Running Our Public Lands

img_4998.jpgLast night I listened to a friend, Vic Thasiah, make a call for the running community to be more actively engaged in conservation efforts for our public lands. His presentation took place at Topa Topa Brewing Company, and since I was holding a beer while listening, I missed taking notes! I wish I had because his talk was inspiring.

img_4776He shared that, from a national perspective, runners, as a group, are not as involved in preservation efforts as are hikers, kayakers, mountain bikers, and skiers. We as runners, are not organized around this important issue as are other groups. As I listened to the presentation, I wondered how many of us runners consciously appreciate the beautiful places we can go. Or do many of us think of running as “exercise” and something to “get done” while also experiencing the added benefit of a beautiful view?

As a pastor, I pray my gratitude for this beautifully created world in our weekly worship, while also praying that we would be good stewards of all that surrounds us. I find myself envisioning some of the places I’ve run as I pray. I’ve also tried to encourage our getting outside for worship with a monthly Hike Church. This has been met with limited success… but maybe that’s because I’m not doing a good enough job of inviting people.

img_4207-2.jpgThe other day, while running on one of our paved, but in need of much work, bike trails, I wondered about the feasibility of runners and cyclists fundraising to fix the trails. That’s a good endeavor and I’d support it. But now, I’m also thinking that we, wherever we are, should involve ourselves in to caring for, and helping to preserve, and conserve our public lands.

In my area, that care can be exercised through The Ventura Land Trust. I might even use my upcoming Thanksgiving to Christmas Mile a Day Challenge as a fundraiser for this worthy organization. Meanwhile, how do you see the running community participating in care for our public open spaces?

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Discarded Vines? A sermon on John 15:1-8

It’s Sunday morning and I look out toward the pews, out into the sanctuary and beyond. How many members will be here today? Will we have any children? Will any guests decide to join us?

From my vantage point, just behind the giant pulpit that I’ve preached from just one time, I don’t have a full view of the sanctuary. I see a few people over by the piano. I see a couple on the other side. I can see that some people are gathered in the narthex (lobby). How many will be with us today?

Our pianist completes his prelude. It’s 10:29. I think to myself, “it’s too early.” I want us to officially start worship at 10:30 not 10:29. So I slowly walk to greet the community that is gathered, and still gathering for worship.

I have mixed feelings as I gaze out. I am so incredibly grateful for each person present. I tell them this. “Thank you for being here today.” I hope that I convey the importance of their presence. I’m also a bit sad, a bit anxious, a bit regretful. Where have all the worshipers gone? Why are there only a few of us when we have a sanctuary that will hold close to 200? Why am I concerned about this? Where is my faith? I suck as a pastor. All these thoughts are mixed with my gratitude for those present.

I wonder, how do the worshippers feel? Have some of them left because of our size? Or have they left for some other reason? Some have moved away. I think of those who’ve died since I came. I miss them. How do those who remain feel?

I know some of their thoughts. One member, resigned to the decline, and resigned to her perception that we aren’t really doing much to address it, said, “I’ve come to accept that we might die. And that’s ok.” Others reminisce about the “good old days” when lots of people were in worship and Sunday School. Some are so excited when we have visitors join us that they are afraid that we overwhelm them with welcome. We have lots of mixed feelings as we gather.

As I reflect on the text for this Sunday, as I reflect on the metaphor

of vines

and branches

and fruit

and pruning

and abiding

and burning

I wonder about our place within all this. In my mind we are just past the pruning stage. There’s a mess on the ground as those unproductive branches have been cut from the vine. They lay there, withering, as their life blood of water is cut off. They lay there, withering, until someone can gather them to feed them to the flames of a great fire.

One day, in a breakfast meeting with other pastors. A gathering that is for support, another pastor (one who’s church has way way more people) told me that his church is experiencing the same decline…it’s just that my church is farther along that road. Any statistical analysis of the church in America paints a similar picture.

I think of this as I think of those cut, withering, discarded branches. Do they represent our church? Have we been pruned? Are we to be replaced with something else? Depressing thoughts, these.

Then I remember the words of Jesus,

“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”

We don’t use the word abide much. Live in me Jesus said…just as I live in you. He said these words to his disciples just as they were about to endure a terrible time. The words were remembered and written to a community that was in the midst of its own difficulties.

The words are filled with hope, with promise. “Live in me,” said Jesus. We might wonder about this. We might feel as if we’ve failed to do this. Or that apparently, we aren’t living as we should have. We might wonder if we are the discarded branches. “Live in me, as I live in you,” said Jesus. Does he mean us?

I remember a sermon and discussion with our congregation. It was over the concept of “all are welcome.” I had asked the members to think about who might hear these words and subsequently think, “they don’t include me.” We had quite a list that included many who’ve been marginalized by religion. Not long after this we chose, as a congregation, to be explicit in our welcome to our LGBTQ neighbors.

