2019 Lenten Devotions

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We rise today with a mighty strength – the power of Resurrection in our one whole life.

Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019

We Rise Today

John 20:1-18

In the Gospel of John, on Easter morning, we rise with Mary Magdalene, while it is still dark, and make our way to the tomb. There, we find that the stone has been rolled away.  Mary runs to tell the others, and, when they hear, Peter and the Beloved Disciple run to the tomb. Peter rushes in, but the Beloved Disciple stops short.

In Professor Herman Waetjen’s reading of John, the Beloved Disciple is Lazarus.[1]  Lazarus stops at the threshold because he knows what it is to be in a tomb.  He stops short – when he sees the burial cloth – as the experience of death once again registers in his body. And then he goes on in – looking for the Jesus who came looking for him.  Back in the tomb – this empty tomb – the Beloved Disciple experiences again his own resurrection in the resurrection of Jesus—he sees, and he believes.  And he runs to tell the good news.

While the men run back to get the others, Mary lingers, weeping into the tomb.  Jesus comes to her, but she thinks him the gardener.   She sees him – Jesus – only when he calls her by name – just like he called Lazarus, by name – both called by name out of their experience of death into life.

And as we see all this, as our gaze opens with Mary, we realize that we are in a garden on this Resurrection morning (“she thought him the gardener”).   We are back in the garden – where the story began “in the beginning” – God with us – now, in the Risen Christ – the Word in flesh – Christ’s and ours. Our eyes open, with Mary’s, to a world where there is no separation –  where no power not even death can separate us from God – where Resurrection is alive with us, and for us, and in us.  And we see that this one whole life of ours is bigger than ever we imagined.  This one whole life is bigger even than death.

The Prayer of St Patrick begins with the affirmation: “I rise today with a mighty strength.” The words of the prayer then cascade with all of the ways that God is present with us right here, right now, for the living of the day: God’s strength to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s hand to keep me. The strength of Christ’s baptism and crucifixion and burial and resurrection. The strength of heaven, swiftness of wind, depth of sea, firmness of rock.  Christ above us, Christ beside us, Christ within us.

On this Easter morning, let that be our prayer... because it is true:

We rise today with a mighty strength
            the power of Resurrection
            in our one whole life.
Christ above us,
Christ below us,
Christ behind us,
Christ before us,
Christ beside us,
Christ within us,

Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed!


[1]Herman C. Waetjen, The Gospel of the Beloved Disciple: A Work in Two Editions (Bloomsbury Publishing 2005).

Rev. Scott Clark 
SFTS Chaplain and Dean of Students

 
 
Holy Saturday reminds us that Christ has been to hell and set all its prisoners free.

Holy Saturday, April 20, 2019

Of Hell and Honey 

Luke 23:45-56

My dream, my works, must wait till after hell
I hold my honey and store my bread 
In little jars and cabinets of my will…
None can tell me when I may dine again
Gwendolyn Brooks

We are told in our scripture reading that the women kept vigil with the tortured Christ until it was all over. They followed the body to the tomb and departed to perform that last sacrament of despair – preparing spices to honor a corpse. What hell they must be living. Whatever dreams they cherished had not merely withered, but writhed in slow, tormented deaths. Their work to care for and witness to this amazing man – once so filled with luminous hope was now less than dust.

Not all Protestants acknowledge Holy Saturday (except in the lovely pagan ritual of dying eggs) – but it is the day ancient Christians honored as the harrowing of hell (Ephesians 4:8-10, 1 Peter 3:18-20, 4:6, Gospel of Nicodemus, Apostles’ Creed). Who among us has not spent time in hell? Or stretched our imaginations to taste the hell of those in prison, terrorized in their own homes, starving, empty even in their affluence, tormented by hatred as they cling to their power? On bad days, we may think that human history is little but a long descent into hell.

The very meaning of hell is that it is hopeless (“abandon hope all ye who enter here”). But this holy day reminds us that Christ has been to hell and set all its prisoners free. Mother Christ abandons none of Her cherished friends to despair or self-destruction: Through Her, the Beloved Trinity permeates all things – even hell. The women don’t know that now. But a time will come when they will again eat honey and bread.

Dr. Wendy Farley
SFTS Professor of Spirituality and Rice Family Chair in Spirituality

 
 
Simon of Cyrene’s story is the story of all those who are less powerful and who are used as a surrogate to bear the burden for others.

Good Friday, April 19, 2019

Simon the Cyrene – From Bystander to Surrogate

 
Luke 23:26-46

Black folk claim Simon with reference not to geography, but to identity. Simon’s blackness is truth-telling and empowering.”

- Rev. Jeania Ree V. MooreDirector of Civil and Human Rights at the General Board of Church and Society for The United Methodist Church

The story of Simon the Cyrene is the story of a bystander, who has no power, that gets put in the middle of another’s story; he was just a man watching Jesus carry the cross on the way to Calvary.

It is the honest telling of the story of the those who are less powerful being used as a surrogate in some cosmic game of redemption; the Romans called him out and compelled him to carry the cross. Why him? This is the question of proxy nations, mammies, and foot soldiers in wars that will not benefit the families of those who, disproportionately, died.

It turns out that there is something that is worse than being considered a political and theological scapegoat. It is being a surrogate for the goat. Simon has no idea of the significance of the drama within which he was thrust. All he knew was:

“he was conscripted to be a spectacle” 

Therein lies the story of people who become tropes for religious issues that have nothing to do with them. Church doctrines and political policies are never simply about the truth without them also being about power and personalities. Age to age, Simons have carried the cross with Jesus on the way to redemption for the church and the world.

The first women preachers, slaves who contended that the gospel was for them, LGBTQIA+ Christians who bear votes about their inclusion within a church that says “whosoever will let them come” are all continuing examples of people who were compelled to move from bystanders to surrogates.

In fact, the surrogate does not die. The crossbeam of the cross is taken from his shoulder because in the end, it is collateral suffering that is not of his own making. Rather, Jesus will let Simon bear the burden, but not suffer the cost of the crime of simply being himself.

To the Simons, this passage is comforting. It does not lie and say there is no burden. But, it declares that the burden will be lifted by a God who will not let the religious authorities win or the unjust society reign. Simon is not the scapegoat. He is not the reason for the drama. He is not guilty. They ain’t nothing wrong with him. The crowd is as wrong about Simon then as they are about all the Simons since then.

The question of this season is how are our whole lives being used in relation to Simon? Shouldn’t someone, anyone, and everyone have run from the crowd and said “NO.” Aha, but they had the privilege of cowardice. Their skin was not brown!

Rev. Floyd Thompkins
SFTS Vice President Innovation and Online Education
& Director of the Center for Innovation in Minsitry

 
 
We arrive with Jesus at the table of the Last Supper, knowing that hard things lie ahead.

Maundy Thursday, April 18, 2019

Hard Things

Luke 22:14-34

Here we stand breathless
And pressed in hard times.
Hearts hung like laundry
On backyard clothes lines.
Impossible just takes
A little more time.
From the muddy ground
Comes a green volunteer.
In a place we thought
barren, new life appears.
Morning will come whistling
Some comforting tune, for you.
You can do this hard thing.
You can do this hard thing.
It’s not easy I know, but
I believe that it’s so.
You can do this hard thing. 
– “You Can Do This Hard Thing,” written by Carrie Newcomer

What is one of the hardest things you have ever done? What is the most difficult season of life that you have lived through? If you’re like me, it is challenging to pick just one, as there have been many hard things, and multiple difficult seasons. Perhaps you are in one right now, or perhaps you are just coming out of one. I have times in my life that I can look back upon and wonder how I ever got through it, seasons that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, and yet we all go through them. Difficulty is a part of life. We do hard things every day.

And I see difficulty in our text, too. In this passage from Luke, Jesus breaks bread with friends, pours cups of wine, speaks of suffering, sharing, remembrance, and betrayal. He is witness to a debate between them about greatness, speaks of benefactors and servants, flips the script on who is the greatest and the least, and tells his dear friend, Peter, that Peter will deny knowing Jesus. These scenes are filled with incredible difficulty. With blessing, beauty, and grace and all of those lovely things, yes. But there is also an ominous atmosphere pulsing with tragedy, torment, and difficulty. Knowing what is before him, Jesus still chooses to be with his people. Jesus did a very hard thing.

We are in the final days of Lent, well into Holy Week, arriving here to Maundy Thursday where we remember the Last Supper that Jesus had with his friends and family. We are sitting with Jesus amongst his disciples. We bring to the table our whole lives. We bring our joys, accomplishments, dreams, and hopes, alongside our disappointments, sorrows, griefs, and tears. In the act of the Lord’s Supper, we find communion with Jesus, with the disciples, with the saints, and with all of those professing faith in Christ. Following his journey here to the table we profess together that we, too, can do this hard thing. We can remember and witness the body of Christ broken, life poured out in the bread and the cup. We can choose to be with our people and show up to the table. We can do hard things and make it through difficult times with the reassurance that Jesus is alongside us for our whole lives. May you feel the mystery and grace of bread and cup fill you and nourish you this day.

Lora East
SFTS MDiv 2016, SFTS/GTU MA and DASD 2017

 
 
They sang a hymn, went out into the night, and Jesus said, “Watch and pray.”

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Watch and Pray

Matthew 26:30-46

The Gospel of Matthew tells us that after the Last Supper they sung a hymn and went out into the night.  They made their way to Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed in agony, leaving the disciples to snooze, with the plaintive encouragement:  “Watch and pray.”

Over the past few years, the Spirit has breathed new life into our music program at the Seminary.  We are singing all the time.  Much of this flows from the leadership of our Seminary Singers director, Carolyn Anderson (also an MDiv student).  And, for the past three years, we have had in our midst singer/songwriter John Lyzenga (also an MDiv student).  John’s songs have become a regular part of our chapel worship and choir concerts. John’s music has become an important part of our prayer.

With John’s permission, today’s devotion is his song: “Watch and Pray.”   Here’s the link where you can find it for a listen: https://johnlyzenga.bandcamp.com/track/watch-and-pray

For our prayer today, we invite you to listen – to sing – to watch and pray.

We invite you into the embodied experience of listening and singing – but if you can’t access the link wherever you are, here are the words:

Watch and pray.
Watch and pray.
Watch and pray.
Watch and pray.

Won’t you stay with me?
Oh, remain with me.
Won’t you stay with me?
Oh, remain with me.

Oh, suffering God,
how you know loneliness.
Oh, suffering God,
how you weep for us.
Oh, suffering God,
how you know injustice.
Oh, suffering God,
won’t you stay with us?

Editor’s Notes:

Watch and Pray,” copyright John Lyzenga, used with permission.

John Lyzenga’s album In Troubled Times  is available at https://johnlyzenga.bandcamp.com/releases, with more of his music, written in collaboration with Yolanda Norton, and featuring a community of seminary musicians.

Rev. Scott Clark 
SFTS Chaplain and Dean of Students

 
 
To follow Christ is to do everything we can to build a society that gives life and overthrows death.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Call of the Widow

Luke 20:45-21:4

We want to praise the widow and her mites as an example for us all to follow. That’s how it was preached to me as a girl, emphasizing stewardship of the church and of our personal resources. But that message distorts what Jesus says and saves me from having to critique the system that keeps the widow poor.

The week that I am writing this, the Trump administration announced a cutoff in U.S. aid funds to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The same administration has punished mothers for attempting to legally seek asylum in the United States by removing their children from their custody, in some cases leading to the child’s death or disappearance.

I live in Honduras, and I have had numerous friends and strangers contact me to ask about what they can do about the migrant crisis, to help “those poor children” and wringing their hands about Trump administration policies, in some cases ignorant of the fact that the militarization and privatization of U.S. border security systems have increased under each of the past five presidencies. Few have asked about how to change the system that has kept Central America poor and dependent on the United States’ neo-colonial economy, government aid, and charity.

We forget that Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua struggle because the United States over the past century has wanted them to struggle. The U.S. military supported regime change in those countries in order to keep bananas and pineapples cheap. U.S. companies lobby for tariffs and “free trade” deals that benefit publicly traded agriculture corporations—stockholders and not farmers. The U.S.-driven war on drugs created militarization of police in countries rife with corruption, increasing violence in poor communities while doing little to limit demand for cocaine in the world’s largest market for it: the United States.

The widow gives out of her poverty, and Jesus implies praise of her example. But Jesus doesn’t call us to follow her. In fact, I wonder if he calls even the widow to something more. The story of the widow’s mites comes in the middle of a lengthy critique of the entire Temple system. He says, “beware of the scribes,” that is, beware the empire, beware the systemic machinations that keep people poor, beware those who devour the widow’s home. Our whole life devoted to following Christ is not to sacrifice our bank accounts, no matter how big or small the balance. Our whole life devoted to following Christ is to reject the very system that fills our bank accounts, that created the inequality to begin with. To follow Christ is to do everything we can to build a society that gives life and overthrows death.

