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Contractualism versus Ecstasy

Easter 3

April 30, 2017

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

Vernon K. Rempel, 2017
Bible reading: Acts 2:38-41

Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

Ecstasy

A few brief notes:

Contractualism versus ecstasy.
Contractualism is a little used word from philosophy.

 The way I’m using it in these brief notes

  is to be addicted to or obsessed with

   making everything into a contract with obligations.
Ecstasy, the way I am using it,

 is the experience of getting outside of my imperial ego,

  as Richard Rohr calls it,

   to a place of utterly joyful connection

    with others, with nature,

     with the song of all creation,

      rocks, people, rain, birds, creatures.
Contractualism is driven by agreements with force.

 Ecstasy is at its best an act of collective imagination.

Three stones from the sidewalk

This week Friday, I found myself sitting on the sidewalk

 outside Centro de Humanitario,

  a day labor center promoting work, dignity, and community.
It is also the place for the office of Denver Homeless Outloud.

 Due to a scheduling glitch, 

  we were meeting on the sidewalk.
It was a pleasant day.

 We talked about our Beloved Community Village,

  and what we needed to do next – 

   building time seems to be getting close!
There we were, a board of majority homeless or recently homeless folks,

 and representatives from community groups – in this meeting:

  The Interfaith Alliance and Beloved Community Mennonite Church.
Sitting on the ground, I found 3 stones.

 I began sifting them in my hand.

  They fell together in different ways.

   In one way, they almost fit like a puzzle.

    You never know.
You never know how different groups will fit together,

 and what may result.

  Our Beloved Community Village is a labor of love

   of a huge diversity of groups and entities:
The Interfaith Alliance

Beloved Community Mennonite Church

Bayaud Industries

The Buck Foundation

Denver Homeless Outloud

Food not Bombs

Whiting-Turner, giant construction group – built the Ravens stadium – Baltimore

Tim Reinen, architect with Radian, Inc.

Future residents of the the tiny home village

Mennonite Disaster Service

Everence – the Mennonite financial group

The City of Denver

Others?
Our strength is not in our organizational ability

 but in our diversity.

  Diversity gives us resilience,

   like a field of many seeds survives disease

    better than a mono-crop.
The stones in my hand tumbled and tumbled.

 What would be the next fit?

  It was like jazz improvisation.

   It was like shared story-telling at the fire.

    It was like a very creative business meeting.
I think that when we are open to the love of the Holy Spirit,

 our lives tumble like these stones,

  but not into chaos.

   Rather into wonderful moments of connection,

    some of them expected, some pretty surprising.
The stones are:

 sitting on the sidewalk outside Centro de Humanitario

  on the north side of downtown

   folks housed, folks homeless,

    folks used to food lines, 

     folks sitting down to the pizza that’s evening

      all in the meeting.
My heart ranged out to Fernando and Rebeca in Ecuador,

 their lives growing up in Mexico City,

  to folks sitting in the GEO detention center in Aurora

   to future residents of this village and other villages,
to Cathryn and Douglas, Carol, Monta Le and Steve,

 Dwight and Kim, Joe and Pat, Kristine, Taylor and Taylor and Nan,

  Luke and Emma, and all who draw near here,

   all joyful stones in the stream of love,

    Our strength is in our diversity.

How much my life is now an act of collective imagination

 and much less a life of contractualism.

  Tumble, tumble, how will the stones fit together?
These are moments of ecstasy,

 moments of getting outside my imperial ego of control

  in order to consider the movement of the Holy Spirit.

The baptisms in Acts

I think this is one way to think of the baptism story in Acts.

 “This corrupt generation” as the text says,

  is the spirit of contractualism,

   of making each other miserable with rules

    that inevitably favor a dominant group.
The invitation to baptism is an invitation

 to the wild, free work of the Holy Spirit,

  who had the crowd convinced that the disciples were drunk

   early in the morning.

    When really what it was, was joy. Yee-hah.
Contractualism versus ecstasy.
I remember my baptism.

 The immersion tank in front of the borrowed Baptist church,

  my pastor-father’s kind hands

   the great eastern-Colorado prairie all around,

    the endless sky above,

     the invitation to communion.
Rituals can mean a lot of things.

 Here, we hold practices dedicated to ecstasy,

  dedicated to inviting us beyond our imperial egos

   and into shared joy,

    the joy of ecstasy, where we discover

     and experience connections that bring life.
Peter invites people to repent.

 Repent of forced old relationship patterns,

  of all your distortions.

   Come now to the water of the Holy Spirit

    who flows freely in joy.
In the eve of WWI, nations had a series of 

 contractual agreements with each other.

  It was like a stack of promised swords,

   to paraphrase the historian Barbara Tuchman

    in her marvelous book The March of Folly.
We will enforce agreements.

 We will kill people for our agreements.

  How would I like to be a British soldier

   dying in a trench on the Passchendaele field

    because of some ruler’s contractualism?
Far better the love of the Holy Spirit,

 who asks us to live in peace with each other,

  who invites us to surrender our egos

   in favor of deep and joyful connection.
Come be baptized. 

 The stern narrowness of contractualism no more.

  Now only the joy of the water, the love.

Money

Today, we will talk a bit about our shared “money practice.”

 How do we want to share among ourselves?

  First question – who do we want to be together?

   Where do we want to go together?
Pastors Cole and I are paid money to help facilitate our shared journey.

 But it is a shared journey.

  

Years ago, Tex Sample said that congregations can be like 

  a commissary or like a caravan.
At the commissary, you go to a fixed place,

 you pay, you get the goods.

  A commissary is a place of contractualism, I would say.
In the caravan, we’re all traveling along.

 We may not even know exactly where we’re going,

  maybe it’s just an good road-trip.

   But we get to do it together.

    That’s ecstasy.
I think that’s what made Jesus so mad at the temple.

 He walked in and saw money-changers.

  That’s a commissary. That’s contractualism.
He said “This house is to be a house of prayer for all nations.”

 That’s connection. That’s ecstasy.
But back to the road-trip.

 We get to do the road-trip of Isaiah 58

  that invites us to be in community with the hungry and homeless.

   The result will be that our light will shine forth,

    and we will find healing.
Or the road-trip of Luke 4

 in which the poor have good news,

  and it is declared right now to be God’s good year for everybody,

   the year of Jubilee.
The invitation is for us to talk about money today and next Sunday, at least.

 Two brief but sufficient conversations at least – cottage meetings.

  My invitation to us is to speak out of ecstasy

   rather than contractualism.

    Not, how can we get more money? That’s too narrow.

