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Immigration and love lights from outer space
November 16, 2014
First Fruits celebration
For First Mennonite Church of Denver
©Vernon K. Rempel, 2014

Bible reading:
Deuteronomy 26:5-10
You shall make this response before the Holy One your God: “A wandering Aramean were my ancestors; they went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there they became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the One God, the God of our ancestors; and God heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. Then God brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Holy One, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Holy One your God and bow down before the Holy One your God.

Homeland Security/ICE Detention Office
God loves the immigrant.
God reminds the children of Israel
that they were immigrants.

That’s why they share the first fruits of their labors.
They have milk and honey.
And the “set it down” before God
because they too were once travelers.

Our nation is not so sure of this narrative.
I have been to the ICE and Homeland Security office
twice now, helping to advocate
for detained immigrants.

Both times, I’ve done something wrong:
One time stood on the wrong side of the line
I was just trying to stay out of the way

Another time, used my cell phone in the wrong place.
Goodness sakes!

But the first time, I delivered 100 signatures
on behalf of Together Colorado.
The day before, we had stood outside
in freezing rain, a hopeless,
small huddled group

Prayer for a young man who was
going to be separated from his family.

But the prayers and signatures and the presence
made a difference. Javier Gallegos Rosales was given a stay
on his deportation.

The judge herself said our efforts made a difference!

In my fevered imagination
I could see the dementors circling
ICE and homeland security

But it turns out it was the love of God.

Love is caring for the immigrant
I’ve been reading
Christians at the Border: Immigration, the church, and the Bible
by Denver Seminary Old Testament professor
Danny Carroll

It is a remarkable book.
For one thing, he is bringing the gospel
of what he sees as God’s deep care for the immigrant
to often-conservative folks

who have been living in a Christian milieu
that tends to say what we need is “law and order”
and stronger borders

For another thing,
he writes as if God is a alive and moving among us
with care for us and care for immigrants

So it is not only a presentation of an idea
about how to respond to immigrants.
It becomes a matter of describing the action
of a loving Spirit
whose action may lead us.

It does this through an excellent presentation
of Biblical material from Old and New Testaments
and also with a review of our nation’s history
of response to immigrants
including our immigration laws.

All very well, and good to read.
Then he makes this very focused, challenging statement
which just knocks me over
every time I read it:

It’s about our response to the immigrant:
“to cling to a chosen lifestyle and schedule, define the permitted parameters of a neighborhood, and monopolize time just for oneself and one’s family to the exclusion of the stranger— any stranger— might be rebellion against God and an ignoring of something dear to him.” (p78 or loc1565)

Read it again…

I have been preaching a lot about love
in the tone of Richard Rohr and Parker Palmer
and Mary Oliver and all these good
inclusive and poetic folks

This statement is surely a part of that:
read it again:

Love is having a heart for such response
for such action

Professor Carroll will be sharing with us on February 22,
by the way, as part of a winter series on immigration
put together by our Women Bridging Borders initative

We are pledging today for the financial support
of this faith community.

Why would we want to pledge?
This is one reason:
Because in this community,
we are invited and even asked to respond
to the immigrant, and in other ways

Here are some places of work connected with
our faith community,
just waiting with God’s heart for love

Already mentioned Women Bridging Borders
Also Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program
With it’s very straightforward mission statement:
“To keep our kids out of jail by restoring relationships with self, family and community.”

Mennonite Economic Development Associates:
Folks who invest money in ways intended to
alleviate poverty

Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection
bringing young people to the city
to get a perspective on mission, ministry,
poverty, and urban joy

DWELL – the year-long voluntary service
associated with DOOR

Mennonite Central Committee
the great relief and development arm of
the Mennonite and associated denominations

Mennonite Voluntary Service
for seniors and young people

Casa de Paz
by the ICE Detention Center
with Sarah Jackson

Together Colorado
Talk to Ann Leonard or me about this
faith-based community organizing initiative

The Abrahamic Initiative, the Mosaic Foundation,
Wisdom House, the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado
all working for interfaith collaboration and goodwill

I know and love the leaders of all these organizations
and they are all available for participation
in many ways large and small

The Catholic Worker and associated homelessness ministries.
Our current outreach coordinator Marcus Hyde
lives and loves and works
at the Catholic Worker House

According to our children and youth pastor Tory
research shows that children and youth who have done
service work with their families

are the most likely to continue to connect with
and relate to their faith communities
So: service forms us

And it is of the heart of God.
Read Danny Carroll and you will see it well-described.

