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Dry bones 4-2-17

Dry bones Lent 5

April 2, 2017

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church & 

Mayflower Congregational Church

Vernon K. Rempel, 2017

With Cole Chandler
Bible reading:

Ezekiel 37:1-14

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” 
So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

Play “Ezekiel saw a wheel”

Chutzpah and humility

It is good to be with you this morning. 

Once again, I am so grateful to this congregation

 for hosting our new congregation

  and with such a generous spirit.
And it is a privilege to share with you.

 So, I’d like to start off with something friendly and easy

  just to break the ice.

   So let’s talk about abortion!
It’s almost like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, isn’t it?

 What a political and cultural moment we are in.

  What a familial moment we are in.
A lot of my conservative evangelical relatives

 who I love and appreciate,

  whose voices are some of the first voices I heard on earth,

   voted on one issue: abortion.
And so there is political tension.

 And as Parker Palmer says in Healing the Heart of Democracy

  we need to learn to hold the tension in life-giving ways.
I need to find my way into conversations

 and make peace, “so far as it depends on me” as Paul says in Romans.
Palmer says that we need two qualities to do this well:

 chutzpah and humility.

  Chutzpah, to speak from the heart

   

and humility to remember that whatever we say or think we know

 we will never have the whole picture and so we listen.

Chutzpah and humility: I’ll tell you what I think of abortion. 

 Great – another man telling people

  what he thinks about abortion!

But I think we do need to tell each other,

 talk with each other, listen to each other.

  We need to get into the real mess with each other.
And anyway, what I have to say probably isn’t that big a deal.

 I think Hillary Clinton got it about right a number of years ago

  when she said abortion should be rare and legal.
And then to listen: What’s the better angel of your heart have to say about it?

 And who do you find that you want or need to

  listen to to advance and heal our conversation?
That is an exercise in tension holding.

 May we always do it in life-giving ways. 

  May we do it with both chutzpah and humility.

Ezekiel’s bones

The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel held the tension of his people.
As you may know, the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament,

 is a record of a people brought out of captivity in Egypt,

  only to be taken into captivity again by Babylon.

   Now they are in exile, once again made captive.
It is into this moment, filled with tension,

 that Ezekiel speaks and acts.
Ezekiel is the tension-holding prophet par excellence.

 He holds the tension so well

  that it seemed to make him crazy.

   Crazy from holding a vast social tension.
He is supposed to speak to his fellow captives in exile. 

 But they are not innocent victims.

  

They are captives, but they are also people who have failed

 to live with justice in their own lives.

  This has weakened them in the face of their enemies (Ezekiel 3:11, 17; 5)
How do you say that to someone?

 It’s a tough place to be, full of tension.

  The divine spirit tells him to speak,

   with words and performance art.

    He seems to go crazy.
Ezekiel sees beasts. 

 He sees a mighty wheel “way up in the middle of the air”

  He eats a scroll. 

   He lies on his left side for 390 days.

    He lies on his right side for another 40.
He makes himself suffer for the people

 Chutzpah and humility. Look what he does:

  The chutzpah of a hard message; 

   and the humility of being ready to suffer for it.
And then, in the midst of this turmoil,

 something begins to happen.
Now he sees a valley of dry bones,

 and the divine voice asks – can these bones live?

  And the prophet, exhausted and crazy, replies

   “O Lord, you know.”
Say to these bones, I will cause flesh to come upon you, 

and breath to enter you.
And so the prophet speaks to an impossible valley full of dry bones.

 And now there is flesh, and the bones rattle together, 

 and start to reassemble themselves:

  the hip bone’s connected to the leg bone,

   hear the word of the Lord.
(Sing it…)

Come together, right now.

And now there is breath.

 And now the bones live.


Plant a church

Can these bones live?

 We may ask ourselves this question every day.
Can our democracy live?

 Can I take another step of courage,

  or shall I let the couch and the television consume me?
Shall I stay with my comfortable, agreeable friends,

 or can I also step out to meet the ones who voted wrong,

  who have the wrong view, who are being destructive, in my opinion,

   those who are the other, the other side,

    the opposing force?
Chutzpah and humility.
We are so grateful to be with you this morning,

 and for the generous way in which you 

  have provided a home for this new church.
Our new church has been born

from so much good, and sometimes difficult, tension holding.

Some of these include:
How might Catholic Worker and Mennonite collaborate?
How might a small new church bring church leaders from Mexico city to help us?
How might we make a home together with immigrants, homeless folks, friends and family who need a place to stay?
How might we offer ministry recognition and credentials to a woman who has served and loved for a generation without receiving formal recognition in our Mennonite denomination?
What’s the best way to live in wholehearted community as people who are lgbtq and others?
Can we be a real community of shared resources, so that anyone in the community does not need to fear for their material wellbeing?
What does it mean to live committed to nonviolence when there are very real dangers?
Can we play the blues as a key mode of Christian worship?
How might a young new pastor and an old experienced pastor, 30 years apart in age, work together in a new congregation?
Tensions, that can all be fruitful productive tensions,

 with a little chutzpah and humility

  a chance to see miracles when the Spirit asks

   can these bones live?
And now let’s hear a bit from that young, new pastor.
********
Dry Bones

A shared homily with Vern Rempel

For Beloved Community Mennonite and Mayflower Congregational Church

2 April 2017
Can these bones live?

O Lord God, you know they can.

