When You Think About God

About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” 

Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.”

Luke 13:1-5

In today’s Lenten reading, Jesus is told of some Galileans being killed by the government. It’s not clear who Jesus’ audience is at that moment, but they ask him, “Did these people die because they were great sinners?” Jesus responds, “Not at all.” And later, “No.”

Now, if you’re like me, you read this passage really quickly because you’ve still two whole chapters to go in today’s reading. And a story like this doesn’t necessarily stand out because Jesus doesn’t heal anyone or offer a new teaching. But, let’s not miss what’s going on here.

A bunch of people die.
A bunch of people ask why.
And the assumption is God let them be killed because of their sin.
Jesus responds, “Not at all…no!”

In recent weeks, I’ve argued that what we think about when we think about God is the most important thing about us. I’ve said this because our ideas of God shape us. The angry pastor has an angry God. The overbearing father worships a strict, judgment-prone Deity. The generous, grace-filled aunt sees God as love itself. And in the story above, a group of people assume God allows other people to be killed because of their sin. Put another way, they think God punishes sinners, even to the point of death.

We should note Jesus’ immediate response, “Not at all.” He basically says you’ve missed the point entirely. But before we go there, let’s recognize that these people think God punishes sin with a sort of death penalty. Now, what do you think this belief does in them? How do you think they treat other people they deem as “great sinners”? What did they ultimately do to Jesus?

If your God kills, you’re going to kill.
If your God punishes, you’re going to punish.
If your God is a monster, you’ll be one too.

Jesus pushes back, and says, “No, not at all.” He flips the conversation around, and says, “Unless you repent, you’ll perish too.” He’s not contradicting himself; he’s saying that if these people don’t stop judging, killing, and scapegoating one another, they’ll surely die.

Let me ask you: do you think God kills people because of their sin?
If you do, how has this belief shaped you? (it has)
How has this belief shaped our society?
How is it shaping our world?

What we worship, we become. The God we imagine, we embody.

One more time: did God kill these people because of their sin?
Jesus responds, “Not at all…no.”

- Kevin Knox

(The image is 'The Return of the Prodigal Son' by Rembrandt)

The Slow Work of God

“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.” - Teilhard de Chardin

In today’s Lenten reading, Matthew 8 and 9, there are at least eleven instances of Jesus healing people. He heals a leper, he heals a paralyzed man, he gives two blind men their sight, he casts out four demons, and to top it off, Jesus casually brings a dead girl back to life. Oh, and in the middle of it all, Jesus rebukes a storm, “Even the wind and waves obey him” (Mt 8:27).

When I read passages like this, I wonder why my back is still hurting me. How after back surgery, three months of physical therapy, and hours of prayer asking God to heal me, am I still suffering from this injury? Why doesn’t God answer my prayers? Am I doing it wrong? Did I need to be there in person to receive that kind of healing? Perhaps you need healing in your life too. I know of many who have prayed more fervently than I for God to bring that healing and have yet to experience it fully. So, how does it work?

The temptation in reading isolated stories from the bible is to ignore the greater story of what’s going on. Jesus’ healing power in the New Testament, especially early on in his ministry, brought legitimacy and authority to his teaching. Jesus the Healer gave credibility to Jesus the Christ. This logic is something Jesus himself talked about,

“Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to a paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” And the man jumped up and went home! (Mt 9:5-7)

Jesus had compassion on people, and he healed them, sure. But, Jesus’ purpose in ministry was to announce the Kingdom of God and the forgiveness of sin. Everything he did was in service of these two aims. He often healed people to prove his authority in these matters. The same is true today. God does heal people, but God’s great aim is to save people, to bring about His Kingdom and to forgive sin. If I’m honest, God is saving me by not healing my back. God is slowing me down. God is inviting me to trust Him, to live daily in what Teilhard de Chardin calls, “the slow work of God.” My prolonged back injury is, in no small way, God's way of announcing the Kingdom in my life all over again. It's God's gift to me, to be patient and wait. God's gradual movement of healing is infuriating and beautiful. It’s precise in its purpose but measured in its unveiling. And it's what I've needed, reluctantly so, but yes, I've needed it.

Where is God taking his time in bringing healing to your life or the lives of those around you? How is the slowness of it all saving you?

As we read stories of Jesus together, may we have the courage to be honest about our frustrations. And along with it, may we have the wisdom to see the greater story at work. May that story offer us hope. May it heal us.

Here is the full prayer of Teilhard de Chardin,
an Ignatian Prayer of Trust: 

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.”

- Kevin Knox

(The image from Johan Jaeger is called Glacier Painting)

A New Definition

“You need to hit pace on this one, Caitlin,” my swim coach would yell at me from across the pool deck.

I have been swimming competitively since the age of seven, so when I hear the word “pace” I think of a certain speed that I have to maintain in the pool. I haven’t been in the pool in eight months now, but that word “pace” brings me back.

I can picture myself with my Cal cap on, one hand on the wall, watching the red numbers on the pace clock ticking down till zero. I can feel my breath deepen and my muscles tighten as I think about surging off the wall and feeling the water flow all around my body. I can almost feel the familiar, and oddly welcome, sensation of lactic acid surging through me because I am pushing my body to its limits in order to hit that pace. I can still hear my coach’s voice ringing in my ears as she calls out times, and that great satisfaction I felt when I hear “35” instead of “36” after my hands had touched the wall and my head popped up.

I realize I have tears streaming down my face thinking of this memory. I miss that sensation of finding my rhythm in the water. So what does “pace” mean if it doesn’t refer to me swimming at a certain speed? The short answer, I am not sure that I know. I don’t actually feel I know much of what many words mean, apart from the swimming definitions that I held onto for so long.

Just like the sets I did in the pool, my pace of life when I was swimming, was concrete, predictable, and automatic. On Monday, wake up, swim two hours, eat, sleep, wake up, eat, back to the pool for three hours, come home and eat, go to sleep for the night. Repeat on Tuesday.  

