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“Calling out; calling in”

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

January 14, 2018

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

©Vernon K. Rempel

Bible reading: John 1:43-51

Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Additional reading:

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.

Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take “everyone on Earth” to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires … causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both, are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.

Excerpt from “Letter to a Young Activist During Troubled Times” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PH.D. © 2003 C.P. Estes

Better race conversation needed

On this MLK weekend, we continue to stumble

and struggle with race.

We have said in the past two generations,

that we want to be judged

not by the color of our skin

but by the content of our character,

to quote Dr. King.

We have made affirmations:

Black is beautiful

Black like me

Black power,

now… Black lives matter.

These are lovely, strong affirmations.

But now from the Oval Office,

race-related vulgarity erupts.

Our president, by all accounts,

is currently making our race conversation more difficult,

more fraught, more filled with concern and doubt.

A sufficient number of people, it seems,

we’re more willing to vote anti-abortion,

than to worry as much about

statements about Mexican immigrants and so on.

These are people we know and love.

We may not consider ourselves better people than them.

But it disturbs, puzzles. We get angry

with others and ourselves.

Because it is never only others,

never only the president.

Our race conversation desperately needs to be better.

We our tearing our hearts out.

We need to make it a grand and compassionate priority.

What is it like to wake up in skin of color

in our culture right now?

I heard on NPR last month that women of color

are likely to die in child-birth than light-skinned women,

because of daily stress, daily indignities and insults,

small though they may be.

“Black expectant and new mothers in the U.S. die at about the same rate as women in countries such as Mexico and Uzbekistan, the World Health Organization estimates.”

“Black women are more likely to be uninsured outside of pregnancy, when Medicaid kicks in, and thus more likely to start prenatal care later and to lose coverage in the postpartum period. They are more likely to have chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension that make having a baby more dangerous. The hospitals where they give birth are often the products of historical segregation, lower in quality than those where white mothers deliver, with significantly higher rates of life-threatening complications.

“Those problems are amplified by unconscious biases that are embedded in the medical system, affecting quality of care in stark and subtle ways. In the more than 200 stories of African-American mothers that ProPublica and NPR have collected over the past year, the feeling of being devalued and disrespected by medical providers was a constant theme.”

“But it’s the discrimination that black women experience in the rest of their lives — the double whammy of race and gender — that may ultimately be the most significant factor in poor maternal outcomes.”

“”It’s chronic stress that just happens all the time — there is never a period where there’s rest from it. It’s everywhere; it’s in the air; it’s just affecting everything,” said Fleda Mask Jackson, an Atlanta researcher who focuses on birth outcomes for middle-class black women.”

https://www.npr.org/2017/12/07/568948782/black-mothers-keep-dying-after-giving-birth-shalon-irvings-story-explains-why

These notes call us out, call our culture out.

We may feel shame, fatigue, despair

at ever doing better.

What shall we do?

The phrase “call out” may come

from the French word “provoquer,”

recorded first in 1823,

with the meaning to call out to fight.

This was a regular occurrence in my middle school.

“Want to take it outside?”

Usually there was no follow-through

on this aggressive question.

But I remember fairly regular fist-fights

taking place in the adjacent park.

All of which is to say,

calling each other out on race

may not be the path forward.

We need to hear the hard stuff,

and then call each other in.

Jesus calls followers and friends

In our gospel reading for today,

Jesus is putting together some friends and allies

for the struggle, for the walk,

for the practices of healing and love.

Phillip just goes with it, when Jesus says “follow me.”

But then he goes to Nathanael, who needs convincing,

voicing the old prejudice about Jesus’ small-town upbringing;

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth.”

Jesus amazes him by saying that he saw him

under the fig tree, before Phillip even approached him.

It is a feat of social observation – I saw you –

I see you; you are human to me.

Jesus says that you’re going to see a lot more than that.

We’re talking about angels from heaven.

Which is surely a political-spiritual statement:

You’re going to see the world change, my friend.

Jesus is calling people “in” to his friendship,

not calling them out.

He doesn’t take offense at Nathanael

but keeps working with him until

Nathanael is willing to explore the walk with Jesus.

The notion of “calling in” is articulated by Ngọc Loan Trần (roughly pronounced “Nawkp lwahn Duhn,” in his article:

Calling IN: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable, 12/18/13.

He notes: “I started having conversations on this practice of “calling in” after attending Race Forward’s Facing Race Conference in Baltimore, MD in 2012.”

https://www.humanityinaction.org/files/567-N.Trn-CallingIN.pdf

It’s a way of considering how not to trash “the other”

but rather a commitment and intention

to stay with them in hard conversation.

As we say in the Courage and Renewal work,

“When the going gets rough, turn to wonder.”

I wonder what she or he is bringing to the conversation?

What is their life like?

What did they feel when they woke up this morning?

It’s not a pathway of surrender or victory.

It’s a pathway of engagement, struggle, encounter,

and holds open the possibility of new understanding.

My facilitator colleague Susan Kaplan has developed

a Courage and Renewal “Touchstone” based

on this insight:

Calling in instead of calling someone out.  We all make mistakes by saying something we don’t realize may be offensive or uncomfortable to someone else. Hold love in your heart as you share your own experience and curiosity as you learn and receive a different truth that may be in the room.  Lead from your heart.

This is a critical understanding for our race conversation.

We’re going to make mistakes. It’s going to be a mess.

But we can stay in it, and see if we can begin

to see each other, as Jesus “saw” Nathanael.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes offers a wonderful description

for how we may call each other in.

“Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.”

It is not a matter of being “nice.”

This is not the Sunday School “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam.”

She writes:

“To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both, are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.”

This sentence has the word “fierce” in it and “necessity,”, as well as “mercy.”

We will need to represent the way of love,

the insistence of the way of love to refuse harm

to self, others, and our enemies,

and to seek more creative paths,

paths of moral imagination,

imagination and creativity, not “all they understand is….”

or the old “those people…” or “you people….”

Black lives matter.

This next part in Spanish and then in English:

Los ciudadanos de Mexico son posiblemente hermanas y hermanos –

The citizens of Mexico are possibly sisters and brothers.

We may learn to call each other in

from a young Vietnamese writer.

So, in this instance, we may walk like Jesus walked,

like Dr. King walked, when he said “we need strength to love.”

Not strength to win, but strength to love.

Calling each other “in.”

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“Magi: Gifts against empire”

First Sunday after the Epiphany

January 7, 2018

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

©Vernon K. Rempel

Bible reading: Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

`And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Cards against humanity

In my limited experience,

“Cards against humanity” is a profane game,

intended to subvert people by forcing them,

in the course of the game,

to profanity, rude statements, embarrassment.

The magi, the three wise ones from the east,

play another game:

Gifts against empire,

In which the players attempt

to subvert empire with beauty.

Herod brings death;

we three kings bring gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

David Bentley Hart, the Greek Orthodox theologian

who grew up meditating on gorgeous icons

in Greek worship,

argues that the form or shape or manner

of the Christian gospel

is beauty

Beauty against ugliness

beauty against distortions, imbalances,

inequalities, isolations, all breaking and damaging.

Beauty against the death of the empire.

Like the poet April Bernard writes

in her poem “What would happen then.”

“A bird, bright and quick,

blue with livid streaks

would arrive on the windowsill

as official harbinger

And then,

the low would be raised up

the sneers crushed under their own bricks.”

As theologian Hart says

it is beauty that overcomes

dominating, destructive power.

And he says that God has not

created a world where the beauty

is limited or hard to discover.

It is all around us like manna on the ground.

And as another poet, David Whyte says,

Everything is waiting for you.

All the birds and creatures of the world

are unutterably themselves.

Out down the weight of your aloneness

and enter into the conversation.

Enter into the beauty,

the beauty of love.

God’s world is not intended for ugliness and death

but for beauty that breaks open our hearts.

Matthew

The introduction to the gospel of Matthew in the

Oxford Annotated Bible says that,

“His view of the world is highly polarized. One either walks according to Jesus’ “way of righteousness” and produces spiritual fruit, or one does not. For Matthew, the consequences of this decision are momentous: the coming judgment will be swift, unexpected, and inexorable.”

Oxford Annotated Bible loc. 1746 (introduction to Matthew)

So, for example, The beauty of the dawn or the sunset

on most days in the high-altitude west:

The pinks and the oranges fade in and out

with astonishing speed and also astonishing beauty,

shining out framed by the most intense

and remarkable continuum of blues and deep purples.

Matthew might say, we fail to honor the beauty of the world at our peril

As David Whyte would say “Everything is waiting for us…..”

And if we miss it, then we’ve missed it.

Then we go to bed without seeing

the deep cerulean blue of a Colorado sunset.

(sound this poem note throughout, and then end with full poem, with drum??)

The magi: with gifts, they enter the conversation.

They put down the weight of aloneness

and enter in with gifts for the beauty of the Christ

who is the personification of God’s beauty for all.

Empire

Perhaps you saw the internet story about

the first and second grade teacher.

He liked to put puzzles on the board

for the children to solve.

The puzzle this time was a riddle:

I am the beginning of everything

the end of everywhere

I’m the beginning of eternity,

the end of time and space.

What am I?

Reading this, one of the children

solemnly answered “death.”

A reflectively hush fell over the room.

The teacher now didn’t have the heart

to inform the class that

the answer was the letter ‘E.”

We have two fat Christmas birds in our tree.

They’re my favorites,

hanging there in contentment,

ready for winter.

They’re under-bellies sparkle with glitter,

lit by the strands of LED lights

that have replaced the older Christmas lighting schemes

of candles in the 1800s – very flammable –

and then incandescents in the 1900s –

using much more electricity and much less reliable.

So now the birds sparkle in brilliant, cool light,

like the light of winter stars

cooly shining in the light-years of space.

I have seem the underbelly of the empire,

and unfortunately it sparkles too.

But like the game “Cards against humanity,”

it is a profane distortion, a distortion

of the beauty of the birds on our tree.

“Cards against humanity” is for fun.

But the empire is for death.

We need gifts against empire.

We need the wisdom of three wise astrologers

who saw the star of beauty –

star of wonder, star of light, –

and followed it.

But the only thing empire ultimately has for us is death.

Fear of death, death as sanction, solution, stock in trade.

War, death penalty, guns for killing,

obsession with the power of killing, of death.

The empire sparkles with promises of happiness,

through accumulation, keeping, holding.

This is worth fighting and killing for.

It is worth rejecting immigrants and neglecting refugees.

But it’s really about death.

Let this be a sign unto you.

A white pick-up shall appear from the south,

driving up from Walsenburg toward a Pueblo.

It shall be a Ford F-150,

and the family shall be six,

with the smallest child only four months old,

offering smiles to all she sees.

Learning to meet and to love them

will be your salvation, O America.

This will be your true business.

As Charles Dickens written in A Christmas Carol:

“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Empire obsesses about trade, about accumulation.

Empire offers this as death,

sparkling, appealing appearance, but death nonetheless.

Empire thinks that is it’s business,

when in reality humanity is it’s business.

The gospel of the magi offers beauty

and in so doing, honors life,

offers life, makes life its business,

makes humanity its business.

David Bentley Hart would say, that is beauty.

April Bernard would say

when the blue bird arrives,

the sneers will be crushed under their own bricks.

David Whyte would add,

So put down the weight of your aloneness.

Matthew might add – put down the weight

of the deathliness of Herod, of empire,

of superiority and accumulation,

and bring gifts for the Christ, gifts against empire,

gifts for beauty.

Malachi 4:5

 Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.

Luke 1:5-25

The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense-offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside.Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’ Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.’ The angel replied, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.’

 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, ‘This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.’