With two parts chutzpah and three parts humility, 

these bones will put on flesh, 

and these bodies will breathe the breath of life.
Where is my chutzpah? Where is my humility?
I’m not sure if Vern remembers the story quite like I do or not, but we first met in May of 2015. Kaylanne and I were at first Mennonite with a couple of our friends, sitting in the back row as we were apt to do… and I noticed in the bulletin that there was some kind of going away celebration being scheduled for Vern in the next couple of months.
I asked my friend what that was all about, and then he started telling me that Vern was going to plant a church and he’d been talking about it with Ted Haggard… which I found to be so very peculiar and intriguing… and then I stopped listening and I just went and tapped Vern on the shoulder and asked him to tell me about it himself.
So… I did a little research on facebook…

And I showed up at a Blues and Brews event in Vern’s backyard…

And Vern and I drank coffee together in the afternoon’s after I finished my work at SAME Café… And I felt like I was watching and listening to this leader who was articulating a vision for community that was so similar to mine, with thirty years more maturity.

So I set there and I listened… and I soaked in his wisdom and style… his wholehearted humanity and creativity… and I told him on more than one occasion that he was the “least high strung pastor I had ever met.” I admired his ability to hold this new church with open hands, to let things emerge organically, to let the wind blow where it will.
I sensed that it wasn’t even a struggle for Vern to want to control the unraveling life of this new community… that Vern lived with a deep consciousness that this life was spiraling right out from the love of God, right out into the world.
And then Vern asked me to speak into the life of this community… he asked me to stand on my own two feet and speak from my own experience… and one thing led to another, and before long I found myself to be accessing a deeper sense of my own voice and personal agency than ever before… I found myself to be experiencing a deep synthesis between my soul and my role… and let me tell you that if you’ve never experienced that… it feels like the breath of life breathing into dry bones.
And as if that is not a miracle… I want to tell you about one of the other miracles of this journey… but maybe I should zoom out a bit further first. When I graduated from seminary in 2013, the quest for an experience of authentic community led Kaylanne and I to move into the Denver Catholic Worker house and begin to share in the life of a radical community of hospitality that has shaped our life in Denver in more ways than we can describe even after we moved on from living in the house ourselves.
On a cold morning in January of 2016, as I set beside a candle with a warm cup of coffee and a book in my hands, looking out over downtown Denver and the Front Range, enjoying the most pleasant of mornings… 

My phone started ringing off the hook. Friends were calling to tell me that everyone was ok, but the Catholic Worker House had burned down.
I put on my coat, biked down to the Worker and took a moment to take in the scene of news trucks and fire hoses spraying down the scorched brick container that had expanded to hold a community of love for the past thirty-eight years. As I reflected upon that scene later on that day, I wrote, “This chapter of the Worker has most definitely ended after thirty eight years of hospitality and solidarity. Our prayer is for new seeds from the ashes. A resurrection, and new incarnation of all that is good and beautiful. In the words of Peter Maurin: A new society within the shell of the old, a society where it is easier for people to be good.”
In the days and weeks after the fire, Vern stepped in and showed up at Catholic Worker meetings, and folks from those meetings showed up at our worship, and with the initial grace and openness with which he has held this new emerging community, I remember Vern saying, “I wonder what is being born among us?”
That is just a bit of context that helps me understand the miracle of the Beloved Community Village. A potential tiny home village for people experiencing homelessness not far from my house, or the former Catholic Worker house in the River North Arts District. 
Since mid-December, Vern and I have thrown ourselves into this project wholeheartedly… Showing up for daily meetings… Reading god-forsaken amounts of emails… Listening to people who sleep outside in the dirt telling us that we’re privileged and don’t have any idea at all how to make this thing work… Standing in front of neighborhood organizations… calling the city councilman’s office… meeting with angry neighbors… writing arguments to the City Planning Department for why a self-governed tiny home village should be permissible within the Denver City Code… casting the compelling vision for “a new society within the shell of the old, a society where it’s easier for people to be good.”
Asking the question: Can these bones live? Yes!
Chutzpah and humility… breathing the breath of life into dry bones.
In times like these there is cause to wonder if democracy is possible… if community is really possible… if the human spirit has the strength and resilience to hold the creative tensions required to live together peacefully and authentically and in that living to allow each individual to stand on their own two feet and fully develop their own sense of personal voice and agency. We have to be wondering if we can really listen to one another, and resolve conflicts, and love one another.
And in times like these we look not to the news to find our answers… but to the smallest microcosms of the social structure where the beloved community can truly emerge… we look to couples… to friends… to households… to churches… to villages… and therein we find the hope that the human spirit is graced with resilience, full of courage, joy, love, and life.
Can these bones live?

O Lord God, you know they can.

Grains of DiversityLent 4

March 26, 2017

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

Vernon K. Rempel, 2017
Bible reading: Ephesians 5:8,9

Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.
We are all seeds in a field of many kinds of grasses.
Besides corn, name some of the food seeds or grains.

(Amaranth, quinoa, wheat, hemp, chia, rice, barley, millet, …)
So many grains!
This Bible text is often given as people 

   trying to be right instead of wrong.

Often used to help teenagers channel 

   some of their newfound longings.

Beware of the dark; stay in the light!

   We don’t want to do harmful things in the dark, for sure!
But I think the text may be more about people 

    longing to be authentic instead of fake, 

       longing to be in real relationship and communion 

          rather than just passing polite or passive days with each other.
The darkness can be a challenge.

But more of a problem may be what we hide in the light.
What I mean is the way that I hide who I really am from others.

   If I generally go around polite, instead of true.

