Overflow, July 18. 2012

Psalm 23
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. 
God makes me lie down in green pastures; 
God leads me beside still waters; 
God restores my soul. 
God leads me in right paths for God’s name’s sake. 
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; 
For you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me. 
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; 
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, 
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.
The 23rd Psalm might be one of the most inviting poems ever written. The Psalmist invites the reader into a visual world of peace and rest. Even the darkest valleys cannot overshadow the care and attending of the one who calls us each beloved.

This Psalm has functioned to comfort the sick and dying and the mourning. But it also invites us to consider our blessings. How has God anointed your head with oil? What does this even mean? An anointing can be for healing, to mark the holy or to set someone aside for a particular role or work. How has God marked you?

We are each marked as God’s beloved and our cups overflow. What is overflowing in your cup today?

I have to admit that on days like today I get so caught up in the busyness, in the tasks and conversations, in the worry about getting things done and crossing things off my list I nearly forget to breathe let alone stop and acknowledge that my cup is overflowing with utter beauty and the gifts of friendship, love, community and conversations that fill my life not the tasks and details that I am allowing to either distract or overwhelm me.

Someone I know posts a list (on facebook) at the end of each day of what they’re thankful for. If you’re like me you might find this, well, annoying… cynically I think to myself, “Wow, how can she be so thankful? No one is this thankful everyday!” And then I realize it’s a spiritual practice, a discipline to get to the end of our days, the end of a year, even the end of lifetime and say,

“This. This is how my cup is overflowing. This my blessing and my anointing. This is how God has marked me for service and relationship in the world. Thanks be to God.”
So, what’s on your Thanksgiving list today?

Even if it’s silly or simple or cheesy,
write it down or pray it out loud
and give thanksgiving to the God
that says, “you are mine”,
“you are beloved”
and “you do not walk this path alone”.
AMEN

Peace,
Shawna

(858)

Saving Face, July 13. 2012

Mark 6:26-29
King Herod was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
Once again we’re confronted with the dramatic events of the beheading of the Prophet John the Baptizer. What is interesting to me in this portion of the text is King Herod’s willingness to sacrifice John the Baptist for the sake of saving face in front of his guests. The text says that while it grieved him to do so, he could not bear to deny his daughter (really deny his wife on whose behalf his daughter had made the request) and did not want to embarrass himself in front of his guests.
To our ears this sound horrific and ridiculous. What, I wonder had King Herod thought his daughter might request when he promised her anything she wished? When he promised her half his kingdom?

But how often do we make sacrifices in order to save face? How often do we sacrifice one another, whether because we don’t come to one another’s defense or blame the actions of another for our own failures in life and relationships? It’s a harsh question but one that King Herod dramatically illustrates. Why does the pleasure of his guests win out over the very life of John the Baptist? How do their positions as guests, and their higher ranking social standing make their needs and desires, no matter how foolish, a priority over the life of a wandering Prophet?

King Herod also makes this sacrifice in order to keep the peace of his own household. According to the Gospel of Mark it was his wife Herodias who wished to destroy John the Baptist because he had questioned the morality of her marriage to King Herod. Have you ever sacrificed your own beliefs? Your own intuition? Your own voice in order to maintain a relationship with another person or community? What is the quality of our relationships if we are asked to sacrifice parts of ourselves in order to maintain a relationship?

Self-sacrifice is long held as a necessary part of the Christian life, and I do believe that in living into loving relationships and authentic communities we will make sacrifices. We will be faced with choices and be called upon to discern what to let go of and what to pick up in the process of following Christ. However, I also believe that there is a difference between making scarifies and becoming the sacrifice itself.

Herod forced John the Baptist to pay the price for his need to save face, to be approved of and to maintain relationships. Fair or not, Herod’s wife plays the role, in this version of events, as the enemy of life. She intends to solve conflict with violence, to answer the question John the Baptist raises of her relationship to King Herod with a deathblow.

How can we answer conflict with love and honesty? When we are asked to sacrifice ourselves or someone else in order to maintain a relationship is there a third way? A way forward that moves us towards reconciliation rather than violence?

