A community of Open & Honest questions
Common time
October 23, 2016
For Beloved Community
Vernon K. Rempel, 2016
Lectionary reading
Psalm 65:8
Those who dwell at the ends of the earth
will tremble at your marvelous signs;
you make the dawn and the dusk
to sing for joy.

This reflection is about an aspect of becoming
constructive, responsible, joyful adults.
But most of all, it’s about demons.

And in other news… (as they say)
Target stores have removed scary clown masks from their shelves
after there were numerous reported incidents
of people in scary clown masks engaging
in threatening behavior.

Halloween – fast becoming an American tradition
to rival Christmas…
complete with sexy costumes, alter ego wigs,
images of terror and death,
black and red fake blood sold by the pint.

It’s touching a nerve,
probably playing with all our submerged and unmanaged stuff,
fear of death, suppressed desires,
consumerist ennui, to get philosophical,
an existential boredom that sets in
when meaning is reduced to shopping.

What were Americans supposed to do
for our part in the Iraq war? Go shopping!
I’m sure what the president meant
is that we need a strong economy.
But it sure made a splash in the shallow
spiritual waters of our dominant culture.

Halloween is of course just fun.
But we also know there are deeper waters down there.
We pretend we’re just playing.
But in some place of our hearts
we know there needs to be more.
Our hearts echo the depths.

A profound longing lies hidden among us. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote this about the demons and monsters we play with, in his “Essay on Demonology”:
“Willingly I too say, Hail! to the unknown awful powers which transcend the ken of the understanding. And the attraction which this topic has had for me and which induces me to unfold its parts before you is precisely because I think the numberless forms in which this superstition has reappeared in every time and in every people indicates the inextinguishableness of wonder in man; betrays his conviction that behind all your explanations is a vast and potent and living Nature, inexhaustible and sublime, which you cannot explain. He is sure no book, no man has told him all. He is sure the great Instinct, the circumambient soul which flows into him as into all, and is his life, has not been searched. He is sure the intimate relations subsist between his character and his fortunes, between him and the world: and until he can adequately tell them he will tell them wildly and fabulously. Demonology is the shadow of Theology.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Essay on Demonology”, 1875
(Quoted in A field guide to demons, vampires, fallen angels and other subversive spirits by Carol K. Mack and Dinah Mack)

I often speak about the practice of Courage and Renewal.
It is the practice that emerged from the writings of Parker Palmer.
There is a National Center for Courage and Renewal.
The website is couragerenewal.org.

The name “Courage and Renewal” is a summary
of the experienced effects of deep reflection
and soulful speaking in circles
developed as places of trust, listening, and speaking.

In this congregation, we have one that meets
on Tuesday evenings in the Cole neighborhood
north of City Park.

And we have open that meets on the south side,
most often at the home of Connie and John,
southeast of old town Littleton.

And you see a flyer for our annual retreat
at St. Benedict’s Monastery, near Snowmass.

And we weave silence and listening and speaking
into our weekly worship practice.

All of this is in service to the understanding
that we can listen well to the depths of our hearts,
and to the depths of the world,
not navel-gazing, but listening for what matters
so that we can live and respond well.

Even listening into those un-negotiated places of demons and monsters
that we play with on Halloween.
What are we really connecting with as we play?

One of the key practices that we offer each other in Courage & Renewal work
is the practice of Open and Honest questions.

Open and Honest questions are a way of inviting the other
to continue and to deepen their speech,
listening more and more to the inner teach, the soul,
the well of the heart.

We may do this with each other, with ourselves, and with the world.
Just as with listening to another person speaking,
we may ask these questions:

What is it, heart, that you most want to tell me?
What is it, world, that you most want to tell me?

When we do this, we will open the space where
the un-negotiated demons and monsters will make themselves known.
The flashlight of exploration will shine on some scary stuff.

But, if we do not let ourselves explore those un-negotiated places,
the places of our demons and monsters,
if we never take the time to just gently listen,
and slowly process and integrate some stuff,
then it comes out, as I think we all know,
in destructive ways.