But now, instead of knowing the pace I am suppose to be holding, I am moving fast and slow and in all directions, to find where I am suppose to be going. I’ve moved slowly and enjoyed vacations at times. I have overbooked myself setting up coffee dates with friends or informational interviews with potential mentors or employees. I worked really hard and fast to get my applications in for business school and now am just sitting and waiting. I applied to an internship, thought I was accepted and made plans for it, and then slowed to a halt when that opportunity fell through. It’s like learning to drive all over again--I step on the gas too quickly and then find myself slamming on the breaks by accident.

I am actively searching for a new meaning of “pace” in my life. One thing I am realizing is that sometimes moving slowly is okay. I don’t have to have all of life’s answers or know exactly what job or opportunity will come next. I just have to be present in the pace of today. Today, I am grateful to sit at lunch with a friend for much longer than intended, just because I can. I am enjoying the idea of being with friends past my regimented bedtime (thanks Tim and Mel). I am embracing the idea of being in a place in life where I don’t have say, “I’m so busy” all the time.

I am working on slowing down to process my past and allow tears to come to my eyes when I think about my swimming career. Equally, I am allowing myself to pause when I am filled with excitement of the potential of what is to come.

-Caitlin Smith

The Summer I Ran

I'm not much of a runner. I often think about it – how cool would it be if I could run like Forrest Gump?!  

There was one summer though – I was a runner. It was the summer of 2005, the only time in my life I've run consistently for months. I was kicked out of a Christian volunteer program for starting a relationship with one of my male housemates. And since fraternizing was frowned upon, the Program Director removed us from the program and city, as soon as he found out. The very next day, I was put on a plane to return to my family in NY.  

You see, I'm a good girl who follows rules. Growing up in a conservative church didn't allow for anything but perfection. I was hard on myself. This incident was the first major time I broke the rules. Needless to say, I had all this emotion and energy I didn't know what to do with.  

Knowing I wasn't much of a runner, I had to figure out how to keep a pace that would allow me to run for a good length of time. I would drive to the local park to run on top of the nearby dam's flat surface. Not too fast, just a steady jog. I was easy on myself. I knew if I pushed too hard, I wouldn't keep going. And I needed to run. I needed to sort out everything that had just happened – it went down so quickly. I didn't even know how to articulate my situation yet. So, I started my running journey.

Shortly after, my partner-in-crime and I made plans to meet back up in Atlanta. After a few weeks in ATL, he asked me to move with him to his hometown of Spokane, Washington. With plans to get engaged, I said yes, packed up all my things, and drove across the country with him. Long story short, he broke up with me two weeks later. I thought I loved him, but turns out – he took advantage of me. So, I continued running.

I had already landed a very cool job in Washington, and decided I wasn't going to run home with my tail between my legs. Pride kept me there. But humility saw me through. And thankfully, I kept running, almost daily, right through the fall. Then, the Spokane winter was just too freezing for a novice runner to keep going outside. But by that time, I was able to talk about what happened with a lovely circle of support. Turns out my mom had a cousin living nearby who ministered and mentored me. It was transformative.

In fact, I am experiencing another transformation today. For many years, this story has made me feel shameful and embarrassed. I have told people in person, but have never written about it publicly. Thinking about Kevin's recent messages at Mosaic, I find comfort knowing God is not looking for private perfection, but a journey of Divine union and transformation. And that truth has set me free. I don't need to strive to be that "good" girl anymore or feel shame when I make mistakes. I just need to be in union with God. And sometimes that union looks like running on a dam, in the middle of nowhere.

I might never be a runner again. But keeping the pace - like with running or in my relationship with God - is what helped me through the hardest time in my life.

-Jennifer Pelham Lawrence

Keep Up The Pace

I love to run on trails throughout the Bay Area. It’s amazing how many beautiful vistas overlook the San Francisco Baythe Berkeley Hills to the Marin Headlands. Every trail is a fun adventure, not knowing what ridge, mountain, valley, or creek will meet me around the bend.

I also love to run because it keeps me healthy and gives me a noticeable boost of energy. I started running in 2008, when my son Jordan was a freshman in high school. When he decided to join the cross country team, I decided to take up running, primarily so that I could keep up with himI didn’t want to be left in the dust!

After having run several thousand miles over the past 9 years, I have to admit, running never gets any easier. In fact, my average pace has slowed down noticeably over the years. When I first started running, pace or average minutes per mile, was very important to me. I used to monitor my pace for every race that I ran in. I still keep a record of every race so that I can measure my progress from year to year. With the passage of time, I have changed my priority of improving my pace to setting annual mileage goals. That takes the pressure off of me to go faster. This allows me to focus more on God's creation and take notice of the beauty of my surroundings.

There are some days when I’m just not feeling it, and training is a grind. On other days, I marvel at the beauty of my surroundings. There is one stretch of trail, in the Oakland Hills, that reminds me of Jurassic Park. It has towering redwood trees and luscious ferns that grow alongside the trail. When I come across amazing stretches of trail such as these, I can’t help but think, “this is why I love to run!”

-Don Wong

Be Decisive in 2017

The New Year is a great opportunity to reset and refresh our lives.

I have experimented with a number of different ways to approach the new year. I’d love to share what has worked best for me, my life, and my business.

One of the things I love to do the most is to do a full inventory of my time, finances, and thoughts/mindset - so I am intimately acquainted with where I am investing my time and money.

From this, I break my time, money, and thoughts into categories.

For example, what % of my money do I spend on food, charity, art, mortgage, etc. When it comes to time, who do I spend time with, how often, and what is the quality level of that time. This is incredibly important to me. Our time is our greatest resource, and so I am intentional about where I invest it. For my thoughts, I want to look at the % of thoughts I allow to stay in my mind that get me closer to my goals and the % of thoughts that take me away from my goals.

From there, I can look at the inventories I have created and decide where I need to focus my transformational efforts in order to increase my life’s impact and make sure it aligns with what I say I want it to.

