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“It’s not fair”

Lent 2

March 1, 2015

For First Mennonite Church of Denver

Vernon K. Rempel, 2015

Narrative Lectionary Bible Reading

Matthew 20:1-16

‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 

When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. 

When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.” 

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” 

When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” 

But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” 

So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’ 

Introduction

Our big topic for Lent: behaving

in the sense of practicing

What are key moves 

of our faith?

Last week,

forgiveness,

Snow day, but I did

post it on line.

Next week, 

the parable of the wedding feast

Which is a parable 

that’s sounds like 

More fun than it is.

the practice will be 

Surrendering hardness of heart.

This week,

the practice of invitation

And welcome.

First, grace

In the story of the vineyard,

The first act of grace is this:

All day long, going in to the marketplace

the story builds, the rhythm 

of encounter quickens

early in the morning

also nine o’clock

also noon, and three, and then five

So the little story gathers momentum.

Why seek workers all day

in the marketplace.

And when invited, they go.

They go and go and go.

This is the first act of grace.

It is always invitation.

It is always seeking.

Truth seeking humanity.

seeking people

seeking us

Truth seeking us!

Love seeking us!

God seeking us!

The second act of grace

has to do with

the little matter of pay.

Each set of workers,

going in to work

at their respective hours,

goes in promised “whatever is right.”

Only the early morning workers

are promised the customary wage.

It appears that the others

are going in assuming

they will be paid

only for the hours worked.

No one would think otherwise.

No one would go in at 

noon or three or five

expecting a full days wage.

They just want to work for a fair wage.

But that is only the first act

of grace – a fair wage.

You get to work, 

you get paid some.

At least you’re in the vineyard,

in the economy,

in the house.

But now comes the shock and surprise,

the overturning nature of

the kingdom of God

In the kingdom,

all the wages are the same.

No matter how long you labored

in the vineyard,

you will be paid the same.

Now grace becomes not only

a generosity, but a disruption.

Grace makes economies

not only distributed to all

but not even a matter

of simple trade.

Fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.

That is wonderful.

But God knows that

calculus will not 

get us to the great community.

Because no calculus can.

Only when all adding and counting

and keeping fair

are overrun by the rush of generosity,

by the rush of grace,

can we establish the place

and practice

of abundance that God would have 

on earth.

Trummelbach Falls

Trummelbach Falls:

Somewhere between the Eiger

and the Jungfrau,

at the base of the Münsch

is an underground waterfall.

It’s roar is the roar of

the freight-train of the gods,

a mighty bone-shaking sounding

of water piling through stone.

One’s body hums in sympathetic

vibration with the roar.

To draw near to that place

is to feel the trembling

and the greatness.

And so, the spiritual imagination

may also say this:

It is also this roar:

it is the roar of the love 

of God pouring into the 

human present

from God’s good future.

It is a roar that sets up vibrations

and sounds that fill our bodies,

and hearts and minds,

a roar we can scarcely understand.

It looks like the joyful

but also fearsome and disruptive

grace of workers hired all

day long to work

in the vineyard.

All day long 

every hour of the day

people are invited in

to the place of work and provision,

the place of belonging in society.

All day long they come.

We all want community,

we all need community.

All day long we come,

when we have been waiting

in the marketplace

idle in our alienation and hurt,

idle in the trauma we carry,

idle in our grief and longing.

No one will understand,

it is to embarrassing,

it is just too painful.

So we stay out in the marketplace

We stay out,

idle in our misconnections

and misunderstandings

idle in our loneliness.

No one would want me

if they knew me.

Or the economic and national

arrangements make 

it hard, if not impossible,

to go to school,

to find work,

to be normal.

Idle when immigration status

has left us out;

when social formulations of race

have left us out;

when sex, or ability, or orientation,

or religion – our sense of how

to approach the divine -

has left us out.

However we are left out in the marketplace

we are offered work in the vineyard.

And then the strange pay comes

and it demonstrates to us

that no matter when we 

were invited in,

no matter when we arrived

we are fully human,

fully worthy

and all the history of the day

is washed away in the great

roar of God’s love and grace

so that at the end of the day,

we are left standing

on new ground

and tomorrow we will be

starting side by side

among all peoples.

This is not merely a place of counting

it up. This is a place

of joyful, radical availability

“And let this be to all people”

as the angel says to the shepherds.

As long as counting is the main thing

then privilege will always go

to the counters.

Dismantling privilege

Privilege, I think, is the hard part

of the parable.

For privilege is being challenged.

The privilege of those

who came first,

who consider themselves to have

done all the work so far,

who have set all this up,

who built in the hot sun

all day long, and

now someone wants to

come in and just be part of this?

Privilege of those whom

history has preferred and blessed.

Privilege of those for whom

tradition is on their side.

The freedom of God to forgive & reward

Found throughout the Bible:

Yahweh at the burning bush 

I will be who I will be

The Tetragrammaton:

 יהוה, YHWH

(The tetragrammaton in:

-Paleo-Hebrew (10th century BCE to 135 CE), 

-old Aramaic (10th century BCE to 4th century CE) 

-square Hebrew (3rd century BCE to present) scripts.)

Or poor Jonah – 

supposed to forgive Ninevah!? 

after all the’ve done?

Or the older brother 

of the prodigal son.

Really…!

He gets the calf?

In the strange Kingdom

of God, the first will be last.

Not just for the sake of reversal,

but because we all

need to be splashed

and roared into community.

Otherwise, we stay stuck in

the market-place,

stuck in our privilege,

alienated.

(Extra source:

The Upside-down Kingdom

by Donald Kraybill)

Infinite pain; infinite grace

Here is why:

The pain of trauma or exclusion,

whatever it is that has 

heart people’s hearts

hurt our hearts

goes all the way down

to the floor of our being,

of our psyche

and sense of the world

The hurt and trauma  

of seeking opportunity

through dislocation and migration

The hurt of being excluded 

or merely tolerated 

in your sense of your

own body and sexuality

“Will we welcome you into”

our country

into our church

is too often the framing.

When in fact the vineyard,

the place of belonging,

and resource, 

the place of all the 

social goods

Is always God’s, not ours.

the vineyard is God’s, my friends,

And God is in the marketplace

looking to give people good work,

all day long

Looking to grant the chance for full status

all day long,

no matter what your timing is,

no matter why you’re not yet

in the vineyard

The hurt is infinite

and so – here’s a deep teaching

from the parable

The hurt is infinite

and so the cure must be infinite

So the grace of the parable

is overwhelming, 

an outpouring, 

a grand washing

Like the mighty waters

of Trummelbach falls.

May God’s grace come,

and wash over us,

and bring us together.

**********

Additional note,

that can function as a summary:

Hi Rachel,

I’m talking about how God will invite you into the vineyard no matter how long you’ve been standing out in the marketplace waiting to work. Any hour of the day, if God finds you.

And then, God treats you as equal to others.

It is a story of radical inclusion and equalization. 

All God’s children got a place in the vineyard, so to speak.

It overturns our sense of counting and fairness. Grace just overwhelms our need to have priority, to make everything line up.

It helps us realize that it’s God’s vineyard, not our vineyard, and that can look really different.

So – really welcoming, even of some people who might not have received a welcome. Generosity and grace and how it can change relationships that may be stuck (stuck in the marketplace of the parable, so to speak)

That sort of thing

How’s that sound?

Vern

The Matthew 18 process
Lent 1
February 22, 2015
For First Mennonite Church of Denver
Vernon K. Rempel, 2015

Narrative Lectionary Bible Reading
Matthew 18:15-20 and 21-35

Binding and loosing
‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’

Forgiveness

Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’

Behaving
On this snowy morning,
we are invited by our narrative lectionary
Bible passage

to consider how we can not be frozen
in our relationships with each other,
and in all the world.

The popular movie Frozen
invites us to “let it go”
and that’s a rough and ready
notion of what Jesus may have in mind.

But it is a deep, layered, complicated
thing to forgive,
and it is simple and very difficult.

It is so paradoxical.

Our overall theme for Lent is “behaving”
We just completed our Epiphany time
speaking of “belonging”

Next, after Easter, we will move on
to “believing”

But for now “behaving”
And it’s not about behaving
meaning “Oh behave”
like “Oh, be good.”

It’s behaving as in doing good practices,
finding ways to work
at living better in the way
that we want to live.