     But, what will be our shared joy?

  

Cole’s going to preach next week, and 

 he’s going to invite us to consider another Biblical road-trip.
Cole – preview?

The Invisible God

Easter 2

April 23, 2017

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

Vernon K. Rempel, 2017
Bible reading: John 20:19 

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the religious leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

Politics

On Wednesday, Cole, Taylor, Ben, Anna, Marcus, Karen, Terese, Ray, Amanda, Nathan, and myself,

 all of us having a connection to our faith community

  directly here or through the Beloved Community Village,
were at the state capitol 

 to testify about the “Right to Rest Bill”.

  This bill seeks to make it no longer a crime

   to sleep or cover up in public in the city of Denver.
It is an answer to the “camping ban” of about 5 years ago.
People young and old, from high schools, organizations,

 homeless folks themselves, some of us clergy,

  and others, testified in favor of the bill

   to decriminalize this behavior.
The gist of a lot of the testimony was that

 people need somewhere to live,

  if not on the street.
Otherwise, if one is to move along,

 one might ask – “move along to where?”

After 8 hours of testimony in favor

 from about 60? folks

  and just four testifying against,

   the bill was defeated in committee.

    

So on to next year.

 And people may continue to end

  up in jail for being homeless.
On Thursday, I went to the capitol again,

 to witness the presentation of a bill to 

  commute the sentence of René Lima Marin
Marin went to jail for a crime,

 served time, was paroled.

  And then, after 5 years of behaving as a model citizen,

   husband, church youth leader, father,
he was put back in prison because it was discovered

 that he had been released due to a clerical error.

  Nothing else mattered.
Our community organizing group Together Colorado

 immediately began working for his release,

  as did others.

   

Now a young republican legislator – Dave Williams, 

 initiated the bill, after considering his own life,

  his love of his wife and children,

   and who René was being kept in prison

    on essentially a technicality.
After numerous inspiring speeches,

 the house voted unanimously to ask the governor

  to commute René’s sentence.

Where do we put our hope?

Politics, it can break your heart or seem marvelously wonderful.

 Just like family. Just like friends. Just like church.

  Where shall we put our hope?

   Where shall we invest our longings, emotion, and care?
I spent a lot of time at the capitol this week.

 And with family. And friends.

  All these places of both goodness and challenge.
Where do we put our hope?
Ruby Sales, in her interview two weeks ago,

 said that when she was a young woman 

  in the civil rights movement,

   she would go to planning meetings

    and they spent a lot of time singing and praying!
She wondered why they couldn’t just

 get down to the business of the meeting.

  Why waste time on all this “old fashioned stuff?”
But then she would see people in action,

 see them face down tear gas, and biting dogs,

  water hoses, and billy clubs,

   the unbridled hostility of Jim Crow racism.
And she realized that when they sang and prayed together,

 it made it possible for them to face it all, 

  and still to say “I love everybody.”

   Still to not become bitter.
It’s possible to feel bitter after hours of testimony

 and watch a bill be defeated.

  And now what it costs homeless folks.

   And that’s without tear gas and so on.
Politics can break your heart.

 Families too. Who among us has never

  had our heart deeply broken by family?
And friends, how we can just flow in and out

 of each other’s lives, though we don’t mean to.

  Friendship is so good, like family.

   It is just not golden location of all our hopes.
Jesus famously asked,

 Who are my mother and brothers and sisters?

  Those who hear the will of God and do it.

   

Which would point to church,

 these chosen, intentional, practiced relationships, the Jesus movement.
But God help us, the church can break your heart.

 O my goodness. So often a place of exclusion,

  group-think, authoritarianism.

   Or just the humanity.

    We can get into it with each other.

The invisible God

Henri Nouwen, in his book Lifesigns,

 says that we must only fully trust God,

  because God is the only one free enough of wounds,

   to offer us a place not warped by fear.
We all may try to be as faithful as possible.

 But we are all heart-breakers sometimes.

  Politicians, wives, husbands, friends, pastors, children,

   parents, volunteers, helpers,

    we’re all heart-breakers from time to time.
So Nouwen says:

 “God alone is free enough from wounds to offer us a fearless space.”
And so folks prayed and sang to prepare to act

 for the civil rights movement.

  
And immense soulfulness resulted,

 immense courage and resilience and joy,

  in the face of terror.
Marc Gopin, international mediator,

 has worked with a number of Mennonite mediators.

  He says that there is a noticeable thing about Mennonites.
When they come to the mediation table,

 they’re more interested in the people at the table,

  than the solution they’re trying to reach.

  

He notes that it changes everything,

 changes the whole tone. 
And then he went to a Mennonite worship service.

 And he said, “it’s how they sing and pray together.”

  They sing and pray like all people matter.

   –From Eden to Armageddon, chapter7
This is high praise. 

 I very much hope it is true.

  I hope this worship moment honors immigrants

   and refugees, and the homeless,

    and faithful parents and children,

     young and old,

      in many languages, skin colors,

       sexualities.
I think Nouwen is telling us we can only do this,

 when we place our hope in God,

  the one who moves among us

   in eternal love.
The disciples after Easter morning had thought

 they they had misplaced their hope.

  Even after the women had witnessed a miracle.

   Even after the foot-race between John and Peter

    to get to the mystery of the empty grave first.
The disciples gathered with fear overwhelming their love.

 They gathered in a locked room,

  ready to hide, to draw back.
And then Jesus comes and defeats the locks,

 comes into the room of fear,

  and says simply “Peace be with you.”

   “Peace be with you.”
This is the nature of God, the one free of fear,

  the one who has not been overcome by wounds or death.

The one whom no one has seen – book of Hebrews – 

 and therefore one no on can control,

  and therefore is free.

   This is the God of Jesus’ heart.
God who lives in the Holy of Holies,

 which, much to the surprise of conquerors,

  was actually an empty space.

   A space only for the presence of God.
God who is the Holy of Holies,

 the “third thing” of the universe,

  that thing that is always between you and me,

   whoever the you and me is,

that lets us forgive and move forward,

 and find surprise and inspiration

  even in very hard times,

   even in the valley of the shadow of death.
The “go between God” as John V. Taylor called the Holy Spirit,

 the one who moves among us

  as the extra something, the je ne sais quoi,

   the puzzling lift in the room and the relationship,

but the one who will not be managed, 

 controlled, manipulated,

  the One who is “I am who I am” of the burning bush,

   or the “I will be who I will be”

    since Hebrew verbs are flexible.
The only name you’ll get at the burning bush 

 is these stories about me.

  Here’s what has happened.

