Thursday, December 8, 2011

Occupy Your Life! (audio sermon)

This Advent Season, watch for signs of the original occupier, Jesus, and Occupy Your Life!

Friday, December 2, 2011

We Are Glide in San Francisco!

Here is a little homage to the people who make Glide such an amazing place. It was premiered at the Glide Gala on December 1, 2011.
We Are Glide in San Francisco!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Calling All Angels

The profound mystery of being both a vessel and recipient of God's grace: I came out of the gym locker room and saw a woman--I didn't know her name but knew she had lost her son earlier this year--who was crying. I asked if she was okay and she fell in my arms, saying, "The song that's playing was sung at my son's funeral. The grief just got to me" as she fell in my arms in tears.

Then, as I got to "my" machine, another woman--whose name I also don't know--came up to me, "I've been looking for you. I just bought a pair of slacks and I think they'd look better on you than me" as she handed them to me.

We are indeed angels for one another.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Why I Support Occupy Wall Street

I was disappointed to read a tweet from one of my favorite religious authors, Len Sweet: ‘Isn't the way to really "Occupy Wall Street" to buy stocks and become shareholders?” Actually, my mouth fell open as if I was watching a Republican primary debate. From what place of privilege does a statement like that emerge?

Of course, a “publicly owned” company allows the shareholder to have voice within a company, but there is too much broken within this system to really allow the other 99% to even own stock, much less to have a voice.

A recent report in Business Insider summed it up pretty succinctly:
1. With a brief except in 1980, unemployment is at the highest level since the Great Depression
2. At the same time, corporate profits are at an all-time high
3. Wages as a percent of the economy are at an all-time low.
4. Income and wealth inequality in the US economy is near an all-time high

Take a look at this graph which shows how CEO salaries have skyrocketed in the past 20 years while worker wages have had an incremental increase:

wealth and inequality

This information confirms what I am seeing every day at Glide: the American Dream has become the American nightmare, as more and more individuals and families struggle just to make ends meet. Investing in stocks has become an activity reserved for the rich and famous, not the poor and struggling. Unfortunately, in this economy, even things like health insurance and education are now luxury items for too many Americans.

This is why I support the Occupy Wall Street movement. The system isn’t working. Too many are suffering. It can no longer be business as usual.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Death Penalty and a Nation's Soul

The morning after the executions of Troy Davis and Lawrence Russell Brewer found me mulling over Luke 19:

41As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

Jesus laments because Jerusalem ignored the signs of God's nearness. By choosing to ignore God's presence and refusing to pursue the path of peace, Jerusalem was sealing its own fate: a future filled with violence and destruction.

What kind of civilized society sanctions the killing of its own citizenry? What is the chilling message that is sent to its populace? Where do the lines of vengeance and justice blur? When the State deems that some lives are not worth living, and in fact ought to be put to death, doesn't that cheapen all other lives?
People do horribly evil things in this world. But we simply perpetuate evil by killing people who have been convicted of killing people. The death penalty is not a deterrent to evil. It does not offer the possibility of reconciliation. Is this really what justice looks like?

In a study by Amnesty International, 23 countries carried out the death penalty in 2010. The US was number four in the highest number of executions, behind Iraq, Iran and China. Is this an area in which we as a nation want to excel?
Troy Davis’ case shows how race and class enter into our judicial process. Some individuals are not presumed innocent until proven guilty but are guilty until they have enough money to hire a good lawyer to prove them innocent. Perhaps the redemptive act from all of this will ultimately be the end of the death penalty in the United States. It is time we learned the ways that make for peace and reconciliation.

Our future depends on it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The BART Unplugged Experiment: There's Got to Be a Morning After

Okay, all last week I went cold turkey: during my morning and afternoon commutes on BART, I kept my phone off and as safely tucked away as I would on a place during take off and landing. You may recall that what prompted all this was the realize that I was so addicted to my iPhone that I began missing my stops, and didn't even notice that someone had passed out in front of me until the train was stopped and EMTs were working on him!

It wasn't easy, this low tech ride through high tech country.  Looking around at my fellow commuters, it was hard to find someone who wasn't plugged in. Conversations were not with seatmates, but with the digitalized disembodied voices. texts, and emails. But I learned a great deal last week, and recognized that time unplugged can actually be a good thing, helping me not only tune in to my outer surroundings, but also my inner landscape.

But, as the song goes, "There's got to be a morning after."  What is most telling about an addiction is not so much what happens when you are not engaged in the addictive behavior, but what happens when you resume the behavior.

So what happened Monday morning?

Feeling oh-so-smug I waited to pull out my iPhone until we were WAY underway (look at my. I made it to Daly City without my ear phones on, without checking email, and without playing one number in Suduko. But then it sucked me in!