The reason for all of this is that I find so many people (myself included) can slip into a rut of just going through the motions year after year because that becomes comfortable. The challenge is, some of us then look back after 5 years and not much has changed.

The New Year challenges me to make sure that I’m growing, learning, and increasing my impact year by year, and I love that. I find it so refreshing. It’s like God is inviting us into something new.

-David Gerber

Core Desired Feelings

It’s amazing how much of our true desires are hidden under our goals.

For much of my life, I wanted to be seen. I thought being important would give me that, so I completed a degree that gave me the title Dr. and became a professor by the age of 24. Ten years into my career with lots of accomplishments and several awards, I didn’t feel any more recognized.

What really made me feel seen, was when I started a blog after my son was born. Sharing my vulnerable truth over and over, while being witnessed by others. Writing healed me, and sharing my truth made me feel alive.

The reason I never acknowledged this before was because it went against so much of my cultural conditioning. Being Indian is all about looking good on the outside without any attention to what one is feeling on the inside. We go to great lengths to hide pain.

It was really hard to share stories about my raw feelings. I felt like I was betraying my family and my self-esteem had been built on image not vulnerability. However, through my blog, I finally started to feel free. I no longer needed to wear these masks and this gave me a lot of inner-peace.

So when it comes to New Years, we don’t set goals in my house. Instead, we dig deep on what it is that we really want. We use the support of Earth based wisdom, to guide us through various rituals, because there’s something to Nature’s rhythm.

The week of Winter Solstice, at a time when it’s darkest, we do a year review and let go of what did not serve us that year. This creates space for something new to come in. For example, last year, what didn’t work for me was trying to help people who did not want to be helped. I wrote a letter to my savior complex and burned it. Interestingly, as I was doing this, someone sent me a text message. They asked me to MC a writing event at my favorite cafe. Hosting open mic’s to support people sharing their creativity is a desire of mine and it came to me. I didn’t have to push to make it happen.

This is the power of letting go, and there is even more in naming what you REALLY want. We do this by tuning in to our desires. We don’t do this from our mind, we do this from our heart. We use the audio workbook, Desire Map by Danielle Laporte. She does Mind Yoga, by asking questions. This helps you drop into your feelings because that’s where you discover soul desires. Most people set goals to feel a certain way. This process flips that, by feeling first and then making plans.

We are still working through this process for 2017 because according to the lunar calendar, the New Year is at the end of January. I love spreading it over a few days as it gives more time for authentic desires to drop into your consciousness. For example, the other night I woke up in the middle of the night with the word trust.

Last year my core-desired feelings were:

Whenever I feel off, I look at these feelings and ask myself, which one do I want to feel now? This gives me clarity, so I can make a conscious choice instead of reacting on autopilot, with unhealthy habits.

Depending on how you were raised, desires can feel like the opposite of being holy. However, it is my experience that authentic desires are divine desires. I believe these desires are placed in your heart by the all-mighty because through your joy and peace and creative expression, God is served.

-Sweta Chawla

We're Not Afraid Of You

To the immigrant, we welcome you.
To the refugee, we receive you.
To the woman, we honor your voice.

To the disabled, we love you.
To the homosexual, we stand with you.
To the minority, we see and stand with you too.

To our brothers and sisters of other religions, we learn from you.
To the foreigner, we recognize our shared global citizenship.
We do not claim a Divine right to what’s yours.

We don’t worship a flag.
Our allegiance isn’t to God and country.
Our allegiance is to God and God alone.

Loving God means loving our neighbor.
Following Jesus means loving ‘our enemies.’
The Gospel is a gospel for all.

And so, to the racist, we are curious: why are you so?
To those afraid of the ‘other’, tell us your story.
May we listen and hear what you have to say.

To the jobless, we consider you.
To the ignored, we pay attention.
To our political foe, we commit to work with.

We aren’t superior.
We aren’t right and you’re wrong.
‘Us and them’ is a lie we refute.

Jesus was an immigrant, a refugee.
He honored women.
He healed the disabled.

Jesus stood up for the sexually despised.
Jesus paid attention to those on the margins.
He was a ‘friend of sinners’ and his mission was to ‘comfort the brokenhearted.’

May we ever do the same.
May we stop demonizing and vilifying.
May the day soon come when we stop throwing one another away.

May we be instruments of God’s peace.
May we live with faith and courage and love.
May we stand with Jesus, among the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, those seeking justice and mercy and purity of heart.

May we love our neighbors.
May we love our enemies.
And may we move into the future as one.

by Kevin Knox
Photo by Thomas Hawk, used with Creative Commons License.

Intrepid Delegation

 I used to have a New Year’s tradition. It was back in college. I would write down things I wanted to happen in the new year and write about what was going on at that point in time, more like a mini journal entry. I would seal the letter and not open it until the following year. It was fun, but I’m impatient, so that tradition didn’t last very long.

I’ve never been one to “set goals” per say, there’s always the generic ones….generic to me anyways because they weren’t new or exciting. Lose weight, eat healthy, work out, pray more, get closer to God...none of those are bad, they just weren’t challenging.

A few years ago I was introduced to the idea of selecting a word for the year, or a theme. What one word did I feel God speaking to me, or something that was going on in my life that I recognized needed changing. It started 4 years ago and I’ve been consistent (ironically the first word I picked) in continuing this tradition. It helps me stay focused and it gives me something I can fall back on if I’m getting off track.

Intrepid:  fearless; adventurous

Delegation: entrust (a task or responsibility) to another person

I am, by nature, not good at delegation. Some of you are gasping, I’m sure….while others are laughing to themselves and saying “No way”, in a VERY sarcastic tone. I like to get things done. I like to stay busy. I like things done my way (and yes, I’m working on that one too). It’s not that I think I’m superior, by any means, it’s that I don’t trust. Have people given me reason to not trust their abilities? Sometimes...yes. But most of the time, no. I have no reason to NOT trust people around me.

I’m the one who thinks it’s just easier if I do it myself. And god forbid if I have to show someone how to do something (exclusively my children), well this just wears me out and makes me want to do it myself even more.