   Now go and make stuff happen, Moses.

Capacity

One way I’ve been experiencing this is that 

 God is capacity.

  The Holy Spirit is that capacity that. shows up

   in my life, in my heart,

    to love and to care.
I have often, egoistic goody-two-shoes that I can be sometimes,

 tried to do things just because I think I should,

  because it would be good, it would like good,

   and it would be good, oh yes.
But that’s no good.

 Parker Palmer says that we dare not give 

  what we don’t have to give. (Let your life speak, pp. 48, 49)

   We not only burn out.

    But the gift comes out all wrong.

     It comes out as a heaviness,

      or a manipulation,

       heavy on “needing to…”

        and light on joy.
In my older age,

 I have been trying to invest more prayer and contemplation

  into what is my true capacity, 

   not “what should I do.”
What do I feel ready to do, longing to do,

 what flows from me like the water of the rivers of life?
Now it may be that I don’t like what I discover.

 I may want to do some capacity development of my heart.

  But that’s very different than just doing stuff,

   because someone else or I think it should be done.
I may want to step out in risk, or in prayer,

 in action or in contemplation

  to strengthen capacity, get a new view, 

   find out what’s what in the world for me.
But that’s different than just barreling ahead.

 That’s asking, what do I feel ready and free and joyful to do?

  I may be terrified of it, but there’s still going 

   to be some deep joy welling up, if it’s for real,

    if it’s something that I really have to give.
That’s why I love singing and praying with you all.

 And going to the capitol. And being with family and friends.

  And doing all of it as a prayer

   for the glory that is the power of God’s love, as we pray.

    Strengthening real joyful capacity. 

     Not just doing things because it’s a good idea.
Then we, like Jesus, may defeat some locks.

 We may unlock some legislation,

  or unlock our hearts to our friends, 

   even unlock our hearts to ourselves,

    and experiencing the joy of transparency over denial.
We may walk into any room at all,

 fearsome church, tired capitol,

  lonely friends, good ol’ family,

   and say “peace be with you.”
And I just believe that’s going to open up some stuff,

 be something like the resurrection, the Easter moment.

  And it will be good.

Dry bones 4-2-17

Dry bones Lent 5

April 2, 2017

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church & 

Mayflower Congregational Church

Vernon K. Rempel, 2017

With Cole Chandler
Bible reading:

Ezekiel 37:1-14

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” 
So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

Play “Ezekiel saw a wheel”

Chutzpah and humility

It is good to be with you this morning. 

Once again, I am so grateful to this congregation

 for hosting our new congregation

  and with such a generous spirit.
And it is a privilege to share with you.

 So, I’d like to start off with something friendly and easy

  just to break the ice.

   So let’s talk about abortion!
It’s almost like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, isn’t it?

 What a political and cultural moment we are in.

  What a familial moment we are in.
A lot of my conservative evangelical relatives

 who I love and appreciate,

  whose voices are some of the first voices I heard on earth,

   voted on one issue: abortion.
And so there is political tension.

 And as Parker Palmer says in Healing the Heart of Democracy

  we need to learn to hold the tension in life-giving ways.
I need to find my way into conversations

 and make peace, “so far as it depends on me” as Paul says in Romans.
Palmer says that we need two qualities to do this well:

 chutzpah and humility.

  Chutzpah, to speak from the heart

   

and humility to remember that whatever we say or think we know

 we will never have the whole picture and so we listen.

Chutzpah and humility: I’ll tell you what I think of abortion. 

 Great – another man telling people

  what he thinks about abortion!

But I think we do need to tell each other,

 talk with each other, listen to each other.

  We need to get into the real mess with each other.
And anyway, what I have to say probably isn’t that big a deal.

 I think Hillary Clinton got it about right a number of years ago

  when she said abortion should be rare and legal.
And then to listen: What’s the better angel of your heart have to say about it?

 And who do you find that you want or need to

  listen to to advance and heal our conversation?
That is an exercise in tension holding.

 May we always do it in life-giving ways. 

  May we do it with both chutzpah and humility.

Ezekiel’s bones

The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel held the tension of his people.
As you may know, the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament,

 is a record of a people brought out of captivity in Egypt,

  only to be taken into captivity again by Babylon.

   Now they are in exile, once again made captive.
It is into this moment, filled with tension,

 that Ezekiel speaks and acts.
Ezekiel is the tension-holding prophet par excellence.

 He holds the tension so well

  that it seemed to make him crazy.

   Crazy from holding a vast social tension.
He is supposed to speak to his fellow captives in exile. 

 But they are not innocent victims.

  

They are captives, but they are also people who have failed

 to live with justice in their own lives.

  This has weakened them in the face of their enemies (Ezekiel 3:11, 17; 5)
How do you say that to someone?

 It’s a tough place to be, full of tension.

  The divine spirit tells him to speak,

   with words and performance art.

    He seems to go crazy.
Ezekiel sees beasts. 

 He sees a mighty wheel “way up in the middle of the air”

  He eats a scroll. 

   He lies on his left side for 390 days.

    He lies on his right side for another 40.
He makes himself suffer for the people

 Chutzpah and humility. Look what he does:

  The chutzpah of a hard message; 

   and the humility of being ready to suffer for it.
And then, in the midst of this turmoil,

 something begins to happen.
Now he sees a valley of dry bones,

 and the divine voice asks – can these bones live?

  And the prophet, exhausted and crazy, replies

   “O Lord, you know.”
Say to these bones, I will cause flesh to come upon you, 

and breath to enter you.
And so the prophet speaks to an impossible valley full of dry bones.

 And now there is flesh, and the bones rattle together, 

 and start to reassemble themselves:

  the hip bone’s connected to the leg bone,

   hear the word of the Lord.
(Sing it…)

Come together, right now.

And now there is breath.

 And now the bones live.


Plant a church

Can these bones live?

 We may ask ourselves this question every day.
Can our democracy live?

 Can I take another step of courage,

  or shall I let the couch and the television consume me?
Shall I stay with my comfortable, agreeable friends,

 or can I also step out to meet the ones who voted wrong,

  who have the wrong view, who are being destructive, in my opinion,

   those who are the other, the other side,

    the opposing force?
Chutzpah and humility.
We are so grateful to be with you this morning,

 and for the generous way in which you 

  have provided a home for this new church.
Our new church has been born

from so much good, and sometimes difficult, tension holding.