      If I keep a smile no matter what.
It is not an easy thing to figure out.

   I do want to be friendly and smiling as much as possible.

I remember Steve Martin’s “Grandmother’s song”

    “Be kind and love all your neighbors

    and have a good thing to say.”
But after more of this cross-stitch advice,

   the song takes a very weird turn:

      be purple and have your knees removed….”

          And it goes on from there.
Another way to say what Steve Martin is singing about

   is to say that if we’re always stuck in niceness

      eventually our true purple strangeness is going to emerge

          but in self-destructive, knee-removing ways.
In God’s light we are so many good seeds,

   so many delicious grains. 
And yet we may be tempted to try to all be corn all the time.

   It’s the subsidized grain. It has social support and approval.

   

If you drive from Nebraska to Wisconsin

   along I-80, it’s all corn!

       Infinite miles of corn.
Diverse cultures are more resilient.

   But it sure feels safe and strong to be all the same.

      Keep making corn; it’s a sure thing.
I call it the “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam” syndrome (from Cat on a hot tin roof)

   Always be the same, always be nice

Keep it shiny, as they used to say in the great sci-fi show Firefly

   Keep everything okay and the same.
But of course we’re not all the same.

   The purple wants to come out.

      The true self wants to play and sing.

          

And we’re hurting. And lost, and lonely.

   But can we say that?
And when is it safe enough or appropriate to say that?
And so we need a community of the real.

    A community where are are making with each other what 

       Brené Brown calls “a raw, honest bid for connection.”
For example, I will tell, you something about myself

   that I rarely tell anyone:

     I like fashion. I have had some great clothes over the years,

        from a green-satin disco shirt, to two-tone wooden-soled 

            platform soul shoes,

              to a half-price Armani suit coat, and sweet ties.
It is not always obvious how to reconcile fashion

   and the simplicity of Jesus.

      But I want to do it!
Parker Palmer told us a couple of weeks ago,

   when he was here in town – you can see the video – 

      that churches often ask him to help them become more diverse.
He tells them, I can’t help you become more diverse,

   but the truth is, you already are diverse.

      You just need to admit it and live into it.
This is what I think it means to live in the light

   instead of in the darkness,

      to be a Christ community of the real,

         not just sunbeams and niceness.
Let us name one thing others may not know about us,

   some of the diversity among us

       By invitation! Not demand.
Our diversity includes:

Amen

The temptations of ChristLent 1

March 5, 2017

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

Vernon K. Rempel, 2017
Bible reading:

The Lectionary Gospel

Matthew 4:1-11
Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,

but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ 

and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,

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

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

and serve only him.’”

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

Richard Rohr – Friday, March 3, 2017

In order to be vital and relevant, Christianity must be able to demonstrate a metaphysical core for spirituality and holiness—not merely a behavioral, psychological, or moral philosophy.

White privilege

Back in the days before the internet

we used to have joyful and fierce arguments about song lyrics.
What really were the lyrics of Blinded by the light

by Bruce Springsteen, and most famously recorded

by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (Also, who knows about them?)

It’s turns out the lyrics in the Earth Band recording are:

“Revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night”

(changed from Springsteen’s “cut loose like a deuce”)

in reference to a “deuce coupe” – a common hotrod of the 1960s.

Compare the Beach Boys

“She’s my little deuce coupe….”
And nobody knows the lyrics of Louis, Louis,

even to this day, with the internet.
One I remember arguing about with one friend

was “Play that funky music, white boy” by Wild Cherry.

I was sure it was “play that funky music right boy.”

He said “white boy.”

He, of course, was correct.

But I just couldn’t believe anyone would have a song

that would actually say what sounded to me like a crude race lyric:

“Play that funky music, white boy.”
Earlier this week, I was in a meeting

in which we were talking about race relations.

One person said that he had just been

going around being white all day.
By which he meant not needing to think about race

in the course of his daily life.

Not needing to think about anything except what I want to get done,

or what I want to do.
That is what is commonly called “white privilege” today.

The privilege to have a cultural system

that just kind of works for me.
It’s not something that I did.

I was born in this situation

and its something the cultural system creates.
Another person, talking about privilege,

said he was “quad-privileged”:

white, heterosexual, middle-aged, male.
I think he meant “middle-class.”

Although I’d like to think that being middle-aged

is a form of privilege!
I’ve been looking for settings in which

to be in greater relationship with people of color.
I have African-American friends who are part of the 

Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance,

which is the African-American ministry alliance in Denver.
This morning on their Facebook page, they had this

excerpt of a quote from Dr. King:

“Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
A heart full of grace; a soul generated by love.
There is a lot one can say about privilege and power.

But I think King’s words are the clue to moving on to something better:

For all of us to find a heart full of grace; a soul generated by love.
We are so much more joyful whenever we can find that place

where we surrender whatever privilege we have

for the sake of love

and where we find whatever courage we need

because of love.

Whenever this happens our race argument, fight, conversation

finds new paths and new days.

And we are so blessed by all our sisters and brothers.

The temptations of Jesus

The temptations of Jesus are well-known:

The tempter, or Satan, who I always imagine

as a man with a smelly cigar, hair slicked back, mustache,

walks up to Jesus in the wilderness,
and says “you know, you could eat and you could feed everybody.”

“You know, you could amaze all these people, including the religious leaders, by, let’s say, throwing yourself down from the top of the temple. That would be cool.”