John the Baptist’s birth was like his ministry – surprising and full of disruption. As a prophet, he will don the clothing that reflects his impassioned infilling by the Holy Spirit and commitment to the Holy Spirit. He will be a Nazarite. He will come out of the hard, bare place of the wilderness wearing camel’s hair, a leather belt, and the locust-and-honey breath that could lay waste to a whole host of sins. He will begin his most famous sermon with the lovely pastoral phrase: “You brood of vipers….!” (I have never been able to pull that one off!)

And so it is with his birth. His mother Elizabeth is beginning to despair of the greatest blessing that she longs for – to bear a child. And to make matters more fraught, Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah have been good! His mother and father are “righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord.” Then the Biblical writing adds, like a punch line, “But they had no children.” “But they had no children” is the line that tells us that children are the just reward of the righteous in the order of things. Good things come to those who fear the Lord! So where is our child? The seeds of the shake-up are already planted in this tension. Righteous living has not been met with its reward.

Now the angel Gabriel arrives with news. Messages from God can be overwhelming in the best of circumstances. Sometimes they are downright terrifying, even when the news is good. Because so often the news comes in a way we don’t expect, or from the side, or it’s not exactly the news we wanted. But most of all, God’s news comes to us as thoroughgoing transformation. That’s just going to happen. And we can feel it in our bones when that’s the news we are about to receive.

So with Zechariah. He was doing his good work in the temple. In his heart, he had despaired of the longed-for child. But he is a faithful member of the community. So he’s carrying on with the good work. And Gabriel arrives, like a train in the dark, like a light in the cellar, like a hundred birds flushing up from a nearby tree, like a whistle from a stranger across the field. Gabriel! Messenger of God! And it’s good news. “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness….”

Well…, it was good news. It was amazing news. It was too much good news. Zechariah, his aging heart aching, couldn’t take it in. “How will I know that this is so?” Good old Zechariah asks for the proof. And Gabriel is not amused. You’ll get your proof, my friend. And also, you’re not going to be able to speak until the child is born. How’s that for some divine evidence! (Gabriel is a serious messenger used to dealing in the most sensitive and important of heavenly matters.)

And so the blessing came to Elizabeth and Zechariah, but not in the way they expected. It was God’s own blessing, not offered by human dictates or plans. And so arrived John the Baptist, who preached repentance, and the coming of fire, and practicing the ritual of baptism in water. It was John who recognized Jesus as the Christ, and John who baptized him. And so John offered great change to the people, and Jesus completed the change. Now it would be “good news of great joy to all people.” Now it would God’s love most amazing, offered for all the world, for all eternity. “You will have joy and gladness….”

For the record…”

Pastor’s note 12-29-17

As with so many “lasts” at this time of year, this will be the last note of 2017. Here’s a list of headlines from our community year:

Beloved Community Village, a tiny-home village for folks who don’t have the housing they want or need. We as a community did this through the detailed shepherding of pastor Cole, in collaboration with Nathan Hunt, Terese Howard and others, and through constant support and advocacy of pastor Vern in connections with the city and on the board of the village. So the leadership you support devoted a great deal of time and energy to this. Also, many of you participated in direct action to help build and fund the village, provide food, transportation, and personal connection.

Visa application filing for Fernando and Rebeca to return and work with us and our conference. Pastor Vern devoted a lot of time and energy to this, in collaboration with Delo Blough, our pro bono immigration attorney!; Ken Gingerich, our conference moderator; and Linda Shelley, Latin America director for Mennonite Mission Network.

Courage and Renewal practices. Our congregation supported and participated in two ongoing circles that offer “circle of trust” practice, one on Tuesdays and one on Thursdays. The Tuesday circle is the newer circle primarily led by Sarah Leach, facilitator in training with the national Center for Courage and Renewal. The Thursday circle has now been meeting for over six years, with leadership from pastor Vern, who received facilitator qualification during that time (three years ago).

Amazing artist series during the summer months. Featuring the artists Cathryn Bay-Fowler, Douglas Fowler, Kristin Brunelli, Eva Klink, and pastors’ movie and art reflections.

Generous financial sharing. This small congregation is now supporting pastor Vern half-time and pastor Cole 1/5 time, as well as providing a place to meet. These are in a sense “infrastructure” supports for so much good justice, peace, and community actions.

Soup and bread for all. Through the year we have observed each Sunday the Eucharist, which is a symbolic feast of hospitality and love for all. And in a wonderful turn, we have provided actual soup and bread for all who want it. This is “city of God” practice, and a deep root of peace.

Music to beat the band. We are blessed with the gift of music in this congregation, with improvisational musicians who play with their whole hearts, and a group who sings beautifully together from four-part a cappella great-songs to jamming on “Let it be.” We even have the drumming of Jacob holding down a heart-beat.

The practice of our daily lives. We have given ourselves in our work, and in our home relationships, and with friends, to the practice of loving community. The evidence of this is in the joy with which we gather, free from recriminations, believing all things, offering ourselves openly to each other.

Thanks be to the divine Spirit of Love for this year, and for this community being born together.

Pastor Vern

Pastor’s note 12-21-17

Today is winter solstice, the longest time of darkness in the northern hemisphere. The fading light sends us “indoors” to lighting lights, feasting, and loving in a dark time. What is now is the dark; what we pray is coming is the light. Our generative selves need the dark, and the fallow time as I mentioned last week in this pastor’s note. But we long for the light. It is the one star in the deepening sky that catches our eye. It is light that creates the growth of sustaining food, and that illuminates the patterns of nature and the human-made environment. And we gather around our various “hearths” with friends and family, to make proximity the heart of our warmth and celebration.

The date of Christmas is on the old Roman date for the winter solstice, December 25. There is debate about whether there was a Christian feast in place already on December 25 or whether Christians simply repurposed a Roman feast day. In ancient times, the conception of Jesus came to be associated with the date of his crucifixion – March 25. Nine months from March 25 is December 25. So that may also be a source of the tradition of the December 25 birth date. It is therefore possible that a celebration of Jesus’ birth predated the Roman winter celebration. In any case, by 336 CE, the Christmas feast day was being observed. And it surely worked in favor of Christmas to move with the flow of a Roman feast, and also a phenomenon – the winter solstice – so long-observed in the ancient world. (Egyptian notes about the solstice go back to 1996 BCE.)

The many practices of Christmas are not surprisingly a great weaving of sacred and secular, Christian and pagan customs and practices. One of the heart affirmations of the season, in any case, arises from the ever-forgotten and ever-recalled-once-again sense that in the face of great imperial distortion and destruction, into the heart of empire is born a person who carried love like a light that could not be overcome. The deep resilience of this love, even transforming death, was not because of its great power to dominate situations, but rather because it flows from, has its source in, the deepest structures of God’s good universe, and this goodness is expressed in the Christ-love, which is like that singular star that matters more than all the darkness.

Namaste: the star love-light in me recognizes the star love-light in you. May we so greet each other. And when we do, we speak the great Christmas story once again for our day.

Pastor’s note 12-15-17

In the middle of what can be a holiday rush, here’s a note on how valuable rest is to our occupied brains. It’s focused on work, but could apply to any pattern of relentless occupation:

“Americans and their brains are preoccupied with work much of the time. Throughout history people have intuited that such puritanical devotion to perpetual busyness does not in fact translate to greater productivity and is not particularly healthy. What if the brain requires substantial downtime to remain industrious and generate its most innovative ideas? “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets,” essayist Tim Kreider wrote in The New York Times. “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.” (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-downtime/)

Stillness and watchfulness are the hidden practice embedded within the stories of the shepherds “watching their flocks by night” and the wise men from the east “we observed his star at its rising.” It would have been easy to not be around when the angels showed up or at the shining moment of the rising of the star. The angels and the star are stories of inspiration, and the paragraph on the brain says that we need “space and quiet” to be available for inspiration.

How do we find stillness in our busy lives? Pause five minutes and watch the sky. Bicycle or walk without earbuds. Drive without the radio on. Sit in quietness in the morning, with the only activity being the sipping of coffee or tea. Walk the dog with no media playing. Even 30-seconds’ pause in a frantic pace can be astonishing. Even half a second’s breath-taking before responding or jumping to the next thing can be a moment of “coming to ourselves.” Angels may sing. A star might rise. The Holy Spirit of justice and joy wants to love us and live with us. We will notice this when we are still, observing, watching, resting. Peace on earth….

Pastor Vern

This Sunday, John Beck will interview Dwight Landes about his life and faith. Eric McCuen will lead music. Sarah Leach will offer the Eucharist. May we gather in joy, rest, and mutual encouragement.

Pastor’s note 12-8-17

Manna

by Joseph Stroud

Everywhere, everywhere, snow sifting down,
a world becoming white, no more sounds,
no longer possible to find the heart of the day,
the sun is gone, the sky is nowhere, and of all
I wanted in life – so be it – whatever it is
that brought me here, chance, fortune, whatever
blessing each flake of snow is the hint of, I am
grateful, I bear witness, I hold out my arms,
palms up, I know it is impossible to hold
for long what we love of the world, but look
at me, is it foolish, shameful, arrogant to say this,
see how the snow drifts down, look how happy
I am.

We haven’t been receiving much snow in the metro area this year. Last night, we had a dusting, and it had the sparkly beauty of a Christmas card with glitter applied to help depict the snow. And it was quiet. The poet Stroud says “no more sounds.” Even with light snow, the quietness is surprising.

The Christmas carol “O little town of Bethlehem” was composed by Phillips Brooks in the wake of the American Civil War. One historian note (The Hymnal Companion), holds that the line “how still we see thee lie” was a note about the odd silence of a town after war, with so many people gone, and activity muted after the shock of war.

Where might you find yourself shocked into silence these days, muted, “snowed under” by events in your life or in our larger culture and world? Relatives, political processes, the pain of refugees, the confusion in our own souls and hearts can exhaust us, leave us feel pushed about, bruised, confused. And so we may go silent like a war-torn village now lying quietly. We may feel that we are snowed by bad news, distortions, unkindnesses.

“Yet in the dark streets shineth the everlasting light…,” as the carol continues. It is the counter-narrative of the gospel, that all the cruelties, neglects, ignorance, and lovelessness, despite how vivid and present it seems to be, is not that which is most resilient and long-lasting. For that, we need to consider the everlasting light, the goodness and sweetness that refuses to go away, refuses to be snowed under, no matter what.

Perhaps this is why poet Stroud can say that even when all the world is disappearing, as with a might snow, “look how happy I am.” It echos Paul’s question: “What can separate us from the love that we have in Christ?”

This Sunday, we will gather, see two Advent candles being lit, sing the good songs, and read our shared “pageant” – our communal reading of a version of the Christmas story. I have written a new poem that will be part of it, a poem about nuclear weapons, race, Christmas, and light.

Come let us observe together the “everlasting light.”

Pastor Vern

Pastor’s note 10-27-17

“You got to move….” This blues exhortation was possibly a self-encouragement to a very tired soul, possibly driven down a field for work, possibly incarcerated for whatever kind of infraction, possibly just exhausted by the prospects. “You got to move, child….” James Brown sang “Get up off of that thing; dance to the music.” That’s the move of celebration, and how sweet is that? But the fundamental existential call into the hours of life rings with soul, sorrow, and joy: “You got to move.”

I imagine folks sitting around the hearth or the tavern toward the end of the day. And the life force is in them. It flickers, it is whipped, dragged down, insulted, neglected, disrespected, but the life force is in them. “You may be high, you may be low…, you got to move.” Do not be defeated.

Paul in the book of Romans said, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;

we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:35-37)

Sometimes we are just down, because the current arrangements are against us. Sometimes we are down because we are practicing the deep, inclusive, transforming love of Christ – “for your sake.” But the great river of life, that flows and flows, even into the desert (Ezekiel), right through the heart of the great city (Revelation), always echoes that “You got to move….”

It is not a matter of staying busy or getting to work. It is at its heart an affirmation of dignity and goodness of the presence and constructive work of all people to “move” in whatever way that they can – move with eyes of love, move with a helping hand, move with an encouraging word, all the moves peaceful and strong of good community.

