Quo Vadimus?

Quo Vadimus – Where are we going?

The first time I heard that phrase was on SportsNight. It was one of my favorite TV shows and it was the title of one of my favorite episodes.  In it, this mystery man comes up to one of the characters from the show, Dana, and tries to cheer her up.  He says to her, “I’m what the world would consider to be a phenomenally successful man, and I’ve failed much more than I’ve succeeded.  And each time I’ve failed, I gather my people together and I ask them, ‘Where are we going?’  And it starts to get better.”

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From SportsNight, one of my favorite shows ever

It’s a question we need to ask ourselves every once in a while, because if you don’t know where you’re headed, how do you know when you get there?  We spend so much time on the day-to-day, we seldom take time out to really think about the future; about what we hope to accomplish and where we hope to be.  Then one day, the future shows up on our doorstep and the past is history.  How many people spend their lives wandering aimlessly from job to job, from place to place, without any idea of where they are headed?  In that way, we’re a lot like Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice bumps into the Cheshire Cat early on and asks him, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”  The Cat replies, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” “I don’t care much where – “ said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.[1]  We have to stop from time-to-time to figure out which way we are headed and then stop once in a while again to see if we’re still headed where we want to go.  Otherwise it doesn’t matter and our lives lack purpose and meaning.  What we need is a vision.

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The Cheshire Cat encounters Alice

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

That’s the King James Version of Proverbs 29:18. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” The guy who wrote this must have come from the Central Valley because he probably wrote this on a “fog day.”  Don’t be surprised if you don’t know what a “fog day” is.  I certainly didn’t when we first moved to Fresno, but schools in the area have built in “fog days” in the schedule.  Back in Georgia we would have “snow days” and those were few and far between, but whoever heard of being held up by fog?  Well, it only takes one time experiencing it before you become a believer.  You can literally be driving along and your visibility goes from miles in front of you to nearly zero in seconds.  It only happened to me a couple of times, but it’s scary.  To have absolutely no idea if there’s a car in front of you, or worse there’s a car coming the opposite way that perhaps drifted over the line without knowing it?  Pulling over doesn’t help because you’re just as likely to get rear-ended. You just have to keep going, hoping you’re headed in the right direction and not knowing what’s around you.  That’s what our lives are like when we don’t have a clear idea of where we are headed.  Without vision, we won’t get far.

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“Vision is the bridge between the present and the future.”[2]

It’s the connecting link between where we are and where we want to be.  It provides us direction, focus, drive, passion, and so much more.  It sustains us in times of doubt and in times of trouble.  Vision gets us out of bed in the morning and makes us excited about the day.  It can change your perspective and inspire you to see the ordinary in extraordinary ways.  Back in 1671, the famous architect Christopher Wren, was commissioned to rebuild St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.  He observed three bricklayers working on the project, one was crouched down, one was half-standing, and one was standing tall.  He asked all three of them what they were doing.  The first man said, “I’m laying bricks.”  The second man said, “I’m building a wall.”  The third man, who was by far the most productive of the three and eventually would become the team leader said, “I’m building a cathedral to the Lord.”[3]  That’s the power of a vision.  It gives meaning to life.  It helps us to realize we’re part of something bigger, something worthwhile.  That third man didn’t see himself as menial labor or making a living wage.  He saw himself as part of a grander vision and it motivated him, made him more productive, and made him happier about his life.  And that’s what people want, a purpose in life, something to wake up to and say, “Gee, I’m about to do something worthwhile today.”

Disney - Westside Break Area
Me in the Westside break area hidden behind Adventureland and Frontierland

It’s no secret I loved working at Disneyland. 

Sure the perks were great – getting to go into the park every day for free is amazing.  But that isn’t why I worked there and it wasn’t why I stayed.  I stayed because I liked being part of something that brought happiness to people’s lives.  I stayed because I wanted to be part of something that was doing good in the world.  I stayed because I felt like I was part of something bigger than just myself.  The Disney motto is “We create happiness.”  And who doesn’t want to be part of that?  If you looked at what I did on a day-to-day basis, it certainly didn’t look all that grand and it certainly wasn’t all that magical.  Some days, I’d be scrubbing trash cans from the inside out.  Some days, I spent eight hours scraping off refried beans off of people’s plates.  Some days, I would have to stand there and get yelled at by a guy who swears he didn’t have to show ID when he wrote a check, like suddenly he got his law degree because he read about it in the paper.  But you were willing to take the menial moments and the embarrassing moments and the harsh moments for the moments when you put a smile on a kid’s face.  When you made a parent happy.  When you helped to make someone else’s day.  Some of these people spent their life savings just to be able to come to Disneyland and they’ll go home and they’ll remember all the magical moments they saved up from being there and YOU get to be part of that.  THAT’S what made it all worthwhile.

