Tag Archives: community
7 Oct
Photo via Flickr user Donna S

Photo via Flickr user Donna S

The task was to dissect the story of the Israelites and the golden calf with high school youth. I went straight to jealousy, and we easily talked about coveting cool shoes, the newest iPhone, easily earned high test scores, raw hockey prowess or the attention of a particular person being given freely and enthusiastically to someone else.

What, though, does jealousy have to do with love? What does it mean that God wants our attention?

We talked about misplaced attention in our society, again with ease. We focus so much time on a particular kind of standardized test points-driven classroom educational success. We let our social media image and images carry too much influence. We take part in the build up and take down of celebrities. Golden calves everywhere.

The idols we have created, however, are metaphorical. I would argue this makes it easy to discuss what we have idolized and paid too much attention to without actually taking steps to dismantle the idol or build a new shrine. The world of actual golden calves and ritual sacrifices seems far away. We can say what we shouldn’t be about, but what, then, are we willing to stand up for?

I have a small, raised platform on my desk that looks like a candle stand. On it, I originally placed two votive candles. My spiritual director encouraged me to light the candles, each representing a baby I lost to miscarriage, whenever I felt sad. Lighting those candles validated my experience and honored the existence of the life that was indeed present in my body. I’ve added things over the years since, little trinkets that symbolize other things and moments on my journey. It is not a shrine or an idol. It’s a tangible place for me to go to honor who God made me, the path God put me on and thus the God who has walked with me on the journey with compassion and love.

In our worship communities today, distanced from ritual sacrifice where we are in no danger of constructing an actual golden calf, how do we take tangible steps toward giving our attention back to God? What can we build to show God our commitment to what God is all about in the world? What is worthy of reverence, time, attention and worship?

What would you put on your shine?

Mother, Now Saint

9 Sep
Photo via Flickr user Mammovies

Photo via Flickr user Mammovies

A mere 19 years after her death, Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa a saint last week. In his homily during the ceremony at the Vatican, Pope Francis commended Mother Teresa for her generosity of mercy and for defending the discarded of society.

Indeed, in her tireless work, Mother Teresa gave people dignity by seeing their full humanity. She called urgent attention to the hideous and unnecessary poverty plaguing our globe. Taking Jesus’ gospel call to advocate for the poor quite literally, she devoted her life to the daily work. Rightly, Pope Francis lifted up Mother Teresa as a model of holiness.

And then, also rightly and with so much style we have come to expect of him, Pope Francis served pizza to 1,500 homeless Italians who were bused in for the event.

The declaration of Mother Teresa’s sainthood is exciting. In elevating our heroes, it is also important to remember their humanity as well. I can distance myself from them, venerating their holiness, while excusing myself from the call. We are all capable of making a life-long commitment to advocate for the vulnerable members of our society. I read the same Gospel that she did, one where Jesus models mercy, compassion and ministry to us. She was a mere mortal who had the same choice I do as to how to live out our daily lives.

I remember as a young child, being taught by nuns, I was curious about the monastic lifestyle. I wondered, “What would I do with my time if I committed to a simple, celibate life? What life would I build? Who would I love?” Now, with a spouse, children and a job, I must ask other questions. Mother Teresa’s sainthood throws back into relief for me the importance of doing Gospel work in my daily life, here and now, in any way I can. Instead of allowing her holiness to distance herself, I can pray for her holiness to call me to a life of mercy and compassion, too.

God With Us on the Move

2 Sep
Photo via MN Historical Society

Photo via MN Historical Society

A friend of mine spent ten weeks working at a migrant center in Tijuana this summer. Tijuana is a city generally seen as the last stop for migrants from Central America trying to cross into San Diego. Lately, the center is also housing large numbers of people from all over the world seeking asylum and refugee status in the United States. The arrival of refugees from places like Haiti and even as far as Syria is fairly new for the city.

The journeys of the migrants and the refugees weigh heavy on my heart. There are oh so many people on the move, looking for a place to rest, willing to travel across to world to find a country who will welcome them. The courage it takes to set out, the energy it takes to travel, the resilience it takes to continue on shows the remarkable strength of the human spirit. They are looking for a fresh start, a safe place to build a future. Only then can they properly grieve their past.