Un-negotiated demons are the source of sexual assault,
of sexism, of prejudice against lgbtq friends,
of fear of immigrants, of passivity in the presence
of a refugee crisis or for people living on the streets,
we think we need to make war or get a gun
so that we can destroy dangerous others.

John Snow knows it in Game of Thrones.
We know it in some place of our hearts as well.
It hurts us to be passive when people are cold and hungry.
It hurts them even more, to be shut out of resources.

And all of our violence goes into the good earth,
and springs up in the strange fruit of repetitive violence.
It does not gather to a greatness of joy and peace,
and yet we continue to repeat it.

Winter’s coming. Winter is here. Winter is and has been among us.
Let us warm each other with our wholeheartedness.
Let us listen to each other, and to our hearts,
and to the world with open and honest questions.

Kind of like we speak to our pets?
What is it, heart? What is it, world?
What are you longing to tell me?

And here’s the great thing:
what we actually discover is that
when we let ourselves listen closely to the deep wells
of the soul,
we discover that there is something glorious
in the heart of things.

We discover a powerful and flowing joy,
and this joy is the energy that enlivens great love.

Then we find ourselves on the streets,
or with our relatives, or closest loved ones,
or the stranger, or the refugee
living in ways that are both riskier and more joyful.

We find ourselves doing things for the sake of love and justice
that we don’t even fully understand,
but we experience the joy of doing what we are doing
wholeheartedly and without reservation,
because in the depths we have found
not only demons and monsters
but joy overflowing.

Lamentations for all
Autumn; World Communion Sunday
October 2, 2016
For Beloved Community
Vernon K. Rempel, 2016

Lectionary reading
Lamentations 3:19-26

The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!
My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Holy never ceases,
God’s mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“Thou art my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in thee.”
The Holy is good to those who wait for that One,
to the soul that seeks that One.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Holy One.

In the television show Game of Thrones,
John Snow’s girlfriend keeps telling him he knows nothing.
(Scottish accent) “You know nothing, John Snow.”
But he does seem to know one thing:
Winter’s coming.

Today it is sunny.
By Thursday, it there is a prediction of frozen mix,
and it may freeze.
Yards may be transformed from green to brown.
Autumn will get real.

The lectionaries, the guide to Bible readings
chosen by church season,
gave us Lamentations for this Sunday.

In the lament, the cry is about affliction and homelessness.
It is a beautifully literate poem of sorrow,
and so probably written by someone with enough privilege
to have had a good education.

In other words, it may be the suffering of the wealthy,
now dispossessed, likely by Babylon
invading and destroying the city.

In this case, the leading families
would have been carried off to Babylon.
The poor would have been left behind
to fend for themselves amid ruins of battle.

When we link our lives with the poor and dispossessed,
we make ourselves available to their feelings
and perhaps lived experience of homelessness and affliction.

Homelessness may be a metaphor for feeling lost.
It is also the lived situation for many people.

So the lament may be experienced at two levels:
one – the dislocation of those who had it pretty good.
two – a linked cry with those for whom life
was already really rough.

In the new Jesus-communities of the Mediterranean,
there was constant linking of wealthy and poor.
The communities directly sought to join the fates
of people typically separated in society.
We in this community may also find our way forward
in the wonderful Spirit of Jesus Christ
by linking our lives and fates with those
of the poor, for whom things are not working
in our communities at this time.

It is a risk; with risk comes danger.
But it is clear that such risk is also the place of joy.
One of the experiences of the new communities
was that boundaries were overcome:

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

Slave vs. free and male vs. female
addresses questions of power and wealth.

In these communities, the exclamation was
that those divisions are disappearing among them.

And this is a root of joy.
It is of course a problem.
People did it wrong, stepped on each other’s toes,
forgot about each other.

