Wednesday, March 12, 2014

An Evening With Bradford Loomis



Join us around the fire bowl for an acoustic concert with Bradford Loomis! You can check out his music at http://www.bradfordloomis.com

This concert is free but we will be accepting gifts to help Bradford get farther down the road. He'll also have CDs you can purchase.

Wed., March 19 at 6:30pm at New Hope Christian Fellowship, 300 Trask Lane, Modesto, CA 95354

Call 209-404-4027 for more info.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Midnight - Patrick Lowry



Midnight of the spirit
I am alone,
The Presence eludes me
And I am lost to find my way
In black,
To struggle in darkness
Keeping demons of despair at bay
Until a different kind of dawn
Breaks my private hell
And His sun rises
On my exhausted soul.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Unemployment, Community and the Future of the Family - Aron Smith

This is reposted from Aron's blog which you can follow at http://amapofcalifornia.wordpress.com 




I have been thinking about unemployment insurance a lot lately.  With the questionable future of my current work location, some of my coworkers who have never had occasion to receive unemployment benefits are contemplating what would be a first for them.

In the short term, I think unemployment insurance constitutes sound economic logic.  Capitalism assumes that most people will work for a living and use their income to support themselves.  This cycle of earning and spending is what makes our economic system go ‘round.  The social contract posits that when a break in this cycle occurs because an individual becomes unemployed due to no fault of her/his own, she or he is entitled to dip into common weal for a brief period of time during which efforts to become re-employed occur.  In other words, the taxes of those who are working help to support those who, temporarily, are not.

The idea is that those who are laid off due to economic factors beyond their control (bankruptcy of the employer or a recession, for example) should not be punished.  On the contrary, they should be rewarded for their past labors while they find their way toward resuming their roles as productive members of society and contributors to the economy.

Implicit in this provision of the social contract is that the unemployed person will return to the work force as soon as possible.  This implied condition is made explicit by state unemployment laws that limit benefits to a prescribed number of months.

Remaining unemployed rather resuming work at the earliest opportunity is discouraged by a twofold maneuver.  First, unemployment benefits are calculated on a schedule that assures that individuals receive a relatively small percentage of the income earned while working.  Hopefully, the receipt of unemployment benefits will provide the out of work with a modicum of support for their families (on an austerity budget, to be sure) sufficient to prevent hunger and homelessness.  Second, unemployment benefits end after a specified amount of time.  This provision is designed to light a fire under the unemployed, creating a sense of urgency fueled by the prospect of destitution should benefits end before re-employment is secured.

Where this neat little system falls apart, of course, is when this threat morphs from theory into reality.  Recent statistics suggest that the unemployment rate in the United States is falling, an indicator of increasing economic health.  As with any financial measure, however, the accuracy of one’s numbers depends on how you count.  The apparent decrease in the unemployment rate is, at least in part, a product of fewer individuals receiving unemployment benefits.  It is well known that a reduction in the unemployment rolls does not necessarily mean that more people are gainfully employed.  It may well reflect the thousands of people who have exhausted their unemployment benefits, thus falling off the charts even though they are still out of work.  These are our neighbors who fly under the radar, neither employed nor on unemployment benefits, and thus nonexistent as far as our tunnel vision economic figures are concerned.  The long-term unemployed become invisible.

Let’s spend a moment thinking about what happens to those who find themselves in this predicament — out of benefit weeks and still out of a job.  Out of luck.  As a society, we are simply abandoning these people, leaving them to their own devices.  After all, they need to be punished because they failed to follow the rules by finding work within the prescribed period of time. 

But what if their failure to find work is no fault of their own, just as the reason that they became unemployed in the first place was no fault of their own?  What if a person has diligently sought employment to no avail?  This can happen for any number of reasons.  In this age of microchips, there is the ever-present threat of technological obsolescence (otherwise known as “I’ve been replaced by a robot.”)  I can appreciate this one, having personally performed two different types of jobs that have virtually gone out of existence in this country.

