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Lectionary Living

A Tad of Emotional Maturity

7/4: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 and Psalm 48  •  Ezekiel 2:1-5 and Psalm 123  •  2 Corinthians 12:2-10  •  Mark 6:1-13


The 2 Samuel reading this week sums up some pretty big changes in a very few verses: David becomes the king; Jerusalem becomes the capitol. Apparently, David made the choice to move the capitol based on Jerusalem's reputation as a secure fortress. Perhaps the availability of water was also a factor. Basic requirements for living – safety and hydration – would be met there, to the benefit of all.


Maybe David's years as a shepherd had made him attentive to location. Where he had led the flock would make a difference in their chances for survival. Fresh water and an ability to spot predators early would have been on his mind, every day. Years of being relegated to the lowest job in his family brought him an automatic, kingly awareness: place would matter to the survival of his tribe.


The importance of place to human health has become increasingly clear. In the U.S., people who live in urban areas tend to be less obese. Why: their daily lives require them to walk more, drive less or not drive at all. On the other hand, less urban environments offer more natural surroundings, which have a calming effect on the entire body, enhancing both physical and mental health. These same effects also happen to cells and tissues within the body. Recent research on cancer, for example, is focused on changing the environment within the body where the cancer cells are thriving, rather than on the cancer itself. Where a cell is located, where a person is living, or where a family finds itself: at all these levels, place matters.


For David, attention to place was somewhat automatic. Concerned about the success of his people, he engaged in tribal warfare, driving out the Jebusites already living there (1Samuel 5:6-8). In the 21st century, humans continue their tribal warfare around the globe, with Jerusalem as a prime example. The alternative, considering what places will allow humans to flourish, and making those places available to all, seems far off. It begins, though, with a page from David's book: intention.


Awareness means little without intention. Turning an insight into action means everything. Figuring out what is actionable, though, is the challenge. Few of us are kings, with our own armies! Two extremes can emerge: a) a focus on trying to change others, to convince them of their wrongness or b) a distancing from others, to avoid airing different perspectives. The third way, that of finding one's own course of action, sharing it with others without trying to please or placate them, can bring one's own intentions to life.


And here, of course, we come to Jesus. In his hometown, just being himself, he is amazed at the unbelief he finds. Does he get caught up in trying to convince them that he's a healer? No. Does he distance from them, cut short his visit and storm away, perhaps calling them toxic as he leaves town? No. Completely disinterested in whether they approve of him or not, he is able to marvel, to wonder, at their incapacity to see what others could see in him.  Emotionally mature, he is able to stand his own ground, wherever he is.


A horrific tragedy of place has occurred this week, with the collapse of a condo building near Miami Beach. May all who died there, rest in peace. For the rest of us, the human need for safety in our environments brings a lot to think about and more to do. A tad of emotional maturity would be a good first step.  



Morning: What are my intentions today?

Evening: When did I manage emotional maturity today? What helps?

Psalm 48:-2 Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God. His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King.

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How the Mighty Fall

6/27: 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 and Psalm 130  •  Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24 or Lamentations 3:22-33 and Psalm 30  •  2 Corinthians 8:7-15  •  Mark 5:21-43


Sadly, the lectionary has skipped over one of my favorite heroines – Abigail, a woman whose life is a study in how to manage oneself in triangles, along with how to make a statement through one's own actions, no matter where one is placed in the system (I Samuel 25). Other stories, such as pranks in the enemy camp; a medium and a voice from the dead; throwing of spears at the unarmed; along with the usual raping and pillaging, are also avoided. As 2 Samuel opens, David is making remarks about the death of King Saul and his son Jonathan. Perhaps seeking to raise the vision of the people from the grim circumstances of the time, David skirts the truth, saying that Saul and son had never been divided (1 Samuel 1:23).