“You got to move….”

Pastor Vern

Pastor’s note 10-20-17

“I woke up this morning with my mind… stayed on freedom.” I myself woke up this morning in La Junta, in the Arkansas river valley, to get ready for the Rocky Mountain Mennonite Relief Sale. The sale is by my count in its 41st year. It is a Mennonite food and culture festival, now for years featuring Navajo fry bread, burritos, as well as German cookies, and meat pockets call bierrocks. The big event is the quilt auction, where this magnificent art for is in generous display.

The money raised from auctions and items for sale supports the Mennonite Central Committee, which works at relief and development around the world.

This Sunday we will be sharing in a neighborhood festival with our host congregation, Mayflower UCC. We’ll worship outside at 10:00 a.m. There will be much music from three bands. And a food truck, etc. Sweet. Let us rejoice and serve in these days granted to us.

The first light in La Junta was beautiful, oranges playing across the slowly brightening sky. How can we live in a way that loves and notices that ineffable and divine beauty more than anything else, so that all may live and love in it?

Pastor Vern

Pastor’s note 10-6-17

Nuclear weapons: their immorality as vast and indiscriminate killers; their quiet, insidious presence on the land, dotting the Pawnee Grasslands, a place of peace that lodges violence. And here’s some good news!:

“BRUSSELS — The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, a recognition of its efforts to avoid nuclear conflict at a time of greater danger than at any other period in recent memory.

“The Norwegian Nobel Committee said that it was honoring the group in part because of its efforts to foster an international Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was approved in July by the United Nations and opened for signatures last month. The 10-year-old grass-roots civil society movement pushes for nuclear disarmament across the world.

“The committee recognized the group for “its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its groundbreaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons,” chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen of Norway said as she announced the prize in Oslo.

“The Geneva-based coalition, which was modeled on international efforts to ban land mines, says it has branches in more than 100 countries. In a measure of the sudden surge in interest in the group, its website was down Friday morning following the announcement.

“The award is “a message to all nuclear-armed states and all states that continue to rely on nuclear weapons for security that it is unacceptable behavior,” the group’s Swedish executive director, Beatrice Fihn, told reporters after the announcement. “We will not support it. We will not make excuses for it. We can’t threaten to indiscriminately slaughter hundreds of thousands of civilians in the name of security. That’s not how you build security.”

—Washington Post 10-6-17

Tomorrow (Saturday), some people will be going to bear witness at a missile silo (N-8, west of New Ramer, due north of the Wiggins rest area along interstate 76). This vigil will be led by two Catholic sisters. Here’s a bit about them, from the

“As political tensions mount over North Korea’s ballistic missile testing, two elderly Roman Catholic nuns who have spent decades sounding the plea for peace say they are more hopeful than ever that nuclear weapons – not the world – will be annihilated.

“We trust, we believe, we know that we are well on the way to a nuclear-free world and future,” said Sister Ardeth Platte, a Dominican nun.

“Platte, 81, and Sister Carol Gilbert, 69, live at the Catholic Worker-affiliated Jonah House in Baltimore. They gained attention in Colorado in the past for pouring blood on a nuclear missile silo in Weld County and anti-war civil disobedience at Colorado Springs military bases

“As part of a non-governmental organization, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, the nuns attended a United Nations conference in New York, when on July 7, 122 countries – two-thirds of the 193-member states – adopted the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Treaty. It’s the first legally binding multilateral agreement for nuclear disarmament in 20 years.”

The sisters will be with us in worship on Sunday, at noon (followed by soup & bread for all). We are invited to be in community with them, in this moment, and in their work to foster live, not nuclear terror, for all God’s people.

Pastor Vern

Sister Ardeth Platte on July 17 hands a copy of the newly adopted United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to Gregor Schlemmer, commander of Büchel Air Base in Germany, a deployment site for 20 US nuclear-armed B61 H-bombs. Sister Carol Gilbert is in the brown hat. Photo by Marion Kuepker

Pastor’s note 9-29-17

This Sunday is the Feast of St. Francis and World Communion Sunday. For St. Francis, we’re going to try to meet outside (weather permitting), and bless the animals (so bring your lovely pets!). We will be hearing a couple of dog songs with Mary Sprunger-Froese from her dog-themed one-woman show that she put on for Raw Tools a couple of weeks ago. We will have treats for dogs and cats. Let me know of another animal, and I’ll bring treats for them (Boa Constrictor?).

When we gather, we make real and present (incarnation) an alternative human reality. It is an alternative to the dominant pattern of an empire with money and power rewards for the aggressive, and a willingness to kill and injure for the sake of survival (even for the sake of mere privilege).

How we hunger for something finer, something rooted and grounded in compassion and genuine creativity. How our hearts long for love.

Let us make this goodness happen together. Come lend your sweetness, beauty, and strength to the gathering.

Pastor Vern

Pastor’s note 9-22-17

Today is the first day of Autumn. So we bid farewell to summer, and turn toward the clarity, change, harvest, energies and nature’s decompression of Autumn. What’s in your heart on this opening day of Autumn. What love, what questions, fears, and plans are yours? May we find our way together, rejoicing. Here are some notes on community, which I used for our Thursday circle this week.

Vern

From Parker Palmer, Let your life speak, p.p. 106 – 108, excerpts

Where I live, summer’s keynote is abundance. The forests fill with undergrowth, the trees with fruit, the meadows with wild flowers and grasses, the fields with wheat and corn, the gardens with zucchini, and the yards with weeds….

In the human world, abundance does not happen automatically. It is created when we have the sense to choose community, to come together to celebrate and share our common store. Whether the scarce resource is money or love or power or words, the true law of life is that we generate more of whatever seems scarce by trusting its supply and passing it around. Authentic abundance does not lie in secured stockpiles of food or cash or influence or affection but in belonging to a community where we can give those goods to others who need them – and receive them from others when we are in need….

Here is a summertime truth: abundance is a communal act, the joint creation of an incredibly complex ecology in which each part functions on behalf of the whole and, in return, is sustained by the whole. Community doesn’t just create abundance – community is abundance. If we could learn that equation from the world of nature, the human world might be transformed.

Bible reading

2nd Corinthians 9:6-11a The Good News Version

Remember that the person who plants few seeds will have a small crop; the one who plants many seeds will have a large crop. You should each give, then, as you have decided, not with regret or out of a sense of duty; for God loves the one who gives gladly. And God is able to give you more than you need, so that you will always have all you need for yourselves and more than enough for every good cause. As the scripture says,

“God gives generously to the needy;

God’s kindness lasts forever.”

And the One, who supplies seed for the sower and bread to eat, will also supply you with all the seed you need and will make it grow and produce a rich harvest from your generosity. For God will always make you rich enough to be generous at all times, so that many will thank God for your gifts….

May much love and encouragement be with us in our community of faith,

Pastor Vern

Pastor’s note 9-14-17

“I thank God I’m not good

But have the natural egoism of flowers

And rivers that follow their path

Unwittingly preoccupied

With only their flowering and their flowing.”

—Fernando Pessoa

Pessoa’s poem gives us the opportunity to consider the difference between being good, by some official or authoritative standard, and “flowering” and “flowing” with our true selves. One deep affirmation of the Bible is that creation, including the human creation, “was good.” This affirmation of goodness is repeated like a bell ringing: it was good, it was good, it was good. Then there is plenty of distortion, plenty of “fall,” plenty of sin. But at our fundamental level, we are created good!

Not only that, but we are each gifted to be a body-part in the loving body of Christ, the community of the Holy Spirit. There is something of distinct value that each of us may bring, may “show up” with as we seek to make community together. Part of our discipline and our job as people of faith is to learn of and live into that distinct giftedness.

When I was a young pastor, I was in demand for various non-profit boards – I was the new young adult pastor, rounding out their age spectrum. I had some gifts for board work – the ability to read and articulate understandings for organizations. So I worked with things like CROP Walk, and a shelter for abused women, and a group that sought to address sexual abuse among the Amish. But I gradually found out that I was burning out, that I was simply getting tired of my work. After confusing and somewhat painful consideration, I asked myself what I truly wanted to do for good processes such as these, if not serve on the boards. The answer presented itself: I wanted to volunteer to play music for benefit concerts for such good organizations as these, so that they could raise money and have a good time making community while doing these benefits. Since then, I have done a bit of both, but the realization about music helped me to “flow” and “flower” with something that was distinct about me, rather than simply doing something “good.” There has been much more life in it.

Having experienced this myself, I have generally tried to ask folks, “what do you want to do?” “What would give you joy, as you participate in this community?” Not “what needs to be done,” and certainly not “what I need to have done.” There is so much more spaciousness and discovery of capacity when we don’t simply consider the “good” of what is “needed,” but rather consider what makes our hearts feel strong and good in the service, work, and community-making that we do. This is because we are discovering our divine “flowering” and “flowing.”

This is not something precious about words and church. It’s for any kind of location in life. What are you bringing “to the show,” “to the work-site,” “to the wagon train?” What’s yours that is truly God’s that is truly yours?

Pastor Vern

Pastor’s note 9-8-17

Revelation 22:1-3

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life* with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there anymore.”

The liberation movements that are reflected in the writings in the Bible can be described in various powerful ways: repair of the world; justice for the oppressed; healing for our bodies ; shalom, which is the realization of a life of sufficiency and joy for myself and others. All of these make for peace, by removing the conditions that potentiate violence.

The beauty of this culminating vision in Revelation gives it texture and force as a poetic step forward into a true place, a place of bright waters so wholesome that even the leaves of the trees that grow there heal nations. Michelle Warren with the Evangelical Immigration Table works for “comprehensive, compassionate” immigration reform. Revelation offers a “comprehensive, compassionate” new way for all nations. Gone is the cruelty and calculation done in the name of security and stability. Now there is beauty, healing for all. Nothing accursed will remain.

What is astonishing is that this is not intended as a some-day vision of heaven or a counsel of wishfulness, but rather a declaration and commitment for daily living. How may we live our lives as seeds of these beautiful trees, even in the soil of the way things are?

Pastor Vern

Pastor’s note 8-25-17

Silence. Voices may be silenced by oppression. Voices may be called forth by the opportunity of silence as an opening to finer speech, rather than being drowned out by the daily noise. Sometimes this is called “stillness” rather than “silence” to convey the sense of openness rather than silencing.

Pastor Cole Chandler will share with us about “Silence: A land beyond words” this Sunday. This will be the second week of our series, led by Sarah Leach, Cole, and Vern on the work of Courage and Renewal in our congregation (the Quaker-based deep listening practice). Please see my blog for my meditation notes last week on silence, evoking voices, and hearing our truest selves into speech and community.

The power of Courage and Renewal work is like the power of other contemplative practices. It opens up a space and opportunity for us to step outside of or beyond our daily grind and habits and into a wider place of the Spirit. There is a generosity there. All things can be held: sorrow and joy, disappointment and rejoicing. New capacities may emerge. Courage may be formed.

I experience Courage and Renewal work, which is essentially the practice of participating in intentional listening/speaking circles, as a very deliberate and gracious pathway of Christian formation. It’s a way to not simply live out our days, but to find ourselves on good pathways of joyful engagement. Courage and Renewal is not navel gazing. There is a sense in which the inner and outer are fully interconnected. So what happens in my heart, is also something that will happen in my world, my community, with my family and friends, even with my enemies, and certainly in my dearest relationships.

Yesterday, Cole and I had the privilege of sitting in a workshop on race with two African-American pastors and scholars. These women were fierce and joyful. They demonstrated how change in their personal lives and hearts is translated directly into the work of the community and onto the political stage. Inner energy for justice and goodness for all becomes outer energy for justice and goodness for all. It was such a good example of what we intend in the work of Courage and Renewal.

