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Stumbling toward love
Summer series on Paul and Love
August 16, 2015
For Beloved Community
Vernon K. Rempel, 2015

Bible Reading
As for us, sisters and brothers,
when, for a short time, we were made orphans
by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—
we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face.
~~I Thessalonians 2:17

Race!
I went to a wonderful meeting
last Tuesday at Iliff School of Theology.
Retired pastoral counseling professor Larry Graham
is writing a book on pastors,
morality, and stress.

He wanted a group of ministers to
serve as consultants in a dialogue
about morality and stress in our work.

We began by going around and saying
one thing that we were bringing with us
to the meeting.

When I lead meetings, I sometimes call this
“naming our ‘whereness'”
“Where are we right now?”

I began thinking about my family,
my work, all the things I wanted to accomplish
in another full day.

But one of my African-American colleagues, Val,
a good friend, a joyful presence in my life,
said she almost didn’t come to the meeting

because she was so concerned about her
family members who had traveled
to Ferguson to be in solidarity
with folks there,

as the fires of indignity and violation
burned and burned
in the place where Michael Brown

was shot by police
in an altercation following a robbery.

What a spinning vortex of pain.
John Stewart called our social situation
a gaping racial wound that will not heal.

I think of it as a chronic inflammation
resulting from repeated trauma.
The inflammation aches, makes us less agile,
damages the tissues most affected.

In other words, it is destroying lives and neighborhoods,
and the conversation and actions in response
are stilted, and almost always
feel off or wrong to someone.

But God intends us to love each other,
and not just in spite of hurt
but because there is a goodness and
a resource we need from each other,
and we thrive when it is flowing.

But the inflammation of our history
of racial harm stops the good flow.

I often feel I can’t get it right.
It’s like when I recently tried to carefully
set down a glass on cement.

I didn’t want it to tip due to surface unevenness.
But all my care didn’t prevent the glass
from still shifting when I let go.

That’s how I often feel
when I try to make any moves about race.
I can’t get it right.

And the thing is, I probably can’t
get it right by my own action.

I have to throw myself into a process
of action and response
that is a struggle – a struggle with the inflammation.

It needs to be not just my right action
but a struggle alongside others.

Paul & Val
With my friend Val, it is so good.
with her, I am in the territory of Paul
from our lesson for today:

“when, for a short time, we were made orphans
by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—
we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face.”

I am an orphan without her,
In our meeting, she was wearing an
“I can’t breathe” shirt

From what Eric Garner said
in another encounter with police.

I don’t get it right by myself;
she brings it close, wears the shirt,
makes the phone call to Ferguson.

And she is a person of great joy.
I can tell that she often says of people in her life:
“we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face.”

Paul also couldn’t get it right by himself, of course.
He had a cultural inflammation too,
the open wound between Jews and Greeks.

As we probably all know, Greeks were
like unclean food to the Jews.
unclean.

William Countryman wrote a book about
Biblical culture called Dirt, Sex, and Greed.
Dirt. Unclean.

That was the nature of human relations then.
And now.

And in the midst of that,
Paul falls in love,
Paul finds love,.

In Christ there is neither male nor female,
slave nor free, Jew nor Greek. -Galatians 3:28

And “we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face.”
“when, for a short time, we were made orphans
by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—
we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face.”

That is so sweet.
Paul is sweet here.
he gets it wrong, says the wrong thing,
freaks out – “women should be silent”

But with the help of women – and men –
he finds his way to love.

Finds his way out of his shame and missteps,
out of his own history of violence!
See Acts chapter 8.

And then he becomes a Pharisee
speaking to Thessalonian Greeks:
we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face.”

No mistakes on the bandstand
When we stretch out to each other
with whole hearts
seeking the right path
risking being wrong to get it right together

we may find ourselves in a wholesome
and lovely struggle
that we may call community,
and in which we may find healing and hope.

Jazz musician Stefon Harris has a TED Talk
“No mistakes on the bandstand”

in which are describes how it doesn’t matter
what you play in the bandstand in jazz
if you all are trying to listen
and respond well to each other.

Any errant or stray note can be woven
right into the tonal fabric
of the tune if everyone’s signed up to do it.

In this way, jazz is not about getting
every note right
but rather readiness to engage
in musical listening and dialogue,
co-creation and shared action.

So Val offers me good jazz
in our meeting.
She reminds me of the horror of
“I can’t breathe.”
And she offers friendship.