Well, while they may have been great warriors, Saul and his son had disagreed. Their disagreements were so extreme that Jonathan and David had worked out detailed, secret plans to subvert the king's intentions. As David continues to cover up the behind-the-scenes facts, he is answering his own lament: how the mighty have fallen. Each of us, to a person, is vulnerable to becoming a Saul-like character: fooled by an unrealistic view of the world, and unable to hear the perspectives of others, who then find themselves using deceit to manage their own lives. In families, tribes, and nations, all suffer as different subgroups start focusing on their own information, which tends to be less than the full picture available if everyone could contribute to a larger view.


At the other end of the spectrum, today's gospel reading is about people with a very realistic view of life and its limitations. There is the leader of the local synagogue, whose daughter was dying, and, in the middle of that story, a separate case of a woman who had suffered from vaginal bleeding for twelve years. In a culture where menstrual cycles were thought of as unclean, a woman with a 12-year period was extraordinarily vulnerable. Rules about avoiding sex before and after a menstrual cycle would have made her not only unable to wed, but also, for as long as she bought into the customs around the 'unclean,' ashamed. The exhaustion of her physical disability may have been crippling in one way; the psychological blow, in another.


Finding her way to Jesus, she touches his clothes and is immediately healed. Jesus, though, notices. He demands to know who has touched him, and although his disciples try to brush it off as just a close crowd, Jesus starts looking around. At this point, the woman comes to him, in fear and trembling, telling him the whole truth (v.33).


How she must have wanted to hide! The courage it must have taken for her to tell the whole truth in front of the crowd! A person can only look on in awe at this story, at Jesus' awareness of her need for both physical and emotional healing; at the self-affirmation that the moment required of her; and her stepping up to do it. In comparison, the healing of her bodily affliction was a small thing. There is no going back, once a person has made herself more fully known – more fully defined – to others. One has become a new self – set free by the truth one has acknowledged. In some sense, each of us – from Saul to Jonathan to David to Abigail to every human – has a similar opportunity to affirm the reality of one's own life. First, though, one must step down from the platform of the mighty.



Morning: Where might it be useful to me, to define myself more fully to others?

Evening: Where do I get stuck, and unable to see the whole reality of a situation?  

Psalm 130:6 My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.

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1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49 and Psalm 9:9-20 or 1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 18:10-16 and Psalm 133  •  Job 38:1-11 and Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32  •  2 Corinthians 6:1-13  •  Mark 4:35-41


Except for a few key verse omissions, this week's 1 Samuel readings provide a lot of great material. The text provides the reader with much insight on how humans relate to each other: that is, not well! Seeing how human beings function in clusters of three – triangles, we'll call them – is useful.


In the structure of human relationship processes, triangles have everything to do with functional capacity. In healthy triangles, each of three people has a good relationship with the other two. When challenges come, whatever tension results can be managed without anyone taking sides. Ideally, each person can move comfortably to the inside or the outside position, depending on what's needed. Usually, relationships work less well.


Take today's story of David and Goliath.  Before David can fight Goliath, he first has to convince Saul that he is the right man for the job. He begins by describing scenes from his years as a shepherd where he had learned to fight wild beasts. He moves from that point to likening Goliath to a wild animal and calling him an 'uncircumcised Philistine.' Saul, joining with David in his derision of Goliath, then agrees that David may fight him. The two insiders of the triangle use the third side as a way to agree.


Next, Saul tries to continue joining with David – literally insisting that David wear his (Saul's) armor to fight the enemy. David tries, but then declines to keep the armor on. I can't fight in these things, he says. David manages the triangle by staying firmly in his own corner: without drawing so close to Saul that he loses himself.


Things get more complicated in the triangle between Saul, David, and Saul's son, Jonathan. David and Jonathan each had a relationship with Saul; to David, Saul was the ruler who had looked with favor on him; to Jonathan, he was Dad. For both David and Jonathan, though, the relationship with Saul was getting more erratic by the day. One never knew whether Saul would be welcoming or throwing a spear at you! David and Jonathan bonded over this common experience of the dangerous, unpredictable Saul. The intensity of their friendship (1 Samuel 18:3) reflected Saul's intensity. Their biblical closeness was necessary to warn each other of his moods – working their side of the triangle made a huge difference.