Rev. Dori Kay Hjalmarson
SFTS MDiv 2015

 
 
A Lenten devotion for Tax Day

Monday, April 15, 2019

Happy Tax Day, Everybody!

Luke 20:20-26

I don’t like this story. I really don’t. It’s problematic for me because it is one of the few places where I find myself disagreeing with Jesus. Or at least I find myself wanting him to be more direct. I mean, I get why he is saying what he’s saying – these spies had him in a potentially tough spot. If he just says “yes” then he can be called out as a supporter of Rome—certainly not the kind of messiah to deliver the people from their Roman colonizers. If he just says “no” then he can be called out as anti-establishment, a dangerous revolutionary calling for the fall of the empire. So, his answer is more of a “yes, but…” Pay your taxes to Caesar, but give to God what is God’s.

It’s not lost on me that you’re reading this devotion on Tax Day. I’ve never relished preparing or submitting my taxes. I honestly don’t know anyone who does. In my childhood home, I remember the days leading up to April 15 when my father would fill the dining table with accordion files and stacks of paper. He would huddle there with a calculator for hours, quietly whispering to himself. I practiced this ritual in my own home for a while – but as one who is far less adept in the world of math than my father, I now much prefer to pay someone else to prepare my taxes.

Every year, as Spring re-emerges and we enter the short jog to April 15, I begin to remember Henry David Thoreau and his protest of slavery and the Mexican-American War. In her piece in the New York Times last Tax Day, Sarah Vowell wrote:

…for six years Thoreau did not pay his taxes. He asks, “When I meet a government which says to me, ‘Your money or your life,’ why should I be in haste to give it my money?” And so he went to jail — for a single night. “For someone” — probably his aunt — “interfered, and paid that tax.”

Rereading “Civil Disobedience” annually, around tax time, is on the same to-do list as sending forms to my accountant and gathering the wadded-up receipts that suggest that my job is not writing but drinking tea in airports. Because the point of Thoreau’s admitted “harsh and stubborn and unconciliatory” rant is worth remembering at least once a year: Our money makes us complicit. You and I paid for the rope at Abu Ghraib just as our forebears footed the bill for Gen. Winfield Scott and Capt. Robert E. Lee to dock at Veracruz in 1847 and follow the trail blazed by Hernán Cortés to storm Mexico City because the guy in the White House really needed Utah.

Taxes are the government’s way to hold us complicit in the maintenance of a system beyond our individual control. I wish I could just refuse to pay, and in doing so have it actually be some kind of an act of resistance or a call to revolution. But there are plenty who do not pay taxes, and it hardly seems revolutionary. Amazon pays zero federal taxes, and it just seems greedy.

If I must pay taxes, why not let me choose where I want them to go? Some kind of checklist to supplement my tax forms would be appreciated, even if it were just a ruse to cool my ire about paying money to fund the military industrial complex. I would feel good about saying, in writing, that I want all of my tax dollars to fund schools, health care, social programs, nature conservation, and infrastructure. Zero to the military, the prisons, or to subsidize corporate interests. But I don’t even have the illusion of that choice.

I’m caught in the swirl of it all – not wanting to support a corrupt system with my money, and at the same time knowing that I am already so completely entwined in the system. It’s not really as simple these days as “whose image is on the coin.” And probably Jesus didn’t mean it as a simple answer either.  Because, someday, all of this money is going to be worthless. Who uses the denarius anymore? And ultimately, isn’t everything God’s anyway?

Rev. Paul Gaffney 
SFTS Program Manager of The Shaw Chaplaincy Institute for Spiritual Care + Compassionate Leadership
SFTS MDiv 2004

 
 
"I wonder how our collective praise might really sound if we would risk enough to express it."

Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019

Shouts of Praise

Luke 19:28-40

I miss the shouting. This morning I reminisced about the times I have sung along with a gospel choir in praise. I remembered standing to my feet and lifting my hands in acknowledgement of how much I have been blessed. I remembered the almost incessant clapping afterward and the shouts of hallelujah, for God has been with me during times of deep sadness and great joy. And I am reminded that Jesus assures me that his steadfast loving kindness, mercy, and grace will accompany me throughout my one whole life.

Too often lately, I have sat in a church-mouse-quiet sanctuary and wondered how our collective praise might really sound if we could risk enough to express it. I hear the term “frozen chosen” bandied about like a badge of honor, and I cringe every time.

Our text today illustrates the hopefulness of a people to be delivered from their circumstances/situations/events of oppression and injustice—from suffering and adversity. They have heard the good news of One who has come from a nowhere place (i.e., insignificant in relation to the empire), who has these Divine powers. Someone who can heal strangers regardless of their sin state and distance to him. Someone who then forgives the sin and leaves them more whole than they’ve ever been.

They have heard from community members that the blind now see, the leper has been healed, and thousands of people got fed with almost no food. This Jesus had invited company with adulterers, tax collectors, and those despised by the elite. He had blessed the poor and those who are mourning, had been tempted by the devil, and was still without sin himself. He had calmed the seas and made unproductive fig trees shrivel.

These people lived under the threat of further disenfranchisement. They were all too ready to welcome their new king into town to takeover. They were jubilant, celebratory, and confident. In a time of chronic persecution, they were willing to openly shout with words of longing and praise for a future uprising where the present establishment would fall and be destroyed. They were leaning into their hope with their whole selves hardly able to contain the joy in their hearts.

I wonder how our collective praise might really sound if we would risk enough to express it. Yet somehow, we have rationalized our whispered hallelujahs. We sing hymns about bowing our heads and lifting our hands. But we do not bow our heads or lift our hands. We read liturgies about the efficacy of the bended knee. But we do not bend our knees. And in our current circumstances/situations/events of oppression and injustice and suffering and adversity, we ought to shout praises to our deliverer lest the rocks are all we hear on Easter morning.

Rev. Ruth T. West 
SFTS Program Manager, Advanced Pastoral Studies
SFTS MDiv 2012, DASD 2013

 
 
Who will steady and support us, calling us ever on to wholeness, warding us against those who would take our lives?

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Negotiating Witness

Psalm 31:9-16

Have mercy on me, O Lord, the psalmist cries, for I am in distress!

I am in distress. This is not unique. The world itself cries out its distress. I read further into the passage, hoping for some phrase, some imagery, something that will let me see myself reflected—as the psalmist writes that eye and soul and body are wasting away with grief, that all of life is spent with grief, that even strength fails and bones grow weak, and I pause.

I am trans. My body is sometimes and in some ways a betrayal. Sometimes, like the psalmist, I feel that all of me is wasting away with grief. Sometimes this is more literal: trans people in this country are immensely more likely to live below the poverty line and to face food insecurity and deprivation. I escaped marks on my bones with perhaps a month to spare but others of my kin are not so fortunate.

The psalmist continues. I am the scorn of all my enemies, doubly so among my neighbors, and repulsive to my friends: those who see me in the street flee from me.

This is touching too close to home. I gave up a long time ago counting the number of times people crossed the street rather than pass me by. I gave up counting the number of times a police car would trail me slowly. It's the hair, or it's the clothes, or it's the gendered markers that say: man? woman? 404: gender not found. The psalmist writes I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind and I think of family reunions and church functions.

Voices whispering on every side, scheming to take my life, yes, that too rings too clear, too close to home. Terror all around indeed. All of this is the price I pay, the price we pay, for daring to display our trans selves, our trans bodies, to the world. We take steps towards wholeness and integration knowing full well that those steps will cost us. We want to live a whole life, not a closeted life, not a fractured life of out here, misgendered there, tied to a role we were assigned there again. And we find the courage to step towards wholeness, towards integration, and we meet scorn, and poverty, and our bones waste away, and all our life is spent in tears.

How do we take these steps? Where do we find the strength to continue on, to chase a life that is more than a broken vessel? The psalmist crying for deliverance seems to have more confidence than me. Who will steady and support us, calling us ever on to wholeness, warding us against those who would take our lives?

Make your face shine upon your servants, O Lord; save us in your steadfast and tender love.

Bran Stigile-Wright 
SFTS Student – SFTS MDiv and SFTS/GTU MA

 
 
We are called to be of the same heart with Christ, which is to recognize the same heart that is in all things. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

Wholeness in Emptiness

Philippians 2:5-11

The first line of this passage begs of oneness, being of the “same mind” as Christ.  It’s easy to assume that is in opposition to some other.  Our lexicon is filled with dualism—good/bad, right/wrong, left/right, orthodox/heretical.  Distinctions are important.  Moral and ethical clarity are necessary.  Yet, dualism doesn’t achieve the wholeness God desires.  In her Encountering the Wisdom Jesus, Cynthia Bourgeault refers to an early title given to Jesus as, “The Unified One.”  That is our model.

Notice that Jesus empties himself of that which separates him, power.  The incarnation is complete in the emptying, solidarity found at the common denominator of suffering.  The cross is the measure to which God would go to seek unity with all things.

We may tremble at the notion that “every knee shall bend,” but perhaps this is less a bowing to an authoritarian power (remember the emptying), than a prostrating to a way of oneness, of recognizing the sacredness in all things.

A recent story of prostration reveals the possibilities. It’s of a man from Indiana who had grown a deep hatred for Muslims through his experiences in combat (not everyone’s experience, of course). When spewing hateful things about a Muslim mother of one of his young daughter’s classmates, his daughter gave him the sad eyes of a child disappointed in the father. Those eyes changed him and while he had once planned to bomb the local mosque, he instead entered it with questions. His intentions were not entirely pure at first, but his heart was changed. Today he is an imam. Now he prostrates at the wholeness he experiences in what he thought was empty, having emptied himself of both prejudice and power.

Bourgeault reminds us there is a path of nondualism in the Christian tradition if we would but choose it and choose to see it. That path is to know, to see, and to speak with the heart. Thus, Paul is truly inviting us to have the same heart that was in Christ Jesus, that which seeks justice through rejecting the usual binaries, working for the wholeness that is only found when the power that oppresses is likewise emptied. This Lent, I am seeking to lead, and be led with, my heart.

Rev. Dr. Robert McClellan
Pastor/Head of Staff, Westminster Presbyterian Church (Tiburon, CA)
SFTS DMin 2018

 
 
As Mary anoints Jesus’ feet, three things stand out in Jesus’ response to culture: One need, intended purpose, and time expiration.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

One Whole Life = Time

John 12:1-8

In a culture where time is money and money is time, the sum of the two may equate to our life’s worth. This means what we have done with that sum total will attempt to signify our purpose and will become our legacy—a vestige of who we were and what we did while we existed, symbolizing what we found most important with our time in life. Today, culture seeks to nurture, but yet with the strong arm of a dictator, our life’s mission to acquire as much as possible. Whether money, recognition, or possessions, we are on a hedonistic pursuit. The hunt becomes a prioritized fixation, leading to the accumulated net worth of an internal life that is unfulfilled and an eternal life that is unfilled.

In the verses for today’s devotion, we see the second time that Mary’s proper fixation at the feet of Jesus is met with scorn by the current “culture,” represented in others who find importance in admiration, presentation, or selfish gain. Yet, each time, the response that Jesus gives to her criticizers is for Mary to be left alone. Martha in Luke 101, was upset that Mary did not assist with all the “to-do’s” in preparing the house. In John 12, Judas was upset that Mary uses an oil that cost a year’s salary to anoint the feet of Jesus. Culture represented in Martha says that there is no gain in seeking Jesus, but instead one should use that time doing what is needed to receive admiration from others.  Or, the culture represented in Judas tells us not to waste money to show our gratitude to our Savior or worship Him, but instead use it for selfish gain masked by piety. In Luke, Jesus responded to Martha saying, “You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”Similarly, in the gospel of John, Jesus responds to Judas saying, “Leave her [Mary] alone… It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”3

Three things stand out in Jesus’ response to culture: One need, intended purpose, and time expiration. In this life where business is king, we become inundated with many things, but only One thing is important. Mary recognized the one thing of importance, Jesus. “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”2

We all are created for a purpose. An inventor creates an invention for a reason. The Creator uniquely created each one of us for a purpose. If Mary’s only purpose was to worship at the feet of Jesus with love and gratitude to strengthen Him as He prepared for what laid before Him at the cross, it is good that she was not deterred by the opinions of culture.

We have this One Whole Life to find that One important thing that’s needed, that ties into the purpose of our creation. Jesus advises regarding a time expiration. Time, which is marked by the rising and setting of the Son. We see this highlighted in John 12:35-36, “Then Jesus told them, ‘You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.’” Also, in John 8:12, “When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’”

1Luke 10:38-42NIV
2Matthew 6:33 NIV
3John 12:1-8NIV

Sade Idris
SFTS MDiv Student

 
 
Protest offers the opportunity to align our bodies and our hearts publicly in prayer.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Protest as Prayer

Luke 4:14-30

Over the past several months, I’ve joined with neighbors in an effort to change the name of our school district, which is currently called the “Dixie” school district.  We have gathered in homes for planning.  We have spoken up and stayed out late at school board meetings.  We have protested before those meetings, chanting chants and singing songs.  And over the past four Saturdays, we have marched in silence down the central streets of the district, as a protest for the name change and for racial justice. Among us, no one has been able to show up for everything; everyone has showed up for something.  We have stood together.

