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Thursday, July 31, 2014
The liturgical calendar calls for Christians to look at the tale of Jacob this Sunday. Since I will not be among you this weekend, I will touch upon it here.

The story takes so many twists and turns, I will not attempt to describe them all. Jacob dupes his father and brother into giving Jacob what is not rightfully his—a birthright. As a result he has to leave in order to evade the wrath of his brother, Esau, who was supposed to receive this honor.

Jacob himself is duped into working for his father-in-law long after it is necessary in order to receive property he desires (including women). He finally has to escape his father-in-law in order to relinquish the faulty relationship. He decides it’s time (he’s much older and richer by this time) to make amends with his brother Esau. On his way to his homeland, he has a dream that he battles with God—and wins. God gives him the name Israel, “the one who struggles with God.” He reconciles with his brother and remains in his homeland, witnessing the death of his father and the birth of his last child, Benjamin.

This is the Reader’s Digest Condensed version of Jacob’s story. I’m leaving out a lot. It’s a soap opera. Much drama follows Jacob around, all started because he wanted to get what he wanted by deceit. Yet, at the end, God shows Jacob that he can continue to turn his life into an example of living with God righteously. Jacob takes this faith and rights a wrong towards the end of his life.


I am reminded by this story how God works in our lives. God never throws us out of God’s Kingdom forever. We can still do wrong, meaning something that harms another. Somehow, God can still see our struggle and find a way to help us feel forgiven so that we can go forward and do right by God’s goodness. This is one viewpoint. What is yours? Take some time and sit with the wisdom from this age old story.

Peace to you.
Joanna
Thursday, July 24, 2014
“No one does anything wrong, given their model of the world.” I once read this in the “Conversation with God” book series. Boy, that is something to chomp on, isn’t it? This to me is basically saying that there’s no such thing as “wrong” in God’s eyes. Nobody is wrong. It’s just how one sees the world.

I grew up thinking I had done something wrong, which turned into I was wrong. This is not a good thing. Fortunately, as a grown up, one realizes there is not anything truly spiritual about thinking you are wrong. This is what got to me about growing up being told I was a sinner. What is spiritual about that? It gave me a bit of a complex; I already felt different and that I did wrong, I did not need God to tell me there was something wrong with me. I needed God to support me. Telling me I was a sinner did not support me.

This was brought back to my mind as I have been hearing in the news lately about this group that’s been in Portland lately whose purpose is to teach children about Christianity. It’s called the Child Evangelism Fellowship. The Vice President is quoted in the Associated Press as defending their organization’s tactics by saying "We do teach that children are sinners, but we're not nasty about it," (Moises) Esteves said.

Now I realize there are other theological concepts they are talking to children about, including the love of God. But what I’m afraid happens is all the child hears (and they cater to children as young as 5) is that they are sinners. To a child’s mind that can be associated with being bad. To a sensitive heart, it’s carried around. This does not go away, even when preached with the love of God.

Sin in all its definitions and colloquial language can feel heavy and value laden. If I did not mention it before, I will say it again. The original meaning of sin in Hebrew, where it first pops up, means “to miss the mark.” It does not associate with human depravity.  It merely means we can make a decision that does not serve us or the people around us. AND, we can try again. To me, being told you’re a sinner is a mark that you can’t erase. There will always be something less than about you—and no kid needs to hear that. Thank goodness we are a denomination that doesn’t go around talking about how sinful we are. We get to try again.

Hallelujah


Thursday, July 17, 2014
“We’re living in scary, dangerous times” said Bob Schieffer, long-time CBS news correspondent said just a few days ago. I’m not sure whether to nod in agreement or scold him for having to be so blatant about it on national television. We know enough. It’s not necessary to remind us of how much killing is going on right now.

This is where I feel the weight as a spiritual figure to somehow show good news. I am a bit shocked at how much conflict is going on, and I want there to be a spiritual nugget in the midst of all this. There’s always been conflict, but it seems to have escalated to a point I haven’t known in my lifetime. At least, I perceive it that way.

What would the God say right now? It seems a bit arrogant to think I would know, but it's times like things where I want to follow where God would lead me. God is the only voice that makes sense. God can actually calm me down. What does God do for you? Let the sensitivity to God's spirit shine forth for you. Listen for it. It's the one not hurting anyone else.