Love is lights from outer space
Just so you know what you’re in for in this next secton
I’ve entitled it
“love is lights from outer space”

There are always stories about mysterious lights
appearing over cornfields in Iowa
or Illinois or Indiana,
on of the Midwestern “I” states

The person is just going about their ordinary
Midwestern business, maybe making
tuna casserole with potato chips crushed on top
or checking culverts on the county road.

And just then, lights will appear,
right outside the kitchen window
right beside the truck

Maybe your just going for a walk
under the vast star-scattered mid-western sky
the immensity of inter-stellar space
distant but also curiously seeming as close as
as the hand you lift to point out
a constellation

And suddenly, there they are,
red, green, blue lights,
and they’re moving fast

They hover, sometimes they track along with you
just like a bird flying in formation
the dip and weave and bit,
and then, as if gravity is an irrelevant force,
they slide dizzyingly upward
and in a moment they are gone.

Those mysterious lights,
what if they really were a presence from beyond,
a visit from the vastness,
and therefore a filling of the solar loneliness
of the human race

What if there really was a presence out there
as lovely as the lights are reported to be?

Oh, of course it could be sinister, could be a scouting group
from some vast invading alien army
waiting to wipe out are planet
and recolonize it with sentient
creatures with tentacles?

But what if not?
What if it were beauty? What if it were love?
How cool would that be?

What if it were the divine immigrant
come to care for us,
the one who always comes to us
and is always already with us

That is the Holy Spirit.
That is the love of God
That is Gabriel, and the backside of God on Ararat,
and the voice in the silence to Elijah,
and the light on Paul’s Damascus road.

A sense of a real presence
not just a projection of inner psyche,
or wishful thinking or magical thinking

but real presence from out there and in here
real presence that announces itself to our hearts
by way of our imaginations, yes

but also by research, and thought,
and toughness and gentleness
and thought and feeling
and heart and head

Maybe it feel real because it is real.

Presence on that amazing moebius strip that seamlessly links
what’s in our hearts with the heart of the universe.
That sense that there’s a greatness out there
just waiting to connect

That there’s a greatness in here, just waiting to connect

Oh, and when it connects, that’s the moment
the lights go on
and we realize our place in the universe

how connected we are to love
how connected we are by love
to all people, all creatures

To the great Spirit of love who is God
to the immigrant
to others in this faith community

where we gain orientation and encouragement for life
well-lived, and which connects us to and incubates
so many works for good.

That’s why we might pledge,
attend, care, connect, love,
pray for each other

That and so much more.
So much that we might call it the First Fruits of heaven.
Let us receive this love.

From Jim Wallis, on Ferguson, and my note…

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the nation’s apostle of nonviolence, once said: ”a riot is the language of the unheard.” He also showed us that only disciplined, sacrificial, and nonviolent social movements can change things.

It is time to right the unacceptable wrong of black lives being worth less than white lives in our criminal justice system. The broken relationships between law enforcement officials and their communities are deeply felt and very real. How law enforcement interacts with communities of color raises fundamental, legitimate issues that must be addressed by the whole nation if we are to move forward. The changes we need in both policies and practices must now be taken up in detail. Our neglect has led to anger and hopelessness in a new generation, but their activism will also help lead us to new places. It is indeed time to turn Ferguson from a moment to a movement, and Michael Brown’s life and death must not be allowed to be in vain.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The (Un)Common Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided, the updated and revised paperback version of On God’s Side, is available now. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

My note:
I think the direction of Wallis’ remarks is right. I would note that we don’t know what happened at Ferguson on the street. But there is ample reason for people of color to be deeply suspicious of anything that goes on in our justice system, whether on the street or in the courtroom. We can’t be juries of crowds. That has never served us well. And at the same time, this Ferguson moment has once again raised the utter urgency for thoroughgoing reform in our justice system. How can we speak about the killing of Michael Brown not as an “issue” but rather put our hearts and voices into the deep heartbreak and tragedy of what has happened among children of God who are intended to live in beloved community and instead find ourselves humiliating and killing each other.

