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1751 N. Park Ave
Pomona, CA 91768

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Pastor’s Blog

Julie’s Jar

More than 800 people who were unsheltered died on the streets of Los Angeles County last year. There is a deeply held assumption that people living on the streets “choose” to live there. Do they choose also to die there? Two unsheltered people died near our church.

The people we see living on the streets represent only about one-third of all the people considered to bICON Logoe without shelter. I wonder how many we see now were once themselves the “hidden homeless”. Our Core Team at the church learned firsthand from Our House shelter residents that most of them became unsheltered due to a medical emergency, a change in employment or substantial living cost increases (rent, etc.) without any change in wages. Many of the people whose stories we heard were employed and without shelter.

What of the people we do see living on the streets? Why are there so many now and do they really “choose” to be on the street? Do all of them have the capacity to make such a choice?

There is a subset of those living on the streets who suffer with mental illness. Many of these people lack the ability to do more than try to find a place to shelter themselves overnight. The ability to handle day-to-day business of living lies beyond their reach.

Many of us are aware of changes in state law in the 1960s that closed psychiatric hospitals and sent patients back to their communities. These hospitals were closed in favor of community based residential and out-patient treatment. It was a good idea, but it was also an unfunded idea. The idea never received political or financial support. 50 years later we are in the middle of a housing crisis and still not funding help for people who cannot find shelter for themselves beyond a cardboard box.

If we say that people on the streets “choose” to live there, then it gives us a pass on having to do anything to alleviate their suffering. It makes it easier to not fund solutions because we can blame the victim for their choice.

But this is a public health crisis and it is in our self-interest to alleviate their suffering and prevent the spread of preventable and communicable diseases. (Remember the cholera and Hepatitis C outbreak in San Diego?)

The Housing Action Team of ICON (Inland Communities Organizing Network) continues to develop relationships in order to alleviate the suffering we see and the suffering about which we hear in our own institutions. On August 6, 7-8:30 pm a workshop will be held at FCC Pomona to determine some specific and immediate actions we might take together to contribute positive solutions to the threat of displacement so many people are facing. We are working to develop the political will to amplify the voice of “Yes. Let’s!” in order to transform the landscape of “Not in my backyard.”

ICON institutions are doing this work out of our shared values to seek the well-being of people and improve our communities. We share a commitment to the common good and to being a neighbor. As Christians, we know this is the way in which we demonstrate love. The lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” and Jesus told the story we now call “The Good Samaritan”. Who is our neighbor today and can we love our neighbor as we love ourselves?

Julie’s Jar, “Whose Skin Am I In?”

~Whose Skin Am I In?~

Christians consider Jesus to be the incarnation of God: the embodiment of God. Some Christians are so bold to consider the invitation of Jesus to “come and follow me” as an invitation to allow our lives, even our very bodies to embody God. Jesus’ coming into the world is God’s way of saying, “Hey, you too. You are my body, my breath, my beloved in the world.”

skinIncarnation conversation is often limited to the month of December in which we anticipate and celebrate Christ coming into the world again. Incarnation is, however, not limited to one month of the year. God is made present in the flesh and bone of Jesus not only in his birth, but also in his teaching, his friendship, his ministry. The life of Jesus demonstrates that the physical body of all humans is a threshold of the divine presence in the world. The body is also, as someone wrote, your soul’s address.

No one body can contain or express the full reality of God; my experience in my skin is limited. We need to pay attention to the experiences of people whose skin we don’t wear, and whose skin color we don’t wear.

Recently, the National Football League has proclaimed this edict; all players on the field must stand during the playing of the national anthem. Some fans are offended by the kneeling of some players. Consider this, that kneeling is public lament. It is public grief that what is promised to everyone who lives in this country, is denied to particular people because of the color of their skin. I will have lost some of you at this point, but if you are still with me remember that you may have said yes to the one who invited you to, “come and follow me.” If you have said yes, recall it is a “Yes” to the way of compassion. The way of compassion means we are willing to let the experience and reality of people not like us to get under our own skin. This is in part what it means to see Christ in another human being.

Scripture is riddled with lament, public lament. We grow impatient and uncomfortable with public lament that doesn’t fit our preconceived notions of propriety. NFL players who kneel, as in prayer, rather than stand are lamenting publicly. It forces those of us who wear different skin to see the grief and frustration of people whose life experience challenges our worldview. And if we are willing to see that those who kneel are thresholds of the divine, we might even find that God has gotten under our skin.

Julie’s Jar, “Seeking Advice”

adviceAll of us from time to time, seek the advice of a trusted friend, a doctor, a lawyer, even a pastor. What about the Holy Spirit? Have you ever considered seeking the advice of God? Sure, we pray, but do we ever really get a direct answer?

