Monday, December 25, 2017

The "visited planet"

from the Jesus Storybook Bible
Our interim pastor (Vance Hays) made a remark about us being on a "visited planet" in both of his messages yesterday (the morning service for the 4th Sunday of Advent, and the evening candlelight service for Christmas Eve). He meant, of course, visited by Jesus. I had never heard that particular phrase to describe it.

It reminded me of Psalm 8. Vance spoke about the vastness of the planets and space, and Psalm 8 always comes to my mind when I think of the great expanse of space, our planets, the stars, the universe and many more universes.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
    what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?
I have heard people who imply that we humans are pretty conceited to think that we are the only inhabited planet in all of that immensity. I, like many others, have often wondered what kind of life, of creatures, may inhabit other planets. Are they, too, "visited"?

I don't know if other planets or beings are visited by God, the way we humans on earth have been and are. When I contemplate it, I think that no matter how they may or may not be visited by God, they are certainly loved by God, as he loves all his creation.

Musing on this phrase -- visited planet -- made me wonder, what other worlds has God visited? I thought of Narnia, the world that we first came to know as a place of "always winter but never Christmas." As the white witch lost her power, and as Aslan's power grew, the snow began to melt, and Father Christmas made a visit.

Middle Earth is another land that came to mind. What a complex, complicated, many-faceted, super-populated story of good versus evil is the world of Middle Earth. Is Middle Earth visited? I think yes, through Bilbo, Frodo, the Nine, Gandalf the Mithrandir,  Aragorn, and many others. Places like the worlds in Star Wars and other worlds of myth and literature are visited by God, too, sometimes in surprising ways. Realizing that brings me to the phrase I hear often as I read Jesuit authors -- finding God in everything.

Somehow the knowledge that we are a "visited planet" is a great comfort to me. Why is that? Maybe because I know the insignificance of Earth, of us humans, of me. Yet God visited us because he loves us, because to him we matter.
Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
    what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
    all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
    the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.
Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!
"Powers of Ten" by the Eames Office

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Look Back on 2017

Psalm 46
God is our refuge and strength,

an ever-present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,

the desolations he has brought on the earth.

He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46 has been on my mind a lot in 2017. I remember years ago at a Bible study some of the older women in our church spoke about what a comfort the Psalms were to them. At that time I was not really even trying to have a regular time of devotions, and I felt ashamed that I could not even remember more than Psalm 23, and maybe part of Psalm 100. I still can't recite anything more, but I do read more, and I better understand the importance of the Psalms.

At the beginning of the year both my father and my mother passed away. My dad was days away from being 88, and my mom had recently turned 85. Although as I get older, the 80's don't sound as old as they used to, I am thankful my parents had a good, long life. Mom was in hospice with Parkinson's symptoms that made her need a lot of care. Dad was in assisted living and doing all right but with health issues, too.

At the end of January Dad got sick and things kind of spiraled downward. He was able to spend his last days at the nursing home where Mom was, so he got to say good-bye to her. I flew out to Lynden and took turns at his bedside with my sister and sister-in-law. The whole family was there around Christmas, so we are grateful we all got to see Mom and Dad one last time. Mom died a few months after Dad, for which we are grateful, too. She would often forget he was gone and it was heart-wrenching. I sometimes say that if their deaths had to happen -- which they did, of course -- they were good deaths.
Mom, Kathy, Dad - Christmas 2016
During that time, I often thought about not being afraid, and knowing that "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." Many of you sent cards with beautiful, loving words of sympathy. I did not formally send out notes of thanks, but I thank you now for all of them. Your words and prayers were a wellspring of comfort. Our relationships are everything, aren't they?

I was able to go to two different retreats at a nearby Jesuit retreat center. What a blessing it is to "be still and know that [he is] God." Silence has always been a source of peace for me. One of the retreats was a silent retreat, and that gave me a taste of what it is to be silent for an extended period of time. It was a bit more difficult than I'd anticipated, but it was good.
Jesuit Retreat Center
Speaking of silence, Randy and I took a 2 week road trip through the Northwest, including a visit to Olympic National Park. According to a scientist I heard on a radio interviewer, Olympic National Park is one of the few places in the world that still has areas of silence -- where you hear no man-made sounds. We had never been there and it is truly awesome, in the "awesomest" sense of the word.

As far as the family, I still feel like the luckiest mom and grandma in the world -- all the kids and grandkids are in the Bay Area. It's wonderful that they are close enough to see often. Our youngest granddaughter, Zach and Ashlee's baby, Violet, just turned one on December 1st. Zach just got a new job at a large audio-visual company. He's working in a warehouse in Pleasanton and he and his family plan to move in the near future, to be nearer his work, and also, they hope, to find housing that is less costly.

