Monday, November 30, 2009
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Christ Church is common. Some might see such a statement as contrary to their experience and the usual understanding of the word, common. Common literally means “shared by all.”
We are common because our life together is shared by all people who are seeking God. This includes those whom we invite to share our common ground.
And so it is that Christ Church is shared by all of her members and by those who happen by this place looking for God (see Jesus’ story about the buried treasure in Matthew 13:44).
The fire that has rendered our parish hall unavailable since May of 2008 has been a great loss not only for this parish family, but for those who have shared this facility with us over the years. We have housed meetings of many 12 step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous. For those folks seeking God and recovery, this Christ Church campus was their spiritual home and a place of refuge.
We have also opened our doors to be a place where the basic responsibility of citizenship can be exercised in the voting booth.
Just before I started to serve here as your rector in 2001, I was standing on the steps of the church talking with Bob Dennison, who was the very gracious senior warden when I arrived. One of the men from A.A. approached us and thanked us for sharing our parish hall with them and without a moment of hesitation, Bob Dennison replied, “We share the same land lord.” In that moment, I knew that I was in the right community of faith. We are a common church, shared by all who make this place and this community their spiritual home.
As your vestry continues to labor towards returning the parish hall to full service, I invite you to consider how this loss of space has impacted our common life at Christ Church. The buildings that house us are really like our family home. How would a family deal with the loss of a kitchen, a dining area, a living room?
We need such common spaces to express and share our common life together. Like our bodies, our physical existence is the clear expression of our spiritual life and so it has been more difficult for us to share our common life together since the fire.
This letter is about supporting the common life and work of Christ Church. Your financial support allows us to live on common ground in a community of faith with a common love for God and our neighbors and to extend this beautiful way of life to those in the community with whom we share our common space.
Each year we are all asked to make a personal pledge to support this parish and each year I have invited, encouraged and hoped for a pledge of your presence in worship, your service in community, and your growth in the knowledge and love of God and neighbor.
We will continue to celebrate our faith-based pledging which is explained in our annual pledge material and I want to encourage you to also consider how you can become more involved in the common life of Christ Church. My vocation as a priest, my joy, passion, and commitment, is to help you in this endeavor in whatever way I can.
May God bless this common ground and faith community as we move towards restoring our parish hall and kitchen and once again open our parish hall to those who come here looking for a faith and a community that is real.
God’s Peace on Common Ground,
Thursday, November 19, 2009
This past Tuesday, November 17th, Barbara Ramsey-Duke called a meeting of your senior warden, Gail Connolly, your vestry Outreach chairperson, Susan Mulledy-DeFrank, and me to set up a bone marrow donation drive in honor of Maya Chamberlin. Maya has been our prayer list for several months (September 9th) because she contracted “a rare form of a blood disease, called hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, or HLH for short. This disease involves the histiocyte cells eating up normal blood cells which are then stored in the liver and spleen. This results in an enlarged liver & spleen which then compromises breathing by pushing on the lungs. The disease is so rare that there is not even a body of data on which a prognosis (survival odds) can be based.”
The rest of Maya's background story can be found at the conclusion of this reflection on my Gospel Reflection blog. Barbara Ramsey-Duke had contacted a woman named Anna Marie Cruz from Be The Match. This organization helps set up bone marrow drives in the Los Angeles area. Anna Marie told us about the work of her organization and she helped separate fact from fiction about the process of donation. All of us felt that offering this opportunity to our parish and the community beyond our parish was of utmost importance.
Anna Marie also shared stories of matches between those in need of a donor and the donors whose gift saved lives. She had one such story chronicled on a Dvd. Christine Pechera was dying of cancer, but a bone marrow donation saved her life. All of us were moved by Chistine’s story.
And so we will offer the parish, their friends, family, and our surrounding community an opportunity to register to be donors. The word donors literally means “one who gives.” And the gift that is given is hope and life for those who sit “in the valley of the shadow of death.” (Psalm 23) As Christians we profess faith in God who is THE donor of all life of which we are stewards. We give thanks for :”our creation, preservation, and for all the blessings of this life” by sharing the life that God gives to us. In John’s Gospel, we read that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…” (John 3:16)
To be clear, those who sign up to be donors are promising to donate to whomever they match, making their gift a “random act of loving kindness.” This is important for us to know because it makes our decision to be a donor an act of godly generosity.
Gifts that are given only to those whom we know, love, and care about are good gifts, but when we offer to give to those whom we don’t know, might not find lovable or even likable, we offer a godly gift. It is a godly gift because God gives to us without regard to how we feel about God. As it is written in Matthew 5:43-48:
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
I urge you and encourage you to enter into the joy and love of God’s perfect giving.