Thursday, July 10, 2014
Blue sky. There’s nothing like a beautiful Portland afternoon in July. Even Rick’s solar powered flowers on the window sill in the church office are getting into the sunlight groove. A pure blue sky always reminds me of Kansas. Now before you start quoting jokes in your head about tornados and Dorothy (which I’m sure I’ve heard) one may not know that Kansas boasts at least 211 days of the year with some sun (58% of the year). In case you’re curious, Portland boasts (which has an entirely different meaning) 142 days of the year with some sun (38% of the year).

I have been surprised that I have acclimated as well as I have to the obvious decrease in the number of sunny days observed by the average western Oregonian. I LOVE the sun. It just automatically lifts my spirits. And yet, I have somehow been able to see the beauty in the cloudy days of Portland. The things I heard about the weather in Portland before I moved here described it as nothing but heavy laden clouds that oppress and the constant rain keeps everyone running for cover. On the contrary, each day brings with it a variety. I never knew how many different kinds of cloudy there are (by the way, I never see your average Portland citizen “running” out of the rain). That’s what makes the weather in Portland so fascinating—we get it all (even the occasional tornado).

So what does the weather have to do with spiritual inspiration? Usually one talks about the weather when there’s nothing else to talk about (unless you’re a meteorologist). This Sunday’s scripture is about God lighting the way to who God is through the scripture. Even if you have a “ill-defined” cloudy day style description of God, you can still understand God in scripture, if you look. It doesn’t have to just be about the battles and the sacrificial descriptions, or even just through prophetic messages. God, itself, can be described. The God of love, of social justice, of forgiveness does have a job description. You just have to look in the employee manual—otherwise known as the Bible. I will describe some of those on Sunday.

God doesn't have to shine through as directly as the sun. God comes through the cloudy days as well. You just have to look and observe the details. For instance, I have understood that there are 20 different words in the Hebrew language for joy. Only God could do that. God is obviously joy. Observing a rose to me is joyful. Listening to the laugh of a 2 year old is joyful. There’s a man in New York City who photographs people that were once strangers and once he’s finished taking their photographs, they look like they’ve known each other forever. That’s joy. That’s God. Let’s observe something joyful today. Let’s observe the details in what may look like just another cloudy day—but has noticeable changes in the light.

In peace and joy,
Joanna





Thursday, July 03, 2014
I have just begun to teach Buddhism to my students for this term, and an aspect of the teachings of Buddha is the conscientious distribution of our words. The title of this aspect is “Right Speech,” as opposed to speech that harms, causes disharmony and isn’t truthful.

When I went back to school to become a journalist, I was part of a leadership camp, and it was there that I realized part of my “mission” was to help people realize the power of words. I hesitate, because I’m never one to tell others how to act, let alone speak. But as I hear the political discourse in all levels of government, I’m continually amazed at the dynamic in the discourse between people that’s anything but harmonious and compassion-based.

My friend Rev. Trudy Bradley, who passed away just about two years ago, was someone who reminded me that this world could use people to add to the level of compassion activated in the world. That’s what we’re here for, she would say.

I am reading Marcus Borg’s “Speaking Christian,” which I know some members at Kairos-Milwaukie have read. I am just getting started reading it, but to someone who cringes every time a Christian uses language that the ancient Christians would not even recognize, it is a breath of fresh air to see on paper that the language of Jesus may have been polarizing, but it certainly was meant to unify everyone in the eyes of a compassionate God. What happened to that language? I have not always recognized this embracing dynamic of Jesus as I talk with Christians of all kinds. The language used can be very limiting—you can only speak this language this way to be Christian. For a time, I wasn’t sure I was Christian according to some. Ironically, it was Marcus Borg that helped me see otherwise. I aspire to be involved in the model that Jesus set, which represents what it means to be compassionate in action. Period. End of language.

Christian language can still be used as a weapon against those not in agreement, who may also be Christian! It’s so funny. We have sometimes made religion us versus them, when religion is supposed to be about unifying under one God! Did you know that’s the original translation of the root word of religion, religio. It means to tie or fasten—in other words, you could say it’s a form of unite.


So words within Christianity does not have to bind us to any one way to see Jesus or our faith. Let’s be uniting with our words. 

In Peace that comes with a compassionate heart,
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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