So “behaving” as “practices”
of faith and life.

And our practices from our Bible
passage for today have to do
with conversation and forgiveness.

Death penalty panel
A few weeks ago,
Marilyn and I attended a panel
at Iliff school of theology
on the death penalty.

The key to the panel,
as articulated by organizer
Dr. Edward Antonio
(Diversities chair for Iliff)

is that, apart from the important
moral debates about the death penalty
there is a question of the cost
to the close participants
and to all of society.

There was a wonderfully articulate
defense attorney, a judge
who underwent a heart conversion

and Robert Autobee,
who’s prison-guard son Eric
was beaten to death
in the prison kitchen
by inmate Edward Mountour

Autobee shared the story
that he has shared in countless places

How he went through the years-long
prosecution process against Montour,
finally sickened of it,
declaring he wanted no more part of it.

How he protested the ongoing trial
even picketing a line of prospective jurors,
saying that he did not support
the state’s work on the death penalty.

How he came to forgive Edward Montour,
met with him in person,
along with Robert’s younger son.

His said his wife also forgave,
although she could not bring
herself to be in the same room
with Montour.

How he forgave because he realized
the prosecution and the prospect
of execution was not something
that honored his son’s life

but instead came to feel like a desecration
and a dishonoring.

Here’s what Robert Autobee said
in an interview with Amy Goodman
(see article in end notes)

BOB AUTOBEE: … [in answer to a heartfelt apology from Montour’] I wasn’t always a good man. You know, this isn’t just about me and you, because Eric’s right here. My son’s over there [his younger son]. My wife is at home. She said she couldn’t—she couldn’t be in the same room with you. But she forgives you. My son has forgiven you. I have forgiven you. And so—and I’m sure Eric has forgiven you. I see an opportunity here, an opportunity to make something positive out of my son’s death. And you’re a part of it. We’re all a part of that. When your trial starts in January, I told him, “I’ll be at the courthouse, but I’ll be outside picketing, because I don’t believe it’s justice.” The death penalty would not bring me any satisfaction.

On the afternoon of the panel
Autobee came across as joyful,
unfiltered, authentic, passionate.

My deep impression was that he
was able to find this life-expression
because of exactly what he did

with Edward Montour in that room.
Montour apologized,
which is more than we’re
always going to get from people
from whom we experienced hurt,

but most of all, Autobee forgave.
He forgave in order to honor his son,
as he said in his panel presentation.

He forgave out of a deep feeling of
dissatisfaction with the process
of the death penalty prosecution.

He forgave because, as he notes
in the Goodman interview,
“we’re all part of an opportunity here”

all, including society, including himself,
including the killer Montour.

This is such a profound insight,
coming from someone so deeply
injured, that it sends
existential shivers down the spine.

We’re all in this together,
even when the great slicing knife
of something as awful as murder

has come to separate us.
Even in the greatest of trauma,
and when the must awful of distorted,
and hateful and diabolical
events have happened

the best thing we can say
(and the most recovery we can achieve
to move on and do what we want
with our lives)

is to say that there is an opportunity here
and we’re all in this together.

Such a statement is a ringing rejection
of dichotomy, of keeping the world
divided up and at battle.

It is a way of answering division
with non-division,
a way of making peace with peace

rather than seeking peace
through seeking more death,
more revenge and retribution.

See the Atlantic article about Robert Autobee:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/01/when-victims-speak-up-in-court-in-defense-of-the-criminals/283345/

LA homicide
Jill Leovi, crime reporter for
the LA Times, has written a new book:
Ghettoside: A True Story Of Murder In America

See NPR notes:

http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=379156732

She talks about gang life in LA,
what a vortex it is,
how it pulls people,
especially young black men
into violence.

And how this creates a matrix
for homicide,
making neighborhoods into a “war-zone”:

In the “big years” in LA, in the early ’90s
the death rate of young black men in their 20s
was higher than that of
soldiers in Iraq in 2005.

It was gang life. But it’s not easy
to stay out or get out.

She says:
“It’s very, very hard to pull yourself out. I had – when I did the homicide report, which is the blog I did of homicides, I had at least three young men that year who were killed for refusing to join their local gang. They took a moral stand, and they said, I won’t join. I don’t want to be a criminal. And they got killed for it

“I did a count in 2008 of 300-some LA homicides of the gang-related homicides, and I think something like 40 percent of the victims were this sort of victim – noncombatant, not directly party to the quarrel that instigated the homicide, but ended up dead nonetheless.

She notes that this creates
an enormous fund of grief
in neighborhoods,
of unrequited, deeply felt loss,

In a recent Fresh Air interview
she notes that the grief from homicide
was a particular kind of grief.

She said that she talked with some
relatives, especially mothers,
of the murdered,

and asked how they were doing.
Some said that at 30 years,
they were coming into the worst time
in terms of their grief.

It was a sense of having something taken
from you, and taken so malevolently,
taken with ill will,

and so hard to find anything to do
to re-weave the cut strands
of a life.

This shows the powerful need for
the work of forgiveness
and finding ways for us to
all be in this together.

So long as people remain alone
and unaddressed and feeling
unsupported in their loss and grief,
the grief does not dull over the years

but rather may grow and grow
as a debilitating
emotional, existential cancer.

Leovi notes, in the context of
Ferguson and other killings of
unarmed black men

that the need for better policing is acute.
But it is not only too much policing.

In the neighborhoods,
people would be glad for more policing
to catch killers.

They said to Leovi that the police
stop me for what’s in my pocket,
and killer’s go free.

So it’s not less policing
but better, smarter, more comprehensive
policing that’s wanted.

And I would add, what’s wanted
is, with policing, but also with friendship,
schools, neighborhood associations,
overcoming racism
and class divisions,

what’s wanted is a renewed
and effective sense that
“we’re all in this together.”

We’re all in this together.
It’s the place where Autobee
says the opportunity lies.

I think he is exactly right.

In our Bible reading, there are
essentially two recommendations
for action.

First, have honest conversations.
This is often called the “binding and loosing”
work of the church

or “the Matthew 18 process”.
Too often, this has meant annoying
“accountability” talk by people
who think they know
what’s right for other people.

But it doesn’t have to be that.
It can rather be
a version of what Brené Brown calls
“an honest, raw bid for connection.”

Rather than coming to each other
in righteous invulnerability,
we approach each other
in all vulnerability

just seeking honesty, connection,
truth, above all seeking
restored relationship.

And this leads to the second
main point of our passage
from the words of Jesus:
forgive.

Forgive a lot,
early and often
(like the joke about the Chicago voting practice)

Forgive because we need
to somehow find our way back
out of all hurt and violation
and travesty and tragedy

back into the place where we’re
all in this together.

To get to the place that
Robert Autobee found.

To find a pathway out of the
extraordinary and awful hurt
of homicide, and war,

and all the unimaginable
things that people have
done to people.

We simply can’t go on like this.
If we do, we won’t be able
to go on, because
there will be no more going on.

We have to find our pathways
out of the cycles and locked-in
places of our hearts and minds.

That is what Jesus is talking about,
I think. It is ultimately why
he died in the way that he did.

He died struggling to refuse to
remain locked in to the
small and large harms of his day,

whether from religion, friends,
or the Roman empire.

He would seek freedom in love
in all these places.

My prayer is that we might also find
these places,
for all people

for all of us because
we’re all in this together.

***************

Additional connections:

The Moral Imagination by John Paul Lederach
(art and imagination for moving out
of our locked-in places)

Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf
(brilliant chapter on forgiveness)

Agreeing and Disagreeing in Love
(the current MCUSA document that offers
a more sophisticated rending of the old
“binding and loosing” language)

*******

January 26
Capital Punishment: A Conversation

Description: Join the Iliff community for a courageous conversation about Capital Punishment. The panel discussion on the moral implications of capital punishment will include civic and interfaith leaders on the topic. Iliff is hosting this conversation to rethink the arguments for and against capital punishment. The event comes at the issue rather differently by reframing it in terms of its larger impact on society in order to broaden the conversation by raising other important questions about capital punishment which the traditional approach for and against generally ignore.

Our distinguished panel includes:

Retired Judge Leland Anderson
Attorney David Lane, Killmer, Lane & Newman LLP, civil rights and criminal defense attorney
Robert Autobee, whose son, a prison guard, was killed by a prison inmate
Jennifer Kraska, Colorado Catholic Conference
Rabbi Steven Foster, retired, Temple Emanuel
More confirmations pending
Discussion will be moderated by Professor Edward Antonio, director of Justice & Peace Programs and associate dean of Diversities, Iliff.