Come to worship Sunday, and in the coming weeks, and let us be “en-couraged” together in our lovely new community.

Peace be,

Pastor Vern

Pastor’s note 8-17-17

In the late ‘90’s and for ten years in the 2000’s I studied Tae Kwon Do. This is a hard-style martial art that features balance, grace, precision, and fierce board-breaking. It was a paradox. I was and am dedicated to non-violence and the dignity and life of even my enemy. And I felt like this practice made me more whole by giving me a way to move in the world with more assertiveness. Kind and assertive. Loving enemies with kindness and with the possibility of arresting harm in progress to others and to myself. It also helped me to be more direct and clear-eyed because I felt more courageous.

In the course of that practice, I often wondered if there were a way to bring such systematic personal formation to our faith communities. Then I began to attend Courage and Renewal retreats, based on the writing of Parker Palmer, a Quaker writer. I am now a facilitator with the national center for Courage and Renewal. I recently helped design and lead a retreat in Chicago for multi-faith clergy from around the nation. Our weekly Thursday Circle is a version of this work. And what we do, we in fact call “work.” Like Tae Kwon Do, it is not easy. It has clear practices that can be learned. It invites us not to break boards but to let our hearts be broken open by what is most true, loving, strong, and compassionate about us as we live and move in the world, in our families, even in casual encounters.

This work has made a difference in my life. Through its practice of deep listening and silence/stillness, I have found more consistent joy, a measure of generosity, a spaciousness in relationships, and courage. This work created the deep conditions for the risks, plans, and intentions that went into dreaming of this new congregation. I am constantly grateful to live in a faith community that flows in some way from something called “Courage and Renewal.”

In the next several weeks, through the beginning of October, we will be invited to consider more closely these formative practices. We already have worship influenced by the work, but we will shape the coming services even more closely to give some of this experience. It’s a transparent, friendly, strongly-held practice, kind of a communal form of spiritual direction and contemplation. It is a powerful and lovely way of taking good steps together in Christian community.

I look forward to doing this with you, hearing all of our voices and heart-insights. We will continue to sing, pray, share in the Eucharist. May this be a season of deep joy for all.

Pastor Vern

Pastor’s note 8-9-17

One of my heart passages from the Bible is Genesis 12:1-2. “Now God said to Abram and Sarai, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your parent’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” This one sits close to me as I continue to find over and over again the practice of living into God’s good future, rather than only the path of my certainties and understandings. “The land that I will show you” is a place that can only be found by staying in a mode of exploration, wonder, holding the tension.

Do we ever arrive in this land? Probably not fully. It will always be the place of a measure of the unknown. But arrival does look like finding myself embraced in love and joy, even in the hardest of times, because I am with a people of love and joy.

I have experienced this in ways you might not believe! in our new community. My heart is so full. This is the second anniversary as a gathered community, and I cannot tell you how our new life together has been a different and wonderful experience for me. I feel so much trust and mutual love among us. There is a lot of saying “yes” to good things, and to work, and to sharing.

We are only at the beginning of life as a faith community. There will be hurts and hardships, undoubtedly. But I think our “DNA”, our first steps, and the “angel” (spirit, core) of our community is so lovely and strong. I wonder what we will do and be next.

This Sunday, we will sing a song based on Genesis 12:1-2. It’s one that I led in Chicago, a couple of weeks ago. It plays in my subconscious, as a soundtrack of blessing. It has some Hebrew. Here are some dynamic translations (not literal): L’chi lach – go forth; Lech l’cha – go for yourself; L’sim-chat cha-yim – and you shall be a blessing. (I’m not entirely sure these translations are good; you may double-check.)

Here are the lyrics of the song:

L’chi lach, to a land that I will show you

Lech l’cha, to a place you do not know

L’chi lach, on your journey I will bless you

You shall be a blessing) – 3x

l’chi lach

L’chi lach, and I shall make your name great

Lech l’cha, and all shall praise your name

L’chi lach, to the place that I will show you

L’sim-chat cha-yim – 3x

l’chi lach

May we go from this day as a blessing in all the earth, my friends. My we walk together in a sense of courage and joy.

Pastor Vern

Pastor’s note 8-2-17

John O’Donohue notes that “There is a lovely phrase in Gaelic, ag borradh (“eg borra” – rolled r’s), that means there is a quivering life about to break forth” (Anam Cara p164). But is there? Is there life about to break forth? Often it feels like there is no good path forward. As one person put it, “the opportunities that lie before us are insurmountable!” And in a “can-do” culture like ours, it may feel like a great failure when I “can’t do.”

What does it mean when the options seem few, the forecast is stormy, and we are already tired? Sometimes stories just end. You freeze to death trying to reach the south pole. Sometimes there is a lot more of the same. In the movie Groundhog Day, Phil asks, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered? Ralph sighs: “That about sums it up for me.” And sometimes, it takes great ending and destruction before a new thing comes along.

And yet. One thing it’s possible to learn from the martyrs, and perhaps from loved ones we have lost, is that even if the story just ends, when there is the warmth of genuine affection, somehow it all becomes part of something larger. Even when the story is a tale of many repetitions, when there is delight in the other, somehow the story can become something fine (this is what Phil learns). And even when the new beginning only seems to be on the other side of a whole lot of ending and loss, when we turn to each other with compassion and light, we find a way of walking with each other with a measure of grace.

What we seem to discover at some level, when we find the capacity to turn toward the other with grace, and generosity, and an expectation of welcome and fellow-traveling, is that somehow it always is and always will be the Gaelic “ag borradh.” There will always be a quivering of new life. Life in the circles we know, and life in circles that are now only a mystery. “We must always give thanks to God for you, for the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.” 2nd Thessalonians 1:3

Pastor’s note 7-28-17

I noticed a private jet flying over Littleton yesterday. I thought about how quickly one could go places in a private jet. Just roll up to Centennial airport. No check-in or TSA. Take off, land in San Clemente a couple hours later, refreshed and ready to enjoy the ocean.

It is also very fast to drive a car to go shopping, go to meetings. Cross-town traffic-jams notwithstanding, it’s all usually pretty fast and easy, private, listen to a podcast, hop in, hop out. Even if you are a person of more ordinary means in the U.S., and have to arrive at the airport two hours early for the privilege of a cramped seat on the 727, you probably have a car for the everyday. That’s still fast and easy.

At Beloved Community Village, residents will say something like “I can’t meet today; I have to deal with homeless stuff.” Which often means chasing down cached belongings, recovering a lost ID, finding a way to get to a job or to family and friends across town. This is all in addition to seeking food and the next source of income. Everything can become so slow, tangled with small or large complications (dealing with fines and even incarceration for camping-related activities!).

In our community of those who need housing and those who have housing, some of us may need to slow down on purpose, easing off on the high-resource expenditure involved in doing things quickly. Others of us may need better pathways for life’s walk, more free of the tangles that crop up in an economic system that is too often content to let people live in great need. All people need reasonable access to housing, food, healthcare, transportation, the stuff of a graceful, ordinary humanity. I continue to consider and hold the question for what this means for our strong, joyful, diverse community. What is the shape of a community that is an economy for all God’s people?

Pastor’s note 7-20-17

The translucent cerulean sky of a late summer day is comprised of the infinity of air and outer space lying over the mountains and the last long rays of the sun as our part of the earth rotates away. All the trees become dark profiles, like intricate paper cut-outs of themselves. Birds flash an occasional wing into the late light.

How can we be violent and hateful surrounded by this great nest of beauty? How can we practice destruction of earth and fellow creatures? Nature teaches us that harmony is embedded into the heart of things. Our big brains and complex hearts love it. And, strangely, we also become captivated by fevers and distortions.

I have, by some odd happenstance, been reading and watching stories and histories about WWII and the holocaust. What came over people? What comes over us? It is as if icy air from a toxic pole of another dimension comes to settle over us and becloud us. Cruelty is inspired and unleashed. This is not only history; it may be less focused at times, but the cloud continues to cover human hearts.

In this world of unspeakable beauty and the distortions of cruelty, we must learn the deepest, strongest, finest pathways of love. How shall we respond to the times and places of great clouding cruelty? What force, kindness, timeliness, courage, risk, and clarity will be our pathways as we take steps in the way of Christ who “came preaching peace to those who were far off and those who were near?” (Ephesians 2:17) How will the beauty that surrounds us and is shaped into our own bodies teach us to love so that all may live in joy?

Much love to each of you, dear ones, on this summer day.

Pastor Vern

Pastor’s note 7-7-17

Are you reading any stories like this?: The hot summer sun fell on their shoulders like the lash of the gods. They had been walking for days now, finding safe water only in the occasional deep spring, resting in the shadows of a fortunate tree that had survived the blast. At first glance, the landscape appeared to be as always, rolling hills, dotted with a house here or a barn there. But a closer look quickly revealed that everything had changed, trees flattened, the far side of a barn a mere frame of sticks, only half a house still standing. The flaxen-haired woman turned to the muscular man beside her. Dark eyes flashing in the evening light, she called out in her husky voice, “we need to find a place to spend the night.” He turned his broad shoulders toward her, noticing once again that nature had been generous with her curves. “There was still some hay inside the ruins of that barn. I think we might find something comfortable there.”

No romances in your summer reading? Are you enjoying other summer dramas, through book, television, or film? The joy of even the lightest and silliest of stories is that it fires our imagination for worlds unknown. We are always learning about our lives by learning about other lives. We compare, consider, seeking to understand the contrast. “Hmm, I am not Wonder Woman or Jason Bourne. But I do have some skills. How am I using those?”

I sometimes pray by trying to imagine a bit of what it might be like to be in someone else’s shoes. In my experience, this is very powerful, even startling. Taking just a moment to consider how the world looks from the inside of another consciousness quickly raises a hundred questions, but also creates a deep sense of connection. I think when that can happen, it is a strong expression of prayer. It can be an exercise in honoring and living in the connections of community, or even in the global society of human beings. What must it be like to be a refugee in the Mediterranean? Or to walk homeless in the streets of London? Or to work in a factory in North Korea? What might my cousin in Nebraska be thinking about the news? What would my grandmother say about all this?

In this way, prayer is like letting myself imagine the stories of others, their longings, fears, reasons, and gifts. May your summer be full of great stories. There is something so wonderful embedded in our human stories, something that with insight we might often say is the life of “God among us.”

Pastor Vern

Pastor’s note 5-5-17

What do a wedding of two homeless folks (future residents of the Village), a board meeting on the sidewalk, our Tiny Home Blues event, and The Interfaith Alliance big meeting to plan and act about homelessness have in common? They are all amazing meetings of diversity of class, race, gender, sexuality, faith, and a glorious multiplicity of gifts and talents.

I think this is exactly what we celebrate and lean toward in our gatherings as Beloved Community Mennonite Church. It is such a lovely community.

It appears that we have an occasion to share with each other about money and our movement. Our church cash balance is now at $750. We’re a very small church, and new, and we’re not in any kind of debt. So that’s really great! At the same time, we may want to continue to do some things together, and do new things, which can be given much-needed oxygen and water in the form of money.

We started out with some reserves, thanks to initial gifts to the community. In 2016, we averaged a monthly deficit of about $500 per month, for a total of $5750. In 2017, we’ve averaged a deficit (due to higher rent), of $550 per month, for a total thus far of $2150. So now, we’re arrived at $750 remaining in the congregational coffers.

One of the key commitments and practices that I’ve wanted to have infuse our congregation is that we are a movement on a mission that lives and dies by its mission, not an institution that needs to survive. My faith is that if the Spirit moves among us in mission, that is what we need to pay attention to, not how we’re going to keep going as a church.

