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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.

Contractualism versus Ecstasy

Easter 3

April 30, 2017

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

Vernon K. Rempel, 2017
Bible reading: Acts 2:38-41

Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

Ecstasy

A few brief notes:

Contractualism versus ecstasy.
Contractualism is a little used word from philosophy.

 The way I’m using it in these brief notes

  is to be addicted to or obsessed with

   making everything into a contract with obligations.
Ecstasy, the way I am using it,

 is the experience of getting outside of my imperial ego,

  as Richard Rohr calls it,

   to a place of utterly joyful connection

    with others, with nature,

     with the song of all creation,

      rocks, people, rain, birds, creatures.
Contractualism is driven by agreements with force.

 Ecstasy is at its best an act of collective imagination.

Three stones from the sidewalk

This week Friday, I found myself sitting on the sidewalk

 outside Centro de Humanitario,

  a day labor center promoting work, dignity, and community.
It is also the place for the office of Denver Homeless Outloud.

 Due to a scheduling glitch, 

  we were meeting on the sidewalk.
It was a pleasant day.

 We talked about our Beloved Community Village,

  and what we needed to do next – 

   building time seems to be getting close!
There we were, a board of majority homeless or recently homeless folks,

 and representatives from community groups – in this meeting:

  The Interfaith Alliance and Beloved Community Mennonite Church.
Sitting on the ground, I found 3 stones.

 I began sifting them in my hand.

  They fell together in different ways.

   In one way, they almost fit like a puzzle.

    You never know.
You never know how different groups will fit together,

 and what may result.

  Our Beloved Community Village is a labor of love

   of a huge diversity of groups and entities:
The Interfaith Alliance

Beloved Community Mennonite Church

Bayaud Industries

The Buck Foundation

Denver Homeless Outloud

Food not Bombs

Whiting-Turner, giant construction group – built the Ravens stadium – Baltimore

Tim Reinen, architect with Radian, Inc.

Future residents of the the tiny home village

Mennonite Disaster Service

Everence – the Mennonite financial group

The City of Denver

Others?
Our strength is not in our organizational ability

 but in our diversity.

  Diversity gives us resilience,

   like a field of many seeds survives disease

    better than a mono-crop.
The stones in my hand tumbled and tumbled.

 What would be the next fit?

  It was like jazz improvisation.

   It was like shared story-telling at the fire.

    It was like a very creative business meeting.
I think that when we are open to the love of the Holy Spirit,

 our lives tumble like these stones,

  but not into chaos.

   Rather into wonderful moments of connection,

    some of them expected, some pretty surprising.
The stones are:

 sitting on the sidewalk outside Centro de Humanitario

  on the north side of downtown

   folks housed, folks homeless,

    folks used to food lines, 

     folks sitting down to the pizza that’s evening

      all in the meeting.
My heart ranged out to Fernando and Rebeca in Ecuador,

 their lives growing up in Mexico City,

  to folks sitting in the GEO detention center in Aurora

   to future residents of this village and other villages,
to Cathryn and Douglas, Carol, Monta Le and Steve,

 Dwight and Kim, Joe and Pat, Kristine, Taylor and Taylor and Nan,

  Luke and Emma, and all who draw near here,

   all joyful stones in the stream of love,

    Our strength is in our diversity.

How much my life is now an act of collective imagination

 and much less a life of contractualism.

  Tumble, tumble, how will the stones fit together?
These are moments of ecstasy,

 moments of getting outside my imperial ego of control

  in order to consider the movement of the Holy Spirit.

The baptisms in Acts

I think this is one way to think of the baptism story in Acts.

 “This corrupt generation” as the text says,

  is the spirit of contractualism,

   of making each other miserable with rules

    that inevitably favor a dominant group.
The invitation to baptism is an invitation

 to the wild, free work of the Holy Spirit,

  who had the crowd convinced that the disciples were drunk

   early in the morning.

    When really what it was, was joy. Yee-hah.
Contractualism versus ecstasy.
I remember my baptism.

 The immersion tank in front of the borrowed Baptist church,

  my pastor-father’s kind hands

   the great eastern-Colorado prairie all around,

    the endless sky above,

     the invitation to communion.
Rituals can mean a lot of things.

 Here, we hold practices dedicated to ecstasy,

  dedicated to inviting us beyond our imperial egos

   and into shared joy,

    the joy of ecstasy, where we discover

     and experience connections that bring life.
Peter invites people to repent.

 Repent of forced old relationship patterns,

  of all your distortions.

   Come now to the water of the Holy Spirit

    who flows freely in joy.
In the eve of WWI, nations had a series of 

 contractual agreements with each other.

  It was like a stack of promised swords,

   to paraphrase the historian Barbara Tuchman

    in her marvelous book The March of Folly.
We will enforce agreements.

 We will kill people for our agreements.

  How would I like to be a British soldier

   dying in a trench on the Passchendaele field

    because of some ruler’s contractualism?
Far better the love of the Holy Spirit,

 who asks us to live in peace with each other,

  who invites us to surrender our egos

   in favor of deep and joyful connection.
Come be baptized. 

 The stern narrowness of contractualism no more.

