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Leading
Fifth Sunday of Easter
April 24, 2016
For Beloved Community
Vernon K. Rempel, 2016

Lectionary Reading
Revelation 21:6
Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

What is a pastor?
We are all invited to the work
of being true to our best selves
our God-selves, our inner teachers, our finer angels

When who we are in the world – our role –
is in better harmony with who we are gifted to be – our soul –
then the world is better blessed

Spiritual leaders are people who
because of calling and inclination
have their lives set aside to attend to this work as a life career

What shall we call spiritual leaders?
I always ponder this a bit:

Minister – okay but sounds a bit like the minister of agriculture

Pastor – care for the sheep of the pasture, but are faith community members best described as sheep in a flock? Baa!

Leader – but that sounds like North Korea – Dear leader, or organizational – team leader, or like Star Wars – red leader

Shaman – better – one vested with ritual & healing powers through duress & study – but tough to put on the business card

All good titles, but for truly descriptive purposes, I kind of like, at least for today:
Soul Porter
Verbs with porter from the dictionary include: assists, guards, carries, waits, cleans up, makes up, attends, has charge of the door

Okay, probably still can’t put it on a business card, or maybe you can?

In Cole’s case we could call him Cole Porter (which is not how or why I came up with “soul porter”!)

In any case, a porter of the soul, one who is dedicated to carry, guard, attend to the soul.

 

Three souls

Attend to three souls, perhaps:

All souls
The souls of each one who draws near
It does not matter who
With gifts, with wounds
Every day is All Souls’ Day

It is an unspeakable privilege and gift
The office of moving with people in joy and grief
Sharing and holding people’s shame and pride with them
The angel
The soul of our faith community
John calls this faith community soul the Angel of the church

Spiritual leaders, soul porters, attend to the soul of a faith community
The deep heart longing of a community,
What it wants to become
Listening for, stepping out and risking for the sake of the community as it seeks to be a great people of peace, love, and justice.
The alpha and omega
Our lectionary reading for today
Again: Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

Teilhard de Chardín, the French Jesuit, paleontologist and cosmologist
called God the Omega point – the center toward which
all of creation moves and from which it flows

This grand soul of the universe
this heart of creation

The beginning and the end
not as some monstrous disembodied head
like the wizard on the Wizard of Oz

But simply the ineffable and amazing joy
at the core of all that is,
all creation sings.

The divine soul,
which is crucified and glorified among us
The one who suffers with us in our horrors and injuries
The one who lifts us up in joy because joy is always the last word.

The spiritual leader cares for, sits in the presence of,
stands amazed in the presence of
this divine soul.

And acts as a vessel as wholeheartedly as possible,
acting to remove all reservation
and letting the divine flow flow like a river of life
for the sake of the community.

The Soul Porter take care of these three souls:
All souls
The soul of the faith community
The grand divine soul – the alpha and omega
Tikkun
Finally, a pastor, leader, soul porter
looks after “Tikkun”

A Hebrew word which can be translated as
Healing, repair, transformation
Rabbi Michael Lerner has written about this.

It is the heart of our all our work
Spiritual leading is to do this and to encourage so that all may thrive
To seek the healing and wholeness of the world.

I heard Shane Claiborne speak this morning.
He spoke about how early Christians
learned a different story than the war-like Roman Empire.

Caesar was called God, savior and Lord,
the one who brings order

The calendar began with Caesar’s birthday.

The church took these words of the Emperor of war and order
and applied them to the one who came preaching peace

And it occurred to me that when we follow the Christian calendar,
it continues to be an anti-empire calendar.

We are celebrating the birth and the seasons of grace and peace
rather than war, victory, dominance, and order.
Our calendar begins with Advent and Christmas
peace on earth good will to all
And moves through Easter
What can separate us from the love of Christ?
Neither life nor death (Romans 8)

Claiborne told a couple of stories of
churches living out this alternate story

Pentecostal church & homelessness
Wanted to open a shelter for the homeless
City said no
Prayed (watch out for Pentecostals praying!)
Went back to city – we’ve heard your concern;
we’re not going to have a shelter, but we are going to have a revival
Everyone will be invited, and it may go on for days.
So they did, prayers, preaching, singing
All were invited, including the homeless
Then pastor said, okay, that’s the end of this part of the revival, now we will have 8 hours or so of contemplative prayer.
And this went on day after day.

Communion at the border
Church went to the border
Sisters and brothers from Mexico came to the border
Couldn’t cross.
But sang and prayed together.
Then they decided they wanted to have communion.
Winged the bread over the wall!

Imperial calendar versus Christian calendar
Spiritual leaders
Soul porters – give their lives to that alternate story
for the sake of community.
for the sake of joy.

That which grows secretly
Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 17, 2016
For Beloved Community
Vernon K. Rempel, 2016

Lectionary Reading: Psalm 23 KJV
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Reflection
First of all, us personally.
all politics is personal
let’s start with us in our bodies, our soft and longing selves

How are you protected?
what makes your life safe enough
what allow you to find a “brave space?”

Community
Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy – the three women following you.
weak joke
arising from long practice in community
where the Bible is read as if it matters
lots of time for weak jokes and strong jokes
in a strong, functional community

“Discover what you love and your tribe will show up.”
also, there were tribes who were there before us
who showed us things; who loved us

I have been protected by a thousand eyes watching,
creating, caring, judging, keeping boundaries
while I rode my stingray bicycle on the streets
while I ate jello at church potlucks
while I danced in a basement with friends

That is the outer. There is also the inner.

The Hidden
The vast silence which carries us like a hidden ocean:
John O’Donohugh writes:
“It is strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you alone. Behind your image, below your words, above your thoughts, the silence of another world waits. A world lives within you.”
Anam Ćara prologue

The inner teacher, the true self
I call it the place where my heart meets God’s heart

Neither life nor death can separate me from these things
from the lived experience of community
from the hidden teaching silence that is always there for me

Yea thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death

Or enemies
thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies

Shared thoughts

Sing There is a balm in Gilead

Lectionary Reading: Psalm 23 ( vkr paraphrase)
Holy of Holies, you are our shepherd, we shall not want.
You make us lie down in green pastures;
you lead us beside still waters;
you restore our souls.
You lead us in right paths
for your name’s sake.
Even though we walk through the darkest valley,
we fear no evil;
for you are with us;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort us.
You prepare a table before us
in the presence of our enemies;
you anoint our heads with oil;
our cups overflow.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us
all the days of our lives,
and we shall dwell in the house of the Holy
for all our days.
Reflection
Collective protection
what makes us safe enough?

I do not think it is guns
more guns in schools, churches, theaters
Not even on battlefields
Killing and the intent to kill just spin the cycle of violence

I think it is the shared watchfulness
Of family and neighborhood eyes
The shared work of a million hands building
The fabric of connections and and mutual balancing
And needing each other to moderate and check us and teach us

That is God’s work
That is how we are protected
We still get sick, hurt, die
But we do so, we may do so, in this envelope of love
The grand and small projects of love all around us

Shared thoughts

Sing There is a balm in Gilead

Lectionary Reading: John 10:22-30 (vkr paraphrase)
At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the religious leaders gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Maker’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Maker has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Creator’s hand. The Creator and I are one.”
Reflection
Intimacy is the word for John’s gospel, I think
The Creator and I are one
My sheep hear my voice

When our goal is ego, power, dominance, controlling others
then we step away from intimacy
and that is a world of hurt, of loneliness,
giving in to fear rather then taking one step for love

This is another way of saying “protection”
intimacy, the God within and around me
in the presence of my friends – a table too!