Date: Monday, January 26, 2014, Noon-3 p.m.

Capital Punishment: Reframing the Question
Conversations about capital punishment tend to be framed in terms of arguments for and against the death penalty. On one side are those who see capital punishment as a deterrent against egregious crimes such as murder or as a form of justice to redress the wrong perpetrated in such crimes. On the other side stand those who argue that the death penalty is cruel, inhuman, and violates the sacredness of life. On this view, no one, not even the state, has the right to take the life of another human being. These arguments have become so highly politicized, ideologically entrenched, and culturally divisive.

The Iliff School of Theology is hosting an event to rethink this approach. The event comes at the issue of capital punishment rather differently by reframing it in terms of its larger impact on society in order to broaden the conversation by raising other important questions about capital punishment which the traditional approach for and against generally ignore. The event will address questions such as: what are the social, legal, economic, cultural, religious, moral, political, personal, and psychological costs of the death penalty on all of us, including on those who stand on the sidelines of this issue? How does capital punishment affect our personal and collective sense of our shared humanity as a society? What are we doing to other members of society when we ask them to carry out the death penalty on our behalf? How does the death penalty affect those society asks to use or to administer its requirements and processes. Specifically, how does it affect judges, lawyers, jurors, chaplains, taxpayers, prison guards, and the pharmaceutical industry? How does it affect the humanity of the convicted and condemned; and how does it affect the humanity of survivors and families of murder victims, as well as families of the condemned?

These are some of the guiding questions that will inform our conversation on the death penalty. Effective arguments for the repeal of the death penalty must include sustained consideration of its moral implications and its costs on all of us because we are all implicated in the existence and work of the death penalty in our society.

Location: Iliff School of Theology, Shattuck Hall, 2323 East Iliff Avenue, Denver, CO 80210

*******

http://www.democracynow.org/2014/3/5/the_death_penalty_is_a_hate

We are joined by Bob Autobee, a Colorado resident who is opposing the death penalty for the prisoner who killed his son Eric, a prison guard, in 2002. During the original trial, Autobee supported a death sentence for Edward Montour. But the Colorado Supreme Court threw out Montour’s sentence in 2007 because it was imposed by a judge, not a jury as is required. A decade later, Autobee has now changed his mind. In the new murder trial that begins today, he wants to make a victim’s statement to the jury asking them not to impose the death penalty — but the judge in the case has barred him from doing so. Autobee describes why he opposes the death penalty in this case, and why he wants to see it abolished overall. “You’ve got to be willing to heal, and you’ve got to let the hate go,” Autobee says. “To me the death penalty is a hate crime, a crime against humanity.” We are also joined by Democracy Now! producer and criminal justice correspondent Renée Feltz, who notes that 80 percent of Colorado voters actually passed a constitutional amendment in 1992 that enshrines the rights of victims to make a statement in cases like Autobee’s.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to Colorado, where a trial set to begin today has drawn attention to the state’s ongoing debate about its use of the death penalty. The case involves a prison inmate named Edward Montour, who is accused of beating a prison guard named Eric Autobee to death in 2002. Montour pled guilty to the murder and was convicted. But the state’s Supreme Court threw out his death sentence in 2007 because it was imposed by a judge, and not a jury, as is required. Now the case is back in court. This time the killer is pleading not guilty by reason of insanity, and the victim’s father, who wanted to seek the “ultimate punishment” in the original trial, has had a change of heart.

AMY GOODMAN: During a meeting with prosecutors, Bob Autobee asked them to spare the life of his son’s killer, but to no avail. In a surprising move, they have not only decided to pursue another death sentence, they’ve also succeeded in blocking Autobee from making a victim’s statement to the jury that expresses his request for a life sentence. Last week, the judge in the case ruled, quote, “The Autobees may testify about the emotional impact of a death sentence or a life sentence … However, the Autobees will not be allowed to testify about what sentence the jury should impose.”

For more, we turn to Bob Autobee. He’s joining us from Denver, just before he goes to the trial today. We’re also joined by Democracy Now! producer and criminal justice correspondent, Renée Feltz.

Bob Autobee, welcome to Democracy Now! How is it—

BOB AUTOBEE: Thank you. Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain how, in your victim’s statement, you’re not allowed to say what you want to say?

BOB AUTOBEE: Well, there’s been concern from the beginning when I started picketing that I could taint the jury. But this trial has already been tainted numerous times. And I feel I have as much right to speak as the DA or the defense.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let’s go to part of the video recording from when you met with your son’s killer, Edward Montour, this past December, along with a moderator who’s trained in the method of restorative justice. This clip begins with Edward Montour apologizing to you.

EDWARD MONTOUR: One thing I would like to say, before we go further, is that I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain I caused you and your family for killing your son. I had no right. I had no right. And I am very humbled by you forgiving me. And I want to thank you for that, because you didn’t have to. And I’m not sure if I would have the courage to do what you’re doing. You’re a good man. And I want to thank you for this opportunity.

BOB AUTOBEE: I appreciate that. I wasn’t always a good man. You know, this isn’t just about me and you, because Eric’s right here. My son’s over there. My wife is at home. She said she couldn’t—she couldn’t be in the same room with you. But she forgives you. My son has forgiven you. I have forgiven you. And so—and I’m sure Eric has forgiven you. I see an opportunity here, an opportunity to make something positive out of my son’s death. And you’re a part of it. We’re all a part of that. When your trial starts in January, I told him, “I’ll be at the courthouse, but I’ll be outside picketing, because I don’t believe it’s justice.” The death penalty would not bring me any satisfaction.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Bob Autobee speaking to his son’s killer, Edward Montour. Bob Autobee, can you talk about your response to this and then also explain what accounted for your change of heart on the question of the death penalty?

BOB AUTOBEE: Well, I’ve thought of nothing more for 11-and-a-half years. And once I came back to my faith and started reading my Bible, I realized that was the best course to take. I’m very happy with that decision, and my life has improved immensely since that meeting.

AMY GOODMAN: What was it like to meet with your son’s killer? Eric, your son, a prison guard. You met with him, as well as your other son, Eric’s brother.

BOB AUTOBEE: Well, my younger son wasn’t going to meet Edward. He didn’t feel he was ready for it. But as the meeting went on, my son stood up. He said, “I feel God’s presence in this room, and I want to be a part of it.” So then he came to the table. And that really made me happy, because the mercy and the love is starting to spread. And if it starts with just one or two, it’ll grow.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to bring Renée Feltz into the conversation, a Democracy Now! producer. Renée Feltz, can you talk about what Bob’s rights are to make a victim’s statement and Colorado’s constitutional amendment for victim rights and how this compares to other states?

RENÉE FELTZ: Well, it’s just incredible if you think about Bob’s situation. Bob has his own lawyer to bring his voice into the courtroom. Usually in cases like this, it’s the prosecution working with the victim’s family who want to seek justice, and they’re on the same page. So this is very unusual. In order to get his voice heard in this trial, he had to hire an outside lawyer.

That lawyer presented an argument to the judge that he should be allowed to say to the jury, “I oppose the death sentence for this man who killed my son.” The judge recently said, “In fact, you cannot do that.” And the judge gave some reasons that relied on another case out of Oklahoma. And what’s really—and I can talk more about that, but what’s really interesting about Colorado’s law is that they, in 1992, voted—80 percent of voters—to amend their constitution to let victims, like Bob, say their piece in court in a victim’s statement. In fact, they define “victims” as “any natural person against whom [any] crime has been perpetrated or attempted,” or, if the person is dead, then their lawful representative, like Bob. And this law says—and I can read from it here—that the victim can “inform the district attorney and the court, in writing, by a victim impact statement, [and] by an oral statement, of the harm that the victim has sustained as a result of the crime, with the determination of whether the victim makes written input or oral input, or both, to be made at the [sole] discretion of the victim.” So, here you have a judge saying, in fact, that he’s not going to be allowed to testify. It’s very unusual.