Recently, this has been pointed out to me in more than one area of my life. It’s not a revelation, but when the people you love start telling you, you’re doing too much or this place would fall apart without you...well, there’s a problem there.

I want to be okay with asking for help. I want to trust people around me and realize they want to help as much as I do. I want to give people (my children especially)  a chance to learn things and have responsibility. I NEED to do this.

As hard as this is, and as much as I want to stand over people (my children) and make sure they do things the “right” way, I realize I have to let go. I had my first test two weeks ago, and I will report, with a huge smile on my face, it was successful.

My children have sporadically done house work. They aren’t new to the idea or how it’s done, I just haven’t required much of them in the past. But as part of MY New Year’s theme, I decided it’s time to give them one of their own (see how I’m working this). Every Saturday they will be responsible for a few chores around the house. They were not happy about my new theme of intrepid delegation, but they took to it and I sat back. I did it. I didn’t re-do what they did, I didn’t stand over them and make sure they did it my way...I let it go. And my dishes are clean, the bathroom looks great, the trash and compost are emptied and the floors are clean.

I have to say it took everything in me not to empty the trash and compost myself, because they were filled to the brim. But I did it. I held out, so that I could, in fact, intrepidly delegate. Insert big smiley face.

So for future reference, feel free to tap me on the shoulder if I’m not intrepidly delegating. I will need help to do this successfully (see I’m already asking for more help...baby steps).

-Dorynda Venable

New Year, New Provision, New Dreams

I don't know if there is ever a right time to drop everything and start the next phase of your life. Sometimes, life changes force you into a different trajectory and other times you make the decision. We realized, as we contemplated hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), that it was a decision that we were going to have to make. It was a decision that felt both exciting and absolutely nuts at the same time.

We knew that hiking the PCT would require us to give up much of what we knew and owned for an experience and a challenge that felt unknown.

So, in August, Martin and I committed to this crazy dream. We decided that we would give up our apartment in Oakland, sell all of our things, quit our jobs and head out for the trail in April. We knew there were things we would have to iron out like: Where will we stay when our lease ends in December? How will we pay our student debt? How will we prepare for the hike? 

Our story began to unfold and it became clear that the wrinkles would shake out. A room became available in my Aunt's house in Berkeley from December until March--the exact amount of time we needed. We could have never imagined that resource would become available. Then, a true miracle, my uncle gave me a call and let me know that inheritance money, that had been wrapped up in lawsuits for six years, had finally come through. With that very unexpected money, we were able to pay all our student debts. It was amazing to see all of these resources provided after we committed to a very unknown dream.

I am writing this blog post in the mountains of the Imperial Valley desert (December 28). We just finished a 15 mile hike today and a 20 mile hike yesterday. Our muscles ache,we are unshowered, our feet are blistered but we are enjoying every minute of this trip and are anxious to attempt a difficult, unknown and exciting goal/dream.

Thanks for letting us share our story with you. We will be keeping an Instagram and blog as we go and will share that information with you as the hike gets closer.

-Kelsey and Martin

The Promise of Christmas

He looked across the table at me and said, “I’m afraid for my kids and the world they’ll grow up in.”

“Yeah,” I empathized, “twenty sixteen hasn’t been the year some of us had hoped for.”

“It’s sad and bigger than that: I think I’ve lost all faith in humanity.”

Nodding my head, I put my hand on his shoulder, “It’s okay to feel that way today, but tomorrow, let’s wake up and at least believe in one another. I’ll believe in you, and you believe me. And remember, I’m a Jesus guy, so that means I believe that God hasn’t left us to ourselves.”

“Okay, Kevin. I’ll let you be optimistic tomorrow, then. But today, I just want to lament a little.”

---

Perhaps you’re like my friend. Perhaps 2016 was full of days where you just wanted to lament a little. And that’s okay. You’re justified in your lament. This year left many weary—weary from politics, war, injustice, personal loss, and adversity.

Shoot, I’ll join the lament.

I lost my dad to Parkinson’s this year.
My back failed me this year.
I needed surgery and extended bed rest this year.
I did more funerals in 2016 than in all my years of ministry before it.

And then, there’s the election. It’s affected all of us. It prompted the above conversation, and with every new tweet from our president-elect, I question the future of our country.

However, at the end of a year like this one, let’s not let our lament interfere with our hope. (Reread that last sentence).

As we talked about on Sunday, the promise of Christmas is Immanuel: God with us. The story of the Christ-child freshly born among us is ulti­mately a story about God’s desire to be born within all of us, in the midst of our pain and struggle. It’s a story of hope emerging from circumstances of lament. It’s the per­fect promise for a weary world looking for renewal.

Remember, Jesus wasn’t born into a happy situation. He was born in a barn. His parents were refugees. They had to flee their home to save their child’s life. Jesus’ mother was to be outcast or worse, given the circumstances of her pregnancy. It’s fair to say Jesus’ family had more reason to lament than we have today. But they didn’t. They had the courage to hope. The promise made to them is the same promise made to us: “And God will give you a sign, the virgin shall give birth to a son, and he shall be called Immanuel, which means God with us.”

As one theologian puts it, “Jesus was born in a barn and not in a palace because the Kingdom enters into our crap and not into our competence.”

If you find yourself lamenting 2016, then Christmas couldn’t come soon enough. Lament, but let that lament open up space in your heart to hope. As the Scriptures say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” Perhaps God is waiting there for you, waiting in your lament, inviting you to hope. Perhaps it’s in the cracks of your broken year where God is most present, where the promise of Christmas is most true.

God with us.

Here.
Now.

May we have the courage to hope this Christmas season. May we never forget that God is with us.

-Kevin Knox

2016 Reflections

As we settle into Advent, it occurs to me 2016 is quickly coming to an end. Let’s take a moment and remember/look forward to what God is doing through Mosaic. I love our church and am so blessed to be part of a community that lives out its core values. Let’s remember together how we are being Mosiac through these core values.

