ACORN Newsletter – February 2021

God is doing more than we know,
but here is what we know God is doing.

Download the whole Newsletter here!

as a taste, here is the cover letter from Pastor Andrew:

Dear Oakland Family,

I believe Jesus is behind every story. Every great story is great because it echoes the One Great Story. The Gospel of Jesus is truer than true and more beautiful than beauty. All goodness, truth, and beauty point to the beautiful, true, and good One.

            Most Friday during COVID, Claire, Jack, and I make a fire in our firepit, a Earl Corbett-custom. Then we put a TV on a wooden bench and watch a movie around the fire. It’s not high class, but its magical. We take turns picking movies based on the season or important dates. On Juneteenth, MLK Weekend, and after the murder of George Floyd, we introduced Jack to our country’s racist past by watching movies like Remember the Titans, Glory Road, and My Friend Martin. On Labor Day, we watched Newsies. At Christmas, we watched The Star and The Grinch. Claire and I love to show Jack our childhood favorites like Mary Poppins, Old Yeller, and The Love Bug.

            Last week, we watched Onward, a Disney-Pixar movie that debuted right when COVID shut down all the movie theaters in the land. Onward blew me away with a story about emotional longing, ethical criminality, unrecognized blessings, and a society that has traded magic for technology. We’ll save the personal longing and family dynamics for another article, because I was blown away first by the social commentary at the start of the movie.

The movie begins with images of wild Pegasus herds running free, mermaids frolicking in a lagoon, and pixies sprinkling laughter, while the narrator recounts, “Long ago, the world was full of wonder! It was adventurous. Exciting. And best of all, there was magic! And that magic, helped all in need.” We see a string of scenes in which, magicians perform a few epic feats to defeat evil and thousands lots of small tasks to alleviate practical needs like lighting cook fires and providing light inside homes. Then as the narrator continues, “But, [the magic] wasn’t easy to master,” we watch a magician apprentice attempt a simple task of creating a torch, fail and electrocute himself. The narrator continues, “And so the world found a simpler way to get by…” and we see a long string of scenes in which magic lamps are replaced by electric lightbulbs and conjured cook fires replaced by gas ranges and remote-controlled gas logs. Then the degeneration escalates quickly as we see a female centaur playing a video game called Prance Prance Revolution, a mermaid talking on a smartphone while lounging in a kiddie pool behind a cookie-cutter row house, an airplane full of winged creatures, a highway of cars filled with once fleet-footed creatures, and finally unicorns eating garbage out of overturned trash cans like modern raccoons. And the narrator sighs, “Over time…magic faded away.”

            Wow.

            It was shocking to see the glorious mythical creatures like unicorns, Pegasi, griffins, and minotaurs reduced to trash eating, technology junkies who’ve learned to wear pants, live in suburbs, and Facebook, but who’ve forgotten how to soar or gallop or frolic. My heart broke for them.

            But not just for them, more for us. In this myth like all myths, we see ourselves as in a mirror. The world God created and longs for is thick with Spirit and spiritual power and spiritual possibility. Trees dance, mountains shuffle, and rocks cry out in praise. Human beings are full of the same Spirit and Power that raised Jesus from the dead – they hear the voice of God and angels. This Spirit at work in them empowers them to address every practical need in the world from food, clothing, and shelter in seemingly mundane acts. Further the Spirit miraculously uses them to heal illnesses, cure conditions, and do justice. Still more, full of the light of Heaven, this army of saints defeats epic powers of darkness in demonic possession, demonic lies, and demonic oppression.

            But this life in the flow of God’s Spirit is not easy to master. It takes years of apprenticeship to Jesus via Jesus’ apprentices. It takes countless hours of disciplined practicing faith – disciplines like honesty, hospitality, intercessory prayer, listening prayer, meditation, fasting, simplicity, silence, community, confession, amends-making, celebration, feasting, generosity, and singing. It takes repeated failure and perseverance; courage and discomfort; joy and grit.

            But people wanted light-switch spirituality, cruise control Christianity, 5-minute meditations, and social media post piety. And so, the world thick with Spirit was inebriated by technology. Spiritual maturity was replaced by technical expertise. 

            In C. S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian, Lucy encounters a once noble creature so reduced, and she asks, “Wouldn’t it be dreadful if someday in our own world, at home, men start going wild inside, like the animals here, and still look like men, so that you’d never know which were which.”