I do want to be clear—this gathering of neighbors and friends is diverse; we come from all manner of spiritual and religious backgrounds, gathered around a shared civic and moral commitment. With that said, standing in this experience, I want to say something, out of my spiritual location, about protest and prayer.

In her book Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit writes that walking in protest is a particular way of placing our bodies together in public spaces to make meaning.  She suggests that walking together in public protest has elements of pilgrimage, and community, and testimony—as she says, “Walking becomes testifying.”  She goes on: “We walk together, and the whole street is for stamping out the meaning of the day.” Describing her particular experience of protest, Solnit writes: “It was as though in aligning our bodies we had somehow aligned our hearts.” To that, I would add, from my religious and spiritual tradition: Protest offers the opportunity to align our bodies and our hearts publicly in prayer—to embody a Word together that hopes to align with God’s liberating work in the world.

In Luke 4, as Jesus announces his ministry, he aligns his body with the poor, and with the brokenhearted, and with the prisoner, and with all who are oppressed. He prays in public: This is who I am with my whole self—with my one whole life.

Today, maybe we can incorporate some of that into our prayer—praying something like this:

  • Today, how will my body proclaim good news for the poor?
  • Today, how will my body bind up the brokenhearted?
  • Today, how will my body work for the release of the prisoner, and all who are oppressed, so that everyone may live free?

Today, embodied together, how will we live our one whole life?

Rev. Scott Clark 
SFTS Chaplain and Dean of Students

 
 
The wholeness of life is in sharing and risking God’s grace, not in hoarding it for ourselves.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Risking Grace

Matthew 25:14-40

New Testament scholar Carla Works describes the Parable of the Talents as one of the most abused texts in scripture. It certainly has not been one of my favorites! I get hung up on the actions of the one slave who buries the talent he’s given, and the Master’s judgment. That’s the problem, according to Dr. Works. When we focus on the judgment, we miss the point.

In Matthew’s gospel, the reign of God is discovered in the face of the poor—in feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned. This parable is about being faithful and participating in God’s reign. It’s about living in God’s grace and responding with gratitude. And taking risks. God’s grace is a gift. The slave who buried the talent that the Master gave him acted out of fear, and in doing that, he short-circuited the flow of God’s grace.

The slaves who took their Master’s talents and invested them received abundant returns. The wholeness of life, the joy and the grace of being a child of God are discovered in sharing God’s grace with others, not in hoarding it for ourselves, or walling ourselves off from others in fear or hurt or anger.

It’s like the words of the song, “Love is something if you give it away, you wind up having more.”

Rev. Dr. Teresa Chávez Sauceda
SFTS Faculty & Director of Advanced Pastoral Studies

 
 
The woman in the crowd reaches out from her story to grasp hold of the One story.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Divine Emptying

Luke 8:40-56

Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

She was out of options. And money. She had resigned herself to her story, that she was meant to live like this. Alone. Unclean. Untouchable. Unfixable. Unlovable. Unhealable. Broken. Inhuman. Outcast. Hidden.

He shows up. There are no requirements for perfection; no demands for beauty, success, or wholeness.

She takes in a long, deep breath. On the exhale, she is willing to release her story, to suspend her life for just a moment.

She reaches out to embrace Him. The One Story. Her heartbeat becomes the heartbeat of God, and God’s heartbeat becomes hers. It is then that the exchange of vulnerability and power takes place and she is truly free. No longer fragmented and shattered. No longer moaning in horror and shame. No longer a burden.

She surrenders her story, her life, and grabs hold of His. It is just the hem, but it is enough.

The bleeding ceases. They become one.

One Whole Life.

Her story. His Story. History.

Rev. Stephanie Ryder 
Pastor, Redwoods Presbyterian Church, Larkspur, CA
SFTS MDiv 2014
SFTS Alumni Council

 
 
How do we perceive a new thing if it hasn’t happened yet?

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Can You Perceive It?

Isaiah 43:16-21

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18,19)

Remember that time when God saved you? Delivered you? Brought you home from exile? Remember that? Good.

Now forget about it.

Remember that time when you felt regret and despair? Convinced that the world and God would be better off without you? God came through. Remember that? Good.

Now forget about that.

Remember the longing? The desperation? The homecoming? The relief? Good.

Now forget about all of that. Perceive a new thing God is about to do. Perceive it.

How do we perceive a new thing if it hasn’t happened yet? That’s our creative God speaking. The One who created and is always creating. New things spring forth – at times as though they’ve happened all at once in a vacuum and other times slowly, as God hovers over the waters. To perceive it is to be open, to listen, to let go. And that can’t happen if we’re stuck on old things. Some old things carry guilt and shame. Other old things are stuck in the specific ways it’s all worked out before, as though we can steer our way towards a solution, by trying to recreate for ourselves something only God can do.

The God we worship creates everything new – in ways our rational minds would only keep us stuck. To perceive is to let go. To perceive is to move into the imaginable realm of understanding – a place where God can work with us, re-shape us, deliver us, and bring us home. Home may not look the same as it once did. Home may not sound the same or even feel the same as it did before, but it is home nevertheless. It is wholeness, peace, and freedom.

Remember all the good things God has graced you with. And then forget about it. God is about to do a new thing. Can you perceive it?

Rev. Nicole Trotter
Pastor, St Luke’s Presbyterian Church, San Rafael, CA
SFTS MDiv 2015

 
 
A Sabbath breath to sustain the work of healing.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Sabbath Breath

Luke 4:38-44

So many people

So many people crowding in to be healed

sick, broken, weary people

Desperate for just a moment

and He makes time for every one of them

Holding a hand

offering a word

a moment of healing

a ministry of presence

Reminding me of why I accepted this call

To be with the sick

To bind up the brokenhearted

To let my life speak gospel

And yet it becomes

Meetings

Agendas

Schedules

Anxiety

Worry

Calendars

Liturgical colors

And suddenly my life is overflowing

But not with grace

With obligations

Committees

The expectations of others

So many people

So many people crowding in to be healed

And I have forgotten my own heart

The one that breaks and mends

The one that is desperate for just a moment

The one that is desperate for a deep breath

Then a moment.

He took a moment away

To a deserted place

Even the great healer took a moment away

Even He knew that the breakneck pace

couldn’t be sustained

That the heart needs a moment to breathe

A moment to be cared for

A moment of rest

So many people

So many people crowding in to be healed

Myself included

So I take a breath

Take my time

Let myself out of the grasp of speed

The necessity of expectation

And remind myself

Grace has the final word

and I am worth sabbath

I deserve the rest

To dream

To recalibrate

To heal

To be

To rebuild

To strengthen my weary bones

In order to let grace flow through my body

To let my life speak gospel.

Rev. Rachel Penmore 
SFTS MDiv 2014

 
 
Psalm 126 offers a prayer for restoration – hope not for empire, but for the colonized.

Friday, April 5, 2019

A Prayer for the Colonized

Psalm 126

Today's Scripture is a prayer for wholeness. It begins with a hope, a dream of what restoration could be like. It ends with a prayer that God would lead us back into wholeness, along with a statement of faith, a statement saying that someday a relief to the pain will come.

These days, it seems easy to slip into despair. All sorts of injustices and evils surround us. It may be tempting for many to identify America as Israel in this text. However, I would caution against that. This is a prayer of the colonized.

I see this Psalm as a Psalm of the Immigrant. I see this Psalm as a Psalm of Palestine. This is not a Psalm of larger America.

Lent is a time for reflection and repentance. I believe this Psalm gives us the opportunity to reflect on our complacency to the ways our country profits off the work of immigrants while denying them basic human rights. We should take time to reflect on the pain, weeping, and death that our government’s actions in Palestine cause. We should repent all the ways that we cause others to sow with tears. How does our complicity in empire fracture God’s wholeness?

May God have mercy on us all, and make us whole.

Andrew Deeb
SFTS MDiv Senior Student 

 
 
Fearfully and wonderfully made, our bodies offer us a pattern for prayer and a means to bless the world God loves.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Blessing Our Body

Psalm 139

Psalm 139 is the psalm where we ask God to search us and to know us.  The whole of us.  Our coming in and our going out.  Our rising up and our lying down.  Every word – even before that word is on our tongue.  If we really pray for this kind of searching and knowing, it might give us healthy pause.

*     *    *

And then, as we pray this prayer of searching and knowing, what we find at the heart of this psalm is this assurance:  We are fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together in our mother’s womb, our bodies formed in the womb of the earth, our beginning and our forever, woven together with all creation.

Like Psalm 139, Celtic traditions of prayer don’t wander off into the airy ether.  They are embodied, grounded, and nourished in the stuff of life – in the loam of the earth, in the collective pulse of creation, in our embodied lives. And so, Celtic prayers often offer opportunities to pray with and for our bodies – blessing our bodies for life in the world –  praying that our bodies in each day might be employed for good.

Here’s just one way that we can do that.  It’s a prayer that came to me one morning while I was stretching at the gym.  Patterned after any number of Celtic prayers, this prayer uses our body as the frame for our prayer – offering every bit of us to bless the world – all the places that we are aching, or weary, or fierce – whatever our age or stage or condition – offering the whole of us to bless the world.  You can pray this prayer sitting or standing or walking or stretching – whatever feels right.  You can make it your own.  Feel free.

Whatever and however you pray today, may the whole of you bless the world God loves.

Blessing Our Body

Bless to me this day these hands;
may they touch the world with tender mercy.

Bless to me these arms;
may they stretch wide
to welcome all who have been left out or left behind.

Bless to me these shoulders;
may they be strong to bear all that you would have me carry.

Bless to me this backbone;
may it gird me to stand steadfastly for what is right.

Bless to me these gluts;
may they help me sit down
when it is someone else’s turn to speak.

Bless to me these legs;
may they run (or walk) with endurance
the race set before me.

Bless to me these feet;
may they help me bring good news
everywhere that you will take me this day.

Bless this day this whole body
that I may live one whole life.

In the name of the Maker of bodies,
and the Word made flesh,
and the Spirit who empowers our bodies to live for good.  Amen.

Rev. Scott Clark 
SFTS Chaplain and Dean of Students

 
 
Where is the “stuff” and “garbage” in our spiritual life?  How will we let go?

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Marie Kondo Your Spirit

Phillipians 3:4b-14

I am looking at a pile of stuff, a huge heaping pile of stuff that I am taking to Goodwill. It’s mostly clothes and shoes, and just a lot of “stuff.” I am doing what many people seem to be doing right now, I am “Marie Kondo-ing” my apartment. I don’t have the patience to thank my things for their service one at a time so I just kind of wave my hand above the pile and say “thanks, you’ve been great.” How did I accumulate so much stuff? How does anyone accumulate this much stuff? There are clothes in this pile with the tags still on, games that have never been opened, books that have never been cracked, and shoes that have never been worn.

Surely when Paul was talking about letting go of the flesh he was not referring to last year’s clothing trends. But it makes me think about what it means to follow Jesus and how that somehow relates to my pile of frivolous items bearing the shame of my consumerism.

My heap of unwanted goods is a representation of how we keep things we don’t need and allow them to get in the way of our life with Christ. My dresser drawers and closet were bursting at the seams; my closet was so packed that I could have something come off the hanger without it falling to the floor. Everything was just a little more difficult with all of this stuff I had accumulated. I couldn’t ever manage to get or stay organized.

I feel we have done this with our religious practices as well. We say the things and chant the prayers, all the while thinking about what we are going to make for dinner that night, or mulling over all of the commitments we have made, and yet we leave church thinking we have done our Christian duty for the week. But it was just “stuff,” and in reality we have to wonder if it brought us any closer to Jesus. I’m not suggesting throwing in the towel on your Sunday service, I think it is important to keep up the practices that make our life fruitful. However I think it is worth reflecting on what practices we engage in that contribute to a fruitful spiritual life, and then, to give ourselves the space to recognize practices that are not of much use to us.

In the Philippians passage, Paul isn’t telling us that Deuteronomic law brings him closer to Christ.  Similar to my pile of junk, he calls all these gains (obeying the religious laws and performing all of the rituals) “garbage.” To live into Christ is to lean into faith, not law. If we immerse ourselves in the intense, radiant love of God then we can be made whole. If we are made whole, we are able to be vessels to carry out God’s work. We are always held in favor by our Divine Creator, and we should show ourselves the same grace that God shows us and allow ourselves to evolve in ways that bring us closer together in community. Oftentimes this requires some letting go.

What have you collected in your life that is getting in the way of your relationship with God? How much “garbage” in your spiritual life do you have to let go of in order to become whole? In this time of Lent, find space to meditate on decluttering your beliefs, worries, doctrines, pasts, and experiences that have left you broken, and make room for your relationship with Christ to flourish. We cannot become whole without letting go of our garbage.