Abraham had been promised land as far reaching as the eye could image and descendants that numbered the stars. Yet as an old man, when his beloved wife died, he had no land, and Isaac, his only son, had no wife. Abraham could have given up. He could have sat down, pouted, and waited for God to follow through on God’s promises. Yet the story simply tells us that Abraham mourned for his wife and then rose from his grief. He got busy, buying land to bury Sarah and went looking for a wife for Isaac. Both of these acts furthered God’s plan for him. The promises came true. Abraham shows the same courage, energy and resilience as the world’s migrants and refugees. Part of grieving his past required him to continue building his future.

People who have been through great trauma benefit from having opportunities to rebuild families and careers. Good work is good for the soul. Building a future creates space to heal from the past. When the worst happens, we can become angry with God and give up, or we can hear God whispering to us to move. Then God can fill the space we create.

Is it possible that God is waiting for us to act? Perhaps God is calling to us from the future, beckoning us to create space for God’s will on earth. The migrants and refugees arriving at Tijuana have heard the call. They seek room to build a future full of good work and flourishing families. Healing from their past depends on it.

Gospel Reflection for September 4, 2016, 23rd Sunday Ordinary Time

29 Aug
Photo via Flickr user Othree

Photo via Flickr user Othree

Sunday Readings: Wisdom 8.13-18; Philomen 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14.25-33

“None of you can be my disciple if you do not renounce all your possessions.”

(Luke 14.33)

Proclaiming the good news of God’s abundant loving kindness toward all people contradicts conventional wisdom that there is not enough love or anything else to go around, so it must be reserved for our own kind.   Healing the sick free of charge, no matter who they are or where they live or how they got that way brings condemnation from those who despise the afflicted or aim to profit from their misery.

In his best paradoxical fashion, Jesus insists, “Less is more.”  Possessions, however many, are never enough.  The generous economics of discipleship turn accepted economic theories on their heads.

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis writes, “Every ecological approach needs to incorporate a social perspective which takes into account the fundamental rights of the poor and underprivileged.  The principle of the subordination of private property to the universal destination of goods, and the right of everyone to their use, is a golden rule of social conduct and ‘the first principle of the whole ethical and social order'” (#93).

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Gospel Reflection for August 28, 2016, 22nd Sunday Ordinary Time

23 Aug
Photo via Flickr user Stijn Nieuwendijk

Photo via Flickr user Stijn Nieuwendijk

Sunday Readings: Sirach 3.17-18, 20, 28-29; Hebrews 12.18-19, 22-24; Luke 14.1, 7-14

“When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. You will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.”

(Luke 14.12-13)

Jesus’ two healings on the Sabbath demonstrate God’s will for human beings. We read neither story among the Sunday gospels. Jesus straightens up a woman who for 18 years has been bent over in Luke 13.10-17 and heals a moan with dropsy (14.2-6). He restores them to praise and worship rather than leaving them among the forgotten whom God supposedly punishes. In his advice for making guest lists, Jesus prefers those who cannot repay their hosts with a return invitation and place of honor at their tables. Jesus wants us to widen the circle of those who eat at our tables to include people like the two he has just healed. He wants our guest lists to distribute food justly rather than cut people off as chronically inferior, deserving distance from us rather than place among us.

What places of honor might you give up? What would you lose or gain? Who might you add to your guest list? What would you lose or gain?

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Neighbors on the Path

19 Aug

It isn’t a new lesson, but it is one I have to keep revisiting. The Good Samaritan. One man in Jesus’ parable saw the humanity of the man on the side of the road naked and broken. One man stopped. One man did what it took to ensure the victim’s full restoration. It seems so elementary, but I have so much trouble following his example.

Jesus tells this parable to a man trying to find a loophole and get around the law. When he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds, with the story of the good Samaritan, essentially saying, “Your neighbor is anyone who has been put in your path.”

We, too, are challenged by Jesus’ ministry and this parable specifically to see the humanity of all people put in our path. We are called to stop, let others change our plans, let the urgency of restoration work shape our days.

It is no easy calling. Jesus is asking us to get our hands dirty. He is asking us to move into the heart of conflict. This may risk our reputation, our schedule, and the ease of our known lives. It is often our busyness, our vanity and our fear of conflict that holds us back from acting like Jesus and the good Samaritan. I am guilty of all three, so I must revisit this parable again and again.