2008-05-12 - Graduation with the family
The family and I at my graduation from Candler School of Theology at Emory Universtiry

It’s also why I do this.

It’s why I became a pastor.  Because one day it dawned on me that my life was so much better because Christ was a part of it and I wanted to do that for someone else.  I wanted to help others know the love of Christ so that they too could know what I know and feel what I feel.  I wanted to help others find out about God’s love so they wouldn’t have to go through life without knowing there is a God who loves them and can be there for them and help them make it through the tough times not so alone and not so afraid.  Life is simply better with Christ!  If you’re a Christian you know that to be true!  And if you’re not, I’ve got a secret for you.  Life is better with Christ! P.S. It’s not a secret.

So “Quo Vadimus?”

Where are we going?  God has already given us the vision.  “To make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).” But that’s massive.  That’s a vision for the world.  What can we do in our little part of it?  We can once again become a neighborhood church.  We can make an impact on our community the same way we did when we first started.  We can utilize our cultural heritage, our gifts, and our graces to reach out in love to those around us.  Did you know that at one time BMUC was once a community church?  It just happened to be a community of Japanese people.  Due to land laws at the time, Japanese and Japanese-Americans were restricted to living within specific boundaries of the city.  We were literally forbidden to live anywhere else in Berkeley, and as atrocious as that is to us now, it also opened the door of possibility.  It concentrated a group of people bound by culture and heritage into one targeted area.  The Methodists decided this was an opportune place to begin a Christian ministry to the Japanese, and with the help of our Issei and Nisei founders and dedicated pastors, it was the beginning of what would become Berkeley Methodist United Church.  But its roots, its origin was as a neighborhood church.  Eventually, the restrictions were dropped and our parents and grandparents began to spread out.  But this place remains rooted in this community, and the community has changed.  We have not.

Imagine for a moment what it might be like if we became a neighborhood church once again.

Not to abandon our cultural roots, but to embrace them; to use them as the basis for ministry in this area.  We have a lot to offer our neighborhood.  Berkeley is a city known for its willingness to accept the “other;” and who better than us to embrace that philosophy?  For those of us of Japanese ancestry, we all know someone if not many people who were thrown into internment camps.  We know what it’s like to be shunned or despised based on the color of your skin, the way you speak the language, the food you eat, or the people you associate with.  We know what it’s like to be victims of prejudice and hatred for simply being YOU!  Who better than us to reach out to the community and say to this city of “others,”  “Come into this place where you will be accepted just as you are?”  Who better than us to reach out to the disenfranchised and say, “You are a beloved child of God?”  Everyone is looking for a place to belong.  Everyone is looking for a place where they matter.  We can be that place, right here, right now.  Our cultural heritage isn’t a barrier to our community, it is the backbone of our strength that will help fuel our vision to reach out and show the love of Christ.  It is because of our cultural heritage that we should feel compelled to reach out and help others grow in their faith. We are uniquely equipped to do just that.

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In a 1-mile radius around our church live 53,307 people – within 1 mile!

Within a one-mile radius of our church live 53,307 people.

Most of whom are not involved in a church or faith community.  Only 26.3% are projected to be involved leaving 73.8% not involved at all.  That’s almost 40,000 people in a one-mile radius of our church not involved in a faith community.  Of all the people likely to become active in a church or faith community?  Not quite 4%.  Almost four times as many people are likely to become inactive than active.  Those numbers seem to be depressing.  Almost daunting.  But consider this, 4% are likely to become active in a church.  In an area within just one mile of our church 4% of people would move from inactive to active faith, that would be over 2,000 people.  Could you even imagine over 2,000 people coming to worship here at BMUC?  Let’s say of that 4% we only aimed for 1%.  That would still be over 500 new people in worship with us, connecting to God with us, and finding strength in their faith with us.  Last year, when our leadership team envisioned what they would like to see BMUC look like in five years, almost all of them had us growing as a church.  Why can’t that be our vision?  Why can’t we utilize the strength of our cultural heritage to fuel our passion and desire to reach out to a new generation?  Imagine if this place was filled with people of all different colors, and all different cultures, and all different gender identities, and all different backgrounds, united by a desire to reach out to our community and embrace them for their unique being.  Imagine if we became known as the church who loved others just because of who they are because we know what it’s like not to be loved just because you are different.  Why don’t we bring THAT vision into our community?

 

 

 

[1] From Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Penguin Classics), p.36.

[2] https://jesusculture.com/posts/1450-the-power-of-a-vision/

[3] https://www.thecathedralinstitute.com/2012/05/13/the-recovering-bricklayer/

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