Heather Johnston 
SFTS MDiv Student 

 
 
Asking someone – someone listens.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Asking

Luke 6:1-11

I am not
certain who I’m asking

pressing to, to speak
to a Representative
but faith says Something

Someone listens.

Someone:
give me the tongue
to ask questions which close off all possible answers but honesty.
Give me the upright spine
to know the lurking truth and turn people’s heads
toward their own shadow.

The devil may care but I can’t

Someone:
give me the harvesting hands,
the attitude of a world-walker with everything to offer.
Give me a call in my own turn.

Put me next to
that which is of Thee,
and of Thy people.

Lucas Walker
SFTS Pastoral Care Associate
SFTS MDiv 2012, MATS 2015

 
 
Stopping on the vigil toward Christ’s death, the writer mourns sexual violence against women and raises her voice for the healing of the broken body.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Gospel for the Broken Body

Luke 4:12-21

Editor’s note:  Please be aware that the following devotion speaks truth plainly about sexual violence.

As I seek for one whole life in faith, every Lenten season invites me to reflect on the body, broken for me. Alongside Jesus Christ’s vigil toward death, I would stop at a place where my body mourns each year. The more I seek to align mind, heart and gut with my whole body, the more it allows me to get into the brokenness of relationships with others.

This year I have stopped on the death vigil before a series of the recent big scandals that have uncovered how Korean society has exploited women’s bodies to maintain toxic social customs among men. Older elite men have captured women and treated them like their sex toy at their secret places.  Younger men have kept their sex-videos and mocked women’s bodies with a rape drug, sharing the sex video clips with their friends. Their social networking messenger applications in their cellular phones have shown that they did not feel any guilt at all when they degraded another fully human being’s body for pleasure. Shockingly but not surprisingly in sorrow, Korean police and the prosecution system have hesitated to punish these men in a bigger cartel, with those abusing men having power in the legal system. In relationship with men's bond with each other, Korean authorities were timid because the alleged perpetrators included the vice minister of justice, and because they are K-pop stars and they are super rich. The men's bond is what feminist scholar Ueno Chizuko has termed “homosociality” – the strong social/cultural connections between members of the same sex – here, the bond among men based on misogyny and the objectification of women.  Here, the men’s bond is so powerful that they can nullify Korea’s legal system.

Everything is on the way. When the victims proclaim their own gospel in their own language of liberation, I do believe that the Spirit-Sophia is on the people to heal their broken body. Many people started to raise their own voice to fight against those smart and powerful evil connections. I add my little voice with the women and men who have already decided to stand with the victims. May the voices proclaiming good news magnify the poor, and in particular women, all who are the lowest of the low in any class, race, and power system. May the voices proclaiming good news liberate the prisoners who are captured in men’s toxic unity physically, socially, culturally, emotionally, and spiritually. May the voices proclaiming good news get stronger by anointing women’s bodies with the Spirit-Sophia which can rebuild their dignity, healing the broken body.

Min-Hee, Kim
SFTS MDiv 2015

 
 
None of us is less than the sum of our parts – the whole of us intertwined with all who have come before and all who walk with us now.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

A Whole Story

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

When I read Scripture I’m often left wishing for the whole story—a fuller account of what happened before, during, or after the tale. Today’s text is no exception: It is the familiar parable of the wayward younger brother who takes his inheritance and arrogantly leaves home, and the wayward older brother who takes his inheritance and arrogantly stays home.

But I want to fill in some gaps. What prompted the younger brother to demand his share when he did? What was the dinner conversation between father and older brother after the younger skipped town? What happened in the father’s heart that opened him to forgiveness, and in the older brother that cemented rejection? Something in me wants more than these slices, more than parts of lives used to make a point about repentance and forgiveness and grudge. I want the whole story.

Maybe I feel this way because I don’t want episodes in my life to be partitioned into simple tropes and object lessons. Stories without context and devoid of before-and-after can make a point, but they can also tempt us to forget that there is more to the story.

I wonder if that’s what inflicted the older brother. Maybe he could only remember that his little brother turned without a word and strode out the door. Maybe in his resentment the older brother forgot what it was like to be lost. Maybe his life shrank from its larger whole to this single isolated rupture—and then only his experience of it.

This text is a parable; its characters composed for a purpose. But even parables have context, and their particulars interpret and are interpreted in a larger whole. That there is more to the story is both warning and hope: None of us is less than the sum of our parts, the whole of our lives, intertwined with the whole lives of those who have come before and those who walk with us now. Christ’s promise of wholeness is that our “after” need not be limited by our “before,” even as the whole of who we are is encircled in the love of God.

Rev. Aimee Moiso
SFTS Trustee
SFTS MDiv 2006 

 
 
In life, we cannot reach our destination if we do not know where we came from.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Seeing Our Future by Knowing Our Past

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

We have a saying in the Philippines which, roughly translated, goes like this: If you do not know where you came from, you’ll never know where you’re going.

This is especially haunting me during this Lent as I struggle with news of more and more Filipinos killed in the Philippines due to President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. The numbers vary, depending on who issued the report. The official death toll is more than 5,000, though independent assessments indicate that it is more than 20,000.

Many of those who were killed are mostly poor people living in squatter communities.  No matter what the current figure is, it is one death too many.

There is no doubt that the drug problem in the Philippines has grown, but the solution is not new at all. The drug killings today are colloquially called as EJKs—extra judicial killings. During the rule of Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos, more than 3,200 of his political opponents were killed by his soldiers. Then, EJKs were called “salvaging.”

My friends and I do not see eye-to-eye on this problem. They feel safer now walking outside their homes at night. They ignore the fact that the solution to the drug problem is at the cost of thousands of Filipino lives—many of them innocent. Many forget that EJK or salvaging was the same method used by Marcos to get rid of his enemies. I remember because several of them were friends.

EJK or salvaging was not acceptable then; it is not acceptable today.

As I wrestle with this problem, Paul’s letter reminds the Corinthians to remember their history—to remember their mistakes not for the sake of just remembering them, but that they should not be repeated.

St. Paul affirms God’s abiding faith in us. Without the lessons of the past, we will never see the path God unveils to us for our future.

Adlai J. Amor
SFTS Trustee
Associate Executive Secretary for Communications, Friends Committee on National Legislation
 

 
 
All of God’s creation has a heartbeat, and we are called to dance with it.

Friday, March 29, 2019

We Are Called to a Higher Standard

 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

A Lectio Divina Reflection

16 So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now. – 2 Corinthians 5:16 (CEB - Common English Bible)

We’re not called to a standard of comfort. We love to create fantasies of stagnant energy, lifeless movement that goes against the very intention and wholeness of God’s creation in order to maintain our comfort. Through Christ we see what God is willing to both sacrifice and reconcile by remaining present to change and movement.

God’s love, beauty, and capacity evolve and transform, which means so does all of creation. We are called to remain present to this higher standard of constant change, while moving from our comfort as necessary to fully appreciate it. By remaining present to a higher standard, we are able to become agents of reconciliation, restoring loving and healthy relations into the wholeness of ALL of God’s creation.

We are called to a higher standard of what Womanist Karen Baker-Fletcher calls “Dancing with God” in the evolution of love and life, because if and when we don’t, we destroy it. We destroy the fullness of humanity and all of creation.

So remember that all of God’s creation has a heartbeat, and we are called to dance with it.

Ashley Reid
SFTS MDiv Senior 

 
 
Our bodies listen and help our whole being grow toward God.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Bodily Discernment in a Busy Lent

Psalm 32

In Psalm 32, we find David sick and and in a lot of pain: “My body wasted away through my groaning all day long, while I am in silence.” (v.3)  The body is the one that goes through a tunnel of pain and loss, like Job’s body, Jesus’ body, Black bodies, women’s bodies, queer bodies…. When we are wandering amid chaos and when we become speechless, our suffering body says, “Stop! Pause!”

For several years, I commuted to the South Bay, while I lived on campus, in the North Bay. My school was here; my ministry was there. It made my body tired, and there was not enough time for recovery. I believed I had to do this, and I could handle this.

Later, while driving, I had an audiobook, “A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life,” by Parker Palmer. This book spoke to my journey on I-280 and to my divided realities. But I still couldn’t stop it, because I didn’t want to fail people’s expectations, because I wanted to finish a mission.

Recently and suddenly, I stopped commuting like that. Actually, I can’t. The fact is, I got older, and my car, too.  Issues came out in night-driving. Trauma-like experience: In the darkness, a big figure seemed to slam my body down on the road, and smash it. Then I just realized my capacity as a mere human. My body whispered, “I can’t do this anymore.”

As a suffering experience drives David to seek God, my physical body gave me a clear boundary against voices from outside and inside, “Do this,” “Do that,” “You can do it!” (all in Christ)...

Our body, in silence, drives us, listening to God’s direction. “God will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.” (v.8)

Dear God, teach me, my everything, in the way I should go. Let me live bodily, as one whole. In this spring, as a plant reflects your light in phototropism, I am leaning toward you softly. I lean on you. I pray for my everything to respond to your light, my whole being growing toward you. Amen.

Taelor Tae Kim
SFTS DMin Student
SFTS MDiv 2017  

 
 
In every step, Christ is present with us – in every person we meet, in every eye that beholds us, in the companions who walk at our side.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Blessing Each Step

Luke 8:1-3

Today’s scripture is one of those glimpses we get of the whole Jesus crew journeying together. Throughout the gospel story, Jesus moves peripatetically from one place to another, healing and teaching, with all manner of friends in tow. Here, we see the whole crew together, journeying with Jesus – Jesus, and the twelve, along with a group of women – women who, Scripture tells us, were financing Jesus’ journey – women, whom we know will be the last at the cross, and the first at the tomb. They move together “one town and village to another,” spreading the good news.

In yesterday’s devotion, Marcia McFee invited us to think of our wanderings and our wonderings. This scripture evokes those journeys too, and invites us to think of the company we keep – our traveling companions along the Way – the folks who share the steps we take.

I think of a pilgrimage I made to Iona with friends from our neighborhood church, Christ Presbyterian Church of Terra Linda. Jeff and I headed out from home and flew first to Dublin, and then (after an Irish breakfast) on to Glasgow, where we got on a train that meandered by lochs and hills to the sleepy seaside town of Oban. The next morning, we met up with our traveling companions from church – including SFTS friends and family Linda Lane-Bortell (who led the pilgrimage) and Tim Bortell, Deana Reed and Jan Hartman, Kathy and JoAn Runyeon.  We all took a ferry and then a bus and then another ferry – all along the way, discovering new companions who were also heading to the ancient abbey of Iona. And then, on the tiny island of Iona, we all fell in together – a week of life lived together, all of us far from home, sharing morning and evening prayer, worship, chores, prayer, singing, dancing, pilgrimage walks, and lots of conversation. There were our home folks, and new friends from Canada, the US, Latvia, Kenya, and all over the UK; I even ran into an old friend from Texas – our paths just happened to cross again, in a joyful and tearful embrace, halfway around the world. We were gathered, from around the world, in Christ – Christ behind us; Christ before us; Christ around us; Christ within us. And then, at the end of that week, we headed back home. On that last day, we worshipped together in a “Service of Leaving,” and then walked together out of the old abbey church to our first boat ride home. And with every boat and bus and train connection, we said good-bye to the friends we had made along the way.

This scripture makes me think of the companions I have journeyed alongside. Maybe you’re thinking of the people who have journeyed with you – maybe those who are traveling with you now. It is a holy company. I’ll give you a second to bring them to mind.

*   *   *

Both the season of Lent and Celtic spirituality carry with them the sense of journeying with Jesus in the company of friends. During Lent, we say that we journey together with Jesus through the whole of life, all the way to the cross, and then beyond the cross to the empty tomb. Celtic spirituality images the whole of life, and each day with in it, as a journey:

“The whole of life itself [as understood in Celtic spirituality] is a journey from birth to death; there are short daily journeys that are a part of our working life as we go about our ordinary and mundane tasks; and there are longer journeys, when folks leave home or leave their country.” Esther de Waal, The Celtic Way of Prayer

In prayers in the Celtic tradition, in every step of every journey, Christ is present with us – in every person we meet, in every eye that beholds us, in the companions who walk at our side, in the communion of saints that surrounds us, in every valley we traverse, in every sea we cross, in every mountain we climb.

So, here are two prayers for your journey today:

The first is a prayer for each step you take – for each step and then the next:

“Bless to me O God,
         the earth beneath my foot .
Bless to me O God,
         the paths whereon I go.”

The second is a blessing for every journey you make, large and small:

Whole may you be, and well may it go with you, every way you go and every step you travel.  My own blessing go with you, and the blessing of God go with you, and the blessing of Mary and the saints go with you, every time you rise up and every time you lie down, until you lie down in sleep upon the arms of Jesus Christ. Amen.”*

*These prayers are drawn from The Celtic Way of Prayer by Esther de Waal, pp.1-27.