Some of these include:
How might Catholic Worker and Mennonite collaborate?
How might a small new church bring church leaders from Mexico city to help us?
How might we make a home together with immigrants, homeless folks, friends and family who need a place to stay?
How might we offer ministry recognition and credentials to a woman who has served and loved for a generation without receiving formal recognition in our Mennonite denomination?
What’s the best way to live in wholehearted community as people who are lgbtq and others?
Can we be a real community of shared resources, so that anyone in the community does not need to fear for their material wellbeing?
What does it mean to live committed to nonviolence when there are very real dangers?
Can we play the blues as a key mode of Christian worship?
How might a young new pastor and an old experienced pastor, 30 years apart in age, work together in a new congregation?
Tensions, that can all be fruitful productive tensions,

 with a little chutzpah and humility

  a chance to see miracles when the Spirit asks

   can these bones live?
And now let’s hear a bit from that young, new pastor.
********
Dry Bones

A shared homily with Vern Rempel

For Beloved Community Mennonite and Mayflower Congregational Church

2 April 2017
Can these bones live?

O Lord God, you know they can.

With two parts chutzpah and three parts humility, 

these bones will put on flesh, 

and these bodies will breathe the breath of life.
Where is my chutzpah? Where is my humility?
I’m not sure if Vern remembers the story quite like I do or not, but we first met in May of 2015. Kaylanne and I were at first Mennonite with a couple of our friends, sitting in the back row as we were apt to do… and I noticed in the bulletin that there was some kind of going away celebration being scheduled for Vern in the next couple of months.
I asked my friend what that was all about, and then he started telling me that Vern was going to plant a church and he’d been talking about it with Ted Haggard… which I found to be so very peculiar and intriguing… and then I stopped listening and I just went and tapped Vern on the shoulder and asked him to tell me about it himself.
So… I did a little research on facebook…

And I showed up at a Blues and Brews event in Vern’s backyard…

And Vern and I drank coffee together in the afternoon’s after I finished my work at SAME Café… And I felt like I was watching and listening to this leader who was articulating a vision for community that was so similar to mine, with thirty years more maturity.

So I set there and I listened… and I soaked in his wisdom and style… his wholehearted humanity and creativity… and I told him on more than one occasion that he was the “least high strung pastor I had ever met.” I admired his ability to hold this new church with open hands, to let things emerge organically, to let the wind blow where it will.
I sensed that it wasn’t even a struggle for Vern to want to control the unraveling life of this new community… that Vern lived with a deep consciousness that this life was spiraling right out from the love of God, right out into the world.
And then Vern asked me to speak into the life of this community… he asked me to stand on my own two feet and speak from my own experience… and one thing led to another, and before long I found myself to be accessing a deeper sense of my own voice and personal agency than ever before… I found myself to be experiencing a deep synthesis between my soul and my role… and let me tell you that if you’ve never experienced that… it feels like the breath of life breathing into dry bones.
And as if that is not a miracle… I want to tell you about one of the other miracles of this journey… but maybe I should zoom out a bit further first. When I graduated from seminary in 2013, the quest for an experience of authentic community led Kaylanne and I to move into the Denver Catholic Worker house and begin to share in the life of a radical community of hospitality that has shaped our life in Denver in more ways than we can describe even after we moved on from living in the house ourselves.
On a cold morning in January of 2016, as I set beside a candle with a warm cup of coffee and a book in my hands, looking out over downtown Denver and the Front Range, enjoying the most pleasant of mornings… 

My phone started ringing off the hook. Friends were calling to tell me that everyone was ok, but the Catholic Worker House had burned down.
I put on my coat, biked down to the Worker and took a moment to take in the scene of news trucks and fire hoses spraying down the scorched brick container that had expanded to hold a community of love for the past thirty-eight years. As I reflected upon that scene later on that day, I wrote, “This chapter of the Worker has most definitely ended after thirty eight years of hospitality and solidarity. Our prayer is for new seeds from the ashes. A resurrection, and new incarnation of all that is good and beautiful. In the words of Peter Maurin: A new society within the shell of the old, a society where it is easier for people to be good.”
In the days and weeks after the fire, Vern stepped in and showed up at Catholic Worker meetings, and folks from those meetings showed up at our worship, and with the initial grace and openness with which he has held this new emerging community, I remember Vern saying, “I wonder what is being born among us?”
That is just a bit of context that helps me understand the miracle of the Beloved Community Village. A potential tiny home village for people experiencing homelessness not far from my house, or the former Catholic Worker house in the River North Arts District. 
Since mid-December, Vern and I have thrown ourselves into this project wholeheartedly… Showing up for daily meetings… Reading god-forsaken amounts of emails… Listening to people who sleep outside in the dirt telling us that we’re privileged and don’t have any idea at all how to make this thing work… Standing in front of neighborhood organizations… calling the city councilman’s office… meeting with angry neighbors… writing arguments to the City Planning Department for why a self-governed tiny home village should be permissible within the Denver City Code… casting the compelling vision for “a new society within the shell of the old, a society where it’s easier for people to be good.”
Asking the question: Can these bones live? Yes!
Chutzpah and humility… breathing the breath of life into dry bones.
In times like these there is cause to wonder if democracy is possible… if community is really possible… if the human spirit has the strength and resilience to hold the creative tensions required to live together peacefully and authentically and in that living to allow each individual to stand on their own two feet and fully develop their own sense of personal voice and agency. We have to be wondering if we can really listen to one another, and resolve conflicts, and love one another.
And in times like these we look not to the news to find our answers… but to the smallest microcosms of the social structure where the beloved community can truly emerge… we look to couples… to friends… to households… to churches… to villages… and therein we find the hope that the human spirit is graced with resilience, full of courage, joy, love, and life.
Can these bones live?

O Lord God, you know they can.

Grains of DiversityLent 4

March 26, 2017

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

Vernon K. Rempel, 2017
Bible reading: Ephesians 5:8,9

Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.
We are all seeds in a field of many kinds of grasses.
Besides corn, name some of the food seeds or grains.

(Amaranth, quinoa, wheat, hemp, chia, rice, barley, millet, …)
So many grains!
This Bible text is often given as people 

   trying to be right instead of wrong.

Often used to help teenagers channel 

   some of their newfound longings.

Beware of the dark; stay in the light!

   We don’t want to do harmful things in the dark, for sure!
But I think the text may be more about people 

    longing to be authentic instead of fake, 

       longing to be in real relationship and communion 

          rather than just passing polite or passive days with each other.
The darkness can be a challenge.

But more of a problem may be what we hide in the light.
What I mean is the way that I hide who I really am from others.

   If I generally go around polite, instead of true.

      If I keep a smile no matter what.
It is not an easy thing to figure out.

   I do want to be friendly and smiling as much as possible.

