Gods, Epicurus, and the WarmthAll Earth Sunday – Last Sunday before Advent

November 22, 2015

For Beloved Community

Vernon K. Rempel, 2015
Bible Reading

John 1:1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through the Word, and without the Word not one thing came into being. What has come into being in the Word was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
In the beginning

What a lovely creation where

 in the beginning was the Word,

  the Celtic “Sound”, the primal chord,

   the first guitarist strumming the first 

    “E” chord on the down beat.
And then it all unfolds.

 As David Whyte says 

  “all the birds and creatures of the world/

  are unutterably themselves.”
It all unfolds: volcanic islands,

 mini-continents pushing against

  the larger landmass and raising the Colorado plateau.
And it is raised in such an even manner

 that water then arrives and carves down through it

  and the layers are exposed

   in sedimentary beauty.
It all unfolds, creation does,

 and when, in the course of human events,

  human consciousness emerges,

   it is like the twinkle of first starlight

    on the deepening blue of the eastern horizon.
Heart and soul wink into thought.

 Hopes and dreams are born.

  And with them, the shadows:

   fear, dread, abandonment,

    and with them violence.
But hope and dreams and something more,

 the great river of love that flows and flows,

  exposing the beauty in the sediments

   of heart and soul,
until one can only stand amazed in the presence

 of the love in the face and hands of another,

  the love that wants to sing in our hearts

   like the kettle sings when the tea is ready.
In the beginning was the Word, the sound, the strum,

 and the flow begins.

  For this may we be truly grateful.

   The beauty of creation is unutterably itself.


How may we honor it,

 and honor each other,

  each individual, and each community and nation

   intended as an expression 

    of the great flow of love.


Violence scores the earth again and again

 with its fire-marks, its tearing down of

  even that which is carefully built.
The ancient gods were so often violent gods.

 In the beginning was not the “Word”

  but the battle, strife for power and survival.
In Mesopotamian mythos, by some accounts,

 Tiamat, water goddess, begins creation peacefully,

  through a sacred marriage

   between salt water and fresh water.
But in the Babylonian stories,

 soon there are off-spring who kill their father,

  and then Tiamat does battle with them,

   and brings forth dragons with poison for blood.

In the Sumerian stories,

 a goddess is raped. She gives birth

  to the goddess of war and fertility.

In the Greek creation story,

 there was first chaos. Then night and the place

  of death emerged.

   The love was born.
There was offspring from gods mating

 and soon there was a pantheon,

  and then great bloody struggles.

In the Bible,

 God creates light and darkness 

  out of the tohu wa-bohu or “formless void.”
Then there are families.

 Cain kills Abel.

  God frees slaves from Egypt,

   a story of great courage,

    but also great violence.
And God commands the slaughter of cities

 in Canaan.
Religions of judgment and violence,

 of sin and retribution arise.

  Terrible armies are raised in the names of gods.
Creation is in so many ways

 a roiling mess of becoming.


But now there are those who 

 begin to critique the violence

  the posturing around heaven and hell,

   the threats and tribalism.
The Hebrew prophets begin to speak.

 Isaiah says “Comfort, comfort, O my people”

  which is a word we will attend to

   in the coming weeks of Advent.
Isaiah paints a picture of a servant leader so gentle,

 one who will not break even a bruised reed,

  nor blow out even a sputtering candle wick.
The adoration of strength and the practice of violence

 is interrogated, and and another practice,

  a mysterious practice of deep peace,

   is offered instead as the way of God.
Among the Greeks,

 Epicurus develops a philosophy

  that rejects the notion that reality

   is controlled by violent

    and judgmental gods.
He develops the theory of the atom.

 He suggests that all reality is simply atoms.

As Daniel Delattre writes about Epicurus: “Everything that occurs is the result of the atoms colliding, rebounding, and becoming entangled with one another, with no purpose or plan behind their motions.”
This may seem like a return to chaos.

 But it also sets aside judgment and hell,

  and divine commands to kill.
It opens the world for the clarity of science,

 for the beauty of what … called “The music of the spheres.”
When Marilyn and I were in Flagstaff

 a few weeks ago, we visited the Lowell Observatory.

  There, through telescopes, we saw the spheres.
We saw the sun, with its prominences and flares.

 We saw the locations of the planets inside constellations.

  We saw the Andromeda galaxy,

   star-cluster neighbor to the Milky Way.
All these bodies were also colliding, rebounding,

 becoming entangles. Old stars going 

  to red giants or black holes.

   New stars born in nebulae.
Beauty and clarity, free of the overlay

 of religion that fights to narrow everything down

  to who is right and wrong.

   Science at its best.
The gentleness of Isaiah’s servant leader.

 The clarity of science.
The Roman poet Lucretius was influenced by Epicurus,

 and wrote the poem “On the nature of things.”

  Stephen Greenblatt in his book Swerve

   writes that the re-discovery of Lucretius’

    poem launched the Renaissance.

(see article excerpt below and also the link to the full New Yorker article)
So the message is:

 Leave the crazy Gods. Everything is atoms.

  And from Isaiah, God is gentle.


The Warmth

But now these insights must marinate

 and deepen in the human soul and consciousness.
Psychoanalysis arrives.

 Carl Jung teaches us that we live 

  in a matrix of metaphors.
Coyotes are tricksters who come change our lives.

 (see last week’s meditation)
The ocean is an ocean

 but it also teaches us about the vastness

  of our inner selves.
Quantum mechanics arrives.

