Speaking Peace, July 10.2012

Psalm 85:8-11 (CEB)
Let me hear what the Lord God says,
 because God speaks peace to God’s people and to God’s faithful ones. 
Don’t let them return to foolish ways.
 God’s salvation is very close to those who honor God 
so that God’s glory can live in our land. 
Faithful love and truth have met;
 righteousness and peace have kissed. 
Truth springs up from the ground; 
righteousness gazes down from heaven.
I am intrigued with the image of God speaking peace. Often times when we think of the word peace we think it is the opposite of conflict, that it is synonymous with calm and quiet, placid even. But here the Psalmist sings of a peace that comes through honoring God—one that is born out by the speaking of the truth. The Psalmist declares, “Righteousness and peace have kissed.”

Peace is not born of a lack of conflict but is intimately tied to righteousness or in other words, to justice.

If this song about God the Psalmist sings is true, then we cannot experience peace without justice. How do we understand this word, justice? Sometimes we think of justice as what’s achieved in a courtroom or when someone “gets what they deserve” in terms of a consequence or punishment.

Another way of understanding justice, is when those who have been routinely and systematically overlooked or oppressed by social, political or religious systems are lifted up, when they are treated with honor or are empowered to tell their story. When voices that have been marginalized, ignored or abused are encouraged to speak with authority and are celebrated and given positions of power in the system that once alienated or ignored them, this is justice.

Our gospel story, the ministry of Jesus and the God the Psalmist sings of is more often a reflection of the latter. They are the story of radical welcome, unlimited forgiveness and unselfish love. How do our communities reflect the Psalmist’s image of peace and justice that are intertwined together, interconnect, even interdependent? How often, instead, do we sacrifice one for the other?

How do we listen for where God speaks peace in the midst of our own communities and political, social and religious systems? How do we speak peace that isn’t simply avoiding conflict but speaks lovingly and directly to power, insisting that only where there is true justice will there truly be peace? Are there ways we ignore injustice in order to keep the peace? Or become self-righteous in our justice work so that God’s words of peace cannot be heard?

May you listen for God’s words of peace in your own heart and communities,
May you speak words of peace and work for justice together,
May justice and peace dance together in the life of your community,
May the complexity and challenge of working for justice be met with grace and humility in your own heart and in the heart of your communities.
AMEN

Peace,
Shawna

(779)

Measuring Up, July 9. 2012

Amos 7:7-8
[Amos said] This is what God showed me:
the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line,
with a plumb line in his hand.
And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?”
And I said, “A plumb line.”
Then the Lord said,
“See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel;
I will never again pass them by.”

I’ll admit it; I had to look up what a plumb line was to even begin to understand these words from the prophet Amos. Here’s what I found: A plumb line is a line from which a weight is suspended to determine verticality or depth. So a builder would have used this tool to check that a wall or building was being built at a 90° angle to the ground or the horizon. In Amos’ vision God is using the plumb line to measure the people of Israel to check for their ‘uprightness’ you might say. According to Amos God measures the people of Israel and finds them lacking.‘Ouch.’

Have you ever been measured and found lacking? Whether in a professional setting when a performance review or evaluation didn’t go well at all, or in a personal relationship when a partner or close friend reveals their disappointment or discontent. For most of us, living up to and meeting the expectations of others is a high priority. When we don’t meet their standards we feel judged, broken and inferior.

What seems to be happening for the people to whom God has sent Amos however is not so much a story of a people who try hard and just can’t make the grade but more of an issue of prevailing apathy. It’s as if, in this story, Israel has not only lost their way but they have lost the desire to know God, let alone to please God.

Can you think of a time in which apathy has taken over your life of faith or of a particular relationship? There is almost nothing worse than attempting to relate to a person or community that seems not to care. The malaise of apathy and disinterest can infect us for many reasons. Depression, misunderstandings and exhaustion are a few experiences that can lead to apathy.