Luke and Des' daughters, Delaney and Lydia, are 9 and 4, respectively. Luke recently got promoted to a supervisor position at Safeway Distribution so both the "boys" are advancing in their careers. Des is working part time at a furniture dealer. Both their jobs and Delaney's school are quite close to their apartment in Pleasanton.

Cori continues to work as an ER Nurse at Stanford Hospital. She enjoys the work and has gotten to be good friends with several of her co-workers. Recently they took a trip to Mexico and had a great time. Cori loves to travel. She lives in an apartment in downtown San Jose with her cousin (my niece) Rachel. They've been roommates a few years now and it works out well. Cori likes it that her apartment is within walking distance of the "Shark Tank" (where the hockey team plays). Our family are big fans of the Sharks. (Except me, I just don't get into watching sports.)

Randy is working at Labcyte still and that is going well. I still work at Pivot Interiors and it's going well, too.
All of us. Front row: Cori, Des. Second row: Zach, Ashlee, Violet, Randy, me, Luke. Third row: Delaney, Lydia.
Our church is another big part of our lives. I finished my term as elder and president of the Council. We went through some tough times during my tenure, but with God's help we are through it. Our church is small, but beloved.

Besides wonderful family times, there have been great times with friends, weekend trips, and much more. If you are interested in seeing photos from our various adventures, click here. I also blog at

Two times, like a chorus, Psalm 46 says
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
"Fortress." Not a word we use much. I looked it up, and one meaning is "a person or thing not susceptible to outside influence or disturbance." That seems to me like a good definition for its context in the Psalm. There are all kinds of influences and disturbances out there, but "the Lord Almighty is with us," and
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall...
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts...
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear...
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear.

Thursday, December 21, 2017


My brother, Joel Kok, writes and sends a meditation to his congregation, friends & family called "Emmaus Connection." Today I was especially blessed by what he wrote:

Dear Friend,
   As I study the Lord’s birth announcement of Jesus to Mary (Luke 1:26-38), my spiritual kinswoman Elizabeth has formulated the question on my mind: “And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43) I think Mary has visited me through the Gospel to wake me up to matters of justice and mystery.
   Regarding matters of justice, Mary reminds me that my Saviour “has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.” (Luke 1:48) Mary lives in an obscure town in an occupied country. When she makes an offering “she cannot afford a lamb… [so she offers] a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” (Leviticus 12:8 and Luke 2:24) And she is a woman.
Beginning with the Gospel writers, many have noticed Jesus’ high regard for women and their high regard for him. A group of women traveled with Jesus and his disciples, and they “provided for them out of their means.” (Luke 8:1-3) While the disciples fled from Jesus as the time of his arrest and crucifixion, “the women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and saw the tomb, and how his body was laid.” (Luke 23:55) And the first preachers of the resurrection were women, most notably Mary Magdalene. (All four Gospels)
   Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth, combined with the testimonies of women to Jesus and also recent news reports, have led me to do something I almost never do: sign an on-line statement. The statement is called “#SilenceIsNotSpiritual: Breaking the Silence on Violence Against Women and Girls.” In summary it states:
“We are experiencing an awakening today. The rise of the recent #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements have awakened the world to the nature and extent of violence against women and girls. For too long the voices of women and girls who suffer violence have been marginalized, ignored or silenced. The global Church has been slow to speak up and take action. But silence is not spiritual. Action is not optional. More than 100 leaders from across the world are calling upon the global faith community to stop standing by and start standing up for women and girls who experience violence. We face a defining moment as a Church. Will we shrink in fear and despair or will we join the cry of the vulnerable, echoing their voice and defending their courage?”
   I believe that through Mary and her Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), our Lord can give us eyes to see and ears to hear biblical calls to justice, including justice “for women and girls who experience violence.” And through Mary pondering Jesus in her heart (Luke 2:19 and 2:51), our Lord can awaken also to the mystery of every human being in relation to God.
In an illuminating article, a religion teacher named Nichole M. Flores describes how Mary has inspired countless women to magnify the Lord and lift up the lowly. Like her Son, Mary does not fit neatly into any ideological category. Instead, she guides women to experience God in their complex and multifaceted identities. According to Flores, Mary “comes not to orient women to men but to orient women to Jesus Christ.”
   The mother of our Lord orients us all to Jesus Christ in fascinating ways. And in her best moments, she offers a compelling example to all Jesus’ disciples. For the sake of both justice and mystery, I hope we will all join Mary in saying, “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
   Love, Joel