Unlike seeking the advice of a person we know, that is visibly and audibly present, it takes practice to perceive the present reality of the Holy Spirit. It requires something more than simply asking “God, what should I do?” First of all, there are likely multiple answers to that question. There may be no right way, but perhaps several good ways. How do I choose? How do I seek the hope of God in my life?

Asking questions like these amount to the Olympics and most people haven’t even shown up for practice. It takes regular practice of showing up with God, even when it’s boring, even when the connection seems faint or non-existent.

We are entering the season of Pentecost, the season of the Spirit, the action and activity of God through our living. In three weeks, I will attend a three day discernment retreat, seeking to learn more deeply how to listen to the movement, wisdom and advice of the Holy Spirit. I’ll drive in traffic each day to a church in San Gabriel and schlep back in traffic to Pomona. It’s a small price to pay for the inward journey that will deepen my own capacity to discern.

It is my hope that you will consider ways you can show up for practice with the Holy Spirit this Pentecost season. And if you have a daily practice already, is there some new way of showing up to which God may be calling you? It is also my hope that we will as a community, re-commit to showing up together in worship, to listen as the body of Christ for the wisdom of God. It is how we can continue to allow the action and activity of God to be made apparent through our living.

Julie’s Jar, “Church Geek”

~Church Geek~

Balloon Silly Smiley Geek Geeky Nerdy Nerd

It was the first full day of my time in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I couldn’t wait to get to Morning Prayers at Memorial Church at Harvard. I was also invited by my dear friend Emily, to attend a preaching competition at Harvard Divinity School that began at noon. Admittedly, a preaching competition sounded strange even to me; how can that be fairly judged? And should it be?

Well, I ended up wandering over to the Divinity School and heard 3 out of 4 sermons and each one was amazing, inspiriting and inspiring. I was told I missed the one that would probably win. I didn’t envy the people making the judgments. Each sermon I heard was wonderful and provoking; I even took notes!

I geeked out on Sunday too. Emily and I attended BOTH the 9 o’clock and 11 o’clock service which were the same: great music, warm community, inspiring leadership from the pulpit in welcome, prayer and sermon.

I suppose I show up so much because I keep getting a taste of God. Psalm 34 contains these words: “O taste and see that God is good; happy are those who take refuge in God.” Taking refuge in God in worship roots me in the divine love I forget too easily is my birth right. Taking refuge in God among the community of worshiping Christians connects me to the vine of Christ reminding me I am not alone. Taking refuge in God in prayer, scripture, music and yes, sermon, comforts me and coaxes me to more faithful living.

Many Christian communities hold sacred space for people to “taste and see that God is good”. I am grateful for the communities that held sacred space, so I could step into divine reality. I am grateful for the community of First Christian Church of Pomona that holds sacred space for anyone to receive the hospitality of God’s grace.

Julie’s Jar, “Remembering What I Did Know”

~Remembering What I Did Know~

I was on the cusp of being 8 years old the day Dr. King was assassinated. It wasn’t talked about in our home that I recall. It wasn’t a topic of conversation. I did not know until much later in life that “Just weeks before . . . a presidential commission issued a searing account of the nation’s racial divide.” (I encourage you to read the article sited.)

Why was this not part of the conversation in my household, in the schools I attended, college and even seminary?  “The Kerner Commission, appointed by President Johnson (and named after its chair, Illinois governor Otto Kerner), had been charged with explaining the racial unrest of the previous summer (1967) It returned a blunt diagnosis: the nation was in effect “two societies, one black, one white-separate and unequal. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”hand holding

Recently, I read one person’s reflection on professional football players taking a knee during the national anthem. The players chose to “take a knee” as a way to protest the ongoing racial divide and systemic racial injustice in our country. They chose this form of protest after conferring with veterans. What struck me most about the writer’s observations were two things: 1. There is never in our country a way for black men to protest that will not be seen as threatening and 2. Taking a knee is a form of lament.

Lamentation is rooted in our own faith tradition. Job laments, cries out to God about the unjustness of his circumstances. Lament is a necessary part of finding our way back to genuine wholeness. We cannot heal the sin of slavery and ravages of racism without uncovering the deep wounds that continue to fester.

The Risen Christ appears with his wounds visible. The Crucified Christ and the Risen Christ are the same. Christ comes to his followers after the ugliness of the crucifixion and doesn’t bother to pretty things up. We can’t live with the Resurrected One without recognizing the suffering that came before. We can’t live as the Resurrected Body of Christ without acknowledging the suffering of our fellow human beings: past and present suffering.

Fred Harris, the lone surviving member of the Kerner Commission, recalls that he and his colleagues operated with a simple assumption: “Everyone does better when everyone does better.” That reminds me of a teaching Christians say we hold dear: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream. -Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) (“A Christmas Sermon on Peace,” given at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, December 24, 1967.)