These are areas in need of healing and compassion, and even in God’s frustration; ultimately God does not abandon Israel. In stories such as this, when it seems God’s frustration might take the day, it’s important to take a wide view of our biblical story. The Israelites and their relationship to God function in this story as the symbol of humanity’s relationship to God; yours, mine, our collective communities and the generations that have come before and that will follow after us.

It is the story of humanity in relation to the God who loves us, who calls us home and who’s dream for the world is that we each stand tall knowing who and whose we are, we are being measured in this story by a God who longs for us to pay attention, to care and to be active in our relationship with God and all of creation.

May you respond to God’s call to pay-attention,
Leaving apathy behind and returning
to the loving and nurturing Spirit of God,
May you be drawn upright through God’s loving care
And during times of discontent and disinterest,
May you find comfort in the knowledge that
God’s dream for the world includes you,
That it depends on your participation and passion.
AMEN

Peace,
Shawna

(665)

Travel Light, July 6.2012

Mark 6:1-6
Then he went about among the villages teaching.
He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two,
and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.
He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff;
no bread, no bag, no money in their belts;
but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.
He said to them,
“Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.
If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave,
shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”
So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.
They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
The commonly held reading of these instructions is that Jesus invites the disciples to travel light; to trust their work and their message, to trust the hospitality of strangers, to trust one another (their partners in ministry). I am struck how often I forget this obvious and practical biblical instruction.
When I actually am traveling I often convince myself to take not one, but multiple electronic devices. I often pack twice the clothes I need. I pack toiletries even though they are supplied in every hotel I’ve ever set foot in. I convince myself that I am being responsible and prepared, when in fact, I am merely attempting to stay connected and in control. What does this say of my level of trust? Of those I leave behind and to those I’m travelling to?
And that’s not the worst of it, is it? What about the baggage we carry around that doesn’t get checked at the airport or stowed safely away in the trunk? What about the feelings of fear and inadequacy that sometimes rear up in the face of new relationships or when we must ask for help from strangers?
This baggage is even harder to relinquish. It’s invisible and sneaky. It takes our intention and careful prayer to lay it at the feet of God and allow it to stay there. What are you carrying with you on your journey that you could lay at God’s feet? What burdens keep you from accepting hospitality and trusting one another?
Jesus invites us to travel light, to rely on God and one another. To live into a kingdom that is near but not yet. One modeled by the disciples willingness to go out in pairs; to seek hospitality, to share a radical message of God’s grace and to let go of pain of rejection and disagreement. It sounds simple, but it’s a life’s work isn’t it?
May you lay down your heavy burden,
And travel light with companions in love and faith,
May you experience radical hospitality,
And have the grace to let anger, rejection and dysfunction
Be shaken like sand from your feet.
AMEN
Peace,
Shawna

(555)

Hometown Prophet, July 5.2012

Mark 6:1-6 
 Jesus left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.
On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded.
They said, “Where did this man get all this?
What is this wisdom that has been given to him?
What deeds of power are being done by his hands!
Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon,
and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor,
except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”
And he could do no deed of power there,
except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.
And he was amazed at their unbelief.
For those who have never moved far from the homes in which we grew up we know the particular challenge in living into our growing and changing selves in the midst of a familiar and seemingly unchanging setting. Maybe we still worship with the same communities in which we were baptized, maybe we live in the very same home we were raised in and are now caring for aging parents, siblings or our own grandchildren. The familiarity and familial bonds that hold us can both strengthen and impede us.For others who have traveled far from the homes in which we were raised we return home for visits, for holidays, for milestone moments and discover a strange tension between what is most familiar and yet different than we remembered. We are often surprised by how much our mother, father, sister or brother has changed. We feel out of place in habits and patterns that have grown up and reconfigured around our absence.

As we move along in our lives, like Jesus, we struggle to find our place and realize that to be known and to continue to know by our families and the communities from which we come will take intention and self-awareness and revelation. What does it mean that Jesus’ family and close-knit community could not recognize him for who he is, for who he was becoming? And Jesus too, was astounded by their ability to influence his power.