 

Renewal

Joining God in the Renewal of All Things. There are many ways that God has brought renewal, but my favorite memory of renewal this year has been all the baptisms we have done. We have had 7 people display their devotion to live in the Way of Jesus through the act of baptism; Hudson Howard, Alex Millard, Jami Edgell, Charlotte Passat, Jason Isendorf, Sophia Fedorova, and Lydia Howard. I smile looking at this list and am reminded of their testimonies and willingness to share their spiritual journey with us.

 

Community

This year we continued to build community through our MCs; Mens, Womens, Family, Service, Adults and Couples, and Band. This space was filled with great discussions, laughter, tears, stories, sharing in each other’s burdens, and celebrating in life’s joys. Another community experience was Mosaic’s Play and Pray retreat. We are blessed to be in a community where we can take a weekend away from our daily routines and spend it living, eating, playing and praying together.

 

Dependence

I love being part of church that is “flexible” to God’s leading and direction. We are never so beholden to a set of rules and structure that we can’t try new things. I think this year, especially in the latter part of the year, we’ve had to rely on God a lot. As Kevin has been out several Sundays, many within our community began stepping up to share the message God laid on their heart’s. God is faithful to continue speaking, leading, and guiding us through the voices of so many.

 

Story

We believe that we are all Mosaic, and your story is what makes us Mosaic. This year we lifted up this core value by having many share their Mosaic story in the Sunday morning gathering and by contributing to the blog. I’ve enjoyed hearing others’ stories because it is in the sharing that we get to hear and see where God is working.

 

Creativity

This is my favorite core value, spirituality results in creativity. We are made up of so many unique and gifted people. Everyone sharing in those gifts, whether it be on the worship team, or those who bake delicious food for hospitality, to those who interact with the children in Kid’s Mosaic, to those who share in ideas for service projects; are evidence of God working through each one of us. The more we share in our unique passions and gifting, the more beautiful we portray God.

 

As I sit and write this, I realize how blessed we are to be part of this movement, community, church. Thank you for being Mosaic with me.

-Jeanne Wong

A Matter Of Perspective

I live in a trailer.  Not like a trailer park trailer, like a recreational vehicle trailer.  Four wheels and a hitch.

The majority of my dinners consist of food that my husband has taken from an over supply of meals at work.  

I can rarely spend more than $10 on an item of clothing.

The crib I used for both my daughters came from a curb alert on Craigslist.

I haven’t travelled to see family at Thanksgiving for over 10 years.

 

From the outside looking in my life isn’t great.  It would seem I don’t have much to be thankful for, especially this time of year, especially this year in light of recent political events.  In this past week I’ve witnessed more pain through the eyes of my friends than anyone should ever be allowed to go through.  From physical ailments to emotional hurts to death of loved ones.  It’s hard to have words.  But there’s something else I’ve done this past week: see things from a different perspective.  The old glass half full analogy, see what you have, not what you’re missing.  I know it’s hard when the glass is half full of crap.  I’ve had those times in my life and those times should be grieved.  But when the world seems to be crumbling around us, those are the most important times to take out that gratitude journal and think about things from the other side.

 

I live in a trailer… behind a house where two amazing families live.  My girls get to grow up with the kids in those houses.  I get to live next to my sister and walk up the stairs just to get a hug if that’s what I need. It only takes me an hour to clean my house from top to bottom (as long as my daughters aren’t around).  And this trailer… has enough room for my recycled clothes.

 

My dinners are scavenged from my husbands work… where they have an AMAZING chef, restaurant quality food from organic and local sources, and desserts that would be too expensive for me anywhere else.  Some people still think we’re crazy for eating so many “leftovers”, but it takes way less time for me to cook and I could never make chicken taste that good.

 

I haven’t travelled at Thanksgiving in over ten years… Honestly, this is a hard one.  My mother passed away the day before Thanksgiving 2005.  Eleven years ago, the year before my life started, before I met my husband, before I had a career, before I had babies.  I grieve that my husband and girls will never get to meet her this side of heaven.  I still cry.  I’m crying right now.  So yeah, how can I be thankful for that?  I’m not.  What I am thankful for is what she gave me before she did go.  She gave me my creativity, my independence, my will, the curls in my daughters hair, and my smile.  I can be thankful for all that and tell my girls every story I can remember so that Nonna is real to them.  So that Wesleigh knows if you put Nonna’s baby picture next to hers, it looks like the same kid.  I can be thankful for all that and still shed the tears.

 

So this thanksgiving season, flip life on its head and look at it from the other side.  Shed every tear you need to and be thankful.

-DeAndra Stone

Loved As I Am

Kevin and I sat down at the café in Albany. I felt relieved to see him. I had this annoying itch that I knew only Kevin could scratch and I was determined to get relief. The itch – “BAPTISM.”

The word had been eating at me since Dorynda casually stuck it up on her power point during a typical pre-sermon announcement one Sunday morning. I was half out of my seat as usual – jazzed by Kevin’s talk – but already lost in thoughts of my day. Kevin’s circle of faith – the one we are to aspire to – seemed like Micronesia on the map of the world – a far off exotic unreachable dot.  “BAPTISM” – the word whispered from somewhere within. “BAPTISM” I heard it over and over again in my head. Here it was – the sign I hoped to ignore – the decision I hoped to evade…possibly forever. For a while now I had been having these strange punctuating visions of being dunked and pulled out from a river by a man dressed in white robes. The scene seemed biblical, although I must admit I had never used a bible for anything other than to hold a martini in a hotel room. The visions were in slow motion and seemed visceral. I kept putting them out of my mind; however, when Dorynda put that word on the screen, I got triggered. My mind engaged in an almost schizophrenic conversation. I became flooded with emotions. Could I really be baptized? What the hell is a baptism? My self-deprecating inner voice, smelling a threat to my deeply rooted cynicism and skepticism about anything smelling of religion, took over. I could not ignore it though. An e-mail later and there I was sitting across from Kevin, telling him all the reasons why I should not be baptized.