“You know, basically, I’ll cut to the chase. You could rule the whole world if you would just worship me, by which I’m talking about power, serious power, unimaginable. Huge power.”
Our Mennonite theologian, John Howard Yoder

has brilliantly noted in his book The Politics of Jesus,

that all these temptations can be seen

as temptations to political power:
Feed everyone, amaze everyone, rule everyone!
Yoder was a political Biblical theology, not a feminist theologian.

And he had boundary problems with women, which is tragic and awful.
One thing he might have also said is that

all of the temptations are from the dominant system.

The temptation was to be a king,

only the greatest kind of king the world has ever seen.
Amazingly, Jesus refused.

Perhaps it helped that he grew up a brown-skinned peasant.

But we all have our temptations.
In the end, he surrendered trying to be king,

and rode into Jerusalem on a donkey,

like an anti-king, almost making fun of the way

Romans would ride in on their big horses.

And he surrender to death,

if that’s where love would take him.

And it dead, and then also

into the wondrous mystery of the resurrection,

the return of life, and life most wonderful.

Being right

When I was in college, I really liked being right.

“Play that funky music right boy” actually was my song.

I was going to play the music and get it right.
And so I read Yoder and I know the right way

to read the temptations of Jesus.

I knew the right way to the read the Bible

and understand theology.
Especially in my first couple of years

I used to get into heated debates

with kids who were just trying to have their faith

and not get challenged by me.
And I was all of the inerrant Bible, and the virgin birth,

and the second coming, and what Jesus really meant,

and what Mennonites have lost and aren’t doing

and should be doing.
I was very nice other times. 

Otherwise, I would never have had a date!

But good grief. Stop being right!
The thing I was focused on was ethics.

I was focused on morality.

I once sarcastically asked a friend that I was debating

“Where do you get your ethics from?”

He rightly and humorously answered;”

“From the funny pages.”

taking down by seriousness a few notches.
I was busy getting morality right.

But Richard Rohr this week wrote:

In order to be vital and relevant, Christianity must be able to demonstrate a metaphysical core for spirituality and holiness—not merely a behavioral, psychological, or moral philosophy.
Yeah. That’s good. I was all over morality.

But without love…., clanging gong, as Paul said.

Without love, being right is just dominance,

male dominance, white dominance, any kind of dominance.

Temptations in a feminine mode

“Christianity must be able to demonstrate a metaphysical core for spirituality and holiness.” Not just being right about morality. But a soulful core.
I think the mystics have done so much for us in this regard.
And especially women.

Women who were not enamored with ruling the world.

Who more were just making their place

as people who mattered in a world

that wanted to keep them in second place, to keep them invisible.
Now I think men and women are enormously alike,

in so many ways. What can be said of one

can be said of the other.

Also true in race conversations.
Like Maya Angelou writes in her poem “Human family”

“We are more alike, my friends,

than we are unalike.”
“We are more alike, my friends,

than we are unalike.”
But what can we learn if we pay better attention

to each other?

For example,

what would be the temptations of a woman

finding her spiritual path?
Among my female Courage and Renewal colleagues, 

I have noticed some things that really connect for them:
One is our Touchstone:

No fixing, no advising, no correcting.

I can easily hear women’s lovely laughter when that one comes up.

I have heard it said that women are wired

by the dominant system to make things okay.
To fix the broken relationships.

Often to the point of having to carry the whole load.

Back to college:

In the dorms, the girls were stressed about relationships, working hard on them.

The boys were like “huh?” He’s just my roommate.
So what if Jesus were a woman in the wilderness?

So that might be something Satan would say:

worship me and you can fix all relationships.
Another has to do with messes.

Women say they often feel wired

to have everything be right.

For example, to make the holidays perfect.

In their brilliant book Unplug the Christmas Machine

Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli

write that:

“Women … are the Christmas magicians, responsible for transforming their families’ everyday lives into a beautiful festival. No matter how busy they are, they bear the burden of pulling a magical celebration out of the hat year after year.” p22
So Satan might say to Joanna in the wilderness:

Worship me and all the world will be cleaned up.

Everything you do will be just right. I’m talking Martha Stewart here, my friend.

On of my colleagues, Karen Erlichman, wrote about

working for diversity in our Courage and Renewal practice.

She wrote:

“We need to put our tall rubber boots on and wade through this sewage together. How do we transform our work, our practices, our messaging and ourselves in order to create truly safe, welcoming spaces for our Circles of Trust?”

Letter, August 17, 2016
She was writing to one of her fellow female colleagues about

how we don’t need to get it right, we just need to wade in.

Forget Satan and his voice of “just rightness.”
And finally, one where I can just feel the hearts of women leaping

is the Parker Palmer statement about how we need to find 

“A sense of personal voice and agency.”

The lifting of the female voice into the circles of significance.
Satan says, you know, let me take care of this.

You just keep to yourself for a bit, and I’ll make sure and help you out.
But Joanna turns to him and says:

“It is written, every valley shall be exalted and every mountain made low.”

So get out of my way, buster. We’re heading downtown.
And so this fictional Joanna answers Jesus with some wonderful notes.

Jesus refuses the dominant power of kingship

that is his on offer.
Joanna refuses the prizes that come from making everything work

for everybody else and not finding her own voice.
And together, a soulfulness emerges that is a wonder to behold.

Now there is power sharing.

In fact, it’s more about soul, than power,

more about movement, than about blame.
Now there are suddenly gifts and talents everywhere,

because all people’s gifts and talents are made audible and visible.

Talk about “lift every voice and sing.”