            Horrifying isn’t it. Have we become unicorns scavenging in trash cans?

            Maybe we have, but God has not. Onward does not end in despair, because the Gospel does not end with condemnation but redemption. In Jesus, we see a life magically alive with the Spirit, and Jesus uses his Spirit-filled life, death, and resurrection to not only forgive our self-degradation but also to completely renovate us into homes of the Spirit at home in a Spirit-filled material world. And so once again, we’re invited to embrace the magic, even if it’s hard to master. If we do, we’ll relearn how to soar, to gallop, and to frolic, and how to be of help to all people while doing it.

ACORN Newsletter – December 2020

Read all about what God’s been up to at Oakland!

Download the whole Newsletter here!

Dear Oakland Family,

            As 2020 comes to a close, I’m left asking myself, “What did we learn in 2020 as a Church?” I ask the question every year, but this year it has special import, because I did not want us to merely survive 2020, I wanted us to grow and to thrive. I wanted Oakland members to end 2020 with more faith in Jesus and love for his Church and passion for His mission. I wanted us to spend more time thinking about what we could do than we did pining for the things we couldn’t. I wanted us to embrace the COVID precautions as a spiritual discipline and reap the spiritual harvest of well-pruned branches.

            For many, 2020 was harder than we ever anticipated, but it was the classroom assigned to us by the Almighty. If we resent the assignment, we’ll rarely learn the incased lessons. Worse still, we could grow to resent the Rabbi. If, however, we can humbly accept what the Psalmist said, “TODAY is the day the LORD has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” Today, this day, not the future or the past, but the present moment even during pandemics is the day God has made, and we can and should and will rejoice in it. If we embrace today, we can be transformed.

So, what did we learn?

The basics beliefs are the most necessary (and at risk).

When chaos falls, I don’t need spiritual metaphysics, I need to know that there is a good God, alert and almighty. I need to know that God is not surprised or out maneuvered. I need to know that God has not given up on the world. I need to know that Jesus still wins, and even if I catch COVID and even if I die, I will be with Jesus forever on the other side. I need to know that God still feels about me the same way Jesus felt about suffering people in the gospels. I need to know that when I pray, God listens and gives me either what I would ask for or what I would have asked for if I knew what God knows.

Yet, during a pandemic even these basic truths can seem improbable at best. We think things like, “If God is real and God is good, why is there a pandemic? If Jesus answers my prayers, why did I still lose my job? I want to go to heaven, but I don’t want to go now.” It’s hard to find answers in the dark, but even the shadows of the cross fall from God’s light. Fear and pain are poor counselors, and the Holy Spirit still whispers to all who can hear, “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations.” And that is why we need the basic rhythms.

The basic rhythms are still the most necessary (and at risk).

We spent the summer remembering how to follow Jesus in its simplest forms because during a Pandemic, if you are utterly dependent upon the preacher or Sunday School teacher to spiritually spoon-feed you, you will shrivel up and die; but if you know how to spiritually feed yourself with the assets available, you’ll overcome. It’s the difference between giving a man a fish and teaching him to fish. During COVID, I need to know how to tell my faith story and God’s story. I need to know how to pray with and for others and shift through the conversational gears. I need to study the Bible personally even if I don’t have a commentary or a curriculum. I need to know how to forgive and repent. I need to know how to ask for help and serve others.  

Yet during a pandemic, when the kids are at home for school and I’ve got to prove my worth to the company to keep my job, it is hard to make time for Bible Study and Prayer. When even the decision to wear a mask or not is a partisan statement, it’s terrifying to shift into spiritual conversations. Distractions and divisions sing their siren songs, but there is a sweeter song still that carries over the crowds, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. These promises are for you and for your family and for all who are far from God.” And if we respond, we’ll rediscover the primary relationships in our lives.

The basic relationships are still the most necessary (and at risk).

During a pandemic, when plans are gone and my limits are stretched beyond breaking, I need God’s direction and God’s strength. I need God to be closer than close and clearer than clear. And so, before I try to love anyone else, I need to let God love me. I need to invest in a heart connection with Jesus. From there, I’m going to spend 24 hours a day with the same household of people during this lockdown, and I need to make sure our house doesn’t descend into a civil war. So, after receiving grace from God, I need to give grace to those in my home before I start sending it down the street or into a ZOOM meeting. When working from home, I have to spend most of my time with the people God has given me to love for the rest of our lives – my spouse and children and grandchildren.