Paul and James had a lot to say to the communities
about good relationships among wealthy and poor:
don’t eat and drink and then show up
at the communion table
well fed while others are hungry.
(to paraphrase Paul)

Don’t reserve the best seats for the wealthy.
Everyone is in this together (to paraphrase James)

It is also the root of joy.
Paul says something like this over and over,
and so do other leaders:

“I am so grateful for the faith that I see growing among you.”
(Thessalonians, many other places)

And it’s not gratitude for believing the right words.
It’s gratitude for a new quality of community,
creating a people where before
there was no people (Ephesians)

How are we linking our fates with the poor in this community?
How have we made moves to refuse to honor class divisions?
We need the immigrants, the foreigners,
the strangers, the homeless, the hungry.

We need to be an extended family for those
with mental illness, which is not uncommon among us.

And if we think about the dispossessed,
we may also remember the aging,
and lgbtq persons, and people of color.
There may be considerable dispossession
without direct poverty.

When we link our fates,
when we can pray the lament together,
all together, then, Isaiah 58 says,
our light will shine forth,
our bodies will gain strength,
and we will be known for making
the streets safe and good.

You could run for office on that.
(Except all the non-violence might make it hard to win!)
Winter’s coming.
But this morning, all the tatters of clouds in the sky
were tinged with red, going to pink and orange.
It was a stunning sight.

The blessings are now.
We don’t know what will come next.
But in strong, inclusive community,
the blessings are now.

Everything’s burning
Common time – first Sunday in Autumn
September 18, 2016
For Beloved Community
Vernon K. Rempel, 2016

Lectionary reading:
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.

Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.

And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.
The Assyrians
The Bible has great ancient insights
that can help us a great deal today
if we pay attention to them.

The notion that in Christ
there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free
–Galatians 3:28

Or the radical nature of spiritual friendship:
receive Onesimus as a brother (your former slave)
he is “my heart”

Or the political assertion that the great government of the day
the Romans, are the new Babylon,
the new dominance, addicted to power
and its accompanying violence
and that the answer to this is
“the war of the lamb”
the war of nonviolent love

The thing to understand is that these insights
are hard-won, from a history and a people
who struggled, rejoiced, broke faith,
tried to make a living…

and were captured and were freed

Jeremiah is the prophet on the brink of one of the captures.
The Babylonians were coming!
They were here! They had laid siege to Jerusalem,
the heart-city of the Hebrews.

All was lost. In the midst of this Jeremiah,
the prophet who really spent a lot of time
declaring doom on the city and its people

pivoted, did a turn – yes the city was about to fall,
but here’s what I’m going to do:
I’m going to by the land of my cousin.
And I’m going to seal the deed in a jar,

And this will be a sign that we’re coming back,
that vineyards will grow again on this spot..

(Vineyards were always a big deal,
a sign of peace, along with fig trees,
and the source of grapes for such things
as Jesus making wine.)

Vineyards will be back!
The Babylonians may be at the gates right now.
But that’s by no means the end.

Eventually, we will get back to making wine.
And one thing we will start to learn from
the attack of the Babylonians
is that strength is not always in arms

but rather in something deeper,
something that will call us back to our vineyards
Everything’s burning
In the Buddha’s 3rd sermon,
he states that all the changes around us
are like a fire constantly burning:
all the birthing, dying, striving, aging

Change is constant and may feel like a fire burning,
whether it comes slowly or quickly.

I remember the change coming over me
in what resulted in moving from Lancaster, PA
to Denver 20 year ago.

This change came slow,
like a train coming in the distance on the Kansas prairie:
First I got tired of the sky with its constant haze;
And the trees
And at some point I got into a conflict with a member –
This was mostly not about me but some part of me,
I think, was ready for a way out, and didn’t care,
and wanted to reinforce a rationale for leaving –

not fully conscious and certainly not rational
(like author whose parents would always get in an argument before her father had to travel, and then make up on the way to the airport – like our souls are bidding for some tangible separation to get the process of leaving underway)

And then I had a dream, as always in my big transitions –
inheriting my grandparents farm outside Meade Kansas –
glowing, an epic feel –
like it had The New World Symphony as its soundtrack.

There are of course sudden changes too.
We just experienced this with the hospitalizations
of Marilyn and Rebeca.

Life-threatening blood clots; rupturing appendix.
You wake up one morning,
and then your world falls over the brink.