Shared thoughts

Sing There is a balm in Gilead

Additional reading: The Seven Of Pentacles
Marge Piercy

Under a sky the color of pea soup
she is looking at her work growing away there
actively, thickly like grapevines or pole beans
as things grow in the real world, slowly enough.
If you tend them properly, if you mulch, if you water,
if you provide birds that eat insects a home and winter food,
if the sun shines and you pick off caterpillars,
if the praying mantis comes and the ladybugs and the bees,
then the plants flourish, but at their own internal clock.

Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.
You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.
More than half the tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.
Penetrate quietly as the earthworm that blows no trumpet.
Fight persistently as the creeper that brings down the tree.
Spread like the squash plant that overruns the garden.
Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make sugar.

Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.
Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving.
Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in,
a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us
interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.

Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen:
reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.
This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always,
for every gardener knows that after the digging, after
the planting,
after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.
Reflection
Finally, this
in a safe enough place, a brave space
we may grow and flourish, and even find harvest

At the speed of the internal clock
living with all the “ifs”
for long seasons of tending and growth

Then the bud, then the flower and fruit
rhubarb pie! honey from the hive!
Beloved Community around us

Shared thoughts

Sing There is a balm in Gilead

Anger is compassion

Easter 3

April 10, 2016

For Beloved Community

Vernon K. Rempel, 2016
Lectionary Reading

Acts 9:1-6

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’
And I’m adding this reading as well:

Mark 3.5

He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.
In our Bible reading for this Sunday,

Saul was breathing threats and murder.

He is beside himself.
He’s going around, riding his ego horse,

high on his own sense of rightness and righteousness,

finding problem people and dealing with them.
He is quite willing to countenance and use violence,

quite willing to see people put away,

incarcerated, even executed.
When you’re right you’re right.

Anger is on your side.

It clears a swath, baby.
I’m willing to do all that and worse, Saul might have said.

Take ‘me out.
Have you ever had this experience?

(Enact talking on phone, saying “let me send you the email address”

Hang on; let me find my phone.)
We sometimes get beside ourselves.

It may be through sheer distraction,

a common feature of smart phones.
It may because of anger.

We become dissociated.

This other voice comes from our mouth,

these other feelings boil over.
We are beside ourselves with anger.

This often happens, and we say the word

that we wish we hadn’t said.
And then the toothpaste is out of the tube,

and can’t get back in, and bridges are burned,

and now there’s a story that will

come back to haunt us on the campaign trail,

or our next job, or in our long relationships.
We get beside ourselves.

But what if we are ourselves with anger?

What if there is a natural and clear expression

of anger that is ourselves,

that expression in which we are not

beside ourselves?
What happens when anger is not a mixed thing,

a distorted eruption, but rather a mindful

flow of energy?
That is what David Whyte has for us, I think,

in the quote that is in our worship outline for today,

and that we pondered in our silent moment.
I’ll read it aloud:
ANGER is the deepest form of compassion, for another, for the world, for the self, for a life, for the body, for a family and for all our ideals, all vulnerable and all, possibly about to be hurt. Stripped of physical imprisonment and violent reaction, anger is the purest form of care, the internal living flame of anger always illuminates what we belong to, what we wish to protect and what we are willing to hazard ourselves for. What we usually call anger is only what is left of its essence when we are overwhelmed by its accompanying vulnerability, when it reaches the lost surface of our mind or our body’s incapacity to hold it, or when it touches the limits of our understanding. What we name as anger is actually only the incoherent physical incapacity to sustain this deep form of care in our outer daily life; the unwillingness to be large enough and generous enough to hold what we love helplessly in our bodies or our mind with the clarity and breadth of our whole being.

–David Whyte

http://www.brainpickings.org/2015/05/15/david-whyte-consolations-anger-forgiveness-maturity

I would highlight just a couple of notes from this paragraph.
First

“Anger is the purest form of care, the internal living flame of anger always illuminates what we belong to, what we wish to protect and what we are willing to hazard ourselves for.”

 

Who among us will not get fierce for the sake of our children,

for the sake of our loved ones,

for those we know and care about.
When the homeless become not that stranger the corner,

but our friend, and then they are hassled by

the nexus of business, law-enforcement,

and public disconnection,

it feels very toxic.

We get angry.
Not in some way of lashing out.

But in a deep longing to make better community ourselves

with the vulnerable folks,

and to struggle energetically to change the system

so that all may find dignity.
Second,

when we are ourselves in anger,

instead of being beside ourselves in anger,

it is because of – to quote David Whyte –

“what we love helplessly in our bodies or our mind with the clarity and breadth of our whole being.
It is not simply something that is a good idea for us.

It is not just what we are annoyed with,

or offended by.
This are all other layers,

and by and large not very deep layers of anger.
The real depth and the real truth,

and the real golden flow of anger,

arises from “what we love helplessly in our bodies.”
And we often get beside ourselves,

so we don’t even quite remember what

we “love helplessly with our bodies.”
We think that what we love helplessly

is shopping or alcohol or food

or a myriad of distractions.
But when we let ourselves listen to that

which we deeply love in our heart of hearts,

with our body-selves,

in the rock-and-roll soul of things
then we may discover and fine anger

a compassion that flows with bright warmth

that let’s us engage and address the world

hungering and thirsting for righteousness.
Not my righteousness of being right while others are wrong,

but righteousness as that great good thing

that means life for everybody,

“peace on earth, good will toward all”

to quote the angels.
Now let’s pause for a moment and consider these questions:

When have you been breathing threats and murder?

When have you wanted to heal a hand, even on the sabbath, all objections notwithstanding?
(Invite congregational reflections)
We pondered anger at our

Thursday reflection circle this week.
I am no painter, but I painted a water-color

as my reflection about David Whyte’s paragraph.

I didn’t know exactly what I was painting,

but here’s how I would comment on it.
The great yellow center is the goodness for all people.

The steel strength of anger is the dark line

that spirals out.

There’s some force there.
But it is surrounded by warmth.

This is fire and light spiraling out into the world, perhaps.

Saul is on the road to Damascus when

suddenly he comes to himself.
He has been beside himself,

but now the light dawns,

and it is the light of the peace of Christ.
It is the light of his true self breaking through.

And after this, Saul becomes Paul.

His not-beside-himself name is “Paul.”
And now instead of binding and incarcerating

and executing bad people,

he becomes a community maker.
Now he’s working to hard so that others

can also come to themselves,

so that there is more of that thing

where people are actually being themselves

with each other,

not beside themselves.
He makes community among Jews and Greeks,

among women and men.