    “Kevin, man, I grew up Jewish.” Kevin’s face didn’t change. “Kevin, I think Jesus was an amazing guy but I can't call him my lord – I don’t even know what that means.” Again, Kevin’s face doesn’t move. “Kevin, while I am a generally a good person, I am often cynical, judgmental, and skeptical. I may never call myself a Christian.” This time, Kevin’s face changes a bit and an inquisitive eyebrow rises.

He asks me, “Why do you want to be baptized?”

“Because,” I say, “I don’t want to be these things anymore. I want renewal. I want to be different, more, faithful, full of love and the desire to serve. I want to reach my full potential, whether it be as a father, romantic partner, professional, or whatever else I am in this life. I want to lift off the weight of all this baggage I’ve been carrying around from my past and be reborn – get a second chance.”

Kevin looks at me with a mischievous glint in his eye. I figured I’ve got him. He is going to tell me he’d sooner baptize a mole rat. Instead, he puts his arm around me, and with the enthusiasm, which I have learned authentically is true Kevin, says something like, “Dude, you are the ideal candidate for a baptism.”

    “Jesus f-ing Christ.” I exclaim to myself.  See, I told you I shouldn’t be baptized. “Kevin, I hope the water doesn’t boil when I step into it.” He chuckled and I left wondering what I had just done, what I would have to do, and how to get out of it.

    Two weeks and 5 unsent e-mails of cancellations to Kevin and Jeanne later, this Jew from Florida, with all his mess, and his hopes, and his big heart, and his desires for a connection with G-D put aside the guilt, the shame, the pain, the self-deprecation, and the trauma of growing up, among other things, the rootless child of children of the holocaust, and stood before this amazing community to be baptized.  I was scared, but I was determined, as I am now, to know the truth – that I am loved just as I am and that within me contains the spark that moved all the great prophets of this universe. When Kevin dunked me in the water and said his prayer, I did not come out free of my Pandora’s box – like Houdini escaping from his chains. However, I am no longer the same person that went into that water. I am changed…how…that remains to be seen. To be continued….

-Jason Insdorf

Hard to be Thankful

I write this blog several days before Election Day. I have my mail-in voter packet ready to fill (and drop-off) for November 8. While preparing this blog, I persevered through much distraction and kept finding myself drifting off, digressing on a multitude of topics. So, I buckled down during my “copious” spare time. I collated all my brain-dumps in my journal and began writing.

I wrote down the almost obligatory list of “Things I’m Thankful For.” (And after getting past the distraction of that sentence ending in a preposition) I began writing out a list––family, friends, health, meals, a home, this country, being able to vote….and, there...right there....I drifted off again, distracted.

Thankful? This year’s election has definitely left me more frustrated than ever. “Thankful” does not enter my mind as I consider voting.

 

“You’re welcome”

 

“No...no...no..” As my younger child learns language and manner, “Thank you” ranks as a top priority; yet, my younger child keeps saying “You’re welcome” instead. The interaction goes something like this: I give him a banana and he replies with a smile, no eye contact, and snatching the fruit out of my hands, “You’re welcome.”

“No..no...no. You say, ‘Thank you.’” I reply smiling.

“You’re welcome,” he says with a smile and takes a huge bite. As if I have the privilege of serving him a banana. Oh, boy…two-year olds.

 

    I sort of feel that way thinking of the presidential candidates this year. They have their public servitude reversed. To me, they seem to act (and have acted) in a way that expresses “You’re welcome. You’re welcome that I’m not the other candidate who did this and that.” Or, “You’re welcome that I’m going to save this country.” Instead, I wish for humbler appreciation of servanthood for all citizens and residents.

 

November 8

 

    And here it comes, Election Day 2016. I try to be thankful in this season. In a few days, this country will vote. And come the morning of November 9,this country’s citizens will not suddenly become united, compassionate, and encouraging. Instead, I expect further regression of our democratic process, higher walls built between disagreements, blame and not repentance, an increase in egregious statements, and lies...more lies. Sadly, I also expect an increase in hate crimes and segregation no matter which color takes an oath in January.

Be thankful? This country has yet to pay the cultural consequences of this election. Despair has entered into more people’s conversations. Disgust, too.

 

ARGHHH!

 

    As the feelings of disgust sweeps my mind and I cry out, “ARGHHH! What is the answer?! What has to happen?!!!?” I review my “Things I’m Thankful For” list in hopes of finding hope...family, friends, health, meals, a home, this country... And then, my answer comes. I got so distracted, I had forgotten the answer. The answer did not even make it to my list. I am really familiar with the answer. I posted, tweeted, and said it countless times in the past.

    Here it is. The answer. The government is not my savior. It’s not yours, nor mine. I worship a god of justice and love. An all-powerful god who created all. A humble god. A god who allows us to freely love in response. A god who wants us to love all, especially those normally unlovable. And love those who refuse to love in return. A god, whose loving kindness, wants us to trust no matter the outcome of worldly politics. A god who no longer expects me to repay for all my bad behavior...I couldn’t do it anyways...and instead, loved us first and paid the price of my wrong with His love. The God. Father GOD. God of Jesus Christ. No matter the outcome of this election, the government is not our savior. This fact does not change. I’m once again reminded of what I must be most thankful.

    Thank you, Jesus.

 

 

–Darren is a husband and father of two young children. He has worked in technology startups, ministry, and non-profits. Currently, he raises the kids (homemaker) and awaits the next “burning bush” for God’s assignment. He and his family are a part of the Mosaic Bay community for years and an organic church planter for a couple years longer. He has a heart for the homeless and desires to be a “dream releaser” of everyone he meets. 

Honest, Thankful, and Grumpy

 

I was really excited to write this blog. I planned it two months ago. Did I write it two months ago? Nope, not even close. I was giving myself time to really get into the moment, to really ‘feel’ the thankful vibes. And not that I wasn’t thankful, but nothing was resonating with me. I didn’t have an ‘ah ha’ moment where the words just magically jumped on the page.

Until this morning.