And Paul gets good jazz with
the Greeks.
He stumbles in love toward them,
and they toward him.

As John 13:34 says,
“May we so love one another.”
“We longed with great eagerness to see you face to face.”

For your love
Common Time
August 2, 2015
For Beloved Community
Vernon K. Rempel, 2015

Bible Reading
I Thessalonians 1:1-3

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the beloved Creator and the way of Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace.

We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Creator your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in the way of Jesus Christ.

Beloved Community
And so it begins
like a small stream slipping
from source to destination

Beloved community
a new congregation on the face of the earth,
in this place,

may it be a blessing to many,
a place of encouragement.

I hope we’ll have lots of fun
and increase the possibility
for people to live with each other
and care for each other

I hope we’ll pay attention to the Holy Spirit
sweeping with love and affection
in the midst of all that we do and say.

I hope that the infinite beauty
poured out into our lives each hour,
each minute,

will encourage us to more profound
and strong and sweet living.

It is always time right now for good community.
And everybody needs it,
even if we’re too wounded or distracted to know it.

So here it is, a place that will hold community
with great attention and joy

the Beloved Community that Dr. King spoke about,
the community we have when we banish
violence from among us,

the community we have when we
come together for good work and good play

the community we have when we can
take delight in each other
and in God’s good world

so that healing and hope flow among us
and through us.

May it be so.
I think it is so; I think it is sweet.
It’s already here.

Paul is enamored
I’m enamored by love,
not just practical love
but love that takes delight,
love that overcomes prejudice and injury
by living in amazement in the presence
of the great river of love.

Paul, I’m convinced, was enamored of love.
I used to think he was a bit of
an old control freak,

Saying, yes, in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek,
male nor female, slave nor free

and then advising women and gentiles and slaves
to stay in the place.

He may have had a bit of that.
But if it was so, I think it was so
because even he couldn’t believe
the energy of love
that he unleashed into the world.

People were speaking in ecstatic speech.
Women were hosting, advising, leading.
Slaves were at the table eating and sharing.
The Greek’s were basically owning the church.

It was enough to make a Pharisee’s head spin,
Which Paul was, a law-lover,
now just become a lover,
one who writes with joy to his friends:
“We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Creator your work of faith and labor of love” I Thessalonians 1

hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts…. Romans 5

[neither] height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus…. Romans 8

love one another with mutual affection…. Romans 12

Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord…. Romans 16

Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. Romans 16

I sent you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord…. I Corinthians 4

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…. I Corinthians 13

And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do! 2 Corinthians 11

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow…. Philippians 1

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony…. Colossians 3

And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you… I Thessalonians 3

We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters,* as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing…. 2 Thessalonians 1

One might reasonably ask
then why has Paul been used so much
to keep people in their place
and to exclude people

and I think the answer is because
the leaders using and reading Paul
wanted to keep people in their place
and exclude people

Reading a text is never a simple thing.
We must always be aware of our angle, our bias,
our place from which we are reading.

Paul can be used to reinforce dominance and hierarchy.
Paul can also be read to discover a depth
of ecstatic love that gives church its true depth and meaning

which it is to be a place
at last, at last
beyond all hope or expectation

where love is the order of the day
the thing that’s done,
the thing that define’s what’s possible.

Hate has been well-tried.
Violence and revenge have been well-tried.
Hopelessness and fatalism have been a well-trod paths.
So have cynicism and sneers.

Let church be the place that is dedicated to love,
the place where that opens up
and finds its feet and gets on out.

What love have you known?
What happens when that love
becomes great and overwhelming?

Where does it lead you ?
What does it make possible?

Dr. King wrote:
“The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community. The aftermath of nonviolence is redemption. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation.”

And I think Paul would add, so therefore love one another greatly, even as you are loved.

That will be sweet. That is sweet. Right now.

Life and Death
Common time
July 19, 2015
For Beloved Community
Vernon K. Rempel, 2015

Bible Reading and associated readings:
I Corinthians 15:20-27 excerpts
“For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.”
–J.R.R. Tolkien The Fellowship of the Ring
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Good morning to you on this day Christians worship, in celebration and memory of the resurrection of Jesus, who by great tradition, was raised from death on the 3rd day – Sunday morning, after being executed by political authorities collaborating with religious leaders, on the previous Friday.