  Now only the joy of the water, the love.

Money

Today, we will talk a bit about our shared “money practice.”

 How do we want to share among ourselves?

  First question – who do we want to be together?

   Where do we want to go together?
Pastors Cole and I are paid money to help facilitate our shared journey.

 But it is a shared journey.

  

Years ago, Tex Sample said that congregations can be like 

  a commissary or like a caravan.
At the commissary, you go to a fixed place,

 you pay, you get the goods.

  A commissary is a place of contractualism, I would say.
In the caravan, we’re all traveling along.

 We may not even know exactly where we’re going,

  maybe it’s just an good road-trip.

   But we get to do it together.

    That’s ecstasy.
I think that’s what made Jesus so mad at the temple.

 He walked in and saw money-changers.

  That’s a commissary. That’s contractualism.
He said “This house is to be a house of prayer for all nations.”

 That’s connection. That’s ecstasy.
But back to the road-trip.

 We get to do the road-trip of Isaiah 58

  that invites us to be in community with the hungry and homeless.

   The result will be that our light will shine forth,

    and we will find healing.
Or the road-trip of Luke 4

 in which the poor have good news,

  and it is declared right now to be God’s good year for everybody,

   the year of Jubilee.
The invitation is for us to talk about money today and next Sunday, at least.

 Two brief but sufficient conversations at least – cottage meetings.

  My invitation to us is to speak out of ecstasy

   rather than contractualism.

    Not, how can we get more money? That’s too narrow.

     But, what will be our shared joy?

  

Cole’s going to preach next week, and 

 he’s going to invite us to consider another Biblical road-trip.
Cole – preview?

The Invisible God

Easter 2

April 23, 2017

For Beloved Community Mennonite Church

Vernon K. Rempel, 2017
Bible reading: John 20:19 

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the religious leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

Politics

On Wednesday, Cole, Taylor, Ben, Anna, Marcus, Karen, Terese, Ray, Amanda, Nathan, and myself,

 all of us having a connection to our faith community

  directly here or through the Beloved Community Village,
were at the state capitol 

 to testify about the “Right to Rest Bill”.

  This bill seeks to make it no longer a crime

   to sleep or cover up in public in the city of Denver.
It is an answer to the “camping ban” of about 5 years ago.
People young and old, from high schools, organizations,

 homeless folks themselves, some of us clergy,

  and others, testified in favor of the bill

   to decriminalize this behavior.
The gist of a lot of the testimony was that

 people need somewhere to live,

  if not on the street.
Otherwise, if one is to move along,

 one might ask – “move along to where?”

After 8 hours of testimony in favor

 from about 60? folks

  and just four testifying against,

   the bill was defeated in committee.

    

So on to next year.

 And people may continue to end

  up in jail for being homeless.
On Thursday, I went to the capitol again,

 to witness the presentation of a bill to 

  commute the sentence of René Lima Marin
Marin went to jail for a crime,

 served time, was paroled.

  And then, after 5 years of behaving as a model citizen,

   husband, church youth leader, father,
he was put back in prison because it was discovered

 that he had been released due to a clerical error.

  Nothing else mattered.
Our community organizing group Together Colorado

 immediately began working for his release,

  as did others.

   

Now a young republican legislator – Dave Williams, 

 initiated the bill, after considering his own life,

  his love of his wife and children,

   and who René was being kept in prison

    on essentially a technicality.
After numerous inspiring speeches,

 the house voted unanimously to ask the governor

  to commute René’s sentence.

Where do we put our hope?

Politics, it can break your heart or seem marvelously wonderful.

 Just like family. Just like friends. Just like church.

  Where shall we put our hope?

   Where shall we invest our longings, emotion, and care?
I spent a lot of time at the capitol this week.

 And with family. And friends.

  All these places of both goodness and challenge.
Where do we put our hope?
Ruby Sales, in her interview two weeks ago,

 said that when she was a young woman 

  in the civil rights movement,

   she would go to planning meetings

    and they spent a lot of time singing and praying!
She wondered why they couldn’t just

 get down to the business of the meeting.

  Why waste time on all this “old fashioned stuff?”
But then she would see people in action,

 see them face down tear gas, and biting dogs,

  water hoses, and billy clubs,

   the unbridled hostility of Jim Crow racism.
And she realized that when they sang and prayed together,

 it made it possible for them to face it all, 

  and still to say “I love everybody.”

   Still to not become bitter.
It’s possible to feel bitter after hours of testimony

 and watch a bill be defeated.

  And now what it costs homeless folks.

   And that’s without tear gas and so on.
Politics can break your heart.

 Families too. Who among us has never

  had our heart deeply broken by family?
And friends, how we can just flow in and out

 of each other’s lives, though we don’t mean to.

  Friendship is so good, like family.

   It is just not golden location of all our hopes.
Jesus famously asked,

 Who are my mother and brothers and sisters?

  Those who hear the will of God and do it.

   

Which would point to church,

 these chosen, intentional, practiced relationships, the Jesus movement.
But God help us, the church can break your heart.

 O my goodness. So often a place of exclusion,

  group-think, authoritarianism.