Isaiah 58

At the Fierce, Fabulous, and Sacred event in Chicago
November 22, 2014
My meditation to connect to Queer friends…

Dear Mennonites,
Do you think I delight in your national conventions,
Your committees, and boards, and foundational documents?
Well, this is the fast that I choose,
To lift the yoke
To loose the bindings
To release the captives
To feed the hungry
And welcome your kin into your house
Your own kin!
If you make this fast your fast, says God
Then…
Your light shall break forth
Then you will be called repairer of the breach
And the restorer of streets to live in.

This letter is from my friend Michelle Warren. She is an amazing and soulful connector for compassionate immigration reform among evangelicals and others. This is about president Obama’s executive action.
Vern

Dear Praying friends,

I have been in conversation with several of you and the questions many are asking is what is my response to the pending executive action. The news has so many competing sound bites. Individuals in our churches are having a variety of reactions. Churches from all backgrounds and cultures are weighing in differently, and it’s hard to have clear thoughts.

I have wrestled about how to share my perspective. I remain committed, more than ever, that our churches need to lead from the authority of scripture and Jesus’ message to welcome the stranger. I believe that prayer is paramount as we continue to engage this often hostile conversation. Last week we were at The Crossing Church in Colorado Springs praying together and am thankful for our continued commitment to prayer. (If you would like to host a prayer event, please let me know)

I’d like to invite you to join our weekly prayer call on Thursdays at 2pm MST. The number is: (712) 432-1500 Participan​t Access Code: 739393#

In regard to the news and all the political agendas and messaging and many of your questions, I’d like to respond with a story.

A year ago summer, I brought a small group of leaders/pastors to meet with one of our local representatives to share about how our communities were impacted by the current immigration laws. He is a Republican who at the time was not overtly supportive of immigration reform but had begun to shift his position from previous years. Our group sat around the table, sharing stories of immigrants in our community who were unable to move forward because of the broken immigration system, all the while he was listening attentively and respectfully.

One of our leaders shared about a young adult that was in their local program, who had aspirations beyond high school. They shared of his accomplishments and desires and at hearing his story, the representative jumped in offering a solution to his dilemma. He broke in the conversation to ask if the young person had tried to apply for DACA – the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that the president had put into place by executive order the year before, as that program would provide a temporary but renewable 2 year status, enabling this young person to go to school, get a driver’s license, a job, etc.

I nearly dropped my jaw at his comment because while this program was something that many students all around the country were utilizing, this program – a result of an executive order – was being suggested by a representative who had decried it when it was put into place and had voted to defund it less than a month before our meeting.

I share this story with you because these past few weeks and in the weeks to come, we are going to hear many political platitudes from the left and right, and its going to be hard to discern how the church should respond. Politics are often smoke and mirrors campaigns and can get a lot of people hot under the collar. While I truly believe a legislative solution is the best option for immigrants in our country, if this executive order happens, leaders from all sides of the political aisle are going to eventually suggest their constituents benefit from it until a legislative option is available.

I’d also like to share a couple of articles that may help put a few things into historical perspective regarding executive actions/orders and congressional legislation around the issue of immigration:

An article that shows precedent in the past few decades of executive orders to help immigrants with congressional legislative follow up. http://www.nationaljournal.com/next-america/perspectives/critics-say-executive-action-on-immigration-would-be-unprecedented-they-forget-their-history-20141001

An article which speaks to the example from Pres. HW Bush whose executive authority helped roughly 40% of the undocumented population in the United States – about the same percentage of individuals who, per what we are hearing, may benefit from an EA this time around. https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?tab=wm&pli=1#search/MSoerens%40wr.org/149b0439388d1c83?compose=149c0d85ad37822d

I do hope you find this information helpful. If you have any questions, please feel free to email or call me. I am happy to listen and share any insights I may have.

Again, please continue to pray for our country, our political leaders, our churches and immigrants in our country who are waiting for solutions.

Praying and Persevering,

Michelle

In think this letter offers a succinct re-framing. Thanks, Walt!
Vern

TO: Phillip Brownlee, Opinion Editor
Wichita Eagle

I join Jim Benage in his concern that “marriage could lose its meaning” (Eagle 11-17). I propose that together we invest trust and goodwill in a wide and compassionate discussion of our fears, hopes and commitments.

Could it be that marriage laws and policies fully including persons of same-sex orientation would ultimately strengthen and enrich all marriages rather than be a threat?