 Now we learn that the entire universe

  is wired for connection.

   All particles affect all particles.

    Space is not simply empty

     but is bubbling with motion and effect.
We learn that there may be universes.

 We learn the fuller implications of 

  infinity, first described by Anaximander of Miletus.
Now infinity is out there in the curving universe,

 and also in our heads – we now understand

  that our brains have as many synaptic connections

   as there are atoms in the universe.
And we understand the infinity of love.

 God becomes one who creates in infinities,

  not in limited tribal sets.
Do you want beauty? Look to Andromeda.

 Or count the cells in your body

  and number their processes.
If we have to have it a certain way

 in our limited vision, our limited religions

  and national plans,
God may well say to us, as to Job,

 “Where were you when I set the foundations of the earth?”
And so a sense of deep warmth begins to emerge.

 It is said that Andrei Sakharov,

  the great Russian physicist

   in his last years, said of the vastness of space,

    “It is warm.”
We begin to sense that space, the universe,

 the former cold emptiness both out there,

  and in our hearts,

   is warm, warm with the infinities

    of creation, warm with the love

     that we sense in the midst of it all.
Mystics began to sense this more and more.

Theresa of Avila wrote in the 1500s:

“May today there be peace within. 
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. 
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. 
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. 
May you be content knowing you are a child of God. 
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. 
It is there for each and every one of us.” 

― Teresa of Ávila
This wisdom grows and grows and shows up in many places.

 It will continue to teach us peace.
If the universe is warm, then

 no one only understands violence.

  If the universe is warm,

   the nothing is ever lost.

    No one is ever lost.
And we become dedicated to finding ways

 to address violence. We invent non-lethal weapons

  that stop but do not kill – http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/06/02/non-lethal-force
We develop “moral imagination” that

 moves us to find ways beyond the binaries

  of “us and them” and “kill or be killed.”

(See John Paul Lederach’s book The Moral Imagination.)
We live into a spirituality that knows 

 not merely by words or doctrine

  but by experience that love is stronger than hate,


and that the world is not on the brink of destruction

 but rather is the place of God’s joyful creation.
In the end, it is as in the beginning,

 the Universe speaks with the Word of love,

  the sound of love, the first E-chord strum

   and the great flow begins.
May we love and honor that flow in our lives.

 May this be our Thanksgiving and our gratitude.

Epicurus -The New Yorker article excerpt:

November 16, 2015 “The Invisible Library:” by John Seabrook


(from the article)

(my summary: Leave the crazy Gods. Everything is atoms.)

—Epicurus also posited that the world is made of atoms—the atomos (indivisible) elements of matter. “Epicurus says we are in an atomistic system,” [Daniel] Delattre, papyrologist, explained. “Everything that occurs is the result of the atoms colliding, rebounding, and becoming entangled with one another, with no purpose or plan behind their motions.” For Delattre, Epicureanism encompasses physics and ethics, a complete world view that he both studies and emulates. As he gets older, he told me, he finds it comforting to think that “when we die there is a dissolution of the aggregate, and the atoms come together to make a new thing. And so we have nothing to fear from death; there is no punishment, no Hell—we simply cease to exist.” There are gods, “but they are very quiet and very happy and don’t interfere with human activities.” Epicurus influenced the first-century-B.C. Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius, who wrote “On the Nature of Things,” the epic poem that was rediscovered in a monastic library in 1417 by Poggio Bracciolini, a find that Stephen Greenblatt, in his 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “The Swerve: How the World Became Modern,” credits as being a founding document of the Renaissance.

Blue Coyote WildernessWeeks before Advent (Common Time)

November 15, 2015

For Beloved Community

Vernon K. Rempel, 2015
Bible Reading

Genesis 12:1-3, excerpt

Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…. and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’

Wilderness, Abram, and Sarai

In the course of this meditation

 I will open time for you to write and reflect

  about wilderness in your life.
In all the great stories,

 God calls us out of our places of establishment,

  beyond our ways of comfort and routine

   for the sake of new creation


for the sake of the great and exhilarating project

 of life, the great river of life,

  the song and blue sky and grand earth

   and faces and tables set before us

    of life.
“I have come to give you life, and to give it abundantly”

to paraphrase John 10:10

 where Jesus speaks with the voice of the creator,

  who pours out the song of love into creation

   day and night, to the ends of the earth.

   (Psalm 19:1-4)
In all the great stories, 

 God calls us to the wilderness

  for the sake of new life.
But it is the wilderness.

 Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread,

  here was so hungry.
Abram and Sarai were invited to go

 into the unknown, into uncertainty:

“Go from your … house, to the land that I will show you.”

 “…will show you.”
First go. No hotel reservation in place,

 no Google maps marking the minutes

  until arrival at your destination.
There is not destination. There is only the 

 invitation, the compelling invitation,

  actually more of a command,

   to go. And I will show you the place.
It is not always easy to choose the wilderness.

 The Holy Spirit finally came to me

  as a dream about a blue coyote.

   More on that in a moment.
What has been the wilderness in your experience?

 When have you left for the unknown,

  ~~whether in a move from place to place

  ~~or into or out of a relationship

  ~~or because of illness or injury

  ~~or following a longing of the heart

  ~~or change of employment

  ~~because of loss or death

  ~~because of something new arriving

  ~~because of adoption or birth
What wilderness moments are you holding

 from your experience or perhaps right now?
I invite you to take a few moments to reflect

 and to write about wilderness, if you wish.