How can we hold what we know—the history, the heart, the story of the life—of those we love in tension with the space to allow them to continue to grow? The space to tell their own story, in their own words. The space to change their mind and to change direction; the room to become the person God is calling out to them to become? When we are surprised by their power can we celebrate rather than be filled with disbelief?

This is text about family, about familiarity and about surprise. It raises the question of who knows us best. Who knows our history and how does it play a role in our current and future identity? How do we use the history we share or have on one another to either hold them back or encourage them to take flight?

May you wrestle with and be stretched and
come to know the fullness to which God calls you,
May you have the humility, vulnerability and the imagination
to share your full self with the families and communities that claim you as one of their own,
May you be part of a family and community whether newly found
or old and familiar that accepts you for your whole and growing self,
And may you provide such as space for another, for a sister, a brother,
a child or grandparent or a stranger who will become a familiar friend at your welcome.
AMEN

Peace,
Shawna

Musical Meditation
Michael Buble and Blake Shelton
 Home

(555)

One Love, July 3.2012

 Psalm 123 
To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until God has mercy upon us.
Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.
Have you ever been on the receiving end of contempt? Scorn?
It’s a horrible, even dehumanizing experience. To be looked upon with hatred, to be thought small, meaningless, useless. Some of us have had this experience in a deeply personal way, through an individual relationship or interaction gone badly or painfully abusive.

As a people we humans have turned on one another, sub-dividing and creating systems of oppression and hatred, forcing one another, our sisters and brothers into categories of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual identities and then using them to judge, scorn and control one another.

The Psalmist sings a different tune, inviting us to look to God to define ourselves. It is a song of wholeness and mercy, a song that declares that the love of God wins out over the scorn of earthly ‘masters’. It turns the system of master and servant, of the powerful and powerless on its head. No longer about domination, control or contempt, its a relationship steeped in Mercy instead.

What role do you play in the life of your family and community? When we are in positions of power, whether economic, political, religious or otherwise how do we use that power for good instead of evil? Can we use our power to point out places that our categories for one another breed contempt rather than helping us understand one another? When we are scorned or held in contempt can we remember that only God has the power to define who and whose we are?

May you identify yourself first as a beloved child of God,
May the other identities that you live into in the world be life-giving
And lead to self-awareness and enable you to tell your story.
May the belonging to God that you have in common with one another
give you compassion and erase any contempt hiding in your hearts,
and may your differences serve as tools for deeper understanding.
AMEN

Peace,
Shawna

Musical Meditation
Bob Marley
One Love

(695)

Prophet or rebel? July 2.2012

Ezekiel 2:1-5
God said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you.
And when God spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard God speaking to me.
God said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me;
they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants are impudent and stubborn.
I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD.”
Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house),
they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.

Have you ever experienced God like Ezekiel does in this text? The voice of God in your ear, the breath of God moving through you and giving you strength?  It seems, in our biblical narrative that, more often than not, when we ‘hear’ the voice of God it’s less about the hearer and more about where the hearer is being sent; less about the hearers needs and more about what the hearer is being asked to do.

Abraham, Moses, Mary the mother of Jesus, Jesus himself, Paul and so many of the Hebrew Prophets. The gift of hearing from God is often balanced in the lives of these individuals with the challenge of what God is about to require of them. And in these verses from Ezekiel, like so many times God sends a message to God’s community through a human vessel, God warns that the messenger will likely be ignored, that in fact, God’s people are sort of stubborn, rebellious even.

Andrew Foster Connors says of these verses, “The church can stand in at least two places in this text: as proclaimer and as receiver of proclamation.” Are we meant to be like the prophets? The ones speaking truth in the face of injustice, love in the face of hatred, urging one another to return to God? Or are we like the ancient community of Israel whom God both loves and is frequently frustrated by? Are we stubborn and willful and in need of a prophet ourselves?

Chances are it’s a both/and. As Christ followers we are called to listen for God’s call. To remember that when it comes it’s not likely to be about us, but about our neighbors, our communities, our human family. As Christ followers we are called to keep watch for the prophets among us, to heed their call and to turn and return to God relinquishing our stubborn hearts.