We just visited the Grand Canyon a couple of weeks ago.
One might think that such a massive
rocky site as the Grand Canyon would inspire
a sense of permanence.

The work of water over millions of years.
Which is true.

But the more you look into it,
the more it looks like everything is always changing.
Even in vast landscapes like the Grand Canyon
and the Colorado Plateau on which it is located.
***Show slides from Ancient Landscapes.***
The continents are unrecognizable.
(See the outline of the current states – sideways!)
Then seas come in and seas go out over and over.
When we say that dinosaurs lived in ancient North America,
we are referring to a continent that was vastly
different in shape than today.
Now, one drives through Monument Valley,
and it looks like permanent residue of ancient forces.
It is the residue of forces all right.
But not ancient. Current!

It’s like the young child who wrote
in a school report on Beethoven
that he had been dead from 1827
up to the present.

That’s how it is with the world shaping forces.
They are still world-shaping right now.
If we could somehow live for millions of years
the earth would literally move under our feet.
Buy some land
All the world is changing, all the time.
It is always going to be more fruitful
to move with change, rather than resisting it.
But how do we do this, and perhaps with some grace
in our movement?

When Jeremiah’s world was all changing
he paradoxically bought some land.

It was a sign of hope.
The vineyards would be back.

But private ownership of land
is probably not a good long-term solution..
So much land becomes the reason for conflict and war.

Having land and houses and not learning how
to use them with vast generosity
is a big problem.

But more and more, the Bible seems to realize
it’s not about land so much as about relationships.
How do we get into community with each other?

When I was thinking about community,
a children’s book came to mind: Out and About
by Shirley Hughes.

So if you’re feeling some existential nausea
at the realization of all this change,
I think life invites us to consider great community.
Let’s rest in it a bit, through this book.

***Show slides of the London neighborhood of the book***

Now, what if we extend the relationships to people without homes?
What if we move freely among the races?
What if we find refugees a welcome?
What if we share across national borders?

So, in this church, we are sharing our homes with the homeless,
with family, with friends.

We live and work with Rebeca and Fernando from Mexico,
who are not a project but rather are “our heart”
as Paul said of Onesimus.

And we are enjoying each other.
We are having fun.
Next Saturday, we’ll be doing music together
for the Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program.

Next Sunday we’ll be making wine together
after a special early worship time.

Now, with slow change you may have time to buy some land,
like Jeremiah, or find your way into community
as the change comes.

With fast change a possibility, you may want to buy land now.
Ted Haggard’s insight is that you don’t
get a 5 year friend in 1 year,
a 10 year friend in 5 years,
or a 25 year friend in 10 years.

So start now. Opt for community.
Buy the “land” of community.
Then, even with the Babylonians,
love will be there.

Even in the midst of conflict,
there will be a community of non-violence and love,
fighting that good “war of the lamb”.

As David Brook’s puts it in The Social Animal
“Your unconscious wants to entangle you in the thick web of relations that are the essence of human flourishing. It longs and pushes for love….” p xviii.

It’s life’s invitation, I think!

That is, my heartCommon time – late summer

September 4, 2016

For Beloved Community

Vernon K. Rempel, 2016
Lectionary reading


 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow-soldier, and to the church in your house:
 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
 When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith towards the Lord Jesus. I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.
 For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave but as more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
 One thing more—prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be restored to you.

Final Greetings and Benediction
 Epaphras, my fellow-prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow-workers.
 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

The Onesimus story

This small letter begins with greetings from prison.

 Paul is so wholehearted, he risks income,

  he is subjected to repeated imprisonment,

   he struggles with illness (?)

    (writing with big letters, thorn in side).
He writes to friend and co-worker Philemon

 about Onesimus.
Onesimus is a slave who has come to Paul in prison,

 either as a runaway seeking Paul’s help

  or as one sent to serve Paul in prison,

   and has now become a friend.
In either case,

 Paul asks Philemon to receive Onesimus back

“so that you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave but as more than a slave, a beloved brother—”

 In this connection, Paul makes a very moving statement:

  He calls Onesimus “my child”

   and notes how he has become a father to Onesimus.
It is “dear father” or “beloved father.”

