Blog Reflections


I have been in and out a bit the past few weeks with opportunities to watch the waves roll in and out on the Northwest coast, and spending (socially distanced) time with family and friends. These moments make me realize how this season holds a unique weight and impact on our lives. Whether it is world concerns, the upcoming election, or simply household management, I feel a different kind of tiredness. Sitting on the coast, I didn’t even pick up a book. It seemed more important to watch the water ebb and flow.

As I began that trip to the ocean, I was listening to a podcast episode where the interviewer (Mark Labberton) asked the guest (Jennifer Wiseman, Astrophysicist and Astronomer) to reflect on the state of the universe. Mark set up his question by commenting on how the state of our earth, and the state of our country, are occupying so much of our thought right now, and asked “What is the state of the universe these days?” And her response struck a chord for me.

“I would say the state of the universe is that it is beautiful.”

Jennifer Wiseman on Conversing with Mark Labberton

There is so much more going on all around us than we can imagine—an active and beautiful universe, people faithfully caring for their neighbors, teachers preparing to care for their students in whatever way they can, friends sharing zucchini and broccoli from their garden. There is much to celebrate, even in the midst of a time of loss. There is an invitation to raise our eyes, receive inspiration from the beauty of our world, and continue to work for healing and hope.

So today, I offer you a couple resources of inspiration. These are the voices I’m listening to as I choose to make August a time of slow and peaceful renewal. Enjoy!

Jennifer Wiseman on Conversing with Mark Labberton
Listen to the full interview here.

StoryArc – Issue 001 – Cosmic Peace
A Christian collaborative of artists, writers, musicians, and spoken word artists assembled reflection on peace and peacemaking.

The Generosity by Luci Shaw
This new compilation of poems was released this week. Here is one for this moment. There is an invitation to read others in the excerpt at the above link.

An excerpted poem from The Generosity - a book of poems by Luci Shaw.
Shaw, Luci. The Generosity: Poems. Paraclete Press, Brewster, Massachusetts, 2020.
Blog Congregational Life


This spring, I have been in my garden like never before. Pruning, pulling, tilling, resting. As I was pulling out some dandelions a few weeks ago, my neighbor called out over the fence and said “You know they’ll grow back again, right?”

Oh, I know. I know because this spring, the weeding has been a constant. The weeds are abundant. Large heads of morning-glory rising up over the rhododendrons. Tall reedy grass coming up through the iris. Mushrooms popping up in the lawn. It is never ending.

It is also partly my fault. For the last several years, gardening has not been high on my list of priorities. The weeds I’ve been pulling today have been growing in place for a few years—left to their own will and way. Blackberry vines rising up from under the groundcloth, and a whole volunteer birch tree that is now too rooted to move.

As I’ve been working to renew parts of my yard, I’ve been thinking about the other things this season is unearthing. We are having a national conversation right now about the structures in our country that provide space for racism and hatred to grow unchecked. The pandemic is particularly exploiting underlying conditions that make us vulnerable to its infection. Organizations are exhausted from constant change when we are generally tooled for steady familiarity.

Like a landscape design, we need a strategic plan—having a vision for a society that cares for one another well, can work together to solve problems, and prioritizes the well-being of all. There is enough soil, water, and oxygen for the whole system to thrive.

But for that to happen, we also need to pull the weeds. Taking time every day to keep up with the reality that old attitudes and habits grow back if unchecked. Being willing to get our hands and knees dirty as we renew spaces that have been left overgrown for way too long. Knowing that we can each make a difference that allows goodness to grow in both our hearts and in the world.

It is possible to change the world. I’m consulting with organizations and walking alongside leaders who are doing the strategic work of leading change to meet this historical moment. It is a joy to see their creativity and vision at play. To watch their communities serve and engage with their neighbors in life-giving and life-transforming ways. I have hope. Working together, we can make space for new things to bloom.

Blog Congregational Life

We’re In This Together

Loving God and loving neighbor are
two woven threads, bound together into
one Jesus-following life. 

Heather James

I wonder what it means to have an active theology of community. To center our Biblical understanding that we were created to live in relationship with one another in ways that serve and nourish the common good. 

I wonder what our neighborhoods would look like if we understood that the two greatest commandments were not two different tasks, but call us into one way of life. Loving God and loving neighbor are two woven threads, bound together into one Jesus-following life. 