The Saul-David-Goliath triangle was a rigid one. Goliath was never going to move to the inside of a triangle with tribal enemies on the other two corners. Perhaps early on, the Saul-David-Jonathan was a tad more flexible, with some moments of closeness between each of the three. The continued threat of the Philistines, though, who failed to keep the winner-take-all bargain originally offered by Goliath, influenced how the Saul-David-Jonathan triangle worked. In human relationships, anxiety is often managed through triangles, which can range – and change – from the very flexible to the very rigid.


It's useful to begin to notice triangles. Seeing how a group is wired – and this is easiest and most important with family, although happening everywhere – sets one up to see much more than is possible alone. The challenge is to relate to both sides: to see the position of each of the others clearly, while still maintaining one's own view. Overall, the more one can begin to be an observer of these relationship processes, the more a person can see the available options for defining oneself.



Morning: What are the important triangles in my life?

Evening: What did I notice about relationship processes today?

Psalm 133:1 How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!


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New Direction

6/13: 1 Samuel 15:34 - 16:13 and Psalm 20  •  Ezekiel 17:22-24 and Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15  •  2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17  •  Mark 4:26-34


In last week's reading from 1 Samuel 11, Samuel had anointed Saul as king, in a public ceremony with much rejoicing from the people. Already, just a few chapters later, God has rejected Saul as king, based on his inability to follow guidance from above. Samuel, although unhappy with Saul's performance, is also unhappy with God's instruction to find a new leader for the people. Saul, after all, had been Samuel's guy from the beginning. God confronts him in a most un-empathic way: how long will you go on grieving? Do you not see the new direction this is going in?


All of us, I think, have trouble letting go of feelings; whether mad, sad, or glad, emotions can flood neural pathways. The vicissitudes of life – and what a great word for it, one can hardly say it – are a challenge. Changes in circumstances, fortunes and misfortunes, all these things come at us quickly. Covid was a case in point. There were drastic changes over the last year, and, at least for me, it took time to take it all in and figure out what to do next. I see that I just wrote "take it all in," but I don't think that's accurate, either. I'm still taking in what happened! 


Reality, though, allows no such luxury. Although human beings take time to process things, life does not take this into consideration. Emotions may interfere with clear thinking; getting time and distance from a situation can help one to manage one's feelings about it. In today's story, time and distance from the situation is what Samuel lacked. He knew things weren't going well with Saul, but couldn't Saul eventually learn the job? The idea of replacing him with another, well, this was going to be complicated! There were political considerations, for Saul had a loyal army. And practical problems, too, for apparently, in Samuel's mind, there was no one else to take Saul's place.


To make the challenge even more difficult, Samuel's hunt for a new king involves a family with many sons. Six are presented to Samuel, but (having recovered some reasoning capacity), he sees that none of these will do. He asks if there are any more – and it turns out that the youngest was out tending sheep. No one had even thought of him. This child, David, was selected to be the next king.


The child who is overlooked may feel left out. But he has a distinct advantage over the other kids, with a little more room to become a self. David apparently had many days alone with the sheep, days where he apparently practiced music and developed an ability to defend the herd from predators. His skills with both the lyre and the slingshot show up in the stories ahead; the task of caring for livestock had developed in him both autonomy and competency.


As human creatures, practical realities can save us. In my case, I'm reminded of a death in my family. Like Samuel, I would have given myself over to grief, if not for three kids who had to be fed, dressed, and sent to school. Motivated by emotional reason, I got out of bed each morning. My heart stirred my mind, so to speak; my love for my family reminded me that I could not lose myself in my feelings; I had children to think about. In Samuel's case, he had his loyalty to God and to his own principles to consider. Moving on in a new direction, letting the past go, begins here.



Morning: Where am I at risk of losing myself in my feelings? How can I begin to move on?

Evening: What new direction might I want to take with my life?    

Psalm 20:7 Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the LORD our God.

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