I don’t know if many of you know the story of Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21); I can’t remember ever hearing a sermon on it in any Presbyterian church. It is the scriptural basis for Queen Liliuokalani’s appeal to the American people to restore the Kingdom of Hawaii. (Did you know that President Grover Cleveland actually agreed that the US overthrow of the Queen was an unlawful military invasion, and unsuccessfully requested to Congress that her sovereignty be reinstated?)
For myself, Naboth’s vineyard became the symbol of my seminary experience. One of our great Old Testament professors, Marvin Chaney, an expert in Biblical economic justice, introduced to us the term “latifundialization.” The term was used to describe the way large landholders could use their power to overtake the lands of neighboring small local farmers. Nowadays it might be a precursor to corporate agribusiness, but when Prof. Chaney first described it, I said “Oh, Starbucks.” That was 20 years ago, when Starbucks was entering new markets by boldly moving right next to a local coffee house, using their marketing power to push the local coffee house out of business. They even eclipsed their own inspiration, Peet’s, whom I love.
Thus, I never liked Starbucks. So it would seem simple for me to avoid Starbucks after that distressing incident when two men were arrested upon the complaint of the Starbucks manager, even after the person they were waiting for appeared and protested the arrest. I didn’t have a hard time boycotting Carl’s Jr. for their sexist policies, because honestly I would get an upset stomach whenever I ate their hamburgers anyway. And since I don’t go to Starbucks that much (can’t justify paying that much for coffee on a regular basis), I made a casual commitment to avoid them.
It was surprising and not a little disappointing to realize that several times a day, I had to stop myself from thinking of Starbucks for something-for a quick coffee or cold drink, to hang out at the airport, even to go to the bathroom when on the road (the reason, of course, for the men’s arrest). Even though I didn’t go there often, even though I don’t even like them, and now even though I have good reason to protest them, their pervasive presence has enabled them to infiltrate multiple aspects of my life.
This struck me as a new example of the challenges we Christians face to live in the world, but not of the world. When we attempt to live as citizens of God’s kingdom, we must unlearn the rules of the worldly kingdom that have surrounded and guided most of us since birth. How am I supposed to confront hatred with love, injustice with mercy, fear with the courage of faith, and self-interest with self-giving trust in God’s providence if I can’t even let go of this also-ran coffee company that I have settled for, due to its easy presence in the world around me?
What’s worse, sometimes our worldly prosperity as a church makes me wonder if I am more Ahab than Naboth. In order to complete the sale of the South Hills property, we have had to escalate our efforts to close down the community garden that has thrived there for 25 years. Now part of me can become irritated that some individuals have dared to demand to stay after the church has allowed them to work this land for decades without any fee but to pay for the water. But thanks to our new president Maria Cacarnakis, who can speak not only in their language but also with grace and respect, we have been able to speak with more of the gardeners in person, who have responded with the same grace and respect, but also showed how they had been misinformed. Now that we had to post a legal sign demanding that they leave, most of the gardeners we have met seem to understand that the garden must close. And we encouraged some of the gardeners to advocate for a new garden at Cal Poly Pomona, as has already been discussed by Congresswoman Norma Torres. (If you live in her district, please also give the office a call-ask for Mario-and lend your support for the Cal Poly Community Garden. Their phone number is (909) 481-6474.)
As Dave Tomlinson said, when we talk with the gardeners and see their very productive plots, we are saddened that the garden must end. Our prayer is that the new land at Cal Poly, which is larger, permanent, and accompanied by a healthy eating grant from a large healthcare company, will come to fruition soon.
This weekend has been a kaleidoscope of experiences in my life in the Presbyterian church. I was blessed to be able to serve communion (wearing a robe from Tanzania) at my final meeting with the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board. Bong Bringas and I concluded our work on the PMA Executive Director Search Committee-and I am thrilled with the result. I can’t reveal the name of the candidate yet, but in any case I would ask your prayers for the people serving the national church, especially with the too-public wrangling over the future of the PMA as we head towards General Assembly in two months. Coming home at midnight on Saturday, I spent Sunday at the Community Garden with Maria and Dave, then went to a choir rehearsal, then witnessed a major step forward for Pasadena Presbyterian Church. PPC has been working hard to discern as a full church how they envision their future, in anticipation of beginning a pastoral search this year. The work at PPC has been complex, challenging, and multifaceted, but I can see the emerging clarity and hope for their next phase of ministry.
One small glimpse of the future came as this multiracial community of faith could hear and feel the personal prayers of joy and hope from their Korean brothers when they spoke of the possibility of reunification. We all join in prayers for a reunified Korea, and the restoration of peace on their peninsula.
I know most of you are fully invested in the ministry of your local church, as you should be. But know that you are part of a much, much larger family of God-the Presbyterian branch, the North American clan, our current global relatives, and the eternal cloud of witnesses, followers of Jesus, fellow citizens of the kin-dom of Heaven. Thanks be to God!
Your sister in Christ, Wendy