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CALIMESA, California – Pastor Chris Oberg of the Calimesa Seventh-day Adventist Church announced today that she will accept a call to serve as senior pastor of the La Sierra University Church in Riverside, California. Oberg will be the first woman to serve as senior pastor of an Adventist university church.
The announcement came at the end of the Sabbath worship hour. After delivering the sermon to a packed church, Oberg revealed that she had received and accepted an invitation to return to La Sierra where she served as associate pastor before coming to Calimesa. With tears, she acknowledged that her positive reception at Calimesa, a church of 1,200 members near Loma Linda, played a role in her historic appointment to the La Sierra University Church. She thanked the church for embracing her ministry over the past four years. She cited the openness of a college church to hire a female senior pastor and the opportunity to serve in an academic environment as two factors that led to her acceptance of the call.
Oberg received a standing ovation as she left the platform.
Oberg will succeed pastor Dan Smith, who resigned as senior pastor of the La Sierra University Church to become Southeastern California Conference’s Specialist in Creative Evangelism. In addition to his focus on evangelism for the SECC, Smith also joined with The Quiet Hour, an Adventist evangelistic broadcast media and publishing organization based in Southern California.
See press release.
Trained in dietetics, Oberg sensed God’s calling to ministry and left her career as a maternal and infant nutritionist to pursue a BA degree in religion from La Sierra University. While studying at La Sierra, she served on the pastoral staff of the university church. Oberg subsequently competed a master's of arts degree in religious studies in 2005. After completing her master’s degree at La Sierra, Oberg received a call to Calimesa to replace Derek Morris, who transferred to the Forest Lake Church in Apopka, Florida.
Oberg was honored by the La Sierra University Alumni Association during the 2007 alumni weekend (along with Spectrum editor Bonnie Dwyer and five others).
Oberg’s appointment as senior pastor of the La Sierra University Church is an historic step forward for advocates of full equality for women ministers.
On March 16, 2000, the Southeast California Conference Executive Committee voted to give male and female pastors equal credentials. During the Southeast California Conference Quadrennial Session in October of this year, a report revealed that women currently comprise 8.5% of all pastors in SECC (down from a peak of 12%). Of the 19 women pastors that serve in SECC, only two are senior pastors--Chris Oberg, and Hyveth Williams of the Campus Hill Church in Loma Linda.
Chris Oberg is married to Kerby Oberg who teaches pathology and anatomy at Loma Linda University. They have two daughters who attend La Sierra University.
For more on the history of Adventist women in ministry, please visit the following links from the Spectrum archives:
We are beginning to realize that an impoverishment of the imagination means an impoverishment of the religious life as well...Good and evil appear to be joined in every culture at the spine, and as far as the creation of a body of fiction is concerned, the social is superior to the purely personal. Somewhere is better than anywhere. And traditional manners, however unbalanced are better than no manners at all. - Flannery O'Connor, The Catholic Novelist in The Protestant South
I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it and see it still. - Ronald Reagan, "Farewell Address"
The struggle to see how things could be better despite what they are lies at the heart of the moral imagination, an artistic approach to ethics. An exercise of moral imagination requires us to engage with reality but to also place ourselves in the moral world of others. It is this 'ethical perception' which prompted Shelley in A Defense of Poetry to write “A man to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination...”
However, before one can assume moral agency, self-awareness is required: the ability to be conscious of our thoughts, honest about our motivations and also the ability to realize that other people are also capable of such. This ability to be conscious of one's own thinking process, or indeed the feeling that thinking itself is worthwhile, must lie at the core of any moral deliberation. The death of consciousness leaves us in a state approaching that of philosophical zombies: submerged in a vat of acute solipsism where self-righteous is allowed to drown self awareness. Perhaps the greatest enemies of this moral discourse are dogmatism and ideology which ultimately detach ethics from the way life is actually lived and rob us of an opportunity to explore the workings of our own ethical sphere. When this restrictive framework is applied at a national level, the cost of a suppressed moral imagination becomes clear.
