Tag Archives: Bruce Reyes-Chow

Persistent. Resilient. Adaptive.

98350027_2933499853406610_1310349137090183168_oActs 1:1-11
May 24, 2020
First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
The Rev. W. Mark Koenig
(Image by the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow)

Whatever else they were, the early followers of Jesus were a persistent, resilient, adaptive group of people.

Yes, they failed to understand what Jesus taught them. They made mistakes. They fell short. Often. At the end, Judas betrayed Jesus. The other men fled when he was arrested.

Then there was Peter. No follower demonstrates their shortcomings as clearly as Peter.

When Jesus taught his disciples that he would suffer and die, Peter “took Jesus aside” and objected to the teaching. This may have been a set-up. Because the gospel says that when Jesus replied, he looked first at his disciples and then rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan.”[i]  I don’t know about you, but I would have something of a problem following someone who called me Satan. Peter hung with Jesus.

John’s Gospel tells us that there was something of an awkward moment when Jesus went to wash the disciples’ feet at the meal we call the Last Supper. Peter said no. Jesus explained why. Peter said wash my hands and head too. Jesus explained why not. Twice in one conversation, Peter got it wrong.[ii]

He did so again when Jesus talked about his coming death. “I’ll lay down my life for you,” Peter said. Jesus answered, “before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.”[iii] After Jesus’ arrest, Peter did exactly as Jesus predicted.

At the arrest of Jesus, A disciples took out a sword and started hacking away. All three gospels include this story. John names the disciple. Peter. A noble gesture to protect Jesus. But misguided. “Put away the sword,” the nonviolent Jesus said.[iv]

But, for all the times that Peter fell short, and for all the times that the others fell short, I still say those first disciples were persistent, resilient, and adaptive.

Consider all they went through as they followed Jesus.

They left their families behind. Not always easy to do.

They left their homes and employment. I do not know how much a fisherperson earned in the time of Jesus, but it had to be more than one could earn following an itinerant preacher and teacher with no place to lay his head.[v]

Jesus expanded their understanding of who God loved. To the Jewish people, Jesus added: Samaritans, Gentiles, Romans, Syrophoenicians, women, children, people with illnesses that normally put them outside the community, and everyone. Each act of kindness and healing and welcome on the part of Jesus meant his followers had to draw love’s circle wider and wider until it disappeared, and they realized that each person is a beloved child of God.

The length of Jesus’ ministry is not precisely known. Many scholars suggest between 3 and 3.5 years.[vi] Others think it was shorter. However long, his disciples spent most of that time with Jesus.

Then  came the arrest and crucifixion. And Jesus was gone. His disciples left alone. They struggled with what to do.

Three days later, the resurrected Jesus appeared to them again. After some confusion, they rejoiced.

Then came the Ascension. The return of Jesus to heaven. The events described in today’s passage. As did many of the people of the day, his disciples still had political expectations of him. They still thought he would establish an earthly kingdom, so they asked if he would do that now. Jesus responded that that was not for them to know. God controls the time.[vii]

Jesus then promised the Holy Spirit.[viii] I invite you to join us next Sunday at the same Zoom time and the same Zoom channel to learn, or hear again, what became of that promise.

For now, consider all the disciples experienced.

They left much behind to follow Jesus.

Life on the road.

Prejudice breaking, mind expanding teachings.

Jesus with them.

Jesus arrested and put to death in a state-sanctioned execution. Not with them.

Jesus resurrected. With them.

Jesus ascended. Not with them.

They lived a whirlwind life following Jesus. And for the record it that whirlwind would continue as they continued to follow.

Through it all, they were persistent, resilient, and adaptive. Persistent. They stayed the course. Resilient. They recovered from difficult events kept on going. Adaptive. They changed again and again and again.

Persistent. Resilient. Adaptive. These are not named in the Bible as either the fruits or the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I believe they are both. Because without them, the movement that started with those first followers of Jesus could never have grown to be the church that it is today.