Yet, during stress, my family gets the worst of the leftovers of the effort and creativity I give my job. During the boredom of quarantines, it’s so much more appealing to binge watch Netflix and invest my time into Facebook friends than push through the awkwardness of Facetime with grandma or boardgames with preteens. When schoolteachers aren’t available to occupy my schoolkids, I’m so tempted to hire YouTUBE strangers to babysit them. But in those moments, the prophet cries out in the wilderness, “I’ve come to turn the hearts of parents to their children and children to their parents.” The Savior cheers us onward, “I have given you supernatural influence in these people’s lives. Try it. I’ll help.”

And so, it comes down to Christ in me, me in my family, my family in the church, the church in the world. Christ gives himself for me, I give myself for my family. My family gives ourselves for our church, and our church gives itself for the world.

When life is crazy, keep it simple and remember the basics are the most necessary and the most at risk.

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

ACORN Newsletter – October 2020

Read all about what God’s been up to at Oakland!

Download the whole Newsletter here!

Dear Church,

Remember in the Wizard of Oz, when the curtain is finally drawn back and the impressive Wizard with his smoke and mirrors is revealed as a small little man with lots of levers and a megaphone? Well, lately worship has been just the opposite. The final product that many of you see online or in person appears unsophisticated, unimpressive, and at times unprofessional, but behind the curtains there are 1,000s of labor hours and 100s of buttons to push. It’s less like the Wizard of Oz and more like a duck on the water – calm on top and paddling like crazy under the water. I want to invite you behind the curtains of the last six months of technological innovation and deployment.

First, it’s important to remember that Oakland is not trying to be a movie production company or televangelists. Our goal is not entertainment but discipleship. Not amusement but worship. So all the hours and work have been invested to usher people into worship; to help them worship where they are with whoever is around. We don’t want people to “watch worship,” we want them to worship through what they “watch” in person or online there are no spectators, just participants.

 When concerns about COVID-19 first hit, we moved quickly to the Fellowship Hall so that we could spread out in individual chairs and use the projector to avoid bulletins/hymnals. During these first few weeks Claire streamed the service primitively using a handheld iPhone – the videos were shaky, and audio was difficult. We then tried using a laptop for filming allowing stability. Then we closed the building entirely, and we were 100% online.

Posted by Oakland Presbyterian Church on Sunday, March 15, 2020
Our first go at virtual worship

Posted by Oakland Presbyterian Church on Sunday, March 22, 2020
slightly better but still rough

By God’s grace, I was already producing 5 Facebook and YouTube videos every week of LENT, and so had increased familiarity with online videos, but nothing fancy. I researched and researched to figure out how to splice together different videos. I salvaged every piece of camera equipment I could find at home and at church looking for useful equipment. I called every tech savvy pastor I knew and talked to their tech-gurus. I watched YouTube videos about YouTube videos, but could not find the technological tools needed to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish.

I wanted to be able to display words or slides on the screen during videos so that we could display hymn lyrics and scripture verses. I wanted people not to listen to the songs, but to sing the hymns. Music presented another challenge, since we had no prerecorded videos of music at Oakland and copyrighted music is not generally permissible in online videos, so I had to secure non-copyrighted music videos and recordings. Thankfully smallchurchmusic.com and Getty Music suspended their copyright restrictions for churches.

But what cameras to use? I have a webcam on my computer, but it is not ideal, so I stared to research other possible cameras. Tom Grundstrom lent me a Logitech c920 Wideangle webcam, which was a God send, allowing me to easily add a second camera, but we still needed a production software as Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter quickly approached. With Holy Week upon us, I called up two old Seminary buddies for a brainstorming session. I got lots of good ideas during that session, but none more valuable than Ecamm Live – a Livestream Production software. After purchasing the software online and watching the 10 tutorial videos, I learned how to include music and display lyrics in our services so we could sing; show pre-recorded videos during a live feed so we could allow members to lead worship; and use iPhones/iPads as livestream video cameras. We elected for multiple cameras because worshipping via a video on TV with a single camera angle can be monotonous, and camera switches cue the brain to reengage.