Perhaps the plant has moved out of state or overseas, where operating costs are so much lower.  Perhaps there is no similar work available in the unemployed person’s geographic area.  Perhaps he or she is not at liberty to move due to family commitments or health challenges.  As it is, we have become a very mobile society, rolling stones who miss out on yesteryear’s advantage of strong community roots.  We acknowledge this as far as not denying unemployment benefits to those who decline to move hundreds of miles away to the nearest available job.  But then we shrug it off when the benefit period runs out.  If you really want to work, move far away from your support system and work!  If not, starve.  Let the support system to which you are so attached take care of you.

Whoa, stop right there.  When a person loses her job, we don’t throw her on the mercy of her family.  We recognize this person as a valued member of society who has fallen on hard times, and we provide her with some measure of support.  After a time, however, we say “okay, we’ve done enough, now it’s your family’s turn.”  What is wrong with this picture?

There are those who long for the good old days when members of extended families took care of each other.  No unemployment benefits needed, or as Archie and Edith Bunker cheekily sang every week during the opening of TV’s All in the Family, “didn’t need no welfare state (everybody pulled his weight).”  If one member of the family was unable to earn a paycheck, that individual could contribute in other ways, including child care, elder care and household maintenance.  Then, of course, there was also a thriving underground economy (in our inner cities, there still is — and not all of it has to do with selling drugs, either).  People grew gardens and raised chickens, both for their own consumption and to help feed their neighbors.  Payment was not always in cash; barter thrived.  Although Craig’s List and the TV show Barter Kings suggest that we may be returning to this model, it is still a drop in the economic bucket.

You see, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum:  The extended family who we expect to support the long-term unemployed has ceased to exist, at least among the middle class (leaving people out on the street and scavenging in dumpsters).  As if the post-World War II transition from the extended family model to the nuclear family were not bad enough, the cancer of family breakdown has now advanced to the point where even the nuclear family has crumbled into dust.  Fathers have become marginalized as single mothers raise their children and young adults choose to remain single for longer and longer periods of time.  There is no longer any shame or stigma attached to “personal choices” from abortion to childlessness to refusal to provide financial and emotional support to aging parents.  Meanwhile, the middle class, who have failed miserably in their attempt to glorify the nuclear family, continue to look down their noses at the poor who are forced by economic circumstances to crowd many people into small dwellings, whether urban apartments or rural cottages.

But I am hopeful.  Perhaps the vagaries of the economy and the evanescence of unemployment benefits will have the unintended effect of encouraging the resurgence of the extended family.  Perhaps the day will come when it will again become common for grandparents, uncles, cousins and friends to share a residence, each one contributing his or her special talents to the communal well-being of the family unit.  Perhaps contiguous family units (in old-fashioned lingo, these were called “neighbors”) will again check on each other’s welfare and engage in random acts of sharing.  Perhaps we will shake off our jaded ways and decide that community is still important.  Perhaps we will once again decide that we need each other, that we are indeed our brothers’ keepers.

As John Donne wrote more than four hundred years ago:

                        No man is an island,

                        Entire of itself,

                        Every man is a piece of the continent,

                        A part of the main.



Amen.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Resurrection - Aron Smith


Dear Reader, Aron let me know that he wrote this piece with Bob Carlisle's song "We Fall Down" in mind.  If you'd like to hear that song, you can watch the official video HERE. -Chris



If you’ve read my recent piece on hospitality, you are aware of my tendency to make a bee line for the dictionary before I start in on a topic.  This time is no exception.

The word resurrection is derived from two Latin words, the prefix re- and the verb surgere, to rise again.  As such, it is identical in origin to the word resurgence.  Both words carry the implication of bringing something/someone back to life after he/she/it was thought to be dead, either literally or figuratively.

To go a step further with the etymology, the word resurrection contains the Latin root rect-, meaning “right.”  Something that had fallen down (dead) is being righted, or restored to the upright position, not unlike the tray tables on a commercial jetliner when it’s time to descend for a landing.

The idea of restoring to life that which was thought to be lost forever is, of course, a highly romantic notion.  We get all wistful and misty-eyed over things lost, be they youth, money, ideals, faith or that one argyle sock that went into the dryer but never came out, lost forever among the lint balls.

We view all these things as being gone for good, irretrievably lost, perdido in Spanish or fafaln in the Yiddish that I grew up with.  The Yiddish word literally means “fallen”; in both the Yiddish and the Spanish, there is the implication of “damned,” or “lost to a place from which there is no return.”  So this is not just any fall, but the Fall, as in Adam and Eve.

