Monday, April 30, 2007

why can't it always be like that?

So, Matt and I were in the Bay Area for a wedding this past weekend. On Sunday, I did something (I confess) I don't always do on a Sunday off of preaching: I went to church.

Going to worship at Glide in San Francisco doesn't take so much self-discipline, though. It's not like penance. It's good vacation activity.

Afterwards, we were talking about what we liked. Matt said, "I think that's what church should always be like."

One of the things I liked was that they gave word to what felt true there: they were clear about naming that everyone is welcome. Poor, rich, gay, lesbian, straight, transgendered, Bible-knowing, Bible-ignorant, confused, clear, clean, addicted, of any race, old, young... And, they made it fun to be together. We remembered that it was a special place--that the whole world isn't like that. Which made it sweeter, more precious, and wonderful.

I didn't have to worry that MY experience was isolated: that other people were judging folks who entered. Or that what SEEMED like an embrace of all humanity was just a sort of an odd accident. They said it plain and clear: we're all celebrated.

I sat next to a man who was there for the first time. We didn't talk much, but it was clear he both new the words and the ASL signs for many of the songs we sang. Especially the ones that you might hear on Christian radio. It was also clear that he was experiencing, for the first time, that he was welcome AS HE WAS there--that he didn't have to hide anything. It was pretty beautiful.

On his other side was a friend who kept pulling out his phone. Which really annoyed me 'til I realized he was using it to take notes on the sermon. For real. That made me happy.

And, in a little way, reminded me about what's cool about church (at least, about church as it's supposed to be): it makes you confront little assumptions and judgments within yourself, and connect to something better. Richer. More beautiful.

So there we were, having our little post-worship discussion in the car, and Matt asked a hard question: so what's stopping you from making church like that?

Now, I don't want to complain: I'm pretty in love with a lot of the worship I get to lead. I treasure the community. I thrive on the sense of creative play I get to use. But somehow we come short of the kind of wild, all-inclusive joy that animates Glide. And usually, I let me fear of offending some people get in the way of saying things as clearly as the worship leaders at Glide did.

So, now I've gotta figure some things out...

Monday, April 23, 2007

gardening & revolution

I pass this house on my way to the freeway--just a few blocks away from our house. I'm a fan of the gardening revolution.

Turns out, there's a whole guerrilla gardening movement; rebellious, hopeful souls who dare to plant growing things in the abandoned places of empire.

Gardening is so good. It's relaxing. It connects me to this place. It reminds me of my place in cycles beyond my control. It recommits me to tending and cultivating things of beauty. It means I don't have drive to get my groceries, and no one has to use oil to drive them to the store. It means my food tastes really good. And, I love watching my neighbors stop to look at what's growing. My favorite is watching parents show their kids what vegetables look like in the natural state.

It definitely makes switching out "yard" for "garden" worthwhile. Of course, this place didn't even have "yard" when we moved in. It just had "pavement..."

Today, our first fruits of the season. (I'm being technical about this, and going for "fruit." This is a juicy and sweet switch-up from the lettuce, chinese cabbage, broccoli and chard that have been growing...)
They were the tastiest strawberries I've had in a long while. And no one had to work in miserable conditions for too little pay which being exposed to toxic pesticides to grow 'em.

Hooray for these five strawberries.

What a glorious alternative to concrete.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Praying in memory of those killed at Virginia Tech today, at the long litany of names of those whose lives ended too early, I got overwhelmed.

Not just by those 32 names, but by the 183 killed in Iraq today.

Learning details of the precious lives lost in Virginia, celebrating their particularities, I felt pangs of guilt: I know nothing of the lives of the 183.

I remember the number, because I was looking at numbers: the 153 fish miraculously caught when Jesus told his disciples to cast their net on the other side of the boat, when he visited them at the seashore after his resurrection.

I was typing "153" into the Google search bar, which I noticed a similar number in the yahoo headlines. But instead of being a reminder of God's good abundance, or of the rich ways God provides for us, it was a reminder of the ugliness of human violence. And, 183 is even more than 153.

Turns out that 153 has all sort of mathematical significance. In sequences, it's remarkable: the sum of the first 17 integers. Also, the sum of 1 through 5 factorial. According to Wikipedia, it's the biggest commonly-known number.

And so I pray for the lives of a even greater number of people. I pray in thanksgiving for their rich particularities, which I know nothing of. I pray for my own ignorance.

I pray for peace, and for sensibility for our national leadership. I pray for an end to violence, everywhere.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


I just got back from the Opera. It was Wozzeck, a modern opera--a wild 90 minutes in an atonal universe. I studied composers like Alban Berg in college, in heady course on non-objective painters like Mondrian and Kandinsky and the atonal music of Schoenberg and Webern (with a few shout-outs to Berg...) Technically, atonal music is known as such because it lacks a tonal center. It's not in any key. It doesn't land or come back to anything familiar, regular, or melodic. Sometimes it feels like speak-singing. Other times, it feels like the music was generated in a truly random way--as if Berg rolled a 12-sided die to figure out which note would go next.