In this mode, both Cole and I understand the money that we receive within our congregation is not contractually a fixed amount but rather something that is joyful and flexible. If we need to, we will find other ways to earn the money we think we need for food, housing, etc. And we have also made a point of not seeking any sort of debt around building or any other project, because we want to pay as we go, and follow the good leading of the Spirit of love, who is poured out among us daily, like the wine of our Eucharist. Sweet.

So this note is not a “we need this or we won’t survive” note. Survival is not the question. This is a “what do we want to do together?” and “how is money related to that?” kind of note.

What is this community doing? Supporting pastors who offer leaderships for various things: arrange for the relationship with Fernando and Rebeca (our Mexico City leaders who were with us, and we hope will be able to join us again as leaders of a sibling Spanish-language congregation); most recently, working a lot with the creation of the Beloved Community Village (the tiny home village that may be built in the next several weeks in north-east Denver), visiting and connecting with our community both among regular participants, and possible new participants, offering theological reflections for our community so that we may be encouraged in that “both-and”, graceful, wild, counter-intuitive, sweet and fun world of life and spirit that we are invited to in this faith community (which is really a faith movement); weaving constant connections for all kinds of relationships in ministry for making our community and world a more friendly place for all people – immigrants, the homeless, refugees, lgbtq folks, people seeking employment, the ill and injured. We’re all about Isaiah 58 and Luke 4 actions of preaching good news to the poor, release of the captives, healing (the lame shall walk), and declaring the year of God’s jubilee (there is goodness for us and it’s happening now!). All of this work is an invitation to our whole community to participate, and so many of us have joined in so many wonderful things!

That’s the work of Cole and I, as I see it. I am being paid half-time (take home pay of $2221 a month) and health insurance (subsidized by the denomination because of our status as a new church plant) and a retirement contribution. Cole is paid marginal time (take home pay of $450 a month) and no additional benefits.

What else are we doing? Paying the rent! Always a good thing. I think we have enjoyed our new space and address and feel like it has great potential for the coming months and years. It costs just a bit more than our old space – $600 a month.

All of us are involved in so many ways in those Isaiah 58 and Luke 4 ministries, in our relationships with the homeless, with immigrants, refugees, children who need good teachers, people who need health care, in our daily work, and volunteer connections. I suspect that our charitable donations go far and wide in goodness.

So the question would be, shall we change some part of these current arrangements of our movement?, what is our capacity and desire to share finances in our congregation?, and what would we most like to do together in the future?

We’ll touch on some of these questions on Sunday. I love that we don’t have to live in heaviness and obligation around money, but can have free and open conversation about what God’s abundance looks like among us.

Peace be, my friends,

Pastor Vern

Pastor’s note 4-28-17

Good day to you, collaborators (those who labor together!) and conspirators (those who breathe together!) in our Beloved Community faith community.

It appears that we have an occasion to share with each other about money and our movement. Our church cash balance is now at $750. We’re a very small church, and new, and we’re not in any kind of debt. So that’s really great! At the same time, we may want to continue to do some things together, and do new things, which can be given much-needed oxygen and water in the form of money.

We started out with some reserves, thanks to initial gifts to the community. In 2016, we averaged a monthly deficit of about $500 per month, for a total of $5750. In 2017, we’ve averaged a deficit (due to higher rent), of $550 per month, for a total thus far of $2150. So now, we’re arrived at $750 remaining in the congregational coffers.

One of the key commitments and practices that I’ve wanted to have infuse our congregation is that we are a movement on a mission that lives and dies by its mission, not an institution that needs to survive. My faith is that if the Spirit moves among us in mission, that is what we need to pay attention to, not how we’re going to keep going as a church.

In this mode, both Cole and I understand the money that we receive within our congregation is not contractually a fixed amount but rather something that is joyful and flexible. If we need to, we will find other ways to earn the money we think we need for food, housing, etc. And we have also made a point of not seeking any sort of debt around building or any other project, because we want to pay as we go, and follow the good leading of the Spirit of love, who is poured out among us daily, like the wine of our Eucharist. Sweet.

So this note is not a “we need this or we won’t survive” note. Survival is not the question. This is a “what do we want to do together?” and “how is money related to that?” kind of note.

What are we doing? Supporting pastors who do various things: arrange for the relationship with Fernando and Rebeca (our Mexico City leaders who were with us, and we hope will be able to join us again as leaders of a sibling Spanish-language congregation); most recently, working a lot with the creation of the Beloved Community Village (the tiny home village that may be built in the next several weeks in north-east Denver), visiting and connecting with our community both among regular participants, and possible new participants, offering theological reflections for our community so that we may be encouraged in that “both-and”, graceful, wild, counter-intuitive, sweet and fun world of life and spirit that we are invited to in this faith community (which is really a faith movement); weaving constant connections for all kinds of relationships in ministry for making our community and world a more friendly place for all people – immigrants, the homeless, refugees, lgbtq folks, people seeking employment, the ill and injured. We’re all about Isaiah 58 and Luke 4 actions of preaching good news to the poor, release of the captives, healing (the lame shall walk), and declaring the year of God’s jubilee (there is goodness for us and it’s happening now!).

That’s the work of Cole and I, as I see it. I am being paid half-time (take home pay of $2221 a month) and health insurance (subsidized by the denomination because of our status as a new church plant) and a retirement contribution. Cole is paid marginal time (take home pay of $450 a month) and no additional benefits.

What else are we doing? Paying the rent! Always a good thing. I think we have enjoyed our new space and address and feel like it has great potential for the coming months and years. It costs just a bit more than our old space – $600 a month.

And all of us are involved in so many ways in those Isaiah 58 and Luke 4 ministries, in our relationships with the homeless, with immigrants, refugees, children who need good teachers, people who need health care, in our daily work, and volunteer connections. I suspect that our charitable donations go far and wide in goodness.

So the question would be, shall we change some part of these current arrangements of our movement?, what is our capacity and desire to share finances in our congregation?, and what would we most like to do together in the future?

We’ll touch on some of these questions on Sunday. I love that we don’t have to live in heaviness and obligation around money, but can have free and open conversation about what God’s abundance looks like among us.

Peace be, my friends,

Pastor Vern

Pastor’s note 4-21-17

The grace of the Joyful One be with each one of you! Simone de Beauvoir ponders, in her book the Second Sex, the situation of a young girl in a world defined largely by men. She says that the young girl has not yet lost her transcendence.

I love this notion. It made me wonder, for our Thursday circle, what it would mean if we had not lost our transcendence. In my time of reflection, in the circle, I sensed that for me, the more I can live out of “my transcendence,” the more I will “drop into joy” in all situations, times of suffering and hardship as well as times of connection and ease.

I heard this deep joy in the voice of Ruby Sales as she reflected on the incredible journey of difficulty and accomplishment of the civil rights movement and the subsequent passages of her journey.

I pondered and held it in my heart this week, as I continued to be present for our Beloved Community Village (tiny home village) process, for the Right to Rest bill (decriminalizing “camping” by homeless folks – unfortunately the bill once again died in committee despite 8 hours of testimony in support of it), and with ministerial colleagues in our southern ministry gathering, a soulful group of spiritual leaders. It’s like the hymn text “whatever my lot, it is well with my soul.” That, I think is the deep joy, the living out of transcendence, that is ours as we draw near to the great heart of love in the universe. It is something that we lift up and live out of as a ritual practice on Sundays and in many other settings and events of our lives.

I am currently looking for temporary housing for a young man named Luckman, from Haiti, who has a better chance of being released on parole from the Aurora detention center if he has a place to be released to. I think it is so characteristic of the beauty and wonder of our congregation to want to offer this and live in community. What a privilege to live out of transcendence in all things.

Pastor Vern

Pastor’s note 4-14-17

Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Last Sunday, our congregation hosted the “Tiny Home Blues” event, in collaboration with Denver Homeless Out Loud, and numerous other groups who have come together to create a village of tiny homes for the homeless, the first example of which we hope to have on the ground in North-west Denver in May.

Beloved Community Village. It has been an amazing journey of steps into the unknown, uncertain negotiations, slow trust-building, and, amazingly, one more scarcely-hoped-for accomplishment after the last. Six impossible things before breakfast.

The benefit raised $6,700, about enough to build one tiny home. What a difference this will make in someone’s life: a place to sleep, leave stuff, turn the key – all commonplace marks of dignity. Our congregation may, as we wish, continue to have a role in building relationship and community with the Village residents.

I think it’s Spirit work. How have you been seeing the work of the Spirit in your life? What are the gatherings of goodness around you? This is the week of Easter. It is the season of impossible things, of life where everything was death, of deep love overcoming evil. May we all be so encouraged and connected to this life and love most amazing.

Pastor Vern

Pastor’s note 4-7-17

Two big processes in my life are the new congregation Beloved Community Mennonite Church and the new tiny home village Beloved Community Village. Both of these projects/movements/initiatives have been full of their own internal joy and momentum. From the earliest days, friends and allies of our new congregation joined together to create this wholehearted faith community. From the beginning, the Beloved Community Village has developed as a shared project of many hands and hearts, almost, it seems, without central guidance (although The Interfaith Alliance, Denver Homeless Out Loud, and Cole Chandler, among others, have been key to the channeling the seemingly endless energy for this work, that has showed up from many places.

Walter Wink, in his book The Powers that Be (an integration of a masterful trilogy on the “powers” in the Bible) argues that all organizations and movements have inside of them an animating spirit that lives with astonishing power and durability. The wonder is that sometimes, these animating spirits are wholesome, and give life to great new things.

This has been my experience with both Beloved Community Mennonite Church and Beloved Community Village. (Another great example of this is surely Casa de Paz.) There is something inside of them, an expression of the Holy Spirit, an interior joyful energy, that is bringing something new to life among us. It is like watching a kite catch the wind, or feeling the current beginning to carry your raft. What a privilege to be a part of these good things.

Pastor’s note 3-24-17

I was listening to a Radiolab podcast about police shootings. One of the stories they reported was about a mother who heard something had happened with her car. She ran out to the interstate. There were police everywhere, police tape, cars with flashing lights, the whole storm of response. Finally, she was able to learn that her son had been shot by an officer. The reports of the exact details of what happened were confused and conflicting, but it was clear that her son had been unarmed. Once again, it seems like the threat level was assumed to be high, because of how the boy looked.

The reporter from Radiolab interviewed the bereft mother several times. At one point, she said that the police were just bullies hiding behind their badges. He said that he had the impression that while that might be true of a few officers, most were not like that. She said, ‘that’s because you’re white.” I didn’t have the sense that she was saying this unkindly. To me, her tone was matter-of-fact: just a reflection on how the world is. His thoughts after that were about wondering what kind of and how many conversations it would take to move across the gap between those two understandings.

This underlines how good it is, and how important it is, for us to move into strong and wholesome community with each other, deliberately attending to the participation of people of various skin colors. We are still living so very close to vast stories of racial harm, from slavery to Jim Crow culture to incarceration patterns. And it is not only about different thoughts or behaviors or cultures. It is about skin color, and how this shapes our experience of the world and the world’s experience of us.

I would suggest that this is not a moment for feelings of guilt. Not all the feelings would be inaccurate, but the problem with guilt is that it tends to create immobility and resentment, not joyful movement for change. The same is true of the worst pronouncements we make about each other: “you will never understand because you are….” This is a cousin to the awful phrase: “The only thing they understand is….” These statements are immobilizing and are process-stoppers.

As one woman in our Courage and Renewal work put it, we just need to put on our boots and wade into the mess together. And it is always a mess. There is always a misunderstanding, an awkwardness, a micro-aggression, an attempt “fix” or “save.” Ugh. What a mess. But as the Showing Up for Racial Justice website puts it – there are things that we may not be able to do right. But we do get to do them.

I want to do this. I want to be in the mess, because it is the place where real things are happening, a place where we can move out of the abstractions of our culture enclaves and into the fullness of humanity. Like so many messes I’ve gotten into, I don’t like it. It hurts, and I hurt others without meaning to. And I’m embarrassed. And so on. But more and more, I feel like I can tell when I’ve moved into a space that is more real, and less distorted by fakery and prejudice. And that’s where I want to be. And I find that ultimately, there is deep joy in it.