WHAT and WHEN: Bone Marrow Testing will be offered on Sunday December 13, 2009 immediately following the Holy Eucharist at 10am until 3pm
WHERE: In the sanctuary of Christ Episcopal Church
408 South Broadway
WHY: For the love of God and God’s Children who are in need
Maya’s Background Story
Maya became sick with flu-like symptoms on Sep 9. As has been the case so many times in the past 3 years, her symptoms worsened. We brought her to the doctor Sep 10 and after a blood test Maya was admitted Sep 11 since all the blood cells, including white blood cells, platelets, and the hemoglobin level were quite low (pancytopenia) and her liver and spleen were enlarged.
The levels kept dropping so she was transferred Sep 12 from Torrance Memorial to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Millers Children Hospital in Long Beach. In the ICU Maya's breathing became labored and her belly became distended. We had no idea what was happening and the doctors worked furiously to find an answer. Several specialists were consulted and many tests were performed.
On Sep 13, chest x-ray's showed large amounts of fluid in her chest cavity and the doctor decided to perform a lung tap: insert a tube into the chest cavity to release fluid. Nearly 400 ml was removed and Maya's breathing and heart rate improved dramatically. We were relieved and Maya got some good rest...for 4 hours. She then became uncomfortable and her breathing became more labored. The doctor decided it was time to take over the breathing for her via a tube and ventilator. Right before she was sedated and the tube was inserted, Maya asked for Jaden. We were quite happy to hear her alert response and Sam asked her who Jaden was. When she didn't respond Sam asked if Jaden was her sister. Maya spoke right up and said, "No. He is my brother. He is naughty some times and you and mommy put him in time out." We were relieved to know our Maya was still alert and mentally active.
Maya's heart rate was averaging 180 beats per minute since being admitted. After the lung tap the heart rate went down to 140 but went back up. After the ventilator her heart rate went down to 150. Meanwhile specialist after specialist visited and assessed Maya and ran off to check their literature and consult with other experts. We were quite impressed with the responsiveness, extremely high level of competence, professionalism, sacrifice and ability to explain in detail their thoughts. The team narrowed on several suspects, every single doctor contributed to connecting the dots and astonishingly made the diagnosis in a matter of hours. The Oncologist confirmed the diagnosis through analysis of a bone marrow biopsy. We are very lucky the diagnosis was made so quickly.
Unfortunately the diagnosis is a rare form of a blood disease, called hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, or HLH for short. This disease involves the histiocyte cells eating up normal blood cells which are then stored in the liver and spleen. This results in an enlarged liver & spleen which then compromises breathing by pushing on the lungs. The disease is so rare that there is not even a body of data on which a prognosis (survival odds) can be based. The treatment is a form of chemotherapy and was started the same day of the diagnosis (Sep 14). Maya's heart rate went lower to 140 as she became more comfortable and on the 2nd day got all the way down to 105. It is currently in the low 90's.
We have a long, bumpy, uncertain road ahead of us. Maya has already responded well to the treatment but it is very early. Maya is still on the ventilator and has about a thousand tubes stuck in her. We are now preparing to move her off the ventilator but need her to "wake up" from the sedation and paralytics that she has been under in order to proceed.
We are DEEPLY grateful to all of our friends and family who have made incredible sacrifices and steady support through this initial phase. We very much look forward to updating you on Maya's progress through this web site. Our thumbs are about to fall off from all the texting! Thank you again and God bless.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
It seems that every year there are movies released about the end of the world. It is interesting to look at the sorts of cataclysmic endings which are portrayed in these films. 2012 is among the latest renditions of the apocalypse.
But is the apocalyptic ending of the world a required belief of the Christian faith? Judging from the many churches who preach end times religion to “encourage” people to convert to the Christian faith in order to save themselves, it would seem that such beliefs are mandatory.
But how did Jesus understand the end? In our passage from Mark this coming Sunday, Jesus tells his disciples that the lofty and beautiful Temple in Jerusalem would not survive and that no stone would be left a top another. The Temple was the center of Jewish faith and worship. It was the place of sacrifice where sins could be transferred from the sinner to a sacrificial animal, thereby freeing the sinner from the debt of sin.
Notice that sin is not forgiven, but rather redirected towards a sacrificial animal whose spilled blood pays the price for the sin. Of course, there were some sins which could not be expiated through such sacrifices. Forgiveness was God’s prerogative and no human system could do away with sin or the death that it demanded.
When Jesus told his disciples about what we would call apocalyptic nightmares, wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, rising up of kingdoms against kingdoms, and famines, he did so to help them avoid focusing on these things and looking for a messiah who would deliver them from these disasters. To be led astray by one of these messiahs claiming to be the real deal, the authentic Christ, meant that one was in a position of being manipulated by such Christ figures.
Consider the dooms day messages in the media today. To be sure we have many problems on planet earth, but when we hear others claiming to have answers to these problems and loudly denouncing any opposition to their positions, we would be wise to heed Jesus’ warnings to avoid being led astray. This is not to suggest that we should not work towards solutions, in fact, people who live forgiven and forgiving lives do just that.