Really knowing our neighbors, the people in our path, requires seeing and stopping. That is often the hardest part. If we do engage with unexpected neighbors, like the good Samaritan did, like Jesus did, then we are often filled with the compassion necessary to move toward creative and effective reconciliation work. So this week, yet again, I pray for the courage to be open and willing to fully engage with all of my neighbors.

Gospel Reflection for August 14, 2016, 19th Sunday Ordinary Time

9 Aug

Sunday Readings: Jeremiah 38.4-6, 8-10; Hebrews 12.1-4; Luke 12.49-53

“I came to bring fire to the earth…I have baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!”

(Luke 12.49)

When the evangelist Luke writes about A.D. 85, Jesus has completed his baptism — his suffering, death, resurrection, and return to God, but he has not come again in glory. Meanwhile Christian faith has spread not only among Jews but among Gentiles and created conflicts. Baptism is one such conflict. Among Gentiles baptism takes the place of circumcision but some Pharisees who have become Christians object. They think Gentiles should be circumcised and instructed in keeping the law of Moses.

The gospel anticipates dividing fires will persist. In his follow up the Synod of the Family that met in 2014 and 2015, Pope Francis invites the Church today into tough conversations that air differences. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy Pope Francis invokes the principle that “time is greater than space.” He favors processes that make room over time for mercy and grace to work in our lives.

What value do you experience in talking about difficult, even divisive, questions? How does time make room for grace to work?

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Waging Peace

29 Jul
Photo via Flickr user Bruce Fingerhood

Photo via Flickr user Bruce Fingerhood

Do you hear the cries for peace? The longing is so urgent and real. It is easy to think of peace a simply a lack of violence. God’s vision of peace, however, is more beautiful than that and requires more of us than simply putting our weapons down.

What is God’s vision of peace? There are two biblical images in particular I have been meditating on:

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not raise its sword against nation, and they shall learn war no more.          –Ish 2:4


Everyone will live in peace and prosperity, enjoying their own grapevines and fig trees, for there will be nothing to fear.       –Micah 4:4

I love the visuals that come with these images of peace. One person taking a weapon and making it into a tool that will help bring forth food, abundance and life. Or another person, enjoying the shade of a tree that bears fruit. This biblical idea of peace, coming from the word shalom, is not just lack of violence. This is a peace that gets at the holistic well being of all persons. It is a peace that claims that access to food, safety and leisure time bring human dignity and should be available to all.

These images of shalom remind me of a statue I saw in El Salvador, a beautiful and hopeful piece of art made from melted down bullets used in their civil war. Tools for violence turned into art. It makes me think of organizations working with farmers to create more secure food options for families and communities all around the world.

I yearn for shalom. I pray for a time when we can put down our weapons because we are no longer afraid. I beg for an age when we can all sit in the shade of prosperity without fear. Shalom will only come when all people have enough, when the most vulnerable in our communities are seen and tended to as God’s beloved children. Peace is tied to being committed to the well being of all. Shalom requires us to believe that we can glimpse heaven here and now and engage in God’s work of reconciliation in this life.

Blessed are the peacemakers, those who do not just think about it, but build their lives around waging peace. Peacemaking is a vocation Jesus calls us to. This shalom peace is not just a lack of violence, but a commitment to the holistic well being of all God’s beloved creatures. And God’s creatures are crying out for peace.


22 Jul
Photo via Flickr user Harwig HKD

Photo via Flickr user Harwig HKD

This week, Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg’s Podcast Nurture the Wowcast reminded me of the importance of incorporating Martin Buber’s I-Thou idea of relationship when approaching my small child. This is one small way that parenting is a spiritual practice.

It is important, especially in the middle of a tantrum, to really see our children. Instead of seeing our children as a frustration or problem or obstacle in getting out the door, we are called to see the world through their lens. God wants us to see and honor their full humanity.

Buber categorizes relationships into I-It and I-Thou. I-It relationships happen when we see the other as an object. I-Thou connections are sacred. We see the beauty of the other’s full personhood. I-Thou is the relationship we have with God.

The podcast was a simple, powerful reminder to seek I-Thou relationships not only with my child, but with all the people I encounter in my day. How am I treating the worker at the grocery store? Another mom at the park? My co-worker? My spouse? Who is this person? Can I try to see them today?

We can remember to see the people, friends and strangers alike. We can look for the desire, needs, fear and complex nature of the soul in front of us. This posturing of curiosity and seeking, I believe, is sacred, and can make a difference in our increasingly polarized and digitized world.

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