Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Work on the Mural Continues

I was trying to get as much of the mural done as possible before summer ends, but I did not nearly get as much done as I was hoping. I calculated that I need to work on it an average of 12 hours a week until I graduate in order to finish, so understandably, I've started to get a little nervous about it. But, I think I should be able to do it. Here are some progress pictures on how the work has been going:

                                          The  Nativity


Creation and the Flood

Night & Day

Fish of the Sea

Jenna decided to help me by tiling the dove

Jenna breaking some tile for the dove

The finished dove!

Separating the Waters

Waves almost done!

Starting the rainbow

Rainbow and waves without grout


I'll keep you all updated as I go!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


This is the sermon I preached this Sunday at Christ Lutheran Church in Fairfax. The text is 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13.


There's a Kenyan proverb that says, "The Earth is not a gift from our parents, it's a loan from our children." We have an awesome responsibility in taking care of this planet. It's the only place in this entire universe that we know of where we can live, and even if we found another place, we don't yet have the technology to get there, and God only knows how long it would take for us to develop it. So we need to be careful with our planet.
God has charged us to be stewards of the Earth, and for the first 250,000 years, we've done a pretty good job. But in the past few decades, some have called our stewardship into question, and protection of the environment has become a major political issue. We have not been treating the Earth as if it were on loan to us, to be returned in the same, if not better condition, in which we inherited it. Some would say that we've been treating it like it was just another one of our disposable things, to be used up and thrown away, that we've been squandering it.
As the years have gone by, most people have come to accept the fact that human beings have had a negative impact on the environment, and that if we don't change our ways things are going to worse. We hear about the effects of our activities all time: global warming, melting polar ice caps, the polar bears, pollution, over fishing. But, that's just too much to talk about in one sermon. So today, I just want to focus on one thing: water.
Did you know that we're facing a severe water shortage? Scientists estimate that if things do not change by 2050, many parts of the world will be in a water crisis, including the Bay Area. Wars will be fought over water. People will die, not just because they lack the water they need to survive, but as victims in the battle over this precious resource, that some have already started to call blue gold.
Think about it. Think about how precious water is. There's no replacement for water. Think about how much we fight over oil. Oil is not nearly as important to us as water. We've already started developing alternative energy sources, and if push comes to shove, we can always burn wood. But we are still fighting over oil. Imagine how much more intense the fighting would be for water.
We've become so accustomed to the availability of water that we completely take it for granted, except to take something for granted would involve more thought than we currently give to our water. No one is saying that we are willfully using water in a wasteful way, but we're not treating it like the precious resource that it is. We do waste it. It's a sin of indifference, and we are passing the consequences of this sin onto the generations that will follow us.
Now, David was no stranger to sin, and his sin in our reading today was a little bit more blatant than indifference. In the verses leading up to our reading, David had Uriah sent to the front lines of the battle for the express purpose of having him killed. Uriah dies, and David takes his widow, Bathsheba, who is pregnant with David's child, as his wife.

And now, the prophet Nathan has come to him and has told him this story of a rich man killing a poor man's beloved little ewe-lamb so that he could feed it to a visitor. And, David is so enraged by this, he yells, "This man deserves to die!"
Isn't it interesting how quickly David was moved to rage over the death of a lamb, when he himself had just killed a man so that he could cover up his adultery? We often find ourselves in situations like this, where we point out the specks in the eyes of our neighbors while ignoring the logs sticking out of our own. And then Nathan tells him, that David himself is that rich man in the story, and David admits his sin. And then, Nathan tells him, "God has put away your sin; you shall not die." But, it's strange that the lectionary reading ends here, because in the very next verse, Nathan tells David that because he has scorned God, the child that he is to have with Bathsheba will die.
I looked up the Hebrew verb in the last sentence of our reading because it seemed a little odd. God has "put away" your sin. This verb "put away," "avar" in the Hebrew, is more commonly translated in the Bible as "pass over;" it's the same verb used in the Passover story, when God passes over the homes of the Israelites during the tenth plague, which was the death of all of the firstborn.