Just to point out how this compares to some other laws around the country, in New Hampshire, it’s quite interesting. In 2009, they passed a law there called the Crime Victims Equality Act. And that says that even if a crime victim, such as Bob, opposes the death sentence, the prosecutors are not allowed to attempt to ban them from saying their piece to the jury. Part of the reason this is interesting is because a jury is going to make the decision about what the ultimate punishment should be in this case, and they’re not going to be able to hear from Bob directly that he doesn’t want that punishment to be death.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Renée, could you also explain—Edward Montour pled guilty in the original trial. Why was that conviction thrown out?

RENÉE FELTZ: You know, part of the reason this case has been hard to cover for reporters is because it’s complicated. But in the original trial, Bob threw out his court-appointed attorney, said, “I want to represent myself”—not Bob, actually; I should say Edward Montour, the killer. And he decided that he would represent himself, even though he was off his medication for being bipolar and having psychosis symptoms. Ultimately, he also said, “I just want the judge to make a decision.” Well, it turns out that that’s constitutionally invalid. A judge cannot issue a death penalty; it has to be a jury. So that was thrown out, and that’s how we got back to square one.

Very quickly, I would just note that it’s interesting we noted in the introduction that he was already in prison when he killed Bob’s son. Why was he there? It’s because he was accused of killing his own daughter when she was just months old. And so, he was sent, back in the ’90s, to prison for this conviction as a so-called baby killer. That’s a hard label to wear in prison. And it turns out that now Edward Montour’s current lawyers say that, in fact, that death may have actually been an accident. And it’s incredible, but the coroner’s office has actually changed the cause of death in that death to undetermined, instead of a homicide. So the very crime that landed Edward Montour in prison may have in fact not have been a crime at all.

AMY GOODMAN: Bob Autobee, do you plan to sit in on this trial?

BOB AUTOBEE: Bits and pieces, not the whole trial. I tried that once, and it just drove me to depression and anxiety. And at that time, I didn’t see justice being served. So, if things turn around now, then I may make an appearance.

AMY GOODMAN: You were a corrections officer yourself, and your son, of course, Eric, was a prison guard. That’s where Edward Montour killed him.

BOB AUTOBEE: That’s correct.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And you said this experience has made you very critical of the prison system and the penal system, in general. Could you talk about what specific changes you’ve been advocating in the Colorado prison system?

BOB AUTOBEE: Well, we’ve asked—we suggested focus groups from the staff, because the management has refused to listen to the people that are in the trenches, and so a lot of things get by that management doesn’t know anything about. We’d also—we suggested different colored jumpsuits for the inmates, so violent offenders could be recognized immediately, because right now in Colorado we have violent and maximum-security inmates in medium-security facilities where they have no business. And unless you’ve read every jacket of every inmate, you don’t know what they’re in there for. So, I think the different colored uniforms would help. We’ve even suggested dogs to go on patrol with the officers, rather than leaving them by themselves. There’s a lot of things that could be done, but the administration refuses to listen.

AMY GOODMAN: Renée?

RENÉE FELTZ: I wanted to suggest that Bob describe what he did in January, which was very interesting. He went to protest against the death penalty in this case outside of the courtroom, when he wasn’t quite sure if he would be allowed to make a statement inside. And, Bob, could you talk about what—who joined you? There were other victims of murder, families, that were with you for that protest, is that right? Can you talk about what you did and who joined you?

BOB AUTOBEE: That’s correct. When I met with Brauchler at my home, I told him that if he pursued the death penalty, that I would fight it, and I would picket—

RENÉE FELTZ: And that’s the prosecutor in the case.

BOB AUTOBEE: Yes. And I’ve been picketing. And then Tim Ricard, the husband of Mary Ricard, the second officer that was killed in Colorado recently, he’s also anti-death penalty, and we’ve been working together. We had a survivor from one of the victims of Nathan Dunlap, was also involved. And I met with the mother of that young lady, and we had a wonderful talk, and hope I was able to help her understand, you know, you’ve got to be willing to heal, and you’ve got to let the hate go. I mean, to me, the death penalty is a hate crime, and it’s a crime against humanity. And once you come to this side and see it for what it really is, then you’ll know you’re doing the right thing.

AMY GOODMAN: Bob Autobee, we want to thank you for being with us. Bob Autobee is speaking out against the death penalty for the prisoner who killed his son Eric, a prison guard. And, Renée Feltz, thanks so much for joining us.

*******

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

In the State of the Union address this week, President Obama noted that crime in America is down.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Surely we can agree that it’s a good thing that for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together.

SIMON: But Jill Leovy, an award-winning reporter for the Los Angeles Times, cites another statistic in a new book – about 40 percent of those Americans who are murdered each year are African-American males. And in the city of Los Angeles, where she covers crime, police have arrested a suspect in those killings less than 40 percent of the time over the last 30 years, mounting to what she calls impunity for the murder of black men. And her new book, “Ghettoside: A True Story Of Murder In America,” uses the story of a single murder to trace the loss of life, the blight of lives and the failures of police and courts. Jill Leovy joins us from NPR West in Culver City, California. Thanks so much for being with us.

JILL LEOVY: Thank you.

SIMON: I want to begin by asking you about this young man, Bryant Tennelle, one night, 2007. He’s 18, carrying a root beer, pushing his bicycle. What happened?

LEOVY: A car pulls up around the corner. A young black man jumps out of the car, raises his gun and shoots. Bryant is struck in the head and falls on the lawn.

SIMON: And his father is an LA police detective.

LEOVY: His father is a homicide detective in RHD, which is the elite homicide unit in the LAPD.

SIMON: Did this ultimately change the investigation or in fact did it become a bigger investigation because of this?

LEOVY: You know, the LAPD I think sensibly treated this case as any case, but there were some twists and turns when it went unsolved for a couple months. Frustrations mounted in the department. It was an extremely emotional case, as you might imagine, for all of Tennelle’s colleagues. Eventually, the case is transferred from one detective to another. The lieutenant in charge asks around and says, who really do we have? Who really knows the street? Who really solves cases? And they come up with the name of John Skaggs, who had been quietly toiling in backwater in the Watts station house solving these kinds of crimes. He has expended great effort doing thankless work on cases that no one in the city noticed at all.

SIMON: What are some of the problems police have in getting witnesses to talk?

LEOVY: Well, everybody’s terrified. I’ve had people clutch my clothes and beg me to not even write that there was anybody at the scene. I’m not even describing them. They just don’t want anyone to know that there was somebody at the scene.

SIMON: I mean, let’s be blunt about this. These are – you’re talking about Americans who are as reluctant to talk about a crime that occurred in front of them as – an uneasy analogy here – somebody in Syria might be reluctant to talk about what Bashar al-Assad did because they’re afraid they’ll get harmed. But in this case, it’s by a gang.

LEOVY: Well, listen. In the big years in LA, in the early ’90s, young black men in their early 20s – who, by the way, are a disproportionate group among homicide witnesses because this is the milieu they’re in – had a rate of death from homicide that was higher than those of American troops in Iraq in about 2005. So people talk about a war zone. It was higher than a combat death rate. They are terrified. They have concrete reason to be terrified. And then the justice system comes along and asks them to put themselves in possibly even more danger. What would you do?

SIMON: I was moved – and I don’t know if that’s a funny word or might be exactly the word I mean – to read about older gang members who say, I want to get out of this. This is no way to live.

LEOVY: It’s very, very hard to pull yourself out. I had – when I did the homicide report, which is the blog I did of homicides, I had at least three young men that year who were killed for refusing to join their local gang. They took a moral stand, and they said, I won’t join. I don’t want to be a criminal. And they got killed for it.

SIMON: So are police departments short of resources to put into trying to solve these crimes or do they choose not to invest a lot of resources?

LEOVY: You know, I see the problem as lying outside police departments far more than inside police departments. It’s easy to blame the police, but we have the police we deserve. We have the police we’ve asked to have. There is tremendous emphasis on prevention: We want to know about crime before it’s going to happen; we want to target it and saturate areas with police officers. All this kind of fuzzy thinking that, on the street, doesn’t feel like justice to the people who live in these neighborhoods. It translates to a system that falls short on catching killers, prosecuting them for the most serious crimes.

SIMON: I want to bring this back to Bryant Tennelle, and I also don’t want to give away the end of the book. But Bryant Tennelle was gunned down by people who, as it turned out, weren’t looking for him at all.

