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Thursday, August 28, 2014
It’s been a pleasure writing this blog this summer. Thank you to my “readers” for supporting my thoughts and meanderings by reading them.

I will end this series of blogs with my favorite scripture, Jeremiah 29:11: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Jeremiah wrote this as part of a message to the exiled Israelites in Babylon after the Babylonians came and wiped out their homeland, taking the leadership to Babylon. Jeremiah is saying that God is not gone when the tide turns, when the path is diverted elsewhere. God may just change form. God was in the Temple for many of the ancient Israelites. The Temple no longer stood after the exile. Now they had to find God another way. Jeremiah says don’t give up hope. Do what you need to do to formulate a great community in the community you find yourself in…and God will be there.

I like using this scripture anytime anything in my life is in the unknown, which is often. I know that God has not gone away though my life is once again in new territory. God does not come in just one form. The love of God comes in endless forms. It does not change when our paths do.

I take heart that my ministry may take a new form, but God is still the safety net that tells me I am in His guidance no matter what this ministry looks like. I pray for all of you that no matter where the path goes, that you remember that God stays with all of us, because we are all God’s children and God does not leave.

My you feel the peace and love of God in all that happens in your life.

Thursday, August 21, 2014
This Sunday’s scripture is one verse—Romans 12:2, which reads as follows: Do not be conformed to this world,[a] but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

This could have been written by a Muslim as well. The Islamic faith is so much about following the mind of God, the spiritual will of God. Muslims believe that only following the will of God would bring goodness to a person and to the world. Without God, we are without a compass.

I hope this Sunday to help us see an Islamic point of view, as much as a non-Muslim can. But as a teacher of Islam, I can say that they feel as passionate about following that which is compassion and good as anyone. What is going on in the Middle East, most Muslims I know would say, is not representing their Islam. A translation of the word Islam has actually read “the peace that comes from the surrender to God.” There needs to be an inner peace in devoting one’s self to God, and that there is.

Since graduate school I have understood more deeply about the two-edged sword that is the human interpretation of history, including religion. Jesus and Muhammad were people who felt a deep need to make sure their world and the people in it found a better way to see their world….and then the rest of the world comes in and mixes it up. It happened with both Christianity and Islam. Interpretations of the original ideas of both religions by certain individuals/groups led to deciding violence is the only way to act—force is the only way to get people to the truth.

Fortunately, there are both Christians and Muslims who are for compassion towards others, including those not of the faith, and are for peace. Muhammad and Jesus were both non-violent people. They wanted justice and peace and love for one another. This message must be shouted to the rooftops. Neither of these men originally meant for others to be treated as less than because they did not subscribe to the same exact ideas. It was individual interpretation coupled with desperation to be heard that has led to as much violence as we know now.

I have never known the will of God to be about hate but about being kind to one another and acknowledging each others’ right to exist. I pray this is the mantra that we say collectively as a human people in the future, which I hope starts as soon as possible. 
In Peace, Joanna
Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
    he restores my soul.

Psalm 23, the Comfort Scripture. I will be using this one Sunday to reverberate comfort in our midst. Surrounded by the national conversation about depression, we need comfort. The afflicted and the non-afflicted—by anything—need comfort. It is a universal human need.

Find a way to be comforted in the next week. Even if you’re action oriented in your tendencies, find a way to feel the cool, gentle breeze of something that makes you feel you’re wrapped in a baby blanket on a warm summer day looking out a bay window at the ocean. This is comforting for me. Find what does the same as a warm blanket.

I find the need for comfort this week in the midst of a national conversation about depression. It’s a necessary conversation, but we also need a reassurance that the world holds things that bring us comfort, ease. The psalms give me comfort, and so does any scripture that brings the peaceful wings of God to my aching and tired body. Find a scripture that gives your body comfort, if this works for you.

Loss is tough. Let’s find comfort that comes in knowing that’s one thing we can rely on from the Lord—comfort.

Thursday, August 07, 2014
I was told by God today to blog about vulnerability. I wanted to tell him to get lost, that I felt too vulnerable, but you know, it is GOD.  Vulnerability gets a bad rap because, let’s face it, it can make us feel uncomfortable! Have you ever looked up the dictionary definition of the word vulnerable? Of course I did, because I love words…and you can find a ton of them in the dictionary. One of the definitions in the Merriam-Webster dictionary online is “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded.” Another definition is “open to attack or damage.” With these general understandings of this condition plaguing our psyche, who would ever choose vulnerability? Who would ever choose to be open to attack or damage?

I can imagine that the person who came up with this word was very familiar with the down and out version of this condition, the kind that can make you feel like staying shut in and never venturing out in the world. Although appealing to many of us introverts, it’s truly no life of filled with a richness and diversity that only comes when you step into that wild expanse of experience that is this thing called life.

It’s easy for me to feel vulnerable. It’s part of the unknown. My life is full of examples of a diametrically opposed experience—life gets too stagnant and I desire to shake things up, but then the change makes me feel like digging a tunnel and making friends with the spiders and other frightening creatures that like tunnels. Lived in Germany for a summer as a study abroad student, and I covered small-town city politics as a journalist. Both experiences made me feel a heightened sense of "YIKE!" but I wouldn't do without those experiences. They both defined me.  

Vulnerability is what happens when we live life outside the tunnels. Being a pastor is a vulnerable feeling. You want to do right by the congregation, but you’re acutely aware of how human and prone to mistakes you are. I was reminded by the Divine Spirit that being vulnerable allows us to take care of the human being within us, the part that needs care. I was also reminded that feeling vulnerable makes me highly aware of “doing no harm” and how can that be a bad thing as a pastor.

Sunday’s scripture focuses on the early years of Jacob’s son Joseph. This story has always fascinated me. Joseph was not popular with his brothers. He is presented as a boastful young boy who was always shaking the “favorite” card in his brothers’ faces. Apparently, the consequences of those actions caused him to be sold and eventually sent to Egypt. The story will go on to describe Joseph’s adventures in Egypt, which lead to him actually saving hoards of people from starvation.

So let’s get this straight. There is this guy who starts out as vulnerable to that which always confronts slaves in ancient times and winds up as the economic leader of an empire? Wow. Anything can happen, I feel this story is saying. We all start out saying and doing stuff that get us into trouble, we receive the consequences of those actions, but it’s those actions that could actually make us leaders. The vulnerability of being in danger can actually help lead our lives.

I have felt vulnerable going out on the city streets, but I have never felt unsafe when I know the hands of God surround me. Joseph knew this too. He knew that God used a very vulnerable situation for good. Never underestimate the power of vulnerability.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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