But sometimes, it can mean that something is being transferred from one place to another, like when someone passes you the salt at dinner. If God was "passing over" the sin, then there would be no punishment required, but if the sin was being "passed on" then someone would still have to answer for it, and in this story, it's David and Bathsheba's child.
Now, I have trouble believing that God would kill David's child as a punishment for his indiscretion, but I do believe this text is lifting up the reality that there are consequences for the choices that we make. That's just the way the world works. If you don't do your homework, you're not going to get a good grade. If you show up late for work every day, you're probably going to get fired. If you drive home drunk, there's a chance you might kill someone. You might even end up killing yourself. And if we as a society don't take care of this planet that we live on, we're not going to have much of a planet to pass on to our children. Right now, we are in the very real danger of passing the consequences of our sins along to the next generation.
  The average American uses 100 gallons of water every day. The average African family only uses 5. This number doesn't even take into account the amount of water that's needed to generate the electricity that the average American uses every day. 250 gallons of water! That's not hydropower, this isn't electricity coming from a dam, that's the amount water that's needed to convert gas, oil or coal into electricity for the daily use of the average American consumer.
The last 100 years have been referred to as the golden age of water, when water was safe, seemingly unlimited, and almost free. But now, we are coming to an era in which we are not going to have water that is all three of those things at the same time. Right now, we use purified, potable water to flush our toilets and water our lawns. It doesn't make any sense. But, what are we going to do about it?
It may seem like we have a lot of control over our lives, and in some ways, we do. If you wanted to, you could go home right now, and change everything about the way that you live, and maybe you could cut your water use in half. But think about it. How many people are there in the United States? How many people are there in the developed world? Let's say you manage to save 50,000 gallons of water every year. That's like 3 swimming pools. But if every other American is using 6 swimming pools of water every year, your 3 swimming pools of water, that's just a drop in the bucket.
And, that's the way that corporate sin works. We're part of a system. Individually, we each contribute to the problems, but even if we could pull ourselves out of it, which would be extremely difficult to do, the machine keeps moving without us. It's almost impossible to stop. It's going to take something bigger than us to save us from ourselves, something that can move us as a society. We can change the way that we live and we can talk to people about changing things on a larger scale, but ultimately we have to allow the Holy Spirit to work through us, to move us as a community to change the way that we live.
Luckily, God has shown some interest in us in the past, and I think that God is already moving to change the way that we do things. Like the prophet Nathan that was sent to David, so that David would be forced to face his own sin, scientists and environmental activists have been working to spread the word of our wasteful nature. The laws are slowly changing, and people are starting to understand the impacts that their lives are having on the world around them. None of this would be possible if not for the Holy Spirit softening our hearts, so that we would listen.
Las Vegas is the perfect example. We often look at this city in the desert as a symbol of decadence and sin. It's the driest of the of the largest 250 cities in America, and yet, when you walk down the strip, you will see some of the largest and most elaborate fountains in the world, lush plantings, a replica of the bay of New York, complete with water and a pier, and signs tempting visitors inside the casinos where you can see enormous aquariums filled with sharks and bottle-nose dolphins, in the middle of the desert.
But, things are not always as they seem. The city of Las Vegas has put into place programs that they have developed so that they could save water. They offer incentives to people encouraging them to pull up their lawns and replace them with zero water plantings. The golf courses are strictly limited in the amount of water they can use, and the water that they do use to water their grass, is grey water. The entire city has systems in place to recapture water that is used indoors, and they now recycle 94% of that water.
It can be done. If it can be done in Las Vegas, then it can be done in the rest of the world. We just need to change the way that we think about water, and the way that we use it. If we listen to the modern day prophets, and maybe even become prophets ourselves, then we can make a difference, and we can save this world for our children. God didn't make the Earth only to have us destroy. This beautiful planet is filled with so many wonders that a person could never hope to see them all in a single lifetime. We have to preserve it. We need to reverse the turning wheels of our collective indifference before it is too late, and we pass our sins onto our children. If we open our hearts and our minds to God, if we start listening to each other and stop politicizing these issues that affect us all, then we can be the stewards of the Earth that God expects us to be. And there will be enough water for everyone. Amen.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Once Upon a Time...

Here is the sermon I preached last Sunday at Fairfax Community Church. It ends with a poem that I think I may have posted on this blog before. The text is John 6:1-21.