LEOVY: You know, the sheriff’s homicide detectives – actually I have a term for this; it’s so common – they call it profiling murder. And so what’s happening is gang members will get in a car. They will go to the rival neighborhood to send a message, and they will just look for the easiest, most likely victim they can find – and probably going to be a young black man. And if he fits the part, that’s good enough – and an astonishing number of victims. I did a count in 2008 of 300-some LA homicides of the gang-related homicides, and I think something like 40 percent of the victims were this sort of victim – noncombatant, not directly party to the quarrel that instigated the homicide, but ended up dead nonetheless.

SIMON: Jill Leovy of the Los Angeles Times. Her new book is “Ghettoside: A True Story Of Murder In America.” Thanks so much for being with us.

LEOVY: Thank you.

*******

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Cross & Transfiguration: Burdens & Glow
Last Sunday after Epiphany
February 15, 2015
For First Mennonite Church of Denver
Vernon K. Rempel, 2015

Matthew 16:24-17:8
Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’

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.

Lent and Easter
Belonging.
This is our final bit of reflection
about belonging
on this last Sunday of Epiphany.

Today, we will share communion.
Then our next liturgical act
as a community will be
Ash Wednesday

And Lent will begin,
the Lenten pathway,
that deepens and deepens

“If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves and
take up their cross and follow me.”

During Lent, we tell the stories
and practice the mystery of the cross.

And then Easter,
and the even stranger mystery

which is why all the hurt
of the world does not
add up to despair

but rather, counter to the way it often feels
counter to the news and the pain
and our own fears

the great bass note of the universe
is sounded whenever
someone like Jesus

says to someone in the garden
like Mary, “Mary, it’s me”,
whenever people show up

for each other in love
again and again

and the mystery of Easter
is reenacted
right in the middle
of the Lent-world

right in the middle of
the shattering and the fear,
the note of love
faithfully rings out.

Library girl
A couple of days ago,
Marilyn and I were walking
in front of our library
in Littleton

a place of belonging,
a place where families
go to hang out, to rest,
to be out together.

There was a small girl there,
running the grand distance between
her father and her mother.

She was one of those small ones
seemingly two-feet tall

When they run, they look
like motorized dolls.

Her father was beside the grass
on the sidewalk.
Her mother was leaning
against the wall
of the library.

And so she had a path
and she ran with pure joy,

She gave us a smile
a child-like, unfiltered smile,
a conspiratorial smile:

Are you in on all this joy too?
You surely must understand
why I am so happy,

because I can run, because
I have these people
who care for me.

Kayla Mueller
The news and our hearts
may have been full of the story
of Kayla Mueller this week

The young woman who
was a U.S. aid worker
in Turkey

ambushed and taken prisoner,
while traveling to Aleppo, Syria
to do relief work.

Imprisoned and killed –
She surely took up her cross,
found her Lenten path.

In confirming her death Tuesday, the Mueller family quoted another letter the young woman penned to her father on his birthday in 2011.

“I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. If this is how you are revealed to me, this is how I will forever seek you,” Kayla wrote in the letter.

“I will always seek God. Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I’ve known for some time what my life’s work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering,” she wrote.

Mueller’s maternal aunt, Lori Lyon, also spoke, saying her niece was “always standing up for people who were suffering and wanting to be their voice.”

“She has done more in her incredible 26 years than many people can ever imagine doing in their lifetime,” Lyon said. “Kayla has touched the heart of the world.”
(http://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/02/10/family-us-aid-worker-isis-captive-kayla-mueller-confirms-her-death/)

In one of the letters she wrote
to her family from prison,
she said:
“I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free,” Kayla Mueller wrote.

“I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it. I pray each each day that if nothing else, you have felt a certain closeness + surrender to God as well + have formed a bond of love + support amongst one another….”
(NPR – Scott Simon reading one of Kayla’s letters home from prison 2-14-15)

“I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free”

A lovely reiteration, and carrying forward,
and making new, I think,
of the great Epiphany text –
On this last Sunday after Epiphany.

John 1:5
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote
about cross-bearing,
that Jesus
calls us to come and die.

Called to die now or later
but in any case, to
joyfully and wholeheartedly
expend our lives.

How is this for you.
I would like to invite us
to a moment of shared reflection

Questions for consideration:
How have you felt like you’ve
“taken up a cross” in your life
purposefully taken on some harder
or challenging thing
or not avoided some difficulty
that has come into your life
or simply passed through some
deep waters of life
with as much grace as you
pull together

perhaps in the last five years
but name whatever presents itself

Think about it,
write it, if you wish
or type it into your phone

Now, if you wish,
for just a brief moment
turn to one or two people nearby

If you don’t have something to share
for whatever reason
just say “I don’t have anything
to say right now”

If you do want to,
just share briefly about
something that came to you in this

Transfiguration
Our Bible reading for today
continues with the transfiguration,

the moment when Jesus’
friends see a glow

and hear that echo of the
divine voice again saying

‘This is my dear Child;
I am so pleased;
listen to this one!’

And his face shone like the sun.
Radiance,

like the unfiltered smile
on the face of a running girl

like the light even in prison
for Kayla Mueller

This has been quite a week.

Now three Muslim students
were killed in North Carolina:
Deah Barakat, 23,
his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21,
and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19.

I have included a picture of Yusor
in my notes,
which you can see on
our website

or I will be happy to email to you.

Yusor Abu-Salha was one of the young students killed in Tuesday’s shooting in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Her former third grade teacher,
Mussarut Jabeen, said

[Yusor] was one student
I would like everybody
to know about.”

When she spoke to StoryCorps in May, Abu-Salha said she knew she stood out as a Muslim in America.

“Growing up in America has been such a blessing, and you know, although in some ways I do stand out, such as the hijab I wear on my head, the head covering,” Abu-Salha said, “there’s still so many ways that I feel so embedded in the fabric that is, you know, our culture. And that’s the beautiful thing here, is that it doesn’t matter where you come from. There’s so many different people from so many different places of different backgrounds and religions, but here we’re all one, one culture.”

Jabeen told StoryCorps on Wednesday that “Deah, Yusor and Razan, these kids, their face was so radiant. They would just bring light to the room. And they treat me like their mother.”
(NPR news app 2-13-15)

I think that radiance
is such a lovely reiteration,
and carrying forward,
and making new,
of transfiguration

Jesus’ face shone like the sun,
and Yusor’s face was radiant.

Oh yes, so life shines forth
in the darkness
and the darkness
did not overcome it.

I invite you to one more
moment of reflection:

What moment or two have you found
life just shining for you
perhaps in the last five years
but again, whatever is present
to your heart and mind.

And again, if you wish
to share something
briefly with someone
near you,

we’ll just take a moment.
…sharing…

May the light of Christ
be for each one here
and in all the earth.
Amen.

IMG_0133

God, Country, Family: Belonging and “American Sniper”
5th Sunday after Epiphany
February 8, 2015
For First Mennonite Church of Denver
Vernon K. Rempel 2015

Bible reading:
Matthew 14:13-21
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Feeding 5000
First part
Belonging, Jesus, bread and fish:

I think that the time when Jesus’ fed
5000 people with five loaves
and two fish,

what happened was not magic,
but rather a social miracle.
The crowd moved from scarcity
to abundance and sharing.

In the ancient world,
describing something as a miracle
gave it authority.

But in the modern world,
that detracts from its authority.
we say: Nice story…, but no,
stuff like that doesn’t happen.

My understanding is that Jesus
operated in the real world,
the same one we live in.

That’s why his life is a pattern for ours.
And the world operates by the same rules.
So I look for social miracles
more than something
that seems like a magic trick.

So I imagine that crowd
was hiding their stash
of fish and bread.

Everybody had some,
they brought it with them
when they went tromping
after Jesus into the wilderness

where he was trying
to get away from the crowds.

But they were out there.
They didn’t know who had what.
They didn’t want to go hungry.

So Jesus started with his friends.
What did you gentlemen bring, may I ask.
A few loaves and fish.

Very good.
And he took those,
And he said, “we’re going to share this”
Go and do likewise.

And the effervescent spiritual force
of the love of Jesus
was such that folks did
go and do likewise.

Fish and loaves were produced
from nowhere,
meaning out of hiding
in folds and pockets and satchels.

And it turns out that
so often when we share,
there’s more than enough for all.

In fact, the gospel message is
that the earth has been created
as a place of provision
for all people.

It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan ahead
or practice birth control,
and good social management.