Old habits die hard: I looked up to get off at my Powell St. stop, and discovered that we had gone one stop beyond and I was at Montgomery.


The BART Unplugged Experiment: Day Five

My Fridays are not commute days. Fridays are either my Sabbath, a day to rest and renew for the work week that begins on Sunday, or it is my sermon writing day, which I do from home. Day Five of the BART Unplugged Experiment found me working on my sermon for Sunday.

A week of being unplugged did seem to have an unexpected result. I usually write sermons by multi-tasking: writing, doing the laundry, writing, checking up on emails, writing, listening to music, writing, putting the dishes away...writing in very short increments that resemble more sprints than actual focused writing.

But this day was different.

I found that I was not needing other stimulation in order to get my thoughts in order. I was able to concentrate. Words, sentences, thoughts flowed freely. "Wow," I thought, "This is great!."

I don't know if it was from intentionally unplugging for most of the week, or if I had just put a lot of preliminary thought into the sermon prior to Friday, or if it was simpy the Spirit at work! I have a hunch, however, that giving my mind some breathing room, without filling it up with one kind of stimulation or another, helped the process.

What an illuminating and interesting week!

Friday, August 12, 2011

The BART Unplugged Experiment: Day Four

The ride home today was tough. I write my sermons from home on Fridays, so Thursday's ride marked the end of my commute week. There was a weariness, but also an undercurrent of adrenaline, like a shifting tide as I began to move from the extroverted "the-pastor-is-in" mode to the more reflective and quiet sermon-writing mode (one Glide members calls me "The Sermonator" when I am in this mode). So in this in-between space, I wanted to keep the weariness at bay and DO something.

BART is not a conducive environment for DOING.

I looked around at my fellow commuters. Eyes were closed, faces were in a book, or, yes, thumbs were flying on the smartphone keyboard. But no one was talking. Upwards to 200 people were sharing a very confined space, but there was no interaction, no conversation, no connecting.

What opportunities are we missing when we fail to connect with the person right beside us?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The BART Unplugged Experiment: Day Three

Today started out great. The BART train I took into the City originated from the airport, so there were lots of tourists on the train. "OOOoooo," I thought, "Those researchers are so right. Plugging into our smartphones really does stop us from interacting with each other. But look at me now!" Before I even got to my seat, someone asked me if this was a train that goes to Powell Street. Then the couple across the aisle needed help figuring which train would get them to Hayward. Then the first guy and I struck up a conversation. Yup, I was CONNECTING!

My work day ended on a very painful note. Sometimes, being a pastor is heart-breaking work, and my last appointment of the day weighed heavy on me.  It was all I could do to pack up my bag and head to the BART station. Getting on the train, all I wanted to do was to plug in and tune out.

But there was no plugging in for me this time.  I reflected on my last appointment and couldn't avoid the flood of feelings within me.  Unable to back burner, avoid, or push away the feelings, I reached for the one thing that could help me the most: prayer. So as the train made its way southward, I took a journey to God, carrying all the feelings and laying them before God.

Plugging in is a great avoidance, but once the batteries run out, I am still left with whatever was bothering me. Prayer, I was reminded once again, is a way to sink into the feelings and surface with greater clarity and peace.

Maybe I'm learning a thing or two through this whole unplugging experience.

The BART Unplugged Experiment: Day Two

Tuesday, August 9. Day two of commuting without being plugged into my iPhone.

What really surprised me today was that my mind wandered...unfettered of music, news articles, emails, voicemails, it was free to roam wherever it wanted to go. I found myself thinking, wondering, dreaming on a mental map with no road signs.

It made me realize how rarely I leave myself with time to day dream. Most of the time, I am directing my thinking, in one way or the other. I often listen to music on my commute. Or I am looking at my calendar and planning the day's meetings and activities, or analyzing the game board for my next move.

So today was a day of liberation! It reminded me that creativity requires space for exploration and a willingness to enter into the unstructured so we can be led to a new and unexpected place.

Here's to more time to day dream!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The BART Unplugged Experiment: Day One

Monday, August 8, was the first day of commuting without being attached to my iPhone. For my entire commute to work, my iPhone stayed in my bag. I didn't text anyone, didn't check emails, didn't listen to music, didn't play a game, didn't even (gasp) call my mother. Instead, I listened to the sounds around me, looked out at the passing scenery, took glances at my fellow passengers, and even took a quick nap. this is commuting life without technology.

Until I saw the bed bug sign.

Taking time to look around at the BART car, I saw the ad "Got Bed Bugs?". Ewwwwww.

Those "Got Milk?" commercials are cute. Good looking celebrities (often with their kids) display those tell-tale milk moustaches, making me wish I had a tall cold one.

But "Got Bed Bugs?"  Talk about bad ad placement. I looked around at my BART seat and got a little nervous.