In the beginning, this world and all that was in it, was created good. Then distortion and harm and abuse entered in. The shorthand word for this is “Adam” in Paul’s language. So by Adam came death.

Also in Paul, “Christ” is the actor and principal for life. This other human, this divine-human one, walked on earth, was killed, and was raised in a cosmic demonstration that it is Christ-life, not Adam-death, that is the real way of things. It is a reaffirmation of the goodness of creation, of the divine intention that we are not immersed in a pitched uncertain battle for goodness and life to carry the day. Goodness and life are the very order of God’s days.

But the distortions remain among us. We are fascinated by death, until it makes us sick with obsession. We imagine we can cure death’s effects or at least find some redress or solace or “closure” (worst word!) from death’s effects by answering death with death.

All the talk is about giving murderers what they deserve, with the sense that somehow that allows us to retain and strengthen our civilization.

But Martin Luther King, Jr. saw the fallacy in this reasoning. Violence, no matter who offers it up, no matter if it is the system of the state, or the “righteous” or the “innocent” simply adds violence to violence.

Tolkien essentially asks, “what do you know?” How do you know so much that you know who needs to die?

There is of course redress and cure available to us. It is not a simple path, not the path of revenge or of angry ventilation or even of “closure.” It is a path that calls us into another way of life altogether, the way of “Christ” rather than of “Adam.” This is the way of resurrection.

The way of resurrection deals in life, not in death. The way of resurrection is willing to struggle and experience pain and suffer. But it is because the pathway of resurrection is utterly dedicated to only dealing in the ways of life, rather than becoming distracted by the seductions of death. We are confused, thinking that putting someone to death is doing something. But the way of resurrection knows that only life begets life.

Resurrection is the the solid way, the path of love. In this path, people work hard to love and care for each other in the midst of trauma, tragedy, horror, outrage, and indignity. It cannot come to soon! There is far too much that distorts the face of God’s good earth. But resurrection, not death, is what must come quickly.

Walking the path of resurrection, our hearts may be taught in deep places that the great source and inner reality of all creation and of our own lives is the finer path of life. So we forsake violence. Not because we do not want practical cures for earth’s ills. But because life and love, not violence and death, are the only practical cures. All else is distraction and distortion.

Practices that reflect these understandings include Restorative Justice, Peace Building, Satyagraha, The U.S. Civil Rights Movement, conflict mediation, The Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program, the response by the Dutch to Nazi Germany, the life and teachings of St. Francis, the fact that numerous police departments are seeking non-lethal weapons as a way to address dangerous situations (something even in crime control doesn’t always love lethal solutions). These are practices, practical responses. Some even have implications for how nations make war. One resource for reading more about non-violence responses is Gene Sharp’s trilogy on non-violent response: The Politics of Nonviolent Action.

The world is mad with fascination about death as a solution, whether as visceral satisfaction in answer to outrage, or as a lesson taught by government to citizens, or as simple burning-heart revenge, or as the way of all nations. But Christians are people of life, not death. What will happen when we truly and powerfully live into this faith affirmation?

What is the relationship between summer abundance and real-life scarcity. There is joy and fear wound up in these words. When might scarcity be a gift, however paradoxical? When does abundance threaten to submerge us with its much-ness into a fragmentation that is a form of scarcity?
Attached is a flyer and a registration form for a summer retreat that I am offering with my fellow facilitator Susan Kaplan. We have worked together for years in different ways, with story-telling and with Courage and Renewal events. She is a counselor, story-teller, and non-violent communication practitioner.
This retreat will be at the Loretto Center on South Wadsworth. You may stay over or commute. It will be a lovely time of sharing and soulful reflection, I think.
If you’re interested in taking in a summer retreat, here it is! And also, stay tuned for information about my 2015 retreat at the Benedictine monastery at Snowmass – December 18 – 21 (Friday evening through Monday morning). Please call me with any questions you may have.
Peace be,
Vern

On a couple of occasions in the course of our preparation for doing work together at our Mennonite national convention in Kansas City, theological language has been used to the effect of “less self” and “more God.” At one time, the statement was something like: “You know when you need to particularly lean in to the Spirit so that you can decrease and God can increase.” At another time, the statement was: “May we deny ourselves so that we might be seen to rise together.”

I understand the good intent of these prayer and reflections. They echo the goodness of gelassenheit (yieldedness) and demut (lowliness or humility) and qualities like considering others, mutual care, and deep compassionate listening.