May you incline your ears for the call
and sending of God,
May you experience God’s Spirit moving in and with you,
May you be strengthened so that you
can stand tall for justice, for love, for God,
May you hear the words of the unlikely prophets in your midst,
The grandmother, the child, the outsider
or enemy speak the word of God in your ear.
AMEN

Peace,
Shawna

Musical Meditation
Sinead O’Connor
Make Me Channel of Your Peace

(584)

Are you awake? June 28.2012

Matthew 5: 38-39
When they came to the house of the leader [Jairus] of the synagogue,
he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.
When he had entered, he said to them,
“Why do you make a commotion and weep?
The child is not dead but sleeping.”
In this story of healing Jesus insists that the small girl is only sleeping. Again and again in the Gospel texts Jesus sees and reveals new life where others only see death. What are the places we’ve left for dead in our own lives? Are there people, communities, practices or even countries we’ve declared a lost cause? How do we wake up to God’s presence in our lives? Even in the smallest of moments and the most mundane of tasks?
In this story of healing Jesus insists that the small girl is only sleeping. Again and again in the Gospel texts Jesus sees and reveals new life where others only see death. What are the places we’ve left for dead in our own lives? Are there people, communities, practices or even countries we’ve declared a lost cause? How do we wake up to God’s presence in our lives? Even in the smallest of moments and the most mundane of tasks?

Someone I talked to about this text this week said, “These people weren’t idiots, how could they mistake someone who is alive for Simone who has died?” And I agree the family, friends and crowds gathered at the bedside and in the courtyard of Jairus houses weren’t idiots and neither are we. But often do we get caught up in the whirlwind of life’s tasks or in the habits of our coming and going and fall asleep to the wonder and potential for new life all around us?

How do we look past what scares us, challenges us or is just plain disgusting and dig around in the dirt for new life? Jesus invites the small girl to wake up, and in doing so invites us to wake up as well. Wake up to the places where death seems to be winning but rather than be defeated or succumb to our own fears of being infected by death Jesus invites us to wake up to the new life that is emerging from these places of darkness.

I leave you with this blessing from one of my favorite poets, e.e. cummings:

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

AMEN

Peace,
Shawna

Musical Meditation
India.Arie
I See God In You

(585)

Restoring Community, June 27.2012

Matthew 5:25-28 
Now there was a woman who had been suffering
from hemorrhages for twelve years.
She had endured much under many physicians,
and had spent all that she had;
and she was no better, but rather grew worse.
She had heard about Jesus,
and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak,
for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”
Imagine this woman, this unclean and bloody woman, holding in her hands all of humanity‘s brokenness, every illness and every broken heart and broken relationship. Imagine her as the vessel that carries everything that fills the world with fear. The fear of the unknown and the stranger, the bloody and hateful and broken, all of it. Imagine this woman carrying the hurt of the world for years, generations even. Imagine that she has walked the earth searching for healing, hoping to find a path to wholeness, to peace, praying for something… anything to mend this torn, battered and bleeding world.

Then the woman hears of a force of healing so powerful it works on the sabbath and challenges all the rules that have drawn boundaries between the beautiful and the broken, the chosen and the outcast, the clean and unclean, the one who belongs and the stranger. It’s a force so strong that it moves among people breathing new life, healing and wholeness where there was once only sickness and death.

The woman crosses all the boundaries of propriety and decency to reach the one who has this holy power of healing. She reaches across the boundaries of fear and distrust, hatred and humiliation, across the broken community and touches the cloak of the one who will heal the world. She risks everything but she’s carried the pain long enough. The power of Jesus to heal the world moves into her body and there is restoration. Can you imagine this story big enough to hold the whole world? To heal the whole world?