Of course Jesus means us! It is Jesus living in us that allows us to see the value and dignity of our neighbors. It is Jesus living in us that calls us to that first story…that beginning story in which we are told that God created human beings in God’s image and then declared that creation to be good. Jesus invites us to live in him just as he lives in us.

Jesus lives in us! This is good news. Jesus lives in us and there’s nothing that we can do to change that. Jesus lives in us even when we don’t feel it. So how do we know this? Sure, we can take the promise at face value, but we also can look at the evidence around us.

Here’s what I see.

• On this Sunday children are with us…just as they are most Sundays. Today, they gather at the Wiggle Spot and commence building a tower of cardboard bricks. When the congregation receives Communion, these children are included. The expressions on their faces as I give them bread, “this is the body of Christ, given for you,” are enough to warm any heart. They know they are receiving something special…even at the youngest age. Most respond with the word, “amen.” Amen indeed.

• Others are gathered who came because they discovered they are truly welcome at our church. Our church is now their church.

• I ask a question during my sermon and a few members of the congregation share their thoughts, allowing us as the gathered community to learn from one another.

• It is time for prayer and our community members share their concerns, their joys, and their thoughts of others. We have become more intimate in our praying.

• It’s announcement time and we celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. The members love acknowledging one another. I am blessed as I give a blessing to those whose birthdays we celebrate.

This is life. This life is a reminder that Jesus is living, in and with us. We are not the branches laying on the ground awaiting the fire. We live in Jesus, as Jesus lives in us.

It’s just past the grape harvest and the vines have been pruned. We’ve been pruned. We don’t like it. It hurts. We feel bare and exposed. We are small. But all that is ok because we live in Jesus and he lives in us. I hope and pray the our knowing Christians join the cause of the oppressed in the fight for justice not because of some philosophical principle of “the Good” or because of a religious feeling of sympathy for people in prison. Sympathy does not change the structures of injustice. The authentic identity of Christians with the poor is found in the claim which the Jesus-encounter lays upon their own life-style, a claim that connects the word “Christian” with the liberation of the poor. Christians fight not for humanity in general but for themselves and out of their love for concrete human beings.” this will give us courage live with Jesus in such a way that we make a difference in our little part of the world.

The text…

John 15:1-8

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Can anything good come out of …? Today’s sermon

Can anything good come out of Oxnard?

I remember an encounter in my first days here at Our Redeemer. It was with Rusty Jackson, a long time (but not his entire life) Oxnard resident and founding member of the church. Upon our introduction, he looked at me, and with a twinkle in his eye said, “You know they say that nothing good comes out of Oxnard.”

Was he referring to this text in John’s gospel? Where Nathanael seems to initially reject Jesus because he was from Nazareth? Philip had invited him to come and meet Jesus, who just might be the promised Messiah. But this promised Messiah was coming from the wrong town, the town with the bad reputation.

We don’t really know why Nathanael scoffed at the idea of something good coming from Nazareth because we don’t know too much about the town except that it was small. And maybe that’s the point… sometimes we scoff at or are afraid of that which we don’t know.

Can anything good come out of Oxnard? Some outside of Oxnard would say “no.”

I remember being in a group of people in Ventura a few years ago. The leader was asking where everyone was from. Most were identifying some neighborhood in Ventura. I said, “Oxnard.” And the leader replied, “I’m sorry.” We’ve since become friends and I’m not sure he would respond in the same way today.

I think that all of us in Oxnard, whether we live elsewhere and worship here, whether we’ve moved here, or whether we were born here and continue to live here… I think that we all can say there is mostly certainly good that comes out of Oxnard. We can be proud here at Our Redeemer that we are known for our excellent preschool…good comes from here!

So maybe we are better prepared than others to not so quickly dismiss a place because we don’t know enough. I’ve told you stories of my once upon a time fear of parts of Los Angeles. In retrospect my fear of LA was a racist fear of others…or people I didn’t know. But then I went there and spent time and learned how ignorant I was.

Today, in our divided nation and even divided world, we may find ourselves asking the question more often…of places, of people, of affiliated groups.

All of my sermon up to this point was written before the news broke of the president using vile language to describe countries south of our borders (Haiti and El Salvador) and all the countries that make up the continent of Africa. What I had written after this point seemed so sadly connected and yet irrelevant…so an update was in order.

Today, with the gospel text in one hand and the news in the other, the question asked by Nathanael, ”Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Becomes the questions:

Can anything good come out of El Salvador?

Can anything good come out of Haiti?

Can anything good come out of Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe?

Can anything good come from these countries whose residents have dark skins? Or does all the good stuff come from countries like Norway, whose residents are white?

On this weekend, when we honor the ministry and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we are presented with these questions. Our faith gives us the answer.