Perhaps the greatest example of the deteriorated imagination is the way many self-proclaimed American conservatives view the nature of their country. In their continuing deification of the American persona, however they have constructed it, they have chosen to ignore that America's fatal flaws are often bound up with its virtue. This is not an adoption of the cynical position which argues that America can neglect its responsibilities; instead this is a recognition of the corrupting, if not corrosive effect of power which is untethered, a concept which conservatives claim via Acton. One of the great contradictions of this positions is that it is conservatism which, to loan a term, has a 'constrained view' of human nature but doesn't necessarily extend this to any human institution but the government. However instead of seeking to provide nuance and prudence to the national debate, conservatives have become the same giddy-headed true believers who merely fall back into their own little private universes. Thus we end up with a situation where those who are ostensibly committed to standing athwart history yelling "Stop!" have succumbed to the hubris which results from believing in the cosmic righteousness of one's own causes. Therefore a split is granted between the irredeemable state which must be starved and the infallible nation which, via military spending, must be fed by all means. As a result of this romanticism of the military, conservatives consider Medicare and Social Security as threats to freedom, with a line leading straight from grandma's pharmacy down to the Gulag but then don't lose any sleep over Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay
In the fifties, Niebuhr saw conservative imperialism and conservative isolationism (what is now dubbed paleoconservatism, best personified by Pat Buchanan) both as stemming from corrupted nineteenth century liberalism in that they were premised on the attainment of perfection, perhaps laying bare the malignant roots of neoconservatism. Niebuhr considered modern conservatism to be torn between imperialism and isolationism, between "sentimentality and cynicism." Progress is to be resisted not necessarily because it may lead to disaster but because what is, or was, is already perfect. This dichotomy isn't limited to international relations; there is a thin line, believe it or not, between those who believe in the inevitability of the Communist society and those who believe in the perfection of the markets. (Years ago, Hoffer pointed out, using the example of Saint Paul, that it's often the same people who vacillate between the two extremes.) "Even if our democracy were more perfect than it is, religious devotion to democracy would be wrong.... It tempts us to identify the final meaning of life with a virtue which we possess and thus give false and idolatrous religious note to the conflict between democracy and communism."
Conservatism has rightly expressed great skepticism towards the notion of the perfectibility of man, but has replaced it with a stupefying belief in the perfectibility of the nation, which is ostensibly made of men (though they would hasten to add, also preordained by God.) This construction ignores the central argument of Moral Man, Immoral Society where Reinhold Niebuhr argues "In every human group there is less reason to guide and to check impulse, less capacity of self-transcendence, less ability to comprehend the needs of others and therefore more unrestrained ego than the individuals, who compose the group, reveal in their personal relationships." He goes on: "The inferiority of the morality of groups to that of individual is due in part to the difficulty of establishing a rational impulses by which society achieves its cohesion; but in part it is merely the revelation of a collective egoism, compounded of the egoistic impulses of individuals, which achieve a more vivid expression and a more cumulative effect when they are united in common impulse than when they express themselves separately and discreetly." As a result the new conservatism, which claims to be highly individualistic, is profoundly illiberal.
A further irony is that utopian conservatism, which claims individual freedom as not only the most important value but in a sense the only one (in a dramatic distortion of classical liberalism) has no problem is sacrificing that deeply held value for the ends of patriotism, usually the most xenophobic and jingoistic version available. In this construction, supremacy of the state is replaced by the theocracy of the nation; Uncle Sam doesn't want to burden you with the shackles of universal healthcare, but he does want your blood. But this isn't all, in this new conservatism's contempt for the concept of unintended consequences has plunged America into a disastrous war and would promise more, especially since they are fighting, by their own admission, a tactic and not an enemy. They have nationalized the commanding heights of the economy and, in defiance of the Constitution, have concentrated power in a highly centralized, secretive and unaccountable politburo. It was one of the innumerable ironies of American political life that the American presidency most influenced by radical ideologues was a conservative one.