Might the benefits of including persons with same-sex orientations strengthen the social order and contribute to the health and vitality of our common good? If solemnly covenanted, publicly honored marriage is a good for us heterosexuals, why would we seek to prevent morally upright, respected persons, many of whom are our trusted public servants, many of whom are people of faith and committed to all the same core values we seek to advance, from having the same respected relationship so precious to us—just because of their different sexual orientation?

Have we counted the enormous costs we have been imposing on our collective social order by our exclusions? Have we considered the cost to our own spiritual and emotional health in fostering fear and choosing the burden of excluding those who are different from us? The toll of exclusion is dark and sinister; but the life of trust, invitation, inclusion and friendship is liberating, inspiring and exhilarating.

Perhaps we could meet on the steps of the Courthouse to welcome and encourage those who are rejoicing in their recognized mutual commitments to love and to care through good times and bad. Could we dare to join their dance? And go home smiling inwardly?

I offer these remarks from my context of unearned advantages and blessings: our marriage (61 years); our strong family heritage and our own children; our citizenship in a beloved nation; our community of faith; and my career as an educator, administrator, consultant, counselor and ordained minister.

Walter Friesen
Hesston, KS

Good day friends!

We have been doing a slow read of Parker Palmer’s short book Let Your Life Speak at our small-and-wonderful Blues Prayers service.

Yesterday, this was the passage we considered, from pages 5 and 6:

“I sometimes lead retreats, and from time to time participants show me the notes they are taking as the retreat unfolds. The pattern is nearly universal: people take copious notes on what the retreat leaders say, and they sometimes take notes on the words of certain wise people in the group, but rarely, if ever, do they take notes on what they themselves say. We listen for guidance everywhere except from within.

I urge retreatants to turn their note-taking around, because the words we speak often contain counsel we are trying to I’ve ourselves. We have a strange conceit in our culture that simply because we have said something, we understand what it means! But often we do not – especially when we speak from a deeper place than intellect or ego, speak the kind of words that arise when the inner teach er feels safe enough to tell its truth. At those moments, we need to listen to what our lives are saying and take notes on it, lest we forget our own truth or deny that we ever heard it.”

My reflection on this was fairly simple. We often have our wise inner teacher buried deep and cannot listen to its wisdom because of the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that we have experienced in life: our injuries, trauma, abuse, diminishment, embarrassment. All of it. “The full catastrophe” to quote Zorba the Greek very much out of context!

We need deliberate practices and locations that create safety and invitation for that inner teacher to speak to us, and for us to listen to it. Palmer likens the soul or inner teacher to a shy animal that is in the woods. To hear it, to see it, we must move gently, taking time and careful and deliberate steps to move to a place where the shy soul animal will come out and be present to us.

This is not mere navel gazing. Thomas Merton long ago point out in “A Letter to Young Activist” the danger of trying to create change in the world without paying good and prior attention to what’s going on inside oneself. He warned that enormous damage would result. Not unlike what Jesus said to the Pharisees: “You make them twice the children of hell that they already were.”

So we need this inner teacher. And the world needs us to listen to our inner teachers. Quietly, urgently, joyfully, compassionately.

Hello friends,
My father sent me several documents from the years he was working in denominational leadership. This would be the early 2000s – post-integration, a time of struggle, new hope, and negotiation in the wake of the challenging times our two former denominations had at St. Louis in 1999.

Here’s what I would highlight (from the document “Restructuring Perspectives”)

Organizational Culture

1. Churchwide structures focused on influence rather than control.
2. Flexibility and Networking – assume a somewhat continual process of transformation.
3. Rather than managing all parts of the church, encourage innovation and creativity in various entities such as area conferences and congregations.
4. Dispersion of authority rather than a hierarchical “episcopal” structure. A more centralized governing structure needs to be balanced by a healthy respect for dispersion of authority particularly as expressed in area conferences and congregations.
5. Cultural diversity in the makeup, role and discernment process of structures. How we do the ‘business of the church” should reflect the cultural diversity found in the church. This requires a deeper transformation than simply adding a certain ratio of representation from various ethnic groups.
6. Connecting structures do not serve as ends in themselves. These need to continually justify their existence rather than claiming entitlement through their agenda and maintenance.

I would love to see these insights honored in our work together today.

And here are the whole files, for you avid readers!
Restructuring Perspectives
Several Trends Transforming Mennonite Church USA
Review Report to Assembly 2007

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