I remember Steve Martin’s “Grandmother’s song”

    “Be kind and love all your neighbors

    and have a good thing to say.”
But after more of this cross-stitch advice,

   the song takes a very weird turn:

      be purple and have your knees removed….”

          And it goes on from there.
Another way to say what Steve Martin is singing about

   is to say that if we’re always stuck in niceness

      eventually our true purple strangeness is going to emerge

          but in self-destructive, knee-removing ways.
In God’s light we are so many good seeds,

   so many delicious grains. 
And yet we may be tempted to try to all be corn all the time.

   It’s the subsidized grain. It has social support and approval.

   

If you drive from Nebraska to Wisconsin

   along I-80, it’s all corn!

       Infinite miles of corn.
Diverse cultures are more resilient.

   But it sure feels safe and strong to be all the same.

      Keep making corn; it’s a sure thing.
I call it the “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam” syndrome (from Cat on a hot tin roof)

   Always be the same, always be nice

Keep it shiny, as they used to say in the great sci-fi show Firefly

   Keep everything okay and the same.
But of course we’re not all the same.

   The purple wants to come out.

      The true self wants to play and sing.

          

And we’re hurting. And lost, and lonely.

   But can we say that?
And when is it safe enough or appropriate to say that?
And so we need a community of the real.

    A community where are are making with each other what 

       Brené Brown calls “a raw, honest bid for connection.”
For example, I will tell, you something about myself

   that I rarely tell anyone:

     I like fashion. I have had some great clothes over the years,

        from a green-satin disco shirt, to two-tone wooden-soled 

            platform soul shoes,

              to a half-price Armani suit coat, and sweet ties.
It is not always obvious how to reconcile fashion

   and the simplicity of Jesus.

      But I want to do it!
Parker Palmer told us a couple of weeks ago,

   when he was here in town – you can see the video – 

      that churches often ask him to help them become more diverse.
He tells them, I can’t help you become more diverse,

   but the truth is, you already are diverse.

      You just need to admit it and live into it.
This is what I think it means to live in the light

   instead of in the darkness,

      to be a Christ community of the real,

         not just sunbeams and niceness.
Let us name one thing others may not know about us,

   some of the diversity among us

       By invitation! Not demand.
Our diversity includes:

Amen

The temptations of ChristLent 1

March 5, 2017

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

Vernon K. Rempel, 2017
Bible reading:

The Lectionary Gospel

Matthew 4:1-11
Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,

but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ 

and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,

so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God, 

and serve only him.’”

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Additional reading:

Richard Rohr – Friday, March 3, 2017

In order to be vital and relevant, Christianity must be able to demonstrate a metaphysical core for spirituality and holiness—not merely a behavioral, psychological, or moral philosophy.

White privilege

Back in the days before the internet

we used to have joyful and fierce arguments about song lyrics.
What really were the lyrics of Blinded by the light

by Bruce Springsteen, and most famously recorded

by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (Also, who knows about them?)

It’s turns out the lyrics in the Earth Band recording are:

“Revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night”

(changed from Springsteen’s “cut loose like a deuce”)

in reference to a “deuce coupe” – a common hotrod of the 1960s.

Compare the Beach Boys

“She’s my little deuce coupe….”
And nobody knows the lyrics of Louis, Louis,

even to this day, with the internet.
One I remember arguing about with one friend

was “Play that funky music, white boy” by Wild Cherry.

I was sure it was “play that funky music right boy.”

He said “white boy.”

He, of course, was correct.

But I just couldn’t believe anyone would have a song

that would actually say what sounded to me like a crude race lyric:

“Play that funky music, white boy.”
Earlier this week, I was in a meeting

in which we were talking about race relations.

One person said that he had just been

going around being white all day.
By which he meant not needing to think about race

in the course of his daily life.

Not needing to think about anything except what I want to get done,

or what I want to do.
That is what is commonly called “white privilege” today.

The privilege to have a cultural system

that just kind of works for me.
It’s not something that I did.

I was born in this situation

and its something the cultural system creates.
Another person, talking about privilege,

said he was “quad-privileged”:

white, heterosexual, middle-aged, male.
I think he meant “middle-class.”

Although I’d like to think that being middle-aged

is a form of privilege!
I’ve been looking for settings in which

to be in greater relationship with people of color.
I have African-American friends who are part of the 

Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance,

which is the African-American ministry alliance in Denver.
This morning on their Facebook page, they had this

excerpt of a quote from Dr. King:

“Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
A heart full of grace; a soul generated by love.
There is a lot one can say about privilege and power.

But I think King’s words are the clue to moving on to something better:

For all of us to find a heart full of grace; a soul generated by love.
We are so much more joyful whenever we can find that place

where we surrender whatever privilege we have

for the sake of love

and where we find whatever courage we need

because of love.

Whenever this happens our race argument, fight, conversation

finds new paths and new days.

And we are so blessed by all our sisters and brothers.

The temptations of Jesus

The temptations of Jesus are well-known:

The tempter, or Satan, who I always imagine

as a man with a smelly cigar, hair slicked back, mustache,

walks up to Jesus in the wilderness,
and says “you know, you could eat and you could feed everybody.”

“You know, you could amaze all these people, including the religious leaders, by, let’s say, throwing yourself down from the top of the temple. That would be cool.”

“You know, basically, I’ll cut to the chase. You could rule the whole world if you would just worship me, by which I’m talking about power, serious power, unimaginable. Huge power.”
Our Mennonite theologian, John Howard Yoder

has brilliantly noted in his book The Politics of Jesus,

that all these temptations can be seen

as temptations to political power:
Feed everyone, amaze everyone, rule everyone!
Yoder was a political Biblical theology, not a feminist theologian.

And he had boundary problems with women, which is tragic and awful.
One thing he might have also said is that

all of the temptations are from the dominant system.

The temptation was to be a king,

only the greatest kind of king the world has ever seen.
Amazingly, Jesus refused.

Perhaps it helped that he grew up a brown-skinned peasant.

But we all have our temptations.
In the end, he surrendered trying to be king,

and rode into Jerusalem on a donkey,

like an anti-king, almost making fun of the way

Romans would ride in on their big horses.

And he surrender to death,

if that’s where love would take him.

And it dead, and then also

into the wondrous mystery of the resurrection,

the return of life, and life most wonderful.

Being right

When I was in college, I really liked being right.

“Play that funky music right boy” actually was my song.

I was going to play the music and get it right.
And so I read Yoder and I know the right way

to read the temptations of Jesus.