Talk about “play that funky music” whoever you are.

Talk about jumping into your life and living it. 

And jumping in an living with others. 

Until all the earth is blessed, 

the spiritual core that then catches up 

all women and all men in a new universe of love.
How does this sound from your life,

from your place in culture and the universe?

Both-And 2-26-17

“Both-And”Last Sunday before Lent

February 26, 2017

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

Vernon K. Rempel, 2017

Lectionary gospel:

Matthew 17:1-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Additional reading:

Healing the Heart of Democracy by Parker Palmer:

An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways. Our inner and outer lives are filled with contradictions—from the gap between our own behavior and our aspirations to the information and ideas we cannot abide because they run counter to our convictions. If we fail to hold them creatively, the non-stop contradictions of our lives will frighten and paralyze us and take us out of the action. But when we learn to hold them in a heart-opening way, they may open us to new ways of understanding ourselves and the world, enhancing our lives and allowing us to enhance the lives of others. p45

Embracing our wounded child

Today, I want to reflect with you about 

holding tension, and how we can move beyond

petty contests, political cat fights,

and fruitless debating

into something deeper and more consequential.
I’m going to invite you to walk through a brief contemplative practice

which, if you find it to be of value,

you can repeat it on your own at greater length.

But I’ll introduce it here.
It invites us to be in touch

with injury in our childhood.

It’s not going to be super intense.

But this may not be what you want to do right now.

If not, give yourself an internal pass,

or get up and walk,

or avail yourself of the art supplies in the back.

I will ring the chime at the beginning 

and at the ending of the time of the practice.

Chime

James Finley offers this contemplation practice 

in his book Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God:
Let us begin by letting the Christ-spirit of love 

fill you, embrace you, hold you.

It is paradoxically you and Christ

Christ is infinite love

You are created for infinite love,

each one gifted in some way to be on earth.
One way to imagine this is through the prayer practice

that Richard Foster offers this in his book Celebration of discipline:

Imagine your body full of cloudy liquid

Slowly let it drain out.

Now imagine liquid sparkling with light.

Slowly let it fill you.

Now consider:

What is the greatest, truest self you now have?

what is your great personal sweetness?

what work have you done?

how have you cared for someone – a child, a friend, spouse?

what have you built, what music have you played?

what has brought you joy?
Now carry all that goodness into your own history

We all have been a wounded child in some way

Find your wounded child, go to her or him

and now embrace your wounded child with all the goodness you can carry

with all the best that you now have.
What does it feel like to hold and care for your wounded child self?

What is the great goodness you might be carrying now?

Chime

Sing Mothering God, blue hymnal 482

Missiles of October

We need this goodness to 

hold tensions in life-giving ways, as Parker Palmer writes.

Otherwise, we freeze into motionlessness

or cast about frantically in our anxiety and insecurity.

We need some “Both-And” capacity

to hold conflict, sides, contradictions together

until something better emerges.
Tonight is the Academy Awards ceremony

About film production studios in the walk-up to the Academy making its award nominations, one person said:

To reduce campaigning now would require unilateral disarmament, but studios are unlikely to stop spending. And what for? “Ego and bragging rights,” Terry Press [said]. “It’s a town built on a rock-solid foundation of insecurity.”

(The New Yorker 2-27-17)
When we feel insecure, we may respond in two ways. 

We may freeze, unable to move, for fear. 

Or we may dash about, taking slap-dash decisions just to do something.
In 1962, the Soviet Union moved

nuclear-tipped missiles onto the island of Cuba.

It was a nuclear move in a nuclear-tipped world.
17 years before, atom bombs exploded over Japan 

Soviets and the U.S. had been exploding 

the massively powerful and destructive hydrogen bombs.

Bombs were exploded in the open atmosphere

until one year later, in 1963.
When we became aware of the missiles,

military and intelligence advisers were extremely alarmed.
They put immense pressure on then president Kennedy

to do something, to retaliate, to blow up Soviet shipping,

to bomb the island.

It was an extraordinarily anxious moment.

Historians have often said that in this moment

the world was closer to nuclear annihilation 

that at any other time.
It was a struggle for Kennedy.

In the wake of the Bay of Pigs disaster of the previous year, 1961,

which was a quick, ill-conceived bit of anti-communism,

relations between the super-powers were at a low.

The missiles were the Soviet response to the Bay of Pigs.
But, as Robert Kennedy writes in 

Missiles of October

president Kennedy had been reading a book

by the historian Barbara Tuchman called

The guns of August, about WWI.
Bobby Kennedy makes the case

that his brother was moved by the WWI

account of quick and violent response

to pause and consider.
He took as much time as anyone could stand

to put together a strategy that would

allow the Soviets and premier Kruschev 

to save face.
Kennedy promised never again to invade Cuba.

The Soviets withdrew the missiles.

There was a lot more to it.

One of the key elements was Kennedy’s thoughtfulness,

careful communication with Kruschev,

and understanding that everyone needed to

come out of the situation looking okay.

That is a “Both-And” moment.
Amazingly, in the midst of crisis,

Kennedy followed the reverse mandate:

“Don’t just do something, stand there.”

Holding the tension

Jesus on the mountain with the disciples

experiences a moment of powerful

spiritual transcendence.
It was a very large moment for him

and for his disciples.

In the immediate wake of the event,

Jesus talks about his own death.

Everything is at stake for him for the sake of love.
The disciples can feel the power 

and, I think, they can feel the tension.

What can a moment like this mean?

How shall we mark it?

This is a big deal!