Debra Dean Murphy writes on the Ekklesia Project’s Blog that “we are conditioned in our culture to think of healing as first of all a highly individualized, exclusively physiological event. But Scripture is quite clear that healing has to do with the mending of all creation, and that curing the sick has to do primarily with restoring a person to his or her community.” When you hear this story of the hemorrhaging woman do think wow, Jesus really helped that woman over there? Or do you understand that your own healing, your own restoration is tied up in hers?

We often divide our word into categories, insiders and outsiders, healthy and sick, abled and disabled. How are we restored to the community? How do we aid in the restoration of all people? Are we willing to cross borders and boundaries and break commonly held rules to do so?

May you be held in the arms of the one who seeks restoration,
May your own healing be woven together in the healing of the whole world,
May Christ continue to move and breathe,
teach and heal us as we move together towards wholeness.

AMEN

Peace,
Shawna

Musical Meditation
Michael Jackson
Heal The World

(669)

Joy In The Morning, June 26.2012

Psalm 30: 1-5 
 I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
O LORD my God,
I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
Sing praises to the LORD,
O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
I have always been intrigued with the phrase, dark night of the soul, it’s a concept that’s been around since the early church. It implies that our whole lives, the physical, emotional and spiritual are a journey rather than stuck in time. That rather than arriving at some set point of physical, emotional or spiritual perfection we are travelers journeying together through a life time that holds dark valleys and high peaks and for many of us a whole lot of flat lands as well.

The dark night of the soul can be an experience of crisis of health or family, it might be a time of spiritual darkness, even brokenness, a time fraught by fear, sadness, even death. Our spiritual mothers and fathers speak of the dark night of the soul as unavoidable–a part of the journey. Movement forward, movement towards God and one another requires that we examine our most difficult questions, our most painful stories and the ways in which we shield ourselves from living fully in the attempt to protect ourselves from feeling pain or suffering.

These journeys require faithful companions, other travelers and they require songs for the road like today’s Psalm. We sing this Psalm to God as we move forward seeking the way home to God. We sing it to remind ourselves and one another that weeping may linger but joy comes with the morning. The sun will rise on even the darkest of nights.

Have there been times in your own life that the bright sun of the morning has broken through the darkest of nights? Did you feel a sense of relief? Joy? Freedom?

May your heart sing with joy in the morning,
May you know the comfort of God’s companionship on your journey,
Don’t wait for the sun or quiet morning to begin your journey towards God,
May your footsteps be joined with fellow travelers as you seek God in the midst of your life today.

AMEN

Peace,
Shawna

Musical Meditation
Cat Stevens
Morning Has Broken

(566)

Community Memory, June 25.2012

Lamentations 3:22-25 
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
God’s mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in God.”
The LORD is good to those who wait for God,
to the soul that seeks God.
The word mercy speaks to both the epic power and the deep compassion of God. The word mercy implies that the one who holds the power could wield that power to create life or to destroy life. How do we attribute such power to God? These verses come in the middle of the book of Lamentations when the Israelites were in the midst of exile, death, loss and fear of being annihilated. In the midst of their cries for God’s help the writer clings to this story of God:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
God’s mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
When the powers of fear, death and real danger threaten to overwhelm us we often call on God as if we imagine God has abandoned us. When isolated or alone it’s easy to let the whole story of God go and become focused on only our own story in the moment. We rely on the words of the faithful, the Prophets, the communities that we belong to and the ancient ones who again and again tell of the story of God’s compassion, God’s accompaniment, God’s faithfulness and God’s mercy.

In the midst of darkness we often begin to worry that God is angry or punishing us. Human beings have wrestled with this since the first humans walked the earth. What is the nature of God? The writer of Lamentations reminds his own community and those that would follow and us, “The Lord is our portion.” That is, God will join us in our struggle, will provide comfort and give refuge. And so we wait on God together reminding one another, telling and re-telling the story of the God of love, compassion and mercy.

Holding the story together that would be lost if we tried to carry it alone. We need the collective memory of the community to hold us tight and give us hope.

AMEN

Peace,
Shawna

Musical Meditation
All Sons and Daughters
Reason to Sing

(561)