So, in the midst of the gloom and doom of ecological melt downs, warfare, rumors of warfare, famines, disease, and natural disasters, what would Jesus have us do? Jesus taught his disciples to understand these signs as birth pangs. At the end of pregnancy comes a birth, new life and just before that new life enters the world, the mother suffers the pains of child birth.
Something seemingly larger than the birth canal through which the child will emerge is coming. Birth seems to be a profound metaphor for the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven into the world. Something larger than our world that functions without forgiveness is coming, the birth of which will mark the end of the pain and suffering and the beginning of a new way of being human.
I think we sometimes underestimate the power of forgiveness. The prophets including John, preached it as coming into the world. A paralytic was lowered into the home where Jesus was teaching and healing. The paralytic’s friends did this for the man. When Jesus saw the faith of the man’s friends, he said to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Is this a case of cheap grace? Is Jesus speaking out of turn? There were some there who thought so. They said that only God can forgive sins—only God can forgive sins. Our world is held captive to the belief that only God can forgive sins and therefore we are condemned to live in a God forsaken world of sin where only death is seen as a temporary remedy.
What did Jesus say to those who challenged him? He said: “Which is easier to do, say to this man ‘your sins are forgiven’ or ‘rise up, pick up your pallet and walk?’ He then said a most remarkable thing: “but so that you might know that the Son of Man has power to forgive sins on earth, he said to the paralytic, ‘rise up and pick up your pallet and walk.’”
We are living in a world of unforgiveness. We are living in a world that will not accept that God’s forgiveness is the only operating system for planet earth. Apocalyptic visions are part of our world of sin and death, they are the birth pangs of a world in need of healing, but most of all in need of forgiveness.
Jesus is the Son of Man and the Son of God who brings the message and reality of forgiveness to us even as our world of sin and death rages on and seeks to terrify us into living on sin and death’s terms. The prophet said “repent.” Did you ever wonder what he meant? Jesus answers the question. Allow God’s love and forgiveness to change you and to change the way you love and live in the world. This is the end which will be the beginning of the Kingdom of Heaven.
As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, `I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs."
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
The expression, “Here is my two cents worth,” is often used to suggest that whatever I might say on this or that subject is not worth much or it is sometimes to suggest that whatever is going to be said is a strongly held opinion by the speaker.
There once was a widow whose property was taken away from her when her husband died. She lost her home because what she had to say to defend herself was not given much value. Indeed, there were attorneys who knew the law well and were able to claim the widow’s land and home by their use of the law. The widow was left with next to nothing.
Now not all attorneys acted this way. Some remembered that God expects those with power and authority to use their office to defend and protect the rights of widows, orphans, the poor, the powerless, and the foreigners who lived in their country. They believed that this is what God expected because this was how God acts, this is who God is.
So why would one set of attorneys behave one way while others acted another? Who is right? In our Gospel for Sunday we find Jesus teaching. Just prior to this time, Mark tells about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He goes to the temple and chases out all of the people who made money off of the sacrificial religion of Israel.Sacrificial religion is how human beings seek to control our otherwise violent natures. We stop chaotic violence by authorizing limited violence to restore order.
In some cases this violence is directed toward animals whose blood is shed. Israel tried to make the law an instrument of the sacrificial system so that those who were sacrificed were not arbitrarily selected, but guilty of offenses that triggered violence or were violent.
The gods of violence are truly man made, but we have elevated them to the level of ultimate meaning and power. These are the gods that sanction the limited violence of sacrifice. What happens when these gods are revealed to be our human attempt to protect ourselves from ourselves?
Jesus’ cleansing of the temple left him standing alone in this place of sacrifice. He becomes the only sacrifice available and out of the mouth of this divine and human victim, he begins to teach. He puts a human face on the other human victims of the world whose voices and faces are never heard. Sunday’s Gospel is part of this teaching from Jesus. Jesus offers God’s two cents worth.
“Teaching in the temple, Jesus said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’"
Note that Jesus does not tell us to beware of all scribes, but only of those who have traded their relationship with God for the prestige, power, and control which they use in the name of God and the law to increase their wealth at the expense of the powerless. Do these men have any idea of their culpability? Has their status and religiosity blinded them to what they are doing?
Do we do things that we know hurt the powerless of our world as if what we are doing is the “right” thing to do? Since civil religion is waning, new gods and political, economic, and legal systems now provide sanction for acting against God’s rule of justice and mercy for the least among us. Read the newspaper, watch the news, how are the least among us being treated? What part do we play in this rejection of God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven?
We have a choice about whether we will listen to God’s two cents worth. We have a choice about how we make this revelation from Jesus the beginning of a new way of seeing the world around us. We have a choice about seeing our part in the way we treat others with no power and no voice. The Prayers of the People during the Eucharistic service express the revelation of Jesus and the confession allows us to see our part and confess our part to God.
What is God’s two cents worth to us?
Teaching in the temple, Jesus said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."