This modern conservatism which tries to spread American values is just as hubristic and dangerous as the other brands of utopianism. What Obama offers is an opportunity to use the means of classical conservatism, which is more temperamental than it is ideological, to serve the ends of, broadly speaking, modern liberalism (perhaps moving one step closer to an Internationale that Kolakowski can finally join.) This does not necessarily require triangulation or accomodationist positions but the boldness to move forward with a liberal agenda while maintaining the humility to question the assumptions and rehearsed responses of this very tradition. What we have seen is that the imposition of democracy is as misguided and malevolent as a coercion into brotherhood. Perhaps in what we hope was its final stand, the new conservatives may have disproved one of their central aphorisms: perhaps extremism in the pursuit of virtue is a vice.
Matt Hunte graduated from the University of the Southern Caribbean in 2005.
Rollin' out of bed after a late night was a little tough for these Cowgirls that generally have a 9 p.m. bedtime! But we rose to the challenge (no pun intended!). While Laura edited photos I showered and then did my write up in my jimmies.
The first show of the day; Pauly, Wally, Doodle with 73 year –old Wallace McRae, a cattle rancher from Montana and Paul “the Polack Poet and bronc rider” formally of Wisconsin and now of Montana, played off of each other like an old married couple. Paul is the Erma Bombeck of Cowboy Poetry with a little Snoop Dog thrown in for fun. And let me tell you he can put a rap star or seasoned auctioneer to shame with his rhythmic speed! Something he said really tickled me, as I deal with the public a lot in my various work. He referred to it as “Crowd Founder”. This is when you just have been over stimulated and need a little down time and boy howdy could I relate to that!
Wallace wove stories so rich and vivid that I just know that I can “see” his ranch and family. One of his stories really touched a cord inside me as he talked about “things of intrinsic value”. These are the “things” in our life that during a death or divorce, family members fight over, not the money or the investments, but Grandma’s wedding ring or Dad’s shotgun. The “things” that are woven into the fabric of our lives and help define who we are. The things we hold dear.
After a wardrobe change and an early dinner, where Laura introduced me to the finer aspects of Sushi, which I like quite well by the way, we got a bit lost looking for the theater at Great Basin College. But after a quick stop for directions from a kind stranger on the street (Oh, yes we have not met a stranger here!) we found it. The Cowboy Celtic show was everything I knew it would be and more. The pipers, locals, Roger McGregor and Bret Cousins gave me chills as only the pipes can do. The harp was haunting and her beautiful voice wove a tapestry. Bring in the guitar, mandolin and the Boren (drum) and the mix of hits from 1592, to more familiar cowboy classics and the experience was completely wonderful.
Probably the real highlight though, was the meeting of new folks and the extending of the friendships with our “old” friends over drinks and wonderful music at the Folklife center. Another very late night for these two gals but Laura was dear and let me sleep late this morning before she drug me off to our dance lesson, but more about THAT tomorrow!
The Jamaica Observer writes, "Seventh-day Adventist delegates stuck to hallowed tradition here [January 28], naming their number two man, Pastor Derek Bignall, as president of the 260,000-strong West Indies Union Conference."
Bignall, 60, who was previously Secretary of the Union, got the nod over three other contenders for the post vacated by [Adventist] Dr Patrick Allen - [Prime Minister] Bruce Golding's choice, supported by [opposition leader] Portia Simpson, for the next Governor-General of Jamaica when Sir Kenneth Hall steps down February 26.
Congratulations to Pastor Derek Bignall - a friend to education. Some see him more as one who will maintain the shop, not one who would transform it. However, he may just surprise them. Men who abide in the shadow of the great, at times blossom only when the shadow is removed. He is where he is because his mettle has been proved.