I wonder what our cities would look like if we took seriously the call from Jeremiah to seek the peace of the city, and in its thriving to find our own well being. Is it true that if we serve the common good, we will find our own needs met and find that there is enough for all to be healthy and whole?

I wonder what the church would look like if we were to take on the struggle to center community and die to self. Maybe we would wrestle less with form, and more with function, allowing our energy, our resources, our heart, and our hope inform how we bear love into the world.

When we worship, we are tasting from the abundance of God’s table in the light of God’s presence. How can we not allow that joy, that love, to inform who we are to those around us?

I wonder what it would look like for us to work on our understanding of community.

Would we be willing to learn?

Would we be willing to find some new ways forward?

Would we joyfully put on our masks and get to work?

Want to dive deeper into a conversation about how we live life together?

Here are a few voices I’m learning from this week:

Mia Birdsong on Community as a Verb. Everything Happens Podcast with Kate Bowler.

Rediscipling the White Church: From Cheap Diversity to True Solidarity. (David W. Swanson, IVP, 2020)

Or reach out and let’s start a conversation. I’m working with pastors and churches to strategically meet this historical moment with meaningful engagement, learning, and compassion. Want to explore the possibility of working together?

Blog Shepherd of the Hill

Thank you SOTH
Blog Monday Music Drop Shepherd of the Hill

Music Mondays

Now for something completely different. Enjoy!!

Thanks to the Shoemaker family for the great Monday music drop.
Blog Shepherd of the Hill

Sunday Worship

Here is a video guide for your worship this morning. If you want to sing along, there is a lyric sheet posted below. Come, let us worship the Lord.
Blog Worship Invitations

Worship Invitations

Welcome to this week’s edition of the weekly Worship Invitation email!    Each week, during this time when we aren’t meeting together in person, we will be emailing you some ideas about how you can worship this weekend and live out our call to Love God and Love our Neighbors.   These are things you can do with all ages, in solitude or with others. 

Let us worship the Lord together in this Easter season!

The Word: This week, we will be reading together John 20:19-23.  On Sunday morning, a recorded service of worship will be available to you on the SOTH Connections FaceBook page, or by checking back on the blog.   Following the service, at 10:30am, you can join the congregation for a virtual fellowship hour on Zoom.   The access links are in your Thursday announcements email.

Action: Consider the number of hours you usually spent in the church building each week or each month, pre-pandemic. How much time did you spend in the building in worship, fellowship, volunteering, and meetings? Create a plan to experiment with spending those hours this week (or month) in worship and service in other ways. What does it look like to be sent beyond the building?

Something for our Younger Ones:  Help your kids think about what it means to be sent by God into the world.   Consider this list of ways kids can make a difference and help others: World Citizen.  

Service: See “Something for our Younger Ones” and follow the link to get some ideas!

Song:   Thank you, Emme Southwell, for providing us with some special music this week!   Check out the video below. ??

Prayer:  You are invited to join the SOTH community for a time of prayer – pausing at 6:00pm on Sunday nights, and know that others are praying with you as well.  This week, spend five minutes praying for the people of Puyallup (or the city you live in).  Then close with offering God your gratitude and praise.  

Gracious God, you have called us to be the body of Christ alive in the world.  Keep us one in faith and service, breaking bread together, and living as good news in the world, that others would see your grace, receive the gift of your love, and live with us to give you glory.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Go in peace and serve the Lord with joy.

Pastor Heather
Blog Shepherd of the Hill

Easter 2020

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

My apologies for the delay in getting this video posted. I hope you enjoy the opportunity to worship with the Shepherd of the Hill community.

Here is a lyrics sheet if you want to sing along.

Blog Worship Invitations

Good Friday Reflection

An Offense Too Great To Bear

This is our Savior.   
Born to be our God, clothed in human flesh.   
Lived without sin.  Loved without limit.   
Gathering to himself person after person in need of hope.

This is our Savior.  
Who lived out the covenant practices established by God for the good of God’s people, and who opened the door to our understanding that these things are not just about meeting the letter of a law, but allowing the very heart and soul to be shaped by God.  God’s love.  God’s holiness.  To be shaped by our connection with a loving and holy God.

This is our Savior.  Who healed the sick. 
Who protected the wrongly accused. 
Who forgave sin.   
Who gave humanity a glimpse of the one who formed us and breathed life into our frail and naked skin.