(questions printed in worship outline)

Novelty and routine

Going into a wilderness is not easy.
Going into whatever wilderness

 we are called to 


or whatever wilderness 

 we find ourselves going into

  for whatever reason

   life has thrown at us – 

 “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”
Wilderness of killings in Paris

 how do we find our way to love?
Another movement to address and reform racism

 on our campuses.

  Souls finally having enough again

   of indignity, the veiled threat.

Responding with passion and grace,

 at best, “a gentle angry people”

  as the hymn goes.
Entering the wilderness is not easy.
Even if we do prepare, 

 we will never be prepared enough.

  The true wildernesses of our lives

   do not yield so easily to our plans.
On the one hand, we have astonishing

 abilities to deal with whatever comes our way.

  Our brains are wired

   for novelty, for the ability to address change.
We evolved to be hunters

 and builders of homes and 

  shapers of whatever we had on hand

   into nourishment and sustenance.
Our brains are so good at dealing

 with novelty, that marketers

  can exploit it with annoying effectiveness.
The neuroscientist Russell Poldrack writes “The brain is built to ignore the old and focus on the new. Marketers clearly understand this: If you watch closely, you will notice that heavily-played television ads will change ever so slightly after being on the air for a few weeks. When this change is detected by the brain, our attention is drawn to the ad, oftentimes without us even realizing it.”

 Russell Poldrack “Multi-tasking: the brain seeks novelty” in The Huffington Post November 11, 2011 – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/russell-poldrack/multitasking-the-brain-se_b_334674.html
“Sometimes without us realizing it.”

 That’s the annoying part.

  How often do we find our attention

   caught by some bright ad?
But it is also marvelous.

 That’s the joy of video games, of sports,

  of playing jazz.
We don’t know what’s coming,

 and we love to try to respond to it.
That’s the one hand.
On the other hand, it can be terrifying.

 We often sense harm and even death

  in what comes at us.
Science writer Winifred Gallagher writes about the tug-of-war between our need for survival, which relies on safety and stability, and our desire to thrive, which engenders stimulation, exploration, and innovation.

 Maria Popova, Brain Pickings blog “Why we like the new and shiny” – https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/01/24/winifred-gallagher-new/

 (Gallagher a new book, by the way, on her journey of spirituality Working on God. She became a science writer and thought she was done with faith. And then faith started showing up in her writing. SFGate – http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/The-New-Agnostics-Winifred-Gallagher-grew-up-2938072.php)
As much as our brains our wired for novelty,

 we are also creatures of deep routine.

  It’s how we keep track and get ready.
I put the same stuff in the same pockets every morning.

 Left front – wallet, coin purse, pocket knife.

  Right front – keys, card case.

   Then ready for the novelty of the day.
Routine and novelty in constant search for balance.
The experience of wilderness

 is to have our lives overturned.

  It is meta-novelty, big novelty,

   often once in a life-time.
In the midst of it, we seek routine. 

 But our lives have been transformed.

Blue Coyote

And so I now bring us to the birth of this new church,

 and my own story of wilderness.
I thank you in advance for listening to my story.

 It is very personal, but I hope there are deep

  echoes for all our stories.
And I will keep it brief. A fuller telling

 will undoubtedly be coming in print sometime.
In 2009, I had been pastor at 

 First Mennonite Church of Denver for 13 years. 

  This was one year longer than any other pastor

   had ever been in office in that congregation.
So in the emotional and spiritual system

 of the congregation, already the days were growing long.
At the time, a friend invited me to 

 a series of retreats based on the work of Parker Palmer,

  called Courage and Renewal retreats.
One of Palmer’s books was the reason

 I became a pastor rather than professor years ago.
So I thought I would give it a try,

 even though I thought my routine was fine.

  Maybe a little enrichment would be nice.
Unfortunately for the naiveté of my heart,

 enrichment was not what the Holy Spirit 

  was preparing for me.
As I moved through the silence,

 and very kind conversation

  of the retreats
I found my heart opening toward something

 which I did not understand.
I thought at first it was a new project,

 to write a book or something like that.

  I even made myself the subject of 

   an intense deep-listening process

    called clearness committee

     all on the subject of writing.
Then I was invited to go spend

 a week with Courage and Renewal leaders

  and Parker Palmer.
His subject was “See how they love each other.”

At the same time, our conference minister

 Herm Weaver, was bringing the disgraced

  pentecostal minister Ted Haggard

   into Mennonite pastoral circles.
I met Ted, and now there was a new thought.

 What if I started a new church in Littleton?
Soon, I sat down for coffee with Ted,

 and I asked him what I thought was an

  obvious question, 

   since he was famous for church growth.
“Ted, how do you make a church grow?”
His answer blew my mind immediately,

 and more and more as weeks passed:

“The leaders have to love each other.”
It was love, it was love that I came to call

 “delighted love”. Not just everyday useful love,

  but love that takes deep delight.
That is the heart of great community,

 great relationship, great spirituality.
I went back and soon found myself telling

 First Mennonite “I love you.”
I started a new love service called Blues Prayers.

 I started a weekly practice of Courage and Renewal

  called the Thursday Circle.
Both of these were go become proto-types

 of a new congregation. But I did know it.
This went on for 3 and 1/2 years.

 All was well.

  But something was shifting.
I made myself very busy in work and music.

 But something was shifting.
On one morning last January,

 I had two dreams.