Rev. Scott Clark
SFTS
Chaplain and Dean of Students  
 
 
All who wander are not lost – no, in our wandering and wondering we may just find our life.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

All Who Wander

Psalm 119:169-176

As I set off for five weeks in Ireland this summer, I had only two intentions: wandering and wondering. The very simplicity of this was unusual in my life, to say the least. The entrepreneurial life of a spiritual teacher is often not very… uh … spiritual. In fact, sometimes I think that I have spent more time planning, producing, and promoting than actually getting to ponder my own spiritual journey. Teaching about living with intention, noticing with astonishment, seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary, and creating artful symbols that point to mysterious realities doesn’t actually happen without a lot of hard and relentless work.

And so I knew where I would start and where I would end this Irish journey, but nothing else was planned about where I would go or stay in the time in between that beginning and end. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enough of a control freak to have checked out the availability of AirBnB’s to assure myself of the plethora available. I knew I’d never be homeless. But I wanted to feel “the present” in a way I am very rarely able to do. As I plan worship for churches across the country in my vocation, I am like a magazine editor who is putting together the summer issue in the dead of winter, living continually in the imagining of the experience that others will have in the future.

I love the phrase “not all who wander are lost.” Looking at scriptures like the one in the Psalms that is surely the inspirational Hebrew text reference for Jesus’ parable about the lost sheep, you realize that “wander” is pretty consistently an analogy for “lost.” Something from which one must be rescued. On the contrary, I think my wandering in Ireland was the rescuing I needed. The wandering I experienced was the kind that is relief from the tyranny of past and future thinking that can be fraught with regret in looking back, and worry in looking forward. Wandering helped me see that when I’m not in the “present,” I’m likely not aware of the “presence” of the Holy whose hand is steadying my every move right now, whose voice I recognize in the whisper of the wind in the trees, or in the song of the birds, or in the person who crosses my unplanned path. When I opened myself up to whatever the Spirit had in store, I got a whopping portion of what felt like one whole life in each and every moment.

You might not have time for five weeks in another country. But perhaps you have time for a 20-minute walk “any which way” you feel pulled with an open spirit of expectation that God will invigorate your soul and heal your homesickness for the present and presence of life.

Dr. Marcia McFee
SFTS Ford Fellow and Visiting Professor of Worship 

 
 
Sometimes you find you get what you need.

Monday, March 25, 2019

You Can't Always Get What You Want

 Luke 11:1-13

Teach us to pray. What does that mean? How do you teach someone to pray? Does it require bowing my head, closing my eyes tightly, and repeating words written by someone who doesn’t know me?

How does that bring me closer to God, and more importantly, more in tune with myself?

At 17, I didn’t know that was missing from the church in which I was raised. And maybe it isn’t missing. Maybe it was just lost in the pageantry of that style of service. The point is, it was lost on me. Aside from the community I felt singing in the choir with my family and eating piroshki prepared by the Sisterhood, I didn’t connect with the service itself. I was going through the motions, like a child wondering when to cross themselves at the right time so they didn’t “do it wrong.”

When I came to work at SFTS, I instantly connected with the beauty of the campus, and many of the kind, unique, wonderful individuals who graced it. But I was very uncomfortable attending worship. Aside from weddings, funerals, and memorial services, I had avoided the church for many years, and being inside any church put me on guard.

But my job was to tell the stories of the Seminary, and as I got to know the people who were sharing their stories—many more scarring than my own—I began to feel release. People who had been shown unconscionable hate, had found the strength to not only carry on, but help others heal.

And so what started as a job for me, not two years ago, resulted in the answering of a prayer I didn’t know I had sent up as an angry, hurt 17-year-old girl.

I left a place that wasn’t helping me grow into the woman I wanted to be, but I didn’t stop knocking on doors and asking questions.

Now what I take from the prayer that I first learned is not to repeat it, but rather, as a subversive self-proclaimed adjunct SFTS student, I dissect it and focus on the word most relevant to me at this moment. Forgiveness. Grateful for my daily bread, breezing past the scorpions and snakes, and knocking on doors 'til I reach my kingdom.

Anna Lebedeff
SFTS Communications Manager 

 
 
When we seek God, we open up the possibility of finding “the work our soul must have.”

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Work Your Soul Must Have

 Isaiah 55:1-9

This passage marks the end of Deutero-Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55), a portion of Isaiah intended to comfort Israel at the end of exile. The prophetic task in this moment is clear. Isaiah articulates God’s directives – eat, listen, see, seek, come to me, and live. Israel must be reminded that everything in their lives has purpose, and that purpose should be centered on God.

Often on the other side of the turmoil of life we must be reminded to focus on God in both spectacular and mundane moments of life. In the words of Shug, from The Color Purple, “I think it pisses God off when we walk past the color purple and don’t see it.” In other words, we must find space to see God in all of creation. When we see God, we must be intentional about seeking Her with tenacity. When we seek God, it focuses us on how we live together with others in the world. Seeking God should remind us to look outside of ourselves and protect the sanctity of life by caring for people.

God’s presence should remind us of our missions in life. We are meant to do more than survive, we are meant to thrive. In our thriving we should draw people to the table. We should feed them physically and spiritually; we should listen to them and hear God’s presence in their voice. It is difficult work to step outside of ourselves in times of crisis. It is challenging not only to see something meaningful, but more importantly to create something meaningful after despair. Yet this is the holy and prophetic task.

The prophet’s words remind me of the Rev. Dr Katie Geneva Cannon. She often said, “do the work your soul must have.” Earlier in my life I heard her directive as instruction for my research and teaching, but since her passing I hear it as a call toward my whole being. We must do the work within ourselves so that we can go into the world with the work of our calling.

Rev. Yolanda M. Norton 
SFTS Assistant Professor of Old Testament
SFTS H. Eugene Farlough Chair of Black Church Studies 

 
 
During Lent, we find our way to life as we look and listen for God.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Finding Our Way to Life 

Psalm 63:1-8

Recently these words stood out during a Sunday morning sermon: “We love life if we find a way to it…”

As a child I loved exploring the trails and wooded area that ran along the cliff edge of my neighborhood, with the Pacific Ocean just to the west. I played and imagined and found a daily fill of wonders and “ah ha’s.”  As I look back on those times, I recognize the face of God’s creation in those explorations – in those play-filled days.

The Psalmist writes from a very different time and a different locale, but in his seeking I can’t help but wonder if, along with seeking, he too was exploring and imagining the way toward finding life. In the finding, we discover God as One who is and was and ever will be.

The Message gives the Psalmist these words: “Because you’ve always stood up for me, I’m free to run and play. I hold on to you for dear life, and you hold me steady as a post.”

This Lenten season, I am going to hang on to the words from the Sunday morning sermon. “We love life if we find a way to it.”  I’ll worry less about giving up chocolate or soda (though I will work at giving up plastic), and seek ways to be intentional in my daily living.

Lent is a good time to be intentional; it’s not necessarily about giving something up, but taking time to become intentional (a determination to act in a certain way, resolve) in our daily ways of being and doing. The Psalmist gives great suggestions and maybe the beginning and the end are the same: “Seek God.”

So this Lenten season, “find a way to life”as you let your eyes really look and see – see into the nooks and crannies of your daily wanderings. Let your ears listen. Listen for where God is calling you to be. Let your hands extend God’s love and peace through the day. Let your feet move toward where the need is great, where you and God partner to make a difference in this too often lonely and hurting world.

This Lent may you:
Let your inner child run and play – seek and find…
hold on to God for dear life…
know God holds you steady as a post.

Rev. Dr. Deana J. Reed
SFTS Director of Field Education
SFTS Distinguished Alumna, MDiv 1987, DMin 2003
 

 
 
To live one whole life, “look to the growing edge.”

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Growing Edge 

Ephesians 4:1-16

“All around us worlds are dying, and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying, and life is being born. The fruit ripens on the tree, the roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth against a time when there shall be new lives, fresh blossoms, green fruit. Such is the growing edge! It is the extra breath from the exhausted lung, the one more thing to try when all else has failed, the upward reach of life when weariness closes in upon all endeavor. This is the basis of hope in moments of despair, the incentive to carry on when times are out of joint and [people] have lost their reason, the source of confidence when worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash. The birth of a child — life's most dramatic answer to death — this is the growing edge incarnate. Look well to the growing edge!”—Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman [1]

What is your growing edge?

The desire to grow is innately human. It is fueled by the questions that arise from our existence, our experience of the natural world, our bodies, our relationships, our expanding awareness of the complexity and diversity of life, our experiences of wonder and awe, horror and dread, injustice and injury, grace and mercy. What does it mean to be a human being? Or, as Mary Oliver asks, “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

The phrase “the growing edge” is taken from the writings of Howard Thurman, a 20th century giant of a theologian, philosopher, educator, and civil rights leader. Thurman’s basic premise is that “brooding over all of life is a Presence that no single event or experience can possibly exhaust.” “No expression of life exhausts life,” he writes.  There is always more. This is the aliveness of life itself.

Thurman’s insight is that the growing edge is not just the reality that growth happens, that children mature into adults, or that a tiny seedling can become a mighty oak. No, his insight is much more profound than that.

Growth, he shows us, appears in the midst of decay and death, trauma and despair, exhaustion and resignation. The growing edge is there even in the midst of our profound sense of being caught in and captive to systems that dehumanize, brutalize, vilify, and denigrate life in all its manifestations.

The growing edge is the experience of the disciples after Jesus’ crucifixion when they came to feel in their very bones that “he who had died on the cross was not the prisoner of the event of the cross.”

Thurman also puts it very personally: “So long as you recognize that no event of your life, whatever its character, can imprison you, you will not scale down your aspirations to the level of the facts in your present situation. You will let what rides on the horizon constantly inform the event with which you are wrestling, until at last the event itself begins to open up, to yield, to break down, to disintegrate, under the relentless pressure of some force which transcends the event and tutors and informs it.”

To live a life worthy of the calling you have received, to live one whole life, look to the growing edge. What is your growing edge?

PrayerGracious God, you are the Author of Life and the Mother/Father of us all. You have created us in love and for love. In Jesus Christ, you have shown us what Love is and called us to love ourselves and one another as you have loved us. Fill us this day with your Holy Spirit that we may lead a life worthy of your calling, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. You are the source of our strength. You are the strength of our life. We lift our hands in total praise to you. Amen.


[1] Howard Thurman, The Growing Edge (New York: Harper, 1956) reprinted by Friends United Press, 1998.

Rev. Dr. Jim McDonald
SFTS President and Professor of Faith and Public Life
 

 
 
Struggling in childbirth, the writer wonders at God.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Cradled by the Divine

Luke 13:1-9

I gave birth to my second daughter six weeks ago today, and we are blessed beyond measure in that both our new little girl Ruah James and I are doing very well today. The back story is that Ruah’s birth was a bit of a doozy, she got stuck inside me, on the cusp of her arrival, for 7 hours. She was flipped the wrong way and could not proceed – “Do not pass go, do not collect $200” – completely stuck. Back labor is not something I would wish on anyone – and after four hours of it I found myself wondering why this was happening. In an exhausted haze I explored every reason under the sun. Had I eaten the wrong thing in pregnancy? Was the baby sick? Was I not really ready to be Mom again? I ran through every possibility from the concrete and logical to the completely ridiculous. I was trying to find a reason for the pain and the stuck place we found ourselves in. Did I do something wrong to create this reality?

In today’s Lucan scripture, Jesus tells a few stories that have, at their core, a similar question. Is it because of something that people do, or because of who they are, that they suffer? Are the Galileans or those who died when the temple fell somehow deserving of their plight and pain? Jesus’ response to these questions is an unequivocal, No! Those who suffer life’s tragedies are not struggling because of some inherent question of their own value, or because they messed up. Jesus says we are all of the same value – we are all beloved children of God. We are all as worthy of the same all-encompassing Love as the next person (whose life may seem to be rolling merrily along).

A few hours into labor the voice of my subconscious spiritual director came through my exhausted haze, “I wonder where God is in all of this.” As I opened to this question a clear and strong image of a strong, gentle, female Divine figure arrived in my consciousness, a woman who offered to cradle me in her strong, cozy, comforting, arms as I went through labor. Here, God was, present with me, offering to hold me through the pain. Wow.

The pain continued for three more hours, and so did some of my questioning – but now both pain and questions were balanced by this palpable experience of being cradled in the arms of the Divine, of God holding me –  as my husband, the nurses, doctors, midwives, and I worked to welcome this little new life into the world.

Six weeks later, Ruah James gets a little bit bigger every day, and as we move further from her birth I continue to make sense of my experience of it. I am still aware of the pain and fear I felt – those pieces aren’t going to disappear, but neither is the body memory I have of God holding me through the pain, affirming for me that I did not somehow deserve the pain, but that I was loved and held through it.