What it does mean is that if we plan
with sharing in mind
rather than with hoarding
then we will find enough.

In fact, we will find abundance.
There will be bread and fish left over.

Now, that creates a whole different
sense of belonging.
That again sounds the note
that I spoke of last week:

We’re all in this together.
And if we can figure that out,
and how to do that,

We’ll be safer, better fed,
better cared for.

I’m not talking about communism
or socialism.
I’m talking about hearts of sharing.

Of wholeheartedly seeking the transformation
that gets me into the family of humanity
instead of the loneliness
and arrogance

of staying above the fray
of the common people.
We all need loaves and fishes.
Love will find them among us.

Empire
But let’s add some steel to our reading.

2nd part: belonging and empire:

The feeding takes place in an occupied country
not a democracy
a place of a corrupt king
serving at the pleasure
of the Roman imperium

The Roman imperium
enforced at the point
of the steel sword,
although not without benefits
of order and roads and so on.

In the movie American Sniper
the empire of our day – the United States
is exacting retribution

and seeking a cure
for the violence wrought so
horribly with the airliners
crashing into the great
south-Manhattan financial towers.

The empire is one I would rather live in
than in ancient Rome.

Does one want then-president Bush
or emperor Caligula?
I’d take Bush.

But American democracy notwithstanding,
it’s still empire,
and it can wreak far-reaching,
international havoc.

The enemies of the empire
are not some plucky band
of Robin Hoods, however.

To make their enraged and/or desperate point,
they are willing to kill civilians wholesale
both American and from
any country.

They are willing to brutalize,
although perhaps ISIS has taken
that to a new, disturbing level.

And as we know, the empire
also played with torture
as empires will do

Something in human nature
can turn to torture
as a way of returning pain

or as an attempt to force something
from another complex, sentient being,
another person who may harbor
unreachable secrets
which may be lethal.

So the temptation is always there,
however misguided,
however brutalizing for all involved.

It is an extension of the death penalty
which the empire also still often practices,
with its own calculus of retribution
and “closure”.

As the local judge Leland Anderson
asked at a recent colloquium,
who all is brutalized by the process
of putting a caged person to death:

what about the guards, the chaplains,
the executioners, the warden,
the attorneys, and most broadly,
the citizens who know about it,
hear about it,
may even witness it?

He said that he killed slowly
with check-off boxes and a pen,
but he killed nonetheless.

And now he has turned from that,
has found a new heart.

Sheepdogs
3rd part – belonging as God, Country, and Family:

In the movie American Sniper,
which I thought was excellent,
another good one by Clint Eastwood,

We see the father of the boy
who will grow up to the be the sniper
giving an after-church dinner-time
lecture on the world.

“There are three types
of people in this world:
Sheep, wolf, and sheepdog.
Some people believe that
evil does not exist in the world –
and if hatred appeared
at their door, they would not
know how to protect themselves.
They are sheep.
Then there are predators.
They use violence
to prey on the weak.
They are wolves.
Then there are those
blessed with the talent
of aggression,
and they protect the flock.
They are a rare breed
who live to face [evil]
They are the sheepdog.
We do not raise sheep
in this family
and I would beat you
if you become wolves.
But we protect our herd.”

That speech,
which is in more of a
para-scientific form
in the book

names the beating heart of
this movie and dilemmas
and paradoxes therein.

From Slate magazine
to the Economist
the discussion is joined.

Slate:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2015/01/21/american_sniper_s_wolves_sheep_and_sheepdogs_speech_has_a_surprising_history.html

The Economist:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2015/01/new-film-american-sniper

In the movie,
the point is first brought home
with playground bullying.

Then some punches thrown
among young men.

Then war.
And the sheepdog
is the sniper,

who keeps the enemy from
our shores….

“You don’t want these guys
showing up in San Diego,
do you?”

But Eastwood is a master story-teller.
He doesn’t completely demonize
the enemy.

Even the enemy sniper
has a woman who loves him,
and she is portrayed as nothing
but lovely.

And the enemy appears to just be doing his job.
But he is lethal against marines.
And so must be taken down.

Watching the movie,
we feel deeply the logic
of the sheepdog.

No, we don’t want armed enemies
to come to San Diego.

But there is also the sequence
where soldiers are in the home
of a family.

Community almost breaks out.
But the layers of brutality
and deception are too much.

And soon people are dying.

And the sniper does four
tours of duty.

And each time, it’s harder
for him to come home
and simply love
his wife and children.

The sheepdog is scarred
by the battle to protect
the herd

and nearly becomes unable
to be in with the herd.

Lamb of God
Layers and circles and clusters
of steel and ordnance.
Soft flesh torn and torn.

It is interesting in this context
to realize that Jesus is referred to
as the “lamb of God”

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis.
Lamb of God, who takes away
the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us.

What does one do about layers upon layers
of violence in history
that brings us to this day
and to our place in the world?

How do we walk around within the armed camp?
How do we begin to walk out of it?

How do we protect who and what we love?
How do we keep our privilege from
trashing the privilege of someone
halfway around the world?

How do we honor the human community
the goodness of our tribes
but also the human community?

San Diego and Dallas
and Phnom Penh and Kabul.

It’s not that everything’s equal,
that all nations are equally good.

We need to fight and strive and work
for what is good, whatever that good is.

But how can we do it understanding that
we are a human community,
that we’re all in this together?

The Syrian sniper in the movie
had a woman who loved him
and who he loved.

And the Al Qaeda soldiers in Iraq
dutifully ran of the stairs to their deaths
as did the marines.

It’s not all equal,
some of its more like an imperial army
some of its like cruel gangsters
willing to commit all kinds of atrocities.

Some of its like standing up
and taking responsibility,
some of its a vendetta,
some of it is simply misguided
but nevertheless lethal.

But so much metal propelled
into each other’s bodies.

In another scene from the movie
the sands come and cover it all.
When the sands of time
have covered it all, how will
we want to have lived

As seen from a thousand years from now?

The sniper’s creed of belonging
was God, country, family,
in that order.

Two thousand years ago,
Jesus helped a crowd release
its food, helped a crowd to share,

the miracle was an opening up
a new way of belonging.
for us as well, it may be.

Extra material:

American Sniper
In The New Yorker
Clint Eastwood’s new film is a devastating pro-war movie and a devastating antiwar movie, a sombre celebration of a warrior’s happiness and a sorrowful lament over a warrior’s alienation and misery. Eastwood, working with the screenwriter Jason Hall, has adapted the 2012 best-seller by the Navy SEAL sharpshooter Chris Kyle, who is played here by Bradley Cooper. The film is devoted to Kyle’s life as a son, husband, father, and, most of all, righteous assassin—a man always sure he is defending his country in Iraq against what he calls “savages.” Perched on a rooftop in Ramadi or Sadr City, he’s methodical and imperturbable, and he hardly ever misses. For the role of Kyle, Cooper got all beefed up—from the looks of it, by beer as much as by iron (it’s intentionally not a movie-star body). With his brothers in the field, Kyle is convivial, profane, and funny; at home with his loving wife (played by Sienna Miller, who’s excellent), he’s increasingly withdrawn, dead-eyed, enraptured only by the cinema of war that’s playing in his mind. As Kyle and his men rampage through the rubbled Iraqi cities, the camera records exactly what’s needed to dramatize a given event and nothing more. There’s no waste, never a moment’s loss of concentration, definition, or speed; the atmosphere of the cities, and life on the streets, gets packed into the purposeful action shots.—David Denby (Reviewed in our issue of 12/22 & 29/14.) (In wide release.)

**********

The Agnus Dei:
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

which means:

Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

Belonging: Vulnerability & Shame
2nd Sunday after Epiphany
January 18, 2015
For First Mennonite Church of Denver
Vernon K. Rempel, 2015

Narrative Lectionary Bible Reading
Matthew 4:1-11
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for 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.

The Devil is a bully
When you hear this famous story about
the devil and Jesus,
how do you imagine the devil?

Sometimes I think the devil is like a crooked
Chicago politician, swaggering in
with a cigar clenched between
his yellow teeth

Command these stones to become bread,
if you’re so hot, if you have these
so-called “powers”

Or is the devil like a vampire or wraith,
wrapping himself in a black mist
around Jesus

Then when Jesus finally cries out
Away with you, Satan!,
the devil evanesces into the air
with a high-pitched shriek.