 Like “abba” as Jesus speaks to God.

  We know this because then Paul writes:
“I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.” (repeat)

 That is wholeheartedness.

  Onesimus has become Paul’s own heart.

Not a project. Not an outreach or a mission.

 Not a plan or a concern or another line on the to-do list.

  “My heart.”
After this, he writes that if there are any financial concerns,

 he will cover them.

  “Where your money is, there will your heart be also.”

   And, I think, this is true in reverse as well.
When our hearts become endeared to others

 through relationship and loving experience,

  money flows as if it is water.
What is dear to us is where our money flows.

 And we also commit ourselves to place our hearts

  with someone or something by declaring our money for it.
So the old Anglican wedding vows:

 With this ring I thee wed,

  With my body I thee worship,

   With all my worldly goods I thee endow.
We place our money where we want our heart to go.

 And our money natural flows to where our hearts belong.
This is Paul with Onesimus.

 From prison, he offers to care for Onesimus,


In another place, Paul writes to the Galatians:

 In Christ there is neither male nor female,

  Jew nor Greek,

   Slave nor free,

But all are one in Christ Jesus.
With Onesimus he demonstrates

 on the question of slavery. “I am sending him, that is, my heart….”

The Möbius strip

This is who Paul was.

My pastor’s note this week reflected on 

 who we are and who we might become

  on the occasion of our first anniversary.
In one way, we have no way of knowing who we might become. For me, “more surprises than executed plans” has been the order of the day in the past year. So I’m looking for more surprises in the Spirit for the coming days!

But here are some of my intuitions:
~We will be a great church for retired people. Littleton was just named as the best town in which to retire in Colorado, because of services, housing, medical access, etc.
~We will live with and care for the poor and marginalized. I think our ministry among immigrants, refugees, and folks without good housing is growing in strength and grace every week. This feels unforced, organic, and graceful, which is wonderful.
~We will continue to offer amazing music, and an open welcome to any musicians who want to be part of it, and the encouragement for all of us to think of ourselves as participants in music, both in singing and listening.
~We will be a place of joyful, strong, assertive, grace-filled inclusive theology and spirituality. God’s welcome is greater than our welcome. Let us be a church of lgbtq people, people of color, a place to dismantle white privilege and share the generational wealth of culture and resources, a place for all of us with our depression, mental illnesses, various relationships both with friends and enemies, a place where we live in awe in the presence of the Spirit of Christ between us and going with us into the world.
~We will be a great place to raise children, because how cool would that be to offer children the joy of this community?
~We will “surrender to the mercy of the community” and trust good, shared processes of speaking and listening, discernment, shared prayer and resting in the Spirit as we find our way together with money, buildings, worship planning, service initiatives, and mutual care.
~And what else!?
I think this is what Parker Palmer would call 

 “community on the Möbius strip.”
Do you know the Möbius strip?

 Just in case, and because it’s always amazing to see again anyway….
(Make Möbius strip and draw the single continuous line.)
With a Möbius strip inner and outer are continuous.

 They are both there, but there are completely interrelated.
So with our community,

 Mutual care, hospital visits, prayers, weddings and funerals, a place to raise children, to live richly as retirees

 And a place where we are a people of the homeless, of the immigrant, of color, we are lgbtq

 We are a community of others and of ourselves.

  Always both, always interwoven.

The Fernando & Rebeca story

Which brings me finally to Fernando and Rebeca.

 As you probably know, they are the couple

  of Mexican Mennonite leaders from Mexico City.
By God’s grace they have come among us.

 We risked to bring them here because they brought us so much joy.

  We didn’t know we had a grant to help with their stay

   until two days before they arrived.
We believed God would provide 

 through the community of the Spirit.

  And this has been true.
Food, transportation, friendship, new connections have all showed up.

 They have connected us with immigrants and asylum seekers

  in ways we may not quite have imagined before.
We are now a congregation that speaks in Spanish and English 

 in our gatherings.

  That alone is kind of priceless.
Like Paul, we may have been somewhat in prison.