In the end, Ruah was born at sunrise. Through the dark, into the light, held by God. Amen.

Julie Barnes
SFTS 
MDiv and SFTS/GTU MA 2013 

 
 
With three palmfuls of water, we can pray “God here and now, close at hand, immediate and accessible.”

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Three Palmfuls of Water

 John 4:1-42

There’s so much we could notice in the Scripture for today.  It’s one of those long, luxurious, nearly-whole-chapter stories in the Gospel of John.  We could notice that Jesus talks with a Samaritan – someone whose people were considered not worthy of association.  We could notice how Jesus talks to a woman, and together they shatter the constraints of patriarchy.  We could notice their witty repartee. We could notice how the woman more than holds her own.  We could notice that Jesus is weary from his journey.  We could notice the disciples’ absence, and then their intrusive presence. We could notice… well, I could go on.

But let’s just take a moment and notice one thing. It’s right there in front of us – at the heart of the story – in the quiet center of the story.  And it’s simply this:

In the heat of the noonday sun, the woman and Jesus share cool sips of water on a dry and dusty day.

That’s all.  And that’s everything.  I mean, who gets to do that – anywhere else in Scripture?  Just sit with Jesus.  In the sun. And talk.  And laugh.  No disciples. No crowds.  No Pharisees. Just the woman and Jesus. The woman has Jesus all to herself. And Jesus seems to enjoy her company.

In the heat of the noonday sun, the woman and Jesus share cool sips of water on a dry and dusty day.

It is a moment of intimacy – the intimate presence of Jesus – the intimate presence of God.

The prayers of Celtic spirituality assume the intimate presence of God in the whole of life, God just next to us, all around us. [1] Last Wednesday, we considered how that was reflected in the constant rhythm of prayer throughout the day – praying God’s presence in every bit of the everyday.  The Celtic way of prayer also specifically names the presence of Christ, again and again – consider one refrain from the prayer known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate:  “Christ above us; Christ below us; Christ before us; Christ behind us; Christ beside us; Christ within us.”  And, prayers in the Celtic tradition also evoke God’s presence by invoking the presence of the Trinity – God with us – Creator, Christ, and Spirit.  The Triune God with us – every bit of God – with every bit of us.

Today, let’s give that a try – praying the presence of God – with a prayer that (hopefully) brings all this together. It’s one of the many prayers collected in Esther De Waal’s The Celtic Way of Prayer.  She describes it as a prayer to pray when we are washing our face – carefully and deliberately – each palmful of water a prayer.  But you can pray this throughout the day – whenever you’re near to three palmfuls of water – I’ve been praying this in the morning, just after I work out – and then again in the middle of the afternoon, when I need refreshment for the day.  It’s so easy. You just take three palmfuls of cool water, and each time you splash your face, you pray a prayer something like this:

        “The palmful of the God of Life.
         The palmful of the Christ of Love.
         The palmful of the Spirit of Peace.”[2]

Go ahead – give it a try.

It is a prayer of God’s presence – as de Waal describes it – “God here and now, with me, close at hand, God present in life and in work, immediate and accessible.”[3]

And/or, as you pray three palmfuls of water, you could think of today’s Scripture, and imagine this: In the heat of the noonday sun, the woman and Jesus share cool sips of water on a dry and dusty day. One whole life.


[1]This sense of praying the presence of God is drawn from Esther De Waal’s The Celtic Way of Prayer (Doubleday 1997), pp. 69-78.
[2]De Waal, p.77.
[3]De Waal, p.69.

Rev. Scott Clark
SFTS 
Dean of Students and Chaplain  

 
 
Just as we are amazed by God’s Creation, we also must take care not to destroy it. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

This Magnificent Creation

 Genesis 1

“There is no finer cathedral built by man than God’s own Creation,” my mother mused as we were sailing out to the starting line of the weekly Friday Night Race on San Francisco Bay one summer evening. The sky was displaying a particularly vivid spectrum of color and light, as the sun was setting behind Belvedere Island and the Golden Gate. The streaking clouds were dramatic, and the city was turning to shimmering gold as the setting sun reflected off of the skyline.  Harbor seals bobbed nearby, watching us as we headed out from the harbor into the middle of the bay. A line of pelicans flew in perfect formation, seemingly inches off of the water, looking for their next dining location.

When we’re in nature, surrounded by the immense beauty of our world, we must take the time to sit still in the awe of God’s Creation—to find peace in what God has made for us, and to quiet our minds and feel the Lord’s presence inside of us and all around us.

For me, at times, that’s hard to do. Every day, I see vivid images of rakishly thin polar bears on an ever-shrinking ice cap, orangutans clinging to the last tree they have left due to the voracious appetite of the palm oil industry, and, just down the road at the Marine Mammal Center, I visit a California sea lion with scars and injuries from being entangled in fishing line.

We are greedily destroying our beautiful earth. A gift from God to us. A magnificent Creation that was made for us. Can you imagine taking a valuable masterpiece off of the wall of the Louvre, taking a knife to it, slashing through the colors and strokes that an artist painstakingly applied with love and passion?

Yet that’s what we do every time we pick up a pack of factory-farmed chicken breasts from the grocery store, turning a blind eye to the unbelievable and unspeakable suffering of the animals in high-output factory farms, every time we carelessly buy that package of cookies made with palm oil, every time we think it would be neat to swim with dolphins at a resort, not considering that they’ve been ripped from their homes in the most horrific way. That's what we do every time we visit the circus and watch the humiliation and abuse of the majestic elephants and big cats.

We are turning God’s beautiful Creation into a garbage dump. Into a piece of art discarded and laid waste in the gutter. We are torturing intelligent, beautiful animals for our own gain in the factory farming and entertainment industry. When God said, “Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth…” (Genesis 1:26), surely this isn’t what God had in mind. I imagine God, heartbroken, watching us as we insatiably destroy what was so painstakingly created in love.

This Lenten season, I encourage you to make a change to help our Earth—God’s sacred Creation. Go meat-free one or two days a week. Make a conscious choice to read labels and avoid items with palm oil. Walk to work or car share. Don’t support animal entertainment. Instead of reaching for a plastic bag to wrap your leftovers in, grab some waxed cloth. Bring your own reusable straw or utensils for your takeout. Volunteer at or donate to your local animal shelter or wildlife rehabilitation center. Connect with your planet. Simply consume less. Do it for God. Do it for God’s Creation. Do it for all of us.

Marissa Miller
SFTS 
Director of Alumni Relations 

 
 
“How does one do that in a world so deeply divided, and in many instances devoid of any love at all?” 

Monday, March 18, 2019

A Love Affair with God


Deuteronomy 6:4-9

This scripture passage in Deuteronomy (6:4-9) paints a portrait of an omnipotent God. The Triune God (Father/Mother, Son, and Holy Spirit) is all one, and commands us to love him/her with all our might. I know as a seminarian, these verses are often referred to as the Shema, and it has been very important to the lives of the Jewish people and to orthodox Jews for many, many years. I must confess that I struggle with what it means to “love God with all your heart, soul, and with all our might.” How does one do that in a world so deeply divided, and in many instances devoid of any love at all?

I remember falling in love with my wife and building relationships with good friends through the years. These loving relationships were always started as a process of discovery. I’m quite certain it was love-at-first-sight when I met my wife (she may not feel the same way). Yet, there are things I love about people upon first meeting them, but other parts of my love for them seems to grow steadily over time as I learn more about them. It is sort of like a courting process that evolves and deepens with time, and yes—sometimes with significant effort. I believe my love for God has grown in a similar way through the years.  It seems the more I invest in my relationship with God, the more I experience God’s love for me at various points in my life. In fact, God has never stopped loving me.

My first recollection of God was as a young child growing up in Binghamton, New York. While I couldn’t really comprehend God…I knew there was something of interest that I could love because I was told by many that he/she loved me unconditionally. That spark of interest in a lovable God kept me in attendance at church as a teenager. To be honest, through the years I’ve had an on-again-and-off-again love affair with God.  Yet, I never felt alone or that God abandoned me…God was always there supporting me in good times and in bad times. God has loved me and woven a beautiful mosaic of my life that I am eternally grateful to have experienced. May you also love God with all your heart, mind, and soul.

Dr. David G. Behrs
SFTS Vice President of Enrollment Management

SFTS MDiv Student 

 
 
How does the work you strive to do reflect God today, tomorrow, and even on the third day?

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Preparing for Resurrection

 
Luke 13:31-35

Throughout the season of Lent, we are preparing for the resurrection. Each year, we know Easter is coming, yet the preparing and the intentionality remain part of our practice. Today’s scripture describes Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees, who warn Jesus that death is coming. While we assume Jesus wants to be safe himself in his earthly body, he tells the Pharisees that he still has work to do and a mission to uphold.

The language “today and tomorrow, and on the third day” from verse 32, gives voice to his death, an acknowledgement of the humanness of Jesus in this form. It also makes clear his divinity, or rather, the divinity of the mission of God. It defies death. It defies earthly timelines of life. It defies the tragic role of the city of Jerusalem. Jesus leads us to an important realization about how we are to live abundantly, as we prepare for the resurrection. Death is not the final answer.

Living “one whole life” in the way of Jesus, perhaps then, is to encounter our missions and our ministries with a perspective that goes beyond our daily tasks and our earthly attempts at doing the work. Rather, Jesus invites us to see our lives and bodies as a reflection of the Divine. The God who created us into being out of dust is the God who sees us our bodies and lives manifest beyond the dust, even beyond death.

How does the work you do, or the work you strive to do, reflect God today, tomorrow, and even on the third day? How does Jesus’ experience of danger and warning reflect your drive to follow Christ, anticipating resurrection? How might we work in our humanity to bring prophetic witness and service to those we encounter, revealing the fully human and fully divine being of Jesus Christ into our lives during these Lenten and Easter seasons?

Erin Green
SFTS MDiv Student 

 
 
May we be open to finding God in the whole of life – in the negative and in the positive; in joy and in sorrow.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Ode to Joy

Psalm 27

This psalm has a subtitle of  “the triumphant song of confidence of David.”

“Triumphant” reminds me of waging a war and David’s experience of defeating his enemies. Consequently, his confidence came out of his triumphant experience of waging wars. The psalmist then attributes this as the source of his triumph and confidence in God.

This leads me to imagine that we all are waging wars internally, and we experience feelings and understandings about ourselves – that reality can sometimes feel like a battle field. In the midst of this warlike reality, how we experience God is the question that faces us no matter whether we are aware of it or not.

How we understand God shapes who we are and vice versa. In my imagination, this is a process that can be described like a war, and it takes place in a battlefield called reality. So, how we see ourselves and God and the world are all connected in a web of understanding (consciousness).

The psalmist tells us to seek the face of God for the light and for salvation from whatever we see as darkness – fear to be cast off, or worries, or anxieties, or our enemies.  I would call this seeking salvation as liberation from all the kind of things that can be seen as so called “negative” in our life. Why then, aren’t we considering the liberation from something we normally see as positive? Is there no element of liberation in those things we call negative in our life, such as sorrow, fear, darkness, anxieties of being cast off, and even loss? Haven’t we (outside of our expectations) experienced fresh and powerful liberation from anxiety and a worrisome heart when things unfold and take a different turn from what we originally intended? What does it tell us? Experiencing this and naming it can let us acknowledge the hidden darkness in us, because of the light that comes with it into our reality.

Maybe there is no clear line between so called positive and negative things, or between joy and sorrow, or between those things we desperately want to cling on to or  to be freed of. What we need is liberation from the real enemies, which are often our own understanding of God, ourselves, and reality altogether.

Perhaps we desire to be liberated from our limited view of reality and to be lifted up to a certain kind of level where we can have a clearer view of God and ourselves and the world. Perhaps even if we feel fear, anxieties, apprehension, we can still desire to put our confidence wholly in God by letting God remove our fear and reveal something new to us.  Perhaps we can thereby have the range of our sight widened to see things as God wants us to see, willing to accept what God makes us discover and ready to open our beings fully to the reality which is still unknown, but that is constantly unfolding. We may begin to learn the courage to be transformed into new beings in God.  And then we can finally offer sacrifices with our shouts of joy to God fearlessly.

So, let us wait for the light of God – in the whole of life. And let the light shine in us.

Eunjoo Choi
SFTS MDiv 2012
Coordinator of English Worship at Hanshin Presbyterian Church, Seoul, South Korea, and Coordinator of Theological Symposium co-hosted by Hanshin and SFTS

 
 
An invitation to enter into the practice of Lent with every bit of us – bodies, too.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Lenten Bodies

Philippians 3:17-4:1

For many of us the idea of Lent is so interwoven with the notion of giving something up that it is hard to think of one without the other. Whether we stop eating chocolate or not, we tend to associate the ideas: Lent and abstinence. Lent and sacrifice. Lent and disciplining the body.

At first blush, the Apostle Paul seems to be with us.