The idea of resurrection seems to cancel out all that.  It is a word infused with hope to its very core; the concept implies that nothing is so lost that, under the right circumstances, it cannot be brought back to life.  The Bible teaches us that the right circumstance for rescue of lost causes is an extreme measure of faith.
Most of us associate “resurrection” with the events immediately following the death of Jesus.  However, the concept is first established in the Old Testament.

Arguably the best known incidents of resurrection are Jesus’ raising of Lazarus in John Chapter 11 and the prophet Elijah’s revival of the son of the widow of Zarephath in 1 Kings 17:17-24.  Interestingly, the Hebrew names of Elijah and Lazarus are very similar, the former being Eliyahu (“my God is Jehovah”) and the latter being Eliezer (“God is my help”).  Elijah himself had no need of resurrection, as he was transported to heaven alive in a whirlwind by a chariot of fire.  2 Kings 2:11  His protégé, Elisha, performs a resurrection upon the son of a Shunammite woman in 2 Kings 4:31-37.

The “never say die” ethic inherent in the concept of resurrection implies that there is always hope, that nothing is impossible.  Occurring in the spring of the year, Easter and Passover are festivals celebrating renewal at a season marked by the “rebirth” of plants upon the warming of the frozen earth as well as the appearance of a new generation of animals.  The egg, which figures prominently in the customs of both holidays, is the very symbol of fertility and regeneration.

However, resurrection implies not only a physical renewal, but a spiritual one as well.  This time of year can be viewed as an opportunity for second chances born of self-examination.  If we take a good, hard look in the mirror and do not see the person we had hoped for, there is no time like the present to make changes.  If we have veered off the path, now is the time to make corrections and return to the right road.

This is a good time not only to count our blessings, but also to make a renewed effort to bestow them on others.  Let us not forget those who are more unfortunate than us, as inconvenient as it may seem to give of our time and financial resources.  If we have become jaded by the vicissitudes of life, now is the time to resurrect our ideals.

Just as our prophets did in the Bible, we too can perform resurrections by providing the gift of hope to the hopeless.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Twins, Summer and Resurrection - James Harrison


Summer is coming! It's true, it's only April, but it's (mostly) warm and sunny and there's no looking back! Before adulthood, summer was easily the best time of the year. No school; what more could you ask for? Besides chores, my sunny seasons were spent riding bikes, playing basketball, and hanging out with friends. But after I finished school and entered Youth With A Mission, moving to Alberta, Canada, the summers merely meant that the sun would still be in the sky after work was over, as opposed to seeing stars come out at 5 pm. But besides work, the June, July, and August months meant occasionally visiting good ol' California to see my family.

Now, I have a twin sister. Before you ask, we are indeed identical twins, both in facial appearance and height. Yes, throughout our lives, most people can't tell who was James and who was Julie. It led to all kinds of problems. Julie would dress like me and get into all kinds of trouble, and the next thing I knew, I was being punished! It was tragic. But as adults, we've reconciled our conflicts and get along just fine. Mostly. 

Joking aside, one thing about my twin is this: she is summer. She embodies it, from her bubbly personality that cannot be eclipsed to her shining face filled with excitement. If you're around her, you know what she's feeling. If she's happy and laughing, you will be too! The sun is a ball of light and energy, never ceasing. And my sister is just as hard to shadow if she has set her mind to something. Once when we were seven, Julie got a hold of some flower seeds and started digging a hole. When I found her she was reading the bag of seeds and asked me what 6" meant. Intelligently, I told her, "It means six feet." (Whoops) She said, "How big is that?" "Julie, you'll have to dig for as tall as Jacob!" Sitting in the dirt with her wild, brown, curly hair, she thought for a moment then said, "Okay," and went back to work with the shovel.

She is persistent, loving, and full of life. Like the sun. Like summertime, that time of year I'm accustomed to seeing her. So when I think of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I think of a special time of the year, lasting the entire year! Seasons disappear and it's summer all year around. The atmosphere is energetic and life is the air we breathe. Our Creator is persistent to plant seeds that don't stop growing, and he will never withhold his Spirit that waters us each day, until the sun stops shining.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Hosanna - Beth Morgan



Last week I was trying to think of what songs to lead for Palm Sunday at church and naturally started thinking through all of the “Hosanna” repertoire.  I started to reflect on the 80’s number, “Hosanna Hosanna Hosanna in the highest…Lord we lift up Your name with hearts full of praise.  Be exalted, oh Lord our God. Hosanna in the highest” and I was reminded of the first time I remember hearing it and the realized it’s an interesting and befitting story.