The story goes “they fell to ground and were overcome with fear.”
They had wanted to set up some booths,

make it a religious site of pilgrimage, perhaps.
But Jesus tells them “do not be afraid.”

And also “tell no one.”

Essentially he is saying,

“We’re going to hold this moment;

We’re going to hold this tension.

There is the mystery of resurrection coming,

but this amazement and love

is something we must just hold for the time being.”
That is a “Both-And” moment.

Holding the tension

In his book Healing the heart of democracy

Parker Palmer says that we need to learn to

“Hold tension in life-giving ways.”
He quotes E. F. Schumacher who says

“Divergent problems demand and thus provoke the supply of forces from a higher level, thus bringing love, beauty, goodness, and truth into our lives.”
But to receive these gifts from Schumacher’s “higher level”

we must hold the tension.
What if Kennedy had responded quickly, brashly, and angrily?

There could have been nuclear explosions

instead of face-saving compromise,

which, for the world, was surely beauty and goodness.
What if Jesus had turned his spiritual power

into a reason to swagger around, attempting

to dominate the religious leaders and the Roman powers.
There could have been massive violence.

The Romans never minded bringing that on.

More importantly, a great moment of love would have been lost.
How important it can be to hold the tension.
It is like the Rumi poem Zero Circle

that Rob Hansen recently reminded me of. 

The poem ends:

“Be helpless, dumbfounded,

Unable to say yes or no.

Then a stretcher will come from grace

To gather us up.”
Be helpless, dumbfounded,

unable to say yes or now.

Then a stretcher will come from grace

To gather us up.
So Jesus demonstrated.

So president Kennedy demonstrated.
And note that there were good results

from this tension holding.

There were outcomes. 

It wasn’t just navel-gazing or thumb-twiddling.

But it was a refusal to give into the anxiety of the moment

and to pause and be thoughtful.

Our anxiety

What are you carrying now from 

embracing your wounded child self?

How else may we address our anxious selves?

For Kennedy, it was reading a book, and probably much more.

For Jesus, it was the immediacy of spiritual communion with God.
How can we go deep, in order to find

that place of fruitful tension holding

so that we may offer the world

not violence, but rather life.

How can we find our “Both-And” moments?

On exceptionalism7th Sunday after Epiphany

February 19, 2017

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

Vernon K. Rempel, 2017
Bible reading: Matthew 5:43-48 NRSV vkr, ed.

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of the Spirit in heaven; for the Spirit makes sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as the Holy One in heaven is perfect.
‘Ustedes han oído que se dijo: “Amarás a tu prójimo y odiarás a tu enemigo.” Pero yo te digo: Ama a tus enemigos y ora por los que te persiguen, para que seas hijos del Espíritu en el cielo; Porque el Espíritu hace que el sol salga sobre el mal y sobre el bien, y llueva sobre los justos y sobre los injustos. Porque si amas a los que te aman, ¿qué recompensa tienes? ¿Ni siquiera los recaudadores de impuestos hacen lo mismo? Y si saludan sólo a sus hermanos y hermanas, ¿qué más están haciendo que otros? ¿Ni siquiera los gentiles hacen lo mismo? Sé perfecto, pues, como el Santo en el cielo es perfecto.

The English way

Well, we went to England.

It was a dream time:

walking into Kettering from the train station

as our grandson was being born.
Staying with our daughter and son-in-law

in their nice, small apartment

and watching Eric start to grow,

hear his sounds, touch his warm little head.

Seeing a bit of London too.

including Parliament, Big Ben

and going to Evensong

in Westminster Abbey,

on which site prayers have been offered

for a thousand years.
We also had the opportunity,

which I understand Cole shared with you last week,

of worshiping in the Kettering local Anglican church,

which, as they said, was only 500 years old,

although there was evidence of worship 

on that site for a thousand years as well.
As Eddie Izzard says in “Dressed to kill”

“I grew up in Europe, where the history comes from.”
Both at Westminster Abbey 

and at the Kettering Church of St. Peter and St. Paul

I noticed a seamless weaving

of culture, politics, society, and faith.
At Kettering, it was scouting Sunday, 

so the cute kids in their uniforms were there.

And they prayed for the Queen, and England and all.

And the spoke of peace and right relations.
At Westminster Abbey,

after processing in with rod and robe, book and choir,

they too prayed for many things:

health, strength, the military, the Queen

and the Order of the Bath,

which we’re still not quite clear about.
We think it’s probably English people

honored in various ways by the crown.

And that an actual bath is part of the ritual

of honoring. Secular baptism!

Or not so secular, since it was in the daily prayers

for each day of the week.
It represents a seamless weave of society and faith.

I found myself wondering if those who reject violence

could also weave ourselves seamlessly

into the greater human community and society.
We have often felt set apart,

whether at the Catholic Worker,

or in a Mennonite congregation,

or as those who practice

non-violence in their lives.
But who are we in our culture?

Richard Niebuhr

When I was studying religion,

we often talked about the relationship

between the church and the world.
Mennonites were the non-violent church of Christ.

The world was the place where violence was practiced.

This came right out of the old 1500s Schleitheim Confession,

the first Anabaptist written confession of faith, 1527,

an almost monastic separation from the world,

written by a former monk – Michael Sattler.
We also discussed Richard Niebuhr,

the brother of the more well-known Reinhold Niebuhr.
Richard described several models for church and world:

1. Christ against culture

2. Christ of culture

3. Christ above culture

4. Christ and culture in paradox

5. Christ the transformer of culture
These options are rich with all kinds of possibilities.

It was traditional in these discussions to debate

whether or not Niebuhr and named

all the important options or not.