Whoever it is that Paul is railing against in today’s passage (commentators – do I need to say it? – do not agree), it is clear that they are not abstinent. Not only are they not the kind of people who would give something up for Lent, they are wanton. They are either part of the church in Philippi or somehow associated with it, but they practice an extreme form of self-indulgence centering on food and sex. To say Paul is appalled by them is to put it mildly (“Enemies of the cross,” he calls them in v.18). Apparently, the people in question are also beyond being cajoled or corrected. If they weren’t, Paul would be in there swinging – arguing and summing up for the jury as he so loves to do. No, these are people who cannot be reasoned with, only cried over (v.18). Perhaps they think of indulging their appetites as a way of expressing freedom from past religious practices or perhaps they are like some other groups in the church at the time who practiced a libertine lifestyle thinking to emphasize the Spirit by downplaying the body’s relevance. Either way, they are misguided. Their behavior results in less freedom and less Spirit, not more. Paul does not mince words in condemning them.

But just when you expect him to say, “so do the opposite of what they do,” he stops. He does not say, “where they indulge, you should abstain,” or “whereas they glory in the flesh you should humiliate it,’”or “instead of giving way to appetite you should discipline yourselves.” Instead he says, “Christ will transform our humble bodies” (v.21).

Today’s passage, so often read to reinforce the practice of abstinence during Lent, actually does no such thing. Paul is neither an ascetic nor a libertine. He seems to know that when it comes to the body one extreme can be as bad as the other. He believes in trusting God – not trying to control God – with our bodies. He believes in the gracious power of Christ to catch up the good and the bad, the pain and the joy, the life and the finitude represented by the word “body” and transform it all …into One Whole Life.

Rev. Dr. Jana Childers
SFTS Dean, Vice President for Academic Affairs,
and Professor of Homiletics and Speech Communication

 
 
Even when we trust God in the big storms of life, do we trust God in the unexpected little showers?

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Storms and Showers

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to GOD, “My refuge and my fortress;
My God in whom I trust.”

                                                                                       Psalm 91:1-2 

Last December I had an epiphany:  I realized that while I trust God to see me through the big storms in my life, sometimes when it comes to unexpected showers I act as though I’m totally on my own. Actually, the epiphany was a two-part revelation:  Phase one was maturing in my faith walk through what Walter Bruggemann calls “listening obedience,” and phase two was awakening to the realization that I needed to trust God with my whole life—the storms and the light showers.

As the Fall Semester (2018) came to a close, I was feeling really good about how well the semester went because I had taken a lighter course load.  I was able to thoroughly enjoy my Theology class because I had time to complete the reading and, more importantly, I had time to reflect on the concepts we were learning.

I was also feeling excited (maybe even a little smug) because I knew what it felt like to experience the benefits of being obedient.  You see, at the end of my second year, I was exhausted because I had taken a much heavier coarse load than I should have.  I knew better and kept saying I wouldn’t do it again, but every semester I found myself in the same place.  So when I left campus for the summer I promised God I would take a lighter load—no matter what.

It wasn’t easy for me keep that promise.  When I found out that the Dean added “Prophetic Preaching” to the Fall Schedule, I began to rationalize.  I even thought about auditing, but was told they weren’t accepting audits.  The class met on Thursday morning at nine.  The first week of class I remember glancing at the clock and thinking, “It’s 8:45, I can get ready and be there by 9:00.”  I took a deep breath and prayed—“Okay, Lord, please help me let this go—I know I promised.”  When I finished praying it was 9:05, and there was a peace in my spirit that hadn’t been there just a few minutes earlier.  I was going to be okay.

On the last day of Theology class, a classmate, who always sat on the other side of the classroom, sat next to me.  When the class ended, we started talking about the classes we planned to take in the spring—our final semester before graduation.  When he mentioned that he had completed all the academic requirements of his Presbytery, it dawned on me that I didn’t know the academic requirements for my Presbytery—I had simply been following the seminary’s requirements for the Masters of Divinity.  Much to my dismay, I discovered that my Presbytery required two preaching classes for ordination and I had completed only one.

I say much to my dismay because I couldn’t believe what had happened.  All I could think was that if I had taken “Prophetic Preaching” I wouldn’t be in this dilemma.  Deep down I knew I had done the right thing by not taking the class, yet I felt really deflated.  Then I began to panic-- SFTS was only offering “Introduction to Preaching” in the spring.  What was I going to do?  If I couldn’t figure something out, I’d have to find a class somewhere after graduation.

It took me a couple of days to come to my senses.  Where was my trust?  I knew God didn’t “bring me this far to leave me.”  But I sure didn’t act like I knew it.  I was falling apart over one class.  If I trusted that God works all things together for good, then I had to trust that this was going to work out.

The good news is I found a preaching class at another GTU seminary that not only satisfies my Presbytery’s requirement, but it’s also a really great class.

This Lenten Season is a wonderful opportunity for me to reflect on my two-part epiphany.  Psalm 91 reminds us that we can trust God’s faithfulness. God will be with us in times of trouble both big and small.  We can trust God with our whole life.

Denise Diaab
SFTS Senior MDiv Student

 
 
Every moment of every day offers up the possibility of prayer.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Blessing the Everyday

Psalm 148

In yesterday’s devotion, Linda Lane-Bortell encouraged us to see every bit of God’s creation together as One Whole Life.

Psalm 148 has that sense about it, too.  The Psalmist stands in the midst of everything that God has made – a part of it – and listens as every bit of creation sings to God – from the heights, from the depths, sun, moon, angels, stars, sea creatures, cattle lowing, flying birds, lightning, hail, snow, clouds, cedars, mountains, oceans, kings, queens, young, and old – each and all singing with one voice, one song – the song echoed in another Psalm: “The earth is God’s and everything in it.”

The blessing of Celtic spirituality carries with it this sense, too:  every bit of creation surrounded and filled with the presence of God.  In her book The Celtic Way of Prayer, Esther de Waal describes the prayers that she and others have gleaned from the written and (mostly) oral traditions of the Celtic world.  Those prayers reflect a world where folk “feel God before them and by their side, and at their back, throughout the day, and throughout the night.” With God that close, the prayers ask God to bless the work at hand, God present in it, with trust that each part of life, “however humble, however mundane, can be handed over to God, or performed in partnership and with the cooperation of God.”  De Waal sums it up this way:  “[These blessings and prayers] do not beg or ask God to give this or that. Instead, they recognize what is already there, already given, waiting to be seen, to be taken up, enjoyed.”

These prayers often take the form of short petitions that punctuate and undergird the day:

Bless, O God, my little cow..
Bless each drop that goes into my pitcher.”

or

Bless our boatmen and our boat,
Bless our anchors and our oars...”

or

Bless, O generous chief of chiefs,
my loom and everything a-near me...”

Here’s an example of how we do this too: At the start of meals, we give thanks and ask God to bless the food to do good in the world, through us: “God, bless this food to our use, and us to thy service.”

Maybe you can think of other everyday moments that have felt like prayer to you.  I think of these:

  • as a child, following half a step behind my grandmother, as she took linens down off the line, carried them into the house, and pressed them crisp – sheets that would hold her family as they slept;
  • or just a couple months ago, standing on a trail, eye to eye with one of our neighborhood coyotes, as we considered what to make of each other;
  • or any number of moments when words were not what was needed, just a hand to hold.

Every moment of every day is filled and surrounded and overflowing with the presence of God, whether we notice or not.  Every moment of every day offers up the possibility of prayer.

So, on this second Wednesday of Lent, I invite us to pray the everyday moments of our day, in the way of Celtic blessing. It is easy.  At any moment, notice what is before you.  Ask God to bless it for good.  And then move into the moment with God.

Bless this car to me today, that it will carry me to places I am needed.

or

Bless this keyboard to me today, that typing on it I may send words that are healing and true.

or

Bless this dinner I am preparing, may it strengthen and nourish those I love.

This is the prayer: Moment by everyday moment, seeing what God has given, asking God to bless it for good, and moving into the day.

Praying and living moment by moment – one whole life.
Rev. Scott Clark
SFTS Dean of Students and Chaplain

 
 
Instead of thinking of the different parts of creation, try to imagine creation as all part of One Whole Life.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

I Am the Lion

Isaiah 11:6-9

The image of wolf and lamb, leopard and goat, calf and lion, infant and cobra hanging out together bothers me because it is unnatural.  Nothing in our world survives without eating something else.  I mentioned this to a scientist, and he pointed out that while it can be helpful at times to speak of individuals – human, lion, viper, goat, lamb – a better description of creation is to think not of these parts, but of One Whole Life. Each part of the creation is interdependently related to every other part, each part is essential to the One Whole Life on this planet.  This passage changes the natural relationship between predator and prey to make a point: Carnivores do not have any choice, they must eat meat to live, but we have a choice. I’m not talking about hunters or the diets of carnivores, but about humans who prey on the One Whole Life.

Recently, I had a revelation: I am a predator.  I saw before me the mountain of trash I have created in my lifetime. The average American generates 4-7 pounds of trash per person per day.  Over a lifetime that might amount to 500 tons. Pile up it all up, and it would be an impressive and harmful mountain of trash. God calls us to neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.  To harm the creation is to our physical and spiritual peril. When faced with the environmental problems of our world, I feel as powerless as a lamb caught by a wolf, but when I look at my trash and the threat to the environment it causes, I see that I am the lion –  the powerful predator.

This passage reminds me that I have power, and it calls me to use that power to effect planet-saving change.  This Lent, consider reducing your consumption of disposables, an important step to protecting our One Whole Life.

Rev. Linda Lane-Bortell
Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Terra Linda
SFTS DMin Student

 
 
The Gospel is more than a sales pitch – it’s an expansive welcome to One Whole Life imbued with the Spirit of Christ.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Gospel Isn’t a Sales Pitch

Romans 10:8b-13

If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

I will confess with my lips right now that this verse makes me cringe.

Not because it doesn’t contain profound truths.

Not because it doesn't point to the life-giving importance of authentic commitment to Jesus.

But because so often we have used it to reduce the Gospel to nothing more than a sales pitch, when the Gospel is so much more.

I’m reminded of a warm summer evening in LA about 10 years ago when I was at an evangelism event. The room was packed—every chair filled with a few hundred, passionate 20- and 30-somethings. And boy was I one of them. Wide-eyed and eager to learn how to share the love our community with our city.

Or megachurch pastor took the stage, and she quickly walked us through how we would be approaching people in neighborhoods across LA.

“Alright friends! Here’s how you can share the Gospel in four easy steps. Start by explaining that we all have have sinned, and God says the penalty of sin is death.”

“Then, talk about how God came to earth as Jesus and lived, died, and rose in order to pay the price for your sin.”

“After that, tell them how the resurrection of Jesus assures that they are right with God so they will receive eternal life in heaven.”

“Finally, invite them to pray to God, asking for His forgiveness, and telling Him that you believe in Jesus.”

“And why do we do this?” she said as she opened her Bible. “Because in Romans we read, ‘If you confess with your lips…’”

Say this. Believe that. You're good.

You know, there is something beautiful about this simplicity. What an incredible thing to know that life with God begins whenever you say, “Yes! I need that.”

But might Paul’s words offer us something even more? Might our simple answers prevent us from entering into a deeper, but more complicated divine relationship?

As I’ve sat with Paul’s words, I began to see not a one-off marketing transaction, but a daring invitation: one that goes beyond a mere intellectual assent to certain “Jesus facts" and into one whole life fully imbued with the Spirit of Christ.

Paul begins with a deep desire to confess that the path of love, openness, forgiveness, compassion, and justice forged by Jesus is the life worth living. He continues with a call to trust, with our fullest selves, in the resurrection—an ever-present reality that God is in our suffering, pointing us to the hope and promise of new life.

Paul invites all of us—head to toe, inside and out—to step into the life of Christ. And that’s so much more than a checkbox and a prayer.

A final note: At this point in our faith’s history as the Church takes stock of the spiritual trauma it has caused, may we also lean into a more expansive understanding of Paul’s final words in this passage:

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

For many, this is an impossible task.

For many, the name of Jesus is one they may never utter again.

For many, “one whole life” looks like one away from a religion and an institution that has treated them without dignity.

And that is a reality that we as the Church must grapple with now.

May we open our ears with compassion to deeply hear all cries and calls, no matter what words are used.

May we remind the world that God is a God who listens.

May we work with humility and honesty to rebuild trust in a religion that has done so much harm in the name of Jesus.

Sam Lundquist
SFTS Senior MDiv Student

 
 
A psalm for today – Wake me up God from my waking sleep...

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Divine Mutuality: A Psalm for Today

Psalm 51

Wake me up God,
From my waking sleep
And from the nightmare of negativity –
Of cynicism, of complacency.
Be the light, God,
That burns the foggy haze
Off the surface of my soul.
Hold me, God,
While I smile and cry
At the same time
Because I am not sure what to feel.