Or is the devil a beautiful person
someone one wants to look at,
to listen to, just because they’re so gorgeous

Then the words have to be teased apart for their harm,
because the messenger is so comely:
if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down
from the tower; the crowds will
all be amazed.

Yes, I am the Son of God
and yeah, I probably could do that trick,
wouldn’t that give everybody
something to think about?
Hmm, and this devil is mighty fine…

But I don’t think those depictions touch
the inside of that story.

The path that Jesus was beginning to see
laid out for him to walk
was not a path of success, and domination
and vindication

As the saying goes, the devil is “evil” with a “d”
And the “d” is for degradation, disrespect,
destruction, disillusionment…

How is possible to respond to insults, misunderstandings,
mis-attribution of motives?

It’s bad enough just in traffic, let alone
in more significant areas of life.

The path that Jesus was beginning to see
laid out for him to walk was the path of love,
and and what gives love its mysterious power
is that it does not play these nasty “d”
games of the devil.

But because of that, love must suffer, love must
carry on even in the midst of anonymity,
even with there is insult, and people speaking ill.

Love does not turn to strategies of violence,
and retribution and revenge.

And that is the glorious and difficult path of love
for Jesus and for us.

In a 21st century, modern, educated congregation
like ours, it may be a challenge
to get inside the trauma and terror
of the devil tempting Jesus.

To do so, I would just ask,
have you experienced a time
when someone who doesn’t like you,
may actively have it in for you

seems to have built-in ability
to find you when you’re at your worst,
when you’re at your weakest,
and least prepared

and slip a cruel remark in,
take that moment to spread a rumor
ask a small-spirited question,
attempt to catch you out,
attempt to imply something
to your supervisor
or neighbor or friend

I imagine the devil in this story
to be like one of the bullies that
harassed me in grade school.

As if he came to me while I was
sitting alone at recess on the playground

Saying “I will like you and leave you alone
if only you will say “uncle”
if only you will say I am the best

Bow down and worship me,
and I will give you all the nations of the world.
or… I will make you the envy of the playground.
or maybe… I will get you your dream job.

What I’m suggesting is that Jesus’ experience of the devil
was not some jolly face-off
between competing philosophies
not some successful competition
between ideas or approaches

Rather, the devil swept in a shame spiral
that went all the way down to hell,
implying that Jesus would be a failure
and an embarrassment,
a nobody, if he didn’t
go along with the devil.

The devil may be seen to be
the kind of bully who is the worst kind:
the kind that knows you well enough
to use things that are somewhat true
about you against you.

Compassionate wonderworker who cares for the whole world.
All twisted into wicked tales about
bread stones, towers, and ruling from on high.

So Jesus cries out “Away with you, Satan”.
It is the struggle of his life:
everything is at stake.

Vulnerability and Shame
Brene Brown has a TED Talk on vulnerability
(Making Mistakes & her full-length TED talk on vulnerability)

She talks about the power of vulnerability?
and shame – how shame blocks vulnerability.

And what is shame –
the fear of exclusion, of being outside
of being left out.

She says it is the fundamental
fear of disconnection;
It’s a universal fear.

This is the great fear that
a bully can use.
It’s the fear located in shame.

The only people who don’t know shame
are incapable of human relationships.

The way we tell ourselves about our fears is by saying:
I’m not ______ enough –
smart enough, good-looking enough,
talented enough

And we have good reason to fear disconnection
and we feel shame, because disconnection –
the gaps that open up around us –
happen all the time

We are misunderstood, misquoted, bad-mouthed to others
We get let go from our jobs or we fail to
achieve what we had hoped.

We are taken for granted, not heard,
discounted, disrespected, treated as invisible.

And, we have to wait for the doctor’s call
and we struggle with our parents;
we struggle with our teenagers
we get the letter telling us
no we did not win, succeed, connect,
impress, convince

And so we numb ourselves
to all these misfortunes and stumbles of life.

But, Brown points out,
we can’t selectively numb,

So then:
We also numb joy,
we numb gratitude,
we numb happiness

For joy, gratitude, & happiness, we need vulnerability.
we need to not give in to bullying,
to the fear of shame.

But the great thing is that vulnerability is not weakness.
but actually the most accurate measure of courage

Vulnerability is walking over the bridge
between Selma & Birmingham;
a bridge named after a Ku Klux Klan bully –
Edmund Pettus

and refusing to return evil for evil
but walking with the standard of nonviolent love
So we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King

Brene Brown gives an example from our daily lives:
she says Vulnerability is calling someone
who has experienced something traumatic

We know there’s nothing we can say
to make things better;
but we call and offer our love.

And then Brown asks us to think about how we feel
when we have made the call.
We feel like we’ve acted in accordance
with our beliefs.
We feel integrity.

That is the feeling of courage.

I have another version of this.
I remember back in the day when you used to
call someone on a telephone
for a date.

The boy asked the girl, as a rule.
So would call girl for date

But here’s the thing.
It was a rotary phone –
so as you dialed each number
you would push it around,
and then it would “tick-tick-tick”
back into place

Dial a number
tick – she’s going to say “no” tick tick tick

another number – tick tick what was I thinking tick tick

another – I’m really shouldn’t have done this tick tick tick

So by the time she actually answered,
you were a puddle of fear and regret

And then (deep male voice)
it’s her father….
Oh, hi, uh, sir, um I’m calling for, um, Pam….

Brown says that vulnerability
is an honest, raw bid for connection

from the date, to the caring call, to the bridge in Alabama,
vulnerability risks for connection.

She says she often gets invitations to speak
to organizations about creativity, innovation & change
but don’t mention vulnerability & shame

So she says, “let me go on the record and say:
vulnerability is the birthplace of
creativity, innovation & change

We have to enter the arena of vulnerability & shame.
In order to create, in order to connect,
we have to risk shame,
put ourselves out there for ridicule,
pooh-poohing, tut-tutting

All the small & big ways that systems & people
don’t reward attempts at genuine change.

But, Brown says, how much worse
to have spent your whole life saying “What if…?”

We want to say
“I’m going to go into the arena
just as soon as I’m bullet proof.
but of course that will never happen

The fully safe day of superhero untouchability will never come.

To find our way to connection
we have to risk,
to make ourselves vulnerable,
to make that honest, raw bid for connection

Even with the possibility that the devil will show up,
so to speak,
and use all that against us.

Safe enough
To do this we need places that are safe enough
safe enough to begin stretching the risk muscles
Not risk-free, not completely safe.
Bullet-proof will not happen.
But safe enough to get started.

This safety may be simply a place of people
we trust to hold our insights and confidences
in friendly & supportive ways.

It may mean seeking healing from past trauma:
injuries, bullying, betrayals, threats

There’s a new book:
The Body Keeps the Score:
Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
by Bessel van der Kolk MD (Author)

That title says a lot.

So we need safe places
What is a safe place for you?
Family, Small group, friendship, marriage?

I have struggled to learn Parker Palmer’s
Circle of Trust process,
all hedged around with it’s Touchstones,

that say things like offer and receive welcome
No advising or correcting
Practice deep listening
Speak your own truth in ways that
honor other peoples’ truths

And to do these over and over again,
so that it becomes a practice,
not just an idea to be heard

This is what belonging to a faith community
can offer, at best,

As one person recently put it,
a whole group of 3:00 a.m. friends
who you can trust will receive your call
with friendship and warmth
even at 3:00 a.m.

A whole number of people who you can trust to
be able to work with you
on some of your heart’s best projects

A group with whom you now that
you will generally receive inspiration
and support to do your best
and to be at your best

A group who actually loves,
therefore who, with each other
bears all things
believes all things
hopes all things
endures all things

That becomes an arena that’s safe enough,
a place to practice that honest, raw bid for connection,
a place to let the path of love be our path,
rather than the path of fear and shame.

And then we can show up in the world
more wholeheartedly

And this makes all the difference.
It is what a hurting, fractured world needs
people of courageous vulnerability.