You see, I’ve been working on this list for the last 4 years. FOUR YEARS! I started a list of 1000 gifts in September of 2012 and I just finished it this morning. I found 1000 things to be thankful for. Things, people, moments, feelings...1000 of them. Surely there are more floating around out there that I have yet to experience. I’m certain of that, but this has definitely been a journey.

I started the list with my partner and kids, writing down features of them that I want to carry with me forever. The list changes as the months and seasons change. You can look at my words and actually see Christmas. You can feel fall and recognize struggle. It’s all there.

And I’m thankful for it.

For some people, I think living in thankfulness comes easy. I can think of a few friends who are just plain positive 99.9% of the time. That used to really bug me, but now I find it encouraging and fascinating.

It’s hard to live in thankfulness. When you’re fighting with your partner, trying to teach your children and they’re just not getting it, struggling to make a payment or buy groceries; who wants to be thankful? When someone you love has left this earth, a priceless friendship that has oddly taken a turn and become a relationship of forced intention rather than natural...I do not find thanksgiving in that.

But I have found, over the years, that when I take the time, when I sit down and really think about being thankful, the slump somehow, doesn’t seem as big. I have been able to ‘thank’ my way out of grumpiness. Am I successful 100% of the time? Ha ha, no. Do I remember to do this 100% of the time? Laughable. Intentional thankfulness is something I have to work at, and when I do, I find joy in the little things.

-Leaves as big as faces

-Frost on the window means it’s a little colder in Oakland than it should be

-Sharing oreos and stories

-A sink full of dirty dishes means we are well nourished

-Good night, I love you, see you in the morning

These are just a few, but even now, retyping these words makes me smile, my heart warms,all the feels.

This month on the blog we are highlighting different stories and different perspectives of Thanksgiving. I invite you to join us in living ‘in the thankful’. Find the goodness and share it. Be intentional and thank your way out of despair.

As long as thanks is possible, joy is always possible. Ann Voskamp, 1000 Gifts

-Dorynda Venable

The Politics of Jesus

(Kevin’s message prep)

Friends,

This Sunday, I return to the ‘Way of Life’ series with the first of two messages about Jesus & politics. Like you, I’ve grown weary of this political season. The tone and the length of political campaigning these days leave much to be desired. As followers of Jesus, though, we mustn’t turn a deaf ear to our neighborhoods, our cities, and the country we call home. Participating in the political process can be an important medium for us Joining God in the Renewal of All Things.

To help you navigate your way this political season, here are some resources I’ve used to inform my messages the next two weeks.

7 Books

Beauty Will Save The World by Brian Zahnd

Jesus For President by Chris Haw & Shane Claiborne

Reading Revelation Responsibly by Michael Gorman

The Myth Of A Christian Nation by Greg Boyd

The Politics Of Jesus by John Howard Yoder

The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann

The Secret Message Of Jesus by Brian McLaren

 

7 Blogs & Essays

Jesus & Politics by Greg Boyd

The Jesus Revolution by Brian Zahnd (as well as just about everything he writes on this blog)

Paul and Caesar by NT Wright

Pro Life And Voting For Clinton by Rachel Held Evans

Faith, Politics, & Voting by Brian McLaren

Trump, Black Lives Matter, Gay Marriage, & More by Jen Hatmaker

Reasoning With America by Tim Keller

 

7 Podcasts & Videos

Jesus Nation Sermon Series by Bruxy Cavey

Making The World A Better Place by NT Wright

The Politics Of Jesus by Richard Rohr

We Need To Talk About Politics  by Rob Bell

On Faith & Politics by Tim Keller

Arguing About Politics by Tim Keller

Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann

 

Voters Guide for Bay Area Residents

http://votersedge.org/ca

http://voterguide.sfelections.org/en

East Bay Voters Guide

California Propositions Explained

 

Grace & Peace,

Kevin

Give Courage Away

by Kevin Knox

(An excerpt from Kevin’s forthcoming book, No Matter What)

 

 

I’m convinced we remember only two kinds of conversations: the ones that discourage us and the ones that lift us up. Everything else is just talk.

 

About two years ago, I believe God spoke to me inviting me to write. In one of those inaudible but undeniable moments, I sensed God saying, “I have something to say through you; now go say it.”

So, what did I do? I wrote. No, I didn’t write a book or start a blog or anything like that. Instead, I decided the best way for me to begin writing was to encourage people in and around my life with hand-written notes. In fact, I set a goal on Jan 1, 2014 to write one note a day for the whole year to anyone I believed needed encouragement that day. Now, I didn’t actually realize my goal, but that year I did write over 200 hand-written notes to encourage people. The response I got was overwhelming.

 

Not one person said they’d wished I hadn’t written them.

 

I encouraged couples on their wedding day. I encouraged new parents on the day of their child’s birth. I encouraged at least a dozen people the week after they lost a job. I wrote one difficult, but encouraging letter to a family grieving the loss of their 26-year-old daughter.

 

I wrote notes to several people struggling through depression and sadness. I wrote at least 100 notes to various people just telling them something I admired about them. I wrote notes to friends and family. I wrote notes to strangers. And although I didn’t write everyday, every day I did write, the note was always well received.

 

One unique thing I did during this project was I chose to write people I didn’t really know but knew of. If I decided they needed encouragement, I’d just write.

 

On one such occasion, I wrote a note of encouragement to an influential community leader who’d recently lost her job in an unfortunate, public fashion. I’d met her only a handful of times, and we didn’t know one another well. I’m not sure she even knew my name. That said, the week she lost her job, I sat down and wrote her a two-page note telling her everything she’d done well.

 

In my letter, I wrote and told her that from my perspective, she’d added great value to the whole Bay Area by the work that she’d done. I thanked her for her creativity and her leadership. The day I dropped the letter off with her secretary, I figured that was the end of it. We didn’t know one another well. We did have mutual friends, and I’d given her my number in the letter, but I never expected to hear anything else about it.