 I know I was. I did not see very well how

  Spanish ministry might emerge among us,

   even though it was part of my Blue Coyote dream.
With them we have walked into it, step by step.

 And it hasn’t felt forced. It has felt like a natural evolution

  into something bigger and richer than before.
In some ways, our Mennonite conference,

 this lovely gathering of regional peace-makers,

  has been stuck.
We used to build hospitals together

 in previous generations.

  What do we do now?
Because we live in Colorado, and because we live on 

 one of the grand immigration highways – I-25:

  The road to and from Mexico that runs directly. 

   from here to Ciudad Juárez:

     632 miles, 10 hours and 33 minutes

      from our house…
Because if we look with renewed eyes of the Spirit,

 we perhaps see that we are living in a global economy,

  more than a state or national economy,
and that there are global friendships and solutions

 and practices that may make more sense

  then only living as if state and nation are primary…
Because of all this,

 is it perhaps the case that we peace-making Mennonites

  in this church and in our conference

   are being called to a powerful and beautiful

    new ministry as people of two or more languages,

     as people of color,…
Called to be a community of immigration

 and economic and spiritual transformation
very much on the order of Paul inviting a change

 from a relationship of slavery to a relationship of friendship,

  so that our hearts are not merely held close

   but so that our hearts are for our Onesimus…
so that we might even become Onesimus for the sake of Christ,

 the one who seeks friendship and freedom

  in new relationships.
I think this may all be here for us in a future with Fernando and Rebeca.

 They will have to return to Mexico for a while, it seems,

  for visa reasons – maybe 6 – 9 months.
If they come back, we will, in fear and trembling

 but with full hearts, find ways to support them.

  Our part as a congregation may be to find

   $500 a month or more to participate in this.

    Perhaps 10 households giving $50 a month?

     Or 20 giving $25?
Like Paul, we may become those who offer our financial resources

 for the sake of new relationship.
How will this all work?

 By all of us who find our hearts in it

  walking forward together.
Caminamos en la luz de Dios…

 Paul wrote about Onesimus, slave:

   “I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.”
Are Fernando and Rebeca now “our own hearts?”

 How may this powerful and beautiful new relationship

  show up among us?

Of third thingsCommon time

August 28, 2016

For Beloved Community

Vernon K. Rempel, 2016
Bible reading

Matthew 4:1-11 (NRSV with vkr paraphrasing)

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the [Chosen] of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written,

“One does not live by bread alone,

   but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’
 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the [Chosen] of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

“[God] will command his angels concerning you”,

   and “On their hands they will bear you up,

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

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

“Worship the [Holy One] your God,

   and serve only God.” ’ 

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


One of the curses of human existence,

 and certainly of heightened political seasons,

  is the conceit that we are faced with an either/or choice.

   One path bad, the other good.

    Choose the good, which is always me,

     which is my way.
I’m from your part of the Internet,

 so choose me, I’m in your electronic tribe,

  your well of mutual agreement.
I love how one bumper sticker 

 subverts this drive to be in the right:

  “Come to the dark side; we have cookies!”
Or more profoundly,

 the slogan from the Unitarian immigration reform initiative:

  “Standing on the side of love for the immigrant.”
Not on the right side, but on the love side.

 Not either/or but love.

One way to think about the temptations of Christ,

 is to think that Jesus is given an either/or choice:

  either follow God or follow Satan.
It’s like the comedian says,

 why do people go to church each week?

  Every time, the preacher says “God good; Satan bad.”

   Don’t they remember? Do they walk out of the church

    going: Now wait a minute, was it God good….?
God versus Satan. The primal faith story.
But another way to imagine these encounters

 is that Satan is offering an either/or choice,

  and in each case, Jesus refuses the either/or

   to respond with a 3rd way.
In this way, the dichotomies are marked as Satanic.

 And moving out of the either/or of dichotomies

  is divine – finding a third way.
In other words, it’s not God versus Satan.

 It’s God versus the human inclination to 

  make things into a simple either/or choice,

   the human impulse toward having an in-group.
Parker Palmer, the Quaker-inspired writer,

 speaks of the importance of holding the tension

  as a way of moving beyond the either-or.


