Friday, October 18, 2013

Remembering the Loma Prieta earthquake

Jocelyn Sherman, a long-time friend, reminded me yesterday that October 17 was the 24th anniversary of the earthquake in San Francisco called the “Loma Prieta” earthquake.  Like her I was in it—and it was unbelievable.
I was in San Francisco working for the United Farm Workers.  I had left seminary for a year and was working on a campaign against Safeway.  We had already organized many rallies and spent quite a lot of time outside their stores asking them not to sell grapes.  I was on the second floor of a building in the Tenderloin district making some copies at 5:04 p.m. 
All of a sudden I felt like I was surfing.  The floor was moving.  I looked up at the ceiling and saw that it was moving too.  Earthquake!!  I didn’t know what to do—I was from the Midwest—the earth didn’t move there.  My natural instinct was to get to the ground floor.  I got to the stairwell and ran down as fast as I could.  As I was running down the stairs the thought went through my mind that I could die.  I made it to the ground floor and ran out the door.  “Come back in,” a group of people yelled at me.  Being from the Midwest I didn’t realize that the safest place to be in an earthquake was under a door.  I ran back in—and the earthquake stopped.
Wow—I eventually learned that the earthquake measured 6.9 on the Richter scale; 63 people were killed.
Making it through the earthquake depended on where a person was.  I was living at a Catholic priests’ residence near Lake Merritt in Oakland at the time.  I traveled on the 880 freeway and the Bay Bridge every morning.  If I had been in the wrong place I would have been added to the 63. 
When the earthquake was over we warily walked outside the building.  Chips of stone had fallen out of it.  Everything was chaotic.  No street lights worked; the homeless were directing traffic; we saw a huge fire that erupted hundreds of feet in the air in the Marina District; we got word that we couldn’t drive back to Oakland over the above-pictured Bay Bridge so started back over the Golden Gate Bridge.
As we walked to the car we experienced the first of many aftershocks.  The first one measured over 5 on the Richter scale.  I hated the aftershocks.  We never knew when they would hit, but we learned that they would come. 
After making it over the Golden Gate bridge we stopped to eat Chinese food.   The group I was with could hardly talk.  This was long before cell phones, so we had no way to reach others who were working with us.  I later found out that my friend, Irv Hershenbaum was in a building overlooking Lake Merritt.  He said that the building swayed back and forth.
After a very long drive we made it back to where I was staying.  We had no electricity.  I called my parents and shared stories with everyone else there.
I love an adventure, but I don’t need to ever experience an earthquake again.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Prayer is personal but not private

Yesterday I finished a six week sermon series on prayer at Chain of Lakes by sharing a vision for prayer.  The vision I shared is our new church will be a community of prayer.  I shared three elements of this vision.  One is that prayer is personal and not private.  During the last six weeks I’ve been encouraging people to share their prayer lives with each other.  The local congregation should be a place where we can learn from each other about our prayer lives.  We should feel comfortable sharing what is happening in our prayer lives, the obstacles we’re encountering, the joys we’re experiencing.  Through our sharing we learn from each other.
Many people at Chain of Lakes have shared with me that they have never (yes, never!!!!) been encouraged to talk about their own prayer lives with another person.  I am so glad that we are creating the type of community where we can be authentic about our own prayer lives. 
If you would like to watch the entire sermon go to:
I feel so strongly about this point that prayer is personal and not private that I decided to share this section of the sermon in my blog.  Please share your comments.  This is a very important issue!
The first element of this vision is prayer is personal but not private.  Prayer is personal because we share our most intimate thoughts with God.  When we’re honest with God through prayer we have to confront ourselves—our limitations and our strengths.  When we pray we can be naked—we’re laid bare before God. 
But prayer is not private.  The value of a community is we can help each other.  An image I’ve been working with this week is a workout center.  In a way a local congregation is like a workout center.  We’re all working out or praying and we’re sharing with each other how it’s going.  If I was at a workout center and I was training for a race I’d ask people how is it going, what’s happening, what’s working.  In the church the same thing should happen with prayer.  We should be asking each other, how’s your prayer life going, what’s working, what obstacles are you facing.  When we ask these questions we don’t ask them out of judgment..  Our motivation is not to point our finger and say, “did you pray this week?”  That’s the furthest thing from our mind. 
We want to be a community where we help each other in our prayer lives.  When we share we learn from each other.
This past Thursday night at our Steering Committee we talked about our prayer lives.  It was a wonderful conversation.  We authentically shared what was going well in our prayer lives and our struggles.  We all know that we can do better.  We also know that God accepts us where we are in our prayer life.  One of the Core Values of Chain of Lakes is acceptance.   We understand this to mean that “We accept people without judgment, regardless of what has happened in their lives or where they are on their faith journeys.”
Think about how this Core Value relates to prayer.
We can learn so much about prayer when we share our prayer lives with each other. 
One challenge I have is I’m going to challenge each of our teams to open up our meetings with a conversation about our prayer life.  Let’s get in the habit of sharing what is going well, what obstacles we are facing.  If we aren’t praying, we’re not embarrassed to say that.  If something is going well, we’ll share that too.    
Prayer is personal, but not private.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Celebrating 150 years at Community Presbyterian Church in Plainview, Minnesota

