We are like climate change deniers: good at seeing the signs of the coming danger and explaining them away... I do see the signs in others and in me, and frankly it's scary. That's why I am so insistent about getting out of the valley and up into the hills and spending time with trees. I didn't know that the Japanese have a word for what I do. They call it shinrin yoku, or "forest bathing." Spending time with trees was first promoted by the Forest Agency of Japan in 1982 as a way to reduce chronic stress in the workplace. Mindfully walking in the forest has been shown to reduce the level of the stress hormone cortisol by 16% and to increase the activity level of cancer-fighting white blood cells by 40%. That's because trees emit chemicals called phytoncides, and regular exposure to them is very beneficial to our health. Think of it as Mother Nature's aromatherapy. So, we now know that trees have a positive impact on our physical health, but they do the same for our spiritual health, too. Trees make good doctors and good teachers, and many of their spiritual lessons can be found in our Bible.
Paul very much sounds like a pastor in this letter. Here I am, three and half years into my appointment at Willow Glen, and I am still taking delight in you all. The longer I'm here and the more we go through, the better I get to know you and the more dear you become to me. It has been a difficult year for us in a lot of ways, but when things aren't easy in life, they get a lot clearer in faith. And it's in the difficult times that your pastor gets to see your soul peeking through. So let me tell you some of the things I've been seeing and giving thanks for this year.
Sometimes I think that we are so far removed from the world of the Bible that we can't possibly understand Jesus' parables. And then sometimes, they hit all too close to home. Consider the parable of the talents. We may not know what it was like back when a person was either a slave or owned slaves, but if you listen closely to this parable, it's amazing how it illustrates our situation today here in what we could call the capital of venture capital.
The truth is that we need new leaders and a new paradigm of leadership. Joshua was the new leader for his time, and in our time, his question comes back to challenge us. Before we go scouting out this Post-Christian world we live in, before we make plans to enter this strange, new Promised Land, we have to consider whether we are going to serve the God of Abraham, Moses, Joshua and Jesus—with all the hardship and self-sacrifice that implies—or are we going to serve the false gods around here, where money and power are in control and where the former owner of sex.com gets elected to public office! Only in Silicon Valley!
Pope Francis has been busy beatifying and canonizing former popes lately. One might ask, how long does it take to canonize a saint? In the Roman Catholic Church, that process can take a long time, a hundred years or more. But in San Francisco, we know it only takes 21 innings. Just in time for All Saints' Day, the city named for Saint Francis came out on Friday to cheer their new saint: Saint Madison, to be joined by Saint Hunter, Saint Pablo, Saint Buster… This all makes perfect sense to Catholics, who have long been in the saint-making business, but Protestants are a little behind the curve ball on this one. A lot of us don't even know what a saint is. And it's all too easy to get distracted by what a saint isn't.