Peace be, dear ones.

Pastor Vern

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

Pastor’s note 3-17-17

What did one Irish Anabaptist say to the other Irish Anabaptist? Top o’ the martyr to ya! (Joke can be explained as needed.)

Yesterday, a good number of us had the privilege of hearing Parker Palmer speak. A few things that stood out for me:

—His story about his youth group. The way the youth pastor gave the youth a safe place guarded with words like “In this place we don’t say bad things about other people behind their back. If that doesn’t work for you then this may not be the place for you.” And the youth pastor’s ability to make you feel like you were the only person in the world while he was listening to you. Palmer noted that this was his first experience of “beloved community.”

—Beloved community exists when we create safe space so that the angels of our better nature have a chance to show up. This is guarded by the practice of the Touchstones, including the touchstone “No fixing, no advising, no correcting each other.” These touchstones are used each week in our Tuesday and Thursday circles. They also form a key part of my understanding of good pastoral leadership.

—He noted that we want to create a politics worthy of the human spirit, and that we have not had that recently. What we have had is not populism (human spirit) but rather manipulation of fears. To move beyond this situation, we need to have both chutzpah and humility. Chutzpah so that we can get into the public conversation with confidence in our voice and agency, and humility so that we remember that we will never get it completely right (and so we need others as well – we’re all in this together.)

A few encouraging insights!

Pastor Vern

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

Pastor’s note 3-3-17

Good day, friends, on these first days of the season of Lent. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. What do these ashes mean? One meaning that is close to my heart is that the ashes are a reminder that we are of the earth. That our bodies are of the humus and the physical stuff that makes up our bodies will return to the humus. While our imaginations leap and soar with fantastic and wonderful stories and technology, while we live out of grand ego stories of fear and longing, while we build palaces, we are reminded by ashes on Ash Wednesday that our physical presence is tied to the “on-the-ground.”

When we are so grounded, remembering the earth and our earthiness, we remember that we are all in this together, all bodies eating, drinking, and breathing together. We remember that the “humble poor” are our beloved sister and brother. We weep and rejoice with others as they weep and rejoice. We are so marvelously wired for connection, loaded with mirror neurons. All animals and elements, the birds of the air, the fire of stars are the connections of our minds and bodies. We remember that we are of the stuff of the universe, baked into creation as amazing beings, but beings of creation, not apart from creation.

In all this, we may take heart. We are not alone (but may still find solitude). As David Whyte says “Put down the weight of your aloneness and enter into the conversation…. Everything is waiting for you.”

Much love to you, from one earth being to another,

Pastor Vern

Pastor’s note 2-24-17

Migration of people! For some of us, the cultural and political climate may have become something we’re just trying to avoid. For others, it may be a subject of obsession. It is a time when the “lesser angels” of our nature seem to have shown up, while the “better angels” are needing to find new approaches for compassion in a world riven with fear. And the commitment to compassion and the release of fear are much-driven by migration of people.

In 1994, a book was published about mass migrations of people driven by hunger and poverty, a sweep of migration that overwhelms the west. The book – The Camp of the Saints, by Jean Raspail and Norman R. Shapiro, reflected on the endemic instability of a world with deep and abiding economic inequities.

The shape of migration, refugee movements, and terrorism in our world today is an echo of that mass migration scenario. People are on the move from war, hunger, and intractable poverty. One response is to attempt to gradually deconstruct the state of inequity in which we live, moving toward greater ways of sharing and finding community with all the peoples of the world. Another response is to build a literal or figurative wall, attempting to sustain separate and unequal privilege within guarded states and communities.

The latter choice is the choice of our “lesser angels.” It is not compassionate. Nor is it practicable. It cannot be sustained as a long-term strategy. The global pressure against it is simply too great. Pushed to its bitter conclusion, it would become a strategy of immense violence that would destroy people on both sides of any wall.

On the brink of the Civil War, President Lincoln talked about the “better angels of our nature, in his first inaugural address. Immense violence still followed. But it is not a lost note. In “the argument without end” that is democracy” (Joseph Ellis in Parker Palmer, Healing the heart of democracy p76), the case always needs to be made in our lives, words, and deeds that we will be a people of compassion, and that this is a moral choice which is also a practical choice, in fact the only kind of pathway that leads away from destruction.

Or, it can be put more directly as a theological statement: God loves all people, refugees, immigrants, and people of privilege who already have lives relatively free from hunger and poverty. God loves us all. If our hearts are formed by God, what will be our choices with regard to people on the move? That is the question. That is the question of the “better angels.”

Much love to you,

Pastor Vern Rempel

Pastor’s note 1-20-17

May grace and peace be with you. Mary Oliver wrote, “Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” Well, the’s plenty to be astonished about, both puzzling and joyful, alarming signs and signs of love. What we look for is the deeply human connection that we all need, as we breath the air, share the roads, and of necessity make society together.

This Sunday we’re considering our congregation’s connection to what we’re calling Beloved Community Village. This will be a temporary housing arrangement for perhaps 16 people currently without housing. We will be attempting to create a pilot or prototype for how to do housing that is clean, attractive, and transitional, as folks find their way into better, long-term housing. The opportunity for our congregation will be to be in relationship, to make community with people who often have been rejected and demeaned out of hand. Let’s see where this will lead us together.

Much joy to you,

Pastor Vern

Pastor’s note 1-12-17

May grace and peace in the Spirit of Christ, who came preaching peace and living without violence, be with us all. On this weekend as we consider Martin Luther King’s life, our lives, and the ongoing national conversation/non-conversation about race among us. Bryan Stevenson says that it comes to people who are not people of color to demonstrate wholeheartedly how they are turning from and moving beyond the harms of racial prejudice. It is not something accomplished in one moment but a path of connection, conversation, change, and new patterns of love. This Sunday we will sing Lift every voice and sing. it is an invitation to consider how we are lifting together out of the harm and distortions of racial prejudice. Where there is privilege because of skin color, let us take the path that does not cling to it, but rather releases the capacities of all people. Where we experience hurt, let us find the deep soulfulness that says “We will rise.” Lift every voice.

This Sunday

This Sunday we will continue in the season after The Epiphany with themes of light. This Sunday we will focus on the light of day that shines beyond the distortions of racial prejudice. We will consider the joy that comes from transformed, sacrificial, and genuine relationships. We will sing! We will meet the light in each other.

Pastor’s note 1-6-17

Today is January 6, the first day after the 12 days of Christmas and The Epiphany. The Isaiah passage for The Epiphany begins with the luminous words “Arise. Shine. Your light has come” (Isaiah 60). All week, I have been meditating on how each good step that we take is goodness accomplished. And how we can take a good step any time. It is sort of the Zen sentiment “We are the people we have been waiting for.” In my spirituality, I would say that each moment is already a meeting of the divine heart with my heart. And when I can say “let it be” as Mary did when the message from the heart of the divine met her young heart, then all that matters for me in that moment is accomplished.

And these moments make all the difference for our friends, families, communities, and world. First of all there is the “categorical imperative” (see Kant). What if everybody did what I’m doing? The more truly my heart can resonate with the divine, the more that’s something that is good if everyone does it. But that is only the smallest beginning. Because the real wonder is that when we let the divine resonance happen between our hearts and the heart of the divine, we are “splitting the spiritual atom.” Enormous energy for good is released, far beyond any expectation based on appearances.

This was true over and over in the Biblical stories. The unlikely Hannah or Ruth or David or Amos or Mary are the divine enactors and their lives changed world history for the better. Jesus is no Clark Gable either. He is said to have had the aspect of the “suffering servant” with “no looks to attract our eye.” Frederick Buechner calls him “the man with the split lip.” In my list there are the disabled, young, foreign, and poor. They are the agents of history. And it is because they let their hearts ring with the songs of the holy, finding that joyful, awesome place where their hearts become full of divine intention.

This is not something just for good or happy times, not a Hollywood happy ending. The Biblical history agents were without exception people who passed through immense suffering, uncertainty, and long days of work. In our day of airport shootings, people of color fearing the streets and the police, holy divine children finding themselves freezing outside without a house, and refugees crowding the edges of national insanity, one may ask where the enormous energy for good is. But these are exactly the places where gospel goodness may shine most brilliantly. The gospel is not a side-show. It is one way of naming the main show, the good human path, the path that all great religions and peoples have touched upon in some way.

Nor is this some godly “invasion of the body snatchers.” God does not do something in us that is alien to us. Rather, the Divine Spirit is the one who, when we collaborate with our “let it be,” releases our capacities for great life and love. We are walking around with this every day and every moment! Arise. “Shine. Your light has come.” Luminous words for any season.

Pastor Vern Rempel

This Sunday

We will gather for soup and bread at 12:30 and then for worship at 1:30, for our second Sunday in our new location. We will sing, pray, share stories and Eucharist. Pastor Vern will offer a meditation based on The Epiphany and The Baptism of Jesus. What is the particular goodness of Jesus? What is the Christ-light? You are warmly invited, dear ones.

Hidden figures; hidden stories4th Sunday after Pentecost

July 2, 2017

For Mayflower Congregational Church and Beloved Community Mennonite Church

Vernon K. Rempel, 2017
Bible reading:

Psalm 40:9, 10

I have told the glad news of deliverance

   in the great congregation;

see, I have not restrained my lips,

   as you know, O God.

I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,

   I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;

I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness

   from the great congregation. 

Hidden Figures

This sermon is inspired by the movie “Hidden Figures.”

 There are no complete spoilers in it, if you haven’t seen the movie.

  And there should be something for you in this reflection,

   even if you haven’t seen it. But go see it!
“Hidden Figures” is a movie about three women who worked

 in the U.S. space program, initially in the years leading up to

  and including Project Mercury.
These are the years covered in the movie, 

 1957, when the Soviets launched the first orbiting satellite,

  through the successful launch, orbit, and recovery

   of John Glenn and his Mercury capsule in 1962.
The movie tells the story of three brilliant

 female, African-American mathematicians.

  They worked for NACA, which became NASA

   in October of 1958.

Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who calculated flight trajectories, played by Taraji P. Henson

Dorothy Vaughan, a NASA supervisor, played by Octavia Spencer

Mary Jackson, a NASA engineer, played by Janelle Monáe
These women did it not only backwards and in heels, 

 like Ginger Rogers, 

  but all that and with the radiation of constant prejudice 

   and the structures of segregation 

    beating your body and mind all day long.
The movie, as with several movies featuring

 African-American stories,

  has particular resonance in our society,

   as Black Lives Matter and other advocates,

    have marked out for us how people of color

     continue to suffer degradation and even death

      in a culture of white privilege.
This reality is hauntingly, and tautly marked

 as the movie begins with the three women

  driving their car to NASA,

   and it breaks down.
Dorothy Vaughan gets under the car to work on it,

 but soon a white officer shows up.

  They know this is a dangerous moment.

   We know it is a dangerous moment.

    

We’re thinking of people like

 Aiyana Stanley-Jones in Detroit,

 Eric Garner in Staten Island,

 Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Vaughan, watching the officer role up, warns the other two women,

  “No crime in a broken down car.”

  Jackson retorts “No crime in being negro neither.”

   Vaughen tells her to button it up.

    “Nobody wants to go to jail behind your mouth.”

We’re thinking how quickly guns would be pulled

 in situations very much like this one.

  The officer in this case has his billy club in hand

   and a gun on the belt.
They cleverly diffuse the situation,

 point out that they work for NASA,

  and he gives them an escort.
All this is played for a bit of humor in the end,

 but wow does the moment echo into our moment,

  and the pain underline the pain

   that’s going on now.
So it is a deeply resonant story.