Once upon a time, there was a girl who lived in a lovely little cottage made of gingerbread and candy. She was always asleep. One day, she woke up, and the candy had mold on it. Her father blew her a kiss, and the house fell down. The girl started running, and she realized she was lost. She was on a crowed street, but the people were made of paper, like paper dolls. She blew them all a kiss goodbye, and watched as they all flew away.
Strange as that story may seem, it's one of my favorites. It's from the TV show My So-Called Life, which was tragically canceled after being on the air for only one season when I was in high school. The story was written by Angela Chase, the main character of the show, as an assignment for her English class. Their regular English teacher was out and Mr. Racine, who always wore one white sock, and one black sock, was their eccentric substitute teacher.
The story may not seem to make any sense, but it's filled with emotion. As Mr. Racine says in the episode when the story is read out loud to the class, 'It does better than make sense. It makes you feel." To this day, My So-called Life remains my favorite TV show of all time, in no small part because of that story.
Stories are important. They help us make to sense of the world, help us to process the way that we feel about things; they record the great events of our lives, even though they sometimes do this allegorically. Stories can help us to understand things that are sometimes too complicated for simple explanation. I think this is why Jesus told so many parables. He was trying to share things that our minds could only grasp in story form. Stories have a way of conveying multiple levels of meaning, with fewer words, almost like a secret code, but a code that's alive and breathing. Stories survive us. They're around long after we're gone, telling succeeding generations about who we were, what we stood for, what we believed.
Our scripture reading today tells us the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish. Later in the story Jesus walks on water, and his disciples are afraid because they think he's a ghost. These stories are filled with mystery and wonder. We're transported back to an ancient time, when miracles happened and gods walked the earth. These stories are filled with magic.
I was drawn to talk about this passage today precisely because of that magic. I've gone to church almost every Sunday of my life, and I have to admit that I can't remember 99.9% of the sermons that I've heard, but I distinctly remember two different sermons about this passage. The first one was about the feeding of the 5,000 with the fives loaves of bread and two fish that a little boy had given them when they were wondering about where to find enough food to feed so many people. They were up on a mountain, there were no stores nearby, and even if there were, what store was going to have enough food for 5,000 people? Can you imagine if you were one of the disciples, and a little boy had come up to you with his little bag of food to help feed everyone? It's so precious, it's so sweet, but ultimately useless, because what is five loaves of bread and two fish against 5,000 people? And so, we come to the miracle. Jesus blesses the loaves, and he blesses the fish, and they pass the food around, and everyone gets to eat as much food as they want. And after everyone has eaten their fill, they collect all of the leftover bits of food, and they fill twelve baskets, full of food! It's a miracle! Five loaves of bread and two fish fed this horde of 5,000 people and multiplied to the point that they had leftover food, more food left over than the amount of food they had started with in the first place!

But, what happened here? Exactly what kind of miracle had taken place? Did the food actually multiply, as the writer of this story seems to imply, or did something else happen? The person who gave this sermon said that what really happened was that all 5,000 of the people had actually brought food with them, that a person in that time and place would never go on a journey without bringing along some food, because there was no guarantee that you'd be able to find food along the way. And, because there was no guarantee that you'd be able to find food along the way, you wouldn't just give your food away. You'd keep for yourself, to make sure that you had enough food to eat for that day, and perhaps for many days to come. So the real miracle was the fact that Jesus had somehow convinced the people to let go of their food, to share their food with each other, and come together as a community. I'm not going to say definitively one way or another whether or not this is what really happened, because even though it's certainly possible that this is what happened, it's just not in the text. I makes for a good story about Jesus inspiring compassion and building community, but just I think the story looses something when we look at it this way.
The other sermon that I heard had to do with Jesus walking on the water, and maybe some of you have heard this before, but the person that gave that sermon said that the disciples only thought they saw Jesus walking on the water, and he was actually just walking along the shore, or maybe he was walking in the shallows. Why do we do this? We take two wonderful, magical stories, and we suck all of the wonder out of them. It's part of our nature, I guess, to try to make sense out of the things we encounter. We can't allow things to be wondrous, or mystical, because we've been taught that there is always a rational explanation. It's even worse now with all of our scientific advances and the level to which we educate ourselves. We've stopped believing that there could be things that are too mysterious or wonderful for us to understand. We don't believe in magic.
I've always believed in the power of story, and recently, I've actually started to talk about it. Sometimes when I'm feeling down or burned out, I'll actually think to myself, "I need story," and it doesn't matter what form it takes, it can be a movie or a novel, a TV show, or even a comic book, it doesn't even have to reflect my life at all, as long as the story is good, it will make me feel better. It will somehow get inside of me and let me know that everything is going to be okay.
And, I don't think I am alone in this. Stories are pervasive, we're surrounded my story. Storytelling has endured since the dawn of humankind, and it's not going anywhere. God has given us an incredible gift. Our minds are capable of such rich and wonderfully creative stories, and we've been given language to share and record them. This may be stretching the definition of magic a little, but I do think that stories are magical, that they heal, they are the tools that God has given us so that we would be able to create out of nothing, tools that everyone so that we can connect with each other.
And with that, I would like to leave you with a story from my life. The title of this story is: Weed Seed.