Instead of immediately attempting to resolve a question,

 we are invited to “go to wonder,” letting 

  our hearts and minds explore the question.


In this way we hold the tension,

 until something finer emerges,

  rather than “either/or.”

(Hidden Wholeness, p174: “…to be in the world nonviolently means learning to hold the tension of opposites, trusting that the tension itself will pull our hearts and minds open to a third way of thinking and acting.”)

Like the Rainer Marie Rilke poem:
Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart 

and try to love the question themselves, 

as if they were locked rooms or books 

written in a very foreign language. 

Don’t search for the answers, 

which could not be given to you now, 

because you would not be able to live them. 

And the point is to live everything. 

Live the questions now. 

Perhaps then, 

some day far in the future, 

you will gradually, 

without even noticing it, 

live your way into the answer.

(Letters to a young poet)
Richard Rohr talks about this as the:

“tertium quid, a third [some]thing, what the inner wisdom traditions sometimes call “Third Force.” It is the process of overcoming seeming opposites by uncovering a reconciling third that is bigger than both of the parts and doesn’t exclude either of them.”

(Adapted from Richard Rohr, Holding the Tension (an unpublished talk in Houston, Texas: 2007); and A New Way of Seeing . . . A New Way of Being: Jesus and Paul (CAC: 2007), disc 2 (CD, MP3 download).


Rosemary Radford Ruether takes it a step further, I think, 

 by saying simply: dichotomy is original sin.

(Sexism and God-Talk)

She notes that women have historically always ended up

  on the wrong side of the male-constructed dichotomy.
So the church fathers decide to emphasize that 

 sin came into the world with Eve,

  because she is weak.
Woman causes man to sin, to divert from the path,

 using her wiles to pull men to lowlier impulses

  than good abstract theology.
The Biblical theologian Phyllis Trible joyfully takes this on.

(God and the rhetoric of sexuality)

 She points out that Eve in the story is active

  while Adam is passive.

   He’s the guy on the couch, 

    while she’s organizing the neighborhood.
She notes that when the snake talks to Eve,

 she responds in full flow:

“The response of the woman to the serpent reveals her as intelligent, informed, and perceptive. Theologian, ethicist, hermeneut, rabbi, she speaks with clarity and authority.” (p110)
Meanwhile, Adam, not so much:

“…throughout this scene the man has remained silence; he does not speak for obedience. His presence is passive and bland. The contrast that he offers to the woman is not strength or resolve but weakness…. He does not theologian; he does not contemplate;…. Instead, his one act is belly-oriented, and it is an act of acquiescence, not of initiative.” (p113)
It’s deconstructive rhetoric, cutting through the 

 male-dominant structures to make room for female.
It’s kind of like Sojourner Truth telling the group

 of male preachers who didn’t want her to preach:

“Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.”

 Put that in your rhetorical pipe and smoke it.

(From a speech at the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Ohio. Collected in The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, pp 133-135))
The purpose of Trible and Sojourner Truth is not to put down men.

 It’s to stop men putting down women.

  So that we can get on with our shared humanity.
That’s the third thing. That actually what we all are is human.

 That we inhabit a shared humanity,

  we inhabit simply a company of difference,

   which in so many ways is simply difference,

    not better or worse, not an occasion for

     putting one ahead of another.
Simply difference.

 As the Greek Orthodox theology David Bentley Hart says:

  Those differences are separated not by a distance of alienation

   but by a distance of beauty.

(Beauty and the Infinite, p18)


Whatever we are in our genuine differences – 

 not our distortions but our genuine differences – 

  is for the sake of beauty, and beauty alone.      
The temptations of Jesus

Well all right. So that’s the falseness of either/or thinking,

 and the oppressive power of dichotomy.

Now back to Jesus in the wilderness with Satan.

 Here, Satan offers dichotomies,

  and we see Jesus’ wonderful spirituality

   as he rejects the either/or in favor of third things,

    the tertium quid.
Satan begins with bread.

 The dichotomy is either bread or no bread.