 It was also a deeply hidden story until 2016

  when the book Hidden Figures was published,

   and the movie was immediately made.
I grew up in love with NASA. I was 11 when we landed on the moon in 1969,

 and I mean “we” landed on the moon.

  I was completely with them, watched in rapt awe,

   loved it all.
I was the perfect age to follow everything in detail.

 By then, I had built detailed models of the

  Gemini capsule and the Apollo rocket,

   the successors to the Mercury Project

    reflected in the movie.
And I knew nothing about this story.

 Of course, I knew little about anybody involved

  except the astronauts themselves.
But what an important, lovely, and hidden story!

 Even hidden from a kid in love with NASA in its details.

  My 4th grade teacher would have made my day,

   if she had told us this story.

    I think she would have loved it too,

     but probably didn’t know the story either.

White supremacy lies like a silencing blanket over the whole scenario.

 It’s true that I didn’t know about anybody but the star-powered astronauts.

  But that I didn’t know anything about any of this for 

   more than 45 years is something to note.
And of course the women’s story is hidden

 in their own time as well.

  The female “computers” as they were called,

   were sequestered in some no-name distant room.
Vaughan could not get herself named supervisor.

 Jackson couldn’t go to engineering school.

  Johnson couldn’t sign her own work,

   having to credit her gratitude-less supervisor

    for her own work.
And there’s all the beauty of the movie.

 Watching everybody dance and drink

  at a house party.
Seeing the worship service and picnic that follows,

 and the fraught romance for Katherine Johnson – 

  In the movie she gets to be in love with Mahershala Ali,

   something a lot of folks might sign up for.

    It’s a sweet story. Her daughters make it even sweeter.

I have told

Our Psalm that we read today says things like this:
I have told the glad news of deliverance

I have not hidden your saving help…

I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;

I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
Why would anybody conceal that, or not tell it?

One reading of this is that the Psalm singer 

 is pious and likes to talk about God’s good deeds.

  Fair enough.
But there’s another reading suggested by our story.

 That is that many times, the works of God

  are works that culture doesn’t necessarily want to hear,

   works that speak of liberation of those on the margins.
When Johnson is running across the NASA campus

 to use the segregated bathroom,

  we feel her need for liberation.

   It is appalling in its indignity.
And yet the story was not well-told for decades.

 We need to hear of her indignity and her liberation.
So for the Psalm singer to sing about the dignity

 of the ones on the margins, 

  that’s saying something.
I’m not saying that’s how we have to read that text.

 But it could be read that way.

Miriam

So for example, there is the story of Miriam

 which found its way into the Bible,

  but its one I’ve little known,

   and least not in the way she ended up.
The Psalm singer may have sung her story.
Miriam is Moses’ sister.

 She famously acted out with courage

  and civic disobedience

   in saving her infant brother

    from Pharaoh’s killing edict.
She famously sings the song of victory,

 when the slaves escape from Egypt

  across the Red Sea

“Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them:

‘Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;

horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.’

(Exodus 15)
Less famously, she becomes critical

 of Moses’ leadership, possibly not only critical

  but jealous, along with Aaron.
She is then struck with leprosy,

 and turned out of the settlement for a week.

  Moses intercedes for her,

   and she is healed

    and allowed to return.
But she, like Moses, never enters the Promised Land.

 They die in the wilderness.
It’s not an easy story, but it’s a full story.

 It’s a story that is more like our true stories

  in our lives, full of some joy, some success,

   some failure, some disaster,

    maybe some liberation but no promised land.
It’s a blues story, as I like to say,

 living at the intersection of suffering and joy.

  But it is a great story, and little known.
Usually it’s all about Moses.

 The Psalmist could sing Miriam’s song too…

  He doesn’t. It’s just Moses and Aaron in the Psalms.

   

Only the radical prophet Micah

 includes Miriam’s name in the liberation story.

  Hidden figures; hidden stories.

Yours and mine

One pathway for us to become open to hidden stories

 is to let some of our hidden stories be told.

Especially when we tell those stories 

 simply as representations of our authenticity.

  Not as levers to work on anyone

   or to score points or to play a power game.

    But to let the deep authenticity live

     in us and therefore in the world.
We don’t have to do it, and we certainly 

 should not do it if it feels harmful or dangerous,

  but when we tell a bit of our whole stories,

   when we accept that vulnerability and discomfort,

    then it can help to weave the world.

     

It can help to make the world a place

 where the hidden stories, often loaded with the 

  liberating work of God, can be told and 

   we can find strength in truth and wholeness.
We need each other’s whole stories

 just like we do better with Miriam’s whole story,

  not just the shiny victory bits but let us say

   the “whole bread” of the her whole life.
That’s one way of understanding why

 Drew I. Hart tells the stories of police and other killings

  of so many black people in the modern era.

   Dr. King’s story is great and important.

    

So are the stories that don’t end well,

 that reflect what Hart is talking about when he says:

“Blackness is a visible marker that justifies suspicion, brutality, and confinement by white society.” p15
We need to know this, or we’re living with partial information,

 we’re living with half of a loaf of the bread of life.

Hart tells his own scary story of being stopped

 at gun point, all because he had an expired

  registration sticker on his car.

   Two officers, with guns drawn!
We need these stories, so that we can make 

 the deep peace that the world needs.

  We need to know how the world is.
We need to know how it is with us.

 What are the stories we hide even from ourselves?

  What traumas, embarrassments, shame?
We all tend to want to shine. 

 White supremacy likes to pretend that everything’s okay.

  Those who tend to be in power are doing it right.

   But this is simply false, a half truth, a half loaf.
But when we tell our whole stories

 for the sake of wholeness,

  something powerful happens.
We begin to find our way to each other

 on the ground of God’s genuine love,

  not the pretenses and denials and distortions,

   but the points where we needed liberation,

    where we need liberation,

     where liberation may yet come.
This creates a whole different character

 of community, a community of authentic

  love, hope, joy, born in confession and truth-telling.
You can feel the blues playing in Hidden Figures.

 In fact, Miles Davis’ So What is in the sound track.

  And it feels so right.

   

Because the story is a blues story, a whole story,

 a story that is the whole loaf of bread for us.
Let’s hear a bit of So What….
Scraps:
A comparative story:

The Hello Girls, by Elizabeth Cobbs (Harvard). This engaging history crackles with admiration for the women who served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during the First World War, becoming the country’s first female soldiers. Operating switchboards in France, they juggled constantly shifting lists of codes and connections, worked fast amid artillery blasts, and mastered the “genteel diplomacy” needed to communicate with officials in French as well as English. Their technical skill was matched by what one woman called the “great, unquenchable, patriotic desire to do my bit.” Cobbs intercuts front-line activities with political battles on the home front: the women returned from victory to an America that did not yet grant them the right to vote.

The New Yorker 7-3-17

http://nyer.cm/DrhbOwc
*******
Skier

Tracing her true line
The air was so clear that the boy in the green goggles could divine in the snow the dense network of ski tracks, straight and oblique, of abrasions, mounds, holes, and pole marks, and it seemed to him that there, in the shapeless jumble of life, was hidden a secret line, a harmony, traceable only to the sky-blue girl, and this was the miracle of her: that at every instant in the chaos of innumerable possible movements she chose the only one that was right and clear and light and necessary, the only gesture that, among an infinity of wasted gestures, counted

(Translated, from the Italian, by Ann Goldstein.)

The New Yorker 7-3-17

http://nyer.cm/ridHyc7

*******
The Bible is a male-dominant story.

But part of its charge is that it has stories that might have remained hidden, but for turns of divine events
A slave people in Egypt

Rahab prostitute, Tamar daughter-in-law widow, Ruth of Moab, Bathsheba the girl next door, Mary the peasant (of color – but this is only relevant to our white supremacy culture – everyone in the Bible stories was “of color” – a term that only exists as a pathway out of racism) – the 5 women in the genealogy of Jesus; four of them pivotal figures in the Hebrew story.
barren women – Hannah, Elizabeth, ?? – see Women of the Bible
another hidden story – woman who left her husband and daughter – The New Yorker 5-22-17

http://nyer.cm/e34uqPE

******
More scattered movie notes:
Colored restrooms

Colored computers!
Even though they were desperate to beat the Soviets in the space race, it was nip and tuck which would win, racial prejudice or collaboration, to get the math and science right.

Two women in restroom – like a woman and a man in a restroom today.

The feelings ran just about as high, I think.
And then with all the movement, all the goodness that finally happens because of brilliant, forceful, soulful persistence on the part of these woman, there is still the fundamental power and principality of the cold war.
The willingness to place entire populations in the path of nuclear weapons. The fire bombings of London, Dresden, Hamburg, Tokyo were all must foreshadowing for the nuclear bombings which in turn foreshadowed the turn to total war against populations which is now in practice constantly, but in action, by terrorism and in threat, by nuclear weapons. No one is coming close to fighting only on behalf of a just war anymore. We’ll target children, as needed, with our bombs. And of course the slow wars that take place under the nuclear umbrella of weapons sales to dictators who are allies, and the willingness to let economic disparities persist, which is in fact a choice. Economic disparity is not the weather, although it feels like it. Economic disparity is a collective choice, a principality and a power that casts its shadow over humanity.

I created this reflection for Mayflower Congregational Church. These notes will also be the basis for a vespers service at our Courage and Renewal retreat in Chicago at the beginning of August. I plan to re-craft this for Beloved Community in the fall. I loved how folks joined in with the play dough!

From dust you have come

Common time

June 25, 2017

For Mayflower Congregational Church

Vernon K. Rempel, 2017
Bible reading:

Genesis 2:4b-7

In the day that God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then God formed the human from the dust of the ground, and breathed into the human one’s nostrils the breath of life; and the human one became a living being.
2nd Corinthians 4:7

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.

(Hand out balls of play dough for people to knead during the meditation.)

The silent universe seeks echo

“Humans are new here. Above us, the galaxies dance out toward infinity. Under our feet is ancient earth. We are beautifully molded from this clay. Yet the smallest stone is millions of years older than us. In your thoughts, the silent universe seeks echo.”

Anam Cara prologue
Often the world appears as beauty to us.

We may think this is especially

true in the Rocky Mountain west.
Cliffs rise above us,

touched by the pink light of dawn.

Red rock formations melt and flow

across the landscape

The sky, in the blue hour after the sun

goes below the horizon,

attains a mysterious high-altitude blue:

what shall we call it?

Aqua-marine, azure, cerulean,

holding both depth of color and utter clarity and transparency.
John O’Donohue, in his spiritual reflection

on friendship from a perspective of Celtic theology

says that “the silent earth seeks echo” in our thoughts.
This is like the line from the hymn “How can I keep from singing”:

“Through all the tumult and the strife

I hear its music ringing

It sounds an echo in my soul

How can I keep from singing.”
There is something in nature

that comes to us as beauty,

that seeks an echo in our thoughts.
I have often wondered why this is.

My basic understanding is that it is because

nature is the very cradle of our hearts and minds.
We are “nature-formed”,

having been evolved here as a species,

and having been born here as individuals,

we have come up from the heart of the natural world.
“The silent earth seeks echo” in our thoughts.
There is of course ugliness.

There is “tumult and strife.”

Nature can feel violent and dangerous.

 

Human action can either play with and cultivate natural beauty

as in a garden,

or we can trash or destroy the world.

Natural beauty is not simple or guaranteed.
But is there not something persistent

in our hearts and minds,

that leaps forward when we see the sun-lit mountain peak

or walk over to the waterfall?

It was good

The Bible story of creation has the amazing chorus:

“It was good, it was good, it was good.”

The land… it was good,

the animals… it was good,

human beings… it was good.
This is a story of joyful artistry,

not violence,

at the heart of creation.
At the foundations of the earth is goodness,

not the doubt and pitched battle of constant struggle.
The faith affirmation of Genesis is

that in our beginnings,

and so by implications in our endings,

is goodness, is the art of love,

not the doubt of darkness and destruction.
In our reading this morning,

we are told that from this good earth,

the human one is formed.
“…then God formed the human from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”
The very dust is given breath.