May you find the third way,
The way that is grounded in love,
That requires humility and yet the
Courage to speak the truth,
Do not lose yourself, and do not sacrifice another,
Hold your truths together and be open to transformation.
AMEN

Peace,
Shawna

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Reckoning With Our Ghosts, July 12.2012

Mark 6:14-16
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

The disturbing and bloody story of the beheading of John the Baptizer, a Jewish prophet and teacher, is told to us through a flashback moment. It’s like an opening to a non-linear Quentin Tarantino movie, we see a look of abject fear in the eyes of Herod when he hears of this man and his disciples casting out demons, healing and teaching the people. He’s certain it’s the very same man he saw dead, beheaded even. He’s sure that John the Baptist was back from the dead. How gruesome, how terrifying, how amazing that Herod’s first thought wasn’t, “Oh no, not another bossy prophet that’s going to make my life miserable.” Nope. Instead he imagines John the man who had held him accountable, the man who preached repentance, the man whom he arrested, imprisoned and yet was intrigued by and listened to, was back from the dead.According to the Gospel of Mark, King Herod grieved having John the Baptist killed and seemed to regret doing so. Most of our regrets do not include such drama and gore, let alone the level of violence in this dramatic Markan story. In fact the deeds of King Herod are hard to imagine let alone relate to but what about the feelings of regret and fear? The feelings of being haunted by old actions, past hurts or deep wounds?

Have you ever noticed how facing our own ghosts, our past mistakes, our old and festering wounds causes irrational fear to bubble up within us? Can you think of a time you were caught off guard by a look, a word, a story that revealed old hurts or salted ancient wounds? How hard it is to respond to these moments without losing control of ourselves. Can we face our fears, our mistakes, wounds we’ve inflicted on others or our own hurt feelings with compassion and love? Can we let go of death-making anger and bitterness, of self-recrimination and live into the life-making promise of resurrection?

The amazing part of the story is this. While Herod’s fear seems irrational, that’s exactly what happens. Eventually, it is Christ who is raised from the dead. It’s an, unexpected, irrational, beautiful story of love that cannot be put to death.

May you live into love,
May you let go of your fears, your disappointment, and regrets,
May you seek forgiveness and reconciliation and then allow for resurrection,
May you have the courage to follow in the footsteps of the prophets,
who told hard truths in the face of deadly power,
And may your truth extinguish fear and shine light in the darkness.
AMEN

Peace,
Shawna

(831)

The Climax of Time, July 11. 2012

Ephesians 1:8b-10(nrsv)
With all wisdom and insight God has made known
to us the mystery of God’s will, 

according to God’s good pleasure that God set forth in Christ, 
as a plan for the fullness of time,
 to gather up all things in Christ,
 things in heaven and things on earth.
This passage speaks of a fullness of time, of God’s time, of a time when all things created, all things on earth and in the heavens will be gathered up by God. It provokes for me a beautiful image of a great returning to God of all of God’s creation. I imagine the world in all its broken beauty, it’s abundance mixed in with the places of want and scarcity being folded in together and gathered up in God’s loving embrace.

What does it mean to be gathered up in Christ? To be gathered into that which is both holy and human? That which dies a violent death and yet is beautifully resurrected? That which walks and sings and teaches and heals and loves itself into the tomb, into life and then into the heavens?

In the Common English Bible the words “the fullness of time” are translated instead as “the climax of time”. What a dramatic choice, don’t you think? What will the climax of time look like I wonder? It seems that if God is gathering all things up in Christ it’s certainly a slow climb to the climax. The disciples and early Christ followers expected the climax of time to happen any minute, as the days turned to years and the years to decades and then to generations and finally to centuries we’ve come to think about this fullness or climax differently. We’re learning (and relearning) to take the long view.

As we wait and ponder and wonder what it means to be gathered up in Christ we also find that it’s already happening. God’s time moves less like the hands on a clock and more like the movements of a mysterious dance or a haunting piece of music. It moves forward with the gentle breathing of a baby on your chest, with the breeze of a hot summer day spent on the mountain, with the arc of the waves at the beach or in the arms of the man who reaches again and again for more bread, for one more sandwich. God is gathering us up in Christ in the movements of our faith communities as they gather, sing and pray their way through the liturgy. God is gathering us up in Christ as we move again and again towards one another in love despite our disagreements and misunderstandings.

Can you think of a time the events of your life came to a fullness, a climax even? Was it a predictable one you expected or did it take you by surprise? Can you think of a time when God’s time came into view, if even for a few fleeting moments?

May you have the patience and the curiosity to peer into the world
And find evidence of God’s time unfolding and folding in again,
May you find yourself being gathered up in Christ,
Held in the loving embrace of God and
In the trusting arms of your family and communities,
May you seek and find God’s movements in all times and places.
AMEN

Peace,
Shawna

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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

(785)

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

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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

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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

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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

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