Hold my hand, God,
And in Your humility,
Make yourself known to me.
You re-make me from the inside-out.
You are powerful in Steadfast Love,
You level the ground with Your mercy
And You open the table with grace.
Hold my hand as I walk with You.
Transform me, and let me transform.
Speak to me, and let me speak.
Love me lavishly, and I shall let loose love.
Shelter me, and I will be a shelter for the shattered and vulnerable –
Those close to Your heart.
Wrap me up in Your whole being;
Your presence is the touchstone for my healing.

Oh, I love You God.
My maker, ever re-making me.
Top to bottom,
Inside-out.
Your love is a catalyst
That takes its time.
The process is the important part,
And You help me to understand that.

I will rest in it,
I will not resist it.
I will revel in the tense space,
I will cultivate resiliency,
Grit, fire, strength,
Softness, empathy, and hope.
Grief is not a dirty word.
It is overwhelming;
Yet as it overcomes me, God,
I know You will sustain me.
If the only way out is through,
And this is the way through…
I will face it.
God, I will choose not to be afraid
Of my emotions and of my short-comings –
No matter how large a shadow they cast upon my life,
They can never, will never,
Be bigger than the light of all that You are.

Amen.

Alysha Laperche
SFTS MDiv Student

 
 
Jesus teaches us to pray with the intention of praying to God, not to impress one another.

Friday, March 8, 2019

PRAYING WITH INTENTION

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

The way Jesus instructs the disciples and crowds gathered to pray in the Sermon on the Mount reminds me of the 2003 movie, Bruce Almighty. Truth be told, the theological soundness of this Jim Carrey film is questionable. The omnipotent God who pulls strings like a puppet master does not always hold up for everyone in this day and age. And the main plot device in which God gives divine power to a normal person with almost no pretext? That’s not a strong selling point, either. All the same, the movie teaches a valuable lesson about prayer.

In the beginning of the movie, the main character, Bruce Nolan, finds himself dealing with the short end of the stick. He believes God is bullying him, and Bruce has no problem letting this be known. He yells and screams to the heavens. He makes sure everyone within ear shot knows his pain and suffering. He sounds like the hypocrites Jesus describes in Matthew 6. “Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention… When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get… And when you fast, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites. They distort their faces so people will know they are fasting. I assure you that they have their reward.” (CEB, Matthew 6:1-16). Bruce, like the hypocrites, must make a show of his “prayer,” so that it can be heard.

Through a comical – and frankly weird – series of events, Bruce is given God’s powers. At least, he’s given God’s powers as they pertain to part of Buffalo, New York. And once he understands his newfound abilities, Bruce runs rampant, trying to “right the wrongs” in his own life. And he does all of this to the neglect of others. In the climax of the movie – I want to avoid spoiling as much of this 16-year-old movie for you as possible and note that it is on Netflix if you’re brave enough to watch 101 minutes of Jim Carrey – Bruce learns how his decisions have hurt others. Most importantly, he learns how they have hurt his longtime girlfriend, Grace (played by Jennifer Aniston).

At one point, Bruce is talking to God (Morgan Freeman), and God asks him to say a prayer.

“Lord,” Bruce prays, “feed the hungry. And bring peace to all of mankind. How’s that?”

“Great,” God says, “if you want to be Miss America. Now c’mon. What do you really care about?”

“Grace,” Bruce whispers.

“You want her back?” God inquires.

“No. I want her to be happy. No matter what that means. I want her to find someone who will treat her with all the love she deserved from me. I want her to meet someone who will see her always as I do now – through your eyes.”

“Now that’s a prayer,” God says proudly.

Throughout the course of the movie, Bruce learns how to, “… collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (CEB, Matthew 6:20-21). Bruce learns how to move into intentional prayer for others. He learns how to focus his prayers on others and how to give them only to God.

As we examine how to live One Whole Life this Lent, let us remember how to pray as well. Jesus told us to pray with the intention of praying to God, not one another. The Holy listens for our prayer in this season of sincerity. May we remember how to pray intentionally, focusing on God and love for our neighbors.

Rev. Cameron Highsmith
SFTS MDiv 2014

 
 
Bearing the Good News brings both joy and tribulation – one whole life indeed.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Paul's Resume

Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Position Description: Apostle for Christ Jesus in the Eastern Mediterranean Region

Dear Sirs:

You have, undoubtedly, been hearing conflicting reports about my work in the above position. The newest rumor: Some persons are saying that I don’t have the qualifications to serve in this role. I’d like to give you a little update and present (again) my credentials for our current work. I want to make sure that there are no obstacles to our preaching.

As you know, I was a devoted Pharisee, whose previous experience consisted in persecuting followers of Jesus. In this role, I came to know their arguments and their actions really well. Then, due to God’s great grace and the assistance of some really devoted Christians, I came myself to believe. I am continuing my work, begun some years ago now, of spreading the Good News of Christ in regions populated largely by Gentiles.  I think you are aware of some of the difficulties that I (and my companions) have encountered, including hardships, calamities, riots, sleepless nights, hunger, beatings, and imprisonment.

In all these tribulations, we responded with patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, truthful speech, and, I have to say, the power of God. They treat us as impostors, yet we are true, as dying, yet we are alive—really alive. They’ve punished us, but they have not killed us. They say we are sorrowful and morose, yet we are always rejoicing. We have so little, they say, but really, we have everything. We carry the weapons of righteousness in our right hands and left hands, whether our reputation is good or ill.

Our message is simple: We are ambassadors for Christ. Don’t waste this opportunity. I beg you, be reconciled to God! Now is the acceptable time!

I hope you know deep is my affection for you.

Your brother, Paul

Considering Paul’s resumé: Should we be surprised if some tribulations come to us in our living and speaking the Good News?  But look what else comes: purity, knowledge (the kind that really counts), patience, genuine love—that is, life and joy and the power of God even in our brokenness.  A whole life, indeed.

Dr. Elizabeth Liebert, SNJM
SFTS Professor of Spiritual Life, Emerita

 
 
Ash Wednesday calls on us to examine our bifurcated lives, and to live what we believe – one whole life.

Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019

"I Will Not Be Bifurcated."

Isaiah 58

Early in my ministerial career and well into my legal career, I was invited to serve as one of the church lawyers defending the ministry of the Rev. Dr. Jane Spahr in church courts.  Those of us who are Presbyterian (and many others) will know that Rev. Dr. Janie Spahr was affirming the full dignity of LGBTQ+ people and our families long before the church was ready to do so.  When same-gender couples came to her, asking if she would celebrate our marriages, Janie said yes, even as the church insisted she say no.  And so the church prosecuted her.

In those first months with Janie, I kept hearing her say something that baffled me. Again and again, from the pulpit, and on the witness stand, and in fellowship halls, I heard Janie say, “I will not be bifurcated.” Of all the things one could say – why that?  What did it even mean? (I actually had to look the word up.)

As months became years traveling with Janie, I came to understand what she meant – it began to sink into my bones.  I saw how the church tried to bifurcate her (and others) – urging Janie to somehow separate what she believed about Jesus from the ministry that she lived out.  The church would say, you can keep your ordination, but as a lesbian, you can’t serve in a church.  The church would say, you can know that God loves everyone – including LGBTQ+ people – but you can’t celebrate their/our marriages in the church, you can’t recognize their/our gifts in ordination.  As the church prosecuted Janie, the church explicitly advanced a distinction between belief and practice – they said, there is freedom of belief, but not freedom of practice.  And to all that, Janie replied, again and again, with her whole self, and at great personal cost: “I will not be bifurcated.”

Again and again,  the Scriptures speak against living a bifurcated life – a life that is separate from and that does not reflect what we know to be true about God’s love for the whole world.  Again and again,  the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospels urge us to live one whole life – a life of integrity and of deep and expansive connection.

Isaiah 58 is one of those texts.  The prophet speaks to a people returning from exile, crawling over the rubble of their lives.  They try to impress God with fancy prayers and fasts – prayers and fasts utterly disconnected from the love and life God has revealed.  And so the prophet says for God: Share your bread with the hungry; loose the bonds of oppression; don’t strike the worker, but give them a Sabbath rest; bring those without shelter into your home.  Live what you have come to believe: One whole life.

Ash Wednesday calls us to give a long loving look to our bifurcated lives.  It invites us to look at the broken places in our lives and in the world – to say things plain – to pray and to change – and to live anew and again, one whole life.

So, on this Ash Wednesday, I want to offer something I call a “both-hands prayer.”  Here’s how it goes:

  1. Settle in and settle down and catch your breath. Let your breath glide into a steady rhythm; feel the earth supporting every bit of you.
  2. When you are ready, hold your right hand out in front of you, palm up. Imagine and envision in that hand something that you know to be true about God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.  Anything.
  3. Now, hold your left hand out in front of you, palm up.  Imagine and envision in that hand the ways you live out this truth in your life – and then the ways that you don’t live out this truth – the ways that the life you live is separated from what you believe in Jesus Christ.
  4. Now, bring your hands together, clasping them in prayer, and pray something like this:  “God, help me live one whole life.”
  5. Breathe deeply, and when you are ready, open your hands back up in front of you, palms up, and repeat.
  6. You can start at a very personal level – what you believe and the life you live, but the prayer can radiate out to embrace your community – the life your community lives – the life your nation lives out.  Where are those lives separated from what we say we believe?

To the exiles crawling over the rubble of return, God says: Care for each other, be kind to each other, live what you know to be true in me. And, in living one whole life, your light shall break forth like the dawn; your healing will spring forth quickly; you will be like a spring, whose waters never fail; your ruins will be rebuilt; you will be called the repairer of the breach.  You will find your life.

Rev. Scott Clark
SFTS Chaplain and Dean of Students

 
 
During Lent, we discover – in the life of Christ – what it is to live one whole life – life in community with God and all creation.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

An Invitation to Lenten Prayer

Dear Friends in Christ,

Grace and peace to you.

Thank you for being a part of our Advent and Lent devotional conversations. Our Lenten devotions will start tomorrow, with one arriving each morning.  As we prepare to join together in this season of prayer, I thought I would write to introduce our devotional theme – “One Whole Life.”

Let me start with a story: Twice in my life, I’ve had the opportunity to go and spend time on the island of Iona, living in community with members of the Iona Community and with fellow travelers.  The island of Iona is a rocky island off the west coast of Scotland.  The Iona Community is an international, Christian peace and justice community centered in the ancient abbey on that island. (You may know the Iona community through their liturgies or through the music of John Bell, a member of the community.) As one of their ministries, the Iona community welcomes travelers to come live in the abbey for a week at a time and to share the life of community.

A week on Iona is not a retreat as we usually might envision it – they make you work.  Or better yet, they invite you into the fullness of life in community.  When you arrive, you’re assigned daily chores – so each day begins, ends, and flows through a rhythm of worship and work. Each morning, we rise early; some prepare and serve breakfast (the rest are assigned lunch or dinner); we share a meal together; we move from the meal into morning prayer; and then we move directly from prayer into our daily chores – cleaning up from breakfast, mopping floors, scrubbing sinks and toilets.   The Iona community emphasizes that our worship and our work are one thing – our worship flows into our work, our work into our worship, our worship into our work, and so on.  Our worship, our prayer, our work are not separate things – but one whole life, lived in the presence of God and in community with each other.

For this year’s Lenten devotional theme, we are embracing the theme – “One Whole Life" – drawing this theme from the deep well of Scripture, from the life of Jesus, and from the traditions especially of Celtic spirituality.

At the heart of both the Gospels and the Hebrew Scriptures is the command of the Sh'ma:  "Hear O Israel, our God is God; our God is one.  You shall love our sovereign God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength."  Scripture exhorts us, again and again, to love God and to live life with our whole self – in community with the whole of creation.

Celtic spirituality leans into this deep sense of integrity and connectedness:  We live one whole life in the sense that everything we do is connected to everything we pray: "There is no separation of praying and living; praying and working flow into each other, so that life is to be punctuated by prayer, to become prayer."  We also live one whole life in the sense that we are connected to each other and all creation:  "Everyone sees themselves in relation to one another, and that extends beyond human beings to the wild creatures, the birds and the animals, the earth itself." (quotes from Esther de Waal, The Celtic Way of Prayer).

During Lent we enter into the life of Christ and journey with Jesus.  With this devotional theme, we will do that with the intention of discovering again and anew -- in the life of Christ -- what it is to live "One Whole Life."  Each morning you’ll be receiving an email with a Scripture and a reflection from a writer within the broader SFTS community.  As you read and pray, you may want to consider these questions:

  • What do you notice as you encounter the Scripture text and the reflection?
  • Particularly in the season of Lent, how does the text invite us to live “one whole life” in the way of Jesus?
  • How does the text invite us to love God with all our heart, mind, body, and strength?
  • How does the text invite us to live in relationship and connection to each other and all creation?

May God bless this season of prayer and this conversation, as we endeavor together to live one whole life, in the way of Jesus.

Yours in Christ,
Rev. Scott Clark
SFTS Chaplain and Dean of Students