Nevertheless, I would invite consideration that what is within us, within our “selves” is something of infinite goodness, rather than something essentially in dissonance with the loving way of the Holy Spirit. My sense is that as we listen deeply to our own hearts, our own hidden wholeness (Thomas Merton), that this listening is a powerful and integral part of letting ourselves into the conversation, into community, into great shared love, so that far from denying or decreasing, there is a synchronisticity of love, love that is embedded in our hearts and love that is embedded in all creation. Now the good work is to bring these two loves more into harmony, rather than one decreasing and another increasing. Now the work is to uncover and remove denials, distortions, opacities, that block the inner goodness from full expression. Then love will spring forth from within and be poured into our lives from all creation – inner and outer in synchronicity.

What comes to my heart and mind is that “we contend not against flesh and blood, but rather against the powers and principalities.” My sense is that this means we most accurately and effectively view this conflict (as with all conflicts?) as a matter of spirits in conflict and which spirits we decide to make real or “incarnate” in our actions and bodies.

I think there are powerful dominant spirits of exclusion, sexual repression, control, and so on, constantly seeking for expression in our denomination. They find opportunity through people fearing change from tradition, an unfortunate reading of the Bible, a fear of our own sexualities, a desire to dominate or control someone else or another group, all the toxicity that has been passed down and re-energized from generation to generation among us.

Those of us who find ourselves called and compelled to the soulful task of spiritual and social change regarding sexual oppressions and the beauty of our created bodies will do well to create strategies that invite people to get “separated from their demons”, if you will. It leaves a margin of graciousness and unilateral forgiveness even for the flesh and blood ones who have let such damage into their hearts and lives. One may also realize and confess always the demons of one’s own heart. At the same time, there needs to be utter ferocity and persistence in what Ed Friedman called “walling off and defeating” the toxic spirits of exclusion, denial, domination, etc.

What does this look like in practice? I think again of the Unitarian hymn which sings “We are a gentle, angry people.” I think of the non-violence training exercises for the lunch counter sit-ins of the civil rights movement. I think of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. I think of Frederick Buechner’s words: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” My metaphor for myself is to seek the joyful insistence of water which will find a way across any dry land, through any wall, around any obstacle. Cracks are where the light gets in (Leonard Cohen) and also where the water gets in. I think God is always creating cracks in the old systems.

Let us flow!
Vern

When small is nimble

Common Time

June 21, 2015

For Living Light of Peace

Vernon K. Rempel, 2015


Bible Reading

Micah 5:2

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,

who are one of the little clans of Judah,

from you shall come forth for me

one who is to rule in Israel,

whose origin is from of old,

from ancient days.

 

Greeting

Good morning.

It’s good to be with you.
I’ve known this congregation over the years.

To paraphrase Paul,

I know of your trials,

but also of the love that grows among you.
So it is good to be with you.

May peace be with you

and on this moment that we share together.

I’m going to offer what I think

is a somewhat obvious meditation this morning:

the power of what is small.

But I hope there may be some

good connection for us this morning,

or at least encouragement.

 

The power of small

Living Light of Peace is a small congregation.

I have started a new congregation in Littleton

which at this time is also

small and very much unformed.
And there are gifts in that.
I think we all know very well

that smallness, particularity, starting with one thing,

is generally a key ingredient in a good story.
Nursery rhymes always play with specific scenarios:

Old mother Hubbard went to her cupboard

Not “an elderly woman went to her cupboard”

That’s measurably less interesting.
We don’t want to know about elderly women

nearly as much as we want to know

Old Mother Hubbard in particular.

The same is true of novels:

Moby Dick begins “Call me Ishmael”

Not a more general

“This is a story about whale hunting.”

Immediately it is personal.

And becomes more and more obsessively personal.
Tolstoy reflects this same interest in the particular,

what is different, rather than what is generally true,

in his famous opening

to Anna Karenina:

“Happy families are all alike;

every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
And then we proceed to have the story

of an unhappy family,

and how it is distinct and different

and therefore interesting.
A story about all the happy families would have been boring:

Day after day they were kind and shared bread.

It is encouraging. But it doesn’t open up a plot.
Big statements just do not touch our hearts

because we are wired to moved

by the particular.
It is always this woman, or this whale hunter,

or this family.

“Be good” is a much less effective exhortation than

“there once was a boy who shared his toys.”