He lays the groundwork for sexual and racial

diversity in community.
Anyone who wants to make community like Paul

is going to be breaking through boundaries

that will seem unbelievable..
Taking sexual offenders into our homes.

Working for the healing of young men

whose brains have been distorted by ISIS dreams of violence.
Exposing the fraud of international economies

that care nothing for the poor,

and loving the poor themselves,

and loving ourselves in our poverty.
And note that when Saul became Paul

he did not give up anger.

Instead, his anger was on behalf of community:
“How dare some of you eat and drink while others go hungry!”

I Corinthians 11:21
I wish I were present with you now and could change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

Galatians 4:20
These are some milder and simpler examples.

Paul reserves some real ferocity for religious leaders

who he thinks are being unduly exclusive.
Again, to reference David Whyte:

“ANGER is the deepest form of compassion…, for what we love helplessly in our bodies or our mind with the clarity and breadth of our whole being.”
On the road, Saul comes to himself,

and that fiery flow is transformed

into a blessing for many.
How might that be for us?

Easter voiceEaster Sunday

March 27, 2016

For Beloved Community and Columbine UU combined service

Vernon K. Rempel, 2016
Lectionary Reading

Luke 24:1-12

On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. 
While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 
Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 
But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Silence

 How lovely the quiet morning,

 when the purple and pink sky

  hovers over the foothills,

   only to drop down into morning’s alpen-glow,

    
The hills light up,

 and all the world bears silent witness

  to the true glory that always seeks after us

   in every moment of our lives.

    How lovely the quiet morning.

But silence can be most difficult as well.

 Not just silence, but the silencing of all my plans.

  the stopping of “la carrera de mi vida”

   “the run of my life.”
I like my sound track.

 Not silence.
My hopes and dreams, longings,

 projects, things established and counted upon,

  all the reading and filing that I haven’t done.
My ego-driven works;

 and even my surrender-to-love sweet actions.
All of it. Now turned to silence.
It is difficult to show up for all that silence.

 The only sound that remains is whatever sound

  the universe makes as it whirls and turns

   in its infinities.
Silence the door to uncertainty.

 Silence the teacher of the deepest soul.

  Silence that is that invitation in the curious envelope;

   it often lies unopened 

    at the bottom of the stack.

  

The speaking women

In the story of resurrection

 in the gospel of Luke,

  it is the women who show up for silence.
They walk to the burial garden on a barren Sunday morning,

 when the fragrance of the flowers fills the air, 

  but that is not why they are there.
The sun rises, 

 shooting bands of red and gold into the sky, 

  but that is not why they are there.
They are there for the utter silence,

 for the grave that is silent,

  for their own silence.
The gravel crunches under their feet.

 Even the dew on the hems of their dresses

  seems to make a sound,

   for the silence is so great,

    around them…, and in their hearts….
The silence has gone on for days now.

 There is no expectation of speech.

Voice 

But then, something subterranean shifts on its foundations.

 A hidden freshness, an inkling of movement

  in the heart of things.

  

An often hidden, but very natural,

 activity comes to life.
A thing of waves and particles – 

 who knows how – like light,

  how does this work anyway?

Into the silence, now, the women find their voice.

 The silence holds them….

  And then their hearts break open;

   All things break open.
An often hidden, but very natural

 activity comes to life.

  

Those who have been made silent

 find their voice,

  and then all things open.
Now the dew falls away.

 Now the red and gold of the sky fills their sight.

  Now the flowers’ fragrance

   hits their olfactory nerves

    with its wild brain-stimulation.
Their feet fly down the gravel path. 
The women find their voice.

 These women who are barely named in the stories.

  Always following the “also…” of the story

   or the “and…” of the story.

Now they begin the action, the declarations.

 Often the voice of those on the margins

  remains in long silence.
Then one day, there is speech.

 The person without a home has an idea

  how there could be housing for all.
The cancer patient finds her strength.

 The refugee builds a house.
The immigrant dries off from the rain,

 showers away the grit of the road,

  and says, “Here we will make our community.

   And it shall be for all people.”
The dry bones in the valley come to life.

 The dead are raised up.
Alice Walker, in her astonishing novel The Color Purple

 writes about her hero Shug,

  the woman who is beaten down,

   who becomes sick unto death.
But then, 

 An often hidden, but very natural,

  activity comes to life.

   Shug begins to speak, begins to sing….
She writes:

“Pretty soon it be time for Shug to go. She sing every week-end now at Harpo’s. He make right smart money off of her, and she make some too. Plus she gitting strong again and stout. First night or two her songs come out good but a little weak, now she belt them out.” (page 77) 
“Now she belt them out.”

 From the grave, the women run.

  “They told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.”

   They belted it out.
The wisdom and courage

 that had arisen from the silence.

  Now it was time for belting the tunes of life,

   singing out with the whole heart,

    not some proper bound-up song,

     but rather the cadences of release.

From the silent margins

 comes a voice, a song,

  An often hidden, but very natural,

   activity comes to life.
It is a difficult thing to show up for silence.

 But it can be just the place.

  Well now, there are the women shouting.

   There are the dry bones coming to life.
There is the universe, now speaking,

 and no one wants to miss any of that.

  As Alice Walker writes:

   “First night or two her songs come out good but a little weak, now she belt them out.”

Connecting the dotsPalm Sunday

The Sixth Sunday in Lent

March 20, 2016

For Beloved Community

Vernon K. Rempel, 2016
Lectionary Reading

Isaiah 50:7-9a

The Lord God helps me;

therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint,

and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.

Who will contend with me?

Let us stand up together.

Who are my adversaries?

Let them confront me.

It is the Lord God who helps me;

who will declare me guilty?

Church planting and shame

On this Sunday when we are celebrating people

 who have become co-travelers 

  in the journey of this new faith community

   I would like to talk briefly about the beginnings

    of this community.
In one way, it was born out of a calling to my soul,

 a deep sense that there was a beautiful way

  of practicing faith in a new community.
I’ve told you about the beginnings of the Blues Prayers service,

 about Ted Haggard and Jaime Lazaro.
I’m glad to share more with anyone about that.
In another more significant way, however,

 it has nothing to do with me.

  This community, in the words of Kahlil Gibran,

   is the subject of life’s longing for itself.
I believe the Spirit had a new community to create,

 and I became part of that Spirit-conversation.

  And so did others.
More than anyone just making something here,

 we are all privileged to bear witness

  to something being created by the Spirit.
We are less initiators,

 and more witnesses.
Not that we’re passive. We’re in the conversation.

 We’re working hard, stepping out, 

  accepting the risk of doing something new.
Everyone who steps across the threshold

 into this room, into any connection with this community,

  is taking a step of risk. What will this be?
But in all that, it most of all comes to us as a gift.

 I could talk all day about the giftedness 

  of people showing up, of money showing up,

   of the gift of a Hammond blues organ,

    which we may actually use one day.
The gift of the connection to the Catholic Worker.

 The gift of affiliation with the Mennonite conference.

  The gift of new leadership among us.