  One was of extreme anxiety because

   I was leaving First Mennonite.
The second was of extreme grief

 because I was leaving the people of First Mennonite.
I held these dreams for a month,

 talking with Marilyn, and with Herm

  (our conference minister).
Then one morning in February,

 I had a dream so vivid,

  it remains stronger than 

   many of my waking memories.
In the dream,

 I was standing on the porch of a white frame house

  out on the vastness of southwestern scrub prairie.
I turned to go back into the house,

 but now there was a large dog-like creature

  brushing against my legs.
It was a blue coyote with an odd swirling face,

 as if the features were all in motion.
I have since paid attention to this,

 and the blue coyote is a constant

  symbol of the trickster

   in stories from the southwest

    and native cultures.
There was even a blue coyote 

 children’s book at the Grand Canyon,

  when we visited there a couple of

   weeks ago.
Trickster – Holy Spirit – Blue coyote.

 Carl Jung has more to say on this as well.

“You may say a coyote is nothing but a coyote, but then along comes one that is Dr. Coyote, a super-animal who has mana and spiritual powers.”

The coyote insistently brushed against my legs

 and it became clear that it 

  did not want me to reenter the house.
I wondered if it was a threat, but it did not seem to be.

 Just insistence. Just shepherding me

  from moving back into the house.
For whatever reason,

 I finally reached down and scritched

  the head of the coyote
and said in Spanish “mi Cristo es tu Cristo”

 At this, the coyote trotted off into the scrub and brush

  of the prairie.
And I woke up, knowing that my work at 

 First Mennonite was done

  and it was time to get 

   on with the dream of a new church.
It seems to me that the coyote’s odd face

 was an image of the God who will not be captured

  or named – “I am who I am”
It seems to me that 

 the Holy Spirit had to paint me 

  a very vivid picture in order to get me to move.
And why I spoke Spanish is a mystery.

 But now a couple from Mexico City

  may become part of the outreach 

   of this new congregation.
I will be inviting us to help host and provide

 for them as they seek to work among

  Hispanic youth in Denver.
There it is in some outline.

 And I thank you for your listening.

  Again, I hope it has echoes for your stories.
I wanted to tell it to help better show

 the origins of this congregation.
I still don’t know where all this leads.

 I wake up each day astonished,

  not without fear, but also simply

   astonished at what has come to pass.
I know that the purpose of this new thing

 is to respond as wholeheartedly as possible

  to an invitation of the Holy Spirit.
My prayer is that like Abraham and Sarah,

 we as a new people may become 

  a blessing for many,

   even as our continue to walk together

    into the place that God will show us.

Beauty: Finite and InfiniteAutumn series on insights from Courage and Renewal 3

Autumn common time

October 11, 2015

For Beloved Community

Vernon K. Rempel, 2015
Bible Reading 

Psalm 19:1-4

The heavens are telling the glory of God;

   and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork. 

Day to day pours forth speech,

   and night to night declares knowledge. 

There is no speech, nor are there words;

   their voice is not heard; 

yet their voice goes out through all the earth,

   and their words to the end of the world. 

The infinity of song

As for myself, when I sing or play a song,

 part of the mystery of it all

  is that I am joining with an enormity,
a grand cloud of artistic witness 

 that gathers to a greatness

  of communities and histories and 

   human endeavor.
“Their voice goes out through all the earth,

 and their words to the end of the world.”
For example, consider the song

 Precious Lord, take my hand.
Thomas Dorsey wrote the song in 1932

 after his wife died giving birth

  to a daughter.
The daughter also died shortly thereafter.

 Dorsey gave the song to his friend,

  the gospel singer Theodore Frye.
The next Sunday,

 Frye’s choir sang the song

  at the Ebenezer Baptist church.

Even the briefest glance at the history

 and the most casual listening to the song

  showers forth embedded meaning,

   soul, and longing.
“Day to day pours forth speech,

  and night to night declares knowledge.”
The immediate occasion of the song is sorrow,

 the wrenching loss of wife and child.
The cadences of the words

 are the cadences of gospel preaching:
Precious Lord, take my hand,

lead me on, let me stand,

I am tired, I am weak,

I am worn.
The words flow from great linguistic streams.

 The practice of rhetoric.
The practice of English Christian preaching,

 especially perhaps the passionate

  Scottish tradition.
And most importantly

 the black baptist practice

  of iteration and call and response speech.

I am tired. I am weak. I am worn.

 Repeating statements changing with

  each repetition to carry 

   the affirmation forward.
And call and response:

This is suggested, rather than

 written into the text.
There is room after the phrases,

 to respond:

Through the storm…

Through the night…

Lead me on…

to the light…
When we play it, we often do the response

 with a blues fill on piano or harmonica or strings.
Many choirs will echo

 “through the storm” and so on

  with an answering “through the storm”

   or “oh, the storm” or the

    soulful invitation “listen now.”
There is room for this.

 The song is written 

  with all this in the ear which

   Dorsey brings to the words.
And of course, black baptist cadences

 are infused with the cries and songs

  that arise from the American 

   crime of slavery
and the great human spirit

 of the enslaved Africans

  whose voices rose from the burning

   and the ashes to create 

    cadences of hope.
“…their voice goes out through all the earth.”
The music was adapted by Dorsey

 from a popular hymn by George N. Allen

   “Must Jesus bear the cross alone”
Allen was a professor of music

 at Oberlin College in Ohio

  and therefore a leader and creator

   within the greatest of 19th century

    hymn composition

     based in the European tradition.
But the tune was printed numerous times

 without attribution before Allen.