But where should we film the worship service if everyone is going to be worshiping from home? We want to provide people with the “comfort” and “normal” of our usual sanctuary, but we also want to equip people to worship in their home as sanctuaries. How can we use this worship service to both comfort people and model family worship at home for families worshiping together at home? There appeared to be no way to do both, until I had a dream – what if we used Picture-in-a-picture!? We’ll film the sermon in the Sanctuary, and then we’ll film the Ruths watching the whole service so all of Oakland can see what worship looks like in the Ruth house. We wanted you to see that it wasn’t always pretty or formal – sometimes Jack falls asleep, sometimes we eat snacks and coffee, sometimes we stand up to sing, sometimes we sit to sing, but we also wanted to show you that we aren’t watching passively, we’re talking about the sermon, sing the songs, and taking notes.

What you couldn’t see or tell, was the tremendous production effort involved. Throughout the week, Claire would text/email members requesting videos of them offering the opening prayer, Lord’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed, and special music. Andrew would locate legal music online and download it. On Saturday afternoons, Pastor Andrew would come up to Oakland about 2pm to build the video studio in the sanctuary. About 3:30pm or 4:00pm, he’d film the opening, confession/assurance, hymn intros, sermon, and benediction. During these recordings he’d preach, while controlling the sound, cameras, and software from his laptop. Around 6:00pm on Saturdays, Andrew would arrive back at the Ruth House, arrange all the component videos of the service into the production software, and redeploy all our cameras and sound equipment in our home studio. About 8:00pm (but sometimes as late as 10:00pm), the Ruths would gather to splice together all the pieces of the service and record themselves worshiping while doing so. That whole service final product would be uploaded to Facebook and YouTube and our websites around 12:00AM on Sunday mornings for your 10:30am worship service.

It was a ton of work, but worship is worth it. We didn’t want to produce “something.” We wanted to embrace every opportunity and tool available to “spur one another on toward love and good works.” We wanted to do our very best, rising to every challenge, because we don’t want Oakland to just survive COVID, we want Oakland to THRIVE through COVID. We don’t want you and your kids to “just get by” with working and learning remotely, we want you to give it all you have, to embrace it as fully as possible with as much excellence and innovation as possible – because just as God has called me to lead this church, God has called you to your jobs and your education. God is as invested in your work as he is in our Sunday Morning worship services.

That’s why I’m writing this article. To show you the WHY behind the WHAT and the HOW. The challenges and changes have been tremendous for everyone of us, but we will stagnate and fester if we resent the changes and try to recover our past normal. But we will mature and fruit if we persevere with Christ’s help.

So give it all you got. When you find a new challenge, when your old solution doesn’t work cause the sanctuary is closed, or the fellowship hall has a projector, or you need to be in three spaces at once, or your equipment is on backorder, find another way. Research, overcome, adapt. Sure, the mountain may be huge, but we’ve never seen a view like this either.

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

ACORN Newsletter – July 2020

Read all about what God’s been up to at Oakland!

Download the whole Newsletter here!

Dear Church,

            The following is a journal entry from 2011, when Claire and I lived in Zambia (Southern Africa). Those experiences allowed me to see American racial dynamics in a new way that I have not been able to ignore since repatriating. Perhaps they will be helpful to you as you ponder the grief and anger of black activists, which is not just about conscious racial hatred by individuals but historical and societal structures that create unconscious biases and suspicions.

Yesterday, I sat in the office of a bus station trying to convince the ticket vendor that “Ruth” really is my surname, and not just my wife’s name.  After a few minutes and miles of confusion, he consented and started writing the tickets.  He was a man about my age, quick with logistics and very helpful.  He sat at a desk littered with the ticket and receipt books for eight scheduled buses.  While he sat there in his bright yellow and purple uniform, plainly reading, “Shalom Bus Services,” another young man walked in, looked around the office, and settling his eyes on me, asked coyly, “Can I have 2 tickets for tomorrow at 13?”  I chuckled equally coyly and said, “This man here is the boss.  You’ll have to ask him.”

