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Thursday, June 26, 2014
            I read a story today in ESPN magazine (not on purpose) about a pastor who hates baseball but provides ministerial support for umpires. Apparently, since the early days of baseball, umpires have not only received their share of abuse, they’ve been killed over their baseball calls. Fortunately, the main ribbing they get nowadays is verbal, but nonetheless the constant berating, even through Facebook, could get to a person. Enter the pastor. He drives and even flies all over the place to give sermons, pray, baptize and even perform weddings for umpires. He will take calls at 2:00 a.m. to comfort an umpire. This is his calling—to give comfort to the afflicted, including sports figures. The pastor told the journalist that in his younger days (he’s my age—48) when he had pastored in rural churches, he had hopes of pastoring in a nice church with stain glassed windows. Now, his church is the baseball field and the locker room.

            I couldn’t help but think of my own calling when I read this piece. It is not just in undergraduate traditional universities that encourage and support the students to find a focus and work towards career goals; those of us who attended graduate theological programs also felt encouraged to focus on a particular avenue of calling. I did this for awhile, thinking so hard about what I wanted to do, but all it did was what I call “kick up the dust.” The desperate need to know caused a cloud of doubt and no clarity, so I gave up trying to know and just focused on completing my degree, which worked. Now I’m back to the wondering again, which seems silly, but I can’t help it. I live in a forward thinking mind that wonders where my place is in this very nontraditional vocation.

            I am happy to have the members and friends of Kairos-Milwaukie as part of this journey. I know enough about my relationship with God to know that often I don’t know the destination until I’m comfortable with the journey (needless to say, I haven’t always been comfortable). I wonder if Abraham EVER had doubts about his journey. Sunday we talk about Abraham and the beginning of the Jewish covenant, the promise of God to the people to hang in there during the rough times, during the times of not understanding, for God is a compassionate God who will not allow his people to stumble long.

So the story on Sunday focuses on Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son for the sake of his new relationship with God. I couldn’t do that. How much is God now asking us to do, or is asking us to do anything? These are the questions I ponder in front of you on Sunday. Who knows where our journey winds up. Abraham didn’t know that at the end of his life, he would only own a burial plot and have one heir (from which the “nation” of Israel was to be produced). But obviously, it was not about the destination, but the journey—the continual ability for God’s followers to keep the faith. The pastor for the umpires did not feel any less “called” as a minister for umpires. Those umpires need him, no less than a congregation of 1000 or 100 people need to work on the spiritual journey.

Let us be grateful for the journey of faith—for me, it’s the faith not the destination that grows.

In Peace, Joanna
Thursday, June 19, 2014
There is a reason I teach World Religions. Misinformation can kill. A woman was killed in England, it is speculated, simply because she was wearing clothing most often associated with Muslim women in Saudia Arabia (her home country)—the full long robe and hijab (head covering). 

Teaching World Religions is a large and sometimes unwieldy subject. It’s not an easy subject to teach simply because there is so much information. For a while I wondered why I taught this class. It seemed off my beaten path of Christian Education, but now I know why. I open students’ minds. I allow them to see another side of religious followers than what one sees in the news.

Having been a journalist, I have to admit I’m a bit of a news junky. I like to know what’s going on. I feel out of the loop if I don’t. But the other side of that is you see how the media is getting it wrong. I see over and over how the word Islam and Muslim is connected to that which is violent—and the media do not help with their words of Islamic Militants, Islamic Jihadist, Islamic Extremists.

The term Islam actually means “submission,” as in “submission to God,” also translated into “the peace that comes with submission or surrender to God.” The term “jihad” actually means struggle. The prophet Muhammad who recited what would become the Qur’an, the main book of Islam, said there is the “greater jihad” and the “lesser jihad.” He believed more in the greater jihad which had nothing to do with violence. It had everything to do with our inner struggle, our inner striving to be what God would have us be. That is all.

Now who as religious people doesn’t struggle with who God would have us be?  I find it now a responsibility to tell as many people as I can that your average Muslim does not hide AK-47’s underneath their burkas and Islamic robes. They want peace. But it’s the few extremists (and there have historically been extremists in every religion—remember the Crusades) that get most of the media attention. There is a local mosque, the Portland Rizwan Mosque, who are trying to publicize that most Muslims are not violent, that they want peace, and title themselves such—Muslims for Peace. They hold classes on who Muhammad was and what Islam is…and is, so that all who attend these classes are rightly informed about this passionate religion, whose followers are like us—they want to know and follow the will of God.