 

And then, in a conversation with a mutual friend some months later, I found out the recipient of my letter had been carrying the note around in her purse. For weeks, when certain people would ask her how she was doing, she’d respond by pulling out my letter and say she was doing okay, at least in part, because of the letter in her hand.

 

I was blown away. All I did was take about 15-20 minutes and jot down some thoughts I had on her situation. Little did I know it was going to actually have an impact on her life. I had no clue she’d carry my letter around with her like that.

 

That’s when it hit me.

When you encourage other people, you give courage away.

 

Courage is difficult for many of us to muster up ourselves. But when we take the time to encourage others, it’s like we’re giving courage away for free. In the case of this woman, she was carrying my note around in her purse because, for her, it was like carrying courage in her pocket.

 

Words shape life. Be picky about what we say. Don’t waste your words on just talking. Use them to give courage away. Lift up those around you. Your words have tremendous power.

 

Who can you encourage with words today?

Who needs help? Have you reached out?

 

Words have power; use them to lift the people around you. Give courage away.

Lessons My Father Taught Me

It goes without saying that my father played a huge role in my life. I speak of him often at Mosaic, and his impact is ongoing. Last week, at his memorial service, my brother shared something he wrote for Dad. It was true. It was beautiful. – Kevin

“A boy needs a father to show him how to be in the world. He needs to be given swagger, taught how to read a map so that he can recognize the roads that lead to life and the paths that lead to death, how to know what love requires, and where to find steel in the heart when life makes demands on us that are greater than we think we can endure. 

 Ian Cron

SLOW IS FAST

Farmers are patient men. They have to be. Men who work the land know that you cannot make a seed grow or rush the rain. Farmers are at the mercy of the seasons and the soil, the heat and the cold. They are a persevering and faithful lot. Sowing and reaping. Keeping in step with the rhythm of the calendar, living in balance with creation. My father’s father was a farmer, just like his father’s father.

STORY MATTERS

My father grew up on a slice of rich brown earth surrounded by trees in eastern North Carolina. He was born when summer turns to fall. My grandfather had just gotten back from walking through farm fields on a different continent at the end of the Second World War. He got married, bought a piece of land and planted tobacco. They named my dad after his mother’s brother who did not make it back from those foreign farms on the other side of the world. My brother carries that name between his first and last. Hoke is a family name. It fits my father.

BE WHO YOU ARE

My father understood the value of a hard days work and that you reap what you sow. His actions were always louder than his words. His mind was bent toward organizing and clarifying and so he pursued a career as an engineer. But, not before he followed in his own fathers footsteps to defend democracy abroad. He came back from those foreign fields, fell in love and began to sink roots in the rich brown earth of his childhood.

SMALL THINGS ARE THE BIG THINGS

My father raised four children in fear and reverence. Family meals and shared responsibility marked us deeper than our hearts could know. Tough and tender, disciplined and humorous we grew up neither needing nor wanting for anything. He chose to invest in family, embody simplicity and work tirelessly to protect and provide like his father before him. We were not rich in the ways of the world, yet we were beyond wealthy in ways that could not be measured.

JOY IS A CHOICE

My father is in a different season of life now. He has lost his battle in the fields of an incurable disease. He may have left the farm, but the lessons of the farm never left him. He was a patient man. He had to be. He never rushed the rain or made a seed grow. The roots of his disease ran deep, but his joy ran even deeper. It was a seed planted a long time ago.”

-Steve Knox

[email protected]

Breakfast Optional

by Reze Wong

At the beginning of the year, we were challenged to identify commitments for the year both personal and collectively as a community. For me, part of that meant joining a Mosaic Community or MC, which for all intents and purposes is a small group, but they are each unique in their own way yet collectively form our Mosaic.

My first exposure to a small group came during my first year of college when I joined a Thursday night gathering called Men’s Time (literal nomenclature will show up later). As these stories tend to go, it was within this group that I found a deep and unprecedented appreciation for community, brotherhood, encouragement and growth. I had just started my faith journey, but this group played an important role in forming a spiritual foundation for later life. Shortly after, I was asked to lead the group, so we met every Thursday night for dinner to share stories, contemplate tough questions and just have a good time.

After graduation, many of my close friends moved away and I no longer had a structured place to gather to unwind, talk about faith, ask questions and kind of just put everything on the table. While there were plenty of places to find community in my own life and Mosaic, for the next several years, I longed for that familiar place during the week.

This brings us to Men’s Breakfast (told you it would happen again). It’s exactly what it sounds like – breakfast optional. Every Friday morning, a group of guys meet for coffee to catch up on life, shoot the breeze and, importantly, answer a question. The premise is simple: someone brings a question, and anyone can answer if they feel so compelled. Sometimes all it takes is one thought-provoking question or an insightful response to kick off a Friday at 6:30 am.

It turns out, it was exactly what I was looking for. Friday mornings quickly became the best way to start the day. We talk about work, kids, partners, and the list goes on, but the conversation is always honest. We’re all going through something (and it’s usually a lot more than we let on), and this is a setting where I felt comfortable bringing my highs and lows, in part because of the willingness of everyone else in the group to share.

A few months ago, our fearless leader Mike, moved north and thus unable to make the trek to Berkeley every week. He asked me to take over as the Lead Question Bringer (business cards and LinkedIn update coming soon…), which admittedly I was somewhat reluctant to do. Making the commitment earlier in the year was one thing, but this was skin in the game and it meant I had to show. That said, it instilled a sense of ownership and commitment to the time and space, similar to how Kelsey described the Wednesday night MC (shouts out to the Wednesday night crew) in last week’s post. It’s amazing how an expectation can almost force commitment, which is what I think God has been doing this year. I’m inclined to believe it was never about the commitment itself, but rather the opportunities it created.

Joining the Men’s Breakfast crew has easily become a highlight of the year. There are only so many places you can have honest, God fearing conversation, and I feel so fortunate to be part of this group of guys. My hope is that Friday mornings live on, and will always be a place to find comfort, encouragement and a few laughs, no matter who brings the question.