Oddly destabilizing. Exhausting, when I think about how nice it would be for a rousing melody to hum along to. And yet, evocative. Raw. Even, perhaps, honest and pure.

And, afterwards, I felt strangely optimistic. Which strikes me as unlikely, given that the story thrives on brokenness and, ultimately, jealousy that leads to murder.

In the line at Starbucks, where I waited for the mocha that would bring validation for free parking, the man in front of me smiled and seemed friendly. Then he asked me, in Russian, if I spoke Russian. Then he spoke in fluent, slang-filled English to his friends. The cashier engaged in me in a long story about her day, and taxes. And, as I parked in front of our house, a man who I've seen in the neighborhood wanted to start a conversation (and get bus fare). We ended up talking a lot longer than I'd imagined, and made me uncomfortable in bits and pieces.

Conversation felt refreshingly easy, after emerging from the atonal universe. And yet, all of it feels like it lacks a center (tonal or otherwise). Nothing seemed to quite be what I expected or knew how to respond to.

So, I'm pondering what it might be like to move through a world that was centered in a particular key. Would everyone have to hear it or just me? And what would it mean missing?

Maybe I just need more sleep.

joys and concerns

It's been a while since I posted.

Some things have been good since I last wrote. I got the Resurrection playlist together, and the Easter Vigil it was set in was way cool. I think my favorite part was watching people really engage the activities we'd designed on this easter "pilgrimage"--and watching those who'd designed the event shine with healthy pride and share the power of easter stories. Our campus felt steeped in "holy." That a photo from it ended up on the front page of our San Diego paper was bonus cool.

Since Easter, I've been attempting pastoral de-compression. It seems like it shouldn't be this hard: it's the same story every year, after all. It should be less shocking to us than it was to Mary on that morning when she took spices for a dead body. I need to remember that the BIG work of Easter is taken care of by that wily Holy Spirit...

Somehow, though, making it relevant and hip and making sure we don't screw things up in worship takes a lot of energy.

So, after intense church-things-obsession, I got to enjoy a week focused on home.

Unfortunately, so did the person who broke into our house Thursday night.

They didn't take so much. I guess it helps that I own jewelry with little cash value. I mean, I think it's cool, but it's not gonna sell quick on the street. (In a perverse way, it feels a little insulting--that my things weren't worth stealing... I guess I can find solace that they chose MY laptop to steal. Apparently, they have some good taste. Mac, not PC.) But they did break a window. And run out the back door.

Mostly, I'm sleeping well since then. I still feel funny when I come home at night, alone. I don't want to discover that it's happened again.

So I decided to prove to my house that I haven't waned in my affection for her or our choice of neighborhood by working in the garden again. Things are blooming and sprouting. The sprinkler system is fixed, and the stepping stones are in place. Even the japanese maple, which maintained its "dead stick" look longer than anything else in the yard has beautiful young leaves. One of my joys is watching neighbors walking past our yard stop, to point and look at things growing in our garden. One neighbor brought cuttings from her own yard; she's given up on trying to grow new things, but was more than happy to run home and return, so she could share from the ones that are well-rooted there.

And, a week or two late by liturgical standards, my Passionflower vine has opened its first blooms. I'm told it was named for that distinctive bloom, which 15th Century Spanish missionaries though held reminders of the crucifixion.

Then, today, there's news of this horrific shooting at Virginia Tech, and I'm back to contemplating how to celebrate the Easter season in the midst of death.

I pray that the world will stop, turn, and find ways to cherish life.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

resurrection playlist one of my fun puzzles of the week is building a playlist for the "resurrection" stations in our Easter Vigil Prayer Pilgrimage at church. What tracks would you add?

So far, I just have Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising."

Monday, April 02, 2007


I realize it's been a long while since I last wrote.

My tomato seedlings stalled, too. They happily, quickly put out their first 2 leaves. Then, just as signs of the first real leaves began to emerge...they stalled. Nothing. Same for the peppers next to them.

I started more seeds, weeks after the first. They quickly bypassed the first, so-hopeful seeds. They're in the ground outside now, on their way to bearing real tomatoes.

So I've been wondering what did in those first sprouts. I hope it wasn't their recycled packaging. I'm excited about seed staring in old newspaper pots. I don't know what did it. I'm puzzled.

Two weeks ago, I took them out of their little pots, and put them in new (reused) plastic containers. (They have none of the charm...) The peppers have shown real signs of recovery--their little leaves move with the day's sun, and are reaching ever upward. The tomatoes, though...we'll I haven't totally given up on them, but they're still not doing much.

(Neither have they keeled over, though, which I take as hopeful.)

Problem is, failure really discourages me. I don't like to be wrong, and I don't like to fail. If I'd done something I KNEW was wrong--say, forgotten to water for a week because I was too busy tending to the world's needs--that'd be fine. I'd deal. But now I'm left in uncertainty.

I suppose that's a good spiritual discipline for this week.