Dr. Allen in his role of union president established a very strong record of achievement. Pastor Bignal can match it and exceed it. If he gets his own term in 2010 he will have the time and a lot more resources to work with than Dr. Allen had. The growth of the church in numbers over the past ten years and the rapid social and economic mobility of many of its members are now paying off in significantly increased resources to the church.
Pastor Bignall has strong support among a broad cross section of the church and particularly the members in the under forty age group. As a youth director at both the conference and union levels, he became a role model for many. His capacity to empathize and to relate to the needs of young people has made him a favorite preacher at youth services, church conventions and major events. Even the public recognizes this. As a result he is in demand as a public speaker at secular events. Somehow he manages to blend his talent for comedy with his talent for preaching, producing a wholesome and fulfilling experience. Some of the older folk feel that he is not sufficiently 'grave' or serious. This feeling about him may well extend to many of his colleagues but this has not hindered his call to the high office of union president. I believe that he will excel in his new role. He deserves our prayers.
Continuing, the Jamaica Observer adds:
Huddling in cool Mandeville, Manchester the delegates from Jamaica, The Bahamas, Cayman and the Turks and Caicos Islands also elected a firebrand evangelical preacher, Glen Samuels, president of their West Jamaica Conference, to become Secretary, giving him a shot at the presidency when next it becomes vacant.
Bignall's election was predicted by the Observer Monday and in his first interview minutes after getting the nod, he signalled he would seek to complete, and improve where possible, the programmes of the Allen administration that would have ended in two years time.
"To be asked to serve at the top of the union structure is a very big task, and for me it is a momentous and humbling experience," Bignall told the Observer. "There are many others who are qualified and so it is a great honour for me."
Bignall also hailed outgoing president Allen, describing him as "a transformational leader" who had lifted the image of the Adventist Church from an organisation known only for promoting Sabbath-keeping to one of national influence in the social life of the country.
"He has taken Adventism in Jamaica from the middle page to the front page," Bignall said, in apparent reference to the appointment of Allen to be Jamaica's head of state.
A graduate of West Indies College, now Northern Caribbean University (NCU), and of the Andrews University, Michigan, USA, Pastor Bignall holds a Bachelor's Degree in Theology and a Master's Degree in Education. He is currently pursuing a PhD in education at NCU.
As a pastor and church administrator, he has served the Seventh-day Adventist Church in East Jamaica Conference at various levels for over 34 years.
Bignall is regarded by Adventists as a dynamic public speaker who is much sought after not only in Jamaica and the Caribbean but also in the United States, Canada, and England.
He is married to Ianthe 'Yvonne' Brown, vice-president for university relations at the NCU. The couple have a daughter, Shelli-Gaye who is a final year education student also at the NCU.
As head of the Adventist church, Bignall will preside over 720 churches, a university, a hospital, 10 high schools, 22 elementary schools and numerous basic schools.
What a glorious day we awoke to! The question of spirituality is a non-question on this trip, as frankly it is in everyday life, if you are paying attention. We started our day fighting with Wi-Fi and ended up at the Convention Center on their internet. Technology is soooo endearing. Then it was breakfast at Ruby Station, a little family restaurant with good service and great food. Comfortably full we wandered across the street to the Chamber of Commerce that is housed in the original Walther Family home. A chinked log home and outbuildings that is magnificent. We found ourselves upstairs looking at Smoke Images by Lynn Kistler. I was fascinated by this medium I had never heard of. What started out as a simple info gathering to pass onto my artist friend, Desiree’, turned into me actually writing down a quote from scripture, Romans 8:26; We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.
Our first show of the day had us both laughing and crying, sometimes at the same time. The Three Amigos; Waddie Mitchell, a home town boy is unable to turn off the twinkle in his eye, Michael Martin Murphy, well know country artist has been coming here for 23 years and legend Don Edwards that is as comfortable in his skin as one can possibly be. They wowed us. The music and poetry had the rapt attention of the audience, including the toughened press gaggle and the tiny buckaroos still on bottles that never uttered a peep.