   The gift of moments of surprising depth

    of soulfulness in our shared worship.
In all this, when I left First Mennonite to start this church,

 it felt like joy, but joy wrapped so securely in risk

  that I could hardly recognize it.
And what I didn’t expect,

 and here’s the thing: 

  is that it felt like shame.

And what I have come to learn is that

 when you separate yourself,

 and do something unusual,

  it feels sometimes like shame.
Again, with Brené Brown, in her book Daring Greatly:

“Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.” (Daring greatly p8)
There is a great deal of shame in simply feeling alone,

 in feeling isolated.
There is a great deal of shame in simply

 doing something different

  from people around you.
Psychosis at the front edge of change….
As removal from social connection:

Meyer Fortes and Doris Y. Mayer – “Psychosis and Social Change among the Tallensi of Northern Ghana”

A study of how mental illness becomes more common

 when people are removed from their social matrix

  by modernization and how they find healing faster

   when restored to strong connections.

http://www.persee.fr/doc/cea_0008-0055_1966_num_6_21_3056
Not surprising; seems intuitive even.

 We just need connection.

  And setting out to do something different or new

   steps out of the established connections

    in favor of seeking new connections.
Just a couple of additional insights from the world of science

 before we connect with our ancient Biblical poetry.
David Brooks in his book The Social Animal

 aggregates an astounding array of brain research.
Here’s what he writes about babies making connections.

 He notes that in the womb, babies are already

  inheriting an enormous flow of generational information.
As Brooks writes, this information flows

 “from the dead through us and to the unborn.” (p 32)
Talk about being surrounded by a cloud of witnesses,

 as the Biblical book of Hebrews puts it.
Babies have layers of evolutionarily-granted intuitions

 and capacities that show up right away.
Brooks writes that in 1981, Andrew Meltzoff ushered in 

 a new era of infant psychology when he stuck his tongue out

  at a 42-minute old infant.
The infant responded by sticking her tongue back out at him!

 Far from being a blank slate, we’re deeply wired

  for connection from the start. (pp31, 32)
For this reason, when each of you

 walked in this door, I was thrilled.

  I had and have shivers when anyone walks in.

   This is a movement for connection,

    and will people connect with me?

     Thanks be to God when it happens.

      Thanks be to God.

In a big church, and more when I was young,

 I used to feel more like I was managing people.

  How do I help them to connect, feel welcome, etc.

   Here in this place, I just thrill to the presence of each one.

The Song of Isaiah

I now would like to turn to our ancient poem from Isaiah,

 this ancient song.
Why do we pay attention to the Bible?

 It’s full of weird stuff. It’s also full of this kind of thing:
From our reading:

“Who will contend with me?

Let us stand up together.”
“Let us stand up together.”

 And to read that from across more than

  2,500 years makes me feel connected.
It overcomes shame, because these connections

 are not fly-by-night.

  They are a thousand-year project,

   with all the gravity and elegance of deep maturity.
Reading the Bible is definitely like digging for pearls in the mud.

 But it is nonetheless the place of pearls, a place where 

  people were struggling toward clarity 

   about how to live in the great, free love of a free God,

    and not by lesser dictates of money and power.
And those lesser dictates are all around,

 and I must always speak confessionally,

  those lesser dictates are alive and well in my heart.

   

I need you all, I need the Spirit, I need good and ancient songs,

 to continually each hour move to the beat of the ancient

  drums of love.
And so Isaiah:

The Lord God helps me;

therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint,

and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.

Who will contend with me?
It sounds like just me and God.

 But Isaiah thinks of himself always,

  in the house of Israel.
Or to put it another way,

 to declare for God

  is to declare connection to the people of God,

   to the friends, family, and movement

    that is the social network.
As David Brooks puts it

 we are “The social animal.”
Isaiah continues:

Who are my adversaries?

Let them confront me.

It is the Lord God who helps me;

who will declare me guilty?

Spotlight

So now I will dive from the ancient poem

 to the Oscar-winning movie.
We just watched the movie Spotlight

 this weekend.
The movie is named after the investigative group

 at the Boston Globe that brought to light

  the travesty of sexual abuse by priests
The movie could just as well have been named “connecting the dots”

 because that’s what the team did for months:
see people, look in ledgers, find clippings, unseal documents

 dot after dot that in isolation had been hidden

  but now formed a picture of a system of abuse

   in the Holy of Holies, the place of trust.
The shame on face after face was evident

 as they often reluctantly started to tell their stories.

  A middle-aged man tells the reporter

   “I haven’t even ever told my wife.”
That is isolation; that is shame,

 they are my adversaries, in the words of Isaiah.
My adversaries far more than being people

 who disagree with me

  are the forces of isolation and alienation

   in a culture full of giant forces.
In the movie, it was the Catholic Church,

 symbolized by great stone towers

  looming over small Boston houses.
It is the culture of advertising-stoked consumer longing.

 It is the culture of violent solutions to human conflict.
Whatever it is,

 these forces care only for us as compliant individuals.

  They are not happy when we form

   alternative communities of love and rejoicing

    in the abundance of God.

As Walter Brueggemann might put it,

 only the abundance of the system matters.

  No other abundance counts.

   But systems isolate us, leave us alienated.
I don’t need L.L. Bean nearly as much as I need you all,

 even though I do need clothing.

  I don’t need the police nearly as much as I need you all,

   even though I do need reasonable security.
So we form this small thing,

 what Gustavo Gutierrez and others called the

   Communidad de base – basic community,
on the ground community

 of face to face connection.
We do need some large structures,

 traffic laws, international agreements about climate change.
But the place of our heart, 

 where we are deeply formed,

  will always be places of direct and personal connection,

   in ways that make all the difference.
In the system, we are human bits,

 we are data, consumers, voters, boots on the ground.
But we are not human bits, we are human beings.

 We are created as human beings,

  full of all divinity and greatness and love.
That’s what this community supports, nurtures, designs.

 That’s what we do together,

  and what we join when we join this base community,

   this local movement for the sake of love.

As David Brooks writes:

“We become fully ourselves through the ever-richening interplay of our networks.” (page xvi)
So “let us stand up together,”

 as Isaiah said some 2,500 years ago.

  Let us walk together,

   let us lean together into God’s good future.

    There is no shame in that.

     Amen.Connecting the dots

Palm Sunday

The Sixth Sunday in Lent

March 20, 2016

For Beloved Community

Vernon K. Rempel, 2016
Lectionary Reading

Isaiah 50:7-9a

The Lord God helps me;

therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint,

and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.

Who will contend with me?

Let us stand up together.

Who are my adversaries?

Let them confront me.

It is the Lord God who helps me;

who will declare me guilty?

Church planting and shame

On this Sunday when we are celebrating people

 who have become co-travelers 

  in the journey of this new faith community

   I would like to talk briefly about the beginnings

    of this community.
In one way, it was born out of a calling to my soul,

 a deep sense that there was a beautiful way

  of practicing faith in a new community.
I’ve told you about the beginnings of the Blues Prayers service,

 about Ted Haggard and Jaime Lazaro.
I’m glad to share more with anyone about that.
In another more significant way, however,

 it has nothing to do with me.