Yesterday I had the wonderful privilege in participating in the 150th anniversary celebration of Community Presbyterian Church in Plainview.  Over a year ago John Curtiss, the pastor of the church, had asked me to save the date and invited me to come.  It was terrific that my wife, Amy, and daughter, Hannah could join me in the celebration.
The celebration started before worship as the church dedicated its new bell structure.  The bell hadn’t been sounded before worship in at least 15 years when it fell off its moorings in the bell tower.  I still remember that day well.  Bob Bosma, a senior high youth at the time, was doing his duty of ringing the bell before worship.  When he pulled the rope all of us heard a very large “thump.”  We later realized that we were fortunate that the bell hadn’t fallen all the way to the basement of the church and caused significant injury and damage.  The bell ended up on a large piece of wood that cracked but stayed in place. 
This past year the people of the church raised money for a beautiful bell stand.  Wally Richardson, one of the oldest people in the church—rang the bell before worship for the first time since that fateful day when the bell fell.  The sound was deep, rich and rang through the community.  The sound of the bell was a reflection of the Scripture inscribed on the bell, "Let him that heareth say come," Revelation 22:7.
Yesterday the focus of worship was on the past.  This coming Sunday the congregation will look into the future.  Yesterday we sang old hymns and remembered many of the saints who came before us. 
It was humbling for me to reflect on the many people who have worked together to form this strong faith community called, “Community Presbyterian Church.  I served there as the pastor for 16 years—and that is only one-tenth of the church’s existence.  The church is never about one person or group of people—and this fact was never more apparent than at this celebration.
I shared during my short talk that yesterday we were re-naming the Presbytery, the Presbytery of Plainview Area.  For the intersection of 5th and Broadway was the place to be.  People jammed into the sanctuary to remember the past.  In his sermon John Curtiss looked at the question, “what is faith?” the question that the disciples had asked Jesus.  He replied that faith does not have to be a complicated endeavor.  Jesus answered the question himself when he said that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains.
I  especially enjoyed the power point presentation that Diana Pries shared.  She shared many pictures of past pastors and many pictures of the ministry that had taken place there.
After a congregational pot-luck the church sponsored a program where seven significant people from the church’s past suddenly showed up to share their stories.  We heard a story from a charter member of the church—whose story came from the 1860’s.  We also heard how Don Harrington (who was played by his son, Kent) was taken up by faith.  Faith for him eventually was more than a church organization; it was the amazing grace that God shares with us.
The community of Plainview has been blessed over the past 150 years by the ministry of Community Presbyterian Church.  Yay, God for the faithful dedication of these saints over the past century-and-a-half!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A review of Eleanor and Park

Last week I discovered that the book “Eleanor & Park” was causing a controversy in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.  The book was part of the district’s summer reading program.  A group in the school district objected to the book because it has “220 profanities.”  Because of their pressure an appearance by the author, Rainbow Rowell, was cancelled.
I never make comments on a book unless I read it.  So last Friday I went to Barnes & Noble to purchase a copy.  I finished it last night.
Set in 1986 in Omaha, Nebraska the book explores a relationship between Park—a half-Korean kid—and Eleanor—a poor girl with red hair who doesn’t fit in to the culture of the school.  Eleanor is constantly bullied by people on her bus and by girls in her school.  Her physical safety is threatened by her violent, alcoholic, step-father.
But something clicks between Park and Eleanor.  It’s fascinating to read about the slow development of their relationship.  Their own anxieties and self-doubt reveal the life of a teenager.  Every parent of teenagers would benefit from reading the book because it would give them a deeper understanding of their own kids.
The book uses language that I don’t use.  If I heard my twelve-year old daughter use that language I would immediately ground her.  But just because the book uses language that is profane doesn’t mean the school district or the leaders of the summer reading program support that use of language.   Those leaders support the book because the book reveals something about ourselves.  It can foster conversation about very important issues in our world. 
The book has given me a clearer understanding of domestic violence and the impact it has on families.  It pains me to think that many teenagers in the A-H school district live in the poverty that Eleanor experienced. 
The use of profane language in the book reveals a culture that already exists.  My daughter is not going to swear more because she read the “f” word in “Eleanor and Park.  Just like she isn’t going to engage in inappropriate sexual activity because Park took Eleanor’s bra off.  My daughter doesn’t live in a vacuum as the other students in the school district don’t.  As a parent my task is not to protect her from the world, but to equip her to live in this world.
What’s important to me about any book is the quality of the literature.  On this test the novel has done well.  It was an Amazon Best Book of the Month and a New York Times best seller.   The book won a Boston Globe/Horn Book Award.  Common Sense Media gave the book a terrific review and recommended it for youth age 14 and above.
I’m glad the librarians of the A-H school district chose this book as part of a summer reading program.  I’m glad that the book is in the libraries of the schools.  I’m very disappointed that a visit by Rainbow Rowell was cancelled.  As a parent of a middle-school daughter who attends school in the A-H school district and as a pastor of a church in Blaine, I would be willing to work with anyone to help promote a visit by her.
We can’t hide from our world.  Rainbow Rowell did an outstanding job of portraying youth culture and evoking compassion for teenagers among her readers.