  It arises unattributed in the early 1800s

   American songbook.

Where did it come from?

 Appalachian Welsh and Irish folk singing?

  Or perhaps an African-American spiritual?
In any case, it falls beautifully into the

 common and open 1, 4, 5 chords

  of blues and gospel
with deep roots in simple five-tone

 folk singing from around the world.
That’s my analysis, in any case.
But that is only the beginning

 of the grandeur of the song
which of course draws upon 

 the centuries of the Christian movement.
And where do words and music

 ultimately begin?
The first words of John’s gospel:

 In the beginning was the Word.
And as John Phillip Newell remarks,

 the Celtic theologians said

  “in the beginning was the sound.”
The words and sounds echo from

 the heart of the birth of creation.

Finite and Infinite

And so there is infinity in this one small song.

 There are vast cultures

  and heinous crimes

   and intimate suffering

    and the beauties

     of a grand spiritual movement.
But we would have none of this

 opened up for us

  if Dorsey had just said

   “My suffering is infinite

    and the beauty of song and words

     is infinite.”
Rather, we have this demonstrated for us

 in the very small and specific choices

  of the words and tune.
“Precious Lord, lead me on.”

 Spiritual affirmation,

  a sense of journey

   in the midst of great difficulty.
Small word choices that tell it so well.
And then the way he changes the

 tune just slightly,

  which makes it so bluesy.

Must Jesus bear the cross alone?

Precious Lord, take my hand.
Hear how the line turns

 and rises?
And so it is with each one of our lives

 and the things we make

  and care about.
Our best work is just small

 and very particular:
This pie baked,

 this phone call taken,

  the thank-you written,

   this donation made

    this smile shared.
The iterations of small graces.
And this is what makes our lives great.

 Mark Nepo writes:

“Doing small things with love releases our courage. And each small act we’re led to leads to more. Doing small things with love is the atom of bravery.”
And it is the atom of infinity.

 Each act flows from its great source

  in culture, in humanity, in divine inspiration.
And each act is a seed of courage,

 a seed of new creation.
Precious Lord, take my hand.

 The sorrow of a man’s heart.

  The song at Ebenezer Baptist.

   Now a cultural joy and legacy,

    a landmark of American

     and African-American endeavor.
And so God’s work of creation

 is made and made again.
The heavens are telling the glory of God;

   and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork
Play vs 1 of Precious Lord

Bicycles, Baptism, and Amazing GraceWorld Communion Sunday

October 4, 2015

For Beloved Community

Vernon K. Rempel, 2015
Bible Reading – 6: 29-40 (NRSV paraphrased vkr)

Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in the one whom God has sent.’ So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “God gave them bread from heaven to eat.” ’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my dear abba who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’
 Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that abba gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that God has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my dear abba, that all who see the Christ and believe in Christ may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.

Part 1: The bread of life
In John’s telling about Jesus,

 there’s the feeding of the 5,000,

  also known as “enough stuff for everyone”,

   sufficiency, a gift beyond measure.
Then walking on the water

 also could be known as addressing our fears,

  the watery deeps of whatever it is,

   spiritual grace and strength addressing fears
Then this:

 “I am the bread of life,

 whoever comes to me will never hunger,

 whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
And much more:

 God’s bread gives life to the world.

  to the whole world

   this bread is for healing, for the whole world
the whole world, the whole shooting match,

 from our dear children, to the distortions of ISIS,

  from the grace of Dorothy Day and Dr. King

   to the terrifying vacancy of Nazis.
And a year of mass shootings.

 Let us have bread instead of guns.
God’s bread gives life to everybody, to the world.

 As the president on the West Wing

  says in one episode about evil doers:

   “They weren’t born wanting to do this.”
What evil has been done, has been done.

 And we seek healing 

  and recovery from our trauma together.
And we work with sweat and joy

 to make a finer humanity.
God’s bread gives life to the world.

 We work for bread for all, rather than violence.
And also, “everyone who comes to me…,

 I will welcome them.”

  Jesus is saying a version

   of the Courage and Renewal Touchstone:
“We will presume welcome and extend welcome.”

 And also, “I will lose none of you,

  I will lose nothing,

   but rather everything, everyone,

    will be raised up.”
In the end, everyone will be raised up.

 All we have to do is receive it,

  let our hearts also love,

   also presume and extend welcome.

    Let us share bread.

Part 2: Bicycles
As I noted last week,

 poet David Whyte writes:

  “Attention is the hidden discipline of familiarity.”

  (in Everything is waiting for you)
When we’re in a small new community

 such as this, we pay attention 

  in different ways.
It’s fun and it’s work.

 Show up with a few people

  and make church happen. 

   It’s not pretend, it’s all very real.


But although powerful and rich

 beyond measure

  in the Spirit of Christ,

   it can all still feel fragile.
It’s like riding a bicycle

 instead of driving a car.
On a bicycle, riding around Littleton,

 one quickly learns where the hills are,

  how the land falls toward the Platte River,

   where there’s a ridge.
In a car, it is largely invisible, irrelevant.

 Internal combustion.

  Was there a hill? Didn’t notice.
But on a bicycle, one notices a hill.

 One might notice hunger and thirst as well.

  One might come to need things.
Whoever comes to me will never hunger,

 never thirst.

  And if you’re hungry or thirsty,

   those words sound out differently.
Being in a small community is a way

 of placing ourselves in need,

  vulnerable, but vulnerable to the grace of God

   who is the bread of life.

