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Lectionary Living


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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(June 6): 1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15) and Psalm 138  •  Genesis 3:8-15 and Psalm 130  •  2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1  •  Mark 3:20-35

If a person is interested in understanding human emotional process, this week's reading from I Samuel is an important text. In it, the Hebrew people are demanding their first king. They have lived for many years with 'judges' in their midst – leaders who could be called upon to sort out a difficult dispute within the community, or lead in a skirmish with another tribe. Now, though, they are done with this informal approach to leadership. They want their own king.


Their reasoning? Well, it went something like this: Other nations have kings, we should too. He will govern us. He will lead in war, fighting our battles (1 Samuel 8:20). The immaturity is noteworthy in three ways. First, the unquestioning assumption that what others have is the important thing. Second, that they would prefer another in charge, rather than governing themselves. And third, their desire to find someone who would go out before them into combat, fighting their battles, and signaling their own lack of courage.


This week, I've been re-reading Paul Tillich's The Courage to Be. Say what you will about Tillich (and apparently, he's controversial in some circles), this book goes to the heart of the matter. Briefly, being true to oneself requires courage. Following Spinoza, Tillich describes the courage of "self-affirmation" not as an isolated act in an individual, but as ultimately unselfish.


In demanding a king, the people had avoided self-affirmation. Samuel tried to tell them what they would be giving up. He described in vivid detail how a king would lord it over them, taxing them, enslaving them, and taking their sons for battle and their daughters for his personal needs. In demanding a king, they were giving up any chance for self-governance, and instead, increasing their chances of helplessness over matters where they had previously had control.


Tillich (p. 36-37) described helplessness as a common expression of anxiety, present in many species, and marked by indecisiveness. Courage begins with engaging a challenge and thinking through one's own options. But individuals, families, and congregations can all move towards helpless postures automatically; under stress it's even more likely. Once helplessness creeps in, most of us are looking around for someone else to figure things out.


Instead of looking to others to decide what to do, a person has the option of self-regulation. Although one can neither control nor be responsible for any other adult, becoming king or queen of oneself is in the realm of the possible. Putting on an imaginary crown, considering different emotions and thoughts as 'subjects' for your consideration, can be both fun and instructive. Finding the inner authority to manage one's own emotional system, harnessing it to one's intellectual system, promotes self-rule. Regarding oneself, a person has many choices to make.


Sacrificing self-rule, the Hebrew people demanded a king. What happened next? The text jumps ahead a few chapters to let us know that Samuel reluctantly gave in to them, anointing Saul as their ruler. The Old Testament readings for most of the summer are set in I and II Samuel: providing a rich set of stories on human immaturity and its consequences.



Morning: What might get in the way of my own self-rule today?

Evening: When did I notice myself feeling helpless?

Psalm 138:6 For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away.

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Contemplating a Squished Cicada

(5/30): Isaiah 6:1-8 and Psalm 29  •  Romans 8:12-17  •  John 3:1-17


Like a get-out-of-jail-free card, one of the best lines in all of scripture is provided today, an antidote to the otherwise murky world of the Sunday after Pentecost, aka Trinity Sunday. It's found in the Isaiah reading, which begins with Isaiah's vision: an awesome view of the Lord on a throne in the temple, angels surrounding, coals burning, the whole thing. A conversation (regarding the state of the planet Earth?) seems to have already begun. The gathered group (for apparently, the Lord is not simply talking to himself) is wondering who will take up the challenge, when Isaiah answers, "Here am I; send me!"


Usually, the reading is understood as an extraordinary experience, relevant for those few with a calling to the prophetic ministry. And certainly, few of us see angels or otherwise experience a vision like Isaiah had. Nevertheless, the stepping up – the here am I; send me! – is a common experience.


What motivates a person to say yes, I'll do it? Whether it's doing the dishes or watering the garden, coaching soccer or t-ball, making masks or quilts, what matters is taking one's turn at any of a thousand tasks necessary to a family, congregation, workplace, or other setting. Stepping up to do what has to be done is how humans have managed from the beginning.  


In Isaiah's case, his wisdom was to follow what brought him energy. When he saw his vision of the Lord in the temple, he did not succumb to fear. Instead, he noticed his fear – a fear, by the way, of dying: the usual fate of those who look on the face of the Lord. In the story, a seraph (a high-ranking angel) used a live coal from the altar to remove the danger. Then, Isaiah was able to hear the question: who will go for us? Once heard, he could respond with his full being.


Responding to life with one's full being is a paradoxical task. The very idea of power can get in the way; the opposite of helpless is not powerful, but capable; the capacity to manage oneself is what matters. How does a person become a great prophet? Isaiah began by wrestling with his fear. First, he recognized his mortal nature, letting go of any vestige of arrogance. His ability to ask for help, to embrace his creatureliness, ultimately led to his ability to take on the role in question.


The creature making the headlines in today's news is the lowly cicada, a bug living 13-17 years below ground, and the last four to six weeks of adult life above ground – reproducing and then dying, by the millions. As if covid weren't enough, these bugs are the latest reminder that death is part of the life cycle for all creatures. Near my home, dead and dying cicadas can be seen lying on the ground and sidewalks, pretty much wherever there are big trees.


Contemplating a squished cicada can be a useful exercise. When humans die, they usually won't lie on a sidewalk for others to step over or on. Still, death may come with or without dignity; reflecting on the likely circumstances of one's own death (a daily task as recommended by saints of many traditions down through the centuries) requires a certain courage. But, when fear of dying can be put aside, one can begin to see the reality of existence more clearly. Cultivating an awareness of humans as creatures is a good thing; it's odd, but facing one's mortality helps a person to become more truly herself.



Morning: What do I want to say yes! to?

Evening: When did fear get in my way today?

Psalm 29:11 May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!

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