Contemplation: No One Is One Thing

The weekend after the 2020 Presidential Election, I make my attempt to share what I believe the church’s calling is during this time of unrest and division. View the sermon here. Sermon begins at 32:35.

In the sermon, I reference the film The Last Black Man in San Francisco, and how the Montgomery Allen helps his best friend, Jimmie Fails, see a guy from the old neighborhood, Kofi, not as a caricature of hate and cruelty, but as a human being of dark and light, someone who is more than just one thing.

Fish Guts & Other Liminal Spaces

On October 24th, I shared the third sermon in the series entitled, “Contemplation.” You can watch it here. If you don’t have time for the entire worship service, the sermon begins at 31:25.

What I Learned This Week

I’m thinking this might be a weekly tradition where I briefly share what I’ve learned this week. Here goes.

Audio Learning

I’m starting to listen to the Hidden Brain podcast hosted by Shankar Vedantam. Here’s what I learned listening to the October 12 and 19 episodes.

  • Agronomist Norman Borlaug is my new hero. Because of his pioneering and arduous work in creating genetically modified wheat for Mexico in the 1960’s, he is credited with saving tens of millions of lives and won the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Doomscrolling. v., def.: When you thumb through your social media or newsfeed to find out what horrible news has happened.
  • Moral certainty creates moral blinders. When you are certain in your own mind about what is right and what is wrong, no amount of data, evidence or relational influence will be able to change your mind. In fact, you only look for information that reinforces your convictions. Psychologist Linda Skitka provides evidence that our world, to its detriment, is now, more than ever, driven by conviction instead of evidence; too little humility and too much hutzpah.
  • 200 years ago, 90% of the world was in extreme poverty. Today only 9% of the world is in extreme poverty. And 75% of the reduction took place in the last 30 years. –Steven Pinker, psychologist, Harvard University
  • The world, by most measurements is getting better and better. Why don’t most of us believe it? Steven Pinker says that bad can happen quickly and good usually happens slowly. When news coverage is focused on what’s, well, new, most information will be negative. While people are dying in war today, there are fewer wars taking place than any previous time in earth’s history. While people are dying from COVID-19, the average lifespan of humans is longer than any previous time in earth’s history.

Television Learning

  • With all his flaws, I’ve always been a David Letterman fan. His new season of interviews entitled My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, was dropped yesterday on Netflix. In the first episode, I learned that you can become a lawyer without going to law school, just like Kim Kardashian. There’s a legal way to do it via an apprenticeship. But yes, you still have to take the bar.
  • Ted Lasso, the Apple TV+ sitcom starring Jason Sudeikis, is a delightfully sweet show. Everything about the show, including Sudeikis himself would tell you it’s trite and contrived. And yet, it’s lovely. You can’t convince me otherwise because I have a moral conviction about it, and as you’ve already learned, your arguments against it will fail.

Clergy Still Say Good Stuff

  • Father Vazken Movsessian. My deep thanks to Vazken for helping me get a primer on the attack on Armenians in Artsakh by Azerbaijan and the resulting humanitarian crisis. The quote that sticks with me from my time with him: “Azerbaijan wants to finish what Turkey started in 1915.” I’m praying for peace in Artsakh. Watch for info on a Glendale community prayer vigil in early November.
  • Reverend Galen Goben. From his sermon last Sunday reminding his listeners that they are hidden in God: “Your heart, the place that God invites you to, is the place where God commands the universe.”
  • From a Well-Respected Pastor Who Shall Remain Nameless. “You haven’t truly experienced the beauty of Huntington Library and Gardens until you’ve toured them high.”

Timing on Tasers

At the September 1st Glendale City Council meeting, the police department requested a new five-year contract on taser equipment. In a time where the council and police were being asked to thoughtfully review their approach to community policing in light of the nationwide calls for reform and Glendale’s own racist history, I appealed to the council to table the request until a full evaluation on use of force approaches could be made.

My letter, which was included in a September 3 article by the Crescenta Valley Weekly newspaper, reads:

Mr. Mayor, Council Members and Chief Povilaitis,

I am writing to ask the council to table the police department’s request to enter into a five year agreement to purchase tasers for its officers. There are number of reasons, but I’ll focus on the most important one.

In a moment when our city’s people of color, Black and Brown, are pleading for police reform, this action of adding more tools to enforce law and order will communicate that Glendale is still Glendale. The symbolism is clear.

I ask you as our city’s leaders to not approve another item that is used to keep people in line until the police department, city manager’s office and concerned citizens, like those on the Coalition for an Anti-Racist Glendale start discussing ways to improve community care which will not only reduce violence but increase citizen happiness.

If, after initiating new approaches to community peace and well-being, the use of tasers needs to be explored again, that will be the time to do so.

Thanks you for prioritizing a forward-thinking approach to governance and law enforcement.

Unfortunately, my letter’s argument, while appreciated by a couple council members and lumped into the category of an anti-police rant by another, carried no influence with any. The new contract was approved 5-0.

While tasers are a less violent alternative, we as community members need to rethink everything about policing in order to protect and serve all of our citizens and reduce the dangers and stress loads that our men and women in blue experience.

Contemplation: from Circumference to Center

On September 27th, I began a new sermon series based on the book Everything Belongs: the Gift of Contemplative Prayer by Richard Rohr. In this sermon, I look at chapter 1 and talk about the need to engage with the life from the center of ourselves, the center of God, the center of Love.

You can view Glendale City Church’s worship here. The sermon begins at 27:10.