And the dust is ancient. What is old, our source and our beginning,

is given breath in us.

Our souls echo with the old clay

We are humus beings, human beings,

people of the earth in every sense.

 

From dust we have come and to dust we shall return.

This need not be only a warning of humility,

but also the gift of humility.
We have come from our great clay home

and we return to our great clay home

and this is the very place into which God breathes life.

Clay

What is your relationship to clay, to earth, to dirt?

Did you make mud pies when you were a child?

Some of us surely ate dirt.

 

Although eating dirt can reflect hunger or a disorder,

in some cultures, dirt is prized as a digestive aid.

(See the book Fierce Food: The Intrepid Diner’s Guide to the Unusual, Exotic, and Downright Bizarre)
When I was a child, I loved playing in the dirt,

making roads with my Tonka trucks and road graders,

digging mighty holes as canyons

for my toy cars to drive over on high bridges.
What is your relationship to dirt?

Do you dig in it to make a garden?

Most of us have had to dust the furniture, I suppose.

But most of us have seem the beauty

of a well-turned field as well.
John O’Donohue, again in the Anam Cara

writes:

“The human body has come out of [the] underworld. Consequently, in your body, clay is finding a form and shape that it never found before.” p93

As you hold and kneed your ball of play dough,

consider and feel the ancient clay formed into your body.
O’Donohue continues:

“Just as it is an immense privilege for your clay to have come up into the light, it is also a great responsibility. In your clay body, things are coming to expression and to light that were never known before, presences that never came to light or shape in any other individual.” p93
Consider how the ball of play dough you are holding

is a shape like none other.

It is simply a ball of clay as you are simply a human being.

And yet so many shapes, gifts, expressions are present.
O’Donohue says:

“You represent an unknown world that begs you to bring it to voice.” pp93, 94
I’m sure we’ve all had plenty of chances

to try to understand our purpose and place in the world.
But consider again how you are an expression

of the earth, a gift of the earth and to the earth.

God said “it was good” when you were created,

even as God said this about all creation.
And yet there is “tumult and strife” as the song says.

We all carry greater or lesser amounts of hurt,

and trauma and embarrassment and shame

in our clay vessels.
We might say, to paraphrase Paul,

that we have this trauma in clay vessels.

 

And at the same time, we do, as Paul says,

have this treasure in clay vessels.

 

We need each other’s love, we need each other’s clay,

to help heal from the trauma we carry in our clay.
Bessel van der Kolk M.D. has written this book:

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

Our clay carries trauma and we can find healing.
When we offer ourselves in clay-like vulnerability

and humility to each other,

then the good expression of our unique and ancient clay

can once again find its place on the earth.
O’Donohue writes

“We so easily forget that our clay has a memory that preceded our minds, a life of its own before it took its present form. Regardless of how modern we seem, we still remain ancient, sisters and brothers of the one clay. In each of us a different part of the mystery becomes luminous. To truly be and become yourself, you need the ancient radiance of others.”
We need the ancient radiance of others

in order to heal and be whole.
And we may also remember our own ancient source,

that our clay has memory that precedes our minds,

that in fact we are children and beings of God’s

ancient and beautiful artistry of creation.
“It was good, it was good, it was good.”
As you hold your ball of play dough,

consider how “it was good”

might be the deepest truth about you.
We are creation’s story told and re-told.

“And the human one became a living being.”

Thanks be to God for our clay.

 

Play 511 “God who touches”

I offered versions of this meditation on community, at three congregations: Highlands UMC, Beloved Community Mennonite Church, and Mayflower Congregational Church.

Capacity for community

Common time

June 18, 2017

For Mayflower Congregational Church

Vernon K. Rempel, 2017
Bible reading:

Acts 1:6-8a

When the apostles had come together, they asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you….
John 17:6-11

‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

Driving

Well, driving across Denver is no longer intuitive for me.

 I keep needing to revise my driving times up.

  There can be a traffic jam almost any time of the day.

   So many drivers!

   

Try remembering to be a good person

 The Vatican, once published 10 Commandments for the road,

  almost like a Vatican public service announcement. 

   Maybe from the Vatican Department of Transportation – VDOT!


“The Guidelines state that driving can bring out primitive behavior in drivers, which leads to road rage, rude gestures, speeding, drinking behind the wheel, cursing, blasphemy, impoliteness, and intentional violation of the highway code. The Guidelines encourage drivers to obey the highway code, [and to] pray behind the wheel….”

(All quotes from: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Commandments_for_Drivers)
And so there are these commandments:

Commandment one is strong and clear, with ancient resonance: 

“You shall not kill.”
Commandment two is like the first and an expansion on it:

“The road shall be for you a means of communion 

between people and not of mortal harm.”
The road shall be for you a means of communion…

  Like worship! We might say, on the road:

  “Peace be with you; and also with you.”

   Young, hormonal, late, oblivious – peace be with you.
“The document specifically states that it is aimed at bishops, priests, religious and other pastoral workers in hopes of pastoral caregivers paying greater attention to expressions of human mobility.”
I think the Vatican is on to something here.

 We desperately need better communion, better community

   in all parts of our lives.

    And the road is a big part of our lives.
It even echoes the great prophetic words of Isaiah 58:

 “You will be restorers of streets to live in and repairers of the breach.”
About 8,300 people moved to Colorado in 2015

 Down to the about 7,400 a month in 2016.

  (Based on numbers at – http://www.cpr.org/news/story/colorado-population-boom)

These are amazing numbers.

 There are cranes everywhere, building seemingly 

  endless apartment blocks.

   The River North neighborhood

    is full of cranes and street closures.
It’s not the first boom. The 1990s

 were even faster growing percentage-wise.
But we’re feeling the change of the boom.

 Everywhere we go, the city is changing.

  Property values are strong, which is good for us property owners.

   

And there may be change-shock,

 a wondering if this is good, 

  and who’s looking after the environment, 

   the roads,

    where’s water going to come from?
And one big difference from the 1990s boom

 and the current growth boom:

  housing is extraordinarily limited.
In the 1990s, there was a lot of empty housing to fill.

 Today, housing is pretty much occupied.
Apartments are being built everywhere.

 But these new apartments rent for an average of $1700 

  Even the older pre-2010 apartments go for an average 

   of $1000 or more.

(http://www.denverpost.com/2017/04/20/denver-rents-increase/)
As Andrew Heben says in his book Tent City Urbanism

 housing across the U.S. is increasingly becoming

  an all or nothing proposition., p. viii

Either you can afford the full middle-class scenario.

 Or you’ll need to rely on family, friends,

  or camp in your car or tent,

   often at the risk of fines and even incarceration.
We desperately need better community,

 and we need it in the way we create and manage housing.
We may need tiny home villages like our Beloved Community Village

 in order to provide immediate, lockable, dignified housing.

  And we need long-run strategies that do not create housing 

   for “them”, treating people as problems to be solved.
Rather, we need housing for “us”,

 the great “us” of shared humanity,

   where it’s not everyone for themselves,

    but rather it’s everyone for ourselves,

     everyone for everyone.
As Parker Palmer says in Healing the Heart of Democracy,

 We’re all in this together.

The Holy calling us to community

Into all this, comes the great-hearted voice of community.

 The tender voice of the Holy of Holies

  calling us to love each other,

   to love and to find love,

    and to love each other.
As our gospel reads:

“All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.”

“Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
It’s Jesus, writing the Beatle’s lyrics 20 centuries ahead.

“I am he as you are he as you are me/and we are all together.”

(I am the Walrus)
That guy that cut me off on I-25 is me.

 The woman with the shopping cart full of her life is me.

  I am her and she is me.
Holy God, protect them.

 “Mother and father of us all, in who is heaven”

  as the New Zealand Lord’s prayer reads

   in the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer,

    poetry based on Maori-language theology.

(http://liturgy.co.nz/god-our-love-maker)
All mine are yours, and yours are mine…; I have glorified them.
See their glory, people with dark skin tones.

 People who speak Cambodian or Khmer

  on the streets and in the neighborhoods of Denver. 

   And one hundred other languages.

    With all their food, their longing for the loved ones.

     The refuge homes becoming long homes.
See their glory, young men in the street.

 I will make you restorer of streets to live in, says Isaiah 58.

  Young men in the street, no bullets, please God no bullets.
They are me, and I am they, and we are all together.

 “Protect them in your name.”

  “I have been glorified in them,” says the gospel.
We are all together.
Parker Palmer in Healing the Heart of Democracy says that

“The steady companionship of two or three kindred spirits can kindle the courage we need to speak and act as citizens.”
We are all together.

We don’t need to be fragmentary and alone.

Capacity

In Voltaire’s famous work from the Enlightenment – Candide – 

 the main characters are harassed, manipulated, victimized,

  ignored, wounded by ancient rigid structures 

   of government, church, social mores. 
In the end, finally, after much ado,

 the characters find their way to a river, 

  and they make a garden,

   and they live in community with each other,

    born of their sheer longing for real humanity.
This is the Enlightenment insight

 that being true to our humanity 

  is the glory, is the wonder, is the thing we need.
Perhaps it is enough. 

 Perhaps it is the very place where we are

  finally able to recognize a Holy Spirit among us.
When we deeply listen, 

 when we deeply consider each other’s 

  true humanity.
And this the key lesson that we learn from the book of Acts:

“You will receive power from the Holy Spirit.”
This is a critical lesson.

 Community-making is not merely shoulder-to-the-wheel grind.

  There needs to be much sweat,

   much sitting at the keyboard, lots of meetings.
You should see our young pastor Cole’s work

 with the tiny house village where helping to build.

  And so many others from Denver Homeless Out Loud,

   and The Interfaith Alliance, and future residents

    of the village. So much work.

 

But something else happens,

 when we turn toward each other,

  in order to make community.
Something else happens when

 we draw into purposeful proximity to each other.

  

We give each other the seeds of our hearts.

 Your mirror neurons wake up my mirror neurons.

  Your body language teaches me the book that you are.

   Your microbiome mixes it up with my microbiome,

    our shared clouds of particulates.
One way of talking about it that works for me is:

 “You will be receive power from the Holy Spirit.”
So it has been with people who I only knew

 as “homeless people” before,

  and now they are becoming dear to me.
That is capacity for community.

 It’s something that shows up.

  Like being beside Voltaire’s river.

   And just letting it flow and flow.
It is not just willing myself to make community,

 although there is a will and a commitment,

  and plenty of hard work to be had.
But at the end of the day, and at the beginning of the day,

 with morning’s first song, and evening’s last light,

   it is more like Jesus’ mother Mary saying “let it be.”

   Let community be with me.
 “You will receive power from the Holy Spirit.”

 Community will grow with you

  like a well-tended garden.
There will be times when you just stand back,

 and just marvel at community.
This happens when we just risk the first connections

 of community.
When we just try out seem real vulnerability with each other,

 try out Brené Brown’s “raw, honest bid for connection,

  with each other, with other others, 

   with that woman over there

    and that man on the curb,

     or even in that SUV that cut me off.
In this way, community is not merely a job to do.

 It is a capacity that shows up among us,

  it is loved released, like when we pray,

   when we sing, when we share and eat.
“Power from the Holy Spirit.”

 “I have glorified them.”
Next thing you know, you’re receiving a book

 as a gift from a man who is homeless.

  You see the generosity and intelligence in his face.
Next thing you know, in the midst of the city,

 with all its cranes, traffic, change,

  joy shows up. Joy, and its friends compassion,

   and hope, and feeling alive

    in your own skin.
That’s community, how it feels,

 how we are given the capacity for it
“You will receive power from the Holy Spirit.”
Amen.