This was followed by an uplifting, toe-tappin’, audience singing show by Riders in the Sky. These four very lively gentlemen have been together for 31 years and they so obviously still love what they do that they are to be envied. And they are as friendly in person. We got autographed CDs and later ran into them at the Folklife Center where they recognized US and stopped to say hello!
We had reservations for two at the Star Basque restaurant, by the time were seated we were a party of five, with new friends Jim and Kathy of Arizona and Marty from Oregon. Also dining was the tour group Daytripping, from Santa Rosa, that have visited my ranch! What a small world!
Full of good food and great conversation we headed to the Western Folklife Center where we bumped into other new friends we had met today. We tried to write but found ourselves listening to impromptu jam sessions and visiting with literally dozens of wonderful people. I have yet to meet a stranger here. This breed of folk is a very large family, but a small community. As Waddie Mitchell has been wont to say; “It’s like going to a family reunion, only you like everyone!”
Oh my, where to begin? We have experienced so much in the past 24 hours that we are nearly on overload. The short story is that there are no strangers here, the shows we have seen have each been the very best show we have ever seen, and we have too many stories to tell. 400 words just won’t cut it. Thanks heavens Anne beat me to it—her latest blog captured what we’ve been up to just perfectly.
So, in the hopes that a picture is worth a thousand words, here are my “best picks” of the past 30 hours or so, with captions.
Tuesday night’s show, “A Ride with Bob” was spectacular; Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel brought to life western swing legend Bob Wills, from his childhood picking cotton to the early days of radio, then highs and lows ranging from Hollywood to the Grand Ole Opry.
Wednesday morning we explored the Elko Chamber of Commerce compound of old log structures, including a restored schoolroom.
Then upstairs, we stumbled upon artist Lynne Kistler, whose unusual medium is smoke on paper. This lovely Christian artist prays for God to guide her as she uncovers images in the smoke, then uses an eraser to refine the images she sees—rather like seeing things in clouds.
Next, we visited the Northeastern Nevada Museum, where we met two lovely gals from Ann Arbor, MI, Annie and Carla, who we now seem to run into everywhere we go, and who are fast becoming great friends.
A quick trip to the press office to pick up passes to various shows resulted in meeting a cowboy poet named Susan Parker from Benicia, CA, whose card reads “Giving Voice to Pioneering Women of the West.” Turns out she’d love to read at events in Lake County; she gave us her CD and we promised to connect her with folks who would be thrilled to present her; with her was Margaro Metegrano of CowboyPoetry.com in San Francisco.
Then on to the Western Folklife Center for a show featuring “The Three Amigos,” legendary Don Edwards, Waddie Mitchell (a local son whose family’s original ranch house and outbuildings are now the Chamber compound), and Michael Martin Murphey. These three pros and obviously great friends interwove readings and music, stories and camaraderie and moved us to laughter and tears. Here was that heart of spirituality that defines this culture and its art forms.
Next, Riders in the Sky gave a ripping concert, that had us tapping toes and splitting our sides with laughter. We envied their fabulous shirts and boots!
When we took our seats, we were amazed to find ourselves seated again next to Holly and Ron, locals that we’d met at last night’s concert. We continued our conversation right where we’d left off! They recommended a local Basque restaurant (the local cuisine), so we rushed right over to the popular Star Hotel to be there when they opened at 5:00.
We took our place in line for a short wait, which stretched out long enough to acquire three new friends Kathy, Jim, and Marty (the “Skunk Whisperer”), who joined us for dinner. Conversation was a rapid-fire exchange of stories from folks who shared common interests, proving once again that you cannot meet a stranger in this town.
After dinner, we headed over to the Folklife Center again, for a late night open jam session and immediately met up with more new friends, Jeannete and Gary who were married three years ago in the same corner by the fireplace where I shot their picture, below, and listened to fascinating stories about their life and their wolf Takai.