Not the fear of the devil
but the way of Jesus
who walked in love

Consider the lilies
4th Sunday after Epiphany
February 1, 2015
For First Mennonite Church of Denver
Vernon K. Rempel, 2015

Narrative Lectionary Bible Reading
Matthew 6:7-21
Lord’s prayer, treasure in heaven
and/or Matt 6:25-34, Lilies of the field (Psalm 20:7)

Matt 6:25-34
Do Not Worry
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

The power of belonging
The power of belonging
the power of community
of that shocking notion
that we’re all in this together
as Parker Palmer says in Healing the heart of democracy

The other night, we had our small group over
Marilyn made soup and zwieback
We were going to discuss a piece from Parker Palmer
But instead we went downstairs
and watched YouTube videos
of a couple of great comedians

Hari Kodabolu – he is a comic born in Queens, NY
has relatives in India
brother is a former member of the rap group
“Das racist”
which is a name that kind of says it all.

Hari can do jokes that are funny about race, ethnicity,
imperialism, how these intersect with relationships…
a very smart young comic – age 32

He’s been on Fresh Air talking about how
many comics say that if you have to explain it,
it’s not funny
But he likes to explain his jokes on race and ethnicity.
He thinks that’s funny too. And it is.

The very process of his smart humor
about some of the “third rails”
of American culture is funny

One of his comic bits:
Story of his Dad picking him up at La Guardia airport
He’s walking out to the car,
and a woman zips past him
and jumps into their family car

He walks up, opens the door,
and she says “Sorry, I got here first”

She thought she was in a cab
She thought this because she looked at the color
of the driver rather than looking at
the color of the car!

And here’s the thing – he’s not putting her down
He’s more saying:
This is the mix and the continuum
we’re all in with race.
She’s not less than us,
she’s one of our fellow humans,
and now we know that about ourselves, right?

Let’s all get better together, if we can, if we’ll have it

I have a Rolling Stone article about Kodabolu in my notes, so you can see that
if you grab these from our website:

http://rollingstoneindia.com/the-small-town-south-indian-boys-of-new-york/

We’re all in this together
So let’s talk about it
let’s poke at the ridiculous
let’s try to heal and be stronger

With race, with access to resources,
with our sense of each other:
Are we in each other’s way, fundamentally?
or are we, in some way that we perhaps
only little understand
all in this together

We also listened to Don Friesen
Now, the name “Friesen” is a deeply
Russian-Mennonite name.
On one side of my family, three of my four
great-grandparents are Friesen

So I hope I’m related to this guy,
because he is very funny.
I’m related in soul and heart,
which is what really matters.

Who are my mother and brothers and sisters,
Jesus asked? Those who do the work of God
which I think includes being very very funny,
if possible

Anyway, Don Friesen,
Marilyn discovered him.
He has this great riff on “per se”

He says, people will tell you something
and then end it with “per se”

Here’s a bit of his comedy:
“What they’re saying is, ‘whatever I just said… not even really true.’
So you’re lying
Well, no not really. [Not per se.]

It’s that gray area between truth truth
and not necessarily true.
I love it when people use ‘necessarily.’
Not necessarily – no.
What’s that mean?… of course you are lying
Not necessarily
You are….
Well you know, I am, but I’m not lying “per se”.
I’m not actually lying.
I love it when people use ‘actually.”
That’s a stronger version of “necessarily.’
Did you go to the store?
Yeah, I went to the store.
Did you actually go to the store.
Well, I didn’t actually go the store.
I was gonna go until you pulled
that ‘actually’ thing on me.
They don’t allow you to do that in court, though…
How do you plead?
Not necessarily, actually, guilty, your honor.

This stuff is very funny.
And it has a point.

Something about how we hide from each other
about trying to look like we’re showing up,
when we’re not.
We’re not showing up, per se.

And so another comic bit about community
and the pitfalls and bumps when humans
interact and become all human with each other.

And then one more layer of community
in the context of this comedy,
and this is really cool:

It’s funnier with friends laughing too.
I hadn’t seen Kodabolu before…
someone else introduced him
and he was very funny

But Marilyn and I have listened to
the 2nd comic – Friesen – many times.
I thought the others would laugh.
And I would enjoy them laughing I something
I already new very well.
But I was laughing at least as hard as they were.

And I realized it was because they were
laughing so much,
and their laughs created sympathetic vibrations
with my laugh.

So that it was really really funny.
It was actually funny…. per se.

And here’s the thing:
It was a gift of community.

It was a gift of a gathering of relationships of trust and respect.
It was a gift of a gathering centered around some theological
and ethical commitments that made it safe enough
and also, therefore, containing the possibility
of being really, really funny.

And so it was, a gift.
Not something I manufactured
by my ego and brilliance.
Not something I even expected.

The lilies of the field
Now Jesus said “Consider the lilies of the field”

Murray Bowen used to try to explain
how when we do things, we try too hard,
we over-determine, get wound up,
tighten the screw one quarter turn too much and it strips
poison the relationship because we can’t
just relax once in awhile

And his grand metaphor,
which I’ve mentioned many times, is that
you can’t make a plant grow by pulling on it.

And that’s what Jesus is saying
you don’t get a lily of the field to grow by pulling on it
the lilies are not clothed by the willful efforts of
very determined people
to get them to inch out of the ground and flower

They don’t even require much work
Lilies are hardy. Mostly you just have to stay out of
their way enough, and wow – look at all the lilies!

Not my control, but grace, gift

I often need to control. To be willful.
I do this because I fear losing the outcome I desire
That’s legitimate for a little bit.
But it quickly becomes too much.

I control too much
And so I don’t consider the lilies,
I pull on lilies of the field

I get fearful
I fear loss, failure, disagreement.

In Thomas Merton’s letter to a young activist
Merton warns the young person
not to get to wedded to results or outcomes.

To paraphrase that letter:
It will only make you bitter.
And you will go into the world bitter
and only make things worse

Consider the lilies
So you don’t pull on lilies
to make them grow.

But Jesus’ invitation is to consider the lilies
Attend to them.

To paraphrase Alice Walker in The Color Purple
I think God gets very upset
when we walk past the color purple
in a field and don’t notice.

God gets upset when we don’t
consider the lilies.

Another way to say that
is that we don’t pull on the lilies.
But we do need to consider them,
to attend to them.

When you grow flowers,
no pulling. But there is mulching.
There is watering, weeding.

Even with wildflowers, there’s not driving on them
not pouring oil on them
not filling the air with pollutants
and heating everything up.

Attend to the lilies.

Our funny moment with friends
was a gift, not the result of my ego or brilliance.

But it was the result of one thing that I did do:
I let myself into the conversation
gave myself to the small group
which comes out of this large group

I yielded to the process, welcomed it,
accepted and adopted and adjusted
so that it would work.

We got something on the calendar.
Over time, we have listened and talked,
and done all the things
that weave a connection.

Nothing’s perfect right off;
nothing’s ever perfect.
You have to give a bit, they give a bit
things start to click

But having said all that
such a gift
all that laughing, all that joy.
Like lilies growing in the field.

Receive them as a gift; consider them.

Thanks be to God for lilies and for friends
and for this gift of a world in which we live,
all in this together.

We at First Mennonite are in the business of making religion happen together. Religion has been much in the news lately, with the question hovering all around: Does religion make for violence or non-violence?

It is a powerful and complex question. All religions seem to reflect enormous violence in their ancient texts. And all religions have powerful statements about finding peace, making peace, refusing violence, care for the victim and weak. It is all deeply paradoxical. How can we find a strong sense of our own place, and feel confident that we are on a good path that is based not in wishful thinking but rather thoughtful reflection on what is most true and real about the relationship between human and divine?

Maajid Nawaz was 16 when he joined a radical Islamist group. Now he leads the counter-extremism think tank “Quilliam, and is a Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate.

In the Fresh Air podcast “”How Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ Led a Radical Muslim to Moderation”, Nawaz offers answers the question about violence and Islam by saying that in his view religions are not one way or the other. Rather, they always have been and always will be whatever their followers make of them.

I think this is exactly right. It is a secular way of saying that we must live in the dynamic way of the Holy Spirit in order to find what is the best of the Christ-spirit for our day. There will be no guarantee or simple landing-spot from the Bible or from our tradition. Each generation in its day must offer its own incarnation of the Spirit to demonstrate again on earth what we hold to be possible and true and wonderful about our faith. There is ultimately no other appeal.

How do we do this at First Mennonite? I experience it through Sunday morning reflections and hymns and prayers, through service work, and through the character of our relationships with each other (kindness, care, respect, believing the best of each other). How do you experience this? How are you finding your way on the path of faith in these days? How do you long to bear witness for peace? How are you bearing witness for peace?

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