Someone would often add an extra one.

One common Mennonite one was 

Christ in contrast to culture.
In England, clearly it was mostly

Christ of culture in the Anglican Church.

They are the Church of England, after all.

Like the Lutherans in Germany.
For me, the problem is

there is an element of 

knowing better than culture or the world

in all these models.
Either Christ is the model of culture,

or the contrast, but always the better idea,

the better path.

The idea of Christ often becomes people having a better path

and then going to work on other people.

(I have brief descriptions of each model in my notes, which I will post or am happy to send to you as well.)
I think the main challenge

is that it keeps Christ and the Christian movement

as an idea. And ideas

so easily become something that I know better than you.
This is often called American exceptionalism,

or Christian exceptionalism.

I would certainly add “Mennonite exceptionalism.”

Mennonites with our non-violent ways,

knowing better than the world.

Politics is good

So, in the grand tradition of adding an option 

to Richard Neibuhr,

I would like to add one today:

Christ loving culture.
Certainly Christ needs to be on contrast to culture

or transforming culture, as Niebuhr says.

The 1,000 years of prayers in Westminster Abbey

included prayers for an abusive, invasive empire,

and for a monarchy with unconscionable

economic injustice.
And also all the wonders and beauty of English culture,

the social restraint in the spirit of the Magna Carta, 

the joy in quiet things, the literature.
But most of all,

what the world needs now

is love, sweet love, I guess.
I think that often while the church has been

spending time trying to get the message right,

trying to figure out a relationship with culture,

the living Christ is saying,

“Actually, I’m out in the world creating love

in all these places. Come join me

and see what’s going on.”
Christ loving culture.

It’s not that we have a better idea.

It’s that when people are around us,

they feel loved, they feel the warmth

and joy of the outpouring love of Christ.
This is true for the queen, for the military,

for our neighbors, for Trump voters,

for Clinton voters, for people whose lives

are distorted by violence, and those

who appear to live with remarkable grace.
Christ loving culture.

It is a way to just have an ordinary faith.

A faith that does not need to be better

or make a point, or prove anything.
Rather, the proof is in the eating of the pudding

as the English say.

And the eating of the pudding is the lived experience of love.
This then becomes our politics.

This becomes our “Politics of Jesus”.

In love, we may speak with humility and with chutzpah

as Parker Palmer writes.
We may be who we are wholeheartedly 

on the street, in court, in front of lawmakers,

with our families and friends,

and in church.
But we are not better.

We do not know more.

We just have been loved in a way that

makes all the difference in our lives.
There’s no superior Christian or Mennonite message.

We’re just “doing our bit” as the English say,

with love.
We’re just ordinary people,

and we feel fortunate to have found love.

And the wonder is that from time to time, this is one way

that love finds it’s way throughout culture and the world.

Peace be, my friends.

Richard Niebuhr’s options:

1. Christ against culture
Christ against culture occupies one extreme of the continuum. All expressions of culture outside the Church are viewed with a high degree of suspicion and as irreparably corrupted by sin. They are to be withdrawn from and avoided as much as possible. Traditional ascetic communities as well as various sectarian and fundamentalist groups would hold to some version of this view.
2. Christ of culture
Christ of culture sits at the polar opposite from the previous one. Cultural expressions as a whole are accepted uncritically and celebrated as a good thing. In theory, little or no conflict is seen between culture and Christian truth. In practice, the latter is compromised to accommodate the former. This is the view espoused by classic Gnosticism and liberal Protestantism.
3. Christ above culture
Christ above culture, a medial position between the first two, regards cultural expressions as basically good, as far as they go. However, they need to be augmented and perfected by Christian revelation and the work of the Church, with Christ supreme over both. This view was expounded by Thomas Aquinas, and has been a predominant position among Roman Catholics since.
4. Christ and culture in paradox
Christ and culture in paradox is another medial option between the extremes. It sees human culture as a good creation that’s been tainted by sin. As a result, there’s a tension in the Christian’s relationship to culture, simultaneously embracing and rejecting certain aspects of it. Augustine (in part) as well as Martin Luther and Soren Kierkegaard are representative of this view.
5. Christ the transformer of culture
Christ the transformer of culture is yet another medial alternative. It also recognizes human culture as initially good and subsequently corrupted by the fall. But since Christ is redeeming all of creation, the Christian can and should work to transform culture to the glory of God. This is the view held by Augustine (in part) as well as John Calvin and others in the Reformed tradition.

Evidence-based faith
4th Sunday after the Epiphany
January 29, 2017
For Beloved Community Mennonite Church
Vernon K. Rempel, 2017

Bible reading:
I Thessalonians 5:5
For you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.

Additional reading:
Mindful (excerpt)
By Mary Oliver

Every day
I see or hear
something
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
Evidence, not belief
I have long understood that my faith is not
based on belief, but on evidence.
My faith is based on evidence,
evidence as real as the hand in front of your face,
as real as what you had for breakfast this morning.
Not stuff you have to believe to be okay,
not various affirmations to show you’re in the club.

Evidence, not alternative facts.
Not the “alternative facts” of Kellyanne Conway
on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday.

Evidence, not truthiness
Evidence, not gas-lighting.

As the quote goes from The Big Lebowski “This aggression will not stand, man.”
Like Bill Clinton jokingly said, “Do you believe me, or your lying eyes.”
Ironic, coming from him, but still a good point.