I knew the right way to the read the Bible

and understand theology.
Especially in my first couple of years

I used to get into heated debates

with kids who were just trying to have their faith

and not get challenged by me.
And I was all of the inerrant Bible, and the virgin birth,

and the second coming, and what Jesus really meant,

and what Mennonites have lost and aren’t doing

and should be doing.
I was very nice other times. 

Otherwise, I would never have had a date!

But good grief. Stop being right!
The thing I was focused on was ethics.

I was focused on morality.

I once sarcastically asked a friend that I was debating

“Where do you get your ethics from?”

He rightly and humorously answered;”

“From the funny pages.”

taking down by seriousness a few notches.
I was busy getting morality right.

But Richard Rohr this week wrote:

In order to be vital and relevant, Christianity must be able to demonstrate a metaphysical core for spirituality and holiness—not merely a behavioral, psychological, or moral philosophy.
Yeah. That’s good. I was all over morality.

But without love…., clanging gong, as Paul said.

Without love, being right is just dominance,

male dominance, white dominance, any kind of dominance.

Temptations in a feminine mode

“Christianity must be able to demonstrate a metaphysical core for spirituality and holiness.” Not just being right about morality. But a soulful core.
I think the mystics have done so much for us in this regard.
And especially women.

Women who were not enamored with ruling the world.

Who more were just making their place

as people who mattered in a world

that wanted to keep them in second place, to keep them invisible.
Now I think men and women are enormously alike,

in so many ways. What can be said of one

can be said of the other.

Also true in race conversations.
Like Maya Angelou writes in her poem “Human family”

“We are more alike, my friends,

than we are unalike.”
“We are more alike, my friends,

than we are unalike.”
But what can we learn if we pay better attention

to each other?

For example,

what would be the temptations of a woman

finding her spiritual path?
Among my female Courage and Renewal colleagues, 

I have noticed some things that really connect for them:
One is our Touchstone:

No fixing, no advising, no correcting.

I can easily hear women’s lovely laughter when that one comes up.

I have heard it said that women are wired

by the dominant system to make things okay.
To fix the broken relationships.

Often to the point of having to carry the whole load.

Back to college:

In the dorms, the girls were stressed about relationships, working hard on them.

The boys were like “huh?” He’s just my roommate.
So what if Jesus were a woman in the wilderness?

So that might be something Satan would say:

worship me and you can fix all relationships.
Another has to do with messes.

Women say they often feel wired

to have everything be right.

For example, to make the holidays perfect.

In their brilliant book Unplug the Christmas Machine

Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli

write that:

“Women … are the Christmas magicians, responsible for transforming their families’ everyday lives into a beautiful festival. No matter how busy they are, they bear the burden of pulling a magical celebration out of the hat year after year.” p22
So Satan might say to Joanna in the wilderness:

Worship me and all the world will be cleaned up.

Everything you do will be just right. I’m talking Martha Stewart here, my friend.

On of my colleagues, Karen Erlichman, wrote about

working for diversity in our Courage and Renewal practice.

She wrote:

“We need to put our tall rubber boots on and wade through this sewage together. How do we transform our work, our practices, our messaging and ourselves in order to create truly safe, welcoming spaces for our Circles of Trust?”

Letter, August 17, 2016
She was writing to one of her fellow female colleagues about

how we don’t need to get it right, we just need to wade in.

Forget Satan and his voice of “just rightness.”
And finally, one where I can just feel the hearts of women leaping

is the Parker Palmer statement about how we need to find 

“A sense of personal voice and agency.”

The lifting of the female voice into the circles of significance.
Satan says, you know, let me take care of this.

You just keep to yourself for a bit, and I’ll make sure and help you out.
But Joanna turns to him and says:

“It is written, every valley shall be exalted and every mountain made low.”

So get out of my way, buster. We’re heading downtown.
And so this fictional Joanna answers Jesus with some wonderful notes.

Jesus refuses the dominant power of kingship

that is his on offer.
Joanna refuses the prizes that come from making everything work

for everybody else and not finding her own voice.
And together, a soulfulness emerges that is a wonder to behold.

Now there is power sharing.

In fact, it’s more about soul, than power,

more about movement, than about blame.
Now there are suddenly gifts and talents everywhere,

because all people’s gifts and talents are made audible and visible.

Talk about “lift every voice and sing.”

Talk about “play that funky music” whoever you are.

Talk about jumping into your life and living it. 

And jumping in an living with others. 

Until all the earth is blessed, 

the spiritual core that then catches up 

all women and all men in a new universe of love.
How does this sound from your life,

from your place in culture and the universe?

Both-And 2-26-17

“Both-And”Last Sunday before Lent

February 26, 2017

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

Vernon K. Rempel, 2017

Lectionary gospel:

Matthew 17:1-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Additional reading:

Healing the Heart of Democracy by Parker Palmer:

An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways. Our inner and outer lives are filled with contradictions—from the gap between our own behavior and our aspirations to the information and ideas we cannot abide because they run counter to our convictions. If we fail to hold them creatively, the non-stop contradictions of our lives will frighten and paralyze us and take us out of the action. But when we learn to hold them in a heart-opening way, they may open us to new ways of understanding ourselves and the world, enhancing our lives and allowing us to enhance the lives of others. p45

Embracing our wounded child

Today, I want to reflect with you about 

holding tension, and how we can move beyond

petty contests, political cat fights,

and fruitless debating

into something deeper and more consequential.
I’m going to invite you to walk through a brief contemplative practice

which, if you find it to be of value,

you can repeat it on your own at greater length.

But I’ll introduce it here.
It invites us to be in touch

with injury in our childhood.

It’s not going to be super intense.

But this may not be what you want to do right now.

If not, give yourself an internal pass,

or get up and walk,

or avail yourself of the art supplies in the back.

I will ring the chime at the beginning 

and at the ending of the time of the practice.

Chime

James Finley offers this contemplation practice 

in his book Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God:
Let us begin by letting the Christ-spirit of love 

fill you, embrace you, hold you.

It is paradoxically you and Christ

Christ is infinite love

You are created for infinite love,

each one gifted in some way to be on earth.
One way to imagine this is through the prayer practice

that Richard Foster offers this in his book Celebration of discipline:

Imagine your body full of cloudy liquid

Slowly let it drain out.

Now imagine liquid sparkling with light.

Slowly let it fill you.

Now consider:

What is the greatest, truest self you now have?

what is your great personal sweetness?

what work have you done?

how have you cared for someone – a child, a friend, spouse?

what have you built, what music have you played?

what has brought you joy?
Now carry all that goodness into your own history

We all have been a wounded child in some way

Find your wounded child, go to her or him

and now embrace your wounded child with all the goodness you can carry

with all the best that you now have.
What does it feel like to hold and care for your wounded child self?