  This community, in the words of Kahlil Gibran,

   is the subject of life’s longing for itself.
I believe the Spirit had a new community to create,

 and I became part of that Spirit-conversation.

  And so did others.
More than anyone just making something here,

 we are all privileged to bear witness

  to something being created by the Spirit.
We are less initiators,

 and more witnesses.
Not that we’re passive. We’re in the conversation.

 We’re working hard, stepping out, 

  accepting the risk of doing something new.
Everyone who steps across the threshold

 into this room, into any connection with this community,

  is taking a step of risk. What will this be?
But in all that, it most of all comes to us as a gift.

 I could talk all day about the giftedness 

  of people showing up, of money showing up,

   of the gift of a Hammond blues organ,

    which we may actually use one day.
The gift of the connection to the Catholic Worker.

 The gift of affiliation with the Mennonite conference.

  The gift of new leadership among us.

   The gift of moments of surprising depth

    of soulfulness in our shared worship.
In all this, when I left First Mennonite to start this church,

 it felt like joy, but joy wrapped so securely in risk

  that I could hardly recognize it.
And what I didn’t expect,

 and here’s the thing: 

  is that it felt like shame.

And what I have come to learn is that

 when you separate yourself,

 and do something unusual,

  it feels sometimes like shame.
Again, with Brené Brown, in her book Daring Greatly:

“Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.” (Daring greatly p8)
There is a great deal of shame in simply feeling alone,

 in feeling isolated.
There is a great deal of shame in simply

 doing something different

  from people around you.
Psychosis at the front edge of change….
As removal from social connection:

Meyer Fortes and Doris Y. Mayer – “Psychosis and Social Change among the Tallensi of Northern Ghana”

A study of how mental illness becomes more common

 when people are removed from their social matrix

  by modernization and how they find healing faster

   when restored to strong connections.

http://www.persee.fr/doc/cea_0008-0055_1966_num_6_21_3056
Not surprising; seems intuitive even.

 We just need connection.

  And setting out to do something different or new

   steps out of the established connections

    in favor of seeking new connections.
Just a couple of additional insights from the world of science

 before we connect with our ancient Biblical poetry.
David Brooks in his book The Social Animal

 aggregates an astounding array of brain research.
Here’s what he writes about babies making connections.

 He notes that in the womb, babies are already

  inheriting an enormous flow of generational information.
As Brooks writes, this information flows

 “from the dead through us and to the unborn.” (p 32)
Talk about being surrounded by a cloud of witnesses,

 as the Biblical book of Hebrews puts it.
Babies have layers of evolutionarily-granted intuitions

 and capacities that show up right away.
Brooks writes that in 1981, Andrew Meltzoff ushered in 

 a new era of infant psychology when he stuck his tongue out

  at a 42-minute old infant.
The infant responded by sticking her tongue back out at him!

 Far from being a blank slate, we’re deeply wired

  for connection from the start. (pp31, 32)
For this reason, when each of you

 walked in this door, I was thrilled.

  I had and have shivers when anyone walks in.

   This is a movement for connection,

    and will people connect with me?

     Thanks be to God when it happens.

      Thanks be to God.

In a big church, and more when I was young,

 I used to feel more like I was managing people.

  How do I help them to connect, feel welcome, etc.

   Here in this place, I just thrill to the presence of each one.

The Song of Isaiah

I now would like to turn to our ancient poem from Isaiah,

 this ancient song.
Why do we pay attention to the Bible?

 It’s full of weird stuff. It’s also full of this kind of thing:
From our reading:

“Who will contend with me?

Let us stand up together.”
“Let us stand up together.”

 And to read that from across more than

  2,500 years makes me feel connected.
It overcomes shame, because these connections

 are not fly-by-night.

  They are a thousand-year project,

   with all the gravity and elegance of deep maturity.
Reading the Bible is definitely like digging for pearls in the mud.

 But it is nonetheless the place of pearls, a place where 

  people were struggling toward clarity 

   about how to live in the great, free love of a free God,

    and not by lesser dictates of money and power.
And those lesser dictates are all around,

 and I must always speak confessionally,

  those lesser dictates are alive and well in my heart.

   

I need you all, I need the Spirit, I need good and ancient songs,

 to continually each hour move to the beat of the ancient

  drums of love.
And so Isaiah:

The Lord God helps me;

therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint,

and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.

Who will contend with me?
It sounds like just me and God.

 But Isaiah thinks of himself always,

  in the house of Israel.
Or to put it another way,

 to declare for God

  is to declare connection to the people of God,

   to the friends, family, and movement

    that is the social network.
As David Brooks puts it

 we are “The social animal.”
Isaiah continues:

Who are my adversaries?

Let them confront me.

It is the Lord God who helps me;

who will declare me guilty?

Spotlight

So now I will dive from the ancient poem

 to the Oscar-winning movie.
We just watched the movie Spotlight

 this weekend.
The movie is named after the investigative group

 at the Boston Globe that brought to light

  the travesty of sexual abuse by priests
The movie could just as well have been named “connecting the dots”

 because that’s what the team did for months:
see people, look in ledgers, find clippings, unseal documents

 dot after dot that in isolation had been hidden

  but now formed a picture of a system of abuse

   in the Holy of Holies, the place of trust.
The shame on face after face was evident

 as they often reluctantly started to tell their stories.

  A middle-aged man tells the reporter

   “I haven’t even ever told my wife.”
That is isolation; that is shame,

 they are my adversaries, in the words of Isaiah.
My adversaries far more than being people

 who disagree with me

  are the forces of isolation and alienation

   in a culture full of giant forces.
In the movie, it was the Catholic Church,

 symbolized by great stone towers

  looming over small Boston houses.
It is the culture of advertising-stoked consumer longing.

 It is the culture of violent solutions to human conflict.
Whatever it is,

 these forces care only for us as compliant individuals.

  They are not happy when we form

   alternative communities of love and rejoicing

    in the abundance of God.

As Walter Brueggemann might put it,

 only the abundance of the system matters.

  No other abundance counts.

   But systems isolate us, leave us alienated.
I don’t need L.L. Bean nearly as much as I need you all,

 even though I do need clothing.

  I don’t need the police nearly as much as I need you all,

   even though I do need reasonable security.
So we form this small thing,

 what Gustavo Gutierrez and others called the

   Communidad de base – basic community,
on the ground community

 of face to face connection.
We do need some large structures,

 traffic laws, international agreements about climate change.
But the place of our heart, 

 where we are deeply formed,

  will always be places of direct and personal connection,

   in ways that make all the difference.
In the system, we are human bits,

 we are data, consumers, voters, boots on the ground.
But we are not human bits, we are human beings.

 We are created as human beings,

  full of all divinity and greatness and love.
That’s what this community supports, nurtures, designs.

 That’s what we do together,

  and what we join when we join this base community,

   this local movement for the sake of love.

As David Brooks writes:

“We become fully ourselves through the ever-richening interplay of our networks.” (page xvi)
So “let us stand up together,”

 as Isaiah said some 2,500 years ago.

  Let us walk together,

   let us lean together into God’s good future.

