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Pastor’s Blog

Julie’s Jar, “Hits a Nerve”

-www-google-com-searchIt hits a deep nerve, this news. As I listened to pieces of the report, it hit a deep nerve. For years, reports of child abuse by clergy in the Roman Catholic church in a diocese in Pennsylvania were covered up. According to the grand jury report, over 300 priests abused children over seven decades and the church hierarchy covered it up.

Thousands of children’s lives were traumatized, unnecessarily. The system allowed it to continue: a system that enshrined and justified power over others in religious language and practice. But let’s not kid ourselves, this kind of power abuse and trauma happens in systems like ours, in which the church is more democratically and congregationally organized.

We have an obligation to be vigilant and full of care for the sake of vulnerable people, and children are vulnerable. It is our responsibility to be a place of genuine sanctuary for children. People we are supposed to be able to trust sometimes betray that trust, but that doesn’t mean all people are untrustworthy. It is imperative that we as a community of faith, create a place where boundaries are repeatedly clear, safeguards are in place and clearly stated over and over.

It is the practice of our congregation to provide child care with a staff member who is certified through a Department of Justice background check. It is our practice to never allow children to be alone, one-on-one with an adult who is not their parent. It is most important that children learn the situations that are trustworthy and not be forced to trust people merely because they are in a position of authority. We all need to work together to create the space, the situations in which children can recognize they are safe. Just because we know someone is no guarantee they are safe. We need to create safe situations as clearly and redundantly as possible. And we need to listen to children and youth when they sound any alarm bells, however subtle they sometimes may be.

Some of us may feel a nostalgic longing for bygone days when one didn’t have to worry about such matters. Let me remind you that the grand jury report indicated the behavior had been going on for over 70 years! (The oldest victim who spoke to the grand jury is 83.) Let me be clear that that this behavior has been a hidden part of human brokenness for generations upon generations. It was barely a hundred years ago that child labor in our own country was acceptable.

When we have the moral strength to shine a light on this reprehensible abuse of power, we begin to make safe space for victims too often blamed for a crime perpetrated on them. The legacy of abuse is an injury people have to maneuver throughout their entire life. This saying of Jesus is often thought to be referring to children: “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42) It is imperative that as people who follow Jesus, we make the way safe for vulnerable people, especially children.

Julie’s Jar, “30 Years”

It’s been 30 years. I’ve served First Christian Church of Pomona for more than half my life as associate pastor, acting pastor, senior pastor, pastor. I have little stickers a friend gave to me close to 30 years ago that read “There’s nothing sinister about a woman minister.” My husband and co-worker in the vineyard (Mike Fronk), likes to opine, “There’s something sinister about a woman minister.”

Devoting one’s life, one’s ministry to building the body of Christ is a pretty low status endeavor, especially these days, even in the church. Much more interesting, provocative and popular are so-called niche ministries, entrepreneurial ministries. People have a passion they want to pursue; that’s fine, but I wonder if one really needs to be ordained for pursuing one’s own passion.

Building the body of Christ is important and messy work. Without this important work however, individuals would be less likely to discern a vocation, a call to pursue a particular focus. Building the body of Christ is still, I believe, necessary work, even if it’s not of particular interest to seminarians, denominational executives and the like.

“Society is losing the art of fostering community,” according to John O’Donahue in Eternal Echoes. Fostering community is at the heart of building the body of Christ. We are a school dedicated to learning our original name, “beloved”. We are a school committed to learning the art of forgiveness and compassion.

It may not be sexy, popular, provocative or provide someone with their perceived need to feel “passionate” about what they do, but I still believe, after 30 years, that building the body of Christ in the world and for the world is the best work a pastor can do. In fact, it is my opinion that a pastor is someone who does precisely that in partnership with the community of faith. It’s not always focused. In fact, it’s all over the place. On any given day I will engage in pastoral care, plan worship, write emails, prepare a class, make phone calls to remind people about a meeting or invite to an event/meeting/class/etc., visit a member, meet-up with a visitor, participate/attend a meeting. There are days I wish it were more focused and less frenetic; there are days I’m grateful for the richness of the variety. I am always grateful for the privilege of being part of people’s lives in the various ages and stages of development, learning, crisis, celebration and service.

Thank you, dear friends in Christ. Thank you for allowing me to grow up in Christ with you these last 30 years. For your patience and perseverance, for your love and living. I have become more of who I think God created me to be because of you. I hope I have and will continue to help you become more of whom God is creating you to be.

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.