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For Advent this year our Advent Series was entitled “Hope Rising”, because we believe that in the darkest of times whether it be historical, spiritual, emotional, or mental – Hope Rises with the belief that with the Advent of Jesus he brought hope with Him. Hope of a new way to live that leads to the best possible life. This is the final sermon of our series that wraps up the series and introduces our new series for 2008. Click on the link to listen it might take a few seconds please be patient We’ve Only Just Begun

As the year draws to an end, I hope that the business of the holidays and last minute to-do lists will also draw to a close. I haven’t had much time to post anything substantive in the last month or so but I intend to change that. This is also the end of my first year blogging (or at least half of a year) and it has been an exciting one. But with the new year it is my hope that the writing on this blog will be of more substantive content, hopefully even provoking to think about conventional wisdom. I know blogging can only do so much but if what they say is true about the journey of a thousand miles then i suppose a blog is a good first step. So I invite you to stay tuned and journey with me. I wish for all of you a “Hope Filled New Year”.

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I just started reading Brian McLaren‘s newest book, Everything Must Change and I am loving it. For the past several months this blog has acted as more of a message board than anything that even resembles an actual attempt at a conversation. So in an attempt to write with more substance I am going to start writing about what I come across in Everything Must Change.

I thought the format for this discussion might have three sections: (1) Excerpt from book, (2) Dialogue, mostly with myself, (3) Questions. My hopes are that we can dialogue together.

EXCERPT (the following excerpt was spoken by Claude a peace activist from Burundi, to a group of other peace hungry citizens from around the region of East Africa, Rwanda is one of those places)

“Eventually I realized something. I had never heard a sermon that addressed these realities(i.e. death, hatred, distrust, poverty, suffering, corruption, injustice). Did God only care about our souls going to heaven after we died? Were our hungry bellies unimportant to God? Was God unconcerned about our crying sons and frightened daughters, our mothers hiding under beds, our fathers crouching by windows, unable to sleep because of gunfire? Or did God send Jesus to teach us how to avoid genocide by learning to love each other, how to overcome tribalism and poverty by following his path, how to deal with injustice and corruption, how to make a better life here on earth-here in East Africa.” (19)

DIALOGUE. When I read this I was using the stationary bike at a local gym, and I had to stop just so that I could process this. What I have observed of the Christianity of the Western World is that it has become nothing short of a self serving life philosophy. We look for churches that fill our needs, and when that church no longer meets our needs we move on to the next one (and sometimes as pastor’s because we have at times been fooled into thinking that numbers are important we keep trying to fill those needs and in doing so perpetuate the never ending cycle of self-serving Christianity). The thing is that if that is the case, that we are always looking for a church that meets our needs, or rather “feeds us spiritually” we will not have any time to look beyond ourselves, unless we are forced to. I think that it is only when we look beyond ourselves that Christianity becomes real and authentic. When I read the above section, and tried to put myself in that situation hearing the crys of children and the sight of mothers hiding it was terrifing to me. It wasn’t so much that the visual of this happening was terrifing, but rather that this was and is happening in the world, while I have for the past several years enjoyed my white chocolate lattes, supersized meals, entertainment on the silver screen just to be distracted from the hustle and bustle of our everyday.

I have a sneaking suspicion that if we were the ones experiencing the above mentioned, our first responses would be to pray. We read the narratives of scripture, like Daniel in the lions den, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and we read ourselves into those narratives because we believe that God cares. For them their prayers is a sign of hope and faith, but for us in the western world their prayers have become our permission to wash our hands of any responsibility to help. Because after all if they have prayed then God will handle it. The words, “What can I do about something happening half way around the world” become our non spoken motto. Our Christianity must be anything but that. I write about his because I see what is happening and I cannot help but feel helpless. What can I do, a pastor of two small parishes in the desert? What can we do? Seriously I could use some answers!

QUESTIONS. If our Christianity doesn’t have an effect on the society around us, does it even matter? What is a Christianity that doesn’t affect society, really about? What is our personal hope for heaven at some point in the future, if people are experiencing hell every single day all around the world?