    There is no shame in that.

     Amen.

Rolled away your disgraceThe fourth Sunday in Lent

March 6, 2016

For Beloved Community

Vernon K. Rempel, 2016
Lectionary Reading

“Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt” Joshua 5
Joshua 5:9-12

The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.

While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

Gilgal

Once upon a time, in a land not all that distant from here,

 a large group of immigrants stood on dry land.
The border guard, the river Jordan, had just dried up in front of them,

 and they had walked right into the land.
It was a land which they understood was to be their land,

 and now they ate some grain from the new land,

  and no longer needed their traveling food,

   the manna that had been with them on the road.
The thing to remember about these people

 is that their parents and grandparents

  had been slaves in a great land to the southwest,

   called Egypt.
There, at the point of the sword and the snap of the whip,

 the parents and grandparents had to work long hard days.

  Their bodies were not their own.

   They could be killed with no notice.
In every way that the empire of Egypt could imagine,

 they were controlled and reduced to the status of

  tools to be wielded by the hands of another.
Their shame, their disgrace was immense,

 cut off from dignity, cut off from each other.
But the empire of Egypt couldn’t imagine everything.

 It couldn’t imagine a shepherd walking into 

  the halls of power with this message:

   “Let my people go.”
But this happened.

 And it was the voice of God,

  who has not created people for indignity,

   but for dignity and for rejoicing in all our days.
And so God said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace, the shame, of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal, which means rolled.

Purple

Shame.
Brene Brown writes in her book Daring greatly:

“Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.”
And she adds:

“…language and story bring light to shame and destroy it.”

Daring greatly, p58
What is shame?
Brown writes that first of all “Shame is the fear of disconnection—it’s the fear that something we’ve done or failed to do, an ideal that we’ve not lived up to, or a goal that we’ve not accomplished makes us unworthy of connection. I’m not worthy or good enough for love, belonging, or connection. I’m unlovable. I don’t belong. Here’s the definition of shame that emerged from my research: Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging..” 

p68
But again “…language and story bring light to shame and destroy it.”
Brown speaks mostly about individual shame.

 But we also experience collective shame.
Shame for being Mennonites.

 Our parents and grandparents spoke German

  in the midst of a wars against Germany,

   and tried to keep the way of non-violence.
In many cases, they carefully kept to themselves.

 They changed the name of Berlín, Ohio

  to Bérlin, Ohio.
Some put flags in their churches to demonstrate their patriotism.
Instead of going to war, they offered to do alternative service.

 Good enough. But there was still a message:

  With an enemy like Hitler, that doesn’t really get the job done,

   does it?
Separation, disgrace, shame.
That is a big cultural story for a peace church.
Other stories:

“Black lives matter” – the story that people

 with dark skin are more likely to be pulled over,

  more likely to be incarcerated.

   more likely to be shot by law enforcement.
Weirdly, there seems to be a global disposition 

 that the darker the skin,

  the greater the prejudice, the greater the shaming.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discrimination_based_on_skin_color
And people speak openly about in Denver Post op-eds 

 about how we are “at war with the entire Muslim world.”

  Really? Including my dear friend Iman Jodeh,

   whose father has brought so much joy into my life?
And imagining Mexico and Latin America to be places

 to fear and to control, rather than to love and welcome.
Shaming is the deliberate action to separate someone or some group.
We feel shame when we feel cut off.
Brené Brown in her book Daring greatly writes,

“Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.” Daring greatly p8
Here is a picture of my shame from a couple of weeks ago – the walk behind our house remains un-shoveled after a couple of days.

See how I am cut off from my neighbors.

 I have not shoveled, and they have.
And here is my shame removed!

Shame and shame removed!

 Fortunately, that one was easy.

  But I did feel shame when I saw how late I was

   to shovel the walk.
Do we not all walk around with a measure of shame?
I made a basket for the other team in 4th grade.

 I can still feel the burn of that emotion.
In 3rd grade, I colored a picture 

 which my teacher put down, saying

  it looked like the work of a kindergartener.
Which, if you think about it, was a put-down

 for kindergarteners and for me!
Brene Brown writes that shaming is so ubiquitous in schools that,

“85 percent of the men and women we interviewed for the shame research could recall a school incident from their childhood that was so shaming, it changed how they thought of themselves as learners.” Daring greatly p189

Which is a point our poem addresses:
Purple

 In first grade

Mrs. Lohr said

my purple teepee

wasn’t realistic enough

that purple was no color

for a tent,

that purple was a color

for people who died,

that my drawing

wasn’t good enough to hang

with the others.

 

I walked back to my seat

counting the swish swish swishes

of my baggy corduroy trousers.

With a black crayon

nightfall came to my purple tent

in the middle of an afternoon.

 

In second grade

Mr. Barta said draw anything,

he didn’t care what.

 

I left my paper blank

and when he came around

to my desk

my heart beat like a tom tom.

He touched my head

with his big hand

and in a soft voice said

the snowfall

how clean

and white

and beautiful.
Alexis Rotella 

(support the poet at http://www.alexisrotelladesigns.com)
Especially in a highly individualized culture,

 we too easily find our way to the separation and isolation of shame.
We are ashamed of our own illnesses, injuries, disabilities.

Ashamed to talk about death.

Ashamed to need each other.

Embarrassed about starting relationships, ending relationships, wanting relationships, needing relationships.

And yet what is more natural?
As Brene Brown says: 

“Connection is why we’re here.”

Repetition compulsion

Now let’s touch base with Joshua and the freed slaves again.
Sadly, shame breeds shame.

 In psychology, this is called “the repetition compulsion” 
Joshua is the military commander and the administrator 

 of the occupation of Canaan.

  His name means “God is salvation.”
This is the first book after the Torah

 all that story of creation, of liberation, of law in the wilderness

  a great heart-throbbing collection and legacy of God’s work 

   creating and saving a people
Then it’s as if the book of Joshua says “now.”

 Now we enter and settle the land
The river Jordan lies between the Torah and next things,

 between the great tale and legacy of becoming

  and the work of settling and establishment
And the river Jordan lies between the wound and the wounding.

 Because you may know what comes next after Gilgal.

  The walls of Jericho come tumbling down.

   And what the song doesn’t say is

    that all the people in the city were killed,

     young and old.
Now, there are complexities and nuances about this story

 that have to do with holy war.

  The people aren’t just killed, the are “dedicated to destruction.”

   No one was to be killed for personal gain or glory.

    This was about God.
And they also were an unwholesome presence in the land.

 And they also would gladly have killed.
Nevertheless, there it is.

 The freed slaves turn and kill.

  City after city in Canaan is razed to the ground.
The repetition compulsion.
Rabbi Michael Lerner writes

“On the one hand, Torah teaches that transcendence is always possible, always potentially at hand, because God pervades the universe and is always present–and our task is dah leefney mee at omedet–know before whom you stand, because we stand before God always. But on the other hand, human beings are in fact rooted in a complicated and flawed set of social relationships which have been internalized in all of our emotional and intellectual lives. So, we must strive for transcendence by manifesting compassion for the ways in which we and others are likely to fail to overcome our own inner and outer legacies of oppression.
“God is the Force of healing and transformation, the Force that makes it possible to break the tendency to pass on the pain and cruelty from generation to generation, the Force that makes possible the breaking of the repetition compulsion.”