This weekend, one of the conversations in our nation has been about opening churches and other house of worship. But to talk about opening churches is to address the wrong question.

Buildings played, play, and will play an important role in the life of the church through the ages. But the Church is the people—people who have committed to follow Jesus and covenanted to do so together.

I was confirmed as a member and ordained as a minister of the Word and Sacrament inside the physical facility known as East Main Presbyterian Church in Grove City, Pennsylvania. But that building has undergone many renovations and additions, as I noticed when I returned three years ago for my mother’s memorial service.

As it is and as I remember it, it holds a warm spot in my heart. But far warmer are the spots filled with people – Rev. Gordon Boak, Rev. Jack Dunlap, Nancy Paxton, Polly Beech, Becky May, the list goes on and on. Because the Church … the Church is the people. People who have committed to follow Jesus Christ and who have covenanted to follow together.

A church is not closed because the doors to its building are temporarily shut.

A church is not closed because the people have made the difficult choice to provide sacred distance and care for its members and community—particularly the most vulnerable people in its community—by not meeting in person for a season.

A church only closes when its people fail to love. Only closes when its people stop proclaiming the word. Only closes when its people no longer reach out to one another and the community and the world.

Churches have not closed. The First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone has not closed. We do not need to open or even reopen the church because we never closed the church. We and many others closed church buildings. And when the time is right and the risk can be minimized, we and congregations and mosques and synagogues and other houses of worship will return to our buildings.

Until then, we will be persistent. Resilient. Adaptive. The first followers of Jesus did this. And the Church of Jesus Christ has done this since the day of Pentecost. Teaser alert: tune in next week, same Zoom time, same Zoom channel to learn more about that day.

The Roman Christians of the third century who from time to time worshiped underground in the catacombs would be stunned to take part in a Zoom worship service.[ix] But after a while, and after they learned English, they would figure out that gathered around devices the likes of which they never imagined, we are worshiping Jesus.

Despite all the movies I have watched, I really have no idea what it would have been like to worship in a massive cathedral during the middle ages. I have no desire to invent a time machine and go back and find out. I do not want to study Latin for one thing. But if I did, I would learn what to do and see the connections.

Persistent. Resilient. Adaptive. That is the story of the Church. That is the story of the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone.

Presbyterians have gathered for almost 149 years on the corner of 15th and 149th. The building has changed over the years. I first saw our building about 10 years ago. Fellman Hall and the lift were not there. Programs changed over the years. But the essence of the Church has remained the same. The First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone has always consisted and consists today of followers of Jesus Christ who have proclaimed the Good News of God’s grace and witnessed to the love of God in Jesus Christ.

After almost 149 years, we worship on Zoom Church.

We share the Lord’s Supper.

We sing. That is a challenge for us and for everyone using Zoom, but we have figured out a way to make it work.

We pray for each other and for needs in God’s world.

When one hurts, we all hurt. When one rejoices, we all give thanks to God.

We celebrate birthdays.

We study.

We have learned a new way to reach out to neighbors who hunger.

We have received the One Great Hour of Sharing Offering to support caring ministries in our nation and around the world.

We have trained officers. We will ordain and install them next Sunday.

The First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone is open, serving God, and following Jesus.

We are Christ’s Church:

Persistent.

Resilient.

Adaptive.

And one last time, I invite you to join us next week at the same Zoom time, the same Zoom channel to hear about the Holy Spirit who gives us those gifts. Amen.

[i] Mark 8:31-33

[ii] John 13:1-17

[iii] John 13:36-38

[iv] John 18:11

[v] Luke 9:58

[vi] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ministry_of_Jesus

[vii] Acts 1:6-7

[viii] Acts 1:8

[ix] https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/first/catacombs.html

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A simple pleasure I am thankful for

Simple Pleasure - November 9

Coffee with a good friend at a new place – Philz Coffee

Traci Smith, author of Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home has provided a gift of the November 2018 Gratitude Every Day calendar. I am using it as an opportuity to revisit photos and post them as they speak to gratitude.