What is the great goodness you might be carrying now?

Chime

Sing Mothering God, blue hymnal 482

Missiles of October

We need this goodness to 

hold tensions in life-giving ways, as Parker Palmer writes.

Otherwise, we freeze into motionlessness

or cast about frantically in our anxiety and insecurity.

We need some “Both-And” capacity

to hold conflict, sides, contradictions together

until something better emerges.
Tonight is the Academy Awards ceremony

About film production studios in the walk-up to the Academy making its award nominations, one person said:

To reduce campaigning now would require unilateral disarmament, but studios are unlikely to stop spending. And what for? “Ego and bragging rights,” Terry Press [said]. “It’s a town built on a rock-solid foundation of insecurity.”

(The New Yorker 2-27-17)
When we feel insecure, we may respond in two ways. 

We may freeze, unable to move, for fear. 

Or we may dash about, taking slap-dash decisions just to do something.
In 1962, the Soviet Union moved

nuclear-tipped missiles onto the island of Cuba.

It was a nuclear move in a nuclear-tipped world.
17 years before, atom bombs exploded over Japan 

Soviets and the U.S. had been exploding 

the massively powerful and destructive hydrogen bombs.

Bombs were exploded in the open atmosphere

until one year later, in 1963.
When we became aware of the missiles,

military and intelligence advisers were extremely alarmed.
They put immense pressure on then president Kennedy

to do something, to retaliate, to blow up Soviet shipping,

to bomb the island.

It was an extraordinarily anxious moment.

Historians have often said that in this moment

the world was closer to nuclear annihilation 

that at any other time.
It was a struggle for Kennedy.

In the wake of the Bay of Pigs disaster of the previous year, 1961,

which was a quick, ill-conceived bit of anti-communism,

relations between the super-powers were at a low.

The missiles were the Soviet response to the Bay of Pigs.
But, as Robert Kennedy writes in 

Missiles of October

president Kennedy had been reading a book

by the historian Barbara Tuchman called

The guns of August, about WWI.
Bobby Kennedy makes the case

that his brother was moved by the WWI

account of quick and violent response

to pause and consider.
He took as much time as anyone could stand

to put together a strategy that would

allow the Soviets and premier Kruschev 

to save face.
Kennedy promised never again to invade Cuba.

The Soviets withdrew the missiles.

There was a lot more to it.

One of the key elements was Kennedy’s thoughtfulness,

careful communication with Kruschev,

and understanding that everyone needed to

come out of the situation looking okay.

That is a “Both-And” moment.
Amazingly, in the midst of crisis,

Kennedy followed the reverse mandate:

“Don’t just do something, stand there.”

Holding the tension

Jesus on the mountain with the disciples

experiences a moment of powerful

spiritual transcendence.
It was a very large moment for him

and for his disciples.

In the immediate wake of the event,

Jesus talks about his own death.

Everything is at stake for him for the sake of love.
The disciples can feel the power 

and, I think, they can feel the tension.

What can a moment like this mean?

How shall we mark it?

This is a big deal!

The story goes “they fell to ground and were overcome with fear.”
They had wanted to set up some booths,

make it a religious site of pilgrimage, perhaps.
But Jesus tells them “do not be afraid.”

And also “tell no one.”

Essentially he is saying,

“We’re going to hold this moment;

We’re going to hold this tension.

There is the mystery of resurrection coming,

but this amazement and love

is something we must just hold for the time being.”
That is a “Both-And” moment.

Holding the tension

In his book Healing the heart of democracy

Parker Palmer says that we need to learn to

“Hold tension in life-giving ways.”
He quotes E. F. Schumacher who says

“Divergent problems demand and thus provoke the supply of forces from a higher level, thus bringing love, beauty, goodness, and truth into our lives.”
But to receive these gifts from Schumacher’s “higher level”

we must hold the tension.
What if Kennedy had responded quickly, brashly, and angrily?

There could have been nuclear explosions

instead of face-saving compromise,

which, for the world, was surely beauty and goodness.
What if Jesus had turned his spiritual power

into a reason to swagger around, attempting

to dominate the religious leaders and the Roman powers.
There could have been massive violence.

The Romans never minded bringing that on.

More importantly, a great moment of love would have been lost.
How important it can be to hold the tension.
It is like the Rumi poem Zero Circle

that Rob Hansen recently reminded me of. 

The poem ends:

“Be helpless, dumbfounded,

Unable to say yes or no.

Then a stretcher will come from grace

To gather us up.”
Be helpless, dumbfounded,

unable to say yes or now.

Then a stretcher will come from grace

To gather us up.
So Jesus demonstrated.

So president Kennedy demonstrated.
And note that there were good results

from this tension holding.

There were outcomes. 

It wasn’t just navel-gazing or thumb-twiddling.

But it was a refusal to give into the anxiety of the moment

and to pause and be thoughtful.

Our anxiety

What are you carrying now from 

embracing your wounded child self?

How else may we address our anxious selves?

For Kennedy, it was reading a book, and probably much more.

For Jesus, it was the immediacy of spiritual communion with God.
How can we go deep, in order to find

that place of fruitful tension holding

so that we may offer the world

not violence, but rather life.

How can we find our “Both-And” moments?

On exceptionalism7th Sunday after Epiphany

February 19, 2017

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

Vernon K. Rempel, 2017
Bible reading: Matthew 5:43-48 NRSV vkr, ed.

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of the Spirit in heaven; for the Spirit makes sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as the Holy One in heaven is perfect.
‘Ustedes han oído que se dijo: “Amarás a tu prójimo y odiarás a tu enemigo.” Pero yo te digo: Ama a tus enemigos y ora por los que te persiguen, para que seas hijos del Espíritu en el cielo; Porque el Espíritu hace que el sol salga sobre el mal y sobre el bien, y llueva sobre los justos y sobre los injustos. Porque si amas a los que te aman, ¿qué recompensa tienes? ¿Ni siquiera los recaudadores de impuestos hacen lo mismo? Y si saludan sólo a sus hermanos y hermanas, ¿qué más están haciendo que otros? ¿Ni siquiera los gentiles hacen lo mismo? Sé perfecto, pues, como el Santo en el cielo es perfecto.

The English way

Well, we went to England.

It was a dream time:

walking into Kettering from the train station

as our grandson was being born.
Staying with our daughter and son-in-law

in their nice, small apartment

and watching Eric start to grow,

hear his sounds, touch his warm little head.