A Jewish Renewal (Kabbalistic-Mystical-NeoHasidic) Approach to God

by Rabbi Michael Lerner

http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/god

Joshua knew before whom he stood.

 He very much wanted to be obedience to God.
But he was a man of violence in a world of violence.

 He made sure no one killed for personal gain – holy war.

  But still there was so much killing.
No wonder the prophet Isaiah years later foresaw another leader:

 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2 He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.”

Isaiah 42:1-3

  

It is so hard to not repeat the wounding

 of previous generations,

  shame following shame.
I remember our seminary professor C.J. Dyck

 talking about how he disliked writing confessions of faith.
He said, confessions of faith are fine while being written.

 It can be a good process of learning and dialogue.

But should be discarded as soon as they’re written

 otherwise they become clubs to hit each other with

(C.J. Dyck 1985 AMBS renewal movements course)
This was prophetic for the Mennonite Church.

 Each new confession creates new exclusions,

  new forms of shame.

   Generation after generation.
All while trying to do better.
It’s another version of the droll observation that

 revolutions are fine while their happening

  but should be discarded as soon as they’re done.

(See Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace – on the problem of reshuffling the deck of cards of power p116)
It is so hard to not repeat shame and shaming.

A voice from the elsewhere 

Last weekend, we heard Walter Brueggemann say,

 that we need a voice from elsewhere.
A voice from outside the repetition compulsion,

 “I am doing a new thing” says the voice of God

  to prophet after prophet.
Or again with rabbi Lerner:

God is the Force of healing and transformation, the Force that makes it possible to break the tendency to pass on the pain and cruelty from generation to generation, the Force that makes possible the breaking of the repetition compulsion.”
After the Civil war, president Lincoln famously 

 refused to demonize the south.

  If only his refusal to perpetuate hatred and violence

   had carried the day.
Why do people love Donald Trump?

 This has become an important question..

The best answers I’ve heard have to do with power:

 people love Trumps authoritarian declarations,

  what one person called his “muscle”,

   another just says “I like his power”

(This American Life #580 “That’s One Way to Do It” about a gay, black

teen named Alex)
Fusing to power is one way to address shame. 

 But that is a scary path, a path that weaves

  violence into every part of it.

    

As you can imagine, Brene Brown offers a very different approach:

“…vulnerability and love are the truest marks of courage.”

Daring greatly p61

 In her book, she writes at length about how to make that move,

  out of shame through the pathway of vulnerability and love.
One key understanding, back to where we started:

“…language and story bring light to shame and destroy it.” p58
She continues in another place:

“Shame resilience is about moving from shame to empathy—the real antidote to shame. If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” p74
The answer is simple and hard:

Shine a little light.

 Let us share with one another.

  Let us tell the stories of our shame,

   let us tell about our desire for a real Jericho sometimes.
More on this another time; in a way, more on this all the time.
And may the beautiful shining One 

 who is a force for healing and transformation

  come among us and and roll away our shame. Amen.

Star Wars: The Meditation, Part 2The First Sunday in Lent

February 14, 2016

For Beloved Community

Vernon K. Rempel, 2016
Lectionary Reading

Deuteronomy 26:5-7
You shall make this response before the Holy One, your God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Holy One, the God of our ancestors; the Holy One heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.

Introduction

Star Wars: The Meditation: Part 2
(Play music: Main Title 0:00 – 0:25)
Even now, as people gather in a small congregation on the edge of the Littleton system, a new hope awakens. Meanwhile, the empire, addicted to violence, flies around in really big ships.
(Reprise the music: Main Title 0:00 – 0:09)

Okay, very good.
Last week, I offered a reflection on dichotomy, a reflection occasioned by the Super Bowl, but informed by Star Wars and how that story intersects with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Today, the reflection continues, this time focusing more on it means to walk a path of integration instead of dichotomy.
Here is some dialogue from the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens:

Han: This map’s not complete. It’s just a piece. Ever since Luke disappeared, people have been looking for him.

Rey: Why’d he leave?

Han: He was training a new generation of Jedi. There was no one else left to do it, so he took the burden on himself. Everything was going good, until one boy, an apprentice, turned against him and destroyed it all. Luke felt responsible. He walked away from everything.

Finn: What happened to him?

Han: There were a lot of rumors. Stories. People who knew him best, think he went looking for the first Jedi temple.
Now, we don’t learn this from the movie, but in the greater Star Wars universe, which one can learn about from Wookieepedia, the original Jedi temple is a place where both the dark side and the light side are brought together. It is located on the legendary Deep Core world of Tython. In the deep core of the galaxy, and perhaps in the deep core of his heart, Luke is looking beyond dichotomy and looking toward integration. Is he looking beyond the teaching of his wise master Obi-Wan Kenobi, or is this something that perhaps Obi-Wan knew as well, and Luke is now beginning to understand.
You may know this old joke: What did the Buddhist monk say to the hotdog vendor? “Make me one with everything.”
Or, as Jesus is remembered praying in the gospel of John: Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one, John 17:11.
We don’t know for sure from the new movie, but Luke may be seeking to become one with everything, to seek a finer, deeper integration than the ancient battle between the light side and the dark side. I think it would be the very best of story-plots if this was in fact the case. We’ll see.

Dichotomy

What does it mean to go to the deep core world of Love in our hearts and in our communities? What if we observe some of the great Biblical teachings?:
If you “remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, as we read in our Ash Wednesday service from Isaiah 58; 

If you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, Matthew 5;

If you only strike in a way that heals as you strike, as God does in the prophetic vision of Isaiah for the future of Egypt, Isaiah 19:22
If you do all these things, these ways of non-violence that the Bible stumbles toward in the midst of all its record of violence, then you will be living into a different world. Then you will be letting the beauty of God’s future infuse into the present day.
In so doing, you will of course in some way become a wandering Aramean. You will become in some way a liberated Aramean, so to speak, freed in some measure from the bitter cycle of violence. 
When we choose non-violence, which means in a profound way rejecting dichotomy, this will mean we will be walking into a different land, like the ancient Arameans, another name for the ancient Hebrews. We will be wandering Arameans, liberated Arameans.
When we choose the path of integration, rather than dichotomy, we become strangers in a strange land, Exodus 2:22, I Peter 2:11. In a world full of us and them, the good and the evil, light and dark, to choose to see reality as one in the presence of love, is to walk, to some degree at least, as a stranger.
Even as Luke must get lost to the galaxy, to walk alone in the distant, strange land of the original Jedi temple, so we may find ourselves at least in some measure distant from the everyday process of dichotomy, of good and evil, winning and losing, that crowd and fill our days.
(play music – Yoda and the Force 2:36 – 3:14)
Last week, I read this soliloquy from the radio DJ Chris Stevens in Northern Exposure: “There’s a dark side to each and every human soul. We wish we were Obi-Wan Kenobi, and for the most part we are, but there’s a little Darth Vader in all of us. Thing is, this ain’t no either-or proposition. We’re talking about dialectics, the good and the bad merging into us. You can run but you can’t hide. My experience? Face the darkness. Stare it down. Own it. As brother Nietzsche said, being human is a complicated gig. So give that ol’ dark night of the soul a hug. Howl the eternal yes!”