A few weeks ago I met with the Clean Air Coordinator for the American Lung Association for the Imperial Valley. I found out during our meeting that the Imperial Valley has the highest rate of hospitalization in the state of California for kids with asthma. Asthma doesn’t really hit home if you’ve never experienced it. But just imagine not being able to breathe very well and wanting to badly. When I heard about this issue here in the valley the words of Jesus came to mind “Love your neighbor as yourself”. We feel that loving our neighbor’s is to provide for them a better way of life . Medically as a church, we can’t do anything about the problem, but we can contribute to find a solution. So what we are doing is participating in the Asthma Walk organized by the American Lung Association in San Diego this coming Sunday Morning. There is a group from the church driving over to San Diego for the Asthma Walk. If you live in the Southern California Area and you want to join us or want to find a walk near you click HERE to learn more. If you want to donate click HERE. Our team name is “El Centro SDA Church”.

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…they will support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is a conflict and inspire hope where there is despair.” (Nelson Mandela announcing the formation of the Elders. You can see a video introduction by Mandela here.)

This is an amazing thing that is happening. A formation of leaders, and past “official” leaders working toward making lasting change in an ever needing world. A group of influential people without a hidden agenda. In Mandela’s transcript of the announcement he says that the Elders will work towards,

“…assuming the essential interdependence of all human-kind. We call this the spirit of Ubuntu – that profound African sense that we are human only through the humanity of other human beings.”

Ubuntu truly is profound. In Christianity we might call it “creation”. The sense and consequent reality that we are all an essential part of God’s creation. We find our value first and foremost in that we were created to bear the image of the God, and secondly in the human-“ness” of others. We can only truly relate to God, when we consciously and purposely take the time relate to one another.

I wonder if there could ever be an Adventist version of “the Elders”? A group of Adventist leader’s committed to making our communities of faith, vibrant places of hope, refuge, and reconciliation. Not just for our own sake, rather in order to embrace and engage our world. To be a part of the world we live in. I know this is what our community of faith’s are intended to be, but how many churches have you been to that feel like that? For fun what would an Adventist group of “Elders”(of course not elders in the traditional church setting) look like? Would it even be possible? Perhaps this is how the Blogosphere is functioning. Could we be stronger together. Meeting together, in person every once in a while. Maybe this is already happening and I just didn’t know about it.

I found this on “Signs of Emergence” it is really powerful. It reminded me who I am and where I stand in relation to God and to you.

Stones

If we could all
just stop throwing stones,
and stoop, knees bent
and write in the dust,

we’d see that the dust
was once stone –
grand, and hard, and proud, and tough –
now ground and dissolved
in grace and tears.

So… how much better
to be a grain of dirt
on that kind prophet’s hands
than a stone
in the cold, accusing Temple
of the pure.

 

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Where do we go to find the Imago Dei (the image of God)?

I read an article in Sojourners Magazine titled “The Hungry Spirit”, thinking that it was going to be an article about the first beatitude “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). It turns out that it was not directly written about the that particular text.

The article is about the photography of Sebastio Salgado, a photography that creates “a religious narrative of poor people across the world.” Salgado uses his camera to tell the story of the human condition. The poor. The displaced. The helpless. The hopeless. In his Exodus project he “traces the human face, the Imago Dei, against the background of time, livelihood, and continents.”

In Salgado’s current project Genesis he seeks “out places that are still as pristine as they were in primeval times, places that provide hope…” I wonder if the word ‘primeval’ here is used to indicate the time when everything in the world was pure, green, hopeful, without pain, without tears, without suffering, a time in which the Imago Dei could be seen without having to look through the muck of oppression that comes with the civilizing of humanity. Ironic isn’t it. The more civilized and advanced we become the more isolated, the more, that less is done to help those that need our help. Any help.

Commenting on his new project Genesis Salgado says, “We exploit the entire planet to live as isolated individuals.” He continues “It’s very complicated to have hope, but there are spots of hope around the world”. Genesis seeks to find these places of hope. What I might add are places of holiness.

Don’t we all look for places of hope in our lives. Or even realities of hope. Experiences of Hope. People of, and people that hope. A real kind of hope, and not a well wishing sentiment.

Perhaps places of hope are the places where the Imago Dei is found. Hope, through the human endeavor to end suffering (of all kinds). Hope, through fighting for the survival of our planet. Hope, through human relationships, even broken ones. Hope, through music. Hope, through art. Hope, through families. Hope, through friends. Hope, through communities of faith. Hope, through forgiveness. Hope, through grace. Hope, through revelation. Hope, through Yahweh.

Hope in that which is rooted in what the Imago Dei reflects and represents. Can it be that the Imago Dei is more accessible to us than we ever thought possible. Because maybe the Imago Dei is found in places of hope, places that provide hope.