Part 3: Baptism
When I was a child,

 I grew up among the Mennonite Brethren.
Like Baptists, we had baptistries,

 those water tanks in front of the sanctuary.
They were nicely crafted,

 molded with steps going in

  from either side.
There was room for the minister

 and the one receiving baptism

  to be in the water together.
Down you went, in the name of the 

 Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

  I would say Creator, Christ, and Holy Ghost.
It was the Holy of Holies of our church,

 the place of watery mystery.
We used to walk through the tank

 when it was empty,

  get a little feel for it,

   a little spiritual zip.
And then to be baptized,

 at least in my experience,

  was to say “yes” to a lot of good things.
Yes to a God who loved us,

 yes to community of people who sang and prayed together.

  yes to a grand movement of love.
Sure there were problems and distortions.

 Always. But also so much love.
I will lose nothing, Jesus says to

 the people who are questioning him.

I will lose none of you.

 All this will be caught up in the last day,

  made whole, made light,

   in eternal life.
That’s baptism.

Part 4: The earth shall soon dissolve like snow
One of the less-sung verses of John Newton’s Amazing Grace

 is this one:

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,/

The sun forbear to shine;/

But God, who called me here below,/

Will be forever mine.
It has been called bad theology.

 And it probably is.

  Better to say the earth will be redeemed 

   like the first days of a new spring.
But it also feels right.

 A couple of weeks ago, 

  I led a service for a 16-year-old

   who died suddenly.
The earth of that family,

 surely had dissolved like snow.

  Their sun did forbear to shine.
But God who calls us here below

 will be forever mine.

  Will be forever ours.
It rings true for me in that moment of devastation.
I think the earth will be redeemed,

 “All the birds and creatures of the world”

  as David Whyte continues in his poem.
On this feast day of St. Francis,

 that’s right. All the creatures,

  God bless them and keep them.
David Whyte’s final line then is:

 “Everything is waiting for you.”
Which is in sympathetic vibration

 with Jesus:

  “I should lose nothing of all that God has given me.”


I am grateful for the love of Christ,

 for this small community,

  for new attentions and vulnerabilities

   and joy in love

    and love even in the midst of loss.
I am the bread of life, says Christ.

 Thanks be to God.


Faith Voice
Vern Rempel
In Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, there is section entitled “Civic and Political Love.” The first line of the second paragraph reads: “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.” Pope Francis lifts up Saint Therese of Lisieux’s invitation for us to practice “the little way of love,” This is the way of love that remembers that in small gestures and in grand actions, it is always love, it is always consideration of the other, and a search for the pathway to gratitude and collaboration.

It is a recognition that we have had enough of being right from the side-line, of disparaging talk about “idiots and morons.” We are all human beings. In the spiritual tradition of the Pope, being human means we are all beloved children of God, intended to join and build together the beloved community. This is a community that reflects that grace of the Holy One who creates us and holds us dear, and whose care extends across all places and times.

What if this became the premise for a new political conversation in our culture and nation? What if political engagement meant compassionate and appreciative listening and speech? What if political action meant first and foremost the search for wholehearted community, spinning relationships of gold out of the straw of everyday estrangements and isolations?

The educator Parker Palmer writes: “We must strengthen our capacity to create community. Without a community, it is nearly impossible to achieve voice: it takes a village to raise a Rosa Parks.” (Healing the Heart of Democracy) Pope Francis in a similar vein notes how we move from individuality into shared work – into community. “Love for society and commitment to the common good are outstanding expressions of a charity which affects not only relationships between individuals but also ‘macro-relationships, social, economic and political ones.'”

“Civic and Political Love.” I can think of few things finer and more important than this notion that our politics may be about that – about love! We are longing for this like the desert earth longs for water before the rains come. May it soon come among us.


Being Peace; making peace
Autumn series on insights from Courage and Renewal 2
Autumn common time
September 20, 2015
For Beloved Community
Vernon K. Rempel, 2015

Bible Reading
Jesus answered,
“You shall love the one God
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your strength,
and with all your mind;
and your neighbor as yourself.”
–Luke 10:27

Do you ever feel beside yourself?
You look over on the chair next to you
and there you are,
but what are you doing?

Is that your nose?
Why are you saying that?
That joke’s not funny.
That’s kind of mean.
Wait a minute.
That’s not me!

Or like Pink Floyd sings;
“Someone’s in my head and it’s not me.”

Or I start my day
my stumbling over the threshold of the door
because I’m already thinking
several blocks down the street
as I head out the door
to get five things done.

“You shall love the one God
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your strength,
and with all your mind;

The teaching begins with five lines
about loving God,
and then the punchline:
“your neighbor as yourself.”

Five lines that have that word “all” in them.
Five lines that echo with the teaching
of Søren Kierkegaard:
“Purity of heart is to will one thing.”

I have also heard this expressed as
“Happiness is to will one thing.”

Not five things.
Not tripping over the threshold of the door.
Not sitting beside beside myself
wondering who I am.

This Biblical teaching is traditionally known as
“the greatest commandment”

This ancient teaching is an invitation
to become more wholehearted.

Over-busyness is the fundamental
misery of our society, I think.
I see it in the eyes of drivers
heading with silent desperation
toward their destination,
already late, already tired.

Fragmentation is the outcome in our lives,
broken-apart schedules,
broken-apart hearts,
willing five things, not Kierkegaard’s one.

A disease of consumer culture
and of poverty both, in truth.
Consumer culture lures us to distraction.
Grinding poverty is simply an
existential distraction of misery.

