learn to follow this call on the way with Jesus.

Julie’s Jar: Bus-man’s Holiday

It’s called a bus-man’s holiday: a vacation or form of recreation that involves doing the same thing that one does at work. We were on vacation last week and I went to Morning Prayers three times, Compline (a service of evening prayers), Choral Evensong (a service of mostly music with prayer sprinkled in) and Sunday worship. It was great. There was so much incredible music. Every service was prepared with great intention and care. Every service was an instrument of God’s grace. It was a feast for me.

Compline and Evensong at Memorial Church at Harvard happen only a couple of times a year so it was quite a gift that our visit to our son coincided with these services. Additionally, there was a special guest visiting from “across the pond” who both played the organ and directed the choir. Barry Rose.

BMR rehearsing Blackburn choristers, Jan. 2007 (i)

Barry Rose thought he’d go into business and specialize in the insurance industry. Instead he became a church musician. Among many other things he was the Master of the Choir at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, directed the music for the wedding of Charles and Diana. He started his musical career as a lad playing hymns on the piano for Sunday School.

Now 84 years young, Barry Rose continues to devote his life to the music of the church both old and new (with popular music also tossed in from time to time). He generously played the once-a month lunch time organ recital less than 12 hours after landing in Boston. The rest of his time was filled with rehearsing college age singers, leading worship, attending events and just being a regular attender at morning prayers.

At one service I was in a place where I could watch him singing the hymn. He sang with abandon, absolute joy upon his face, smiling as he sang words of faith. It occurred to me, “That man loves Jesus.” The music and text married in him and their union found joyful expression. Would that we all could approach our own participation in the work of worship with such commitment and fullness.

It is not always possible for us to lay aside the weight that clings to us, but every time we step into sacred time and space, whether it is in a church sanctuary, on a mountain top or at the river’s edge, it is an invitation to immerse ourselves in the presence of God, in whom we live and move and have our being. I found great encouragement and hope in the countenance of Barry Rose singing a song of our shared faith. May we be instruments of encouragement and hope to others every time we worship.–26OT09ZU (Barry Rose rehearsing University Choir)

Julie’s Jar, “I Did Not Learn That in California History”

The 14th amendment became law 150 years ago in July 1868 and over night, 4 million former slaves became citizens. Opposition to the new law became a broader campaign against the federal government. One of the states that resisted the most was California.

California was a free state but refused to ratify the amendment in the 1860s. It wasn’t until 1959 that the 14th amendment was ratified by California legislators. I did not know this until recently, that my home state took almost 100 years to say, “Yeah, we think it’s okay for former slaves to be citizens.”

When I hear people say things like, “Slavery was a long time ago; people should just get over it,” it is exceedingly revealing about them. Slavery ended in 1863, but Texas kept it from slaves being held until 1865: June 19th, 1865. Do we really think the end of slavery also ended generations of perception about black people and white people?

California was a free state and had a very small black population. Why was there so much resistance and lack of political will to say that black people could be citizens? Xenophobia, fear of the outsider, and white supremacy combined to be powerful instruments in the California political machine. Chinese immigrants were particularly vulnerable to violent attack. In 1871 a mob of 500 massacred 18 Chinese immigrants. Most of them weren’t charged and the handful that were served one year. If you weren’t white In California, you were considered an outsider and other.

It appears times have changed somewhat, but the legacy of slavery still lingers. Red lining, keeping people of color from purchasing property or renting in certain neighborhoods, has been a problem as recently as the 1970s and one could say it continues with something called “gentrification”.

The ministry of Reconciliation is a core value for Christians. Our own Reconciliation Ministry seeks to address the root causes of racism. Racism is a result of the lingering impact of slavery in our country. Compassion is at the heart of this ministry. Developing compassion for another person’s lived reality is a core value of the Christian faith. For those of us who walk through the world with white skin, our lived experience is very often very different from people we know who walk through the world with skin of color. History and even current events demonstrate that there are burdens associated with living when one is a person of color.

As followers of Jesus, it is incumbent on us to develop compassion for people whose lived reality is different from our own (see the story of the Good Samaritan) and seek to understand the daily hurts of people we know more than we seek to be understood.