We experience the world as a gathering up

of many small things, of nearly infinite small things.
10,000 killed is a headline,

One mother from Sarajevo,

a bookbinder by trade,

who had lived on her street since childhood

was killed.
That is a story and a tragedy.

The headline is a theoretical tragedy,

but we don’t know how to feel it.

The story is a moment which we can feel deeply.
The point of all this is to say that

the way we experience the world

that matters to us and moves us

is always particular, always singular,

always small.
There are other things that also matter

to make good stories:

timing, word choice, plot development.
But saying one thing and saying it well,

making sure to name the small, the specific,

is essential.
It is speaking on the scale of the heart,

which always listens for the one authentic thing.

 

Bethlehem

And that is really good news for the small:

small church, small budget,

small time frame, small social stature.
So with our Bible text:

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,

who are one of the little clans of Judah,

from you shall come forth for me

one who is to rule in Israel,

whose origin is from of old,

from ancient days.
This passage is wonderful for several reasons.

First is the beautiful name – Bethlehem,

or, as you have possibly heard

in many such meditations:

Beth-lechem or “House of bread”.
Second, there is the poetic affirmation:

“whose origin is from of old,

from ancient days.”

There is a sense that finding

a ruler in Bethlehem is an innovation.

And it is.

But it’s now about something untied from

grand history and story.
This will be about something deeply and wonderfully ancient.
And finally, it is another story of

God’s presence and action with the small.
It is one of the little clans of Judah

As Daniel Simundson writes in New Interpreter’s Bible,

“When God is about to do something great, human estimates of status, size, power, and influence are completely irrelevant.” v7; p570
“O little town of Bethlehem/

how still we see thee lie/

above thy deep and dreamless sleep/

the silent stars go by.”
Small Bethlehem…

You have no idea, in the slumber of your smallness,

but your destiny is about the stars.

The stars are coming into your life.

 

David and Goliath

Malcolm Gladwell, in a 2009 New Yorker article,

talks about David and Goliath.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/05/11/how-david-beats-goliath
The following is based closely on the New Yorker article:
The story is generally used as an anomaly tale:

against all odds, David won.
But when the political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft

recently looked at every war fought

in the past two hundred years

between strong and weak combatants,
the Goliaths, won in 71.5 per cent of the cases.

That is a remarkable fact.
Arreguín-Toft was analyzing conflicts

in which one side was at least ten times as powerful

—in terms of armed might and population—

as its opponent,
and even in those lopsided contests

the underdog won almost a third of the time.

In the Biblical story of David and Goliath,

David initially put on a coat of mail and a brass helmet

and girded himself with a sword:

he prepared to wage

a conventional battle of swords against Goliath.
But then he stopped. “I cannot walk in these, for I am unused to it,”

he said (in Robert Alter’s translation),

and picked up those five smooth stones.
What happened, Arreguín-Toft wondered,

when the underdogs likewise acknowledged their weakness

and chose an unconventional strategy?

He went back and re-analyzed his data.

In those cases, David’s winning percentage

went from 28.5 to 63.6.
When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win,

Arreguín-Toft concluded,

“even when everything we think we know

about power says they shouldn’t.”
Thinking about a situation differently can make all the difference.

And when you’re small, sometimes

you do have a different perspective

and that is a gift.
***O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,

one of the little clans of Judah,

from you shall come forth

one who is to rule

 

Girl’s basketball

Gladwell offers other examples,

including the girls basketball team from

the Silicon Valley town of Redwood City.
They were a team of small, junior high-age girls

who were not that skilled in basketball,

no good outside shooting,

not much skill in dribbling the ball.

They weren’t tall.
But their coach, one of the fathers,

was Vivek Ranadivé.

He was from India,

and was puzzled about an aspect of the game.
Each time a basket was made,

the now-defending team would run to their

end of the court and wait for the opposing team

to dribble the ball down and try to shoot.
Basically, they let the team have an open floor

until they came near the basket.

He was wondering why the defenders waited.
So for his girls, he developed the strategy

of doing a full-on defense

from the moment the ball was being

tossed in from the side-lines.
The girls would try to prevent the toss,

and then if the toss succeeded,

they would try to prevent the other team

from getting the ball across the half-court line

in the required 10 seconds.
The strategy worked shockingly well.

They didn’t always win.

But this small, relatively unskilled team

won a lot of games.
The only thing was, they had to work hard to do it.

It required stamina to do all that defending.

Asked about practice for this strategy,

he said “They run….”
This adds another element:

Small can work when we’re willing to expend extra effort.