  Surely you wouldn’t keep people from having bread.

Jesus answers with what in political circles is called a “pivot.”

 “Humans don’t just live by bread.”

  A good politician or community organizer being interviewed

   might say:
You know, I’d like to talk about bread.

 But let’s talk first about people

  and the power of people when we all work together.
Which is essentially what Jesus did at the 

 feeding of the 5,000, I think.

  He got people to open up and get that food organized.

   There’s food. Let’s let it be among us.

    No hoarding in your backpacks.
Satan then moves on to mighty works.

 You know, Jesus, you’re well connected.

  You can make things happen.

   Jump off a tower and angels will show up.
Satan’s dichotomy is either put on a show of power or don’t

 and, by implication, be weak. 
Jesus basically says, you don’t show off divine power.

 In fact, there’s nothing to show. 

  If you think divine power is about spectacles

   that impress people

    then you don’t know God.

And so, while Jesus then does do a lot of healing,

 it is out of compassion.

  And when people are impressed, 

   he tries to get them to not talk about it too much.
They do anyway, and his fame spreads.

 But he doesn’t want fame.

  He wants communities of love.
Like with the men and women who walk around with him.

 It’s about love. Not about getting a lever on history,

  or on the populace.
He just wants to teach Jerusalem the ways of peace.

 It’s a hard sell. Folks – we – tend to stay dazzled by the works.

  And lose track of the peace.
Satan offers a third and final dichotomy:

 Rule all the nations and make everything better 

  or don’t rule and miss your chance with history.
And once again, Jesus jumps out of the way of the either/or:

 This isn’t about ruling or not ruling.

  “Serve only God.”
Which is not in Satan’s continuum of power.

 Because serving God will bring the joyful and loving Jesus

  to the cross, to the lost place, and to shame.
And then, of course, and most wonderfully, the mystery.

 Because with the cross, there is the great dichotomy:

  Either live or die.

   You survive or you fail to survive.
But now it is the deep, divine action of the universe

 that comes and flows around Christ.
Because it turns out the it’s not a dichotomy:

 by dying you may live.

  And if you try to save your life, you will lose it.
Or, to put it another way, by loving,

 whether you live or die, you will live.

  As John 1 puts it:

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
So Jesus moves to something bigger than the dichotomies of Satan,

 to the divine tertium quid, the third thing of the Spirit,

  which is always more, always beautiful,

   always making and loving

    and in which we may rejoice.

ClarityCommon time

August 21, 2016

For Beloved Community

Vernon K. Rempel, 2016
Bible reading

Luke 4:16-21
Clarity poem:


Autumn Day

Vern Rempel
This Autumn day is one of those days 

when the Holy Spirit re-makes the world 

out of spun glass. 

All the edges are clean, 

all the surfaces smoothed 

by a light that is refracted.

Nothing is interrupted;

Everything is visible.

Everything at once close and far, 

everything in relief, and placed, 

and located next to that which is it’s 

foil and pairing and enumeration. 

The air is glass; when you breathe in, 

you become transparent

Reading on clarity from The New Yorker:

It is to our credit if these are the Americans to whom we want to trace our moral genealogy. But we should not confuse the fact that they took extraordinary actions with the notion that they lived in extraordinary times. One of the biases of retrospection is to believe that the moral crises of the past were clearer than our own—that, had we been alive at the time, we would have recognized them, known what to do about them, and known when the time had come to do so. That is a fantasy. Iniquity is always coercive and insidious and intimidating, and lived reality is always a muddle, and the kind of clarity that leads to action comes not from without but from within. The great virtue of a figurative railroad is that, when someone needs it—and someone always needs it—we don’t have to build it. We are it, if we choose.

The New Yorker 8-22-16


My clarity

Delighted love 

David Bentley Hart


Literally, all of me – sorrow & joy


Not an invitation to personal growth,

although that’s always something I need
This was an invitation to be the divine avenue to create a new faith community
Like Hildegard of Bingen, reticent to share it, and it was one of the hardest weeks of my life when I did.

Political resistance

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Source: Political resistance