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Whale breathing breaching

How important it is to be able to breathe freely. Nothing induces panic like restricted breath, whether due to asthma, or the travesty of water-boarding torture, or the scary practice of the choke-hold.

In the Christian tradition, we speak of the Holy Spirit – a name of the living presence of the divine among us – as the “breath of life”. In the Mennonite tradition, we sing a hymn that begins “Breathe on me, breath of life.” Breath is itself a metaphor for life: “As I live and breathe….”; “Can you fog a mirror?”; “He lives most life whoever breathes most air.” ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning; Smile, breathe and go slowly. ~Thích Nhất Hạnh.

Breathing is deeply woven into religious and spiritual practice in most cultures. Here is one example of a good reflection on breathing as symbol and metaphor of life, by Lynda Austin: http://www.vincegowmon.com/breath-as-a-metaphor-for-life/. And one more by Dennis Lewis: http://www.universal-tao.com/article/breath.html.

Unfortunately, the human story about breathing is like everything else (food, housing, wealth, etc.) – we have made it into something to compete about and to use as a weapon. In particular, the toxic processes and spirits of privilege, such as racism, become ways in which one people restricts the breathing of another people, literally and metaphorically. This may mean sequestering some of God’s folks into segregated living situations, accompanied by daily humiliation. That is a form of restricting breath.

And it may mean the literal use of choke-holds, which rightly have come to symbolize the poison and distortion of racism in our society. According to Michelle Alexander, the phrase “law and order” has, in the last generation, become the stand-in for segregation, and a phrase that covertly can carry the freight of horrific racist sentiment (p41). Under this “law and order” emblem, then, racist practices, the “lynchings” of the modern era, can take place (see James Cone’s powerful book The Cross and the Lynching Tree about the history of lynching and the atrophied Christian response).

Now our streets and byways are filling with people whose simmering rage is once again boiling over. What will Christians, whose very metaphors of the divine have to do with breathing, say about “breath for all people” in this moment? How will we lead and care and demonstrate solidarity for those for whom breathing is chronically restricted? What practices of “law and order” will we support that actually seek to affirm and preserve life, rather than seeking order and control through quite willingly threatening and ending life?

Just to be clear, this is not all to be laid at the feet of law enforcement. The poison is something born of and spread as a contagion through a society that:

–willingly maintains privilege at the expense of the basics of life for others

–creates endless laws that theoretically could make 70% of us into felons, all in the name of feeling secure (see the excellent editorial by Stephen L. Carter: http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-12-04/law-puts-us-all-in-same-danger-as-eric-garner

–lets functional segregation persist because we are unwilling to do the extra work and take the extra risk to create strong and intimate relationships across racial lines (even with an uptick in inter-racial marriage)

And so on… (to quote Kurt Vonnegut). But let us not have it be “and so on….” Let us not despair. The great political and playwright Vaclav Havel is supposed to have held despair as the only unforgivable sin (see David Remnick The New Yorker “Havel in Jerusalem” December 1, 2014) Let us rather engage, move freely into this time of change and struggle with courage and whole hearts full of the love of breathing.

For all people. Unrestricted breathing. May it be as the angel’s announcement to the shepherds: “tidings of great joy… for all people.”

A murder of crows

On our walk a couple of days ago, my wife Marilyn and I heard the proverbial cacophony of crows in the trees above our heads. The trees were on monastery property, near our home. Perhaps because of the setting, I started thinking that the crows were having a denominational debate. And the thing was, there was a magpie among them, a large creature of white, and blue, and black, rather than the full black of a crow. Magpies are also corvids, so it could fit in. But I wondered if they were debating about who could be included in the crow denomination. I’m guessing there might have been scriptures about black feathers and the like. But also scriptures about how all birds are in in the light of God, that sort of thing. By all accounts, it was a heated crow debate, and much flying about also ensued. I hope the magpie is doing okay, and found a home. There’s nothing like finding a home where people love you and want to love you and take delight in you. That’s also a human gift we may give to each other, with all the generosity, forgiveness, and mutual rejoicing and bearing of burdens for which the Holy Spirit gives our hearts ability. Or in the language of crows, the Holy Spirit gives us just “caws” to do so, to find magnificent ways of finding our home with each other.

Birds from Moonrise Kingdom:

Moonrise birds

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

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