The first time I heard this song was the German version, “Hosanna in der Höhe“.  I remember thinking how cool it was that in German, “Hosanna” was the same and that the rest of the line sounded funny, but cool.  I was 8.  My big brother had just returned from a trip to East Germany.  He, with a group of teenagers plus a couple of group leaders, managed to get into East Germany and I remember him telling me that they brought a keyboard to a secret group of Christians that were meeting.

The other day when I was remembering this, I started to imagine a windowless room full of East Germans singing with hearts full of praise and hopeful that the King would come and rescue them from a dark, difficult and oppressive time.  I started to think about Jesus riding his donkey into Jerusalem before crowds of Jews so weary and longing for the promised King to rescue them from the oppression of the Romans.  The parallels were obvious and my heart did a little leap with the realization that in my lifetime, many believer’s prayers were answered and that I possess a piece of that infamous dividing wall that was brought down.

My thoughts turned to “far-off” lands today where I imagine there to be secret churches praying with hearts full of praise and with expectant hope of the intervention of the just and good King.  Oh that we would join with them more in prayer and solidarity, rejoicing that the King has come and praying that His kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven.  Hosanna.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Gardener - Aaron Alford




The two men had run off, as they were so prone to do, never giving the stranger in the garden a second glance.  The woman who was with them had followed.  He was alone now.  He stretched wide and took in the morning sun as it fell warmly on his face, his hands, and on the garden’s green leaves.  The air was cool, and smelled of the freshness of a newborn day.  A morning song sprang suddenly from the sky above him, and the singer lighted gently on a branch just a few feet away.  He stood there, watching her preen her wings, and he marveled at such a small and elegant creature.  She cocked her head and puzzled at him for a moment.  She sang once more, as if to ask who he might be.  He smiled in response, and the singer hopped into the sky in a flutter.

He heard footsteps approaching, and not wishing to be noticed, he hunkered down on his haunches, and busied himself with the patch of little yellow flowers beside him.

The woman had returned.  She was visibly distraught, sniffling, speaking to herself in whispers and sobs.  He kept to his flowers as she approached the great rock that stood behind him.  He glanced her way, but her eyes did not meet his.  She paused at the sight of the open rock face, and peered into the barren tomb.  He could hear her sharp breaths, and quietly watched as she stepped trembling into the tomb. 

He returned to his flowers with a pensive brow.  He knew what she was thinking.  ‘They’ve taken him!  Oh God!  They’ve taken him!  Hadn’t he suffered enough?  Why strip him even of the dignity of a grave?’  He heard her sobs from the inside of the sepulcher.  The yellow faces of the flowers stared back at him, as if pleading to him, “Say something!” 

Convulsions of sorrow were coming upon her now, and she turned from the open grave, steadying herself against the stone that should have sealed the tomb.  Her fingers caressed her lips as she looked to the empty blue sky in despair, and with a last great sob, she buried her face in her hands, and wept.

He stood to face her, and stepped slowly toward her.

“Ma’am?  Why are you crying?”

“Please!” she said between gasps, her hands pressed mournfully to her face. “Please, if you’ve taken him... If you know where they took him, tell me!  I’ll take him!  Please!”

She fell into the stranger’s arms and wept.  “Please.”

He took her into his embrace, standing silently.  The two of them stood there in the cool of the morning, her head nestled into his chest, both of them aglow with the still rising sun.  He smiled when the breeze caught her unkempt hair, tickling his neck so softly.  He put his lips close to her ear and whispered a single word.  

“Mary.”

Her eyes shot open in recognition, and she pushed herself away to see his face.

“Teacher!” she screamed, and took him into her arms so tightly he began to laugh.

“Oh God!  It’s you!  It’s you!” she cried, her heart barely believing what she was holding in her arms.

“It’s me,” he said.

“Oh, let me hold on to you forever!” she cried.

“Not yet, Mary.  But soon.”