To overcome their odds, the girls

gave lot of extra effort. They ran.
***One of the little clans of Judah,

from you shall come forth

Lawrence of Arabia

A third example is Lawrence of Arabia.

I won’t go into this too much.
Lawrence was supposed to conquer

a sea port.
The gist of the story is that Lawrence realized

that he couldn’t just attack the city from front.

It was too well-defended.

And he didn’t have that many men

and they were ordinary bedouins,

not highly trained soldiers.
So he marched his men across 600 miles

of snake-infested, dry desert.

They then surprised the city from the rear

and won.
This is not a tale of non-violence.

But it is a story of thinking about a problem differently,

and expending extra effort.
The Turks simply did not think that their opponent

would be mad enough to come at them from the desert.
All of these stories involve seeing from the

small point of view, a perspective it is

difficult for the large side to see.

And they involve a lot of effort.

Which is why even small ones

don’t often do it.
Now I should add that in a recent TED talk,

Gladwell notes that possibly Goliath

had a disabling condition called acromegaly

which caused his great height

but also impaired his vision.
And David’s sling, far from being an unlikely weapon,

was actually, wielded with skill,

a highly dangerous projectile weapon.
So David may not have been such an underdog after all.

But the point remains, because Goliath looked

dangerous and unconquerable.
If David had accepted how things appeared

he may never have attempted what he did.
Transcript: http://www.ted.com/talks/malcolm_gladwell_the_unheard_story_of_david_and_goliath/transcript?language=en
***But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,

from you shall come forth

one who is to rule

 

Mesmerized by power

I used to study family systems with rabbi Ed Friedman

He talked about how we need to think

more about soul and less about power.

We tend to be mesmerized by power.

Goliath looks big.

The girls on the other team are taller

and they can shoot.

The port city is well-defended.
I often puzzled about what Friedman meant

about soul vs. power.

But I think that Gladwell’s insights

offer the clue.
Soul has to do with discovering my capacity

and focusing on that, rather than

letting the apparent size of the problem

define how I’m going to approach it.
What’s my soulfulness? What’s my great gift?

What’s my secret joy that I’d like to bring into the world?
If you prefer, I think this could be called

soul power vs. structural power.

It is two forms of power.
But one plays the usual games of

domination and control.

The other finds the hidden pathways

of the soul,
pathways that probably have more to do

with love and hope and joy

than with domination and control.
***But you, O Bethlehem,

one of the little clans of Judah,

from you…

 

What’s hard about Small?

Now being small can be difficult.

The effort can be exhausting.

The big forces can sit

behind their great walls all day.
And it is too easy for the small

to get stuck in small definitions.
I have a minister friend in Ohio

who told me about their youth group.
He said he asked them to name

three issues that were challenges

for them and that they wanted to talk about.
He said the first two didn’t surprise him:

They were sexuality and God’s plan for their lives,

two very common youth issues.

But the third one was naming.

And the naming issue was this,

in small circles, one thing can happen

and it defines you for the rest of your life.

You get stuck with a name,

a reputation or story.
Ever after, you are:

–Moo-cow Mullins

–Mud road Friesen

–The kid who made the basket for the other team

–The boy who crashed the car on State Road 5 on a sunny day
Overfamiliarity in a small system

can mean not enough

refreshing streams of perspective,

the small town phenomenon.
Take the name Living Light of Peace.

It’s a great name, and an important

attempt to signal a new day for this

good community.
But every time I tell somebody that name

they ask – is that Arvada Mennonite?
It’s hard to change your name, once it goes rolling

That’s of the things I’m paying attention to

in my new congregation.

What’s the early DNA that’s forming?

Because it tends to stick with you.
***O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,

house of bread is your name

 

But what’s so sweet about being small?

But being small can be very sweet.

Such soulfulness, so much flexibility

and chance to just do stuff.
The scale of the organization can be closer

to the initiatives of the heart.
Things can just look different from small seat

instead of from the seat of power,

the low seat of soul

instead of the high seat of control.
The old country song goes

“I’ve got friends in low places”
And sometimes those are the best friends of all.

The friends from Bethlehem,

the ones who see things differently.
May we discover the love of our hearts,

our soulfulness.

May we not be mesmerized by power

but rather inspired by

what brings us joy.
***But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,

from you shall come forth….
Amen.

Sing: Longing for light & We shall overcome

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