It is not easy to ascertain substantiated facts,
to ascertain evidence,
in our internet information environment.
I didn’t find that date of Conway’s statement about “alternative facts”
until I had checked four sites.

The others didn’t have a date listed.
Meanwhile, I had seen possible
a hundred bits of information floating around
the edges of the sites like a halo:
offers, adds, links to other news, opinions, shares, sign-ups.

I had to work to concentrate on looking for the date.
It would have been easy just to drift in the cloud of information,
the cloud of factoids, those bits of information
that float out of context.
How easy it is to let facts, to let truth
just kind of float around.

Like the advertising executive William J. Donnelly
said already way back in 1986,
information is now coming to us like confetti,
pink and green bits that float down around our heads.
And how can we tell what is true, what is important?
The Confetti Generation, pp 180-182

The Onion, the humor newspaper, tells it like it is as always:
“Mankind’s knowledge of TV trivia doubling every three years.”

It’s that halo of information bits that surrounded
my search for the day that Kellyanne Conway
said the phrase “alternative facts.”

The Kardashians! Don’t care.
New miracle drug. Don’t care.
Mary Tyler Moore died.
Aww, I do care.
“How will you make it on your own?”
her theme song asked.
I loved her show.
When she threw her hat into the air,
she was throwing a hat for freedom
for all women everywhere.

Okay, good, but now back to Kellyanne Conway.
The other stuff gets in
Into this environment of distraction and confusion
and an overwhelming flow of bits
comes the opportunity either to be
re-dedicated to evidence
or to go with what Steven Colbert
so brilliantly called “truthiness”,
which is just going with something as true
because it feels or seems true to me.

This can be driven by “gas-lighting”
which is just repeating something
until it begins to sound true.

Truthiness and gas-lighting
thrive in chaos, thrive by way of distraction
and verbal sleight-of-hand.

And there is something even more powerful
at work, and it is something, I think, that
comes home to all of us.

This is what rabbi Ed Friedman called
emotional logic, rather than rational logic.
Rational logic attempts to make an
argument based on science, facts, research.

But we have all experienced how unconvincing
rational logic is in the face of something else.
Friedman calls this emotional logic.

Emotional logic is when we need the Bible
to be inerrant, because that feels secure.

Emotional logic is when we need a strong leader,
traditionally a strong man, so that
history comes out okay.

Jesus has often been turned into this
strong-leader model, a savior
who does not invite us to love
so much as to submit to his rule.
Many others have stepped into this role.

When these needs are strong,
it gets difficult to want to hear
evidence to the contrary.

Then there’s another kind of emotional logic.
Emotional logic is also when I feel neglected,
shunted aside, called “stupid” or uninformed
by people with superior research and knowledge,
and so I just shut down the whole enterprise
of “evidence” and go with what I feel.

That also is something to pay attention to.
Sometimes dedication to evidence
becomes dedication to superiority.
And that really doesn’t work.
Even when it comes wrapped in a package
of horrific sexism, racism, and so on.

Superiority will not get the job done
to move the dial with this kind
of emotional logic.

And of course, there is the most
toxic of emotional logic,
which is that I want and need power
and so I will bend facts, bend reality
to my will, and if you don’t go with it,
you will suffer.

This logic is the logic that produces
the cross of Jesus Christ.
This is the logic that must be resisted,
but must be resisted with something
far deeper and more powerful
than mere information or education.
It is logic that comes into the realm
of suffering and love.
The haystack of light
In the early days of the Anabaptist movement,
which is the religious movement in the 1500s
that resulted in what we now call Mennonites,

Anabaptists were often discovered and arrested
because they had become more honest.
Their scales, their sums, their word
became reliable.

They had become, as Paul writes,
children of light and children of the day.

And they did it not to be superior
but because they had discovered a new dignity,
a new joy, a new love.

They had fallen into Mary Oliver’s
haystack of light.

It is from this place of love and delight
that we may best answer the emotional logic
of our times that denies science, evidence,
or facts, because of emotions
that sell everything for the sake of security
or for the sake of power.

In fact there is something in that
longing for security and power
that is a longing exactly for love and delight.

It’s just the layers of distortion
may make it so conversation seems
almost impossible,
and may mean that we must suffer
just to try to connect.

But like the Anabaptists,
we may do this because
we find our hearts full of joy,
full of love and delight
because of what has been poured out among us.

This then is the great evidence of faith.
This is not mere belief, as if I have
to believe something to be okay.

The great evidence of faith
is love and delight that finds
its way into my house, my heart,
my politics.

And it is real evidence,
something anyone may see,
or at least be invited to see.
Then faith, and the political argument
always finds its grounding and root
in that old Tertullian phrase
“See how they love each other.”

That’s why I love this place,
love this Eucharist, love this people.
As Cole said when he was ordained,
“I want to kiss my congregation.”
And that is evidence,
as convincing and wonderful as it gets.
Amen.

1-26-17

People Awakening

(after reading To the States by Whitman)

by Vern Rempel

 

It’s always in the faces:

Shining determination.

Eyes set as if looking into the wind.

Or sometimes a flashing smile,

and laughter that started somewhere

down in the engine room

but now has splashed across the main deck.

In either case, in any case,

when someone finds their voice,

or their feet, or their pen,

then the demographic butterfly

flaps its wings.

And soon, in a place

that had seemed impossibly distant,

it starts to rain like God’s own party.

And every root and every seed

shall rejoice.