The answer is not found in the stories of all the good that has been done by immigrants from these countries…and other countries. Certainly their contributions help to make America great, even as we remember that except for Native Americans we are all from someplace else. It’s also important to remember that the majority of our African American brothers and sisters trace their roots to people who were forcibly kidnapped and sold as slaves…and it was their work…unpaid work…that led to much of the prosperity upon which this nation was built. We are still dealing with the legacy of this racism… of this evil.

I digress… the answer to the question of whether anything good can come from these countries is not found in the good things that people from these countries do…as appreciated and honored those good things are. But the problem with uplifting people who’ve done well is that we imply that they must earn the respect that is due to them as human beings.

No the answer to the question of whether anything good can come from these countries…through our faith…is a resounding YES!

Yes…good can come from these places because God is good and God is there just as God is here. When we look at our world we remember that it is good because God created it and then said “it is good.” And on that ultimate day of creation, God made human beings, God said, “it is very good.”

It is very good… our created world and all the inhabitants. Because of sin, no place is perfect, including these United States. Because of sin, no person is perfect, including you and me. And that is why Jesus came… because of love for this big giant imperfect mess of a world. And his primary teaching to his disciples and to us is that the only way that we could make things better and that is to love one another as we love God.

It’s that simple and it’s that difficult.

Did you notice Philip’s response to Nathanael’s question? He didn’t argue. He just said, “come and see.” And with these words took Nathanael to meet Jesus.

Let’s go and see.

I have a friend who organizes a mission trip to El Salvador every August…who wants to go? I’d love to join him, while bringing others along. But maybe we can’t all travel to other countries. We can still make concerted efforts to learn about people of other nationalities, faiths, and political perspectives so that we can see the humanity and even the face of Jesus in those we do not know. Jesus loves them and invites us to love them too.

Neighborliness

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Smoke coming in to the ally behind my church. Thirty minutes earlier it had been clear.

So far the Thomas Fire has been burning for more than a week. Here in Oxnard, we are not in any danger from the fire but are occasionally experiencing heavy smoke. My husband and son work in Carpinteria (north of here) and have been out of work because of the fire. I think they are going a bit stir crazy.

Yesterday, Scott and I did a bit of shopping at lunch time. When we went into a store the skies were clear and blue. When we came out, that smoky haze and smell had returned. I commented, “I guess I need my breathing mask again.”

A man standing near his SUV heard me and asked, “are you from Santa Barbara?” We said, “no, we’re from Oxnard.”

He stated that he and his family (wife and small children in the SUV) had driven to Oxnard to escape the smoke, which was (is) oppressive in Santa Barbara. He said he’d looked at the air quality charts and thought Oxnard would be a good choice. We told him that it was clean and clear just an hour earlier. Scott asked him about Carpinteria as he’d have driven through the city and he replied that “it’s horrible there.”

I suggested that he drive to Thousand Oaks. He said, “we’ll keep driving until we get out of the smoke.” I suggested taking the kids to Disneyland and then said goodbye.

As we left I realized that we never have conversations like this…with strangers in parking lots. It’s another example of how catastrophes bring out the neighborliness in us all. Maybe we need to find ways to chat with one another when all is good in the world. Meanwhile I’ll be thankful for all the good that counters all that is bad.

This Day – Gratitude 10/30

As I make dinner and then rush off for a meeting I’ve thought about this day. Here’s what I’ve done:

4:30am – coffee and the news before strength class

6:00am – 360X @Mile26Fitness. I wasn’t sure if my sore left quad was ready (recovering from Ventura Marathon Race Recap – How’d that untethering go?). I was able to do the class, but those frog jumps were harder than they’re supposed to be.

7:00am – I usually go for a short and easy run. I decided that 360X was enough for my still recovering legs.

7:15-9:00am – shower, oatmeal w/ blueberries, more coffee, get dressed, spill coffee down the front of my white sweater, wash the sweater because I really wanted to wear it, do a bit of work on my laptop while waiting for my sweater to dry, decided to just put it on damp and head to the office.

9:15am – begin work on Sunday’s worship and a funeral that will be on Saturday.

10:00am – attended a staff meeting at an agency on which I am the board president. I am also sometimes subbing while our executive director is on maternity leave. Long meeting today…worth it if things we talked about happen.

Brewery Book Talk-211:30am – back at the office. Make Canva ads/photos to use on Facebook for Over a Beer and our All Saints Special Sercive of Remembrance this coming Sunday. Work on the funeral. Print first drafts of the service and rush home for lunch.

12:45pm – say hi to the dogs and eat lunch.

1:15pm – leave for Simi Valley to meet with a wonderful family about a funeral.

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No fun getting rear-ended…especially when your car isn’t even 6 months old.