Now I wonder if, in addition to keeping my iPhone stashed, if I also have to stand for the duration of my commute...

Monday, August 8, 2011

BART Unplugged

At Glide, we say that everyone is in recovery for something. I confess that as I read a recent online report on the web browser of my iPhone, I got in touch with an issue that is requiring recovery: my addiction to my iPhone.

Research shows I am not alone. Psychologists are worried that while we are connecting with our mobile device more, we are connecting with each other less.

I first recognized that I might have a problem when I was riding BART to Glide one day and looked up from my Sudoku app to realize that the train was stopped. Then I looked up the aisle and saw a man passed out on the floor, surrounded by paramedics. How long had we been stopped? How long had that man been laying there and I simply didn’t see him?

There are other warning signs as well: twice within the last month, I missed my home station, only to leave the train and look around bewildered, “How did I get here?”

I know I’m not the only one to have this smart phone addiction. I looked around my BART car recently and saw passenger after passenger not speaking to anyone, not looking around, but texting, surfing, listening to music, watching videos…everything but being present to their surroundings and fellow passengers.

So I am making a commitment. Starting with my commute into Glide on Monday, August 8, I am going to keep my iPhone in my pocket for the entire week (!) of commuting back and forth. I want to see what and who I’ve been missing. Who knows what I will discover from this tech-free commute?

Care to try it with me?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lady Gaga, Evangelist?

Last week, I attended the Lady Gaga  concert in at the Oakland Coliseum. It was a rainy night, but the rain didn’t dampen the spirits of concert goers as we stood in line waiting to go in. The crowd was a wonderful mirror of the beautiful diversity we have in the Bay Area. Hugs, laughter, singing and dancing broke outside spontaneously as the crowd inched closer to the doors.

Except for one man.

Standing close to the crowd was a man dressed with a coat covered in slogans like “hate the sin, love the sinner” and “hell is for eternity.” The man was shouting at the crowd so hard that the chords of his neck were bulging and his face was beet red.  He shouted things like “You're going to burn in hell!”

The man was quickly forgotten once Lady Gaga took to the stage. People were swept up by her performance. In between her songs, she asked people to support local homeless shelters and in particular, shelters for homeless lgbt youth.  Then, she did something I totally wasn’t prepared for--Lady Gaga actually… well, there's only one word for it… PREACHED!

I had to wonder, as I thought of how the crowd responded to Lady Gaga’s message of love and how they responded to the street preacher’s message of hate, which one touched and changed more hearts that night, opening lives up to God's love?

Lady Gaga, evangelist. Who knew? I am grateful for her message of God's unconditional love to 50,000 concert goers, reminding them: “Baby, we were born this way!”

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Butterfly Effect

There is a phenomenon known as the Butterfly Effect —it states that the world is such a delicate and connected eco-system that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can cause a weather change in New York City.

Since March 11th, we have known just how true the Butterfly Effect is. It is hard to believe that an earthquake which leveled the landscape in Japan could cause millions of dollars in damages more than 5000 miles away due to the ensuing tsunami .  Many of us on the West Coast have family, friends, and friends of friends in Japan and wait anxiously for a daily update from them.  The eyes of the world have nervously watched the nuclear reactors as they belch radioactive clouds into the atmosphere and reach critical levels as efforts to contain them continue to fail.
Due to the earthquake, we are seeing the Butterfly Effect multiply its impact as the whole world is effected.
I wonder, as I watch and listen, whether  this can be an opportunity for us to recognize in ways greater than ever before, how connected we are to one another, the earth, and all living things?  As we mourn the terrible loss of life, can we commit ourselves to new life together? Can we diminish our differences and recognize our common humanity?  Are we able to recognize that what we do, the choices we make daily, have consequences to those we may never meet?  Are we able to stand in solidarity with those whose suffering is beyond our comprehension?  Can we care for one another and all of creation in ways that offering healing and wholeness?
Let us engage in radical acts of love and care, and trust that through the butterfly effect, our actions will increase and multiply, and be a soothing balm in the midst of a broken world.
Want to do something for the people of Japan? Make a donation to UMCOR. This organization is already on the ground, partnering with local organizations to assess and respond to the devastation.  100% of your donation will go directly to relief efforts.