The Pioneer Saloon was packed as folks gathered to listen to the artist from all the shows jam with local and visiting musicians, amateurs and pros, from very young to very old.
Before heading home, overfull and heads spinning with all we had heard and learned in—was it really just 24 hours?—we stopped for a “family portrait” with some of our newly-made friends.
What a day!
I first met Rabbi Waskow in 2006 and have always found him to combine both grandfatherly kind wisdom with prophetic zeal. Given the recent controversy over Pope Benedict XVI's decision to reinstate Bishop Richard Williamson (SSPX) in an effort to curry favor with "conservative Catholics," Rabbi has agreed to share a recent letter.
Bishop Williamson, as seen below, continues his history of denying the Holocaust, defining down antisemitism and protesting against politically incorrect speech during a November interview on Swedish television, at the Lefevrist seminary in Bavaria. Significantly, the leader of the Society of St. Pius X notes that a "bishop’s authority pertains only to questions of Faith and Morals, not over 'historic or other secular questions.'" Apparently genocide isn't a question involving faith or morality. -Alexander Carpenter
When the last Pope died and the head of the Office of Propagation of the Faith (distant descendant of the Inquisition; it doesn't have enough power any more to burn people to death in order to save their souls) was elected Pope, I expressed deep unhappiness and anger at the elevation of this enemy of liberation theology (the best hope of Christian "renewal" as well as the best hope of the poor in Latin America and elsewhere).
Some of our own renewal community condemned me for criticizing the new "rebbe" of the Roman Catholic church -- was this not disrespect for our "confreres" (certainly not our "consoeurs" -- he was and is also a bitter opponent of equality for women and gay/lesbian folk, in or out of the church) of a different but cognate religious community? Official Jewry, and some allegedly unofficial Jewry in our own midst, wanted to make nice. I was rude.
Then Pope Ratzinger quoted a medieval Christian scholar calling Islam irrational and violent. My own feeling was that if he had said "sometimes" and at the same time acknowledged the disgusting hyper-violence of the Crusades and the bloody Catholic conquest of Latin America, that might have been reasonable. But of course he didn't.
Did the organized (or unorganized) Jewish community complain about his pissing on our confreres in Islam? Not so's you'd notice.
So now he has withdrawn the excommunication of a group of ultra-right-wing ex-ex-Catholic bishops, enemies of Vatican II, among them one who has said that at most 300,000 Jews were killed by the Nazis, and none at all by gas ovens.
And now there is a storm among "the Jews." Rightly so, but based on what? Deep moral principle? In that case, why did not the poor of Latin America, or the Muslims of the world, or the gay and lesbian folk of all humanity, or the women who make up half the human race and half the church of actual human beings -- deserve a better Pope?
When Pope John XXIII died -- Giuseppe Roncalli, a gentle, humble mensch in personal life, protector of the Jews in his bailiwick during the Holocaust, the "window-opener" of the dead and dusty church, the instigator of aggorniamento, who called Vatican Council II, who ended the "deicide" charge against the Jews, who issued to all the peoples of the earth the brilliant and prophetic pastoral letter called "Pacem in Terris" about the banning of nuclear weapons -- when he died, I walked in tears to the Catholic church nearest me in Washington DC and left a note of sorrow.
Roncalli, livrakha tzaddik zikhrono, was indeed a saint, and one proof that he was is that Ratzinger’s Church will not name him one, just as it won't name Dorothy Day one. Ratzinger may have been "the rebbe" of that dead assemblage of the Cardinals appointed by his right-wing predecessor. But in our tradition a "rebbe" is sent surely by God, and maybe by the people. Ratzinger was not and is not God's rebbe. He was a villain before he became Pope, and he is a villain still.
Shalom, salaam, peace.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director, The Shalom Center, co-author, The Tent of Abraham; author of Godwrestling — Round 2, Down-to-Earth Judaism, and a dozen other books on Jewish thought and practice, as well as books on US public policy. The Shalom Center voices a new prophetic agenda in Jewish, multireligious, and American life. To receive the weekly on-line Shalom Report, click here.