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Decent people

I oppose the death penalty for a number of reasons. Andrew Stroehlein, European Media Director of Human Rights Watch, expressed one of the most important reasons in these terms:

You don’t reject the death penalty because the criminals are decent people. You reject the death penalty because you are decent people.

 

 

Our position on the death penalty says as much about us and our characters as it does about the person and the character of the person facing the death penalty.

Brian, the wife of my friend Bruce Reyes-Chow,  was murdered at his place of work in 2008. In the wake of the execution of Kelly Gissendaner and the four executions (Richard Glossip’s execution was stayed until Nov. 6 due to questions about the lethal injection drug that would have been used) scheduled between now and October 7, Bruce shares some “Thoughts on the Death Penalty and Remembering Brian.” He writes in part:

We are that family who has lost a loved one and we do not believe that the death penalty is right, just, or humane. Did the killer of Brian extend the same compassion, justice, or humanity, no. Are there times when rage and sadness manifest themselves into wanting revenge, certainly. But we also know that responding to evil with evil, hate with hate, and murder with murder pays no honor to the person that Brian was or to the world that he hoped we would become.

So for the very reason that so many scream. “Death! Justice! Vengeance!” in honor of the person who has been lost, even in the midst of our own rage, sadness, and our own yearning for retribution, we plead, “Life! Compassion! Dignity!” in honor of the person we lost.

Our position on the death penalty says as much about us and our characters as it does about the person and the character of the person facing the death penalty.

I am honored that Bruce and his family have chosen to be friends with me.

See you along the Trail.

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BRC and Friends Interview on “Theological Reflections on Gangnam Style”

Check it out. My friend Bruce interviews my friend Grace about Theological Reflections on Gangnam Style, a book Grace wrote with Joseph Cheah.

Grace Ji-Sun Kim

Tweet-Steeple-Cover-300x400We have some really talented Presbyterian Ministers.  The Rev. Bruce Reyes Chow is such a person.

He is the author of Social Media in the Church and has his google plus hangouts.  On October 21, 2014, he interviewed Dr. Joseph Cheah and myself on our new co-written book, Theological Reflection on Gangnam Style.

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Bruce Reyes-Chow: “But I Don’t See You as Asian”

racecoversmallMy friend Bruce Reyes-Chow has written a book on race that I look forward to reading: But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations about Race.

Bruce describes his reason for writing as:

If you’ve ever wanted to cultivate honest conversations about race, this book is my attempt at offering ways to help make that happen.

He reflects on his hope for the book in these words:

My hope is that by sharing my story – the joys and the struggles – this book will compel folk to enter a space where they can get at some of the assumptions, misunderstandings and intentions about race so that deeper connections and relationships can be had.

You can get a sense of his perspective as well as the flavor of his writing from some of his earlier articles:

Bruce notes that:

It is also my hope that you will find the time, faith and courage to jump into these conversations with an openness that challenges the expectations of the world around race.

I plan to take that jump. I assume that Bruce’s book will challenge my expectations around race. And I hope that I will be better equipped to engage in conversations that will help me challenge expectations around race and realities around racism. I will let you know.

Here’s how you can get a copy and learn more:

PURCHASE: [paperback $14.99] [kindle $9.99] [itunes $9.99] [nook $9.99] [signed gift copy $14.99]
CONNECT: [twitter] [facebook page] [reviews on Pinterest] [reviews on amazon]
AUTHORGRAPH: [Have your electronic copy signed]

See you along the Trail.

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My friend Bruce is writing a book

My friend Bruce is writing a book. I am supporting his effort. You can read why below or you can just take the plunge and become a supporter too.