Monday, March 14, 2011

BART Encounters #2

 I am one of those people that starts the day wide awake and ready to go, and the earlier the better!  No caffeine is needed here! Once my feet hit the floor I am already headed towards the gym followed by a warm shower. Then I am ready to take on the world.
One morning, however, I was uncharacteristically tired before the day had even begun. I glumly made my way to BART, my head feeling in a fog.  Listless, I went through the motions of entering the station to board a train.
I wasn’t even aware of how far I had travelled on the train when I heard a small voice whispering emphatically, “Wow!…Wow!…Wow!”  The voice nudged me and I found myself more alert than I had been. What was it that was eliciting these wows?
The train stopped. “Wow!” the voice exclaimed.  The doors opened. “Wow!”  People entered. “Wow!”  The doors closed. “Wow” The train entered a tunnel. “Wow.”  Every stage of the trip was met with an exclamation of wonder.
This small child’s excitement was contagious. I found myself looking at the beauty of the diversity of people found on the train. Wow! I looked outside and could see the ocean. Wow!  I saw someone give up their seat to an elderly person. Wow!
This wonderment stayed with me throughout the day. There was beauty in the most unlikely places. I looked at the world--and all I encountered--with new eyes. My day was filled with joy, wonderment, and above all, gratitude.
The Spirit was made manifest for me that day in a small child, whose sense of awe helped me be surprised and amazed once again. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Standing on the Side of Love

Today I was taken away in handcuffs as the battle ground for equal rights moves from the lunch counter to the marriage license counter.

It was part of a marriage equality action. As a way to highlight the injustice of marriage laws, which deny gay and lesbian couples the legal rights and protections which marriage affords, and to honor the anniversary of San Francisco's "Winter of Love" (2004) when Mayor Gavin Newsom surprised the world by allowing city officials to issue marriage certificates to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation, marriage counter protests occur in city halls across America as gay and lesbian couples request--and are denied--a marriage license.

Heading into the marriage license office
 In San Francisco, clergy, gay and lesbian couples, and city officials held a press conference in City Hall.  Following the press conference, we clergy accompanied several couples to the marriage license counter. When they were refused a license, we sat down and began to sing, "What the world needs now is love, sweet love" until we were led away in handcuffs.

As an officer handcuffed me and led me down into the basement of City Hall, he guided me with his hand on my shoulder and back with the gentlest of touches. I remember thinking, "I have never been touched by a stranger--and certainly not by an arresting officer--in a way that had ever made me feel like I was something precious." That's how gentle he touched me.

We got to the bottom of the stairs and then he motioned for me to walk with him down a long corridor that ran the length of City Hall. Suddenly, he blurted out, "I didn't think this would be as hard as it is," and he burst into tears.

He looked at me, tears running down his face, and told me of how he and his husband had been married in 2008. He was grateful that they were amongst the lucky ones, whose marriage is still recognized by California. "But it hurts to know there are other couples who feel the same love we do, who can't get married."

By then, we were both in tears, held in the tension felt between our two vocations. He was doing his job, by arresting me. I was doing my job by standing up for justice and love.  Together, we saw how flawed our legal system is when it refuses to protect the loving relationship of all committed couples.

He led me into the holding room and before he uncuffed me, he blessed me with two simple words:

"Thank you."

Thursday, February 3, 2011

BART Encounters #1

She looked hesitatingly at the seat next to me before our eyes met. I smiled and gestured that the seat was all hers. Shortly after she sat down, I couldn't help but notice the most enticing aroma from a package she was carrying. I finally asked her what it was.

"Mussels and french fries," she said. "I just had an interview for a job, and it was so horrible! I decided I needed something to cheer me up."

We spoke about her interview--she worked in a downtown office and had been invited to apply for another position in the organization. The interview did not go as she had expected, and she felt depleted and betrayed. "Why would they invite me to apply, and then treat me that way?"

She told me that as soon as the interview finished, she called home. This was no quick call across town. The woman was from another country, an ocean away. But at that time, she needed to hear the voice of someone who would love her no matter what. Whether the interview went well or was horrible, whether she got the job or not, she knew to reach out to someone who would love her, not judge her. She called home.

The need for home runs deep in our souls. Whether that home is a physical one, or an emotional one we share with loved ones, we all need a place of safety, love and support. Dorothy clicked her heels, saying,
There's no place like home."  ET pointed longingly to the sky and asked, "Phone home?"

Too many people, however, don't have a place to call home. Poverty and foreclosures have caused many to lose their home. Others have been forced out or had to flee their home. Still others aren't even at home in their own skins.

How can we be home for each other? How can we create strong communities that are committed to ensuring a place of home, a place of safety, for the most vulnerable?  My faith tells me that there is a place, there is a home, for everyone in the body of Christ. Unfortunately, not enough Christian communities are willing to be a home--a place of safety, love and nurture--for all people.  Perhaps one sign of this unwillingness to be a home for all is reflected in empy pews, dried up souls, and tired faith.  Too many people outside the church have learned to read the sign, "You can't go home again."

What if our churches were committed to finding the lost parts of the body of Christ, reattach missing limbs, and protect and strengthen the most vulnerable parts of the body? What if our churches were to welcome each outsider with the same joy and generosity as the father who welcomed home the prodigal son? What if we truly recognized our brothers and sisters in the faces of those we meet every day, even on a BART train?