Well, D- (for departure) day has finally arrived. . .after all of the delightful anticipation of preparation; planning wardrobes, packing (whoever would have thought the day would come when I packed more electronics than hair and makeup gear!?), planning routes, and checking AccuWeather…we are off!
Anne arrived about 9:30 this morning and the truck was loaded in minutes. Max snapped a few shots hugs, kisses, and we were off.
What a perfect day! Couldn’t ask for better weather—the bluest of skies, and that green that only comes out in California in the winter. Stopped for an early lunch at Granzella’s in Williams, then headed East across California on Highway 20. Stunning view of the buttes and the snow-capped Sierras all the way. A brisk wind nudged the truck, and the feathers of the snowy egrets along the roadside were nearly turned inside-out, umbrella-style. But the wind kept the sky clear as we drove across the big valley and admired some serious cloud formations.
Past Nevada City we began to climb in elevation, and soon crossed up into the snow line. The forest was magic. We stopped at a vista point before reaching Emigrant Gap, and snapped our photos against a view so idyllic, it looked like a roll-down backdrop at a photo studio. Then we connected with Interstate 80 and the Big Dogs; hit some cloud cover and some micro-snow—or perhaps just a bit blowing offs the hills along the roadway.
Along the way, we shared stories ranging from travel disasters (you don’t want to know what can go wrong when your diesel truck hauling livestock and camper trailers breaks down going over the pass!) to relationships, marriages and divorces, friendships, moral and legal dilemmas, our seminal growing up and church experiences, and all the usual intimacies of the trail. We agreed that writing this blog, and thinking about writing this blog, and having the conversations together that lead to this written conversation, has added another dimension to this trip, and to the lenses through which we are seeing this experience.
We made great time and arrived in Sparks, Nevada, by mid-afternoon, where we are spending the night with Marie and Helen—but I’ll let Anne introduce them to you. She told me I’d love them, and she is so right! We’ve been swapping stories, sharing news of family and friends, modeling hats and jackets, and gorging on Chinese takeout. What a great interlude. Tomorrow it’s on to Elko!
Anne Garner Austin:
Yesterday was a frenzy of last minute chores, errands and finishing up payroll at work. My sister, Dorace, had arrived on Friday to spend time with my 90 year old Mother while I am gone. Mom still lives alone and frequently beats me at Scrabble, but likes the daily contact that I provide and it gives me great comfort to have Dorace there.
Well today, I had an auspicious start to my day! Thought I had the alarm set for 0600 but woke up at 0645, peeped an eye open and thought, “Uh oh! Way too light out!” I jumped out of bed to realize that I had gotten so used to the warm weather we have been having, that I did not give a thought to the increased cold and I had frozen water pipes! So I jumped in the truck and buzzed over to my Mom’s house to “borrow” a shower. After all of that, I actually got away only 20 minutes later than I had planned. It’s not that we were on a tight schedule, but I do like to be on time.
Laura was right about the beauty of today, that only the clear skies of Northern California after a rain, can provide. She took the first turn at the wheel and we headed out. There is nothing more pleasant than a relaxed trip with a good friend where the conversation just flows. Throw in a couple of phone calls from friends wishing us well (what did we do before cell phones?!?) and the drive was perfect.
We stopped briefly amid the snow covered trees as we climbed Hwy 20 out of Grass Valley, and snapped a couple of pictures. We laughed when we saw them because the landscape was so “picture perfect” that we said it could be a studio backdrop!
We had planned this part of the trip to be in two phases and are staying in Sparks for the night as Laura mentioned. Marie and Helen are dear family friends. Actually they are my oldest sister, Dorace’s, mother-in-law and sister-in-law. Marie is 91 and sharp as a tack and they both have the art of cordial and entertaining conversation down to a science. They are the kind of people that as I said before, say what they mean and mean what they say. They have filled us with good food and great hospitality (we were given the master bedroom (!) that we are honored to share with the family cat, Mooch) and we will be sorry to bid them farewell in the morning.