   Or just the humanity.

    We can get into it with each other.

The invisible God

Henri Nouwen, in his book Lifesigns,

 says that we must only fully trust God,

  because God is the only one free enough of wounds,

   to offer us a place not warped by fear.
We all may try to be as faithful as possible.

 But we are all heart-breakers sometimes.

  Politicians, wives, husbands, friends, pastors, children,

   parents, volunteers, helpers,

    we’re all heart-breakers from time to time.
So Nouwen says:

 “God alone is free enough from wounds to offer us a fearless space.”
And so folks prayed and sang to prepare to act

 for the civil rights movement.

  
And immense soulfulness resulted,

 immense courage and resilience and joy,

  in the face of terror.
Marc Gopin, international mediator,

 has worked with a number of Mennonite mediators.

  He says that there is a noticeable thing about Mennonites.
When they come to the mediation table,

 they’re more interested in the people at the table,

  than the solution they’re trying to reach.

  

He notes that it changes everything,

 changes the whole tone. 
And then he went to a Mennonite worship service.

 And he said, “it’s how they sing and pray together.”

  They sing and pray like all people matter.

   –From Eden to Armageddon, chapter7
This is high praise. 

 I very much hope it is true.

  I hope this worship moment honors immigrants

   and refugees, and the homeless,

    and faithful parents and children,

     young and old,

      in many languages, skin colors,

       sexualities.
I think Nouwen is telling us we can only do this,

 when we place our hope in God,

  the one who moves among us

   in eternal love.
The disciples after Easter morning had thought

 they they had misplaced their hope.

  Even after the women had witnessed a miracle.

   Even after the foot-race between John and Peter

    to get to the mystery of the empty grave first.
The disciples gathered with fear overwhelming their love.

 They gathered in a locked room,

  ready to hide, to draw back.
And then Jesus comes and defeats the locks,

 comes into the room of fear,

  and says simply “Peace be with you.”

   “Peace be with you.”
This is the nature of God, the one free of fear,

  the one who has not been overcome by wounds or death.

The one whom no one has seen – book of Hebrews – 

 and therefore one no on can control,

  and therefore is free.

   This is the God of Jesus’ heart.
God who lives in the Holy of Holies,

 which, much to the surprise of conquerors,

  was actually an empty space.

   A space only for the presence of God.
God who is the Holy of Holies,

 the “third thing” of the universe,

  that thing that is always between you and me,

   whoever the you and me is,

that lets us forgive and move forward,

 and find surprise and inspiration

  even in very hard times,

   even in the valley of the shadow of death.
The “go between God” as John V. Taylor called the Holy Spirit,

 the one who moves among us

  as the extra something, the je ne sais quoi,

   the puzzling lift in the room and the relationship,

but the one who will not be managed, 

 controlled, manipulated,

  the One who is “I am who I am” of the burning bush,

   or the “I will be who I will be”

    since Hebrew verbs are flexible.
The only name you’ll get at the burning bush 

 is these stories about me.

  Here’s what has happened.

   Now go and make stuff happen, Moses.

Capacity

One way I’ve been experiencing this is that 

 God is capacity.

  The Holy Spirit is that capacity that. shows up

   in my life, in my heart,

    to love and to care.
I have often, egoistic goody-two-shoes that I can be sometimes,

 tried to do things just because I think I should,

  because it would be good, it would like good,

   and it would be good, oh yes.
But that’s no good.

 Parker Palmer says that we dare not give 

  what we don’t have to give. (Let your life speak, pp. 48, 49)

   We not only burn out.

    But the gift comes out all wrong.

     It comes out as a heaviness,

      or a manipulation,

       heavy on “needing to…”

        and light on joy.
In my older age,

 I have been trying to invest more prayer and contemplation

  into what is my true capacity, 

   not “what should I do.”
What do I feel ready to do, longing to do,

 what flows from me like the water of the rivers of life?
Now it may be that I don’t like what I discover.

 I may want to do some capacity development of my heart.

  But that’s very different than just doing stuff,

   because someone else or I think it should be done.
I may want to step out in risk, or in prayer,

 in action or in contemplation

  to strengthen capacity, get a new view, 

   find out what’s what in the world for me.
But that’s different than just barreling ahead.

 That’s asking, what do I feel ready and free and joyful to do?

  I may be terrified of it, but there’s still going 

   to be some deep joy welling up, if it’s for real,

    if it’s something that I really have to give.
That’s why I love singing and praying with you all.

 And going to the capitol. And being with family and friends.

  And doing all of it as a prayer

   for the glory that is the power of God’s love, as we pray.

    Strengthening real joyful capacity. 

     Not just doing things because it’s a good idea.
Then we, like Jesus, may defeat some locks.

 We may unlock some legislation,

  or unlock our hearts to our friends, 

   even unlock our hearts to ourselves,

    and experiencing the joy of transparency over denial.
We may walk into any room at all,

 fearsome church, tired capitol,

  lonely friends, good ol’ family,

   and say “peace be with you.”
And I just believe that’s going to open up some stuff,

 be something like the resurrection, the Easter moment.

  And it will be good.

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