1:20pm – get rear-ended while sitting at a traffic light on 3rd Street in Oxnard. Get out…I don’t know how much if any hidden damage I might have but there’s a 1-2″ gouge out of the rubber in my bumper. The man who hit me feels bad… doesn’t want me to report it….said he’d rather pay me. I said “I don’t know…but I’ve got to go meet about a funeral and I’ll think about it.”

1:30pm – driving again, wondering if the tension in my neck is tension or injury and feeling guilty for even thinking this because of my own experience with someone

2:05pm – arrive a few minutes late for my meeting. Spend a couple hours planning the service. My pre-work in the morning was helpful to give us a starting point. Had a very good meeting and a nice visit with everyone there.

4:00pm – head towards home. Call my chiropractor for a morning appointment (I had wanted to see him about my quad, hopefully it won’t be my neck he’s treating). Call my husband to report my accident.

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What to do with leftover tri-tip? Cut it up and sauté with squash, onions, bell peppers and add some pasta and a touch of feta

4:55pm – arrive home. Cook dinner. Think about this day while chopping vegetable and decide that I am incredibly thankful  I’m a pastor…for days like today and weeks like this one. As I’m thinking I decide to write it all down. But, back to cooking and then eating.

6:00pm – back at church to open the doors for a community meeting. Isn’t it wonderful that we can share our space for residents of the senior apartment building across the street to meet? We should do this more often. Work on the worship bulletin for the funeral. Send a copy to all who need one. And finally, finish typing this blog post.

It’s now 8:00pm and I will be heading home as soon as I add a couple photos to this post. It’s been a long day. I am filled with gratitude…except for the spilling coffee and getting rear-ended parts…but no day can be absolutely perfect.

Good night everyone.

Out of Balance – Gratitude 10/6

On Thursday evenings I lead a 1 hour stretch and prayer time at my church. It’s a helpful exercise for me because Thursday is usually a rest day (from running)…and the day after a hard track workout. This hour helps me to recover for Friday’s easy and Saturday’s long runs. I also include a bit of strength (bridges, planks, and others) as well as balance work in our time together. For balance we usually spend a few minutes attempting the Tree Pose.

Over the past few months we’ve gotten better at this, difficult for us, balancing act. I can usually find a point of calmness and stand as a one-legged tree for 10 nice, deep, calming breaths. Those who come to my little class are still a bit wobbly but getting better each week.

Last night we all struggled. Arms flailing, legs swinging, there was no calmness here. We usually do 2 sets…standing on one leg, for 10 breaths. Last night we needed a third set with a bit of instruction.

So, addressing, me and those with me, I emphasized calming our minds. Don’t try to stand, or to balance because you’re just fighting yourself. But rather take those deep breaths and think of them as water on the beach, washing away distractions. Cleanse, cleanse, cleanse your mind. Allow it to empty as you calmly and strongly relax into the pose.

It worked. Maybe with the week we’ve had we all need to spend some time cleansing our minds.

Today I am personally thankful for: the mental and spiritual health benefits of exercise; for a great track workout on Wednesday and an nice 10 miler this morning; for the trail run I’ll do tomorrow with my daughter; and for God who loves us, even when we mess up.

Have a blessed Friday and weekend everyone.

Saturday – Gratitude 8/26

It’s Saturday, so its long run day. We ran along the Ventura River today, a 10 mile up and back down. The workout was 2 miles easy, 3 miles at half marathon pace, 1 mile easy, 3 miles at half marathon pace, and the last mile easy. I think this was the hardest effort I’ve done on an uphill. I’m getting better here and look forward to doing it again.

I use Final Surge for my training and one thing I love is the ability to look a different parts of a workout…and to get summaries. Here is a bit of data:

Entire run

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First race pace segment (miles 3-5)

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Second race pace segment (miles 6-9)

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After our run, we (Scott, Megan, and me) went out to breakfast. By the time we actually ate, we could have called it lunch. This is typical for a Saturday.

Scott was then off to a Rams football game. Megan and I talked about seeing a movie but couldn’t find one. In honor of #nationaldogday we gave the chihuahuas baths… they would have preferred treats. She went home and I started looking at the hallway that I have been ignoring. (I’ve been removing 100 years of old paint from the trim, so that we can eventually paint).

Yesterday I did some hand sanding. Today I decided to make some progress with the random orbital sander. This works for large flat pieces and I’ll be using smaller sanders later. So, 30 minutes of taping plastic over doorways. Just over an hour of actual sanding, followed by about 45 minutes of cleaning up the mess. I think I’ve been putting off the project because sanding is so damn messy!

Unfortunately the most efficient sander is too big for the top
It’ll be nice to actually use this again.
Messy messy messy

Then a shower. And now I will sit down with a glass of wine and begin reading a new book.img_0461.jpg

Happy Saturday everyone. I’m thankful that I could do all this today!

How was your Saturday?