But a bright and early departure is planned and we can’t wait to roll into Elko, pickup our press passes and tickets and immerse ourselves in all things Cowboy!
In my last post I suggested a creative re-reading of the first chapter of Mark. What I was trying to do in that narrative was to highlight the context in which Mark frames Jesus’ announcement of the Kingdom.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:14-15).
The challenge facing pastors week by week is serious. I’m deeply concerned that most congregations are hearing the texts only in ways that prop up the reigning social imagination; in my case, the consumer capitalism and militarism (among other things) of the United States of America. But we need scripture to subvert our imaginations and sow the seeds of a new world. This can never happen while pastors simply offer scripture as a way of learning how to live well-adjusted lives in whatever society we find ourselves.
So, the hermeneutical and homiletical challenge facing me each week as I stand before my congregation is, “How is this text, by God’s Spirit, evoking a new imagination among us? How is it calling forth a new way of being human for God’s reign in the time and place we find ourselves? And how is it calling us to do this communally, as the image of the Trinity?”
With this in mind, I asked myself, what is Mark saying to my congregation and me this week? Well, on Tuesday of that particular week, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. His inaugural speech hit all the right notes for me and I was duly inspired. As a thoroughly American man in my late 30s there is a deep sense in which this is, for me and my generation, a kairos moment. But I also have a deep ambivalence. I have been taught, in my Restorationist/ Anabaptist tribe to distrust the government. I have been schooled in a more escapist eschatology, which holds out no hope for this terrestrial ball.
So, in the midst of the buzz of inaugural week in the US, with my hopes for a ‘new birth’ of democratic hope, comes Mark to spoil my party, because he also speaks of a kairos moment. “The time is fulfilled.” It is time! And at this kairos moment Jesus recruits common laborers to be the face of his campaign and calls for repentance.
While I was praying and wrestling with these thoughts, and totally independently of them, I emailed my friend in Moscow, who is a pastor there. I asked him, almost in passing while writing about other things, how the inauguration of Barack Obama went over in Moscow. His words were incredibly sobering to me and I read them to my congregation at the end of my message last week. Here is what he said.
As to the inauguration we aren't impressed. We think that he will guarantee US imperial course. The stakes in today's world are very high. We as Christians are caught between the national interests of our respective states that pretend to be our Saviors.
The urgency in his tone struck me. It was exactly the urgency I have learned to hear in Mark’s words – “It’s time! The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” I can just as easily hear Jesus saying, “The stakes in today’s world are very high. There is no time to waste with false gods who will get us nowhere.”
Compare this to another email I received from a theologian acquaintance speaking about the church situation in the Europe and the UK.
In Europe we simply can not afford the time or the energy to get into this kind of interim ‘lets change the church’ discussion or argument – church and culture occupy almost totally different trajectories and if we do not design a model of radical culture engagement that is fueled by a biblical imagination we will keep doing what by and large the mainline denominations are doing, which is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
I see this kind of “rearranging of the deck chairs” going on around me constantly. Whether it is an economic stimulus package that promises to “save” our consumerist way of life or definitions of missional church that will finally get the church back on track, whether we’re talking about how to keep our youth and young adults in the church, revive our worship services, grow the church, or whatever else, this conversation continues within the safe confines of Christendom or consumer capitalism; it threatens nothing and no one.
But Mark has a different agenda and we would do well to listen. Mark’s Jesus makes his kingdom announcement under a darkening sky. John has been arrested by Herod. Why? Because his preaching isn’t for the purpose of helping his listeners lives well-adjusted lives under the oppressive Roman occupation and a temple elite which had lost its way. And by Mark 3 these same authorities are conspiring to kill Jesus.
Let those that have ears to hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the church.