Neither is the will of God for all of us,
who are God’s beloved children,
intended for beloved community.

Neither is the outcome of wholehearted community
in which we live by reasonable sufficiency
and no more,
and all may find ways
to be fed and housed.

And so we find ourselves in disintegration.

Parker Palmer in Hidden Wholeness
writes that:
“I pay a steep price when I live a divided life – feeling fraudulent, anxious about being found out, and depressed by the fact that I am denying my own selfhood. The people around me pay a price as well, for now they walk on ground made unstable by my dividedness. How can I affirm another’s identity when I deny my own? How can I trust another’s integrity when I defy my own? A fault line runs down the middle of my life, and whenever it cracks open-divorcing my words and actions from the truth I hold within-things around me get shaky and start to fall apart.”

The opportunity in this is that I may
study my fragmentation in order
to discover starting points for wholeheartedness.

What are my conflicts,
the ways I’m hiding from needed engagements,
the way I’m torn between two or three options,
how I struggle to sit down
and do the one good thing now.

One way to study my inner fragmentation
or divideness is to consider
what bothers me out there, in the world.

This may illuminate un-negotiated spaces within,
unmapped regions of the inner landscape
that carry a charge within me.

And this charge echoes with my sense
of what’s wrong with the world.

Why am I so annoyed with that song?
Am I simply disagreeing with and resisting
the politicians distorted ideas?

Or is there something more going on
for me, something vibrating
with what might even be called rage
and resentment?

What’s that connecting with in my soul?

Palmer also talks about the Möbius strip
of soul and world.
The Möbius strip is a famous

If you’ve never seen one, they are remarkable.
Take a strip of paper,
give it one twist, tape the ends together,
and now you are able to
trace a line onto both sides
without ever lifting the pen.

The two sides have become one,
seamlessly, continuously.

So it is with the soul and the world.
What seems to be divided into inner and outer,
is truly a fully interactive and flowing process.

And I send a lot of what is in here out there.
And what is out there of course comes in here.

Not too surprising, perhaps.
But when we think something out there
is “not me,” that may bear investigation.

And when we think something in here
is just my imagination or emotion,
that also may bear investigation.

Gary Larson, the cartoonist who created The Far Side
once had one of his cows lying on the
therapists couch.

She was saying:
“Maybe it’s not me, you know. Maybe it’s the rest of the heard that’s crazy.”

That may also be true.

And then, in addition to investigating
our own fragmentation,
it is even more important
to study the places and times
when I have felt most wholehearted.

Under the rule that we become
what we pay attention to,
we may study our times
of inner capacity
for wholeheartedness.

Those times when I’m in the zone,
doing whatever I’m doing,
and doing it well.

Or times I’ve been laughing
so hard I forget myself,

Or times when I’ve been playful
without wanting to be clever

Those times when I was
creative without trying to be original.

Those times when I was able
to be present to pain,
but naturally, like water flowing
toward the desert

Those times when I would have to honestly say
that the music of my soul
was the music of all the stars and birds

and all the creatures of the world,
the sound which,
like Celtic theologians say,
was in the beginning:

“In the beginning was the sound
and the sound was with God,
and the sound was God.”
(See John Phillip Newell’s A New Harmony)

We may also investigate that
in our souls and learn and reinforce
the goodness of that.

And as with our fragmentation,
this also may find echoes out in the world,

Echoes of what’s right and beautiful
in the world also travel along
our Möbius strip, creating echoes
of wholeheartedness.

“You shall love the one God
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your strength,
and with all your mind;
and your neighbor as yourself.”

In this lines are an invitation to wholeheartedness,
both within and without.
Love God with all the “alls.”
And you neighbor – the outer, the other,
as yourself – the inner.

And may this in fact be an invitation
and not a burden.
May it be like the the beautiful rose,
or the next good beer,

or the cool car, or the sweet person,
or the shade of the tree,
or the rock-strewn mountain slope.

May it simply be there to consider,
and lean toward,
and to learn to love

with whatever gentleness
or urgency you find
growing within or around you.

“Let it be” as the Beatles said,
as Mary said,
as the Holy One said when
singing the sound
that was in the beginning.

(Play in C)
Let it be, let it be,
let it be, let it be,
whisper words of wisdom
let it be.


Autumn series on insights from Courage and Renewal

Mission, not margin
Autumn common time
September 13, 2015
For Beloved Community
Vernon K. Rempel, 2015

Bible Reading
Matthew 9:9-13 NRSV

9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

Matthew doesn’t prepare or count the cost or count anything!
And he’s a tax collector!
“And he got up and followed him.”

No focus on survival
or profitability margins,
he didn’t have a plan in place

He didn’t remain in comfort
he must have overcome any addiction to the status quo
he chose relationship and soul
rather than structure and power

There is something so important in there.
It is the leap of faith that the Danish existentialist
Søren Kierkegaard talked about.

Kierkegaard is the one who said,
“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.”

It sounds like something from a self-help book
in the 21st century.
But he said it before his death in 1855.
It was a ground-breaking insight
in an analysis addicted time.

It is an invitation to
move from head to heart in living,
to stop overthinking

As one one of my friends heard someone say
in a school staff meeting
“We need less information on this subject.”

More responsibility. Decisiveness.
More courage. More willingness to say,
I will commit to this,
because it seems right.

And I will do so in public,
willing to work for a good outcome
and willing to be identified with the decision

In this way, Kierkegaard’s invitation
is to move from head to heart,
but also, perhaps, head to feet.
willing to be responsible to make a move.