It was a brutal, uncamoflauged example of what countless scholars call, “White Privilege.”  Immediately, I felt the centuries of cultural, sociological, anthropological, business, and religious histories conspiring together to give me, as a white male, “the benefit of the doubt.”  In this singular case, the benefit of the doubt was strong enough to overcome countless obstacles including the fact that I was sitting in athletic shorts, a t-shirt, flip flops, and a raincoat covered in fresh sweat from a morning in the bush, while the other people in the room wore coordinated uniforms and name badges.  Still, when trying to decide the person most likely to be in charge, the “benefit of the doubt” went to the unkempt white man. 

One might argue that something more than race led this gentleman to his conclusion, and indeed there very well may be multiple factors at work, and yet still most if not all of those factors are inextricably related to racial dynamics (present and past). 

For years, I dismissed the very idea of “white privilege,” which more or less states that white people and especially white men get an assumed, unnoticed, and yet substantial advantage in society.  This unspoken benefit corresponds with the “benefit of the doubt” mentioned above.  It is a consistent assumption to the favor of white persons, especially white males.  For example, imagine a doctor, a lawyer, a politician, and a professor in your mind.  What race are those people?  What sexes?

While we all know and welcome the presence of other races in these professions, in our imaginations they remain the exception and not the norm – more of a pleasant surprise.  While in some cases the statistics support these assumptions, such actually reiterates the phenomena more than excuses it. 

In the above scene, the man simply assumed that in a room of people the white persons are most likely the business owners and/or managers.  For better or worse, in Zambia like many other former colonies, this is a historically grounded and socially reinforced reality.  When the British granted Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) independence, there were less than 50 indigenous people with university degrees, embodying the idea that whites should govern and manage blacks, who had little to no need for education.  Today most of the people of foreign descent still hold a much higher economic position than most of the people of the country, whether they work for businesses or NGOs.  Because of that, we are usually treated much differently.  Often I get preferential treatment in shops and in market places, because it is assumed I have money to spend. 

While I rejected or at least ignored the idea of “white privilege” for at least 10 years, living and working in postcolonial Zambia has forced me to deal with its reality.  Both in the cases where I get “the benefit of the doubt” and the opposite cases where suspicion forces me to prove the legitimacy of my employment and my immigrant status, I am more and more aware of the dynamics of privilege and suspicion. 

As an immigrant of a visually identifiable minority, I am still continually surprised, offended, and frustrated when I must present proof of my profession and exonerate myself of any criminal activity, whether to a government agency, a place of business, or a private citizen.  Going monthly to the immigration office to answer these questions, gives me new respect for the millions of people who must constantly prove the legitimacy of their presence in particular places, such as the African American subjected to extra scrutiny in Madison Avenue shops, the Hispanic immigrant stopped by traffic police just to present legal identification, or the turban-clad Sheik eyed suspiciously by the hundred other people at the security checkpoint of an airport.  Even as a long-haired, bearded white man living abroad, I have never been subject to such, and yet I’m surprised and offended that I must prove my reason for business in a country, which has been exploited, robbed, and terrorized by people of my race, my religion, and even my nationality for the better part of three centuries. 

While few of us were actively involved in the construction of such racial dynamics, all of us are either the beneficiaries or survivors of them.  Now, I don’t know how to fix them, erase them, or even combat them, but perhaps it is time that we identify and empathize with others greeted not with the “benefit of the doubt” but the “look of suspicion.”  I pray that my family and I will more and more often extend the “benefit of the doubt.”  I pray that we will become more afraid of accusing innocent people than of failing to identify a potential threat – that we would be more concerned about hurting someone else than about being hurt by someone.  Perhaps that’s part of what Jesus meant when he invited and commanded us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, even if that person is in fact an enemy. 

February Acorn 2017

Acorn BannerFebruary 2017 Acorn Newsletter

Inside this issue you will find:

Pastor Andrew's 2016 recap

p.1    

Bazaar Summary 

p. 6

Fellowship Supper

p. 2

Prayer Team Meeting

p. 6

Choir Notes & Senior Saints

p. 2 

Glimpse of the Past

p. 7

Prayer List & Financials

p. 3

Worship Schedule & Events

p. 8-9

Presbyterian Women 

p. 3

Serve Nights Announcement

p. 9

Youth News: Joy Gift & PYC 

p. 5 

Calendars

p. 10-11

New Members

p. 6

Birthdays & Anniversaries

p. 10-11