Who sat and ate with his friends and enemies, who reclined at the table, spun stories of God’s grace, and showed that you can go to the home of a sinner and come away blessed and a blessing.  

And this is our Savior.
Wrongly accused.   Unforgiven.  
Injured in the frail and naked skin he wore.   
Called a sinner, a liar, an enemy of God.  
Abandoned by his friends.  Betrayed with a kiss.   
Taken, beaten, and berated.   

The fullness of the Creator of the Universe, tied up in captivity.   
The one big enough to encompass the cosmos, 
bowed down under the weight of some wood formed cross.   

Surely this is a wrong worth righting.   
A misunderstanding of epic proportions and a miscarriage of justice.  
An offense against God.  Against God’s son.  
Against all in us that reflects the image of God in this world.

An offense too great to bear.

And yet.  The one falsely accused.  Made to bear the weight of sin and the indignity of death on a cross.   This is the one.   This is our Savior. Who uttered the words.   Forgive them, for they know not what they do.

 Our offenses are like smooth stones.   We hold them in our hands and examine them for their weight of accusation.  For their feel of comfort – the story of grievance we replay until it helps define us or direct us.   We hold our offenses like stones to be thrown – a sense of protection against future injury, or the power of knowing we have the ability to fight back when the moment arrives.  

Without our offenses, we can feel frail.  Naked.  Unprotected.  

We are left without the option of defining ourself by what we are against.  

But the alternative is scary.   Needing to define ourself by the breath our creator has breathed into our frail and naked skin.   To hear the words ‘you are beautifully and wonderfully made.’  To remember how blessed we are to be called a child of God.  

To understand who we are as we look into the mirror of Jesus’ call …  to love our One and Only God with all that we have, all that we are, all that we will be.  

And to let that love be shown in how we treat the person sitting next to us. And the person living next door to us.  
And the person we are tired of, and the one who frustrates us.  
And the one who caused us to pick up our rock of offense in the first place. That rock?  It is an offense too great to bear. 

Because.   This is our Savior.  

The one who looked at every opportunity to pick up very righteous indignation, who could have fought for his freedom, but instead choose to fight for ours.   

This is our Savior, who refused to be offended, but instead chose to feel compassion.   To gaze down at the ones who were killing him and offer forgiveness instead of vindication.

On this most holy day, we remember that it is true – all sin has a cost.  

Ours and theirs.  Mine and yours.   

Sin brings death into the world (Rom 6:22-23).   
It keeps us from fully knowing the love of our holy God.   
It keeps us from deeper, truer, more honest love.  
It keeps us from ease with one another.  All sin has cost.

And sometimes sin has consequences.  
Relationships that need to be rebuilt.   
New paths that need to be forged.  
Repayment that needs to be made.  

These things are a part of working out our salvation with fear and trembling, trusting that God is at work within us to will and to act in order to fulfill God’s hopeful future for our lives.  (Phil 2)

But the cost of sin?  It has already been paid.  

Ours and theirs.  Mine and yours.

Jesus chose to fight for our freedom and allow himself to be hung on a cross, asking our Holy God to forgive us for we know not what we do.

If Jesus is who he said he is, and did what we know he did, then today, choose to receive not just his forgiveness.  Not just his grace.  But his freedom.  

Any offense is too great to bear.   

It wears down the offended, keeping our hands too full to receive. 
To busy clinging to what was wrong that we lose the option of reaching out for what could be so very right.

And the one who has the most reason to hold something against us has instead opened his arms in love to bear the weight of all that we have done and all that has been done against us.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.   In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God 
something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

This is our Savior.

This is our Lord.  

This is our freedom and our hope.

~Rev. Heather James
drawing by Kevin James

Blog Shepherd of the Hill

Palm Sunday Worship

Thank you to the many people who contributed to this video.

Words and music by Paul Baloche and Brenton Brown
© 2005, 2006 Thankyou Music
CCLI License # 1452675

“Give Me Jesus”
Words and Music by Jeremy Camp
Words © Public Domain
Music © 2006 Stolen Pride Music

“I Will Celebrate”
Words and Music by Linda Duvall
©1982 Universal Music

“King of Kings”
Words and Music by Naomi Batya and Sophie Conty
© 1980 Universal Music

“Jihovah Jirah”
Words and Music by Don Moen
©1986 Integrity Music