Like Matthew:
“He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.”

A willingness to go ahead and start down a path.

If I had known how much improvisation was involved
I never would have tried to raise children.

Improvisation in adulthood, into maturity.
Figuring it out as we go, step by step.
But taking the step.

Maple City Health Care Center
Okay, very good.
Now, in addition to the willingness to risk,
to step out, to take responsibility,
to move, to improvise
there is one more thing….

In Goshen, Indiana, there is a health care center
whose mission is to serve all people
including people of all income levels.

This is described in the book by Joanna Shenk,
Widening the circle: Experiments in Christian discipleship

One of the many good chapters in this book
is about that health care center.

The title of the chapter is
Maple City Health Care Center.
But the subtitle may not be what one would expect:
“Dying to the fear of death”

Just what you would expect in a nice chapter
about developing a nice inclusive health care center!
Or not…

James Nelson Gingerich, the doctor who founded
the Maple City Health Care Center
tells the story of how years ago,

he was in a hospital board meeting.
They were exploring how to better meet
community health care needs.

The CEO said, as if it were obvious:
“No margin, no mission.”
In other words,
no financial and institutional structure,
no mission, (because no hospital).

But Gingerich heard these words
and found himself saying,
“No, no mission, no mission.”

In the chapter, he writes:
“Faced with decisions, the basic impulse, from which all else flows, is [for a group or institution] to ask one of two questions: Does this move make us more secure—more financially solvent or more profitable? Or does this move fit with our vision and our mission, our reason for being? Quite apart from the answers, our asking of either question sets fundamental direction.”

That is a mouthful.
I don’t know how many times I’ve
been in meetings where some version of
“We need money to survive.”

And the unspoken message there is
“And if we don’t survive, our mission will fail.”
“No margin, no mission.”

But Gingerich writes that anytime we ask
survival questions, we have already
turned off the path of mission.

And he doesn’t stop there.
He see a giant Biblical teaching
that sustains his point:

He writes:
“The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus shared our flesh and blood so that he might destroy the one who has power of death “and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15 NIV). I wonder whether we apply this wisdom to our church bodies, our institutions, and our congregations.”

And he continues:
“Do we believe in Jesus’ power to free us institutionally from our bondage to the fear of death? Do we focus on institutional survival, or can we trust our organizations’ future to God’s provision and protection and instead focus on seeking God’s reign and its justice.”

What Gingerich has articulated is astonishing.
An institution that cares not for its survival
but rather for its mission.

Years ago, I read a playful little book
by John Gall called Systemantics.
It was about how systems behave and misbehave.

One of its memorable examples for me
was of the Boy Scouts of America.

The Boy Scouts was created to promote camping.
But then, after organizing, getting all the rules,
and bylaws, and structure in place,
it ended up promoting scouting.

You could tell by how often discussion focused
around what’s good for scouting
and the culture of scouting.

A leading example is that there recently
was a furor over gay scout leaders.
I’ve never heard anyone say
that being gay is a problem for camping.
But for scouting…. Hmm.

Thank goodness the organization is
trying to do a bit better with that, in fits and starts.

How often is it also true that the church,
which was created to call people
together into loving community
ends up calling people just into church?

Church with all its necessities, restrictions,
rules, precedents, and especially
its need to survive.

That’s the one thing a movement
gathered around a crucified Galilean peasant
could understand:

Love does not depend on our survival
but rather on our love.
It is out of love that resurrection comes,

And through resurrection,
love comes pouring back into the world again and again.
Survival does not keep the love flowing.
Love keeps the love flowing.

No margin, no mission?
Rather – no mission, no mission.
Survival will not carry the love of Christ.
Love will carry the love of Christ.

Kierkegaard also said:
“Let us speak of this in purely human terms. Oh! how pitiable a person who has never felt the loving urge to sacrifice everything for love, who has therefore been unable to do so!”
― Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death

The Maple City Health Care Center
was founded to provide health care
to people of all income levels.

To do this, they learned they could not
be addicted to money.
They could not even be dedicated
to money.

All income levels sometimes means
no money, or very little.

Now, it is a great thing to use our money
to build community.
It is a key way of giving oxygen
to something we love,
and a way to put our hearts into it.

But in the case of the Maple City Health Care Center
Gingerich found survival talk around money
and related strategies so dangerous
to their mission

that anytime anyone mentioned survival
in organizational discussion,
he raised a red flag.
No mission, no mission.

And in order to this,
he said, the center had to be willing to die,
or willing to fail and accept loss.

Otherwise, it would be tempted to stray
from such a risky and unexplored mission.

A bit of blue coyote
There is of course a good bit of
the blue coyote for me in this.

If you don’t know, it was a dream
about a blue coyote inviting into
the scrub grass wilderness
that moved me finally
to risk for the sake of this new community.

One thing was clear in the dream.
The blue coyote wasn’t inviting me
to a walk of security, success, and survival.

The invitation was to risk everything
for a heart’s song, a heart’s longing,
and to put feet to that longing,
and follow the coyote
a.k.a. the Holy Spirit, I think,
into the scrub grass.

So now I find myself walking around
following the coyote.
That choice seems full of risk, and full of life.

I’m so pleased to be here with you.
It is not a solo project.
May we be gifts to each other.

And may we love that thought:
mission is mission;
love is love.

There is no other path,
no separate guarantee.
only what Matthew had from Jesus:
“Follow me.”

“And he got up and followed him.”


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