Seeing a bit of London too.

including Parliament, Big Ben

and going to Evensong

in Westminster Abbey,

on which site prayers have been offered

for a thousand years.
We also had the opportunity,

which I understand Cole shared with you last week,

of worshiping in the Kettering local Anglican church,

which, as they said, was only 500 years old,

although there was evidence of worship 

on that site for a thousand years as well.
As Eddie Izzard says in “Dressed to kill”

“I grew up in Europe, where the history comes from.”
Both at Westminster Abbey 

and at the Kettering Church of St. Peter and St. Paul

I noticed a seamless weaving

of culture, politics, society, and faith.
At Kettering, it was scouting Sunday, 

so the cute kids in their uniforms were there.

And they prayed for the Queen, and England and all.

And the spoke of peace and right relations.
At Westminster Abbey,

after processing in with rod and robe, book and choir,

they too prayed for many things:

health, strength, the military, the Queen

and the Order of the Bath,

which we’re still not quite clear about.
We think it’s probably English people

honored in various ways by the crown.

And that an actual bath is part of the ritual

of honoring. Secular baptism!

Or not so secular, since it was in the daily prayers

for each day of the week.
It represents a seamless weave of society and faith.

I found myself wondering if those who reject violence

could also weave ourselves seamlessly

into the greater human community and society.
We have often felt set apart,

whether at the Catholic Worker,

or in a Mennonite congregation,

or as those who practice

non-violence in their lives.
But who are we in our culture?

Richard Niebuhr

When I was studying religion,

we often talked about the relationship

between the church and the world.
Mennonites were the non-violent church of Christ.

The world was the place where violence was practiced.

This came right out of the old 1500s Schleitheim Confession,

the first Anabaptist written confession of faith, 1527,

an almost monastic separation from the world,

written by a former monk – Michael Sattler.
We also discussed Richard Niebuhr,

the brother of the more well-known Reinhold Niebuhr.
Richard described several models for church and world:

1. Christ against culture

2. Christ of culture

3. Christ above culture

4. Christ and culture in paradox

5. Christ the transformer of culture
These options are rich with all kinds of possibilities.

It was traditional in these discussions to debate

whether or not Niebuhr and named

all the important options or not.

Someone would often add an extra one.

One common Mennonite one was 

Christ in contrast to culture.
In England, clearly it was mostly

Christ of culture in the Anglican Church.

They are the Church of England, after all.

Like the Lutherans in Germany.
For me, the problem is

there is an element of 

knowing better than culture or the world

in all these models.
Either Christ is the model of culture,

or the contrast, but always the better idea,

the better path.

The idea of Christ often becomes people having a better path

and then going to work on other people.

(I have brief descriptions of each model in my notes, which I will post or am happy to send to you as well.)
I think the main challenge

is that it keeps Christ and the Christian movement

as an idea. And ideas

so easily become something that I know better than you.
This is often called American exceptionalism,

or Christian exceptionalism.

I would certainly add “Mennonite exceptionalism.”

Mennonites with our non-violent ways,

knowing better than the world.

Politics is good

So, in the grand tradition of adding an option 

to Richard Neibuhr,

I would like to add one today:

Christ loving culture.
Certainly Christ needs to be on contrast to culture

or transforming culture, as Niebuhr says.

The 1,000 years of prayers in Westminster Abbey

included prayers for an abusive, invasive empire,

and for a monarchy with unconscionable

economic injustice.
And also all the wonders and beauty of English culture,

the social restraint in the spirit of the Magna Carta, 

the joy in quiet things, the literature.
But most of all,

what the world needs now

is love, sweet love, I guess.
I think that often while the church has been

spending time trying to get the message right,

trying to figure out a relationship with culture,

the living Christ is saying,

“Actually, I’m out in the world creating love

in all these places. Come join me

and see what’s going on.”
Christ loving culture.

It’s not that we have a better idea.

It’s that when people are around us,

they feel loved, they feel the warmth

and joy of the outpouring love of Christ.
This is true for the queen, for the military,

for our neighbors, for Trump voters,

for Clinton voters, for people whose lives

are distorted by violence, and those

who appear to live with remarkable grace.
Christ loving culture.

It is a way to just have an ordinary faith.

A faith that does not need to be better

or make a point, or prove anything.
Rather, the proof is in the eating of the pudding

as the English say.

And the eating of the pudding is the lived experience of love.
This then becomes our politics.

This becomes our “Politics of Jesus”.

In love, we may speak with humility and with chutzpah

as Parker Palmer writes.
We may be who we are wholeheartedly 

on the street, in court, in front of lawmakers,

with our families and friends,

and in church.
But we are not better.

We do not know more.

We just have been loved in a way that

makes all the difference in our lives.
There’s no superior Christian or Mennonite message.

We’re just “doing our bit” as the English say,

with love.
We’re just ordinary people,

and we feel fortunate to have found love.

And the wonder is that from time to time, this is one way

that love finds it’s way throughout culture and the world.

Peace be, my friends.

Richard Niebuhr’s options:

1. Christ against culture
Christ against culture occupies one extreme of the continuum. All expressions of culture outside the Church are viewed with a high degree of suspicion and as irreparably corrupted by sin. They are to be withdrawn from and avoided as much as possible. Traditional ascetic communities as well as various sectarian and fundamentalist groups would hold to some version of this view.
2. Christ of culture
Christ of culture sits at the polar opposite from the previous one. Cultural expressions as a whole are accepted uncritically and celebrated as a good thing. In theory, little or no conflict is seen between culture and Christian truth. In practice, the latter is compromised to accommodate the former. This is the view espoused by classic Gnosticism and liberal Protestantism.
3. Christ above culture
Christ above culture, a medial position between the first two, regards cultural expressions as basically good, as far as they go. However, they need to be augmented and perfected by Christian revelation and the work of the Church, with Christ supreme over both. This view was expounded by Thomas Aquinas, and has been a predominant position among Roman Catholics since.
4. Christ and culture in paradox
Christ and culture in paradox is another medial option between the extremes. It sees human culture as a good creation that’s been tainted by sin. As a result, there’s a tension in the Christian’s relationship to culture, simultaneously embracing and rejecting certain aspects of it. Augustine (in part) as well as Martin Luther and Soren Kierkegaard are representative of this view.
5. Christ the transformer of culture
Christ the transformer of culture is yet another medial alternative. It also recognizes human culture as initially good and subsequently corrupted by the fall. But since Christ is redeeming all of creation, the Christian can and should work to transform culture to the glory of God. This is the view held by Augustine (in part) as well as John Calvin and others in the Reformed tradition.