No . . . where are you FROM?A Book on Race by Bruce Reyes-Chow

During a trip to San Francisco, when I served as the Presbyterian Church’s associate for antiracism training, I asked a number of friends, colleagues, and wise people who I should meet for conversations about race and racial justice. A number of individuals were named, but one individual was named on a regular basis.

Bruce Reyes-Chow.

I listened. I contacted Bruce. And, over coffee, we met for the first time.

Our conversation ranged across the landscape of the social construction of race and the deconstruction of the structures put into place by racism. We explored the different perceptions of race held by different generations … the different experiences of raced lived by different generations … the differences between racism as experienced on the West Coast and in the Mid West and in other parts of our county. And we experienced the commonalities interwoven within these distinctions.

In the short time we spent together, I developed a deep respect for Bruce, the seeds of friendship were planted, and I realized that he has a voice I and others need to hear on questions related to race. Of course, listening to each other applies to all people. The difference is that Bruce is writing a book.

Bruce will self-publish No … where are you FROM?  He is in the process of raising funds through Kickstarter. I am proud to be a backer – even though I will receive no Pittsburgh Steelers swag as a result – despite my many suggestions of how that would enhance the project to my San Francisco 49ers supporting friend (comments about the results of this weekend’s games will be deleted).

Bruce describes his reason for writing as:

If you’ve ever wanted to cultivate honest conversations about race, this book is my attempt at offering ways to help make that happen.

He reflects on his hope for the book in these words:

My hope is that by sharing my story – the joys and the struggles – this book will compel folk to enter a space where they can get at some of the assumptions, misunderstandings and intentions about race so that deeper connections and relationships can be had.

You can get a sense of his perspective as well as the flavor of his writing from some of his earlier articles:

Bruce notes that:

it is also my hope that you will find the time, faith and courage to jump into these conversations with an openness that challenges the expectations of the world around race.

I plan to take that jump. I assume that Bruce’s book will challenge my expectations around race. And I hope that I will be better equipped to engage in conversations that will help me challenge expectations around race and realities around racism.

Thanks Bruce for writing this book (even if you are a heretic and you talk to your cat – it’s on the Internet, it must be true).

I’m a supporter and I urge others to become supporters as well!

See you along the Trail.

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Down by (or near) the Riverside

Saturday 30 June brought Riverside Conversations (the convention center is on the Allegheny) at the 220th General Assembly (2012) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Commissioners, advisory delegates, and others gathered to consider a range of topics. Some conversations looked at issues before the assembly, some at broader topics in the life of the church.

My friend and colleague Irene Pak and I (our mutual friend and colleague Bruce Reyes-Chow took the photo for us) led an introductory conversation on the church’s need to address racism if we wish to live into the wondrous diversity God creates.

We started with prayer and then had participants (somewhere near 50 in number) introduce themselves and share an experience of diversity. A brief reflection on diversity, race (social construct built on the diversity God creates) and racism (people with power granting themselves privilege based on that construct) followed. We acknowledged that the Presbyterian Church has a mixed record on race and racism – as do all churches and institutions. We have helped create racism – we help perpetuate racism – and we help dismantle racism. A litany affirming God’s intention that we live together in diversity and reminding us of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s commitment followed.

The group then heard three remarkable stories of efforts to dismantle racism: the work of the Presbytery of Pittsburgh that began with a focus on slavery in Western Pennsylvania; the New Beginning Initiative toward reconciliation between the Alaska Natives and Presbyterians; and a range of efforts that focus on racism in the criminal justice system.

Participants then used Mutual Invitation to engage in conversations about what they had heard. The event closed with the song “I’m Going to Live So God Can Use Me” as our prayer.

In my closing observations, I noted that working to dismantle racism is a calling for a life-time. It is ongoing work. It is challenging work. It involves us in encountering other systems of oppression, privilege, and domination. It is a journey. But it is a journey God calls us to make. And it is a journey on which we have wonderful traveling companions.

See you along the Trail.

 

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