I am so happy to belong to a church organization that wants to know, wants to be informed. It seems so easy to just take another person’s word for it, including the media's word, without researching further. In this instant society, I pray that we take the time to know something, and not instantly decide who another person is without asking.

In the Peace that Passeth All Understanding (Phil 4:7),

Joanna
Thursday, June 12, 2014

I have just discovered that not only is this Friday, Friday the 13th, but there will also be a full moon. This has not happened since 2000 and will not happen again until 2049. The chance of a full moon falling on a Friday and on the 13th is less than 1%, so yes, rare.

How often do we see through eyes that something in front of us might be rare…or unusual? We say, it’s just another day, it’s just another meal, it’s just another trip to the gas station. But we never think about the rarity of these phenomenon, probably because, on the surface, they’re not. We put gas in our cars, go to the grocery story, eat a meal 100s of times in our lifetime. Why would we call them rare?

I have just finished talking about Buddhism with the women of the Thursday morning Bible Study here at Kairos-Milwaukie. Part of the practice of Buddhism is what is called “mindfulness.” Another way to say it is, pay attention. Basically, be in any given moment, and not project upon the moment what you think it should be, but observe the way the moment(s) are unfolding.

Now for some I imagine, meditation has always sounded a little woo woo. But I’m so into woo woo. All that means to me are surprises in the everyday that make me stretch just a little more. Sometimes the stretching feels a bit like a torture device, but I always learn about myself at these times.

I remember listening to a speech in Toastmasters, the public speaking practice club, from someone who is not religious at all, but researched just how rare it is for a human being to be born. The odds of one sperm actually making it to the egg and then fertilizing it is apparently very low. I’ve seen the number. It’s 1 in 400 trillion (the odds of parents meeting, same people having sex, you get the idea). We are a miracle. We are rare.

It’s easy to find unhappiness in the world. But what would happen if we looked at each other as the miracles we are? What would happen to President Obama and Congress???

Jesus was about being rare. After all he performed rare occurrences, miracles. He spoke of the Kingdom of God in a way that was unusual. He was a model of someone who paid attention to what was going on around him.

Buddhists practice paying attention. They notice the impermanence of things. One certainly does not have to be a Buddhist to observe. It can feel a bit scary. I certainly get wrapped up in the drama of life, the worry. But also know what I’m missing when I don’t pay attention. Being mindful is not something anyone needs a degree to do. It just takes noticing that the moment you’re living in will never come again—it is rare, so I invite all of us to take a few more moments in our day to notice the rareness.

Peace be to all of you.

Joanna
Thursday, June 05, 2014
I used to be a member of the Unitarian Universalist church here in the Portland Metro. I left because I couldn’t talk about God and Jesus enough. I remember thinking when I was just about to leave, I want to be a part of a group like UU because it has moved on from the equality issue. We are all equal in the eyes of God…period.

Then I was introduced to the United Church of Christ. Fortunately I get to talk about God and Jesus, AND we made a decision a long time ago that everyone is seen and known by God—no exceptions.

I write this as the US Supreme Court made it possible for 245 same-sex couples to since get married in Multnomah County since the June 4 ruling. Clackamas County is no exception in the numbers flocking to be noticed that they too are equal in the eyes of love.

I receive a daily email from the Pew Research on Religion and Public Life listing religious headlines of the day. Yesterday, the main Pittsburg, PA paper talked about the decline in numbers in the Presbyterian Church, USA. Pennsylvanian has long been a foothold for the Presbyterian church since colonial days. Now in the last two years they have lost more than 180,000 people in their membership nationwide; 46 congregations in Pennsylvania in 2013 alone have shut their doors or left for other denominations. I noticed as part of the article that it mentioned that the Presbyterian church just recently, 2011, agreed to ordain non-celibate gays and lesbians as pastors, elders and deacons. This summer they are deciding where to re-define marriage to include same-sex couples. The article noted a possibility of a connection of the declining numbers with the”liberal trends in theology and sexuality.”

I grew up in the Presbyterian church. I have a fondness for my roots. If it wasn’t for the Presbyterian church I would not be a theologian. I know the Presbyterian church is not the only church slow to recognize equality, but they happen to be the ones in the news lately.

I realize this is a big topic for a new intern to blog about, but it’ in my blood—the need to recognize equality and then move on! I am very happy that in my lifetime people are realizing that love does not have limits. I pray that the same love demonstrates the spark of divinity in all, and moves the shadow-self aside.

In the wake of Pentecost, I ask that the wind of the Holy Spirit move in all of us, recognizably showing forth divine sparks, snuffing out any continual need to believe there is such a thing as having no right to love.

John 13:35: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share my thoughts.

Joanna

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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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