From season 3, episode 5 “Jules et Joel” October 28, 1991

(The Nietzsche quote: “Every activity of man is amazingly complicated….” From Human, all too human: A book for free spirits. 1878)

The path toward our third testament

Last week, I noted that the Bible remains very much a book that reflects dichotomy, right through to the end, with Revelation and all of its heaven and hell imagery. 
And so the question is, do we need to move beyond the teachings of the Bible, into something like a 3rd testament, the testament of our hearts and lives, that moves beyond the Old and New Testaments. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that there is something greater embedded in the Biblical text, if we learn how to read it with wiser eyes, to hear it with more discerning ears.
How do we learn this greater and finer way of moving beyond dichotomy?
I think we must first consider what great life looks like, what the fabric of greatness is. Then we need to address our obstacles, as the boys did on O Brother, Where Art Thou – their “ob-stackles.” And finally, we need to howl the eternal “yes.”

The fabric of great life

First, the fabric of what great life looks like. To this end, I would invite us to read together the poem-story from Naomi Shihab Nye, which is printed with the worship outline.

(Invite people to read a paragraph)
Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal

Naomi Shihab Nye
After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,

I heard the announcement: 

If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic, 

Please come to the gate immediately.
Well—one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,

Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.

Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her

Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she

Did this.
I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.

Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick,

Sho bit se-wee?
The minute she heard any words she knew—however poorly used—

She stopped crying.
She thought our flight had been canceled entirely.

She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the

Following day. I said no, no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late,
Who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him.

We called her son and I spoke with him in English.

I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and

Would ride next to her—Southwest.
She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.
Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and

Found out of course they had ten shared friends.
Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian

Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.
She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering

Questions.
She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies—little powdered

Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts—out of her bag—

And was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a

Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,

The lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same

Powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies.
And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers—

Non-alcoholic—and the two little girls for our flight, one African

American, one Mexican American—ran around serving us all apple juice

And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.

And I noticed my new best friend—by now we were holding hands—

Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,
With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always

Carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,

This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.
Not a single person in this gate—once the crying of confusion stopped

—has seemed apprehensive about any other person.
They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.

This can still happen anywhere.
Not everything is lost.

********
Now, this is not a perfect story. It reflects a separation between men and women embedded in a culture – cookies for all the woman at the gate – which is not where good integration is headed. But it is a deeply lovely story. It shows an immense amount of grace, how goodwill wants to spring up among us.
That is one small window into what great life looks like, what life beyond dichotomy looks like. It could have gone so many other ways, ways that tend to involve guards, maybe even tasers, maybe even guns, God-forbid. Instead, it was words, and poetry, juice and cookies.

Danger, harm, cruelty

That’s the fabric. What about the obstacles? What about danger, harm, cruelty? How does moving beyond dichotomy address those?
Whenever people ask me what this congregation is about, I talk about the suffering and joy of blues music, about the community-making practice of Courage and Renewal, and about deep Mennonite peace-making. 
What is deep Mennonite peace-making. The Mennonite movement has had an historic commitment to preserve the life and dignity of all people by refusing to kill. 
The old Schleitheim confession, article 6:

“The worldlings are armed with steel and iron, but the Christians are armed with the armor of God, with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation and the Word of God.”
And Menno Simons:

“Christ is our fortress; patience our weapon of defense; the Word of God our sword. …Iron and metal spears and swords we leave to those who, alas, regard human blood and swine’s blood of well-nigh equal value.”
These are strong teachings. What are the results?

Uninvolved or engaged

Unfortunately, sometimes Mennonites have advocated for non-involvement. Often, we have said that the fights of the world are “not our department.” The government bears the sword but we don’t. So we’re going to stay quiet, in our farming communities. But now we’re very much in society. What does it mean for deep peacemaking in society, if the fights of the world somehow are our department.
In the early moments of the very first old Star Wars movies – A New Hope – there is a very Mennonite conflict. It’s between Luke’s farmer uncle, who wants Luke to stay out of the galactic battles, and Luke, who wants to get off the farm and into the game.
And to jump into the fray is not easy or simple. Luke learns all the dilemmas of loss, compromise, destruction, and love. But the movie is clearly on the side of jumping in. Staying isolated will merely mean that evil forces can work their way.
I think this is also a lesson Mennonites are learning in this century. Are separated ways are going away. We now struggle to consider what it means to respond actively to harm and violence in this world.
So we began to actively help our refugees, and then eventually all refugees. Mennonite Central Committee was founded.
Out of the experience of non-combatant service during war-time, we got into health-care and mental-health care, creating facilities all across the United States. Mennonites started at least 5 hospitals in Colorado alone.
Then came the civil rights movement, and a sense of greater social involvement. Howard Zehr and others began to address our system of incarceration with the Victim-Offender reconciliation program. International mediation efforts were begun, led most strikingly by John Paul Lederach. Famously, Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee started formal training in peacebuilding by attending a session of the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University. The STAR program – Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience – at Eastern Mennonite University was started to address trauma and therefore reduce repetitive violence. 
The Amish made their legendary response to the family of the shooter at the Nickel Mines school, showing the power of deep forgiveness.
But big questions lie before us: what do we do about crime? How might we incarcerate only for public safety and not for punishment? How do we respond to personal attack? When does it make sense to resist, even while working to preserve the dignity of the other person? Even the famously violent LAPD is leading research into non-lethal weapons, because killing even dangerous people can have devastating consequences for police and police departments, let alone all the other killings that Black Lives Matter is so effectively protesting now.
And what do we do about a deeply violent, distorted movement like ISIS? What are strong but restrained ways of responding that don’t leave us looking like the Empire to large segments of the world? How might we respond with such wisdom and restraint that people’s hearts are moved to change? What are war-fighting strategies that ultimately refuse to kill? That’s a powerful question for the future of the Mennonite movement and allies.
And there are many allies. Everywhere I go in interfaith work, people find out I’m a Mennonite and say that they are seeking non-violence as well. Not everybody. But more people than I might have expected.

Conclusion

These commitments to preserve life and dignity put us into situations where we must learn how to move beyond dichotomy and into the strange new land of integration through love. It has nothing to do with cowardice or fear. It has everything to do with “howling the eternal ‘yes'”, as Chris Stevens said on Northern Exposure. It has everything to do with learning about our own hearts and the hearts of others, and moving far beyond simplistic explanations and prejudices.
This may make us into wandering Arameans, like Luke Skywalker, traveling far out to the deep core world, seeking greater truth. I believe that when we do, however, and my experience is that when I have done even a bit of this, deep in our hearts lies a greatness that the world needs ever so much, if only we can live into it.
(Play music: Main Title 0:00 – 0:25)

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