In the time before,
When children were playing in the shadow of a seemingly benevolent tyrant king,
And their mother was too afraid to do anything about it,
The creator of all the world decided to bestow unto us a gift,
The gift of indestructible resilience in the face of insurmountable odds,
And now that tyrant has decided to become a father,
And although it is far too late to erase the damage done through years of negligent abuse,
And the fragile earth has been unmercifully scorched almost beyond repair,
My siblings and I have decided,
That although our gardens may be too infertile to bear fruit,
We will collect all the seeds of our experience and see what we can grow.
But what came up,
Was weeds,
But what is a weed but a plant growing where someone decided they didn’t want it?
So we have to decided to want them,
We have decided to embrace them all,
Making our gardens lush and beautiful,
Where my mother’s pink flamingos and windmill sunflowers have a place to call home,
And my father is free to harvest his kumquats, and loquats, and jujubes,
A sparkling musical waterfall that mists when the wind blows,
Splashes gracefully into a colorful koi pond that,
In the sunlight,
And while we are all working in the garden,
Trying to grow as much as we can,
There is still the inevitable weed that needs to be pulled.
Not the weeds that we have embraced as our own,
These are the overbearing kind of weeds that grow way too big!
Hogging up the sunlight,
With their long sharp thorns and serrated leaves,
With sticky brown sap and bright red fruit,
That looks pretty,
But is far too bitter to eat.
These are the weeds that need to be pulled.
These are the weeds that threaten to overrun the garden,
So with heavy gray suede garden gloves,
We grab these at the base and we pull,
But the roots of these weeds are deep,
And if you leave even the smallest bit of root in the ground,
The weeds will come back bigger,
Threatening the serenity our sacred space,
But as long as we are diligent,
The gardens remain lush and vibrant,
And the views from the house will be stunning and beautiful,
And even though sometimes,
The house itself is just a bit too dark,
And even though sometimes the house is just a bit too quiet,
And even though sometimes you can sometimes hear the echoes of the past threatening to overcome your fragile sensibilities with overwhelming force,
You can always escape to the garden,
Where the sunshine falls and wipes out all of the shadows,
Even the seemingly benevolent tyrant ones,
And you can like your weeds,
And you can eat red fruit,
And you can hold your stomach and grimace through the pain,
Because, even if the nourishment is poisonous,
It’s better than starving to death.
And since the fruit that doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,
We have somehow managed to eat it and survive,
My siblings and I have made a pact,
That we will one day raise our own generation of gardeners,
And their gardens will be lush and beautiful,
Filled with fruit trees, vegetables and flowers,
Not weeds,
And our mother will no longer remain silent,
But her laughter and singing will,
Fill the gardens of her grandchildren,
Even though we have to eat red fruit to ensure this future,
Even though our hands will be stained brown by sticky sap,
Bloodied by sharp thorns,
We will eat the fruit,
So that they will never know the taste of bitterness in their mouths,
And we will stain our hands,
So that they will never know the chill,
Of the shadow,
Of a seemingly benevolent tyrant king falling over them,
And we will bloody ourselves,
So that they will never have to plant weed seed for lack of anything better to plant,
For we will have eaten all the bitter red fruit,
And we will grimace through the pain for them,
And we will not leave even a single,
Sticky red weed seed to threaten the serenity of our sacred space,
And we will bask in the sunlight.